Lyndon, Pennsylvania August, 2005 What could possibly be going through a man’s mind at the moment he decides to take the life of a child?
Detective Evan Crosby stared down at the twisted body of Caitlin McGill and wondered.
The young girl’s blank eyes stared endlessly at the sun, her mouth open in its final scream. Her thin arms stretched outward, bent at the elbows, to form perfect Ls. Her feet turned in, toes touch- ing.
“What?” Evan turned his head slightly, though his eyes were still on the girl who lay at his feet.
“We used to call people whose feet turned in like that pigeon-toed,” one of the crime-scene investigators noted. “How old was this one?”
“Not even fourteen,” Evan replied.
“Just like the last one.” The CSI shook his head. “Crazy. Just plain damned crazy. She was a real cute kid.”
“They were all cute kids.”
“This is what, the third? Fourth? In the past two months?”
No one responded to the question, which was rhetorical. Everyone on the scene—from the Avon County, Pennsylvania, detectives to the CSIs to the local police to the medical examiner—knew exactly how many others there’d been since the first of May.
And now Caitlin McGill.
All between the ages of twelve and fourteen. All pretty girls who attended one of the many private schools that flourished in the Philadelphia suburbs. All with dark red stains down the front of the white cotton shirts that were standard school-uniform at- tire.
All of them barefoot.
“What’s up with that, anyway?” Joe Sullivan, Evan’s onetime partner at the Lyndon Police Department, came up the hill from the playground and stopped three feet behind Evan. “Whaddaya suppose he’s doing with their shoes?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Poor kid.” Sullivan shook his head. “What’s your old lady say about it?”
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to her yet. She’s been away.” Evan let the “old lady” comment ride. He’d had that conversation with Joe on more than one occasion. It had never done any good—Joe was Joe and wasn’t about to change.
“Guess they keep those FBI profilers pretty busy, eh?”
“Never a shortage of psychos, Joe, you know that.” Evan nodded to Dr. Agnes Jenkins, the Avon County medical examiner, as she hurried past.
“Can’t remember anything like this, though. But at least he left them where they’d be found quickly.” Sullivan’s voice was flat, emotionless.
The M.E. bent over the body and began her ministrations. Evan looked away. Over the past eight weeks, he’d had more than his fill of young girls who’d had their throats slashed. He took a few steps back, then turned and went back to his car. The crime scene would be turned over to him once the M.E. was finished, but for now, he’d use this time to check his phone messages, return those calls he could. Start the paperwork on this latest homicide. Get as much work done as he could while he could. It had all the makings of another very long night.
It was well after three in the morning when Evan arrived at his townhouse in West Lyndon. Bone weary, he left his car parked out front, and bleary-eyed, let himself in through the front door. He ignored the pile of mail on the hall table—when had he put that there?—and pretended not to see the blinking red light on his telephone. Messages could wait. He was simply too tired to deal with anyone or anything.
Too tired, too, to make it up the steps, so he let himself drift backward onto the living-room sofa, fully clothed. He’d just closed his eyes when he heard the soft footfall on the stairs. Dismissing it as little more than wishful thinking on his part, he continued to sail toward sleep.
“Evan?” a voice called from the doorway.
More wishful thinking, surely.
“Evan.” The voice, gentle, filled with concern, drew closer.
Soft hands caressed his arm. He sighed and smiled in his state of almost-sleep.
“Evan, don’t sleep down here. Come up to bed.” The voice was in his ear now.
He reached out and touched skin.
He felt her weight as she sat on the edge of the sofa and leaned over him, her lips pressed against the side of his face.
“When did you get here?”
“About nine.” She snuggled next to him, and he felt himself relax for the first time in days.
“Why didn’t you call me?”
“I heard on the scanner that another body had been found. I didn’t want to disturb you. I figured you’d be home when you were finished with what you had to do.”
“How long can you stay?”
“I’ll be in town through Tuesday. Have you forgotten that my sister is getting married on Friday?”
“Oh, shit. I did forget.” He stared up at the ceiling. How could he have forgotten that?
“It’s okay. I’m here to remind you. Thursday night, rehearsal dinner. Friday night, wedding. Saturday, sleep until noon. Satur- day night, just me and you. Sunday through Tuesday, I’ll be staying with my niece, until Mara and Aidan get back. Not much of a honeymoon for them, but at least they’ll have a few days to themselves.”
“Rewind back to Saturday. Saturday sounded real good.” It had been weeks since they’d had a night together alone. There’d been something every weekend for the past month. Four weeks ago, it had been Mara’s wedding shower. The past three, either Annie or Evan had been working.
Maybe on Saturday night they could have dinner at their fa- vorite restaurant, he was thinking, then catch a movie. Or maybe they’d just stay at home, just the two of them. That sounded even better.
She lay against him, her head on his chest. His fingers trailed lightly through her soft blond hair.
“How old was she?” she asked softly.
“Thirteen. Almost fourteen.”
“Same as the others?”
She fell silent, and he knew that she was working it through. As a psychologist and one of the FBI’s most skilled profilers, Annie—Dr. Anne Marie McCall—couldn’t help but sort through the pieces.
“Missing,” he told her through a fog of fatigue. “Just like the others.”
“Odd trophy,” she murmured.
“I wanted to ask you what you thought about that.”
“Tomorrow.” She sat up. “We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Right now, you think you can make it up the stairs?”
She stood, and cool air replaced her warmth. His hand searched for her in the dark, but she had already moved out of reach.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back.”
Moments later she returned. He felt the soft flow of a blanket drift over him, the comfort of a pillow under his head.
“Move over.” She slid under the blanket and wrapped her arms around him, her body molded to his in the dark.
“Annie . . .”
“Shh. Tomorrow. There’s nothing that can’t wait until the morning.”
He wanted to say something, but his tired brain had stopped communicating with his mouth. Effortlessly, he sailed off into the darkness, where he dreamed of endless closets filled with small bloody shoes that frantic mothers tried to match into pairs.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Dead End by Mariah Stewart. Copyright © 2005 by Mariah Stewart. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.