The Girl Who Disappeared Twice, p.1Part #1 of Forensic Instincts series by Andrea Kane
THE GIRL WHO DISAPPEARED TWICE
THE GIRL WHO DISAPPEARED TWICE
the heroic FBI Tactical Canine Dog
who was killed in the line of duty.
Thank you for protecting our country.
I hope my bloodhound, Hero, is a fitting tribute to you
and all the other brave service dogs like you.
Westchester County, New York
Summer, thirty-two years ago
When six-year-old Felicity Akerman went to bed that night, she had no idea that life as she knew it was about to change forever.
She settled under the light cotton blanket and put her head on the pillow, her long blond hair tied back in a ponytail because of the heat. She was wearing her favorite short-sleeve nightshirt with the bright orange soccer balls on it. She had to wear it tonight. It was like a gold star on a perfect spelling test. A prize. A big win.
That’s what today’s game had been. The doctor hadn’t been too sure about letting her play. Neither had her mom and dad. But she’d talked them into it, and gotten the okay she was holding her breath for. No one understood how miserable she’d been, sitting on the sidelines all summer long since she broke her arm. But it was better now. No more cast. No more pain. No reason to wait.
She’d proved that today on the playing field at Pine Lake Soccer Camp. She’d scored three out of her team’s four goals.
With a happy smile, she rolled onto her right side, reflexively protecting the left arm that had been in a cast for seven long, hateful weeks. Her smile widened as she remembered she didn’t have to do that anymore. She wriggled her fingers and bent her elbow. Free. She was finally free. And finally her team leader again.
The bedroom curtains rustled as a warm summer breeze blew in through the window. Her mom had left it halfway open before she went out. The summer air felt good. It swirled around the room. It smelled like flowers. It acted like a lullaby.
Felicity shut her eyes, her fingers still wrapped around a fold in her nightshirt. Next to her, her sister said something in her sleep and flopped onto her back. She hated sleeping alone when their parents were out. Normally Felicity liked her room to herself—sharing the same face, same hair, and same birthday with her sister was enough. But tonight she was so happy that she didn’t mind. Besides, they weren’t alone. Deidre was right down the hall, listening to her cassette player and singing along. Her voice was really awful. The two girls giggled about that all the time. But they never said anything to Deidre. She was their babysitter, and she was very bossy. She was also eighteen and starting college. That made her practically a grown-up. And their mom and dad always told them they had to be respectful of grown-ups.
Even Deidre’s bad singing wasn’t enough to keep Felicity awake. Lots of physical activity after lots of sitting around had really worn her out. She drifted off to sleep.
She didn’t see the window slide open the rest of the way. She didn’t see the silhouette of a figure climb inside and cross silently over to the bed, going straight to her sister. Nor did Felicity see the intruder force a damp handkerchief over her face. But she did hear a whimper.
Groggily, Felicity rubbed her eyes and turned over. Still half asleep, she could vaguely make out a human form dressed in a long, loose black hooded sweatshirt. The person was leaning over the other side of the bed. As Felicity watched, her sister’s whimpering stopped, and she went very still.
Felicity’s small body went rigid, and her eyes snapped open. She was suddenly and fully awake. Who was in their house?
But there was no time to find out. The intruder straightened, and a gloved hand was clamped down over Felicity’s mouth. She started to squirm, fighting with all she had. The sleeve of the sweatshirt brushed her forehead. Damp, with a funny smell. Like orange medicine.
The gloved hand lifted, and a wet handkerchief with that same orange medicine smell was pressed down on Felicity’s nose and mouth. The smell was awful. Felicity wanted to scream. She couldn’t. And she couldn’t break free.
The room started spinning. Felicity caught a glimpse of her sister. It looked like there were two of her. And Deidre’s singing sounded far away.
The stinky smelling handkerchief won.
Everything went black.
Manhattan, New York
The bar smelled like stale beer and sweat.
Casey Woods shifted in her seat, which was situated far away from the social hub of the place. She rolled her glass between her palms. It was filled with whatever was on tap that the waiter had brought her. Taking a sip, she looked nervous but wistful among the slew of college kids milling around the East Village hangout.
She was one of those kids. Or trying to be. She was a wannabe—a shy and naive misfit, on the outside, looking in. Hungry to be welcomed into the inner circle.
She reached around and fiddled with a strand of her long red hair, which was tied back, giving her a more youthful appearance. Her gaze darted around, flickering, every so often, over her target. He was in his early thirties, perched on the first bar stool. Whenever she glanced his way, he was usually staring at her.
The time ticked by slowly. Casey made sure to openly, if shyly, eye the hunkiest-looking guys, changing her demeanor from hopeful to unsure or dejected. Every guy she focused on eventually left, either with a group of friends, or with a girl he’d hooked up with.
