Kylie Brant  
Deadly Intent

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DEADLY INTENT

November 2010
Berkley Sensation

ISBN: 0425238539

No one knows the patterns and nuances of communication like forensic linguist Macy Reid. She is also an expert on kidnapping, having experienced firsthand the stark terror of being abducted when she was a child. So she is the perfect investigator to be called in when a Denver tycoon's eleven-year-old daughter is abducted—for the second time.

The biggest stumbling block for Macy may be a member of her own team: Kellan Burke, the wisecracking, rule-breaking investigator who relishes getting under Macy's skin. Their styles couldn't be more different; the attraction between them more explosive. And when it becomes apparent that Macy can't solve the case without confronting the demons from her past, Kell is just the man to take her there—and back.

"Deadly Intent yanks you gut first into a story filled with masterful suspense. It's an edge-of-your-seat read from start to finish with memorable characters and a villian that will haunt your dreams. Can't wait to find out what happens next."New York Times bestselling author Sharon Sala 

"Brant follows up last year's Waking the Dead with another fantastic read in The Mindhunters series. Deadly Intent is gripping, action packed and thoroughly compelling." — Anette Elton, Romantic Times

"…spine-chilling." — Kathy Andrico, ReaderToReader.com

Finalist – Colorado Award of Excellence contest
Winner – Write Touch Readers' Award contest
Finalist – Bookseller's Best Award
Winner – Golden Quill Award

 

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

She could hear him breathing.

Icy talons of fear shredded the fabric of sleep and brought Ellie Mulder instantly awake. Old habits had her keeping her muscles lax, her eyes still closed as she strained to identify what had alerted her. When she did, her blood ran as cold as the frigid Colorado wind beating against the windows.

The sound was the same snuffle snort that warned her whenever he was coming for her. He’d returned, just like he’d threatened. He’d snatch her from her bed, from her house and this time, she’d never get away. Not ever.

Her eyes snapped open, a scream lodged in her throat. The old terrors were surging, fighting logic, fueled by memory. It took a moment to see through the veils of the past and notice her familiar surroundings.

She was home. In her room. In her bed. And Art Cooper wasn’t here. He would die in prison.

A long sigh of relief shuddered out of her. The bright illumination of the alarm clock on her bedside table said one-eighteen A.M. The sleep scene on her computer lit the corner of the room that held her desk. And the large aquarium on the opposite wall was awash in a dim glow. She often ‘forgot’ to turn it off.

The items had been chosen because of the light they afforded. Her mom and dad had worried when she’d needed doors open and lights blazing to go to bed at night. But they’d been happy when she’d casually mentioned wanting a computer. Had expressed an interest in tropical fish. Had selected things to decorate her bedroom like the brightly lit alarm clock. Those things were normal, the psychologist said. And Ellie knew it was important that she seem normal. Even if it was a lie.

The slight noise sounded again and she tensed, her hand searching for the scissors she kept on the bedside table. But even as her fingers gripped the handle, her mind identified the sound. It was the gurgle of water in the overflow box for the aquarium. Not Cooper’s asthmatic breathing.

The realization relaxed her, but she didn’t replace the scissors. She kept them clutched in her hand and brought them close to her chest, the feel of the small weapon comforting. Learning her daughter slept with a knife under her pillow had made her mother cry. So Ellie pretended not to need that anymore.

She had become very good at pretending.

So good that her mom and dad had been thrilled with her new interest in Kirigami several months ago. She’d heard the psychologist tell them that the act of creating, of folding and cutting paper into pretty shapes would be very therapeutic for her. So there was never any fuss about the constant paper scraps on the floor. Fresh supplies appeared on her desk without her ever having to request them.

Only she knew that the new hobby was an excuse to keep a sharp pair of scissors with her at all times. And the psychologist was right. That part, at least, was very therapeutic.

The initial flare of panic had ebbed. She listened to the blizzard howl outside the windows and found the noise oddly soothing. Bit by bit she felt herself relax. Her eyelids drooped.

