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Even though Laura Webber had watched the prerecorded television interview on the six o'clock news, she couldn't wait to see the repeat at ten. She'd spent the time between the broadcasts finishing up paperwork in her office at the hospital, and then switched on the television to catch it again on the late news. She stared at her pale face on the screen and wondered how her friend and roommate, Grace Kincaid, had ever talked her into doing that interview.
She'd promised herself when she'd returned to Memphis she wouldn't dredge up the memories she'd lived with for the past nineteen years. And yet, there she was on the most watched television station in the city telling how her parents had died in a car bomb explosion when she was ten years old.
Grace, ever the professional reporter, stared into the camera to close the interview. "The deaths of Lawrence Webber and his wife, Madeline, are one of the many unsolved cases that have prompted local authorities to establish a new Cold Case unit within the police department. The Webbers are but one family who hopes they will soon have answers concerning the fates of their loved ones. I am Grace Kincaid reporting for WKIZ-TV. Thank you for watching."
Laura pressed the remote to switch off the television, leaned forward and folded her arms on her desk. At first she hadn't wanted to do the interview. The memory of seeing the car bomb explode and engulf her parents in flames still haunted her. Grace had reasoned with her that people needed to be reminded that a federal prosecutor and his wife had been murdered while his children watched, and she was right. It felt good to know she had told her parents' story.
She glanced at the clock and jumped to her feet. Time to get home. If she was to make it to her early appointments with clients at Cornerstone Clinic in the morning, she needed some sleep. She grabbed her purse hanging on the back of her chair and slid its strap over her shoulder. A chill rippled down her spine as a thought flashed in her mind. The next hospital shift wouldn't occur for another hour. The parking lot would be deserted this late.
Her chin dipped against her chest, and she covered her face with her hands. Through the years she'd thought of what she'd lost that summer day years ago when her parents' car exploded, but it was what she'd gained that kept her awake at nightsthe fear that someone was watching her and her brother, just waiting for the chance to annihilate her entire family.
After a moment, she took a deep breath, switched off her office lights and headed for the parking lot. Before stepping outside the hospital, she peered through the door's glass at the dark shadows covering the asphalt beyond the exit. Several streetlights appeared to be out of order. She squinted into the distance trying to remember where she'd parked her car. With the lot filled when she arrived earlier this afternoon, she hadn't been able to get her spot near the building. Scanning the area, she finally spotted her vehicle underneath one of the poles that burned brightly. The distance between where she stood and her car seemed to grow as she stared at it. After a moment she squared her shoulders, stepped from the building and walked toward her car. Her gaze didn't waver as she moved.
Halfway to her destination, the sound of a car door closing echoed across the parking lot, and she froze in place. She cast a glance around but didn't see anyone. A footstep echoed off the asphalt. Was it her imagination, or was someone out there?
She dug in her purse for her keys as she bolted toward her car. Without warning an arm circled her waist and squeezed the breath from her. A hand clamped a cloth over her mouth and nose, blocking the scream rising in her throat. Twisting and kicking, she tried to loosen her attacker's grip, but it was no use. Dizziness swept over her, and she struggled against it. But there was nothing to ward off the darkness that enveloped her.
Disoriented, she awoke with a start. Where was she? How long had she been out? She strained to catch a glimpse of something in the inky darkness that surrounded her, but she could see nothing. She blinked, and her eyelashes brushed against something.
She lay on her side, her arms behind her back. With a tug, she tried to pull her hands to her chest, but something cut into her wrists. She moaned in pain as the truth began to seep into her head. She couldn't see because a blindfold covered her eyes, and she couldn't move because her hands were tied behind her back.
What had happened? Bits and pieces of memory trickled into her brain. The hospitalshe had left after watching the interview on TV and walked toward her car. But she didn't recall getting in it.
Then she remembered a cloth over her nose, a man's arm around her waist. Fear rose in her throat. She had broken the first rule she gave crime victims in her counseling sessionsalways be mindful of your surroundings. But she hadn't been. Not until it was too late.
Now she lay blindfolded and bound somewhere. She stilled and listened for any clue that might give a hint of her surroundings. The steady hum of an engine and the slapping of tires on pavement answered her question. She was in some kind of vehicle heading toward an unknown destination.
She strained to pull her hands free, but it was no use. Her head jerked at the sharp slap to her face. "It's no use, Laura," a man's voice whispered in her ear. "You can't get loose."
The smell of tobacco and alcohol assaulted her nostrils and she gagged. Then cold fear shot through her veins. He knew her name. This was no random abduction. It was personal.
"Wh-what do you want with me?" Her dry throat burned so that the words were barely more than a whisper.
"I want to talk to you about your television interview."
Her heart pounded, and she tried to swallow but her mouth had gone dry. "Wh-what about it?"
Something sharp nicked the skin beneath her chin. Laura tried to pull back from the knife's tip, but the man pressed it closer. "Some people I know don't want you talking about what happened. They think it's better to bury the past. What do you think?"
Tears rolled down her face. "What are you going to do to me?"
He laughed, and the sound sent chill bumps down her spine. "I'm going to make sure you don't talk to anybody else about that car bomb that killed your parents. Your search for answers is going to stop tonight. Understand?"
There was no denying what his words insinuated. He intended to kill her. Her body shook, but she pushed back the groans that rumbled in her throat. The vehicle came to a stop, and another man's voice cut through the silence. "We're here. Get it over with quick."
Before she realized what was happening, she was jerked from the vehicle and stood upright. A man's hand grasped her upper arm so tightly she thought it might cut off her circulation. He reached behind and yanked the ties from her around her hands. She pulled her hands up and rubbed her wrists.
Her knees threatened to collapse at the nudge of a gun against her back. "Now walk forward," he muttered. "And don't look back. Just walk."
"P-please," she begged.
"Walk," he snarled and pushed her forward.
Laura took a hesitant step and then another. Cold water seeped through the soles of her shoes, but she stumbled on. Her heart beat faster every time she moved. Would this step be her last?
A sound like water lapping against a shore reached her ears, and she shuddered at the familiar sound. He had brought her to the bank of the Mississippi River. Now she understood. A shot in the back, and her body would float downriver toward the Gulf of Mexico and never be seen again.
She clenched her fists and thought of her brother, Mark, his wife, Betsy, and their new daughter, Amanda, on Ocracoke Island. She'd never see them again. "God," she whispered, "watch over my family. Don't let them grieve for me."
Cold water rolled over her feet, and she hesitated. "Keep walking," the voice yelled.
She took another step and knew she now stood in the river. She inched forward until the water reached her knees, but the shot still didn't come. Suddenly a motor cranked and tires squealed. She held her breath and waited, but nothing happened.
With shaking hands she reached up, pulled the blindfold from her eyes and turned to stare to her left. The lights of Memphis blinked in the distance. The bridge that connected the city to Arkansas lit the night, and she could see cars whizzing along its roadway. It only took her a moment to figure out that she'd been brought to the northern end of Mud Island.
She turned slowly and stared behind her. There was no one there, and no vehicle sat at the side of the road. With tears streaming down her face she waded out of the water and collapsed on her hands and knees on the riverbank. A combination of fear and relief surged through her body, and she gulped great breaths of air into her lungs.
The melody of "Can't Help Falling in Love," her favorite Elvis song and the ringtone on her cell phone, pierced the darkness. She stumbled to her feet and headed toward the sound. Her purse lay in the grass about ten feet from the water's edge.
She pulled her phone from the purse and rammed it to her ear. "Hello?"
The voice that had chilled her in the vehicle drifted into her ear. "This was a warning, Laura. Let the past go, or next time you won't be so lucky." She cringed at the evil chuckle ringing in her ear. "Be sure and check the local news in the morning. They say history repeats itself. Just make sure it doesn't happen to you, too."
