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2:00 a.m., Saturday, October 22
Death. She dealt with it every day at the crime laboratory. Husbands, wives, lovers ... friends ... killing each other. Dr. Amy Prescott paced the length of the beach cottage. All of them strangers until now.
Footsteps clumped on the porch. She swung around, saw her father, and caught her breath. He wouldn't be here at two in the morning unless--
"Amy..." Dr. B.J. Prescott shoved open the door and plunged inside. "Thank God, you're here." Rain stippled his graying fringe of hair; dripped from his mustache and Van Dyke beard.
She clutched her elbows to warm herself. "What's happened?"
"Something bad, I'm afraid."
Her teeth began to chatter. "It's Oren. Isn't it?"
He stared at her. "How did you know?"
"He phoned while I was still at the crime lab--"
"When?" Rivulets of water ran off his yellow slicker and made dark spots on the braided wool rug.
"Five-thirty, just as I was leaving for my apartment." Her father gripped her arm and she felt the cold dampness of his fingers through the sleeve of her flannel shirt.
"What did he say?"
Goosebumps prickled her skin. "What's Oren done?"
He regarded her with level blue eyes. "He's in trouble. Big trouble. I've got to know what's going on with him--and fast."
Fears that had scuttled around inside her brain on the eighty-mile trip from Seattle to Lomitas Island settled into a lump in her stomach. "Oren said he and ... and ... what's his fiancée's name?"
"Elise. Elise Dorset."
Amy felt a stab of guilt. She and her cousin had once been best friends. If she'd kept in touch, she would have known about hisfiancée, about his problems. "They're coming to the island for the weekend. He begged me to come too so I could meet her. He sounded ... strange."
"'Strange.' What's that supposed to mean?"
"Wild talk." She shoved her fingers through short brown hair. "You know, like he used to when he was a kid ... after Uncle Mike ran off and left him and Aunt Helen.... Remember?" She moistened her lips. "Evidently, he and Elise have been having some sort of ... difficulties."
Her father ran a hand over his face. "Damn! I was hoping--" He let out a noisy breath. "--Sheriff Calder is over at Oren's apartment. The place is wrecked and Oren and Elise are gone."
"Oren said he hadn't been to Lomitas Island for weeks. Vandals could have broken in."
"Could be, but Tom's convinced Oren and Elise were there earlier in the evening."
"Hah! You know what I think about Calder and his screwball ideas." She thought fast, searching for explanations to reassure her father--and herself. "Chances are, after the storm hit, Oren and Elise decided not to make the long drive after all. They're probably still at their condo in Seattle. Shoot, Dad, you know what a calamity howler Calder can be."
"Not this time. A Mrs. Michaels claims Elise called her around midnight. Crying. Hysterical. Terrified. Screamed Oren had--" His words thinned to a whisper and he stopped to clear his throat. "--had gone crazy. Said he was going to kill her."
Amy stood as if frozen, his words stinging her like pelting hailstones. "Oh, God! No!" She pressed her hand against her mouth. "He couldn't. He couldn't!"
Her father put his arm around her. "Sounds bad, Amy. Real bad. This Mrs. Michaels manages the endocrinology clinic where Elise works as a nurse. The woman claims Oren has beaten Elise before."
Amy lifted her chin. "I don't believe it. Oren wouldn't do such a thing." An instant later, her certainty vanished. "Would he?" she asked in a small voice.
"Who knows, kitten? He's spent less time on the island since you kids grew up and went off to college. Boys change when they turn into men."
"Not that much."
He fixed her with a solemn look. "Both of us have worked enough crime scenes to know better than that." He let out a long sigh and massaged a wind-reddened cheek. "I'd better get in gear. Don't want to leave Tom on his own too long." He turned toward the door.
"I'll meet you there," she whispered.
He forced a smile. "I was hoping you would." He paused in the doorway. "This storm has blown trees down all over the island, so be careful."
"You too." She grabbed her glasses, donned a slicker, and jammed a yellow sou'wester hat on her head.
As she rushed out into the darkness, she remembered Oren's final cry. One of us is going mad. I have to know if it's Elise, or me.