Murder Girl – Lisa Renee Jones

It’s Sunday night, and like many people, that means catching up on dirty laundry. Unlike most people, however, my list rarely includes jeans, shirts, and socks, though some might say it probably should. And it would if my list wasn’t consumed by blood, bodies, and random crime scene nastiness. Tonight, that list includes Kane Mendez, my ex-lover, who swears he’s clean when we both know he’s dirty—as in the-head-of-the-Mendez-cartel dirty. A complicated piece of the puzzle that is my life. Kane runs a powerful legit business as well, I’m an FBI profiler, and at one point he and I have killed and hidden a body together, or rather in some combination of “together.” I did the killing. He did the hiding. Even more complicated is the fact that despite that secret, I’m presently standing in his garage pointing a gun at him, while the patriarch of the Romano family, who doesn’t exactly get invited to the Mendez family outings, is tied to a chair and gagged several feet away. Of course, he’s not the man we in law enforcement believe to be the patriarch, but Kane would know. And now I know, which is a weapon Kane has handed me, and not by accident. Kane does nothing by accident. I give this newly discovered patriarch a quick once-over, confirming that he’s the same sunbaked old man in jeans and a T-shirt, gray hair braided down his back, I remember cornering me at the tattoo shop in the city. He’d given me a lead I’d like to know more about, which means I need him alive, thus it’s one of the reasons I confirm he’s not dead, which isn’t hard, since he’s presently fast-blinking at me. That’s enough for me to know he’s not feeling really warm and fuzzy right now, and also enough for me to dismiss him, at least for the moment, and for the obvious reason: he’s tied up and Kane is not.

I eye Kane, who is now two feet away and between me and the door, my gaze dropping to the silver cuff dangling from his wrist where I’d latched it the minute he opened the door. I part my lips to command him to cuff his second wrist, but in my mind, I play out exactly how that scene might be enacted: I’d give him the same once-over I’d given the old man, as I do now, taking in his casual wear that’s replaced his business suit: his black jeans and snug black T-shirt that reads MENDEZ ENTERPRISES, which we both know translates to Mendez cartel, and that would piss me off. I’d lift my gaze, look right into those dark-brown eyes, and issue my command. “Finish cuffing yourself.” He’d say, “I’m not going to do that.” I’d then say, “I won’t kill you, Kane, but I will make you bleed, and at least two of the three of us will enjoy it. Cuff your wrist.” “No,” he’d say, offering me nothing more as an explanation because that’s Kane. A man of few words because he means every damn one he speaks. But then he’d ask, “Would you like to have a private conversation in the kitchen?” And I’d consider shooting him, but then I’d remember what my mother, of all people, had once told me when she was speaking of Hollywood: “When you are swimming with sharks,” she’d said, “and one of them wants you alive, you feed that shark and defang the others.

” And so I would say, “Yes, Kane. I would like to have a private conversation in the kitchen.” And if it went down like that, Old Man Romano would know the dynamics of our push-and-pull, right-and-wrong connection that I won’t call a relationship, which he would most certainly exploit. And I can’t let that happen, especially since, as Kane’s enemy, he should have long ago been considered in my attack. And so my gaze collides with Kane’s, and the arch of his brow dares to challenge me to be stupid enough to act on the fantasy scene in my head, while the glint in his eyes says he knows exactly what I’ve been thinking. He does. He knows me too well. He understands me in a way no criminal should understand a law enforcement officer. And I usually like it, which really fucking pisses me off, but this moment isn’t about my anger issues with Kane. It’s about what my gut says Romano should be allowed to see and hear, which is not division between Kane and me.

And thus, I act out another scene. I holster my weapon and remove the key to the cuff, dangling it in the air. “You were right,” I say. “Sadly, now isn’t the time for these types of games.” I walk to him and lift his hand, removing the cuff before returning them both to my pocket with the key. Kane smartly doesn’t push his luck and touch me but instead says exactly what he said in my fantasy scene. “Would you like to have a private conversation in the kitchen?” So I say what I said in my fantasy scene. “Yes, Kane. I would like to have a private conversation in the kitchen.” I sound sticky-sweet and sarcastic, but I figure that isn’t really a misstep.

Ask around and you’ll know. I’m not exactly the agreeable type, even if I like you. Okay. Accept you. I don’t really like people. Any of them. Which is perhaps the answer to why I’m so comfortable with dead bodies. I don’t wait for him to motion me forward; I’m already walking toward the kitchen, which is another one of those push-and-pull things between Kane and me that I make obvious. I’m not in his control, but I dare to give him my back, actions that tell Romano the story I want him to believe: I trust Kane. I’m intimate with Kane, but he doesn’t own me.

Lies. I don’t like lies, but they can sometimes keep you alive and catch the bigger liars, the perps. That I have fucked one of the two perps at my back right now too many times to count and enjoyed every moment . well, at least I know what makes him tick: me. I do. I’m his weakness, but he’s not mine. I’m my own weakness. I let a man who is not only off-limits but should be my target get to me, and that’s a problem I need to fix. We enter the kitchen, dark wood beneath my feet with lighter shades, even a hint of blue, streaked here and there, but it’s still dark. Everything about Kane is dark, which is exactly one of about ten reasons I am certain I could list to put space between myself and him, now and always.

But my intent to place myself at the end of the heavy wooden island, my gun on the surface of the navyblue marble countertop, ready to aim, falls as lame as my denial that I understand Kane, because I am like Kane in too many ways for comfort. The door shuts almost the moment I’ve passed through it, and Kane is on my heels. I whirl around to face him. “Consider this official business. I have two dead bodies sitting with their heads in their laps, Kane. Romano’s people, and now you have him in your garage.” “Exactly why he’s in my garage, Agent Love,” he says, as if that should absolutely make it all right. “He followed you. That was a threat, and I wasn’t going to give him time to act on those murders and go after you.” My eyes go wide.

“Did you kill his men, behead his men, because he followed me?” “No,” he says without so much as a blink. “But I should have. Our women are off-limits. Always.” “I’m not your woman, Kane. Not for two years. And I thought you didn’t chop off heads like your father?” “Beautiful, I can still smell you on my skin. Taste you on my lips if I try hard enough.” “I fucked you, Kane. You owed me that after showing up on the beach where it happened.

But it was just a fuck and an escape. If that makes me yours, then I’d say Samantha, my brother’s woman who you fucked, is yours and his, too.” His eyes glint with anger, and I seize it, pushing him for an admission of guilt, repeating, “And I thought you didn’t chop off heads like your father?” “I didn’t kill Romano’s people or order them killed,” he bites out, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if Romano did it himself.” “Why would he do it himself?” I ask, aware that he’s avoided the entire topic of chopping off heads. “To turn the attention on to me. And it worked,” he says. “And his motivation?” I ask. “Outside of the everyday conflict between two patriarchs?” “There’s the question,” he says, ignoring my inference that he is the old man’s equal when he claims it’s his uncle. “Is it to distract everyone, us included, from something else? Or is it to try to tie my hands, weaken me before a blow?” It could be either or both, I think, because he’s right. The attention is on him.

My brother, the police chief, is breathing down his neck and no doubt rallying my father, the mayor, behind him. Rich, my other ex and fellow FBI agent, who was already in a damn cockfight with Kane, sees the X on the target that is my other ex. And the list goes on. But if any of them thinks that Kane’s hands are tied, they’re wrong, and so I circle back to what feels important right now, to a question asked and answered but I need answered again. “I waded through blood to examine those bodies, Kane,” I say. “They sat in chairs facing the TV, their heads in their laps.” His eyes narrow. “What was playing on the TV?” he asks. And there’s the contradiction that is Kane, the man who would kill for me but accepts what no one else in my life accepts: dead bodies don’t freak me out. The problem is that he understands this because they don’t freak him out.

Which is exactly why the Yale graduate attorney and criminal businessman in him has analyzed the scene the way I did and asked the same question I would ask— did ask. In other words—was there a message left for him or me, on or near that TV? And there was: a DVD that ties back to the case I was working the night I was raped. But even if I were at liberty to share that information, which I’m not, I don’t like that Kane Mendez gets that about me. So for right now, I go to my question that I still need answered. “Did you kill, or order the killing of, those people?” “You’re dodging my question about what was on the TV.” “Crime scene details of any type are confidential law enforcement information,” I say. “You’ve already shared details,” he points out. “And that’s the last time you’re getting lucky tonight. Back to my question—the one you seem to be dodging.” “Your question has been asked and answered,” he says, repeating my thoughts, “but I’ll answer again.