The caller disconnected. Laura pulled the phone from her ear and stared at it. After a moment she sank to her knees again, wrapped her arms around her waist and wailed until she was exhausted. Then she pushed to her feet and began to walk toward the lights of Memphis.
Brad Austin yawned and rubbed the back of his neck as he strode down the hall at police headquarters. He'd been up all night, and he was exhausted. But there was no time to rest. He hadn't thought this job as one of the detectives heading the new Cold Case unit would be as demanding as his former detective job, but so far it had kept him even busier.
He glanced at his watch and frowned. 7:00 a.m. He'd been at the hospital since eleven last night. If Seth and Alex, his partners, were in the office, he'd bring them up to speed on the Nathan Carson lead before he headed back to either the hospital or to the medical examiner's office, depending on whether Carson lived or died.
As Brad walked past the break room, he smelled coffee. That's what he needed right now. He stepped inside, poured himself a cup and sipped the hot liquid as he thought back over the events of the past few days.
Three days ago he'd received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as Nathan Carson, longtime accountant for a local crime family headed by Tony Lynch. Brad had been interested immediately because every cop in town wanted to take down the Lynch organization. Now with Tony retired and living in Florida, a new leader had risen from the ranks, but so far his identity had remained a secret.
At first Brad had been skeptical, but when Carson offered to identify the new leader of the family, he became interested. In addition, Carson also claimed to have information about the five-year-old cold case of a murdered undercover policeman for the Drug Task Force found on the banks of the Mississippi River in Memphis. He hinted at knowing what the officer had discovered shortly before he was killed. That statement had been enough to convince Brad this could be the lead he'd been waiting for.
Only the police and the FBI who'd been called in after the murder knew about the officer's last message to his superiors before his death. He'd discovered that drugs were but one of the Lynch family's businesses. Another was the transportation and sale of illegal aliens along the Mississippi.
Carson had promised to meet with Brad at his office today. That wasn't going to happen now because Nathan Carson's car had exploded in a ball of flames last night when he'd turned the ignition in the parking garage of the office building where he worked. Now he fought for his life in one of the city's best trauma units.
Brad narrowed his eyes and shook his head. He didn't believe in coincidences. What were the odds that two cold cases with suspected ties to the Lynch organization could be connected by a car bomb? The bomb squad had the remains of last night's bomb right now, and he could hardly wait to find out if it bore any resemblance to the one that had killed federal prosecutor Lawrence Webber and his wife nineteen years ago.
That case was another of the files that had been turned over to him when he'd taken this new job, and for personal reasons he'd like to see it solved more than any other. He drained the last drop of his coffee and threw the disposable cup in the trash before he headed down the hall.
As he approached his office, a uniformed officer stepped out and closed the door. "Good morning, Officer Johnson," Brad said. "What can I do for you this morning?"
The man jerked his thumb toward the closed door. "Late last night patrol picked up a woman they spotted walking from the direction of the boat ramp on Mud Island. They brought her to the station, but she insisted she could only talk to you. I just left her in your office."
"What she was doing out there alone late at night?"
The officer shook his head. "I have no idea. Wouldn't tell us a thing except she had information about one of your cold cases." He glanced down at his watch. "I'm off duty, and I'm ready to go home."
"I wish I could go home," Brad said with a sigh. "But it looks like my day is off to a good start. Are Seth and Alex in yet?"
"Didn't see 'em."
"Well, thanks for bringing the woman down here. I'll see what she wants."
Brad opened the door and stepped into the office. The woman sat slumped over the desk in his cubicle. Her head was buried in her crossed arms on top of the desk, and she didn't stir as he closed the door. She appeared to be sound asleep.
He cleared his throat, but she didn't move. He waited a moment before he crossed to where she sat and stopped beside her. "May I help you?" he asked.
A soft snore was the only response he received.
Brad grasped her shoulder and gave a gentle shake. "May I help you?" he repeated in a louder voice.
A scream tore from her mouth, and she jumped to her feet. She recoiled against the desk and stared at him with wild eyes. Then she relaxed and let out a long breath. "Oh, thank goodness, it's you, Brad."