Haunted by the murder of his sister, Lieutenant Jake Carrington struggles to control his personal demons as he stands over the brutalized body of a young woman found dead on the railroad tracks. The victim disappeared on July 6th, the fifth woman in as many years to go missing on that date. The fifth happy bride-to-be. The only one whose body has turned up.
Soon the killer is sending personal messages to Jake. They refer to an unidentified brother he believes Jake hates as much as he does. With his partner distracted by turmoil at home, Jake is on his own. Drawn deeper and deeper into a murderous family feud, his mission is to find out who the killer’s brother is—and stop him before another innocent woman’s life is cut tragically short.
“Tense and authentic—a suspenseful page-turner!”
—Leo J. Maloney
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"What an excellent way to be awakened. But next time, put Brigh's bed in the living room." Mia pushed away from Jake as his cell phone started to ring.
He rolled to his side and picked up the intruding phone. The caller ID had him swearing under his breath as he answered it. There went his day off. He picked up the pen and notebook he kept on his nightstand and started writing as he listened to dispatch.
"Thanks. Notify Sergeant Romanelli and have him meet me at the scene." Jake disconnected, turning to Mia. It was strange to have her back in his bed. Life ... wasn't it bizarre?
"Dispatch didn't say. Sorry, I had hoped to spend the day with you." He got out of bed, pulled a pair of jeans from the bottom drawer, his socks and underwear from the top one.
"I understand. Call me later."
"Will do. Go back to sleep."
He took his shoulder and ankle holsters off his dresser, placed them on top of his clothes on the chair, then opened his closet safe for his guns.
Mia was sitting up in bed staring at him.
"What?" he asked.
"You've got a lot of hardware there — doesn't it bother you to carry it?"
"It would bother me more if I was in a situation and didn't have my weapons with me. Don't worry."
"It comes with the territory. Will I see you tonight?"
"I hope so. Give me a call when you're through." He bent down, glided his lips over hers and lingered — something positive he'd take with him to the scene.
Ten minutes later, showered and dressed, he brewed a quick cup of coffee, toasted a bagel, and headed to his car.
* * *
As he pulled into the parking lot at the Metro station, he couldn't help but notice the crowd. There had to be ten cruisers with their lights flashing. Nothing like advertising in the lot shared with the newspaper, he thought. Whatever happened to common sense?I bet the reporters got better pictures than we did.
He emptied his coffee cup and wiped his mouth before climbing out of the car and stepping into the thick, humid air. Exactly how many bodies were there that it required such a large police presence, he wondered. The crowd consisted of not only the patrol car officers; there were a few who patrolled on foot as well as CSIs, uniformed Metro employees, and strangers he assumed were commuters who got more than a ride to work today. The crime scene tape had been placed around the area to control the lookie-loos. He recognized a couple of the uniforms as he ducked under it. Scanning the bystanders, he searched for anyone who stood out. It was never easy, but one could hope. Some killers got a kick out of watching the police process the scene.
Dispatch had reported two kids cutting school had planned to walk along the tracks to a favorite party spot that was not accessible by car. It was difficult for the cops to patrol there. Instead of enjoying the late summer day, the kids had found a body. They might think twice about cutting class the next time, he thought.
"This way, Lieutenant," Officer Martin Gregory said as he approached Jake.
"How contaminated is my scene, Marty?"
Jake followed him down the slight incline to the tracks while he surveyed the area. Not an easy dump site, he noted. Someone had lots of muscle if he had carried a body this far. Jake pulled out his notebook and wrote down his first impressions before listing the standard questions. What would it take to carry a body this far? How strong would a man have to be to walk two hundred or so yards to discard it? Did he drag it? How much did the body weigh? It would have had to be done early, before people headed into work. But he couldn't be positive he wouldn't be seen. Where had he parked? Where had he entered the area?
"You got kids running around, the homeless, plus all the druggies," Marty said.
"Grab a couple of uniforms and walk the perimeter. See if there are drag marks or tire tracks in case he drove it."
Jake swept his gaze over the downhill area in front of him still not able to spot the crime scene. "And see if you find any bags down there large enough to transport a body."
"Did Sergeant Romanelli get here yet?"
"He's already with the victim, sir. My partner's with him."
Knowing Louie was in control, Jake's apprehension evened out.
"Lieutenant, is she the missing girl from July sixth?" someone shouted.
Anger burned a hole in his stomach as he turned to face the speaker. Reporters in general annoyed him. They were cretins, in his opinion. They only cared about their next headline, not the victims or their survivors. Matthew Hayes was the worst of the bunch.
"Stay off my crime scenes. This is your last warning." Hayes was on the scene too early — again. Someone had tipped the bastard off. Jake turned to Marty. "Escort this person behind the lines with the rest of the gawkers. If he asks you any questions, even one, arrest him." Turning, he headed toward the victim.
