The Art of Murder
This book is a work of fiction. The events and characters are solely from the author’s imagination. Their resemblance, if any to real-life is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2015 DB Jones
All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015904827
I would like to give a special thank you to
Linda Snyder Young, Raelynn Chambers, and Heather Leach Schrader,
I couldn’t have done it without you.
Winter Hart was knee-deep in the dust, trying to renovate the old Dupree’ home she bought for one dollar from the community of Cassadaga. The terms were that she must live in the house for one year and it would be hers, debt free. Debt-free my ass, This place is costing me a fortune to restore. Johnny, her contractor, had become a permanent fixture in the house, trying to decipher the original plans as he refurbished each room to its former elegance. Fortunately, she had received a heavy reward for finding the lost works of art saved during the invasion of France during WWII. Once the house was completed, she and Cole were planning to throw a huge gala for the entire community, in honor of the woman who lost her life protecting the secret location of the art.
The one-year commitment was fast approaching. In the beginning, Winter had no intention of staying in the house any longer than it took to finish her story of the mystery of Claire Dupree’. As time went on, she grew to love the old home and the community, not to mention Cole Stuart.
The once-lavish gardens had been gradually brought back to life by some of the garden club members in town. Winter found pictures of the former gardens in one of the many boxes stored in the house. After talking with her friend Anne Gunter, the local medium, they presented the idea to the local garden club. The club members were thrilled with the challenge of restoring the gardens. Plot by plot, the gardens were restored where Claire Dupree’ had invited so many folks to enjoy. Winter dedicated the gardens to the two sisters, Claire and Belle Dupree’, who risked their lives to rescue the treasures of their friends that were sure to have been looted by the Nazis.
Cole had long ago purchased a home for his mother, who passed away many years prior. He returned there after her death but spent most of his time with Winter in the old Dupree’ home. Occasionally, he retreats to his little cottage across the road from Winter to work on his writings for his book on the Dupree’ sisters.
Winter was spending so much time involved with the renovations on the house that it had left her very little time for her pursuit of becoming a top-notch reporter. She was not giving up hope that another big story might land in her lap. She was wrapping up some of the last details of the house and excited about finally finishing the long-await project when her cell phone rang.
“Hi, Winter. It’s Jim.”
“Good morning, Jim. How are you and Jessie doing? You’re up early. What’s up?”
Jim Tucker was not only the managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, but he was the fiancé’ of Winter’s best friend, Jessie White. He was the man who gave her the assignment to try and find out what happened to the late Claire Dupree’ who disappeared 65 years ago. Winter threw her entire soul into that story. She even moved into the house that once belonged to Claire Dupree’. Winter had not only found out what happened to Ms. Dupree’, but she had also discovered a secret that had laid hidden since WWII, which changed history.
“We’re both doing fine and can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the old Dupree’ home, but that’s not why I’m calling.”
“Is Jessie okay?” Winter asked nervously.
“Oh, she’s better than okay.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?”
“I’ve got another story for you. I have that same feeling I had with the story in Cassadaga and Claire Dupree’. I can’t put my finger on the reason yet, but I think there’s more to this murder in Maitland than appears on the surface. Are you interested?”
“Hell yes! You know I am,” she said, without thinking about what it would entail. She was so excited about the possibility of another big story that she almost forgot about the renovations and plans for the upcoming gala.
“Can you come to Orlando and meet me at Jessie’s this evening?”
“Sure. What time?”
“I think Jessie wants to plan dinner for you and Cole, so how about 6:00 p.m.? Is that too early?”
“No, that’s perfect. I’ll see what Cole is up to, and get back with Jessie to let her know if he’s free.”
She called Cole as soon as she got off the phone with Jim to see what his schedule was for the evening. He answered the moment she pushed speed dial. “Good morning beautiful. I was just about to walk over to your place. Do you have the coffee on?”
“You know I do,” she said, smiling to herself. Cole had introduced her to the art of brewing her coffee each morning after grinding the beans, and she had just made a pot. She walked out onto the covered wrap-around porch that spanned the entire length of the house and sat down in an old wicker chair that was there when she moved in.
Cole emerged from the pathway across the road. He opened up the old wrought-iron gate and headed up the newly renovated cobblestone walkway. He looked up and waved. By the time he reached the porch, Winter had his coffee ready to hand to him. He reached up and drew her to him and kissed her. “You sure looked good this morning. Something on your mind, you look like you’re about to bust at the seams?” He took his first sip of coffee.
“Sit down,” Winter insisted as she returned to her seat.
“Okay, what’s going on?”
“Jim just called and wanted us to join him at Jessie’s tonight for dinner. Are you free?”
“Uh, yeah, but I have a feeling there’s something more to this than just having dinner. Are you going to share it with me?”
“Well, Jim has another story. He said he had that same feeling he had when he gave me this story about the Dupree’ house and wanted to talk to me about it tonight. Are you game?” She leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek.
“Sure. I am a little curious, though. Jim doesn’t hear voices again, does he?”
“Not that I know. I think it’s more of a gut feeling. I have to admit; I believe Jim has a knack for knowing when a story is more than just another run-of-the-mill by-line. I trust his intuition.” She leaned back in the chair as she sipped her coffee.
Winter smiled. “I’ll call Jessie in a minute to tell her you’re coming, and maybe she’ll tell me a little more about the story…I hope.”
They sat on the porch drinking their coffee and watching the sun rising over the landscape. The heat began to intensify in the afternoons, but the mornings were still cool enough to sit outside. Winter was eager to get everything done by the end of summer, so the gardens would still be in full bloom for the gala. She had planned to have a 40’s theme, having everyone come in the dress of that era. After all, it was during that era that the late Claire Dupree’ gave the parties she enjoyed so much. Winter wanted this gala to be special, honoring the woman who once graced the halls of what is now Winter’s home.
Cole was just finishing up his coffee and about to go back to his cottage to work, when he saw Johnny’s old blue pickup truck turn into the driveway. Cole waved, and Johnny honked his horn. Cole kissed Winter and said his goodbyes, making his way down the massive steps of the porch.
“Hey, Cole. How’s your book comin’ along?” Johnny asked as he started unloading his tool box.
“Coming right along, Johnny.” Cole wanted to ask how Winter’s house was progressing but decided that might engage Johnny into a long drawn out dissertation on each project, so he left the conversation at that.
Johnny walked up onto the porch. “Mornin’ Ms. Winter.” He headed for the front door. Johnny spent so much time at the house that he felt quite at home.
“How’s your mom?”
“Oh, she’s fine, Ms. Winter. She’s sure getting excited about the big party you’re going to have here. Everyone in town is talking about it too. Well, I’d better get to work, so we’ll have it done for you in time.” Johnny opened the screen door and entered.
The Dupree’ home, now Winter’s home, would most likely always be known as the Dupree place, and Winter was fine with that. After all, the Dupree’ sisters made big sacrifices to hide the secrets the old place held. As a matter of fact, Winter had asked a local artist, Cheryl Doltry, to make her a plaque to be hung over the massive front doors.
Winter sat on the porch finishing her coffee and reflecting back on all that had happened in the past year. It was hard for her to believe that only a year ago she was living in a one-room dump in New York City, waiting for her big break. Now, she was the owner of the most remarkable home in Cassadaga, Florida. And, she had landed the story of a lifetime. She had solved a crime that spanned over sixty years. On top of all that, Cole Stuart had entered her life. What more could a woman ask for?
“I wonder if this story of Jim’s can rival that of the Dupree’story?” None the less, she was ready to get back to investigating a good story. She walked back into her renovated kitchen and marveled at what a great job Johnny had done restoring it to the grandeur it once was. The kitchen had all new wiring, plumbing, and appliances but maintained the 40’s décor. No matter how many times she walked into her kitchen, she knew she would never forget that this was the room where it all started. This room was where the true mystery of what happened to Claire Dupree’ began. However, now it was time to move forward.
Winter had planned to call Jessie as soon as she showered and dressed, but her curiosity got the best of her. She had to know more about this story that Jim eluded to. She pulled out her cell and clicked on Jessie’s icon. It seemed it only rang once and then, “Hi Winter. I was hoping you’d call. Jim said he talked to you this morning. I hope you and Cole will be able to drive in this evening for dinner.”
“Yes, we can’t wait. How are things going with you and Jim?
Still hot and heavy?”
“I could ask the same thing about you and Cole,” Jessie giggled.
“Everything is going great with Cole and me, and we’re getting closer to finishing the house and can’t wait for the big party. You and Jim are coming, aren’t you? Remember, I told you I have plenty of space for the two of you to stay the night. I don’t want my best friend driving home after our bash.”
“We’re counting on it.”
Winter hesitated for a moment and then eased the conversation toward the story. “Jim tells me he thinks this next assignment is going to be another big one. He has a feeling there’s more to this than what appears on the surface, and I have to say, I’ve learned to trust his instincts. He does not hear voices again, does he?”
“No. At least he hasn’t mentioned that to me, but he does have a feeling it’s more than someone who went missing.”
“It’s a missing person’s case?” Winter asked, somewhat disappointed.
“Well, I don’t know how much Jim wants me to say right now. However, I can tell you this; he thinks this case might be connected to some other missing person’s cases that have come across his desk lately. He told me if anyone could figure it out, you could. That’s all I know.”
“Oh, I understand. I guess Jim will fill me in more tonight. I can’t wait to see you again. We need a girl’s night out. We have so much catching up to do. I’ve been so pre-occupied with the renovations that I’ve lost track of time, and I miss you, Jess.”
“That sounds like a plan. I miss you too. I’d better get this house straightened up, and I have some shopping to do, so I’ll see you tonight. Tell Cole hi for me.”
“I sure will. See you tonight.”
Winter’s curiosity was peaking. If, indeed, the missing persons are connected, then maybe there is a story there. Her speculations were running rampant. She finally had to re-focus on the projects at hand. She jumped into the shower, dressed and headed downstairs to see what Johnny was doing.
She hoped he was moving a little faster now. The gala was supposed to be in two months, and there was still a great deal to complete. She wanted everything to be perfect; not only were the people of the town that were going to be there but Summer St Claire, the granddaughter of Claire Dupree’s sister Belle Dupree’ was coming. Winter was excited about showing Summer what she had done with the old place. Jim Tucker was planning on having coverage of the gala as a follow-up story to Winter’s article.
She walked out to the back porch where Johnny was replacing the railing. The backyard still had a pile of debris from where he had ripped off the old siding and rotted wood. Winter tightened her lips. “I wonder if everything was going to come together in time, especially now, that I’m about to embark on another story. I can’t be in two places at the same time, but I don’t want to miss this opportunity of another great story,” she mumbled to herself.
Her hands began to perspire, and the rapid increase of her pulse throbbed. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I could chew. I hate to ask Johnny if I should hire some help for him, but I can only do so much, and we need to finish on time.
“Hey Johnny, how’s it going?” she cautiously asked.
Johnny stood up and scratched his head. “Oh, it’s going okay.”
“Have you got something on your mind?”
“No, not really. I guess I didn’t measure correctly. It seems I need to order more siding for this porch, and I don’t know how long it’s goin’ take.”
Winter’s stomach knotted up. “What can I do to help?”
“Just wish I had some help so I could finish this faster. I don’t want to disappoint you, Ms. Winter.”
She took in a big breath of air. “Why don’t you ask your cousin Tom to help you out? You told me he was a good worker and between the two of you, I’m sure you’ll finish in time.”
“You don’t mind if I get him to help? I didn’t want to ask. I know you’ve spent so much already.”
“It will be fine, Johnny. Do what you need to do. We’ve got the funds to finish, and if you could use some assistance, I want you to have it.”
“Ok, I’ll call him when I go home for lunch.”
Winter blew out her cheeks. Thank goodness.
She called Cole, “Hey good-looking. I need to get out of the house for awhile. Do you feel like going down to the hotel for breakfast? It’s been awhile since we had breakfast there. What do you think?”
“Your timing is perfect. I was just about to take a break and call to see what you’re doing. I’ll meet you there in about fifteen minutes.”
“See you then.”
Before she completed the kitchen, she and Cole ate every meal at the hotel for months. She missed seeing the regulars that frequented the old Cassadaga Hotel restaurant. She hadn’t seen her friend Anne in over a month. Anne Gunter was not only her friend but a well-respected medium in town. She had an office at the hotel where she gave private sessions. When Winter first moved to Cassadaga, about a year ago, she was a big skeptic and didn’t believe in any of that paranormal stuff until she moved into the Dupree’ house.
Winter walked up the steps of the wrap-around porch to the 190-year-old structure and entered the foyer. Walking into the entrance of the hotel was like stepping back in time. The hotel had been redecorated in the 1940’s and had not changed much since then. It was in pristine condition with copper colored paneling on the walls and photos of the period. Rumor had it that Frank Sinatra often visited there. She strolled over to her and Cole’s favorite spot in the corner of the room. No sooner had she taken her seat did Joseph, the server, and part-owner set her cup of coffee down on the table. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Hart. Will Mr. Stuart be joining you this morning?”
“Thank you for the coffee, Joseph, and yes, he will. It’s good to see you too.” Joseph turned and walked back to the kitchen. No matter how well one knew Joseph, he always addressed people by their sir name, at least in the restaurant. It was something his mother instilled in him. Some of the regulars, he had known all his life, but within those walls, it was Ms, Miss, Mrs. or Mr.
Winter leaned back in her red-leather covered chair and sipped her coffee as she glanced around the room remembering the first time she came there with her friend Jessie and thought what a charming little town it was. At the time, she never dreamed she would make it her home, but here she was.
Cole entered the room and waved. He approached the table, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I missed you last night. I’m glad you mentioned coming here this morning. It sure brings back memories, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does.”
Joseph placed Cole’s coffee down. “Good morning, Mr. Stuart.”
“Good morning, Joseph. Good to see you again. How have things been going?”
“Couldn’t be better. Ever since Ms. Hart’s story broke last year, business has been booming. Mostly curiosity seekers, but that pays the bills, so I can’t complain.”
Though it had been awhile since Cole and Winter had eaten there for breakfast, Joseph didn’t need to ask what they wanted. They always ordered the same thing, unless it was on the weekends. Shortly, Joseph returned with Cole’s usual pancakes, bacon, and fruit, and Winter’s bagel with salmon, cream cheese, and capers.
After breakfast, Cole returned to his writing and Winter to overseeing the renovations, but her mind kept jumping to the pending assignment that awaited her. She constantly checked the time. The day seemed to drag on, and she was eager to find out about her new assignment.
Finally, Johnny packed up his tools and loaded them into his truck. In the entire year, he had been working there, he never once left his tools overnight. “Say hello to your mother for me.”
“I sure will Ms. Winter.”
She was eager to get ready for dinner with Jessie and Jim.
Cole picked her up about 5:15 p.m. and they headed to Maitland. Usually, the traffic was hectic, but that evening they coasted down Interstate-4 with no problems. Though Winter was excited and eager to hear what Jim had to say, she remained quiet most of the trip. “Are you alright?”
She reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Oh sure. I’m sorry. My mind is racing with speculation, and for some reason, I’m feeling a bit tired too. Maybe I’m coming down with a little bug. Nothing to worry about.”
Just as they drove into Jessie’s driveway, Jim was coming out of the house to get some things out of his car. He retrieved a large manila folder, stuffed with papers. He greeted them, and they walked into the house together. Winter went directly to the kitchen where she knew Jessie would be rushing around with last minute details. Winter and Jessie had been close friends most of their lives, but still, when Jessie had guests for dinner, she wanted everything to be perfect.
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
Jessie grabbed four glasses and handed Winter the wine bucket. “No. I think I’ve got it. Let’s get a bottle of wine and sit on the lanai.”
By the time they reached the lanai Jim had spread the papers all over the table and was rummaging through them as he placed them in strategic spots. He was anxious to get Winter’s take on what he suspected, however before he could say a word, Jessie asked him to pour the wine. She hadn’t seen her best friend in awhile and didn’t want them to jump right into business.
Jim poured the wine, and Jessie raised her glass, “Here’s to great friends.”
Jim smiled “Cheers.” Winter tapped her glass and then Jim and Cole’s.
Jessie swallowed a big gulp of air and looked at Jim. “Jim, why don’t you tell Winter and Cole what’s on your mind?” Jim set his glass down and headed for the table with the papers. Winter waited for a moment until it seemed Jim had organized his thoughts. She got up and started towards the table when she became very dizzy and fell against the chair. Cole jumped up and rushed to her side. “Are you okay?” Cole tried to steady her. She shrugged it off to the pressure and stress she’d been under lately.
Winter straightened up. “Yes. I think I’m just exhausted. Now, let’s see what’s going on here, Jim.”
Jim started right in with his theory of a missing woman and its connection to the other missing women. “Each one of these cases is similar, and I didn’t catch it until now, but over the past six months there have been several young women that have been reported missing.”
Cole interjected. “A lot of women go missing every year. Why do you think there’s a connection with these women?”
“You’re right. However, as these came across my desk, I started seeing a pattern, and that’s why I wanted Winter to look into it. The first woman reported missing was last seen just before heading to an art show at the Maitland Art Center. Her friends said she was going because she knew the artist and wanted to see his paintings. She never arrived there and never returned home. I’d like you to look at these cases and see if you can determine a link between them.” Jim handed the files to Winter.
“I’ll look at them tomorrow.” But she planned to check it out as soon as she returned home. Jessie called them to the table for dinner. She had made her famous pot roast and veggies and a pineapple upside-down cake. It was Jim’s favorite dinner. Winter was glad to be spending some time with her friends again as she hadn’t been out of Cassadaga in months. All her time was spent trying to get everything done in time for the gala.
After dinner, they took their wine and sat outside down by the lake. Winter seemed more tired than usual, so Cole made up an excuse that he needed to get back to work that evening because of some deadline and details he needed to revise. They said their goodbyes and started back home.
“Hey pretty lady, you don’t seem yourself tonight. Maybe you should see a doctor tomorrow.” He reached over and took her hand.
“I think it’s just the pressure of finishing the house on time. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.” Cole was not going to insist on coming home with her that night. A good night’s sleep might be just what she needed.
“Okay, I’ll come by in the morning for coffee.” Cole pulled the car almost to the steps of the porch and then walked with her into the house. He kissed her goodnight and watched as she made her way up the winding staircase. When she got to the landing, she called out to him that she would see him in the morning. He turned, locked the door behind him and then left.
By the time she got to her room, she was exhausted. She set the folder down on the bed and undressed. She got into bed, turned on the bedside lamp, opened the folder and started reading the material. She got half-way through the information, and then fell asleep.
Winter woke in the middle of the night with her body burning with fever and aching all over. She tried to get up to go to the bathroom when her legs gave out, and she fell to the floor. She crawled back into bed and pulled the covers up hoping she could fall back to sleep. She pulled a bottle of Ibuprofen out of her night stand and popped 800 mg. I’m sure this will nip it by morning. But she couldn’t fall back to sleep, so picked up the folder and read some of the information Jim had given her, and in spite of how she was feeling, she too noticed a pattern with the missing women. By daylight, she felt worse and called Cole. He was there within minutes. Her temperature was 102, and her whole body was shaking. He tried to get her up so he could take her to the hospital, but she fast was becoming dead weight. Without asking, he dialed 911.
Winter was immediately rushed to the hospital and put on a steady IV drip of fluids. The doctor ran blood work. Winter had an infection, and the doctor was going to start antibiotics. Cole pulled up a chair as close to her as possible and held her hand. She kept coming in and out of consciousness. He finally called Jessie. “Jessie, Winter is in the hospital and is very sick. They don’t know what’s wrong with her, but she’s in intensive care.”
“Oh my God, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
As soon as she got off the phone, she called Jim and told him. She rushed around the room grabbing things to throw into her purse and started out the door and raced to the hospital in Deland. On the way, she decided to call Winter’s older sister, Madison.
“Hi Maddy, this is Jessie. I thought you should know that Cole had to call 911 for Winter. She’s in the hospital in the intensive care unit, and they said she had an infection, but they cannot figure out what else is wrong. I thought you should know.”
“Thank you, Jess. I’ll catch the next flight out and should be there later today.”
Madison lived in Virginia near the DC area. She was a criminal investigator and profiler with the FBI, but being on the road all the time was wearing on her and was toying with the idea of going into private practice and opening a Private Investigation office in her hometown of Maitland, Florida.
Madison called headquarters and told her supervisor that her sister was in ICU in the hospital, and she needed to leave immediately. She threw a few things into an overnight bag and headed for Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Fortunately, with her credentials, she was able to get a flight out immediately. She arrived at Orlando International Airport later that day. A car was waiting for her and drove straight to the hospital.
Madison entered the hospital just as Jessie was coming down the elevator with Jim. Jessie threw her arms around Madison. “She’s very sick, Maddy.” Jessie turned and introduced Madison to Jim, and the three of them went back to the ICU.
Madison entered the room and saw her sister lying there with tubes protruding from her arms. Winter looked like she was asleep. Cole stood up when they came in. He was shocked at how much Madison looked like Winter. “You must be Madison?”
“Yes, and you have to be Cole, Winter has told me so much about you. How is she?”
“She’s stable, and they are giving her fluids. The doctor was just here and told us she also has pneumonia, but the antibiotics and fluids should help with that. However, they still don’t know what is causing the infection. They’re about to take her down for more tests. I know she’ll be glad to see you. She talks about you all the time.”
Madison sat next to her sister and held her hand, “Hey Win, it’s Maddy. You’re going to be fine. There’s so much we need to talk about, so get yourself well quick. You’ve got a great guy standing by waiting for you too. Madison felt a squeeze of her hand and saw a slight smile come across Winter’s face. Madison had a hard time letting go of Winter’s hand when then the nurses came in to wheel her downstairs for tests.
They all paced the room waiting for Winter’s test results. It seemed like hours, but after about an hour the doctor came in and told them that Winter had Bacteremia. Madison furrowed her eyebrows. “What does that mean?”
The doctor slipped his hands into the pockets of his lab coat. “It means that the bacteria entered into her bloodstream from her lungs, and the infection has spread to some of her other organs. However, we feel we caught it in time, but she will need to remain in the hospital until the infection has cleared.”
“How serious is this?”
“All I can tell you is that it’s a good thing we caught this in time. If not treated, it could have caused Ms. Hart’s organs to fail, but we are very optimistic about this treatment. It has shown full recovery in many patients, and since you got her here immediately, I think she’ll be fine. But for now, she’s going to need plenty of rest, fluids, and antibiotics. As soon as she’s out of the woods, we’ll transfer her to another floor, and soon after that; she’ll be able to return home. However, she will still need care at home for awhile to regain her strength.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” Madison sat down in the chair mulling over what she just heard. “Thank God you got to her in time, Cole. I don’t know what I would have done if something had happened to her.” She lowered her head in her hands.
Minutes later, they wheeled Winter back into the room. She had regained consciousness but was very weak. A big smile came across her face when she saw her sister, and then she glanced around the room. She smiled up at everyone in the room.“I have all the people that matter right here with me.”
Winter motioned Jim to come to the edge of the bed. “Jim, I am so sorry. I was looking forward to helping you with this story, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to.” Then she called Madison to the bedside. “Maddy, are you going to be around for awhile?”
“I sure am. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of moving back for awhile. What do you think about that?”
Winter looked up at her, and tears started trickling down her face. “I can’t wait for you to move back.” Winter glanced over at Jim and then back to Madison. “Jim, I may not be able to find out the truth about what’s going on, but I know someone who could. Jim, meet my FBI sister, Madison Hart. If anyone can solve this mystery, she can. What do you think?”.
Jim looked over at Madison. “Well, what do you think, Madison? Are you up for a challenge?”
“I sure am.”
“Good! We’ll talk about this later when we know Winter is stable?”
“Thank you, Jim. That sounds great.”
Cole stayed by Winter’s side while she was in the ICU. He and Madison alternated sitting with her so she would never be alone.
After about a week, Winter began to show some improvement, so they moved her to the main floor. The doctor said she was out of danger for now, and as soon as she had completed the antibiotics and tests showed no more infection in her system, she could return home.
Winter was regaining her strength slowly, and the doctors anticipated a full recovery. Her tests showed she no longer had any signs of the infection in her system, and they gave her the okay to return home, as long as she had someone there with her for awhile. “It might take a few months for her to regain full strength, and she’ll have to continue breathing treatments during that time as well.”
Jessie wanted Winter to come home with her, but Winter was insistent on returning to her home. Madison looked at Jessie. “That’s okay, Jessie; I’m not going anywhere until I know Winter is okay.”
Cole turned to Madison. “Thank you, Madison. I’ll be staying with her too until she was well.”
Cole drove Winter back home, and Madison followed in her car. Winter was so eager to get back into her own bed, but it was apparent she was having difficulty climbing the massive, winding staircase that led up to the landing toward her room on the second floor. Cole nearly had to carry her the entire way.
As soon as Winter settled into bed, Madison came over to the edge of the bed. “Winter, it’s very important you listen to Cole and stay in bed. What you had was serious, and you need to allow your body to heal. I thought you might like some good books to read while you’re recuperating. I just finished The Freedom Trilogy, by Brenda Kennedy. She’s one of my favorite authors, and I thought you would enjoy her books too.” Madison handed Winter the book.
“Thank you, Maddy.” Winter started to nod off to sleep.
Everything was going well with Winter, so Madison thought it would be a good time to meet with Jim and start moving forward with the investigation, so she gave him a call. “Good morning, Jim. Do you have time to meet with me today? I could come to your office if that’s more convenient for you.”
“That would be great. Can you come by right after lunch?”
“Sure. I’ll see you then.”
Before Madison went to Jim’s office, she wanted to visit the Maitland Art Center. It was the last known destination of the first missing person, and she wanted to start there. Besides, Madison grew up in Maitland and wanted to see if it was as she remembered.
The Maitland Art Center was designed in the Mayan Revival style. Tourists from all over the country stop to walk the courtyards, meander through the walkways and see the hidden alcoves that make up the center’s design.
Madison entered the reception area, picked up a few brochures and the schedule of artists that were exhibiting or giving classes.
The receptionist greeted Madison in the lobby. “Good Morning. Is this your first time to the Center?” Madison was hoping to ask a few questions without sounding too inquisitive. Madison glanced around the lobby. “Not exactly. Maitland is my hometown, and I often came here in my youth. I’d love to look around to see the changes.”
“I’d love to show you the center. There have been a few upgrades, but we have pretty much stayed the same all these years. Especially now that we’re on the National Registry. I doubt there will be many changes in the future.”
“Thank you. I’d like a tour to refresh my memory, and then I like to inquire about your upcoming events.”
The receptionist introduced herself, “My name in Alice, and I’ve been working here for a few years, so I can likely answer most of your questions.”
They walked through the main gallery, which displayed the latest paintings by Tyler Kincaid. They were of women in various locations around the Central Florida area. “Mr. Kincaid has had several showings here and has a large following. His paintings sell every time his work is on display. He also gives classes on occasion, but lately, he only shows. His works showcase local landmarks, and there is always a young woman in his paintings. I guess the combination works well for him because we can’t keep his art in here long,”
Madison found his art lacking in interest for her taste. In her opinion, it looked like he just repeated the same theme over and over. She couldn’t imagine that after buying one, why anyone would hang another piece of his art. His works were too similar, just the women and places changed. Hell, what do I know about art?
Finally, Alice escorted her to one of the courtyards. From that point, Madison asked if she could just meander on her own for awhile. “Sure, many of our visitors like just hanging around in the alcoves or courtyards. If you need anything or have any questions, I’ll be up front.”
“Thank you, Alice.”
There were classes going on in a few of the rooms, but there was a woman in one of the alcoves, working on a painting that caught her eye. The painting was a large Bougainville plant gripping a picturesque wall. Madison kept her distance until the woman took a break. “I like that painting of yours. Have you been painting long?”
“No, I started about a year ago with a class I took here. I instantly fell in love with it, and now I can’t stop.”
“Well, if your other work is like this one, you should have a showing of your own. I like your work.”
“Thank you, but I still have a lot to learn, and I don’t think I’m that good.”
Madison stepped up closer to the painting. “I don’t know a lot about art, but I like what I like, and your work is the kind I would purchase. Who did you take your classes with?”
“Tyler Kincaid. He’s the best, but it’s hard to get into his classes. He’s not doing many anymore because he has such a large following buying his works as fast as he can paint them. Of course, most of the followers are women,” she said with a snicker.
Madison grinned. “He must be good.”
“He is, and not bad to look at either. He has an exhibit coming up in two weeks and is bringing in his new collection. You should come by and see him, I mean his works.”
“I just might. Will you be there?”
“I wouldn’t miss it. My name is Aspen, what’s yours?”.
“Nice to meet you, Madison. See you then. I’ll be here both days during his showing. I also volunteer here at the Center.”
“Nice meeting you, too, Aspen.”
Madison continued around the Art Center reliving some of her childhood memories. She wandered back through the gallery and stopped again at Mr. Kincaid’s paintings. She found them more interesting this time or was it the thought of a good-looking man painting them? She was curious why he limited his subjects and decided she would ask him as soon as they met.
Madison looked down at her watch. Her meeting with Jim was in twenty minutes, and since she hadn’t been in downtown Orlando for so long, she wasn’t sure of how the traffic would be. She called Jim to tell him she was on her way, just in case. “Hi Jim, I’m on my way. I wanted to stop by the Maitland Art Center and see if I could pick up on anything. I’ll be there shortly.”
“No problem. I’ll be here whenever you get here. I’ve cleared my calendar for the afternoon, so take your time.”
Madison was amazed at how quickly central Florida had blossomed into a real metropolitan city. High-rise buildings and upper-class complexes were going up as fast as old buildings could be torn down. The young career-minded couples were no longer looking for that house in a good neighborhood; they were moving into upscale apartments above shopping complexes and dining areas that were within walking distance. The once quaint small family businesses had disappeared and now shadowed by rows of corporate buildings that loomed over the streets. Even in her hometown of Maitland, some of these complexes were going up along the main drive on Highway 17-92 that ran through the center of town. It is going to take some getting used to, coming back here. It’s not the same place where I knew up, but it still has its charm.
She finally arrived at the Orlando Sentinel. It too had changed a lot. The receptionist escorted her to Jim Tucker’s floor and then to his office.
Jim stood up to greet her. “Thank you for coming, Madison.”
“I’m eager to get started on this investigation. I read over the material you gave me, and I agree that something doesn’t feel right. I can’t put my finger on it yet but plan to move backward and start with the most recent missing woman.”
“I see we are already on the same track. I was thinking the same thing. I know Winter is still very weak and most likely hasn’t told you too much about how I work. I’d appreciate if we kept this investigation in the family, so to speak.”
Madison nodded.“I understand.”
“If there is anything you need, call me anytime. I know this assignment is out of the ordinary, but I just have a strange feeling, and that’s why I want you to explore all possible avenues. Maybe it’s nothing, but somehow I don’t think so.” Jim sat back in his chair.
“I agree, Jim. I’ll dig as far as I can and let you know what I find out.”
“You not only look a lot like Winter, but you seem to have that same spunk and tenacity to get to the bottom of a story. I appreciate that. Good luck.”
“Thank you for the confidence.” Madison reached across the table and shook his hand, then turned and left.
Madison’s work with the FBI had trained her for details, but first, she wanted to set up a central location where she could work. She called Jessie, knowing her family had a few vacant buildings in Maitland. She didn’t need much room since it wasn’t going to be for the public. “Hello,” Jessie answered.
“Hi Jess, it’s Maddy. I think you’d better put my ID on your phone since I’m going to be here for awhile.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m so excited about your being back, and I know Winter is too. What are you up to this morning?”
“I was just driving past that block on Horatio and noticed you have some empty shops in there. Would you consider renting me one of the small ones in the back?”
“Are you sure you want to rent one of those? They’re pretty small for an office if that’s what you’re thinking about.”
“That small one in the back looks perfect for now. I’m not looking for an office yet, only a place to set up a central command for this investigation. Does it have a bathroom, running water, and electric? If it does, that’s all I’ll need for now.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. I can show it to you now if you’re free.”
“The sooner, the better. I need to get going on this.”
“How soon can you meet me there?”
“I’m just leaving Jim’s office now, and can be back in Maitland in twenty minutes. Will that work for you?”
“I’m on my way.”
Jessie was waiting in front of the row of old shops behind the old vacant bank. She didn’t have to wait long. Madison pulled up next to her car, and then they walked toward the buildings. “Which one are you interested in?” Jessie asked.
“I think I like the one in the middle. I looked in the window and noticed it had the least amount of boxes. What are storing in these shops, since no one is renting them?”
Jessie shrugged her shoulders. “I hate to say it, but our family uses them as storage units. Fortunately, the one you’re looking at hasn’t been used much. I’m trying to get everyone to start cleaning out their junk but haven’t gotten very far on that yet,”.
“I just need to get this cleaned out as soon as possible. Do you know anyone who can come in immediately and thoroughly clean everything? You mentioned that it has a decent bathroom with a shower in the back. Do you think I could get a bed, too? I know I’ll be spending a lot of time here, so a place to shower and sleep would be great. I know I could stay with Winter, but the drive every day might be a problem if I need to be somewhere fast.”
“I sure do. I’ll give them a call. I’ll bet they can be here today or at least by morning, and have it ready for you to move into by tomorrow afternoon.You can stay in my guest room, and that would be just as easy.”
“Thank you, Jess, but this place will be fine for now and renting this is going to be a big help. Now, all I need to do is run over to Staples and buy one of those giant dry erase boards to start my project.”
“Sounds like you’re ready to jump into this. If there is anything I can do to help, please call me. I can be here in five minutes. Also, don’t forget I only live down the street, so don’t be a stranger.” Jessie hugged Madison.
Madison smiled. “I won’t.”
Jessie handed Madison a set of keys to the shop and then left. Madison opened the door to what would soon be her headquarters, at least for awhile.
Madison set up her makeshift office and put a screen up in the back for her temporary bedroom. She was ready to tackle the so-called plot line for the investigation. She taped the pictures of the missing women onto her board. The women had no similar traits and looked nothing alike. “I wonder why Jim chose these women since they don’t even look similar. Winter did tell me that Jim had a sixth sense about this sort of thing, so, for now, I’ll follow his lead.” The only thing they had in common was that they were all young and attractive, and, of course, were missing.
After Madison had organized everything, she drove over to the Maitland Police Department. She planned to use her clout as an FBI agent, hoping they would be more open to divulging information. However, she had to be careful not to imply that she was on a case for the FBI. At this point, it was only missing person investigation and would not warrant FBI involvement.
As she entered the police station, she passed the wall of photos of past chiefs of police, and it took her back to her childhood. She remembered a time in her youth when she took her father’s car out for a spin, while her mom and dad were at a neighbor’s party. She got caught by one of the officers. The town was much smaller back then, and everyone knew each other. It didn’t help that her father was on the city council either. She was busted and taken home, but that wasn’t the worse part. The officer had called her dad at the party and told him what happened, and then that’s when all hell broke loose. It was bad enough they called Mr. Hart at the party about his daughter breaking the law, but then he had to face the ridicule from everyone at the city council meetings. I think Dad put me on restriction for a very long time. No car privileges, no phone and no parties for a month. I remember thinking, at the time, that a month was a lifetime. Now I can hardly get everything I need to do done in a month. Never enough time. Ah, the times of our youth.
“Excuse me, Miss, can I help you?” Madison nearly tripped over herself getting up to the counter.
“Actually yes. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction. I’m Madison Hart. I’m with the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division and was wondering if I could speak to someone about a missing person’s case.”
“Of course. Could you wait here for a moment?”
Madison stood at the counter looking at the photos again. Within moments, a tall dark-haired, good-looking man came out from an office in the back. “I’m Detective Josh Logan. How can we help the FBI?”
“My name is Madison Hart.” She showed him her ID. “Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”
“Yes.” Detective Logan motioned her toward a conference room in the back.
“What case is the FBI looking into?”
“I’m working on a missing person’s case. However, at the point, the FBI is not officially involved.”
Detective Logan nodded his head. “I understand. Which case are you interested in?”
“Margaret Hill. She disappeared on her way to a gallery showing about three weeks ago. What can you tell me?”
Detective Logan unbuttoned his jacket and got up from his chair. “Let me get you the file on what we have so far. I’ll be right back. Can I get you some coffee or water?”
“No thank you.”
Detective Logan swaggered out of the room like he owned the place. He was nice enough but seemed a little cocky. It didn’t matter to Madison how he acted as long as he gave her the information she needed.
He returned shortly with a file and a mug filled with black coffee. He set the coffee down and then pulled his chair up across the table from her. He opened the file and started thumbing through it as if he was going to decide what she could see.
“Detective Logan, may I look at the file? Time is of the essence. I need to see what you have so that I can proceed with my investigation.”
“Of course.” He closed the file and slid it across the table. Madison quickly opened it and started reading through what their department had on the case so far. She was pleasantly surprised they had quite a bit of information, which would save her a lot of legwork.
“Can you make me a copy of this entire report?”
“Sure.” He opened the door and hollered down the hall, “Miss Stephens.”
Within seconds, a young lady entered the room, “Miss Stephens, would you please make Agent Hart copies of this file?” “Of course, Sir.” She turned and scurried down the hall.
“How else can we help you, Agent Hart?”
“As soon as I know, you’ll know.” She didn’t want to give away too much and didn’t want the detective to pursue any more questions. She was eager to get the information and head back to her office and start compiling what she had so that she could move to the next step.
Madison thanked Detective Logan, picked up her copies and headed toward the door. “Agent Hart, where can I reach you if something else comes up with the case?”
“I have an office in the old White building.”
“Are you going to be there the entire time?”
She stopped and turned around to see him standing there with one hand on his hip with his jacket opened and leaned against the table. “Well, no.”
“Do you have a number where I can reach you, or leave a message in case I need to contact you?”
“I’m sorry, of course.” She handed him her card with FBI written across the top with her cell number.
“Thank you, Agent Hart.” Madison started down the hallway. She nodded to the woman behind the desk and left.
Detective Logan walked up to the front and watched as she drove off. The woman behind the desk smiled. “She sure is a looker, isn’t she?”
“She may be a looker, but she has an attitude about her. I guess she thinks we can’t handle things around here.”
The woman snickered. “That makes two of you.”
“What’s that suppose to mean?”
“I’m just saying.” She turned back to her work. Josh turned back toward the window to see if he could see which direction she headed, but Madison had already gone.
Once back in her temporary office, Madison spread the files out on the table to organize her thoughts. She wanted to formulate a profile of the missing women, hoping she could find a common link. She had set up the dry-erase board in her make-shift office and placed the pictures of the missing women across the top of the board. Then she began to jot down the data she had under each photo. She thumbed through the information Detective Logan gave her and compiled that information under Ms. Hill’s photo. “I guess I was a bit abrupt with Logan, but at least I have a name now.”
Madison wrote the name Margaret Hill across the top of her photo. She felt the more she knew about Margaret Hill, the better chance she’d have of connecting the dots to the others. After lunch, she’d headed toward Winter Park to talk to some of Margaret’s friends. Madison hoped they could tell her more about Margaret’s habits and who Ms. Hill was planning to see, the night she disappeared. The files from Logan were brief but detailed, and that gave Madison a place to start.
The only thing Madison knew so far about Margaret was that she worked as a waitress at a local restaurant on Park Avenue, in Winter Park. Ms. Hill had hoped to be able to return to school and finish her degree in Psychology. Working on the Avenue, she’d make better tips, but still, she was struggling. She came from a low-income family and moved to the Central Florida area from the west coast near Tampa so she could attend Central Florida University.
Madison drove into Winter Park and parked across the road from the 310 South Restaurant. It was a casual place with outside seating overlooking the park across Park Avenue. Madison watched for awhile. The place remained busy, but the lunch crowd had slowed down, so she approached a few of the young waitresses. “Hi, my name is Agent Hart, I work for the FBI. May I ask you a few questions?” The young girl began to tremble at the site of Madison’s badge.
“Sure,” she replied.
Madison showed the girl the picture of Margaret Hill, “Do you know this woman
“Oh yes, that’s Margaret. She’s missing.”
“Yes, I know. Did you know Ms. Hill well?”
“No, but Sandy did.” She pointed to a young woman clearing off tables in the back of the restaurant.
The girl escorted Madison to the back, “Sandy, this lady is from the FBI and wants to know about Margaret.” Madison thanked her and stood until she got the hint that it was going to be a private conversation with Sandy. “Oh, I’ve got work to do.” the girl said as she hurried off.
Madison stepped up closer to the young lady. “Have you got a minute, Sandy?”
“Not really, we’re busy right now. I’ll be off in about a half hour. I can meet you then. Is that be okay?”.
“Great. I’ll be waiting for you across the street in the park.” As Madison was about to leave, the hostess brought in another group of people and escorted them to Sandy’s table.