At just past three-thirty in the morning, the bartender started closing up, and the bar emptied out. With just a few stragglers left, Casey’s hopes for the night were ostensibly dashed. Her lashes lowered in an expression of utter defeat.
Slowly, she rose, reaching into her messenger bag for some cash. As she’d planned, the bag slid off her shoulder and plopped on the floor, contents spilling everywhere. Flushed with embarrassment, she squatted down and began stuffing things back into her bag—her wallet, makeup, and fake student ID.
From her peripheral vision, she saw the man at the end of the bar rise, toss some bills on the counter and walk out with the last few stragglers.
It was 4:00 a.m. Closing time.
Despite the pointed glare of the bartender, Casey took her time replacing the contents of her bag, rearranging them as she did. She kept her wallet out long enough to slap some bills on the table. Then she made her way to the door.
The bartender locked it behind her.
Casey sucked in her b
She steeled herself as she walked past the alley near Tompkins Square Park. She kept her gaze fixed straight ahead.
She heard Fisher’s footsteps an instant before he grabbed her. His arm clamped around her waist, his free hand pressing a knife to her throat. Too hard. Too fast. No taunting. This was not how she’d planned it. And now he had her.
“Don’t fight. Don’t scream. Don’t even breathe. Or I’ll slit your throat.”
Casey complied. She didn’t have to fake her trembling, or the fear that stiffened her body. Silently, she talked herself down, reminding herself why she was doing this. She offered no resistance as Fisher dragged her into the alley. The psychopathic SOB shoved her down on the filthy concrete ground, kneeling over her, a glittering look of triumph in his eyes. He kept the knife at her throat, using his other hand to tear at her jeans.
The button popped. But the zipper never gave.
Marc Deveraux made sure of that.
Emerging from the shadows like a predator in the wild, he lunged at the would-be rapist with all the strength of his powerful build. He yanked Fisher’s knife-wielding arm up and away from Casey, then slammed down on his forearm until Fisher’s bones made a cracking sound and the knife clattered to the ground.
Fisher howled with pain.
“I’m just getting started,” Marc promised menacingly. He dragged Fisher up and slammed his back against the wall. “You okay?” he called out to Casey, who was scrambling to her feet.
“A hell of a lot better than I was thirty seconds ago,” she managed.
“Good.” He turned his attention back to Fisher. “Talk,” he ordered, one knee pushed into Fisher’s groin and one elbow digging into his windpipe.
“The girl came on to me,” Fisher said, then yelped, sweat beading on his forehead. “She—” His breath caught as Marc increased the pressure of his knee.
“Wrong answer. Tell me about your plans for this girl—and what you did with all the others.” He leaned closer, until his face nearly touched the other man’s. “You don’t want to know what I am or what I’m capable of. Compared to me, you’re a Girl Scout.” His elbow shoved deeper, cutting off most of Fisher’s oxygen. “Now tell me about the girls—all of them. And don’t spare any details. I’m a captive audience.”
It took longer than expected to get Fisher’s confession. It took a Navy SEAL’s thumb dug deeply into his collarbone, causing blinding pain that persisted long after the pressure was removed, and the threat that a repeat performance would increase the pain tenfold if that’s what it took to make the perp talk—assuming his neck didn’t snap first. The bastard’s cold-blooded confession had made bile rise in Casey’s throat. He might be going to jail for a long, long time, but Casey wished they were throwing away the key for good.
“I’m done here, Marc,” she told her rescuer. “Otherwise I’m going to be sick.”
“Go,” he urged quietly. “I’ll wrap things up here and head over to the precinct. The bodies will be found. Any claim of coercion will be tossed. It’s a murderer’s word against ours. The confession will stick. Go home.”
Home was a four-story Tribeca brownstone that was residence and office combined. There was no beating that. One mortgage. One place that held all her worldly possessions. And no commute. It was ideal.
Of course, she rarely made it up to the fourth floor, which was supposedly where she slept. Her bed was a casual acquaintance, if not a stranger. She virtually lived in her office. That was her choice. One she made every day. And she wasn’t sorry.
With a quick glance around the reception level, she turned left and climbed the L-shaped staircase to the second floor. Directly ahead, she’d had French doors installed—doors that led out to a balcony overlooking the manicured garden in a gated backyard. Colorful flower beds. A maze of closely trimmed shrubs. And a pair of graceful willow trees on either side, rippling in the breeze. The entire effect was both serene and eye-catching.
