Flight from mayhem, p.20
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.20

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  Ralph opened his laptop and began tapping in information. “Did he post anything on your profile?”

  “Yeah, here . . . let me friend you and then you can see.” She gave him her profile name, he sent her a friend request, and then she pulled out her phone and accepted it. “I haven’t been on there in a couple days so I haven’t . . . oh crap.”

  “I see it.” The smile slid off Ralph’s face. He turned the laptop around so the rest of us could see the picture. Somebody by the name of Dr. Jack had posted a picture of a bouquet of dead roses on her page. A knife pinned one of the roses to the background and blood streamed out of the rose. The caption read, WAYS TO KILL A ROMANCE.

  “Is he a real doctor?” I asked.

  Tonya shook her head. “I don’t know. I doubt it. But yeah, that’s his profile.”

  Ralph clicked on the man’s avatar—which was an animated skull—and up came a page filled with mostly memes. Most of the posts were pictures of television stills—all characters from horror movies or crime shows who were female, and who had been either battered or murdered. Or both.

  “This dude is running some seriously sick energy,” Ralph said, grimacing. He turned the laptop back to him and began his search again.

  Tonya paled. “I haven’t seen his page in a while. It wasn’t like this when he first contacted me.” She wrapped her arms around her shoulders. “I’m scared. I should be scared, right?”

  “I think you’ve got damned good reason to be. Let me find out something . . .” Ralph muttered away as his fingers danced quickly over the keys.

  Alex leaned forward. “Do you know for sure that he lives in Gig Harbor?”

  Tonya shook her head. “No. His profile said Gig Harbor, but people can lie. I do know that. And I never asked him—I didn’t want him to think I was interested in him, so I tried to keep things on a superficial level, especially once he began messaging me so much.”

  Bette pushed the food across the table to her. “You’ve only picked at your food. Eat something more—it will help ground you. Get a good meal inside you.”

  Tonya mutely obeyed. I crossed to behind Ralph and leaned over his shoulder, watching what he was doing. After a moment, he glanced up at me.

  “Would you mind not doing that? I don’t like it when people stare over my shoulder. I feel crowded.”

  “That’s how I felt with his messages, like he wasn’t giving me room to breathe.” Tonya finished another taco. She opened her bag and pulled out a stack of what looked like already-opened mail. “After he began bombarding me with e-mail, these started coming.”

  As she tossed the letters on the table, I shivered. Something felt really off about them, and I realized that I was feeling the residual energy that belonged to the sender. And it made me want to take a shower.

  Bette looked at the letters. “Has anybody else handled these besides you and the mailman?”

  Tonya frowned. “Whoever sorted them out at the post office, I guess.”

  “Wait a moment . . .” Bette crossed to the counter for a pair of latex gloves. She slid them onto her hands and then began sorting them out. “Didn’t you notice that none of these have a postmark? Nor are the stamps canceled.”

  “That means he could have put them in my box directly.” As the full implication of this hit home, Tonya paled even further. “He’s been to my house, hasn’t he?” she stuttered.

  “I’m not sure, but I think I’ll take these back and run some print tests on them. If he’s human, he’s going to have fingerprints.” Carrying them carefully, Bette headed out the door.

  We had a mini–fingerprint lab in the back, and somehow—I wasn’t sure of the particulars and had never bothered to ask—Alex seemed to have access to the IAFIS, the FBI’s fingerprint database. I had the feeling that not even Chase Johnson knew about that, and the less said, the better. That was one thing I had learned early on: In this line of business, you learned to keep your mouth shut. And luckily, I wasn’t one to spill secrets.

  As a rule, dragons were private individuals. We all had a true name, spoken to us at birth by our mother, and only the child, the mother, and the record’s keeper ever knew a dragon’s true name, because if you knew a dragon’s true name, you could cast a spell to summon or control them.

