The Perfect Lie – Blake Pierce

Jessie almost had him. The suspect was about ten yards ahead of her. They were both running on the sand, which felt surprisingly cold under her bare feet. The beach was virtually empty and she wondered when her backup would arrive. The suspect was bigger than her and if he turned around, she might have to shoot him to maintain her advantage. She wanted to avoid that if at all possible. Suddenly, with the man almost in grasping distance, he seemed to collapse. But then she realized that he was actually sinking. A moment later he dropped through the sand right before her eyes. Jessie barely had time to process that he’d fallen through a sinkhole on the beach before she felt herself being sucked down too. She tried to grab onto anything she could to prevent herself from falling into the hole. But there was nothing but loose sand. Still, she clung to it even as she disappeared under the dune. When she regained consciousness, she realized she was in what seemed like a sea cave. She had no recollection of how she got there.

She saw the suspect she’d been chasing lying on his stomach in the dirt across from her. He wasn’t moving, likely knocked out. Glancing around, she tried to get a better sense of her surroundings. It was only then that she realized she was standing up with her arms above her head. Her wrists were tied with a rope that was attached to the top of the cave wall. The rope was so tight that the tips of her toes barely touched the ground below. As her head cleared, a horrifying realization hit her: she’d been in this position before. This was the exact scenario she’d faced two months ago when her own father, the brutal serial killer Xander Thurman, had captured and tortured her before she’d managed to kill him. Was this some copycat killer? How was that even possible? The details of the incident had been kept secret. Then she heard a noise and saw a shadow in the mouth of the cave.

As he stepped into view she tried to identify him. But he was backlit by the sun and his features were obscured. All she could see was the silhouette of a tall, thin man and the gleam of the long knife in his hand. He stepped forward and kicked the body of the unconscious man in the sand that she’d been chasing earlier. He rolled over and she saw that he wasn’t unconscious. He was dead. His throat had been slit roughly and blood covered his chest. Jessie looked back up, still unable to see the face of her captor. In the background, she heard a quiet groaning. She looked in the corner of the cave and noticed something she’d missed earlier.

A young woman, in her teens, was tied to a chair with her mouth gagged. She was the one groaning. Her terrified eyes were wide. This too seemed impossible. It was just what had happened before. Another girl had been tied up just like this in that last encounter. That had also been kept secret. And yet the man approaching her now seemed to know every detail. He was only a few feet from her when she finally saw his face and gasped. It was her father.

That was unfathomable. She had killed him herself in a brutal fight. She remembered crushing his skull with her legs. Had that been an imposter? Had he somehow survived? It seemed irrelevant as he lifted the knife and prepared to plunge it into her. She tried to get better footing so she could leap up and kick him backward but her feet wouldn’t reach the ground no matter how hard she stretched. Her father looked at her with an expression of amused pity. “Did you think I would make the same mistake twice, Junebug?” he asked. Then, without another word, he swung the knife down, aiming it directly at her heart. She closed her eyes tight, preparing for the death blow. * She gasped as she felt a sharp twinge, not in her chest but in her back.

Jessie opened her tightly clenched eyes to discover that she was not in a sea cave at all but in her own sweat-drenched bed in her downtown Los Angeles apartment. Somehow, she was sitting upright. She glanced over at the clock and saw that it was 2:51 a.m. The pain in her back was not from a recent stab wound but rather the intensity of her final physical therapy session earlier today. But the lingering soreness originally came from her father’s real attack eight weeks ago. He had sliced through her flesh from just below her right shoulder blade down to near her kidney, mowing through muscle and sinew. The subsequent surgery required thirty-seven stitches. Gingerly, she got out of bed and made her way to the bathroom. Once there she looked in the mirror and took stock of her wounds.