"Lieutenant, a little cooperation might help you solve the Bride Murders," Hayes shouted.
Jake knew better than to engage him, but he'd had enough of Hayes. He turned back to the reporter. The Bride Murders, as labeled by the sensationalist press. If I find out who's letting Hayes onto my scenes, there'll be hell to pay. The victims deserve everyone's respect. They aren't headlines. Someone stole their lives, their futures. If he let it, anger would dig deep under his skin and push his sister, Eva, into his head. She didn't belong in the here and now.
"The other women are still listed as missing, not murdered." He continued on to the body.
* * *
"What have you got?" Jake asked his partner.
"And good morning to you too, sunshine," Louie said and continued when Jake didn't react. "A Caucasian woman in her early twenties with dark brown hair, brown eyes, weight approximately one-twenty. She fits the description of the most recent missing woman." Louie wiped the sweat from his brow.
"Don't confirm Hayes's suspicions. It'll only give him more ammunition to tag the victim. And I don't want these crimes referred to as the Bride Murders by any officer."
"You're a little touchy this morning," Louie said for Jake's ears only.
"Hayes is on our scenes before we are. We need to find out who's feeding him."
Louie bent down to pick something up with gloved hands, placed it in an evidence bag, and labeled it.
Jake searched the faces of the cops around him — some young, some more experienced — as he pulled on his own gloves. He had put on his booties in the car. It was as good a time as any to address the issue. "You all heard what I said to the reporter. I want every victim treated with respect. It starts by referring to her by name. Not a nickname given by the press. Understood?" He didn't move until he got a nod of understanding from each of them.
"Let's get to work."
Sympathy, pain, and memories flooded him as he crouched down to examine the woman's face. It never failed to amaze him, what human beings did to one another. Animals fought and killed to survive. Humans fought and killed for many reasons — sport, food, trophies. What kind of satisfaction did the killer get from torturing a beautiful young woman? What switched on in a person's mind to cause this kind of brutality? After twelve years of being a cop, he understood self-defense, even instant rage. But murder, and especially this kind of killing, he never would. To abduct, hold, and torture a person took planning and organization. It said something about the killer.
"You ran her fingerprints through the car computer and there's no mistake?" he asked Sergeant Louie Romanelli, his partner for the last ten years, who also happened to be his best friend from childhood.
"Yep, it's Nadia Carren. According to the missing persons file she was age twenty-two at the time of her disappearance. She worked over at Feinberg & Feinberg as a paralegal. The date's the same as the other missing women. Want to speculate?" Louie asked.
"Not here. We need more information."
Jake knew questions like this would be directed at him from the brass. Last year he'd taken an FBI profiling course at Quantico. Would it offer any insight or help? That remained to be seen, though he certainly could use an edge. His recent promotion to lieutenant would make him the lead on the case. During an election year, the candidates vying for the mayor's office could be a nuisance as they often put on the pressure to solve cases.
"I don't have a clue. We'll find out when we catch him. But it will never make sense to anyone but the killer."
"None of the other victims have been found. He obviously wanted this one found. But why? And is it the same guy?" Louie asked.
"All good questions, but without the other bodies, we can't be sure."
"I'm only throwing them out there for discussion." Louie scratched his head.
Jake was used to Louie voicing his opinions and thoughts out loud. A lot of times it helped find the answers. "Maybe someone came upon him dumping the body and forced him to change his MO." They had nothing to link the killer's modus operandi to anything yet. Though deep down, in the pit of his stomach, there was no doubt about it — it had to be the same perpetrator. Nothing else made sense.
"Maybe he's tired of not getting the credit for his work." Jake heard the frustration in his own voice.
"It's a good thing she was discovered quickly. With this putrid weather the body would've decomposed in no time," Louie said.
Every July 6, for the past four years, a young woman had disappeared. Four beautiful young women ready to start their lives, all gone without a trace ... until now, with number five. And Louie was right, it was a big question. Why now? What had changed?
"I hate when it ends this way, but at least now we have something to work with. Maybe she'll lead us to the other women," Louie said.
Always the optimist, Jake thought.
With a rhythm born from years of partnership, Jake and Louie worked side by side in silence, directing, gathering, and bagging evidence. Together they examined the train tracks in the area where Nadia's body was found. Jake stood beside the splayed body, eyeing the different ways the murderer could have brought her in without being noticed. If he'd done it himself, he would have parked beneath the underpass.
This location, covered in empty crack vials, cigarette butts, fast-food containers, cheap wine and liquor bottles, along with used condoms, was a favorite teen hangout. The area around the body had been cleared of debris — staged as if it were a shrine — but to who — the victim? They were probably dealing with an organized killer. Fingernails and hair had been recently washed. Bending down to get closer to the body, he took a sniff. Yep, there went his trace, damn it. The criminals learned how to spoil evidence from television. Why here, why now, kept popping back into his head. The killer had a reason for dumping her where she'd be found fast. What was it? Jake's stomach churned. Whoever washed the body was familiar with police procedure. Or could it be a cop? He hoped not. The department had had its share of scandals recently. It didn't need more.
