Read an Excerpt
“I’m never going to get used to this weather.” Ryne slid Abbie a glance as he backed the car out of the slot. “How do you stand wearing long sleeves like that in the middle of summer?”
“Superior genes.” Ignoring his snort, she spilled the contents from the file he’d given her onto her lap. Flipping through the neatly arranged photos and reports, she noted they were sorted chronologically beginning with the first incident reported, three months earlier.
She looked at the detective. “So if this latest victim turns out to be related to the others, she’ll be the. . .what? Fourth?”
Ryne pulled to a stop at a stoplight. “That’s right. And she’s almost certainly related. He’s injecting them with something prior to the attacks, and they all describe the same effects. It turns the victims’ memories to mush, which means they haven’t been able to give us squat when it comes to details about the attacker. From the descriptions they give, it also does something to intensify sensation.”
“Maybe to increase the pain from the torture,” she murmured, struck by a thought. If that were the actual intent, rather than just hazing the memory or incapacitating the victim, it would be in keeping with a sadistic rapist.
The hair on the nape of her neck suddenly prickled, and it wasn’t due to the tepid air blasting from the air conditioning vents. The atmosphere in the vehicle had gone charged. She slanted a look at Ryne, noted the muscle working in his jaw.
“What do you know about the torture?”
Feeling like she was stepping on quick sand, she said, “Commander Dixon told me a little about the cases when we discussed my joining the task force.”
“On the phone yesterday afternoon.”
The smile that crossed his lips then was chilly and completely devoid of humor. He reached for a pair of sunglasses secured to the visor, flipped them open and settled them on his nose.
Irritation coursed through her. “Something about that amuses you?”
“Yeah, it does. Considering the fact that the last time I asked Dixon for another investigator—“ She didn’t miss the inflection he gave the last word. “—was yesterday morning, I guess you could say it’s funny as hell.”
Abbie stifled the retort that rose to her lips. She was more familiar than she’d like with the ego massage necessary in these situations, though she’d never develop a fondness for the need. “Look, let’s cut through the unpleasantries. I have no intention of muscling in on your case. Since I was hired by Dixon, I have to provide him with whatever information he requests of me. But my role is first and foremost as assistance to you.”
His silence, she supposed, was a response of sorts. Just not the one she wanted. Her annoyance deepened. According to Commander Dixon, Robel was some sort of hotshot detective, some very big deal from--Philadelphia? New York? Some place north, anyway. But as far as she could tell he was just another macho jerk, of a type she was all too familiar with. Law enforcement was full of them. Departments could mandate so-called sensitivity training, but it didn’t necessarily change chauvinistic attitudes. It just drove them deeper below the surface.
Abbie studied his chiseled profile. No doubt she was supposed to crumple in the face of his displeasure. He’d be the sort of man to appeal to most women, she supposed, if they liked the lean, lethal, surly type. His short cropped hair was brown, his eyes behind the glasses an Artic shade of blue. His jaw was hard, as if braced for a punch. Given his personality, she’d be willing to bet he’d caught more than his share of them. He wasn’t particularly tall, maybe five foot ten, but he radiated authority. He was probably used to turning his commanding presence on women and melting them into subservience.
One corner of her mouth pulled up wryly as she turned back to the file in her lap. There had been a time when it would have produced just that result with her. Fortunately, that time was in the very remote past.
Ignoring him for the moment, she pored over the police reports, skipping over the complainants names to the blocks of texts that detailed the location, offense, MO, victim and suspect information. “I assume you’re using a state crime lab. What have the tox screens shown?” she asked, without looking up.
At first she thought he wasn’t going to answer. Finally he said, “GBI’s Coastal Regional Crime Lab is here in Savannah. The toxicologist hasn’t found anything definitive, and he’s tested for nearly two-dozen of the more common substances. Reports on the first three victims showed trace amounts of Ectasy in their blood. All victims deny being users, and the toxicologist suspects that it was mixed in controlled amounts to make a new compound.”
She did look up then, her interest piqued. Use of an unfamiliar narcotic agent in the assaults might be their best lead in the case. Even without a sample, it told them something about the unknown subject.
“Same torture methods?”
He shook his head. “The first victim he covered with a plastic bag and repeatedly suffocated and revived. The next he carved up pretty bad. Looked like he was trying to cut her face off. Another he worked over with pliers and a hammer.”
“It’s unusual to switch routines like that,” Abbie mused. “Some rapists might experiment at first, perfect their technique, but if you’ve got no trace evidence it doesn’t sound like this guy is a novice.”
“He’s not.” Robel turned down a residential street. “He’s been doing this a long time. Maybe he’s escalating now. Maybe it takes more and more for him to get his jollies.”
It was possible. For serial offenders, increasing the challenge also intensified their excitement. With that in mind, she asked, “Are there any uncleared homicides in the vicinity that share similarities to the rapes?”
He looked at her, but she couldn’t guess what he was thinking with the glasses shielding his eyes. “Why?”
“He had to start somewhere.” Abbie looked out the window at the row of small neat houses dotting the street. “A guy like this doesn’t get to be an expert all at once.” She turned back to Robel, found him still surveying her. “Maybe he went too far once and accidentally killed his victim. Or something could have gone wrong and he had to kill one who could identify him.”
“Good thought.” The words might have sounded like a compliment if they hadn’t been uttered so grudgingly. “We checked that. Also looked at burglaries. Nothing panned out.” But her remark seemed to have splintered the ice between them.
“I’m not surprised the burglary angle didn’t turn up anything. This isn’t an opportunity rapist. Sounds like he goes in very prepared, very organized. His intent is the rape itself, at least the ritual he’s made of the act.”
“I worked narcotics, undercover. Did a stint in burglary, a longer one in homicide.” He pulled to a stop before a pale blue bungalow with an attached carport. Only one vehicle was in the drive. “I can understand the motivations of those crimes. Greed, jealousy, anger.” Switching off the car, he removed the sunglasses, and slid them back into their spot on the visor. “But I’ve never been able to wrap my mind around rapists. I know what it takes to catch them. I just don’t pretend to understand why they do it.”
Abbie felt herself thawing toward him a little. “Well, if we figure out what’s motivating this guy, we’ll be well on our way toward nailing him.”
“I guess that’s your job.” Robel opened his door and stepped out into the street, reaching back inside the vehicle to retrieve his jacket. “You get in his head and point us in the right direction. That’s what Dixon had in mind, isn’t it?” He slammed the door, shrugging into his suit coat as he rounded the hood of the car.
Abbie opened her door, was immediately blasted by the mid-day heat. The rancor in his words had been barely discernible, but it was there. So she didn’t bother telling him that getting inside the rapist’s head was exactly what she planned on.
It was, in fact, all too familiar territory. She’d spent more years than she’d like to recall doing precisely that.