Use code DAD23 for 20% off + Free shipping on $45+ Shop Now!
By Gregg Olsen
Formats and Prices
Format:Trade Paperback $12.99 $16.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 15, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
Also available from:
When the body of Leann Truitt is found in a secluded cove in Mystery Bay, Detective Megan Carpenter is one of the first on the scene. The victim has tell-tale marks on her wrists, ankles and neck where she has been bound. But that’s not all. Next to Leann’s body lies a puzzling clue—an unusual symbol scratched into a rock.
With rookie Deputy Ronnie Marsh under her wing and the investigation underway, Megan starts to receive disturbing messages. Someone knows about her traumatic past. They know what she did.
Determined to stay focused, Megan soon makes a chilling link between Leann’s brutal killing and the unsolved murder cases of two other women—all redheads with the same marks on their bodies, the same symbol carvings found at the crime scenes, and most shockingly, all had been pregnant.
The killer stalks his prey, kidnapping and torturing them in a very exact and methodical pattern. And he is not finished yet …
When the body of another woman is found bearing a striking resemblance to the other victims, Megan must crack the clues fast if she is to catch the twisted soul before they strike again.
Megan might be closing in on the killer, but someone is watching her every move. Can Megan hide the secrets of her past threatening to destroy her future? And can she protect herself and Ronnie before they both find themselves in terrible danger?
The streetlights on the corners were dim. Young men—teenagers, mostly—stood in the yards or between houses in small groups, smoking, laughing, staring at her small car as she passed as if challenging her to encroach on their territory. She had heard all the talk about this part of the city. She'd read the newspaper accounts and seen the raw footage on television. And still she came. His invitation had been so shy, embarrassed, charming.
She had rushed home from her shift at the tavern, showered, and tried on several different outfits before she decided on the one that would highlight her figure and accentuate the red of her hair.
That was her go-to color. She studied herself in the mirror.
She'd been called pretty, even beautiful a time or two.
Yet never by the sober.
Or the especially handsome.
That evening he'd called her beautiful.
She had been working in a coffee shop downtown and just started taking shifts at the tavern. Tips were better at the Sandpiper, but the clientele had bottomed out on the disgusting scale. The coffee shop had been full of New Age creeps and wannabe writers. The Old Whiskey Mill had drunks and more drunks, and it was a cop hangout. Drunks were more generous than coffee sippers.
She ran her fingers through her hair and thought about him.
He looked familiar. Not overly so. Just enough to make her lean in when he spoke. He ordered a Jack Daniel's, straight up, and smiled at her. She'd said something like: "Do I know you from somewhere? Are you famous?"
The moment it passed from her lips she felt schoolgirl silly.
"Afraid not. I'm sure I would remember a beautiful woman like you."
It was a very old, very worn-out pickup line, but he'd blushed.
And yet, there it was: a real, honest-to-God blush.
She remembered asking if he worked in town, and he answered with a straight face.
"I work for the CIA."
She blinked and was about to say something, but he laughed and said CIA stood for the Culinary Institute of America. CIA. He was a chef in search of employment. A recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, California. He said he was going to prepare something special for her.
He sheepishly explained he still lived at home with his father and would she mind if his dad ate with them?
That made her mind up. She had felt silly that she had almost turned him down. She hadn't gone out with anyone for a long time. Especially someone she'd just met. She'd said yes much too quickly. She regretted that now. She didn't want him to get the wrong idea.
Or maybe she did?
She knew what her mother would have said if she were still in her life. "Leann Truitt, just what were you thinking?" It was one of her mother's favorite lines; a dart meant to hurt. It was true that sometimes she hadn't been thinking, but she was a grown woman now.
"Shut up, Mom," she said to herself. "We'll find out soon enough what I was thinking."
The house was on the corner and faced north. It was badly in need of a makeover and was exactly as he'd described it. But her stomach dropped as she drove around the corner. The house was dark except for a flickering light behind thick yellowish curtains. It looked empty. She looked at the clock on the dash, thinking she was early, but she was actually a few minutes late.