No. I did not kill them, nor did I order those people beheaded. You know me. I’d hit closer to his home. And you didn’t have to ask two times, let alone three. I don’t lie to you, Lilah.” I know him. He’d hit closer to home. In other words, he believes that no matter how many times he tells me that he’s not his father, I know he’s got his father in him. I set that bitter pill aside, not ready to swallow it, but because I’m apparently a masochist, I decide to choose another.

“No lies?” I challenge. “The tattoos, Kane. I saw your face when I showed you the photo in the chopper of the victim’s tattoo. I know you know more than you’re telling me.” “About the tattoos, Lilah fucking Love.” He steps closer to me, and I have that same urge to back up as I had in his office the other night. But this time, there isn’t an opposing urge to kiss him before I bite the fuck out of his tongue. The scent of blood from my crime scene still lingering in my nostrils, and the head of a crime family tied up one room over, tamps down at least some of my urges. “I told you,” he bites out, “to leave them the fuck alone.” “That doesn’t work for me anymore,” I say.

“The tattoo artist—” “You think that I haven’t been to every tattoo parlor in the area and beyond, Lilah? Do you really think that I don’t relive seeing that man on top of you and need vengeance for you?” “And yet you were silent for two years,” I say. “You didn’t find answers. That’s too long. That artist—” “Says he’s religious and the Virgin Mary inspires him, thus the tattoos,” he says. “I spoke to him personally, in depth. I have that parlor being watched. I have him being watched. It’s time for you to leave now.” “Leave? You have a man tied up in your garage who you think killed your father. I’m not leaving while you kill him.

” “Despite the fact that the world would be a better place without that bastard, I have an alliance with him, a truce that invokes peace in my territory that I intend to keep in place. I won’t kill him unless he leaves me no other option.” “That’s how you treat people who you have truces with?” “He killed my father and he followed you, Lilah, which, I repeat, was a threat. You bet the fuck that’s how I treat him.” “You think he killed your father, and I don’t think him following me was a threat. He gave me a clue that led me someplace that I don’t quite understand. But there’s an answer there. I need to talk to him.” “What clue? What answer and what question?” “I’ll talk to him,” I insist. “Is that how you want to play this? You want to be complicit in his kidnapping and whatever comes next?” “Now you’re protecting my honor? I just made that man think that I came over here to play a sex game with you.

” “Because it was the right decision. No matter who or what we are in private, to that man you’re my woman, and if he touches you, he dies. That’s the message you needed to send.” “No. What I needed to do was arrest you both.” “On what charges, Lilah?” “Kidnapping for you,” I say. “He wouldn’t press charges. There’s no crime here. Walk away.” Now I step back, my badge the invisible line between us.

“If he ends up dead, I will arrest you. Do you understand? I’ll have to.” “I told you. I won’t kill him unless I have to.” “Spoken like the true patriarch of the Mendez cartel.” “I am who I have to be for reasons I hope you never have to understand. And as for arresting me, everything we’re saying is being recorded, Agent Love.” “Now you’re threatening me?” “I’m still protecting you,” he says. “I’m setting you free. Now you don’t have to question your decision to walk away.

I made it for you.” “Fuck you, Kane.” “Later, Lilah. What did the old man tell you?” “I’ll talk to him myself. You’re recording me. I have nothing else to lose by staying.” “You’re leaving, and when you wake up tomorrow morning, remember two things: you were never here, and I did what I had to do to protect you.” The way he says those words, cold and calculated, sends a chill down my spine. “What does that mean, Kane?” “You’re going to leave now, Lilah.” Those words are the proverbial slammed door.

He’s shut me out. I see it. I feel it, and since I’m the only person on this planet who has ever influenced him, that’s dangerous for everyone he intends to punish. “On one condition,” I barter. “Sorry, beautiful. As much as I enjoy the challenge of your conditions, not this time.” His hand comes down on mine on the counter. I pull back, but not before I feel the pinprick, which might be nothing, except that this is Kane, and just as he says nothing without purpose, his actions follow the same rules. “Holy fuck,” I hiss as the room starts to spin. “What did you just do to me?” “Gave you the gift of deniability.

