Dangerous Gamesby Michael Prescott
Maverick FBI special agent Tess McCallum (nicknamed “Super Fed” by an adoring media, the central investigator in previous novel Next Victim) is back, and she has got a new partner—one she does not want and does not trust. She is chasing a vicious kidnapper known as the “Rain Man,” who leaves his victims chained up in a vast/i>… See more details below
Maverick FBI special agent Tess McCallum (nicknamed “Super Fed” by an adoring media, the central investigator in previous novel Next Victim) is back, and she has got a new partner—one she does not want and does not trust. She is chasing a vicious kidnapper known as the “Rain Man,” who leaves his victims chained up in a vast storm drain system underneath Los Angeles, doomed to drown unless their ransom is paid on time, and only by the City of Los Angeles, to his off‑shore bank account. A freelance security agent named Abby Sinclair, who specializes in putting stalkers behind bars, often by extra‑legal means, has already had her hooks in the case for a while and is working for a woman who may have been targeted—and who does not trust the authorities to protect her. Since a rainstorm has already started, the time available to save a woman’s life is very brief—and there are already two dead victims to demonstrate the high cost of making mistakes or even just being too slow to act. Only by working together can the two investigators piece together the clues to help them figure out who (and maybe even how many people) the killer really is. Nail‑biting suspense, unexpected story twists, and surprise piled upon surprise all work together to deliver an irresistible read and an incredible page‑turner of a story.
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By Michael Prescott
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2005 Michael Prescott
All rights reserved.
"She was found here," Crandall said. "On the embankment, just above the waterline."
Tess McCallum stared through the chain-link fence at the concrete channel of the Los Angeles River. A sullen trickle meandered down its center, past a shopping cart, a tire, broken beer bottles, and other debris. The smell of brackish water rose in the evening air.
"Who found her?" Tess asked.
"Couple of bicyclists riding along the riverbank."
To Tess, it seemed strange to call this gash in the landscape a river. A dry watercourse for most of the year, it filled with rainwater only during heavy storms. The river snaked south from the San Fernando Valley, through LA's East Side, and emptied into the sea at Long Beach. For most of its extent it was lined in concrete and flanked by high, inclined banks, fenced off, the occasional padlocked gates bearing signs that warned: TRESPASSING, LOITERING FORBIDDEN BY LAW.
A cool breeze gusted. Tess wrapped her trench coat tighter around herself.
"Have the bicyclists been ruled out?" she asked. It wasn't unusual for a killer to report the discovery of his victim's remains.
"They're clean. Alibied for the time of the abduction. Just a couple of kids, anyway. USC students." Agent Crandall hardly seemed older than a college student himself.
Tess looked toward the Olympic Boulevard overpass a few blocks north. "When did they find her?"
"A little after sunrise. LAPD took the call. Once they made the vic as Angela Morris, they brought in the Bureau."
"Pending. But it's pretty obvious she drowned. You don't have to be an ME to figure that out."
"You saw the body?"
"I saw it. Didn't they send you a pic?"
"Yeah, by e-mail." She remembered the angle of the corpse, the sprawl of limbs, the net of hair crosshatching a bloated face. Across the channel she saw a large rectangular aperture. "Is that where the water comes out?"
"Right. An outfall, it's called."
"Is it the one she came out of?"
"We don't know. Could have been any outfall upriver. There's no way to say how far the current carried her before she was thrown up on the bank."
"So she could've been held anywhere inside the sewers."
"Yes." Crandall cleared his throat. "Technically not sewers. Storm drains."
"What's the distinction?"
"Sewers carry waste from toilets. The storm system carries surface-street runoff."
"Then why does it smell like ...?"
"Like shit? Because there's shit in there. Dog droppings and other crap that gets washed into the catch basins. Not to mention pesticides, household chemicals, you name it. It's a toxic smorgasbord."
"Lovely. It's untreated?"
"Too expensive to treat it. It flows straight into the ocean. You see these big outfalls on the beach spewing out effluent. Kids play there."
"I used to read about the ancient Romans throwing their garbage into the streets, and I would feel superior." Tess looked away. "I wonder if that's what Angela was to him. Garbage."
