By Candice Fox
Read by Federay Holmes
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SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT.
Doctor Samantha Parish noticed an odor as she pulled the door of her Prius closed. An earthy, almost metallic smell, the distinct reek of male sweat. As soon as the lock clicked, she knew one corner of her world was out of place.
When he spoke from the back seat, a part of her wasn't even surprised.
"Try to stay calm," he said.
But his deep, soothing tone made staying calm impossible. His self-assurance told her he was speaking from experience. This was the moment his victim usually panicked.
Doctor Parish's first impulse was to push open the door and roll out of the vehicle. The quickly darkening parking lot was full of cars where other mothers waited. Teenage girls in black leotards, matching pink silk bags hanging from thin shoulders, were filing between the vehicles from the door of the nearby hall. When Samantha tried to move, she found her body was frozen.
"Don't make a sound," the man said. "Put your hands on the wheel. Eyes straight ahead."
Her shaking hands moved to the steering wheel, gripped hard. She smelled blood. Rain or stagnant water, something almost swampy.
She chanced a look in the rearview mirror. He was silhouetted against the sun setting beyond the nearby park. Shaved head. Tall. Broad, powerful shoulders.
"What do you want?" Her voice was far smaller than she had intended.
A click. The sound of a gun.
Doctor Parish felt tears sliding down her cheeks. "Please, just take the car."
He said nothing. What are we waiting for? she wondered. Then it hit her, hard in the chest, like a punch. She'd forgotten all about Isobel. She turned, her mouth twisted in a silent howl just as her eleven-year-old daughter opened the passenger-side door.
"No!" Doctor Parish could hardly form the words. "Isobel, ru—"
The child didn't even look at her mother. She was wearing those little white headphones, cut off from the world around her. She flopped into the car and pulled the door shut behind her with a whump, locking her inside their nightmare.
When they arrived at the clinic, Isobel gave a moan of terror, huddling against her mother as they exited the car. In her ballet getup, she was the frightened black swan, shoulders bent forward, trying to disappear under her mother's wing.
They walked to the doors, and Samantha swiped their way into the darkened space.
She guessed where he wanted to go and turned and walked through the consulting room into theater three. They passed a large poster of a woman with perfectly symmetrical breasts, a chart showing liposuction before-and-after shots. Parish Lifestyle and Body Enhancement Clinic was embossed in thin letters on a stainless-steel plate above the door.
What he wanted from them was becoming clear, at least to Samantha. She watched him undressing carefully in the surgery room, easing a messily bandaged shoulder out of the torn shirt. His clothes were filthy, his skin covered in a fine sheen of sweat. She could smell already that the wounds were septic. Trying to control her shaking, she straightened, let go of her daughter, and took a step toward him.
"You want me to help you," she said. It was the first time such a concept had ever repulsed her.
She helped him peel away the bandages. Three puncture wounds, one in the side, two in the shoulder. The wound in his side had an exit hole at the back. A bullet. It was the ones in the shoulder that bothered him the most. The bullets were still in there. As he peeled the last of the blackened bandages away, blood began seeping from the wounds.
"Lie down," she instructed, gesturing to the operating table.
He didn't lie, but sat on the edge of the table with some difficulty, the gun pinned under one hand, a finger on the trigger guard. Samantha went to the shelves and began filling a tray with tools.
"I'll need to administer an anesthetic," she said.
"No," he answered. He was panting now with pain. "No injections."
"But I can't—" She whirled around, gestured to his wounds. "I can't perform surgery on you without a local anesthetic at least."
"You'll have to," he said. She waited for more, but there was none. He wasn't willing to let her inject him with something—didn't trust her not to administer a general anesthetic and knock him out. But he trusted her with a scalpel. Why? She could slash him. Stab him. Then, of course, what good would that do? A nicked artery would put him down in three minutes, maybe longer. Long enough for him to fire the gun at her, or Isobel. Long enough for him to swing one of those huge fists.
The wounds were days old. He'd clearly been hiding somewhere filthy, waiting for the strength to enact his plan.
