One woman's nightmare…
A CIA agent's two-year-old child was stolen in the night as a brutal act of vengeance. Nine years later, Catherine Ling's instinctsmaternal and professionaltell her that her son is still alive. But she needs the help of someone as driven and obsessed as she is to find him. That person is Eve Duncan.
…is another woman's duty.
Eve has walked the same path as Catherine, having endured the disappearance of her own daughter, Bonnie. Now Eve must raise her game as a forensic sculptor to another level, using the science of age progression to unite mother and son. But as she is drawn deeper into Catherine's horror, she must face looming demons of her own. Whoever took Bonnie is still out thereand until he is brought to justice, and Bonnie is brought home, Eve will be forever CHASING THE NIGHT.
About the Author
Iris Johansen is the New York Times bestselling author of Blood Game, Eve, and Eight Days to Live, among others. She began writing after her children left home for college, and first achieved success in the early 1980s writing category romances. In 1991, she began writing suspense historical romance novels, and in 1996 she turned to crime fiction, with which she has had great success. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
Eve Duncan shuddered as she looked down at the pitiful remains of the little girl's skull that she'd carefully spread on the special tarp on her desk.
The child's skull was shattered, and the cheekbones and nasal and orbital bones were only unidentifiable splinters. The Detroit Police Department thought that the child had been beaten to death with a hammer. How the hell was she going to put that little girl's face together again?
Eve glanced at Joe Quinn sitting on the couch across the room. "You're damn right I am." She reached out and gently touched one of the little girl's remaining facial bones still left intact. "Whoever killed this child had to be insane. Who would think it necessary to do this... this monstrosity? She couldn't have been more than eight years old."
"And after hundreds of these reconstructions, it still makes you furious." His lips tightened. "Me, too. You'd think we'd get used to it. But that never happens, does it?"
Yes, Joe might be a tough, experienced police detective, but he could be as emotional as Eve when the victims were helpless children. "Sometimes I can block it. But this savagery... A hammer, Joe. He used a hammer..."
"Son of a bitch." Joe got up and moved across the room to stand behind her. "Have you given her a name yet?"
Eve always gave her reconstructions names while she worked on them. It made her feel a connection while she strove desperately to give a name and identity to those poor, murdered children who had been thrown away. She shook her head. "Not yet. I just got the skull by FedEx this afternoon. Detroit forensics warned me to expect this, but it still came as a shock."
"It looks like a lost cause." Joe was gazing down at the splintered bones. "It's going to be a nightmare putting her back together. How do you know you've got all the pieces?"
"I don't. But there's a good chance. Forensics thinks that she was already completely wrapped in the yellow plastic raincoat in which he buried her when her murderer started this carnage. Maybe he just wanted to make sure that she was dead or that no one would ever recognize her."
"This one is going to tear you up." Joe reached out and began to massage her neck. "You're already tense, and you haven't even started."
"I've started." She closed her eyes as his thumbs dug gently into exactly the right spot on the center of her neck. After all of these years of living together, he knew every muscle, every pleasure point of her body. He was right, she was tense. She would take this brief moment before she began to work. Joe's touch, Joe's support. It was a soothing song that helped to drown out the ugliness of the world. Once she actually began the reconstruction, there would be only her and this child, who had lost her life over ten years ago. They would be bound together in darkness until Eve could finish working and shine a light that would bring the little girl home. And she would bring her home. She'd give her back her face, then let the media publish a photo and surely someone would recognize her. "I started the moment I saw what that bastard had done to her."
"You haven't given her a name yet," Joe said. "Tell Detroit to give her to Josephson to do the reconstruction. You may be the best, but you're not the only forensic sculptor in the country. You've got a backlog of requests that will keep you slaving for the next six months. You don't need this kind of pressure."
"She didn't need for some creep to do this to her." She opened her eyes and gazed down at the broken skull. "She's my job, Joe." She thought for a moment. "And her name is Cindy." She straightened in her chair. "Now let me get to work."
"Dammit." He stepped back, and his hands dropped away from her. "I knew it was a long shot, but I thought I'd give it a try. You've been working yourself to exhaustion for the last few months." He wheeled and went back to the couch. "Go ahead. Break your heart trying to put that kid back together again. Why should I care?"
"I don't know, Joe." She smiled. "But I thank God you do." She looked down at the bone splinters that might belong to the nasal cavity... or might not. "And Cindy will forgive you for trying to push her off on Josephson."
"I'm relieved," he said dryly. "But I'll take my chances on being in her bad graces. After all, she's been dead ten years. At the moment, you're the only one I care about. I don't want—"
Eve's cell phone rang.
She glanced at the ID.
"Who is it?" Joe asked.
He frowned. "Not good."
That was Eve's reaction. They had dealt with Venable and the CIA on several occasions, and it usually ended with her being pulled away from her work and into deep trouble. Not this time.
She punched the button on her cell. "What do you want, Venable?"
"Why are you on the defensive?" Venable asked. "Maybe I only want to check in and see if you're okay. You were in a hospital in Damascus recovering from a gunshot wound the last time I saw you."
"That was six months ago, and I'm sure that you know I'm fully recovered. You make it your business to know everything."
"I'm not the NSA. I'm only interested in specific subjects... and people. I feel a certain attachment for you and Joe."
"What do you want, Venable?"
He hesitated. "A favor."
"What kind of favor?"
"Nothing that's dangerous or out of your realm of expertise. I'd like you to do a computer age progression."
"It wouldn't take you that long, and I'd appreciate it."
"I'm swamped, and even if I weren't, you know I won't work for the CIA. Get one of your own experts to do the job. You have qualified people. Some of them are far more experienced than I am with computer age progression. I don't even know why you're bothering to ask me."
"Because I have to ask you, dammit," he said sourly. "It has to be you."
"Because like everything else in my life, it's a question of bargaining and balancing. I need you to do this, Eve."
"Then you're going to be disappointed. I just started a new reconstruction, and I won't drop it for one of your twisted little jobs. I'm not going to help you identify someone so that you can track him down. I'm never sure whether the prey you're stalking is a saint or a slimeball. Or if he's a saint, that you're not using him in ways that I'd never go along with. You're capable of manipulating anyone to shape a deal."
"Yes, I am," he said wearily. "And some of those deals keep you and your friends from being blown to kingdom come by the bad guys. Someone has to stand guard, and I do a damn good job of it. Dirty sometimes, but effective."
She supposed he did, but she didn't want to be involved in that morass even on a purely scientific level. "Let your own agents do it, Venable."
"What can I offer you to do the job?"
"Nothing that I can't refuse," she said softly but emphatically. "Take no for an answer. It's all you're going to get from me."
"I'll try, but I may have to come back. You're a prime bargaining chip in this one, Eve."
"Listen, you're beginning to annoy me. I'm not a chip, and I'm not a chess piece for you to manipulate."
"We can all be manipulated. It depends on the determination factor." He paused. "You'd be safer if I'm the one who does it. I'm trying to avoid throwing you to the wolf."
"Are you threatening me?"
She put up her hand as she saw Joe straighten at her words.
"I wouldn't be that stupid. I'm just trying to keep you from making a mistake. I've always liked you."
He probably believed he was telling the truth, but it wouldn't keep him from using her. She was tired of arguing with him. "I'm hanging up now, Venable."
"Change your mind, Eve."
She pressed the disconnect button.
"The bastard threatened you?" Joe was frowning, his tone grim. "I believe I need to pay a visit to Venable."
"He said it wasn't a threat. More like a warning."
"That's a fine line where Venable is concerned. I take it he wanted you to do a reconstruction?"
"No, that would make more sense." Her brow knitted. "I won't deny I'm one of the best forensic sculptors around." After her own little girl, Bonnie, had been kidnapped and murdered all those years ago, she had gone back to school and made sure that she had the skill to help bring final resolution and solace to other parents. Out of that nightmare of torment, when she had come close to madness and death, had emerged at least one decent thing from the agony. She could re-create the faces of those lost, murdered children. But not her little Bonnie. Search as she would, she had not found her child. What good was all her fine skill if she couldn't use it to bring her daughter home to rest, she thought bitterly. Her Bonnie was still lost, and so was her killer.
She jerked her attention back to the subject at hand. "But Venable doesn't want me to sculpt a reconstruction, he wants a computer age progression. I'm good at that, but I don't do enough to be called an expert. He could find someone faster and possibly more accurate just by making a few phone calls. I know the CIA has good technicians."
"But maybe he doesn't want to go through the agency," Joe said slowly. "He's paranoid about leaks, and he could trust you. Venable doesn't trust many people."
"Too bad. I'm not volunteering."
"You'd be crazy if you did." His lips tightened. "You're better off working yourself to the bone than playing in his ballpark. Who's the subject of this age progression?"
"I didn't ask. Maybe some war criminal they're trying to trace? For all I know, it could be Bin Laden. I don't want to know. It's not my job." She gazed down at the bones in front of her. "This is my job."
"Then do it." He flipped open his computer. "Let Venable pull his own chestnuts out of the fire."
At least the call from Venable had made Joe more reconciled to her accepting the reconstruction on Cindy, Eve thought. He was willing to admit that the long, painstaking hours she'd have to spend on piecing the little girl back together was the lesser of two evils.
You'd be safer if I'm the one who does it. I'm trying to avoid throwing you to the wolf.
Wolf. Singular. Not wolves.
Who was the wolf Venable was trying to save her from?
And she was still thinking about Venable's words, she realized impatiently. Forget him. Forget everything but the little girl who must become something more than this pitiful heap of bones. She had been someone's child. Long ago, someone had heard her prayers and tucked her into bed for the night. She deserved to go home to her parents and have them tuck her into her resting place one last time.
She reached out and gently touched the cranial bone. It will take a little while, but we'll get there, Cindy. We'll bring you home and find the bastard who did this to you.
She felt a wave of sickness wash over her. No matter how many times that she was brought face-to-face with this savagery, she never became calloused. But the sight of these shattered bones was particularly painful.
She couldn't imagine the barbaric mind-set that would allow someone to smash the bones of another human being....
She'd have to break the sentry's neck.
Catherine Ling moved silently down the path of the rain forest.
She couldn't risk using even a knife. He mustn't cry out.
No sound. Every movement had to have purpose and deadly intent.
The phone in her pocket vibrated.
The other outer sentries had to be eliminated to clear the way back to the helicopter.
She was a yard from the sentry. Now she could see that he was bearded and close to middle age. Good. She hated to kill those fresh-faced kids even though they could sometimes be more lethal. Anyone who worked for Munoz was dirty, but she always had to work to get past that element of youth. Stupid. She should know better. As a teenager, she had made sure that no one performed with more deadly precision than she did.
He was tensing. He was sensing danger.
He was a good six inches taller. Bring him down to her level. Her booted foot sliced between his legs and hit the side of his right kneecap. He lost his balance. Before he could regain it, her arm encircled his neck.
She jerked back and twisted. His neck snapped.
He went limp.
She let him fall to the ground, then dragged him deep into the shrubs. She'd already disposed of the other sentry guarding the path along the brook. Her way should be clear the three miles to Munoz's encampment.
Maybe. She had learned there was nothing certain where Munoz was concerned. She had been assigned to this hellhole for the last three years and made a study of the drug dealer. He was sadistic, volatile, and unpredictable. The stories that circulated about his brutality were sickening. His vicious profile was the major contributor to the storm of anxiety surrounding his kidnapping of coffee executive Ned Winters and his fourteen-year-old daughter Kelly. He was holding them hostage until the Colombian government released his brother Manuel from prison and every day a new and bloody threat was issued.
Her phone was vibrating again.
She glanced at the ID. Venable.
She punched the button, and whispered, "I've nothing to report. I'm on my way, but I won't be at the Munoz camp for another fifteen minutes."
"Call it off. Now that you've located him, we'll send in the Special Forces to get Winters and his daughter out."
"And get them killed. They don't have my contacts and they don't know this terrain and, by the time they do, it may be too late. Munoz has promised he'll kill Winters and his daughter unless his brother's released. Those idiots in the Colombian government are stalling. I think they want Winters killed so they can get U.S. help to stage a full-scale attack on Munoz and the rebels."
"I don't give a damn what you think. Back off."
"No, we made a deal. You agreed to give me what I wanted if I managed to locate and free the Winterses. I can do this. I've been watching the Munoz camp since yesterday, and I know exactly how I can pull it off."
"It's too dangerous."
She stiffened. She caught a note in his voice that made her uneasy. "You didn't give a damn about that when I called you and told you that I'd find a way of getting Winters and his daughter away from Munoz. All you cared about was that it was going to get the heat off the director."
"No, that's not all I cared about. Two American citizens are at risk. That matters to me."
"Then you back off. Let me get them out."
"No, Ron Timbers is going to be on watch outside the camp. There's only one guard at the tent where they're keeping the hostages. I can slice through the back of the tent and get them out that way. Ron will warn me if there's any move from the guard. Bill Neely is bringing in the helicopter at a glade four miles from the camp. Why are you questioning me? I'm good. You know I can do this."
"I know you have a decent chance." He paused. "But I thought I should tell you that I may not be able to give you everything you want in exchange. I'll give you access to the Rakovac file. I can't promise you Eve Duncan. She turned me down."
Catherine muttered a curse. "Then go back and find a way to make her do it. I have to have her."
"I can get you someone better. Technically, this isn't Eve Duncan's area of expertise."
"I want Eve Duncan. Persuade her."
"You can have the file, but I can't promise Duncan. She walks her own path. Like you, Catherine."
"Bullshit. I stopped walking my own path when you pulled me into working for the Company when I was seventeen. Since then, I've worked every dirty assignment you chose to toss me."
"True. But how could I resist? You were a natural. Clever, lethal, and with a survival instinct that made you almost unstoppable. I considered it a recruiting masterpiece. After twelve years, I still do, Catherine."
"I'm not complaining. I knew what I was getting into. I never expected anything else." She'd grown up on the streets of Hong Kong and barely managed to exist without starving for her first six years. All her life she'd had to fight for what she wanted, and Venable was no worse than other men who had tried to use her. Sometimes, she even liked him. He was totally dedicated to his work with the CIA and would let nothing stand in his way. It was surprising that she'd managed to work a deal with him about releasing that top secret restricted file. If the director hadn't been getting so much heat from the media about the Winters kidnapping, she might not have fared so well. But the file wasn't enough. She had to have more. "Eve Duncan. You know where the bodies are buried on every continent in the world. Bribe her, blackmail her, make her an offer she can't refuse. I don't care how you do it. Just get her for me."
"I'm not promising you anything. I don't have to. You're obviously going to go in after Winters anyway."
He was right. Even if she could only get the file, she would risk anything to have it handed over. "But if you don't get Eve Duncan for me, I'll get her myself. Do you want me to go after her?"
Silence. "No. I know you too well. You'd cause an incident that would cause me big trouble." He paused. "I'll do the best I can, but I don't know where Eve Duncan's bodies are buried. She's clean, Catherine. If you've researched her as well as I think you have, then you know I can't blackmail her."
"That's what I have to find out. Where her bodies are buried. Try. Do everything you can." She started down the path toward the Munoz camp. "And I'll do everything I can. I can't talk any longer. I have to get moving. Has Munoz been in touch with anyone lately?"
"No, he's not answered any of our messages." He was silent a moment. "And I should tell you that late last night the Colombian government refused to release Munoz's brother until the Winterses are free. They say they think he's bluffing."
"He's not bluffing. If they don't back down, Munoz will cut those hostages' throats."
"I agree. And that may mean whether I get you Eve Duncan or not may be a moot point. You may have nothing with which to bargain." He hung up.
Catherine shoved her phone into the pocket of her jacket. Venable was right. Thanks to those politicians in Bogotá playing their little games, she'd be lucky to whisk Winters and his daughter away before Munoz decided to butcher them.
She wasn't going to let that happen.
There was something wrong.Catherine's gaze wandered over Munoz's encampment. It was after three in the morning, and she hadn't expected activity, but there was no—tension.
The man guarding the hostage tent was a good ten feet from the entrance flap, and he was the only one of Munoz's men who appeared to be awake.
It made her uneasy.
She hesitated. It could be nothing.
She had passed Ron Timbers on the edge of the forest and knew that he'd had the camp under surveillance for most of the evening. He would have called her if there was a problem.
If he knew about the problem.
At any rate, she couldn't stop now unless she had good reason.
She circled around in the trees until she was behind the hostage tent.
Catherine slit the canvas of the tent. Carefully. Silently. It was a small tent and the guard at the front entrance was only a scant ten feet from where she was working. But that lack of tension she'd sensed in the camp might be a positive. The guard had appeared both sleepy and bored.
Let him stay that way, she prayed, as she lifted the torn flap. And let Winters and his daughter realize that there was no threat from someone trying to break into the tent. But then hostages weren't guaranteed to be thinking straight after two weeks of terror and incarceration. She started wriggling into the tent.
She couldn't make out anything for the first moment.
Good Lord, the stench.
She was too late. She knew that smell.
They were dead, and the tropic heat had already begun the decomposing process.
She had to be sure.
Her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark now, but she didn't need to see to find her way to the dead. The overpowering smell led her unerringly across the tent.
A man, hands tied, shot execution style in the center of his forehead. Catherine Ling swore beneath her breath as she sat back on her heels beside the body. She had known that it was a strong possibility Munoz would keep his word and kill Ned Winters when the Colombian government refused to give up Munoz's brother. Stupid bastards. What difference did it make if they had to go back and catch one more scumbag drug dealer? No, they'd rather risk an international incident and the death of an innocent American businessman.
"He's dead. You should have come sooner."
Catherine whirled to the corner of the tent at the whisper. Even in the half darkness she could see the glint of fair hair of the girl huddled against the fabric of the tent. Kelly Winters, fourteen years old, taken in Caracas two weeks ago at the same time as her father. Catherine felt a rush of relief. At least she had a chance of getting the girl out.
"Shh." She crawled toward the girl. "I'm Catherine Ling. I work with the CIA. Don't talk. They'll hear you."
Kelly gazed numbly at her. "You should have come sooner."
"I'm here now." She nodded at the slit in the tent. "Come with me."
The girl didn't move.
Catherine glanced at the flap. The guard was a good ten feet on the other side of that thin canvas, but she couldn't afford to argue and have him hear her. Choose her words and hope that they strike a chord. "Stay and we'll die and they'll win. They killed your father. Do you want them to win?"
The girl looked at her for a moment. Then she shook her head and began to crawl toward the slit.
Relief flooded through Catherine. She quickly crawled after her. "Now listen," she whispered, as they emerged from the tent. "Run into the forest, try to be as quiet as you can. I have a friend, Ron Timbers, who will keep an eye on the camp for the next few minutes and make sure that your escape isn't noticed. Then he'll take off and meet us at the helicopter. When you come to a stream, you stop and wait for me, and I'll take you the rest of the way. The helicopter will be landing about three miles from the stream, and we'll board it and fly away from here. You'll be safe."
Kelly shook her head. "No, I won't," she said dully. "No one is safe."
How could Catherine argue when she knew that was true? "As safe as you can be. Wait at the stream no more than about five minutes, then take off running north. Don't wait for me."
Kelly glanced back over her shoulder, her blue eyes wide. "You think Munoz may catch you."
"No, but if he does, you don't want him to get his hands on you again. Then he'd win, wouldn't he? If you're smart, he won't be able to catch you." She put her finger on her lips. "No more talk. Run!"
Kelly didn't hesitate. She was already on her feet and streaking into the shrubbery.
Now to make sure any pursuit was disrupted and thrown off track when they heard the sound of the helicopter.
And the best way to do that would be to remove Munoz himself from the mix.
No guards at his tent. From the reports she'd read, Munoz was too macho-arrogant to think he would need help in any situation.
Let's see if you do, Munoz.
She started crawling toward his tent.
Munoz went limp againstCatherine's body as her dagger entered his heart.
She pushed at him and struggled to free herself from his bulk.
It had been close. He had been almost as good as he thought he was. Her side was bleeding, but she had no time to deal with it now.
Get out of Munoz's tent. Their struggle had been brief and almost silent, but she couldn't be sure that someone didn't hear.
The stream was just ahead.
She saw the glint of moonlight on Kelly's fair hair.
"Run!" Catherine broke through the shrubbery that bordered the stream and grabbed the girl's hand. "We don't have much time before the helicopter gets here."
"I thought you weren't coming."
For a moment back in Munoz's tent she had thought the same thing. Munoz had been awake and lethal. "I had something I had to do." Did she hear the sound of rotors to the north? "Don't talk. Run!"
Pushing through the bushes.
The earth soft beneath their feet.
Two miles to go.
It was the helicopter. Catherine could hear it plainly now.
And if she could hear it, Munoz's men would be hearing it.
Kelly glanced up at her in panic. "Are they coming after us?"
"Not yet." But it wouldn't be long. Munoz was dead, but his men wouldn't chance there being anyone left alive to bear witness. "We're almost there."
But five minutes later Catherine heard crashing in the bushes behind them. How close?
The glade was just ahead. She could see the blue lights of the helicopter as it started to land.
But Kelly was faltering, slowing.
Catherine grabbed her hand and half pulled her, streaking toward the helicopter. "Only a few yards more."
Ron Timbers stepped out of the shadows and was opening the door of the Apache helicopter for her. "You cut it close, Catherine. Her father?"
"Dead." She pushed Kelly into the copter and climbed in after her. "Tell that pilot, Neely, to get out of here. They're only a step behind us."
Timbers glanced at her shirt as he jumped in after her and headed for the cockpit. "There's blood all over you. The kid?"
"No. Kelly is fine. Tell that pilot to move!"
He was already moving. Seconds later they were lifting off.
But not soon enough.
A bullet buried itself in the fuselage of the copter.
Another shattered the windshield.
Kelly froze. "Are we going to die now?"
"No." Catherine's arms closed fiercely around her. She hoped she was telling the truth. They'd be okay if they didn't get the gas tank. "I've got you. We're out of here."
Another bullet struck a rotor with a loud ping.
"Just a minute more, and we'll be out of range," Timbers called back to them.
If they made it through that minute.
"Your heart's beating so hard," Kelly whispered. "Are you scared?"
"Yes, it's stupid not to be scared if someone's trying to hurt you. You just have to hold on and either wait or fight back." She smiled down at her. "But you have to realize that they can't really hurt you. Maybe your body, but not what you are inside. That's what's important. None of the rest matters."
"All clear," Timbers called back to them.
Catherine gave a sigh of relief. "But it seems we don't have to worry about anything right now. We're on our way. In a few minutes, I'll call Agent Venable and tell him to meet us at the airport in Bogotá. He'll be very relieved. Everyone has been worried about you."
Kelly was silent a moment. "But Daddy is dead."
It was natural that after the first explosion of danger was over, the girl's hideous memories would surface. Distract her. Keep her busy. "I need your help." She sat up and reached for the first-aid kit fastened to the wall. "I'm hurt and bleeding a little. Will you bandage it for me?"
"I'm not sure I know how." Kelly's eyes widened as she watched Catherine take off her black shirt and saw the deep cut in her side. Her lips tightened. "But I'll try. Tell me what to do."
"First the antiseptic. Take a pad and clean the wound. The bleeding seems to have almost stopped." But it had bled enough to make her feel woozy, she realized. "I'm a little tired. Don't be afraid if I fall asleep."
"You mean pass out," she said bluntly.
"I guess that is what I mean." She leaned back against the wall. "But if I do pass out, it won't be for long, and the pilot knows how to take you home to your mother."
"My mother doesn't want me." Kelly was dabbing at the wound. "That's why I live—lived with my daddy."
Great. After a nightmare like this, the kid didn't even have someone to hold on to until she healed. If she healed. No, Catherine wouldn't accept that possibility. Kelly would heal. She was strong, or she wouldn't have been able to survive what had happened to her. Just that time in that tent with the remains of her father should have made her catatonic. "Your mother may want you more than you think. Sometimes when parents quarrel, things are said that aren't really true."
"No," she whispered. "Daddy said she feels uncomfortable around me." She put the pad aside and sat back on her heels. "It's okay. Daddy said it wasn't my fault. I'm just not like her. She thinks I'm weird. I think your cut is clean. What else should I do?"
"Just put a couple gauze pads and tape across the wound. That will be fine until I get to a doctor." She paused. "You did that very well, Kelly. Thank you."
"I studied first aid at camp last year. Most of the other stuff was pretty dumb, but that was kind of neat. But this was different. Real blood." She took the gauze from the package. "You could have done this yourself. You thought it would help me to do it."
Smart girl. It was amazing that she had been able to see through Catherine's subterfuge considering the shock she was suffering. And there was no doubt that she was hurting. The girl's hands were shaking, and her blue eyes were wide and haunted. Everything about her seemed terribly fragile and childlike. She was delicately boned and appeared younger than her fourteen years. "Yes, I could have done it. But it was easier for me to have you do it. And if it helped you, too, that was a plus." Her lips twisted. "And there's not much that can be considered a plus in what happened tonight."
"Or yesterday." Kelly turned away and quickly snapped the first-aid kit shut. Her voice was muffled. "It was because of me he died, you know. He tried to keep Munoz from hurting me. Munoz came into the tent angry and shouting and he was saying that he'd been screwed and he was going to get his own back. He tore my clothes and—" Her voice broke.
"Hush." Catherine's arms closed around her. "You don't have to describe it. Just tell me one thing. He hurt you?"
"He raped me," Kelly said baldly. "Why don't you say it? Do you think I'm a kid? He kept telling Daddy he'd do it if they didn't let his brother go."
She was a kid, Catherine thought, but she'd been jerked out of any semblance of childhood. Smother the anger. It wasn't going to help Kelly. But damn she was glad she'd taken Munoz out. She wished she had him here so that she could do it again. "No, I don't think you're a kid."
"Daddy shouldn't have fought him." Her voice was almost inaudible against Catherine's shoulder. "It didn't matter if he—"
"It matters. I know what you're saying, and I would probably think the same as you. He didn't take anything from you that was worth losing your father." Catherine's arms tightened around her. "Don't talk about it now. You'll have to do that later, but not now, when the wound is raw."
"Daddy shouldn't have tried to stop him." Her hands were clutching Catherine. "It didn't do any good, and maybe Munoz wouldn't have killed him. He hurt me, but it wasn't worth that."
"No, it wasn't worth that." Her hand brushed Kelly's hair back from her face. "But your father wouldn't have understood. Rape is something that most people have a problem with."
"But not you?"
"No, it happened to me, too." She was silent a moment. "Only I was a little younger than you, and I didn't have a father to try to protect me. I guess that could have been a good thing. I was the only one hurt." She added softly, "Later, when you get past the sorrow, you'll be angry, and you'll feel dirty. That will go away, too. But what you must never feel is shame. What happened to you is no more reason for shame than this wound of mine you just bandaged. We may have scars, but we'll heal. It will only make us stronger."
"I don't feel... strong."
"You will. Just don't let anyone pity you because of what Munoz did to you. They won't understand that you don't need it, and you might begin to think that they're right." Unconventional advice to a wounded child, but it was all she could offer. It came from the depths of her heart and personal experience. "You can't expect them to understand since they didn't go through it."
"But you understand." Kelly nestled closer. "If you let me stay with you, I wouldn't need anyone else..."
Need? Dependence. Even as her arm tightened protectively around the girl, she felt a rush of dismay. Lord, she couldn't afford to be responsible for anyone. Not now. That wasn't what she had bargained for when she had taken on this job. The minute she dropped Kelly off in Bogotá, she had to pressure Venable and get the Rakovac file.
"You don't want me either," Kelly said in a low voice. "Why should you? I'll just get in your way."
That was exactly what Catherine feared. "You might," she said with blunt honesty. "And I might get in yours. You can't judge me from the little time we've had together. You have a mother, you probably have other relations. You'd be better off with them."
"I understand," Kelly said dully. "Whatever you say."
Dammit. "We'll have to see what happens. As soon as we land in Bogotá, I'll turn you over to Agent Venable. He's my superior, and he'll have to make a decision about what's best for you."
"You're best for me." Kelly pushed her away and sat up. "Even if you don't want me. I wouldn't have to pretend that I—" She leaned back against the wall of the helicopter and closed her eyes. "I'd try not to get in your way."
"Kelly, I have something to do." She paused. "I have something I have to do."
"I could help you."
Catherine shook her head. "No."
"I could, you know," she said. "You said I was strong. I have to be strong, or I'll break apart. I won't let Munoz do that to me. I'll have to think about it..."
"You have my phone number." Catherine leaned into the limousine where Kelly was sitting with the social worker. "I told you what to expect at the hospital. Just do what they tell you, and the exam will be over soon. Remember that everything bad eventually passes. Go blank, and it's over."
Kelly nodded without speaking.
"Call me if you need someone to talk to."
"I will." Kelly leaned back in the seat and gave her a pale smile. "And I'll do what you said. I'll let them pity me about losing Daddy, but never about Munoz."
"Good." She stepped back and slammed the door.
"Poor kid." Venable watched the limousine with the social worker and Kelly Winters drive slowly from the private airport. "She looks shell-shocked."
"Considering what she's gone through, I think she looks damn good," Catherine said. "She's got guts. She'll be okay if they let her heal and come to terms with what happened." Kelly had turned and was looking back at her. Catherine nodded and waved her hand. The girl didn't smile, didn't wave. "Look, she doesn't get along with her mother. Make sure those social worker Goody Two-shoeses don't toss her back to her without supervision."
"I can see why her mother might have difficulty. Lisa Winters is a Denver socialite who likes everything smooth and commonplace. Kelly is too brilliant to be commonplace and too inquisitive not to be disturbing."
"You seem very familiar with Kelly."
"You might say I had an occasion to study her once. I found her exceedingly... promising."
"Promising? Interesting word. I believe you once found me promising. But she's just a kid, Venable. And, I don't give a damn if her mother doesn't like having a smart daughter. She should step up to the plate. Kelly needs help."
"You obviously gave it to her." Venable smiled faintly. "And I'll follow through."
"You'd better. Or I'll come looking for you." She turned to face him. "Payoff time. You owe me, Venable."
"You'll have the Rakovac file on your e-mail by day after tomorrow."
"Good." She paused. "You're not mentioning Eve Duncan. I regard that as a serious omission."
"You rescued the girl, not Winters himself. I figure that's only fifty percent of the deal. I only owe you for Kelly Winters." He tilted his head, considering. "And you killed Munoz. I'm not sure of the ramifications of that. We used him occasionally, and we'll have to find another information source."
"You're quibbling. You know anyone who went into that camp would have had to deal with Munoz. You couldn't have used him again with all this media attention focused on him. You said you were having trouble getting me Eve Duncan."
"Maybe." He turned and headed for his car parked by the hangar. "At any rate, I'm washing my hands of the problem. Deal with Eve Duncan yourself. I've thought it over and decided that I don't have to protect Eve from you. You're different as night and day, but she's strong enough to handle you." He glanced over his shoulder. "I only hope that you don't get her killed."
Two days later
"Joe?" Eve opened her eyes to see Joe coming out of the bathroom, shrugging into his jacket. It was still dark, she realized drowsily. Where was he...
"Shh." Joe's lips brushed Eve's forehead. "Go back to sleep. I got a call from the precinct. Something nasty on the south side."
"What kind of—"
"I don't know. No details. Go back to sleep," he repeated. "You need it. It's only five. You didn't stop working on Cindy until two this morning." He gave her another kiss and headed for the door. "I'll call you."
"Do that." It must have been something urgent for them to call Joe from his bed. Urgent sometimes meant dangerous. "As soon as you know. Bye..."
A few minutes later, she heard his car start outside and tried to settle down and go back to sleep. She didn't think it was going to happen. She usually worked late, but her eyes were strained and stinging from trying to put together the shattered puzzle that was Cindy. She should rest her eyes even if she couldn't doze off again.
Fifteen minutes later she gave it up and sat up in bed. The longer she stayed in bed, the more tense she became. She'd get up, grab a cup of coffee, and go back to work on Cindy. She slipped on her robe and left the bedroom.
Joe had evidently grabbed a cup of coffee to go because there was a light burning in the kitchen. She chose a coffee pod and punched the button on the Keurig.
"That's interesting. I've never seen a coffeemaker like that. But then I haven't been in a civilized part of the world for a long time. Does it make good coffee?"
A woman's voice.
Eve whirled toward the shadows of her lab across the room. "What the hell—"
"Don't be afraid. I'm not here to hurt you." The woman who spoke was sitting on Eve's stool in front of the reconstruction of Cindy. "I just have to talk to you."
"The hell you do." Her gaze raked the woman from head to toe. Thin, dressed in dark jeans and sweater. No apparent weapons. That was good. Joe had taught Eve how to defend herself in any hand-to-hand battle. "Get out and call me on the phone. How did you get in here anyway? Joe always sets the alarm."
"He did this time, too. It's a good alarm. It took me a little while to get past it after he left." She was gazing wonderingly down at the shards of bone on the tarp. "Are you really going to be able to put this face back together?"
"Yes. Get out."
"I'm not handling this right." She looked away from the bones to Eve's face. "It's just that when I saw those bones, it blew me away. My name is Catherine Ling. Venable might have mentioned me. I work with him."
"Venable?" Eve relaxed a little. The invasion was still totally unacceptable, but if she was associated with Venable, there was no physical threat. "No, he didn't mention you."
Catherine Ling grimaced. "He didn't even get that far? The age progression. He did call you about it?"
"Yes, I told him to get someone else. I'm too busy."
"I want you. I need you."
"Too bad." She picked up her cup of coffee. "You and your CIA can go take a flying leap. I don't work on Venable's orders." She went to the front door and opened it. "Now get out."
Catherine didn't move. "I don't want you to work for Venable. I don't want you to work for the CIA. This has nothing to do with them. It's my job. I knew you had a relationship with Venable, and I thought if I could get him to offer it to you, that it would be easier to get you to do it."
"Wrong." She jerked her head at the open door. "Don't come back. Next time, I'll call the police."
Catherine slowly rose to her feet. "Will you listen to me?"
"I might have listened to you if you hadn't invaded my home like a cat burglar. Now you don't have a chance in hell."
"I was in a hurry. I didn't want to have to argue with you. I thought if I hit the ground running, the shock would get us down to basics early."
"Don't come back."
Catherine moved toward the door. "I will come back. It's something I have to do. I'll come back time and time again until you listen to me." She passed Eve and went out onto the porch. "And until you do, I'll sit out here and wait."
"Not in my house, not on my porch, not on my property."
"Here. You'll have to stumble over me." Catherine sank gracefully down on the floor and crossed her legs tailor fashion. "Until you listen."
Eve gazed at her in frustration. Early dawn light was now filtering onto the porch and dimly illuminating the woman. Catherine Ling looked to be in her late twenties. She was tall, thin, with small breasts and long legs. Straight, shoulder-length dark hair framed a face that was an interesting mixture of Western and Asian characteristics. High cheekbones and faintly tilted dark eyes contrasted with full lips and a square chin. Her brows were as dark as her hair and slightly winged over those large, intense eyes.
Everything about Catherine spoke of intensity, Eve thought. She was surrounded by it, burning with it. "I'm not about to stumble over you. I'll either throw you out myself or call the police."
"Then I'd have to fight. I'm very good at fighting. Someone would get hurt. Wouldn't it be better just to listen to me?"
Eve slammed the door shut and locked it.
She hadn't handled thesituation well, Catherine thought.
She had been caught off guard. When Eve had come into the room, everything else had flown from her mind. She had waited so long...
Then Eve had been there before her, angry, wary. Her shoulder-length red-brown hair slightly mussed from sleep, her hazel eyes glaring at her in the lamplight. Catherine had seen photos of Eve in magazines, but she was more than she'd expected. Her thin face wasn't pretty, but it was fascinating and full of character. Everything about her spoke of alertness, vitality, and intelligence.
And there had been no fear. Eve should have been at least a little afraid.
Was it because she dealt with the results of death every day?
Oh, for heaven's sake, this was no time to try to analyze Eve Duncan's reactions.
She would just sit here and wait. No matter how long it took.
She would wait until Eve came back to her.
She'd just ignore the woman, Eve thought, after she'd locked the door. Maybe she'd go away.
No, she wouldn't. Catherine Ling would stay out there until hell froze over. Eve had seen that passionate intensity before.
In her own mirror.
She took a swallow of her coffee and turned and walked toward her worktable, where Catherine had been sitting when Eve had walked into the room. If the woman had disturbed any of her carefully placed bone fragments, she'd murder her.
Somehow, she didn't believe she would be that slipshod. Catherine Ling didn't impress her as someone who would be careless about anything.
No, everything was exactly as Eve had left it.
She reached out and gently touched a splinter of bone. "Sorry, Cindy, I'll get back to you as soon as I can. I have to take care of this idiotic problem now."
And how to do that?
Call the police as she'd threatened?
No, she believed Catherine Ling when she'd told her that she'd fight. This was Eve's home, and she didn't want violence to enter it. The outside world was too violent, and this was her haven.
But she would get rid of the woman.
She took out her cell phone, checked the number, then dialed.
"Venable, what the hell are you doing?"
"Nothing. I'm out of it. I take it that Catherine has paid you a visit?"
"Right now she's sitting on my porch looking like a patient Buddha. She won't go away."
"Did you talk to her?"
"No, I threw her out. For heaven's sake, she invaded my house like a thief in the night."
"She can be impatient. It might be better if you let her talk to you. She won't go away. You can starve her, you can beat her, and she'll still be there."
Her hand clenched on the phone. "Then you tell her to get out. You're CIA, she's CIA, there has to be something you can do."
"She's obsessed. You can't deal with obsession in any normal manner."
"Are you saying she's nuts?"
"I'm saying that obsession can sometimes make people unbalanced."
"Unbalanced," she repeated. "That's a polite way of saying nuts. And you expect me to deal with her? Oh no, she's one of your people. You take care of it. My schedule is jam-packed. I have no time for this."
"I told you, I'm out of it. It's between the two of you now."
"You said you didn't want to turn me over to the wolf. You were talking about her, weren't you?"
"Yes, I should have said she-wolf, shouldn't I? I was hoping to persuade you to do the job and not have any contact with her. It would have been better for you."
"I'm not going to have any contact with that woman. As soon as I can, I'm going to send her on her way."
"I hope you do turn her down. I made a bargain with her, but I'm backpedaling as fast as I can. If she gets what she wants, she's going to cause me a lot of headaches."
"I don't care about your bargains. If you're not going to help, tell me how to make her leave."
"Listen to her. Say no. Make her believe it. She's no real threat. Not to you."
"Easy words. She's not easy. I can tell."
"Oh, you recognized a kindred spirit? I admit I noticed a few similarities myself."
She ignored those words. "Tell me how to get through to her. I have to know about her if I'm going to find a way to handle her. Tell me about Catherine Ling."
"I don't know everything. I had to depend on Catherine to tell me about her early years. There weren't any records. She's illegitimate. Her father was an American soldier based in Saigon. Her mother was a half-Korean, half-Russian prostitute and took Catherine to Hong Kong when she was four. She died two years later, and Catherine was left alone to try to survive on the streets. She survived very well. She was smart, and her instincts were excellent. Some of the things she learned during those years were amazing, and completely illegal and immoral."
"Considering how she broke into my house that doesn't surprise me."
"Anyway, she managed to sort it all out and avoided the worst pitfalls of prostitution and drugs. Probably because she came to realize that the most valuable commodity in Hong Kong was information. She taught herself to be fluent in eight languages and made herself an expert on selling and buying. From the criminal underbelly to high-end political secrets, she became the person to go to. That's where she first came onto our radar."
"I can see how she would come to your attention," Eve said dryly.
"Oh, she did. She was only seventeen and a complete tigress. She did a few contract jobs for us, and I was very impressed. I recruited her. I had her trained by one of our best agents. In the last twelve years I've sent her all over the world, and she's been a remarkable asset. I couldn't ask for a more competent operative."
"Until she became 'unbalanced'?"
"Everyone has a few problems to overcome. Once she works through this patch, she'll be as valuable to me as ever."
"No, I just do my job in the best way I can." He paused. "Tell her no. Don't get involved, Eve." He hung up the phone.
She didn't understand that last command. She had no intention of getting involved. Considering the circumstances, she didn't see how Venable could think she was in any danger of giving in to anything that Catherine Ling asked of her.
She jammed her phone back in her pocket. What to do? Venable had been of no real help. He had given her a little insight into the woman's character, but revealed no vulnerabilities. She had obviously developed scar tissue over all the pain of her childhood if she'd become the powerhouse Venable described.
Listen to her.
She hesitated, thinking.
Oh, what the hell. It was either violence or persuasion.
It might end up either, or both.
She strode toward the door and threw it open.
Catherine Ling didn't move, but Eve could sense a subtle change, an increased alertness. She was ready to spring or defend herself from attack.
Good Lord, the woman was beautiful. Eve had been in such emotional turmoil, she had only been vaguely aware of Catherine's appearance.
The sun was shining, surrounding her with light. Her straight dark hair, enormous eyes, and smooth golden complexion seemed to glow.
But it was her vibrant intensity that held and fascinated. Eve had never seen anyone more alive.
"I just talked to Venable," Eve said curtly. "He's being a complete ass. He won't come and get you, and he says you won't do anything he asks."
She nodded. "He's right. He doesn't really want you to help me. He's glad that he found an excuse to put a roadblock in my way."
"I can't help you. Not as well as some of your CIA computer gurus."
She shook her head. "It has to be you."
She was silent. "Because of your Bonnie. Do you think I haven't studied and researched you? I know all about you. I know that you have a lover, Joe Quinn. I know you have an adopted daughter, Jane MacGuire, who is an artist and is in London right now." She paused. "And, most important of all, I know you lost your little girl, Bonnie, when she was seven to a serial killer, and it's given you a passion and dedication that none of those tech guys will ever have. I need that passion. I have to have that dedication."
"Then you'll have to do without. I have another job I have to do."
"Put it off."
"No, that little girl's parents have waited too long already. And why should I? To find out how age has changed some low-life criminal on whom you have some kind of twisted vendetta?"
"No." She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a photo carefully protected in clear plastic. "So I can find him." Her hand was trembling as she held out the photo to Eve. "Help me. I'll give you anything, do anything for you. I have to find him."
Eve slowly took the photo.
It was a picture of a little boy of not more than two years of age wearing a red sweater. Dark hair, enormous dark eyes that were alight with joy and mischief. He was smiling, and Eve had never seen a sweeter expression. It was a smile to melt the heart. "Who is he?"
"Luke. My son."
Eve's gaze flew back to Catherine's face. "What?"
"Luke. That picture was taken on his second birthday. He was taken from me a week later."
"Taken? By whom?"
"Sergei Rakovac. Major criminal who was involved with the Russian mafia and manipulating various politicians in Moscow. My husband, Terry, and I were sent in to break up his organization. He was interfering with the current American administration's attempt at peacekeeping over the Republic of Georgia's conflict with Russia."
"What conflict? If there was a conflict, it sure didn't get much press."
"Enough. There was a particularly nasty conflict in 2008 between the Republic of Georgia and Russia that killed over a thousand people, but the ethnic infighting has been going on for decades. It involved South Ossetia, a territory belonging to the Republic of Georgia. South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia, and Russia supported them." She made a face. "While trying to gently pull them under Russian domination. It would probably have been the first move toward annexing Georgia itself. At any rate, the tempers have been flaring on both sides ever since, and it's still a hot spot. When Russia weighed in on the side of the Ossetians and sent in a 'peacekeeping' force is when it became a bloodbath. Guerilla fighting, massacres. Even after the supposed truce, there was spotty guerilla warfare on both sides. The attacks are still going on today. The hatred never stops."
"And Rakovac was involved?"
"Very much involved. But his involvement started much earlier than the outbursts that occurred later with Russia. As I said, there was hatred and fighting for decades. Rakovac actually was born in the Republic of Georgia and fought with them as a teenager in a guerilla group against the Ossetians. But after he went to Moscow he was supplying arms to both sides and when Russia joined in the conflict he was causing the situation to escalate even more. Our orders were to take him down." Her lips tightened. "We did it. It took over a year of bribery and undermining of his contacts, but Rakovac was on his way out. He was furious. He dug and dug until he found out who had been behind all his problems. He got our names and he wanted revenge."
Eve felt sick as she looked down at the photograph of the child. So beautiful. So innocent. "Your Luke?"
"I found out I was pregnant just before we left Russia. I left the Company and settled in Boston. Terry still worked for the CIA, but I thought I could have a normal life. But Rakovac was just biding his time. He worked and schemed and gained back all the power we'd taken from him. Then he was ready to go after us." She moistened her lips. "One night, I put Luke to bed and went to my room. I received a call in the middle of the night. Rakovac. He had Terry. He shot him to death while I was on the phone. Then he told me to go to my son's room."
"And he was gone?"
Catherine Ling nodded jerkily. "I went crazy. Rakovac called back and said the minute I involved the police, he'd kill my son... slowly." She closed her eyes. "And I knew he'd do it. I'd studied him. I knew what a sadistic bastard he could be." Her eyes opened, and they were glittering with tears. "I felt so damn helpless. I called Venable and told him he had to help me get my son back. He was very sympathetic but cautious. Very cautious. It seems there had been a wind change in Moscow-Washington relations. Rakovac had made himself invaluable to the CIA and the White House. Washington didn't want any change in the status quo."
"Even at the expense of a child's life?"
Her lips twisted. "You don't understand it either. You're a mother. Nothing is as important as keeping a son or daughter alive. I suppose I should have realized that it could happen. I know how things work. But I couldn't connect any of that knowledge with Luke." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Not with my son."
"So what did you do?"
"I started after Rakovac on my own. Until I got another phone call. Luke was crying so I knew that he was still alive. I recognized his voice. Rakovac said that the CIA would cause him too much trouble if he killed him, but he wasn't going to give him up. He wanted me to suffer. I was never going to see him again, and he'd remain alive if I didn't make waves." Her voice broke. "But he was crying, and I couldn't do anything about it. He was crying."
"Venable said he'd do everything possible, but it would be safer for Luke if I didn't disturb Rakovac until he could manage to negotiate a release." Her voice hoarsened. "Disturb? I wanted to kill him. My baby..."
"And they haven't negotiated a release yet? How long has it been?"
"Nine years," she said dully. "It's been nine years."
Eve's eyes widened. "How could that be?"
"Rakovac made sure that he was invaluable enough to keep Venable and the CIA at bay. He kept stalling and offering one more favor if they'd forget about Luke's release for a little while longer. It stretched on and on."
"Couldn't you go in and find him yourself?"
"I tried. I went to Russia at every opportunity and tried to locate him. But Rakovac had hidden him away somewhere, and I couldn't locate him. He'd been planning Luke's kidnapping since Terry and I had left Russia." She shook her head. "And I couldn't let Rakovac know I was on his own turf searching. He'd warned me that he'd kill Luke if I came after him." She added bitterly, "And I was making Venable nervous. He had me assigned to the other side of the world, lately in the jungles of Colombia. After that, I was only able to break free every now and then and go back to Moscow."
"I would have told Venable and his buddies to go to hell. I don't see how you could keep on working with them."
"He was my only connection. He might have been the one element that was keeping Luke alive. Rakovac was hesitating to take that final step that might cause the CIA and Washington to have to contend with a public-opinion issue. Just having Venable making occasional inquires about Luke was a reminder that his position wasn't totally invulnerable." She took a shaky breath. "But things may be changing. I've been noticing that there seems to be a shifting... I can't put my finger on it. Rakovac's power may be increasing. It's scaring me."
Eve could see that fear. It was reflected in the woman's face and the slight trembling of her lips. She sensed it as a living force. Who could blame her? How would she have felt if she had gone through those years of searching, never knowing if her Bonnie was alive or dead? But at least there had been hope for Catherine Ling. From the beginning, Eve had known in her heart that Bonnie had been killed.
"You're thinking about your daughter." Catherine was studying her face. "You're making comparisons. I made comparisons, too. That's why I'm here."
"Bonnie's death has nothing to do with your son's kidnapping. I'm sorry for you, but I can't help you. Talk to Venable."
"You can help me." Catherine's voice breathed intensity. "You're the only one who can. Why do you think I'm here? I'm not stupid. Do you think I haven't gone over every way, every person who could bring Luke back to me? I've been trying to find a way for over a year to get Venable to persuade you to help. Why do you think I was willing to camp out on your doorstep to make you listen to me?"
Desperation, pain, hope. Eve knew the emotions that were motivating Catherine all too well, and her heart ached for her. "I've listened to you." She turned. "And I want you off my porch. Come into the house, and I'll give you a cup of coffee. Then we'll discuss how we can get Venable to help you. I know several qualified professionals at Langley who can do the job."
Catherine stared at her a moment, then rose to her feet in one graceful, fluid movement. "Coffee would be good."
But she wasn't committing to any of Eve's other suggestions, Eve noticed ruefully as she preceded Catherine into the kitchen. She probably should have closed the door and not invited the woman back into the cottage. But that wasn't an option, not since she had seen that photo of Luke. She would just have to use persuasion and firmness to ease Catherine Ling out of her life.
"You're letting me get one foot back in the door. It's not going to be easy to get rid of me," Catherine said quietly. "If I were you, I'd have slammed the door and barricaded myself in the house."
"You're not me." Eve pressed the button on the coffeemaker and watched the liquid pour into the cup. "And I don't need to barricade myself against you. I'm not afraid of you, Catherine Ling. Cream?"
"No. Black. And call me Catherine." She took the cup Eve handed her. "No, I can see you're not afraid. You weren't even afraid when you first saw me and didn't know whether or not I was a threat." She sipped the coffee. "And, no, we're not alike. Venable keeps seeing resemblances, but he's wrong. We only have one thing in common, and I intend to exploit that to the fullest extent."
"Go ahead. It won't get you anywhere." She gestured for her to sit down on the couch. "I have a job I have to do. Cindy has been lost too long, and I have to bring her home."
"She's dead. Bring my son home instead. He's alive, and there's no telling how long he'll stay that way if I don't get him away from Rakovac. I can't wait any longer. I have to go after him. But he's eleven years old, and I don't even know what he looks like. I haven't seen him since he was two." She whispered, "So many years..."
"Age progression isn't my area of expertise. Even if I wanted to give up work on my reconstruction of Cindy, I couldn't do as good a job as someone who does it day in, day out."
"That's not true. I've studied your reconstructions, and they come amazingly close." She looked down into the coffee in her cup. "You have all that scientific stuff down pat, but that isn't what happens in the final step, is it? You make a connection."
"Do I?" she asked warily.
"Oh, I'm not saying that there's anything weird going on. I'm too practical to think anything like that. But Michelangelo once said something about the figure coming out of the stone. Certain artists have the passion that makes their work come alive." She raised her gaze to look at Eve. "You have that passion. I can see it. I could feel it when I looked at your reconstructions. I have to have that passion. I'll do anything you say if you'll show me a photo of my Luke as he is today."
"Working on a computer isn't like doing a sculpting reconstruction," she said gently. "Perhaps there is a kind of connection when I feel the clay beneath my fingers, but this is different."
"Try." Her gaze went to the bones on the dais. "I know you want to finish what you started. I don't like to leave anything undone either. But can't you see this is more important?"
"I can see it's more important to you. I can see that it might be more important to me if I thought I was the best person to do the progression." She raised her cup to her lips. "So I'd better continue with what I do best and let you go your own way."
"I don't care what you think." Her eyes were suddenly blazing. "I know you're the best one to find my son. Time's running out. I'm not going to let him die. You have to do it." She stopped. "I'm doing this all wrong, aren't I?" She raised her shaking hand to her head. "I'm usually not this clumsy. It means too much to me."
"I can understand that, Catherine."
"I know you can." Her gaze returned to the bones on Eve's worktable. "I think you want to help me. I just have to give you a reason to do it. And a way to remove any roadblocks in your path."
Eve raised her brows. "And how are you going to do that?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You saw the photo of my son. He touched you. You want to help him." She stared Eve in the eye. "What if I'm right, and you're the best one to identify him? What if I went to one of Venable's techs, and they steered me wrong? Venable doesn't want me to stir up any trouble. It's a delicate situation in Moscow, and he knows I won't give a damn about diplomatic relations if it means rescuing Luke." She took a deep breath. "What if Rakovac kills him before I can find him? How would that make you feel?"
"Sad. Not guilty, Catherine. I won't play into your hands that way."
"Not even a little? Oh, I think you will. You'll remember that my every instinct was shouting that you were the one who could help me save Luke. I think you'd feel a little guilty. There is always a reaction to an action." She paused. "Or the lack of an action."
Eve muttered an oath beneath her breath. "I believe you may be something of a calculating bitch, Catherine Ling."
"Oh, I am. When I have to be." Her voice became crisp. "Now for the roadblock. You don't want to leave your reconstruction of that little girl to do a job that you feel can be done by someone else. Correct?"
Eve slowly nodded. "Yes."
"Then I won't ask you to delay your work on her. It shouldn't take you too long to complete the age progression. It's going to take a while to put that little girl's face back together. You can start on Luke's age progression while the prep work on the little girl is being done."
"What?" Eve was frowning. "You're not making sense. I can't do both at once."
"No. You'll need help. I can help you with the little girl."
"The hell you can."
"Look, I'm not saying I could do any of the reconstruction. That would be insane. But what you have is a puzzle. I'm good at puzzles." She made a face. "Though those bones are going to be a nightmare."
"And I'm supposed to trust you with them? Cindy is my responsibility."
"Try me. Oh, I know that there's probably all kinds of training you go through for this kind of thing. But in the end, isn't it basically just a puzzle you have to solve?"
"Yes," she said slowly.
"I'll access the Internet and study bone structure. I'll consult with you. You can look over my shoulder every minute of the way. I can do it. I can put her back together." She paused. "And I'll do it with respect. The same respect you would show her, Eve."
"Please. You're not losing anything, not even time. Just do this for me, and I'll owe you for the rest of my life."
"I don't want you to owe me."
"Do you think I'm lying? I'm not lying."
"Catherine, I don't think you're lying." The woman's pain was too agonizingly obvious. "I believe you're going down the wrong road with me. But you've got me so dizzy, I have to straighten my head." She got to her feet. "I think I'll go for a walk and do a little thinking."
"May I stay here and wait for you?"
"Politeness?" Eve smiled faintly as she headed for the front door. "That's the first hint I've had of that quality from you. How refreshing. Yes, you may stay. Have some more coffee."
"I will." She moistened her lips. "I know you don't like to be pushed. But I did it for Luke. It's all for Luke."
Eve nodded. "I know, Catherine."
She looked back over her shoulder.
"I thought I should tell you. Joe Quinn may phone you. I set up the call that took him away this morning. There was no emergency call on the south side."
"I suspected that might be the case," she said dryly.
"I had to see you alone."
"Then you've accomplished your aim." She shut the screen door behind her and drew a deep breath. She could still feel the waves of emotion Catherine was emitting. She'd had to escape before she wavered and gave in to the woman's plea. She was still wavering and caught in that web of pity and empathy. That photo of Luke Ling had touched her heart.
But Catherine was clever, even calculating, and she had probably planned on that response from Eve. What did she know? That might not even be Catherine's child. Maybe Luke was just another pawn in one of the CIA's complicated agendas.
But Eve didn't believe that. Her every instinct was telling her that Catherine's story was tragically, painfully true.
Professionals didn't rely on instinct. Not when it concerned the CIA. She didn't know Catherine Ling, but she had a minimal knowledge and respect for Venable. He was at least a starting point.
She took out her phone and dialed his number.
"I was expecting to hear from you," he said with a sigh when he picked up. "You couldn't just send her on her way?"
"How much am I to believe about the kidnapping of Luke Ling?"
He was silent a moment. "Everything. Catherine can be deceptive, but not about her son."
"You bastard. Nine years."
"I was under orders not to disturb our relationship with Rakovac. He's very volatile, and he still has a deep hatred of Catherine."
"So you let him keep a child prisoner rather than rock the boat? How do you know that he wasn't mistreated? That would be the best way for Rakovac to get his revenge."
"I made it clear that we wouldn't tolerate that happening."
She couldn't believe her ears. "How would you know? Did you just take his word for it?"
"Yes, with appropriate threats of repercussions."
"It's all I could do. It might have been enough."
"If I were Catherine, I'd have strangled you."
"But you're not Catherine. She's CIA. She knows the dirty underbelly of the world better than you ever will. And she's aware that I was the only man standing between her son and Rakovac." He added, "If I could have run the risk, I would have sent a Special Forces team in to get Luke. But I didn't have that option. I couldn't even give Catherine reports on her son. Rakovac didn't keep him with him in Moscow. He'd sent him away and undercover almost immediately after he was kidnapped."
Eve's stomach clenched. "Then how do you know he's still alive?"
"We're not entirely sure. Rakovac calls Catherine now and then to taunt her and gives her so-called reports on her son. He hasn't let her talk to him since about a year after he was taken."
Eve felt cold and sick. Eight years with no way to know if that little boy was alive or dead. "But, of course, she still takes the calls." Eve would do the same. There was always hope, and you could bear the torture as long as the faintest chance existed that it would bring a child home. "Why didn't you tell me this when you first asked me to do the age progression?"
"I didn't want you to do it," he said bluntly. "I was only paying lip service to a bargain I made with Catherine. The current files on Rakovac are top secret, and we made sure they were kept away from Catherine. They contain surveillance as well as contacts that she had no knowledge about from her previous assignment in Moscow. She wanted those files." He paused. "And she wanted your help. To get them, she risked her neck going after Ned Winters and his daughter, who were being held hostage in Colombia. You may have heard of them. They've been all over the TV."
"Who hasn't? The father was murdered, you saved the girl."
"Catherine saved the girl."
"And you gave her the file?"
"I kept my word. The director was more concerned with getting the Winters father and daughter free. The Rakovac connection has been disintegrating lately." He paused. "He's becoming unstable."
"And where does that leave that poor kid?"
"I gave Catherine the file. I can't do anything else at the moment. We haven't entirely distanced ourselves from Rakovac yet. Although we know that he's left his penthouse apartment in Moscow and gone undercover. It would be better if Catherine stayed out of it until we see fit to make a final break."
"Better for you. Not better for Luke or Catherine. I can't blame her for being frantic to move now."
"Neither can I. But I can't help her to do it. I have to act for the good of the big picture."
"Screw the big picture."
He was silent a moment. "You're going to help her?"
"I haven't made up my mind. Though for heaven's sake someone should be helping her."
"That was aimed at me," he said. "If you decide to help her, limit it, Eve. Rakovac is an ugly customer, and he won't take kindly to you getting in his way."
Getting in the way of the viciousness of a man who would kidnap a two-year-old and keep him prisoner for nine years? "She only wants me to do an age progression. She doesn't trust your people."
"Imagine that," he said wearily. "Not that I blame her. But she's a desperate woman, and she'll take whatever from you she has to take to find her son. Watch yourself, Eve." He hung up.
She slowly pressed the disconnect button and stood gazing out at the sunlight glittering on the lake.
If she'd hoped to find a reason to throw Catherine out of the cottage, Venable had not given it to her. He'd only shown her a woman surrounded by an ideology where almost everything and everyone was expendable. She had told Eve the truth, and every action she had taken was perfectly reasonable. Eve would have done the same thing in Catherine's place. Any mother would give up whatever she had to surrender to protect her child.
But Eve had her own life, her own priorities. She didn't even know if she could help Catherine. Should she become involved in trying to—
"Of course, you can help her. Why are you fretting like this, Mama?"
She glanced at the porch swing and saw her little girl in the Bugs Bunny T-shirt curled up with her legs beneath her. The sun was shining on her mop of red curls, and her smile was brilliant as that sun. Eve felt her heart warming as it always did when Bonnie came to her. She was always as real to Eve as the last day she had seen her.
"You don't know that I can help her, Miss Smarty. I'm not that good on age progression."
"No, but she has the right idea. You do make a connection." She suddenly chuckled. "It was funny that she was so quick to say that she didn't mean anything weird. People are so afraid that others are going to think they're not totally grounded in reality."
"It's always so strange to hear you talking like this. So grown-up..."
"I told you once that I couldn't stay seven forever. Nothing stands still, not even where I am." She smiled. "But you probably forgot it and are in denial because that idea is a little weird, too."
"Denying what isn't real is what keeps us sane, baby."
"You're sane, and yet you've accepted that a ghost comes and visits you."
Her ghost, her beloved spirit, her Bonnie. "That's different."
Bonnie nodded. "And it took you long enough to accept that I wasn't a dream or a hallucination or whatever. It's much more comfortable now, isn't it?"
"It will be comfortable when I can bring you home and find the bastard who killed you."
"Comfortable for you. I'm content right now." She leaned back in the swing. "It's over for me, Mama. Only the love is left."
"It's not over for me."
"I know." Bonnie's gaze shifted to the door. "And it's not over for her. She's hurting."
"Then why don't you go in and help her? Cindy won't care. She knows that time doesn't matter."
"It may matter to her parents."
"Go find Luke, Mama."
"I can only try to tell her what he looks like. I may not even be right."
"And you might be." Bonnie smiled. "I'll bet on you. I'll always bet on you. Why are you arguing with me? You know you're going to do it."
"Maybe." She smiled back at her. "And maybe I just want you to stick around a while. I hate it when you go away."
Her smile faded. "Me, too. But we have this. It's a lot, Mama."
Eve felt her throat tighten. "Yes, it's a lot." In the year following Bonnie's disappearance, her health and sanity had been spiraling downward, and she would not have survived another six months. But after Bonnie had begun to come to her, everything had changed. For years afterward, she wouldn't admit, even to herself, that Bonnie was not a dream. But she was with her, and that was all that mattered. "But it's not enough. I want more."
"Don't be greedy. It's not time. Mama," she said gently. "You have Joe, you have Jane. You have a talent that can help people like Catherine Ling. Now go tell her that soon she'll know what her Luke looks like right now."
"Is he still alive, Bonnie?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. I think he may be. Sometimes I know things, sometimes I don't." She frowned. "But there's darkness all around Catherine Ling. I hope it doesn't come from him."
"I hope so, too." She turned and headed for the door. "Since you're pushing me away from you, I guess I'd better see what I can do about—"
"I am pushing you away. I have to do it. But I'll always come back for you, Mama..."
"I know, baby." She glanced over her shoulder. "I was just..."
Bonnie was gone.
Good-bye, my love.
She paused a moment, letting regret and memory flow out of her, then opened the door.
"Hello, you were gone longer than I thought." Catherine Ling was sitting before Eve's worktable with a laptop open before her. She glanced up, and her gaze warily raked Eve's expression, trying to read it. "I was wondering if you were going to come back or send in the cops."
"I don't think you were worried. You have too much confidence in yourself."
"I was worried." She smiled faintly before adding, "That I'd have to start again and find another way to get you. Honesty is all very well, but it doesn't work with everyone."
"No?" She crossed the room and stood looking down at the screen of Catherine's computer. "What are you doing?"
"Bones." Her forefinger traced the lines of the skull on the screen before her. "I accessed a medical site on the Net. This is the skull of a female child. I thought I'd familiarize myself with the final product that you need to work with." She pointed to a sliver of bone on the table before her. "That might be the bone beneath the orbital cavity."
Catherine was already driving forward, grasping at opportunities and concepts, Eve thought. She hadn't waited for Eve's decision. In the short time Eve had been gone, Catherine had started to work. "And it might not."
Catherine nodded. "I figured I'd try it there and be open to change." She lifted her gaze to meet Eve's eyes. "I'm always open to change, Eve."
Eve stood looking at her for a moment. Then she smiled and moved her desktop computer to the other side of the worktable. "So am I. You'd better be extremely careful about every movement you make with those bones. One sign of clumsiness, and I'll consider the arrangement blown."
Catherine tensed. "You'll do it?"
"I'll do it. I've warned you that I can't promise success, but I'll make a try. There are a good many things I'll need from you."
"Anything. How do we start?"
"By calling Joe and telling him that he's wasting his time." She pulled out her phone. "And that you're responsible for dragging him out of bed and sending him on a wild-goose chase."
She nodded. "I always accept responsibility. I'll talk to him. It's what I expected." She made a face. "From what I've heard, he's a difficult man. I don't look forward to it."
"Very wise." She was getting Joe's voice mail. "But you have a reprieve. I'll call him back later." She hung up and focused on the program she was pulling up on the screen. She reached into the drawer beneath the table and pulled out her scanner. "Now let's get busy. Give me that photo of Luke."
"She's left Colombia," Russo said as he hung up the phone and turned to Rakovac. "According to our informant, Prado, in the CIA, she boarded a flight out of Bogotá yesterday afternoon."
"Destination?" Rakovac asked.
"Houston, Texas. But she missed her connecting flight to Los Angeles." He smiled. "But a woman of her description boarded a flight to Atlanta an hour later, a last-minute booking. She's traveling under the name of Patricia Loring."
"Atlanta," Rakovac repeated. "Now what could the bitch be doing in Atlanta..."
"Venable could have sent her. There have been some communications between them, but Prado couldn't determine what they were about."
"Then we need a new man in Venable's camp. He knows that Catherine Ling is one of his top priorities." He leaned back in his chair, his brow furrowed in thought. "She could be making a move. I've been sensing that something was building the last few times I talked to her."
"You don't seem upset."
"No, I look forward to it." He suddenly smiled. "It's been going on too long. I'm growing bored. She needs to bleed a little."
"You're going to go after her?"
"Or let her come after me." He gazed at the framed photo of Catherine Ling he had on his desk. In all the years since he had taken her son, he had never put that photo away. It had served to remind him that he was the one in control, and she was only a victim to be punished. The bitch had almost taken him down. If he hadn't scrambled desperately to right his empire, he'd have been back in the sewer where he'd been born. "Beautiful, isn't she? If you can call a demon beautiful. I think it's time I brought her closer."
"Not a good idea," Russo said. "She's CIA. It's not safe. As long as you kept her at a distance, there was—"
"I wouldn't be where I am if I worried about safety," Rakovac interrupted. "You have to take chances to become what you're destined to be. You've always cringed at the bottom of the ladder, afraid to climb. That's why you answer to me."
Russo flushed. "And if you didn't have men like me propping up your ladder, you'd be crashing down on your ass. I've never seen why you snatched the kid. He's always been a threat to all of us. She's always been a threat."
Russo had surprised him. He didn't often lose his temper with him. "No, Catherine Ling ceased to be a threat when I took her son."
"It's gone on too long. You should have killed her instead of stretching out this idiocy. There's always the chance that the CIA will take action."
"Not as long as I give them what they want." He grimaced. "Or that they think that I'm doing it. It's merely a question of striking a balance."
"And how long can you do it? Venable isn't a fool. You haven't been spending enough time and attention on the business they're paying you for. He'll know that you're up to something."
It wasn't the first time Russo had spoken out against Rakovac's persecution of Catherine. Time to shut him down. "I'll do what I have to do. Stay out of my business." He gave him a cold glance. "You don't understand. I don't allow anyone to humiliate me the way Catherine Ling did. She came close to destroying me, and everyone knew it. I swore that I'd make her pay. And I've done it."
"Yes," Russo said. "But maybe it's time to end it." He paused. "Is the boy still alive?"
Rakovac smiled but didn't answer.
Russo's eyes widened. "Good God. You've killed him?"
He shrugged. "Perhaps. Again, that's my affair. She thinks he's still alive." He smiled maliciously. "Sometimes. It's the eternal seesaw. There's nothing more painful. I've made sure she's regretted that last mission in Moscow."
"But not enough?"
He shook his head. "Not while I can squeeze one more drop of pain from her. And after she's too numb to give me that pleasure, I'll take her blood." He gazed back at the photo. "But I have to find her first. Tell Prado to probe a little and find out if Venable made any phone calls to Atlanta recently."
CHASING THE NIGHT Copyright © 2010 by Johansen Publishing LLLP