Monday, August 15th, 1:12 a.m.
ABIGAIL MACY’S pain ran deep. Her once beautiful life had been shattered.
She had never considered herself to be a strong woman, and the shrink she was seeing twice weekly had concluded she was suffering from anxiety disorder brought on by her recent tragedy.
She was filled with overwhelming feelings of panic and fear, uncontrollable obsessive thoughts, and recurring nightmares.
Her job performance had suffered. Personal relationships were falling apart, and now, she half-staggered the four blocks home, disappointed that the pain she had been feeling earlier had not been successfully smothered this time by her evening at Eddie’s.
They had seen her there often lately, as a recent but now frequent customer. She hated herself for it, but the reprieve helped to dull her senses.
This time, her effort to gain relief made her pain more overwhelming, and tonight she sobbed quietly to herself as she walked down the dark street, toward her home and her faithful husband.
As she went, she began to feel ill. Physically ill. Nauseous.
At first she thought it was another panic attack, but soon realized the consumption of one too many glasses of cheap house wine at Eddie’s had been the cause.
She stopped and took a deep breath. Her queasy stomach was rebelling. She looked around. The street was quiet, so she stepped off the sidewalk and leaned over beside a hedge dividing two properties. There she deposited the contents of her stomach.
She looked up and hoped she hadn’t been seen. There was a light on in the front room of the house directly in front of her, but no one was around.
As she turned away, the sound of running footsteps came to her from the side of the house. She heard a cry for help. A woman’s voice.
She crouched in the shadows, frozen, watching. She saw as the helpless woman came into view, scrambling and stumbling. She stood rigid and motionless as the half-naked woman was overtaken, grabbed from behind, and brought to the ground. She saw her attacker kneel beside her, saw his hands go about her throat and cut short her final scream.
His victim struggled and clawed feebly. Soon all was still and quiet.
Abigail Macy saw the killer rise to his feet, then lean over and grab the woman’s hands. He began dragging her across the grass toward the darkness at the edge of the home.
She felt numb and lightheaded. The branches beside her rustled and crunched as she rose to her feet. As she stared open-mouthed, he stopped and looked up from the shadows, staring into her frightened eyes.
She turned and ran.
She heard him behind her now, and she chanced a glance over her shoulder. He was close and getting closer with each step.
Home was just ahead. Home and safety. She forced herself on, terrified and exhausted.
She stumbled the last few feet and fell onto the brightly lit steps of her home. She was unable to move, but was relieved to see her would-be attacker was gone.
After a while, she rose to her feet. She fumbled in her handbag for her key and opened the door. She fell inside and lay there for a few minutes before finally slipping quietly upstairs, careful not to wake her sleeping husband as she tiptoed past their room and fell exhausted into the safe double bed in the guest room.
Monday, August 15th, 3:32 p.m.
JAKE LINCOLN sauntered into the home office and plunked his six-foot-four-inch body into the guest chair in front of the desk just as Annie dropped the phone back into its cradle.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“What did they want this time?”
“More of the same. Seems like the whole world wants a piece now.” Annie leaned back in her chair and looked at her husband.
“Yeah, but we’ve already been on CNN. And FOX, and ABC, and all the rest of the alphabet.”
“It’s a big story,” Annie said. “Small-town private investigators nab serial killer!”
“Not exactly a small town, but it makes a good headline.”
“I’m sure it’ll die down once the trial’s over. Meanwhile, the publicity has been great for business.”
Their office, formerly an unused bedroom, contained only the bare necessities. A couple of bookcases on one wall were filled with novels as well as a few law journals. Other books that looked like manuals of some sort sat below a row of obsolete encyclopedias. A few prints hanging on the wall completed the look.
“Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!” An eight-year-old boy shot into the room and skidded to a stop.
“Hey, Matty, how was school?”
“It was good, Dad. All the kids think you’re a hero now. Of course, I had to tell them I knew it all the time.”
Jake laughed. “Your mom’s a hero too.”
Matty frowned. “No, she’s not,” he said. “Women can’t be heroes.”
“Of course they can, Matty.”
“Nope. She’s a heroine.” Matty laughed and darted from the room.
“My son, the linguist,” Annie said.
Lincoln Investigations had been a struggling young enterprise, employed mainly to obtain evidence for cases of divorce, child custody matters, missing persons, and research into the character or financial status of individuals, as well as some security work. Until recently, it had barely been enough to keep them both busy and keep things afloat. But when they had been engaged to find a missing child, it had turned into much more than they’d expected. Catching a serial killer had led to all the publicity they were now receiving.
Prior to their venture into private investigation, Annie had been a part-time research assistant, while Jake had been a construction engineer for Cramer Developers. When Jake had lost his job due to downsizing, Annie had had to carry the family financially for a while. Her research experience had led naturally into their current undertaking.
Annie leaned forward in the swivel chair and dropped her elbows on the timeworn desk. She picked up a sheet of paper and scanned it briefly. “All these missing children,” she said with a sigh. “It’s sad. Everybody’s calling now, hoping we can find their missing child. All across the nation, suddenly they think we’re the experts.”