She spent another minute staring down at the channel in the ebbing daylight. It was no one's idea of a resting place for the dead. Gray algae speckled the embankments, giving way above the waterline to intaglios of gang graffiti. The rumble of traffic from the overpass was the only noise. The flicker of newspapers blowing across the channel floor was the only movement.
"All right," Tess said. "I've seen enough."
Crandall seemed relieved. "Let's go, then. Don't want to be late."
"No, we wouldn't want to keep the ADIC waiting." Because of its size and prominence, the LA office was run by an unusually high-ranking agent, an assistant director in charge, or ADIC. The acronym was pronounced "A-Dick." In this case it seemed appropriate.
"Well," Crandall said, "it's not just the AD. Other people will be there."
"The mayor, the chief of police ..."
Tess frowned. When she'd been picked up at the airport, she'd assumed she was going straight to the field office in Westwood. Only after Crandall had taken the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway had she learned about the meeting downtown. If she'd known, she might have dressed in something nicer than her sensible shoes and gray business suit.
Still, she figured she looked all right. She was blessed with a smooth Highlands complexion that never needed makeup, and her reddish blond hair required no more than brisk brushing to straighten out its natural curls. In movies, female FBI agents always wore their hair short, either close-cropped or tied in a bun. Real life was more forgiving. Tess had grown her hair to shoulder length.
"Sounds like quite a get-together," she said.
"It's important I get you there on schedule. My instructions were explicit."
"This detour didn't cost us much time. And I wanted to see where she washed up."
Tess could have told him she'd spent the flight from Denver to LA reading the FBI report, written in dry Bureau-ese, learning only the bare facts. To make the case real, she'd needed to see the place where the first victim had washed up.
But she didn't think Crandall would understand, so she said only, "Curiosity," and let her shoulders rise and fall in a shrug.
Walking back along the embankment she passed a gate. On impulse she gave it a push. The gate swung open. Angela Morris's body had been removed only hours ago, and someone had forgotten to lock up.
"Hell," Crandall said, noticing. "That's sloppy. We'd better secure it before a civilian goes wandering down there."
"What do you say we go wandering?"
"Just for a minute or two."
"With due respect, Agent McCallum, that's a bad idea."
"Probably. Let's do it anyway."
"I really don't think—"
She was already stepping through the gate. "Last one in is a rotten egg." She wondered why that turn of phrase had occurred to her. Something her mother used to say, probably.
The embankment was angled at forty-five degrees. Now she was glad she'd worn her sensible shoes. The rubber soles provided good traction on the smooth concrete. Toward the bottom, weeds and moss made the descent more treacherous. She was relieved when she reached the floor of the channel.
The smell was stronger here. A ground cover of wildflowers sprouted from cracks in the concrete, among fast-food wrappers and soda cans.
At an early stage of her career, she'd been assigned to Phoenix, another city traversed by canals. They were clean and landscaped, home to waterfowl, a pleasant place for a walk. The Los Angeles River, despite persistent attempts at cleanup and restoration, was a squalid, littered trench.
"Was she handcuffed?" Tess asked Crandall when he arrived at her side.
"Yeah, like Paula Weissman. The handcuffs held up during the first flood, but the second one, last night, must have snapped the chain. The cuffs were still on her wrists, which were badly abraded."
"Were the abrasions antemortem or post-?"
"She was conscious, then. Also like Paula."
Crandall nodded. "Pulling at the cuffs, trying to get free."
"Must have been. The duct tape on her mouth was gone, pulled away by the water, but you could see the sticky residue."
"Same MO as Paula," Tess said, "every detail." She imagined Angela's final moments—the terror and helplessness, the awful isolation.
"The chain breaking was lucky," Crandall said. "If she'd stayed where she was, we never would've found her."
"A search team would have discovered the body eventually."
"I doubt it. The storm-drain system is huge. We're talking hundreds of square miles, and she could've been anywhere. Unless a maintenance crew stumbled across her ..."
Tess thought about the handcuffs. "I suppose you're looking into the S-and-M angle?"
