Could be nothing, though. Bad service. If Samantha were driving on her own through the twisting back roads, she could have lost her cell service any number of turns. Could be nothing.
But if it was nothing, why did Monica look so worried?
And why was the knot in his gut getting tighter?
The cell phone rang. Again and again. Some chirpy, happy beat that a federal agent really shouldn’t have programmed on her phone.
He glanced at the phone’s display. Monica Davenport. Ah, so she was calling already. Trying to find her friend.
But she wouldn’t find her. Not yet.
He counted eight rings then the too cheery ring and the annoying vibration stopped.
He wouldn’t answer yet. The time wasn’t right. Monica needed to sweat it out as she wondered about her lost friend. The longer he waited, the more distraught Monica would become.
No, he wouldn’t answer her yet. But maybe next time.
Monica thought she was profiling him, but he’d been watching her so closely. He was almost sure he knew her break point now. Almost certain.
One more test would show him. One more.
It had been so easy to take Sam from that airport. No one had even glanced twice at him. And for an FBI agent, she’d been almost ridiculously easy to take.
Davenport would be more of a challenge. He’d researched her, spent the last four months learning about her. He’d hoped the kills in Jasper would bring her in. She was supposed to be the best the SSD had—he’d counted on them sending in their best.
He’d even chosen this town just for her, then set his bait with the kills.
And she hadn’t even made the connection yet.
Romeo Killer Captured. One Victim Survives. Luke frowned down at the clear evidence bag, his eyes on the old newspaper clipping. “Did you get any prints off this?” he asked Gerry.
“Nah. Wiped clean.”
Figured. He shook his head and stared at the clipping. “Why’d he give us this? Why not one of his notes? Why this?”
“Maybe he wants one of those killer names,” Vance offered. He’d come into the lab about an hour before to do nothing more, Luke was pretty sure, than to make his life hell.
“I mean, nobody calls him nothin’,” Vance said. “Maybe it’s pissin’ him off.”
And the deputy was pissing him off.
“Maybe the Watchman,” Vance mused and rubbed his chin. “Maybe that’s what we should call him. ’Cause it seems, you know, like he’s always watchin’ people. He has to, right? I mean, to figure out what scares ’em.”
Luke stared at the man, hard.
“Or maybe he just wants fame… maybe he wants to be like that other bastard who ruined Jasper’s name.” The sheriff shook his head in disgust.
The other bastard? “Which bastard are you talking about?” Luke demanded.
The sheriff’s squinting gaze zeroed in on the deputy. “Get out of here, Monroe,” he snapped. “Get the hell out and go find some drunk causing trouble and throw his ass in jail.”
“Uh, right, Sheriff.” A bob of the deputy’s head. “I’m goin’, sorry.” He tripped, twice, then made it to the door.
Luke kept his attention on Davis. He waited for the deputy to leave, then said, “Romeo didn’t kill in Jasper.” He was absolutely certain of that fact. Romeo had attacked girls in Louisiana.
“Didn’t kill here; he lived here.” Davis exhaled. “Until he was ten years old, that boy lived in my town. Hell, I still remember the first time I was ever called over to his ma’s place. I’d just started as a deputy… never will forget that day.”
“That boy had sliced open his cat.”
“Damn, sheriff…” Gerry exhaled on a hard breath.
“The mother was sure the neighbor had done it, said he was mad ’cause the cat kept gettin’ in his garden. But I saw her boy when we were haulin’ the carcass away.”
Silence hung in the room.
“He was smilin’.” Davis crossed the room and picked up the sealed clippings. “They moved away a few months later, and I forgot about the kid until I saw him on the TV fifteen years later.” His shoulders hunched a bit and his eyes rose to meet Luke’s. “I saw the evil in him that day, but I didn’t have any proof he’d sliced that animal. I didn’t do anything, even though I saw. When I learned about those girls…”
Raped. Tortured. Yeah, he’d seen the pictures.
“I wondered if I could’ve saved them, if I’d just paid more attention, followed that boy, or just contacted the sheriff in Louisiana to let him know what I suspected.”
Christ. “Where did Romeo live?” The killer had sent these damn clips for a reason. “Are there any relatives here? Anyone linked to his case?” Bad blood—maybe literally.
“House was torn down years ago. Highway goes over it now. As for relatives… no, it was just the boy and his ma. The father died when the boy was young, in some kind of car accident.”
But there was something there, connecting the cases. The perp out there hunting in Jasper wanted them to know about that link.
Something or someone connected the cases.
“Luke,” Monica’s sharp cry.
He glanced over to see her and Kenton hurry inside. “Lee interviewed all the rental agents at the airport. No one rented Sam a car,” she told him.
“And no taxi drivers reported picking up her fare either.” Kenton said, a muscle flexing along his jaw. “She’s just… disappeared.”
The sheriff’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I told Hyde the county was secure. I told him it was safe down here.”
Not even close.
“Why?” He glanced up, and his face flushed dark red. “Why would he go after that agent? He’s been pickin’ local women.”
Monica shook her head. “Sheriff, I’ve told you, I believe this man has killed before, outside of your county. Killed women like Saundra Swain.”
His tongue swiped over his lips. “You found something in Gatlin?”
They hadn’t briefed the sheriff on Gatlin because, well, hell had broken loose last night.
“Maybe. I had Sam working to get some background info for me. The victim in Gatlin, Saundra, had a boyfriend who disappeared just after her death.”
“You think it’s him?” The sheriff asked. “What’s his name? We can put an APB out for him!”