After Sandy had cleaned up her station, she walked across the street and joined Madison on one of the park benches overlooking the rose garden. She was a small young lady and a bit shy. “I’m sorry it took so long. My boss is firm about us making sure the next girl doesn’t have to waste time setting up, so she can immediately start serving. I know some of the other servers think I spend too much time doing it right, but I try to be a team player. What did you want to ask me about Margaret?”
Madison leaned back on the bench.“What can you tell me about the day Margaret disappeared? Was she nervous or excited about where she was going? Was she going to meet someone specific?”
“Well, let me think for a moment. We were working together that afternoon, and Margaret asked to go home early. She told the boss she wasn’t feeling well, but she told me she wanted to take a rest before her big night.”
“What big night?”
“Margaret wouldn’t tell me too much, only that she was involved in a project, and that night was the big reveal. She was so excited, not only for the project but she believed her relationship was about to go one step further.”
“Was she seeing someone?”
“I think she was. She wouldn’t tell me much about him, except that he was an important person, and they had a special bond. She told me that night was going to be very special for her, and she wanted to look her best.”
“I heard she planned to attend the showing at the Maitland Art Center that night? Did that have something to do with it?”
“I believe it did. Margaret mentioned to me that she had been spending a lot of time there lately. She loved being around all the creative people. I think she even told me that she planned to take some art lessons there, but I can’t remember. I’ve been so upset about her being missing.” Sandy’s eyes began to well up with tears. “You don’t think something has happened to her, do you?”
“We just want to find her and make sure she’s okay. Is there be any chance that she left town with someone that night?”
“I’m sure Margaret would have told me if she had planned something like that. We were pretty close. She did tell me she was going to introduce me to her new friend, so why would she run off?”
Madison thanked Sandy for her help and gave her a card. “If you can think of anything else you can call me at this number.” As Madison left, she saw Sandy staring off across the park.
Madison took another trip to the art center, only this time with a picture of Margaret, and she was going to investigate this case officially.
Madison was on her way back to Maitland when her cell phone rang.
“Agent Hart, this is Detective Logan with the Maitland Police Department. Can you come by the station? There’s been a development with that missing person you were inquiring about.”
“I’m on my way.”
Madison hoped they found the missing woman. It sure would be good news for Margaret’s family and friends. She drove down 17-92 and passed Lake Lily. Madison turned down Maitland Avenue, which ran along the lake’s edge. It would bring her to the rear of the police station. Just as she pulled into the parking lot, Detective Logan was coming out of the building and motioned for her to come with him. Madison didn’t waste any time and jumped into the passenger’s side of his squad car. Logan started up the car and backed out like he was on his way to a fire. “What’s up?”
“A fisherman found a body of a young woman out past Lake Sybelia.” He flipped on the siren.
“Is this the new development you mentioned?”
“It could be. I thought you’d like to be in on this. It matches the description of the woman you were inquiring about.”
“I appreciate it.”
“I’m not sure why the FBI would be interested in this case, but your expertise may be of some help in our case here.”
Oh hell. I hope Logan hasn’t checked to see if the FBI has assigned me here. If so, I’m going to be in hot water for sure.
“Well, since it’s your case, I’ll try not to interfere too much.”
“Sorry, Agent Hart. I didn’t mean to sound sharp with you, but we have not officially asked for the FBI’s assistance on this, yet. It could just be an accidental drowning. We won’t know anything until the coroner looks at the body. You understand, don’t you?”
“Of course. The FBI will not get involved here unless you request it, and we find it warranted, but I do appreciate you calling me in on this. It just may have something to do with the investigation I’m working on.”
Madison was afraid she was digging her hole deeper. If this did not involve the FBI, how was she going to explain her involvement without giving away her assignment with Jim Tucker? She would have to choose her words more carefully from this point on. Detective Logan was no country bumpkin, and he would surely start suspecting she was up to something.
They pulled up next to a marshy area along the edge of the lake. The grasses were high, and this specific area didn’t have too much foot traffic. The officer at the scene had already started taping off the area as the coroner drove up. Detective Logan stopped and introduced Madison to the coroner and then they followed him to the edge of the water.
Doc Webb looked up at Josh. “This body has been in the water for some time. By the decomposition of the body, it looked as though she may have been here for a week or more.” The coroner leaned down and pulled back the flaming red hair from the victim’s face, and noticed a bullet had entered the back of the woman’s skull. “I can’t give you the exact cause of death until I do the autopsy, but I can tell you her death was no accidental drowning; she was shot at close range. This young lady was murdered, but I’ll know more when we get her back to my lab.”
Madison scanned the area looking for s clues and noticed the sun was reflecting on a shiny object in the underbrush, not too far from the body. It was a rhinestone earring. She called Logan over and pointed it out. He laid down his marker, photographed it, and then hollered back to the coroner as they were bagging up the body. “Doc, does she have earrings on?”
“She has one earring on.”
Once Detective Logan bagged the earring, he walked over and unzipped the body bag. The earring Madison found was a match to the one the victim was wearing. It was a rather fancy earring for someone to be wearing for a casual date. This victim had been planning something special.
Madison was sure it was the missing waitress Margaret, and if it was, there was much more to this case. She was eager to get back to her small make-shift office. A theory was formulating, and she wasn’t about to lose any more time. If there was a connection with the other missing women, then this town could have a serial killer on the loose. Madison wanted to find out what that connection was before any more bodies started showing up.
Detective Logan and Madison got back into the squad car and headed to the station. There was silence for most of the trip and then Logan turned to Madison. “Do you think that was the woman you’ve been looking for?”
Madison shrugged her shoulders. “I’m not sure, but she does have many of the same features of my missing waitress.”
“Your missing waitress?” Detective Logan blurted out.
“What I meant was, the woman I’ve been investigating. I have no misconceptions about this being your case Detective Logan. But if this is the woman I’ve been trying to find, I sure would like to know why she was murdered.” Madison showed that she was no pushover and was not easily intimidated.
“Excuse me, Agent Hart, I didn’t mean to snap at you, but we’ve had the FBI on cases before. Although I’m sure you know your business, this is our jurisdiction.”
“The FBI has no intentions of interfering in your case unless you officially request us.” She hoped he would drop the FBI issue. “Let’s just say I’m here on an unofficial case, but anything I can do to help, I’m at your disposal.” Madison gave him a slight smile.
“Well, that would be nice. But if you’re going to stay around and get in my way, you might as well call me Josh.”
“Nice to meet you, Madison,”
Madison didn’t want to get too comfortable with this man. She suspected he was up to something and she had no intentions of revealing all her cards in this case to him.
“Well, Madison, can I buy you a cup of coffee? I’d like to pick your brain on a few things about this case.”
Two can play this game. “Thank you. That would be nice.” She gritted her teeth and forced a smile.
They pulled up to a little diner not far from the police station. “They make a pretty good cup of coffee here.”
They sat at a booth near the back of the room. Josh sat with his back to the wall so he could see anyone coming in, and Madison sat facing him. “I guess old habits die hard. Being a cop, we never want our backs to the door. I’m sure you do the same, being an FBI agent, don’t you?”
“No, not really.”
“Just coffee, Sue,” he said to the waitress.
“What’ll you have?” Sue asked Madison.
“Just coffee, thank you.”
“Now where were we?”
Madison grinned. “We were just talking about seating arrangements.”
“Oh yes. I guess it’s different when you live in the same town where you work. With your job, it probably takes you all over. Besides, you don’t look like a Fed.” Josh tried to lighten the conversation.
“I don’t mean to be rude, Josh, but can we talk about the case. I need to get back to work soon.”
Sue came up to the table with their coffees and then left. She hesitated for a moment and smiled at Josh. “Good to see you again, Detective Logan.”
“Nice to see you too, Sue.”
He turned back to Madison, “A lot of us come in here often for coffee.”
“Nice. Now, what was it you wanted to discuss with me?”
Josh straightened his back and took in a big sip of his coffee. “Okay. I wanted to know a little more about this woman you’ve been looking for, and why she come across your desk? Is she involved with something I should know about?”
“Josh, I was doing someone a favor. Someone asked me to look into her disappearance. If this is the woman that I have been looking for, then I’m faced with the harsh reality of having to tell him that she’s been murdered. And if that’s the case, then it puts another dimension into my investigation. To be honest, that’s all I can reveal to you at this point. You understand, don’t you? I can tell you this; if I find out anything that will help your case, I will not hold out on you. That I can promise.” She leaned back and sipped her coffee.
“You’re a strange one, Agent Madison Hart. But I will hold you to that promise. If you find out anything, please let me know anytime, day or night. I don’t like the idea of someone murdering people in our town.” He took a sip of his coffee but didn’t take his eyes off of Madison.
Detective Logan walked Madison back to her car. “Keep in touch, Madison.”
Madison smiled. “Will do, Josh.”
All she wanted to do was get back to her office and update her board, and call Jim to let him know what she had found out. She opened the door of her office, dropped her purse on the desk, and stood there looking at the board and then moved Margaret’s picture to the top. Though there was no confirmation on the ID yet, Madison felt it was most likely Margaret because of her red hair.
Madison called Margaret’s friend, Sandy, from the restaurant, and sent a picture of the earring via text. She asked Sandy if she had ever seen one like it before. Immediately, Madison got a response. “Yes, I’ve seen one like it. My friend Margaret had a pair just like that. It was a gift from her special friend. Where did you find it?”
Madison didn’t want to alarm Sandy, so she just told her that the earring was found in Maitland. She hoped Sandy wouldn’t ask too much or become fearful there was something Madison wasn’t telling her. Without proof that it was Margaret they found, there was no point in upsetting Sandy? “Thank you for your help Sandy.” Madison quickly hung up before Sandy could ask anything else.
Madison was now sure the murdered woman found that day was the missing Margaret Hill. She called Jim. “Jim, this is Madison. The Maitland Police Department found a body of a young woman, and it may be one of our missing women. I’m getting a bad feeling about this assignment. I hope this isn’t a pattern, and we end up finding more victims.”
“Thank you, Madison. Keep on it. See if you can find out anything else on the other missing women I told you about.”
“I will. I’m planning to contact my sources in the FBI to see if I can find a connection or anything they have in common. I’ll talk to you soon. I’m going to fax you what I have so far, and a copy of the information to Winter. I know she still wants to put together the story as it unfolds.”
Madison taped Ms. Hill’s picture at the top of the board along with the photo of the earring and then lined up the other photos of the missing women. She stood back looking at the photos. “What in the hell do these women have in common? What is their connection? I know once I figure that out, it will lead me to Margaret Hill’s killer.”
This case was bothering Madison. She felt the answers were right in front of her, but she was missing the obvious. She called Detective Logan and asked if the coroner had made a positive ID yet.
“Funny, you should call. I was just about to call you. Doc Webb determined that it was your missing woman, Margaret Hill. He has officially ruled her death a homicide. She was shot at close range in the back of the head, but no shell casings were found in, or near the body. He’s not sure of the type of weapon used until he gets the report back from ballistics. I was planning to go back to the crime scene and wondered if you’d like to tag along?”
Madison bit her tongue at the remark “tag along.” This man certainly is full of himself, but I won’t let his arrogance deter me from using him for information. “I appreciate that. I’ll be right over.”
“I could pick you up if you’d like.”
The last thing she wanted was for him to step into her space, snooping around for information. “That’s okay. I’m practically out the door now. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” She quickly hung up the phone so he wouldn’t have time to suggest driving over to her place.
She grabbed her bag, swung it into her car and took off toward the station. It was only a block away, but she didn’t want him to know how close she was. She wasn’t ready to share everything with him yet and wasn’t sure how much she trusted him at this point.
Her car barely got warm before she was parking in front of the station. She entered the lobby and stepped up to the receptionist’s desk. Just as she was about to ask for Detective Logan, Betty, the woman behind the desk looked up. “Agent Hart? Detective Logan is on his way out. It will just be a minute. Would you like to have a seat?”
“No thank you. I’ll just wait here.”
Betty continued with her work and left Madison to roam the lobby. There were several plaques on the wall for outstanding accomplishments and a few were honoring Detective Logan’s investigative work. She turned back to the desk, “Excuse me. I see Detective Logan has several plaques on the wall for outstanding work. What type of cases where they that earned him such high recognition?”.
Betty stood up with a big grin on her face; it was as if Madison had praised her. She stepped up to the counter and was just about to enlighten Madison when Logan came through the door. “I hope I didn’t keep you long. I was just going over a few things with the Chief. Are you ready?”
“Uh…yes.” She turned back to Betty. “Maybe another time?”
“Sure,” Betty replied.
Detective Logan led the way to the door and opened it for her. Madison was startled when he held the door open. “After you.”
He led her to his squad car, but this time did not open her door. It was back to business. They headed down Packwood Drive toward Lake Sybelia. As they passed the Maitland Art Center, Madison felt that she wanted to return there later.
They continued driving along the south side of the lake. The canal opened into a smaller section of the lake where they found the body. Detective Logan pulled up as close as he could to the area that had been taped off. He lifted up the tape, and they entered the crime scene. The site was somewhat compromised, but still secured enough that possibly they could find some clues.
Josh combed the area, looking for any evidence that would indicate where the crime took place but found nothing. Madison stood back surveying the area from a distance and noticed a slight indention in the grass. She backed up to the road to get a better panoramic view. It looked like something was dragged through the tall grasses.
“Detective, I think I have something here. I’d like your opinion on this.” He turned and made his way back to the road.
“What is it?”
“Do you see anything strange?”
He quickly scoped the area and then turned toward the direction Madison was facing and pointed. “Yeah. Drag marks right to the where we found the body.”
“That’s what I thought too. I don’t believe this is where the murder took place, do you?”
“No, I don’t. I think our victim was dragged down to the water, and that’s why no one heard anything out of the ordinary. The questions now are where was she killed, why was she killed and who killed her?” Josh looked around as he scratched the top of his head.
Madison was impressed with his observation and genuine concern for the case. Up until that moment, all she had seen in Detective Logan was a cocky cop trying to make an impression, but beneath that exterior, he just might be good at his job.
“Agent Hart, you have a good eye for details. I believe I’ve underestimated you. What do you think of us working on this case together?”
“I think I could work with that. I need to check with my boss and see if we can assist. Are you officially asking for the FBI’s help in this case?”
“Ah hell, I guess I am.”
“Okay then, I’ll make a call and get back with you. Either way, I will help you with this one. I have a feeling about this case but don’t want to speculate right now until I have more facts in place. Also, if we are going to work together, it’s Madison.”
He extended his hand to shake hers. “It’s Josh.”
“Josh, let’s finish up here for now, so I can make a few calls. I don’t want us to waste any time. However, I will need you to request the FBI’s assistance formally. I’ll get back to you shortly on this.”
They drove back to the station and Madison returned to her office and called her boss at the FBI, Agent Stratton Wells. “Stratton, as you know, I’m here in Maitland helping my sister with her recovery. I was doing a little P.I. work for her on a story she started and stumbled onto a murder that might be connected to Winter’s story. Detective Josh Logan of the Maitland Police Department would like our help and resources in this case. Stratton, I’d like to be assigned to this one. What started out as a missing person’s case has now become a homicide.”
“Send me what you have so far. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” Stratton said.
“I don’t want to wait too long. I fear more bodies will be found, and if so, we have a serial killer in the area we need to find soon. I’m faxing over the information now.”
Stratton called Martin Baines in so they could review what Madison had faxed. “Martin, I hope she’s wrong, but there are some strange similarities here. You know Madison has a knack for identifying that sort of thing.”
“She does, and I’m going to trust her on this one, but I want her to keep us posted on every step in this investigation. She’s treading on thin ice with this, and I don’t want our office caught off guard.”
“I agree. I’ll call the Maitland Police Department now, and talk to this Detective Logan and the Chief.”
Stratton called and discussed the case with Chief Baker. The chief officially requested the assistance of the FBI and told them Detective Logan would be the lead on this case. The Chief turned the phone over to Logan. Josh welcomed the assistance and remarked to Agent Wells that he was looking forward to working with Agent Hart. He agreed to keep the FBI notified if there were any new changes in the case. “Thank you for your assistance with this one, Agent Wells. Your Agent Hart seems to think there’s more to this case, but we haven’t discussed all the details yet.”
As soon as Josh got off the phone with Agent Wells, he called Madison. Madison had been on the phone with Jim Tucker, updating him as to what was happening. She told him she planned to go back to the Art Center later that day to talk to the receptionist again. The moment she got off the phone with Jim, Josh called. “We got the okay from your supervisor. It looks like we’ll be working together on this.”
“I’m getting ready to run down to the coroner’s office. Do you want to come with me?”
“No. I have a few more leads I want to follow up. I’ll get with you later.”
“Sure thing.” He suspected she was up to something and was very curious, but knew they could accomplish more if they split up.
Josh headed down to the coroner’s office to see what else Doc Webb had found while Madison drove over to the Art Center.
Madison walked into the reception area expecting to see Alice there, but instead there was someone new in her place. “Good morning. I was here the other day and talked to Alice. Is she around today?”
“No, she only works on Wednesday. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“My name is Madison Hart. I was doing a story on the Art Center, and Alice was showing me around the last time I was here. She told me a little about the exhibit, and I wanted to learn more about the artist and his works.” Madison tried not to sound official. She felt the woman might be intimidated if she told her she was with the FBI working on a murder. “I grew up in Maitland and spent a lot of my youth here. I thought it would make a good story, especially since it was added to the National Registry.”
“Well, let me show you around,” the receptionist said. “Oh, I’m sorry, my name is Kim. I work here a lot and know the artist who is exhibiting very well. I mean I know his work very well.” Kim pointed out a few pieces of art. “Tyler Kincaid is one of our most popular local artists. He paints scenes of well-known landmarks in the central Florida area.”
“I noticed he always has an attractive, young woman in each of his paintings. Does he use different models, or does he just change their looks a little in each painting?”
“He doesn’t use the same models. He only uses them once, but many of them would love to model for him again.”
“Does he pose all his models in a similar manner?”
Kim tightened her lips. “Well, they’re not the focus of his paintings. It’s the landmark that’s important to him.”
Madison got the impression that Kim was not impressed with the models, so she changed the subject.
“How long have you been working here, Kim?”
“I started about two years ago. I love working here and meeting all the interesting artists that exhibit at the Center.” She pulled back her shoulders with pride as if she was privy to the inner circle of artists.
“Are you an artist, too?”
“I am, but Tyler, I mean Mr. Kincaid is helping me improve my talent. He thinks someday I’ll be ready for my own exhibit.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m sure you will. Kim, do you mind if I walk around a bit? I’d like to get a feel of the place for my story.”
“No, not at all. If you have any questions, I’ll be up front.” Kim turned and walked back toward the entrance.
Madison made her way along the same hallways that she visited the other day. She was hoping to find Aspen again, and sure enough, Aspen had her easel up in the exact spot she was in the other day.
“Good morning, Aspen. I see you’re still at it.”
“Yes, I find painting to be relaxing; especially, since the weather has been so nice lately, and I can set up outside.”
Madison walked over to Aspen’s easel and glanced at the canvas. “Is this the same piece you were working on the other day?”
“Same piece I’ve been working on over a month. I seem to be having difficulty deciding the direction I want to go with this. I’ve changed it several times. Mr. Kincaid said he sometimes does that too, and I shouldn’t be discouraged. I guess it’s time to take a break. I’m getting hungry. Hey, would you like to join me for lunch? I’m just going to run up to a little diner where they have great cheap lunches.”
“That would be nice.” Maybe I can find out more about what’s going on around the Center.
“I have to run to my office for a minute, so can I meet you there in half an hour?”
“That sounds perfect. It will give me time to put up my painting.”
Madison started to leave when it dawned on her she didn’t even know the name of the place or where she was supposed to meet Aspen. She walked back into the courtyard just as Aspen was entering one of the studios with her things. Madison started toward Aspen when suddenly she heard a commotion. When she entered the room, Aspen was lying on the floor with blood coming from her head.
Madison raced to her just as she was getting up grabbing her head. “I can’t believe I tripped over that damn thing. I swear it wasn’t there before. I don’t know how I missed it.”
Madison wiped the blood away from Aspen’s forehead with a paper towel. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I just feel foolish that I didn’t see that box as I came in. I’m fine. I’m going to run to the house and change. I’ll see you in about half an hour.”
“The reason I came back, is that I forgot to ask you where the café was and how to get there.”
“You just head north on Maitland Avenue. There is a strip mall on the right, just before you reach Highway 436. It’s called the Breakfast Club.”
“Great. I’ll see you soon. Are you sure you’re going to be okay?”
“Oh yes, but thanks for your concern.”
Madison looked at the box Aspen tripped over and then moved it out of the way. Why would someone place a box in the middle of the entrance? Anyone who entered that room would have fallen over it.
Kim was standing in the hallway near the exit as Madison walked across the courtyard. “Is everything okay? I heard a loud noise.”
“Everything is fine. Aspen was putting away her painting and tripped over a box, but she’s okay.” Kim smiled and then turned back toward the reception area.
When Madison got back into her car, she checked to see if there were any messages from Josh, but since there weren’t, she headed to meet Aspen. In route, she got a call from Winter. “Hi Maddy, I received all the information you sent me. It looks like Jim may have been onto something after all. Have you found any connection to the murdered woman and the other missing women yet?”
“No, Win, I haven’t, but I have a feeling Jim’s right. I think the focus of this stems from something going on at the Art Center, and it’s making the hair on the back of my neck stand up every time I walk through the grounds. I’ll tell you something else I found out today, but keep this to yourself until we get to the bottom of this. The body we found was put there after she was killed. It appeared staged to me. I’m working with Detective Logan now since the Maitland Police Department requested the assistance of the FBI.” Madison gritted her teeth. “I kind-of encouraged him to ask so that I wouldn’t be putting my neck out too far, but I’m still working on this case for your story and Jim’s peace of mind. You’re right, though; Jim certainly has a nose for something out of the ordinary. I sense it too. How are you feeling? I’m going to try and get out there to see you this weekend unless something comes up with this case. Love you, Sis.”
She was finishing her conversation with Winter as she pulled in the parking lot of The Breakfast Club. She looked around the lot to see if Aspen was there yet, and since the place was getting crowded, she went in and got a table. She was about the third one back in line waiting for a table when she heard, “Hey Madison.” It was Josh. She walked over where he was sitting with a few of the men from the station. He asked if she wanted to join them. “Thank you, but I’m having lunch with one of the students at the Art Center in a few minutes.”
Josh picked up on her meaning immediately. “Well, I’ll talk to you later.” The waitress called to her and escorted her to her table. “How many today?”
“Just two.” She was glad the table was on the other side of the room. She didn’t want to be distracted by all the conversations. She hoped to learn more about the people coming and going at the Art Center.
Aspen stepped into the restaurant and looked around. Madison raised her arm to get her attention. “Over here.” Aspen smiled and made her way to the table. Madison reached up toward Aspen’s forehead. “Wow, you got a whopper going on there. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah, I guess when I get back I’ll put some ice on it. I didn’t think I hit the ground that hard, but my head is throbbing. I think I’ll just go home after lunch and deal with it. I swear that box wasn’t there earlier, but lately, I’ve been doing a lot of foolish things. I keep forgetting things as well.” She giggled. “Maybe I’m sniffing too many paint fumes.”
The waitress approached the table. “What happened to your head, Aspen?”
“Lisa, this is my friend, Madison. Madison, this is the best waitress in town. She’ll never forget your name or what you eat.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Madison. Are you new in town?”
“I don’t know how new I am. I was raised in Maitland, but have been away for a while. I just recently returned.”
“Well, I hope you’ll stay. What can I get you two today?” Lisa brushed her thick auburn bangs away from her wide black-rimmed glasses. Lisa was a young, well-endowed woman with a big welcoming grin that elicited a smile in return from even the grumpiest of souls. She seemed to know the names of everyone in the room. Not only does she remember their names, but the names of their family members, pets and what each person’s job or hobby is. She seemed genuinely interested, which was a rare thing in this day and age.
“What’s the special today?” Aspen asked as Lisa handed them the menus.
“It’s the swiss burger with caramelized onions, Texas fries, or salad and a Kosher pickle. I haven’t had it, but we’re getting compliments already. We also have the grilled chicken salad with roasted pecans and cranberries, with raspberry vinaigrette. As hot as it is today, I would lean more to the salad and some iced tea,” Lisa stated as she pushed her glasses up on her nose and positioned herself to write the order.
“I’ll have that salad,” Madison said.
“I’m so hungry; I’ll have that burger and fries with a diet coke.” Aspen touched the lump on her forehead.
“Okay, I’ll get that right out for you.”
Madison leaned across the table. “Aspen, are you in pain?” Her pupils were a little dilated. “You might want to get that checked after lunch.”
“You’re probably right. It hurts like hell, and I don’t feel right. Now, let’s not talk about this. Are you going to take some classes at the Center? I heard you’ve been back a few times. Let me know who you want to take a class with, and I can tell you if they’re worth it or not.”
“I don’t know. I’m just interested in the place and would like to know more about the upcoming exhibit with Tyler Kincaid. Have you ever met any of his models? How does he choose them?” Madison wasn’t ready to tell Aspen or anyone from the Art Center what her real motives were.
“I sure hope you’ll come and see his new pieces. I hear they are outstanding, and there should be a big crowd. He has such a following. I have to admit; I’m a follower,” she said sheepishly. “Most of his models were women that he met at his showings, but I’ve heard rumors they were more than just models if you know what I mean.” She whispered that last statement and looked around the room to make sure no one heard her.
Madison leaned over the table discretely. “You mean he has affairs with his models?”
“You didn’t hear it from me, but that’s what I’ve heard, and by the looks of some of them when they’re around him, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“Do you know any of them?”
“I’ve met a few. But after they modeled for Mr. Kincaid, I didn’t see much of them. Come to think of it; I don’t see them anymore at all. Do you suppose he was such a bad lover that they just left? I would hope not, or that would shatter my fantasy of him.”
“What can you tell me about the women you’ve met?”
Aspen tilted her head and raised one eyebrow. “You sure are a curious one.”
“Okay, I am curious, but you can’t tell anyone.” Madison leaned across the table again. “I’m working on a book, but it’s on the hush hush.” Madison held her finger to her lips.
“That is so exciting. Boy, can I fill you in on some juicy gossip for your book.”
Just as Aspen was about to tell Madison something else, Lisa arrived with their food. “Here you are, ladies. Hope you enjoy your lunch, and if you need anything else, I’ll be back to check on you soon.” Lisa turned and left the table.
“I’m starving.” Aspen started right in on her burger.
Aspen might know more than she realized. Madison hoped later to get more information on the women involved with Mr. Kincaid. One thing she was sure of was she wanted to talk to this artist, and soon.
They were finishing up their lunch just as Josh and his friends were leaving. Josh passed their table and slightly nodded at Madison so that Aspen wouldn’t notice. He didn’t want to foil what Madison was doing and knew she was probing for information that she would share with him later.
Madison watched Josh get into his car. As soon as she and Aspen parted, she planned to call him on his cell to find out what he had learned at the coroner’s office. Lisa brought the check to the table, and Madison picked it up. “It’s my treat this time. I’ll let you buy another time.”
Madison stood up first, but the moment Aspen tried to stand, she collapsed to the ground. She was unconscious on the floor. Madison knelt down to try and get a response from Aspen, but nothing. Her pulse was weak. Lisa dialed 911, and within moments the EMTs arrived and administered CPR and oxygen and rushed her off to the hospital. They started asking Madison questions she couldn’t answer, but Lisa stepped in and volunteered as much information as they needed. It was a good thing it happened at the café, or Madison would have been clueless. The only thing she could tell them was that less than an hour ago Aspen had a nasty fall and hit her head.
Madison and Lisa stood there at the door watching the EMTs load Aspen into the ambulance and head out with sirens blaring. Madison turned to Lisa. “Lisa, what can you tell me about Aspen? Her last name, friends or family in town, anything?” Lisa was shaken, not only by what just happened to someone she knew but by Madison’s sudden change in tone. Madison’s FBI interrogation persona started to surface. Lisa just sat down at the table and looked up at Madison, “Wait a minute. What’s going on here? Why are you questioning me like this? I thought you were Aspen’s friend.”
Suddenly, Madison’s tone switched, and she sat down with Lisa. “Lisa, I am Aspen’s friend. However, I’m also working on an investigation of some missing persons, and I think Aspen might be able to help me. So anything you can tell me about her might help.”
“You don’t think Aspen has anything to do with the missing persons, do you? Aspen wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s one of the sweetest people I know.”
“No, I do not think she has anything to do with it. But she may know something that she’s not even aware she knows. I need to find out what it is before anyone else goes missing or gets hurt.”
“All I can tell you is that she has a brother in Gainesville, and her mother lives on the other side of Orlando. Best I know is she spends most of her time at the Art Center studying art and painting. She doesn’t have to work because she lives on a large trust fund from her father. I know she does some volunteer work at the Center when they have major exhibits. As a matter of fact, she was telling me how excited she was to be helping out with Tyler Kincaid’s upcoming show.”
“Do you know if she has ever modeled for Mr. Kincaid?”
“I’m sure I would have heard about that if she had. No. I don’t think so. Besides, Aspen said Mr. Kincaid prefers petite women for his models.”
Madison leaned in close to Lisa and whispered. “Thank you so much for your help, Lisa. I’d appreciate if you did not discuss what we talked about with anyone. It may jeopardize our investigation, or could put Aspen in danger.”
Lisa crossed her heart. “Oh, I won’t say a word. I sure don’t want anything to happen to Aspen on account of me.”
Lisa couldn’t take her eyes off of Madison as she left the diner. Then she cleared off the table where Madison and Aspen were sitting, and noticed Madison had left a very large tip. She picked it up, stuffed the tip into her apron pocket and waved as Madison drove off.
Madison called Josh immediately and told him what happened. “Hey Josh, can you meet me in an hour at my office? I want to go over some things with you that may be pertinent to our case.”
“Yes. I’ll be there. I just returned from the coroner’s and found out some new information too.”
She hung up. “This is no time to be holding back on information from him. We need to find out who killed Margaret Hill and who is involved with the other missing women.”
Madison returned to her office and started jotting things onto her board. She added a new element to this case, Aspen. She posted Aspen’s name on the board, not because she was a suspect, but because she may know something and could be in danger. Under Aspen’s name, she added, lives on a trust fund, studies at the Art Center and volunteers at special exhibits. Then under Margaret Hill’s photo, Madison wrote: waitress, petite young woman, possibly belonging to missing earring, and was headed to the Art Center to meet someone the night she disappeared.
Madison stood back and looked at the board again. She needed more information on the other missing women before she could see a pattern, but she already saw a link. It was telling her Ms. Hill and Aspen had something in common; they both were planning to attend Tyler Kincaid’s exhibit.
The sudden sound of someone knocking on the front door startled Madison from her train of thought. She was engrossed in the evidence, or lack of it, and it was driving her to find out more that she forgot that Josh was coming.
“Hey, Josh. Thanks for coming by.” Wasting no time with small talk, Madison immediately led him to the board.
“Nice to see you too.”
“I’m sorry, Josh, but some things are not making sense. I feel we are on the verge of a break-through.” She continued to stare at the board with one hand on her hip and the other on top of her head.
“Well, let me fill you in on what I just found out at the coroner’s office. Doc Webb said the lab work came back on the blood. And based on his examination, our victim was not sexually assaulted. Apparently, she did not die of the gunshot either. She drowned. But the strange thing is, there are no defensive wounds and no marks on her body that would indicate she was held under the water. She must have been unconscious when she drowned.”
As Josh was telling Madison what he found out, she was writing all the information on the board under Ms. Hill’s name. “There’s more to this, and we’ve got to find out what it is before there’s another victim.”
“I agree.” Josh watched Madison frantically scribbling information across the board. “Who are these other women you have on the board?”
Madison began to tell him of Jim’s suspicions, without mentioning his name. “These are a few other women who are also missing. I need to find out what I can about them. I was planning to visit the home of one of these ladies this afternoon, but I want to make sure Aspen, the young lady I was with today at lunch, is okay first. What are you up to?”
“My time is yours. I’m as eager to get to the bottom of this as you are. Mind if I tag along?”
“No. As a matter of fact, I was hoping you would. I think your insights may be valuable, and together we may hit on something. Let me make a couple of calls, and we’ll take a ride.” Madison called the hospital and asked about Aspen’s condition. Of course, she introduced herself as Agent Hart, with the FBI and got immediate information on Aspen’s condition. Aspen had some bleeding in the brain from the fall that caused her to pass out, but she’ll be fine in a few days and would be staying in the hospital for awhile.
“Josh, I don’t believe that Aspen’s fall was an accident. That box was too conveniently placed there. Anyone coming into that room, especially holding an easel, wouldn’t have seen it. No, I think someone deliberately placed it there for Aspen, or me, to fall.”
Josh stood in front of the board with his hands on his hips. “Now I see why you have her name on the board. If she does have information, she could be in danger.”
Madison called the home of one of the missing young ladies and asked if she and Detective Logan could come to the house and look around. Her roommate was hesitant at first but then invited them over. All Madison had was a head shot photo, but it was a start. The roommate invited them into the modest living room.
“What can you tell us about your roommate? Anything can help.”
“Well, I moved in with Erin about six months ago. We both worked at the hospital as LPN’s. She worked in Peds, you know Pediatrics, and I worked in ICU. A friend told her I was looking for a place, and she was having trouble with paying all the bills on her own, so it seemed like a win-win situation. We didn’t run in the same circles, though. Erin had other ambitions and was taking classes at the Community College, and I just wanted to save up to get my RN license.”
“What did she do for fun?” Josh inquired. “Did she have any hobbies?”
“I don’t recall her mentioning much. She very seldom went out, but when she did, it was usually to some cultural event. She wasn’t one to go to the bars. She’d rather catch a play or musical, which I could care less about. It wasn’t my thing or my friends. I tried to invite her with us a few times, but she declined.”
Madison glanced around the room. “Do you mind if we check out Erin’s room?”
“Help yourself. It’s just down the hall. I haven’t been in there since the police came after I reported her missing. I didn’t think they cared. They told me since she was over eighteen, they couldn’t call it a missing person. They gave me some song-and-dance about how Erin could have just left the area to avoid paying bills or run off with a boyfriend. That’s why when you called, I was surprised.”
Madison and Josh headed down the hall and opened the door. Erin’s room was immaculate and well-organized room. Her bed was made up like a 5-star hotel. The sheets were turned down and tucked under the spread with a comforter arranged perfectly. It didn’t even look like anyone ever slept in the bed. Her closet was arranged by color, from pastels to darks and each section of colors by the length of sleeves. The lower section had matching pants under the blouses, and below the pants were the coordinating shoes. She didn’t have many dresses, but they, too, were organized. Every item hanging in the closet was on wooden hangers that were exactly two inches apart.
When Madison opened Erin’s dresser drawers, the patterns followed suit. All the clothes were folded and color coordinated. “I have never seen a young woman’s belonging so neatly arranged. She must have OCD in a bad way. Even the girl’s jewelry is organized. It’s almost scary. No wonder she didn’t socialize much.”
Josh was looking through the built-in bookcase at the variety of books. They were alphabetically placed. Even her journals were the same sizes and in numerical order. He reached in for one of the journals. “I’ll bet this woman knew where every single thing she owned was at any given time. You’re right. This is weird, especially for someone so young.”
It was the journal Erin was writing in when she went missing. Josh flipped through the pages until he came to the last entry. It was written a week before she disappeared. “Hey, Madison, look at this. Her last entry was written a week before she was reported missing, yet the rest of the journal reads like a day-by-day summary of what she did in her life. Why would it just stop then?”
“Well, I’m not sure, but it still doesn’t answer why she stopped writing. This woman was a creature of habit to the extreme. So why did she quit at that point? The last thing she wrote about was that she thought her new relationship was leading somewhere. She talks about working with the most incredible and talented man who accepts her for who she is, and didn’t care about her idiosyncrasies.
Josh turned the page in Erin’s Journal. “Listen to the last words she writes.”
Josh began reading Erin’s entry. “He wants to see me again. I can’t wait to be with him again tomorrow night. I hope he feels the same way I do. He must, or why would he send me this message to meet him.”
Madison picked up the book and read Erin’s last entry. “I think she wrote this just before she went missing. This entry may be crucial to the timeline. Let’s bag this and take it back to my office. I want to see if we can find out anything else that may tie her with Margaret Hill.”
Madison walked into the living room to talk to the roommate. “Did Erin always keep her room that neat?”
“She was obsessed with everything being perfect, all the time. That was a contention with us because when my friends came over, she couldn’t even walk through the room without hyperventilating. I swear I thought she was going to faint and the minute my friends left, she’d come out of her room and start cleaning. I remember one time she stayed up half the night cleaning. I just went to bed. It drove me crazy. No wonder she didn’t have a boyfriend.”
“She never mentioned seeing anyone?”
The roommate popped opened a Diet Coke. “No, but then again we didn’t talk much. Erin spent most of her time in her room or running off to some cultural event or night classes.”
Josh came out of Erin’s room and thanked the roommate. He handed her his card and asked if she thought of anything else, to please give him a call. She took the card and tossed it on the counter. “Yeah, okay, but I doubt I’ll hear from her anytime soon.”
“Why do you think that?”
“The rents due, and she’s a stickler for paying it on a certain day; it never fails. I guess I’m going to be stuck with the whole damn thing. What should I do with her things if she doesn’t come back?”
“Leave everything as it is for now, and we’ll get back to you. If you have to move out, please call us first.”
Josh and Madison left the two-bedroom apartment with the journal. They were going back to Madison’s office first to add more data to the board and start a timeline on the missing women. To build a profile, they needed to know when each woman disappeared in the hopes that more evidence would reveal a pattern that would connect them.
As they drove toward Maitland, Josh turned to Madison. “I know you’ve got something stirring. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Well, Margaret Hill had a mystery man in her life, who she was supposedly meeting the night she disappeared. Now, we find out that Erin also had someone secretive in her life. By her last entry in her journal, she too was meeting someone the night she disappeared. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Do you?”
“No, I don’t.”
They pulled into the parking lot in front of her office. Josh shook his head. “This is the sparsest office I’ve ever seen, but it looks like it’s working for you.”
“It’s all I need right now.” She opened the door, and Josh walked into the one-room space that held nothing but a 4 × 6-foot white board, a table and a couple of chairs and another small table. There was one very small space in the back, where Madison had set a bed. She separated the space with a curtain to define the area where she slept.
Madison stood glancing around the small space. “I’m not here to impress anyone. I’m here to get the job done and find these women. And if they have been murdered, get the bastard off the streets.”
He pulled up one of the chairs to the table. “Well, let’s get to work, then.”
“Okay, here’s what we have so far. We have five missing women. One of them is now a dead body. Madison started a new section on the other side of the board that read Timeline. “So far, we have a report of a woman missing on July 23rd, one on September 6th, and then Erin on October 12th. Margaret Hill was reported missing on November 23rd and found dead on November 28^th.^ This last missing woman was reported on December 22nd.” She wrote each one on the board.
Josh interjected. “It looks like they came up missing approximately six weeks apart, but only one body was found. They all live in the general area around Winter Park, but the body of Ms. Hill was located in Maitland. I know there is a connection here, but I don’t see it yet. What makes you think the Art Center has something to do with these cases?”
Madison stood staring at the board. “I’m not sure yet. It’s one of those gut feelings, and it’s nagging at me. I’m not saying the Center is the connection, but something is telling me to keep digging there.”
Josh leaned back in his chair studying the board and wondering if Madison’s feelings were on target. The women were from the Winter Park area, but since they found the body in Maitland, he had to agree she could be onto to something.
He stood up and started toward the board when his cell phone rang. “Logan.” Then there was a long pause. “We’ll be right there.” He turned to Madison.“Got another body in the canal near the old covered bridge on Horatio.”
Madison raced behind him, slammed the door, locked it and jumped into the squad car. She barely got the door closed before Josh started backing out of the parking lot. It wasn’t that far from where they were, and it only took about five minutes to arrive at the entrance to the old Horatio Drive. An officer was directing the cars around to the main road. They blocked off the bridge while they waited for the coroner.
Madison and Josh walked down under the bridge towards the weed-thickened shoreline where another officer was waiting with two fishermen who had found the body. Josh approached and introduced himself as Madison surveyed the area. The badly decomposed body was caught up in the tall reeds lining the canal. It would be hard pressed for anyone to notice the body if they were just boating through that part of the canal. It looked like a woman’s body, based on the clothing. She was well dressed and wore upscale jewelry, nothing too fancy, but something someone would wear on a casual date. The body was bloated from being submerged in the water so long, and it was hard to make out any of the features. Madison estimated, based on her expertise; the woman had been in the water for a very long time, maybe even months. It was hard to tell because much of her flesh had been eaten away by fish or maybe an old gator. The myth of gators not eating dead meat was just that, a myth.
