West was late.
Sam had been told West would be late, that his leave had been cancelled and he’d been rerouted at the last minute. But Rebecca Madigan had already been missing for eight hours and if she was still alive - which was a big if - she was probably in a good deal of pain and scared witless.
An impatient muscle in his thigh started to twitch when finally - finally - a taxi pulled into the diner parking lot and disgorged the harried-looking Special Agent Jason West.
West was young, probably early thirties, dark hair, classically etched features. Just the way Sam liked them. His cock made its interest known. Fucking hell.
Yeah, yeah, Jason West was a pretty boy with a mouth made for sucking cock. That didn’t mean Sam was going to partake. Hell, the kid could be straight.
Probably not, though.
He dressed strikingly well, narrow cuts and custom tailoring. Too well for an ordinary field agent, but Sam had been briefed that he came from money. Serious money. His family had owned a vacation home in Kingsfield and the kid supposedly knew his way around the affluent town.
“Special Agent West. I thought maybe you stopped off to see if you could solve the Gardner Museum Heist on your way over here.”
West’s lip curled enough to assure Sam that his comment was sufficiently dickish to earn him the other agent’s enmity. He didn’t want to make friends. And he didn’t want a partner whose skills were limited to telling the difference between a Manet and a Monet.
He didn’t want a partner at all.
Not that West was a partner. West was a babysitter, brought in to keep Sam in check, to avoid another Wisconsin. Sam got the job done in Wisconsin. He wasn’t sorry that he’d made a few enemies doing so. The fallout was a source of unmitigated irritation, though.
“Nice to meet you, too,” West shot back in an unexpectedly firm tenor. He started to bring up his right hand, tan, strong, long fingers, but when Sam didn’t make a move to unfold his arms, he slid it smoothly into his pocket. “Just to be clear,” he said, and Sam knew this was coming. “I’m supposed to be on vacation. In fact, I busted my ass to be here. I was in Boston about to catch a flight home to L.A.”
He was going home for his vacation. Not traveling elsewhere? Or traveling from L.A.? Because he was traveling with someone?
That seemed likely. West looked like a heartbreaker but he probably had some bright, attentive lover at home. His family was connected, maybe someone in politics. Sam bet they had a dog.
It was a terrible idea to profile someone you’d only known for thirty seconds. It wasn’t even the way profiling worked. But if Sam was going to make it through this trip, he had to take his pleasures where he could.
“Duly noted,” he said mildly. “You can throw your bag in the trunk.” He reached into the open window on the driver’s side and tapped the button to pop the trunk release. West was taking his sweet time stowing his gear, so Sam added, “We need to hit the road. That girl’s been missing over eight hours already.”
He opened the door and slid into the seat. A glance at his watch told him West hadn’t even been five minutes past the scheduled rendezvous time. But Sam was impatient. Martin Pink was the Huntsman. He was confident in his earlier work. But. Had there been a partner? An accomplice? An apprentice? His instincts all said no but if he’d missed something, if he’d left someone free to pick up where Pink had left off, he was responsible for whatever horrors Rebecca Madigan was living through now.
No. He knew better than that. Only Rebecca’s abductor was responsible for her disappearance. But he’d always have to fight down that sliver of doubt, even if he’d trained himself to do so automatically.
West didn’t try to make conversation as he slammed the trunk and buckled himself into the passenger seat. He’d seemed like a talker. Wrong again. If Sam was a betting man, he’d be having some serious doubts in his own abilities just then.
“So you know the area?” Sam asked his silent monitor as he pulled out of the parking lot onto the dreadfully familiar path. “Your family used to have a vacation home in Kingsfield?”
“That’s right,” West said measuredly.
“How nice,” Sam said. A fucking vacation home. When he’d been a boy, his mother could barely afford to both keep a roof over his head and food on the table. The taunts of the other children mocking her clothes or her tattered bag or the ancient battered car were cold echoes by now, but they’d soaked into his bones.
“I guess,” West said with all the inflectionless insouciance of someone privileged from his first breath. Vacation home in Kingsfield wasn’t nice enough? “Clarify something for me,” he said as Sam steered the car onto the interstate. “The Kingsfield Police Chief asked specifically for you because he thinks he might have a copycat killer on his hands?”
