Crossing Lines – L. A. Dobbs

The killer gazed down into the shallow grave, the intense elation he’d felt only moments ago giving way to disappointment. The girl was no longer pretty. No longer fresh. Her red hair, once so vibrant, was matted and dull, soiled with the leaves and dirt of the forest floor. Her formerly radiant porcelain skin was now tinted gray. The excitement he’d felt as he’d watched the spark of life slowly disappear from her eyes had faded. Soon he’d need to find another. It was a shame, really, after all these years. He thought his malevolent urges had gone away. But his sickness had returned despite his noble efforts to tamp it down. The recent discovery of those victims from years ago had stoked the evil fire that burned within him. At least someone else was in jail for the others. The killer laughed at the thought of pompous Lucas Thorne sitting in a cell for something he didn’t do. Not that Thorne hadn’t done many things to land in a cell. He deserved to be in prison because he’d purposely harmed others and broken the law.

The killer didn’t deserve a cell. He couldn’t help what he did. It wasn’t his fault. As long as Thorne remained in jail for those murders, no one would know who had really committed the crime. Which was a perfect cover for the killer. The hoot of an owl jarred him out of his reverie. Above, the moon looked down between the tops of the trees as if watching his every move, a quiet witness to his indiscretions. The killer picked up the shovel. Better get to work. The sooner this one was covered and forgotten, the sooner he could start on his next project.

Yes, he thought of them as projects. He wasn’t just a random killer. There was a method to his art. First choosing the perfect victim. Then stalking, and then finally, when he could no longer hold himself back, taking and killing. Helping them disappear into the earth was the final step. Out here, he’d found the perfect place to lay his projects to rest. No one would be digging around in an owl sanctuary. The thought of starting anew made him giddy as he picked up the shovel and tossed the first clump of dirt into the grave. S CHAPTER TWO am Mason was suspicious of Beryl Thorne’s intentions.

As chief of the northern New Hampshire town of White Rock, he’d put her husband in jail. Not that she was angry about that. In fact, she’d helped by providing a damning piece of evidence—Lucas’s golf shoes. But showing up at the door of Sam’s log cabin after work with a six-pack in her hand seemed like an excessive maneuver just to thank him. “I just can’t believe I lived with a killer.” Beryl shuddered. As she adjusted her position on Sam’s overstuffed couch, her knee brushed his. He inched away and glanced at his German shepherd mix, Lucy. She was lying over by the river-rock fireplace. Her head rested on her paws, and her whiskey eyes flicked from Beryl to Sam.

Sam thought he saw wariness in those eyes. Good girl. She was smarter than most humans. “I imagine that would be disturbing.” Sam took a sip of beer. It wasn’t bad, just not the brand he preferred. Still, he wanted to be polite, so he’d accepted the gift, popped open a beer for each of them, and invited her in. Now he was wondering if maybe he’d made a mistake. Judging by the low growl periodically coming from Lucy, she thought so too. Then again, Lucy didn’t like most women who came to the cabin.

Except Jody Harris. But Jo was Sam’s second-in-command, so Lucy was used to working with her. “… taking over the business.” Beryl’s words drew Sam’s thoughts away from Jo. “You’re taking over Thorne Enterprises?” Lucas Thorne had been shady in his land acquisition deals, taking advantage of elderly farmers and pushing the envelope with local building laws. Hopefully Beryl would be more of a rule follower. Sam wondered, not for the first time, how much she knew about her husband’s other business. Thorne had been a drug distributer in the area. His recent incarceration had surely put a dent in the supply of drugs in town. “Sure.

Someone has to. And I have experience with my family business, so…” She shrugged and then looked at Sam with innocent brown eyes. “I know you and Lucas butted heads about a lot of things, but I’m going to run it differently.” “Good. So what about Mervale?” Sam referred to Beryl’s family company, which she had been running in her brother’s absence. “Is your brother able to take over now?” Beryl looked away. “A little. He’s getting better, so I’ll help out there until he comes up to speed.” Interesting. Her brother, Robert, had run Mervale for years until he became ill.

During the Thorne investigation, his illness was somewhat of a mystery. Beryl seemed protective of him, but Sam supposed that was only natural for a sibling. “This place is great.” Beryl gestured around the log cabin that Sam had inherited from his grandfather. It was still decorated the way his grandparents had had it. The taxidermy deer head from the six-point buck his grandmother had shot hung over the fireplace. Plaques with mounted rainbow trout and salmon he and his grandfather had caught hung around the room. Then there were his grandmother’s finer touches, like the oak china cabinet and landscape paintings. “Thanks. It was my grandparents’ place.

” Sam wasn’t much for small talk, and he was starting to wonder when Beryl would leave. Beryl put her beer on the table, brushing against Sam as she leaned over. “I hope we can work together much closer than you did with my husband.” Lucy made a sound as if she didn’t like what Beryl was getting at. Sam didn’t much like it either, though he wasn’t sure why. She was certainly attractive enough, petite with chocolate-brown hair and doe-like eyes. Sam guessed her to be around his age. She looked good for around forty. But Sam’s instinct was to inch away. Maybe it was the two ex-wives.

He’d learned long ago that getting too involved could mean trouble. And now Beryl was looking at him expectantly. Not to mention he didn’t want to get involved with Thorne’s wife. But he also was thinking of Jo. She was the only woman that didn’t make him feel like he was second-guessing himself during even the simplest conversations. But then she’d been acting a little off lately herself. “Yeah. I—” His phone vibrated on the table. Saved by the bell. Even better, it was Jo.

“I better get this. Jo’s at the station working night shift. Could be important.” He used the excuse to ease his way up from the sofa. He paced into the kitchen as he answered. “Hey.” “Hey… um… did I interrupt something?” Sam glanced back toward the living room. “No.” “Okay, well, I think you might want to get down here.” Sam’s gut tightened.

Jo was perfectly capable of handling things. She’d only call him in if something was very wrong. “What’s happened?” “I have a woman here. Maria Stillwell. She’s filing a missing person’s report for her daughter. She’s seventeen, last seen day before yesterday.” Memories of the bodies in the graves bubbled up. They’d been teens too. But those girls had been runaways and had been put in those graves over five years ago. The killer was long gone.

“I have a bad feeling about this.” Jo echoed his thoughts. “She could be a runaway.” They had very few runaways in White Rock, but they also had very few missing persons. In fact, usually none. That was why Jo was taking this so seriously. “Mrs. Stillwell says they had a good relationship. No reason for her daughter to run. Might be good if you talked to her, unless you have something important going on.

” Sam glanced into the living room again. This was a great excuse to nip anything Beryl had in mind in the bud. “Nope, I’ve got nothing going on. I’ll be right there.” Beryl looked up from the couch. “Something wrong at the station?” “Nothing too concerning, but I do need to go and check it out.” Sam picked up Lucy’s leash, and she was by his side in a second. “Oh. Of course.” Beryl looked disappointed, which made Sam even more relieved that he had to go to the station.

She stood. “Well, this has been nice.” “Thanks for the beer.” Sam held the door open for her. She paused as she passed him, a little too close for Sam’s comfort. Looking up, she smiled and touched his arm. “Thanks again. I really do appreciate everything.” “I should be thanking you. You gave me the key piece of evidence in your husband’s case.

” Beryl nodded, her jaw tightening. Did she regret playing such an important role in her husband’s arrest? A flash in the bushes across the street caught his eye. Binoculars? Was someone watching them? He scanned the area but saw nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe just the reflection from the eyes of a deer. Beryl was making him paranoid. Beryl hadn’t noticed anything. She continued down the steps. “Good night.” “Night.” Sam and Lucy continued to the White Rock Police Tahoe.

As he watched Beryl leave, he had the distinct feeling that he’d just dodged a bullet. M CHAPTER THREE aria Stillwell twisted the handle of her Coach-knockoff purse as she sat in the chair on the other side of Jo’s green metal desk. Pictures of her daughter, a perky redheaded teen in her favorite pink T-shirt and jean shorts, were laid out on the surface of the desk. This wasn’t the first missing persons case Jo had handled. She’d worked in bigger cities where there had been many, but she hadn’t seen one in the two years she’d been in White Rock. Something about it unsettled her, and that was why she’d called Sam. Though now she wasn’t sure if she should have called. Sam deserved his own personal time. She had the feeling she’d interrupted something, and she couldn’t help but wonder what it was. Sam had sounded a little weird, out of breath even… maybe he had a date at his place.

It was really none of her business. Even though they’d developed a close working relationship and Jo considered him to be a good friend, he certainly didn’t have to explain anything he did in his time off to her. Even friends could have secrets. Like Jo’s secret about the real reason she’d come to White Rock. She’d never told Sam, and that had been weighing heavy on her mind lately. She sensed it was affecting their relationship. Her eyes were drawn back to the picture of the smiling girl. She could be a runaway. She could just have stayed over somewhere after partying with a friend… or something more sinister could have happened, like what had happened to those girls in the woods. Or her sister… the real reason for her move to this town.

“… Kirsten’s a good girl. Never stays out. She didn’t run away. Something happened to her.” Maria started crying. Jo’s heart went out to the distraught mother as she pushed the tissue box toward her. She remembered her own mother crying when Tammy was taken. Lucy appeared around the corner of the antique brass post office boxes that separated the reception area from their desks in the old post office building that now housed the small police force. Sam was here. Lucy trotted straight to Jo and nudged her hand with her nose in greeting.

The gesture lifted Jo’s heart for a second before she turned back to Maria. Jo introduced them, and Sam pulled the chair from Wyatt’s desk up next to Maria. He radiated kindness. “I’ve gotten the basic information,” Jo said to Sam. She turned to Maria. “Is it okay if Chief Mason asks some questions too?” Maria gave a shaky nod. “Anything that will help.” Lucy trotted over to Maria and sniffed her purse. The dog’s attention earned a sad smile from Maria. “Kirsten loves dogs.

” She reached into her purse and produced a blue bandana. “I’ve heard how Lucy helps with cases, so I brought one of Kirsten’s bandanas just in case she needs to sniff it.” Sam nodded, and Maria held the bandana out. Lucy sniffed diligently. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find your daughter,” Sam said. “Have you talked to any of her friends?” “Just Mary. That’s her best friend. Mary Ryder.” Maria dabbed at her eyes with the tissue. “She didn’t know anything.

” “Can you give us names of her other friends? Anyone you think she might be with?” Maria nodded toward Jo. “I gave them to Sargent Harris.” “What about places she hung out?”

.

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