Officer Dave Jenkins threw the file down and rubbed his tired eyes. Three murders in two days and they still had no idea how the victims had died. The only thing they had in common was their age, all twenty-seven, their sex, all female, and the way they’d died, all somehow burned.
Even the coroner, a man with over forty years’ experience, had never seen anything like this.
All of the women had died as if they’d somehow been put in a giant microwave. There had been no obvious struggle, no fingerprints, no blood drops or foreign DNA of any kind. Just a dead woman burned from the inside out.
Even their circumstances had been different. One had been single, unemployed, and died at home. One had been a mother of three young children and had died in her car. And the third had been a workaholic lawyer and had died at her desk. None of it made sense.
Dave slammed his hands on the table in frustration, dislodging the pile of file folders in the process and dumping their contents on the floor. Growling at his own frustrated behavior, he bent to gather the scattered papers. A photocopy of one of the women’s driver’s licenses caught his attention, and he lifted it to look more closely. The date of her birth seemed vaguely familiar, and he wracked his brain for an explanation. He lifted the other two files into his hand and searched for the women’s birthdays. He found exactly the same day, month, and year for each victim.
Excited to have found something the three women had in common, and maybe a direction to take the investigation in, Dave gathered the files and headed into his boss’s office. At least they might have a way to identify the next potential victim. Half an hour later their team was working on a list of women born in the area on that day twenty-seven years ago.
But as the excitement of a break in the case seeped away, a niggling suspicion wound through his brain. He quickly reached for the phone and dialed home. His wife answered on the second ring.
“Kate, honey, when’s my sister’s birthday?”
“January twelfth,” she answered indulgently. He was always forgetting things like that. “You didn’t miss it this year. Remember, we took her to dinner and you tried to set her up with that old army buddy of yours. Even I could see that was a disaster waiting to happen. I mean, seriously, what were you thinking?”
“Kate, I need to go. I’ll explain later.”
He immediately dialed his sister’s number but hung up before she could answer. How was he supposed to explain, over the phone, that she was possibly a serial killer’s next victim? Instead, he grabbed his cell phone, scrolled down to a number he hadn’t used since before Kali’s last birthday, and waited impatiently as the phone rang and rang and rang.
Ronan Deeks was a hard man to find. He did that deliberately. Anyone who truly wanted to talk to him would leave a message, and if he wanted to, he’d call them back. When the phone rang, he didn’t bother to stop his workout—it was his favorite part of the day after all—but he did turn down the music volume so he could listen to the answering machine as it clicked on.
The deep voice was familiar and one he hadn’t heard in quite a long time, but it was the tone of underlying fear that caught his attention. Dave Jenkins was not an easy man to frighten, but it was clear in his voice that he was very worried for his sister’s safety. Ronan turned off the treadmill, grabbed a towel, and snatched up the phone before Dave could hang up.
“Dave,” he said calmly. Whatever had his friend rattled seemed to be serious.
“Thank God,” Dave said fervently. “I need your help. All the victims share a birthday. Kali’s birthday—day, month, and year. We’re working on a possible list right now, but I need you to protect her while I track down this asshole. I’ll pay you whatever it takes.”
There was no way Dave would be able to afford Ronan’s services on his cop’s salary, and Ronan had no intention of charging him anyway, but it was a measure of the man’s very real worry for his sister.
“Hang on. Back up a minute. What victims? Which asshole?”
The explanation was chilling.
Even if the birth dates were a coincidence—and with all three victims being born on that particular day it seemed unlikely—statistically speaking, there would be many, many female babies born on that day also. The chances of Dave’s sister, Kali, being one of the killer’s targets was probably slim but certainly not something either of them was willing to overlook.
But it was the manner of death that convinced him that this was no ordinary serial killer. As he gathered what he would need for this mission, he dialed a number he knew from memory. He nearly laughed at the grumpy greeting but got straight to the point. “Remember that favor you owe me, asshole? I’m calling it in.”