The jangle of her phone came to Jane in a dream. She heard it ringing, but it had no relevance to her. It was someone else’s phone. Distant. Removed. Then silence-until a much more subtle disturbance woke her.
Opening her eyes to total darkness, she blinked. For months after Oliver had left her lying in her own blood, she’d dreamt she heard him in the hallway, coming to finish what he’d started. He always had a knife in his hand and the look of murder in his eyes. She knew that look because she was one of the few who’d seen it and lived to tell about it. The nightmare was so vivid she could smell him, feel the warmth of his body as he drew close, his fingernails biting into her arm as he dragged her up against him-
Jane gasped. She could breathe. It wasn’t real. Oliver was dead. The noise that’d awakened her had been Kate. Her daughter was standing in the doorway. “Wh-what?” she said, willing her heart to slow its pounding.
Kate came to the side of the bed. “Didn’t you hear me? Someone’s on the phone for you. And she sounds like she’s crying.”
Who would call her in the middle of the night crying? Sheridan? Skye? Had there been an accident?
Alarmed, she threw off the covers and sat up. Then the memory of the day’s events snapped into place, along with the news snippet she’d watched before bed, and she realized that her caller could be someone else.
“Thanks, babe.” The time on her clock radio indicated it wasn’t the middle of the night as Jane had thought. It was only ten-thirty. She’d been asleep for half an hour. “Go back to bed,” she told Kate, but her daughter didn’t leave. Understandably curious-they didn’t receive many calls like this-she sat on the edge of the bed as Jane brought the receiver to her ear. “Hello?”
It wasn’t Skye or Sheridan. It was Gloria, as she’d suspected. “Yes?”
“They jus’ called me,” she blurted, so breathless she could hardly speak.
Jane cleared her throat to eliminate the rasp of sleep. “Who just called you? Latisha and Marcie?”
“Marcie, I think. I couldn’t tell for sure. She was talkin’ so low I could barely hear her.”
The mind-numbing fatigue fell away like a cast-off shirt. “What’d she say?”
“She say, ‘Gloria, you gotta help us.’ I say, ‘Where are you? Tell me where you’re at an’ I’ll be there.’ An’ she say, ‘I don’t know.’ So I told her to hang up and call 9-1-1. But she say she already tried that an’ they put her on hold while they sent a cruiser.”
“A cruiser’s good.”
“I know, but she was so terrified she panicked. She hung up and called me. I told her, ‘Give me some clue, baby. Help me find you.’ But she was cryin’ so hard she couldn’t talk. All she could say is, ‘Oh, God, he’s here!’ Then the line went dead.”
Jane’s blood seemed to freeze in her veins. The girls were alive. But where? In what condition? And who had them?
“Someone has ’em both,” Gloria was saying. “She said us. I heard that much. They’re alive, but I don’t know for how long. We gotta find ’em!”
Jane clutched the phone tighter. If they were alive, they needed someone better than her. Just hearing about Marcie’s call-Oh, God, he’s here-made Jane’s own past rush up on her like a wave surging from behind. She tried to beat back the fear, but with little success. She’d already broken into a cold sweat.
“Hello?” Gloria cried when she didn’t speak.
Drawing a deep breath, Jane forced a calm she didn’t feel. She had to pretend she was everything Gloria thought she was, had to act as if she knew what she was doing or she’d be letting her client down. What good would it do to add to the poor woman’s panic? “Have you contacted Detective Willis?” she asked.
“I called the number on his card, but it went straight to voice mail.”
Of course it did. Jane hadn’t been thinking when she’d asked that question. Detectives were basically on call twenty-four hours a day, but that didn’t make them available to the general public. “I can reach him at home,” she said. “Did your phone show the number Marcie called from?”
“It did. It wasn’t blocked. I got it right here, on my list of incoming calls. But I already dialed it at least a dozen times, and I can’t get anyone to pick up. A recording comes on, saying the voice-mail box hasn’t been set up yet.”
Jane wished Gloria hadn’t done that. The ring might’ve alerted Marcie’s captor to the fact that she’d made a call. But she didn’t want to make Gloria feel bad for doing what anyone would want to do under the circumstances. “Give me the number. If we’re lucky, I can find the owner via a reverse directory. Or maybe David can get the information from the phone company.”
Gloria’s voice shook as she dictated each digit, but she was careful to enunciate.
“I’ll call David and get back to you,” Jane promised.
Throughout the conversation, Gloria had held up admirably, but now she broke into tears, as she had in Jane’s office. “Can you find ’em? You gotta find ’em. Right away. I can’t live without ’em. They all I got.”
And you’re counting on me? Jane was hoping that aborted call to 9-1-1 had been more helpful than it appeared. Maybe it was just a matter of time before they heard from the police. Maybe the cruiser dispatched by the emergency operator had arrived…
Maybe she’d be able to believe that if whoever had taken Marcie and her sister hadn’t appeared while Marcie was using the phone.
“I know. I’ll talk to you in a few minutes,” she said, and hung up.
Movement from across the bed startled her. She’d become so engrossed in the conversation, she’d forgotten her daughter was in the room.
“What is it, Mommy?” Kate asked, creeping closer.
“Someone needs help.” Jane took her daughter’s hand. As usual, having Kate beside her made her grateful that they were alive and together. The situation five years ago could’ve ended very differently. But after Gloria’s call, even Kate’s reassuring presence couldn’t keep the doubt that plagued Jane from striking deep.
Maybe Ava’s right about me. Maybe Oliver put me through too much, and now I don’t have the nerve to do this job. She felt physically ill at the thought of what might be happening to Latisha and Marcie. Somehow she couldn’t imagine Skye or Sheridan or Ava taking it this personally. They all seemed to face every challenge with cool resolve.
Kate snuggled closer. “Those girls who ran away? Are they the ones who need help?”
“They didn’t run away?”
“Are you going to rescue them?”
Jane rubbed the back of her daughter’s hand against her cheek. “Do you think I’m capable of rescuing someone?”
Kate reached up to kiss her cheek. “You saved me, didn’t you?” she said. “You can do anything.”
A lump rose in Jane’s throat. “I’ll do my best,” she said. Then she sent her daughter off to bed and called David.
Hey, you there? He wrote me again tonight. Around dinnertime. But I had to rush off to a meeting for a school fundraiser and this is my first chance to get back online.
You said to let you know.
Sebastian had just stepped out of the shower when he spotted Mary McCoy’s instant messages on his laptop. According to the time indicated on those messages, she’d tried to reach him twenty minutes ago, right after he’d gone into the bathroom.
Had she already signed off?
Afraid he was too late, he sat down wearing a towel and typed a quick response.
I’m here. What’d he say?
There was no immediate reply. A single mom, Mary was often up late. She’d told him it was the only time she could carve out of the day for herself. But-he glanced at the radio alarm by the bed-it was nearly midnight, and she had to go to the hospital where she worked bright and early in the morning. Maybe she’d gone to bed.
“Come on, come on.” He tapped his fingers on the desk. She’d given him her phone number, but he couldn’t call her at this hour, and he couldn’t drive over there, either. He stayed away from her place in case Malcolm was closer than they thought. Letting Malcolm see him would blow everything.
Mary? he typed, as if he was speaking and not merely sending another message.
Nothing. Damn. He’d missed her.
Shoving his wet hair out of his face to keep it from dripping into his eyes, he slumped in his chair, momentarily distracted by his reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall. God, he hardly recognized himself anymore. His hair, as thick and black as that of his Greek ancestors, was getting so long it curled around his ears and nape. His coal-black eyes were hollow and slightly sunken, so the sharp angles of his cheekbones protruded in an exaggerated fashion. Dark stubble covered a jaw and chin that, like his cheekbones, now seemed more pronounced. He’d once been so meticulous about his appearance and grooming. A haircut at Lucio’s every six weeks, standing appointment. A close shave twice a day to combat an unrelenting five-o’clock shadow. Italian shoes. Designer suits. Gold cuff links. A Rolex watch. Now he wore mostly jeans and T-shirts and a brown leather bomber jacket, rarely cut his hair and shaved every three days. The only personal maintenance he hadn’t abandoned besides regular hygiene was a stringent fitness routine. He pushed himself to lift and run more each day, but not because he gave a damn about improving his physique. It was all about coping with his frustration-and being ready to exact retribution.
In the same reflection, he could see his handgun sitting on the nightstand behind him. He’d spent a lot of time learning how to use it. Sometimes he even craved the feel of that smooth handle in his palm.
What have you become? he asked himself. Was he allowing what had happened to Colton to change more than his appearance and habits? Was he allowing it to twist his heart?
Constance certainly thought so. But he couldn’t seem to escape the compulsion driving him. It was like some kind of centripetal force that’d sucked him in and held him fast.
Let it go and move on, Connie always said. Come back to me. Don’t let Malcolm cost you any more than he already has.
For a moment, he grabbed at the hope in those words. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe he could go back to New York, to her.
He scooped his phone off the desk to see if she’d called again, but didn’t bother checking when he noticed a change on his computer screen. A reply from Mary McCoy had popped up.
BrownEyedGirl: I’m here.
Relieved, Sebastian tossed his phone on the bed so he could type.
S.Costas: What’d our friend have to say tonight?
BrownEyedGirl: Not a lot. It was mostly me, doing what you said to do. I told him I’d like to hook up, suggested I drive down to L.A. this weekend to see him.
With luck, she was leading Malcolm right where he wanted to go. Considering all the time he’d put into reestablishing the relationship, he had to be secretly hoping to see her. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be much of a payoff to their lengthy and sometimes sexual Internet discussions.
But would that desire be enough to tempt Malcolm into revealing his true identity? That was the big question.
S.Costas: Did he agree?
BrownEyedGirl: He didn’t disagree. But he didn’t make a commitment, either. I asked for his address. I said I wanted to see how far he lived from Sacramento. He said L.A. was about 400 miles. So I said maybe I should fly and he should pick me up at the airport, but he said he had a lot going on this weekend and we should plan it for another time.
He was dodging them, playing it safe.
S.Costas: Did he say when?
BrownEyedGirl: No. He said he’d have to check his schedule. Then he got off.
Shit. Sebastian hoped they hadn’t spooked him.
S.Costas: Did he seem nervous or suspicious?
BrownEyedGirl: Not really. Just a little cagey. Maybe he’ll get back to me, like he said.
He obviously wanted some contact with her or he wouldn’t have gotten in touch. And Malcolm was cocky enough to think he could get away with anything. The killings had occurred in Newark, New Jersey, Malcolm and Mary had gone to high school in San Antonio, Texas, and Mary now lived in Sacramento. Perhaps he believed she was sufficiently removed from the situation. If Sebastian hadn’t found that old shoebox in the storage above Malcolm’s garage, the one that contained Mary’s old letters and pictures, he wouldn’t have realized they’d once been so close, and Mary might not have learned about the tragedy in New Jersey. She’d been completely surprised-stunned-when he’d told her. The news had brought her to tears. It wasn’t until five months later that she’d dug Sebastian’s card out of her desk and called him to say she was receiving some rather mysterious e-mails-e-mails that reminded her of someone they both knew quite well.
S.Costas: Don’t mention seeing him again, not for the next few days. We have to be careful or we’ll blow this.
BrownEyedGirl: If it is Malcolm, I can’t imagine he’ll really agree to get together, not after telling me he’s someone else. How will he explain that?
S.Costas: Easy enough.
S.Costas: By saying he’s in the witness protection program or something.
Knowing Malcolm, and his desire to come across as a big shot, that was exactly the line he’d use.
BrownEyedGirl: I didn’t think of that.
S.Costas: He wants to see you or he wouldn’t be writing you so much.
BrownEyedGirl: He acts like it, but he won’t ever commit.
S.Costas: He will someday.
BrownEyedGirl: And if he does…how will that work? If you show up instead of me, he could pull out a gun and shoot you. He won’t let you take him to the police. Not after everything he’s done to escape.
S.Costas: It would be best to arrange a meeting in a public place, a restaurant or a bar, if possible.
BrownEyedGirl: Maybe I should continue to pretend we’re rekindling the romance and invite him here for a drink. I could get some of his DNA on a glass or something. The police will have to listen if you can prove he’s alive, right?
Sebastian was no longer sure he wanted the authorities involved. He’d begun to dream of taking care of Malcolm on his own. It seemed so much simpler, more efficient. The police had done nothing so far except give him the runaround.
S.Costas: No way. He’s a murderer. Do whatever you can to avoid letting him get that close. You haven’t given him your address, have you?
BrownEyedGirl: No, but he asked for it.
Sebastian didn’t like the sound of that.
S.Costas: You didn’t give it to him, did you?
BrownEyedGirl: Of course not. I told him I don’t share that information over the Internet.
S.Costas: If he doesn’t want to get together, why’d he ask for it?
BrownEyedGirl: He claimed he was going to send me some flowers.
BrownEyedGirl: Actually, I think it’s a telling coincidence.
S.Costas: What do you mean?
BrownEyedGirl: Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day he asked me to be his girlfriend. We celebrated the 19th every month for the two years we were together.
S.Costas: Mention of flowers was some sort of hint?
BrownEyedGirl: Could be.
S.Costas: How’d he respond when you wouldn’t give him an address?
BrownEyedGirl: He said he could get it if he really wanted it.
That was true. She was listed; anyone could find her. But Malcolm probably had her address long ago. Sebastian believed Mary was the reason he’d come to California in the first place. They both knew he’d run into a mutual friend in New York City-months before the murders-who’d mentioned that she was now living in Sacramento. That friend had contacted her to say she’d seen him.
BrownEyedGirl: He said something else I think you’ll be interested to hear.
S.Costas: What’s that?
BrownEyedGirl: He told me he used to be a cop.
This raised the hair on the back of Sebastian’s neck. If he’d needed further proof, he had the coincidence of the anniversary and now this. Wesley was Malcolm. They had him on the hook; they just needed to reel him in. But was it safe to allow Mary to go on with this fishing expedition? If Malcolm figured out what she was doing…
S.Costas: This could get dangerous.
And because he’d been the one encouraging her to communicate with Malcolm, he’d feel responsible if something happened to her. He had to be careful.
BrownEyedGirl: He has no reason to hurt me. I don’t have any money.
Maybe she didn’t have money, but Malcolm had contacted her for a reason. Was she simply someone to brag to? Was he bored? Lonely? In love with her? Hoping to meet for a sexual rendezvous?
Or did he sincerely regret having passed her up in his younger days? He’d divorced his first wife and murdered his second. He didn’t seem very easy to please when it came to women, but there was no way to tell what was going on in his mind.
BrownEyedGirl: Isn’t that why he murdered your ex-wife? For her money?
S.Costas: That was part of it, but there could be other reasons.
Exactly what those reasons might be Sebastian hadn’t yet deciphered. Emily had asked that they meet for lunch. She’d been upset when she called him. But she’d scheduled the meeting for a week away, when Malcolm would be on a trip to Vegas with his brother, and been killed before that day could come.
S.Costas: Did he give you anything new to go on today besides letting you know that he was a cop-and that he remembers your anniversary?
BrownEyedGirl: Just more of the same.
S.Costas: The same what?
BrownEyedGirl: Flirting. Compliments. What you’ve read before. He tells me he wishes we’d gotten together. That his life would’ve been different if we had. His comments are getting more and more explicit, of course, and-Oh boy, he just signed on!!!!!
Sebastian sat up straighter.
BrownEyedGirl: Yes! He’s sending me a message. It says, ‘Hey, you still up?’ Should I respond?
Would it be smarter to play hard to get? Probably. But Sebastian was getting low on patience. And money. He had to press forward before circumstances forced him to give up.
S.Costas: Definitely. He might be ready to suggest a time and place.
BrownEyedGirl: I have to tell you, I’m beginning to have second thoughts about setting up a meeting.
BrownEyedGirl: Because I’m afraid of what you might do if you have the chance. I’d hate to see you shoot him and then spend the rest of your life in prison.
S.Costas: Don’t worry about me.
Only three years younger than he was, Mary was lonely after her divorce. But, contrary to what Constance believed, their relationship had never even bordered on the romantic.
S.Costas: Just see what he wants.
She didn’t get back to him right away.
Anxious to learn what was going on, he got up and paced until the words It’s no good appeared on his screen.
What did that mean?
S.Costas: He won’t meet?
BrownEyedGirl: No. He says he’s had one hell of a night and he’ll be busy the next few weekends.
Son of a bitch.
S.Costas: Okay. Then I need you to do one more thing for me.
BrownEyedGirl: What’s that?
S.Costas: Let me take over from here.
BrownEyedGirl: What do you mean?
S.Costas: I want to be the one communicating with him. There’s no need for you to have anything more to do with this. It’s not safe.
And it was too frustrating working through a third party. They were so close and yet they couldn’t pin him down.
BrownEyedGirl: How do I let you take over?
S.Costas: Simple. Give me access to your account. I’ll be you for the next week or two, see if there’s anything I can do to convince this bastard to trust me.
BrownEyedGirl: You’re crazy. He’ll be able to tell you’re not me. You don’t write like a girl.
S.Costas: I can fake it.
Sebastian had read the transcripts of their instant-message sessions. At least the ones Mary had saved. If he wasn’t sure how to respond to a certain question, he could look back through the pages she’d given him to see how the subject had been handled before. Or he could contact her. If he couldn’t reach her in time, he’d sign off and blame it on a faulty connection. Already convinced he was in contact with his ex-girlfriend, Malcolm wouldn’t suspect a thing-provided Sebastian didn’t say something obvious or stupid.
BrownEyedGirl: But this is my only e-mail address.
S.Costas: I’ll open another account for you, and I’ll forward anything that comes in on this one that isn’t related.
BrownEyedGirl: You don’t understand. E-mail is my life right now. With two little kids, I can’t get out of the house to meet people.
She was purposely ignoring the solution he’d offered, didn’t want to be cut out of the loop. This was the one thing that kept her occupied at night-hearing from Malcolm and then reporting on it. Sebastian actually called her some nights and they formulated her responses together.
S.Costas: I shouldn’t need it for very long. Like I said, I’ll forward anything that’s unrelated. AND I’ll pay you $1000 for the inconvenience.
Thinking of his nearly empty bank account, Sebastian grimaced, but he knew if anything would smooth the way, this would. She lived on a very tight budget.
BrownEyedGirl: You don’t have to pay me. You know I’d do it just because we’re friends.
S.Costas: You could use the money, and I’m happy to help.
He didn’t think it would be difficult to persuade her to accept. She thought he was rich.
BrownEyedGirl: If that’s what you want. But you have to keep me up-to-date, okay? I’d like to know what’s going on. I’ve nursed this thing along for weeks and want to see the end.
Sebastian could certainly understand that. Okay, he said, and she gave him her password.