  Unfortunately, I didn’t have one—there was no record of my birth, with me being a foundling. And without my true name and lineage entered into the Hall of Records, it meant that I had no legal existence in the Dragon Reaches. It also meant that nobody could magically make me toe the line, at least not in the way of normal dragons. Hmm, now that I thought of it, maybe there was an upside to being orphaned.

  Tonya was looking frantic. She leaned her hands on the table. “He’s been to my house. I know he has.” She looked up, fear creasing her face. “What if . . . what if he’s been inside my house?”

  Ralph let out a shout and jumped to his feet. “Found him. Or at least, I found out more about him! Good old Jack seems to have a criminal record for domestic violence. Apparently, he had a girlfriend named Wendy who took out a restraining order on him after he put her in the hospital. She’s disappeared, though . . .” He sat back down, a worried expression on his face.

  “Jack served three months in jail for . . . oh lovely. Not only did he beat up his girlfriend but, after she took out a restraining order and started dating a man named Ken, our boy Jack didn’t take it very well. Seems Jack also beat Ken to a pulp, and served another five months in jail for that assault. I can’t find any further mention of Wendy, but Ken was left with a permanent limp from Jack’s assault. Ken moved away to the East Coast shortly after he recovered enough to leave the hospital.”

  Tonya let out a frightened yelp. “He’s violent? I wonder if he really ever knew my mother. I have no recollection of ever meeting him . . .”

  “Let me cross-check your names to see if I can find out more. What was your mother’s name?” Ralph’s fingers were flying over the keys.

  “Penelope. She went by Penny, mostly.”

  “Penelope . . . Harris. Penelope Carol Harris?” Ralph’s voice took on a strange tone.

  “Right.” Tonya jerked her head up. “Why? You find something?”

  “Yeah. Okay, your mother never left Port Townsend, right?”

  “Correct. I left for several years—seven, in fact. I moved to Aberdeen after my mother and I had a huge blowout. When I came back, we made up.” Tonya brushed a stray hair back from her face. “Why?”

  “Did your mother ever tell you that she had gotten married while you were gone? For a very brief time, right after you left. The marriage only lasted three months, but here’s the record. She married George Skelton . . . who happens to be Jack’s father.” Ralph sat back in his chair as the room fell silent.

  CHAPTER 13

  After a moment, Tonya let out a strangled “What the fuck?”

  “Your mother married Jack’s father. Didn’t she ever tell you?” Ralph motioned for us to crowd around the laptop. Tonya and I peered over his shoulder. There, on the screen, was a copy of a marriage license for one George Skelton to Penelope Harris. Tonya glanced at the date and sputtered.

  “She got married to him three months after I left home. We had a horrendous fight and I stomped off.” She rubbed her forehead. “I’m beginning to get a horrible headache. My mother was spontaneous to say the least. I have no doubt that she did this as a reaction to me leaving.”

  “I take it your father wasn’t around,” I said.

  “No, he abandoned us when I was five years old. He wasn’t the type to stick around. To tell the truth, my mother and he were fuck buddies, according to what she told me when I was old enough to understand. I was the result of a ruptured condom, and my mother decided that I was her one chance to have a child. Since they were good friends, they decided to try to give it a go, and they managed to stick it out for five years. Trouble wa
s, Clinton, my father, wasn’t a stable man in terms of relationships. And to be honest, neither was my mother. It was the perfect storm. Total disaster, according to her. But I’ll say this for him. Clinton sent child support every month until I hit eighteen.”

  An odd look swept over her face and she lowered her voice. “But he didn’t have the daddy gene. He didn’t take any interest in my life. Never wanted to talk to me on the phone or take me for the summer . . . or even a weekend. We haven’t spoken since my graduation from high school.”

  Ralph gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head. “That must have been difficult.”

  Tonya shrugged. “It would’ve been worse if they’d stayed together and started arguing. At least they gave it a try, and they knew enough to get out before it got really bad. I wasn’t traumatized—Clinton seemed more like a friend than a father to me. My mother had to play both good cop and bad cop.”

