by Gerri Hill
Gillette Park, a sleepy town nestled in the Rocky Mountains, harbors a secret.
Twenty-three years ago, a young girl went missing. Two days later her body was found lodged beneath the footbridge over Boulder Creek. The murder shook the town but they soon found it was only the beginning. A serial killer hides among them—a serial killer who strikes twice, sometimes three times a year.
Mason Cooper couldn’t wait to leave Gillette Park. At eighteen, she headed off to college and the bright lights of Los Angeles, thinking she’d never return home to the broken family and forgotten friendships she’d left behind. But being a cop in LA lost its charm and—after a breakup—Mason heads back to her hometown. The serial killer still haunts Gillette Park and she becomes consumed with catching him.
Dr. Grace Jennings has what some call a gift. She “sees” things. She “hears” things. Running from that gift was useless so she’s learned to embrace it instead. Now the FBI has solicited her help in catching the serial killer.
Not everyone in this mountain town has embraced the idea of bringing in a psychic, including Mason’s uncle and boss, Sheriff Cooper. Mason is tasked with being the go-between and she soon finds herself with a front row seat as Dr. Jennings discovers the dark—and well hidden—secrets of Gillette Park.
As Mason and Grace’s friendship grows, so does their attraction. But safety lies only with each other, as they battle the evil that lives in Gillette Park.
|Publication Date||March 12, 2020|
|Cover Designer||Sandy Knowles|
GCLS Goldie Awards
Gillette Park—Winner, Paranormal/Occult/Horror.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"I don’t remember who came first, Tori Hunter or Tori the cat. She lived with us only a few years, disappearing on Memorial Day, 2007. Pet names have made their way into books and character names have made their way out of them. A cat named Jordan (Pelican’s Landing). Our sweet dog, Casey (In the Name of the Father/Partners). Then there was a cat named Dillon (Sierra City) and a cat named Sierra. Alex was our cat, but he became a dog in Dawn of Change.
Casey and Cooper were our beloved Australian Shepherds. Cooper died in January 2019 of a blood disease. Cooper was MY dog. She followed me from room to room. She lay at my feet in the kitchen. She tagged after me wherever I went outside. She left an awful void. Casey was sick too. She had heart disease and was on seven meds (yes, seven!) twice a day. So after Cooper died, we decided to get two puppies. Australian Shepherds again, just like before. (Casey hated them!) One a black tri, the other a red tri. Rylee (Moonlight Avenue) is the black tri (like Casey). She smiles and shows her teeth and is a bundle of energy. Mason is the red tri. And like Cooper before her, she follows me from room to room, plops down on my feet in the kitchen and tags after me outside everywhere I go.
So meet….Mason Cooper, my tough—yet sensitive—sheriff’s deputy in Gillette Park!
(Our Casey died the day before Thanksgiving…so 2019 was a rough year. Having new pups around makes it easier but our two old gals will never be forgotten.)"
Lex Kent's Reviews - This book was just what I was hoping for and wickedly entertaining. The premise of this book is really well done. Parts are hard to read of course. This book is about a serial killer who targets mostly young teenagers. The book isn’t very graphic, but it still breaks your heart in places. But there is also a sweet romance that helps to give the book a sense of hope. Mix that with some strong women, the creepiness of the paranormal factors, and the book balances out really well. There is a lot of potential with these characters and I’d love to see their stories continue. If you are a Hill fan, grab this.
Bethany K. - Hill is a master writer, and this one is done in a way that I think will appeal to many readers. Don't just discount this one because it has a paranormal theme to it! I think that the majority of readers who love mystery novels with a romantic side twist will love this story.
Gayle T. - It was suspenseful and so well written that it was anyone's guess what would happen next! The characters—all of them, as you'll learn, were perfectly written.
bookvark - It was written so well that there was some new event or clue that would keep me intrigued. I loved the main characters. Both Mason and Grace were realistic characters with fractured pasts. Their histories play a part in who they are and grow to become throughout the book. The supernatural spin felt believable to me because of the story behind it.
Jenna F. - Gerri Hill has written another action-packed thriller. The writing is excellent and the characters engaging. Wow!
Melissa F. - This book was awesome! Lots of action, drama and paranormal activity. Great characters and descriptive scenery really brought this book to life.
Carolyn M. - ...is a phenomenal book! I wish I could give this more than five stars. Yes, there is a paranormal element, and a love story, and conflict, and danger. And it's all worth it. Thank you, Gerri Hill, for writing a brilliant masterpiece!
