The Face of Death

Book Jacket

Series: Smoky Barrett [2]

SUMMARY: ''I want to talk to Smoky Barrett or I'll kill myself.' The girl is sixteen, at the scene of a grisly triple homicide, and has a gun to her head. She claims 'The Stranger' killed her adoptive family, that he's been following her all her life, killing everyone she ever loved, and that no one believes her. No one has. Until now.' 'Special Agent Smoky Barrett is head of the violent crimes unit in Los Angeles, the part of the FBI reserved for tracking down the worst of the worst. Her team has been handpicked from among the nation's elite law enforcement specialists and they are as obsessed and relentless as the psychos they hunt; they'll have to be to deal with this case.' 'For another vicious double homicide reveals a killer embarked on a dark crusade of trauma and death: an 'artist' who's molding sixteen-year-old Sarah into the perfect victim - and the ultimate weapon. But Smoky Barrett has another, more personal reason for catching The Stranger - an adopted daughter and a new life that are worth protecting at any cost.' 'This time Smoky is going to have to put it all on the line. Because The Stranger is all too real, all too close, and all too relentless. And when he finally shows his face, if she's not ready to confront her worst fear, Smoky won't have time to do anything but die.'--BOOK JACKET.

For Brieanna,

my 'Little B'


To Liza and Havis Dawson, as always, for the great support, advice, encouragement, and representation. To Danielle Perez and Nick Sayers, my editors at Bantam and Hodder respectively; this was a tough book, and they refused to let me call it done till it was done. To Chandler Crawford for her great foreign representation. Finally, to my family and friends for putting up with me while I wrote this book. I don't know about all writers, but I know this particular writer can be hard to live with when the writing is going rough.



B O O K    O N E

Down at the

Watering Hole




It's an ever-changing face, worn by many at the wrong time, worn by all eventually. I have looked into this face, over and over and over.

It's what you do, dummy.

A voice in my dream tells me this.

The voice is right. I am in the Los Angeles branch of the FBI, and I am responsible for hunting the worst of the worst. Child killers, serial killers, men (and sometimes women) without conscience or restraint or remorse. It's what I have done for over a decade and if I haven't seen death in all its guises, I've seen it in most. Death is endless and erosive. Its unfettered face wears on a person's soul.

Tonight, the face changes like a strobe in a fog, moving between three people I once knew. Husband, daughter, friend. Matt, Alexa, Annie.

Dead, dead, and dead.

I find myself facing a mirror with no reflection. The mirror laughs at me. It hee-haws like a donkey, it lows like a cow. I hit it with my fist and the mirror shatters. A purple bruise blossoms on my cheek like a rose. The bruise is lovely, I can feel it.

My reflection appears in the mirror shards.

The voice again: Broken things still catch the light. I wake from this dream by opening my eyes. It's a strange thing, going from a deep sleep to full awareness in the space of a blink. But at least I don't wake up screaming anymore.

I can't say the same for Bonnie. I turn on my side to look at her, being careful not to jostle. I find she is already awake, staring into my eyes.

'Did I wake you up, honey?' I ask.

She shakes her head. No, she's saying.

It's late, and this is one of those times where sleep still beckons. If Bonnie and I are willing, it will draw us back down again. I open my arms to her. My adopted daughter moves close to me. I hug her tight, but not too tight. I smell the sweetness of her hair and darkness claims us with the whisper of an ocean tide.

When I wake up, I feel great. Really and truly rested, in a way I haven't for a long time. The dream has left me feeling cleansed. Gently scoured.

I feel unrushed and distant and peaceful. I don't have anything in particular to worry about, which is strange; worry is a phantom limb for me. This is like being in a bubble--or maybe the womb. I go with it, floating for a little while, listening to my own white noise. This is a Saturday morning, not just in name, but as a state of being. I look over to where Bonnie should be, and see only rumpled sheets. I cock an ear and hear faint patterings. Ten-year-old feet, moving through the house. Having a ten-year-old daughter can be like living with a fairy. Something magical. I stretch and it feels glorious and catlike. Just one item is needed to make this morning a thing of perfection. As I think it, my nose twitches.


I bound out of bed, and head down the stairs to the kitchen. I note with satisfaction that I'm wearing nothing but an old T-shirt and what I call my 'granny panties,' along with a pair of ridiculous fluffy slippers in the shape of elephants. My hair looks like it just went through a hurricane. None of it matters, because it's Saturday, and no one else is here but us girls.

Bonnie meets me at the bottom of the stairs with a cup of coffee.

'Thanks, munchkin.' I take a sip. 'Perfect,' I say, nodding. And it is.

I sit down at the dining table, sipping my coffee. Bonnie drinks a glass of milk, and we look at each other. It's a very, very comfortable silence. I grin.

'This is some great morning, isn't it?'

She grins back, and that smile steals my heart again, nothing new. She nods.

Bonnie does not speak. Her muteness is not a result of any physical defect. It's the result of her mother getting butchered while she watched. And of the killer then tying her to her mother's corpse, faceto-face. She was there for three days like that. She hasn't spoken a word since.

Annie--her mother--was my best friend in the world. The killer came for her to hurt me. At times, I know that Annie died because she was my friend. Most of the time I don't know this. I pretend it isn't there, something just too huge and dark and crushing, a shadow the size of a whale. If I were to know that truth too often, it would break me.

Once, when I was six, I was angry at my mother for some reason. I can't even remember why. I had a kitten that I'd named Mr. Mittens, and he came up to me with that empathy animals can have, knowing I was upset. Mr. Mittens approached me with unconditional love, and my response was to give him a little kick.

He wasn't hurt, not permanently. Not even temporarily. But he was never really a kitten again. He would always flinch first when you went to pet him. To this day, if I think about Mr. Mittens, I'm consumed with guilt. Not just a twinge, but a feeling of pure awfulness, a kind of crippling of the soul. It was an evil act. I did permanent harm to something innocent. I never told anyone what I did to Mr. Mittens. It's a secret I plan to take to my grave, a sin I'd rather go to hell for than confess.

Thinking about Annie makes me feel like I kicked Mr. Mittens to death. So I'm comfortable not knowing, most of the time. Annie left Bonnie to me. She is my penance. It's not fair, because Bonnie is magic and wonder and

Вы читаете The Face of Death
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату