“Um, okay, but the question remains… what the hell are you doing?”
She tipped her head back. Let her gaze sweep around them. “Could you step over? A little to the left?”
“Thanks.” She noted the trees, the thick grass, and the bushes. Jumping up, she brushed off her hands and hurried away from the tree.
Saundra died there. Probably screaming for help.
And the bastard with her had probably laughed.
Why did the perp love the pain so much?
“There’s a reason he picked this spot.” She stopped, her eyes narrowing. “There’s always a reason.”
“Uh, yeah, because this place is freaking deserted and no one could hear her scream.”
Monica swallowed then started walking. There. Toward the two twisted pines that grew about ten feet away. They looked like lovers embracing. “The car accident back in Jasper—Sally Jenkins died at the exact same spot her husband did. And that abandoned house? I got Sam to run a check for me. Turns out Patricia Moffett lived there when she was a kid.”
A low whistle. “What was the connection for Laura? Why dump her at—”
“Don’t know.” She stopped in front of the embracing pines. “This place though, it’s important.” She could feel it. “The killer picked the spot. He tied her there, pointed her to the east, because I think he wanted her to see something.”
What was the last thing Saundra had seen before she died?
These trees. Why these?
She walked around the trees, her gaze scanning the ground.
A stump. Looked like maybe another pine. The tree must have fallen years ago.
Her eyes narrowed as she crouched down. Her fingers lifted, hovering over the wood. “Lovers,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” he said. Monica turned toward Luke. His eyes were on the trees as he said, “I guess those pines do kinda look like—”
“Here.” She tapped the side of the stump. “Initials. See them?” Her fingers traced the letters. S.S. + K.W.
Lovers no more. Not once death came calling.
The initials were barely noticeable from this angle. Time had faded them, making them blend with the ripples on the top of the stump. A deputy doing a run-through of the scene probably wouldn’t have even noticed them.
But the killer had known they were there.
And Saundra had known.
“We’ve got to find K.W.” Excitement had her blood pumping fast and hard through her veins. This crime had been intimate, far more personal than she’d expected. “We find him—”
A fast grin split Luke’s face. “We might just find our killer.”
Yes, they just might.
We’re coming, ass**le. Time for me to find out… what scares you?
With a name like Gatorbait, Luke really hadn’t expected much from the bar in Gatlin. So he wasn’t disappointed.
They waited for the night crowd to roll in, the better to find folks who might be willing to talk. Or just drunk enough to run their mouths to FBI agents.
He and Monica took a booth in the back—a booth with a table that liked to tilt, cushions that were split open, and the smell of sweat, cigarettes, and fried catfish hanging around it.
Luke didn’t really get the catfish part. As far as he could tell, the place didn’t serve food. Just really bad beer.
A waitress came over to them. Short white shorts, long, tan legs, low-cut black tank top. Big boobs. Boobs strategically placed very close to his eyes.
Nice. He’d bet they were real, too. Oh, yeah, those…
Monica’s brow rose.
He pressed his lips together. The better to hold back the No way are they as good as yours comment that wanted to burst free. Like she’d appreciate that. Even if it was the truth.
“Another round?” The waitress—she’d said her name was Donna—asked with a big grin. A grin she shot his way. Flirting for tips. He’d watched her and the other waitress. They leaned in close to the men, smiled a lot, and flaunted cle**age.
But that could be a dangerous game if they tried to play with the wrong men.
“Donna?” Monica called, cutting through the rumble of voices in the bar. “We need to ask you a few questions.” She pulled out her ID, flashing it nice and fast.
The tray in Donna’s hands wobbled just a bit. “Wh-what? Why’s the FBI in Gatlin?”
“Just following up on an old case,” he said smoothly, trying to divert her attention. An old trick. Divide the focus, get to the truth faster. A handy way of questioning that had worked well for him in the past.
“What old case?” The tray steadied, but Luke was willing to bet Donna’s heartbeat hadn’t climbed back down yet.
“Investigating the murder of a friend of yours…” Monica tucked away her ID. “Saundra Swain.”
Donna fired a fast glance at the bar. “Saundra.” Her face paled.
“Was Saundra seeing anyone?”
Hesitation, faint, but there. “No.”
Luke smothered a sigh. Now why did people always want to lie?
“Really?” Monica sounded surprised. The woman was a pretty good actress. Actually, maybe she was too good. “That’s not what we heard in town.”
They’d actually heard jack shit outside of the bar. The folks of Gatlin were a tight-lipped bunch, at least when they were sober. Maybe once they started knocking back drinks…
Donna’s lips, painted a dark pink, tightened. “I’m tellin’ you, when Saundra d-died, she wasn’t seein’ nobody. No. Body.”
“But what about before she died?” A quick press from Monica. “What did I hear?” Laser blue eyes turned on him. “I’ll have to pull out my notes, but I think it was Kevin; no, Kenny—”
“Kyle.” The woman looked like she’d pass out any minute. Because talking about her dead friend hurt? Or was it something more? “She and Kyle weren’t seeing each other, okay? That was long over. Saundra knew she could do better. She ditched him, told his ass to hit the road.”
“Right.” Luke drummed his fingers on the sticky table top. Got the first name, just need the last. “And where can we find old Kyle? We need to clear up a few things with him.”
A toss of her hair. Really blond hair. So blond it kind of hurt the eyes. “Hell if I know. Bastard split town right after…” Her lips trembled. The crack showed in her shell then. Pain. “He cut out a few weeks after we buried Saundra.”