"You're him, aren't you?" she said, low enough that her daughter couldn't hear. "The one they've been looking for. Regan Banks."
He didn't answer. She watched his cold eyes appraising the scalpel in her hand.
"You're not going to let us live, are you?" she said.
Again, no answer came.
Five weeks later
I DIDN'T SLEEP MUCH. But when I did, my mind turned in circles, repeating their names like a mantra, connecting them end to end. When I was really tired, my lips moved. I sometimes woke to the sound of my own whispering.
Rachel Howes, Marissa Haydon, Elle Ramone, Rosetta Poelar.
Regan's girls. The innocent lives he had taken. He had left their bodies ruined on lonely stretches of sand, horrors to be discovered by strangers.
Tox Barnes, my friend, left for dead in my own apartment.
Caitlyn McBeal, a smart young American woman reduced to skin and bones, traumatized, crawling on her belly out of Regan Banks's grasp.
"Samuel Blue," I whispered through my dreams.
My brother. All I'd had left in the world. The only man who would never abandon me, never judge me.
I didn't know why Regan Banks had seized on my brother. But my research, my gut instinct, and what my friends had been able to determine was that Regan Banks was obsessed with him. Regan, a boy from the suburbs, a foster kid like me, had spent fifteen years in prison, incarcerated for the brutal murder of a young woman when he was just seventeen. Regan had found Doctor Rachel Howes working late in a veterinary clinic and unleashed his first deadly passion on her, paying for it with hard time. Not long after his release, girls began appearing on the shores of the Georges River, beaten and strangled, sexually violated. I had wanted in on the case, but no one would approve my assignment. Soon enough, I found out why. My colleagues already had a suspect for the murders, and he was my own flesh and blood.
I knew Sam was innocent. But I was the only person making that claim. There had been evidence in my brother's apartment, put there, he said, by someone else. While I'd fought to secure my brother's release, I'd managed to convince two friends to help me, Tate "Tox" Barnes and Edward Whittacker. Together we'd found the man we'd believed to be the real Georges River Killer. A man who'd set out to destroy my brother's life. Tox had taken Regan on and almost got himself killed. Whitt had got achingly close to catching him, only to have him slip away, wounded and wild, into the night.
I'd thought it was over. That once we caught Regan, my brother would be set free.
But that dream was snatched away from me. My brother was stabbed in prison and died only hours before I'd planned to visit him and tell him the good news.
I was the only one left to speak for Sam now. For him and all of Regan's victims. But my plan had changed. I wasn't just going to clear my brother's name by forcing Regan to admit to framing him. Regan deserved to die for the lives he had taken.
I, Detective Harriet Blue, needed to be the one to kill him.
A sound broke through my dreams. I snapped awake, bolted upright in the stiff motel bed. For a moment, I had to orient myself. I had been on the run for five weeks, shifting from motel room to motel room, trying to stay under the radar while I hunted my brother's killer. I had looked for him where I knew bad men felt safe. I'd wandered homeless camps, where armies of wanted men hid their faces in shadowed hoods and blankets, huddled around campfires. I'd squinted into the corners of blackened, stinking barrooms and drug dens, the basements and attics of city brothels. I had searched for Regan through the underworld, following whispers between depraved men, chasing rumors through the streets. In five weeks, I hadn't found him, but I hadn't given up.
There were no warrants for my arrest. But to my colleagues in the Sydney police, my intentions were clear. I had gone off the map so that Regan couldn't find me, so that I could get my revenge for what he had done to my family. I had disappeared because I knew that if my colleagues in the police discovered where I was, they'd try to convince me not to commit that final devastating act. The act that would mean giving up everything. My career. My life. My freedom.
And I couldn't let them do that.
As I sat listening in the dark, I knew someone was coming.