” I sway and he catches me, and my fingers close around his shirt, anger surviving the haze overwhelming me. “I’m going to . Fuck you, Kane.” The stupidity of how those words have come together is the last thing I remember before everything goes dark. CHAPTER TWO I blink into a bright light, focusing on flat white space that resembles a ceiling, and holy hell, I can’t seem to move. No. I can’t seem to want to move. My body is heavy, my mouth cottony. And just for kicks and laughs, someone seems to have added Orajel to the mix, or some kind of numbing agent, because despite the bitter taste tormenting me right now, I can’t seem to find my tongue. Oh fuck.

I can’t find my tongue. Adrenaline surges through me, and I jerk to a sitting position, somehow flinging my lead arm forward and up to smack myself in the chin. I proceed to bite the shit out of my no-longer-missing tongue, the metallic taste of blood melding with whatever the hell that other gross-ass taste is in my mouth. My fists land on either side of me on the mattress, and I slowly scan the room, because outside of knocking the hell out of myself, I’m too dazed to do anything fast. The good news, though, is that I’m in my Hamptons bedroom, and as a side observation, the throw that belongs on the chair in the corner is on top of me. The bad news is that I don’t remember grabbing the throw, let alone how the hell I got into the bed. And unless I’ve suddenly added sleepwalking craziness to the list of crazy I already own, either someone put me here or I’m suffering from memory loss. I try to move, but that leaden feeling in my limbs just won’t go the fuck away, and the sensation of being trapped sends my mind to a dark, cavernous place: to the past. An image shoots through my mind of me on the beach, sand at my back, with the heavy weight of my attacker on top of me. No idea how I’d gotten there, but on some level, I knew I’d been drugged.

And then I’m replaying it. Damn it, I don’t want to replay it. But it’s there, in my mind, and it just comes to me. I’m standing on the beach, the wind blowing in my hair, salt on my lips. And then there is a man grabbing me. I can’t see his face. I can’t see his face. I start to fight, shoving and kicking. I need my gun. Where is my gun? I can’t get my body to work.

I can’t get him of me. My shirt rips and sand is at my back. His body is on top of me. “I’ll kill you!” I shout. “I’ll kill you!” His mouth presses to my ear. “You’ll be too dead to kill anyone,” he promises, his voice low, gravelly, accented. “But not until I’m done with you, which won’t be soon.” “No! No!” “No!” I shout, and still stuck in that memory, in that same heavily drugged sensation that I’d felt when trapped under that monster, I find the will to throw off the blanket. Fighting for control of my body, I lift my arms and start waving my hands in the air, forcing sensation to return. Once I succeed, I start moving my legs, and that’s when my hand comes down on the heavy steel of Cujo, my trusty shotgun, resting next to me.

Its presence infers that at some point I made an active decision to go to bed and have it by my side. And still I’m blank. I press my fingers to my temples, and I force myself to focus. What is the last thing I remember? What? Nothing. I rotate and let my feet settle on the ground. Still nothing. I stand up slowly, testing my footing, and aside from the haze, I seem to be fine. I confirm this assumption with a few steps that gradually become me pacing. Okay. Of ice.

I was in my office trying to find a way to clear Woods, the fall guy for the assassinations, which everyone else calls murders. Woods proceeded to confess on video and set himself on fire. Pizza arrived with a note from my stalker, Junior, attached. I stop walking, memories now coming at me hard and fast: My decision to charge over to Kane’s house and confront him about his secrets and the murders. Me cuffing him the instant he opened his door, and him telling me that I needed to see what was in the garage. The old man tied to the chair. The argument with Kane. I squeeze my eyes shut. “Holy hell,” I murmur, remembering my pricked hand, my lashes lifting with a grit of my teeth. “That bastard drugged me.

” My gaze jerks to my body, and I confirm that I’m still clothed, but my feet are bare, like I wouldn’t notice that I was naked while pacing. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t, because Kane fucking drugged me. And he drugged me knowing I was drugged that night on the beach. “Bastard.” I glance down at my clothes again and flash back to being at Kane’s door. The jacket I’d been wearing when I walked into Kane’s house is also missing. My holster and weapon were still on my person, but now they are not. I scan the room and find them on the chair he’d grabbed the blanket from. The methodical way he handled this drives home the fact that Kane brought me here and he’d considered undressing me. And it was Kane, and not one of his men, because he’s too damn possessive to allow anyone else to touch me, let alone enter my house.

But the fact that he left me in my clothes, when that man’s inclination is always to undress me, tells me that he knew damn well that he’d be absent at least one of his family jewels if he’d gotten me naked without my permission. He still might be when I’m done with him. And how did he know my security code? And why am I even asking that stupid question? Men like Kane can get anything they want. Glancing at my nightstand, I find my phone plugged in and charging. “Such a gentleman,” I murmur sarcastically. I sit down on the bed again and grab my cell. Just thinking about Kane tucking me into bed like his precious property, while he sauntered his arrogant ass off to work—aka torturing and perhaps killing—agitates the hell out of me. Glancing at my display screen, I grimace at the late hour. Damn it. Aside from the other random, screwed-up pieces of my morning that thus far has not been bright and sunny, I don’t have time to be sleeping until nine-oh-fuck o’clock.

In other cheery news, I’ve missed three calls from my boss and two from my brother, the police chief, who thinks he’s my boss. And, of course, I have no calls from Kane, who probably thinks I’m still snoozing it off in hopes that I’ll lose my job that obviously conflicts with his gangster lifestyle. I also have about ten calls and twenty text messages from my tech guy, Tic Tac: Where are you? Where are you? Answer your damn phone. Murphy asked for all the case data on Woods. I had to give it to him. I held back what I could. Where the hell are you? You know, you want me to answer my phone whenever you call, but you don’t answer yours. You better be dead or bleeding. And on that note, I start to dial my boss but pause. I’m not dead or bleeding, but am I mentally equipped for this call? I test my mental faculties.

“My name is Lilah-fucking-Love,” I say out loud. “And Kane Mendez is not gangster enough for what he has coming his way.” Yep. I’m good. I punch the Call Back button for my boss. “Agent Love,” he bites out, answering on the first ring. “We have a communication problem.” Says every man I’ve ever known, I think, but what I say is, “I had a complication.” “I’m your complication.” Also said by a good majority of the men in my life, but before I can come up with a more acceptable reply, he adds, “I have dead bodies, Agent Love.

We also have a confession from a dead man, who set himself on fire on film after said confession, and the New York authorities are trying to close the cases. If they’re connected to our two murders, that means I close our cases and you come home.” “Yes, but—” “Unless you are dead,” he continues, “which you are not, or bleeding profusely, or injured to the point of being incapable of communication, which you clearly are not, then use your damn phone the way you use your foul mouth. Liberally.” In other words, he expects an acceptable explanation for my silence, and sleeping late won’t cut it. “Someone knocked me out,” I admit. “Obviously I’ve rattled some cages.” “Who? When? Why? And most importantly, are you okay?” “I’m just peachy,” I say, and seizing every bit of honesty I can muster, I add, “but whoever did this won’t be soon, I promise you. As to when it happened: sometime around ten last night. As to where: at my house, as I exited the patio door.

I assume whoever it was searched my place.” “Any idea who it was or what they were after?” “No idea who it was and I assume they wanted my investigation data.” “Do you have cameras?” “No,” I lie, even though I hate lies, but then I’m bad when I’m around Kane. That’s just how it is. “But ironically,” I add, “I called my service to have them installed before this even happened. They’re backlogged.” “You need cameras now,” he says, stating the obvious. I move on. “It wasn’t Woods.” “That’s not what he said.

” “Eleven percent of all confessions are fake.” “He killed himself, Agent Love,” he bites out, sounding quite snippy at this point. “Did he? Or was he killed? We need to analyze the footage of that suicide. And even if Woods killed himself, he did it under duress to save someone else. Woods is not our killer.” “That’s an opinion. Make your case with facts.” “There is no evidence to convict Woods. That’s a fact.” “And yet the locals are convinced it’s him.

” “Based on circumstantial evidence and pressure from the rich, famous, and powerful.” “Do I need to remind you that you’re talking about your family?” he quips back. “If you thought that would be a factor, I wouldn’t be here.” “What circumstantial evidence?” he says, hitting me hard and fast. “He had an affair with a famous actress, and her husband found out. He pointed a gun at the husband’s head and then ran.” “Our victims died by bullets to their heads.” “Our victims died with bullets between the eyes, execution style,” I say, “with the precision of a professional and no evidence left behind.” “How long ago was this?” “Last year. Before the murders ever took place.