She had the half formed thought that she needed to replace the scissors before her mom came in the next morning to check on her. But sleep was sucking her under, and her limbs were unresponsive.

It was then that he pounced.

The weight hit her body, jolting her from exhaustion back to alarm in the span of seconds. She felt the hand clamped over her mouth, the prick of a needle in her arm and fear lent her strength beyond her years. Rearing up in bed, she flailed wildly, trying to wrest away, trying to strike out. She tasted the stickiness of tape over her lips. Felt a hood being pulled over her head.

There was a brief flare of triumph when the scissors met something solid, and a hiss of pain sounded in her ear. But then her hand was bent back, the weapon dropping from her fingers and numbness started sliding over her body. She couldn’t move. The hood prevented her from seeing. A strange buzzing filled her head.

As she felt herself lifted and carried away, her only thought was that she was being taken.

Again.

Chapter 1

The sleek black private jet sat waiting, it’s motors idling. It looked impatient somehow, looming dark and silent in the shadows, as if it had somehow taken on the personality of the man inside it.

Needles of sleet pricked Macy Reid’s cheeks as she hurried across the tarmac at the Manassas Regional Airport. Adam Raiker, head of Raiker Forensics and her boss, had demanded she be there within the hour. Her home in Vienna, Virginia was nearly twenty miles from the airport. Since the usual D.C. traffic was light at four A.M., she’d made it in less than forty-five minutes.

An attendant took her suitcases and stowed them for her as she wiped the frigid moisture from her cheeks and made her way up the steps to the aircraft. Her satisfaction at arriving early dissipated when she recognized the man seated in the roomy black leather seat next to her boss. Kellan Burke. Fellow forensic investigator. And the man she’d been avoiding for months.

Her stomach gave one quick lurch before she ordered it to settle. She gave Raiker a nod. “Adam.” She spared barely a glance to the other man as she chose the free seat next to her boss and buckled in. “Burke.”

“The inimitable duchess Macy.” Kellan gave her a sleepy smile that she knew better than to trust. “Been awhile since we’ve been paired on an investigation. Miss me?”

“Like a case of foot rot.”

“A comeback,” he noted admiringly. “You’ve been practicing.”

She could feel a flush heating her cheeks and damned yet again the fair complexion that mirrored her emotions. Almost as much as she damned the man for being right. Experience had taught her that it paid to have a ready repertoire of witty replies if she was to spend any length of time in Burke’s presence. Unfortunately, those replies usually occurred several hours after they were required, leaving her at the crucial moment as tongue-tied and frustrated as an eight-year-old.

It also paid to have her guard up, and her hormones on a tight leash. That experience was more recent, and the memory much more devastating.

Adam pressed a button on his armrest that would alert the pilot to ready for take-off. “Any squabbling and you’ll ride in the luggage compartment. Both of you.” He leaned forward to withdraw two file folders from the pocket of his briefcase and handed one to each of them as the jet began its taxi down the runway. Macy seized it, grateful to have something else to focus on.

“Steven Mulder.” Burke was studying the first sheet inside the folder, his expression thoughtful. “Why is that name familiar?”

“Maybe because he’s the owner of the discount stores that bear his name.” Raiker’s voice was dry. “A quick Google check shows there are two thousand Mulders in the country with several hundred more operations in Europe, Asia and South America.”

The name had also struck a chord of recognition with Macy, but not for the same reason. “Steven Mulder? His daughter was one of the girls rescued when you broke that child swap ring a few years ago.” The case wasn’t one she was likely to forget. Her testimony in the case helped put one of the perpetrators behind bars. It had also brought her to Raiker’s attention.

“That’s right.” For Burke’s benefit he explained, “Ellie Mulder was seven when she was snatched while attending a friend’s birthday party. FBI took control of the investigation almost immediately. She was found incidentally when one of my cases overlapped a couple years later. I broke up a child auction and her kidnapper was among those looking for a trade-in. By that point she’d been missing twenty-two months.”

Macy’s gaze dropped to the opened folder in her lap. A moment later she froze in the act of scanning the information he’d put together for them. “She’s been abducted…again?”

“Sometime between eleven and two A. M. this morning.” Raiker’s expression was grim. “The area was having a hellacious blizzard and Ellie’s mother went in to check on her. She discovered her missing from her bed and looked around the house. Woke her husband when she didn’t find her and they searched the estate. He called me an hour after they discovered her gone.”

“But not the FBI,” Burke guessed shrewdly.

Macy caught Raiker’s gaze on her and followed it to where her fingers laid against the folder. Her fingers were beating a familiar tattoo against the surface. Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. Throat drying, she deliberately stilled them and refocused her thoughts.

“The feds failed her before.” She met Raiker’s stare, knew she was right. “They had nearly two years to find her the first time. But you’re the one responsible for bringing her home to them. So her father contacted you.”

Her employer inclined his head. “If the Mulders had their way, no law enforcement would be involved at all. They’re pretty devoid of respect for LEOs after the last incident. But I convinced Steven that he has no choice but to report Ellie’s disappearance. He has a personal relationship with the governor and both Colorado U.S. senators. He’ll use his influence to bring in the Colorado Bureau of Investigation as leads.”

“Elbowing aside the local PD,” Kellan muttered, still studying the contents of the file.

“The Mulder estate is located outside Denver’s city limits. It actually falls under the jurisdiction of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office. Without proper management, this could turn into a territorial tug-of-war of monumental proportions.”

Macy considered the ramifications. Being hired by a family member rather than the investigating law enforcement entity made their appearance on the scene a bit more tenuous. In a case like this, suspicion fell first on the family and those in closest proximity to the child. The CBI would worry that their allegiance to Mulder would take precedence over their commitment to teamwork. Without Raiker running interference, they could be shut out of the investigative end of things almost completely. He was going to have his plate full handling the politics of this one.

She glanced at Burke. Found him watching her through a pair of trendy dark framed glasses that were new since the last time she’d seen him. “They’re going to want to bring in their own people.”

“Of course. But it’s my job to convince them they don’t have anyone who can match the experience the two of you bring. Don’t make a liar out of me.”

It took her a moment to realize Raiker was joking. It was always difficult to tell with him. “You’ve checked on Cooper’s whereabouts?”

“Art Cooper is still in prison in Sussex, fulfilling his thirty year sentence for the kidnap and rape of Ellie Mulder.”

“And. . .the others?” It took all her resolve not to fidget under the shrewd look Raiker aimed her way.

“All accounted for, still inside serving their sentences.”

She wouldn’t have asked. Couldn’t have formed the words. But in the next moment he added deliberately, “Castillo has been bounced around some. He’s currently housed at Terre Haute in Indiana.”

“So are we looking at the original group you rounded up in that first case?” Burke demanded. “Do any of them have the jones to reach out this way from prison?”

“Every avenue will need to be explored.” Adam outstretched his injured leg, nudging aside the cane he was never without. “We can’t afford to overlook the possibility that Ellie’s disappearance this time is somehow connected to that first kidnapping. I’ll line up the interviews for each with the prison wardens and make personal visits.”

There was a sick knot of dread settling in the pit of Macy’s stomach. With an ease born of long practice, she pushed it aside and looked at her boss. “And then we have to decide who the real target of this crime is. Ellie Mulder, or her father.”

There were more than a dozen SUVs and vans parked in the wide drive that looped in a half circle in front of the sprawling Mulder estate. Additionally, what looked like a black oversized ambulance set on a sixteen wheeler was pulled up next to the house. It didn’t look like Steven Mulder had been successful in limiting the scope of the LEO presence. The still heavy snowfall had already buried the vehicles under several inches of wet snow that had turned the roads here from the airport into thick puddles of slush. A drop in temperature would make them treacherous.

Macy stepped out of the SUV and scanned the grounds. They’d been detained at the iron gates at the base of the drive, more than a quarter mile back until the CBI agent posted there had scrutinized their IDs and waited for permission from someone inside to admit them. That had given her plenty of time to eye the twelve-foot stone walls that surrounded the property. The discreetly placed security cameras that topped them at regular intervals. The security station in front of the gates was meant to be manned by a live operator. If a stranger had gotten in and out of the estate undetected, he wasn’t an amateur.

The front door of the home swung open as they got out of the SUV. From the grim-faced visage of the man in the doorway, Macy knew immediately he was another CBI agent.

He waited until they’d ascended the stairs to demand their IDs again. It occurred to her that the extra precautions were a bit late. Ellie Mulder was gone.

“Assistant director Cal Whitman is waiting for you in the study with Mr. Mulder. This way.”

They were led through a marbled floor hallway that was lined with paintings and punctuated by large abstract sculptures. Macy recognized some of the artists, had no doubt the pieces were original. With Mulder’s billions, there was little he couldn’t afford. Except the one thing his money apparently couldn’t buy.

His daughter’s safety.

“Not too shabby.” Kellan said in an undertone as he strolled along at her side, casting an appraising look at the place. “What do you figure? Fifteen million? Twenty?”

“I wouldn’t know.” It was usually best to ignore Burke. But the man made it difficult. Even now she could feel his pale green eyes on her, alight, no doubt, with amusement. It seemed to be the primary emotion she elicited from him.

The hallway seemed endless. They trailed Raiker and the CBI agent who had let them in. “Pretty easy to get lost in a place this huge,” Burke said, unzipping his navy down jacket and shoving his hands in its pockets. “How long do you think it would take them to locate us?”

“Why don’t you find out?”

He gave her a lazy grin. The prism of lights from the crystals on the overhead chandeliers shot his thick brown hair with reddish glints. She’d bet money he’d been auburn haired as a youngster. And probably incorrigible even then.

“If you promise to lead the search and rescue party, I might consider it. I can imagine it now. Me, weak from lack of food, maybe injured. You, bending over me in concern, wiping my brow, the strap of your lacy camisole slipping down one satiny shoulder. . .”

She resisted an urge to smack him, which was the most frequent emotion he had on her. “Why would I lead a search and rescue mission clad in a camisole?”

His smile turned wicked. “Why indeed?”

“Burke.”

They both jumped at the crack of Raiker’s voice. He was several feet ahead of them. They’d been speaking too quietly for him to have heard. Hadn’t they? “Yeah, boss?”

“Shut up.”

He slid a sideways glance at Macy and winked at her, clearly unabashed. “Shutting up, boss.”

And those, she noted, as they were ushered into a large dark paneled room, were the most promising words she’d heard all day.

The man who rose to his feet to step toward Raiker, his hand outstretched, was immediately recognizable. Steven Mulder. He hadn’t appeared at the Castillo trial Macy had testified at, but there’d been plenty of news stories devoted to his family since his daughter’s first disappearance. He was prematurely gray, with a long lean runner’s build outfitted in a tailored suit. It’s cost likely exceeded two months of her very generous salary. As the two men clapped each other on the shoulder and leaned forward to murmur a few words, her gaze went beyond them to the men still seated behind a long polished conference table. It was easy enough to guess which one was Whitman.

The assistant director had a decade on Raiker, she estimated, which would place him in his mid-fifties. It was difficult to tell his height while he was sitting, but she’d bet well under six feet. He had a shaved head and thick neck. His ill-fitting suit pulled across his beefy chest and shoulders. When his flat brown gaze flicked over them, Macy had the impression they’d been sized up in the space of an instant. There was nothing in his expression that gave away his thoughts about their inclusion in this case.

Mulder stepped away from Raiker and inclined his head in the direction of her and Burke. “Thank you for coming. I have tremendous respect for your boss. He performed a miracle once.” There was a barely discernible break in his voice. “I’m hoping he’s got another one up his sleeve.”

“Where Raiker is concerned, achieving the impossible is a daily expectation,” Burke assured him soberly. Macy remained silent. She was always leery about issuing assurances to victim’s families. Life didn’t always come complete with happy endings.

Mulder turned away. “Assistant director Calvin Whitman,” he gestured to the man she’d pegged as CBI and then to the second man, “and my attorney and friend, Mark Alden. He’s also Ellie’s godfather.”

Alden was impeccably dressed, but his dark hair was slightly mussed, and his eyes were as red rimmed as Mulder’s. He gave them a nod but said nothing.

“Why doesn’t everyone sit down and I’ll catch you up.” Whitman waited for them to take a seat at the table. As they shrugged out of their coats, he continued. “As per Mr. Mulder’s request to the governor, I brought a small team of agents and we arrived around five-thirty. My people are completing the search of the house and beginning to go over the grounds. An Amber Alert was issued before I arrived on the scene by the governor’s office.” There was a flicker in the man’s eyes at this breach of protocol.

“I’ll be coordinating the interagency involvement on this case. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s department will handle the calls regarding the alert, and fully investigate each. I’ve been assured the DPD will extend personnel and resources if needed.”

“Has the alert elicited any calls yet?”

Whitman didn’t appear to appreciate Kell’s interruption. “There’s been no trace of the child reported so far. I have an agent taking Mrs. Mulder’s statement. The live-in help have been interviewed and the other employees contacted. Many have arrived already. We’re preparing to question them.”

“Steven just finished his statement for Agent Whitman when you arrived.” It was the first time the lawyer had spoken. “We’ll expect a copy of it, and of all the case notes, to be shared with Mr. Raiker’s team members in an expedient manner.”

The tilt of Whitman’s head could have meant anything. But it was telling, Macy thought, that he had made no verbal agreement.

Mulder obviously thought so, too. “Just so we’re clear on this, Agent.” He placed his palms on the table and leaned forward, his tone fierce. “Raiker’s unit is here with the blessing of the Colorado governor and our U.S. senators. They will be a full part of this team.” He gave a humorless smile. “I’ve been through this before. I know how it works. Althea and I are suspects until proven otherwise. So is everyone else in this house. I realize that effectively shuts me out of most of the details in this investigation. But the person I trust won’t be shut out. He’s here to be sure other aspects of the investigation don’t stall while you’re wasting your time eliminating us as suspects.” When the CBI agent would have spoken, he waved aside his protest. “I’m not waiting two years to bring my little girl home this time.”

He made a slight gesture and Alden got to his feet, as well. “I recognize there’s information that you won’t share in my presence, so Mark and I will leave now. I want to be there for Althea when they’ve finished with her.”

The room was silent as the men left, shutting the door behind them. Upon their exit, Whitman eased his bulk back in is chair and eyed Raiker. “Your inclusion here puts us in a dilemma. You have to realize that.”

“The thing about dilemmas is they always have solutions.” Adam’s voice was no less steely. “Consider those solutions, Agent. You can’t afford not to utilize us.”

The other man rubbed the folds at the back of his neck. “You have to. . .” He paused them, seemed to choose his words more carefully. “I’m suggesting that you avoid any conflict of interest by waiting for my people to complete the search of the premises. So far, this floor has been cleared. I’ve got a crime scene responders’ unit going over the girl’s room right now.”

“And once they’re done, we have free access to the property and copies of any and all reports as they’re formulated.” Raiker clearly knew how to play the game. “My people will be included in all briefings and task assignments.”

“The information is a two way street.” The agent looked at Macy and Kellan, making no attempt to mask his expression now that Mulder had gone. The man was plainly unhappy with their presence. “If I learn that you’ve withheld something from me, you’re off the case and I’Il have you detained for obstruction.”

Macy noted Raiker’s fingers clenching around the intricately carved knob of his cane. It was his only sign of temper. His voice, when it came, was silky. “Threats are the realm of the unimaginative. You’ve got some very powerful people lined up behind Steven Mulder. They were summoned because the investigation into the previous kidnapping of Ellie Mulder went nowhere.”

“And you were the superstar there. Yeah, I got that.” Curiously, the squaring off seemed to have eased something in the other man. “I knew your rep when you were with the bureau.” His gaze lingered on Raiker then, as if taking in the eye patch and the scars on his throat and hands. “Got another earful about your outfit from my director. As long as we understand each other, I think we ought to get along well enough.”

His gaze traveled between her and Burke. “Which of you is the forensic linguist?”

“I am.”

His gaze settled on Macy then. “We don’t have a ransom note. At least nothing’s been found yet. But if the offender is going to reach out, I’d expect it to be fairly soon. Give him time to see the girl secured and then turn his attention to the next matter.”

“I have a few contacts in the penal department.” Macy was certain Adam’s words were a gross understatement. The man seemed to know people everywhere. “Everyone scooped up in that last case where Ellie was rescued is accounted for in his respective prison.”

“And there’s no one else out there that maybe slipped by you guys?” The gibe was nearly hidden in Whitman’s words. “How can you be sure you got everyone affiliated with that case?”

Raiker lifted a shoulder. “I had no reason to suspect otherwise, but anything is possible. That’s why I’m arranging another round of interviews with each suspect involved. I’ve got phone calls in to each warden to set them up.”

“Video?”

“In person.”

The special agent grunted. “That’ll save us some serious time and manpower.”

“When will we have access to the scene? And the rest of the house?”

Macy caught the barely discernible note of frustration in Kell’s voice. She seconded it. As private forensics consultants, it was rare to be called in on a fresh crime scene. This was one of the quickest callouts she’d ever participated in, and they were effectively being shut away from the scene for several more hours, if not longer.

“When the crime scene evidence recovery unit is finished. It’ll be evening at the earliest. Until then, you can participate in the interviews of the employees. They’ve already started and will probably take us most of the day.”

“How many people are we talking about?”

Whitman glanced down at a sheet of paper in front of him. But before he could answer Macy’s question, Adam said, “Mulder employs over thirty full and part-time employees in the winter months. That would include the daughter’s teacher and various instructors; piano, dance, whatnot.”

“How many live on the grounds?”

“None live in the house,” the special agent said, “but the teacher has an apartment over one of the garages. A mechanic, two stable hands and a couple groundskeepers have places above various other outbuildings. Everyone else lives offsite.” He consulted his notes again. “Half a dozen security officers, six maids, two drivers, three cooks, one personal assistant—a sort of secretary to Mrs. Mulder--a hairdresser, masseuse. . .it’s like a damn village around here.”

“And how many of those people were on the grounds yesterday?” Kell asked.

“In addition to the family there were thirty on the property at some point.” He lifted a shoulder. “A few never made it in because of the weather. Others left early. All have been notified that they’re wanted in for questioning. About three quarters have arrived so far. A couple business associates were on the property yesterday, too, as Mulder was working from home. His lawyer, Mark Alden, who you met. Lance Spencer, the firm’s accountant and Tessa Amundson, Mr. Mulder’s executive secretary. By his account, which was verified by Alden, they worked through lunch and dinner, with everyone departing by seven-thirty.”

“You would have looked at the tapes first,” Macy noted. She wondered if the agent had been getting to that or if he wouldn’t have brought it up if she hadn’t asked. “They’ve got live video feed, right? That means a security station inside the property with someone manning the cameras. Something had to have shown up on them.”

“Nothing that we’ve found yet. But we’ve only been at it a couple hours. I’ve got some of the best techs in the agency going over that feed. Whatever is there, we’ll find it.”

“How many of the security officers have arrived?”

Macy shot Kell an approving glance. They were on the same page. Right now, she was most interested in the interviews of the security officers. One of them had to know something or at least have intriguing ideas. No one knew the ins and outs of the estate’s safety precautions better.

“Two were on site when we got here. All but one of the others has arrived.”

“Tell us about the security specs.” Raiker had assumed a careless slouch. Macy recognized that the position relieved the cramps that frequently seized his leg. She knew better than to call attention to it.

“Well, you saw the twelve foot walls around the perimeter,” Whitman said dryly. “The grounds are secured by cameras mounted every seventy feet, and motion detectors. Two criteria are required for an alarm to sound—pixel change on the camera and motion on the sensors. The guard station is manned twenty-four seven. Gates don’t open without keycard ID and thumbprint identification. Then the vehicles and their undercarriages are inspected before they’re allowed through. The same procedure is followed when exiting.”

Raiker’s voice was sharp. “But the guard out front has override powers.”

“No. Override can only be done from the inside. But we’ve found no record of that yesterday. We’re looking deeper.”

Burke was exuding impatience. In a corner of her mind Macy was slightly disturbed to realize she knew the man well enough to read him so well. But his emotion mirrored her own. “Let’s get to those interviews then,” she said. “Starting with Mulder’s security team.” There didn’t appear to be any way to get on to the estate without security knowing about it.

Which meant one of the members of the team may have been involved in Ellie’s kidnapping.

“You’ve got people out there looking, right?” Chief of Security Ben Cramer folded his arms across his massive chest, his midnight gaze unwavering. “While you’re wasting your time on us, the trail’s going to shit. Whoever snatched the kid could have her out of the state while you sit here with your thumbs up your asses. We’re paid damn well to keep the family safe. My team’s the last place you ought to be looking.”

“You’re head of Mulder’s security.” CBI agent in charge Dan Travis ignored the man’s question, and his insult. “You know the specifications better than anyone else. What’s the weakness in the system?”

“There isn’t one.” Cramer’s response was immediate. “With all the checks and balances in place, there’s no way an unauthorized individual can come on the grounds, waltz in the house, grab the kid and get out again. I have a team of six rotating through twenty-four hour security; two man shifts of twelve hours each, three days a week.”

Travis looked ponderous as he did some mental math. “That leaves you with a couple men two days short for their full week.”

“Which gives us extra hands to deal with vacations and for those times Mr. Mulder requires personal protection. You think we’re a bunch of novices here? I provided security for every major U.S. diplomat to visit Iraq during the first couple years of the war. I earned my chops dodging roadside bombs, not pushing papers.”

“No system is flawless,” Macy put in crisply. Cramer’s attitude wasn’t totally unexpected, since it reflected that of the other men they’d interviewed from his team. “The girl is gone. Either an intruder entered the estate--”

“—Impossible,” the man interjected.

“—or someone known to her carried her away. Either way, there should be video of it.”

Cramer’s gaze traveled from one of them to the other. “I’m guessing if you’d found it you wouldn’t be wasting time talking to me.”

“The fact that we haven’t discovered anything on the cameras should worry you, Cramer.” Travis leaned forward, his square jaw tight. “Either there’s a major flaw in the system—which, as head of security, you should have discovered—or the video feed was disrupted in some way, which again, should have been foreseen.”

Cramer gave a short caustic laugh. “If you think every possible turn of events can be anticipated, you’ve been in your ivory tower too long.”

“That’s exactly what we’re talking about.” Macy eyed the two men cautiously. They looked like a couple strange dogs, snarling and snapping at each other, readying to lunge. “She didn’t just vanish into thin air. Whether you want to admit it or not, there was some sort of security breakdown. Your team is obviously best acquainted with the specs of the system. Either one of them is involved, or there was a huge failure of some sort. Convince us of which it was.”

The other man hesitated, as if seeing the trap in her words. Finally he ran a hand over his graying buzzed hair and said guardedly, “There are always improvements that can be made.”

“Such as?”

He flicked a look at the CBI agent, but Travis remained silent, apparently willing for Macy to take the lead for the moment. “I suggested several times to Mr. Mulder that there should be cameras inside the house. A couple men posted in here. He always refused. Said he wanted to keep his daughter safe but didn’t want her to feel like she was a prisoner anymore.”

Macy’s skin prickled. Of course, Cooper would have had some sort of surveillance monitoring the girl while he’d kept her captive. He’d continued to work and socialize, to volunteer at a local soup kitchen and serve as a lector in his church. Although she didn’t know all the details of that case, she imagined he’d kept the child locked up. Maybe used a computer and web cam to keep track of her throughout the day.

