Shadow Play is a New York Times bestseller from Iris Johansen.
Eve Duncan is the most sought-after artist in the field of forensic sculpting. Dedicated to her work ever since her daughter Bonnie was taken and killed at the age of seven, Eve feels a sense of duty to those whose lives were lost and whose bones are now in her hands.
When a sheriff in California contacts her with a request for help on the reconstruction of the skull of a nine-year-old girl whose body has been buried for eight years, his intensity and investment in the case puzzle her. But when the ghost of the girl begins communicating with her, Eve finds herself wrapped up in the case more intensely than she could have ever imagined. Not since Bonnie has Eve had such an experience, and suddenly she finds herself determined to solve the murder and help the little girl find peace.
Except that the killer is still out there, and he knows Eve is on the case. And he won't rest until anything and anyone that could reveal his identity is eliminated…
About the Author
Iris Johansen is the New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Night, Blood Game, Eve, and Eight Days to Live, among others. She began writing after her children left home for college, and first achieved success in the early 1980s writing category romances. In 1991, she began writing suspense historical romance novels, and in 1996 she turned to crime fiction, with which she has had great success. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia.
Read an Excerpt
By Iris Johansen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Johansen Publishing LLLP
All rights reserved.
Walsh watched the detectives and forensic team milling around the open grave, their flashlight beams lighting the darkness. Stay in the back of the crowd, he told himself. The rest of these locals were only curiosity seekers, and the cops were used to dealing with them. If he blended in and didn't call attention to himself, no one would notice or remember him.
Damn kid. The girl had been buried for years and might never have been recovered if those Boy Scouts hadn't chosen this area to set up camp. It must have been the recent rains that had washed away the top layers of dirt and revealed those old bones.
Or maybe not.
He remembered how strange that little girl had been, how he'd hated her before that final blow. And he'd heard there were weird stories about this wood where he'd buried her ...
He felt a chill as he remembered those stories.
Forget it. They were just stories. He had come here to make sure that the report was true that the girl had been unearthed after all these years. He had carefully monitored the town and vineyards since the night she had been buried. Now that he was certain, he'd fade away for a while. He was good at fading away. He'd done it eight years ago, and no one had connected him to anything that had happened in this valley.
And no one must connect him to that child the forensic team was so carefully taking out of her grave.
She had to remain unknown and lost, as she had been all these years. It was too dangerous to him for her to be anything but the heap of bones she'd become after he'd thrown her into that grave. He would have to keep monitoring the situation to be sure that threat didn't become a reality.
It would be okay. Years had passed, life moved fast, no one would care about this child who had been lost so long ...
LAKE COTTAGE ATLANTA, GEORGIA
"You have a FedEx package," Joe Quinn said as Eve came into the cottage. "It's on your worktable. It came from somewhere in California."
She nodded. "Yeah, Sonderville. Sheriff Nalchek called me last night and asked me to bump his reconstruction to the top of my list." She made a face. "I almost told him to forget it. I'm swamped right now, and I don't need any more pressure."
"You're always swamped." Joe smiled teasingly. "You thrive on it. And it's natural that you're in demand. Everyone wants the world-famous forensic sculptor, Eve Duncan, to solve their problems."
"Bullshit." She went to the kitchen counter and picked up the coffee carafe. "There's usually no urgency about putting a face on a skull that's been buried for years anyway. It has to be done, but there's no reason that I can't do it in an orderly fashion. Every one of those children is important."
"So why did you give in to Sheriff Nalchek?"
"I don't know." She poured her coffee and came back to Joe. "He wore me down. He sounded young and eager and full of the horror that only comes the first time that you realize that there are vicious people out there who can do monstrous things to innocent children. I got the impression that he was an idealist who wanted to change the world." She sat down beside Joe and nestled close, her head against his shoulder. He was warm and strong, and she loved the feel of him. She loved him. Lord, it was good to be home. That trip to the airport today had been achingly difficult. She had watched her adopted daughter, Jane, fly away back to London, and she had no idea when she would see her again. "He kept telling me that this little girl was different, that he was sure that he'd be able to find out who she was and who had killed her if I'd just give him a face to work with. Who knows? Maybe he's right. In cold cases like this, the chances are always better if the officer in charge is enthusiastic and dedicated."
"Like you." Joe's lips brushed her forehead. "Maybe he thinks he's found a soul mate."
"Oh, I'm dedicated. Enthusiastic?" She wearily shook her head. "Not now. I'm too tired. There have been too many children in my life who have been killed and thrown away. I'm not as enthusiastic as that young officer is. I'm only determined ... and sad."
"Sad?" Joe straightened and looked down at her. "Yes, I'm definitely feeling the sad part. But it's not only about that skull in the box over there, is it?" His hand gently cupped her cheek. "Jane? I could have taken her to the airport. I thought you wanted to do it."
