In the summer of 1979, five Chicago women went missing. The predator, nicknamed The Thief, left no bodies or clues behind—until police received a package from a mysterious woman named Angela Mitchell, whose unorthodox investigations appeared to unmask the killer. Then Angela disappeared without a trace. Forty years later, The Thief is about to be paroled for Angela’s murder. But the cryptic file Rory finds in her father’s law office suggests there is more to the case.
Making one startling discovery after another, Rory becomes helplessly entangled in the enigma of Angela Mitchell and what happened to her. As she continues to dig, even Rory can’t be prepared for the full, terrifying truth that is emerging . . .
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Chicago, September 30, 2019
The chest pains had started the year before.
There was never a question about their source. They were stress-induced, and the doctors promised they would never kill him. Tonight's episode was particularly distressing, though, waking him from sleep with a cool chill of night sweats. He tried to suck for air, but it was like breathing through a cocktail straw. The harder he worked to inhale, the more distraught he became. He sat up in bed and fought the fear of suffocation. History told him the episode would pass. He reached for the bottle of aspirin he kept in the nightstand drawer and placed one, along with a nitroglycerine tablet, under his tongue. After ten minutes, the muscles of his chest relaxed and his lungs were able to expand.
It was no coincidence that this most recent bout of angina coincided with the arrival of the parole board letter, which sat on his nightstand. He had spent time reading the letter before he fell to sleep. Accompanying the letter was the judge's summons for a meeting. He grabbed the document now as he climbed from bed, his sweat-soaked shirt cold against his skin as he walked down the stairs and headed to his office. He twisted the combination lock on the safe under his desk and pulled open the door. Inside was a stack of old parole board letters, to which he added the latest.
The first parole hearing correspondence had arrived a decade before. Twice a year, the board met with his client, denying him his freedom and explaining their decision in a properly worded essay that would stand up against appeals and protests. But last year, a different document arrived. It was a lengthy review by the board chairperson, who described in rich detail how impressed the board was with his client's progress over the years, and how his client was the very definition of "rehabilitation." It was after reading the final sentence of that letter, which indicated the parole board's enthusiasm for their next review and the suggestion that great opportunities lay ahead for his client, when the chest pains had begun.
This latest correspondence marked the arrival of a slow-moving train that carried as its freight pain and misery, secrets and lies. That proverbial train had always been just a speck on the horizon, never making progress. But now it was a full barreling freighter growing larger by the day, impossible to stop, despite his many efforts. Sitting behind his desk, he stared at the middle shelf of the safe. A file folder was stuffed fat with pages from his investigation. An exploration that, during times of sorrow and angst like tonight, he wished he'd never embarked upon. The ramifications of his findings, however, were so profound and life-altering that he knew he would be empty had he not. And the idea that his own lies and deceptions might soon crawl from the shadows under which they had rested for years was enough to cause his heart to, literally, ache.
He wiped the layer of perspiration from his forehead and worked hard to fill his lungs with breath. His biggest fear was that his client would soon be free to continue the search. The investigation, which had been declared fruitless, would enjoy a resurgence once his client walked from prison. This, he knew, could not happen. Everything in his power must be done to prevent it.
Alone in his study, he felt a new chill come upon his body as his saturated shirt pressed to his shoulders. He closed the safe and spun the dial. The chest pains returned, his lungs tightened, and he leaned back in his chair to fight again the panic of suffocation. It would pass. It always did.CHAPTER 2
Chicago, October 1, 2019
Rory Moore inserted her contact lenses, rolled her eyes, and blinked to bring the world into focus. She despised the vision her Coke-bottle glasses offered — a bowed and distorted world when compared to the crispness of her contacts — but she loved the shelter her thick-rimmed frames provided. So, a compromise. After her contact lenses settled, she slipped nonprescription glasses onto her face and hid behind the plastic casings like a warrior ducking behind a shield. To Rory, each day was a battle.
They agreed to meet at the Harold Washington Library Center on State Street, and thirty minutes after Rory had dressed in her protective armor — thick-framed glasses, beanie hat pulled low, coat buttoned to her chin with the collar up — she climbed from her car and walked into the library. Initial meetings with clients always took place in public locations. Of course, most collectors had trouble with this arrangement because it meant hauling their precious trophies out into the daylight. But if they wanted Rory Moore and her restoration skills, they'd follow her rules.