  “And you had no idea that she had hooked up with George?”

  Tonya twisted her lip to one side, then made a tsk-tsk sound. “Not in the least. As I said, we had a big blowout and I left home. I moved to Aberdeen and it was seven years before we spoke again. You say the marriage only lasted for three months?”

  Ralph tapped away at the keys. A moment later, he brought up another screen, this one with a listing of divorce decrees on it. A quick search and we had the answer.

  “Right. They were married for three months. And—” Another furious flurry of the keys and he pointed to the screen. “During the time they were married the cops were called out to the house five times for domestic violence complaints. Your mother reported George for trying to strangle her, for giving her a black eye, for pointing a gun at her, and two other reports that don’t go into detail. Each time George was hauled away to jail, but your mother posted bail the next day.”

  Tonya let out a disgusted sigh. “Good grief. But that would be exactly what my mother would do. She could be a hard-edged bitch when she wanted to be, but underneath it all, Penelope was pretty insecure. After I returned home, she went through men like used tissues, discarding them as soon as she found a problem with them.”

  “Including Patrick,” Alex said.

  “Yeah,” Tonya said, “including your friend Patrick. I have to admit that, for a vamp, he was remarkably patient with her. I wonder if her marriage to George caused some of that. He sounds like a horrible man. But now for the million-dollar question—did Jack live with them at the time? He never once mentioned that his father and my mother were together.”

  Ralph started searching again. I returned to my seat and glanced over at Alex. He was frowning. I knew part of the frown related to the news about what George had done to Penelope. If there was one thing Alex couldn’t stand, it was rough treatment of women. I caught his eye and gave him a soft smile, which he returned.

  A few minutes later, Ralph sat back in his chair. “Like you, Jack was an adult when these two got together. I don’t find anything about whether he lived with them, but I do find an old address for him during that time period. He apparently lived in Port Townsend at the time. I am not finding an address for him in Gig Harbor. I did find one for a Jack Skelton in Tacoma, but he moved away from there two months ago and seems to have dropped off the grid. I am guessing that he is staying in Port Townsend somewhere.”

  “Does his father still live there?” I asked.

  “Good question.” Once again, Ralph hit the search engines. A few minutes later he looked up beaming. “That was a good call. His father actually died a year ago, but he left his house to Jack. And that house is in Port Townsend. I don’t see any record that Jack actually took possession of the house, but that doesn’t mean anything. Oddly enough, though I found death records for George, the electricity, water, and sewer still haven’t been turned off to the house.”

  Alex rested his elbows on the table. “Then it’s a good bet that’s where we’ll find Jack. Now for the million-dollar question: Why is he stalking Tonya?” He turned to her. “I need you to give Ralph access to your e-mail account so he can look at every single e-mail that Jack has sent you. You did keep them, didn’t you?”

  Tonya nodded. “The first few I may have deleted, but since I use Smart Mail, it keeps a record of everything that I receive, so it should be in my web archives if nowhere else.”

  “Good girl. We will also need every letter that you received in your mailbox. Now, have you noticed anything else? Have you seen anybody hanging around your house or your shop who doesn’t belong there? Any strange cars that seem to pop up wherever you are?”

  Tanya thought for a moment, and then she snapped her fingers. “Yes! I knew something felt off! There have been several times when I’ve gone out to do errands that it felt like I was being followed. And I seemed to notice something, but I couldn’t ever put my finger on it. But now that you mention cars . . . A red convertible. Once it was parked near me at the drugstore. Another time at the supermarket. Several times. I figured it was just somebody around town who shopped at the same places I was. I wouldn’t have paid any attention except red convertibles are rather rare around Port Townsend. Any convertibles are rather rare, actually. The weather just isn’t geared for them.”

  Alex motioned to Ralph. “Do your thing.”

  Another few minutes and Ralph turned the screen around again. We were staring at a fancy little red sports car, top down. “Is this the car you remember?”