She parked and walked across the cracked cement of the sidewalk to the side gate. She lifted a black latch and pushed the gate open. A walk of original brickwork led to the door. The bricks were covered in green moss, and she had to step carefully to keep her high heels from slipping. If she twisted an ankle, she wouldn't be able to work—and, even worse, would miss this wonderful evening.
And yet something niggled at her; a little doubt crept in.
She looked for a doorbell but there wasn't one; there wasn't even a knocker. She raised her hand to knock and hesitated. What if his father disapproved of her coming for dinner? This place was older than old. It smelled of mildew and rot. It reminded her of one of her father's rental dumps.
"I'll get it, Dad," a voice said from inside.
She heard footsteps. A shadow appeared behind the glass and the door opened.
He took her hand and led her inside the darkened foyer.
Her eyes adjusted and she could see that both walls of the wide hallway were lined with boxes and stacks of clothing and dolls and appliances and lampshades. There was a narrow path and he was leading her through the clutter. Then she stepped in something sticky. Adrenaline coursed through her. Something was wrong.
"Maybe I should…" she managed to say, before he turned and slammed a fist into her face.
I sit at my desk at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office with posters of the craggy Olympic Range on the wall behind me. I can see into Sheriff Gray's office to my left. His door is open and he's leaning back, too far back, in his roll-around chair, the springs squeaking whenever he shifts his weight.
I swear, the chair could be used by the CIA to get confessions from the most hardened terrorist. I want to take a full can of WD-40 and douse the springs.
But I don't.
I turn to the disheveled woman sitting in a chair beside my desk. She is holding a toddler with one arm and attempting to corral her eight-year-old serial-killer-in-training with the other.
"Miss Gamble, let's move to an interview room," I say, partly because I don't want to cause her more embarrassment and partly because her kid can bounce off the walls in there. Literally. In the kids' interview room are soft toys, carpeting, soundproof walls, posters of breaching orcas, the PAW Patrol, lighthouses.
Miss Gamble gladly gets up. Her ears are bleeding also. Whether it's from the squealing made by the chair, the squalling toddler, or the whining, nasal, nasty mouth of her son is unclear. If I thought a can of WD-40 would work on the eight-year-old, I'd use it. But it's not Miss Gamble or her kids that are getting to me. It's her situation. It sparks memories. I try to set it aside. Sparks can be bonfires.
Miss Gamble is unmarried, trying to raise three children by three different fathers, and trying to do it alone. She is on public assistance, living in public housing, using food stamps in an unwise manner—for example, trading them for illegal substances—and I deduce from her belly bump she might have another baby on the way.
She leads the ones she already has into the children's interview room. The interview room for adults is not like this space. Not even close. This one is meant to soothe and mollify. The adult side is designed to irritate and get them to confess just to get out of the room. I can testify that it works. At least, some of the time.
I take a seat, pick up the paperwork provided to me by the Port Hadlock Fire Department, and look at Miss Gamble, then at the eight-year-old.
She remains silent.
"Did you know your son was setting things on fire?"
It's a straightforward question. Yes or no. She doesn't answer. Just gives me those big brown eyes. I can't sympathize. I don't know enough about the family dynamics. Maybe the kid's been abused?
When I ask the question, her little firebug's eyes light up and a half smile plays at his lips. The sheriff is in the next room. I want to continue the questions, but I get up, go into the outer office, shut the door behind me, and return to my desk to clear my head. I wonder if he's a bedwetter. If so, I know how the textbooks would classify him, and it stings me. I know from experience that while bedwetting often indicates a child's future behavior, the trajectory is somewhat changeable.
I hear the sheriff's chair give an emphatic squeal and know he's gotten up. The floors vibrate under his plodding gait as he comes over to my desk.
"You okay?" he asks.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"Is that kid really setting animals on fire?"
"Fire marshal says so." The fire marshal actually said more than that, but Sheriff Gray doesn't need to hear the descriptive language he used. The man was very upset. I've never seen a grown man cry, but after seeing the pictures of a family's beloved pet, I don't blame him. I felt queasy thinking about it, and it takes a lot to make me queasy.
