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The clanging of the halyards against the masts of the sailboats docked at the pier echoed across the water, sounding like a death-knell chorus.
"He wants revenge against you for tricking him, and he's gonna get it if you don't watch yourself."
Kacie Manning's back tingled with the warning, as if someone had already placed a target there. She peered at the man three feet away from her. His face was obscured by a baseball cap pulled low on his forehead and a bandana hiding his mouth and chin.
"Would you be willing to go to the police and tell them what you just told me? He can't make threats like that from prison."
The figure hugging the shadows hunched his shoulders. "I'm not getting on his bad side. The man's a straight-up psychopath. If the warden pays him a visit, Dan's gonna know who talked."
Kacie hugged herself, dipping her hands into the sleeves of her baggy sweater to ward off the chill of the night and his words. "How's Dan going to get the word out on the street? The prison monitors his communication."
The man whistled between his teeth, and the bandana puffed out from his face. "I thought you knew Daniel Walker. You wrote a book about him, didn't you?"
"You know that, or we wouldn't be here."
"Then you should know what he's capable of, Kacie. He ain't just a psycho. He's a crafty psycho."
Goose bumps raced across her flesh, and she rubbed her arms. This ex-con obviously knew Daniel Walker well. Not everyone didhis own family sure hadn't. "Did he actually confess to the murders?"
"No way." He scratched at his chin beneath the bandana. "He's too smart for that. He still wants to keep on pretending. He started talking to me about karma one day before my parole. I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but then he explained it's like revenge, comeuppance. And he told me you were gonna get yours."
"Why are you telling me this? Why are you warning me?"
"I dunno." He shuffled a step closer, careful to keep his face in the darkness. "You're a pretty little gal, Kacie. I saw you once or twice when you came to the big house to interview Walker."
She tried to swallow, but her dry throat wouldn't allow it.
He'd seen her at Walla Walla? Maybe Walker had sent him to take care of his business. She shuffled back a few steps. "That still doesn't explain why you'd risk Walker's anger to warn me."
"You remind me of my sister a little bit." His eyes glittered in the dark. "Besides, I ain't risking nothing. It's not like you're going to go running to Walker telling him someone from the state pen warned you about him, right?"
"Of course not."
A squeaking noise to her right made her grit her teeth. She jerked her head to the side and spotted a shopping cart rumbling around the corner, with a ramshackle man in rags steering it.
The parolee across from her swore and spit from beneath his bandana.
The homeless man trundled toward them, one wheel of his cart squealing and wobbling over the cement walkway.
Kacie held her breath as he drew next to them.
"Can you spare some change?" His hand was already protruding from the dirtencrusted sleeve of his jacket.
Her informant had ducked back into the shadows, but his voice lashed out at the transient from the anonymity of the darkness. "Move it along, buddy."
The homeless man must've heard something in the other man's voice because he thrust his cart in front of him and picked up his ambling pace without a word or backward glance.
The transient had enough street smarts to recognize a dangerous man when he heard one. What was her problem? Could she even trust an ex-con wearing a bandana across his lower face?
She scooped in a breath of salty air. "Like I was saying, I have no reason to tell Walker anything."
"You sure he didn't charm the pants off you? Make you wet?" The man chuckled low in his throat.
Kacie clenched her jaw where a muscle jumped wildly. He was just trying to make her uncomfortable, push her buttons.
She snorted. "Did you read my book?"
"I don't read no books, but I heard about it. You tried and convicted the guy all over again and kicked him for good measure."
"Then you should know his smooth talk didn't work on me."
"You're a good actress, Kacie." She f linched. She wished he'd stop using her name. They weren't friends. They weren't even acquaintances.
"Why do you say that?"
"'Cuz Walker thought he had you eating out of the palm of his hand during all those interviews you two did together."
"Oh well." She tossed her hair over her shoulder.
"That's why he was so pissed off. It's not just that you wrote a book that made him look bad. It's that he thought he had you."
"He thought wrong." And she'd done nothing in the interviews that would've made him think otherwise. She'd come into the project suspecting an innocent man had been convicted of murdering his wife and children. Several interviews later, she knew she was dealing with a sociopath, a guilty sociopath.
"Yeah, he had you all wrong." He adjusted his cap with a hand sporting a tattoo of a cross on the back. "That's why he wants to kill you."
The wind whistled in from across the bay and blew right through her. She huddled into her sweater further. "Thanks for the heads-up." She dug into her pocket for a hundreddollar bill, creased it and held it out to him.