Pushing open the doors, Casey stepped outside for a moment, quickly shutting them behind her. She hoped the cool air would revive her. Sighing, she noted that the sun was now well above the horizon, and climbing rapidly into the sky. Her watch told her it was nine-thirty. The unofficial coercion Marc had inflicted had taken a lot longer than expected to work. To Casey, it had seemed like an eternity before they’d pulled it off and extracted a full confession from Fisher.
She could still feel the perv’s slimy hands on her. He’d really freaked her out.
With a shudder, Casey reminded herself that they had pulled it off, and gotten both—Fisher and his confession regarding the other victims. Not a pretty business. Still, the haunting, disturbing feelings inflicted by such men were the very reason she’d formed Forensic Instincts, LLC to begin with.
She walked across the balcony and reached the second set of French doors that led back into the brownstone. She held her access card up to the card reader and punched her security code into the Hirsch keypad. Pushing the doors open, she stepped inside and shut the doors behind her. No time for rest—not yet. It was time for her team’s post-op meeting.
Forensic Instincts had been just a dream at first. Now it was very much a reality.
It all started four years ago, and was still in its fledgling state. Casey had begun her quest to assemble an awesome team, with herself at the helm. Thanks to her extensive credentials working with both behavioral and psychological profilers, her innate talent at reading people, and her years of working in both law enforcement and the private sector, Casey had easily transitioned into an independent profiler. She held a master’s in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a bachelor’s in Psychology from Columbia. Most importantly, she was a natural at figuring out what made people tick.
Her two other team members were impressive as hell. She should know. She’d meticulously selected them. Assessed them. Recruited them. They were very different from each other. Both brought specialized capabilities to the Forensic Instincts team. The result was a growing track record of successfully solved complex criminal cases.
Their trio was unique, but still formative. Which meant they were sometimes welcomed, and other times regarded as a huge pain in the ass.
But, overall, they were earning a growing respect among law enforcement agencies and, more important, among their expanding client list. To those who hired them, they were the ultimate beacon of hope.
Her rules were few, but absolute. Unwavering loyalty, both to the company and to one another. One hundred and ten percent of themselves when they were on the job. Total candor, regardless of the cost—but only when they were behind closed doors. A low profile—which meant staunchly avoiding the limelight. As mavericks who pushed the boundaries more than conventional bureaucracy would allow, it was best to be unrecognizable. They were an eclectic trio, each of whom believed absolutely in his or her specific methods.
Three egos were involved. And none of them shy. That meant frequent debates, tons of constructive argument and—sometimes—stubborn unwillingness to budge. With the Fisher case, Casey had wanted to nail their perp by studying his interactions with college-aged women, then combining behavioral observations with her experience and sheer instinct. Marc had argued in favor of using statistics and past research to form a solid scientific base from which he’d work up a profile before going in for the kill. And Ryan was adamant about implementing game theory—getting inside Fisher’s head, figuring out his sick reasoning—where he chose to hunt, and the strategies he used to go after his prey. The twenty-eight-year-old guy was an awesome combination of technology genius and strategic thinker. He studied behavioral patterns through complex computer programming and crunching enormous amounts of raw data, and then applied it to his analysis of human dynamics.
Each team member believed ferv
Yes, they made quite a team—strong willed, but the best. Casey expected nothing less as she expanded the operations, and Forensic Instincts grew. Her grandfather would have been proud. She’d used her trust fund wisely and well.
Smiling faintly, she looked around. The second set of French doors had granted her entry to the second-floor conference room. It was the largest and most elaborate space in the brownstone.
As she walked in, an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling video screens began to glow. A long, green line formed across each panel, pulsating from left to right. Then, a soothing voice, that seemed to emanate from every cubic inch of the room, said, “Welcome back, Casey,” bending each line into the contour of the voice pattern. It continued, “Warning. Heart rate elevated.”
Casey started. She just couldn’t get used to being greeted by Yoda, the latest incarnation of Ryan McKay—Forensic Instincts’ brilliant techno-wizard—and his artificial intelligence system. Somehow the damned thing knew who was in the room. It even knew when something was out of the ordinary. Like now. No matter how many times Ryan tried to explain to her how Yoda worked, to Casey it still sounded like magic.
The conference room was pure class. Polished hardwood floors. A plush Oriental rug. An expansive mahogany conference table and matching credenza. And, most crucial of all, a technology infrastructure that was light-years ahead of its time in both design and operation, all hidden from view. Only the gigantic video wall was visible, covering the longest side of the room and allowing Ryan to assemble a dizzying array of information into a large single image or several smaller, simultaneous data feeds. Videoconferencing equipment, an elaborate phone system, and a personalized virtual workstation available to each member of the group completed the elaborate system.
The Girl Who Disappeared Twice by Andrea Kane / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes