The sobs stopped. “You saved my girl.”
She blinked. Saved. Laura Billings had been close to catatonic when they brought her in to the ER. Her eyes had been fixed on a nightmare vision only she could see. After they’d pulled her out of the grave, she’d stopped screaming and hadn’t said another word. But at least the woman had still been breathing.
“I—I… ah… know this is a difficult time for you…” Not like she really ever got to talk with the families in a non-difficult time. Not with the cases she worked. “But I—”
Mary Billings threw her arms around Monica and squeezed hard enough to take her breath away. “Thank you.” A whisper in her ear.
Monica froze. The woman smelled of peppermints.
“Mary…” Alan reached for her.
With a loud and wet-sounding sniffle, Mary pulled back.
Emotion. It always got her. She didn’t know what to say. What to—
“Agent Davenport is happy she was able to help your daughter.” Dante’s smooth voice. “And she will be even happier once we manage to apprehend the person who took Laura.”
Right. Took—was that the new euphemism for buried? But Luke was a charmer, and he always knew just what to say. She could connect with killers, but Luke had always been the one to link with the victims and the one to get the witnesses to talk. When he wasn’t being an ass, he could be charming.
He’d charmed her right into bed.
Mary gave a weak nod.
Alan’s face reddened. “Do you—do you know who the bastard is?”
“We’re working on it,” Dante said. “And we need your help.”
Mary blinked. “O–our help? Wh—what can we—”
“This may sound odd, Mrs. Billings,” Monica interrupted, “but can you tell me, does Laura have any phobias?”
The woman’s brown eyes widened.
Monica licked her lips. Had to be careful now. “I mean, is she afraid of flying or heights or—”
“Laura’s claustrophobic,” Alan said softly.
Mary shuddered and, for a moment, it looked like she might hit the floor. Alan’s hands tightened around her.
“Is there a reason for her fear?” Luke asked quietly. “Did something happen to cause Laura’s—”
A tear tracked down Mary’s cheek. “She got locked in a closet when she was eight. Sh–she was playing hide and–and seek at a friend’s. She got tr–trapped in—the knob broke on a closet. They couldn’t find her, at first. It took two hours t–to get her out.”
Plenty of time for fear to set in.
“Laura won’t even ride in elevators,” Alan said, “she’s—”
Mary crumpled. Her legs gave way, and if it hadn’t been for Alan, she would have hit the floor. Monica and Dante reached out, helping the older man to steady her.
“My baby,” she whispered as the tears came faster. “My p-poor baby. All alone in–in the dark…”
Alone in her nightmare.
What scares you?
He’d known. Just like with the other victims.
Monica stared into Mary’s grief-stricken eyes and knew there wouldn’t be time for many more questions. The woman wouldn’t be able to answer anything soon. “Mrs. Billings.” Monica snapped her name out, hard and fast, in an effort to bring her back.
A dazed blink.
“Did Laura say anything to you about—”
The emergency room doors flew open. A doctor came out, a woman with bright red hair and pale skin. “Billings?”
And she lost them.
Monica and Dante stepped back, the better to avoid the trampling as the parents shot forward.
“The bastard knew,” Dante muttered. “When we turn her place, we’ll find a letter, won’t we?”
“Yes.” If the killer was staying to his course.
The doc was talking about Laura, saying she’d been given drugs to help her sleep.
There’d be no questioning the vic then. Hell, probably not for a while. “We’re going to need guards stationed at her room,” she said.
Dante stiffened. “You think he’s coming after her?”
She glanced his way. This time, she was ready for the heat of that stare. Well, okay, maybe not. “Laura Billings is the only victim—that we know of—who has survived this guy’s sick game.” She took a breath. “I don’t think he plays for survivors. He just plays for death.”
A death Laura had cheated.
“Let’s go find Davis. He can put some of his deputies to use.” Then they’d have to call Hyde because he needed to know about Laura. And about the killer out there, playing games with people’s lives.
“How does he do it?” Dante asked, rolling his shoulders. “How does he know what scares his victims?”
Monica held his gaze. “Wouldn’t be too hard, not with so much information being a click away.” Simple, really. “With the first two vics, he could pull up old newspaper reports, sneak access to police records, accident files.” Should be harder. But information came easy now. “Then all he has to do is use the fear to get into their heads.” With Laura, though, that info wouldn’t have been found in a police file. He would have needed more intimate access to gain that knowledge.
“You knew, didn’t you?” He lowered his voice and leaned in too close. “You knew it was another fear trap, didn’t you?”
Fear trap. That’s exactly what it had been. “Why bury a body? This guy wants us to see his work.” The car crash had been shoved right in the faces of the local Sheriff’s department and that phone tip—hell, yes, that had been deliberate. Let me show you what I’ve done. “There was no reason to hide the body, and every reason—”
“To suspect he’d just set up another game for his prey,” Luke cut in. “Trapped in a coffin, sealed in the ground—it wouldn’t get much worse for someone scared of tight spaces.”
And the dark. Because she’d be willing to bet that closet had been dark that long ago day when Laura had been trapped inside. She’d probably screamed for help. Beat against the door with small hands.
No sense denying what they both knew. “More bodies are coming.” At the rate this guy was escalating, blood would flow again too soon. “We need Samantha to do a state-by-state check. Our guy’s killed before, but something—something’s set him off here. He’s killing too fast. This kind of escalation doesn’t happen overnight.” She exhaled slowly. “We find him and we stop him, soon, or else we’ll be spending our days with the dead.”