It appeared that the body had snagged on some wire, and that might have been the reason it didn’t float through the canal or be dragged away by a gator. Madison would know more once the coroner’s office had a chance to do an autopsy, so she made her way back up the bank to where Josh was interviewing the two old men. They had been rowing their small fishing boat under the bridge, hoping to catch some catfish. They were still shaking as Josh was asking them to recap what had happened.
“I was just about to toss my line in on the other side of the boat when a speedboat came by and nearly turned our boat over. Luckily we were close to the shore, and our boat slammed into that patch of grasses. That’s when James hollered out to me. I turned around and saw what I thought was an arm, sticking out of the grass. I nearly lost my pole and almost fell overboard. We both paddled as close as we could to see if it was a manikin, but, it was a body. I’ve never seen a real dead body before. James lost his bologna sandwich, and I nearly lost mine. I pushed away from the shore as fast as I could. I’ve seen CSI on TV and knew not to disturb the scene. That’s when James called the police. I hope you won’t need us too much longer. My stomach ain’t feelin’ so good right now, and I think James needs to get home and change. He had a little accident.” He whispered to Josh.
“That’s fine. We’ll have an officer drive the two of you home. If we need anything else, we’ll get in touch. We may want to talk to you later, but we’ll call first. Thank you for your help.” Josh patted them each on the shoulder and then turned to Madison.“What do you think?”
Madison continued scanning the area. “Since you asked me, I think I can formulate a profile, but I want to find out what the coroner says first. One thing I can tell you for sure is this person is familiar with the area. They just didn’t happen on two perfect, out-of-the-way sites to dump these bodies.”
“That makes sense.” As the corner’s van pulled up. Madison and Josh walked back to the dumpsite and watched as the medical examiner checked the body. Doc Webb looked up at Josh. “She was shot too, and by the looks of it with a small caliber weapon. I’ll know more when I get her onto my table.”
“Doc, do you think you’ll have something this afternoon?”
Doc Webb turned and looked up at Josh. “She’s in pretty bad shape and I’m still working on the other body you brought me. You think you can give me a little more time? I’m good, but I’m no miracle worker.”
“Sorry, Doc. Just give me a call if you find out anything that will help us.”
“Will do.” Doc Webb and his assistants bagged the body.
Madison headed back up to the bridge to check the area above the canal. She saw a torn piece of fabric that had been ripped and snagged between the concrete boulders that lined the bridge.
Josh marked the spot and photographed it, and then bagged it in an evidence pouch. “I’ll have this sent to the lab and see what they find. It may belong to some kids just fishing off the bridge, but we won’t rule anything out right now.”
Josh was checking the surroundings too. There were no drag marks or any other signs near or around the body, but it had been awhile, and with all the rain and time that had passed, evidence might have been destroyed. There wasn’t much to go on at that point, and Josh and Madison were counting on Doc Webb to come up with something.
Josh dropped Madison back at her office and returned to the police station to write up his report. The more he thought about what Madison said about the killer being familiar with the area, the more it angered him. Someone who lives in his hometown, and might even be one of his neighbors is killing people. He was more determined than ever to get to the bottom of this case.
The days were getting hotter, and by early evening it was nearly 93 degrees. Everyone was leaving the station, but Josh couldn’t shake the case. He was anxious and began pacing his office. He wasn’t going to get any sleep that night, so he called Madison. “Agent Hart, this case is bugging me. Would you like to join me for a beer and discuss this further?”
“If you had called an hour ago, I would have said yes. But I’m already on my way to Cassadaga to see my sister this evening. I’m sure I told you that my sister has been ill. How about getting together for coffee in the morning around 8:00 a.m.?”
“Yeah, that will be fine. Hope your sister is okay?”
“She’s getting better every day, but I haven’t seen her since we found Ms. Hill and I need to check up on her and won’t be back until late. I’ll see you in the morning,”
“She doesn’t pull any punches. Says what’s on her mind, to the point, and that’s it. She’s a headstrong woman on a mission. I kind of like that about her, and she’s not bad looking either.” Josh finished up his report but was still restless and wasn’t ready to go home. He called Doc Webb. “Hey, Doc. Would you mind if I swung by the lab?”
“Sure, but I don’t have much at this point. Why’s a good-looking young man like you, wanting to spend your Friday night in the morgue with an old doctor? You’re too young to be spending all your time working cases. Before you know it, you’ll be an old man with nothing to show for it but a bunch of lonely nights. These bodies will wait until tomorrow, and if I find anything, I’ll call you. Now go out and have some fun.”
Shit. Not even the coroner wants to hang around with me tonight. That’s pretty bad. Hell, I guess I do need to go out for a beer or two. I’m sure not going home and hang out in front of the TV waiting for the coroner to call.
Josh went home, showered and changed and then headed down 17-92 looking for a little lounge to have a beer and listen to some music. He came to Rocco’s just past the old Red Fox. He’d heard the piano player that was at the Red Fox was now playing there, so he pulled in.
There weren’t many people there, and that suited him just fine. He sat at the bar. The bartender was drying off a glass and walked over to Josh. “What’ll you have?” he asked, as he placed a cocktail napkin down on the bar and slid a bowl of peanuts towards Josh.
Josh leaned closer to the bar. “Do you have Guinness Draught on tap?”
“Sure do.” The bartender swung around and pulled out a cold glass, tilted it just slightly and pulled the handle on the tap. The foam poured over the top and then the bartender placed the mug of beer on the napkin in front of Josh.
By the time he finished his beer, more people had started arriving, and the piano player started playing. One lady hollered out, “Mark, would you please bring Jim and me a drink when you get a chance?”
“Sure will, Jessie.” Mark began to mix their drinks. It was obvious the two were regulars. The place had a homey and relaxed setting about it, and it was just what Josh was looking for. He was in no mood for loud music, or crazy young people drooling all over each other, especially when all he could think about was how two young women’s lives were cut short.
The place started to liven up a little as the night progressed. The crowd began to sing along with the piano player while he played and sang many of their requests. Josh found himself singing the familiar songs, but more quietly than most of the others in the room.
It was getting late, and he had put down more beers than he had intended. He paid his tab, tipped Mark and started toward the door. He pushed the door just as someone else was pulling it from the other side. He nearly fell head on into the person coming in the door, from the other side. “Josh, is that you?”
He looked up, and there was Madison.
“Oh, Hi, Madison. What are you doing here?” Josh tried to straighten up and sound sober.
Madison caught sight of Jessie waving. “I was on my way home, and a friend of mine asked if I’d like to join her for drinks. Why don’t you join us?”
Josh followed Madison to the table just as Mark was bringing Jessie and Jim another drink and set one down for Madison. “Would you like another beer?”Mark asked Josh.
“No thank you, but you can bring me some coffee.” He was hoping Madison and her friends wouldn’t notice that he was a bit inebriated. He waited until Madison sat down and then he pulled up a chair and sat next to her. He was just about to ask her how her sister was when Madison introduced him to Jim and Jessie. “Josh, this is my sister’s best friend, Jessie, and her fiancé’ Jim. Josh is a detective with Maitland Police Department. I’m assisting him with a case he’s working on. Josh sat up straight in his chair, feeling like he just had his ego stroked with Madison referring to the case as his. Little did he know, she was giving Jim and Jessie a clue, and they caught it immediately and didn’t ask her anything about the investigation.
“Oh, how exciting. What case are you working on Josh?” Jessie asked as if she knew nothing about it.
“I can’t talk about it right now.” He was trying to be polite, but skirting the issue.
“I understand,” Jessie whispered.
Jim turned to Madison. “How’s Winter this evening?”
“She’s doing better every day, and why wouldn’t she, with Cole waiting on her hand and foot. She’s a lucky woman to have someone who cares for her the way he does, and I couldn’t be happier for her. They are still planning to host that big party at the Dupree’ home this fall, and Winter is determined to be well enough by then.”
Josh interrupted the conversation. “The Dupree’ home? Your sister is the one that broke the mystery of the Dupree’ sisters and the lost art?”
“The very one, and Jim’s paper is the one that printed the story.”
“Hart! Why didn’t I catch that? Winter Hart, Agent Hart. You’re sisters. She’s an investigative reporter, and you’re with the FBI’s criminal investigation department. I’ll be damned. I guess it runs in the family.” Josh sat shaking his head and sipping on his coffee.
Madison laughed out loud.
Josh grinned. “Wow, I didn’t know you could laugh.”
“I’m not always a hard-ass.”
“Could have fooled me.”
Jim and Jessie burst out laughing, making Josh and Madison laugh even harder; something they both needed with all the stress surrounding them. The next day it would be back to business and facing the possibility that the other missing women may be dead too, but for now, they could unwind a little.
As Madison finished her drink, Josh ordered her another one. She protested slightly, but Jessie encouraged her to stay longer. Mark set Madison’s drink down with a fresh napkin before she had a chance to change her mind.
It was nearly 11:00 p.m. and Madison needed to be sober for what was lying ahead the next day. Josh had sobered up enough by then and was ready to call it a night. He walked Madison to her car. “Are you okay to drive home? I sure don’t want to have to get my partner out of jail to work on our case.”
“I’m fine.” She struggled to open her car door.
“I think I should drive you home. I can pick you up in the morning for coffee, and bring you back to get your car then. What do you say?”
“That might not be a bad idea. You’re right; I sure don’t want my boss finding out I was arrested for a DUI while on a case. Thank you.” Josh held onto her arm and guided her to his car. Madison tried to pull the seatbelt across her, but couldn’t lock it in place. Josh reached across her, took hold of the seatbelt, and snapped it into place. His hand gently brushed against her cheek. She turned toward him. “Thank you.”
There was hardly any traffic on the road, and it seemed they arrived at Madison’s office in a few minutes. Josh unsnapped her seatbelt, walked to the other side of the car and opened her door. She was wobbling a bit and almost lost her balance when Josh reached out and caught her. She fell into his arms and did not let go. She looked up into his steel blue eyes and Josh wanted to kiss her but didn’t. He led her to her door, took the keys from her hand, and unlocked it. She was in no condition to make it on her own. He walked her to the back and set her down on her bed, and she immediately fell asleep. He took off her shoes, pulled the covers back, slid her into bed and covered her. She gave a slight moan and turned over. She looked so peaceful and vulnerable as he stood over her. Madison had only allowed the tough exterior of her FBI agent be exposed. Josh leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, locked the door behind him, and then left.
As he drove home, all he could think about was Madison. Before that night, he had only seen her as the beautiful, but the hard-ass agent who wouldn’t let anyone get in her way, or overshadow her mission. But that night, he got a rare glimpse into the heart of the woman, and he liked it.
Madison woke up early the next morning wondering how she got home. She shuffled to the window of her office and pulled back the shade to see if her car was there. It was not. “How in the world did I get home?” She suddenly remembered Josh helping her out of Rocco’s the night before. She glanced down to see how she was dressed, or if she was dressed. “Okay, I still have my clothes on, so I’m good there, but what else happened. Josh must have brought me home, but then what? Oh shit, I’m supposed to have coffee with him this morning. Talk about awkward. I’d better get showered and changed. I’ll act like nothing happened. Maybe if something did, Josh wouldn’t mention it.”
She walked back to her cubbyhole in the back of the office and tossed on her robe and then she stepped into the office section of the room and started a pot of coffee. “I’m going to need plenty of coffee to get rid of this headache and face Logan this morning.” She measured four large scoops of coffee into the filter. “This ought to do it.” The coffee started perking and she inhaled the aroma of the Folgers dark roast.
Madison turned on the hot water and waited. She washed her hair and then let the water run over her body on high pulse, hoping it would bring her back to life. “Too much liquor last night for this working gal. It may be Saturday, but this case isn’t going to solve itself.” It was back to business for Madison. Her mind was beginning to clear up, and her body was coming back to life under the pulsating hot water. She finished her shower, tossed on some clothes and headed for that first, hot cup of coffee.
She set her mug down on the table and stood back staring at the board trying to see if there was any pattern forming. Then she remembered Aspen telling her that Tyler Kincaid would be bringing a few more pieces of his art to the Center that day. It would be a great opportunity to meet him and see what she could find out. That nagging feeling was churning again in the pit of her stomach, and it wasn’t the alcohol she consumed the night before.
She hoped that by the time Josh picked her up, he would have some new information on the latest victim. If her cause of death was the same as Ms. Hill’s, then possibly a thread was weaving that would tie the two cases together. She grabbed her mug of coffee, stepped closer to the board, and picked up the marker. “Manner of death for Ms. Hill was a gunshot to the back of the head or drowning.” She jotted down the information under Margaret Hill’s name.
The identity of the latest victim was still unknown, so she just jotted down the possible cause of death, then started on a profile of the killer. “We have another woman in her mid-twenties, shot at close range, and dumped in the Maitland area, but what, if any, is her connection?” She didn’t have a name yet, so for the time being, it was Jane Doe #1. She wrote Jane Doe #1 next to Margaret Hill.
The more she looked at the board, the more eager she was to talk to Doc Webb. She paced the room until she couldn’t stand it any longer and called the coroner’s office to see if there was anything new. Much to her surprise, Detective Logan was there already. He picked up the phone, “Good morning, Agent Hart. Feeling better this morning?”
“I’m feeling fine. What are you doing there so early? Have you found out anything new?”
“As a matter of fact, I have.”
“Well? Are you going to share that information with me?”
“Why don’t I pick you up and we’ll discuss this over breakfast. I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry, and I would feel a hell of a lot better with some food in my stomach.”
“Okay, that sounds good. When you finish there, just swing by and pick me up.”
“I can be at your place in about fifteen minutes.”
“Great.” She hung up the phone. “I guess I’m not the only early riser. Looks like he takes his work as seriously as I do. I think I’m judging him too harshly, but I don’t want him to think I’m soft.”
She straightened up her bed, pulled the curtain back that separated the room and then poured another cup of coffee. She thumbed through the files Jim had given her and spread them out on the table. She believed the latest body might be one of her missing women. The victim didn’t fit the profile of Erin, so that left one of the other three. There was still a lot of investigative work to do to find out more about them. Madison had planned to visit Winter and Cole that weekend, but this case needed her full attention. If the coroner could nail down the cause of death, it would further develop the murderer’s profile.
She was just finishing her coffee when she heard Josh pull up outside. She quickly walked out and got into his car. He had his hand on the door and was about to get out when she slid in, reached around, grabbed her seatbelt and snapped it. “Good morning to you too.” He watched her settling into the car.
“Thanks for bringing me home last night. I guess it’s been awhile since I had anything to drink, plus I hadn’t eaten. Do you mind taking me to get my car after we eat?”
“I’ve got some news. Doc Webb said both our victims were shot at close range with the same type of weapon; most likely a small 45 caliber. They might have known their killer and probably felt comfortable with him.”
“I suspected as much. That’s going to help us build the profile. Now we need to find out as much as we can about these other missing women. Did you find out who our latest victim is?”
“Not yet. The lab is running the DNA on her now, but so far she’s not in the system. They’re also checking all of her clothing, but the water has deteriorated most of the evidence. They are also checking dental records. Hopefully, something will come up soon. Ready for breakfast?”
Josh wasn’t sure how much he should say about last night since Madison was reluctant to talk about it, and Madison just wanted to forget that she had embarrassed herself with drinking too much. If she had said or done anything that Josh might interpret as a come-on, that was the last thing she needed.
As they pulled into the parking lot, Madison glanced over at Josh. “I think after we eat, I’ll call and to see how Aspen is doing. I’d like to run by and see her.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ve got a few leads I need to follow up on anyway. I’ll call you later, and we’ll touch base with the case.”
“I shouldn’t be long, and maybe after lunch, we can check out those other missing women. I’d like to talk to their friends and family if we could. I still believe there is a link between them. As soon as we can pinpoint what it is, the closer we are to finding out what happened to them.”
Josh opened the door to the café for her.
“Good Morning, Madison!” Lisa hollered out across the room. Madison was startled and surprised that Lisa remembered her name.
“And you, Detective Logan?”
“Uh, yes, thank you.”
Lisa turned to get their coffee.
“That woman has a great memory. I’ve only been here once before, yet she remembered me.”
Madison was about to say the same when Lisa returned with their coffees. “Madison, did you like that spinach and mushroom omelet you had last time?”
“I can’t believe you remember what I ate,” Madison replied, amazed at Lisa’s recall.
Lisa just smiled and waited for Madison’s response to her question.
“Yes, I did, but I think I’ll just have some scrambled eggs and rye toast this morning.”
“And you Detective Logan?” Lisa asked as she pushed her glasses up on the bridge of her nose.
“I’ll have the same, except with home fries and bacon, Lisa.”
“Okay, I’ll have that right out for you.”
Madison and Josh watched as Lisa returned to the kitchen, then Josh turned to Madison, “I’ll bet she knows everyone that comes in here.”
Madison sipped on her coffee. “No doubt.” She tried not to make too much eye contact with Josh, but now and then, when she glanced up, she found him looking at her. Good grief, I hope I didn’t make an ass of myself last night. I wonder why he keeps looking at me. I guess I’m just paranoid, but I sure wish I could remember what happened.
She is a remarkable woman, and certainly not a bad looker. I hope she doesn’t notice that I’m staring at her. I’ve got to get my head on straight for this case. The last thing I need is to get involved with a kick-ass federal agent.
Lisa smiled as she placed the plates on the table. “Here we are.” Neither, Josh nor Madison noticed that she had come up to the table. “More coffee?”.
“Yes,” they both answered, almost simultaneously.
They finished their breakfast but did not linger. Madison was eager to get her car and visit with Aspen, and Josh wanted to get going on his work. He drove her back to her car at Rocco’s, but just as she was about to get in her car, she turned back to Josh. She walked over to the squad car and leaned down by the window “If I did anything stupid last night, I hope you’ll forget it. Like I said before, it’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to drink, and I hadn’t eaten.”
Josh grinned. “You were the perfect lady. You didn’t do anything, darn it.”
Madison chuckled a bit and then turned back toward her car. That seemed to ease the tension between them.
Josh honked the horn as he drove out of the parking lot, and Madison waved. She sat in the parking lot for a few minutes and made some calls. The first one was to Aspen.
“Aspen, this is Madison Hart. How are you feeling? I was wondering if I could run by and visit.”
“Oh, that would be nice. I’ll be here all day.”
“Good. I’ll be there in about an hour if that’s okay.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Madison drove back to her office, jotted down a few ideas and then checked the board again. She added a couple of things under Aspen’s name that might be relevant later, and then tossed some papers into her bag and took off for Aspen’s.
Madison pulled up to a perfectly manicured landscape that surrounded a small bungalow. Though it was a small, quaint place, it was well cared for. Madison couldn’t imagine that Aspen did the landscaping herself. She walked onto the small front porch that looked like it was just set up for a photo shoot for Home and Garden magazine. The furniture on the porch was sea green, with variations of succulents that cascaded over the sides of the planters that were strategically placed to balance the look of the outdoor room.
Just as Madison was about to knock on the door, it swung open. There stood Aspen in her PJs, a look that didn’t match the setting of her flawless entrance.
“Welcome to my humble abode.” Aspen motioned for Madison to enter.
Madison was not surprised at the well-organized décor of the inside of the house. It was quaint, but everything had its place and looked as though it had never been moved.
Madison scanned the room. “I love your place.”
“Would you like some tea?”
“Oh, no thanks. I just finished breakfast.”
“I just wanted to come by and see how you were doing since your fall.”
“I’m doing much better, but still having a few dizzy spells. The doctor said it might take awhile. I wanted to volunteer for Tyler’s upcoming showing next month, but the doctor advised me not to drive. At first, I thought I could, but when I make sudden moves, I realize it might not be safe for me. I was looking forward to going. I can’t believe I didn’t see that box lying in the doorway. I could have sworn that it wasn’t there earlier, but I guess I may have kicked it as I was leaving to paint in the courtyard.”
“Has anyone from the Art Center visited you, since your fall.”
“Yes, Alice came by and brought me a basket of fruit and a book. Oh, and Kim called to see how I was doing, and so did Tyler. I was very surprised he called. That was so nice of him. Damn, I sure wanted to be a part of helping with his exhibit.”
Madison started for the door. “Well, I can’t stay long, but if you need anything, just give me a call.”
“Thanks for coming by, Madison.”
Aspen was going to find out sooner or later that Madison was an FBIagent, and she wanted Aspen to hear it from her first. “Aspen, before I leave, there is something I need to tell you. My name is Madison Hart, but it’s Agent Hart. I’m with the FBI, and I’m investigating a murder. I’m working with the Maitland Police Department. I wasn’t at liberty to mention my position before, but due to some new evidence, I am officially working this case.” Madison waited for a response from Aspen.
Aspen put her hand on Madison’s shoulder. “I suspected you were up to something more than just writing a story, but I figured you had your reasons, and God knows we all have our little secrets. If there is anything I can help you with, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you, I will. Hope you feel better soon.”
“Yeah, me too.” Aspen walked Madison to the door and stood to watch as she headed to her car.
Madison found Aspen to be a bit mysterious but liked her.
Madison made up her mind that it was time to meet this elusive Mr. Kincaid. Aspen had told her that he might be at the Art Center scoping out the layout for his upcoming exhibit, so she called the Center to find out if he was there.
Kim answered the phone. “Maitland Art Center, may I help you?”
“Yes, this is Agent Hart. I was wondering if Mr. Kincaid is in.”
“Who did you say you were?”
“He is. Is there anything that I can help you with today? He’s very busy right now getting ready for his exhibit.”
“No. Would you mind getting Mr. Kincaid for me?”
“I’ll have to put you on hold while I try and find him.” Kim sounded agitated.
There was silence on the phone for what seemed to be minutes. “What’s taking so long? The place isn’t that big. Surely Kim knows where he was.” Suddenly, there was a very masculine voice on the other end. “This is Tyler Kincaid. How can I help you?”
“Mr. Kincaid, this is Agent Hart with the FBI. I’m assisting the Maitland Police Department with a case. I was wondering if you had some time today? I could swing by the center anytime.”
“I’ll be here most of the day. I’ll make the time to talk to you. Just have Kim escort you to my studio. I’m preparing for my exhibit and may not hear her page.”
“I could be there within the hour if that works for you.”
“That will be fine.”
Madison called Josh to touch base on her plans for the day and about scoping out Tyler Kincaid and the Art Center.
“It’s Madison. Anything new on the case?”
“Not yet, but I’ve been doing a little checking into the other women you mentioned and thought we could run by and to talk to some of their family and friends. You up for a road trip this afternoon?”
“Yeah, I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“Great minds think alike.”
“I guess so. I’m driving over to talk to the artist at the Art Center in about a half hour. How about I meet you back at the station about 2:00 p.m.?”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”
Madison entered the center, and Kim was sitting at the reception desk. She looked up at Madison.“Oh you were here the other day when Aspen had that fall, weren’t you?”
“What can I help you with today?” Kim asked still smiling.
Madison pulled out her badge and re-introduced herself. “I’m Agent Hart. I’m here to see Mr. Kincaid.”
Kim’s jaw dropped, and her eyes were bulging. She stood up, “You’re an agent? I thought you were just a visitor interested in the Art Center. You’re the one who called to talk to Tyler. I mean Mr. Kincaid.”
“Do you mind showing me where he is? He’s expecting me.”
“Right this way, Agent Hart.” Kim straightened her shoulders, held her head high, and escorted Madison to the back of the courtyard to a small building with ‘Studio One’ on a plaque over the door. “Mr. Kincaid always uses this studio when he’s around.”
Kim knocked on the door, and Mr. Kincaid called out, “Come in.”
Kim opened the door and led Madison into the studio and remained standing in the doorway. Mr. Kincaid was behind an easel working on one of the pieces for his show. He came around the side of his painting and introduced himself. “You must be Agent Hart. I’m Tyler Kincaid.”
Madison was surprised to see such a gorgeous looking man. He stood all of the 6’2’’, with jet-black hair, and he had several strands of loose hair falling across his forehead, into his steel blue eyes. He was masculine, not too much, but enough to be extremely sexy. Madison caught herself staring at him. No wonder all the women want to take a class with him. He reached over, took her hand, lifted to his lips, and kissed it.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Ms. Hart. Now how can I help you today?”
Madison pulled her hand back and tried to regain her professionalism. She turned to Kim waiting for her to excuse herself and then turned to her. “Thank you, Kim.”
“Oh. If you need anything else, I’ll be at my desk,” Kim grunted as she left the room. She slowly pulled the door closed while watching the two of them standing there. Kim did not want to leave, and may not have, had it not been an official visit.
Madison saw Kim glancing back at the studio as she walked across the courtyard toward the main building.
“Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Kincaid. I know you’re very busy. I heard you’re about to have an exhibit of your new work. I’d love to see your paintings.” Madison headed toward his easel.
“I’m sorry, Agent Hart, but I’m a bit superstitious. I don’t like anyone to see my work until it’s ready for the exhibit, especially with my new collection. I hope you’ll come to the opening at the end of the month.” He casually stepped in front of her before she had a chance to see his painting.
She raised her hand and stood back. “I understand. I’d love to come. I was talking to Aspen, and she is so disappointed that she won’t be able to volunteer. She was pleased you called to see how she’s doing. She thinks a lot of you and your work.”
“She’s a charming girl, and I believe she has talent. I hope she’ll continue with her art.”
“Mr. Kincaid, I have a few questions I wanted to ask you. Have you heard anything about the woman who was murdered, not too far from here?”
“I did. That’s terrible.”
“Well, we have reason to believe, that the night she went missing, she was planning to attend an event here at the center.”
“What night was that?”
“November 23rd?” Mr. Kincaid pulled out his calendar. “I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anything happening here that night. I would have known. Kim keeps me informed of all events at the center.” He thumbed through his book. “As a matter-of-fact, there weren’t any events happening that whole week because of Thanksgiving.”
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Kincaid.”
He reached for her hand. “It’s Tyler, Agent Hart.”
Madison quickly shook his hand, so he wouldn’t try and kiss it again. “I may have more questions for you at a later date, but thank you.” She turned toward the door.
“My pleasure, Agent Hart.” He walked her to the door, leaned over her, and brushed his arm against hers as he opened the door for her.
Madison stood up straight and walked out of the studio as if she didn’t notice the intentional touch and proceeded across the courtyard. She felt his eyes on her the entire way, which made her a bit uneasy and uncomfortable. It had been awhile since someone looked at her that way or at least that she had noticed.
She walked through the halls of the present exhibit and looked at Tyler’s painting again. Now I know why his work sells. They’re not buying the painting; they’re buying a piece of him.
Madison’s cell phone rang; it was Josh.
“I’m on my way. I got tangled up with my interview with Mr. Kincaid. I’ll be there in five.” She rushed passed Kim and flung the entrance door open, and a she looked back at the entrance, Kim was standing at the door with her eyes wide open and furrowed eyebrows.
That ought to give her something to think about.
As she pulled up in front of the station, Betty was coming out. “He’s waiting for you Ms. Hart.”
“Thank you, Betty.” Madison slowed her pace as she walked up to the entrance.
Madison caught her breath and sauntered into Josh’s office as though she didn’t have a care in the world. She was not about to let him know she rushed on his account. When she opened the door, Josh was on the phone. He didn’t say anything but held up his finger. Someone else was doing all the talking. Madison shuffled through some of her papers as if she was looking for a specific thing and wasn’t interested, or cared, that he was on the phone.
Josh finally hung up the phone. “Sorry about that. Are you ready?”
“I am.” She took a moment to straighten her papers back into her bag.
Madison and Josh reviewed what little information they had on the other missing women. The only concrete evidence they had was the identification of Margaret Hill. But they were still left with the other four missing women. They hadn’t yet identified the most recent body, but Josh and Madison felt it might be one of the women in their investigation. They were slowly gathering information, and desperately trying to discover a link between all five women. Madison had a gut feeling that, whoever was responsible for Ms. Hill’s murder just might have something to do with the disappearance of the other women.
“Madison, I think you’re right about the connection. I talked to Doc Webb, and he agrees that whoever killed Ms. Hill most likely killed our other victim. However, until we have a match on her dental records, we won’t know who for sure who she is. There is something very strange about this case. I know you feel it too.”
“If the victim from the canal is one of our missing women then I think we’re dealing with a serial killer. I’m just not sure of the motive. We need more clues to complete the profile. Hopefully, our trip today will bring us closer to piecing this puzzle together.”
“Okay, who are we checking out first?”
“I thought we’d see what we could uncover on the first missing person, Lois Cramer. She was reported missing July 23rd by her mother. She said daughter called her every Sunday morning, like clockwork, and when she didn’t call, she became concerned. She tried calling her daughter, but it kept going to voicemail until the voice mail recording said Lois’s box was full. Her parents drove over from Tampa but found nothing. That’s when they reported her missing. Ms. Cramer lives in an apartment off Park Avenue in Winter Park, and is a grad student at Rollins, majoring in psychology. She lives alone, and her mother stated that Lois takes her studies very seriously.”
“Did she have any hobbies or outside interests?”
Madison continued reading from the report. “Not that her parents were aware of.”
They pulled up in front of the opulent apartment complex on Morse Boulevard, which was within walking distance to Park Avenue. Lois’s apartment was on the second floor. It had an elevator, which made these dwellings more upscale.
Josh had called the complex manager, who met them at the door with a master key to let them in. “Is there any news on the whereabouts of Ms. Cramer, yet?” the manager asked.
“No, but that’s why we’re here. We’re hoping to find something that may help us locate her. What can you tell us about Ms. Cramer?”
“Well, she always paid on time and was never any trouble. From what some of her neighbors said, she was well liked and a serious student.”
“Did she ever have any visitors?” Madison asked.
“Not that I’m aware of; the only people I ever saw her with were her parents who occasionally visited. As I said, Ms. Cramer was a serious student and was here for her degree. You should ask some of her neighbors; they might know more than I do.”
The manager remained in the doorway. Josh reached for the door. “Thank you. We’ll lock the door when we leave.”
“If you need anything else, I’ll be in my office.” The manager turned toward the elevator and left.
The apartment was a two bedrooms, two baths unit, with a modest living room and dining room combination. The kitchen was the typical galley set up with an open counter top spanning into the dining area. It would be good for entertaining, yet nothing in the place indicated Ms.Cramer did much of that. The cabinets held the bare essentials for eating or cooking. There were no small appliances, other than a microwave and toaster. The pots and pans looked as though they had never been used.
Madison checked the kitchen area. “I suspect Ms. Cramer ate all her meal out, except maybe heating up the occasional leftovers in the microwave.”
Josh checked out the guest room and bathroom, and then came back to the kitchen while Madison made her way toward Lois’s bedroom, at the end of the hall. The master bedroom was very spacious and had an adjacent bathroom. Madison opened up the medicine cabinet to see what medications Ms. Cramer may have been taking. There was medication for high blood pressure and anxiety. But what caught her attention was the Lybrel, which is an extended birth-control pill. Why would a woman who has no visitors and spends all her time studying, need birth control pills? She bagged all the pills separately and labeled the bags. Then she moved through the rest of room.
The bedroom had minimal furniture with a queen-size bed and what looked like a bed-in-a-bag set, possibly a designer set. Next to the bed on the small bedside table, was a photo of Ms. Cramer and her parents that Madison bagged and tagged. On the opposite side of the room was a modern chaise lounge, and a small desk with Ms. Cramer’s laptop computer. She had it plugged into the external backup. Madison took the laptop and hard drive to send it to the FBI lab. She opened the closet; the clothes were high-end. However, there weren’t that many. There were no dresses in the closet, only slacks, and blouses that could be mix-matched. They were the type of outfits a woman could wear anywhere, with just a few accessories to make it more dressy or to tone it down for everyday wear.
Ms. Cramer appeared to be very organized and maximized what she had. Madison grinned. “If someone opened my closet, they would be looking for a body in the piles of rubble.”
“Hey, Madison.” Josh hollered from the kitchen.
Madison walked into the kitchen, and there was Josh looking through the drawers.
“This is strange. There’s a set of car keys in this drawer. I’d like to see if they’re hers. Shall we walk down to the parking garage?”
“That’s odd. Yes, let’s check that out now.”
Before Josh could head for the stairs, Madison jumped into the elevator. She was eager to get down to the parking garage to see if these keys belonged to Ms. Cramer’s car. Josh nearly tripped, racing back to the elevator before the doors closed. Madison was waiting for no one; she was on a mission. Her mind was spinning with speculations and didn’t even notice Josh stumbling through the doors.
As the doors of the elevator opened, Madison pushed the alarm button on the key ring, and it went off immediately. There was a car parked at the far end of the garage, and its alarm was blaring. Madison and Josh raced through the garage until they came up on the car and then Madison turned off the alarm.
Before opening the car, she and Josh walked around toward the back, checking it over completely. Dust covered the hood of the car. “This car hasn’t been driven for quite some time.
“Yeah, I noticed that too.”
Josh knelt down and looked under the car, but there was nothing on the ground. Madison clicked the key-ring and opened the car doors. They donned their latex gloves and entered the car. Madison entered on the driver’s side and Josh on the passenger’s side, to look in the glove compartment. He leaned down to check out the glove compartment. “Doesn’t look like she used this car much either. The only thing in the glove compartment is the registration. You should see mine.
Madison chuckled. “I have; It looks like mine.”
“Okay, if she didn’t drive off, then she left with someone, willingly or unwillingly.”
Madison popped the trunk, got out of the car and slowly walked to the back of the car. The trunk was ajar. Madison reached in, so not to disturb any prints, and lifted it open. The only thing in the trunk was a spare tire. Someone had detailed the car and based on what Ms. Cramer’s apartment looked like; Madison was leaning toward the idea that this woman walked most everywhere and rarely used her car.
Josh shook his head. “What young woman walks everywhere? This is certainly not your typical college girl. I’d like to talk to some of the neighbors and take some photos of the inside of her place.
“Let’s snoop around a little more in the apartment. I want to see what’s inside of her dresser and desk.”
They went back up to Lois’s apartment and found a few of the neighbors standing outside of their doors, looking toward the parking garage. Josh stepped up to one of them and flashed his badge.
“Are you here because the car alarm went off?” one of the neighbors asked.
Josh stepped up closer to the neighbor. “No. We’re here investigating the disappearance of your neighbor, Ms. Cramer.”
Several of the other neighbors, overhearing what he said, joined in on the conversation. One lady, from the apartment next to Lois’s, slowly approached. “She was such a nice lady. Is she dead?”
“At this point, it’s only a missing person’s investigation. What can you tell me about her?”
“I don’t know her well, but every morning she walks to Rollins College to attend classes. I think she told me she was getting her Ph.D. in psychology,” another woman said. “I would usually see her early when I went to get my paper. She always had a smile and a warm hello for me.”
“Did she have any visitors, other than her parents?” Madison asked.
An elderly woman stepped up closer. “I never saw anyone visit. She was a very serious young lady. You don’t see much of that in the young people these days.”
Josh added. “Do you know if she had any hobbies or interests outside of the home?”
An older gentleman leaned in. “Come to think of it, before she came up missing, I passed her one evening on her way out, and I asked her where she was going. She told me she was attending a lecture at the college. But I forgot what she said it was about.”
Another woman chimed in. “She told me that she was taking a new class at night.” “I can tell you she sure was dressed up for a class, but then again, Lois was no ordinary young woman. She was serious about everything she did.”
“Well, thank you for your help. If any of you can think of anything else, please give me a call.” Josh passed out his card among the neighbors.
As Madison and Josh entered the apartment, one of the elderly ladies hollered out, “I sure hope you find her alive. She was such a nice neighbor.”
Josh nodded his head.“We’ll do our best.” Then he closed the door behind him.
“I’m not feeling real optimistic that we’re going to find this young woman is still alive. She is a creature of habit, and the evidence just isn’t adding up. I’m going to check some more in her bedroom.” Madison entered Lois’s room.
Madison pulled out the top drawer of the dresser, and it too was well organized. There were a few pieces of jewelry lying in a slotted black velvet tray, and not costume. And next to that box was a smaller one of make-up and a few jeweled hair clips. There was a clip in the drawer that resembled the one Ms. Cramer was wearing in the photo. Madison bagged the clip as well. On top of the dresser, there was a decorative, hand-carved, oriental box that held a brush and some decorative combs. Madison was surprised to see that the brush still had hair tangled up in the bristles. She photographed the contents of the box and then bagged the brush.
The rest of the drawers were full of clothing, neatly folded. There were no notes or pieces of paper that one would normally see in someone’s dresser. Nowhere in the apartment was there any indication of what this woman did in her leisure time. It was as though the only things Ms. Chambers did there was study, bathe, and sleep. “This seems so odd for a young woman.” She glanced around the room. “I think we’ve got all we’re going to get here. I’d like to run these items over to the forensic lab before we head back to the office.”
Josh grinned at Madison. “I can hear the wheels spinning in that brain of yours. You’re onto something, aren’t you? That’s why you want to go by your office.”
“I have a few more things I want to jot down on our board. Something is formulating, but I’m not quite sure what it is. I was hoping if we could stand back and look at our board, something will click.”
Our board, she said. I like that. “Well, let’s get going. I’m getting a little hungry. How about we grab some take-out before we head to your office?”
Madison smiled. “That sounds good.”
When they arrived at the lab, Josh stayed in the car and ordered some sandwiches to go while Madison delivered the items they collected from Ms. Cramer’s apartment. “How soon can we get the results?”
The woman in the lab took the sealed bags from Madison. “We’re working on some other evidence Maitland sent over, so we’ll add these to that order.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
Madison returned to the car, and Josh was thumbing through some papers. “I took the liberty and ordered us some sandwiches. I didn’t know what you liked, so I ordered a couple of things. If you don’t like any of it, we can get something else. I knew you were eager to get to the office.”
“I’m sure whatever you ordered will be fine. You’re right; I am eager to get this information we gather up on the board.”
As they pulled up in front of Madison’s office, the skies opened up, and a deluge of rain came pouring down. “Crap,” Josh barked.
Madison opened her car door and bolted for the front door. She fumbled with her keys but finally got the door opened, and then turned to see Josh still sitting in the car, looking out of the window, as if he was waiting for the rain to stop.
Madison spread her papers out on the table and shuffled them around until she had them in the order she wanted. Then one-by-one, she transferred the information to the whiteboard in the appropriate column. As she continued adding to the lists, she heard the roar of thunder and the pounding of the rain intensify. She glanced out the window at Josh still in the car. “By the time he decides to come in, he is going to be totally drenched.”
Suddenly, she heard the car door slam and her front door open. His wet shirt clung to his well-built body. Madison stared at him and then laughed. “You look like a drowned puppy seeking refuge.” He just stood there dripping, not sure he should continue any further into the room.
Madison laughed. “Nice look, Detective Logan, but I think you ought to go home and change. I don’t need you dying on my floor from pneumonia. Oh, and I would advise bringing an umbrella when you return.”
“You think?” Sorry about the mess. I’ll be back shortly. I only live down the road. Oh crap, I left the sandwiches in the car, too.”
“Just bring them in when you get back.” She tilted her head, and a grin widened across her face.
Josh darted back to his car, jumped in and slammed the door. Madison could only imagine how wet the seat was going to be. She envisioned Josh changing into some dry clothes, then sitting right back onto the saturated seat. Finally, she turned toward the piles of information on the table and started writing the data on the board. The more data that came in, the clearer her profile of the type of person they were looking for emerged.
The killer was targeting women that had similar habits and lifestyles, but there was something still missing that would connect them, and she was close to finding that missing piece.
Josh returned and pulled into the parking lot. Madison expected to see the back of his pants completely saturated from sitting on the wet seat of his car, but he casually walked in as if nothing had happened.
“I’ve got an umbrella in the car this time.” He walked over to the table and set the sandwiches down. “I’ll bet you’re starving by now. I know I am. Let’s eat, and you can tell me what new developments you’ve come up with on our victims, or unsub. He pulled a chair up to the table.
Madison noticed his pants were dry. “When you left here, you were soaked, and I assumed your car seat would be too.”
“Yes, it was. I piled up some towels and then exchanged cars at the station before I came back. Betty said she’d have the seats dried out in no time, so I left it with her.” Josh grinned as he opened the sandwiches out on the table.
Business as usual for him, he was ready to eat and then get back to work. He bought ham and swiss on rye, roast beef and a turkey with provolone cheese. “Take your pick. I didn’t know which you’d like, but figured you’d like one of these.”
“The turkey will be fine. Thank you.” She reached for the sandwich.
Madison was just about to go over the new items on the board with Josh when her cell phone rang.
Then there was silence as Madison listened to the person on the other end. Her eyes widened, and she dropped her jaw down almost gasping. “What?” Whatever was being said to her was apparently unexpected.
Josh was anxious for her to get off the phone. She put down her phone and set her sandwich on the table and walked up to the board. “You’re not going to believe this,”
“Well, what is it?”