"Sure. Doesn't narrow it down much. Lotta pervs in this town."
Her gaze traveled to the outfall on the far side of the channel, which had leaked a vomitus of dirty water down the concrete. "There's no grate over that opening," she said.
"A grate would get clogged with debris."
"How many openings are there like that?"
"Hundreds, thousands, along the length of the river."
"So our man can enter the system virtually anywhere."
"That's right. Although he probably uses one of the larger access points. We figure he drives the victim into the tunnels."
She nodded. The report had mentioned that some of the storm lines could accommodate a vehicle for maintenance purposes. This one couldn't. It was big enough for a person, though.
Tess stared at the outfall for a long moment. "You have a flashlight?" she asked.
He patted his jacket pocket. "Penlight."
"So do I. Let's look inside." She pointed at the outfall.
Crandall looked stricken. "In there?"
"There are approximately a million reasons I can think of."
"I need to get a feel for it. For what it's like in there. What it was like for her—and for him."
"I told you, we don't even know she came out of that outfall."
"I'm not looking for evidence. I just want to see what she saw. Walk in her shoes. One passageway is probably the same as another."
Crandall studied her. "You're not doing this to impress me, are you?"
"Why would I want to impress you?"
She ascended the embankment, then lowered her head and stepped into the outfall. Sunlight reached only a few feet inside. The floor was slimy with moss, thick and velvety, a green carpet squishing under her shoes.
She took out her penlight and angled its beam down the passageway. A long, grim stretch of concrete faded into blackness. The tunnel was wide enough for a person and nearly tall enough to allow her and Crandall to stand upright.
"In the mood for some spelunking?" she asked as he stepped into the passage behind her.
"I hope that's a joke, Agent McCallum."
"Wherever she was kept, she certainly wasn't within sight of daylight. We need to go in deeper if we want to get a feel for her last hours."
"I'd be happy using my imagination."
"Neither of us has enough imagination for this. Come on."
"We're on a tight schedule, you know."
"Five minutes. Just to look around."
She pressed forward into the dark, led by the twin beams of her flashlight and his.
"If it starts raining," Crandall said, "we could get trapped in here."
"There's no rain in tonight's forecast. You ought to know that."
"I do. I was hoping you didn't."
A chill had settled in the tunnel, the permanent chill of a place where light could not reach. Tess found herself thinking of the catacombs haunted by the early Christians, of mausoleums and crypts. Places of hiding, places of the dead. Where she was now was a little of both.
"What kind of person are we up against?" she asked.
"I'm not a profiler."
"Me neither. But we can guess, can't we?"
"He's smart," Crandall ventured. "And careful."
"And very sure of himself. He wants to challenge both the municipal and federal authorities. He wants to run with the big dogs."
"That's our thinking, too. Delusions of grandeur, megalomania. Which narrows it down to only half the population of LA."
Tess smiled. "I'm starting to like you, Crandall."
"I'd like you better if you'd let us get the hell out of here, Agent McCallum."
"Just a little farther. I want to see what happens when we come to an intersecting pipe. What else do we know about our adversary?"
"He knows how to open foreign bank accounts. Could be a world traveler."
"Could be. But these days you don't need to go overseas to open a foreign account. It can be done by mail."
"One way or the other, he knows his way around the banking system."
"He—or they. Is it one man or a team?"
Crandall hesitated. "I'm guessing one guy."
"Easier to pull it off if you have an accomplice."
"Yes, but there's his megalomania. He doesn't think he needs help. That's my read on it, anyway. What do you think?"
"It's not my case. I have no opinion."
"That's a cop-out."
"You must have some opinion."
Tess acquiesced. "He's smart, as you said. He's got it all planned out. The way he's worked it, he hasn't given us even a glimpse of him. We haven't seen his handwriting or heard his voice. He's a ghost."
"He could be anyone," Crandall said.
"I'm afraid so."
"That's not very reassuring."
No, it wasn't, Tess reflected. But it was true.
She thought about the man they were after, the man who used these passages as his killing ground. He had played his game adroitly so far. No slip-ups yet.