Furthermore, that incident was fodder for the gossips in this town, of which there are many. Our killer is not a person who puts themselves in the spotlight, nor are they prone to outbursts. He, or she, wouldn’t start killing people with a gun to the head after putting on a show like Woods did.” “Come on, Agent Love. Your mother was a famous actress. You’ve lived amongst the rich and famous. We both know that you understand double lives and good actors. Everyone isn’t what they seem.” By the time he’s finished those statements, I’m standing, and I don’t remember standing, but something about his tone and the context is hitting me all kinds of wrong. Like he knows more about me than my proficiency with the word fuck and my history with Kane Mendez.

His phone beeps. “I have to take this,” he says. “Hold tight.” And just like that the line is silent, and I’m flashing back to the night I arrived and my call to him. “What do you have to report, Agent Love?” “Same MO, dif erent state.” I don’t give him time to ask for details. “How did you know I needed to be here tonight? How did you predict a murder?” “That was a surprise.” “But you wanted me here tonight, earlier rather than later.” “Coincidental politics. Nothing more.

Nothing I’m going to involve you in.” “But I am involved. I’m the one who’s here.” “And well equipped to do a quick, thorough investigation.” “I have a history with Kane Mendez.” “Which makes you the perfect candidate to get into his head.” “Why do I need to be in Kane’s head?” “He’s connected to this. Tonight makes that clear.” “I didn’t tell you that. How do you know he’s connected?” “I looked up the crime scene address.

I know he owns the property.” “But that doesn’t make him responsible for the murder.” “That’s true, but anyone else working this case would assume he is because of who he is, and I don’t like the obvious as an answer to anything.” “Are you protecting Kane Mendez? Is he a part of the politics you keep mentioning?” “There’s always pressure to close cases and calm the public, and that doesn’t always mean solving the case.” “You mean creating a fall guy.” “That’s right. And I don’t do fall guys.” “But Kane Mendez isn’t anyone’s easy fall guy.” “You’re right,” he says. “He’s not, but when you appear invincible, you become a challenge.

” My brow furrows. “I really don’t understand what’s going on here.” “Just go catch me a killer, Agent Love.” I return to the present, acutely aware of the fact that I wouldn’t be in the Hamptons right now if he hadn’t pushed me to come here. And he did so despite my many potential conflicts of interest. And that reference to politics and Kane leads me to one question: Is Murphy dirty? CHAPTER THREE I can’t say that Murphy is dirty. Maybe he’s just secretive, but I have to consider the possibility that he’s a problem. And since I like dirty, two-faced people about as much as I like flip-flops, which is not at all, that’s a problem for me. I don’t like things between my toes or up my ass. It’s just who I am.

And two-faced assholes in law enforcement are no better than Bible bangers who praise God, sneer at my liberal use of the word fuck, and then turn around and fuck someone else’s spouse. And I’m really tired of finding out that everyone in my life wants to be a damn gangsta. Up until now, I’ve respected and trusted Murphy the way I should—after all, he’s my boss at the fucking FBI. The idea that those things might be misplaced pisses me off. Which is probably why, when he returns to the line and says, “Back to Woods and his acting skills,” I’m not exactly feeling as warm and fuzzy as usual. “You can’t seriously,” I say, “with all your years of experience, believe that Woods planned the way things went down. That would mean that he had to orchestrate being caught with another man’s wife and holding a gun to the furious husband’s head. And he had to do so to hide the fact that he was a skilled assassin to complete a hit list. A list with no obvious connection to him, outside of the woman he slept with.” “It made you doubt him.

” “Because it’s absolutely stupid to put yourself on law enforcement’s radar before completing a hit list,” I argue. “Serial killers taunt law enforcement all the damn time.” “Woods wasn’t a serial killer.” “You know what I think?” he asks, but he doesn’t give me time to reply. “His emotional outburst convinced you that he’s not capable of calculated killing. Return to Profiling 101, Agent Love. Serial killers start small, often with animals, and then graduate to humans as they improve their technique.” I clamp down on about ten smart-ass remarks, of which at least one would likely get me fired, before I settle on, “Hit list. Skilled assassin.” “You’re the only one who believes this.

