Two Years Later
Near Middleburg, Virginia
I trusted you, Caity.
Caitlyn Cahill jerked awake, her heart racing. It took a second to realize she'd been dreaming again. Still, her brother's facehis voicehad been as clear as if he'd been standing next to her bed. In her dreamimage of Joshua, he gripped a large kitchen knife and his eyes were black with hatred.
She had the nightmare at least once a week.
With a slow release of breath, she sat up and looked at the clock on the nightstand. Outside her bedroom window, she heard only familiar morning sounds. Although it wasn't quite light yet, a meadowlark chirped from a branch in the stately orangeleafed oak, and a horse's whinny drifted up from the stables. Caitlyn had taken refuge in the rolling horse country of Northern Virginia, using her trust fund to purchase the rambling, twostory farmhouse with stables and acreage. She'd had to get away.
After Joshua's capture, after her father's fatal stroke, there had been little left in Washington to keep her there. The highsociety lifestyle she'd been raised in had come to an abrupt end. Ostracized was the more specific description of her treatment. At times, she admitted only to herself that she wished Joshua had died from his gunshot wound, or drowned after his fall into the Potomac, instead of law enforcement fishing him from its icy depths. But then she felt guilty, then guilty again for thinking of her brother instead of the six innocent lives he had taken.
He was sick. But was that an excuse?
Nothing could ever explain what he had done.
When Joshua's trial was overa threeweek maelstrom involving forensic evidence and psychological testimonyCaitlyn had quietly packed and left without a word to those who had once been her family's supporters and friends. She understood anyone with the last name Cahill was a pariah now, and that it was best for others to disassociate lest they carry residual dishonor.
Her father, Senator Braden Cahill, hadn't been able to bear the weight of Joshua's sins. He'd collapsed during a press conference announcing his resignation, and died a week later. Then her mother, Caroline, had lost what was left of her mind.
The Rambling Rose stables and farm had provided the distraction Caitlyn needed, had given her a purpose that made it possible to go on living despite the notoriety and shame. She'd transformed the stables into a therapeutic equine center that helped disabled and disadvantaged children by allowing them to groom, care for and ride horses. Caitlyn had given her time, energies and funds to create the nonprofit, animalassisted therapy program. In her mind, Rambling Rose was a way to somehow try to make up for the evil her brother had done.
It was late October, and the crisp early morning air made the old house chilly. Caitlyn pulled a roomy cableknit sweater on over her pajamas, then padded downstairs to make coffee and prepare for the day. A bus full of special needs children from D.C. was expected in a few hours, and she needed to arrange for box lunches turkey sandwiches, yogurt, apples and oatmealraisin cookiesfrom one of the quaint restaurants in nearby Middleburg. Caitlyn also planned to lead the afternoon program herself, taking the more advanced children out for a ride along the forested path. On top of that, Eli Burton, one of the area's largeanimal vets, was coming out to check on a weanling.
The coffeemaker had just begun its steamy drip into the carafe when the telephone rang. Caitlyn picked up the handset, settling it between her right shoulder and ear as she rummaged in the stainless steel refrigerator looking for the last carrot muffin.
"This is Hal Feingold."
She closed the fridge door. The reporter's name caused a churning sensation inside her stomach.
"I apologize for the early hour. You may remember me. I covered the Capital Killer investigation for the Washington Post, but I'm out on my own now."
"I know who you are, Mr. Feingold," she said.
"I wanted you to know that I'm working on a book."
"About my brother?"
"About your family, actually. About their role in the murder investigation."
Caitlyn hated the faint tremor in her voice. "I won't give you authorization."
"I don't need it, Ms. Cahill," he replied in a calm tone. "It's a matter of public record. Not to mention your father was a public figure. One could argue you are, as well. You played a key role in your brother's arrest. You took his journal to the FBI after the judgea friend of Senator Cahill'srefused to sign the searchandseizure warrant on the Logan Circle property. A very brave decision. I know what it did to your family"
Caitlyn's words were clipped. "Goodbye, Mr. Feingold."
"The book is happening with or without your cooperation. I'm offering you the opportunity to present your side of the story. You should consider it."
Caitlyn stared at her image in the window over the deep farmhouse sink. The glass created a mirrorlike reflection, and she ran a hand through her sleepmussed, honeyblond hair. She didn't want the book in print, didn't want it to create any renewed interest two years later. She couldn't live through it again.
"Ms. Cahill? I'd like to come out and speak with you in person. Perhaps we could talk about you writing a preface"
"Please don't," she whispered, and disconnected the phone. It actually didn't surprise her that someone wanted to write her family's story; it had all the characteristics of a bestseller. Two foster children brought into a loving, prominent family and given everything they needed to succeed. Only one of the children couldn't fight his internal demons and became one himself. Caitlyn had been adopted as a newborn, but Joshua had been years older when he was taken from his abusive, drugaddicted mother. According to psychologists, the damage had already been done. But it had taken years for the evil to seep out. The fact that D.C. had no capital punishment was the only thing that had kept Joshua off death row.
Thinking of him, a mixture of anger and bittersweet nostalgia built inside her. He wasn't her biological brother, but there had been a strong connection between them, up until Joshua's schizophrenia had progressed in his early twenties. She wanted to remember him like he was in their childhoodshy, intensely intelligent yet withdrawnbut somehow she couldn't. All she saw was the face of a killer. Caitlyn left the muffin on the distressed butcherblock counter, the coffee equally forgotten. But she hadn't yet exited the kitchen when the phone rang again. Expecting the pushy journalist, she answered tersely.
"Caitlyn, it's Manny Ruiz."
"Manny," she said on a sigh, relief threading through her. The big, rawboned foreman managed the daytoday tactical activities on the working ranch, including the stables. "I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else."
"I've got some bad news." Sorrow roughened his voice. "It's about Aggie. One of the stable hands found her this morning. She was about fifty yards off the trail
His words stunned her, tightening her throat. Aggie was a gentle, fifteenyearold dappled mare and a particular favorite of Caitlyn's. She had been missing from the Rambling Rose stables for several days. Aggie was known to occasionally wander away in search of sweet clover, and Caitlyn herself had taken out another horse looking for her, to no avail. "What happened?"
A long beat of silence. "Someone killed her, Caitlyn. Her, um
her throat's cut
among other things. It's a pretty big mess. I'd say it happened days ago."
She felt the blood drain from her face. Finding her voice, she said, "I'll be right there."
"Maybe you shouldn'tI'm not sure you want to see it."
"I'm coming down," she repeated. "Have you called the police?"
"They said they'd be by later this morning."
After she said goodbye and replaced the phone on its console, Caitlyn stood, immobile, shock still coursing through her. She wrapped her arms around her slender frame and slowly shook her head in disbelief. She'd loved Aggie. Her heart twisted at the thought that someone could kill such a beautiful, living creature. And for what? The senselessness of it rocked her and made her realize that violence could reach far beyond the urban sprawl.
Even out here, nothing was safe.
The cell phone woke him, a Justin Timberlake ring tone one of his nieces must have downloaded as a joke. Reid Novak squinted against the morning sunlight angling through the window blinds. He lay on the couch in his apartment in D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood, the television on and turned to CNN. Running his hands over his face, he reached for the phone, desperate to shut off its electronic wail.
"Novak," he muttered.
"Agent Novak, it's SAC Johnston"
Reid sat up, caught off guard by the SAC's deep baritone. He hadn't heard it in months, at least not in any official capacity.
"Sorry to be calling so early. I realize you're still on medical leave for another three weeks. How are you feeling, Agent?"
He squeezed the bridge of his nose. "I'm fine."
"Good. We've been keeping up with your recovery at the Bureau. If you're up to it, there's something I'd like to discuss with you. I need your professional analysis."
Reid picked up his wristwatch, which rested on a stack of Sports Illustrated magazines. He looked at its face7:32 a.m. "What is it?"
"A homicide investigation. The District police have referred it to us. Agents Tierney and Morehouse are at the scene now," Johnston said, referring to Reid's partner and the rookie agent he'd been paired with in his absence.
"What's the reason for the referral?"
Johnston took a deliberate pause. "There are some notable similarities to the Cahill murders. I thought you should have a look."
Reid felt his shoulders tense. The Capital Killer investigation had been particularly high profile, which was why the FBI's Violent Crimes Unit had gotten involved. "How similar?"
"I'd like you to get over there."
He located a pen and notepad. Listening, he jotted down the street address in the city's Columbia Heights neighborhood where the body had been found.
"You aren't yet cleared for duty," Johnston reminded. "I'm authorizing you to go to the scene and determine the threat level. See what stands out to you. I'm sure Agent Tierney will appreciate the assistance."
"Yes, sir." The SAC didn't have to elaborate. He wanted to know if the specifics of the crime scene were merely coincidental, or if it indeed suggested a copycat looking to emulate Cahill's work. The only certainty was that it wasn't Joshua Cahill himselfhe was incarcerated, serving a life sentence without any possibility of parole. That fate had come about only after a roster of highpaid attorneys failed to have him declared mentally unable to stand trial. Reid's own deposition had seen to that. Cahill was psychotic, yesbut he was also highly intelligent and an ordered, methodical killer as opposed to a disordered one. Those facts made him culpable for his crimes.
"Three weeks left on your leave isn't very long," Johnston noted. "Have you been to the firing range?"
"Not yet," Reid admitted. "Soon."
"See that you do. You'll have to recertify on firearms, as well as use of deadly force. No more blurred vision, I hope?"
He felt his face grow hot. "No."
"That's excellent news. You're one of our best profilers." He sounded sincere. "You've been missed by the VCU."
After the call ended, Reid scrubbed a hand through his dark hair, grown back to its previous thickness after surgery for a benign but critically located glioma some six months earlier. At what point last night had he stumbled out of the bedroom and ended up on the couch? He didn't often use the prescription sleeping pills Dr. Isrelsen had given him, but last night he'd been particularly restless.
I'm fine now. The tumor was gone, and so were the headaches and double vision that had been the first signs of his illness. He was working out at the gym regularly and felt back to his old self. His last two MRI scans were clean. Reid knew he was one of the lucky ones. But the health scare had changed him. For the first time since graduating top of his class at Quantico nine years ago and starting work for the FBI, his life hadn't revolved around criminal violence. Instead, he'd had more personal problems to deal with, confronted with the very real possibility of his own death or incapacitation. Reid thought it ironic that with the dangers his job entailed, it wasn't a homicidal maniac but his body's own rebellion that had nearly killed him.
Without warning, an image of the woman in the abandoned factoryCahill's last victimflashed inside his head in Technicolor clarity. He saw her terrified eyes and the glinting knife Cahill held to her throat. Then the bright spray of blood, the prim white blouse turning red and her body shuddering as she bled out in front of him. Reid's bullet had been a halfsecond too late, his hesitation costing Julianne Hunter her life. She had been the wife of an upandcoming prosecutor in the federal courts, with two small children who were now without a mother. His failure in stopping her death had cut him particularly deep.
His hand traveled over the sofa's leather as he shook away the brutal recollection. Only to himself, Reid admitted that the one small benefit of his illness had been the temporary distance he'd gained from all thatthe victims' haunting faces, the shocking cruelty he'd been witness to, his selfrecrimination for not stopping the madness sooner.
Sometimes he wasn't completely sure he wanted to go back there.
The row houses were being converted into condos in a newly revitalized area of Columbia Heights, an urban neighborhood just a few miles from the White House. Although the area still had a reputation for gang activity and drugrelated crimes, it was slowly giving way to gentrification, evidenced by the smattering of upscale coffee shops and restaurants.
Reid pulled his Ford Explorer next to a semicircle of police cruisers blocking the end of the street. Just like riding a bicycle, he thought with a slow release of breath as he opened the door and climbed from the SUV. He pulled his shield from the pocket of his leather jacket and flashed it at the uniforms congregated outside the last unit. Then he ducked under the crisscrossed crime scene tape, went up the short flight of stairs that led to the stoop and entered the building.
Inside, the hardwood floors were battered and gang symbols had been spraypainted on dingy walls. A rickety staircase missing sections of its banister snaked up to the second floor. Just inside the front door, a barrelchested cop with silver hair and a guarddog expression stood sentry.
"What do you know, a fibby in jeans," he mused, examining Reid's shield. "Thought you boys had a dress code."