Shelter in place, p.34
Shelter in Place, p.34Nora Roberts
“Bullshit on that,” Matty grumbled. “They’ve been after her for damn near a year, and they’ve got nothing.”
“We don’t know what they have, or how close they’ve come, because they’re not telling. That’s how it works.” He set the file aside, opened another. “This is my file—our file—with a copy of the card, the envelope, and a couple strands of the hair I’m going to have run. I’ve got contacts. We’re going to cooperate fully with the FBI, but that doesn’t mean we sit on our hands.
“She’ll come here sooner or later,” he continued. “Simone Knox was in that mall, too. She’s another target, and as the first nine-one-one caller, I believe a prime one. As of today, we’re going to start regular patrols by CiCi’s house. We’re going to sit on the dock, watch who gets off the ferry. I’m going to bring two of the summer deputies on now to help with that.”
“She uses disguises,” Matty said.
“She does, and she’s good at it. So get that photo of her in your head. Don’t let yourself be thrown off by hair color, hairstyle, eye color, glasses, or subtle changes to facial structure, body type. She’ll be alone. She’ll need to rent a place, take some time to study the routines. She’ll be armed, and she’s damn sure dangerous. I need islanders warned, and for you to make it absolutely clear they are not to approach, not to confront. If she goes into the market for supplies, they ring her up, wish her a good day, then they contact us. She isn’t looking to hurt anyone but me and Simone, but that won’t stop her if she’s cornered.
“It’s an island,” he added. “When she comes, she’s boxed in. It’s our island. We know it better than she does. She’s patient. She may come next week, or she may wait another two years.”
But he didn’t think she’d wait long. He didn’t think she could.
“None of us can get complacent, because she will come.”
He stopped as the door opened, and Xavier walked in—with a female colleague.
“Donna, I’d sure appreciate that coffee.”
“Sure thing, Chief.” She gave Xavier the evil eye as she went to the break room.
“Agents.” Reed gestured to his office.
* * *
The female agent wore a black suit, white shirt, practical shoes. Reed judged her as an athletic early forties with dark brown hair cut short—practical like the shoes—and minimal makeup on an attractive face with serious brown eyes.
Reed figured she probably ranked as much of an asshole as Xavier. Until she smiled at the dog.
“Isn’t he sweet?”
“He’s shy around people,” Reed explained as Barney burrowed under his desk. “Somebody dumped him on the island—after abusing him.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. My sister rescued a mixed breed under similar circumstances. She’s the best dog in the world now.”
“We’re not here to exchange dog stories.”
The woman sent Xavier a short stare, then held out her hand to Reed. “Special Agent Tonya Jacoby, Chief.”
“Thanks for coming.” Since he liked her a great deal better than Xavier already, he offered her the evidence bag. “It came in this morning’s mail.”
Jacoby snapped on gloves, unsealed the bag. “Your photos came through clear,” she began.
“And this contact, the threat therein, makes it only more imperative that you back off.”
Reed barely flicked a glance at Xavier. “Since that’s not going to happen, and there’s no point in going over the same ground as yesterday, let’s try this: I’ve briefed my deputies.”
“The last thing we need is a bunch of armed yahoos shooting at shadows.”
Reed got slowly to his feet. Jacoby started to speak, but he beat her to it. “You want to take potshots at me, you go ahead. But you watch what you say about my officers. You’ve been invited here today. You can be uninvited just as easy.”
“This is an FBI investigation.”
“Special Agent Xavier, why don’t you take a walk?” Jacoby’s stare turned longer, harder. “Take a walk.”
He strode out—and once again slammed the station door behind him.
“Are you in charge now?” Reed asked her.
“As a matter of fact. I was brought in on this investigation just last week. He’s not happy about that, which may account for his behavior yesterday. I caught the drift of it from his report. I’ll apologize.”
Donna came in with coffee—a pot, mugs, the fixings on a tray. He didn’t know they had a tray.
“Yes, thanks.” Jacoby added a dollop of milk to her coffee, sat. “Let’s talk.”
He spent thirty minutes with her and, when they shook hands again, felt better about things.
After she left, he finished the briefing with his team, took questions, answered.
“Special Agent Jacoby, now the SAC on the Hobart investigation—”
“Did they can that dick?” Leon asked.
“He’s still on the investigation, but no longer the Special Agent in Charge.”
“At least somebody in the FBI’s not a total idiot,” Matty decided.
“Since Jacoby didn’t strike me as any kind of idiot, I’m going to say there’s more than one. She informed me they’re following up a lead in Tennessee. Memphis. If that pans out, we may be able to put this to bed. But until we do, I want those patrols, and an eye on the ferry. My partner and I will be in rotation.”
“‘Partner’?” Matty asked.
Reed patted the dog’s head. “Deputy Barney. He’s one of us now.”
* * *
In the cabin, with her laptop streaming Fox News in case anything broke she needed to know, Patricia redid Seleena’s makeup.
“You take care of your skin,” she said as she applied foundation. “Me, too. My mother let herself go. I mean hag time, especially after they killed JJ. But even before, she didn’t fix herself up. I wouldn’t’ve blamed the old man for screwing around on her or giving her a smack now and then, but he was such an asshole.
“I’m going to use a neutral palette on your eyes. Classy, professional. Close them.”
Engage, Seleena ordered herself. Connect. “Did he hit you, too?”
“Barely noticed me, so he couldn’t be bothered. I got fat—that’s her fault, too. Always bribing me with candy and cookies, and letting me eat bags of chips. He called me ‘Tub O Lard,’ ‘Tubbo’ for short.”
“Didn’t I say he was an asshole? I got bullied in school, did you know that?”
She had to draw back before she messed up her work. Seleena’s eyes popped open.
“But I’m getting ahead of myself. Close your eyes, keep them closed until I tell you otherwise.”
She closed her eyes, kept them closed. Listened. She heard the crazy, oh God, she heard it. And the bitterness, and worse. God, worse, the cold dispassion when she talked about doing her mother a favor by killing her.
“They— The police classified that as an accident.”
“Because I’m just that good, girl. Loopy, whiny old bitch made it easy, but you have to be good. Open your eyes.”
Seleena opened them, tried to mask the fear.
“Oh yeah, I’m good. Close again. You know, I learned all about makeup and hair, skin care, all of it, on the Internet. YouTube because my mother taught me nothing about nothing. I’ve got an IQ of a hundred and sixty-four, and I sure didn’t get it from her or dear old dad. Open,” she said, beginning to brush and blend liner on the bottom of Seleena’s eyes. “You’re used to having your makeup done.”
“I do my own. I do everything myself because I’m smart. JJ wasn’t stupid, but he wasn’t very smart, either. I used to do some of his homework and assignments for him, even after those asshole parents of ours tore us apart. They shouldn’t have done that.”
“No, they shouldn’t have. That was cruel, too, and selfish.”
“You’re damn right!
“He was good with guns, but I was better there, too. He didn’t mind. JJ was proud of me. He loved me. He was the only one who did. And they killed him.”
“You must miss him.”
“He’s dead, what’s the point? He knew I was smart, but he didn’t listen to me, went off half-cocked. Get it? Guns, half-cocked.”
Trying to read the eyes boring into hers, Seleena let her lips curve, just a little. “That’s a good one.”
“I can be funny when I want to be. I don’t get to talk to people much, and never as myself. I have to talk to fuckheads when I’m stalking a target, but that’s not me. I’m on the inside then, and only show the outside they expect. You’re lucky, because you get to see inside.”
“It’s been hard for you, to keep yourself inside.”
“I had to do it for years, goddamn years in that mausoleum with those dried-up, whiny grandparents. ‘Oh, I’ll do that, Gram. Don’t worry about that, Grandpa, I’ll clean it up.’ They just wouldn’t die and leave me alone. Nobody would’ve put up with their shit as long as I did. The eyes look good.”
She studied her kit, chose a blush, a brush.
“They said terrible things about JJ, especially after he was dead. Terrible things, and I had to hold myself back from just slicing their throats. Maybe he wasn’t very smart, maybe he didn’t listen to me, but they shouldn’t have said those terrible things about him.”
“Their own flesh and blood,” Seleena said.
“They said he was sick, defective, even evil. Well, they paid for it, didn’t they? Not enough, but they paid. He just didn’t listen to me, that’s what happened.”
“You tried to stop him.”
Patricia eased back, studied the blush, approved. “We’ll polish that off,” she said and reached for translucent loose powder.
“I would’ve stopped him if I’d known he’d upped the time line. I still had some details to work out. And what does he do, he hits in July, when too many people are on vacation or whatever. It was supposed to be December, holiday crush. He’d have taken out twice as many. More, and I’d have worked out the escape route by then.”
“You would have?”
Patricia tipped her head from side to side, lifted Seleena’s with fingertips under the chin. “You look good. Classy professional, as promised. Want a cold drink?”
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
She rose, walked over to the kitchen. “I’ve got Diet Coke, water, V8 Splash.”
“The Diet Coke would be great, thanks. A little caffeine boost before we start recording.”
“Good idea.” She uncapped the bottle, poured some over ice in plastic cups. “Now, what were we talking about?”
She came back, handed Seleena the cup. “Right. JJ. Haven’t I been telling you he wasn’t really that smart? You don’t think he and those two idiot friends of his came up with all that? DownEast was my idea, my plan, and it would’ve worked if they’d waited for me to tweak the details.”
“You … planned the attack?”
“Thought it up, planned it out, stole Grandpa Shit-for-Brains’ credit card long enough to order the vests, the helmets.” She tapped a finger to her temple. “I let them give JJ credit as the mastermind up till now. We’re going to change that, you and I. Anyway.”
She lifted her own cup, sipped. “You’re set, except for lips. I’ll do them right before we start. I’m going to do my makeup now, and change into my on-camera wardrobe. It’ll take a little while. I want to look good, then we’ll get this party started. You think of some good questions, Seleena. I’m counting on you.”
Seleena sat for four hours under the lights, her chair angled to Patricia’s, the camera recording.
After hour two, Patricia let her use the toilet again, and changed batteries in the camera. She allowed Seleena to drink water through a straw as she touched up her own makeup, then Seleena’s.
But then it was right back to it.
As the time passed, as Seleena fell into the rhythm of interviewing, as the subject drew her in, her fear dimmed under her ambition.
She had the biggest story of her life, unfolding right in front of her. Being drugged, abducted, faded off as her own ego spiked.
She’d copped a face-to-face, exclusive interview with the mastermind of DownEast, a female serial killer. And due to her interviewing skills, Seleena’s ambition and ego told her, Patricia had given her chapter and verse on all of it. On every kill, every detail, the stalking, documenting, choosing the time and the method.
When the restraints on her ankles, her left hand (Patricia left the right free so Seleena could take notes) bit into her skin, she assured herself (and believed herself) Patricia kept them on as visual evidence to protect Seleena from any charges of aiding or abetting, of obstruction.
They were in this together, just as Patricia claimed.
The excitement of what she had right there, of what she’d produce once she got the video in? Fear couldn’t hold a candle to that fire.
Caught up, she began to imagine the benefits.
She knew how to play an interviewee, how to stroke, add understanding, empathy. This woman, this monster, poured out her sickness, her rage, her cold and calculating belief in her right to kill because Seleena skillfully led her down that path.
One day, they’d study this video in journalism courses—and she’d make a mint on speaking fees.
For Patricia, she concluded, the three boys had been her weapons, ones that had misfired on her. Her feelings for her brother came across as a strange mixture of love and disdain. And still she justified her killing, as far as she felt the need to justify it, as payback for his death at seventeen.
By Jesus, it fascinated. And if it fascinated her, just think, just think of viewer reaction.
“You’re the best interview I’ve ever had, Patricia. I’m struggling to keep up with you! Could we take another break?”
“I’m not done!”
“No, no, just taking ten?” Seleena flashed a smile. She had a powder keg on her hands, and didn’t want to light a match.
Flattery, she reminded herself. Just pour it on.
“I need to get some thoughts organized. I want to set this up for you in segments—some of that we’ll do in editing, but I’d like to organize my next questions. I could really use something to eat, another drink to keep the energy up. Plus,” she said quickly, “I’d like you to take a breath, too, recharge for a few minutes. We want you to be fresh in each segment.”
“Fine.” Patricia shoved to her feet.
“It’s so powerful, Patricia. I need a little time to absorb.”
“Fine,” Patricia said, mollified. “I’ve got some whole wheat crackers and hummus.”
“That would be great. Give us a little pickup for the next segment. And do you think I could stretch my legs a little? You’re a runner,” she said, “I’m active, too. If I could just walk around the cabin a little.” She flashed a smile again. “I’ve gotta tell you, my ass is numb.”
“Think about your fingers, Seleena.”
Seleena laughed that off because she no longer believed it. “I’m in the middle of the mother of all exclusives. We’re talking Pulitzer, Emmys. You can believe I’m not going to do anything to mess it up.”
“You’ll be a real big fucking deal after this.” Patricia cut the restraints.
“We both will. Everyone’s going to know your story.”
And mine, Seleena thought as she walked the aches and tingles out of her legs. Just wait, just wait until she did a special report on her experience. Kidnapped, held by Patricia Hobart. And the intrepid reporter conducts a brilliant, hard-hitting on-camera interview, drawing all the details out. Motives, victims, method, movements. All of it.
“‘Pulitzer, Emmys,’” Patricia r
“I kept my head,” Seleena agreed. “That’s what you have to do to get ahead. Especially when you’re a woman. A smart woman, a tough woman. They say you’re pushy, bitchy, arrogant, when what you are? Is strong, ambitious.”
“You do a program about DownEast every year in July, because that’s your main claim to fame.”
“Up until now. Oh, that’s better. I can almost feel my ass again.” She rubbed her butt with both hands as she walked back and forth.
“This interview, that’s serious fame and fortune for you. You wrote that book about DownEast, but others did, too. And you’re not that good a writer.”
“I’m not bad, but you’re right, book form isn’t my strength. I’ll hire a ghost this time. The ratings for this, Pat? We’re going to have enough for a five-part series, and the ratings are just going to build and build. Fuck the Super Bowl, we’re going to blow it and everything else out of the water.”
“Because millions of people will watch.”
“They will, they will. They’ll be glued to their screens and devices. The fifteen-year-old girl planning a massacre because she hated her life, her parents, and could manipulate her brother. How she handled it when he pushed her aside to do it on his own. The years of holding her true nature inside, hiding it.”
Seleena shook her head, let out a breath. “It’s so powerful, so compelling. Your first kill? God, you were so young! Then your own mother. The calculation that went into you eroding her will, the years of gaslighting her, up to luring her into being complicit in her own murder. It’s brilliant. Just brilliant.”
“Sit down, have some food.”
“Thanks. I’m starving.” She took the paper plate, scooped up hummus with crackers. “The irony, Pat, do you see it? Of just missing with the cop—the one who saved the kid in the mall. Just missing that kill, getting shot yourself, but getting away, holding on to get back to your grandparents’. God, that’s a segment on its own. Has to be.”
Shelter in Place by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love / History & Fiction / Thrillers & Crime / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.7 out of 5 / Based on33 votes