"I did want to do it. It may be the last time we see her for a while. She's off to new adventures and finding a life of her own." She tried to steady her voice. "Just what we wanted for her. Look what happened when she came back from London to try to help me. She got shot and almost died. Now she's well and going on with her life." In her line of work, sometimes the evil came close to home. Most recently Jane had been one of the targets. Those weeks with her daughter, while she had been recuperating, had been strained and yet poignantly sweet. Jane had come to them when she was ten years old, and she had been more best friend than daughter to Eve. But that hadn't changed the love that had bound them all these years. Now that Jane was out on her own and becoming a successful artist, it was terribly hard to adjust to the fact that most of the time she was thousands of miles away. "It's exactly what she should be doing. What's here for her? Hell, I'm a workaholic and always involved with a reconstruction. You're a police detective who they tap to work cases that don't give you normal hours either. It was just ... difficult ... to see her get on that plane."
"And you didn't let her see one bit of that pain," Joe said quietly. "You smiled and sent her on her way."
"That's what every parent does. It always comes down to letting them go."
"And more difficult for you than for others. First, you had to let go of Bonnie when she was killed. Now Jane is moving out of our lives."
"Not out, just away." She made a face. "And evidently I couldn't let go of Bonnie because I insisted on keeping her with me, alive or dead. I was so stubborn that whoever is in charge of the hereafter let me have my little girl's spirit to visit me now and then." Though she had initially resisted that blessing. She had thought she was hallucinating, thought that grief had made her mind fly to any solace possible. She had only wanted to be with her Bonnie and was spiraling down to meet her when she had been stopped by the realization that the visits from Bonnie were no hallucination. She drew a deep breath and gave Joe a quick kiss. "Which makes me luckier than a lot of people. I refuse to feel sorry for myself. I have you. I sometimes have Bonnie. I'll have Jane when she moves in and out of our lives." She nodded at the FedEx box across the room. "And I have a chance to help the parents of that little girl find resolution." She got to her feet and took a sip before she put the cup down on the coffee table. "So slap me if you see me go broody on you." She headed for the kitchen. "How about lasagna for supper? There's something about the smell of baking garlic bread that lifts the spirits and makes everything seem all right."
"Besides outrageously tempting the taste buds. Sounds good. Need help?"
"Nah, you know my culinary expertise is nonexistent. I'll do frozen."
She glanced over her shoulder.
He was frowning, and his gaze was narrowed. "It's just Jane leaving? You've been pretty quiet the last couple weeks. Nothing else is wrong?"
And Joe noticed everything. She was tempted to deny it and put him off, but she couldn't do it. They had been together for years, and their relationship was based not only on love but honesty. "Nothing that can't be fixed." She shrugged. "I guess I'm just going through some kind of emotional adjustment. I wanted everything to stay the same. I wanted to keep Jane close to me. Mine. Though I always knew she didn't really belong to me. She was too independent and was ten going on thirty when we adopted her. And Bonnie was mine, but then she was taken." She smiled. "And that spirit, Bonnie, who comes to visit me now and then is very much her own self now. Beloved, but only flashes of being mine." Her smile faded. "But I'll take it. I just want to keep her with me, too. I don't want anything to change."
"Why should that change?"
"It shouldn't change. That's what I told Bonnie. Nothing has to change."
His brows rose. "Ah, your Bonnie. She said something to disturb you? When?"
"A couple weeks ago. She scared me. She said she didn't know how long she'd be able to keep coming to me. She said everything was going to change."
"She didn't know. She just wanted to warn me."
"Very frustrating." He chuckled. "If your daughter has to pay you visits, I'd just as soon she not upset you like this."
"That's what I told her."
He got to his feet and took her in his arms. "And so you should. Send her to me, and I'll reinforce it." He kissed her. "Though I doubt if that's going to happen. She only appeared to me a couple times just to make sure I knew that you weren't hallucinating." He looked directly into her eyes. "I know you need Bonnie. She's the anchor that keeps you here with me. You were spiraling downward and almost died before you had your ghost visits from Bonnie. She brought you back, and I thank God for her." He paused. "But if for some reason she stopped coming, I want you to know that we'll make it all right. I have so much love for you, Eve. I'm full of it, you're my center. You always have been and always will be. If your Bonnie drifts away from you, I'll just pour more of that love toward you. I'll find a way to stop you from hurting. I promise you."
He meant every word. The knight was about to mount his stallion and launch himself into battle, she realized. God, she was lucky.
She gazed up into his face, the strong square contour, the well-shaped lips, the tea-colored eyes that held both warmth and intelligence. So familiar, yet so new, every time she looked at him. "Hey, I'm just having a few twinges, nothing major. It just seemed when Jane got on that plane that the changes were starting. A sort of harbinger of things to come." She pushed him away and turned back to the freezer. "But change can be good, too, can't it? After all, Bonnie wasn't definite about anything. Forget it." She took out the lasagna. "Jane told me she'd call me as soon as she got off the plane in London. I think I'll start working on the new reconstruction after dinner, so that I'll be awake when she calls ..."
* * *
But Eve's cell phone rang before she even finished loading the dishwasher after dinner.
"Sheriff Nalchek," she told Joe with a sigh. "You finish here. I may be more than a few minutes."
"Dedication and enthusiasm," Joe repeated with a grin. "At least he waited until after dinner."
"Not necessarily. California is three hours earlier." She punched the access button. "Eve Duncan."
"John Nalchek." His deep voice was brusque. "Sorry to bother you, Ms. Duncan. I just wanted to make sure that you'd received the skull for reconstruction today."
"Yes, FedEx is usually pretty reliable."
"What do you think of her?"
"I haven't opened the box yet, Sheriff Nalchek."
"Oh." A disappointed silence. "But you'll do it tonight?"
"Possibly." No promises, or he might be calling her in the middle of the night. "Or tomorrow."
Another silence. "Okay. I don't want to rush you."
The hell he didn't. "There's no rushing a reconstruction, Sheriff. There are several stages, measuring and processes that have to be done before the actual sculpting. It will take as long as it takes."
She tried to be patient. "The first stage is repairing, then I go to the measurement stage, which is vitally important. I cut eraser sticks as markers to the proper measurements and glue them onto their specific points on the face. There are twenty points in a skull for which there are known tissue depths. Facial-tissue depth has been found to be fairly consistent in people the same age, sex, race, and weight."
"What happens next?"
"I take strips of plasticine and apply them between the markers, then build up all the tissue-depth points."
"It sounds kind of iffy, like connect the dots."
"If you wish to simplify it. I guarantee it's not simple, Nalchek. And that's only the beginning."
"Sorry, I wouldn't have sent her to you if I hadn't believed you could do the job. But you are going to put her before the others on your list?"
"I told you I would." She remembered what she had told Joe. Dedication and enthusiasm might work miracles for that poor child. "I know that you probably had a shock when you found that skeleton. It's never pleasant. But you have to remember that we can do something about it if we work together. We can find her parents, we can find the person who killed her."
"I wasn't shocked, ma'am. I was in Afghanistan, and I worked as an EMT several months before I went to work with law enforcement. There's nothing much I haven't seen." He paused. "And I told you yesterday that I know I can help her if you give me a face. I know it."
His voice was so passionate that Eve asked, "Really? And how do you know it?"
"Sometimes you just know. Sometimes you —" He stopped. "Or maybe I just want it so bad. I looked down at that little girl's skeleton all covered in dirt and mud, and I felt like she was calling to me. It was so damn strong, it rocked me. She was so ... small and fragile. I wanted to pick her up and take her somewhere safe, where no one would ever hurt her again. Crazy, huh?"
"Not so crazy." All her impatience had disappeared with his words. When her own daughter had disappeared, she would have wanted someone like Nalchek to be hunting for her. It was a cold world, and men who cared were rare and to be valued. "What can you tell me about her?"
"Nothing much. We think she's nine or a little younger. She died of a blow to the head. She's Caucasian, and she's been buried for a good eight years or more. I've checked the missing persons reports at the time, and there's nothing that matches up to the location or the time frame."
"She might have been transported from almost anywhere in the state or beyond."
"I know that. You asked me what I knew. I didn't think you wanted guesses, ma'am."
"No, I don't." Nine years old. Buried eight years. If she'd lived, she'd have gone to high-school proms by now. She might have had a boyfriend or had a crush on some rock star or movie actor. She'd missed so much during those eight years. "Thank you. It may help to know something about her."
"I thought it might. I read a couple articles about you before I sent you the skull. You were quoted as saying that you liked to do anything that brought you closer to the victim. You said for some reason it seemed to make the sculpting process easier. The reporter made a lot of that remark."
"He was looking for a hook for his story. I made the mistake of giving it to him."
"It was a good hook. It was what made me send the skull to you. I liked the idea of someone's caring enough to want to get close to a victim."
"I feel sympathy for any victim, but the closeness of which I spoke only occurs during the actual sculpting process. That's really the only part of reconstruction that has the potential for creativity."
"You're putting words in my mouth."
"Maybe. I'm trying to make sure I did the right thing, sending her to you. I feel responsible."
"Should I send that skull back to you?"
"No, ma'am. I didn't mean to offend you. I'd appreciate it if you'd get right on it, please."
"No offense taken. You just seem very possessive about this skull."
"That's what I thought about when I researched you, Ms. Duncan. Two of a kind?"
"No." Though those words were eerily close to what Joe had said, she thought. "Perhaps I do feel a responsibility and closeness to my work while I'm doing a reconstruction, but I'd never feel possessive. I only want to set them free."
Nalchek chuckled. "I haven't gotten there yet. I feel like that little girl still belongs to me just like the minute we pulled her out of that grave. Maybe after you get me a face, I'll be able to let her go. Good night, Ms. Duncan. You'll let me know how it goes?"
"I imagine that you'll make sure I do," she said dryly. "Good night, Sheriff." She hung up.
Excerpted from Shadow Play by Iris Johansen. Copyright © 2015 Johansen Publishing LLLP. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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