THE ROOM WAS a strange T-shape, narrow in the stem so that the end of the bed almost touched a dresser against the opposite wall. At the rear, the room turned left to an old chipboard closet and right to a moldy bathroom. The front window looked out into a parking lot stuffed with cars. I'd left the heavy curtains open a crack so that the red light from the motel's NO VACANCY sign poured in through the lace. The light flickered as a figure passed before it. I heard the telltale blip of a police radio.
"Yeah, Command, we think we've got her. Have that rover stand by for our call. Over."
Patrol officers. I could hear the squeak of their leather boots. Shadows moved under the door. Three men. Two cops and the motel's owner, most likely. My backpack was zipped up, ready to go, as always. I'd slept fully dressed. I threw myself out of the bed and dragged on my shoes as a heavy fist began to beat on the door.
"Harry, we know you're in there. Open up!"
I slipped the backpack on and went to the end of the T-shaped room, tucked myself into the corner by the closet, and waited. Before me, the open bathroom door, the shower and toilet beyond. I heard the jangle of the motel owner's keys.
"Harry?" one of the officers called. "Go easy, all right?" I heard a subtle tremor in his voice.
He knew my reputation.
THEY'D BEEN STUPID. The patrol cops had told the backup car to hold off, wanting to be heroes. Big men who had grabbed the snarling feral cat Harriet Blue and finally shoved her in a cage where she belonged. Their first mistake.
Their second mistake had been coming into the room and leaving the lights off, thinking they'd have a tactical advantage over me in the dark. They probably expected to catch me in my underwear, still half asleep.
Wrong. I knew the room, they didn't, and I'd set the place up for a situation just like this. I listened as they ran into the drawers I'd left pulled out at the bottom of the bed, blocking their path forward. In the red light from the motel sign, I saw them separate as I'd hoped they would, one climbing over the bed while the other tried to shut the awkward, rickety wooden drawers. I took the small packet of soap I'd left on the carpet in front of the closet and tossed it through the bathroom door. It made a clattering sound on the toilet lid.
The first officer jumped off the bed and leaped forward at the sound, into the bathroom. I popped up, grabbed the handle of the door, and pulled it shut on him, slipping the slide bolt closed. I'd set the same trap in every motel room I'd stayed in, taking the lock from the inside of the door and screwing it onto the outside with a screwdriver I kept in my backpack. I'd never used the trap before, but now it worked like a charm. I smiled in the dark.
"Hey! Hey! What the fuck?" he yelled.
I turned, left him beating on the inside of the bathroom door, and faced the second officer, who was blocking my path to freedom.
"Don't," he said, his arms out, as though to catch me. "Harry, come on. Give us a break."
I didn't know this young officer. Didn't want to hurt him. But I was on a mission to bring down a killer, and I would do what it took to stay free.
He was backing up toward the exit. I couldn't let him get there. I made a leap for the bed, and that encouraged him. He came forward, grabbing at my legs while I tucked into a roll and landed on the other side of the mattress.
His arm came around my shoulders. I jutted my elbow hard into his ribs, got nowhere, kicked the wall, and shoved myself backward, propelling him onto the mattress. The shock of it was enough to loosen his grip.
The motel owner, a squat, hairy man, was standing helplessly just outside the doorway as I sprinted out into the night.
CHIEF TREVOR MORRIS sat at his cluttered desk and gripped his head, looking at the report from two patrol officers in Lidcombe. In the early hours of the morning, the pair had briefly encountered his rogue detective, Harriet Blue, and predictably failed to bring her in. In five weeks, it had been the only confirmed contact.
Oh, Harry, he thought. I'm so sorry.
He should have been the one to tell her that her brother was dead. He had a special kind of relationship with the unpredictable, hotheaded officer he'd found in his local boxing gym fifteen years earlier. The new kid on the block in Sex Crimes, his only female detective in that department. Chief Morris had agreed to train her in the boxing ring. She'd started calling him Pops, and yes, he'd felt almost like her father. He'd found she could already hold her own in a fight. It had been her fury he'd had to tame, her fast, clumsy rage.
It hadn't been much of a leap for Harry's rage to evolve into a need for revenge.
He turned in his chair and perused a collection of articles he'd pinned to a nearby corkboard detailing the city's reaction to Regan Banks's escape.
Police bungle Regan Banks arrest, deadly serial killer still at large.
Two found dead; scene suggests Regan Banks alive and well.
Where is Harriet Blue? Speculation rife detective is in league with killer.
The public had never liked Harry. Had never believed that a Sex Crimes detective didn't know her brother was a serial killer. Sam Blue had been in the middle of his trial when Regan Banks had surfaced. Harry and her few supporters had been claiming Sam was being framed by a tall, broad-shouldered man with a shaved head. They knew Regan was a killer. He'd killed as a teen, and now a woman had only barely escaped his clutches, telling investigators Regan had spoken about Sam Blue. Had Sam been innocent all along, the victim of a setup? Or was the Georges River Killer actually a two-man team? The answers weren't coming anytime soon.
"What a mess." Morris shook his head as he turned and looked at another corkboard, the various crime scenes touched by Regan's hand. The pictures of his pretty victims, pale and still on morgue tables. "What a fucking mess."
"Yes, it is an incredible mess," someone said.
Pops looked toward the doorway. Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Woods stood there with his hat in hand, the various buckles and attachments to his jacket gleaming in the harsh overhead light.
Pops stood, smoothing down his tie, feeling sweat already beading beneath his shirt. Before he could begin the necessary greetings, Woods cut over him.
"Get your things together," Woods said. "You're out, Morris. I'm taking over."
THERE WERE NO WORDS. Pops eased the air from his lungs.
"I'll need this office as an operations center for the Banks case," Woods continued. "You can start working on that after we brief the crew about the command change."
"Deputy Commissioner Woods," Pops said finally, "this is my investigation. You can't take it over without approval from—"
"All the approvals have been given, Morris." Woods patted the smaller man on the shoulder, the gesture stiff and devoid of warmth. "You've done your best, I'm sure. But this"—he waved at the corkboard—"this isn't just a mess. It's a fucking catastrophe. It has to be taken in hand immediately by someone with suitable experience."
Pops's eyes widened. "Joe, nothing like this has ever—"
"You've got a vicious killer on the loose." Woods leaned on the edge of the desk. "Eight dead. A rogue policewoman running amok, refusing to come in. Another rogue officer in a coma. Am I missing anyone?"
"Detective Barnes is out of his coma," Pops said. "And he never—"
"Don't try to defend him, Morris. Tox Barnes is a lunatic. Always has been. He wanted to play with Regan a bit before handing him in—be a hero. He almost became a casualty. Well, that's not how we do things in this job. We don't take matters into our own hands, no matter how good it feels. I'm here to make sure that Blue woman doesn't do the same as Barnes and add herself to the already numerous body count."
The two men glared at each other. Morris and Woods had been at the academy together, more than thirty years earlier. It was precisely these interactions that had got Woods to the rank of Deputy Commissioner while Morris remained at Chief Superintendent. Woods railroaded people. When he spoke. When he acted. When he went for promotions. He was a tall, thick-bodied battering ram of a man, charging in and taking over when he decided good publicity might be available.
Pops felt a pain in his chest, scratched at the anxiety creeping up his insides.
"Detective Blue is refusing to come in," Woods said. "To me, that's not only professionally unacceptable, but it's deeply suspicious."
"She's not in league with Banks."
"Then why won't she come in?"
Morris didn't answer.
"Because she wants to kill him," Woods said. "If she's not in league with him, she must be hunting him. That's premeditated murder. It's just as critical for us to bring her in to save Banks's life as it is to investigate her involvement in his past crimes. We don't condone vigilantism, Morris. I want her found and arrested."
"That's a big mistake." Morris shook his head. "You cannot approach her with force. She will kick arses, Joe. I'm telling you. If you try to bully her, you better prepare to clean up the mess. I've been trying to establish contact so I can lure her in. I had two officers early this morning who found her, and they were supposed to call me. Instead they went in, and they're lucky they didn't get hurt."