Madison stepped up to the board and picked up the dry-erase pen and started writing down a name. “They just identified our victim.” She scribbled the name, Lois Cramer.”
“How did they find out so soon?” Josh asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“You know the evidence I dropped off at the lab this morning?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“The lab just ran the tests the same time they ran the DNA for our Jane Doe #1, the woman we found in the canal. I’ll be damned; they were the same person, and she is one of our missing women. I knew it; there was a connection.”
“Are you sure?”
She plopped down in the chair and just stared at the board. She was too excited to eat. All she could think about was continuing the investigation as soon as possible. This new information it what she was waiting for, and she was driven more than ever to find the connection between all these missing women. Though it was getting late in the day, she couldn’t wait to check out another woman on their list. They had now, identified two of the five pictures that Jim had given her. Both women, most likely, were shot by the same person. “This woman knew their killer and felt comfortable with him. Josh, will you finish that sandwich. Let’s see what else we can uncover today.”
She grabbed her purse and file folder and then headed for the door. Josh put his lunch down on the table while choking down what he was chewing on and ran to catch up with Madison. Good grief, this woman never stops. She’s like a bulldog. When she latches onto something, she doesn’t let go. He closed the door behind him. “Hey, you want me to lock the door?” he yelled out.
“Yes,” she replied as she got into the car and waited for him.
“Cora Franklin. She the next one missing in our timeline.”
The day was winding down, but Josh and Madison could not stop. Suddenly there was an urgency to find out all they could about these women. Lois Cramer had been positively identified as one of the missing women, and that there was a strong possibility that the other women were dead as well. They were determined to learn all they could about the days before each of their disappearances.
Cora Franklin went missing on September 6th. Lois Cramer was the first missing victim found and she was reported missing on July 23rd but not found in the lake until four months later. Her body badly decomposed. Had it not been for the collection of evidence in her apartment, Lois may still be the Jane Doe #1.
Madison read aloud the last address of Cora Franklin. Josh widened his eyes. “I know exactly where that is.” Cora lived very close to the University of Central Florida in an apartment complex. When they arrived, there was a young man coming out of the apartment. Josh approached him. “Is this the apartment of Cora Franklin?”
“It was, but she doesn’t live here anymore.”
Josh stepped closer to the man. “Can you tell us where she moved to?”
“Who wants to know?”
Josh showed the young man his badge and ID.
“Sorry, dude, but we get some strange characters around here sometimes, and since the woman disappeared we’re all a little nervous. No one has heard from Cora since the night she left. Her parents finally came and got her belongings so management could rent the place again. I moved in right after that.”
Madison showed the man her FBI badge. “Would you mind if we had a look inside?”
“Is she dead?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“Well, you’re the feds, and that usually means something serious.”
“Can we look around?” Madison asked again.
“Sure, but the place is a mess. I’ve been studying a lot and haven’t had time to clean up.” He escorted Madison and Josh into the apartment. “I doubt that anything in here is going to help you. There’s nothing left of hers.”
Madison walked into the bedroom and glanced around the room. It looked like a typical college kid’s room which didn’t give them a clue how Ms. Franklin lived. Just as Madison was leaving, she spotted one small earring on the dresser. She called the young man in to ask him about it. “Is this your girlfriend’s?”
“No. I found it in the closet when I moved in and stuck it on the dresser. I thought it might have belonged to the lady who lived here before, and since there was only one I thought she might come looking for the other one. I don’t why I kept it, I just did.”
“Would you mind if we take it?”
“You can have it. I don’t think the lady is coming back.”
Madison bagged it, placed it into her jacket pocket, and started toward the door. The young man asked again, “Do you think she’s dead?”
“Thank you very much for letting us have a look around the apartment. If you hear of anything, please give us a call.” Josh handed the young man his card.
It was nearly 8:00 p.m. by the time they returned to Maitland. “Now I’m hungry, but I’m afraid those sandwiches aren’t any good anymore. You feel like grabbing a bite?” Josh asked.
“Sounds good. I’m tired, but hungry. We can continue this in the morning. I would still like to check out what we can on this Cora.”
Josh continued driving toward the station house on Maitland Ave. The road turned near Lake Lily toward 17-92.
“This lake brings back memories of my childhood.” Madison watched the crowds walking their dogs along the path that circled the lake. There was music being played on the small platform jutting on the shore, and food trucks lined up on the upper path to the lake.
“Hey, would you like to grab something here?”
“You know, I’d like that. I need some time to wind down. I can’t get this case out of my mind, I need a distraction, it would do me good.” Josh pulled up and parked.
They headed along the vendor’s path checking out the variety of foods. There was everything from hot-dogs to Tai food, which is what Madison ended up getting. Josh stopped in front of the Italian truck and ordered some linguini with clam sauce. They sat at a small table in front of the landing over the lake where a trio was playing jazz. Madison sighed. “This is perfect.”
Josh opened his meal. “Now, all we need, is a bottle of wine.”
“I’ve got some back at the office. I’ll fix us a glass while we recap what we have to this point.”
“I’m up for that.”
The cool evening wind started to pick up, and Josh didn’t want a repeat of what happened that morning. “I think we’d better leave before another storm comes.”
Madison chuckled, thinking back to Josh standing in the doorway dripping wet. “Yeah, good idea.”
They tossed the Styrofoam plates into the trash and hurried to the car. They got back to Madison’s office just before the skies opened up with another downpour of rain. Josh stepped up to the board as Madison went to the back and pulled a bottle of Merlot out of the fridge. “This is all I have. Hope you like red wine.” She uncorked the bottle.
“Wine is wine.”
“I’m not too picky, except I don’t care for the white wines. You might as well not drink any wine if you’re going drink it so light. I prefer a hearty wine, like a Cabernet.”
But Merlot is good, too,” he immediately interjected as Madison poured their glasses.
Josh quickly changed the subject. “Okay, explain to me what you’ve added to the board. I see you put a name to our Jane Doe #1. I am beginning to see some similarities between our victims. I guess the first thing we’ll do tomorrow is see what we can dig up on the other women.”
Madison handed him a glass of wine and then stood there staring at the board. She stood with one hand on her hip and the other bringing her glass of wine to her lips. “Well, we have identified the first missing woman; she was a victim of a homicide. We also suspect that she was killed by the same person who killed Ms. Hill.”
Josh stood up and walked closer to her. They were transfixed on the board, sipping their wine and not saying much of anything. Then Josh stepped up closer. “So far, we know that some of these women were suppose to be meeting someone the night they disappeared.” He furrowed his brow. “Yet, no one knows who. I find that a bit mysterious. They each seemed to have a secret, but what was it?” Josh took another sip.
“Yeah, I find it curious that none of the people that knew these women, had any idea they had someone special in their lives and were on their way to see that person the night they disappeared. That’s not a coincidence.”
Josh tilted up his glass and took the last sip. “Another strange trait is that, so far, they all seemed to be obsessed with neatness. Maybe a little too much.”
Madison just kept sipping her wine, while studying the board as if something was going to pop out and pull the case together. But there wasn’t enough information or pieces of the puzzle to formulate a clear picture. Madison finally tilted her glass up and swallowed the last sip, then she turned towards the table and reached for the bottle. She poured herself another glass, and reached over and poured Josh another.
“We need to talk to Cora Franklin’s parents tomorrow. Then, we need to see if we find out anything about the next woman that went missing. What was her name? Josh asked.
Madison tapped on the board with the picture of the third missing woman on the timeline, Erin Wise. Erin was reported missing on October 12^th,^ and no one has heard anything from her since. “I guess we can’t do much more tonight. I’d like to get an early start tomorrow. Are you up for that?”
“Yes, but I have a briefing at the station at 8:00 a.m. It shouldn’t take too long. The chief wants me to bring him up to speed on the investigation and go over the coroner’s report. How about if I pick you up around 9:30, and then we can head out to Ms. Franklin’s parents? Do you mind giving them a call to see if it would be all right to come by in the morning?”
The more they drank, the more Madison’s mind wavered from the case and more on Josh’s well-built physique. It had been a long time since she’d been with anyone, and Josh wasn’t bad to look at either. He was a little rough around the edges and a bit cocky for her taste, but the wine helped her overlook that. She better call it a night before she did something she couldn’t take back.
“It’s getting late. I want to get up early to make sure we have all our ducks in a row. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Madison started toward the front door.
What’s with this woman? God knows she’s a looker, but all she can think about is her work. I wish she could loosen up a little. He got up and followed her to the door. “I get the hint Agent Hart; I’ll get out of your hair. See you in the morning. Good night.” He started to swing the door open.
As he passed Madison in the doorway, she reached over and grabbed him and pulled his face to hers and planted an unexpected kiss on his lips. It startled him so much; he pulled back for a moment. But then he wrapped his arms around her and drew her to him. She pulled back. “You’d better leave while you still can, Detective Logan,” she said with a big smile.
“Woman, you’re filled with surprises. Until tomorrow, Agent Hart.”
Josh walked to his car and then turned back expecting her to be standing in the doorway, but Madison had already positioned herself back in front of the board.
I can’t figure out that woman. She’s not like anyone I’ve ever known, and I like it. She’s a puzzle. He backed out of the parking lot.
Madison was about to call it a night when her cell phone rang. She glanced down at the caller ID and saw that it was Winter.“Hi, Sis, what are doing up this late? I thought you’d be in bed by now.”
“I just wanted to talk to my sister. I miss you, Maddy. When do you think you can come out and visit again? I’m dying to hear all about the case. I’m ready to do some work and thought if you could bring me up to speed on the investigation, I could start working on my story.”
“Things are moving fast, but we still need to dig deeper into the lives of some of these women. I don’t know how Jim knows these things, but he certainly hit this one on the nose too. The missing women have a connection. We just haven’t figured out what it is, but we will. I am assuming that Jim told you that two women found murdered in Maitland were two on the list Jim gave me.”
“I keep hearing you mention we. Have more agents joined in this investigation?”
“No, I’m strictly working with Detective Logan right now. I keep Stratton and Martin informed of what we’re finding, but for now, the department is letting me work solely with the Maitland Police. Detective Logan is very competent and knows his way around a crime scene, so I don’t mind working with him. I’ll try to get out there to see you this weekend. How are Cole and your friends in Cassadaga?”
“Cole is wonderful, as always. He’s taking such good care of me. I’m just getting restless and want to work. The doctor said that I could work from home for now, as long as I didn’t overdo, and Cole and Jessie will make sure of that. Jessie comes up frequently but rushes home to be with Jim. I’m so happy for those two. Now, we need to find someone for you.”
“Don’t you worry about me, I’m too busy for romance. I’ve got a case to solve, and I need to get a killer off the streets. But I promise I’ll do my best to come by Sunday,” Madison promises.
“Okay, I’m holding you to it. Love you, Maddy. Be careful out there.”
“I will, and you take care of yourself, too, Win. Love you too,” Madison hung up the phone and walked to the back of her office and pulled back the curtain to her bed. The day had been a long one, but this case was eating at her. She had hoped the wine would settle her down, but all it did was bring to the surface some pent-up sexual drive. She wondered what Josh must be thinking about her grabbing and kissing him. He must think I’m some sort of lunatic, but that guy is growing on me. I need to focus on the case, or I’m going to end up jumping his bones. She chuckled to herself.
She jumped into the shower and then put on her tank top and yoga pants, and strolled back to the office area. She pulled down the blinds toward the parking lot. I don’t want someone passing by and seeing me in here. It wouldn’t look very professional for an FBI agent to be strolling around in her PJs in an office setting.
There was still some wine left in the bottle on the table, so she emptied it into her glass and stood there staring at the board again. Something was troubling her about the case other than the missing and murdered women. The more she studied the information under each name the more a pattern was evolving, but there was a piece missing, and it was driving her crazy. Madison was good at her job as an investigator and profiler, but this one had her stumped.
She finished her wine and looked at the clock. It was already 1:30 a.m. She was finally feeling the exhaustion of the past day and knew there was going to be much more work coming up in the mornin and she needed to get some sleep. I’m not so sure living in my office is a good idea. I need to sleep, or I’m not going to be able to think straight, and I need to be on top of my game with this case.
The next morning came quickly. Madison was still asleep when she heard pounding on her front door. She pulled back the curtain slightly and saw Josh standing behind the tinted glass door with two cups of coffee. She recognized his stance. She hollered out, “Just a minute!” tossed on some clothes and staggered to the door. She was still half asleep and was combing her hair back with her fingers.
When she opened the door, Josh burst in as if he didn’t even notice her disheveled appearance. “We’ve got to get going. It’s going to be a busy day.” He handed her a cup of coffee. Madison shuffled toward the table where the wine glasses were still sitting from the night before, but Josh picked up the empty glasses and placed them in the small sink on the other side of the room. He turned towards where Madison was standing. “You look like you could use some strong coffee.”
“Thanks. I didn’t get to bed until late last night because I was still mulling over this damn case. Let me shower and change. I’ll be ready in twenty minutes. If you want to wait here, that’s fine, or if you have something to do at the station, I can meet you there.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I’ll just wait here and drink my coffee.” He watched her pull the curtain behind her.
Josh sat at the table facing the board but could hear the shower running and began to imagine what she looked like washing her hair, as the soap ran down her naked body glistening beneath the hot water. The more he could hear her moving around behind that curtain, the more aroused he became. I’d better pay attention to the case, or I’m going to embarrass myself when she comes out. “I’ll be right back. I have some things in the car I need to look at,” he hollered to Madison as he heard her get out of the shower.
“I’ll be ready in five minutes!” she hollered back.
He raced out the door before Madison had a chance to pull back the curtain to say anything else to him. He opened the back of the car and pulled out a long jacket and immediately put it on. He fumbled with rearranging some items in the trunk. He glanced back at the office and saw Madison raising the blinds and knew she was just about ready. His embarrassment subsided some but was still there. He jumped into the car and placed a file on his lap. He pretended to be reading something when she came out of the office. She got into the car, “You must be as eager to get going on this case as I am, but do you think we could grab another cup of coffee first?”
“Sure, we’ll just swing through the drive-through at Starbucks on the way to Ms. Franklin’s parent’s house.” As he started to back up the car, the file on his lap slid to the floorboard. Fortunately, things were nearly back to normal. He hoped Madison didn’t notice anything. He stopped the car, leaned down, picked up the file and handed it to Madison.
“Oh, I was just looking over the coroner’s report on our latest victim to make sure we didn’t overlook anything,” Josh replied nonchalantly.
“Did we miss anything?”
Josh started driving off. “I don’t think so.”
“Is everything okay?”
He gave a quick smile. “Of, course.”
Madison tilted her head. “Hey, you’re not upset about that kiss last night, are you? It was just a kiss.”
“No, not at all.” He shrugged his shoulders.
“Maybe we shouldn’t drink on the job.”
“I had no problem. And hey, you’re not a bad kisser. Nice way to end a busy day,” he said jokingly, trying to ease the tension.
“You weren’t too bad yourself, partner.”
The banter back and forth between them seemed to ease the tension and it was back to business for them, or at least on the surface. The attraction between Madison and Josh was there, but neither one would admit it.
Josh smiled. “Okay, Agent Hart, what’s our next move?”
“Did you talk to Ms. Franklin’s parents to let them know we were coming?”
“I did, and they are expecting us this morning. As you can imagine, they are as eager as we are to find out what happened to their daughter.”
Madison tightened her lips. “It’s never easy facing a family who has lost a child, no matter what age they are. The not knowing must be extremely difficult for them. I doubt they get much sleep, but that might be to our advantage. I’m sure they have agonized over and over, trying to figure out where their daughter could be.”
Ms. Franklin’s parents lived about an hour from Maitland, and the morning traffic was hectic. Josh pulled into the drive-through at Starbucks and ordered two more large coffees large. It was going to be a stressful morning, and they both needed to be awake and alert. Niether of them wanted to miss any details that might give them a clue to what happened to Ms. Franklin.
“Josh, we have three missing women who are unaccounted for, we need to find them. However, something tells me that we are not going to find them alive.”
Josh handed her the coffee. “Yeah, I’m afraid you’re right.”
Finally, they arrived in Apopka and followed the GPS directly to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Franklin. They were modest people living in the same home that they had lived their entire married life.
Madison and Josh walked up the three steps to the covered front porch and knocked. Madison could hear the footsteps of a heavy individual making his way to the door. The door opened, and there stood a strong-looking, older man. He invited them to the house. Mr. Franklin escorted Madison and Josh into the kitchen and motioned for them to have a seat at the dining table. The kitchen was an old fashion one where the table was the center of the room. The family ate meals together in the same room where they cooked. Newer homes replaced the dining tables with granite islands, and now families would grab something and head back to what they were doing in various parts of the house.
It brought back memories for Madison. Her family always ate their meals together at the dining-room table, and you never left the table without asking to be excused…God forbid, or you would face the wrath of your father.
“May I offer you some coffee,” Mrs. Franklin asked.
“No, thank you,” Madison replied.
Madison leaned into the table and softly asked the Franklins to tell her about their daughter. “Tell me about your daughter. What brought her to Winter Park?”
Mr. Franklin reached over and held Mrs. Franklin’s hand as she started telling Madison about her daughter.
“Cora was an ambitious young woman. She was always studying cultural things, like music and art. She wanted to leave Apopka for as long as I can remember. She is a good daughter, and always called us every week until she disappeared. We are so worried about her. It’s not like her to stop calling,” Mrs. Franklin said with tears welling up.
“Was she involved with anyone?” Josh asked.
“What do you mean by involved?” Mr. Franklin asked.
“Did she have a boyfriend?”
“She never mentioned to us that she was seeing anyone special. I’m sure she dated from time to time, but she would have told us if there was anyone serious in her life. She just wanted to improve herself, be more educated and worldly. She’d say she wanted to travel someday around the world to all the places she’d seen in the books, and I believed she would. You don’t suppose she just up and left the country, do you? It’s not like Cora to do anything like that without telling us first.”
“We don’t know,” Madison quickly interjected, and then tried to change the subject. “We heard you brought all Cora’s things back here from her apartment. Would it be possible to look through her belongings? It may be helpful in finding where she went.”
Mrs. Franklin wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “We put them back into her old room. We’ve left her room the same as she did when she moved to Winter Park. She used to come and visit and stay the night, and we wanted her to know she always had a place here.” She led Madison to Cora’s room, and Josh stayed in the kitchen with Mr. Franklin.
Josh leaned across the table. “Mr. Franklin, I know this must be very difficult for you both. I see the pain in your wife’s face, but how are you holding up?”
He rubbed his eyes and sniffled. “I try to stay strong for Mabel, but it’s not easy. I tell you, Detective, I want to believe that my little girl is still out there somewhere, but I’m afraid something has happened to her. She would not put her mother and me through this if she were still alive.”
“We’re doing everything we can to try and locate your daughter. We appreciate your letting us come out here. The more information we find, the quicker we can piece together where she is.”
“Do you think she’s dead?”
“Let’s just concentrate on finding your daughter, and as soon as we hear anything, we’ll let you know. I promise.”
“If anything has happened to Cora, I don’t think my wife will survive. She’s holding on so tightly to the hope that our daughter will return.”
“We’ll do our best,” Josh whispered.
Mrs. Franklin escorted Madison into Cora’s room. She stopped at the door and reached for Madison’s hand. “Do you think something has happened to our daughter?”
“We don’t know.”
“I don’t think Frank could live through it if something happened to Cora. I try to stay strong for him, but my heart feels something is very wrong. Cora would have never let us suffer like this if she were alive.” She squeezed Madison’s hand harder. “I’m so afraid. I hope you can find her.”
Madison patted Mrs. Franklin’s hand. “We will do our best to find her.”
Mrs. Franklin released Madison’s hand and left her in Cora’s room and then joined her husband in the kitchen. “I left Agent Hart in Cora’s room to look around. I didn’t want to interfere with her investigation. I know you both are doing everything you can find our daughter.” She turned toward her husband and put her head on his shoulder.
Josh sat with the Franklins while Madison went through Cora’s belongings. He didn’t need to oversee her every move. If there were things in that room that would give them a better look into this young woman’s life, Madison would find it.
Madison opened every drawer and looked through the closet. She sat on the bed and went through all the boxes of items brought back from the apartment where Cora had been staying when she disappeared. There were very few personal things. It looked like she had not planned to stay long, or just didn’t want a lot of “stuff” to overshadow why she was in Winter Park. She had very few clothes, and the ones she had were of good quality. She seemed to dress well, even though she was a clerk at a bank. Cora’s room was well-kept. Madison wondered if her mother kept the room that way or was that the type of person Cora was.
She opened the last box and saw a few brochures from the Tiffany Museum on Park Avenue and a play at Rollins College that she had attended. At the bottom of the box was a flier from the Maitland Art Center. Madison stumbled onto what would give her a clearer picture of why this woman wanted to be in Winter Park. She gathered everything in the box and walked back to the kitchen. “Mrs. Franklin, may we take these things back to our office? I promise to return them when we’re finished. I think these items may give us a better picture of your daughter’s life in Winter Park.”
“Sure, if you think it will help. We want to do whatever it takes to help you find our daughter. Please, let us know if we can do anything else.”
Josh stood up and gently shook Mr. and Mrs. Franklin’s hands. Then he and Madison loaded the box into the trunk. The couple was still standing on their front porch, with Mr. Franklin’s arm around his wife, as Madison and Josh drove off.
“Man, that’s got to be hard,” Josh said. “I know that you’ve dealt with this a lot in your line of work, but Maitland hasn’t had this type of thing in our small town. I almost got choked up talking to Cora’s father. I could see the pain in his face, and only imagine what they must be going through, not knowing the whereabouts of their daughter.”
Madison smiled. It was a side of Josh she hadn’t seen before. All she had ever seen was the cocky detective, but he was compassionate.
Madison’s voice softened. “Yes, and, unfortunately, I don’t think this is going to end well. After the amount of time that’s passed and Cora’s closeness with her parents, I’m afraid this will not be a happy reunion.”
For most of the ride back, they were quiet. They finally arrived at Madison’s office and spread the contents of the box onto the table. Josh and Madison donned the latex gloves and started going through each item.
Madison stepped up to the board and wrote the new information on Cora under her name and then stood back. Josh scanned back and forth between Cora, Ms. Hill, and Lois Cramer.
“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“I sure am. The pieces are starting to fall into place. Maitland Art Center is our connection.”
Josh wanted to hug Madison but refrained. “I think we make a good team, don’t you?”
“Not too bad.”
Madison’s cell phone rang. It was Aspen. “Hi, Madison, this is Aspen. I hope I’m not bothering you. I was wondering if you could stop by today. I wanted to ask a favor of you.”
“Sure. What’s a good time for you?”
“Are you free for lunch? I just fixed a shrimp salad, and we could eat on the patio.”
“It’s 11:30 now. I could come by in an hour.”
“Great. I’m looking forward to it.”
Madison turned to Josh. “Well, that was a surprise. Aspen is the woman I told you about who fell at the Art Center. She wants me to come over for lunch.”
“Well, that might be a good thing. Maybe your friend has thought of something else since her fall. I’ve got a few things to do at the station. We’ll touch base later.” Josh started toward the door, hesitated just as he was opening the door. “Good day so far.” He grinned and then walked out to his car.
Madison placed the items back into the box and slid it under the table. She was eager to see Aspen again, not only to find out what she wanted but to see how she was doing. It would be a good break from racking her brain crazy on this case. “Sometimes, it’s good to step away from it all and then come back with fresh eyes. I think I’ve been staring at the same evidence for so long that I’m not seeing what’s right in front of me. I need to clear my head.”
She combed her hair and headed out the door. She drove down Park Ave, past the restaurant where Margaret Hill had worked. As she passed the outside tables, she noticed the waitress she’d talked to about Ms. Hill. Madison imagined Margaret waiting on the tables and wondered if that’s where she met the person she was supposed to meet the night she disappeared. “I think I’ll stop in there after my lunch with Aspen and talk to Margaret’s co-worker, Sandy, again.”
Madison finally arrived at Aspen’s home. Everything was so neat and perfect, just like the first time she visited. There were several pieces of art in the house that looked like originals that she hadn’t noticed before. She hesitated to ask, but the investigator in her couldn’t help herself. “Aspen, I love the art pieces you have in your home. Are they from any artists in the area?”
“Yes. I’ve been a collector of local art for quite some time. My mother was into art from around the world, but I prefer to support the local artists. I have our lunch ready. Are you hungry?”
“I sure am. I was so busy this morning; I forgot to eat.” Madison followed Aspen out on the patio in the back yard. Aspen had a table set under the Camphor tree. It was the perfect amount of shade, and the camphor oils in the leaves kept the mosquitoes away. The table was set with small salad plates made by one of the local artists, and tumblers that matched each plate. Aspen had one design and Madison another. It had been so long since Madison enjoyed a nice lunch with a friend in their home. Aspen was the kind of person Madison could be friends with, but she still needed to keep her guard up. Until someone is eliminated, everyone was a person of interest, in this case.
“This is lovely, Aspen, but you didn’t need to go through all this trouble for me,” Madison said as she reached for a roll.
Aspen sipped her iced tea. “I don’t invite many people to my home, so this was a pleasure for me too. I need to get out; I’ve been held up in here too long. That brings me to the favor I wanted to ask you.”
“I just got a call from Tyler. He wanted to know how I was doing and to know if I was going to able to come to his exhibit. He knows I am still unable to volunteer that evening but was hoping I could come. Since I still can’t drive, I was wondering if you would like to come with me. Of course, that’s the favor part. Could you drive us?”
“I’d love to come, and I’d be happy to pick you up. I was planning on attending, and going with you would be so much more fun.”
Aspen jumped up and hugged her. “I was so hoping you would say yes. I’ll call him back later today, and tell him we’re both coming.”
“You seem quite taken by this Kincaid fellow.”
“I guess I am. I’ve taken several of his classes and have learned so much. I don’t think I would have stuck with my painting if it hadn’t been for his encouragement. Mr. Kincaid inspired me,” she said with a glow on her face.
“Have you ever modeled for one of his paintings?”
“Oh no. I don’t think I’m the type of woman for his art. He likes a petite woman, like you. The women in his paintings are almost dwarfed by the massive, untamed landscapes he paints, yet the women add a touch of class. The women he chooses are always perfect in his paintings.”
“What do you mean, ‘perfect’?”
“You know the kind…well dressed, manicured, not a hair out of place, but gorgeous!”
Madison changed the subject so Aspen wouldn’t think she was grilling her for information. “I think you’re looking better. How are you feeling?”
“I think I’m doing great. Every day I feel stronger, and I don’t have as many dizzy spells as I did right after my fall.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Madison took the last bite of her salad. “This was a wonderful lunch. Thank you so much for inviting me.”
“Well, I don’t know about you, but sometimes a person needs to get away from the everyday stuff for awhile to clear the mind.”
Madison smiled. “I do know what you mean, and this came at the perfect time.”
They finished their lunch and then sat outside drinking their iced teas for awhile. Madison offered to help Aspen clean up, but she wouldn’t hear of it. “I get bored sitting around here all day, and this will give me something to do later. I’m so eager to get back to the Art Center and finish my paintings.” I have a doctor’s appointment in a couple of weeks, and they’re going to do another MRI to make sure the swelling and bleeding has completely stopped. Then I’ll be able to drive again.”
“I know you’re looking forward to that, but in the meantime, if you need me, just holler.”
“Thank you, Madison. I appreciate the offer.”
Aspen walked Madison to the door and out onto the porch and then reached out and hugged Madison. “I’m so glad you could come by.”
It had been a long time since anyone other than family had hugged Madison, and it caught her off guard, but she felt the sincerity in Aspen’s hug. She hoped to be able to cross Aspen off the board as a person of interest. “Okay, you take care of yourself, and don’t forget to call if you need anything.” Madison walked down the steps and turned to watch Aspen go back into her house. She sat in the car for a moment, digesting the conversation she and Aspen had about Tyler Kincaid and the type of women he liked. She wanted to get to the restaurant and talk to Sandy again before her shift was over.
Park Avenue was crowded, as usual, and parking was hard to find. Madison drove up and down in front of the restaurant trying to find an opening to park, but as soon as she would spot one, someone else would pull into the spot.
Suddenly, she noticed Sandy coming out of the restaurant with her purse and heading down the sidewalk. She pulled up as close as she could and hollered out, “Sandy!”
Sandy looked around to see if who was calling for her. She didn’t notice Madison in the car at first. Then Madison called out again and then Sandy saw who it was. “Have you got a minute?” Madison asked.
Sandy ran across the street to the driver’s side of the car. Madison asked Sandy to get in, and without hesitation, Sandy ran around to the other side of the car and jumped in just as the car behind Madison started to honk. “Do you have time for a cup of coffee? I’d like to ask you some more questions about Margaret.”
Sandy leaned back in the seat. “Yeah, I’m off work now. I was going to walk home and take a nap. A cup of coffee and someone waiting on me for a change sounds nice.”
“Have you been to Bernie’s Coffee Kitchen down the street?”
“Yeah, I stop in there a lot with friends. That’s fine,” Sandy replied.
They drove up to Bernie’s just as a car was pulling out of a parking spot. “My lucky day,” Madison said as she pulled in. They walked across the street, and got a cup of coffee. There weren’t a lot of people in the shop, so they had their pick of tables. Madison wanted one with not much foot traffic coming past them so that they could talk. She grabbed the one against the wall by the front window. The view was nice, and people wouldn’t be brushing up behind them entering the shop.
Madison motioned Sandy to have a seat with her back to the door so she wouldn’t be distracted by customers coming in and out while they talked. Sandy plopped down in the chair, and took a deep breathe of air. “I’m exhausted.” Madison waited until Sandy got settled. “What kind of coffee would you like?”
“Oh, just plain old strong black coffee,” Sandy replied.
Madison ordered their coffee and then took her seat across from Sandy. “Did you have a good day at work today?”
“I did. However, we had a couple come in, and no matter what we did for them, they just were not satisfied. They didn’t even leave a tip, and that sucks.”
“Do you keep your tips, or do you share them?”
“We used to keep our own tips, but then it became cut-throat over the tables so the management decided we’d split tips. That seems to work out better for most of us, and we end up helping each other more doing it that way.”
“How did Margaret get along with the other waitresses?”
“Margaret got along with everyone. She was a hard worker and always tried to help others when she had a free moment.”
“Did she have any special customers? Were there any men that may have paid more attention to her than the other waitresses?”
“Not really. We had our regulars, but nothing creepy or anything like that.” Sandy crinkled her nose and scratched her chin. “There is one who comes to mind, but he wasn’t creepy. He was an artist. He was always telling her that she ought to be a model. I think he even asked her once if she would pose for him.”
“I don’t think so. Margaret never mentioned it to me. But come to think of it, she would get excited whenever she saw him at her table.”
“Do you remember his name?”
Sandy sipped her coffee. “Hmm, I don’t, but I can tell you one thing, the guy was gorgeous. He had jet-black hair and his eyes were deep blue. When he stood up he caught the eye of many women, and men, in the room. I’m not sure how tall he was, but I’ll bet he was over 6 feet and built like a god. If she didn’t pose for him, she was crazy. I would have jumped at the chance.”
They sat there until Sandy finished her coffee and then they parted. Madison headed back to the office but couldn’t help but wonder if Tyler Kincaid was the artist Sandy was referring to. It sure fit his physical description.
As Madison pulled up in the parking lot, Josh pulled in behind her. “Hey, I’ve been trying to call you.”
Madison pulled out her cell phone. “Sorry, I guess I turned off the ringer. What’s up?”
“Not much. I wanted to see if you were up to checking out the other missing women on the board in the morning and I wanted to see how your lunch with Aspen went. Did you learn anything?”
“I had a nice lunch, but I didn’t learn much, other than Tyler Kincaid wants her to attend his exhibit. Since she still is unable to drive, she asked if I would take her and I said I would. I can’t help feeling that man knows something, and if I play my cards right, I might find out more at his exhibit. Also, I ran into Ms. Hill’s co-worker. We had coffee after her shift and she told me something interesting. One of Ms. Hill’s regulars was an artist, and he had asked her to pose for him.”
“That’s interesting. Did she?”
“The co-worker didn’t know, but after that, every time he came into the restaurant, Ms. Hill got excited, and he always sat at her table. From the description, it could be our Mr. Kincaid.”
“Hmm, that’s interesting. I hear your brain ticking again. Do you think Ms. Hill’s secret meeting might have been with this Kincaid guy?”.
“I’m sure going to try and find out. This has been a long and exhausting day. You want to get something to eat?”
Josh smiled at her. “Thought you’d never ask. But do you mind, I’m sick of sandwiches? Can we sit down to a real meal?”
“That sounds perfect, but I’ve been in the same clothes all day, and would like to shower and change first. I have a few calls to make too, so how about I swing by the station in about an hour?”
“My day hasn’t been any walk in the park, either. I’d like to change too. I’ll come by here in an hour.”
Madison watched as Josh left and then locked the door. She pulled back the curtain, dropped off her clothes on the floor, turned on the hot water, and climbed into the shower. She let the water beat against her aching muscles and pulsate over her body. The case was taking its toll on her, more than most cases. There were too many missing pieces that frustrated her.
The more she stood under the soothing, hot water, the more the idea of just pouring a glass of wine and crawling into bed appealed to her. But there was still the fact that she was hungry, and Josh would be coming back soon. She forced herself out of the shower and dressed into something more casual and less official. She put on a little makeup and dried her hair so that she could let it down. It has been tied up on the top of her head all day. It felt good to doll up a little.
While she waited for Josh, she made a few calls. The first one was to Martin Baines, a co-worker at the FBI. He had become one of the best profilers in the FBI, and she was fortunate to be able to work with him on several cases. He also worked directly with her boss, Special Agent Stratton Wells.
She brought him up to speed on the case and of her frustration with the unsolved missing persons and murders. She hoped he would give her new insights on the case from his perspective.
“Madison, you do realize that you’ve only been on this case a short time, and it’s a very complicated one. I know you have already presumed you’re working on the premise it’s a serial killer. What can you tell me about the unsub, so far?”
“Well, he’s drawn to petite, well-dressed women, who are not too socially active. The women we’ve checked into were very organized and serious about their ambitions. We also know that each of them, so far, had planned on meeting someone the night of their disappearance. They were secretive about who they were seeing, which leads me to think he is controlling in a subtle way. Our unsub is charming, and the women trust him. He wanted the relationships to be kept a secret. I’m not sure why, yet. The two murdered victims were killed with the same weapon, a small .45 caliber at close range to the back of the head. I doubt our victims saw it coming. But I’m puzzled at the sites where we found the bodies. We don’t believe they were murdered there, which leads me to think our killer was strong enough to carry a body or had the means to transport them to the dump sites. Oh, and we believe the unsub knows the area well.”
“It sounds like you’ve got this one under control, but let me know if you need assistance. How’s it working out with Detective Logan? I did some checking on him, and from what we have gathered, he has a great record for solving cases.”
“He does seem to know what he’s doing. It’s going fine. I’ll keep you posted.” Then Madison hung up her cell phone.
She was about to call Jim and update him, but stuck her cell phone back in her bag. All she just wanted to do was to end the day and take a break from work “A good dinner and early to bed is just what I need.” She unlocked the front door and then walked back to the board and tossed a sheet over it so no one could see the board from the window. “I need a fresh view of this case. I’m missing something, but my brain can’t take anymore tonight.”
She was straightening the office area when she heard a horn honk. “What the hell?” Getting out of the car was Jessie. “Hey, girl. I just thought I stopped by for a minute on my way home. I was visiting your sister today. She’s doing great and that Cole, he dotes on Winter like a princess. I think he really loves her. Oh, how’s it going on the case?”
“I’m glad you spent time with Win, you two have been best friends for a long time, and I know how she treasures your friendship. The case is plugging along. You know I can’t discuss much of it with you, I’m sure you understand.”
Jessie chuckled. “I know you can’t, but I can’t help my curious nature,”
“Come on in.”
“So this is what you’ve done with the place?” Jessie glanced around at the sparse room. “And I suppose you’re living in that cubbyhole of a room in the back?”
“It will do for now. Besides, there’s no need to try and find a permanent place just for this case.”
Jessie lowered her head. “I guess. I was hoping, and so was Win, that you might change your mind and stay.”
“To be honest, Jess, I’m not sure what I’m going to do when this case is over. The way it’s going right now, it might take a lot longer than I had anticipated. There are too many unanswered questions. It’s a real puzzle. Now that’s all I can say, and I probably said more than I should have already.”
“You know what you tell me won’t go any further unless you say I can tell Jim.”
There was a knock at the door, and when Jessie turned around, in walked Detective Logan. “Hi,” Jessie said.
“Hi, Jessie. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I just stopped by to say hello to my old friend, Maddy. Are you two working tonight?”
Josh interrupted Madison. “We sure are.”
“We’re in the middle of this thing, and we can’t stop. Your friend is quite a driving force when it comes to investigating.”
“Well, I’d better leave you two to your work. Maddy, don’t be a stranger.”
“Maddy? I like that,” he snickered.
Madison just ignored him. “Are you ready to go?”
Josh looked different that night. All she had ever seen him wearing was his detective attire, a suit, and jacket. Seeing him in tightly fitted jeans and a casual sports shirt, reminded her of how good-looking he was, but she sure wasn’t going to let him know that she noticed.
Damn, she looks hot tonight. Wish she would loosen up a little. You know what they say, all work and no fun. “Do you like Italian food? There’s a nice place on Lake Lily that serves good Italian if you’re interested.”
“You must have been reading my mind. I love Italian food. Let’s go; I’m starving,” Madison headed for her car.
“Don’t you want to go in my car?” He looked dumbfounded and confused.
Madison snickered. “I thought we were going in separate cars.”
“No, I’ll ride with you if you insist on driving. I just thought since you had been driving all over town today, you might appreciate someone else driving.” Josh walked over toward her car.
“You know, that’s a great idea.” Madison closed her car door and walked toward Josh’s car.
“Damn woman, you sure are complicated,” he said under his breath.
“Nothing.” He hurried to his car before she changed her mind again.
It was a short drive to Antonio’s the Italian restaurant on the lake. The place sat on the corner of 17-92 and Maitland Avenue and overlooked the lake from the tables of the terrace on the second floor. The night air had just a slight cool breeze, but it was refreshing.
Josh and Madison took the elevator to the second floor, passed the bar and started out on the terrace. Madison sat facing Lake Lily and could see the fountain in the center. A walking path encircled the entire lake, with several spots for sitting along the way. When Madison was a child, the entire town would gather there for the 4th of July celebrations and the Lion’s Club would set up a hole-in-one island on the lake as a fundraiser. There was no telling how many golf balls were at the bottom of the lake. She couldn’t remember a single person ever making a hole-in-one, but it drew a lot of attention.
“Hey, Madison, you seem to be in deep thought. I hope it’s not the case? We’re here to take a break from the case, remember?”
“No, it’s not about the case. I was just reminiscing about my childhood, and the care-free fun we used to have playing around Lake Lily. When did life get so serious?”
Josh wanted to answer her, but could see she wanted to stay in the moment a little longer.
The waiter seemed just to appear at the table. “Would like to start the evening with something to drink?”
Josh didn’t want to disturb Madison’s moment, but he quietly asked her if she’d like to get some wine or would she prefer a drink.
“Huh? I’m sorry. What were you asking me?”
“I was just asking if you’d like something to drink; a cocktail or some wine.”
“I think some wine for me. A good Merlot will be fine.”
“Let’s get a bottle,” Josh said cautiously.
“Okay. I could use a good relaxing evening with some wine.”
Josh turned to the waiter and gave him their wine order. As they waiting for their wine, they read over the menu. Madison put her menu down and looked up at Josh.
“I’m so tired, Josh.”
“Do you want me to take you home?” he asked without hesitation.
“No, but if you don’t mind, I like you to order for me. I just can’t think anymore today. This case has me stumped, and I feel fried tonight. Do you mind?”
“Not at all.” She wasn’t the snappy, strong woman she had been the past few days. She had been spinning her wheels, too hard and too fast, trying to solve this case. At least he could go home at night, but she was living with it 24/7.
He leaned over the table. “Madison, do you mind if I make a suggestion?”
She knew it wasn’t going to be a choice from the menu by his body language.
“Just say it, Josh.”
“I know how concerned and dedicated you are to this case, but living with it day and night might be wearing you out. Have you thought of renting another place as your personal space?”
“I’m fine where I am for now. We should be getting closer to wrapping this up, and then I’ll most likely be going back to DC.”
Josh didn’t respond. He leaned back in his chair and turned toward the lake.
“Hey, if this thing drags on too much longer, I’ll consider renting a studio apartment until we finish.”
He looked at her without saying anything and just gave a slight smile. He was afraid that he had stepped too far into her personal space and didn’t want to ruin the evening for either of them.
The waiter finally came out with the wine. He poured Josh a glass for tasting and Josh just nodded. Then the waiter poured Madison’s. She was normally a do-it-yourself, independent woman, but that night she was too exhausted to be assertive.
