Her high heels clicking across the hardwood floors, Mallory Russo walked through the quiet foyer of the handsome Tudor mansion that served as home to business mogul Robert Magellan, as well as being her place of business. Uncharacteristically silent, the house seemed to reflect the sad spirits of all who’d come under its roof today. Earlier that morning, Mallory and her coworkers had gathered here before filing into the limousines that would take them to Our Lady of Angels Church a few miles away in Conroy, Pennsylvania, where Father Kevin Burch, Robert’s cousin, conducted the memorial service for Robert’s late wife, Beth.
Mallory removed the wide-brimmed black hat she’d bought for the occasion and walked the length of the hall to the wing of the house where the Mercy Street Foundation offices were located. She snapped on the overhead fan as she entered the room and went straight to her desk. She tossed the hat on a nearby chair and tried to remember if she’d ever owned such a thing before. Under the desk, her feet kicked off the heels she seldom wore and her cramped toes wiggled in the hopes of bringing back the circulation.
She wasn’t sure when the others would be back but she hoped to get some work in between now and the time those who’d been invited back for a luncheon began to arrive. No one had seemed in much of a hurry to leave the cemetery after the service, gathered around chatting as they’d been, but she’d been ready to leave even before the priest had begun to speak. There was something unsettling about holding a funeral for a woman who’d been dead but not buried for well over a year, so when Charlie Wanamaker, her fiancé and a detective with the local police force, had whispered in her ear that he’d be taking off, she asked him to drop her off on his way to the police station.
One would expect that, as a former detective herself, Mallory would be beyond the point where death had the power to spook her, but there was something about this death that rattled her right to her soul. Beth Magellan and her infant son had been missing for many months, but the car they’d been in had only recently been found in a deep ravine in the mountains of western Pennsylvania. Beth’s remains still were strapped into the driver’s seat when the car was discovered, but there’d been no trace of the baby other than his car seat. That someone had come upon a dead or dying woman and had walked away without calling for help was beyond Mallory’s comprehension, but the knowledge that this same person had most likely been the one who’d walked away with the woman’s child was haunting her. Had Beth been alive, even conscious, when Ian had been taken? Had her last breath been spent calling for her son? Had Beth been aware that she was dying? The horror of it sent a chill up Mallory’s spine. Robert was a good man, and she’d grown very fond of him. He didn’t deserve to suffer like this. She suspected that the only thing that kept him going now was the knowledge that Ian most likely was still alive. Somewhere.
It was this last part that added an extra layer of sadness to the morning’s service: where was somewhere?
Robert Magellan had founded—and funded—the Mercy Street Foundation to provide private investigative services to those for whom law enforcement agencies were making little or no progress finding missing loved ones. Robert knew the pain of not knowing what had happened to the two people he loved above all others—his wife and his son—but circumstances had blessed him with the means to hire professionals to search for them. That they had failed hadn’t diminished the fact that he could afford to take those steps.
Not that any of the PI’s Robert hired had had any success, Mallory reminded herself. It had been Susanna Jones, a member of Robert’s own staff, who’d eventually found Beth’s missing car. But the point was that he could afford to hire an army of investigators. Most people were not that fortunate. The Foundation was intended to do for them what they could not do for themselves: get the best investigators on the case.
While still in its infancy, the Foundation had taken only two cases, but both of those had met with success. There’d been an overwhelming response to their solicitation of applicants for their services, as well as their call for experienced law enforcement personnel to add to their staff. Mallory was charged with the task of sorting through all the applications and pulling out those cases that might best benefit from their services. She was also responsible for reviewing hundreds and hundreds of resumes to find those individuals she thought might best meet the Foundations needs.
On her desk, she had both their next case and, she hoped, their next hire.
The letter from Lynne Walker had captured her imagination even before she’d read through the news articles that accompanied it. Lynne’s husband had been murdered under very odd circumstances, and the cop in Mallory couldn’t help but be enticed by the challenge. Even now, she couldn’t stop herself from reading through the file again: the body of Ross Walker, a construction supervisor, had been found behind the soup kitchen where he and Lynne volunteered one night every week. The torso had been stabbed repeatedly and left posed, seated against the fence with a very large hamburger from a fast food restaurant stuffed into his mouth.
The police investigation had been at a standstill almost since the very beginning. Whoever had murdered Ross Walker had been careful to leave no trace of himself, and interviews with the folks who’d been in and out of the kitchen had proved fruitless. No one had seen or heard anything.
Yet someone had gone to a lot of trouble to kill Ross Walker and leave his body in plain sight. The man’s widow had submitted it to the Foundation for consideration. After more than a year, she wanted to move on, wanted her children to be able to start a new life. But not knowing who had killed her husband and why was keeping them all stuck in that moment when the doorbell rang and her seven-year-old son had opened it to find two police officers standing on their front porch.
Yes, this case would do nicely. Mallory hoped the others on the selection committee would agree.
Mallory turned her attention to the second folder on her desk and opened it. Over the past several weeks, she’d reviewed hundreds of resumes from law enforcement officers from every agency and just about every state. She’d been separating them into two piles: interview and toss. At the top of the interview pile sat the resume of Samuel J. DelVecchio, who had spent the past sixteen years with the FBI, most recently as a profiler.
A resume like that moved Sam DelVecchio to the very top of Mallory’s most-wanted list.
For one thing, she reasoned, a former FBI agent would have a lot of contacts within the Bureau, contacts that could prove invaluable, not only for this case, but for future cases as well. For another, he’d worked just about every kind of crime imaginable, and would bring a wealth of experience to the Foundation. Kidnappings, sex crimes, white slavery, serial killers—Samuel DelVecchio had seen them all.
Mallory went back to Ross Walker’s folder and pulled out a newspaper article that included part of an interview the local chief of police had given three months after the murder. That the body had been posed carefully suggested that the killer was sending a message, he was quoted as saying, but what that message was and who was supposed to receive it, well, no one had figured that out. Mallory figured an FBI profiler might be able to do exactly that.
Yes, Samuel DelVecchio looked like he just might be the right guy.
Sam DelVecchio stopped at the gate that blocked entry onto the grounds owned by Robert Magellan and waited for the guard to wave him through. The gate swung aside and Sam drove his rental car along the drive that wound past an island of newly planted trees. When Magellan’s Tudor mansion came into view, Sam hit the brake. Although he’d seen pictures of the house on the Internet, he hadn’t been prepared for how impressive it was.
“Nice.” He whistled appreciatively. “Very, very nice.”
He parked on the right side of the drive, as he’d been instructed, and got out of the car, pausing to put on his suit jacket and straighten his tie. It had been a long time since he’d been on a job interview, and he wanted to make a good impression. What, under the circumstances, could be more appropriate than basic FBI black? He walked to the door and rang the bell. Almost as an afterthought, he removed his dark glasses—perhaps a little too MIB?—and tucked them into his jacket pocket as the wide front door opened.
A woman of indeterminable age stood at the threshold.
“Samuel DelVecchio?” she asked.
Excerpted from Acts of Mercy by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2009 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.