Her eyes passed right over the scar on the left side of her abdomen, a permanent gift of her ex-husband and a fireplace poker. She also barely noticed the childhood scar that ran along much of her collarbone, a remnant of her father’s knife. Instead, she focused on the multiple injuries she’d suffered in the actual death match with her father. He’d sliced into her multiple times, especially around the legs, leaving scars that would never go away and would make wearing a bathing suit without getting shocked stares a challenging proposition. The worst blow was to her right thigh, where he’d stabbed her in a final, unsuccessful attempt to break free from the knees that were crushing his temples. She was no longer limping but still felt mild discomfort every time she put pressure on the leg, which meant every time she took a step. The physical therapist said there was some nerve damage and that while the pain would decrease over the next few months, it might never completely subside. Despite that, she had been cleared to return to work as a forensic profiler for the LAPD. Her first day back was supposed to be tomorrow, which might help explain the extra-vivid nightmare. She’d had lots of others but this was an award-winner.

She tied her shoulder-length brown hair back in a ponytail and, with her penetrating green eyes, studied her face. So far, it was free of scars and, so she’d been told, was still quite striking. At a lean, athletic five foot ten, she’d often been mistaken for a sports model, though she doubted she’d be doing lingerie work anytime soon. Still, for someone about to turn thirty who’d been through as much as she had, she thought she was holding up pretty well. She walked to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of water, and sat down at the breakfast table, resigned to the likelihood that she wouldn’t be getting much more sleep tonight. She was used to sleepless nights back when she had two serial killers searching for her. But now one of them was dead and the other had apparently decided to leave her be. So theoretically she should be able to really catch up. But it didn’t seem to work that way. Part of it was that she couldn’t be one hundred percent certain that the other serial killer who’d taken an interest in her, Bolton Crutchfield, was really gone for good.

All indications were that he was. No one had seen or heard from him since her own final sighting of him eight weeks ago. Not a single lead had emerged. More importantly, she knew he was fond of her in a non-murdery kind of way. Her multiple interviews with him in his cell before he’d escaped had established a connection. He’d actually warned her about the threat from her own father on two occasions, putting himself in his one-time mentor’s crosshairs. He seemed to have moved on from her. So why couldn’t she? Why wouldn’t she allow herself to get a good night’s sleep? Part of it was probably that she couldn’t ever let anything go. Part of it was that she was still in some physical discomfort. Part of it was almost certainly that she would be starting work again in about five hours and likely working again with Detective Ryan Hernandez, for whom her feelings were, to put it mildly, complicated.

Sighing in resignation, Jessie officially made the transition from water to coffee. As she waited for it to brew, she wandered around the apartment, her third in the last two months, checking to make sure all the doors and windows were locked. This was supposed to be her new, semi-permanent address and she was pretty happy with it. After bouncing around from one sterile U.S. Marshal Service–approved location to another, she’d finally been allowed to have a say in what was intended to be her long-term living quarters. The Service had helped find the place and ensured its security. The apartment was in a twenty-story building only blocks from her last real apartment in the fashion district section of downtown L.A. The building had its own full security team, not just a single guard in the lobby.

There were always three guards on duty, one of whom patrolled the parking garage while another made regular rounds on the various floors. The parking garage was secured by a gate manned 24/7 by an on-duty attendant. The rotating doorman was all retired cops. There was a metal detector built into the dedicated non-resident entryway to the building. All elevators and units had dual key fob and fingerprint access requirements. Every floor of the complex, including the on-site laundry facilities, gym, and pool, had multiple security cameras. Every unit had alert buttons and direct intercom access to the security desk. And that was just the stuff the building provided. It didn’t account for her service weapon or for the additional security measures the Marshals had helped her set up inside the unit. They included shatterproof, bulletproof glass for the windows and sliding patio door, a double-thick front door that required a law-enforcement-level battering ram to knock off its hinges, and interior motion-activated and heat-sensing cameras that could be turned on or off using her phone.

Finally, there was one last precaution, Jessie’s favorite. She actually lived on the thirteenth floor, even though, like in many buildings, it supposedly didn’t exist. There was no button for it on the elevator. The service elevator could get to the floor but required a security guard to accompany anyone using it. To access the floor under normal circumstances, one had to get off on level twelve or fourteen and open a nondescript door off the main hallway marked “service panel entry.” That door did actually lead to a small room with the service panel. But in the back of the room was an additional door marked “storage,” which required a special key fob. That door led to a stairwell that accessed the thirteenth floor, which was comprised of eight apartments, just like the other floors. But each of these units was occupied by someone who clearly placed a premium on privacy, security, or both. In the week that Jessie had been here, she’d encountered one well-known television actress, a high-profile whistleblower attorney, and a controversial radio talk show host in the halls.

