Not long after the Las Piernas Express publishes Irene Kelly's articles profiling missing children cases, bones turn up at a California estate and a notorious murder-kidnapping is churned up once more. When artist Richard Fletcher was found bludgeoned in his studio years ago, his stepson was quickly apprehended with the murder weapon and ultimately convicted. But Richard's young daughter, Jenny, who went missing at the time of the murder, was never found. Now Irene has joined Richard's son Caleb, a graduate student of forensic anthropology, in the fight to prove his stepbrother's innocence and solve Jenny's disappearance. But digging up the tragedies of the sprawling and powerful Fletcher family isabout to set off a murderous chain reaction and put Irene's own life in peril.
About the Author
Date of Birth:August 1, 1953
Place of Birth:Houston, Texas
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1 Tuesday, May 9 8:07 a.m. Fletcher Graphic Design Las Piernas
Cleo Smith firmly believed that neatness counted, especially if you were going to get away with murder. Which was why she now stood completely naked, save for a pair of plastic booties and a pair of thin rubber gloves, in the office of the man she had just killed.
She calmly gathered the clothing she had worn to do the job and placed it in a plastic bag, along with the trophy used as the weapon. The trophy was a heavy, curving metal shape, about ten inches in height. An award her victim, Richard Fletcher, had won for excellence as a graphic artist.
A second bag contained the hypodermic needle she had used in the first few moments of the proceedings. To this bag she added the gloves.
She placed both bags inside a large canvas duffel. This she took with her as she went back to the studio area, admiring but not touching the works in progress in the large, open room. She walked quickly past the windows (blinds closed at this hour) and into the bathroom off the back of the studio.
Richard had designed everything about this office and studio, including the full bathroom and changing area. He had needed a place where he could clean up and change clothes before meeting clients or heading home for the day. This worked admirably for her purposes as well. Taking her own soap, shampoo, and towels from the duffel, she stepped into the shower. She removed the booties, placing them in the plastic bag that held the gloves and needle. She turned on the water, unfazed by the initial coldness of it, and began to cleanse off the inevitable biological debris that resulted from the chosen method of murder. Soon the water warmed. She leaned into the hard spray.
She did not fear interruption. Richard had been a free spirit in many ways, but his days followed a set, personally defined routine. His first three hours of the workday never included any appointments, and he was known for not answering the phone during those hours. She had placed a portable locking and alarm device on the front door, just in case. She had altered it slightly if someone should try to get past it, it wouldn't screech the kind of high-decibel alarm that would draw unwanted attention. Instead, a remote, much quieter but audible alarm would sound in her nearby bag.
She scrubbed her long, lean, and muscular body. She prided herself on her peak physical condition. Her light brown hair was no more than half an inch long anywhere on her head; she had completely depilated the rest of her body. Her breasts were small she would readily agree that she was flat-chested, had anyone had the nerve to say so to her face. Her nails were cut very short.
She was proud of the fact that she could easily imitate a male gait or stance, and with the slightest bit of disguise could fool anyone who was not a trained and attentive observer that she was male. With almost equal ease, she could signal femininity. These were just a few of her gifts.
She contemplated the murder, trying to identify any imperfections. One of the highest priorities had been that the victim feel no pain.
He had certainly not felt the blows that killed him. The last sensation he had known while conscious was most likely bewilderment. Perhaps a little stinging at the time of the injection, but there had been so little time for Richard to react before the drug took effect, he did not register much more than surprise. And maybe a bit of dismay.
Cleo Smith frowned and silently conceded that there were moments of anxiety he did try so hard to move toward the door and did manage to say, "Jenny." Cleo had tried to calm him, but of course, at that point, he mistrusted her. Belatedly mistrusted her.
Still, he was unable to give more than minor resistance as Cleo steered him back to the desk. A second wave of worry came over Richard just after that, but the drug took full effect he passed out cold while trying to stand up. It was Richard's final act of courtesy there would be no need to reposition him.
So. Anxiety, to some degree, but not pain.
Cleo had made sure the blows demolished the point of injection. There was some chance that a toxicology report would be ordered, but even if the tests included the substance she used (highly unlikely), the result would not lead anyone back to her. The clothing she had worn during the murder did not belong to her.
Cleo stepped out of the shower and dried herself, put on a pair of men's socks, then used a new set of towels never before used by her to wipe down every surface of the shower and anything she might have touched in here.
She dressed in a new set of male clothes. The towels went into the plastic bag with the needle, gloves, and booties. A few necessary moments were spent examining the scene, ensuring that only the appropriate evidence remained.
She checked the time. Another two hours before discovery would most likely take place. One should never, she knew, rely on everything going smoothly.
She retrieved her portable lock and alarm. One last look back at Richard. She said a silent good-bye and pulled the door shut. She locked it, using a key she had taken from Richard's key ring. The clients would not expect to find the door locked at the time of their appointment. If they became angry rather than worried, and stormed off thinking Richard had forgotten their appointment, she would gain a little more lead time.
Eventually, though, the body would be discovered.
No time to linger. She had a busy day ahead of her.
Besides, she wanted a cigarette. She was not, in general, a smoker, but murder always made her want to light up.
She was perfectly aware of what a psychiatrist might have to say about that.
Copyright © 2006 by Jan Burke