Stepping back, he sucked in a breath. "I ain't no snitch. I didn't tell you for money."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you." She crumpled the bill in her fist and shoved it back in her pocket. "I appreciate the warning, that's all."
"Sure, sure. I told you. You remind me of my sister."
He pivoted, melting into the shadow of the building.
Kacie took one step away and cranked her head over her shoulder. "What were you in for?"
The voice came from the darkness like disembodied evil. "Killing my sister."
Kacie's hand flew to her mouth and she stumbled toward the weak light spilling from the ticket booth for the submarine. Her heart hammered so hard she wouldn't have been able to hear footsteps even if they were coming straight toward her.
This time she didn't care if she gave him the satisfaction of knowing he'd shocked her . He had. She broke into a jog, heading for the lights at the more popular end of the wharfnot that teeming crowds met her here, either. Late on a Sunday night, Fisherman's Wharf wasn't exactly crackling with tourists and street performers. The fishermen had hauled in their catches many hours before and would be ready to go out in a few more. The hipsters and club hoppers were ducking in and out of bars in other areas of the cityother areas where the air didn't reek of fish and resound with the clanging of masts.
Her footsteps carried her past the darkened and shuttered restaurants, past the homeless people huddled on benches or in doorways. She kept glancing over her shoulder, half expecting to see the masked face of the sister-killing parolee. He'd probably just been trying to yank her chain. Was there anyone in prison who didn't lie?
If San Francisco were the type of city where you could hail a taxi on the street, she'd do it. No point in standing on a dark corner placing a call and waiting for one to show up.
Her legs moved faster. A few die-hard T-shirt shops still hoped for the odd tourist on a late-night souvenir run. The lights spilling from their windows tempered her pulse rate.
When she hit the street that led to her hotel, her breathing almost returned to normal.
A hotel near Fisherman's Wharf wouldn't have been her first choice, but Ryan Brody was staying there, so it was good enough for her.
He had at least two brothers living in the city, so she couldn't figure out why he didn't stay with one of them. Maybe there was a rift in the family.
Her lips stretched into a humorless smile. If that was the case, it couldn't happen to a better bunch.
Brody. The name filled her with unspeakable rage.
Kacie let out a pent-up breath as she hiked up the sidewalk to her hotel. A few more people, other than the transients who owned the night, crisscrossed the street and wandered into the shops still selling their wares.
Kacie greeted the bellhop as she stepped through the doors of the hotel. "Is the hotel pool still open?"
"It's open twenty-four hours, ma'am."
When she got to her room, she fired up her laptop. She planned to find out the identity of her talkative ex-con. As the computer booted up, she shed her clothes and wriggled into a bikini. Then she grabbed the hotel-issued terry-cloth robe and threw it over the back of a chair.
She leaned over the laptop, her hands hovering above the keyboard. What was the murder of a sister called? Fratricide? Or was it something different for a sister?
She tapped the keyboard. He'd been imprisoned at Walla Walla, but that didn't necessarily mean he'd committed his crime in Washington.
She twisted her stiff neck from side to side and then shoved the computer away. She could do this the next morning before she met with Ryan Brody. Right now, she needed a little relaxation.
She slipped her arms into the robe and knotted the sash around her waist. Twisting her hair around her hand, she headed for the bathroom. Her toiletry bag hung on a hook on the back of the door, and she dug inside one of the pockets until her fingers tripped across a hair clasp.
She secured her hair, dropped her key card in her pocket and pulled her door securely closed behind her.
The vacant indoor pool beckoned. She shrugged out of the robe and draped it over a chair. She jerked her head toward some splashing coming from the hot tub. Three teenage boys rose from the bubbling water in unison, steam floating off their bodies.
They better not be heading toward the pool. She sat on the edge and lowered herself into the lukewarm water. She kicked off the wall, and the water enveloped her as she sliced through it, her arms windmilling and her flutter kick just breaking the surface.
In, out, in, out. Her regulated breathing calmed her and cleared her brain of all the ugliness she dealt with on a daily basisall the ugliness yet to come.
She finished her laps and, placing her hands flat on the deck, hoisted herself out of the pool.
One glance at the hot tub and a trail of water leading to the door told her the boys had left. She made a beeline for the sauna. She pulled one of the heavy doors open and poked her head inside where the dry heat blasted her. It was blissfully empty inside. She spread her towel out on one of the wooden benches and stretched out on her back, crossing her arms beneath her head.
