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By Judith E. French
Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2008 Judith E. French
All right reserved.
Chapter One South Carolina
June ... four years later
Reed Donovan could think of a lot of places he'd rather spend his afternoon than the Charleston city morgue.
He glanced back at the remains of the dead woman in the refrigerated drawer and tried to imagine what Tess D'Angelo had looked like when she'd had hair ... or skin. He'd never get used to crispy critters. He wasn't sure why the new team leader had insisted they had to view the victim personally, but from Maxwell's composure, the sight didn't bother her as much as it did him.
Maybe her years on the elite serial killer task force had given her a lot more experience with mutilated corpses. Most agents never investigated a single mass murderer in their careers. Jillian Maxwell had been instrumental in the arrests of three super killers, one of whom had eluded the authorities for twenty years.
"As you can see," the deputy medical examiner continued, "the condition of the body-the extent of charring-didn't give us a lot to work with, but the throat wound was so severe ..." He shrugged. "The murder weapon was very sharp. A scalpel ... a straight razor ... filleting knife ... something of that sort. The victim's head was nearly severed from her body, most certainly before she was engulfed in flames."
Charming, Reed thought. He stepped back as the drawer glided shut on silent runners. The fluorescent-lighted morgue was clammy-cool, with a strong smell of freshly applied floor wax underlain with the antiseptic odor of death. His new leather shoes squeaked on the tile as the two of them followed the deputy medical examiner out of the bowels of the medical center to a floral-scented elevator.
"This will take you to the main floor. If there's anything else I can do for you, don't hesitate to contact me. Now ... if you'll excuse me, I'm afraid I'm scheduled for another autopsy."
"Thank you, Doctor," Maxwell said. "You've been most helpful. We can find our own way out." She shook the man's hand and stepped into the elevator.
Reed waited until the door closed behind them. "Sorry I didn't meet you at the airport. My plane was delayed on the runway in Baltimore."
"No problem. It happens."
"I didn't want you to think I make a habit of leaving my partner waiting."
He'd promised to meet her at the Charleston Airport so they could drive to the medical examiner's office together, but he'd arrived thirty minutes late. By the time he'd reached the agreed-upon spot, she'd gone on ahead. There was a line at the rental station, and he'd made things worse by taking a wrong turn coming out of the airport.
Maxwell was here in the parking lot when he'd reached the ME's office. They'd exchanged hasty pleasantries and arrived twenty minutes late for their meeting with the chief medical investigator, one of his deputies, and two detectives. Not the best beginning when their involvement was strictly a courtesy on the part of the Charleston police department.
"The day has to get better," Reed said. "I hate being late, and I hate morgues."
"I'll be glad to get outside and breathe some fresh air."
"Affirmative." The sickly sweet smell in the elevator made her light- headed. Tess D'Angelo's remains had been bad. The worst she'd ever seen. But she wasn't going to be sick this time. She'd deliberately skipped lunch, unwilling to allow Donovan any reason to ridicule her or to forget who was in charge of this operation. Secretly, she'd been glad he'd screwed up. It had given her the edge, and he was scrambling to catch up.
She hoped the infamous "Cowboy" Donovan would be an asset to her investigation. He was larger than life, a legend in the ranks of field agents, but he was one of the old guard. He might not appreciate being pulled off a high-profile extortion and money-laundering case to take orders from a woman eleven years his junior. Regardless of Donovan's enthusiasm or lack of it, she was confident of her ability to deal with him. He might be a hotshot, but so was she.
As they reached the main floor and exited the elevator, Reed glanced at his watch. Somewhere in the rush, he'd forgotten breakfast. The last thing he remembered eating was a burger and fries sometime around midnight. Now, it was way past lunchtime and his stomach was protesting.
Maxwell had originally intended to fly in to Baltimore from her home in San Francisco on Thursday, but she'd called earlier in the week to ask him to meet her here in Charleston. Tess D'Angelo's murder wasn't a Bureau case-simply an exchange of information between local authorities and the agency. He wasn't certain why Maxwell was so interested in what appeared to be a routine homicide, but upper management had been clear. Maxwell might call herself his partner on this assignment, but he'd been put on notice. She was in charge.
One of the city detectives involved in the investigation had read an article Maxwell had written on serial killers in Psychology Today. Although D'Angelo's husband, Peter, was the prime suspect, Detective Williams thought Maxwell might be interested.
