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17

A new insurrection had begun . Charles Butler stood at the heart of the crowd, yet Riker had found him. The detective carried a plastic sack, the fruits of a beer run to a liquor store. Whats going on?

Trouble. Charles pointed to an embedded reporter from a cable news network. The man was standing on the hood of a car, and his voice was amplified by a bullhorn. Hes trying to convince the parents to drive the scenic route to Santa Fe.

Well, thats not good, said Riker, as he popped the tab on a beer can and took a deep swallow. The caravan would choke the Santa Fe loop in fifteen minutes.

Now Mallory was visible in the distance as she climbed onto the hood of a pickup truck to stand two heads taller than the newsman. She needed no bullhorn. The crowd was hushed, waiting, and then she said, Come nightfall, youll all be strung out as easy pickings in a mile-long traffic jam. She slowly revolved to catch every pair of eyes in this large group of parents, federal agents and media. And theres no point in taking that route.

Thats not true! The cable newsman shouted into his bullhorn to regain the crowds attention. I can guarantee two solid hours of airtime for every day on the Santa Fe loop! Raising the ante of his bid, he yelled, You get the prime-time slot!

There were no bodies found on that segment of the old road, said Mallory, and hundreds of heads swiveled to face her again. None of your children ever went that way.

If that was true, said the cable reporter, then the FBI agent in charge wouldnt have approved my route change. He lowered his bullhorn and climbed down from the hood of his car. Now he had to crane his neck to look up at her and smile. In an unamplified voice he said, The negotiations are over, Detective.

Wrong, she said.

Charles looked around with the vantage point of the tallest man standing. Dale Berman, the agent in charge, was nowhere to be seen, and Riker had also disappeared. He turned his eyes to Mallory, who still had the high ground atop the trucks hood.

The reporter at her feet raised his bullhorn again. Its a done deal, Detective. Were going to Santa Fe.

Mallory removed her jacket, the better to display her gun, and now she clipped her gold shield to a belt loop of her jeans. Hands on hips, she addressed the reporter. I dont w ant any doubt in your mind that this is a lawful police order. Now shut your mouth!

Undeterred, the reporter yelled at her. Freedom of the press, Detective! Ever heard of the Constitution of the-

I got it memorized, said Riker, stepping out of the crowd to grab a handful of the reporters shirt, and now he was dragging the man backward across the campground, his voice trailing off as he loosely paraphrased the reporters constitutional right to remain silent. Dont flap your mouth anymore.

And now Mallory owned the crowd. All eyes were on her and every camera lens. The cameras loved her more than the man from the cable news network.

The Santa Fe loop is part of the old route from the thirties. Thats your great-grandfathers idea of Route 66-not the killers. He dug his graves along the old trucking route from the sixties. Thats his Route 66- and yours.

As she went on to describe all the changes and versions of this shifting historic highway, Charles Butler realized that she had slipped into someone elses words. At times she reminded him of a schoolgirl reciting memorized lines of poems.

The poetry ended. Her hands curled into fists.

The next stop is Clines Corners, she said. Its been a landmark on this road for over sixty years. If you take the old Santa Fe loop, you cant get there from here. Your cars wont move. Youll be sitting in the dark- waiting. You think rolling up the windows will protect you? Mallory pointed at the reporter in Rikers custody. You think he cares? Hey, fresh blood means a bonus where he comes from. His network turned dead children into a damn TV show, a soap opera. He wants to drag this out. Thats the only reason for the side trip. And more time on the tube-thats like currency to you. Its all about money. He wants to buy your kids. Dead or alive, same price.

The caravan was under way -Mallorys w ay. Her final selling point to the crowd had been the fact that long traffic jams were only worth a mention on the evening news. The reporters would desert them for better entertainment-action shots of the police unearthing small bodies on the old truckers route. And now her silver convertible prowled the shotgun lane of I-40 as she watched for strays up and down the line of vehicles.

Of all the dead who rode with Mallory, she was most compatible with Ariel Finn, perhaps because the teenager never spoke; she could not, for the detective had never heard the sound of the girls voice. In Mallorys version of this murder victim, the pale skin was without blemish or bruises or gaping wounds, and the girl was made whole again; her severed hand had been restored. Ariel raised it as the small silver car approached Joe Finns old Chevy. Dodies face was pressed to the glass of the passenger window when dead Ariel waved to her little sister.

And Dodie-waved-back.

Mallory pushed the gas pedal to the floor and turned up the volume on the radio, blasting Ariel out of the passenger seat, leaving the dead girl and little Dodie far behind. She could not leave them fast enough.

So this was fear.

The car went screaming down the road, her radio blasting the heavy-metal music of Black Sabbath, drums gone wild, all the thrill of a crash without the carnage. But Mallory had the sense of heading into some distant wall and a crash of another kind, one that made no sound at all.

At the landmark travel plaza, where the caravan stopped for food and gas, Riker stood in conversation with the manager, a silver-haired man in a crisp white shirt and black vest. Joe Villanueva had worked at Clines Corners through three generations of owners and renovations.

He had already consoled Detective Riker on the loss of the horseshoe bar, and now he explained the disappearance of the buffalo mural. Its been gone for a long time. We took out that wall to make room for more tables. Youre the second customer to ask about the mural. The manager turned to point at Mallory, who was examining a display of straw cowboy hats. She says shes never been here before, but she even knew the color of the old carpet.

Riker worked his way through the press of people in the gift shop, aiming for the dining room on the other side of the building. Though this place was accustomed to handling large tour groups, the swollen caravan and its media entourage had filled two dining rooms to capacity. Some people jammed the lines of a nearby fast-food counter and carried their meals outside. Others waited for tables to be liberated, and those who were seated waited for menus.

But Charles Butler had managed to secure a table, and it was already laden with food and drink.

As Riker sat down to his customary cheeseburger-and damn the fries were good-he asked how his friend had done this trick, and the answer was Magic. The detective was left to imagine a sleight-of-hand where Charles had made a fistful of cash appear, or maybe it had been a more tasteful hundred-dollar bill. It was easy to pick out their lucky waitress by the broad smile on the young womans face.

You look worried, said Charles.

The detective inhaled the rest of his meal and lit a post-cheeseburger cigarette. Mallory knows things about this road-about this place-things she never got from a guidebook. And I know shes never been here before.

Well, the letters mightve given her-

Her fathers letters. Yeah, maybe Peyton Hale has a fixation on this road. You think he might be anything like his kid? And by that Riker meant to ask if the ruthless streak of a sociopath could run in families.

And so it was predictable that the man who loved Mallory would change the subject. I hope she turns up before her food gets cold.

Shell be along, said Riker.

Mallory? I just saw her in the gift shop, said Dale Berman as he sat down with them uninvited. Shes buying a cowboy hat. His words were aimed at Riker. It fits, doesnt it? True colors you might say. A cowboy hat for a gunslinger.

Riker exhaled a cloud of blue smoke, and the game was on.

Mallory wore her newly purchased cowboy hat into the parking lot, where she opened the door to a car that was not hers. She had a preference for robbery in broad daylight and in plain sight. And, as she had anticipated, no one had noticed her popping the lock on government property. After ransacking one vehicle, she went on to the next one on her to-do list.

The agents posted outside were running a ragged pace, trying to separate departing tourists and reporters from parents, checking credentials and checking clipboards, and none of them even glanced toward the cluster of FBI cars. The caravan had swelled to ungovernable numbers, and the boys and girls on parking-lot duty were newly minted agents fresh from the academy. Their eyes were glazing over. Because no one had told them their task was impossible, they could only assume they were doing it wrong.

And they were.

Paradoxical Mallory-who despised clutter and knew the names of every cleaning solvent on the planet, Mallory the Neat-thrived on chaos. There was no better cover for breaking and entering. If anyone remembered her in the vicinity of government vehicles, she truly believed that they would only recall the standout detail of the cowboy hat-not the shape of a tall, slender blonde who moved with deep grace, her hair catching sunlight as if it caught fire. And who would remember her unforgettable face? If she did not see these things in her own mirror, then why should anyone else take notice?

When she was done raiding the second car, Mallory dropped the brand-new cowboy hat in the trash on her way back to the restaurant.

Charles Butler was an innocent bystander without the luxury of being able to dive underneath the table as the detective and the FBI agent traded salvos across the dinnerware.

Riker glanced at the window on the parking lot, where another search of caravan vehicles had begun. He took a drag on his cigarette and sent a stream of smoke in Agent Bermans direction. So Im guessing you didnt find any baby bones in the first search.