"Well, I'm going to do you a favor," Sheriff Gray says, handing me a Post-it note.
I read and look back at the kids' interview room. I can hear banging on the wall. "What about them?"
"I'll take care of them," he says. "I'm the sheriff. I can do a referral to juvenile court the same as you, and I've done this job longer."
Outside of a multiple murder in the Snow Creek area, the cases I've had lately have been thefts and high-dollar vandalism. The note the sheriff handed me has eight words printed in his perfect, steady hand.
It reads like a telegram.
Mystery Bay State Park.
A floater is a tasteless but accurate descriptive term we use for bodies found in water. I haven't been on the job very long—two years—but this is the first time I've heard of a drowning in the little cove of Mystery Bay, Marine State Park.
"Homicide?" I ask.
He gives a little shrug. "They want a detective. You tell me after you get there."
I grab my windbreaker that doubles as a raincoat, thinking the sheriff is done.
"Detective Carpenter, meet Reserve Deputy Marsh."
A younger version of me, but with red hair instead of blond, steps in front of my desk with her hand held out. A smattering of freckles high on her cheekbones are visible through the makeup she's applied. The hand is perfectly manicured.
Those nails won't last the day, I think.
I can't help but notice my own hands just then. My skin is dry, tanned from spending time in the sun. Nails somewhat chewed but practical for this kind of work.
I already don't like her, but, to be fair, I don't know her.
I remind myself to get to know her first and then not like her.
Her grip is like water, soft. She is wearing a blue pinstriped suit with a white silk blouse billowing out in front. She probably got the idea for her getup from a television show where all the female cops are busty, with longish styled hair, and dressed in high heels. Her ridiculous outfit will last about as long as her nails before it's ripped or covered with mud or puke or blood.
"Ronnie Marsh," she says.
"Nice to meet you, Ronnie." I don't mean it. I've got a case to work, and in my mind I'm already heading to Marrowstone Island. I let her hand drip through mine, and I slip into my windbreaker. As I turn for the door, Sheriff Gray stops me with a hand on my shoulder. I don't like to be touched, but I'll make an allowance for him.
"Take her with you, Megan."
I work alone. Always have. I work alone for a reason. I don't want complications. I don't want relationships. Working together qualifies as a relationship. Relationship equals abandonment. That's what life has taught me. My brother Hayden hates me because I left him in Idaho with a veritable stranger. My mother betrayed and lied to me in the worst way.
Everyone does eventually.
Reserve Deputy Marsh can ride along with me for today, but that's it.
"You've got her for a week."
I shoot him a look. I don't care if the reserve sees it or not.
"I'm swamped, Sheriff. I can do today. Maybe you can give her to someone else?"
"Swamped with what?"
I stay mute. He already knows the answer. I'm tempted to say, Sheriff, you and I both know I'm not working shit right now. So why don't we save some time here and you hand her to someone that wants to work her. But I don't say that because Sheriff Gray gave me a job when probably no one else would. Because he knows things about me. Because he has helped me erase some of my past mistakes. And, more than anything, because he is about the only person I can trust.
He doesn't remove his hand from my shoulder. "You might as well take vacation time, Megan. It's so dead around here."
I wish he wouldn't use that word: "dead." It has a way of multiplying trouble. Like a virus.
Just then, Nan, Sheriff Gray's assistant, shows up. She is also wearing a suit. She and Marsh could be twins. I change my assessment of where Marsh got the idea for her attire. She must have seen Nan.
That doesn't bode well for her.
"Sheriff," Nan says, "Marine Patrol wants to know if they need to respond to the drowning." She's looking at me, smiling at Marsh, and talking to the sheriff. She's perfected multitask ass-kissing. "Should I tell them you're both with a suspect and can't be disturbed?"
Reserve Deputy Marsh speaks up. "I just completed my rotation through Marine Patrol. Captain Martin gave me a good write-up. He said I was his best intern yet."
I'd met the captain one time during my academy rotation. He was good-looking, in a Ted Bundy sort of way. I remember he was always partial to the female cadets. The guys, no matter how adept they were on the water, barely squeaked by with a passing grade.