The waiter poured the wine and then set the bottle on the table. Josh lifted his glass. “Here’s to solving this case and getting back to our normal lives.”
“I’m all for that.” Madison tapped his glass with hers.
The first glass of wine went down rather quickly, which eased the tension and then the conversation veered from the case. Madison wanted to know what brought Josh to Maitland. Of course, she already knew where he came from because Martin had filled her in when she came aboard helping the Maitland Police on this case, but she wanted to hear more from a personal view.
“Not that much to tell. I lived in Miami and couldn’t stand the constant crime that occurred every day. I wanted a more laid back environment for work, and this job came available in Maitland, so I applied and got it. I haven’t regretted it once. I prefer a smaller town atmosphere, where you know your neighbors, and when you walk into a café or restaurant, people say hello. What about you? You seemed to have done the opposite. You were from here and chose to move away.”
“I got wrapped up in the science end of investigating. Then one thing led to another, and I found myself with the FBI Criminal Investigation Unit doing profiles. I had never intended that as my career, but it just evolved. My real love is the investigation end of it, you know snooping around and putting the pieces of the puzzle together to see the whole picture.”
He poured her another glass. “Have you ever thought of becoming a P.I.?”
“As a matter of fact, I have.”
The waiter returned to take their order.
“I think we’d like to start with the Caprese. We’re not ready to order dinner yet.”
“I’ll be right out with that,” the waiter said as he turned and left.
“I just happen to love that,” Madison said with a smile.
“I love the Caprese here. They drench the mozzarella and tomatoes in the olive oil, and if that’s not enough, they bring out the best bread with a garlic olive oil for dipping.”
“Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.” Madison began to relax and smiled. She was loosening up and enjoying herself. Of course, the wine wasn’t hurting the mood either.
It seemed only moments and the Caprese came out. The waiter set the plate in the center of the table and then placed a basket of hot bread with two small bowls of the olive oil for each of them. Madison didn’t wait, she dove right in. She dipped a piece of bread into her olive oil and then scooped up some of the Caprese onto her plate. She had devoured it before Josh had time to serve his plate. “I take it you’re hungry?” he said, laughing as he noticed the olive oil dripping down her chin. He reached over and wiped her chin, but she didn’t miss a beat while eating.
Josh took a few bites but couldn’t take his eyes off of her. She was one of the most intriguing women that he had ever met. She was certainly not intimidated by the presence of a man, nor did she try to put on any pretenses. She was who she was, and he liked that about her.
She dipped her crusty bread into the seasoned olive oil. “I’m starving.”
Finally, Madison had her full and then sat back in her chair and reached for her wine. “Tell me, Detective Logan, what kind of man are you? I know you’re a fairly good detective, but what do you do for fun?”
“Fairly good. I’m a damn good detective,” he said with certainty as his tone of voice started to rise. He leaned toward her with his hands on the table. “I’ll bet I’ve solved more cases in my career than you have as an agent.”
Madison laughed. “It sure doesn’t take much to get you all stirred up. Sensitive, are we?”
“Okay, you got me. I guess I am sensitive about my job. I’m a damn good investigator, and you know it, but I think you enjoy pushing my buttons, don’t you?” He leaned back in his chair. “Now I see how you attack your suspects. You hit them where they’re vulnerable, and then dig in. I should have seen that one coming.”
“I was just playing with you.”
He looked at her with one eyebrow raised and lifted his glass to her. “I owe you one and karma’s a bitch.”
“Lighten up Logan. We’re just having fun tonight, and besides, I think you’re cute when you get huffy.”
“Well so far, it’s at my expense.”
There was tension brewing between them, but neither was willing to admit it. Two strong personalities butting heads together have an unlikely chance they will ever let down their guard long enough to share an intimate moment of any kind.
They had reached the end of their bottle of wine when the waiter stepped up and asked if they were ready to order. Madison leaned forward, “That Caprese was great and filling, but I’d like some more wine. What about you, Logan?” She raised her brow up and down.
“Sure. Why not? Would you please bring us another bottle of that Merlot.”
The waiter left, and Josh leaned into the table, “You know people can get in trouble if they drink too much,” he said seductively.
“Well, if we get in trouble, I know someone who will bail us out.”
The waiter returned with the bottle of wine and was just about to open it when Madison stopped him. “Can we just buy that bottle, unopened of course, and take it with us?”
The waiter wasn’t sure but told them he’d be right back.
Josh didn’t say a word. He just stared at her. Could she be planning something? He could only hope.
Madison leaned in closer to him, “Is that okay with you? It’s getting so crowded in here and noisy that I thought we could take the bottle and sit by the lake.
The waiter returned without the bottle of wine. “I’m sorry sir, we cannot sell a bottle to go with your dinner, but if you’d like, the gentleman downstairs has a bottle for you. You can buy one there to take with you.”
Josh thanked him. The waiter laid the tab down on the table, and Madison and Josh both grabbed for it. “I invited you,” he insisted.
“Yes, but I mentioned it first.” Neither would give up their hold on the bill. “Madison, if you don’t let go of this, I’m going to throw myself on the floor, roll around, and stomp my feet like a two-year-old.”
Madison burst out laughing. “Oh my God, the vision of that is almost worth the fight over this, but I will let you get away with this time. However, next time, it’s my turn.”
Josh didn’t respond. He slipped his credit card into the server’s book. Madison excused herself and said she needed to use the ladies’ room and would be right back.
Josh paid the bill, and they took the elevator downstairs to the market and deli area. Josh walked up to the counter and asked if there was an order for him.
“Your name, sir?” the young women asked.
She turned to the several bags and boxes to go. “Yes, sir.”
She handed Josh a box, which confused him for a moment. “Are you sure this is mine?”
The young women looked at the name, “You are Mr. Logan, aren’t you?”
“Well then this is yours, and there are two wine glasses in there for you.”
Josh pulled out his wallet and started to pay. The woman put up her hand up to stop him from paying. “Oh no, sir. Your bill has already been taken care of.”
Josh thanked her but looked very confused. He turned mumbled to himself. “Wow, I wonder if this is compliments of my friend, Greg. I’ve known him since he opened this place. I wonder why he didn’t stop by the table like he usually does? I’ll have to thank him next time I see him.”
Madison was waiting near the door. She didn’t seem surprised it was in a box. They walked across the street to the park area by the lake. There was a table overlooking the water, and Madison nudged Josh toward it.
“This looks perfect.”
No matter where one sat, they could see the lake and watch the fountain in the middle. Josh set the box on the table and opened it. There wasn’t just a chilled bottle of wine and two glasses, but two cannolis in plastic containers.
“I hope you like cannolis. It looks like my friend Greg fixed us up. Wish I had a chance to thank him.”
“Yeah, that was nice of him.”
Josh handed her a cannoli. Just as Josh was about to release the box he blurted out, “You did this?”
“Oh, you are a good detective.” She smiled at him.
“Damn, I’m slow, though.” He pulled out the other cannoli.
“How and when did you…?” Then he remembered she left for the ladies’ room. “But how did you know…oh, I remember telling you I knew the owner, and you asked him what my favorite dessert was, didn’t you?”
Madison grinned. “Damn, you’re good at your job. Now let’s open that wine before I sober up.”
“Woman, you are filled with surprises.” He set the wine glass on the table and opened the wine.
She raised her eyebrow. “Oh, you have no idea.”
Josh poured the wine and opened the box with the cannoli. He reached for the dessert and pointed it toward Madison as if he was going to make a toast. “Here’s to surprises.”
Madison took her cannoli and tapped his. “To surprises. Yep, I can see why you like these things.”
They finished their dessert and sat drinking, laughing and watching the couples strolling around the lake late into the night. Josh began to stand. “I’d better get you home before I have to call someone at the station to drive us back.”
“Not a bad idea. We have to get back to reality tomorrow and dig into the case, but it sure was nice to do something to get our minds off of it for awhile, wasn’t it?”
“I think we both needed the break and the diversion.”
Madison wasn’t drunk, but she was feeling no pain or cares in the world. For the first time, since this case started, she almost felt human again.
Josh drove her back to the office and walked her to the front door. He hesitated for a moment. Damn I want to kiss this woman.
Madison turned toward him and leaned in close. “We still have a little wine left in this bottle. Do you want to come in and help me finish it?”
“Are you sure?”
She didn’t turn on the lights, or set the bottle on the table in the office, but pulled back behind the curtain of her makeshift bedroom and placed the bottle on the nightstand.
Shit. Am I dreaming or is this woman about to seduce me?
Madison turned to Josh, “What is holding you back, detective? You’re not intimidated by my badge, are you?”
“Hell no. I just can’t figure you out. One minute I think it’s a challenge for you to be in the same room with me, and then the next minute you kiss me.” Josh pulled Madison against him and then put his hands on the back of her head and drew her into his kiss. It was Josh kissing her this time. He kissed her softly and then pulled back and looked into her blue eyes, to see if this was going to continue. Her eyes were still closed, and her lips were ready for more, and this time he kissed her passionately. Madison put her arms around his neck and fell into his hot, wet kisses. Her body was pulsating stronger with each kiss. Josh kept engulfing her with his tongue and then slightly pushed her away from him. He backed her up against the wall and pulled her blouse over her head. He held her arms up against the wall as she grasped his fingers through hers.
Madison pressed her warm lips against his. Josh reached around her and held her tightly as he backed her onto the bed. Madison reached up from the bed and undid his buckle. Josh slowly laid her down on the bed. He couldn’t believe he was standing over such a beautiful woman. She was not only knockout gorgeous but was intelligent and strong. Her body shimmered as she lay there waiting for him. He crawled up next to her. Madison reached around his back and pulled him into her.
“Josh rolled over and took Madison’s face in his hands and kissed her eyelids. “Woman, you are a surprise.” Madison returned his kisses with a gentle kiss. She didn’t say much but kept looking at him in disbelief. She had not intended for this to happen, but it did. She sat up on the edge of the bed, turned and looked into his eyes. “Now what? I hope this isn’t going to mess up our working relationship. I can’t have you watching over me like some pit-bull. I’m still an agent and can damn sure take care of myself.”
“Of that, I have no doubt.” He sat up next to her. “We can keep our jobs strictly business. We’re professionals, and we have a job to do. Now let’s finish this wine, and then I’ll get out of your hair so you can get some sleep.”
What Josh wanted to do was curl up with Madison, but he could see she would have no part of that…at least for now. I wish I knew what was holding her back. Wonder if she had a relationship that ended badly.
Madison reached for her robe at the end of the bed and wrapped it around her as tight as she could; almost as though she was protecting herself from something. I wish I weren’t so afraid of letting myself go. I could get used to having Josh around…sometimes.
Josh picked up the bottle and poured the remaining wine into their glasses and then waited for Madison in the office area. She came up behind him, flipped the sheet off the whiteboard. It was quickly filling up with clues. “Let’s look at this with a fresh view tomorrow. I’m not as clear-headed as I’d like to be tonight.”
“I agree. I need to get some rest too. I don’t want my mind swimming around with all that information from the board. I think we both could use a good night’s sleep.” He took the last swig of his wine and carried his glass to the sink.
Madison walked him to the front door. He turned and gave her a peck on the cheek and then left without saying anything else, but he wanted to pull her to him and feel her body next to his one more time, but he knew Madison would hold back. “We’ll touch base tomorrow to recap and then if you’re up to it, check out our other missing women,” he said in a back-to-business sort of way.
“Josh,” she called out, as he was walking toward his car.
“Thank you for a great evening.” She smiled as she held onto her robe.
“My pleasure.” What the hell goes on in that mind of hers? One minute I think she can’t wait to get rid of me, and the next, my heart starts racing. He climbed into his car.
As he backed up and turned around to leave, he glanced back one more time hoping to see her still standing there. But the shades of the office had been pulled closed, and she had already turned off the lights.
Madison was sound asleep when she heard a loud knocking on the glass at the front door of her office. She staggered to the curtain and saw it was Josh. She turned to see her clock read: 10:00 a.m. “Oh shit!”
She put on her robe and made her way to the door. “Woman, I’ve been calling your cell phonbe for over an hour.” He pushed his way into the room and handed her a large cup of coffee. “How soon can you get dressed? We’ve got another body.” He darted over to the board and flipped the sheet off.
“Good morning to you, too,” Madison said as she sipped her coffee. “Just give me ten minutes. I’m still half asleep.” She struggled to make her way to the, set her coffee cup on the bathroom sink and then turned on the hot water. She grabbed something to wear out of the closet, took a big gulp of coffee and jumped into the shower. It was going to have to be a quick one, with no time for washing her hair. Josh was anxious and wanted to get going. He was pacing the room, and gulping his coffee. She could hear him stomping around the room on the other side of the curtain.
The moment she entered the room, he raced to the door without saying a word. It was back to serious work for both of them. The bodies were mounting, and chances of finding any of the missing women alive at this point was very slim.
“Did you have your cell phone off?” he asked as he climbed into the car.
“No, I guess I was exhausted more than I thought.” She struggled to hold onto her coffee cup as Josh sped around and hit the road with the siren blaring.
“Okay. Do you want to tell me what happened? What makes you think it’s one of our missing women?”
“She fits the profile. Madison, we have a serial killer in our neighborhood, and he’s pissing me off.” Josh drove past the spot where they found the body of Margaret Hill and continued toward the Audubon Society. “A staff member was cleaning up the trash pile in the back where they dumped the old straw from the aviaries when he thought he saw what looked like a human arm and called his supervisor. When the supervisor checked closer, he noticed it was a body and called the police. I tried to call you several times, but when you didn’t answer, I came out to the site. Then I called Doc and zipped over to get you before they removed the body. It’s a petite, young woman, well dressed and a bullet hole in the back of her head, just like the others.”
As they pulled up to the crime scene. A crowd had already started gathering outside the taped-off area. Josh lifted the tape, and they walked slowly over to Doc Webb. “Doc, can you tell us anything?” Madison asked as she knelt down beside the body.
“Yes. I can tell you that this son-of-bitch has to be stopped,” he replied looking up at Madison. “Agent Hart, what’s going on around here? Why are these women murdered in our little town?” Doc Webb shook his head and looked back at the body. “I’ve been the coroner in Maitland for over thirty years, and I have never seen anything like this before. I could bet my house this victim was also shot with the same .45 caliber.” He brushed back the hair from the victim’s neck to reveal the wound. “But you know the drill. I won’t know everything until I get her back to my lab.” Doc motioned for his assistant, Jimmy to bring the body bag.
Josh walked around looking for evidence. He had his jacket opened in the front and one hand on his waist pulling the jacket to one side, and his other hand on his head. Madison walked up beside him. “Josh, we’ll get him.”
“I hope so Maddy,” he mumbled in almost a whisper as he continued scanning the area
She was startled when Josh called her Maddy. She walked back to the road to backtrack through the bushes where she thought it might have been the route the killer took to dump the body, hoping to find some drag marks or footprints, but all she saw were shoe impressions near the trash pile. Any of the staff could have made them while tossing the trash.
Madison asked one of the detectives if he would photograph and cast the shoe prints just in caseso they could eliminate any staff members who worked back there. Then she slowly walked back toward Josh taking each painstaking step to make sure she wouldn’t miss any evidence, starting from the road and photographing each leg of the walk. Madison studied the direction of the broken limbs on the shrubbery and how much they had healed over. The grasses were high which made it easy to maneuver without being seen if someone was dumping a body. In her final steps, just before arriving at the pile of debris, she saw a hair clip on the ground. She placed a marker on next to it and shot a photo, and then bagged it.
Josh stood scratching his head as he looked over the crime scene, and didn’t notice Madison coming up beside him. “Josh, let’s grab another cup of coffee and some breakfast. It’s been a hell of a morning. We’ll call Doc Webb for an update after we eat.”
Josh just turned and followed her back to the car. They sat in the car and watched as the coroner’s team loaded the body into their van. Madison sat quietly for a moment scanning the crowd, hoping something would pop out and then turned to Josh. “The best thing we can do for these women is get this bastard. We can’t do it if you start taking the case personally. If you want to do that, wait ‘till we catch him.” They had work to do, and she wanted him clear headed and on top of his game.
He lifted his head and turned toward her. “You’re right. Thanks for the kick in the ass. Let’s get some coffee.”
Josh started to back the car off the grass. One of the officer stopped the on-coming traffic driving along that narrow stretch until Josh got his car out and turned around. Just as they were leaving, Madison saw Kim in one of the waiting cars as they were driving out. She pretended not to see her, but she could tell Kim saw her. Madison had her sunglasses on but saw Kim’s head following her as they drove past.
Madison had almost forgotten about the exhibit coming up at the Art Center until she saw Kim. I’d better call Aspen to see if she still wants me to take her.
Josh drove toward The Breakfast Club, and during the entire drive, he seemed pre-occupied.
“Anything you want to share?”
“This case has been a puzzle from the get-go. We both know there is a major piece missing that would tie it all together. Maybe we’re looking at it all wrong,”.
“What do you mean?”
“We’ve been so busy trying to find the connection between our victims when maybe the answer is with the killer. How about going back to the board after breakfast and looking at it with a new perspective?”
Madison had been thinking the same thing and was excited that Josh had too. “I’m with you on that.”
Josh parked in the lot at the restaurant, and then they took a table near the back. Lisa came to take their order, and they both ordered the same thing. Lisa stood there staring at them. Madison looked up at Lisa wondering why she was looking at them strangely.
“Well, that was a surprise.”
“What do you mean?” Madison asked.
“You both ordered the same thing, but I don’t think either of you heard the other order. Must be something serious you’re thinking about.” Then Lisa turned and walked back into the kitchen.
Josh shrugged his shoulders, scrunched his nose and looked at Madison. “What did you order?”
“The Original Breakfast. Why? What did you order?”
Josh laughed. “No wonder Lisa looked at us oddly. We both ordered the same thing.”
Madison chuckled. “Seriously?”
Josh reached for his coffee. “Yep.”
“I guess my mind was on the board. I think we’re onto something and I’m eager to have another look.” Madison’s mind was swirling with the possibilities of what they would discover when they revisited the board.
Josh took another sip of his coffee. “Me too.”
They finished their meal, and took a coffee to go. The office was only about ten minutes away, but Josh was in a hurry to get there.
“Slow down tiger. I’d like to get there in one piece.”
Josh tapped the brakes. “Sorry about that. I guess the thought of discovering something new has my mind racing.”
Madison flipped over the sheet covering the board and started another section, marked UnSub, short for an unknown suspect.
She jotted down the beginning of a profile, and it was becoming very clear that the missing and deceased women all fit into the type of woman the unsub favored. But the puzzle remained, how did he lure them to their deaths, assuming the others were dead, and why did he choose these women? What triggered him? These were the questions Madison mulled over that seemed only to make the case more confusing for her.
“Damn, Madison, we need more information, and we’re running out of leads. We’re back to the same missing thread that connects these victims.” Josh sat down at the table. “You feel like riding over to Doc Webb with me?”
“Sure.” She was pretty sure she knew who the latest victim was, and if it was, telling the parents was going to be no easy task. “Ther’s no telling how many this bastard has killed, or how many more will die before we can get him off the streets.”
Josh gritted his teeth. “But we will get him.”
Josh called Doc Webb and had him on speaker phone, “Hey Doc, it Josh. Anything new?”
“No. I put her prints into the data bank, but nothing returned. She’s young, and that might be why there is no record of her yet. But I can tell you this young woman was well-dressed, similar to the others, and her nails were perfection. There was nothing under her nails when we scraped. Looks like she was fanatic about keeping clean, and I don’t see much of this anymore in someone this young. Not a smudge of anything on her clothing either. I’m no profiler, but if you ask me, she was OCD.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Josh turned to Madison. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Josh nodded his head. “Let’s fax her picture over to Doc’s lab and see if he can identify her from the photo.”
“I would still like to look at her clothing. Let’s head over there now.”
They grabbed the files on each victim and drove over to the coroner’s lab. When they arrived, there were three victims lying out on the tables; each murdered by the same lunatic, a serial killer. Madison was afraid there would soon be two more.
Josh pulled out the photo of Erin Wise and placed it next to the last body. Though she had quite a bit of decomposition, the bone structure and hair looked similar, but they wanted a positive ID before moving forward.
Josh and Madison decided to go back to Erin’s apartment with a forensic team. If they could lift any of the prints in Erin’s bedroom and match them to those of this last victim, they would have their positive ID.
Before the doc could say anything else, the two were out the door. Madison called to have the forensic team meet them at the apartment, and then she called the roommate. Fortunately, she was still there. Otherwise, Madison was ready with a backup with the apartment manager’s master key. Madison did not mention to the roommate that Erin’s room may be taped off for evidence.
Erin’s roommate greeted Madison and Josh at the door, but she wasn’t thrilled to have her place ransacked, again. Madison tried to assure her that her cooperation was going to be a big help in trying to find Erin. Madison didn’t want to frighten the roommate by mentioning that Erin may have met with foul play.
When the forensic team arrived, they immediately taped off the room and started dusting for prints. The bedroom was nearly sterile, but when they entered Erin’s bathroom, they lifted one print from the corner of the mirror. They digitally entered the print, and within moments it came back to the print Doc Wells entered on his latest Jane Doe, and it was Erin Wise.
Madison was relieved that her day would not be spent telling the parents of Cora Franklin that their daughter was dead, although she knew that day would most likely come, sooner or later.
The team continued taking various samples from the room, but Josh and Madison returned to the police station to update the chief.
Madison called Jim. “We have another body, and it’s one of the missing women.”
Madison could almost hear Jim fall back in his chair. “Jim, are you there?”
“Yes. I knew it. I was hoping my gut feeling was wrong this time. You know this isn’t going to end well. I believe the others are dead too.”
“I’ll keep you posted, but please don’t run with anything until we get all our facts together, Madison insisted.
“You know I won’t. Have you told Winter yet?”
“No. We’re trying to stay on top of this and gather as much evidence as we can. Can you bring her up to speed?”
“I’m taking Jessie over there this evening, and I’ll discuss this with her then. She said you might be coming by this weekend. I know she’s eager to see you.”
“I’m planning on it, but it all depends on where this case takes us. Will you please tell my sister that I love her, and I’ll come as soon as I can?” Then she hung up.
“How’s your sister doing?” Josh asked.
“Better every day.”
“I’ll drop you off at your office after we meet with the chief. Do you want to get together and go over some of this later this evening?”
“I would, but I’m taking Aspen to the exhibit at the Art Center tonight. It should be interesting.”
Josh dropped Madison off at her office. She was planning on picking up Aspen and attending Tyler Kincaid’s new exhibit that evening. She called Aspen to make sure they were still on for the evening.
“Hi, Aspen. Are you sure you’re up to going tonight?”
“I can’t wait. Tyler called again to make sure I was coming. He’s so thoughtful and I’m so excited about seeing his new exhibit. Aren’t you?”
“I’m looking forward to it. I’m sure it will be a very interesting evening. You want me to pick you up about 5:30?”
“Perfect. That way we’ll have some time to talk to Tyler before his serious buyers get there. They like to make a grand entrance just before he reveals his work as if he’s waited just for them.”
Madison pulled out the invitation to the event and realized it was going to require more fancy attire than she had with her. She came down to Maitland with the bare necessities, but she did have a simple, tight-fitting, black dress. But she had no accessories to dress it up, then remembered Jessie and Jim were going to Winter’s that evening and hoped she’d catch her in time.
“Hello, Maddy,” Jessie answered.
“Jess, have you and Jim left yet?” Madison asked frantically.
“No. Jim had something to take care of and will be a little late. Why?”
“Well, I’m invited to the exhibit tonight at the Art Center and didn’t realize until now, it is a dressy affair, and I am drawing a blank. Can you help me out?”
“Why don’t you come on over and I’ll fix you right up.”
“Thanks, Jess. You’re a doll.” Madison put on her black dress and headed to Jessie’s.
Jessie was standing in the driveway waiting for her. “Come on in; I have just the thing.”
When Madison stepped out of the car wearing her black dress, Jessie stood back with her hands on her hips, “Are you looking to get laid or attending an exhibit?”
“Too much?” Madison said sliding her hands down her dress.
“No! But I’m afraid Mr. Kincaid will be more distracted by you than the ones handing him a check for his paintings. Now, let’s put the frosting on the cake.” Jessie led Madison into her room.
Jessie opened her dresser drawer and pulled out a wooden box. “This ought to catch his eye.” The box had enough bling in it to blind someone.
“These aren’t real, are they?” Madison asked as she picked up a piece.
“They are real, and I want you to dazzle those snobs who think they own the town.” Jessie put one of the emerald and diamond necklaces around Madison’s neck.
“I can’t wear this, Jess. What if something happens to it? I would never forgive myself.”
“I’d rather it be worn and lost than spend the rest of its days in this wooden box. It’s perfect, and it shows off your long blond hair. I have a pair of earrings and a ring that will go great with it but not distract from the necklace. I just wish I could see their faces when you walk in.” Jessie laughed thinking about the reaction Madison would get from the women attending the gala.
“Are you sure?” Madison asked stroking the necklace.
“I’m dead serious.” Jessie wrapped up the jewelry into a velvet bag and handed it to Madison. “I want a detailed description of the look on their faces. Do you hear me?”
Madison went back to her office. She was exhausted from the non-stop pace of this case but but her whole body seemed to be running on adrenalin lately and she was looking forward to a slower paced evening.
She showered and put on makeup, which she hadn’t worn much of lately, and brushed out her long, blond, wavy hair to the side, draping her hair over one shoulder. She put her dress back on and the jewelry Jess gave her and stood back, in front of the full-length mirror. “Damn, I look good tonight. Now, I hope I’ll have some fun too.”
After what Jessie had told her about how the women swooned over Tyler Kincaid, she was going to make it her mission to do just the opposite. She hoped the evening might reveal something that would be pertinent to the case. She was going to be observing everyone. “I still believe the art center is the key to this case, and if it is, it may rear its ugly head this evening, and I don’t want to miss it.”
It was just about time for her to pick up Aspen. She grabbed her small clutch and left. Aspen’s house was only about a fifteen-minute drive but knew Aspen was eager to get to the exhibit and see Tyler before the others arrived, so she left a little early.
Just as Madison suspected, Aspen was pacing on the front porch waiting. Her eyes lit up when she saw Madison. She darted back into the house to get her purse but took her time coming down the porch steps. She still had not completely recovered from the dizzy spells and didn’t want to risk another fall.
Aspen smiled. “I’m so excited; Tyler will be showing the new pieces that he’s been working on for the past six months. No one has seen them, or even knows what they are about, but you can bet his fans will be all over him to be the first to purchase one. I’ll bet he’ll sell every one of them this evening.”
“I guess that’s what all artists hope for.”
“Do you think you’d be interested in purchasing one of his works?”
“No, I don’t think so. It’s not my style of art. I’m more of a lover of the old masters, which is not to say I think his work isn’t good,” Madison quickly added, trying to get her foot out of her mouth.
“Oh, that’s okay. That’s what is so wonderful about art. There are so many styles to enjoy.”
They pulled up to the entrance of the Maitland Art Center. Fortunately, they arrived early enough that there were plenty of parking spaces. Aspen could hardly wait to see the exhibit. She was hoping she could see it when they arrived because Tyler had asked her to come early. “I know I can’t volunteer like I normally do, but I think he’s going to ask me to help in some way. I sure hope so,” Aspen whispered as she opened the entrance door.
Just as they walked in the door, there was a huge banner of Tyler Kincaid in the lobby. Though he looked handsome on the banner, it didn’t begin to capture the magnitude of his personality. Sitting at the reception desk was Kim. Her job was to greet everyone and direct them to the showing.
“I’m so glad you’re feeling better, Aspen, but I didn’t think you’d be able to come this evening.”
“Well, if it hadn’t been for my friend, Madison, I wouldn’t have.” Aspen turned and smiled at Madison. “Is Tyler here?”
“He’s still in his studio, but he won’t be coming out until the exhibit starts. He asked me to have everyone wait in the hallway and make sure that no one enters the gallery until he’s ready. You know how he likes to create suspense.”
“I understand, but he asked me to come early. Would you mind calling him and letting him know I’m here?”
Kim tightened her lips when Aspen’s requested she dial Tyler’s extension. “Mr. Kincaid, Aspen, and her friend are here to see you. Do you want me to have them wait here for you?” Kim said very formally. “Okay,” she said before hanging up the phone.
“Mr. Kincaid said to come on back to his studio.” Kim forced a smile but jealousy was written all over her face.
“Thank you, Kim.”
Aspen led Madison down the hall to the back, and as they exited the back door, Madison turned to see Kim still watching them. “Are you and Kim friends?”
Aspen crinkled her nose. “I try to be nice to her, but I don’t think she likes me.”
“What makes you think that?”
“To tell you the truth, I think she’s jealous that Tyler thinks I’m doing well with my art.”
As they crossed the back courtyard, towards Tyler’s studio, he came out to greet them. He hugged Aspen and told her how good it was to see her looking well. Then he turned to Madison, “And who is your gorgeous friend?” He reached for Madison’s hand. But before Aspen could tell him, he tilted his head. “You’re the woman doing some investigating on these murders in town, aren’t you? We’ve met before.”
“Yes, I am, and yes, we have met before. I brought Aspen here tonight. She didn’t want to miss your big reveal,” she said not giving much importance to him.
He turned and smiled at Aspen. “Well, I’m glad you did. Aspen is very special to me. She’s going places with her art. Thank you for bringing her.”
That was a surprise. I expected him to go on about himself.
“Thank you, Tyler. I know I can’t do much this evening, but is there anything I can help you with?”
He took her hands in his. “As a matter of fact, there is. I know I haven’t discussed this with you, but in a few months, I’d like to sponsor you with an exhibit of your own. You are more than ready to show the public what you have.”
Aspen nearly collapsed. Madison rushed behind her to steady her. “Are you sure I’m ready?” Aspen stammered with her words. She was in shock. He had given her encouragement, but never led on he thought she was that good.
“I’m going to introduce you tonight and announce a date for your exhibit. I want you to work closely with me for the next couple of months. How does that sound to you?”
Aspen couldn’t speak. She had to sit down.
“Yes,” she said, still not believing what she heard.
“Good then. Now get out of here, and I’ll see you in about a half hour. Go enjoy yourselves with the other guests.” He motioned her out of the room. Aspen started out the door with Madison behind her when Mr. Kincaid tapped Madison on the shoulder. “I’d like to talk to you after the exhibit,” he whispered.
Madison hurried to catch up with Aspen and then they sat down on a bench in the courtyard before going back into the reception area. “Am I dreaming? Did he just say he wanted to sponsor me for my own exhibit?”
Madison grinned. “I believe that’s what he said, and I think he’s sincere.”
“Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it. My legs are shaking. Can we sit out here for a few minutes longer?”
“Of course. I’ve seen your work, and I agree. You have a special talent, and I think Mr. Kincaid sees it too.”
“I don’t want to tell anyone else yet. I think he wants to make the announcement as a surprise. So promise me, you won’t mention this to anyone.”
Madison put her finger to her mouth. “My lips are sealed. I promise. Now, I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink. Let’s get some Champaign before the others get here. It wouldn’t hurt, and it may calm you down some. Your excitement is bound to draw attention, and I know you don’t want that right now.”
Aspen stood up. “That’s a good idea. I’m still shaking, and a glass of the bubbly would help.”
They walked back into the reception area just as the catering service was setting up the bar and hors d’oeuvres. Madison stepped up and ordered two glasses of Champaign while Aspen waited in the hallway. By the time she brought back the glasses, Kim had stepped up beside Aspen, “What did Mr. Kincaid want to talk to you about?”
“Oh, he just wanted to know how I was doing.” Aspen tried to hold back her enthusiasm.
Kim could tell there was more to it than that. “I wonder why he just didn’t call you,” she asked, rather sarcastically as she turned and walked to greet some of the patrons coming in.
“I don’t think Kim bought my story.”
“I’m sure she didn’t.” Madison grinned as she watched Kim walk away.
Kim kept glancing back at Aspen and Madison as if she suspected they were up to something, and she didn’t look happy about it.
Women soon filled the reception area. They strutted around in their finest, sipping on Champaign and dabbling in the occasional hors d’oeuvre of caviar as if that’s what they had every day at cocktail hour. Madison saw what Jessie was talking about as she watched them parade up and down the hallway. These women could have rivaled the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with their over-kill attire. They were dripping in jewels, so many that one couldn’t tell what they were wearing, and each finger was laden with gawky rings. There was nothing classy about any of them, but these were Mr. Kincaid’s groupies, who bought his paintings at outlandish prices.
Madison listened as the women paraded around pretending to enjoy the other art in the hallway. They talked about the artists as if they knew them personally, even the ones who had passed away long before these women were born.
The room was finally full, and everyone had enough to drink. Kim stepped up to the door of the exhibit. “Mr. Kincaid would like to welcome you all to his newest exhibit. Please feel free to browse through the hall. He will be joining you shortly.” Kim swung open the doors.
Aspen and Madison stayed in the hallway. Neither of them was eager to get trampled by the women rushing into the gallery. Aspen just shook her head. “Never fails; the crazies come out in these women every time Tyler has a showing.”
Madison watched as the women made their way to the hall. She could hear the remarks about what an incredible artist Tyler was, and bragging about how many of his works adorned their homes.
“How many paintings by one artist does a person need? Maybe one or two, but you’d think they wanted to wallpaper their homes with his art.”
“Let’s hope so,” someone replied softly standing behind Madison.
She turned sharply, and there stood Mr. Kincaid. “I meant no disrespect to your work, but get real. I wouldn’t have more than one or two of the great masters’ works in my home if I could afford it.”
“You don’t mince your words, do you, Ms. Hart? I agree, but I’m glad my buyers don’t, or I would be peddling my art at the flea market.”
He brushed past her and entered the room. “Good evening. I’m so pleased that you all came out this evening to share in the reveal of my latest works.” Tyler turned slightly and grinned at Madison.
Madison and Aspen entered the room but kept their distance. Madison was so busy watching the women vying for Tyler’s attention that she didn’t notice the paintings.
The evening went along just as Aspen had told Madison it would. By the time the exhibit was nearing the close, all the painting had been purchased. However, they would remain on exhibit for the remainder of the month.
Kim took care of the purchases at the reception desk and when all the purchases were completed, she returned to the main exhibit hall to inform Mr. Kincaid that all his paintings had been sold. It made her feel important to be able to handle that for him. She stood beside him as he started a toast. He tapped his glass to get everyone’s attention. “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for coming, but I have an announcement to make. After coaching and watching my young apprentice develop into, what I feel to be, an amazing artist, I am proud to be sponsoring her first one woman showing this spring. I hope to see you all there to support her and be one of the first to own a piece of her upcoming collection. I want to introduce Ms. Aspen Chambers, Aspen,” he said motioning her to step up next to him.
Aspen held her head up and smiled as she walked up beside Tyler. “Thank you,” she replied in a soft voice.
Several of the women approached her to ask her questions about not so much her work, but how it felt to work so closely with Mr. Kincaid.
Madison noticed that Aspen’s voice weakening and her posture was slumping. Madison interrupted Aspen and escorted her outside to the courtyard. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to handle all this?”
“I hope so, but thanks for rescuing me. I needed to get out of there. I think I’ll just sit out here for awhile. They should be leaving soon.”
Madison left Aspen sitting alone in the courtyard and returned to the exhibit hall. As soon as Tyler left the room, one-by-one the women left, leaving Madison alone with the paintings. She took the opportunity to look more closely at the collection, stepping up to one of the paintings where a woman was leaning against a fallen tree at the edge of the forest. It was only a profile of a woman glancing off in the distance. The painting wasn’t focused on the woman, as much as it was on what she was looking at. Off in the vastness was a dark, ominous cloud looming over the outline of a sprawling city. Madison was surprised at her response to the painting and found it more interesting than she thought it would be. Then she moved to the next painting. It, too, was of a woman in the foreground; only she was sitting on a pile of broken concrete, looking at a tropical forest far across a large lake. This painting evoked the feeling of a place one could never reach or had abandoned.
When she finished looking at each piece, she stood back to see the paintings from a different perspective. Suddenly, she heard a voice. “Well, what do you think? I know you’ll give me your honest opinion.” Tyler asked stepping up next to her.
“I’m not quite sure what you’re asking the viewer to see, but I think they’re interesting.”
“Oh shit. They’re interesting? That’s what someone says when they don’t want to hurt your feelings. And I thought you’d tell it to me straight.”
“I am telling you straight. I find your work engaging. The more I look at the paintings, the more they speak to me. Now, I’m not saying one of the pictures is telling me to hang it on my wall, but it holds a secret that fascinates me. I’ll have to study each one more at a later date. Now, why did you want to talk to me? I need to get Aspen home soon; I can tell she’s exhausted.”
“I don’t know how much Aspen or Kim have told you about me, but I never use the same woman twice in my paintings. However, I’m about to embark on the new collection. Only this time, instead of the woman in the painting not being the focus, I’d like the entire collection to surround her.”
“That would be different. You mean though her eyes?”
“Yes,” he blurted out. “That is precisely what I want to do.”
“I wish you luck with that. It should be a challenge for you. But what does that have to do with me?”
“I’d like you to be my model.”
“Me? I don’t think so, Mr. Kincaid. I already have a job that takes up all of my time, but good luck finding someone.” Madison turned to leave.
“I’m not giving up on you, Ms. Hart.” He turned to see Kim standing there with her mouth opened wide.
“Well, this evening is full of surprises, isn’t it Mr. Kincaid?” Kim asked.“I wouldn’t pass that offer up if I were you. To have Mr. Kincaid use you for his entire collection would be quite the honor, Ms. Hart.”
Madison smiled but then returned to check on Aspen in the courtyard. The evening had taken its toll on Aspen. She could barely walk across the courtyard and seemed to be getting weaker, probably from the exhausting night. “I need to get you home, lady.”
Aspen looked up at Madison. “I am kind of tired.”
Madison walked Aspen to the car, and by the time she sat down, it was apparent she wouldn’t have been able to go any further. Aspen seemed extremely tired, more than she should have been, and it worried Madison.
When they arrived at the house, Madison had to nearly carry Aspen up the steps. Her eyes looked rolled around and drooped like she was on something and she started slurring her words. “I think I had too much of that Champaign.”
Madison laid Aspen across her bed, slipped off her shoes and put a blanket over her. Within moments, Aspen was asleep. Madison stayed awhile to make sure she was okay. Once she heard her snoring, Madison closed and locked the door behind her and went home.
Madison took off the jewelry and her dress, and then put on her tank top and shorts. She had planned to go over a few notes but was feeling sluggish and headed for bed and was asleep within minutes. In the middle of the night, she sat straight up in her bed. Suddenly, she realized there was something in those paintings that were speaking to her. She had been dreaming about them and then she saw it. She picked up the clock; it was only 3:30 a.m. She pulled back the curtain and ran to the board and nearly tore off the sheet that was covering it and then stood back looking at the timeline of the missing women, then back at their pictures.
Without thinking, she clicked on Josh’s cell phone number. “Logan.” He sounded like he was still asleep, and his response was automatic.
“Josh, are you up?” Madison frantically asked.
“Hell no, I’m not up. Who is this?” He slowly turned to look at his clock. “Shit. It’s 3:30 in the morning.”
“Josh, it’s Madison. Get some clothes on and come over as soon as you can. I’ll have the coffee ready.” She hung up the phone before he had a chance to respond.
Josh thought he was dreaming and turned back over, and started to go back to sleep. Just as he was about to fall back to sleep, the cell phone rang again. “Are you getting up?” Madison yelled in the phone.
“Good grief woman. What in the hell can be so important that it can’t wait a few more hours?” Still groggy, he tried to pull himself up.
“I think I have something on the case, but I need your input. How soon can you get here?”
Josh staggered toward the bathroom. “Give me twenty minutes. I need to take a shower and wake up. How long have you been up?”
“I just got up.”
He reached in to turn on the shower. “Do you always wake up like this?”
“When I’m excited about something, I do. Now, hurry up and get your ass over here.”
Damn, that woman. She drives me nuts sometimes.
The steaming, hot water felt invigorating as it pulsated against his tired body. Josh had been up for most of the night, going over some notes on the case, hoping to see if there was something he was missing. He finally went to bed, but then Madison’s call tore him from what he thought would be a good night’s sleep, something he hadn’t had in awhile.
“I sure hope hat she has something worth me losing sleep over.” He pulled on his jeans and a tight-fitting T-shirt, grabbed his files and headed out the door. He was about to swing by McDonald’s for some coffee and then remembered Madison was making a fresh pot. Her coffee would be much stronger, and that’s what he needed.
Madison saw the lights from Josh’s car pulling into the parking lot, so she met him at the door with a mug of coffee and then hurried back to the board.