“It’s too soon to say, but yeah. That’s the concern, of course.” And SAC Manning jumped at the chance to send Sam a message. “No girl is going to go missing in Worcester County ever again that people aren’t going to fear it’s some sort of copycat crime.”
Sam summarized the facts of the case for West. He didn't bother to mention any of his impressions or theories. For one thing, perceptions shifted quickly on the ground. For another thing he wanted to hear West's own impressions first.
Also he didn't like West.
Manning had clearly found himself an ambitious young agent willing to swan around in Behavioral Analysis - coincidentally one of the most prestigious units in the Bureau - to babysit rogue agent Sam Kennedy, lest he insult the idiot son-in-law of someone deemed Important.
"There could be a lot of reasons a teenage girl disappears,” West said thoughtfully. No dummy, this one.
Yep," Sam drawled. “But like I said the folks of Worcester County have long memories."
West turned his face to the window. He watched Worcester County go by, and behind his Oakleys, Sam watched him. West's face was a collection of sharp angles, a California tan starting to fade into something more sallow. His shoulders were wide, exceeding the span of the car's seat, and Sam wasn't quite sure how he'd gotten the impression West was too thin. Sam wasn't a small man himself and he didn't requisition small cars. He had no desire to be jammed in a vehicle like a canned fish.
“I remember the original case,” West said out of the blue as the miles slid by. "You were behind the capture and conviction of Martin Pink.”
Oh good. A fanboy.
"I played a role," Sam said evenly. He'd played a large role, but the local LEOs had been motivated and they had listened to him.
West nodded once and gazed out the window for a bit before asking, "What kind of party was it?"
"What do you mean?" The question seemed a little odd to Sam, but he was interested in where West was going with it.
“It's June,” West said, as if that explained anything. "Was it a graduation party? Birthday party? Sweet sixteen? Secret baby shower?"
The last proposition was unexpected enough to make Sam laugh but he muzzled it with a frown. It would, in fact, be the most useful occasion, sober witnesses, an unhappy lover, open and shut and completely unrelated to the Huntsman investigation.
Sam couldn't possibly be that lucky.
"It was the kind of party you throw when your parents are out of town for the weekend." Surely West was familiar with those if his parents had money.
"Was everybody invited, or was it private?" West asked, proving Sam's point.
“We don't have the details yet," Sam told him. "You know everything I know."
That was clearly a fallacy given the dozen years of experience Sam had in matters like these but as far as hard facts went, he had conveyed everything of substance.
West narrowed his eyes and a muscle twitched in his jaw, but he didn't say anything else. He just looked out the window again and rubbed his right shoulder like it hurt.
Great. Manning had even managed to find him a defective one. Sam hoped West was left-handed. He should have taken Travis Petty up on his offer to come with.
No. He'd been right not to.
Sam liked Petty. He was good-looking and smart and he was a good agent with a healthy skepticism of bureaucracy. And he was damn good in bed.
But that, after all, was the problem. The FBI didn't have a non-fraternization policy and Petty understood the rules of case-based hookups. At least he had. Asking to accompany Sam on this case ... Sam would have had to request his presence and if it came out they were fucking, well. Sam was on thin ice as it was.
Also Sam was getting an uncomfortable feeling that Petty's interest was maybe expending past Sam's own comfort zone.
The town of Kingsfield appeared on the horizon, miniaturized but bright. Sam observed West, watched him approach the town where he’d once spent idyllic childhood summers. Or maybe not so idyllic. Serial murder had away of dampening an experience.
At the edge of town, he watched West blink at the heart-shaped memorial to the first victim, Honey Corrigan. He hadn't seen that before.
The police station was in the center of town so Sam used the drive to familiarize himself with the changes to the local landscape.
There weren't many to speak of.
"Just like you remember?" he asked West, who was still daydreaming out the window.
"Doesn't seem to have changed much," West replied shortly.
That didn't give Sam much to go on since nothing really looked like it had changed in about 60 years.
"When was the last time you visited?"
“Years," West said unhelpfully.
Sam clenched his jaw and kept his eyes glued to the windshield. He hadn't expected Manning's Art Squad nerd to crack the case for him, but basic info like when West had actually been present in the town didn't seem like too much to ask. Had he known Pink? Any of the victims? Heard any rumors?
He didn't ask, though. West wasn't going to be forthcoming on a direct approach. He'd get the information another way if it even turned out to be relevant. For all he knew, West could have been six years old on his last trip out here.