She'd play it cool with Brody. She'd play it nice and civiljust like she had with Daniel Walker. Not that Ryan Brody, youngest police chief in the state of California, was a serial killer.
But his dad was.
She stretched out her legs and wiggled her toes. It felt great, but she couldn't take much more than ten minutes in the sauna.
A sound at the doors had her doing a half sit-up. She stared at the heavy wooden doors but nobody entered the sauna.
Good. Maybe someone had heard her in there. She rolled to her stomach, burying her face in her arms.
Sweat trickled down her back and dripped from her elbow. Sitting up, she dabbed the corner of her towel between her breasts.
She swung her feet to the f loor and ladled a small amount of eucalyptus oil over the hot rocks. They sizzled and the fresh scent of eucalyptus soaked the room.
She took a few deep, cleansing breaths and then stood up and pushed at the door. It wouldn't budge.
She wiped her hands on her towel and grabbed one of the door handles with two hands and gave it a shove. Wedging her shoulder against the wood, she drove into one door and then the other. The doors stayed firmly in place and now her shoulder hurt.
What the hell? The bellhop had told her the pool area was open all night and the sign on the door had verified that. There was no way they'd be locking up now. And why would they lock the sauna from the outside?
She pushed at the doors again and heard a rattle against the wood.
"Hello? Is anyone out there? Can you open the doors?"
Only the hissing and dripping of the rocks answered her.
She scanned the walls of the sauna for a phone, an emergency shutoff or a call button and saw nothing but smooth, dry wood.
"Hey!" She pounded her fists against the doors. "I'm in here."
Sweat poured off her face and she mopped it with her towel. Trickles of it ran down her chest to her belly and more droplets crept down her spine.
Her breathing shortened and she parted her lips to drag in a long breath. The dry air filled her lungs.
She dumped another ladle of oil on the rocks and gulped in the rising steam.
Someone had to come in there shortly. If the pool was open twenty-four hours, maybe the cleaning crew came in the middle of the night.
She tried one of the doors again, driving her shoulder against it. Again, she heard a rattling on the outside. Was there something blocking the door? A sauna wouldn't have a lock on the outside.
She planted her feet on the wood floor and flattened her palms against the double doors. She dug in and pushed with her entire weight. One of the doors moved past the other about a half an inch.
She pressed her eye to the crack, but the doors were too thick and there was very little space between them.
She put her lips to the space between the doors and screamed. "Help! I'm locked in the sauna."
The yelling weakened her, and her knees wobbled. She put a hand out for the bench and sank to its hot surface, which scorched the backs of her thighs. Everything was hot now.
She ran her tongue around her parched mouth and tipped her head back to peer at the ceiling. She eyed a square vent with mesh across it. Could she fit through that? Where did it lead?
She stood on the bench and reached for the vent, her fingertips skimming the mesh. She rolled up her towel and stood on top of it. She slammed the heels of her hands against the vent and then noticed the screws.
With nothing gained except sore palms, she lowered herself to the bench.
Her robe. She'd left her robe hanging over one of the chairs. Maybe someone would notice it from the gym that looked out onto the pool and come out to pick it up.
She pressed her face against the double doors again and screamed. "Help! I'm in the sauna."
She was going to meet her death in a hotel sauna. A laugh bubbled to her lips. Her parents were going to have a helluva lawsuit.
She pressed her hands to her hot, moist face and her eyelids fluttered. How long had she been in there? Maybe she'd just pass out, and they'd find her in the morning.
She dropped to the bench before her knees could buckle under her. She'd try screaming again in a minute or twowhen she got her breath back.
A voice! Had she imagined it?
She hopped up, adrenaline surging through her body. "Is someone there? I'm in the sauna."
Scratching and scraping noises echoed from outside the sauna and the doors wobbled. Then they flew open and cool air rushed into her wooden prison.
She heard a male voice, strong and angry. "What the hell happened?"
Her legs couldn't support her and she fell forward.
Her rescuer caught her in a pair of solid arms, and for a moment she melted against him. "Thank you. Oh my God, I was trapped in there."
"You're burning up. You need water." The man took a step back and tilted up her chin.
Her gaze met a pair of murky green eyes, which widened and grew lighter.
Her mouth dropped open, and her body jerked. She'd just fallen into the arms of the enemy.