Reed waited until they'd passed through the lobby and were outside before he asked, "Want to check into the hotel, freshen up, and catch an early dinner? I know a great bistro. Terrific seafood."
After viewing the burned body in the morgue, Jillian didn't think she'd want to eat again for a long time. She shook her head. "I'd rather inspect the area where the body was discovered."
"Not much there, according to Detective Williams. Lonely dead-end marsh. No houses or businesses. We could check it out in the morning before we fly back to Baltimore."
"I still want to view the scene," she insisted.
"You're the boss. You can bring me up to speed on why you think this murder is linked to your unsub."
"I never said that. I don't make assumptions without evidence." Her eyes narrowed. "Do I suspect he could be involved? Maybe." She put on her sunglasses. "Let's not waste time. We can leave one car here or at the hotel and take a look before dark."
Reed stifled a groan. His empty stomach would have to wait a while longer. "All right, we'll check out the crime scene. But we're taking my SUV." He indicated the big vehicle parked in the visitors' section. "According to one of the detectives, a lot of the low-lying streets-including the area where the victim's body was discovered-are still flooded from the heavy rains earlier this month. I've got four-wheel drive."
"The hotel it is, Cowboy."
He grimaced. "It's Reed. Not Cowboy. Cowboy was a long time ago."
She chuckled. "Not so long. How many bad guys did you take out in that gunfight in D.C.? Four? I know you saved the lives of two wounded DEA agents and received a special citation for bravery under fire. Sounds like you earned the title."
"Fifteen years ago. You can call me Donovan, if you prefer."
"I didn't mean to offend you."
"You didn't. It's just best if we get that straight from the start."
"Okay, Reed." Her dark eyes gleamed with amusement. "But I can't promise I won't slip up now and then. You're still Cowboy at Quantico. One of my instructors-Bill Thompson?-said you two went way back. And he claimed that the big D.C. shootout wasn't the first time you ignored orders and charged in like a one-man cavalry."
"Yes, I remember Thompson. Don't believe everything you hear."
"I don't." But she'd rarely seen smoke without fire. The word was that Donovan was fearless, not to mention a player. That much was evident. He was smart and sexy. Dark hair that barely showed a few feathers of silver, broad shoulders, and a killer smile. As dangerous to most women as could be. But not to her. She was here to catch a monster, not to play slap and tickle with a new partner. She could appreciate Donovan for what he was without being ensnared in his charm, and though she enjoyed sex as much as the next girl, she kept her professional life and her personal one strictly separate.
"I've never stayed at this hotel," he said, "but the SUV has a GPS. Follow me."
Just don't get in the habit of expecting to give the orders, Jillian thought as she pulled her rented convertible out of the parking lot behind Reed's dark blue vehicle. She fumbled in her briefcase for her recorder and propped it on the seat beside her. She switched it on and played back the detective's rundown of the case.
"The victim, positively identified as Tess D'Angelo, a forty-year-old social worker, was reported missing on her way to pick up her son at daycare. She was last seen, by three witnesses, getting into her car outside her office. Childcare workers contacted the estranged husband, and he notified Charleston PD within hours. Teenagers, presumably using the road as a lover's lane or a place to get high, found the body in a torched vehicle ten days after her disappearance. Investigation showed that Mrs. D'Angelo and her husband, Peter, were in the midst of a hotly contested divorce and child-custody battle involving a substantial inheritance. Both carried insurance policies on each other, totaling two million dollars with double indemnity. While Peter D'Angelo has been questioned, no arrest has ..." Reed glanced into the rearview mirror to be certain he hadn't lost Maxwell in heavy traffic. His new partner might think it was appropriate to drag up remnants of his past, but he didn't. He'd seen his share of ambitious, fire-eating agents and their unproven psychological theories and he remained skeptical. He didn't care that he'd been pulled off the money-laundering investigation, didn't give a damn what assignment they gave him, as long as they didn't try to transfer him out of the Baltimore field office. He was done playing hero and taking chances. He was only four years away from retirement. All he wanted was to do his job, finish his time, and collect a well-earned pension.
Excerpted from Blood Sport by Judith E. French Copyright © 2008 by Judith E. French. Excerpted by permission.
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