“Good morning to you, too,” he said sipping on his coffee and watching Madison walk back to the board, still wearing her shorts and tank top, without a bra. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her tight, well-toned body. He flashed back to the night they had sex, and it excited him all again. He positioned his files in front of him and followed behind her, trying not to draw attention to himself.
Madison didn’t bother to return the pleasantries. She was engrossed in her thoughts about the case and the possible discovery that may bring them closer to finding their killer.
Josh stepped up next to her at the board. “Okay, what’s going on that couldn’t wait until a decent hour on a Saturday morning?”
“You knew I took Aspen to the new exhibit last night at the Art Center, right?”
“Yeah,” he answered, waiting for more.
“It was a very interesting evening. This guy, Kincaid has a following that would impress even a rock star. They hovered around him as if he was some god. His paintings sold within the first hour of the exhibit. I didn’t have a good chance to look at them until everyone had gone. However, it didn’t hit me until a dream I had this morning woke me up. There was something very familiar about each painting, but I couldn’t see it, until now.”
She looked at the pictures of the missing women. “Josh, I may have found a connection, but before I run with this, you and I need to go to the art center as soon as possible. I want to photograph the paintings and bring them back here. If I’m not mistaken, our missing women may have been his models for his paintings. And that, my friend, is our connection.” Madison smiled and reached for her mug of coffee.
Josh sat down hard in the chair. “I’m going to need more coffee to contemplate all of this. If you’re right, we’re going to have tread lightly while we gather our information. I don’t want to spook anyone at the center before we have our facts straight. But that would give us a new direction to pursue. If you’re right, we may be getting closer to our suspect.”
Madison spread her papers and photos out on the table. She had information on each of the missing women, in chronological order from the moment they went missing. Josh was amazed at her focus as he sat watching her work. Much was already on the board, but she was determined to review each one again, looking for something that may connect them to the Art Center. “Now I believe we have a focal point.”
They were downing the coffee as fast as they could fill their cups. The enthusiasm heightened as Madison added and rearranged clues on the board. Hours seemed to pass, and then, almost in tandem, they both blurted out, “We have our connection.”
She turned to Josh and grabbed and squeezed him so hard he could hardly breathe. She pulled back slightly and looked up at him. He smiled and knew it was okay. He reached up and drew her mouth to his. There was no hesitation as she returned his kisses.
Josh leaned up against the table and lifted her, as she wrapped her legs around his waist. He laid her on the bed as she looked up at his strong, masculine body shimmering in the moonlight that was shining in the back window. He knelt down on the bed and kissed her. She pulled him into her.
Josh cradled her in his arms. “Maddy, why are you such a difficult woman? I can’t figure you out. Sometimes I think you can’t wait to get rid of me, and then this. You drive me crazy, woman.”
Madison looked into his steel blue eyes as a tear trickled down her face. Her voice softened. “I’m not an easy person to be around, Josh. I haven’t had a good track record with relationships, so I try to avoid them. I don’t mean to come across as a hard-ass. I just don’t want to hurt you, or myself, so I have a tendency to put up a protective shield around myself.”
Josh sat up on the edge of the bed and pulled her up into his arms. “Give me a chance. I won’t hurt you.” He held her against his chest.
“Be patient with me, Josh. My work and these victims come first in my life.”
“That’s one of the things I like about you. You’re like a bulldog once you’ve got hold of a bone, you won’t let go. I’m just glad that you’re letting me in on this with you. We are going to get to the bottom of this, Maddy, and we’ll do it together.” He looked at her and grinned. “While we’re waiting for the art center to open, let’s go have some breakfast. I just worked up an appetite.”
She smiled started to get up from the bed. He reached for her arm and stood up pulling her against his naked body.
“We’d better get dressed, or I might totally forget about breakfast,” she said grinning and gently pushing him away.
Saturday mornings were usually days Madison slept in and then leisurely enjoyed the day, but all she could think about was that someone was killing young women. Her desperation was mounting, knowing the unsub could strike again, if he hadn’t already.
During breakfast, she remembered that she had promised Winter that she would visit that weekend. But with the new clues mounting, Madison was determined to strike while the opportunity was there. She could barely finish her breakfast. Josh was trying to talk to her, but all she could think about was what she had seen in her dreams.
Josh tapped on the table leaned closer. “Hey, what’s going on in that brain of yours? Feel like sharing?”
“You seem a thousand miles away. Are you still thinking about your dream?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“You have that look on your face when you can’t get something out of your mind. Let’s get a cup to go and head over to the exhibit. They should be opening soon.”
He barely got the words out of his mouth, and she was ready to go. She put down money for her breakfast and the tip, and quickly made her way to the door. Lisa hollered out, “Have a good day Madison.”
“Oh, yes. You too Lisa.”
Madison walked outside and then over to the car when she noticed Josh was still in the café paying his bill. She just stood there, waiting and sipping her coffee. When Josh opened the café door, he clicked the remote to open the car door for her. She was anxious to get going. When he got into the car, he just sat for a moment and then turned to her. “Maddy. You’re going to run yourself into the ground with this case if you don’t watch it.”
“I know you mean well Josh, but this is the way I work a case, especially when there’s a murderer still running loose. I can’t, I won’t rest until we get this bastard so please don’t lecture me on how to do my job.”
Josh started up the car and headed down Maitland Avenue toward the Art Center. The mood in the car turned cold, and he knew he had stepped over the line with Madison, but the damage was done. They parked out front of the center. The “closed” sign was still up. He turned off the car and sat for a moment in silence, mulling over what she had said to him.
He looked at her as she sat staring out the window. “You’re right. I had no business trying to tell you how to do your job. You’re a damn good agent, and I’ve learned a lot from watching you in action. I apologize.”
She turned and looked at him. “I warned you about this type of thing. I’m not an easy person to have a relationship with. My work has always come first. Maybe it was a bad idea for us to get involved. I don’t want to hurt you, Josh, but this is who I am.”
“Madison, I wouldn’t have you any other way. I know and respect the passion you have for solving this case. I’m your partner in this too. All I’m asking is that you keep me in the loop, no matter how difficult it may be for you. We are going to find this killer, and our chances are pretty good doing it together.”
Madison couldn’t respond. She was happy and shocked at his remarks and began to think he did understand her, and it was okay with him.
“I know we are.”
Someone was about to open the door of the center. It was Alice, the woman she had met on her first visit to the center. Alice saw the two of them approaching the door. “Good morning, Madison. Good morning, Josh. I haven’t seen either of you in a long time. I didn’t know you knew each other.” Alice held the door open for them.
Josh stepped up and hugged Alice. “How are the kids?”
“Couldn’t be better. How’s your mom doing?”
Josh chuckled. “Mom’s still driving everyone crazy in the retirement home, but that’s her.”
“Madison, good to see you again. I heard you’ve rented a little office in one of Jessie’s old buildings?”
“Where did you hear that?”
Alice grinned and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I think someone here told me. Are you planning to stay awhile?”
“Who knows.” Madison didn’t want to give out too much information. If Alice knew she had an office, then the word had already spread. That is one of the disadvantages of living in a small town. Things don’t stay a secret for too long.
“How can I help you both today?”
“We’re here to see the Kincaid exhibit. Madison was telling me about it, and being that it was Saturday, I thought I’d check it out too.” Josh tried not to draw too much attention to their visit.
“Well, you know the way. Enjoy.” Alice motioned Josh and Madison to the exhibit.
As they walked down the hall toward the showroom, Madison turned to Josh. “You didn’t tell me your mother was living nearby.”
“You didn’t ask me.”
They stepped into the exhibit hall and Madison walked directly to the painting at the far end of the exhibit. She opened her file and pulled out a picture of one of the missing women and placed it up against the painting. “Notice anything?”
Josh leaned in and took the photo. He looked up at the painting and then down at the photo. “Could be. It’s hard to tell since it’s a profile of a woman in the painting.”
“Look at the bone structure of her face and the hair.”
Josh squinted at the photo.“Dang! I think this could be Margaret Hill.”
Then Madison walked in front of another painting of the back of a woman. Josh walked up next to her. “Now, don’t tell me you can see who this is.”
Madison pointed at one of the paintings. “Do you see anything in this painting that looks familiar?”
“No, all I can see is the back of a woman’s head.”
“Look more closely,” Madison insisted with her hands on her hips.
“I don’t see what you want me to see.”
Madison opened her files on the table in the middle of the room and asked him to go through them and see if anything rings a bell. He picked up every photo of the women and studied them, but still nothing. Then he saw a photo of a piece of evidence found in the bedroom of one of the missing women. Josh held it up against the painting, squinted and leaned in as close as he could, then looked back at the photo.“How in the hell did you see that?”
“You won’t believe me, but I saw it in my dream.”
“Damn, you’re good.”
They were studying the other photos when Alice walked in. “What do you think of his work?”
Madison quickly tossed the photos back in her tote and Josh pretended that he was admiring the paintings. “Very interesting.”
“He has quite the following, you know. All these paintings have already been purchased,” Alice remarked with pride. “That’s a boost to the center.”
Josh approached the paintings that resembled the two missing women. “Who bought these two?”
“I’m not sure. Kim handles all that, but she would know. She’s not here today but will be in tomorrow. I’m sure she’ll be happy to give you that information then.”
“Thank you, Alice.”
“Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No, we’re just going to look around some more before we leave,” Josh responded.
“Okay, but if you need anything, I’ll be up front.” Alice was about to go back to the reception area but then turned back toward Madison. “I talked to Aspen this morning, and she told me the great news. It was so nice of you to bring her last night.” Then Alice returned to the lobby.
Josh turned to Madison. “What’s the good news?”
“Last night, Mr. Kincaid announced that Aspen would be having her own exhibit this spring and that she will be working very closely with him. She’s very excited about it. I’m happy for her, but…”
“Something bothers me about it. You know that feeling you have when something doesn’t feel right?”
“Yeah, I do. You like her, don’t you? Hope she’s going to be okay.”
She leaned toward Josh and whispered, “I think we’ve found our connection, now we need to know why and who. Let’s go back to the office.”
They immediately headed to the board. Josh organized each missing woman’s file in order of the dates they were reported missing. Madison started jotting down data under the names of two of the murdered victims. Josh stood with his hands on his hips. “I suspect the women might have been the models for Mr. Kincaid’s paintings. But there wasn’t enough details in the other paintings to recognize any features that might have belonged to the other women. But I agree with you; I feel this was our missing link.”
Madison set down the pen. “I have a plan to find out if there is a connection between the victims and Mr. Kincaid, but it won’t be easy. Kincaid is aware of why I’m here in Maitland.”
The pieces of the puzzle were coming together fast. At least Madison and Josh now believed the answers they were looking for were centered around the Art Center and Tyler Kincaid’s paintings. They would have to be very careful with their questioning until they had a suspect pool. So far, there weren’t any. before she could update the murderer’s profile, she needed to know why these women disappeared. “I need to interject myself into the fabric of the Art Center.”
Josh wasn’t real excited about her plan but agreed it would bring them closer to the inner circle.
Josh returned to the Police station to update the chief on their findings, and Madison wanted to check on Aspen. The phone rang several times until Aspen’s voice mail answered. It wasn’t like her not to be up early or answer her phone so Madison decided to go by and make sure Aspen was okay.
She pulled up in front of the little bungalow. It didn’t look like anyone was home. Aspen had no plans for the day, so she had to be there. Madison knocked several times on the door, but no answer so she walked around to the back door. The door was slightly ajar. She used her elbow to push the door gently open. “Aspen.” There was no answer so Madison slowly walked back toward Aspen’s room and then checked every room, before heading toward the kitchen. Aspen’s purse from the night before was still sitting on the counter.
A chill ran through Madison. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Aspen’s number. A phone rang in the other room and she followed the sound to the living room. Aspen’s cell phone was just under the corner of the couch. “She would never go anywhere with her phone.” She pulled out her latex gloves, took a photo of where the phone was found, and then bagged it.
Madison immediately called Josh.
“Josh, Aspen is gone.”
“What do you mean, she’s gone?”
“Her purse and cell phone are here, and the back door was open. I think you’d better get a team over here as soon as possible. I’ll wait for you.”
“I’m on my way,”
Josh turned to the chief, “Madison’s friend Aspen is missing. I have a bad feeling about this, Chief.”
“Keep me posted.”
Madison cautiously walked through the house but left everything where she found it. She didn’t want to compromise any evidence that might help them locate Aspen. From the moment Kincaid announced that he would be working closely with Aspen, Madison had a bad feeling. It was hard for her to distance her emotions with this one because she was growing close to Aspen. “Sometimes I hate this job. Now is one of those times.” There were no signs of a struggle other than the phone under the couch. “Aspen must have felt comfortable with whoever was in the house.”
Suddenly, Aspen’s phone rang. She lifted the bag up and saw the caller ID. It was Tyler. She wanted to answer it but didn’t want to let anyone know Aspen was missing; at least not yet. Then Tyler left a message.
Josh arrived and entered through the back door and met Madison in the living room. “She just got a call from Tyler Kincaid.”
“Certainly is a coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Yes, it is.”
Josh looked around the rooms searching for anything that might tell them if she left willingly or not, but there were no signs of a struggle. Josh didn’t want to say it, but he didn’t want to hold anything back from Madison either. “This is eerily similar to the way our missing women disappeared. No struggle, just gone. I hate to say it, but…”
Madison interrupted.“I know, but I need to put my feelings aside and look at the evidence. With Aspen missing, it’s just one more piece that ties the art center to our case. I just hope we won’t have another homicide to solve here.”
Josh tried to ease Madison’s worry. “She hasn’t been gone long; that’s in our favor.”
Most likely the other women were killed soon after they disappeared, so the chances of finding Aspen alive grew thin. “I need to see what’s on her phone as soon as possible. When the forensic team gets here, I’m going back to the lab immediately and see what I can find on her phone.”
“I’ll stay here and help, but if you find something, call me right away. Okay?”
“I will. I just don’t want to waste any time. I’ll see you later.”
Madison raced to the lab to see if there was something on that phone that would help her find Aspen, and to know who was the last person was she talked to. Was she meeting someone like the others in secret? If so, maybe this time Madison will find out who it is.
She handed the phone to the lab technician, and he hooked it up to his equipment. It wasn’t hard to detect Aspen’s password. Though she had apparently changed it often, she had the new one for several months. Madison was not surprised to see what it was. The forensic tech opened up the last voicemails and texts.
The last call Aspen had answered was from Madison the night before, but she had received a couple of texts since then. One was from her mother reminding her of a family dinner the following week, another she sent to Alice, but the other one was from Tyler Kincaid. He wanted to get together with her as soon as possible to go over the details of her exhibit. He didn’t want to waste any time and said they had much to do, and it was important that they got started as soon as possible. That was the last message on her phone.
Madison needed to talk to Tyler Kincaid so she called him from the lab and arranged to meet him at the studio in the back of the Art Center in an hour, but did not mention anything about Aspen.
She drove over to the center and arrived just as the doors opened. Kim was sitting at the reception desk. “Good morning, Ms. Hart. Have you changed your mind about modeling for Mr. Kincaid?”
“Not sure,” Madison replied smiling. “Would you tell Mr. Kincaid I’m here? He’s expecting me.”
“I’m not sure he’s here yet. Can I help you with something?”
“No. I just talked with him, and he wanted to meet me in the studio. Would you mind giving him a call?”
“Sure. Mr. Kincaid, Ms. Hart said you were expecting her. She’s here in the front hall.” There was a hesitation, and then Kim hung up the phone. “Apparently, he is waiting for you.”
“Thank you.” Madison started down the hallway. She felt Kim’s eyes following her and knew she was upset with Madison for bothering Mr. Kincaid. Madison walked across the back courtyard toward Studio One. Just as she was about to knock on the door, it opened. “Good morning, Agent Hart. I hope you’ve changed your mind about being the subject of my new collection?” he asked self-assuredly.
“I’m not sure about that, but thought I owed you an opportunity to tell me more about what your plans are. I talked to Aspen last night and mentioned to her what you wanted, and she thought I should. Have you talked with her today?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Madison was trying to read him, but it was difficult. He didn’t seem shaken by her questions at all. “Well, tell me more about what you expect from your models. I’m not sure what I would be getting into, so I thought I’d see what the other did for you.”
“Well, the only thing I can say is that I work very closely with my them until my painting is completed, and up until now I’ve only used a model once. I prefer to have a fresh look with each painting.”
“How close do you get, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Each one of them was very special to me. I wanted to capture their soul when I painted them. I have to be personally involved and feel what they feel so I can portray them in my art to fit the mood. But with you, I need to see what you see. I want to capture what you’re seeing and feeling,” he said passionately.
“I’m not sure I’m the woman for this,” she said, baiting him.
“You are exactly the woman for my collection.”
“Maybe if I talked to the other models, I could get a better understanding of what your needs are.”
“Fine, but I don’t know where they are now. When I finished my paintings, they just quit coming around. Sad isn’t it?” He lowered his head. “Just when you think you’ve created a special bond, they up and leave you. I guess that’s why I only use a model once.”
“Well, let me think about it for a bit, and I’ll get back to you.”
“I’d like to start soon, so don’t keep me waiting too long.”
“I won’t,” she replied, as she started out the door.
“Ms. Hart. You are the only one for my new collection.” He watched as she left and then closed the door.
Madison strolled across the courtyard but felt his eyes on her. The closer she got to the main building, the more she had that uneasy feeling in her gut. She walked back into the exhibit hall to look at the paintings again. Kim was standing there looking at them when she walked in.
“Well, are you going to be his next?”
“Next?” Madison asked, rather startled.
“Next special model.”
“I haven’t ruled it out.”
Kim turned to Madison, “How’s Aspen this morning? She sure was putting down the Champaign last night. I imagine she’s going to have a whopper of a headache today.”
“I haven’t talked to her today. I suppose you’re right, though. She’s probably sleeping it off. I’ll see her tomorrow. Kim, I was wondering if you had ever met any of Mr. Kincaid’s models. I’d love to talk to them about their experience before I make a commitment to his project.”
“I saw them a couple of times, but, for the most part, they worked with Mr. Kincaid alone in his studio. It was usually in the evenings after they got off from their jobs and I had already gone home.”
“What can you tell me about them? Do you have their names or phone numbers?” Madison asked trying not to sound too inquisitive.
“I’m sure I put them somewhere. I’ll look around, and if I find that information, I’ll give you a call.”
Madison change the subject so Kim wouldn’t get too curious as to why she was asking about Kincaid’s affairs. “Kim, I heard all of Mr. Kincaid’s paintings sold last night. That’s wonderful. He sure has his fans, and they all seem to be women,” she snickered.
“They are not only his fans. You should hear how they argue about who is the closest to him. They act like Mr. Kincaid is their personal artist. I know that a few of them have an entire wing of their home dedicated to his art. I heard that every time they buy another piece from him, they invite all their friends for a luncheon just to show off their personal collection. Mr. Kincaid only plays up to them because they are such loyal patrons of his art. I doubt he attends any of their functions. I’ve heard him make excuses every time they invite him to one of their affairs. If you ask me, I think they’d kill to own his works.”
Kim words used to describe these women caught Madison off guard. They would kill to own his works. Did she mean that literally?.
“I would be curious about seeing their collections for myself. Do you think you could get me a list of who bought his paintings last night?”
“Sure. I think I have that at my desk,” Kim replied eagerly.
They walked back out to the reception area. Kim rummaged through her desk as if she were looking for something. “I guess I already filed it, but I’ll check out back later.”
Madison left the center, returned to her office, and called Josh and asked him to come by when he got a chance. “Anything new?” She hoped he had information that would tell them what happened to Aspen. But he had nothing.
She updated Josh on what just transpired with Tyler Kincaid. “Well, did you tell him you would model for him?”
“I told him I would think about it, but that I needed to find out more about what he would require of me. I suggested talking to the other models, but that didn’t seem to rattle him at all. Either he doesn’t have a clue what happened to them or he’s a cold-blooded sociopath. I’m going to keep digging. Someone knows something, and I feel like I’m getting closer. I hope the same hasn’t happened to Aspen. I can’t figure out why she’s missing. She doesn’t fit the profile and was never one of Kincaid’s models. When I was leaving the center Kim said something interesting to me. She said the women who buy Mr. Kincaid’s art loved him so much that they would kill to own his work. I find her choice of words intriguing. Have you contacted Aspen’s parents?”
“Yes, I called them while you were at the center. They have not heard from her either, but her mother said she left a message about the family dinner this coming weekend. Then she asked me why I was inquiring about her daugher, so I told her we wanted to ask her some questions about her relationship with Mr. Kincaid. Her mother seemed to think there was no relationship, other than teacher and student. I didn’t want to worry her any more than necessary. For all we know, she took a long walk and got side-tracked, or ran into a friend and decided to go for coffee, but I don’t suspect that was the case.”
“I don’t think either of us believes that story, and I doubt her mother would have either, especially knowing she left without her cell phone. What woman goes anywhere, these days without her lifeline to the world?”
Josh looked up at the board. “Personally, I’d like to know where Mr. Kincaid was last night. He fits into this somehow; I know it.”
“Why don’t you ask him to come down to the station and see if he could help you out with a few things?”
“I think I will. I’ll call him later. I’ve got to get back to the station and finish with the chief. I’ll catch up with you later. I think it’s best you stay away from this interview with Kincaid for now.”
“Good idea. I want to lie down for awhile. I didn’t get much sleep last night. How about coming back later so we can recap the investigation?”
“I’ll pick up some Chinese on the way. Have a good rest. I’ll see you later.”
When Josh left, Madison collapsed across her bed. She was exhausted from all the events of the day and was worried about Aspen. However, felt things were coming to a head with the case. Her gut was telling her the answers were right in front of them, but within moments she had fallen asleep.
Madison dreamed that she saw Aspen lying in a wooded area, and she was alive, but critically injured. Suddenly there was a knock at the office door. She pulled back the curtain, and there standing with his hands full of food was Josh. She rushed to the door and flung it open. “I’m starving, how about you?” Then he saw that look again; that look when Madison has had a revelation. “Okay, out with it. I know that look.”
“I’m not sure you’re going to believe me.”
“Well, I won’t know unless you tell me.” He placed the boxes of food in the center of the table, turned, stopped and looked up at her, “You’ve had another one of those profound dreams, haven’t you?”
“I saw Aspen in my dreams, and she’s still alive, but she’s in bad shape.”
“All right. Take it slowly, and give me every detail you can remember. Close your eyes if you have to. Now tell me what you’re seeing.”
She was surprised that he took her seriously. She closed her eyes and tried to remember everything as Josh coached her with questions. “What are you feeling? What do you smell?” One by one, the pieces of her dream progressed into more clarity. Madison’s dream showed that Aspen was injured but was still alive. In the dream, she could see a large stone wall behind Aspen and a pile of debris next to her. She heard cars going by slowly in the distance, and there was a large, old scrub oak that towered over the site. People were laughing on the other side of the wall. That was all she could remember of the dream. “Josh, I believe she’s still alive.”
“We won’t give up trying to find her, Maddy.” Josh put his arm around her shoulder. “You need to eat something, and then I think you ought to go to bed. You’re no good to this investigation if you’re not at the top of your game.” He opened the boxes of food and a pair of chopsticks. Madison only dabbed at the food some but didn’t eat much.
“I’ve got to get back to the station and go over some things with the rest of the team. Remember, you’re not alone in this. Let us do some of the legwork.” Josh dug into the sweet and sour chicken.
“I know you’re right. If you hear anything, and I mean anything, please call me immediately.” Madison took a few more bites.
“You know I will.”
Josh looked at the circles under her eyes and her pale complexion; she looked run-down. The case was taking a toll on her. He hoped they could get to the bottom of this soon. They finished all they were going to eat, and Josh sealed up the boxes and put them in the fridge, hoping she would eat later and then he left.
Madison was so tired she could barely make it back to her room. She sat down on the edge of the bed and her head fell into her hands. She was not only worried about Aspen but also frustrated about not solving this case. “I know the answers are right in front of me, but I’m too tired to see them.” She leaned back onto the pillow staring up at the cold ceiling with its plaster peeling off. The more she stared at it, the more images started to take shape. She was just about to nod off when her cell phone rang.
“Madison, is that you?”
“Oh, hi, Winter. I’m so sorry. I know I promised I would come up and see you this weekend, but there is a new development in the case. My friend, Aspen, has disappeared. Tears welled up she was about to break down.
“Maddy, I’m so sorry, but that’s why I’m calling. Do you remember my friend Anne Gunter? She is one of the mediums here in Cassadaga.”
“Oh, of course, I do.”
“Well, she just called me and gave me some interesting bits of information, and she asked if I would call you. She wanted me to tell you that she had a vision of someone telling her to give you a message.” Winter told her every detail of what Anne said. “Does that mean anything to you, Maddy?”
Madison was not one to believe in that sort of thing but respected Anne and her beliefs. “Not really, but I’ll make a note of it. What am I looking for?”
“All she said was that the message was specifically for you. She also said for you to be careful. Maddy, when Anne tells me something, I listen. I hope you will too. I know this case is wearing on you and now I wish I hadn’t asked you to take it. I’m worried about you.”
Madison wanted to change the subject. “How are the renovations coming along? Are you and Cole getting any closer to having that grand party?
“We’re almost done. I don’t know what I would have done without Cole. I’m nearly back to my old self and he’s finally letting me tackle more projects. He’s worse than a mother hen, but I wouldn’t have him any other way. You won’t miss that party, will you?”
“Hell no! I wouldn’t miss it for the world. After all that you’ve been through to bring that home to its former glory, I know it will be one spectacular bash.”
“Are you still working close with Detective Logan? I hear he’s a bulldog on investigations. Jim speaks highly of him.”
“Yes, I am. Detective Logan knows the ropes. Win, I miss you. I do hope this case ends soon. I need some sister time but bear with me. I know you understand. I saw how you dove into that story about the Dupree’s. I know you’ll do this story justice as well. Love you, Sis. We’ll talk again soon.”
“Love you too, Maddy.”
Madison laid her head back down on the pillow and closed her eyes and then finally dozed off. It seemed like it had only been minutes before she was awake again. Something Anne said struck a cord. She closed her eyes again and tried to picture the dream again. “Oh my God! That’s it.”
She looked over at her clock, and couldn’t believe it was 1:00 a.m. She clicked on Josh’s number.
“Logan,” he answered, half asleep.
“Josh, I know where Aspen is!”
He jumped out of bed. “Did you just say you knew where Aspen is?”
“Yes! Meet me at the Art Center in five minutes.”
Josh tossed on the clothes that were hanging on the chair and darted out the door.
Madison jumped into a pair of jeans, grabbed her keys and flew out the door. She spun her car around and sped out of the parking lot racing down Maitland Avenue and turned sharply onto Packwood. She slammed on her brakes in front of the Center. No one was there, and it was closed. Within moments, Josh was speeding up behind her with the lights of the squad car flashing. He jumped out and ran up beside her. “Where is she?”
Madison stood there for a moment looking around at the wall, and then suddenly had the urge to run to the back of the center. Josh could barely keep up with her. She turned the corner of the back wall, and there stood an old scrub oak, just like in her dream. The wall extended the length of the back of the center. There were several piles of debris. Madison dashed toward the base of the tree near the first pile, scraping her legs on some the bushes that flanked the wall. She scanned the ground with her flashlight. Then, she noticed some broken branches and beaten down grass. She pulled back the brush and there she was. Aspen was lying in the tall grass. Madison raced to her and checked for a pulse. “Josh, call for an ambulance. She’s still alive, but her pulse is very weak.”
Madison knelt down next to Aspen and could see a wound near the base of her neck. She knew right away that it was from a gun and most likely the same one used on the murdered victims. “Aspen?” There was no reply. She had lost a lot of blood and was unconscious.
Josh raced back to the front of the building to wait for the ambulance. Madison could hear the sirens getting closer, but wouldn’t leave Aspen alone. “Hold on Aspen,” she whispered. “Hold on.”
The EMTs lifted her onto the stretcher and rushed her to the hospital. Madison and Josh followed right behind them with sirens blaring.
The hospital was waiting and immediately upon their arrival, and wheeled Aspen into the ER. Madison paced the waiting room while Josh got them some coffee. It was going to be awhile, but Madison wasn’t going to leave.
So many things raced through Madison’s mind; the message from Anne Gunter about the wall, and the fact that Aspen had been shot like the others. Maybe she would be able to tell her who the killer was. “But why Aspen? And why now. Did Aspen know something, or did the killer think she did?”
Josh finally came into the waiting room and handed her some coffee. She pulled him over to the side and whispered. “Aspen may know who the murderer is, and if she does, she may be in more danger now. Can you make sure someone is watching over her 24/7?”
He glanced around the room. “I will. But right now, I think we’d better keep this under wraps. The fewer people know she’s found, the better.”
“I’ll call Jim and let him know, but ask him to hold the story for awhile.”
They waited for more than three hours before the doctor emerged in the lobby. He slowly walked up to Madison. “She’s alive, but we had to put her into a medically-induced coma. She has lost a lot of blood and not out of woods, yet. You can see her, but she won’t know you’re there.”
“That’s okay; I still want to tell her I’m here.”
Josh waited as the doctor escorted Madison to the ICU. Aspen had tubes and wires attached to her, monitoring her every move and Madison barely recognized her. They had to shave a section of her hair off, where the bullet hit. If it had hit just a fraction closer, she would have been dead already. She reached down and squeezed Aspen’s hand. “Aspen, it’s Madison. You’re going to be okay. Hang in there, girl. You’ve got to finish your painting. I think I’m going to be your biggest fan. Hell, I might just buy one before your show just to tell everyone that I have your first one.” She knew Aspen couldn’t hear her but hoped she could feel her.
The nurse came in to check Aspen’s vitals and to give her more fluids, so Madison left. “I’ll be back real soon, girl.”
It was all she could do to hold back her tears, but it was time to find the bastard who did this to her friend, and Madison felt they were getting real close. She approached Josh in the lobby with a tear still on her cheek. “I think it’s time to give Mr. Kincaid another visit.” They headed back to her office. Josh turned to her, “What made you look there for Aspen?”
She turned toward him and casually said, “A psychic told me.”
“Oh, a psychic.”
She chuckled at his remark, and he left it at that. She smiled at him. “I sure am hungry, are you?”
“We could go to your place and finish off that Chinese, or we could have someone wait on us over a fresh cup of coffee?”
“I’m not into Chinese at this hour. Let’s get some real food.” Madison rested her head against the window and before Josh pulled into the parking lot, she was asleep. He hated to wake her but nudged her shoulder. “Maddy, we’re here.”
“I guess I nodded off.”
“It was probably my stimulating company.”
The café had just turned the open sign over as they walked up. Lisa opened the door. “Hi, you two. You’re our first customers of the day. Coffee?”
“Oh yeah,” Madison said heading for the booth in the back corner of the room. It was only 6:30 a.m. and already they had put in a full day, and there was still more to do. Josh tried to talk her into going back to her place to rest after breakfast for awhile, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She was on a mission, and nothing was going to stop her now. Her mind was spinning with speculations and formulating a new twist on the profile of their killer, but she needed to talk to Kincaid first. This time she wasn’t going to beat around the bush and wanted to know some specific details that only Kincaid could answer.
She and Josh discussed what happened to Aspen and how it was related to the case. They were in sync that Aspen might have been a loose end that the killer needed to eliminate. She didn’t fit the profile of the other women at all. But the question remained, why Aspen? Due to her injuries, it might be some time before they could question her.
Josh dropped Madison off at the center to get her car and talk to Kincaid, and he headed back to the station to fill out the report on Aspen. Madison sat in her car going over some things in her files, waiting for the Center to open. She saw Alice walk up to unlock the door. Normally, Kim would be there on Sundays. Madison was hoping Kim had found the information she had asked for the other day.
She put her papers back into her case and headed for the door. Alice was shuffling through the pamphlets and books getting things ready for the day. “Good morning, Alice.”
“Oh, hi. Good morning, Madison. I hear you’re becoming quite a regular around here. Is it true you might be the subject for Tyler’s new collection?”
“I haven’t decided. I thought you only worked on Wednesdays? Where is Kim this morning?”
“Oh, she’ll be in later. She called me and asked if I could open. I guess she had some family things to attend to.” Alice continued straightening the reception desk. “Now, what can I help you with?”
“Is Mr. Kincaid here today?”
“He might be. He has a little apartment off of his studio. When he works late, he sometimes stays there. Let me call the studio and see.” She dialed the number, but there was no answer. “I guess he’s not here yet, but I know he’ll be here soon. Do you want to just wander around the complex until he arrives? I’ll text him and let him know you’re here.”
“I’d appreciate that.”
Madison casually walked back to the gallery to study the paintings again. She stood at a distance from the paintings to get a different perspective and get a more in-depth look. Each painting depicted the woman looking at something out of reach; a feeling of longing. One woman was positioned staring at a structure or landscape in the distance, and there appeared to be an obstacle separating two points of view. The model that looked like Margaret Hill was sitting on a dead log protruding from the water’s edge looking across a body of water toward a city in the distance.
Another painting was a profile of the woman wearing one earring sitting on a pile of broken concrete, gazing across the swamplands that were untouched by the sprawling concrete jungles of towns.
Madison stepped up to the next painting. This one was the back of a woman with an eagle sitting on her arm. It appeared both were watching a flight of birds, overhead, and the eagle longing to take flight. However, the eagle was wounded and could no longer fly. This painting evoked sadness and the disparity that their ambitions were out of reach.
As she moved around the room, Alice entered. “Mr. Kincaid just texted back. He wanted me to tell you he would be here soon. Isn’t his work amazing?”
“It certainly is intriguing. Alice, what can you tell me about the models he used for these paintings?”
“I don’t know much about them. Tyler sort of kept them a secret because he didn’t want people asking them about his paintings before he had his exhibit. I did see a few of them on occasion. Kim dealt more closely with them. She’d arrange for them to pose. I do know they often went on location with him. Tyler said that way he could get a better feel for the landscape. Other than that, I am in the dark. He’s such a secretive artist, and I don’t like to pry. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to the front. Sundays are usually busy.”
It wasn’t long until Tyler showed up. He escorted Madison to his studio. “I’m glad you came by today. I hope I’ve convinced you to pose for me.”
“That’s not why I’m here today. I still haven’t decided whether I will or not. Mr. Kincaid, as you know, I’m working on a case of missing persons and murder with the Maitland Police Department. There have been some leads that seem to lead back to the center.” Madison motioned for him to take a seat.
He placed his arms across his chest. “Good grief, I hope you don’t think I have anything to do with it.”
“No, but I do need to ask you about your models. I know you told me Kim could give me that information, but surely you can remember their names?”
“Of course I do. They are very special to me and my artwork.”
“I’d like to go into the gallery with you right now if you don’t mind.”
“Certainly.” Tyler followed her down the hall.
As they entered the gallery, Madison approached the first painting and pointed to the woman in the painting. “Who is this woman?” Then she proceeded to the next and so on until she had the names of each of the women. She did not tell him they were the women who were missing. She wanted to gather as much information as she could before she proceeded. “I might need to talk to you again about your models.”
“Of course. Anything I can do to help in your investigation.”
“I appreciate your help.”
Now that her suspicions were confirmed, Madison wanted to run her theory by Josh and update the board. If what she was thinking was right, then the next step was obvious to her.
She called Josh and told him what she found out. Josh was startled at how quickly she obtained the information but wasn’t surprised. “I’ll meet you in about an hour. I have some questions too.”
Madison returned to the board with the names of each woman and placed the photos of the painting above their photos and all the information they had gathered during the investigation. Details were coming into focus that she had totally missed before.
Madison was sitting at the table staring up at the board when Josh arrived. He knew that look. “Okay, what’s up? I know that look, that shit-eatin’ grin. You’ve made a break-through, haven’t you?”
“You tell me?” She pointed to the board.
Josh sat down next to her and studied each photo and the information beneath them. Then suddenly he turned to her. “Holy cow.”
“How did we miss that?”
“We didn’t have all the pieces; that’s how.”
Josh reached over and grabbed her in his excitement. “It’s so clear to me now.”
“Not so fast. We still don’t know who or why, and until we do, we’re not finished. We still have some questions for Mr. Kincaid. We need to know where he was on certain dates, but I don’t want to scare him off. We have to handle this delicately for now. I’m hoping to talk with his assistant, Kim, soon. She’s going to be reluctant giving us information on him; she’s very protective of Mr. Kincaid.”
“Maybe, I can help there. Would you like me to visit with her and see what I can learn, without sounding like I’m investigating the artist? I can be charming when I need to be.”
“Sure, have at it. While you’re doing that, I’d like to go to the hospital and check on Aspen. The doctor called and said she’s out of her coma. Maybe she can tell me what happened. Her parents have hired a full-time nurse to be with her 24/7 at the hospital. I’d like to talk to them as well.”
Josh headed back to the art center to talk to Kim. Madison had a few things to finish before she left for the hospital. She took her files out to the trunk of her car, and as she was arranging them, she felt like someone was watching her, but when she looked around no one was there. It was one of those feelings you get that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. She completed what she needed to do and then drove off to see Aspen.
Aspen would most likely still be groggy, but Madison hoped she would be able to describe what happened to her and how she ended up behind the center. It was obvious that someone had taken her there, but was it the same person that tried to kill her? That’s what Madison was hoping to learn.
She walked down the hall of the hospital and saw Aspen’s mother coming out of the room, and she looked haggard from lack of sleep. “Hello, Mrs. Chambers? I’m Madison Hart, a friend of Aspen’s. I was wondering if I might talk to you for a moment.”
“Aspen told me about you. You’re an agent with the FBI, aren’t you?”
“Yes ma’am, I am. How is Aspen?”
“The doctor said she lost a lot of blood and being in the coma has affected her. I asked her who did this to her, and she just looked at me. I’m not sure she understood the question.” Mrs. Chambers struggled to hold back her tears. “Thank God you found her, or she wouldn’t be here at all.”
“Would you mind if I talk to her?”
“No, not at all, but try not to upset her. She seems to have difficulty remembering things, and it’s frustrating her. I just want her to get better so we can take her home with us. The doctor said she is going to need a lot of rest for now.”
“I promise I won’t push, but anything she can tell me will help us find out who did this.” Madison patted Mrs. Chambers on the shoulder. “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“Thank you, but we’re fine. Just knowing Aspen’s going to be okay is enough for now. Her father and I have hired someone to be with her around the clock.”
“Well, if there is anything, please don’t hesitate to call me.” Madison handed her a card and then slowly walked into the ICU room. Aspen was still hooked up to tubes and monitors. Madison reached up and gently squeezed Aspen’s hand, and she opened her eyes and smiled. “Hi,” she whispered.
“Hi, yourself. How are you feeling?”
“Not too good right now. My head is throbbing, and I ache all over.” She struggled for air as she spoke. Just that little amount of talking wore her out and set off an alarm. Her O2 stats dropped immediately. The nurse came in to make sure she had her nasal cannula in her nose. “She gets winded quickly, so try not ask her too many questions right now.”
Madison didn’t want to upset or excite Aspen and knew there wouldn’t be much to find out that day. She sat with her for awhile, until Aspen nodded off, and then left her a note letting Aspen know that she would return in the morning.
Josh pulled up in front of the Art Center just as Kincaid was walking through the door. “Mr. Kincaid!” he hollered. Tyler stopped and turned to see who it was. “Detective Logan, isn’t it?”
“Yes. Do you have a moment? I think you could help us clear up a few things that might help with this investigation.
“Certainly. What can I help you with?”
“We’d like to know when was the last time you saw the models you used for your latest exhibit. You said after they finished posing for you, they quit coming around, and you haven’t seen them since. Is that correct?” Josh pulled out his pad and started jotting information down.
“To be honest I can’t remember when I saw each one of them last, but it was soon after I finished the piece they modeled for. I thought I had a connection with each lady. I’m not good with times and dates. I let Kim keep track of all that for me. I’m afraid I’d miss my showings if it weren’t for her. Maybe she can tell you. I hate to be rude, but I have an appointment and must be going. Is there anything else?”
“No. Not now.” Josh watched Kincaid walk off.
Josh waited until he left and then headed inside to see if he could talk to Kim. There was no one else at the center, and Kim was just about to close for the evening. She was sitting at the reception desk arranging the brochures on the exhibit.
“Kim. How are you this evening?”
“Hello, Detective Logan. If you’re here to see Tyler, he’s gone for the day. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“What can you tell me about Mr. Kincaid’s paintings? I’m curious about a few things, especially about his models. I’ve heard they posed for him mostly in the evenings. Is there some reason Mr. Kincaid chose to paint with them at night?”
“Oh, yes. There’s no one here at night, so he doesn’t get disturbed. But he also didn’t want people to know who was sitting for him. He’s a very private man. He felt if anyone knew who is models were, they would know about his works before he could do an exhibit. And that would take the element of suspense out of his show.”