Disease Haven, he'd dubbed this place years ago. It was bad enough he had a contaminated scene, between the homeless and the emergency response team. It was obvious she was dead. But it was standard procedure to call in the EMT wagon, though when they viewed the scene they should have stayed back. Why didn't they? Jake wouldn't be able to get any decent footprints, and the garbage in the area would hinder them further.
He directed the CSIs to pick up every bit of litter they saw. Told them he'd assign uniforms to help if necessary. He wasn't taking any chances — didn't want to miss a piece of important evidence due to laziness. One gum wrapper and maybe he'd be able to nail the suspect. Louie had a couple of officers taking swabs from Neil McMichaels, the railroad safety inspector who'd called in the report after the kids ran into his office to notify him of what they had found. Jake took samples from any of the homeless they could pin down, to eliminate them from the mix. They had to wait for the parents before they could take the kids' samples.
* * *
After overseeing the collection of evidence, Jake walked back to the body and joined the assistant medical examiner. Louie had already bagged the hands and feet. Doc McKay pronounced the victim dead on scene and made a notation of the time. Once he completed the other necessary tasks, McKay signaled to the morgue drivers. Turning from the corpse, he took off his gloves, rolled them together, then placed them in an evidence bag so as not to contaminate any of his other instruments. Next, he wiped his hands with an alcohol wipe, then swiped the wipe over his tweezers before putting them back into his bag.
"I heard what you said to your team," McKay said, his eyes meeting Jake's before he continued. "It's one of the reasons I like working with you. You respect the victims."
"Thanks, Tim." Embarrassed, Jake asked, "Do you have an approximate time of death?"
"No, I don't even want to guess. With the wild weather and heat we've been having it could've been last week or a month ago. I'll give you a heads-up when I'm done posting."
Doc McKay stood about five-ten, with thinning hair, and his paunch hung over his belt. He handled the dead with care. On his scenes, Jake only wanted Lang or McKay.
"Good enough, Doc." He watched as the morgue assistants loaded up the body for transport.
* * *
He and Louie headed to the west end of town, to an affluent neighborhood and a house lined with cheerful, multicolored flowers dancing along its border. After they delivered their news, it would be a false facade. He hated this part of his job. Cop families knew when another cop knocked on their door the news wouldn't be good. Civilians stalled, hoping to delay the notification. Today he would dash the hopes of the Carren family and change their lives forever.
Jake knocked harder than intended. An attractive, petite brunette in her late forties, who resembled the pictures of her missing daughter, answered the door. The welcoming expression dropped off her face when she spied their badges.
"You found Nadia? Is she okay? Where has she been?" Hope lived in her eyes.
"Mrs. Carren, is your husband home?" Jake asked.
"Yes, come in." She stepped back. Once they were inside, she turned and showed them into the living room. "I'll get him." She ran up the staircase located outside the room.
Mr. Carren walked in, followed by his wife and a young woman Jake thought must be his other daughter. The man towered over his family. Shoulders squared, his face an emotionless mask, his body language told Jake he expected the worst.
"Officers, my wife said you have news of Nadia."
"Mr. and Mrs. Carren, I'm sorry to inform you Nadia's body was found this morning."
Mrs. Carren let out a scream as she collapsed into her husband's arms. Their daughter sank into the nearest chair, tears pooling in her eyes.
"Are you sure it's Nadia?" the daughter asked.
"Yes. I'm sorry for your loss."
Useless words, but he had no others. The family's grief coated him like motor oil on an engine. It reminded him of his own family's devastation over his younger sister Eva's death. The bastards of the world preyed on the young and innocent.
"Can I get you anything?" Louie asked.
"No, we need time to process this. We prayed — we hoped — we'd find her alive. I knew this was a possibility, but still ... I can't believe it," Mr. Carren said, never letting go of his wife. "Your children are supposed to outlive you."
"Mr. Carren, I understand this is a difficult time, but we have a few questions we need to ask to help us find her killer."
Weeping louder, Mrs. Carren curled into her husband. The daughter walked over and wrapped her arms around her mother's shoulders, then patted her father's back. They're a unit, Jake thought.
"Ask. I'll answer what I can," the daughter said.
"I'm sorry, I didn't get your name. Are you Nadia's sister?" Jake asked.
"Yes, I'm Rori."
The girl wiped tears from her face while she tried to gather her composure.
* * *
They asked their questions but got nothing new from the family. Everything they supplied was already in the Missing Persons case file. Rori offered to fax over a list of the phone numbers and addresses of Nadia's friends. Leaving the family to their grief, Jake and Louie climbed into Jake's car and headed back to the scene.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "All the Pretty Brides"
Copyright © 2018 Marian Lanouette.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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