The first note had been found on Wednesday afternoon, January 5, inside a videocassette box dropped through the return slot of a rental outlet. The note was written in felt marker on a sheet of notebook paper, a popular brand sold in thousands of stores. Paper-clipped to it were a driver's license issued to Angela Morris and an index card bearing a laser-printed bank account number.
The note's handwriting was large and clumsy, and there were several misspellings.
My name is Angela Morris. He is making me write this. He is kiddnaping me. He says my life is at steak. He is going to put me under ground in the storm dranes. The storm dranes will flood tonite when it rains. You must transfer $1,000,000 in city revenus to the bank account number on the card before it rains. When it rains it will be to late.
The money had never been transferred. Tess doubted that the kidnapper had expected it to be. Most likely he'd used Angela as a test case in order to familiarize the authorities with his method of operation—and to prove he was serious.
Because kidnapping was a federal crime, the Bureau had been brought in at once. The case was all over the media, of course. It had all the elements of TV drama, except a flashy moniker for the killer. For some reason the journalistic gimmick of nicknaming serial offenders had become passé. To the Bureau he was the unsub—unknown subject—in the case code-named STORMKIL.
On Sunday, January 9, a second note was found, this time inside a Ford Taurus parked in a loading zone. A patrol cop traced the Ford to Paula L. Weissman of Reseda. He was writing Ms. Weissman a ticket when he saw the sheet of paper, the driver's license, and the index card on the dashboard. He had the presence of mind not to touch these items, but it made no difference; there were no prints on them but the victim's.
The handwriting of this note was more polished, but the message was nearly the same.
My name is Paula Weissman. I'm being held captive by a man who says he is responsible for the abduction of Angela Morris last week. He demands that $2,000,000 in municipal revenues be deposited in the bank account indicated on the attached card. He says you made a mistake last time, but he's sure you will cooperate now. He wants me to tell you he's very disappointed with you, and he doesn't want to be disappointed again. He says he doesn't handle disappointment well. He says it's something he's working on. He says to remind you of the weather forecast.
That was all, except for a few scribbled, shaky words that trailed off at the end.
Please help me I don't want to die down there
This time the money, twice the kidnapper's initial demand, had been paid. Two million dollars was wire-transferred to a blind account in the Cayman Islands—a different account from the one specified in the first kidnapping, but equally untraceable. Authorities in the Caymans were cooperating, but by now the money had been moved elsewhere, vanishing in a maze of anonymous or pseudonymous accounts.
Fifteen minutes after the deposit, as the rain began to fall, the mayor's phone rang. Paula's recorded voice stated that she was handcuffed to a railing in a side passageway beneath the intersection of Wilshire and Vermont. The tunnels were flooding when the rescue team entered. They got close enough to see the victim before surging water forced them back. When the storm cleared, Paula's body was found, still manacled to the handrail.
And today—Monday, January 10—Angela's body had been found as well, washed out of the drainage lines by the same downpour. Perhaps out of the very passageway through which Tess was maneuvering now.
She arrived at the junction of two pipelines and beamed her light along the wider, intersecting passageway. Faintly she heard the rumble of traffic overhead. People were commuting home from work, listening to the car radio, talking on their cells, oblivious to the labyrinth below.
"It's a whole other world down here," she said.
She took a step forward, intending to explore the larger passageway. Crandall grabbed her arm.
"This really is not safe," he said.
Excerpted from Dangerous Games by Michael Prescott. Copyright © 2005 Michael Prescott. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Michael Prescott, a New York Times–bestselling author, began his career as a screenwriter and freelance journalist. He has published ten suspense thrillers, including Miasma (2007), Final Sins (2007), Mortal Faults (2006), Dangerous Games (2005) (Tess McCallum #2), In Dark Places (2004), Next Victim (2002) (Tess McCallum Book One), Last Breath (2001), The Shadow Hunter (2000), Stealing Faces (1999), and Comes the Dark (1999). He is almost always at work on a new novel and divides his time between the Arizona desert and the New Jersey shore.
You may contact Michael Prescott at his website www.michaelprescott.net. Prescott also blogs on general subjects, including books and publishing, at www.michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/.
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