"I can see that," I say.
Nan and Marsh were exchanging looks and giving each other a knowing smile. It's no secret that Nan has a picture of Captain Marvel—that's what I call him—displayed on her desk. He is at the helm of his boat, bravely sailing into a perfect sunset. I remember a while back he gave Nan a ride on his personal boat. The next day she came to work in wrinkled clothes, messed-up hair, no makeup.
I just rolled my eyes when I saw her.
Sheriff Gray looks at me for a response.
"I won't know if I need the Marine Patrol guys until I get there. What's their location?"
Nan gives me a stare. "The captain didn't say. He just asked if he should respond."
"I'll call Captain Marvel when I get there." Then I change my mind. "I'll call the captain on my way," I say, and try to leave.
Sheriff clears his throat. "Aren't you forgetting someone? Take Deputy Marsh with you." He says this like I should stand to attention and salute.
I head to the parking lot, and Deputy Marsh trails behind me with her high heels clacking all the way. I get to my old Taurus and hit the unlock button on the key fob. I forgot that the key fob doesn't work anymore. The good thing is the car is old enough that it still has a regular key on the fob. The bad thing is the car is old. I've asked for a new car. I won't get one until I have to drive with one arm out the window holding the door shut.
The day just gets better and better.
I open the door with the key and hit the inside unlock button. Nothing happens. I lean across and unlock the passenger door. Ronnie Marsh waits until I pull out of the parking lot before she starts what will become stream-of-consciousness chatter. I tune out somewhere around her graduating from middle school at the top of her class.
The drive to the scene isn't a long one. We cross over the narrow causeway to Indian Island and a second causeway to Marrowstone Island. I turn left on State Route 116, which is also Flagler Road. Every now and then a cut through the thickets of ferns and old cedars reveals the sun reflecting off the waters of the bay. It reminds me of my little brother, Hayden. In Port Orchard we lived not far from a little creek, where he would look for salamanders. He was seven. I was fifteen or sixteen. I read A Tale of Two Cities for English class. Charles Dickens said what I was feeling about those times in Port Orchard. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." There's enough time and distance from those days that I choose to remember the good. The bad is too painful. Hayden remembers only the worst of days and my screw-ups. He has little contact with me, and that is more painful than the memories.
Mystery Bay is to our left, the state park straight ahead. I see a sign for the boat ramp and slow down. A state patrol car is parked several hundred feet down the road with the emergency lights on. In front of it is one of our Sheriff's Office vehicles.
Further down is a relic: a red or oxidized brown Ford Pinto.
A young man, teens, early twenties, stands behind the deputy's cruiser, one arm wrapped around his chest, his free hand twisting the hair of a skimpy beard and stuffing the end in his mouth. His hair is long and black and curly and looks like it hadn't been washed in… well possibly, ever. He wears camouflage army boots with the laces tied so loosely, I can't imagine how they stay on his feet. His faded jeans are cuffed and tattered.
The trooper's corfam dress shoes are dirt- and mud-free. So very shiny. If I'd been inclined, I could use the toes for a mirror. There's not a fleck of lint or dust on his sharp-enough-to-cut-you pressed trousers. I look at the statie's name badge: MacDonald.
"Your deputy is down with the body," he says flatly. "No need for both of us to get dirty. Besides, one of us had to stay up here to keep the road closed to civilians."
I glance at the pair of cruisers with their emergency lights flashing and then return my gaze to him. I want to say that I would have totally missed the police cars with the Christmas lights going and driven right past. But since I have a trainee with me, I shift gears.
"That's what I figured. Good thinking." I give him "the look" so he knows he didn't pull a fast one on me. To my pleasant surprise I hear my trainee giggle.
Maybe she'll be okay.
"Is that the person that found the body?" she asks.
The young man stopped twisting his beard long enough to offer his hand. He says nothing and I don't take the hand. I doubt anyone would.
Trooper MacDonald speaks up. "This is Mr. Boyd."
I nod. "I'll need a statement from you, Mr. Boyd. Why were you down there?"
I didn't see a boat trailer or any fishing gear. He isn't dressed for anything outdoorsy.