Mason stared at the body, unblinking. How many did this make? She felt a tightness in her chest as she squatted down beside him. The only visible trauma was the bruising around his neck. She swallowed, then forced her gaze to his face, which was bathed in sunlight. It was smooth and unmarred, the light brown hair above it cut short and neat. She reached out and touched his cheek gently, feeling the coolness of his skin. His eyes were closed, thankfully. Behind those lids were greenish eyes. She knew that from the school picture they’d been given.
She moved away from him and leaned against a tree, taking several deep breaths. When was it going to end? She slid down the tree until she was sitting. She’d already called it in. The guys would be there soon. And it would start all over again.
She’d returned to her hometown five years ago—or was it six already? She’d left when she was eighteen, two weeks after graduation. She couldn’t wait to get away. Get away from what, though? Her mother? That was a given. Get away from the darkness in this town? Maybe. Isn’t that why most left?
But why come back? Her mother was still here. The darkness was still here. She looked at the body again. Yeah…the darkness was still here. She couldn’t take it anymore. How many would have to die? When were they going to do something?
Her radio crackled and she recognized Dalton’s voice. “Where the hell are you, Mason?” She leaned her head back against the tree as she fumbled for the radio.
Yeah…where the hell was she?
“Mason, I know we need to do something…but a psychic? Can’t believe you—of all people—would jump on that bandwagon.”
“We have to do something. Every year it’s the same damn thing. We have to do something. What would it hurt?”
Her uncle turned from the window he’d been staring out of. “You let Agent Kemp fill your head with this psychic crap, Mason? We had a psychic out here one time, you know.”
“I know. Back in 2004.” She held her hand up. “And I know it didn’t go over well. I remember.”
“You were still in high school.” He sat down behind his desk, motioning for her to sit as well. “When I ran for county sheriff, it was on the promise that I’d catch this bastard. It’s been six years and we’re no closer than we were when the murders started twenty-something years ago.”
“Twenty-three,” she said automatically, knowing he knew this as well as she did. Everyone in Gillette Park knew this. She’d been ten years old when the first murder happened. It was 1997. Susan Shackle. Susie was a classmate…a playmate. She went missing one day after school. It was late April. Spring was in the air. She remembered stopping with Jimmie Beckman at Boulder Creek. Rock Creek, the kids called it. They’d crawled under the old bridge to toss rocks into the water. The creek—and bridge—was almost halfway between the school and her house. The road got little traffic; there wasn’t anything beyond the school back in those days. Nonetheless, the city had built a bike trail next to the road. It had been gravel back then. When she got older, she rode her bike to school. But that day—like most when the weather was nice—she walked with Jimmie, Susie, Becky Kuhn, Amber Wright, and Joey Case. They all lived in the same neighborhood and usually met up at the corner of Flagstaff and School Road each morning. Joey was the oldest—eleven at the time—and he fancied himself their caretaker, herding them along the path to school as if tending sheep.
That particular day in late April, only she and Jimmie had walked home together. The others had gone to the library in town. She didn’t remember why…some art project or something. She did remember her mother fussing at her for getting dirty—and shaming her for not being a dainty girl like her older cousin Amanda. And she remembered the phone call; Mrs. Shackle calling to see if Susie might be over playing with her. Susie never made it home.
They found her body two days later, up in the forest beyond the city park. The killer had hidden her under the old board planks that were used to cross Boulder Creek in a narrow spot. She’d been strangled. They closed the school for a week, and when it reopened her mother took her each day and picked her up each afternoon. Because they never found Susie’s killer. Young Susie Shackle was strangled to death and her body dumped out in the forest, hidden in the creek. What Mason didn’t know then was that Susie had been sexually assaulted too. She heard her father—then a sheriff’s deputy—and mother talking one night when they thought she’d gone upstairs to bed. That had been three or four months after the murder. At the time, she didn’t know what sexually assaulted meant, but she was pretty sure it wasn’t a good thing.
It was that very year, after the aspen leaves had turned golden, that her father left them. That thought came to her without much emotion. After all these years, that was simply a side note. Uncle Alan—now the county sheriff—had been her father figure growing up. He’d more than made up for her father’s absence.
“And now you want to bring in a damn psychic? Do you even believe in that stuff?”