” I hold out the phone and silently yell at it before I calmly place it back at my ear and reply. “Why am I here if everyone is a better profiler than I am?” This time, I don’t wait for his reply. “I know you asked Jeff Landers for our investigation material. Woods has no direct link to anyone but the woman he slept with. And if we’re going to start convicting dead people just to close cases, I do hope there is going to be an agency announcement. I’m pretty sure we can clear at least some of the cold cases, since they can’t defend themselves. Heck, why don’t we look for homeless dead people? Then they probably won’t even have family to defend them, which by the way makes Woods a perfect fall guy. He might as well be homeless. He had no one in his life.” “Cautious there now, Special Agent Love,” he says, and I’m fairly certain the use of my formal title indicates his agitation. “I have to put my neck on the line when we end this call,” he continues, “and I have to do so based on your investigative conclusions. I’m simply testing you to be sure you’re certain you won’t change your mind.” Whatever, I think, but I say, “If we call this done and another body lands on our doorstep, or even here in the Hamptons, or anywhere for that matter, you look incompetent.” He’s silent for several beats. “You’re right,” he ultimately concludes. “We will indeed look incompetent, and yet I return to my original point: both the East Hampton and New York City officials are in agreement that all cases should be closed.” “And I’m back on repeat: Woods can’t protect himself, and aside from that, we know the typical law enforcement motivation in these situations. A killer on the loose scares people. They want this to go away.” “But as you’ve voiced, another murder would come with public backlash and expose incompetence,” he says. “Law enforcement is also smart enough to know that.” “The odds of another murder in the Hamptons is low, and thus closing out the case is an educated gamble. As for another murder in New York City, I’ve worked there. It’s easier to bury another case there, especially when it’s singular because the prior cases are closed and supposedly solved.” “And the murmurs of a serial killer are shut down,” he says. “Exactly.” “You’re hanging your family out to dry here.” “I’m protecting them from their own stupidity. They need to slow down. Woods isn’t going anywhere but into the ground.” “You have a bad attitude, Agent Love.” “That’s what every criminal I ever took down said to me.” He laughs. “Indeed. You also make valid points.” “That you’ve made me repeat about ten times.” “And you stayed the course, which wins me over, but before I jump onto your ship and sail away, let’s be clear. There is no middle ground any longer if you can’t convince the locals to keep the cases open and allow us to assist. And if that’s how this plays out, we have two options: We follow suit, close the cases. We claim jurisdiction. Which is it? And before you answer, be very sure about this decision. There will be heat from a hell of a lot of directions.” “No one is more aware of that heat than me.” “They have reason to fear a press leak and murmurs of a nationwide serial killer, and so do we.” “And if that happens, we have a rebuttal with a hit list, which calms the masses.” He pauses again, and this time it’s so damn long I’m about to climb through the line and shake him. “Here’s what’s going to happen,” he finally says. “I’m going to take some of that heat off you, at least momentarily.” “What exactly does that mean?” “I’ll contact the officials in both cities and request proof that connects all the dots to Woods. If they can’t give me more than the confession, we’ll reconvene one last time before we claim jurisdiction. In the meantime, continue your investigation.” “What’s your timeline on this?” “Today. I want to know where we’re headed by tomorrow.” “I need a full two days to try to talk sense into everyone,” I say, aware that this day is going to be about Kane and that man tied to a chair. “Make that three. I have to travel between East Hampton and New York City to do this right.” “You’ll have it after I set the stage for you by asking for evidence that I trust they don’t have, as I trust you. And that phone call I took was from Rich. He’s staying with you.” “What? No. Rich is a tech guy.” “Rich is a damn good agent.” “Who I’ve fucked,” I say, forgetting decorum and not mincing words. “Well now, since we’re pulling down the curtains and speaking frankly, I’m pretty damn sure you’ve fucked Kane Mendez as well.” “Which is why Rich can’t handle this. He’s too personally involved. That’s dangerous.” “You’re personally involved, which gives you advantages and disadvantages,” he says. “And like it or not, you’re human. If you claim jurisdiction, the wrath of your family will affect you, no matter how you try to pretend it won’t. You need someone who knows you there. And aside from that, it’s logical. He’s there. You need extra eyes. He stays.” “Director Murphy—” “End of conversation,” he snaps. “We’ll talk tonight.” He hangs up.

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