  Tonya nodded. “Yeah, that looks about right. Why?”

  “The same model of car is registered to Jack Skelton.” He looked over to Alex. “What do we do next, boss?”

  Alex thought for a moment. “We figure out why Jack is stalking Tonya, and then we head up to Port Townsend and have a talk with the police.”

  At that point, the door to the conference room opened again and Bette entered, a strange look on her face. She tossed the letters on the table and shook her head.

  “I have a bit of a conundrum here,” she said. “The only prints on here are Tonya’s. Whoever else handled these letters left no prints. Either he was wearing gloves or he’s not human.”

  * * *

  At that moment the phone rang. Bette answered from the phone in the conference room. Another moment, and she handed it to Alex, mouthing Chase Johnson on the line. Alex took the receiver and listened for a moment, then grunted. He handed the phone back to Bette.

  “Well, it’s confirmed that Stone Weaver’s death fits the same MO as those of the others. No doubt about it, our serial killer has struck again. Also, Chase managed to get the bank manager of Weaver’s main branch to check through the records. Luckily, the doppelgänger hasn’t gotten to the bank yet and most of the assets are still there. They froze every account, so that nobody can siphon off any money. My guess is that this is going to make the doppelgänger really pissed when it realizes that it went to all that trouble for nothing.”

  Bette snorted. “All the better to fall into my trap. As long as we don’t scare it away before we’re able to find it.”

  “I have a question.” A thought had occurred to me. “When we do find it—given we do—what do we do with it? If it can change shape, we obviously can’t lock it up. I don’t think we want to deport a serial killer to Otherworld. That wouldn’t exactly be what I’d call being a good neighbor.”

  “Only one thing we can do,” Ralph said. “Kill the thing.”

  “I have no problem with that, but what do you think Chase will say?” I wasn’t entirely sure how the legal system was set up to deal with something like this. Matters would be different if it were a human suspect we were after. But a doppelgänger? An entirely different situation.

  “I think Chase will be grateful for anything we can do in this situation,” Alex said with a shrug. “That’s why he came to us in the first place. He knows that the FH-CSI is not set up for this sort of criminal. We’re dealing with a monster here. This isn’t exact
ly Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. They were monsters, too, but they could be locked up without fear of them imitating the guards and escaping.”

  I glanced at the clock. It was getting on toward morning. “So where are we at for now?”

  Alex looked over his notes. “First, Bette needs to contact Lydia and give her the news that we have eliminated her little salamander problem. Second, Bette will put into motion this cockamamie plan to catch the doppelgänger. I still don’t like this plan,” he said, leaning forward, his hands pressed on the table. “But I suppose it’s the only idea we have at the moment. But Bette”—he gave her a long stare—“once again, you be careful. No playing heroine here. Your safety comes first. Do you understand?”

  She nodded. “Loud and clear, sugar lips.”

  “As long as you do. Ralph, why don’t you start researching Jack Skelton more? I don’t want to move on Tonya’s issue until we know what we’re dealing with, but it won’t hurt us to get a jump on things. All right, is there anything else on the table?”

  I raised my hand. He laughed and nodded to me. “What is it, Shimmer?”

  “I’d like to do a little more research into Mary, the ghost next door. That whole thing has me rattled.”

  “Use whatever resources you need.” He stood. “I suppose we better get to it. Shimmer, will you join me in my office?”

  The others grinned and I suddenly felt self-conscious, but I nodded. “Sure thing.”

  * * *

  Once Alex and I were alone in his office, I turned to him. “Before you say anything, we have to clarify office protocol here.”

  “Is something wrong?” He set down his tablet and leaned against the front of his desk, his long legs stretching out in a deliciously long line.

  “I really like you, Alex. And I really enjoy our time together.” I wasn’t sure how to continue without sounding prudish.

  “Are you breaking up with me?” The hurt in his eyes hit me hard.

 
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