“I’m not sure.” Then she shook her head. “Okay, no, I don’t. But Kemp says she’s legit. Says she’s helped them before.”
He nodded. “She works with the FBI sometimes, I hear. They’re pushing her on us, that’s for sure. They’ve got a stake in this too. They have to feel like they’re wasting their time up here, searching for ghosts.”
“What’s your hesitation, Uncle Alan? Other than you don’t believe in that stuff.”
“I don’t believe it, no. That’s my main hesitation. That and I fear she’s going to be a quack like the last one. That was what? Fifteen, sixteen years ago now? She was downright weird. I was just a deputy at the time and didn’t have many dealings with her, but she was weird.”
“I remember. I was a little scared of her myself.”
He folded his hands, tapping his index fingers together. “Chief Danner is ready to go along with it too. Says he had some dream about it.” He shook his head. “A dream, of all things.” His index fingers continued to tap together. “I don’t know. Hell, it’s worth a try, I guess. Every year when we get the first call, it’s like we stop breathing, knowing it’s starting again. We go through the motions of trying to find them, knowing all along that we’ll only find them when he’s through with them.”
“I know. It’s like we could just skip over that part and head out to the park or search the forest until we find the body.”
“Right. Like you said, every year it’s the same damn thing. How long are the good citizens of Gillette Park going to be patient?”
“You worried about reelection next year?”
“Oh, hell, nobody wants my job. When Parker retired, they had to practically force me to run, if you remember.”
“That’s because no one wanted A.J. Sims as sheriff.”
He met her gaze and smiled. “When I retire, it’ll be your turn. You’ve got what it takes, Mason. Not Brady,” he said, referring to his son. “Brady knows it too.”
She returned his smile fondly, knowing he thought of her as his own flesh and blood. “We’ll see. You’re what? Fifty-four? Fifty-five? You got some good years left. I guess we’ve got plenty of time before we have to worry about that.”
He leaned back in his chair. “This job will age you quick. Maybe we’ll get lucky this year. Maybe this psychic woman will pan out and we can put this nightmare to bed.”
“Does that mean you’re going to put the call in? Tell the FBI to send her up here?”
“I’m not crazy about the idea, but, yeah, we got to try something. Maybe this is the year it ends.”
Mason was on board with a psychic because—to her—it was a last resort and she felt like they were doing nothing more than treading water. Time to swim or sink. If they couldn’t resolve this with a psychic, then she feared they would never catch the serial killer. But her uncle’s optimism was forced, as was hers. The nightmare had been going on for too long. And really, to be honest, she didn’t believe the whole psychic thing. Mumbo jumbo bullshit? Probably. Yeah, she’d been in high school when the city manager had brought in a psychic over the protests of both the police chief and Sheriff Parker. She remembered the woman—short, round, wearing scarves and beads. The only thing she accomplished was bringing in some publicity to the murders. Bad publicity. The police department, the sheriff’s department, and the town as a whole came across looking like a bunch of bumbling buffoons who couldn’t get out of their own way. Even having the FBI on the case didn’t seem to matter.
It didn’t matter who was on the case, really. Every year, like clockwork, the murders started in either late April or early May and ended in October. Every year. And every year…two, sometimes three kids would lose their lives. There were never fewer than two and in the twenty-three years since they’d begun, there’d been more than three on only two occasions, 2004—the year the psychic was hired—and 2012.
What caused him to kill more during those particular years was anyone’s guess. Over the years, the FBI had brought in profilers, trying to get a read on the guy. On the years the FBI came around, that is. A murder in April or May and another one in October usually didn’t garner much attention from them anymore, especially a dead-end case like this one.
And now, apparently, they were going to bring in another psychic. She sighed as she left his office. A psychic was on the way and Mason hoped she didn’t bring the whole damn circus to town with her. A psychic? Was she really on board with it? Yeah. But she would definitely keep her distance, as would probably most everybody else in town.
Gillette Park was a small town in the Rocky Mountains. Their population had swelled from a manageable four or five thousand people to well over fifteen in the last decade. Those flocking to the area were mostly young retirees, still active enough to enjoy the mountains—hiking, biking, skiing, kayaking—or the techies, those who worked from home and could live anywhere they wanted. The old downtown area—Old Town—had been revitalized with the influx of newbies, and artists and hip coffee shops had followed. It was hardly the same sleepy town it had been when she was growing up. Different on the outside, certainly. One thing remained the same, however.
The murders. That never changed.
Her daughter was restless, therefore she was restless. Lucy finally went to her, stilling her hands as she was drawing frantically on a piece of paper.
“What is it?”
Her daughter, ten years old, looked at her with big hazel eyes. Eyes that were neither here nor there. Lucy knew that look well. It used to scare her. At first. When Faith had learned to talk, things she said sometimes scared her. And sometimes they still did.
“Someone is coming.”
Lucy looked behind them to the lone door, the door that was triple-locked—from the outside. But Faith shook her head.
“Not there, Momma.”
“Someone is coming to help us.”
Help them? No, she didn’t think anyone could help them. She’d been locked up here since 2009. Who was going to help them? She moved away from her daughter, going to the crate and sitting down. Faith had picked up the pencil again and started drawing. Lucy looked around the little room that had become both jail cell and home. After Faith was born, they’d made the room a little more comfortable. They’d brought in a twin bed, a tiny table. As Faith grew, Stacy brought in toys and then books. Lucy had schooled her as best she could. She didn’t know where they were, though. The damp, cold walls indicated it was someone’s basement. From what little she’d learned from Stacy, they were still near Gillette Park.
Had her parents continued to look for her? Or had they resolved that she’d been killed? One more chalked up to the serial killer? Or maybe they thought she had run away? Did her mother cry for her at night?
It was the cat. Lucy loved cats. She’d been riding her bike on the trail beside School Road. It was one of those glorious spring days that hinted of summer. Two weeks until school let out. She remembered thinking she couldn’t wait for summer to get there. Then she saw the cat. An orange tabby. It was on the trail and it stayed there right up until she rode upon it. Then, with a flick of its tail, it darted into the woods. She never once considered not going after it. She dropped her bike on the trail and followed. She heard the meow, saw a flash of tail behind a tree. Again, she followed, getting farther away from the trail and School Road. But the cat wasn’t there. Nowhere. She turned in circles, looking for it. A bird landed on a tree branch beside her. A large blue bird. A Steller’s jay. He cocked his head, looking right at her. She remembered jumping back when he squawked at her, as if protesting her very presence beside his tree.
She didn’t remember much after that. She was grabbed from behind, a large hand covering her mouth before she could scream. As the jay continued to scold her, she was dragged deeper into the forest, the tall trees making dark shadows around her. She didn’t remember much, no. She did remember thinking that she was going to be one of them. One of those poor kids who went missing each year. Missing? No. They were only missing for a little while. Her? For some reason, she’d been tossed into this cold, dirty basement instead.
She wasn’t alone for long. Five or six days later—maybe a week—a boy came in. Barry Shepherd. She knew him from school, even though he rarely spoke to her. She was only a freshman and he and the other older boys hadn’t bothered with her. Barry had been plenty scared. Then the man came. He was a big man, tall and muscular. A beard covered his face and he had a dirty cap on his head. The man made her take her clothes off. He made Barry take his pants off.
She closed her eyes as she remembered that day. And the next three days that followed. Then, on the fourth day, Barry didn’t come. She never saw him again.
Stacy started coming after that. Stacy was about her age. Stacy brought food but didn’t talk much at all. When Lucy realized she was pregnant, it was Stacy she turned to. And when it was time for her to give birth, Stacy was there with her—two young girls who didn’t have a clue. Nature has a way, she supposed, because Faith came out just fine.
Stacy still didn’t talk much, though. All these years—ten now—and she still didn’t talk much. But she brought them things. Like a new calendar each year. Lucy—and now Faith—marked off the days, one by one. Faith didn’t question why they were there. Much. She didn’t know any different and Lucy had never found the words to tell her the truth. She didn’t know what good it would do to tell her how she’d ended up in here. No sense in scaring her.
She felt tired, fatigued. She—and now Faith—were wasting away in this tiny dungeon with no end in sight. Getting weaker, physically. She could feel it. What if Stacy didn’t come in one day? What if no one came to bring them food? There were others, she knew. She heard voices sometimes. Men’s voices. And sometimes she heard Stacy scream. Sometimes Stacy had bruises. Sometimes Stacy had been crying.
“Don’t worry, Momma. Someone’s coming to help us.”
She brought her attention back to her daughter, who was now sitting quietly at the table. Lucy got up and went to her, pausing to run her hand through Faith’s soft curls—sandy-blond hair, much like Barry Shepherd’s. Her gaze drifted to the paper and she nearly gasped. Faith had a gift. If they were out in the real world, Faith would be an artist. Her drawings were all based on her imagination, though. Faith had never been outside these four walls.