Jessie, who had done well in her divorce, wasn’t concerned about the cost. And because of some law enforcement discounts the LAPD and Marshal Service had secured on her behalf, it wasn’t as expensive as she’d expected. Regardless, it was worth it to have the peace of mind. Of course, she’d thought her last place had been secure too. Her coffee machine beeped and she went over to pour a cup. As she prepped it, adding cream and sugar, she wondered if any special measures had been taken to protect Hannah Dorsey. Hannah was the real seventeen-year-old girl who’d been tied up and gagged by Xander Thurman, forced to watch as he murdered her parents and almost killed Jessie. Jessie’s thoughts turned to Hannah often, in part because she wondered how the girl was doing in her foster home after suffering such trauma. Jessie had gone through something similar when she was a girl, though she’d been much younger, only six. Xander had tied her up in an isolated cabin and forced her to watch as he tortured and killed her mom, his own wife.

The experience had left her permanently scarred and she was sure the same would be true for Hannah. Of course, what this girl didn’t know, what she was blessed to be unaware of, was that Xander was her father too, which meant that she was Jessie’s half-sister. According to authorities, Hannah knew that she was adopted but had no knowledge of her real parents’ identity. And since Jessie had been forbidden to meet with her after their shared ordeal, the girl had no idea that they were related. Despite her pleas to talk to the girl and her promise not to reveal their connection, everyone in authority agreed that they should not meet again until the doctors felt Hannah could handle it. Intellectually, Jessie understood the decision and even agreed with it. But somewhere deeper, she felt the strong urge to talk to the girl. They had so much in common. Their father was a monster. Their mothers were mysteries.

Hannah had never met hers and Jessie’s was only a distant memory. And just as Xander had killed Hannah’s adoptive parents, he’d done the same to Jessie’s. Despite all that, they were not alone. Each had a family connection that could offer solace and some hope for recovery. Each had a sister, something that Jessie had never even imagined possible. She yearned to reach out and create some bond with the only other surviving member of her bloodline. And yet, even as she wished for a reunion, she couldn’t help but wonder. Would knowing me do this girl more harm than good? CHAPTER TWO The man skulked down the apartment complex’s outdoor hallway, looking over his shoulder every few seconds. It was early in the morning and a guy like him, thick as a tank, African-American and wearing a hoodie, tended to draw attention. He was on the eighth floor, just outside the apartment of the woman he knew lived here.

He also knew what her car looked like and had seen it in the parking garage below, so he assumed she might be in. As a precaution, the man knocked softly on the front door. It wasn’t even seven a.m. yet and he didn’t want any early riser neighbors to poke their curious heads out. It was cold outside this morning and the man didn’t want to take off the hoodie. But fearing it would draw too much attention, he pulled it off his head, exposing his skin to the biting wind. When he got no response to his knock, he made a perfunctory attempt to open the door he was sure would be locked. It was. He moved over to the adjacent window.

He could see that it was slightly open. He debated whether he should really go ahead with this. After a moment’s hedging he made up his mind, yanked the window up, and climbed in. He knew anyone who saw him would likely be calling the cops but decided it was worth the risk. Once inside, he tried make his way quietly to the bedroom. All the lights were off and there was a strange smell he couldn’t identify. As he stepped further back into the apartment, he got a cold chill that had nothing to do with the weather. He reached the door of the bedroom, gently turned the knob, and peeked in. There on the bed was the woman he’d been expecting to see. She appeared to be sleeping but something was weird.

Even in the dim morning light, her skin looked strangely pale. Also, she didn’t seem to be moving at all. No rising and falling of the chest. No movement at all. He stepped into the room and walked over to the bed. The smell was overwhelming now, a rotting stench that made his eyes water and his stomach turn. He wanted to reach out and touch her but couldn’t bring himself to. He wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. Finally he turned away and stepped out of the room. He pulled out his phone and dialed the only number he could think of.

