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Книга Sense Of Evil. Содержание - 5

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“I gather you’re certain that isn’t the case here.”

“When he hit in Alabama five years ago, we combed through police files of unsolved murders from coast to coast. Nothing matched his M.O. except for the series of murders five years before that. We were convinced he had been inactive during that five-year gap, yet there was also no even remotely likely suspect we could find who had been in prison for exactly that length of time. And according to all the information gleaned from databases we had Quantico double-check yesterday, he’s also been inactive in the five years since Alabama. Until he started killing in Hastings a little over three weeks ago.”

Mallory rubbed her temple, scowling. “So something sets him off and he kills six women in six weeks. Then, apparently sated for the time being, vanishes before the cops can even get close to catching him. Why six women?”

“We don’t know,” Isabel replied. “The number has to be important, since it’s been exactly the same twice before, but we don’t know how or why. We can’t even be absolutely positive he’ll stop at six this time. He could be escalating. Most killers of this sort do sooner or later kill more or get more viciously creative in the killing itself.”

Mallory shook her head. “Great. Because we didn’t have enough to look forward to. So he kills at least six women. Moves on to a new location. Then waits five years-it’s not exact, is it?” she interrupted herself to ask.

Isabel shook her head. “Not to the day, no. The gap between the first and second set of murders was actually four years and ten months. The gap between the last set and this one was five years and one month. Give or take a few days.”

“Okay. But he moves somewhere new after his six-week killing spree, settles down, settles in. Which has to mean we’re looking for someone who’s been in Hastings no more than five years, right?”

“Or someone who used to live in the area and has moved back. Or someone who works in Hastings but lives outside the town-or the other way around. Or someone who takes long vacations every few years; that’s at least possible.”

“Goes on vacation to kill people?”

“We’ve encountered stranger things. He could scout out his hunting grounds in advance, maybe start picking his victims, and return later for the actual kill.” Isabel shook her head. “Honestly, if you look at a map, the two previous hunting grounds and Hastings are all within a day’s drive, despite being in three different states. So we can’t even rule out the idea that he lives in an area central to his hunting grounds and has just somehow managed to spend enough time in each to get to know his victims.”

“Oh, hell, I was hoping we could narrow down the possibles at least a little bit.”

Hollis said, “The universe never makes it easy, remember? Probably the only people we can even begin to rule out are those who have lived continuously in Hastings during the last fifteen years at least. And I mean continuously: no vacations longer than, say, two weeks; no going away to college; no out-of-town visits, no day trips fitting the right time periods.”

Mallory grimaced. “Which is just not possible. Even those of us who’ve lived here our whole lives tend to go away to school or travel or something. And day trips? Lots of good shopping in Columbia, Atlanta, other places within a day’s drive.”

“I was afraid of that,” Isabel said with a sigh.

With a nod, Mallory said, “That sort of thing is so common I doubt we could find anybody who was absent or took weekly day trips out of town during those six-week stretches specifically, not without questioning every soul in town and probably not then. Who remembers specific dates from years ago? And like I said, people travel on vacations or for business, go away to school. I was away in Georgia three years finishing college. It was four for you, wasn’t it, Rafe?”

“Yeah. And I went to Duke, in North Carolina.” He sighed. “It’s like Mal said, we’ve all traveled, been away from Hastings, most of us more than once. And people do take regular day trips, even out of state, for shopping or business. I get the feeling this isn’t going to help us narrow the list all that much.”

“Probably not,” Isabel agreed. “Although if we get lucky enough to find a suspect or two, we have some concrete questions to ask…”

Hollis didn’t intentionally tune out the discussion. She didn’t want to; despite the repetition of details she already knew, she was still new enough to the investigative process itself to find it interesting, even fascinating.

She wasn’t even aware at first that Isabel’s voice had faded into a peculiar hollow silence. But then she realized the discussion around her had gone distant, deadened. She felt the fine hairs on her body rise, her flesh tingle.

It was not a pleasant sensation.

She looked around the table at the others, watching their mouths move and hearing only a word now and then, muffled and indistinct. And they themselves appeared different to her. Dim, almost faded. They seemed to be growing ever more distant moment by moment, and that frightened her.

Hell, it terrified her.

She opened her mouth to say something, or try to, but even as she did, a new and unfamiliar instinct urged her to turn her head toward the doorway. Again without meaning to, without wanting to, she looked.

Standing near the doorway was a woman.

A blond woman.

She was clearer than the people around Hollis, brighter somehow, and more distinct. She was beautiful, with perfect, delicate features. Her hair was burnished gold, her eyes a clear, piercing blue.

Eyes fixed on Hollis.

Her lips parted, and she started to speak.

A chill swept through Hollis and she quickly looked away, instinctively trying to close the door, to disconnect herself from the place from which this woman had emerged.

It was a cold, dark place, and it terrified Hollis.

Because it was death.

Mallory rubbed her temple again. “Okay, back to what sets him off. What sets him off?”

Isabel answered readily, if not too informatively. “Something specific, but we don’t know what that is, at least not yet. The gaps between his killing sprees can and might be explained by his need to get to know these women.”

“Might,” Rafe said. “But you aren’t sure?”

“I’m sure he has to feel he knows them. For whatever reason, they can’t be total strangers to him. Maybe in getting to know them, he discovers something about them-at least the initial victim-that sets him off, something that pushes his button. Or maybe he has to win their trust; that could be part of his ritual, especially since these women appear to be leaving their cars and going willingly with him.”

“He doesn’t pick out all six women before he starts killing, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t have made his list.”

“Good point.” Isabel nodded. “It’s also a point that he is able to look beyond the woman he’s currently stalking in order to take note of, and even choose as a future victim, another woman. Even though this guy’s actual killings are frenzied, it’s becoming clear that he’s quite able to think coolly and calmly right up until the moment he kills them.”

“We have to find her.”

They all looked at Hollis. Her voice had been tight, and her face showed visible tension. She was chewing on a thumbnail, which, Rafe noticed, was already bitten short.

“He’s stalking her even now. Watching her. Thinking about what he’s going to do to her. We have to-”

“Hollis.” Isabel spoke quietly. “We’ll do all we can to find her before he gets to her. But the only way we have of doing that is by starting with the women he’s already killed. We have to find out what they all have in common besides the color of their hair. What connects them to each other. And to him.”

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