"All the more reason to get her into custody."
"No," Morris said. "I won't support an arrest warrant without a criminal charge." He shrugged stiffly. "And you have nothing to charge her with. She was not in league with her brother. She's not in league with Banks. Right now, she's an official missing person, and we have concerns for her welfare. End of story."
"This is not your decision," Woods said. "There has been a change of command. It's out of your hands."
Pops grimaced, turned away.
"I'll offer a reward," he said suddenly.
Woods gave a quizzical frown.
"I have a hundred grand in my personal savings account," Pops went on. "You continue to play her to the media as a missing person, as a good cop we have grave concerns for, and I'll offer the money as a reward for her whereabouts."
"This is ridiculous."
"I guarantee you'll find her faster that way. If the public thinks she's dangerous, they'll run from her. If they think she's one of us, and better yet, their ticket to a fat pile of cash, they'll be drawn to her. You'll get more hits with a reward."
Woods looked down at the man beside him.
"I'll hand over the investigation to you, no questions asked." Pops put his hands up in surrender. "But I'm asking you now not to put out a warrant on Harry. Don't do that to her. She doesn't deserve it."
Woods snorted, unconvinced. "When we get her in, we'll see what she deserves."
DETECTIVE EDWARD WHITTACKER barely made the briefing on time, jogging to the mirrored door to the boardroom and stopping to tuck in a loose corner of his shirt. He hated to be late. Actually felt a burning anger in his throat at the thought of it. He opened the door and walked stiffly to the back of the room, determined not to react to the eyes of other officers following him. As he took a seat, a detective he knew from Robbery turned and leaned over the back of the chair in front of Whitt.
"How's Barnes?" the younger detective asked. "Still kickin'?"
Whitt felt his face flushing. His former unofficial partner, Detective Tate "Tox" Barnes, was deeply reviled across the Sydney metropolitan police department. His grievous wounding in a fight with Regan Banks was hardly tragic news. Whitt knew it wouldn't be long before this hatred for Tox, and for Whitt's partner before him, Harriet Blue, would turn on him.
"Detective Barnes is recovering well," Whitt said. "He's not receiving visitors. But the doctors tell me he'll likely be up and about in a couple of weeks."
The young Robbery/Homicide detective gave a theatrical sigh. "Well, you know what they say. Only the good die young."
The officers around them sniggered.
A senior detective came in and began the progress check on the Banks investigation. There were sightings of Banks all over the city to run through. Most were unsubstantiated, panicked calls from elderly women after hearing bumps and thumps in their yards in the early hours. There were a few legitimate, interesting calls about big men with shaved heads acting suspiciously, but they were not clustered in any particular place. It seemed that, like Harry, Regan had gone to ground since his last killings: the vicious slaughter of a mother and her eleven-year-old daughter in a Mosman plastic surgery clinic.
Whitt took a file out of his bag and selected his manila folder on the Parish murders. There were crime-scene photographs of the once-immaculate surgery room, bloodstains and spatters found to be from Isobel and Samantha Parish. And some blood that matched the DNA profile of Regan Banks. The detectives had determined that Banks had abducted Doctor Parish and her daughter and forced the skilled plastic surgeon to attend to wounds Banks had acquired in a shootout with police.
Whitt had been there when Regan was shot by police, had heard Regan's cry as the bullets tore through him. It didn't escape Whitt that if he'd just been faster, smarter, more prepared, he might have been the one to take Regan down before he escaped. Before he killed the mother and child.
Whitt flipped quickly through the photographs of the bodies, the mother curled in a corner of the surgery, her throat cut. The little girl still in her dance leotard, her arms splayed and head twisted back at an unnatural angle. The killings had been swift but violent. Whitt wondered whether Doctor Parish had known when she was helping Banks with his wounds that he planned to kill her. There were indications the woman and the child had both put up a vigorous fight, completely trashing the surgery room. They'd died at opposite ends of the building, the child making it all the way down the hall to the front reception room and grabbing the phone off the hook. No call to emergency services had come through.
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