It was understandable that her father wouldn’t have wanted any reminders of that surveillance for his daughter when she was returned home.

“What else?”

Cramer lifted a shoulder. “Isn’t it enough? I pointed out that if we allowed people access—repairmen, caterers—maybe one stays behind. Hides in the house. Place is big as a fortress. He bides his time, maybe fills his pockets. Maybe plans an assault. So Mr. Mulder took other precautions. They never entertain here, always in their penthouse in the city without the kid around. And anyone let in from the outside like that, a couple of my men are allowed to accompany them inside. Stay with them the entire time and then escort them back out to their vehicle again.”

“The log doesn’t show any outside access for the last nine weeks,” Agent Travis pointed out.

Cramer shrugged again. With his yard wide shoulders, he could have doubled as a linebacker. “There isn’t much traffic through here. Mr. Mulder, he’s careful about bringing anyone new on the property. Takes months just to get security clearance on new employees.”

Prisons could have different walls. It occurred to Macy that Ellie Mulder had been just as much a captive here as she’d been with Cooper. Raiker had mentioned a teacher living on the premises. Apparently the child wasn’t even allowed to attend school, for fear of risking her safety.

“Anything like that, the exterior cameras still would have picked up the guy exiting the house,” the agent put in.

“It’s my job to point out weaknesses to the boss.” Cramer shrugged. “I was satisfied with the alternate precautions we put in place. But you asked about flaws. That’s the only one I came across when we went over the specs before putting system in place.”

“Who has access to the security cameras and codes?”

“My men work the front gate or monitor the cameras. I’m the only one on the team with the override code.” He immediately corrected himself. “At least the first half of the set. Two code strings are necessary to override the cameras or turn them off. And I wasn’t on the property at all yesterday.”

“Who has both sets of codes?”

“Mulder. And the company that designed the system.”

Travis gave a humorless smile. “Smart guy like you, you could probably figure out a way around that second set of codes and circumvent the system at a time of your choosing.”

The two men exchanged hard stares. “You need to talk to the security company,” Cramer snapped. “It can’t be done. That’s why it’s cutting edge. That’s why it cost nearly a half a million bucks.”

“You realize you’ve just indicated Steven Mulder is the only person who could have gotten his daughter off this estate without any video recording of it.”

“The hell I did.” Macy thought for a moment the security chief was going to come across the table at the agent’s suggestion. “That was your scenario, remember? There’s no way in hell Mulder arranged to have his own daughter snatched. You see the lengths the man went to in order to protect her?”

“Yeah, everything’s impossible, according to you.” Temper was leaking through Travis’s formally professional tone. “Except the girl’s gone. And you’re sitting here trying to convince us it couldn’t happen. Not with you at the security helm. Well, if that’s true, how the hell did she get off the property?”

“Maybe she didn’t.”

Macy’s gaze flew up; distracted momentarily from the notes she was scribbling about the interview. “What do you mean?”

Cramer jerked his head toward the CBI agent. “His outfit couldn’t find their asses with an extra set of hands. Since me and my men weren’t allowed to help search, I’m not convinced she isn’t still in the house somewhere.”

“You have some spots you suggest we check out?” The agent’s tone was silky.

Cramer didn’t take the bait. “Oh you probably looked real hard at the places a kid’s body could be stashed. We’ve got two feet of snow outside. She could be anywhere on the grounds. Or in the house. Trouble with you guys is you don’t look for the unexpected.”

“Maybe you’d like to—”

Fed up with the two men, Macy interrupted Travis. “What aren’t we looking for?”

For a minute she thought the security chief wouldn’t answer. He seemed to be having a difficult time contemplating whether it was worth it to take a swing at the CBI agent. Then after several long moments he broke eye contact with the other man to look at her.

“Like I say, they’re looking for a spot big enough to hide a kid.” The man’s expression didn’t change, but his eyes went bleak. “Maybe you ought to be searching smaller spots. Just big enough to hide pieces of her.”

 

 

 

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Kylie Brant