Fatal Forty-Eight by Kassandra Lamb - Read Online
Fatal Forty-Eight
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Summary

Celebration turns to nightmare when psychotherapist Kate Huntington’s guest of honor disappears en route to her own retirement party. Kate’s former boss, Sally Ford, has been kidnapped by a serial killer who holds his victims exactly forty-eight hours before killing them.

With time ticking away, the police allow Kate and her P.I. husband to help with the investigation. The FBI agents involved in the case have mixed reactions to the “civilian consultants.” The senior agent welcomes Kate’s assistance as he fine-tunes his psychological profile. His voluptuous, young partner is more by the book. While she locks horns out in the field with Kate’s husband, misunderstandings abound back at headquarters.

But they can ill afford these distractions. They have to find Sally, before her time expires.

(This book is part of a series but is designed to be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.)

Published: misterio press LLC on
ISBN: 9781502224002
List price: $3.99
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content.

Books by Kassandra Lamb

The Kate Huntington Mystery Series:

MULTIPLE MOTIVES

ILL-TIMED ENTANGLEMENTS

FAMILY FALLACIES

CELEBRITY STATUS

COLLATERAL CASUALTIES

ZERO HERO

FATAL FORTY-EIGHT

The Kate on Vacation Novellas:

An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine

Cruel Capers on the Caribbean

Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas

(coming Spring 2015)

ECHOES, A Story of Suspense

(a stand-alone ghost story/mystery)

This book is dedicated to

Marcy Kennedy,

a great editor,

a fabulous teacher,

and a very nice lady.

Thank you, Marcy, for helping me

take my writing to the next level!

PROLOGUE

Sally Ford wrapped slender brown fingers around the telephone receiver and punched in the familiar number. Running her other hand over her cap of silver curls, she waited for the call to go through.

Charles, darling, would you mind terribly if we didn’t go out tonight? I’ve had a hell of a day, and I have a late client now, coming in for an intake interview at five.

Her words elicited a soft chuckle, his rich baritone rumbling in her ear. Why did I know you were going to do this to me, baby?

No one but Charles Tolliver had ever dared to call Sally baby. At sixty-three, she was a tall, elegant woman, with a no-nonsense personality that tended to scare the bejesus out of people who didn’t know her well. In an earlier era, she would have been called a spinster, but she had finally met a man who could see past her brusque persona.

Recently Charles had convinced her to retire, so they could travel and enjoy their life together. She had one more week at the Trauma Recovery Center–that had been her baby for the past thirty-two years–and there was so much to do. She’d referred her clients to the other counselors, but she was still doing intake interviews with new clients. And she had a ton of paperwork to finish up before her successor took over.

Charles, she said into the phone, I’m sorry, but I have to–

No, baby, that’s not the issue. I don’t care about going out to dinner, but that wasn’t really where we were going tonight.

What do you mean?

Charles blew out air on the other end of the line.

Dear lord, even his sighs are sexy!

You’ve got to promise you won’t let on that I told you.

Told me what?

I was charged with getting you to your surprise retirement party tonight.

It took a second for Sally to digest that. So we’ve got to show up at the restaurant then.

Yeah, that was the tricky part, how to get you to where we’re really going, Charles said. The party’s at a former employee’s house. A lady named Kate…can’t remember her last name.

Huntington.

No that isn’t it.

Oh, right, Canfield. She’s remarried since she left the center.

Sally glanced at her watch. Five o’clock. Charles, I’ve gotta go. I have this client waiting. What time’s the party?

Seven was when I was supposed to get you there.

Why don’t you swing by and pick me up at quarter of. We’ll come back for my car later.

Okay, Charles said, but you’ve got to act surprised or Pauline is going to skin me alive.

Pauline? She’s been retired six years now!

You seem to inspire loyalty in even your former employees, baby.

Humph. See you at six forty-five.