“Did you ever see him with the models after the paintings were completed?”
“Not that I could remember. Once Mr. Kincaid finished a painting he was ready for another muse. If you ask me, I think those women thought there was something more to their relationship than just an artist and model. You know how some women can be. Same thing with his fans; they think they are all special to him.”
“I suppose so. Thank you for your help. Have a nice day.”
“Detective Logan, I heard your friend Ms. Hart is going to be the subject of Tyler’s next collection. How do you feel about that?”
“It’s none of my concern what she does. Sounds interesting, though, I just might have to come to that exhibit.” Josh turned and started out the door.
The clouds were rolling in fast. The forecast was calling for heavy rains that evening. Josh was exhausted, and all he wanted to do was shower and rest. Very little sleep, late nights, and frustration with the evidence in the case had finally caught up with him. He called Madison and told her he would see her in the morning.
Madison was somewhat relieved when Josh called. It had been a long day for both of them. She longed for a hot bath, but all she had was a shower in her makeshift bathroom. She showered, slipped into her tank top and yoga pants and poured a glass of Merlot. Her first thoughts were to study the board with the new clues added from the day, but the more she sipped on the wine, the more she just wanted to pull away from the whole thing. She drew the curtain, separating her space from the office, curled up in bed, pulled the covers up to her waist and leaned against the wall sipping her wine. Suddenly, she heard the sharp crack of lightning and then the pounding of rain on the old tile roof. It had a rhythm that was so mesmerizing and relaxing, something she hadn’t felt in quite some time.
She finished her glass of wine and decided to have one more. She pulled back the curtain and started to open the fridge when she glanced out at the parking lot. Just as another crack of lightning struck, she thought she saw someone. There were no lights on inside or out, but she walked over to the window to see what it was. There were no other cars in the lot, but when the lightning hit again, she saw nothing. “Funny how images can appear after a glass of wine and a lightning storm.” She got her wine and went back to bed.
It was still raining when Madison awoke the next morning, but the lightening storm had passed. The sound of rain was calming and relaxing, yet she was eager to get back to the case. She had her first good night’s sleep in a while and felt rejuvenated, and her mind was clear.
The mounting clues were leading in only one direction, and Madison couldn’t wait until Josh showed up so she could run a new timeline by him. If they could determine where each person of interest was on the days the women disappeared, then they could bring someone in for a more in-depth interrogation. Up to this point, they had to tread lightly with their questions and interviews.
If only she could talk to Aspen about what happened that night, the process might go a lot faster, but the doctors said she was still having difficulty talking. Never the less, Madison was determined to see if Aspen had anything to offer.
Josh walked up to the door with his hands full. He brought them coffee and donuts from Krispy Crème. She saw him with a hand full. Perfect. That ought to get us rolling. She quickly ran to the door and swung it open before Josh tried his juggling act with the coffee and donuts to open the door.
“I see you’re ready to go. Sleep well last night?” He set the coffee and donuts down on the table in front of the board.
“First good night’s sleep I’ve had since this case started. How about you?”
“Did you have an opportunity to talk to Kincaid?”
“I did, but he was either purposely evasive or self-absorbed. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he saw his models. However, Kim gave me some insight into the man and his fans. She told me that the women who posed for him felt there was more to their relationship with him than just artist and model. I wonder if he was the secret they were keeping from everyone?”
Madison reached for one of the coffee cups. “He just might have been. If that were the case, then he certainly would be someone they would leave with; someone they trusted enough to take them to their place of death. He may be full of himself, but something’s not right. He doesn’t come across as a guy whacking off his models just to get rid of them. However, I would still like to know where he was on those dates. If he can’t, or won’t tell us, maybe Kim will.”
Josh took a sip of his coffee. “Kim is very devoted and loyal to Kincaid, so we can’t come across like he’s a suspect or she’ll close down on us.”
“I agree. What kind of donuts did you bring?” She reached into the bag.
“Oh, I thought you wanted bagels,” he snickered.
“Bagels? Do I look like I need something healthy?” She tore open the bag. “Damn, you had me on that one.”
“I knew you loved their donuts and we needed a sugar rush today. I have a list of things I’d like to check out. I’m sure you want to get back to the hospital to see if Aspen can tell you anything.
Madison took a sip of her coffee and grabbed the crème filled chocolate donut. She attacked it like she hadn’t eaten in a week. Before Josh could get one, she was ready for another. “Maybe I should go buy more before we get started,” he laughed as he leaned over and wiped some chocolate off her chin.
“No. This will be fine for now,” she mumbled as his attempts to joke with her. All she could think about was how close they were to finding their suspect, and there were still two missing women. But she suspected they had met the same fate as the others. They definitively had established that the missing women were, in fact, Tyler Kincaid’s models from his exhibit.
Madison crossed a few things off of the board and added the facts they learned the day before. She turned to Josh, who was wolfing down another donut. “I wonder if we could find out the locations where Kincaid painted? Do you think Kim would have privy to that information? I know she handles a lot of his details.”
“I’ll see what I can weasel out of her today. When I was talking to her the other day, she seemed to think I would be upset with you posing for Kincaid. I think I’ll approach her with the idea that I may want to purchase one of the paintings of you before it goes on display, and then see where that leads. She may open up to me more if she thinks I’m a fan.”
“Why would she think you’d care who I posed for?”
“I take it since we’ve been hanging around a lot lately she probably thought we were a couple. You know how small town gossip starts. Hell, by the end of this case, you’ll be pregnant with my child,” he said chuckling.
“Yeah, like that’s going to happen.” Madison didn’t find the humor in that as he did.
I wish she’d lighten up a little. We could have a lot of fun.“Okay. I was just trying to lighten the mood around here,” he groaned.
“I’m sorry. It’s just a little hard for me to joke when we have young women being killed who will never have that opportunity to have a family. Josh, I warned you that I take my work very seriously. I can’t relax until the case is solved.”
“I get it, and yes you did warn me, so let’s get the bastard.” Josh stepped up to the board. “Okay, I see we have two things that leave a hole on this board that we need to fill in. First, the whereabouts of our artist during the times the women came up missing. Secondly, where are the locations of the sites of each painting. You see what you can find out from Aspen, and we’ll catch up later. I’m going back to the center. Kim did mention that a few of Kincaid’s fans were fanatic about owning a piece of him. Let’s see how fanatic.” He quickly washed down the last donut with his coffee.
Madison called the hospital to see how Aspen was doing and the nurse told her that Aspen was doing well, and if she continued to improve they were planning to move her from the ICU into a private room in the next day or two. Madison was glad that Aspen was out-of-the-woods but if anyone found out where she was, she could be in danger. She called Josh and asked if they would make sure she was safe. “We were updated on her condition, and the chief has assigned someone to her as soon as they move her, so she’ll be safe.”
“Thanks, Josh. I’m headed over there now.”
Madison entered Aspen’s room where her mother was asleep in a lounge chair beside the bed. Madison startled her at first, but then she got up and hugged her. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispered. Mrs. Chambers held onto Madison’s arm. “They say she’s doing better, but her mind doesn’t seem right. I hope that will improve as she heals.”
“I’m sure it’s all the blood loss and just being so weak.”
“Madison, is that you?” Aspen mumbled as she turned her head towards them.
“It sure is. How are you doing?”
“They tell me I’m going to make it, but it’s going to take some rehabilitation before I’m strong again. I’m afraid I’m going to have to turn down Tyler’s offer. I hate that. I don’t want to let him down.”
“I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“He hasn’t come by or called since I’ve been here. I hope he’s not mad at me.”
“I doubt that he’s mad at you. The doctor has limited your visitors until you get well enough. Just family and the police can know you’re here until we find out who did this to you. Do you remember what happened?”
“What do you mean, what happened to me? I thought I must have gotten dizzy again and had a bad fall.”
Madison walked over to the edge of the bed. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“I remember you and me coming home from Tyler’s exhibit and feeling very sleepy.”
“Anything after that?”
“No. Not until I woke up here. Madison, what happened to me?” She clutched Madison’s arm.
Madison turned to look at Mrs. Chambers, who had tears streaming down her face. She leaned in close to Aspen. “You were very seriously injured. You’ve been shot,” Madison said carefully.
“Shot? You mean with a gun?”
“Who shot me and why?”
“That’s what Detective Logan and I are trying to find out. But you’re going to be fine now, and no one can hurt you here. You just concentrate on getting better. If you remember anything and I mean anything; just have your mom call me. I’ll be right over.” The nurse entered the room to check Aspen’s vital signs and give her some pain meds. “You get some rest now, and I’ll be back soon.”
Aspen started to say something, but her eyes rolled into the back of her head. The medication hit her immediately. Madison hated to upset Aspen, but it was the only way she could see if it would trigger any memories of what transpired that night.
“I’m sorry I had to do that, but the more we learn, the sooner we can catch the person who hurt your daughter.” Madison reached out and took Mrs. Chambers hands.
“I know you had to, dear. Aspen said you were a tough FBI agent and that you were working on the murders in Maitland. You don’t think my daughter was involved in any of that, do you?”
“No, ma’am. This is a totally unrelated incident. Aspen is safe now, and she is going to need you to be strong for her.”
“Thank you so much for coming. Aspen thinks very highly of you,” Mrs. Chambers said with a smile.
“I feel the same about her.”
Madison saw the doctor in the hall and approached him. “Do you think Aspen’s memory will return, and if so, how long will it take?”
“We won’t know that yet. Only time will tell. I wish I had something more positive to tell you.”
Madison was afraid that the secret about Aspen being alive, and in the hospital, would not be a secret too long. Soon everyone in town would know what happened to her and so would the person who tried to kill her.
Josh entered the front door of the Art Center to find the reception room empty. Though the center hadn’t opened yet, the door was unlocked. He called out, but no one answered. He walked back to the gallery where the exhibit was hanging. Everything was silent which added to the mystique of the paintings. The more Josh studied them, the more sadness he drew from them. They appeared to be crying out loneliness and despair. There was no joy emanating from them. “Why does this type of work appeal to so many and why would such a flamboyant man paint this way. What was he trying to convey?”
Josh swung around, and there was Alice. “Hi, Alice. I thought Kim was here today?”
“She called me last night and said she had to go out of town to see her sister; Something about her sister being ill and having no one to help her. That’s Kim for you, always trying to help everyone else. To tell you the truth, since Kim started volunteering around here, the Center is running a lot smoother. She’s very organized and dedicated to this place. Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Do you know when she’ll be back?”
“I’m not sure, but I know she won’t stay any longer than necessary. She’ll be eager to get back here. How is the case coming along? Oh, I’m sorry. I know you’re not supposed to talk about it. It’s just that it’s all anyone in town can talk about, and everyone wants to know what’s going on. I hear that there might be a mass murderer killing redheads.”
“You’re right. I can’t talk about an on-going case. But I can tell you I don’t think it’s a mass murderer killing red-heads.”
“That’s a relief,” she sighed straightening her red hair.
“How’s your partner, Agent Hart, doing? I’ve heard you two are spending a lot of time together.” Alice winked at Josh.
“That’s what partners do, Alice. I guess you’ll see more of us together until this investigation is over, but I wouldn’t read into it any more than that. We’re just partners. She’ll most likely be heading back to DC when this case is over. Not much need for a permanent FBI agent in Maitland.”
“I guess not. Shame, though, I like her. I know she’s from here and I was hoping she’d want to move back. Oh, well, we all have to follow our own path. I hear she’s a good agent, and you two make a good team.” She made her way behind the reception desk.
Josh started for the door and then turned toward Alice, “Do me a favor, Alice. Don’t tell Kim I was here looking for her. I want to surprise her with an idea for Mr. Kincaid’s next project.”
“I won’t, but you’ve got me curious.”
“Like I said, I want it to be a surprise. Say hi, to your old man and the kids for me.”
“I will, but you ought to come by soon, or they’re going to forget you.”
Josh called Madison to update her. The minute she answered the phone, he knew her day had not been productive either. “Looks like we’ve hit a wall.”
“Yeah, and the donuts are wearing off too. Do you feel like getting some real food for lunch?” Madison asked.
“I’ll swing by your place in an hour.”
The rain was still coming down and had intensified. Madison made a dash for her door and nearly fell into the glass. The concrete on the sidewalk had come loose in the rain, and she tripped over it. Luckily, she was able to catch herself before hitting the glass door. She put the key in only to find she had left it unlocked, which is something she hadn’t done before. She took a quick look around to see if anyone had been there but saw nothing disturbed. “I’m lucky this time, but I’d better pay more attention. I sure don’t want anyone to see our evidence or clues. At least the board is always covered. She walked toward the board just to be sure. She took a deep sigh of relief when she saw it was still covered. “If anyone knew what was on this board, our case could be jeopardized.”
She sat at the table and waited for Josh. When she saw him drive up, she ran out to his car. “I thought this rain was supposed to quit soon.”
“Yeah, I did too.” Josh started to turn the car around when Madison remembered she left the door unlocked. Josh drove up as close as he could, she jumped out, locked the door and then kicked the broken piece of concrete to one side on her way back.
“That’s the second time today that I forgot to lock that door. I need to focus.”
“That’s not like you. Something else on your mind?”
“I guess I’m worried about Aspen. She didn’t even know what happened to her. I think it frightened her when I told her, but I had to find out if she remembered anything.”
“It sounds like she’s going to recover from the report we got today. I’m sure the memory thing is only temporary.”
Madison didn’t respond; she just looked straight ahead while they drove toward the restaurant. “Would you mind if we go somewhere where no one knows us? I don’t want to answer any more questions today.”
“That’s a good idea. I got bombarded with questions today too. How about Marlow’s on 1792 in Winter Park? I hear they have great fish Tacos.”
Josh pulled right up to the canopy covering the walkway to let Madison out. She asked for a table in the far corner of the room. The waiter escorted her to the table and asked if anyone would be joining her. “Yes, he should be right behind me. He’s parking the car.”
“Can I get you something to drink while you’re waiting?”
Madison would have loved to have ordered a glass of wine, but they were still on the clock, so to speak. Josh came in, looked around the room, and then spotted her sitting in a booth in the darkest corner of the room. He took off his jacket and shook the rain off and laid it down inside of the booth.
“Nice table. I doubt if there is anyone in here we know, but the chances of them seeing us back here would be slim.”
“That’s what I was hoping. Josh, I don’t want to sound paranoid, but when I came home today, the concrete outside my front door was loose. I didn’t give it much thought until now. There was no indication it should have broken up, even in the rain. I believe someone did it on purpose. Then, the other night, I got up during that lightning storm, and swore I saw someone outside by my car.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?”
“I didn’t give it much thought until today.”
“I don’t think you’re imagining things. It might not be anything serious, but just in case, keep your eyes open and call me next time something strange happens.”
The waiter stepped up to the table with the menus. Josh looked at Madison, “I think we know what we want, don’t we?” She nodded and Josh ordered fish tacos for both of them. “And would you mind bringing my friend a glass of Merlot?” Madison started to protest but then sunk back against the booth. “How did you know I wanted that?”
“I didn’t, but I knew you could use one.”
“Thank you, Josh. You’re not going to have one?”
“Not now, but later I might. I think our interviewing is a bust today. Seems as though everyone we want to talk to is either unavailable or can’t remember. Since it’s nearly 3:00 p.m., why don’t we head back to your place and wrap the day up with some more wine?” he asked, lifting his eyebrow.
“More wine while we continue working? Sounds interesting.”
“No more work. We have nothing new to add right now. Kim is out of town and won’t be back until late tomorrow, your friend Aspen cannot remember, and Kincaid is lost in his work somewhere. We can wait.”
The waiter came out with nearly a full glass of wine. “Would you like something to drink, sir?”
“Just more water, and lots of it.”
“You’re going to love these tacos. They’re the best in town.” Josh lifted his water glass to her wine glass.
“I’ll be the judge of that. I’ve had some dang good ones in DC.”
“Speaking of DC, what are your plans? Are you planning to return to the DC area when we finish this case?”
“I think it’s too early to think about that. We still have a lot of work to do to solve this case,” she replied trying to dodge his question.
He knew her dedication to her work came first, but he was hoping their relationship could grow into something deeper. However, now was not the time to pursue the topic. He clearly got that hint.
Josh quickly changed the subject. “I think I’ll call Kim and see if I can meet with her. I’d like to go over Kincaid’s itinerary during the last few months. It’s time we knew just where he was at the time these women disappeared.”
“I think you’re right. We need to bring Kincaid into the station and formally interview him. He keeps skirting our questions, and I don’t like the fact that he’s calling the shots. Kim will be our best source since she keeps track of his every move. I believe she knows more than she’s telling us.”
Josh took a sip of his water. “I agree, but we still have to play her just right, or she’ll shut down with us. She worships the man and won’t tell us anything that might tarnish his reputation.” He pulled out his cell phone and called the art center, and Alice answered. “Alice, you’re still there?”
“Hi, Josh. Yes, I am. I thought Kim was going to stop by when she returned from her sister’s, but I haven’t heard from her. I guess she just went home. She is scheduled to be here in the morning.”
“I was hoping to talk to her this evening. Do you have her home phone?”
“Yes. Just a minute. I’ll look it up.” Alice fumbled through the drawer until she found the book of contacts. “Here it is. We don’t have a home phone number, only her cell. It’s 555-1203.”
“Thank you, Alice.”
Josh waited to call until they went back to Madison’s office so he wouldn’t be interrupted.
“I take it Kim wasn’t there?” Madison asked
“No. Alice thought she was coming by on her way home from her sister’s, but didn’t show. Are you about ready to leave?”
“I’m done.” Madison took the last sip of her wine.
As they pulled into the parking lot, Madison noticed the light over the sidewalk was broken. There was a branch lying next to the shattered glass beneath it. “Damn, now I’ve got to call Jessie and see if she can get someone to fix that. I guess that storm we had weakened the branch.”
Josh looked up at the tree overhanging the walkway but didn’t notice any broken area. He looked around the lot to see if he could see any more debris, but there wasn’t any. He walked Madison in but said nothing. She had a few incidents that she was questioning, and this would only make her more certain and uncomfortable. “I can come by tomorrow and fix that light. All it needs is a new bulb, no need to call Jessie about that.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.”
“No problem. How about getting that bottle of wine while I call Kim?”
Josh punched in Kim’s numbers, but it immediately went to voice mail. “Kim, this is Detective Logan. Would you mind giving me a call when you get this message?”
Madison came in with a full bottle of Merlot and two wine glasses. “When did you get wine glasses?”
“I was tired of drinking my wine out of mason jars. The least thing I can do to make this place seem somewhat homey is to have real wine glasses.” She grinned and set them down on the table and handed Josh the corkscrew.
“Nice touch,” he said as he opened the wine.
“I take it Kim didn’t answer?”
“No, it didn’t even ring. It went directly to her voice mail. Either she has her phone turned off, or maybe she’s charging it. I’ll call her back later.”
Madison was curious about who Josh was. They started telling stories of their youth. The more wine they drank, the louder they laughed about the crazy things each had done in their childhood.
Suddenly, the sound of thunder clapped, and the lightning hit so close it was blinding. Madison instantly jumped up with her hand reaching for her gun. That’s all she needed to sober up. Josh sat looking at her in disbelief, at how this joyous woman instantly became at attention and alert. I wonder if that was from her training with the FBI or something totally different. The look on her face was pure fear. I’ve never seen that look before. “Are you okay?”
She walked to the back of the room, behind her curtain to her bathroom without saying a word. Josh sat perfectly still and could see she needed her moment, and he wasn’t about to interfere. He waited patiently. After a few minutes, she stepped back into the room as if nothing had happened. “Sorry about that. I guess I’ve been on too many cases that require me to think fast.” Without hesitation, she poured herself another glass of wine.
“I think I’d better get going. We have a big day tomorrow, and if I know you, you’ll be up before dawn and ready to go.”
“Are you sure you have to go now?”
He hesitated for a moment. He would have loved to stay, and knew if he did they would probably end up in bed and would like nothing more than to make love to her. But she was vulnerable at that moment, and he didn’t want to take advantage of that. “We’ve both been through a lot today. We’ll start fresh tomorrow.” He grabbed his coat and headed to the door and slowly walked out. It would only take one word from her, and he’d weaken, but she said nothing.
Madison wanted to ask him to stay, but she remained silent. I hope I’m not running him off. I wish he had stayed. I needed him tonight.
She sat at the table and watched as the headlights of his car turned and left the lot. The parking area now seemed darker than usual and void of life. For the first time in a long time, she felt alone. She was tempted to get in her car and head for Cassadaga to see Winter, but the rain was coming down hard, and she had too much to drink to be out on the roads. She poured herself another glass of wine and was determined to drown her loneliness in the bottle that night. She and Josh were getting closer to solving this case, and that meant she would return to DC. Her time was running out and she was confused and tormented. Madison would soon have to make a decision, and she was no clearer about what it would be now than she was when she came to Maitland.
She picked up the last glass of wine, turned off all the lights and headed for her bed. She set the glass on the nightstand and stripped off her clothes. Her body was aching for more reasons than stress. She turned on the shower as hot as she could and stood under the pulsating water letting it beat against her skin for what seemed for forever. She finally stepped out, dried herself off, slid into her tank top and yoga pants and crawled into bed. The only light in the room was the flicker from the night-light in the bathroom. She propped up against the wall and finished her wine. Between the hot shower and all the wine, she found herself sinking beneath the covers. As soon as her head hit the pillow, she was out. She heard nothing until the next morning when her cell phone rang.
“Good morning,” Josh said, sounding all energized.
“Don’t holler. My head is throbbing.”
“Do we have a hangover?”
“We? Hell no. I do.”
“You could use some coffee and something to eat.”
“Yeah. Coffee sounds good, but I’m going to need a little time to pull myself together. How about if I meet you in a half hour?”
“Okay. See you at the Breakfast Club?”
“Yeah.” She headed for the bathroom. “Damn! I feel like someone has stomped on my head all night.” She splashed cold water on her face, combed back her hair into a ponytail and changed into a pair of jeans and a big oversized shirt. The rain had subsided, but there was still a drizzle coming down as she dashed to her car, jumped in and took off down Maitland Avenue.
The roads were slick, and traffic was heavy. She hit the rush hour commuters racing for Interstate-4. She hit her brakes just as the light was turning yellow, but her car didn’t even attempt to slow down. It bolted into the oncoming traffic, and two oncoming cars slammed into her; one hit the front right side, and another hit the back driver’s side near the rear of the car. Her car spun around like a kid’s spinning toy top. One by one, cars started piling into the wreck. Her airbag deployed and slapped her in the face, as the side bag crushed against her side. She didn’t know what hit her, but she could hear the sirens of the ambulances approaching, and felt the warm blood running down her face and reached up to feel a gash on her forehead. The EMTs opened her car door and asked her name and a few other questions. Then they got her out of the car and put her on a stretcher, much to her protests, and hurried her off to the hospital.
Josh had been waiting for Madison at the Breakfast Club for longer than usual. He just assumed it was taking longer for her to get ready because of her hang-over, but finally, after about forty-five minutes, he called her. When no one answered, he knew something was wrong.
He called dispatch, “Hey Betty, anything happening?”
“Funny you should ask. There was a huge pile-up on the corner of Maitland Avenue and the junction of the Interstate-4 exchange. I’m surprised you didn’t hear it on your monitor.”
“Anyone hurt?” he asked, with a knot in his stomach.
“They took several to the hospital. Two were seriously hurt, but that’s all I know so far.
Before Betty could hang up, Josh threw down enough money for his coffee and tip and darted out the door. He ran to his squad car, turned on his siren and raced to the scene of the wreck. He saw Madison’s car right away. It looked totaled. He prayed Madison wasn’t one of the seriously injured. He pulled up as close as he could and then walked over to the officer who was investigating the crash. “What happened, Bob?
“Looks like this car ran the red light. One of the witnesses said the car didn’t even slow down.” Bob pointed to Madison’s car. Several officers were redirecting traffic around the crash. Traffic nearly came to a standstill as cars slowed down to see if they could see what happened. The officers motioned for them to keep on moving.
Josh walked around Madison’s car and looked inside to see the deployed airbags. He hollered out to the officer, “Did you get a look at who was driving this car?”
“All I know is that it was a woman. I couldn’t see what she looked like because of all the blood on her face.”
Josh tried to remain professional and continued to ask witnesses and the officer questions about the wreck, but it didn’t explain why she ran the light. It just didn’t sound like something Madison would do. She was always harping at him for running yellow lights.
The officers at the scene finished taking all the photos for their report, and the tow-truck got the okay to haul the cars away. As they were loading Madison’s car, Josh just happened to notice something strange from the undercarriage of the car.
“Stop,” he hollered. “What’s that?” He pointed to some fluid under the car. The tow truck driver crawled further under the car and then turned to Josh, “Logan, these brake lines were cut, on purpose. This was no accident. Someone wanted this car to wreck. Good thing she wasn’t on the interstate.”
“Stan, when you get this to impound, do not let anyone near this car until we get the forensic team to go over it.”
“You’ve got it, boss.”
Josh called the station and told Chief Baker that someone had tampered with Madison’s car. “Someone tried to kill Agent Hart. I’m leaving now for the hospital to see if she’s okay and to find out exactly what happened.
When he arrived at the emergency room, Madison was sitting up in one of the rooms with her head wrapped up in gauze. He took a deep breath of relief and entered her cubical. “Hey lady, you stood me up for breakfast. What’s up with that?”
She reached up and grabbed his face and kissed him. “I’m so sorry about that, but I will make it up to you, I promise.”
Suddenly, Josh’s face went pale. “Tell me what happened.”
“I was on my way to meet you. The roads were wet, and when I hit my brakes, nothing happened. I guess the roads were just too slippery, and I slid into traffic.” “That is what happened, isn’t it?”
“Did you see anyone outside after I left last night or this morning?”
“Okay Josh, what’s going on? You’re interrogating me.”
He knew she needed to know and wouldn’t let it go until he told her. “Someone cut your brake line. It had to be sometime between the time we got to your place and this morning. I think the light over the sidewalk was broken deliberately to keep you from seeing anyone outside your place.”
“My gut feeling was right. I’ve sensed someone watching me, and the strange accidents around the office didn’t seem like accidents to me either. I guess we’re getting too close to the killer and he’s trying to stop us.” Madison tried to jump off the table.
“Oh no, you don’t,” the doctor said as he entered the room. “Not before we run some tests and make sure you have no other injuries. You’ll be out of here soon enough, so get yourself back on the gurney,” he commanded.
“I’m fine, and I’ve got work to do.”
“It can wait a little longer,” Josh said. “I’ll wait here for you. Now let the man do his job.”
Madison climbed back on the gurney as the assistant came to wheel her out. She smiled at Josh as she passed him.
While Madison was having tests done, Josh tried to call Kim again. There was still no answer. “I’m tired of all the run-around. Someone knows something, and it’s time they stepped up and answered some serious questions.”
Josh sat waiting for Madison and getting madder by the minute that someone had tried to harm her. Just as he was about to call the art center, Madison returned with the doctor. “She’s fine. No problems. I’ve given her some medication for the pain.” Then he turned to Madison with his hands on her hips, “I’d still like to see you again at the end of the week.”
“Sure thing Doc, and thank you.” She started to head out the door when the nurse hurried in with a wheelchair. “Hospital policy, dear.” The nurse motioned Madison into the wheelchair.
Josh took hold of the chair. “I can take her from here.”
“Okay,” the nurse replied.
Josh had parked in an official parking spot near the door. He held her arm as she got into the car.
“I think I should take you to my place to rest while I have a little talk with Mr. Tyler Kincaid,” he said firmly.
“Like hell, you will. I’m not letting you have all the fun. I have a few questions of my own, and this time he’s going to answer them if I have to stay with him all day.”
“Are you sure you feel up to it? That’s quite a knot on your head, and you look like you’ve been in a bar fight.” He grinned as she looked in the mirror.
“That’s even better. Maybe if Kincaid thinks I’m a hard-ass, he’ll answer my questions.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
They arrived at the Art Center just after lunch. There were several people browsing around the gallery. When they entered, Alice was explaining to visitors about the exhibit, so they waited until she was alone.
“Alice, you seem to be a more permanent fixture now. How is Kim’s sister?” Josh inquired.
“I don’t know. I’ve tried to reach her, but it seems her cell phone is dead. She hasn’t called anyone, not even Mr. Kincaid. I hope everything is all right.” Then Madison stepped out from behind Josh. “Oh my God. What happened?” she blurted out as she slapped her hand over her mouth.
“I was in an accident. I slid into an intersection during the rain.”
Alice walked closer to Madison examining her head. “That’s quite a knot you have there. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, just a few stitches and swelling. I was lucky.”
Alice couldn’t stop looking at Madison and shaking her head.
“Alice, is Mr. Kincaid here?” Josh asked.
“Uh yes. He’s in his studio.”
“Would you mind calling and telling him that we’re here, and we need to talk to him?”
“No, not at all.”
She called the studio, but he didn’t answer. “Sometimes he won’t answer if he’s working on something, but I can walk back and tell him you’re here.”
“That’s okay. I know where the studio is. We’ll walk back there,” Madison said.
They made their way down the hallway and out the back door to the courtyard. Madison could see Kincaid through the window of his studio. He was pacing back and forth with his arms crossed over his chest.
Josh knocked on the door until Kincaid finally opened it. He seemed preoccupied and wasn’t his charming self. “This is not a good time. I’m in the middle of formulating my ideas for my next collection.”
“Well, we can talk here, or you can come to the station, and we can talk there. Either way, we need to speak to you now.”
“Okay, okay. Come in. How can I help you?” When he saw Madison’s appearance, he blurted out, “Oh dear. I can’t paint you in that condition. What happened?”
“I had a little accident. That’s okay; I can’t be your model. I have more important things to do, like finding a killer.”
“Then why are you here?”
“We have a few questions that we need to clear up, and you have been less than helpful with giving us the answers. The last time we talked, you told us Kim had all the information, but apparently, she’s not available either. We want to know a little bit more about your exhibit.” Josh unbutton his jacket and put his hands on his hips.
“What about my exhibit?” Kincaid asked nervously.
Madison stepped up closer to Kincaid. “We’d like to know how long it usually took to complete one of your paintings, and when you started them?”
Kincaid shook his head and sat down. “I don’t know; Kim keeps track of all those things.”
Madison leaned down in front of his face. “An artist knows how long it takes to complete a painting. They know every stroke of their brush, Mr. Kincaid. They know when they start one, and the subject, so please don’t insult us by pretending you’re an air-head. We’ve been patient with you, but now people who have been involved with you, are missing and murdered. If you don’t want me to haul your ass down to the station for an overnight stay, you’d better start helping.”
Kincaid’s legs began to shake, and his voice quivered. No one had ever talked to him that way. Madison waited a moment for him to digest what she was saying and then calmly asked, “Is your memory coming back to you now?”
“I keep a diary of every painting; when I start, where the location is, who the model is and when I finish. Unfortunately, Kim does take care of all of that so that I can focus on my work. However, I can tell you roughly when I started working on this exhibit.” He took in a big gulp of air and tried to compose himself. “I started the first painting around the beginning of June, and I think I completed it July 20th. I’d have to give more thought to the others, but I know I completed the final painting for my exhibit right before Thanksgiving. Honestly, that’s all I can remember under this pressure.”
Josh finished writing everything Kincaid said in his logbook. “We’d like you to dig deeper for the rest of the information and call us as soon as you can remember the others. It’s important.”
“I will, I will,” he said, standing up in front of Madison. “I’m sorry about your injuries. I was looking forward to using you for my collection.”
Madison looked at him and shook her head wondering if he had heard a word she said about not working with him. He is so self-absorbed, I doubt it even registered that I didn’t want to work with him.
Josh and Madison headed back to her office. She turned to Josh, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“I sure am, but I want to check the timeline we have first.”
As Madison added the new data to the board the missing pieces of the case were quickly formulating a pattern. “This is no coincidence. I would sure like to get a look at Kim’s book to confirm our theory.”
“I would too. I have a meeting with the chief later, and I think you could use some rest. I’ll make some calls, and we can start fresh in the morning.”
“As much as I would like to stay with this, I’m going to agree with you tonight. My head is throbbing, and I believe one of those pain pills is in order. Why don’t we meet here tomorrow for coffee, around 7:00? Will that work for you?”
Josh nodded as he headed for the door. “Don’t bother to get up and make any coffee. I’ll pick some up on the way.”
Madison walked him to the door, leaned toward him and kissed him on the cheek.
“What was that for?”
She looked up at him and smiled. “For putting up with me.”
“My pleasure, Agent Hart. I’ll see you in the morning, now get some rest. We’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
Madison smiled as she watched him drive off, then locked the door and turned toward her room. Her head was pounding, and the pain was intensifying. When she left the hospital, she didn’t think she would need to take any pills. Every muscle in her body was aching from the wreck. It was one of those evenings she desperately wished she had a tub. She dropped her clothes to the floor and stood in front of the full-length mirror. Her body looked like it had been painted black and blue. Bruises were emerging that weren’t there at the hospital, or at least she hadn’t noticed them. “No wonder I ache.” She wanted a glass of wine, but if she was going to take a pain pill, she decided against it. She popped one of the pills and crawled into bed.
She was just about to doze off when her cell phone rang. She glanced down to see the caller ID. It read restricted. Thinking it might be Josh at the police station, she answered it. “Agent Hart.”
There was only silence for a moment and then a deep, muffled voice said, “whore” and then hung up before Madison could ask who was calling.
The effects of the pain pill were rapidly working, and she was feeling groggy. Though she was curious about the call, she was dozing off.
Her dreams ran rampant from living in her old apartment near DC to coming face to face with the killer in Maitland. She struggled to make out details of his face, but all she could focus on was a gun being pointed at her. Suddenly, the killer pulled the trigger and Madison went down, and she heard the muffled words, “Whore.”
She woke up and looked at her clock. It was 3:30 a.m. She felt disconnected, and light headed from the medication, but the aches and pains weren’t as bad as earlier. She realized she had fallen asleep naked. She tried going back to sleep, but the dreams and call had set her mind spinning. Could my dreams be trying to tell me something about the caller? She fought it as long as she could, but sleep was not going to return.
Madison turned on the shower and gently wrapped a towel around her head, to keep her wounds from getting wet and then let the hot water slowly run over her body easing her tension until the water started to cool.
She wrapped up in her flannel bathrobe after drying off and decided to make coffee though Josh said he’d be bringing some. That wouldn’t be for hours, and she needed some right away. The outside light hadn’t been fixed yet, so the only light was that from her bedroom area. Maneuvering herself through the office to the light switch at the door, she flipped it on. It cast a dim light toward the parking lot and out of the corner of her eye, someone ran from the sidewalk in front of her office. Her instinct was to run outside and see who it was, but she was in no condition to do any running nor was she dressed for it. She struggled to watch in what direction they retreated and noticed the person ran towards the back parking lot of the abandoned bank. It was too dark to investigate, but as soon as morning came, she intended to check out the area. Forgetting what time it was, she called Josh.
“Logan,” he answered, half asleep.
“Josh, it’s Madison.”
“Didn’t we talk about you getting some rest?” He sat up on the side of his bed.
“I did get some sleep. Oh, crap. I didn’t realize what time it was.” She looked up at the clock. “Well, now that you’re up, I just wanted to tell you someone was out front again. Only this time I saw the direction they were running. When you come over later, we can take a look.”
“I might as well get dressed. I think I need to talk with your doctor and see if he’ll prescribe sleeping pills for you so that I can get some sleep,” he snickered. “I’ll see you later, but do not go out there until I get there. You are in no condition to be wandering around in the dark.”
“I’ll make us a pot of coffee.” Then she hung up.
Madison set up the coffee pot and then headed back to get dressed. Josh would be there soon, in spite of his protesting.
She inhaled the aroma of fresh brewing coffee and was ready for that first cup. She added a large splash of Caramel Macchiato creamer to the mug, and then poured the coffee. Grasping the mug with both hands, she brought it up to her mouth, lingering for a second on the rich whiff of flavor.
She carried her coffee to the board and lifted the cover off, then stood back and stared at the pieces of the puzzle that were evolving. The connection to the Art Center was no longer a mystery, but who the unsub was still perplexing and there were still two women missing.
She opened up her computer and typed in Kim’s name, hoping to find out who and where her sister lived. Using her FBI code, she was able to get the phone number of Kim’s sister. They had tried Kim’s number, but it kept going to voicemail. They needed to reach Kim as soon as possible. Getting that book on Kincaid’s models from her was crucial.
There was loud car horn out front. She walked to the door, and there was Josh with his hands full of files and a large box of donuts. “You’ve got to stop bringing donuts, or I won’t be able to fit through the door. Is this a must thing for cops?”
“Can’t do proper work in the morning without a Krispy Kreme donut. Why else would one drink coffee?” he chuckled, as he set the box on the table. He didn’t wait for her to make her selection.; he immediately grabbed the crème filled chocolate one and took a huge bite.
Madison poured him a cup of coffee, and he took a sip to wash down the donut. “Damn, you make a good cup of Joe.”
She smiled. “I do my best.”
She walked back toward the board with her coffee. “Aren’t you going to have one of these donuts?”
She stopped for a moment, “You already took the one I wanted.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I couldn’t resist watching you shove that whole donut into your big mouth.”
“I’m sure there must be another one in the box you’d enjoy.” He carried the box up beside her.
“I’ll check them out later.”
“Okay.” He laid the box down. “Now tell me about what happened this morning when you saw someone running from your door.”
“I was heading to the front of the office to turn on the light. When I did, there was just enough light outside to see a body making a run toward the old bank building. The only thing I could see was that they went around to the back of the parking lot. That’s when I called you. To tell you the truth, I was still feeling a little out-of-sorts from the medication I took last night. My first thought was to chase after them. I think that’s one of the reasons I woke up so early. The damn pill gave me nightmares. I tried to go back to sleep, but I was too restless. So I decided to get up and fix some coffee.” Madison put her hand over the wound on her head.
“Are you still in pain?”
She sipped her coffee. “Not as much as last night. I’m okay, and as soon as it gets light, I’d like to check out the area where I saw the intruder.”
“Yeah, I do too. I’ve got an uneasy feeling about all the strange things going on around you lately, especially after someone tampered with your car. I had your car towed to the crime lab for testing. Hopefully, the person was sloppy and left some evidence.”
“There’s something else I haven’t told you yet. I had an odd call in the middle of the night.”
“Who was it?”
“That’s the strange thing about it. It was a restricted number, and the voice was disguised. They hung up before I had a chance to ask who it was.”
“What did they say?”
“The only thing they said was whore, and then they quickly hung up. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman.”
“Madison, do you think you should stay here? I know you can be stubborn, but I believe someone has it in for you. You may be in danger. If you won’t stay at my place then will you consider staying at your friend Jessie’s? No one would have to know where you are. We could move all this evidence to one of the back rooms at the station, and it would be safer there.”
Madison was defiance and hardheaded, but her practical side agreed with Josh, at least about the evidence. She was a trained FBI agent and wasn’t going to let some prankster run her out of her office.
“I think you’re right about the evidence, only because I don’t want us to lose any of this now. We’re getting so close, and I’m staying here. I can take care of myself.”
To argue with her once she’s made her mind up would be a waste of time, but he was going to have someone patrol her place. “Okay. I know you’ve made up your mind and I’d be wasting my breath trying to persuade you otherwise.”
“I do appreciate the offer to stay at your house, though.” She quickly changed the subject. “I have Kim’s sister’s number, and I’m going to call as soon as it gets light. I don’t want to call too soon if Kim’s sister is ill, but we need to move on this.”
There was a hint of light coming in the front window, and they were eager to see if they could find anything outside. Madison poured them each another cup of coffee as they went over some of the new details in the case. Neither wanted to get tangled in the over-growth behind those old buildings in the dark. Finally, it looked as though there was enough light outside.
“Show me exactly where you saw the person out front.” They walked to the edge of the curb on the sidewalk and scanned the area for anything that looked new or out of place, but there was nothing. Then Madison led him toward the back. It was clear where someone had trampled the tall grasses, and it led them straight to the back of the bank and fresh tire tracks in the mud.
Josh knelt down at the impressions in the mud. “That rain made it good and muddy here. The forensic team should be able to cast a decent tire print.”
While Josh scoped the area where the car had run through the mud, Madison walked around toward the front of the bank, which faced her parking lot. There appeared to be a small area where someone or something had been sitting. No one could be spotted in there from any passing cars. She called out to Josh. He looked around but couldn’t see where she had gone. She called again, and he heard her voice coming from the opposite side of the tire tracks. She was aiming her flashlight around the ground and then looked up at Josh. “I think someone has been watching me for some time. This grass is nearly dead. Somebody spent a great deal of time here, more than once. It’s a perfect view of the front of my office.”
“Somebody is stalking you, Madison.”
“I can see that, but why?”
“Have you noticed anyone watching you when you’re out?”
“Josh, this has nothing to do with me. It’s the case. We’re getting too close and they either want to know what we know, or they’re trying to halt this investigation. They obviously don’t know me very well, or they’d know this will only make me work harder to find them. I think it’s time we got back and call Kim. If we have to drive up to her sister’s, we will. I don’t want another day to go by without checking Kincaid’s schedule.” Madison stormed off toward the office, and Josh stayed with the tire tracks until the forensic team came to process the site. After the team had finished, Josh headed back to Madison’s, but she was on the phone when he came in.
Josh sat waiting for her to finish the call and hoped that they would finally get what they needed from Kim. Madison hung up the phone and turned to Josh. “Kim never arrived at her sister’s.” She sat down at the table. “Her sister has been trying to call her for days and kept getting Kim’s voicemail, but last night when she tried, the machine said the voice mail was full. She’s very worried about Kim.”
“Are you telling me we might have another missing woman?”
“I don’t know, but it’s looking that way. Damn it! We haven’t found the last of our missing women and now this. I have an idea that maybe Kim’s things may be at the art center. She may have put that book with some of her personal items. I heard Alice tell someone that they each have a drawer they use in one of the closed studios to keep personal items. Let’s see if we can find anything there.”
Josh scratched his head. “Madison, we know this case involves the models but how does your friend Aspen, and Kim, fit into this?”
“That does add another element, but I still think Kincaid has the answers.”
Madison started for the door and flung it open. “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s barely daylight. I doubt that anyone is at the center yet, and you didn’t eat your donuts.” He grinned as he raised his eyebrow.
“Oh yeah, you’re right. I am hungry, but not for donuts. Since you’re the only one with a car right now, would you mind taking me to get a real breakfast?”
Madison felt with every fiber of her being that they were closing in on the killer. Her adrenalin was pumping. It was that feeling she’d get each time she was in the process of capturing the unsub on a case with her colleagues in DC. It was hard to believe a case in this small town could arouse such passion in her.
Madison was so excited she had forgotten about her appearance when she stepped through the doors of the restaurant. Lisa let out a holler from behind the counter. “Good grief, Madison! What happened to you? Were you the one in that wreck down the street the other day?”
Madison was amazed at how perceptive Lisa was. Someone must have mentioned it to her, and she never forgets a thing. “Yes. My brakes gave out, and I skidded into the oncoming traffic.”
“Are you okay? You look terrible.”
“Gee, thanks,” Madison snickered.
“I mean you look like you were really hurt. Are you sure you shouldn’t be in the hospital or something?”
“I’m fine, Lisa. Please, don’t make a fuss.” Madison hurried to the booth in the back but heard Lisa saying something to Josh as she sat down. “Detective Logan, is she going to be okay? She doesn’t look good.”
“The doctors said she’d be her old self in no time, but I’m sure she appreciates your concern.”
“I’ll bring your coffee right away,” Lisa said hurrying off to the back.
“If I’d known I was going to cause such a stir, I’d have eaten your damn donuts.”
“People care about you,” Josh whispered.
“I know. I just didn’t want to make a scene.”
Josh chuckled. “Honey, you’d make a scene any time you entered a room.”
Madison reached across the table and smacked him on the arm and then laughed too.
Lisa set down their coffee, and it was back to business, “Now what can I get you two lovebirds?” She winked. Madison just rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Lisa, just give me what I always have.”
“Me too,” Josh added.
When Lisa left, Josh leaned across the table. “Lovebirds?”
Madison just kept shaking her head.
After they had finished their meal, they drove toward the Art Center. Alice was just opening up. “Good morning. How are you feeling Madison?”
“Feeling much better, Alice. You mentioned the other day that some of the volunteers kept their personal things in the closed studio, and I was wondering if Kim kept any of her things in there?”
“I’m not sure. I have seen her in there from time to time, but she’s all over this place.”
“Would you mind if Josh and I have a look?”
“No, not at all. Just let me get you the keys,” Alice reached into the drawer at the reception desk for the keys. “Do you need me to show you which one it is?”
Josh reached for the keys. “You can just tell us where it is. I know you have a lot to do, and we’ll get out of your hair.”
“It’s right around the corner, down the pathway. It’s the last studio. You can tell no one is using it because it will be the one filled with boxes.”
It was easy to find which studio it was. The others were well organized and apparently being used for classses. The last studio was off to itself. The place was so cluttered that it made it difficult to maneuver. There was a series of cubbies in the back, with large plastic tubs in each of them. Names were written on the front of some of the tubs; Aspen, Alice, Kim and several other names they didn’t recognize. Alice had mentioned other students used them to store some of their supplies.
Josh reached up and pulled out Kim’s plastic tub. Papers and photos filled the tub along with a bag that contained some personal items. They sifted through the items and finally, at the bottom, was a brown ledger. Madison untied the leather strap that held it closed. It had dates of every event, meeting, and project that Tyler Kincaid had scheduled since the day Kim took over handling his affairs. She had become his personal assistant and had meticulously documented everything, down to the exact locations where he took his models for his paintings.
Josh and Madison were ecstatic. They could now complete a timeline of Kincaid and match it to the timeline of the missing women. Josh put the book into his jacket and they left the room. By the time they got back to Alice, visitors were arriving to see the exhibit. Alice stepped up to Josh, “Were you able to find anything?”
“Maybe.” Without sounding alarmed, he pulled Alice over to the side. “Alice, has anyone heard from Kim yet?”
“No. I don’t think so, but I have to tell you, I’m worried about her. This isn’t like Kim. She would at least call Mr. Kincaid. Her sister must be very ill,.”
“How do you know he hasn’t heard from her?” Josh asked.
“Because I asked him.”
“What did he say?” Madison quietly asked.
“He just said she had a family matter and would probably call when she’s ready to come back.”
“Well, thank you for your help, Alice,” Madison said. “I’m sure Kim appreciates your filling in for her.”
Josh tried to hurry Madison out the door before Alice suspected something was wrong and started asking questions they were not at liberty to answer. That would have only triggered her curiosity. They had all they needed for the moment and were eager to get back to work.
When they arrived back at Madison’s office Josh suggested they move everything to the station in the back room before they went any further. Madison’s heart was pounding, and her adrenaline was racing. She didn’t want to squander the time moving everything when they were so close to finding the answers. “Let’s just go over Kincaid’s book and update the board. I’m sure his timeline is going to pull all this together.”
He gave up on the idea to try and convince her otherwise. They took a seat at the table facing the board and thumbed through the pages of the book to see if they could spot where he met the first model. Madison flagged the times Kincaid began each painting for his latest exhibit and the times he finished each one. She was impressed by the detail Kim took to document every infinitesimal aspect of Kincaid’s project, right down to the paints he used. “Damn, this woman is detail-orientated. This book is going to help us nail the bastard.”
When they finished marking the pages, Madison stepped up to the board and correlated the times against the missing women. When she finished, she stood back and stared at their findings. “Got you!”
Josh quickly interjected. “Not so fast, tiger. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We still have to check out his alibi for the times the women went missing and the times of their deaths. Don’t forget; we still have two missing. It would help if we could locate them to cement the timeline.”
She walked back to the table, sat down, and propped her head in her hands. She continued to stare at the board, going back and forth until she almost made herself dizzy. Her head was pounding, and the pain from the accident started creeping in against her temple, but she couldn’t pull herself away. There was still something missing, and it was driving her crazy. It was right there in front of her, and she couldn’t see it.
Her face grimaced as she put her hand to her head. “Hey, there, why don’t you take one of those pain pills and lie down for awhile? I’m not going anywhere. It will give me time to read more in this ledger.
She resisted the idea and then decided she’d split one of the pills in half. That way she wouldn’t be so loopy. She wanted to be clear-headed. There was something she wasn’t seeing, and it was eating at her, but the more she struggled, the more the pain intensified. “Yeah, I think I will. But if you find anything, you wake me immediately. I feel there is one more thing we’re missing..”
Josh was surprised that she heeded his suggestion. Madison was a strong-willed woman and didn’t take suggestions well, at least from him. He watched as she slightly struggled back to her room behind the curtain. She was feeling the effects of the wreck more than she was letting on but he was glad she was going to rest.
He too, felt they were over-looking the final piece of the puzzle. Maybe the answer was in Kincaid’s ledger. He started reading it from the beginning while Madison rested. As he continued to read, it read more like a diary than a ledger. It was taking on a life its own, a chronicle of everything this man had done from the moment he started his projects. The more he read the more uneasy he felt.
Then he got to a section that explained the sites where Kincaid took his models to pose. These sites are eerily familiar. The hair on the back of his neck started to stand up. He glanced up at the board under the missing women, and something stuck out right away. “Shit,” he blurted out, not realizing it would wake Madison. Madison pulled the curtain back. “What did you say?” she mumbled wiping her eyes. It was too late. She had heard him and knew he had stumbled onto something. She sat at the edge of the bed until she got her composure and then walked up to the table.
“What is it?”
“I think I found what we’ve been missing. Look at this entry.” Josh pointed to a page in the ledger. Madison sat down hard in the chair and grabbed the book from his grip. Her eyes were still a bit blurry from the medication, but she could make out what it was saying and knew right away that it corresponded with the data on the board.
“Do you know what this means?” Josh said, grabbing her.
“I believe I do.”
This time it was Josh who jumped up to the board and started scribbling down what he just read. Madison staggered, attempting to get closer to the board to see what he was writing. When he finished, he turned to her. “It was right there in front of us the whole time, but now it makes sense.”
“I can’t believe I missed that. I remember vaguely Kim mentioning something about the landmarks of his paintings, but I never put it together until now.” Madison turned to Josh, “Do you see what I’m seeing?” She grabbed his arm.
“I do. But are you up to checking this out now?”
“You bet your tight ass I am.”
“Agent Hart,” he said laughingly.
Madison shuffled all the papers and the ledger into her bag and headed for the door. “I think we’d better check this out before we brief the chief on this.”
They drove back to the Art Center. There was no one in the reception area, so they rushed back to the gallery. They were looking for something specific and went directly to the paintings that they believed were of the two women still missing. Josh studied them carefully. “I think I know this place.” He leaned in as close to the painting as he could. “I’m pretty sure this is an old abandoned slave gravesite near the edge of the swamp, behind the orange grove off of the Maitland Avenue exchange.”
They dashed toward the front door, nearly knocking over Alice. “Sorry, Alice. We just got an emergency call, got to run,” Josh said as they fled through the center’s front door.
Madison’s pulse was pounding. If what they were thinking was right, they were about to bust this case wide open.
The traffic was exceptionally heavy that time of day, but Josh didn’t want to turn on his siren and draw attention to what they were doing. The closer they got to an old dirt road that veered off the highway, the more the sweat was running down Josh’s forehead from the anticipation. Although Madison was still feeling the effects of the pain pill, she was burning with the idea of what they might find. They could barely speak as the car meandered along the old path. It was apparent not many people had traveled there in quite some time, and the mud made it difficult to maneuver through the trees.
They finally made it to the other side of the grove. The swampy landscape near the lake came into view. Josh looked around. “I know that place is around here somewhere. It’s been so many years since I’ve been out here; I’m not quite sure where it is.”
Josh parked the car, and they proceeded on foot to the edge of the marshy grasses along the lake, looking for any signs of the old gravesites. Since there were no tombstones, other than homemade plaques their families had placed over the graves, it made it difficult to locate them. Besides, it was only a rumor that they even existed. Madison headed in one direction and Josh walked toward the other side of the marsh. They slowly pushed away the tall grasses looking at the ground for anything that might resemble a plaque. Josh hollered.“Over here, Maddy!”
She started to run in his direction and realized that was not a good idea. She grabbed her head with both hands and went down on her knees. Josh had his attention on the primitive rocks that indicated dates and names of those who died. When he looked up again, he couldn’t see her. He stood up to see what she was doing, and then he saw her. She was lying on the ground out cold with part of her body covered by the grasses. He took off towards her, buy by the time he got to her; she had raised her head. “I guess I tripped,” she said, in denial.
“Tripped? Honey, you passed out. I think I need to take you to the hospital to make sure you’re alright. What good is finding anything if you’re going to kill yourself?”
“Honestly Josh, I feel okay. We’re already here, let’s see if we can find something.” Josh helped her stand. She was still unsteady for a moment and held onto his arm.
“Okay, but when we’re finished here, I’m taking you to the hospital for x-rays. You might have hit your head again when you passed out, so don’t argue with me or we’ll leave now.”
Madison didn’t respond but nodded her head in agreement. He led her slowly over to where he had discovered the stones used as grave markers. “I think this is the place.” She opened her cell phone to one of one of the paintings. “I believe you’re right.”
They studied the angle of the photo in relationship to where they were standing. “I think this was painted a little bit more toward that far side,” she said. They pushed the grasses aside as they made their way to that spot. As they got closer, Josh noticed something close to the lake. He tried to walk out hoping Madison would wait, but she nearly knocked him over to get there.
There, among the tall grasses by the lake was a decomposing body. They turned to each other. No words were necessary. They knew who belonged to the remains. Josh called the station and then the coroner. Madison just stood there shaking her head, and Josh stood there with his hands on his hips. As much as they were excited to prove their theory, it would be another confirmation that none of the missing women would be found alive. Madison was sickened by the carnage this killer had imposed on this quiet community.
The sirens announced the squad cars arrival. The coroner wasn’t far behind them. Within moments, the team had secured the area and taped off the site. Doc Webb walked up with his team. He stopped in front of Josh and Madison. “Are you thinking this is one of the missing women you were looking for?”
“We think so, but we won’t know until you confirm the ID for us,” Madison replied softly.
“I’m going to put this at the top of my schedule. I can tell you it’s a female. You have your work cut out finding her killer,” Doc said, as he turned toward the corpse.
They wrapped the body, or what was left of it, into the black bag and hoisted it onto the gurney. Doc and Jimmy struggled to wheel it through the mud to coroner’s van. Madison and Josh watched as another victim was carted off. Then they joined in combing the area for evidence with the forensic team, hoping the killer left a piece of himself. Beneath where the body had been was a mangled bullet. It was photographed tagged and bagged, but from the looks of it, Josh was sure it was from the same weapon that shot the other women. Madison was doing her best to stay alert through the sharp pain that was radiating through her skull.
Josh approached her, “I think we’ve done everything we can here, now I need to get that hard head of yours checked.”
Madison started to say she was fine, but Josh interrupted, “I told you not to argue with me on this. You’re going if I have to throw you over my shoulder and carry you myself.”
Madison tried to hold back her laugh at the vision of him trying to do that. “Okay, I’ll go. But we’re not done; not by a long shot.”
He took her arm and smiled. “I know, and as soon as we get the doctor’s okay we’ll continue.”
Josh drove her to the same hospital where Aspen was recovering. He pulled up in front of the emergency room and walked her in. He flashed his badge which expedited the processing. They came out with a wheelchair and immediately took Madison to the back. Josh waited for what seemed hours, and then a doctor came out. He looked so serious that Josh began to sweat with fear. “She’s fine. She’ll be out in a minute, but I would recommend her taking it easy for awhile. No rough stuff.” The doctor winked at Josh. “A few of the stitches came loose, but we fixed her right up.”
Josh was about to reply to the doctor when a nurse wheeled Madison out to the waiting room. “She’s good to go, but you might want to go a little easy on her,” the nurse said winking at Josh.
As Josh was wheeling Madison toward the doors, she looked up at him. “I need to see how Aspen is doing before we leave. Would you mind finding out what room she’s in?”
“No, not at all.” He walked to the information desk, flashed his badge again and talked to the receptionist. Madison couldn’t hear what they were saying, but when Josh returned he said, “She’s no longer here. They discharged her last night, and they don’t know where she is now. We’ll make a few calls when we get back. Now let me get you out of here.”
He wheeled her to the car. He sat for a moment looking at Madison when he got into the car. “I wonder what all that was about? The doctor said the same thing to me the nurse did.” Josh started up the car. Madison turned to him, “I told the doctor the stitches must have come loose from our rough sex,” she said calmly, as a matter-of-fact.
She turned to him and grinned. “Oh yes, I did.”
He wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not but was glad she was feeling better and could joke.
“I need to get you back so you can rest for awhile.” He pulled out onto Highway 17-92, heading back toward Maitland.
“No. We need to move on this now. If the killer thinks we’re onto him, things could change quickly.”
“Don’t worry, no one but the department and Doc Webb knows, and they’re sworn to secrecy. Nothing is going to happen the rest of the day so get some rest, please. Besides, I’ll be there with you.”
She reluctantly agreed, since the pain in her head was still throbbing, but she didn’t like the idea of having a babysitter hovering over her. She popped another pain pill and hit the bed.
Madison bolted out of bed the next morning and was upset with herself for sleeping so long. Wasting time was not on her schedule. She had forgotten he had stayed the night. She jumped into the shower, dressed and started for the front when she smelled the coffee. She pulled back the curtain, and there was Josh with his feet propped on the table sipping coffee.
“How did you get in here?”
“I spent the night. Don’t you remember?” he said, grinning at her.
“No, I don’t.”
He casually sipped his coffee. “Best sex we’ve ever had.”
She walked over to him and gave him a head-slap. He nearly lost his coffee. “I’d know if we had sex; I wasn’t that out of it. Nice try. You almost got me back with that one.”
“Coffee’s ready. No need to ask you what you have planned today because I already know you’re ready to hit the road and see if our suspicions are right.”
“The sooner, the better. I don’t want to risk Kincaid discovering what we’re up to and leave town.”
She filled her travel mug and grabbed at Josh’s arm. “Come on.”
He almost lost his balance getting out of the chair. She was on a mission, and he couldn’t lag behind. He shuffled the files into his case and raced after her. Once in the car, they opened up the file of the last missing person. Though they hadn’t received confirmation of the body they discovered yesterday; they were pretty sure who it was. That left one more missing person and based on the clues from the ledger they had a general idea where the location was.
There was a spot where construction crews had demolished an old turn-of-the-century home deep in the woods. Many historians had tried to save the structure but found it to be too costly, so a developer bought the land and had it torn down. Then the housing market dropped, and he lost his financing, so everything came to a halt. The old mansion was nothing but a mound of rubble on the shore of Lake Minnehaha. Josh and Madison suspected this was their site. It matched the description of the painting to a tee.
There was a large iron gate across the entrance to the property but someone could easily walk through it. Josh parked the car, and they proceeded by foot. They carried the photo of the last painting with them, to an area close to the edge of the water. It was overgrown and walking through the piles of debris was hazardous. Madison wasn’t stable enough to move forward, but trying to persuade her to stay behind would be like telling the sun not to come out the next day. She held onto Josh’s arm as they climbed over the broken rubble, but it didn’t take long. There it was, exactly as shown in the painting. Slumped on the other side of the demolished home were the remains of a body.
Josh immediately called the station and Doc Webb. Josh helped Madison get as close as they could to the body, without disturbing the crime scene. No one had to tell them that this was the last missing woman. The site depicted every detail in the painting, down to the one earring that lay next to the body. The earring matched the one found in the apartment of Cora Franklin. All Madison could think of at that moment was how devastating this news was going to be for Cora’s parents.
Rage raced through Madison at the thought of the monster, who these innocent women trusted, had taken their lives. She was more determined than ever to nail his ass. As soon as the team arrived, Josh and Madison searched the area for any clues but found nothing. On the way back, Madison noticed a small beaten-down path leading away from the crime scene that could be easily missed. Josh kept moving toward the car and hadn’t noticed she veered off. He turned just as Madison was walking out of sight. He called to her, but she kept on going.
By the time he caught up to her, she was kneeling beside a mound of loose dirt. She started pawing at it like a dog. She wasn’t even sure why, but there was something about that mound. She hadn’t dug far, and there it was. She hollered to Josh. He stepped up closer and leaned over her and looked into the hole. Before they reached down to retrieve it, Josh snapped a picture, and then Madison opened the bag. She could tell by the feel of the bag what it was. It was a 45. Josh took another photo and called one of the forensic team over to tag and bag it.
Madison looked up at Josh. “Any luck and the bastard left his prints all over this. Let’s get out of here. We have one more place to go.”
“One more place?”
“Yes. We have to find out what Kim knows. She knows more than she’s telling. If she’s not home, we need to find her too if it’s not too late. In the meantime, let’s bring Kincaid in for questioning. I don’t want him out on the streets any longer. I think we have probable cause to keep him for awhile until we learn more from Kim.” Madison made her way back to the car.
Josh called the chief to update him on what was happening on their way back to the art center. They needed to get Mr. Kincaid before he had a chance to run.
Alice was sitting at the desk when Josh and Madison came in. She could tell right away that they were there on business, “Good morning, Alice. Is Kincaid here?” Josh said in his official tone. “No. I haven’t seen him, and he hasn’t called. He was supposed to meet the buyers today, but we haven’t heard a word. Is he okay?”
They didn’t answer her. “Where can we find him when he’s not here?” Madison asked.
“He has an apartment in the Villages on Lake Lily, but I’ve been trying to call him all morning, and there’s no answer.”
They turned and left without another word and raced to the Villages. Kincaid’s car was parked in the parking lot. “That’s his car,” Madison blurted. They took the elevator to the top floor where his apartment overlooked the lake. Josh pounded on the door, but no one answered. A woman stuck her head out from an apartment down the hall. “I don’t think he’s home.”
“Do you know where he is?” Madison asked.
“No. But I saw him leave late last night.”
“Was he with anyone?” Josh asked.
“I don’t believe he was. I’ve never seen anyone here with him. He’s quite the loner.”
Josh nodded his head. “Thank you.”
His car was sitting in his assigned parking spot. Madison placed her hand on the hood, and it was cold. She walked around the car, looking for anything that might indicate he had used his car lately, but the car was empty.
“Either he left with someone, or he called a cab, but he’s not here now,” Josh stated with certainty.
They called the station and put out a BOLO for him immediately. If he was planning to leave the area, he might have left his car on purpose.
“We’ve got to find Kim. Let’s drive over to her place now.”
Josh got on the phone and got Kim’s address. The tension was mounting, and they were afraid if they didn’t get to Kim first Kincaid might, just to silence her. Josh turned on his siren and sped down 17-92 toward Altamonte Springs.
Kim had a small home off the beaten path, behind the Sun-Rail station. There weren’t many homes along that road, and it was a dead-end. They pulled up to her place and didn’t see her car out front. They walked up the steps to the front door and knocked, but no one answered. They walked around to the back of the house to see if they could peek into the windows.
Every window’s curtain was pulled closed. Not a single window revealed what lay behind the walls. There was a small screened-in porch off the kitchen. The screen door was open, so they walked in. They leaned in to see if they could see anything through the kitchen window that would indicate someone was home. The kitchen counters had heaps of papers, boxes, and dishes covering the entire surface. There was barely room on the counter to make a sandwich. Josh tried to hoist himself as far as he could to look in, hoping to catch a view of another room, but again, nothing.
Madison pressed up against the old door, hoping to see something when the door opened. She motioned to Josh and then slowly opened the door and called out. “Kim, are you here?” They waited a moment and called again. Still, there was no answer. A chill run down Madison’s spine. There was something eerie about this place. She pushed the door completely open, but Josh stepped in front of her and entered first. They couldn’t see anything that would appear out of place, other than the enormous amount of clutter. That was out-of-character for the woman she’d known to keep some meticulous records of Mr. Kincaid’s projects.
As they moved through the house, taking one room at a time, every room appeared the same, like a hoarder lived there. Each room had piles of stacked boxes, and they created paths through the house. There was no sign of Kim, or where she might be. It would take a year to decipher any clues in the mess. Kim’s bedroom was no different. How she got out of bed and to her closet each day to dress was a puzzle. Neither Josh nor Madison had ever seen such an example of a hoarder.
Josh shook his head. “I don’t think this woman ever threw anything away. It makes me want to go home and toss everything out.”
They made their way into almost every room in the house until they found a locked room. They could only imagine what Kim might be storing in there. Since the rest of the house was open, they didn’t need a search warrant for that area. But for the locked room they did. Josh called the station, and Betty answered. “Hi Detective, what can I do for you today?”
“Can you get us a search warrant for Kim Rutledge’s home? We fear she may be missing too. We’ll wait here.”
“I’ll get right on it. I’ll call you back when we have I have it.”
They continued searching the house for anything that would help them find Kim. In less than five minutes Josh’s cell phone rang. “You’ve got your warrant. Good thing the judge is my uncle,” she said laughing.
Josh pulled out his lock-pick kit and picked the lock. There was only room for one of them standing in front of the door. Josh opened the door and slowing opened it as wide as he could. Madison couldn’t see into the room from behind him, because of the clutter. “Holy crap! You’re not going to believe this.” He couldn’t move. He kept glancing around the room.
Madison strectched to see what he was looking at. “Well, are you going to let me in and see for myself?” She tried to push him aside. Finally, he entered the room, and she followed. They were both speechless. All they could do was stand there with their jaws resting on their chests. Madison stepped into the center of the room and turned in a complete circle. “I did not see this coming at all, did you?”
“Hell no. This completely blind-sided me. They just kept staring at the walls; turning and spinning until they were almost dizzy. Every inch had been covered with photos of Tyler Kincaid, his paintings, and every aspect of his life. It was a chronological history of all his projects and events. There were photos of Tyler and Kim that were pasted to look like the picture was taken of them together. Whoever had been in the photos had been cut out, and Kim’s photo attached. The room was a shrine to the man.
Though Kim had a dark obsession with Tyler Kincaid, it did not negate the fact she too was now missing. Was it because she knew him too well? This question haunted Josh and Madison. They couldn’t take their eyes off this display. Suddenly, Madison saw something out of sync. It was a photo of Kim taken at one of the sites Kincaid did his painting. It had been altered to look like she was the model and then superimposed to look like it was her in the painting. As Madison made her way around the room, she discovered there were more. Each one of the photos of the exhibit was altered to look like it was Kim who was his model.
Josh walked around the room. “This woman has some sick obsession with Kincaid.”
Madison continued studying the photos. “I think it’s more than an obsession.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think if her illusion is threatened, she could be dangerous.”
“Crap Maddy, do you think she may be our murderer?”
“I’m not sure, but if she’s not, she’s in great danger.”
“I’ll call this one in now. We sure are keeping the team humping with this case. Wait until they see this.”
Since the forensic team was still processing the last site, Josh called in some of the officers from the department, to secure Kim’s home. By the time they exited the house, neighbors were gathering around, peering over the white picket fence, stretching their necks, trying to get a glimpse of what was happening. “What’s going on?” one of the neighbors hollered out.
Josh walked over to her, “Have you seen Ms. Rutledge lately?”
“Is she missing?” the old woman asked.
“We don’t know. What can you tell us about her?” Josh approached some of the neighbors started crowding around him.
“Well, she’s nice enough, but not real social. She only leaves the house when she goes to work. She works for that artist, Tyler Kincaid. She’s his personal assistant, you know. He doesn’t do anything without her,” someone in the back added.
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“She was here a few days ago.”
Another neighbor stepped up close to Josh. “ I saw her here last night. She left late and seemed to be in a hurry.
“Have you ever seen Mr. Kincaid around here with her?” Madison asked.
“Come to think of it; I haven’t. I couldn’t even tell you what the man looks like. I did see one of those brochures of his exhibit one time, but I was looking at the paintings.”
The only thing they learned from the conversation with the neighbors was that Kim was in the area as late as the night before, the same time Kincaid was last seen, and she left in a hurry. Madison reflected back on the statements of friends of the other women in the artist’s life, and how they went missing after they were supposed to be meeting someone special. Could that be the case with Kim? Did Kincaid call her? In spite of all the evidence mounting, there were still unanswered questions and a murderer on the loose.
Madison was feeling the stress of the day and her pain was returning. She had done all she could that day. The cool night air was rolling in quickly, and the smell of rain loomed. Every inch of her body ached and throbbed. She would be no good to anyone if she kept pushing herself. “Josh, can you take me home.” She insisted that he didn’t have to stay that night and just needed some time to think this out without any distractions.
As they drove up to her parking lot, she saw a car parked in front of her door. “I wonder who that is?” She looked around to see if she could see someone waiting.
“It’s yours. The chief sent over one of our cars for you to use while yours is in the lab.”
“Thanks. I hate feeling dependent on someone to drive me around. She got out of the squad car and opened the driver’s door of the parked car, and there was a set of keys under the front seat. “Tell the chief that I appreciate this.”
Josh started to walk her to the door when she stopped him. “I need to be alone tonight, Josh. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? I don’t mind sleeping in the chair.”
“I’m sure you don’t.” She reached up and kissed him on the cheek.
“Okay, but if you need me…”
“I know. You’re only a call away.”
She watched as he drove away. The stillness in the office was almost deafening. There were no lights in the parking lot and none in the room. She flipped on the only light for the office section of the room and then slowly walked over to the board. So much had been added and modified since the case began.
It started out to be a missing person’s case and quickly evolved into a murder case, in the quiet little town of Maitland. She stared at the list of evidence and clues that formulated the puzzle of someone’s dark obsession, yet, Madison still wasn’t sure who the killer was but had narrowed it down to two. Either way, she had to find them both, and soon.
She longed for a bath but would settle for a long hot shower. She locked the front door, turned off the office light and made her way behind her curtain. She let the hot water pulsate over her battered body. Then she slipped into her yoga pants and tank top and curled up under the covers. The sheets felt cool against her hot skin and soon drifted off to sleep.
She had just sunk into a deep sleep when her cell phone rang. She glanced down and did not recognize the number, so she ignored it. After a short time, it rang again. It was the same number. She knew if she didn’t answer they would probably keep calling until she did.
At first, there was silence and then the voice she recognized from a call before said, “You have ruined my life, and you will pay.” They quickly hung up. Madison sat on the edge of her bed for a moment, thinking they might call back. Finally, she lay back down. It was hard for her to sleep, but knew she had to get some rest or she’d be no good the next day.
Just as she was about to doze off again, the cell phone rang again. It wasn’t the same number, but she thought it looked familiar, so she answered.
“Yes, who is this?”
There was a hesitation and then he said, “This is Tyler Kincaid. I need to talk to you as soon as possible. I may have some information that will help your case.”
“Where are you, Tyler?”
“I need to know I can trust you first and I need to see you alone.”
“Okay. Now, where are you?”
“I’m at my studio, can you come now? You can’t tell anyone, or my life will be in danger. Please, come right now.”
“I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
“Come around to the side gate. I’ll leave it open for you. I’ll be waiting for you in my studio.”
“I’m on my way.”
Madison quickly changed her clothes, tossed on a lightweight jacket and tucked her weapon in the back of her pants. She wasn’t taking any chances with this guy.
She pulled up and parked at the far end of the Art Center and walked along the back wall until she saw the open gate. It came out behind the other studios with a small pathway, leading to Kincaid’s studio. There were no windows on that side of the studio so she couldn’t see him in there. She knocked on his door. “Come in Agent Hart.”
She cautiously opened the creaking door with her hand positioned to grab her gun if she needed to. When she finally pushed the door completely open, there he stood glaring at her with a look of pure fright.
Behind him stood Kim, holding a gun against the back of his head. Madison slowly stepped into the room. “Kim, what’s going on here?”
“You know what’s going on? You tried to ruin all of it.” Kim twisted her head to look at Madison. Kincaid stood frozen with fear. He looked like a sculptured statue, and his face was stone, cold white. The veins in his neck were pulsating rapidly.
“Are you okay Mr. Kincaid?”
“She’s gone crazy. She thinks I’m in love with her.”
Kim pressed the gun tighter against his head. “You said I was the most important person in your life, and you couldn’t imagine life without me. Then I saw you with those model. How could you announce to the world that Aspen was going to be your assistant? You lied to me,” she screamed.
“Kim, the reason I didn’t model for Tyler was because he told me he really wanted you. That you were the most important person in his life, and he wanted to immortalize you in his new collection.” Madison tried to calm her down but never took her eyes off of Kim’s trigger finger. Kim was coming unhinged, so Madison had to play this just right.
“Isn’t that right, Tyler?” Madison coaxed him to respond.
“Uh yes, you’re absolutely right,” he stammered.
“Kim, Tyler can’t live without you. He needs you to be in his life.” Madison didn’t stop talking until she saw Kim’s hand begin to relax on the gun. “Kim, now that we have all this cleared up, you and Tyler can get back to work. Let me have that gun, so no one gets hurt.” Madison started to reach for the gun.
When Kim lowered the gun, Tyler jerked away from her and ran towards Madison. “You crazy bitch. I want nothing to do with you.”
Madison tried to grab the gun, but Kim recoiled like a snake and shot Madison in the side, then lunged toward Tyler, as he tried to get out the door. She got off another shot that sent him flying through the doorway. Madison was lying on the floor and couldn’t get to her gun fast enough. “You ruined everything,” Kim hollered as she took one more shot at Madison, and then turned the gun on herself. Madison was conscious just long enough to yell. “Kim, No!”
It was too late; Kim was gone, and Tyler lay dead at the entrance of his studio, and three of them were lying on the floor.
Someone had reported the gunshots, and within minutes the police and ambulances were on the scene. Josh arrived about ten minutes later as Doc Webb was wheeling out the bodies. First one and then another.
He had tried to call Madison when he got the report of the shooting at the center, but there was no answer. He had a gut feeling something was terribly wrong. As he pulled up to the Art Center, he saw the car that the department loaned Madison. His heart sunk, and he nearly crumpled to his knees. He raced toward Kincaid’s studio. All he could saw were the body bags being taken out. When he saw, Doc Webb inside he could barely speak and his voice was quivering, but he had to ask. Who was shot? Doc Webb stood up and looked at Josh, “They all were. Madison is still alive, but barely. I don’t think she’ll make it, Josh; I’m so sorry.” He patted Josh on the shoulder.
Josh felt like someone had ripped his entire insides out and was torn between rushing to the hospital and staying there to help process the scene. The chief was called in on this, and when he showed up he took Josh aside. “Son, you’ve done all you can here. Let us finish this. You go check on your partner. That’s an order.”
Josh didn’t hesitate and ran back to his car. He turned on his siren and raced down Highway17-92, towards Florida Hospital as though he was in hot pursuit. His car screeched to a stop in front of the emergency room, but he left the emergency lights on and rushed to the door. He flashed his badge at the front desk. “Where is Madison Hart?”
The nurse called someone to escort him to the operating room. The nurse told him Madison was in surgery, and they wouldn’t know anything for awhile, and that he should stay in the waiting room. Josh paced back and forth. After about four hours of waiting, the surgeon came drew the double doors and flipped off his mask. “Someone here for Hart?” Josh jumped up. “I am.”
“Are you a relative?”
“I’m her partner.” Josh showed the doctor his badge.
“We almost lost her a couple of times, but she must be some determined lady. She’s going to be here for awhile, so we can make sure she’s okay, but I believe she’ll make a full recovery.”
Josh twisted his hands together. “Can I see her?”
“Yes, but she’s still sedated quite heavily.”
He led Josh to the ICU where Madison was hooked up to tubes. He looked down at Madison pale face. She looks bad. He pulled up a chair and reached for her hand. He thought he felt her squeeze his, and when he looked up, she had a smile on her face. She mumbled something that he couldn’t understand. He leaned in closer and she whispered, “We got ‘em.” Then she fell back to sleep. He smiled at her. “Yes we did partner.”
It had taken weeks before Madison was strong enough to leave the hospital, but that gave her time to go over all the details of Winter’s story on the missing women. By the time Madison was ready to leave the hospital, the entire story had made the front page of the Orlando Sentinel. With the help of Madison and Josh, Winter presented an award-winning article.
Madison was gaining strength each day and finally came home from the hospital. Josh opened the door of her once command center for the investigation. She stood looking at the board and all the hard work she and Josh had done to find and catch the killer of these innocent women. Tears streamed down her cheeks for the first time since Josh had met Madison. She quickly tried to cover it. “I guess the dust in this place is getting to me.”
“Yes, I guess so.”
“She turned toward him, reached up and held his shoulders. “Josh, I could not have done this without you.”
“I know. We do make a good team, don’t we.”
She turned away without replying to him and walked over to the board. She stood a moment and then started carefully taking down the photos and erasing the board. She placed all the evidence they had gathered into the box sitting on the table. “I think this belongs to the Maitland Police Department.”
Josh got a strange feeling she wasn’t telling him everything. “Maddy, what’s going on? What aren’t you telling me?” He sat down at the table and looked up at her.
“You know why I took this assignment, right?”
“You were helping out your sister.”
She couldn’t face him and remained packing the box. “Yes, and she is well now, and the investigation is over. It’s time for me to return to the FBI.”
Josh stood up, walked over to her and put his arms around her. “I guess I was hoping you would stay. But I understand, and I won’t make this any harder on you. It is your life, and I get it.”
“Thank you. I’m going to pack all this up and visit my sister until after her big party. I hope you’ll come. I need you to be with me for that.”
“I’ll be there. Just let me know when. Do you want me to help you pack up?”
“No. Jessie is coming by to close the place down and help, but thank you. And besides, it would only make it harder for both of us.”
She kissed him and hugged him, and then watched him walk out the door one last time. He backed out of the parking lot like she’d seen him do a hundred times. He was the only man that understood her, and she let him leave.
Jessie arrived with empty boxes. “I doubt I’m going to need all those boxes, Jess. Remember I came here with only the things that would fit on the plane, and I don’t want to haul back more than that.”
They filled Madison’s car to the brim, and she and Jessie made one last look around. “You know Jess, I’m going to miss this old place, but I’ll be glad to get back to a bathtub,” she said, laughing. “I can’t thank you enough for letting me stay here.”
“We’re going to miss you around here. I know Winter is excited you’ll be staying with her some before you head back.”
“I’m looking forward to it. To tell you the truth, Jess, I’m going to miss being here too. One of the reasons I agreed to take this assignment, other than helping Win, was I was thinking of leaving the agency. Now I’m not sure what I want to do.”
Winter and Cole had finally finished with all the remolding and renovations on the old Dupree’ home in Cassadaga. They were ready to present the place to the town as it was in its former glory, as promised. They couldn’t wait to throw a gala that would rock the town; one that would honor the sisters who so bravely protected the treasures of the Jews from the Nazis during WWII, and how Clair Dupree’ lost her life saving them.
Winter lavishly decorated the entire house. Cole hired a band to play the old songs of the forties. It seemed the whole town, and then some, were there. Madison was happy to see Jim Tucker and Jessie again and the many friends Winter had made since moving to Cassadaga. Almost everyone there was dressed in the 40s era. As Madison was mingling among Winter’s guests, she caught sight of Josh coming through the massive front doors. He looked around like he had stepped through a portal in time. “Josh,” he heard, from the distance.
His face lit up with a huge smile. Not only someone he knew, but it was Madison.
She threw her arms around him and planted a big kiss on him. “I’m so glad to see you. I thought you might not come.”
“And miss all this?”
The night was a success, and one by one the crowd dwindled until the only ones left were Winter and Cole, Jim and Jessie, and Madison and Josh. Winter invited them all out on the covered porch for one last drink.
Everyone was enjoying the evening when Jim got a call. He excused himself, and when he returned, he stood there looking at them sipping their wine. “Well, something has come up, and I’m in desperate need of a top-notch investigator. Any takers?”
Thank you for reading my book.
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Amazon International: http://authl.it/B00UVO9HMC
Coming June 12, 2017
The Woman Behind The Glass Wall
More to come in 2107
Silent Secrets, Cry Murder (Another Madison Hart Mystery)
Invisible Jane Doe
More Madison Hart Mysteries
The Dark Side of Secrets
Behind Secrets, Murder in Maitland
Veil of Secrets, Murder Unearthed
In the Shadow of Secrets, Murder Hides
Other Books by DB Jones
Nights of Autumn
Storms of Winter
Willow of Endless Waters
Willow and Rise of The Serpent
Willow and The Gift
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About the Author
DB Jones is a best-selling author of Mystery and Crime Drama, including the Madison Hart Mystery Series and the Seasons of Passion Mysteries. She also writes YA/Fantasy, which includes The Willow Trilogy.
Before writing, DB along with her husband composed melodic flute music for over thirty years. She began writing at the age of 68 after her husband passed away. DB lives in the hills of Virginia where she overlooks the BlueRidge Mountains as she hammers away at her keyboard bringing her characters to life.
DB writes in two genres, Young Adult/Fantasy and Mystery/Crime Drama with an occasional twist of the paranormal spun through some of her books.
The tenacious, young FBI Agent, Madison Hart returns to her hometown believing she is going to be investigating a missing person’s case. Little does she know the trail is leading her into the depths of someone’s dark obsession…and murder. She teams up with Detective Josh Logan of the Maitland Police Department. Their working relationship is threatened by her drive to solve the case and her strong will, but they soon develop an unstoppable partnership to get to the bottom of who is responsible for these killings. The leads are mounting as fast as the body count, and the closer Madison gets to the truth, the more her life is in danger.