Thats not what Im looking for. The FBI agent laid an open pocket- knife on the table. This is consistent with the weapon that was used on Gerald Lindens throat. Ask your buddy, Kronewald. It was his pathologists finding. That was before we-

Before your ghouls made off with the body? Riker smiled so insincerely. Yeah, those Chicago cops are quick. The detective looked down at the weapon on the table. You arrested Nahlman yet? Her Swiss Army knife has the same size blade.

Bermans o w n smile was equally disingenuous. Im not looking for a knife anymore. Today, Im hoping to find a hatchet.

Charles glanced at the window on the parking lot. The trunks of cars yawned open, as did the doors of mobile homes, and tarps had been pulled away from the beds of pickup trucks.

A hatchet. Riker splayed his hands. You lost me, Dale. I guess that would only make sense to a fed.

The FBI man leaned toward the detective, and Charles Butler backed up in his chair, as if anticipating splatters from a messy food fight.

Its really easy, said the agent, to separate a hand from a little skeleton, but what about the adult kills? Fresh kills-meat and muscle and bone. Dale Berman handed the pocketknife across the table to the detective, and this was perhaps a mistake in Charless view.

Look at that blade, Riker. Itll slash a throat easy enough, but do you really think you could chop off a mans hand with that thing?

Nothing easier, Dale.

Charles Butler bit down on his lower lip. The detective had a dangerous air of glee about him as he laid the cutting edge of the knife across Dale Bermans wrist. The FBI agent not only allowed this, but the mans s mile got inexplicably wider, and he never even glanced at the sharp blade that rested on his bare skin.

Countdown. One second, two seconds.

Never taking his eyes off of Berman, the detective said, Charles, do me a favor? Go outside and find me a rock? Not too heavy, just big enough to drive this blade home to the bone.

Enough said.

Now that the FBI man could see how the thing was done, he withdrew his hand from the demonstration. And Riker, the clear winner, dropped the knife in the center of the table.

If you had the perps knife, said Riker, youd see the damage from the rock coming down on the top edge of the blade. But what are the odds hell get caught with the murder weapon? He can buy a new pocketknife in any pit stop on this road.

Dale Berman took this as his cue to leave the table, and when he was gone, Charles turned to Riker. You really think the killer used a knife to cut off the hands?

Naw, said Riker, it was probably a hatchet, but that was fun. The detective watched the ongoing parking-lot search. Agents had opened the mobile home that dispensed camping equipment to newcomers, and now scores of brand-new hatchets were being laid out on the ground. What a waste of time. What are the odds of finding a bloody hatchet with a store of new ones for the taking? That trailers never locked. Dales losing more IQ points every day.

What did that man do to you and Mallory?

Nothing. It was what he did to Lou.

Charles smiled-patiently.

Reluctantly, Riker gave up the story of Inspector Louis Markowitz and the FBI. Between puffs of smoke, he described the day when Agent Berman joined the task force-to everyones surprise. Dale used to be a public relations man for the Bureau. That means he sat on a lot of barstools with angry cops and nosey reporters. After getting blind drunk with Dale, sometimes I forgot why I hated feds.

You liked him then, said Charles.

Well, the drinks were free.

He used to be your friend. Thats why you always use his first name.

He talked more like a cop in those days, said Riker. Or maybe that was all for show. He said he always wanted to be a field agent. Well, he wasnt b lowing smoke that time. He actually asked for a demotion. Lower pay, and no expense account for barstool duty. It made more sense to me later on-after Dale screwed us over. FBI careers are made on big cases- big wins, but the PR guys only come out of the woodwork when things go sour. So it was a good career move for Dale. His first time out with a task force, he talks Lou into taking his help on a kidnapping. A little boy was being held for ransom. Well, normally thats a slam-dunk for NYPD. Hard to make a ransom pickup without getting caught, and the perps who try it are bone stupid. But this case was high profile. The kid came from money-big money, lots of pressure to wrap it fast. So we split the legwork with the feds. Lou had a prime suspect early on, but Dale alibied the guy with a bogus field report, and then he leaked the kidnapping to the press. Now the police phone lines are choked with calls and leads that go nowhere.

But why would he-

It kept us busy while Dale followed up on Lous suspect.

The one he alibied.

Right. So Dales crew works the case around the cops, and they bungle it. The suspect gets maimed in a high-speed chase across the bridge into Jersey. The kidnappers comatose. The victims s t ill out there-God knows where. And Lou Markowitz is so pissed off, he kicks all the feds out of the house. Now the old man puts every dick and uniform on the street to work their snitches. We get the name and address of our guys favorite whore-and thats where we find the kid.

Alive?

Oh, sure. The NYPD always brings them home. But the FBI? Not such a great record. So the boy was fine. He thought this prostitute was his new nanny. And the kid really liked that whore. She let him stay up late on school nights.

And thats why you and Mallory hate Dale Berman?

No, Charles, thats not what you asked.

But, the other day, Berman was right when he said no one died.

The detective bowed his head. This was Charless only clue that someone had died. And there would be no more discussion on this matter. It was too hard on Riker.

Mallory appeared beside Charless chair, and he wondered how long she had been standing there. He smiled, fully realizing that this expression gave him the look of a lunatic in love. Hello! Sit down. Your lunch is cold. Sorry.

No matter, for she was in the company of a young state trooper, who juggled a plastic bag and a tray with one hand so he could pull out a chair for her at the table. Once she was seated, the officer laid a plate of hot food in front of her.

I hope its the way you like it, maam. The eager young man in uniform removed his hat before he sat down at the table. As Charles introduced himself and Riker, it was clear that the trooper only had eyes for Mallory, who was making short work of her steak and fries.

Riker explained the troopers presence to Charles. I asked the state cops to find the Pattern Man. He defected again.

Oh, if you mean Mr. Kayhill, said the trooper, we found him for you, sir. Hes dead. The young man continued to smile at Mallory as he relayed this sad news. Found him in the desert. A helicopter spotted his mobile home a mile from the nearest road.

Was one of his hands missing? Mallory bit into a French fry drenched with ketchup.

Maam, I couldnt name three things that werent missing, and theres not much flesh on what was left behind.

So the buzzards got him, said Riker.

No, sir, no buzzards. We do have turkey vultures out there, but they didnt make off with his head. I guess every bobcat and coyote for miles around had a turn at the body. Were still looking for arms and legs.

So tell me, said Riker, howd you make the identification?

Well, sir, we had a good portion of the torso, so Mr. Kayhills doctor made the ID over the telephone. The man was born with an extra rib. Its him all right. The trooper handed a black plastic bag across the table. Some of his things-if you wouldnt mind having a look. Oh, and a Detective Kronewald in Chicago sends his regards. The trooper nodded to the plastic bag. He said you might want to check that out.

Riker opened the bag for a quick look. Inside was the canvas tote bag with the collection of Route 66 maps. The familiar small crosses in pencil and ink were visible on one. Good night, Horace. He looked up at the trooper. Its his stuff all right. So I guess theres no way to tell what killed the little guy.

A car killed him, sir. We found Mr. Kayhills shirt. Tread marks all over it.

This could hardly be a traffic accident if the body had been found in the middle of nowhere-no roads. Charles leaned toward the young man, saying, So Horace was murdered?

Yes, sir. Unacquainted with rhetorical questions, the trooper phrased his words ever so politely. With all that open space, youd really have to aim a car at a man to hit him. In this case, we got cross tread marks. That means the car hit him more than once. So, yes, sir, we thinks it was real deliberate.

Well, poor man. Charles was somewhat put off his meal. This is sad news.

You dont know the half of it, said Riker with genuine remorse. I really liked that little guy. He was on my shortlist-right up near the top.

I always liked him, too. Mallory opened a small notebook and crossed Horace Kayhills name off her own suspect list. After slinging her knapsack over one shoulder, she picked up the laptop computer and left the table.

The trooper was rising, anxious to follow her, perhaps with the idea that they could be close friends. Riker, with the kindest intention in his smile, placed an avuncular hand on the younger mans shoulder, saying, No, kid. Only if you like pain.

On the pretense of returning Kayhills bag of maps to the state trooper, Detective Riker carried his cell phone out to the parking lot. He needed privacy for his incoming call. After settling into the front seat of the Mercedes, he resumed his conversation with New Yorks chief medical examiner. Hey, Doc, thanks for waiting. So hows it going?

Kathy Mallory never answers her phone, said Dr. Slope.

Thank you, God.

Thats okay, said Riker. I take messages. And before the medical examiner could make contact with his partner, Riker would have to officially notify her that Savannah Sirus was dead. Otherwise, Dr. Slope would find it odd that she had never been told, and the old man might have a few questions.

Tell her this, said Slope. I am not her personal funeral director. Then tell her the crematorium called. Theyd like to know when she plans to pick up Miss Siruss ashes Riker? Still there?

Yeah, Doc.

So what should I tell them?

Soon-a few more days. So when did you talk to Mallory?

She mightve called the day after we found the body. I didnt s peak to her myself. I assume you were the one who told her about the suicide.

Yeah, said Riker, in his first lie of the day. In Mallory fashion, he cut off the call with no good-bye.

How had she known that Savannah was dead? Was the womans suicide so predictable? Had Mallory made the connection between a LoJack tracker on her tail in the state of Illinois and sudden death in New York City? Maybe she had phoned her apartment that night and got no answer from her erstwhile houseguest. Was the morgue her next call?

He did not suspect Mallory of murder. Thanks to Charles Butler, there was no doubt that Savannah had shot herself. What made him close his eyes just now was the possibility that Mallory had stayed to watch.

Dr. Paul Magritte held his cell phone to one ear as he checked the rearview mirror. He was not expecting to see the FBI moles driving behind him. Those two were so preoccupied with one another. He doubted that they would notice his absence for some time yet. He was looking in the mirror for a car that would keep pace with him. He slowed down, and all the traffic went whizzing past his Lincoln.

For the past few miles, he had believed that he was being closely observed as he followed his orders and left the parking lot to ride the interstate. However, now he realized that his caller was not behind him, but up ahead-waiting. The constant phone requests for his exact position could have no other explanation.

He pulled onto the shoulder of the interstate and left the car, removing his jacket as he walked toward an exit sign. He trusted that Mallory, who missed nothing, would remember this article of clothing. Even if she did not recall its color and herringbone pattern, the sight of it waving in the wind-that would be meaningful to her. He devoutly believed that the young detective would be the one to find him.

He laid his plans on faith-in her.

Riker opened the cars trunk and tossed in the black plastic bag with Horace Kayhills maps.

He heard the shouts before he saw Mallory winding her way through the haphazard lanes of parked cars. Dale Berman called out to her, hurrying now to match steps with her longer legs, and then the man put one hand on her shoulder. Never breaking stride, she turned to give him a look that made him think better of annoying her anymore. Finally the fed gave up and returned to the restaurant.

And Mallory kept coming.

Riker closed the trunk and leaned back against the car. When she joined him, his eyes shifted to the retreating back of Dale Berman. What was that about?

She set the laptop on the trunk of the Mercedes and opened it. I told him I knew he was dragging out this case.

Well, said Riker, I guess the longer he drags it out the greater the glory. Some people just like to see their names in the newspaper.

Thats not it. He did everything he could to keep the media away from this case. She powered up the laptop and turned the screen so he could see it. You thought Dale Berman was just incompetent.

Well, yeah, but thats true.

She shook her head. I told you the screwups were over the top-even for Berman. So I followed the money.

Ah, Mallorys all-time favorite. Trust her to find a money motive in the slaughter of little girls. He stared at the glowing screen of number columns. What am I looking at?

Dale Bermans payroll records. Hes been reporting fifty hours of overtime every week. She pulled a notebook from her back pocket and pointed to a November date. Thats when Berman takes early retirement from the Bureau. I found the paperwork in his car. She turned back to the laptop screen. Now look at these figures for earnings with overtime.

Riker whistled in appreciation of the large sum. Dales really building up his retirement fund.

Youre close, said Mallory. This has been going on for years. He started padding his paychecks after the Bureau buried him in North Dakota.

You see? I told you he was an idiot. That state only has a handful of people and some buffalo. Nobody does overtime.

And Dale worked in a satellite office-no oversight. Thats what triggered this audit. Mallory diddled the keyboard to show him a new set of figures. Lots of pressure-the auditors are coming. He has to explain the overtime. A federal payroll scam is worth five years in prison. So he makes a bogus file for Mack the Knife, and he backdates it.

Riker shook his head in disbelief. Thats good for another charge- falsifying government documents. More jail time. I told you he was an idiot.

No, said Mallory, he was a man with a high-maintenance wife and a field agents pay grade.

And he was stuck in a backwater office with no action, no overtime.

So he gave himself a bigger salary, said Mallory. Thats how it started, and then it snowballed. Berman cant c lose out a bogus case with no results-not right after an audit. It has to look like an ongoing investigation. Then he gets posted to a Texas field office. Hes running it-all those eyes on him every day. More pressure. He cant leave the bogus case with another agent in North Dakota. So he develops a false lead in the Texas jurisdiction. The overtime keeps rolling in, but hes not doing it for the money now. He cant stop. He only has two years to retirement, and he needs a real live serial killer.

And then he found Nahlman. She saved him.

Dr. Magritte left the car at the junction, and he left his wallet in the middle of the road, the one that led west toward an unknown destination. He was following directions fed to him as he traveled. The knife in his pocket gave him no comfort, but the expectation of being found either dead or alive, this was a joyful prospect. His prayers carried no requests for an angel of deliverance. Send Mallory.

Mallory closed the laptop. And now, thanks to Nahlman, hes got a big inventory of bodies and evidence, more than enough to account for his time.

I got a problem with this, said Riker. Dale knew that warehouse morgue was gonna be opened some day. If not by Harry Mars then-

And the feds would find a hundred cartons of sloppy paperwork-all hard copy with missing files, fake reports, no times and dates for hunting and digging-nothing to match records with human remains. Berman only needed to drag the case out. He never intended to solve it. He wouldve retired in another six months. The case would get fobbed off on his replacement-along with the keys to the warehouse. The agent who replaced him would put everything down to gross incompetence.

And Nahlman could back him up on the incompetence, said Riker. Shes Dales worst critic.

Of course she is. Berman groomed her for the part. Mallory let that settle in for a moment, and, when the poison had taken hold, she went on. Even now that the Bureaus onto him, he can still get away with it. Lets say Harry Mars opens an investigation. Nahlman will testify that her boss had no idea what he was doing. If Harry asks her about the warehouse full of dead kids, shell tell him thats no surprise, not to her. Shell swear under oath that Dale Berman is just a garden-variety screwup. And hell still get his pension, even though people died on his watch. He never developed any of Nahlmans leads because he didnt w ant this case solved- not yet.

Okay. Riker threw up his hands. Im a believer. Dales not just a screwup. Hes a sociopath. The little monster doesnt c are who dies. You were right about everything.

Mallory had her half-smile in place, the one that warned him to run while he could; he had seen it before, and he knew she was going to turn on him. Riker braced himself, hands spread flat on the trunk of the car. He had watched her grow up; he had loved her so long and knew her too well.

And all this time, said Mallory, casually offering him the stolen drivers license of the Illinois LoJack tracker, even before Savannah Sirus died, you thought I was a sociopath-a monster.

Riker was bending over in the manner of a man who has just had his entrails pulled out and held up before his startled eyes.

Now lets talk about your friend Nahlman. Mallory pulled a small blue velvet pouch from her knapsack and emptied it on the hood of the Mercedes. Tiny bones clattered across the dusty metal. I found them in Nahlmans g love compartment. Or maybe you think Im lying?

Make it stop!

He shook his head. She was telling him that it was time to choose up sides, her side versus the rest of the world. Youre my partner, he said. Im with you.

Good. Mallory scooped up the little bones and put them back into the pouch. Now its time to arrest Dr. Magritte.

What?

The FBI moles had become engaged behind the travel plazas garbage dumpster.

One mole gently caressed the face of the other and said, I love you.

Behind them, startling them, a mans voice said, How nice. But wheres Dr. Magritte?

The moles spun around to face the detectives from New York City, Riker and Mallory.

Tell me you didnt lose that old man, said Detective Mallory, not again.

One of the moles said, Oh, shit. And the other one was only thinking it.

Yes, I see it, said Paul Magritte to his caller. The turn is just up ahead. This was a lie. His car was parked, and he was walking back to the juncture of dirt road and hard pavement. He spread an open book on the ground. This might be the most useful thing he had ever done with it. Looking down the unpaved road, he could see for miles and miles, and so could the killer of children. This would be the last time he dared to stop. Dr. Magritte held the cell phone to his ear and offered more reassurance that he was quite alone. In turn, he received the good news that the kidnapped parent was still alive. And was this story believable? No. Up ahead there was only death on two legs, no heart, no soul. But this time, he would see it coming, and soon-so would everyone else.

He returned to his car and continued to follow the directions of a coldly mechanical voice that conjured up fat black flies inside his ear. He knew his final destination would be some distance away. The man would want privacy for what he planned to do to his old doctor-his former priest.

The moles ran back to the restaurant to make their report. Riker took the old road east, and his partner drove west on the interstate.

Mallory was flying across the highway, taking every exit ramp and doubling back to take the next one. It was slow going even at great speed. Finally, she spotted the jacket tied to an exit sign, and she turned onto a stretch of Route 66, still racing, only slowing when she came to the crossroad and saw the wallet lying on the pavement. She knew it was Magrittes, and she left it there. He was headed west. As she approached another turnoff, her car crawled along in search of other signs.

He recognized the early model car of an impoverished caravan parent. Paul Magritte knew what he would find even before he had closed the door of his Lincoln. He moved on leaden feet toward the other vehicle. The trunk was open, awaiting his inspection. Inside lay the dead body of a slender man in his middle thirties. This time, the only blood came from the corpses gaping mouth. The throat had not been slashed, but the cause of death was clear in the tire tread marks made on the clothing. This body had been run over by car, not once, but many times. Magritte had not known this man by name. So many people had joined the caravan in recent days. Yet he grieved for the stranger.

By force of habit, he began the ritual of commending the dead mans soul to God, though they were much estranged these days, himself and the Almighty.

Mallory slammed on the brakes, and stared at the open book lying on the ground, its pages rippling in the wind. She never had to leave her car to know that it was a Bible, an ex-priests version of the proverbial breadcrumb trail.

She drove over it.

A car was approaching from a distance, coming overland, just a dot on the horizon of mesa and desert brush. He watched it grow-his impending death-and when he could see it clearly, he yelled, I never betrayed you! And though vengeance was the province of God, one hand closed on the knife in his pocket.

Soon.

He had anticipated an exchange of words, but that was not to be. The jeep was not slowing down but gathering speed. Impact came with a sickening thud of the metal impacting on flesh and bone. The force knocked the air from the old mans lungs and he was in flight, flying forever it seemed. He lost consciousness before his body hit the hard ground.

When he opened his eyes again, he tasted blood in his mouth-proof of life.

His assailant-soon to be his murderer-was standing not far away in some new incarnation so different from the misshapen child he had known all those years ago.

Paul Magrittes resting place was a deep and narrow ditch, and now he could understand why he was still alive. It would not be possible to run him down a second time. And so this killer-loath to touch a living body-was helpless. He could only wait for an old mans death rattle.

Wait a little longer.

Paul Magritte suffered much pain. It was agony only to lift one hand- to beckon his murderer-come a little closer.

Mallory looked down at the corpse in the trunk, a clear death by vehicular homicide. Gone were all the trappings of a ritual, a killers pretense of a twist in the game. Once his monument was finished and all the little girls were laid out in a row, he had simply turned his sights on advertising. But these attacks were different. The old man was a material witness, a loose end. And the dead parent in the trunk of the car? That was bait. But what was his agenda with the murder of Horace Kayhill?

The detective returned to the ditch and knelt down beside Paul Magritte. The old man had been fading in and out, but now he was conscious again. The ambulance should be here any minute. She was not looking at him but at the old dirt road, watching for the first sign of an emergency vehicle, listening for a siren.

Mallory? Dr. Magrittes voice was weak. He was also staring at the road. My faith doesnt lie in that direction It lies with you. And now he turned his eyes to the great prize he had given her.

She looked down at the bloodied knife in her evidence bag. It was a good try, old man. A good try.

No a success. His words came out with ragged breath and fresh red bubbles of spittle from his lips.

Dont talk, she said.

That blood on my knife not mine significant.

Mallory decided not to tell the old man that it was all for nothing, that this DNA evidence was useful in court but not in the hunt. Its significant, she said. Hes getting reckless, careless. With any luck at all, hes suicidal, too. Thats how it ends sometimes.

He cant go back to the caravan I cut him. Magrittes moving finger drew a jagged line on his neck.

You marked him for me. Mallory smiled with something approaching real affection. Thats why you carried the old revolver. A bullet wound would get some attention, wouldnt it? Did Nahlman take the gun away from you?

The old man nodded. Not her fault She couldnt know.

So, you decided to knife him instead. That cut was your loophole in the seal of the confessional.

This man had walked into a trap, knowing that he would be murdered. And the knife wound would pass for an act of self-defense-the only act that Paul Magrittes faith had allowed.

This time The old mans lips moved in silence. His eyes were closing.

Mallory finished the sentence for him. Ill see it coming.


| Find Me | c