Sally hung up her desk phone and stood up. She tugged on the bottom of her tailored jacket. At least she was wearing something she would be comfortable in all evening. The pale peach suit was one of her favorite outfits, partly because it complemented her chocolate brown skin but mainly because it fit her so well, without any binding or pinching. Too often, in her opinion, women’s clothing was too much about the latest style and not enough about practicality and comfort.

She went out to the waiting area of the center, an apology on her lips for keeping this new client waiting.

But he never gave her a chance to verbalize it.

The short, inconsequential-looking man stood up quickly. Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Ms. Ford. I’m thrilled to make your acquaintance.

Thrilled to make my acquaintance? What an odd choice of words.

Sally extended her hand. As the man shook it, he placed his other hand on her arm.

A sharp zing. Her arm reflexively jerked away.

The man jumped back a little. Oh my, I’m sorry. Static electricity. His embarrassed laughter sounded almost feminine. It’s such a nuisance this time of year.

No problem, Mr. Johnson, Sally said. Come on in to my office.

He followed her down the short hallway and through the door, closing it behind him.

Sally stumbled a little as she walked to the sitting area in the corner of the room, where she talked to clients. She was even more exhausted than she’d realized. Hopefully they would be able to beg off from the party after an hour or two. She gestured toward the loveseat and lowered herself into her own chair.

I’m sorry, Ms. Ford, for keeping you here this evening. I see that your staff has all gone home.

Sally shook her head, then wished she hadn’t when the room spun for a brief moment. I was planning to work late anyway. After she’d heard the poor man’s story over the phone earlier, and his comments that had hinted of severe depression and suicidal ideation, she wasn’t about to make him wait until Monday.

She just hoped she could stay alert enough to be helpful. Fatigue was making her limbs heavy, and she realized her mind was wandering. Mr. Johnson was talking and she had no idea what he had just said. She shook her head again. Her vision blurred but her mind cleared enough for his words to partially register.

What time is Mr. Tolliver picking you up, Ms. Ford?

Sally tried to push herself up straighter in her chair. She wondered vaguely how this man knew about Charles. What did you say? Her voice sounded slurred, as if she’d been drinking.

I need to know exactly when Mr. Tolliver was supposed to pick you up, Ms. Ford, Johnson said more firmly.

Was supposed to, not is picking me up!

Panic shot through her system. Her brain told her body to jump up and run, but her limbs didn’t respond. They felt like they were made of lead.

Why… Sally’s head fell back against the chair, her neck no longer able to support its weight.

Because that is when the clock starts, the man said.

But Sally didn’t hear him. She had already sunk into darkness.

CHAPTER ONE

7:00 p.m. Friday

A blur of orange streaked across the kitchen floor, between the guests’ legs. A cream-colored puppy awkwardly charged through the crowd, his legs and feet too large for the rest of his body. He cornered his quarry under the table, crouched down and yipped playfully at the cat, whose arched back and hissing indicated she was not at all amused by this game.

As she negotiated her way through her guests to the foot of the stairs, Kate silently berated herself again for caving to the children’s pleas for another pet. Billy, come get your dog! she called upstairs, raising her voice to be heard over the buzz of conversation and laughter in the living room. She headed back to the kitchen and her glass of wine on the counter.

A moment later, her six-year-old son rounded the corner and scrambled under the table. He nabbed one of the puppy’s legs and the cat made good her escape. Kate leaned down and helped Billy subdue the wiggling mutt, a Humane Society rescue of indeterminate parentage.

She picked the pup up. "Toby, you have got to leave Peaches alone. She doesn’t like you."

That’s not true, Billy said, hands on his hips.

She snorted. The cat hated the canine interloper. Whenever the puppy was napping, Peaches would stalk him and try to scratch his nose or his soft underbelly. Then she’d dart away. The puppy was too dumb to realize this was a blitz attack and would chase after the cat, wanting to play.