“It’s a bird.”
Lucy nodded. “Yes. How did you…where have you seen this? In one of the magazines?”
Faith stared at her, unblinking. “In your mind.”
Lucy swallowed. Yes, Faith had a gift.
“What kind is it, Momma?”
“It’s a Steller’s jay.” She reached out and ran a finger across the drawing. “That was the last thing I saw,” she said quietly, almost to herself.
“After the cat?”
Lucy stared, her eyes wide. She’d never told Faith that story. She’d never told Faith how she’d come be here. Faith had never asked. She nodded slowly. “Yes. After the cat.”
“Everybody’s pretty nice, in case you were wondering.”
Grace glanced at Agent Kemp as he drove them through the Rocky Mountains. No, she hadn’t been wondering. She hadn’t given it much thought because, no, they weren’t normally nice. What she had been wondering was why she’d agreed to this assignment. She’d first heard of the Gillette Park murders two years ago when she last worked with the FBI. One of the agents on the case had been in Gillette Park the year prior and was passing along little more than gossip at the time…most of which she dismissed as hearsay, even if her curiosity had been piqued. Didn’t matter though. She’d told herself then that she wouldn’t take any more cases. She’d told herself then that she’d concentrate on her book.
Roger Kellogg from the FBI had called her two weeks ago. She’d told him no, she wasn’t interested. The next day, a file was delivered anyway. And a week after that, she’d called him back to accept the assignment. Now here she was, sitting beside Agent Kemp—the FBI agent who had worked the Gillette Park murders last year—on a one-way trip into the mountains, committed to staying through the summer…or until they kicked her out of town.
“Sheriff’s office there has jurisdiction,” he continued. “Technically.”
That was because most of the bodies had been found outside the city limits in the forest. A handful had been found at the city park, if her memory was correct. She still found it hard to believe that in the last twenty-three years a serial killer had been preying on the young citizens of Gillette Park and no one had even come close to finding him. As far as she knew, there had never even been a person of interest.
She stared out the window, only absently noticing the trees speeding by as he drove. Trees and rocks and mountains—she’d seen little of it. As usual, she was lost inside her own head. It wasn’t her habit to make idle chit-chat, but Agent Kemp was attempting to break the silence. She supposed she could use this time to garner some insight on the town.
“You spent last summer there?”
“Yeah. They had two bodies back-to-back. Both in May, about three weeks apart. Third body was in October, pretty much like always.”
“In reading the file, I understand they’ve got surveillance cameras that would rival a major city yet there’s never even been a glimpse of this guy.”
“Yeah, he’s like a ghost. The residents in town, they know what’s going on. Come April, everyone gets a little on edge. By May, people are downright jittery. October comes, they finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
“The sheriff’s department, the police department—are they competent? I mean, out here in the middle of nowhere and all.”
“Competent enough, yeah. They’ve got maybe twenty or so deputies and probably close to the same number of police officers.”
“What is your take on the murders, Agent Kemp?”
He shrugged. “Maybe it’s some mountain man who lives off the grid. There’s a lot of them out there from what I understand.”
“The FBI has sent…what? Three or four profilers over the years? I’ve read the file; they’ve been pretty generic. White male, twenty to forty, doesn’t play well with others, outcast, and so on.”
“Yeah. That’s what you get when there’s no evidence and never a sighting of the guy.”
She turned in her seat to look at him. “Do you ever think it could be…something else?”
His eyes widened a bit, then he laughed nervously. “Now, doc, don’t go spewing stuff like that. I told the sheriff you were legit. I told his niece you were legit. From what I know of her, she’s not going to believe anything that’s not—well, explainable. She’s easy enough to get along with but she’s got a little bit of an edge to her sometimes. Sheriff Cooper relies on her. She spent a number of years with LAPD. Taking a guess, she’s going to be your point of contact. So don’t go spouting supernatural crap, doc. Like I said, she’s got an edge.”
“Shouldn’t matter. I’ve worked with the FBI enough to know about edges. I’m pretty sure I can handle her.”
“Mason Cooper. She’s a deputy. She usually gives the FBI hell, but we got along okay. There’s an old dive of a bar where the locals hang out. Bucky’s. I had to buy her many a beer to get her to loosen up. By the end of summer, we were buds.”