He appears surprised by the question. I half expect him to ask if he is a suspect and then invoke his rights. To which I might respond that he has no rights until he becomes a suspect. The truth is everyone is a suspect until they're not. I have learned that from experience. He doesn't disappoint.
"I'm not a suspect, am I?"
"Absolutely not," I lie.
He looks skeptical. "On TV the person to find the body is always a suspect."
That was also true in real life.
"That's TV, Mr. Boyd."
"Robbie," he says. "My name's Robbie. I go to school at Olympic College. I'm taking criminal justice."
"Great choice," I tell him. "So you know how this goes. Tell me: why were you down there?"
He stuffs some of his scraggly mustache in his mouth and chews on it.
"I heard about this place from a friend at school," he finally says. "I don't have to give you her name, do I?"
"No," I say.
Not right this minute, anyway, I think. I'll let him tell me all he knows and then I'll get the name out of him.
"Okay," he starts. "I was looking for a new hiking trail. I'm parked right over there." He turns and points at the Pinto as if I hadn't noticed it or it might have mysteriously moved. "I'm a hiker and a rock climber. I was looking for some cliffs. I'm very strong."
"I can see that." He looks all skin and bones in his grimy T-shirt and well-worn jeans and hiking boots.
He smiles and warms to me. Everyone does. I can charm when I need to.
"So," he goes on, "I headed down to the bay—to the boat ramp, I mean—and I started looking for a trail."
He stops a beat.
"This isn't going to be on the news, is it? I'm supposed to be in class. I skipped a test and told them I was sick."
It's going to be in a full-length movie if you keep asking stupid questions, I think.
"I don't think your name will come up," I say.
He seems a little disappointed, so I pivot again. "But I can't promise the news media won't track you down."
He brightens a little. That was the correct response.
"Well, I guess if I have to talk to them…"
"Finish telling your story," I say.
"Okay, so I walk that way"—he points—"and I come to a place where I found a trail. I went into the trees and followed it a bit and that's when I found the place."
Ronnie interjects: "What place?"
"The rocks," he says. "I'm a rock climber. You ever been rock climbing?"
She shakes her head.
I want to shake her for interrupting the interview.
"Mr. Boyd," I say, "you found the body. Can you tell us about that?"
"Okay. Sorry. I just really like rock climbing."
I gave him a stern look. I am running out of patience.
"Anyway, I came up to the little cliff, bluff, whatever." Boyd has warmed to the subject. "It was only, like, thirty feet high, but it was sheer, man. I mean, it was straight down: 'Do not pass GO, do not collect $200,' if you know what I mean."
He gives other expressions of this stupidity and I let him talk until he runs out of "likes" and "you knows" and appears to be wrung dry as far as skirting the subject.
"I was going to climb down. I left my climbing gear back in the car, but it looked like I could make it. Then I saw I didn't have to. Someone left a perfectly good rope tied off to a tree. It was coiled up and I almost tripped over it. I pitched it over, checked the knot, and over I went."
"The body," Ronnie says.
I can see she is getting impatient too.
"So I got down to the bottom and there's a bunch of big rocks and a tiny strip of sandy beach. I pulled on the rope to make sure I could climb back up. I didn't want to fall down in those rocks. Some of them are sharp. Anyway, I was about to climb back up and I saw what looked like a foot sticking out between the rocks. I couldn't see any way to get to this beach except by climbing down. I thought maybe the person had fallen off the cliff. At the same time I wondered how they could have, 'cause the rope was coiled up at the top of the cliff."
He stops and looks at us.
"Aren't you going to take notes?"
"I have a very good memory," I say. "Go on."
He sighs. "Okay. Fine. I go over and look and it's a woman. She ain't moving and looks banged up. I thought maybe she had fallen but then I see she's not wearing anything but her panties and a bra. So I think maybe she tried to swim to the beach and got tossed up on the rocks. I climbed back up and called 911. Then I thought maybe she needed help and I got in my car, but it wouldn't start. Then the officer showed up and he called for a deputy and, well, here we are."
- On Sale
- Mar 15, 2022
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing