Comes the Darkby Michael Prescott
Erica Garrison has long suspected her brother Robert of a terrible crime, but she has never sought proof, afraid of what she might find-until today. Now, in the secret underground caves below Barrow, Pennsylvania, she searches
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Michael Prescott delivers a haunting story of fate, obsession, and murder in COMES THE DARK.
Erica Garrison has long suspected her brother Robert of a terrible crime, but she has never sought proof, afraid of what she might find-until today. Now, in the secret underground caves below Barrow, Pennsylvania, she searches for the site of the childhood games she and Robert played-games that may have sparked a homicidal fascination that grips him to this day. And all the while her brother, and her past, are inexorably closing in ...
- CreateSpace Publishing
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.95(d)
Read an Excerpt
It was a myth, of course, merely a fairy tale, but a strangely beautiful one.
There was the queen, Leda, bathing in a pond when the amorous sky god Zeus visited her in the likeness of a swan. A grotesque union, the nude woman mounted by the huge, beaked, feathered thing, the bird's stiltlike legs entwined with hers, the long phallic curve of its neck lost in her tangled tresses.
An image bizarre and discomfiting, yet Erica Stafford found it oddly affecting alsoa reminiscence perhaps of humanity's primal kinship with nature, a unity with things of shore and forest, lost now in the press and crush of the hurried world.
Or perhaps what moved her was simply the sculptor's skill that had brought the tableau to life as a polished bronze, eighteen inches high, on a ten-inch pedestal.
Whatever the reason, the piece exerted a compelling fascination. She'd sold nine copies so far, and this morning she would sell her tenth.
The sale would be easy. Erica knew her customer was hooked. He was a small round-faced man with round eyeglasses that made his round eyes look as tiny as ball bearings. He'd been circling her shop for twenty minutes, pecking with his gaze at every glittering bust and figurine, but returning, always returning, to the bronze Leda in the comer.
Erica had been fortunate to find the piece. It was the work of a talented young man in Naples whom she'd met on a recent tour of the Mediterranean. All his figures possessed a lightness, a streamlined grace.
In herpoor, stumbling Italian she had told him so, and told him also that she owned a gallery in the United States. No doubt he pictured some elegant place on Fifth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, not two rooms in a converted warehouse in the partially renovated downtown district of Barrow, Pennsylvania, seventy miles from the nearest skyscraper.
She hadn't shattered his illusions. When he happily invited her to his workshop, she went along. He shaped and fired and cast his pieces in a shed at the rear of an apartment house on a twisting side street. The Leda had been there, the clay still wet and smudged with fingerprints. Even unfinished, it was unmistakably his best work yet, sensuous and strange, uncorrupted by cheap eroticism, a small masterpiece.
Her order of ten reproductions had been a huge sale for him. That night after dinner he had gently tried to cajole her back to his apartment, hoping to consummate the deal with a more intimate transaction. I'm a married woman, she said firmly, and I'm too old for you. He couldn't have been more than twenty-six, ten years her junior.
His declamations of her beauty and charm had moved her only to laughter, but it was laughter tinged with a dying note of sadness. When they parted, he took her hand and said she was not like most Americans he'd met.
Why is that? she asked, expecting another compliment, ready to find him safely amusing again.
Because, he said, you have suffered, I see it. I see the deep hurt in you.
Erica hadn't known how to answer, and so she'd said nothing at all.
"This is a marvelous piece," the small round man told her in the stillness of the shop.
She pressed her mind into active service in the here and now. "Isn't it? The artist is a young man in Italy who is, uh, unusually perceptive."
Her customer dared a look at the dangling price tag.
"Rather steep," he said, but only because he felt obligated to assert some control over the situation.
She smiled. "It's a limited edition. Only two hundred reproductions will be made. Each bronze is signed and dated by the artist. I ordered ten. This is the last one."
"Selling like hot cakes, huh?"
"Maybe not quite that fast. I've been stocking them since November. Now it's, what, March twenty-fifth? So roughly two a month."
"I wouldn't have thought you'd get all that much business. I mean, the store is very nice, but, well, rather out of the way. I'd never have noticed it if I hadn't stopped off for a bite to eat."
"In the warmer months we do a fair business. People shopping for antiques, say. Winter's slow, but I get orders by mail."
"You've got a catalogue?" He sounded interested.
"Buy that piece, and you're guaranteed to be on my mailing list."
The man gave in. "You can be persuasive, can't you?"
"I think you may have already persuaded yourself."
He put the purchase on his Visa Gold, and she boxed it for him, her lean, strong arms showing tight lines of muscle as she taped the carton lid.
"Run this place all by yourself, do you?" he asked.
"Just me. Five days a week."
"Sell a few more of these, and you can afford to hire an assistant."
She merely shrugged, feeling no need to tell him that money was not one of her concerns. The shop was for her soul, not her purse. She loved the work for the sense of daily purpose it gave her, and for the excuse to travel and explore and escape the dangerous softness of her life into a larger world of risk.
After the man was gone and she was alone in the shop, she resumed dusting and polishing her artworks. The clock read one-fifteen. She had a lunch date with Rachel Kellerman at one-thirty. Rachel was a gossip, a boor, assertively charming in the most charmless way, but Erica had never acquired the talent of forming close friendships. In her life she'd found no soulmate, not even her husband.
She winced. Especially not her husband.
She polished harder, putting some angry muscle into the job. It occurred to her that if she were as adept at choosing human companionship as she was in her aesthetic selections, she
Head tilted, she listened.
Softly, from the rear of the shop, a complaint of hinges.
She'd locked the back door, hadn't she?
Possibly not. When she'd arrived this morning, she'd been agitated, distracted. Things hadn't gone well at home. What Andrew had done to her ... in the shower ...
She pulled free of that spiral of thought. Andrew didn't matter now.
There was someone in her shop.
Either that, or the wind had pushed the back door ajar.
Outside, desultory traffic rattled past on Main. The blue sky gleamed, a limpid backdrop for the leafless trees and hunched brick buildings and the distant water tower.
It was one-twenty on a Wednesday afternoon in March, and she was in the center of town, surrounded by businesses and people. She couldn't be afraid.
Even so, she went to her office and found the sharp knife she used to cut packing tape before she entered the rear hall.
The door hung open, blue daylight limning the frame. The hall itself was in shadow, the side doorways dark. An intruder could be hiding in the storage room, the broom closet, the lavatory.
Erica paused on the threshold of the hall. "Hello? Who's there?"
The knife wavered in her hand. She asked herself if she had the nerve to use it.
Call the policethat was what she ought to dobut suppose it was only the wind, after all. She would look foolish.
Well ... look foolish then. Play it safe.
She almost turned back. Instead, surprising herself with her courage, she took one forward step.
"Who's there?" she asked the stillness for a second time.
She stood directly alongside the storage room now. The door was shut. Did she dare open it?
There was no reason to take the risk. Except ... she hated fear. Hated this numb paralysis, this frozen stasis between what-if and why-not. To be controlled by anything, by anyone, even by her own emotionsit felt shameful and weak and she couldn't stand it.
With a jerk of her left hand she threw open the door.
The storage room was cluttered with cartons, bubble-wrap, and unmailed catalogues, nothing more.
She tried the broom closet and the lavatory, finding nothing unusual, no bogeyman, no masked intruder.
So the wind really was the culprit, thank God.
Erica shut the outside door and locked it, then turned, and he was there.
A cry escaped her mouth, startling even to her.
For an instant the man was only a featureless shadowy form, tall and ragged and shaggy.
Then she knew him.
"Robert?" she breathed.
He came forward, a step, then another, until he was close and she could smell the mildew on his clothes. Distantly she understood that he'd hidden in her shop when she went into her office to get the knife, then had waited to sneak up from behind. Now she was trapped at the end of the hall against a locked door, a door she would never have time to open before he reached her.
But he wouldn't hurt her. Would he?
His eyes were gray like smoke, narrowed eyes in a windburned face that knew the sun too well. Through a nest of uncombed beard, his mouth was a bloodless line, and it barely moved as he said, "Damn you, bitch."
She drew back. The knife was still in her hand, but she knew she could never wound him.
Again: "Damn you."
"Robert. Why are you here? What did you"
"Damn you, call them off!"
His sudden vehemence staggered her. She couldn't answer.
"Call them off!" He thrust his hands at her, fingers hooked into claws, and she was sure he would attack, go for her throat or her face, strangle or batterbut no, he sank his hands into the deep thicket of his own hair. "Call off your damned dogs, your bitches, send them away!"
Pain ravaged his face. In his eyes she saw bottomless anguish.
Against her own judgment, she instinctively reached out. "Robert, I want to help"
"You want to kill me, slut. You want to drive me insane!"
But she knew he was already insane, had been insane for years.
"Now," he said between rough intakes of breath, "you listen to me. You call off your evil familiars, you make them stop, you cast them out. I can't stand it anymore, I can't, I can't!"
He pressed his hands to his ears, blocking out sounds only he could hear.
"You make them stop"his voice plunged to a whisper"or I won't be responsible. You understand me? I won't be held to blame for what they make me do."
Silence then, and she asked the question that hung between them. "To blame for what, Robert? What is it they make you do?"
Either he didn't hear or he wouldn't say. He merely brushed past herreflexively she averted her face from the musky odor of old sweatand in a burst of brilliance the door opened.
Blinking at daylight and at sudden tears, Erica watched him shamble down the steps into the rear alley. He was coatless, as if indifferent to the winter cold, and distantly she realized that she had not seen him wear a coat in years, no matter what the weather.
Past her parked Mercedes, his track was visible, an aged Ford pickup, dented and dirtied, the tires nearly bald. He swung behind the wheel, and the engine started with a rattle and roar. The truck pulled away, trailing brown exhaust.
When it was gone, Erica shut the door and locked it and checked twice to be certain the lock was secure.
"God," she whispered. "Robert. Robert ... "
Her muscles popped with tiny releases of pent-up strain. Erica walked back to the main room of the shop, then into her office to put the knife away. She was abnormally conscious of her every action, yet her mind was empty of thought. The inner monologues and dialogues of ordinary life had been silenced somehow, leaving a stillness, a sense of absence from herself.
Then the desk drawer slid shut, hiding the knife away, and a decision appeared in her mind, fully formed, without prelude.
I'll do it today. I'll do it right now.
She nodded, affirming her resolve, and collected her coat, gloves, and scarf from the office closet.
In the main room, locking the front door, she stopped abruptly and turned to look at herself in the mirror that occupied most of the gallery's far wall. What she saw was a tall woman of thirty-six, wearing boots and jeans and a striped oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Her blonde hair was loose and full, and her eyes loomed big with fear at what she was about to do.
"You sure about this?" she inquired of the image in the mirror.
Her Doppelganger self considered the question, then answered with a nod.
She had to risk it. Had to know. After two months of doubt and worryshe had to know.
Erica threw on her coat and left the gallery at a run, forgetting even to switch off the lights.
The radio clipped to Ben Connor's belt crackled with occasional call signals, nothing serious. At this hour only two units were in the field, a pair of one-officer cars roving throughout the town limits of Barrow, Pennsylvania, population 7,321.
The town had been founded in colonial times and forgotten since. It was parked in the rural middle of the state, off Route 36, south of Interstate 80. Pittsburgh lay seventy miles to the southwest, Philadelphia about two hundred miles in the other direction. Right here, in this desolate spot, there was only rolling farmland, brown in the long winter, and woods and a few muddy lakes.
A far cry from Manhattan, Connor thought with a smile that touched his face but not his heart.
"Got any news?"
The question pulled him from his reverie. He looked across the table and nodded.
"Matter of fact," he said, "I do." A sense of the dramatic prompted him to take a bite of his turkey sandwich and wash it down with a swig of Pepsi before continuing. "Psychological profile came back from the FBI."
"Profile." His lunch companion snorted, as if Connor had made allusion to a message from Mars. "You think any of that egghead yackety-yak is worth so much as a gob of spit?"
Connor smiled. "Your tax money at work, Chief."
"Don't call me that."
"You're chief now, not me. You're the one man who answers to that title."
As always under these circumstances, Connor felt peculiarly chastened, like a child scolded for misbehaving. Well, the analogy wasn't too far wrong. He was forty-two, not a child by any means, but the man seated opposite him in a window booth of the Liberty Coffee Shop was nonetheless old enough to be his father.
Hell, at seventy-sixalmost his grandfather.
"So what's this mumbo-jumbo amount to?" the older man asked with noticeable reluctance after Connor teased him with a short silence.
Ordinarily Connor would not have discussed details of a sensitive case in public. But no one could eavesdrop here, amid the bustle and clamor of busy people on the run, lunch orders given and hurriedly filled, trays clattering on Formica tabletops. Connor and his companion, ensconced in a corner, conversing quietly, were in no danger of being spied upon.
Not that the other customers wouldn't have liked to overhear. Connor caught more than his share of curious glances from other patrons. Twice he'd been pestered by folks stopping at the table for a casual hello that somehow segued into an inquiry about the Wilcott case. The questions had received his standard response: We're working it hard; that's all I can tell you.
He wondered how much longer that answer would suffice.
"They look at various factors," Connor said, dropping his voice just a bit. "The way she was taken. The way she died. The way the body was disposed of."
"From all that, they get inside a man's head and tell you who he is?"
"Not who he is. I wish they could. Just the sort of man we're dealing with."
"I can answer that. The evil sort."
"They try to narrow it down a little further."
"So tell it, will you?"
Connor could see he was intrigued despite his show of skepticism. No doubt this was the first FBI profile ever prepared for Barrow P.D. But then, the Wilcott case was the first such crime in the town's long memory.
Sherry Wilcott had been twenty years old, a limber, ash-blonde, pouty-faced thing who lived with her parents and excelled at getting fired from menial jobs. For fun she liked to thumb rides on Route 36, just to go places with strangers. It was not the safest pastime, and maybe it had gotten her killed. Or maybe not. Nobody knew just what had happened to Sherry.
All that was certain was that her parents last saw her on the evening of January 14. She had dinner, then went to her room to watch TV, but when her mom checked later she found the TV on and the room empty. Sherry was gone.
There were no signs of forced entry or a struggle. Her parents had heard nothing. Their first thought was that Sherry had left the house of her own volition, using the TV as a ruse. She'd done it before, sneaking out at night, and where she went and how she got there and what she did, neither her mom nor her dad could say or even wanted to know.
They figured she would show up in the morning, maybe hung over, maybe disheveled, and there would be a row, as always. But in the morning she was still gone, and as morning stretched into afternoon, her dad finally got scared enough to call the police.
The case was treated lightly at first, the assumption being that Sherry was a runaway, and after all the damn girl was over the age of eighteen. Still, it was odd that she hadn't packed a suitcase or even an overnight bag.
A week later, a retired utility linesman and his nine-year-old grandson were tramping alongside Barrow Creek with fishing poles on their shoulders when the boy stepped on something squishy and swollen, which was Sherry Wilcott's left hand.
Her nude body had washed up on the riverbank, facedown in the mud. Later it was determined that she had lain there for days while sun and insects worked her over. The autopsy was inconclusive in most respects: the multiple contusions and fractures could have been inflicted by her killer, either antemortem or postmortem, or by rocks in the streambed as the current rushed the corpse downriver. Signs of trauma in her genital area were consistent with both violent sexual assault and the sharp jaws of snapping turtles indigenous to Barrow Creek's oxbow lakes.
The only certainty was the cause of death. Sherry Wilcott's throat had been neatly sliced from one carotid artery to the other. No sharp rock or hungry turtle had done that. The fatal cut was the work of a knife.
This was, Connor had been told, the first homicide in Barrow County in five years. And the last one had been a stupid little crime, a dispute between neighbors that had turned deadly when one man fetched his shotgun. No mystery there. But Sherry Wilcott's death was unsolved, a who-done-it, and the locals, unaccustomed to any violence more serious than a bar fight, were both guiltily titillated and secretly scared.
Various theories had been advanced. Sherry was abducted from her room by an intruder who entered the house via an unlocked door. Sherry had sneaked out to go with some boyfriend, maybe one of those biker types she was sometimes seen with, who'd gotten high on meth or PCP and killed her in a crazy rage. Sherry had sneaked out and tried hitching into town, only to be picked up by the wrong man, perhaps some stranger just passing through, or somebody locala psycho, anyway, who'd raped and killed her.
There was no end to the guessing game. In the first weeks after the body's discovery, everybody had spun a different scenario. The cops had their ideas, and the regular citizens had theirs, and the local paper printed all of them in one special edition after another. But the truth was, nobody knew a goddamned thing except that a young woman had disappeared and had turned up dead.
But now the experts at Quantico claimed to know more.
"All right," Connor said, leaning back slightly in the booth to convey an informal air. He'd found that people were less likely to eavesdrop if they imagined the conversation to be mundane. "First, her disappearance. Now she could have hitched a ride or gone out on her own, but you and I both know that's unlikely."
Unlikely because her purse had not been taken, and in the purse was her stash of birth control pills, which her friends swore she would never leave behind.
"If the killer gained access to the house, he either picked a lock or discovered an open door. In any case he was able to enter and explore the house, find the girl, and abduct herall without making any noise. That would mean we're looking for a mature man, not a kid."
"They estimate late twenties to late thirties."
"And they got that just because he walked on his tippie-toes?"
"That, and other reasons. What he did to her. It showed he was in control. You know about the ligatures."
Although it had been kept out of the press, Connor and his companion knew that Sherry had been bound at the wrists and ankles. The rope or straps had left deep bruises evident even after substantial decomposition had occurred.
"He tied her up," Connor said. "That means he felt he was in control of the situation. Calm, probably. Not frenzied, not flailing around, as you might expect from a teenager, say."
"Maybe he's killed before."
"They tell me it's possible."
"Then he might do it again."
"That's possible too."
The older man was silent, taking this in. Then he pushed back his plate, leaving his sandwich half eaten, and asked, "Any other pearls of wisdom from our friends in Virginia?"
"They could make a better guess if we knew whether or not she was tortured or raped. With what we've got, all they can say is that the neck wound is also consistent with a control-oriented personality. The way it was inflictedone stroke, very deliberate, no hacking and slashingis indicative of what they call an organized killer."
"Organized. Now there's one way to put it."
"He dumped the body where it wouldn't be found too soon. And he trusted the river to wash it clean. He's smart, they think. And he stripped off her clothes, took them or burned them. Could be another sign that he's smart, too smart to leave any evidence. Or it could indicate a fetish, some sick compulsion to hold on to her clothes as souvenirs."
"Souvenirs." The older man made a noise midway between a throat-clearing rasp and a bark of laughter. "This fellow's organized and collects souvenirs. Sounds like my Uncle Nate from long ago. Traveling salesman, kept his house neat as a pin, collected matchbooks from all the restaurants and hotels he visited. Organized, with souvenirs. No killer, though."
"Well," Connor said, "there is a little more. But it gets ... speculative."
"Unlike the foregoing, eh?"
"More speculative. They think we're up against a loner. Someone with no intimate relationships. Lives alone, keeps to himself. An underachieverabove average in intelligence, but either unemployed or sporadically employed." He was nearly quoting from the profile, which he'd read just an hour earlier.
"What thin air did they pull that out of?"
"The way she was taken. He didn't pick her up, it looks like. He snuck in and snatched her. They say that shows a lack of social skills."
"Lack of social skills. They'll be grading his report card soon." But though his expression was sour, he didn't laugh, and Connor knew why.
"They say he could be the product of a broken home. Messy divorce when he was very young or ... the loss of a parent. A thing like that can have a lasting effect on the ability to form intimate attachments."
Silence from across the table.
"Probably no women in his life, romantically, now or ever. He may have a distorted view of women in general. He may hate them or idealize themor both, in some twisted way."
"How do they know that?" There was no irony in the question this time.
"The murder method. He killed her the way you'd kill a cow in a slaughterhouse. One knife stroke to open the neck. Now, it could mean that he saw the girl as no better than an animal, a dumb beast. Or the killing could be the oppositea sort of ritual. So, you see? He could despise her, or almost worship her, or feel both ways at once."
"Like the way a child who's lost his mother might worship her memoryand hate her for leaving him."
Connor was startled by the insight. "You seem to know a little psychology yourself."
"Enough to see where this is leading. Where the finger of suspicion logically points."