Put Toby in the laundry room, Kate said, then rethought that strategy. Someone was bound to open that door eventually, and the pup would be underfoot again. On second thought, take him upstairs to your bathroom until the party’s over. Knowing her former boss, that would be by nine-thirty or ten. Sally was not a particularly social person. But the trauma center staff, past and present, weren’t about to let her retire without a fuss.

Kate handed the puppy over to her son.

A tall, barrel-chested man, with a thatch of now mostly gray hair, sidled up to her. He draped an arm loosely over her shoulders in a big-brother-type gesture. Great turnout, don’t you think?

She grinned up at Rob Franklin. Thanks for all your help pulling this off.

No thanks required. Sally’s my colleague, too. I consider her a friend. Rob’s law firm and the trauma center were located in the same Towson office building. He’d represented many of the center’s clients with legal issues through the years, even when they couldn’t pay him.

The buzz of conversation and laughter fell abruptly quiet as the phone on the kitchen counter rang. People started talking again when they realized it wasn’t the doorbell.

Kate swiped an errant, dark curl back from her face. She desperately needed a haircut, but with all the preparations for the party, she hadn’t had time. Shhh, she said as she plucked the portable phone from its charger. It might be Sally.

It took her a moment to recognize the frantic, out-of-breath voice.

Charles, where are you?

The hum of conversation grew around her once she’d said his name, not Sally’s. She stuck a finger in her other ear. She could barely make out what he was saying, but it sounded like he was asking if Sally was at the party.

Huh?

No, no, she’s not here.

His next panicked words sent a chill down her spine. Dear God! she whispered, feeling the blood drain out of her face.

She scanned the room for her husband’s head towering over the crowd, for the familiar gesture of long, slender fingers skimming brown hair out of his eyes.

The guests chatting in a group nearby fell silent when they saw her pale face.

Find Skip, she hissed to Rob. A ripple of worry followed his big frame as he pushed through the crowd into the living room.

Kate’s knees threatened to give out. The hand that wasn’t clutching the phone grabbed for the edge of the counter top. Yes, call the police, she said to Charles. We’ll be there in ten minutes.

~~~~~~~~

8:00 p.m., Friday

Kate stood in the middle of the Trauma Recovery Center’s waiting area, trying not to lose control. Part of her wanted to scream at the backs of the police officers who were walking out the door, another part wanted to sink to the floor and sob. This couldn’t be happening. Sally was missing and it looked like the police weren’t going to do much about it.

After Charles’s call, she had raced out of the house, not even bothering to offer her guests an explanation. She’d just told Rob and her husband that there was something terribly wrong and they needed to go to the center. Pauline had overheard her and had followed them.

They had found things as Charles had described. The outer door was unlocked and Sally’s office door was standing open. Her desk chair had been pulled out from behind her desk. It was in the center of the room, facing the door. Her purse rested on its seat, her wallet inside along with the keys to her car, which was still parked in the back parking lot.

Skip put an arm around Kate’s shoulders. Dolph’s trying to get in touch with Judith Anderson.

She nodded mutely and turned into his comforting arms. Dolph Randolph was a retired Baltimore County police detective and one of the operatives of Skip’s private investigation agency, Canfield and Hernandez. Dolph and his wife were visiting his grown daughter in Utah. Kate hated that they had to bother him on their vacation, but Judith Anderson, his former partner at BCPD, was their best shot at getting the police to take Sally’s disappearance seriously.

The uniformed officers who had just left certainly hadn’t. After looking around the premises, in which the desk chair was the only thing out of place, they had declared that there were no signs of foul play. Then they’d asked if Sally was of sound mind. When told that she was, the senior officer had informed Charles that he could go to the precinct and file a report with the Missing Persons Division.

Kate glanced across the room at Charles, who had sunk into the chair behind the receptionist’s desk. His normally mocha skin was an unhealthy shade of gray. Pauline, the center’s retired receptionist, was trying to get him to drink a glass of water. He took the glass and dutifully raised it to his lips. His hand shook.

Rob Franklin stood next to the desk, his arms folded across his chest. His gaze flicked from Charles to Kate. She saw her own sense of helplessness reflected in his eyes.

Rose Hernandez–the other half of Canfield and Hernandez–strode through the center’s outer door. Mac Reilly, her husband and also an operative of the detective agency, was right behind her. As usual, she was impeccably dressed in khakis and a brown knit top, and he looked like he’d slept in his baggy jeans and olive-drab T-shirt.

What’s up, partner? Rose asked Skip.

Before he could say anything, his cell phone buzzed in his pocket. He answered it and listened for a moment. Thanks, Dolph. He turned to the others. Judith’s on her way.

In response to Rose’s question, Kate launched into a description of the evening’s events. She’d just gotten to the call from Charles when a tall, thin woman appeared in the doorway.

She was casually dressed in black jeans, a loose-fitting white shirt and a black wool jacket, but the Glock strapped to her waist gave her all the professional authority she needed.

Relief washed over Kate. She took a deep breath to start over again, but the detective waved her hand in the air.

Dolph gave me the gist of it. Judith Anderson looked around the outer office and waiting area. The door was unlocked?

Yes. Charles stood up, his large frame imposing in the now crowded room. And so was her office.

Judith looked at him, then back at Kate. You sure your former boss didn’t just decide she didn’t feel like partying?

Her car’s out back, Charles said. Purse is in her office. I didn’t touch anything, except to look in her purse to see if her wallet was there. I thought maybe she’d gone downstairs to get a soda or something… He stopped, closed his eyes, swallowed. I searched the whole building. She isn’t here.

Where’s her office? Judith asked.

Kate led the way, the others trailing behind.

Judith came to an abrupt halt in the doorway, staring at the desk chair sitting in the middle of the beige carpet, the brown leather purse perched prominently on its seat. Running a hand through her short dark hair, she swore under her breath. She turned to Charles, who had stepped up behind her. You didn’t move that chair?

No, ma’am.

Judith clenched her teeth. You all got a fax machine here?

Kate tried to answer but her throat had closed at the expression on Judith’s face.

Yes, Pauline said from the group crowded behind them.

Find me a good picture of this lady, Judith said. I need to make a call.

~~~~~~~~

8:30 p.m. Friday

Judith Anderson stood at the end of the room, looked at the faces of those sitting around the conference table and wished she was anywhere but here. After they heard what she was about to tell them, some of their lives would never be the same. Especially Charles Tolliver’s.

Of course, they would take a long, hard look at Tolliver, just to be sure, but she already had a pretty damn good idea who Sally Ford’s abductor was. Well, not by name, unfortunately, but definitely by reputation.

Judith cleared her throat. You will all be questioned to make sure no one has a secret grudge against Ms. Ford. Don’t take it personally. We have to cover all the bases. She paused, wishing she didn’t have to go on. But current indicators point toward a serial killer who was operating in New Haven, Connecticut. He dropped off their radar six months ago.

Kate Huntington’s face turned pale and she sucked in her breath. Tolliver’s face went from gray-brown to a sickly shade of green. For a moment, Judith thought the man might pass out.

But he rallied. What makes you think that, Detective? His deep baritone rumbled through the room.

It was lieutenant now. Judith had been promoted since the last escapade she’d been involved in with this bunch, in which she had inadvertently come out smelling like a rose.

But she didn’t bother to correct the man. The purse on the desk chair. It’s a part of his MO that was never released to the press. He leaves an obvious indicator that the person did not go willingly, even though there are no signs of forced entry or a struggle. Obvious to those who know the person, at least.

She handed a pile of papers to Rob Franklin, who was sitting to her right, and gestured that he should pass them out. They were photocopies of newspaper stories. He abducted five people, between April of 2012 and May, 2013, all of whom were expected somewhere within the hour. No pattern to the victims. Four female, one male. Three Caucasian, one Asian-American, one African-American. Ages ranged from twenty-two to forty-three. Only thing they had in common was that they were very responsible people.

Like Sally, Kate whispered.

Judith nodded.

Wh…what does he do to his victims? Tolliver asked.

Judith took a deep breath. After forty-eight hours, he kills them.

CHAPTER TWO

Charles Tolliver crossed his arms on the table in front of him and lowered his head onto them.

Skip Canfield put his hand on the man’s broad back, then looked over his shaking shoulders at Judith. Don’t block us out of this, Lieutenant. Use us.

I can’t include civilians in an ongoing investigation.

Not officially, but use us anyway. Canfield’s voice was emphatic.

Won’t be up to me. New Haven police had called in the FBI. The federal agents on the case are on their way here.

But you’ll still be on the task force, Canfield said. Maybe even heading it.

Judith looked around the table at their worried eyes and mouths set in grim lines. Tolliver sat up and turned his tear-streaked face in her direction, his expression both pleading and angry.

She sighed. I’ll do what I can. To save time, I’m going to interview all of you together.

Everyone but Tolliver nodded. He looked confused.

She intended to have one of her detectives interrogate him further later, but for now… Did any of you abduct or in any way interfere with the free movements of Sally Ford?

A chorus of No was punctuated by a gruff, Hell, I didn’t even know the woman, coming from the scruffy little guy at the far end of the table.

Speaking of which, who are you? Judith asked. With the exception of his neat buzz cut, the guy looked like he could be homeless. His clothes were rumpled and she doubted that the day or two of stubble on his cheeks had anything to do with the current fashion trend.

Mac Reilly. Her old man. He jabbed a thumb in the direction of Rose Hernandez sitting next to him, then waved it in Kate’s general direction. Her friend. His index finger pointed at Canfield across the table. His employee, and friend.

The clarification of his role in the others’ lives wasn’t necessary. As soon as he’d said his name, Judith knew who he was, but she’d only met him once before. That time, it had been dark and he’d been dripping wet from a dip in the Chesapeake Bay.

Okay, having completed that round of interviews, I have dropped you all from the list of active suspects, for now. She glanced at her watch. Let’s get started, folks. We have maybe two more hours before the Feds show up at the precinct.

She turned to the white board behind her and picked up a dry-erase marker from its tray. Here’s the profile the Feds gave New Haven. She started writing as she talked. White male. Between twenty and forty. Lives alone. Comes from a broken home, may be divorced himself. Very possibly abused as a child–

Kate snorted. That’s pretty much the profile of most pathological killers.

Judith turned slightly and arched an eyebrow at her. True, but it gets better. This guy looks harmless. He’s able to get close to the victims without them being alarmed. Probably average height or on the short side. Maybe even self-effacing. He follows his victims, learns their habits, their connections. He blends in–

Tolliver sat bolt upright in his chair. Wait! Are they sure about that age range?

Nothing’s ever for sure with profiling, Judith said.

There was a guy. I saw him twice. First time was two weeks ago, in a restaurant. He was sitting alone, a couple tables away. I assumed he was a traveling businessman, felt bad for him that he had no one to dine with. Then my phone rang. Sally gave me the evil eye. She hates it when people talk on cell phones in restaurants. But the call was important, so I excused myself and walked outside. Few minutes later, this guy came out and walked right past me. I might not have even remembered him, but when I went back in, the waiter and maître d’ were having a hushed but heated discussion by his table. He had apparently left without paying for his meal. And now that I think about it, he slowed his pace as he went past me, like maybe he was trying to hear what I was saying on the phone.

Tolliver paused, looked around the room. Everyone was holding their breath. Judith nodded encouragement. Then on Wednesday–I dismissed it as my imagination at the time–but I thought I saw the guy again, in my peripheral vision, as I was walking up the block to Sally’s building. When I turned and looked though, nobody was there.

Mr. Tolliver, we need to get you hooked up with a police artist right away, Judith said.

"No need. I can draw him. I’m a graphic designer. Anybody got