Sam navigated around the little shops and houses, head still sorting through Rebecca Madigan's possible whereabouts, and turned into the parking lot behind the police station.
One change - this had been the Town Hall building ten years ago. Maybe this meant Kingsfield had upgraded their department.
One could hope.
"I'd expect to see a lot more cars here,” West said eyeing the near-empty lot.
“Everybody is out searching,” Sam reminded him.
West pulled a face. Chagrined, if Sam were to hazard a guess. Probably didn't have people walking a grid when a painting went missing.
There were still a couple of vehicles besides their own in the lot so Sam expected someone was holding down the fort. The sticky air hit him as he closed the car door and his shirt was damp on his arms before he was halfway to the building. The East Coast was lousy with humidity, but more often than not, it was where the job was.
He showed his ID at the desk sergeant, who nodded them down the hall. Her nameplate said A. Courtney and her tone with the call she was handling was brisk and professional.
Rebecca Madigan beamed at him from every vertical surface in the incident room . She looked like Honey Corrigan. And Theresa Nolan. Ginny Chapin. Jody Escobar. Susan Parvel.
She looked like Number 8. Even Sam could see it.
There was one person in the room, a squared-away uniform far too young to have been a cop when Sam had last been in Kingsfield.
"Kennedy, FBI," he announced flashing his badge at the kid. “This is Special Agent West."
“We’ve been expecting you,” the local guy said, turning enough for Sam to finally see his name - Boxner. “Chief Gervase is directing the hunt for Rebecca. He asked me to escort you to the search site.”
“Let’s get moving,” Sam said. They’d already wasted too much time.
“Or,” West said, like he was in charge of this rodeo, “maybe we should set up base here and start reading through the witness statements. There are going to be a lot of eyewitness accounts to sort through and it’s possible there’s some overlooked indicator as to why she might walk away voluntarily. Though I’d also like to swing by the girl’s house. Take a look around.”
What. The. Actual. Fuck.
Sam pulled off his sunglasses and wheeled around on West. Rebecca Madigan had been missing almost ten hours at this point. Too long, he feared, but it was a fucking miracle to be on the scene in the first 48, in a position to actually do some good rather than come in after the bodies had started piling up.
“We’ll liaise with Chief Gervase,” he bit out slowly, doing his level best to keep a civil tone.
“Why?” West challenged, lifting his chin and looking at Sam with those green eyes wide, like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. “Are they short of volunteers? Isn’t the point of our being here to look at the case from an objective and impartial viewpoint?”
It seemed Sam had underestimated West. West wasn’t just a babysitter. West was ambitious. And ambition could be catastrophic in these cases. Sam would know.
“You want me to leave you two to work it out?” Boxner said. He was watching West like he’d rather make popcorn and cheer on the bloodsport than leave.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to have a word with my colleague.” Colleague felt dirty on his tongue - as it so often did these days.
“Right,” Boxner said. “I’ll bring the car around.”
Sam waited until Boxner had slunk down the hall and then he let loose on West.
“Okay, pretty boy. Let’s get something straight. We both know your role here is to run interference between me and everybody else. All you need to do is stay out of my way and smooth the feathers when needed. And in return you’ll be the guy who gets to pose in front of the cameras with Chief Gervase. Fair enough?”
That should have done the job. If West wanted to climb the ladder, nothing would look better than his supposedly bringing the mad dog to heel and giving the cameras a handsome hero to fawn over.
But West didn’t look placated.
“The hell,” he snarled, showing more bite than Sam would have thought possible. “I’ve been asked to try and make sure you don’t step in it again, sure, but I’m not here to hold your cape, Batman. I’m your partner on this case whether either of us likes it or not. And, for the record, I don’t like it - any more than you do.”
“Then make it easy on both of us,” Sam shot back. “You stay out of my murder investigation and I’ll let you know if I hear about any paintings being stolen.”
Fire flared in West’s eyes and Sam made himself walk away. His control was slipping, just as it had in Wisconsin. He wondered if West was deliberately baiting him, setting him up to walk right into Manning’s trap.
He couldn’t do his job without the resources of the Federal government behind him. And he had made a vow, what seemed like so very long ago. He had to keep it together. He had to keep going. He was a man with a mission.
The kind of mission that couldn’t be allowed to fail.