Connor peeled the turkey off what was left of his sandwich and nibbled it, leaving the bread, which was dry.
When he was ready, he acknowledged the obvious. "The profile fits him. Yes. But it could fit other people."
"Not many locals."
"We don't know that the killer is local."
"We have no reason to assume he's not."
"Even so, we can't arrest a man without evidence. And a profile isn't evidence, just opinion. Speculation, as you said."
"But you do think it's him. Don't you, Chief?"
Connor had known the question was coming, but he had no ready evasion, so he decided on the straight truth.
"Yes," he said, "but I don't want it to be."
"Neither do I." Across the table, Paul Elder shook his gray head slowly. "I still see him as a boy, you knowa boy in Superman p.j.'s, his eyes so wide, his sister holding him tight. The Garrisons have been through enough. I don't want Robert to be guilty of this."
Connor had his private reasons for feeling the same way. "Maybe he isn't," he said without conviction.
Elder didn't hear. "It's not just for his sake. A thing like this would hurt her too. If he's arrested, she'll be dragged down by the gossip."
"There's gossip already."
"It would be worse."
"She can take it. She's strong."
Elder flicked a gaze at Connor. "Erica? Sure she's strong. She'd have to be, to survive what she and her baby brother went through. But there are some burdens even the strongest of us shouldn't be made to shoulder."
"It might not come to that. An arrest, I mean." Connor gave up his uneaten remnant of turkey and wiped his hand with a paper napkin. "We're not any closer to making an arrest than we were on the day when her body was found."
Elder's eyes gleamed with brief amusement. "May I quote you on that?"
"Oh, sure. That's just what I'd need. The town council would have you reinstalled as chief within an hour."
"I wouldn't take the job. Rather watch you suffer."
But Connor knew that Paul Elder, even at seventy-six, would gladly resume his old position, if he hadn't had matters at home that concerned him even more.
As it was, Elder kept his hand in the game. These lunchtime meetings, held once or twice a week, were of benefit to them both. Elder could keep up with events and learn unpublicized details of the investigation. Connor, the new kid in town, could learn the local lore and the lie of the land.
Besides, they liked each other. And there was that business which kept Elder at home. What he was enduring now was, in a way, not dissimilar from the hardship Connor had faced two years ago in New York.
Each of them knew about grief, about loss. Each of them knew how it felt to reach for a hand that wasn't there.
"Ben Connorjust the person I was hoping to find."
Connor looked up to see Rachel Kellerman leaning over him with an uncharacteristically forced smile.
"Rachel," he said, and Elder added, "'Afternoon, Mrs. Kellerman."
She grimaced with operatic artificiality. "Twenty years he's known me, and I'm Mrs. Kellerman to him."
Connor smiled at that. Elder was known for his unbending formality, reflected in his upright bearing, his practiced courtesy, even the suits he wore, necktie and all, whenever he dined out. He was wearing one now, at a coffee shop crowded with people in denim pants and sweatshirts.
Then Connor remembered the first thing Rachel had said. "Why am I the one you're looking for?"
"Well, you aren't. Not exactly. Then again, you are. Good night"a helpless giggle"I'm all turned around. May I sit down?"
Elder stood. "Actually, I was just leaving. What do I owe you, Chief?"
Connor said he'd take care of it. He always did, and Elder always let him. It wasn't stinginess on Elder's part, Connor knew; medical bills were eating up the man's savings and his pension.
Elder said goodbye, and Rachel rushed out some words to the effect that she hoped he wasn't leaving on her account, a proposition Elder vehemently denied. Connor hid his amusement. He was well aware that Paul Elder could not abide phonies, gladhanders, hale-fellows-well-met of any variety and of either sex.
Then Elder was gone, and Rachel bustled into the leatherette bench opposite him, her purse swinging and her hands waving in a flurry of wasted motion. Connor knew her fairly well; everybody in town did. She was among Barrow's movers and shakers, if such a concept could be applicable here. Her husband, Leonard, was a big shot in real estate, and Rachel, as she rarely tired of explaining, was active in all the local charities.
Usually she was a nonstop torrent of gossip and chat, but not today. Even after seating herself she remained silent for a good half-minute.
"Something the matter?" Connor asked.
"Well, probably not. I mean, I can't imagine it's anything important. But I had a lunch date with Erica. Erica Stafford. And she stood me up."
Connor frowned. "So she's the person you'd most like to find."
"Well, yes. That's what I was getting at in my convoluted way. I know it seems trivial, missing lunch, but it's out of character for Erica. Of course you don't know her the way I do, but if you did, you'd know she's the most punctual and reliable person you'd ever want to meet."
"Maybe she got busy at the shop, and the appointment slipped her mind."
"Do you know, that was my first thought too. Trained minds think alike. Should I be a cop, you think? A detective like you?"
Connor wasn't a detective. He'd worked the patrol side his whole life. In point of fact, Barrow P.D. had only a single plain-clothes detective on salary, who worked break-ins and robberies but never anything more serious. On the Sherry Wilcott case, detectives from the sheriff's department and the state police were handling the major investigative duties, while Connor's patrol officers backed them up with legwork.
Even so, he didn't contradict her. "You'd make a first-class gumshoe," he answered easily. "Better than some of the layabouts I knew in New York. Did you call the shop?"
"Called twice. The machine answered. And she always picks up the phone when she's there. Doesn't want to lose any business, you know. God forbid somebody calls all hot to trot for some statue of Venus being raped by a centaur, or whatever it is, and she misses out. She's a dynamo, really. My Leonard says if he had a couple of brokers as hard driven as Erica Stafford, he could move every property on his sheet in a week."
Conner began to realize Rachel was upset. The woman was a talker, yes, but ordinarily her conversational efforts were considerably more polished than this loose associative stream.
"Rachel," he said gently, slipping into the calm tone he'd used with traumatized victims and witnesses in New York, "did you go over to the shop?"
The tone worked. She visibly got hold of herself. "Yes. I went. Rang the bell. No answer. The door was locked, but the lights were on. Then I called the house."
A small part of her anxiety was transferring itself, as by osmosis, to Conner himself. He felt his heart beating faster.
"The house?" he prompted.
Nod. "Got the housekeeper, what's her name, Marie. She said Erica left for work as usual. Andrew's at the racquet club. Hadn't! heard from either of them. So I didn't know what to do. Then I saw your car parked outside, and I thought ... well ... I thought you might know where she is."
"How would I?"
Briefly she hesitated, and then her face worked itself into a weak, helpless smile. "You're the police chief, aren't you?"
Conner wasn't entirely satisfied with this answer, but he let it pass. "What time was your lunch date?"
"The New Hope Inn."
"Any chance you might have left-too soon, and just missed her? She might be there now."
"I'm not an idiot, Ben."
"I didn't say"
"Look, I waited there until two-fifteen, for Christ's sake."
"Okay, okay." He checked his watch. The time was 2:28. "When you went to her shop, did you go out back to see if her car was there?"
She looked sheepish. "Never occurred to me. I guess I'm not cut out to be a detective after all."
"Well, neither am I. Failed the damn test twice." He got up and dumped some bills on the table. "Tell you what. I'll see if her car's there. Maybe talk to-the proprietors of the other stores.
"I can come too."
I think it's better for me, to go alone."
Rachel stared up at him. "You ... you don t suppose there's anything really wrong, do you?"
"I wouldn't worry about it," Conner answered smoothly, though he'd been a cop long enough to know the full range of possible tragedies attendant on an unanswered telephone. And in this town, a report of a missing woman was not to be taken lightly.
The thought quickened Connor's stride as he headed away from the table. Rachel's voice stopped him. "Oh, Ben. One more thing."
He turned, concealing his impatience. "Yes?"
"I ran into her brother. He hasn't seen her, either."
"You saw Robert? I thought he never came to town."
Rachel answered with a fluttery shrug. "He goes to Waldman's Grocery about once a month. To stock up on supplies. I happened to see him in the parking lot. That truck of his"her nose wrinkled"well, it does stand out."
"And you say he hasn't seen Erica today?"
"No. I only mention it because, well, he's so peculiar, you know. With Erica missing ... and with all the talk about the Wilcott girl ..."
She didn't have to finish. Connor understood the implication. If Erica really had disappeared, Robert Garrison would be the obvious suspect. But not if he had an alibi.
"Was he just arriving at the store?" Connor asked.
"Just leaving. Loading grocery sacks into his truck. Judging from the amount of stuff he bought, I'd say he was in Waldman's for at least an hour."
"What time was this?"
Another shrug. "Ten minutes ago. Two-twenty, maybe."
Then Robert probably could account for his whereabouts from roughly 1:15 to 2:20. Connor nodded, started to move away again, then remembered to ask one more question.
"How did he react?"
Concentration pinched Rachel's face. "You know, he seemed quite upset. Agitated, all of a sudden. Like it really bothered him that Erica would run off somewhere." She spread her hands. "I didn't think the two of them were all that close."
"She's his sister," Connor said. "It's natural for him to be worried."
"Guess he must be. You should have seen him, fidgeting and blinking. And he sure took off in a hurry. He left behind a sack of groceries. I called to him, but he didn't turn back. If you'd seen him, you would've flagged him down for a speeding ticket. He shot down Main Street like a bat out of hell."
Meet the Author
Michael Prescott is the author of the bestsellers Comes the Dark, Stealing Faces, and The Shadow Hunter. His most recent novel is Last Breath (Signet; December 2001).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
i liked this book so much better than Stealing Faces. i thought this story was just a better story. i was told this book was so slow and boring and blah blah blah, but i said hey everyone has a differnt opinion..so i decided to give it a shot. it was wonderful! great characters and interesting story even though the climax was kinda predictable, but still a great read. i can't wait to read Michael Prescott's 'the Shadow Hunter'.
Michael Prescott is amazing at twisting and turning plots. You cannot guess at the conclusions! Well done.
Didn't want to put it down. The only thing I can be critical of is the very end. It doesn't completely fit the characters. But I really stayed up half the night because I didn't want to put it down.
Predictable, verbose without reason and fairly boring. Give me Matt Reilly, Preston and Child, or Jeffrey Deaver anyday. I was VERY disappointed in this book
I love this book it is like the best horror book I read. I am only 14 years old and have been readind since I was 2.
Love Michael Prescott books and I wasn't disappointed in this one!
This book had no mystery to it. There was nothing surprising in this book. If you like mysteries, read Next Victim. Next Victim should recieve a 10 out of 10.
Michael Prescott's novel Comes the Dark, was published by Signet in 1999. The main idea I got out of this novel is that when something horrible happens when you are younger or even as a adult it will always affect you somehow, even for those who just try to forget it and try to move on, because at the end it will come back and affect your life no matter how hard you try. This story takes place in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The unusual thing is that in that town there are no problems because it is very quiet and small. It starts with Erica and Robert surviving a horrible crime when they were real young kids. The two live their lives way different and everytime something goes wrong with a girl close to that town Robert is always the first to be accused. That mainly happens because of the way he lives his life and because it is obvious that he was affected really bad by the crime when he was a little boy. Later in the story Erica wants to find out the truth about many things including her brother, Robert's life. When she left people became very worry that she went missing, especially Chief Connor and you might have figured it out already everyone accused Robert of having something to do with his sisters disappearance. There are really just three main characters, but that is all that the story needed, and they are Erica, Robert and Chief Ben Connor. Erica is the older sister of Robert. She is the one of the two survivors who didn't let that crime she experienced ruin her life completely because she moved on with her life. She is married and she is also a very successful art dealer. Robert on the other hand was not so lucky because he is not at all successful, he has a very troubling lifestyle, because he lives in a cabin in the woods and is continouosly accused of murdering women when they go missing. Chief Connor is the man that takes on the case of Erica going missing first. He is also the guy that always makes Robert's life more miserable with all the accusations. In conclusion, even though it started really slow and boring it picks up the pace and gets real good. So if you want to find out why Chief Conner was the most worry about the disapperance of Erica and also what happens with Robert and Erica and who murdered the mysteriously missing women then I recommend this novel it is very interesting. This book is really good because you can feel all the horror and excitment the characters feel and go through. The only other problem that I had with this novel besides the beginning is that at times it could be a little difficult to understand. Also if I could read a three hundred and ninety-six page book you could read it it goes faster than you know it because you will get so involved in the story. You will not regret reading this book.