It rang several times before giving him a recorded voice. He pushed several buttons and waited for a response as he retreated to the living room of the apartment. Finally, a voice came on the line. “911. What is your emergency?” “Yes, my name is Vin Stacey. I think my friend is dead. Her name is Taylor Jansen. I came to her apartment because I couldn’t reach her for several days. She’s lying in her bed. But she isn’t moving and she…doesn’t look right.

Also there’s a smell.” That was the moment when the reality of the situation hit him—that vivacious, enthusiastic Taylor was lying dead less than thirty feet from him. He bent over and threw up. * Jessie sat in the back seat for what she hoped was the final time. The U.S. Marshal vehicle pulled into the LAPD Central Station parking structure and parked in a visitor spot. Standing there waiting was her boss, Captain Roy Decker. He didn’t look much different than the last time she saw him. Almost sixty, though he appeared much older, Decker was tall and skinny with a mostly bald head, deep creases in his face, a sharp nose, and small, penetrating eyes.

He was talking to a uniformed officer but was clearly there to meet her. “Wow,” she said sarcastically to the Marshals in the front seat. “I feel like a woman in the eighteenth century being formally handed off from her father to her husband.” The Marshal in the passenger seat scowled back at her. His name was Patrick Murphy, though everyone called him Murph. Short and trim, with tightly cropped light brown hair, he projected a nononsense sensibility, though that turned out to be a bit of ruse. “That scenario would require a husband who wanted to take you in, which I find highly unlikely,” said the man who had coordinated much of her security while she on the run from multiple serial killers. Only the slightest hint of a grin at the edges of his mouth hinted that he was joking. “You are, as always, a prince among men, Murph,” she said, faux-politely. “I don’t know how I’m going to muddle through without your charming personage at my side.

” “Me either,” he muttered. “Nor without your conversational charisma, Marshal Toomey,” she said to the driver, a massive man with a shaved head and a blank expression. Toomey, who rarely spoke, nodded silently. Captain Decker, who had finished talking to the officer, looked at the three of them impatiently, waiting for them to get out of the car. “I guess this is it,” Jessie said, opening the door and getting out with more energy than she felt. “How’s it going, Captain?” “More complicated today than yesterday,” he said, “now that I’ve got you back on my hands.” “But I swear, Captain, Murph here has collected a hefty dowry to go along with me. I promise not to be a burden and to always earn my wifely keep.” “What?” he asked, perplexed. “Oh, Pa,” she said, turning back to Murph.

“Do I have to leave the farm? I’ll miss you and Mother ever so much.” “What the hell is going on?” Decker demanded. Murph forced his face into a mask of seriousness and turned to the confused cop who had walked over to the passenger window. “Captain Decker,” he said formally, handing over clipboard with a sheet of paper on it. “The protection duty of the U.S. Marshal Service is no longer required. I hereby officially relinquish custody of Jessie Hunt to the Los Angeles Police Department.” “Custody?” Jessie repeated testily. Murph, ignoring her, continued.

“Any additional security measures are now the obligation of your department. Signing this document acknowledges such.” Decker took the clipboard and signed the paper without reading it. Then he handed it back and looked at Jessie. “Good news, Hunt,” he said gruffly, without any of the enthusiasm that usually accompanied good news. “The detectives trying to track down Bolton Crutchfield found video footage of someone matching his description crossing the Mexican border yesterday. You may finally be free of the guy.” “Facial recognition confirmed it?” she asked skeptically, losing the fake voice for the first time. “No,” he admitted. “He kept his head down the entire time he walked across the bridge.

But he matches the physical description almost perfectly and the very fact that he took care never to be cleanly captured in video suggests he knew what he was doing.” “That is good news,” she said, deciding not to comment beyond that. She agreed that she was likely no longer in Crutchfield’s crosshairs, but not because of some sketchy surveillance video that seemed far too convenient. Of course, she didn’t feel like she could tell Decker the real reason was her hunch that the killer had a soft spot for her. “You ready to get back to work?” he asked, satisfied that he had addressed any lingering concerns she might have. “In just a minute, Captain,” she said. “I just need a quick word with the marshals.” “Make it fast,” Decker said as he walked several steps away. “You’ve got a busy day of sitting behind a desk ahead of you.” “Yes sir,” she said before leaning down to the driver’s window.

