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No more reporters ran wild in the streets of Kingman, Arizona. The media was long gone-off to Chicago, following a trail of breadcrumbs left by Detective Kronewald.

A celebrity patient in the Kingman hospital was awake and making good use of his recovery time. Mallorys knapsack lay on the bed beside Riker; it was unzipped, violated, and the detective was reading the words of Peyton Hale. Caught in this act of trespass, he smiled at his visitor. Hey, Charles. He held up one page of lines penned in faded blue ink. Well, you wouldnt read them. Somebody had to. Its a character flaw-I always want the whole story.

Apparently Charles Butler also liked to know the beginning, middle and end to things, and he was an admirable upside-down reader, but the man showed no interest in the letters scattered on the bed in plain sight. Instead, he picked up the typewritten pages half buried by sheets. So this is the official police report on the wreck.

Check out the line about the seat belt on the drivers side. Against the law and hospital rules, Riker lit up a cigarette.

Looking up from his reading, the psychologist met the detectives sorry eyes. You have to get past this business of her accident.

Is that what were calling it?

Charles, the most loyal of conspirators, opened a window to lose the smoke before the head nurse, a woman with the nose of a cadaver dog, could rush in to confiscate the detectives last pack of cigarettes.

It was matter of bad timing, said Charles. I was there, remember?

I didnt have to see the wreck, said Riker. I watched Kathy Mallory grow up. Ive seen her take falls from bicycles and playground swings. When she was thirteen, she borrowed a cops motorcycle. It was parked right in front of the damn stationhouse. Well, it was a learn-as-you-go kind of thing. The kid popped the clutch and did this amazing wheelie. God, Ill never forget that-she mustve ridden thirty feet on the back wheel-and then she went flying. So Im the expert here, okay? The kid always landed like a cat. And she shouldve walked away from that wreck.

Im sure she intended to. Charles laid the accident report on the bed sheet and turned away to look out the window-to hide a face that could not hide a lie. Mallory tried to steer clear of the truck after she sent that pipe through the windshield.

No, she didnt, said Riker. Mallory only steered clear of the kid. She always knew shed have to hit that trucks front end. Even a dead mans foot on the gas pedal wouldve killed Dodie Finn. The detective picked up the report and waved it like a flag. You read this, Charles. You know her seat belt was functional. But Mallory-didnt-buckle-up. He wadded the document into a tight ball. Even though she knew the crash was coming. Riker held up his next piece of evidence, letters from Peyton Hale that were once the property of Savannah Sirus. And I know who to blame for all the good it does me.

Upon entering the hospital room, Charles Butler was surprised to see the bedside chair usurped by a friendly bear of a man, who introduced himself as Ray Adler from Kansas. Im a friend of the family. And now the Kansan turned back to the unconscious Kathy Mallory and resumed his earnest lecture on the terrible importance of seat belts.

When Ray Adler left Arizona, he had the wreckage of the silver convertible in tow. And he had left Charles Butler with a better understanding of Mallorys simple quest: All she had wanted was this one small thing-to drive her fathers road through his life and times.

The New York detective with the fewest broken bones and sutures was the first to be released from the hospital. Riker donned dark glasses to shade his eyes from the Arizona sun as he walked past the first bright window. He turned to the large man beside him, who had just won the luggage war and carried the detectives bag down the corridor. So, you read her fathers letters? Would you say that guy was obsessed with Route 66?

I didnt read them. Charles Butler set down the duffel bag and depressed a button to bring the elevator. But when I gave her the letters, she accused me of reading them anyway.

Well, a little hostile paranoia is a good sign. More like my old Kathy.

Really? She seems to have lost all interest in this case. Does that sound normal to you?

Sure it does. Riker fished in his pockets for a pack of cigarettes so that he would be ready to light up just the moment that he escaped from the hospital. If I was back in New York right now, Id have a new case on my desk before I could get blind drunk and wonder what the last one was all about. So, yeah, this is normal. Its over.

No, it isnt. The elevator doors opened, and Charles stepped in.

Riker limped in, and they descended through the floors. Above the mechanical sound of the gears, the detective could hear the tumblers working in the other mans b rain. Okay, whats your problem with this case?

The killer has no name.

Well, he doesnt need one anymore. Hes dead.

Then why didnt Kronewald release the name of that suspect from Illinois?

Egram? Thats never gonna happen, Charles. Kronewald cant find any relatives for a DNA link to the corpse. At a time like this, the only thing that draws relatives out of the woodwork is a nice fat lawsuit. Kronewalds gonna bury the Egram file. Count on it. Riker watched the descending floor numbers, clicking his lighter in anticipation.

Well, he had another name, said Charles. The reporters think the killer was posing as one of the caravan parents. And what about Agent Cadwaller? The last time I-

Oh, yeah, said Riker. That guy sent me a get-well card and a witness subpoena. You were right about him. He wasnt a profiler. Cadwallers a forensic accountant from another agency. Hes building a case against Dale for padding overtime and falsifying government documents. And New Mexico has a charge for endangering the welfare of a child. Did I tell you Dales wife left him? Oh, and his lawyers-they own his house, theyre driving his car. The detective lightly punched Charles on the arm, grinning, saying, Hey, is this a great country or what?

The elevator doors opened, and upon exiting, Riker limped at a faster pace, following the exit signs to freedom and his first smoke of the day.

All right, said Charles, so the killer was posing as someone on the caravan.

Hey, works for me.

Well, one of those people is dead. Doesnt t hat help you narrow it down a bit?

Yeah, yeah. The front door was in sight; the cigarette and lighter were in hand. Youd have to start with a picture to find a match. Between the parents and the news crews, its not like we got a tight list of everybody in that caravan. Riker pushed through the doors, and now he stood outside at last. I saw the autopsy pictures. Mallory really did a number on the perps face. Damn shes good. The air was clean and unpolluted, but he had a remedy for that; he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

What about a forensic reconstruction of the skull? They might be able to-

Nobodys gonna spend that kind of money on a dead cockroach, Charles. There was no ID found on the body. No picture-no match. Sorry, pal.

Charles set the duffel bag on the ground and raised one hand to alert a teenager standing near the door, and the boy ran off to fetch the Mercedes. Apparently, the concept of valet parking had been recently introduced to Kingman, Arizona. When the car pulled to curb, Charles tipped the youngster and turned back to the detective, saying, There must be some clue to the mans identity-something. W ell, surely you at least know the color of his eyes?

Naw, s aid Riker, as he opened the trunk of the Mercedes. The eyeballs probably went out the back of his head in a stew of brains and blood. Or they could be in the glop that was jammed up inside the pipe when it-

A simple no wouldve sufficed. Charles tossed the duffel bag into the trunk.

But you didnt ask me a simple question, did you? Riker dropped the cigarette and crushed it under his heel. You wanted to know if a serial killer had Mallorys green eyes. You just asked me if the kid killed her own father that night. The detective smiled. But, hey, we never had this conversation, okay? Who cares what the freak looked like?

Obviously, Charles cared, but the man was looking at his shoes, a sure sign of guilt, and he asked no more questions.

Riker stared at the open trunk. Almost time to say good-bye. Mallory killed the right man that night. Thats a fact. But she can never be sure who he was. Nobody can, and maybe its better that way. Less personal.

Charles only nodded in agreement, and both men knew they would never talk about this again.

The detective looked down at the keys in his hand. Youre sure about this?

Oh, yes. Please take the car. The last thing I need is another road trip. And Mallorys d riving had not produced a cure for Rikers fear of flying.

When shes discharged, said Charles. Ill take her back on a plane. Ray Adlers busting his butt to get her car fixed in time. Charles shrugged. Ill have him ship it directly to New York. No, said Riker. I got a better idea. He reached into the trunk and pulled out a black plastic bag. Here, a present, a souvenir. Youll remember this. He opened the bag and pulled out a coffee-stained canvas tote that bulged with maps.

Horace Kayhills collection?

Yeah. Riker slammed the trunk. But the state line is a straight shot from Kingman, so all you need is the map for California. Ta k e her down Route 66 all the way to the coast. Mallory deserves to finish this trip. God knows shes paid enough for the privilege. The detective climbed in behind the wheel of the Mercedes and rolled down the window to say, So take her to the end of the road, and then see the lady home.

Ray Adler had made good on his promise, delivering Mallorys car, dent-free, on the day of her discharge in the month of June. Good as new, said the man from Kansas, and maybe a little better.

Charles Butler went up to Mallorys hospital room to fetch down the bags. The door was ajar, and he hung back in the hallway to watch, or, more accurately and clinically, to observe. She was packing clothes, moving slowly, as if she did this chore underwater. The bruises, casts and bandages were gone. The curls of her hair hid the savage scalp wound that had cost her so much blood, and her other suture scars were covered with a T-shirt and jeans. By outward appearances, she was healed, or nearly so-or so it seemed.

She was not wearing her weapon. It lay wrapped in the straps of her shoulder holster on the bedside table, and this worried Charles. Some people kept their identities in their wallets; hers was in the gun. One by one, she was losing every quality that defined her. And he was also changed. Now he was the one who kept up her ledger for all the cheats of her young life, everything lost or stolen from her. She was numbed to all of these injuries. Charles felt the pain for her; he was reeling with it.

He stepped into the room. Did Kronewald call? Are you going to testify at Dale Bermans trial?

She shook her head as she opened a drawer in the bedside table. Riker won the coin toss.

Bad news. This could only mean that she no longer cared about revenge, and he might applaud that as a sign of growth in anyone else of his acquaintance-but not in her unique case. He sat down on the bed to watch her fold T-shirts. Kathy, he said. And she did not shoot him. I know why you hated Dale Berman so much. Its all about Louiss wife, isnt it? Helen and the way she died.

The young detective idly perused the contents of a nightstand drawer. Helen Markowitz died of cancer.

Yes, right after a high-profile case was solved. Charles had anesthetized Riker with contraband beer while the man was still on his sickbed in order to extract a few painful facts. The police in New York had just found a kidnapped boy.

The old man found the boy, she said, crediting her foster father in a listless monotone.

And his wife died the next day, said Charles. Louis was supposed to be on family leave that week. But when that child was kidnapped, all the leaves were canceled.

Mallory nodded as she collected small items from the drawer, filling her hand with a toothbrush, a comb, a pen, saying, I walked off the job.

To be with Helen-but Louis couldnt do that, could he?

No. She slammed the bedside drawer. He had to stay and find that kid. There were feds in the house. He thought they might get the boy killed.

I remember the day of Helens funeral, said Charles. Louis ran into me on the street-literally. He ran his car into mine. Thats how we met. Well, of course, he apologized profusely. Said he couldnt see the traffic for the tears. I put my wife in the ground this morning, he said. My kids locked in her room. And me? Im driving around in circles. Everybodys gotta be somewhere, right? And then he smiled.

Louis Markowitzs smile made him the most charming man on the planet, even though he had also been crying on this particular occasion. Charles had taken the policeman home to keep him off the street and out of further trouble. He had cooked dinner for the man and stayed up all night listening to favorite stories about the remarkable Helen Markowitz. We were friends for years, but Louis never told me about the FBI agent who lied to him and led him down false trails and cost him all the days he had left with his wife.

No, Louis had let go of that baggage early on, a wise choice, but not suitable for the likes of Kathy Mallory, who so loved revenge. Charles planned to help her savor what she had won. Louis told me he only had a few hours with Helen before they wheeled her into the operating room. Poor man, he was expecting a surgical cure.

Thats what all the doctors told him. Mallory dropped a tube of toothpaste into her duffel bag. Thats why the old man didnt walk away from the kidnapping case.

Charles nodded. That last day, Louis still believed that he was going to grow old with Helen.

And then she died on the operating table. Mallory stared at the items laid out on the bed, as if the order in which she packed them might need all of her attention.

And you blamed Dale Berman for dragging out that old case, for deceiving Louis and stealing all his precious time with Helen.

Mallory carefully folded another T-shirt, as if she had never loved Helen beyond all reason, as if she had never felt the loss of this good and gentle woman who had fostered her and loved her back.

No reaction at all-not from her.

It was Charles who balled his hands into fists, Charles who hated Dale Berman-hate enough for two, himself and Mallory. He turned his tell-all face away from her and made a show of searching the room for overlooked items that she might want.

The flowers were gone. Once, this room had smelled like a florist shop-or a mortuary. She had also thrown away her press clippings collected for her by Detective Kronewald. And gone were all the cards sent by high-ranking politicians and police officials. The only one she had saved was a card handmade by Dodie Finn, and this was added to the duffel bag-Mallorys only trophy.

I love that one. Charles looked down at the card in the open bag. He smiled at the childish rendering of the Finns farmhouse and the happy-face stick figures of a small family. The drawing is perfectly awful. Shows no artistic talent whatever-so utterly normal.

According to the companion letter from Joe Finn, his daughter had ceased to hum, and now she talked to him, and he could not shut her up. This had been followed with a phrase that came awkwardly to the boxer: He had wished Mallory the same wondrous recovery.

A bit optimistic in Charless view.

The great injury done to Mallory had no single cause, nor was there a cure. In the best foreseeable outcome, her malady could only be survived. And, in the best of all possible worlds, she would have no name for the man she had killed that night on the Seligman loop.

The packet of old letters fell from the bed. The enclosing ribbon came undone, and the pages scattered across the floor. Mallory continued to fold her clothes, failing to care. She was letting go of the evidence for Peytons betrayal of her mother, Cassandra-these love letters written to another woman. He knelt at Mallorys feet to retrieve them, handling them carefully. And now, for the first time, he saw the puzzling salutation and read it aloud. For O.B. Well, thats odd. All the letters in his hand began in this same way. Is it some sort of pet name for Savannah Sirus?

At the mention of her late houseguest, Mallory looked down at him, only mildly distracted from the packing. Why would my father write letters to her ?

Oh, bloody hell.

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