“I wish we could help them all,” Jake said, “but there’re too many, and they’re too far away. Anyway, we have a lot of steady local clients now, so it keeps us busy.”
“Speaking of clients, Edward Franklin from Franklin & Franklin called.” Annie leafed through a small stack of papers and pulled one from the pile. “They have some papers to serve. Their regular process server is on vacation, and they want us to serve a notice to appear in court. I believe it’s a child custody case.” She handed the paper to Jake.
Jake leaned forward, took the paper, scanned it, and looked at his watch. “I can probably do this today, or maybe in the morning.” He folded the paper and tucked it into his shirt pocket. He rubbed his hand through his short dark hair, stretched, yawned, and then rose to his feet. “But right now, I need to do a little workout. Matty’ll be down there waiting for me.”
As Annie stood and walked around the desk, Jake watched her. He had never stopped admiring the trim figure she kept all the years since he’d known her. She stood five feet four inches tall, and Jake leaned down so she could give him a quick kiss. Married for seventeen years, he never grew tired of that. He looked into her beautiful blue eyes and grinned down at her.
She kissed his grin and said, “I have a few things to clean up here, so go ahead, lift your weights, or whatever it is you two guys do down there.” As he let her go and turned to leave, Annie frowned and said, “Make sure Matty’s careful.”
Monday, August 15th, 6:05 p.m.
PHILIP MACY was a patient husband. After the tragic death of their child, which had hit them so hard a few weeks ago, he was able to struggle on, but Abigail just seemed to be getting worse every day. As she grew more withdrawn, he became increasingly concerned. He was doing his best and didn’t know how to do anything else for her other than to be patient and pray she would improve.
He sighed deeply as he tucked a paper napkin onto the tray beside the tuna sandwich, small salad, and glass of orange juice. He took a last look at the meal to be sure he had everything prepared, then carried the tray from the kitchen and up the steps to the guest bedroom.
Balancing the tray with one hand, he tapped lightly on the door and pushed it open. Abigail was sitting on the bed, propped up by a couple of pillows. She stared at the wall in front of her, taking no notice of him.
The curtains were drawn to hold back the evening sun, allowing only a peep of light in, painting a slash of white across the floor. The overhead light was off. The only thing illuminating the otherwise gloomy room was a small lamp on the night table. He stood still a moment, watching her, before he finally approached the bed.
He slid the tray onto the nightstand beside her and sat down gently on the edge of the bed. “Abby,” he said softly, “I brought you something to eat.”
She stared at the tray a moment, and then slowly turned her face toward him. Her eyes were vacant. Her pretty face was haggard, and she seemed much older than her twenty-five years.
He reached out and gently caressed her long dark hair, once so beautiful, now unbrushed and uncared for.
“Thank you, Phil,” she whispered hoarsely. “I’m not hungry.” She put her head back and closed her eyes, breathing slowly and carefully as though each breath was an effort.
“You should eat something.”
She opened her eyes, looked at him, and managed a weak smile. “Maybe later.”
“Honey, you seem to have gotten worse, sadder, the last couple of days. It’s more than just Timmy. What’s troubling you?” he asked.
She shook her head and looked down, rubbing her fingers together as though nervous.
“I love you, Abby. You know that. I want to help you any way I can. You know you can talk to me about anything.” His voice was gentle, but pleading.
She reached for a bottle of pills on the night table and popped the top. She took the glass of orange juice he offered her and, taking a big drink, she swallowed a couple of pills and set the glass back.
He continued to study her, watching, waiting, and feeling helpless, useless, and weak.
A tear fell from her eye. She ignored it. Then another, and another.
He leaned forward and held her, soothing her as she began to sob, quietly at first, and then uncontrollably. She clung to him. Her tears soaked his collar, her sobs in his ears, his gentle heart breaking.
She wept for a while, then finally managed to speak, her voice weak, low, and husky. “He killed her.”
He thought he’d misunderstood her. He pushed her gently back so he could see into her eyes, a puzzled look on his face.
“He killed her,” she repeated.
He cocked his head. “Killed who?”
“I saw him kill her.”
Philip studied his wife thoughtfully, frowning slightly. She appeared to be frightened, and she still clung to his arm. “Whom did you see?” he asked.
“Last night. On the way home. I felt sick so I stopped for a minute. I saw a man kill somebody.”
Philip frowned deeply. “Are you sure, honey?” he asked.
She looked intently at him and nodded slowly. “I’m sure,” she said.
“Did you see who it was?”
She shook her head.
“Did you see who did it?”
She shook her head again. “I saw him, but I don’t know who it was.”
Philip sat up straight and looked at her carefully. She was motionless, her moist blue eyes telling him the truth. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” he asked.
“I was afraid.”
Philip could see she was still afraid, hesitant, and reluctant to say more. “We have to call the police,” he said.
She nodded and whispered, “Okay.”
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