Ray Adler entered the hospital room and ended the conversation. He never noticed the odd expression on the face of Charles Butler, a man left wondering how many times his head could be twisted round before he lost it.
An hour later, smiling and waving good-bye, the man from Kansas was a reflection in the rearview mirror. The silver convertible’s top was down, and the warmth of the summer sun lulled Mallory to sleep in the passenger seat. Charles, a lapsed Luddite, had worked out the mechanics of her iPod and its connection to the radio, but he found no music to fit well with fear.
If the letters had not been written to Savannah Sirus, what else might he have gotten wrong?
He was still pondering his failings as he drove across the state line of Arizona, leaving the grasslands behind. The California terrain was sandy and spotted with clumps of green. No mountain peaks or mesas, only long tedious tracts of desert stretched out before them. Finally, Mallory awakened, and he leaned toward her, prompting her with the puzzle that began each letter from Peyton Hale. “For O.B.?”
But she closed her eyes again and left him clueless for all the miles to Barstow, California, where they sat in the parking lot of a landmark hotel that had gone to seed. He watched her cross this place off her list of road- side attractions. Other tourists, no doubt following guidebooks, also stopped here for the length of time it took them to turn around and run. Charles put the car in gear and followed suit.
“On to Los Angeles?” He took her silence for yes and handed her the California map. “Care to play navigator?”
She unfolded it and stared at the familiar markings, Horace Kayhill’s arcs and lines to define a serial killer’s territory and the crosses that stood for graves. “What are you doing with this?” Unmistakable was her implication that he had stolen it.
“Riker gave it to me-the whole collection. He thought the California map might come in handy. And I must say it’s superior to the average-”
Mallory was not listening to him. She was foraging in the back seat, and now she retrieved the small canvas tote bag with the rest of the Route 66 maps. She pulled one out and spread it across the dashboard. “How did Riker get this away from the New Mexico cops?”
“Well, a state trooper gave it to him. I was there.” And for that matter, Mallory had also been present at the table on the day when it was handed over. Ah, but she had only seen the covering plastic bag. And, as he recalled, Riker had made a cursory inspection, just a glance inside to identify the contents as belongings of the little Pattern Man-poor Horace.
“Why didn’t he turn the bag over to Kronewald?”
“Why would he?” asked Charles.
“And why is Kronewald calling his serial killer a John Doe?”
Apparently, she had been reading the daily newspapers he had brought to her hospital room. This continuing interest of hers promised upsides and down. “There’s a lack of physical evidence,” he said. “No solid tie to Adrian Egram, and I doubt that he’s used that name since he stole his first car. I suppose we’ll never know what persona he adopted.” Charles had intended this as reassurance, a kind of promise.
“Riker knows,” she said.
“Well, he might have a theory.” Was she looking at him now? Did she catch a give-away blush? Could he afford to play a game with her that involved deceit on any level? “There’s certainly no way to prove it-no DNA link, no fingerprints or pictures on file, nothing to-”
“Riker’s not working a theory,” said Mallory. “He knows.”
Her eyes closed.