“I think I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow,” she said to Toomey, who’d been her primary assigned marshal for the last two months. He nodded back. Apparently no words were necessary. Then she walked around to the passenger side and looked at Murphy guiltily. “All joking aside, I just wanted to say how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. You put yourselves on the line to keep me safe and I’ll never forget it.” He was still on crutches, though the casts on his legs had been removed last week, replaced by soft boots. That was around the same time he was permitted to remove the sling around his arm. All those injuries were a result of being hit by the car Xander Thurman was driving when he ambushed him and Jessie in an alley. He’d broken both legs and his clavicle.

So officially, he was on leave from the service for another four months. He’d only come this morning to see her off. “Don’t start getting emotional on me now,” he protested. “We’ve got this ‘hard-bitten, reluctant allies’ thing down cold. You’re going to mess it up.” “How’s Emerson’s family doing?” she asked quietly. Troy Emerson was the marshal her father had shot in the head that terrible night. Jessie hadn’t even known his first name until after he died, nor that he was recently married with a four-month-old son. She hadn’t been able to go to the funeral because of her injuries but had subsequently reached out to Emerson’s widow. She hadn’t heard back.

“Kelly’s getting there,” Murph assured her. “She got your message. I know she wants to get back to you but she just needs more time.” “I understand. To be honest, I’d understand if she never wanted to speak to me.” “Hey, don’t take all this on yourself,” he replied, almost angrily. “It’s not your fault your dad was a psycho. And Troy knew the risks when he got into this job. We all did. You can feel sympathy.

But don’t feel guilty.” Jessie nodded, unable to think of a suitable response. “I’d give you a hug,” Murph said. “But it would make me wince, and not for emotional reasons. So let’s just pretend we did, okay?” “Whatever you say, Marshal Murphy,” she said. “Don’t start getting formal on me now,” he insisted as he delicately eased himself back into the passenger seat of the car. “You can still call me Murph. It’s not like I’m going to stop calling you by your nickname.” “What’s that?” she asked. “The pain in my ass.

” She couldn’t help but laugh at that. “Goodbye, Murph,” she said. “Give Toomey a kiss for me.” “I’d do that even without being asked,” he shouted as Toomey hit the accelerator and the tires squealed on the garage floor. Jessie turned around to find Decker staring at her impatiently. “You done?” he asked sharply. “Or should I take in a showing of The Notebook while you all work out your emotions some more?” “It’s good to be back, Captain,” she sighed. He started walking inside and waved for her to follow him. She ignored the twinge in her leg and back and jogged after him. She was only just catching up when he launched into his plan for her.

“So don’t expect any fieldwork for a while,” he said gruffly. “I wasn’t kidding about keeping you on a desk. You’re rusty and I can see you desperately trying not to limp on that right leg as you walk. Until I think you’re solid again, you should get used the bullpen’s fluorescent lights.” “Don’t you think I’d get back in the swing of things quicker if I just dived in?” Jessie asked, trying not to sound pleading. She had to take two steps to every one of his to keep up as he barreled down the hall. “Funny, that’s almost exactly what your buddy Hernandez said when he came back last week. I put him on desk duty too. And guess what? He’s still there.” “I didn’t know Hernandez was back,” she said.

“I thought you two were bosom buddies,” he said as they rounded the corner. Jessie glanced over at him sideways, trying to determine if her boss was suggesting anything. But he seemed to be sincere. “We’re friends,” she acknowledged. “But I think with the injuries he suffered and his divorce, he wanted a little time to himself.” “Really?” Decker said. “You could have fooled me.” She didn’t know what to make of that comment but didn’t have time to ask before they arrived at the station bullpen, a large room with filled with a mishmash of desks pushed together, all populated by various detectives representing different LAPD divisions. At the far end of the bullpen, with the other Homicide Special Section detectives, was Ryan Hernandez. For a man who’d been stabbed twice only two months earlier by her father (it seemed that every injured person she knew these days got their wounds at the hands of her father), Hernandez looked pretty good.

His left forearm wasn’t even bandaged anymore. The other wound had been to the left side of his abdomen. But considering that he was standing upright and laughing, she figured it couldn’t be bothering him that much.


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