Today's meeting called for more attention than normal, since it had been arranged as a favor for Detective Ron Davidson, who was not only a trusted friend but also her boss. Since this was her side job, or what others annoyingly called her "hobby," some part of her was honored that Davidson had reached out. Not everyone understood the complicated personality of Rory Moore, but over the years, Ron Davidson had broken through to win her admiration. When he asked for a favor, Rory never gave it a second thought.
As she walked through the library doors, Rory immediately recognized the Kestner doll that was housed in a long, thin box and resting in the arms of the man waiting in the lobby. The blink of an eye and a quick glance at the gentleman holding the box was all it took for Rory to run through her appraisal of him, her thoughts flashing like lightning through her mind: midfifties, wealthy, a professional of some sort — business, medicine, or law — cleanly shaven, polished shoes, sport coat, no tie. She quickly backtracked and rejected the initial thought of a doctor or lawyer. He was a small-business owner. Insurance or similar.
She took a deep breath, arranged her glasses squarely on her face, and walked up to him.
"Yes," the man said. "Rory?"
The man, a full twelve inches taller than Rory's five-two stature, looked down on her petite frame and waited for confirmation. Rory offered none.
"Let's see what you've got," she said, pointing at the porcelain doll that was carefully packaged in the box, before walking into the main section of the library.
Mr. Byrd followed her to a table in the corner. The library was only scantly populated in the middle of the afternoon. Rory patted the table and Mr. Byrd laid the box down.
"What's the issue?" Rory asked.
"This is my daughter's Kestner doll. It was a gift for her fifth birthday, and has been kept in pristine condition."
Rory leaned over the table to get a better look at the doll through the plastic window in the box. The porcelain face was badly split down the middle, the crack starting somewhere beyond the doll's hairline, running through the left eye socket and down the cheek.
"I dropped it," Mr. Byrd said. "I'm beside myself that I was so careless."
Rory nodded. "Let me have a look?"
He pushed the box toward her and Rory carefully unlocked the latch and lifted the lid. She inspected the damaged doll like a surgeon's initial assessment of an anesthetized patient lying on the operating table.
"Cracked or shattered?" she asked.
Mr. Byrd reached into his pocket and produced a ziplock bag that contained small pieces of porcelain. Rory noticed his thyroid cartilage rise and fall as he swallowed hard to control his emotions.
"These were everything I could find. I dropped it on hardwood, so I think I located all the pieces."
Rory took the bag and analyzed the shards. She went back to the doll and gently ran her fingers over the fractured porcelain. The split was well opposed and should come together nicely. The restoration of the cheek and forehead could be made to look flawless. The eye socket was another issue. It would take all her skill to restore, and she'd likely need help from the one person who was better than Rory at restoring dolls. The shattered portion, Rory was sure, would be found on the back of the head. The repair there, too, would be challenging due to the hair and the small bits of porcelain she held in the ziplock bag. She didn't want to remove the doll from the box until she was in her workshop for fear that more porcelain might fall from the shattered area.
She nodded slowly, keeping her gaze on the doll.
"I can fix this."
"Thank God," Mr. Byrd said.
"Two weeks. A month, maybe."
"As long as it takes."
"I'll let you know the pricing after I get started."
"I don't care what it costs. As long as you can fix it."
Rory nodded again. She placed the ziplock bag containing the shattered pieces into the box, closed the lid, and relatched the lock.
"I'll need a phone number where I can reach you," she said.
Mr. Byrd fished a business card from his wallet and handed it to her. Rory glanced at it before sticking it into her pocket: BYRD INSURANCE GROUP. WALTER BYRD, OWNER.
Rory attempted to lift the box and leave when Mr. Byrd put his hand on hers. A stranger's touch had never been well tolerated, and Rory was about to recoil when he spoke.
"The doll belonged to my daughter," he said in a soft voice.
The past tense caught Rory's attention. It was meant to. Rory looked at the man's hand on her own, and then met his eyes.
"She died last year," Mr. Byrd said.
Rory slowly sat down. A normal response might have been I'm sorry for your loss. Or, I see why this doll means so much to you. But Rory Moore was anything but normal.
"What happened to her?" Rory asked.
"She was killed," Mr. Byrd said, taking his hand off Rory's and sitting down across from her. "Strangled, they think. Her body was left in Grant Park last January, half-frozen by the time she was found."
Rory looked back at the Kestner doll resting in the box, the right eye shut peacefully, the left eye open and askew with a deep fissure running through the orbit. She understood what was happening, and knew why Detective Davidson had been so adamant that she take this meeting. It was a classic bait and switch that Davidson knew Rory would be helpless to resist.
"They never found him?" Rory asked.
Mr. Byrd shook his head, dropping his gaze to his dead daughter's doll. "Never had so much as a lead. None of the detectives return my calls anymore. It feels like they've simply moved on."
Rory's presence in the library that morning proved Mr. Byrd's statement false, since it was Ron Davidson who had convinced her to come.
Mr. Byrd brought his gaze back to her.
"Listen, this is not a setup. I reached for Camille's doll the other day because I was badly missing my daughter and needed to hold something that reminded me of her. I dropped the goddamn thing and shattered it. I couldn't bring myself to tell my wife because I feel so guilty, and I know it would send her into a fit of depression. This doll was my daughter's favorite possession through her childhood. So please believe me that I want you to restore it. But Detective Davidson told me that your work as a forensic reconstructionist is heralded in the City of Chicago, and beyond. I'm prepared to pay you anything it takes for you to reconstruct the crime and find the man who wrapped his hands around my daughter's neck and choked the life from her."
Mr. Byrd's stare became too much for Rory to handle, penetrating the protective shield of her nonprescription glasses. She finally stood, lifted the Kestner doll box off the table, and secured it under her arm.
"The doll will take a month. Your daughter, much longer. Let me make some calls and I'll be in touch."
Rory walked out of the library and into the fall morning. She felt it as soon as Camille Byrd's father had used the past tense to describe his daughter, that subtle tingling in her mind. That nearly imperceptible, but now ever-present, whisper in her ears. A murmur her boss knew goddamn well she wouldn't be able to ignore.
"You're a real son of a bitch, Ron," Rory said as she exited the library. She had been on hiatus from her job as a forensic reconstructionist, a scheduled break she forced herself to take every so often to avoid burnout and depression. This most recent pause had been longer than any of her others, and was starting to piss off her boss.
As she walked along State Street and back to her car, with Camille Byrd's shattered doll under her arm, Rory knew the vacation was over.CHAPTER 3
Chicago, October 2, 2019
Her phone buzzed for the fifth time that morning, which she again ignored. Rory stared at her reflection in the mirror as she pulled her dark brown hair back and tied it off. She was not a morning person and on principle did not answer her phone before noon. Her boss knew this, so Rory felt no remorse for ignoring him.
"Who is incessantly calling you?" a voice asked from the bedroom.
"I'm meeting Davidson."
"I didn't know you decided to go back to work," the man said.
Rory walked from the bathroom and slipped her watch onto her wrist. "Am I going to see you tonight?" she asked.
"Okay, we won't talk about it."
Rory came over and kissed him on the mouth. Lane Phillips had been her, what? Rory wasn't traditional enough to label him a "boyfriend," and this far into her thirties, she thought the description sounded juvenile. She'd never considered marrying him, despite that they'd slept together for the better part of the last decade. But he was much more than her lover. He was the only man on this planet, aside from her father, who understood her. Lane was ... hers, that was the best Rory could do in her own mind, and they were both okay with that.
"I'll tell you about it when I have something to tell. Right now, I don't know what I'm getting myself into."
"Fair enough," Lane said, sitting up in bed. "I've been asked to appear as an expert witness on a homicide trial. I'll be testifying in a couple of weeks, so I'm meeting with the DA today. Then I'm teaching until nine tonight."
When Rory tried to back away, he grabbed her hips.
"Are you sure you won't give me any clues about what Davidson lured you back with?"
"Stop by tonight after your class and I'll catch you up."
Rory gave him another kiss, batted away his roaming hands, and walked out of the bedroom. A minute later, the front door opened and closed.
* * *
Her phone rang two more times as she sat in morning traffic on the Kennedy Expressway. She exited on Ohio Street and snaked through the grid-pattern streets of Chicago. She pushed through the congestion until she reached Grant Park, circled the side streets for fifteen minutes until she found a parking spot too small for even her tiny Honda. Somehow she managed a brave parallel parking maneuver, unsure if she'd be able to escape the twisting and turning and bumper kissing when it was time to leave.
She walked through the tunnel that cut under Lake Shore Drive and along the picturesque path until she came to the cusp of the park. Grant Park was a magnificent piece of real estate that separated the high-rise buildings of The Loop from the lakefront. The park was always a popular destination with tourists, and this morning was no exception. Rory walked through the crowds until she spotted Ron Davidson sitting on a bench near Buckingham Fountain.
Despite that her coat was already buttoned to her neck, she pulled it tight, lifted her collar, and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. It was a mild October morning and others around her wore shorts and sweatshirts, enjoying the lake breeze and bright sunshine. Rory was dressed for a brisk fall day: gray coat secured top to bottom, collar up, gray jeans, and lace-up Madden Girl Eloisee combat boots, which she wore everywhere, including during the dog days of summer. As Rory approached the detective, she pulled her slouchy fleece beanie down on her forehead. The edge of the hat touched the top of her glasses. She felt protected.
Without introduction, she sat down next to him.
"Well, Christ be the king, it's the lady in gray," Davidson said.
The two had worked enough cases together for Davidson to know all of Rory's quirks. She shook hands with no one, something Davidson had learned after a few attempts where his hand floated in the air while Rory averted her eyes. She hated meeting with department personnel other than Ron, and she had little tolerance for red tape. She had never accepted a deadline on a job, and worked strictly solo on her cases. She returned calls at her leisure, and sometimes not at all. She hated politics, and if anyone — from an alderman to the mayor — tried to pull Rory into the spotlight, she disappeared for weeks. If her skills as a forensic reconstructionist weren't so outstanding, Ron Davidson would never tolerate the headaches she caused.
"You've been off the grid, Gray."
Rory allowed the corners of her mouth to curl slightly while she stared at Buckingham Fountain. No one but Davidson called her "Gray," and over the years Rory had warmed to the nickname — a combination of her attire and her detached outward persona.
"Busy with life."
"Is he a better boss than me?"
"He's not my boss."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Some Choose Darkness"
Copyright © 2019 Charlie Donlea.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
THE RUSH - Chicago, August 9, 1979,
THE AFTERMATH - Chicago, August 9, 1979,
THE SWEET SCENT OF ROSES,
PART I - THE THIEF,
CHAPTER 1 - Chicago, September 30, 2019,
CHAPTER 2 - Chicago, October 1, 2019,
CHAPTER 3 - Chicago, October 2, 2019,
CHAPTER 4 - Chicago, October 14, 2019,
CHAPTER 5 - Stateville Correctional Center, October 15, 2019,
CHAPTER 6 - Chicago, October 16, 2019,
CHAPTER 7 - Chicago, October 16, 2019,
CHAPTER 8 - Chicago, October 16, 2019,
CHAPTER 9 - Stateville Correctional Center, October 17, 2019,
CHAPTER 10 - Chicago, October 21, 2019,
CHAPTER 11 - Chicago, October 22, 2019,
CHAPTER 12 - Chicago, October 22, 2019,
CHAPTER 13 - Chicago, October 23, 2019,
CHAPTER 14 - Chicago, October 24, 2019,
CHAPTER 15 - Chicago, October 25, 2019,
CHAPTER 16 - Chicago, October 25, 2019,
CHAPTER 17 - Chicago, October 26, 2019,
CHAPTER 18 - Chicago, October 26, 2019,
CHAPTER 19 - Chicago, October 27, 2019,
CHAPTER 20 - Chicago, October 27, 2019,
PART II - THE RECONSTRUCTION,
CHAPTER 21 - Chicago, October 28, 2019,
CHAPTER 22 - Chicago, October 29, 2019,
CHAPTER 23 - Chicago, October 29, 2019,
CHAPTER 24 - Chicago, October 30, 2019,
CHAPTER 25 - Chicago, October 30, 2019,
PART III - THE FARMHOUSE,
CHAPTER 26 - Chicago, October 30, 2019,
CHAPTER 27 - Chicago, November 1, 2019,
CHAPTER 28 - Chicago, November 1, 2019,
CHAPTER 29 - Chicago, November 1, 2019,
PART IV - THE CHOICE,
CHAPTER 30 - Chicago, November 2, 2019,
CHAPTER 31 - Chicago, November 3, 2019,
CHAPTER 32 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 3, 2019,
CHAPTER 33 - Chicago, November 3, 2019,
CHAPTER 34 - Chicago, November 3, 2019,
CHAPTER 35 - Chicago, November 3, 2019,
CHAPTER 36 - Chicago, November 4, 2019,
CHAPTER 37 - Chicago, November 4, 2019,
CHAPTER 38 - Chicago, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 39 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 40 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 41 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 42 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 43 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 44 - Starved Rock, Illinois, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 45 - Chicago, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 46 - Chicago, November 5, 2019,
CHAPTER 47 - Peoria, Illinois, December 5, 2019,