“But I didn’t make any more headway on the case than anyone before me. There’s nothing. Absolutely nothing. Some kid goes missing. Two, three days…sometimes a week later, a body is found. That’s it.”
“There’s a pattern, Agent Kemp. There’s always been a pattern to his kills.”
“Sure. But Gillette Park is surrounded by forest. Got federal land, state land, some county-owned campgrounds, the city park, not to mention private land all interspersed around the town. There’s been no pattern as to where he dumps the bodies. They’ve run every damn algorithm known to man and still can’t come up with a pattern for that.” He pointed up ahead to his left. “Got a great overlook here.”
He surprised her by stopping. Surprised her even further when he got out. With a slight shrug, she did as well. She took a deep breath, finding the air fresh and sweet, the fragrant aroma of pine trees and other conifers wafting about. She cast her gaze out, finding a sprawling town down below, nestled in a bowl between the mountains. A three-sided bowl, she noted. The fourth side bled into a valley and even from up here, she could see that that was where the town was expanding to. She imagined at one time it was a quaint little mountain town. Unique. Now? No doubt chain restaurants and grocery stores had made their way up here. That’s what happens with expansion. People are drawn to places like this, away from the hustle and bustle of a large city, only to miss the amenities. Soon, those amenities would follow them here and the small, quaint town they fell in love with would be ruined forever.
“You ever spent much time up in the mountains, doc?”
She shook her head as they got back in the vehicle. “I was born in Savannah. When I was nine, my mother married a navy man. Did a lot of traveling after that.”
“Some, yes. Japan. Spent eight months in Africa. Bounced around the States some. Two years in Hawaii. That was my favorite,” she said with a smile. “I was in high school.” She didn’t add that she cried her eyes out when they left. She hadn’t wanted to leave the islands, no, but leaving her first love behind—Angelique—had been the hardest. “So no, I haven’t spent much time inland. It’s certainly beautiful up here.”
“Hope you packed for winter then. Even in May, a late snowstorm can sneak up. And a jacket…gonna need a jacket at night.”
“I did my research on the area, so yes, I think I packed appropriately.” She’d shopped appropriately, in other words. Her normal wardrobe wasn’t compatible with winter.
He pulled back onto the road and drove them down the mountain into Gillette Park. The road was lined with bright green aspens, their new spring leaves still shiny and vibrant. Spruce and fir trees dominated the landscape higher up. There was an occasional glimpse of a house on the hillside, and as they got closer into town, the forest gave way to buildings and streets, homes and businesses.
“You want to check in at the motel first or head straight to the sheriff’s office?”
“We’ve been in the car for hours. I wouldn’t mind taking a break before meeting everyone. Unless they’re expecting us, that is.”
“I’m supposed to call before we head over, that’s all. We can get settled first.” He glanced at her. “I said motel—and there are some newer ones over in the valley—but I booked us here in Old Town, same place I stayed last year. I booked you through October, like you requested. The Aspen Resort. And don’t let the name fool you. It’s comfortable and close to everything, but resort is a stretch.”
The Aspen Resort was two blocks off the main drag…a collection of four buildings, each with four or five suites. Towering trees were intermingled throughout and she spotted three inviting benches in what looked to be a courtyard of sorts. There was a small swimming pool located next to the office, and large pots stuffed with colorful flowers were at every corner. Bright sunshine filled the air, but a cool breeze reminded her that it was early May in the mountains. When she’d left New Orleans, it had been quite balmy already. So much so that she’d been living in shorts for the last month. This would certainly be a change—the mountains. Most of her adult life, like her childhood, had been spent at sea level. She was out of breath just on the short walk to the office.
“Yeah…it’ll take you a few days to get used to the altitude,” Agent Kemp told her as he dutifully held the door open for her. “We’re at eight thousand feet, at least.”
Their check-in was uneventful, and fifteen minutes later, she pushed open the door to what would be her home for the summer. She didn’t know if it was chance or bad luck that got her a room in the building nearest the office—and the pool. She imagined in the middle of summer, it would be filled with noisy kids. Agent Kemp was in the suite next to hers.
It was a large room with a king-sized bed, sofa and chair, tiny table, and a kitchenette complete with a two-burner hotplate, microwave, and small fridge. She placed her bags on the bed, then went to the window and flung open the curtains. Not the greatest of views, but it beat the apartment she’d just left. There was some green space and trees, and above the roof of the adjacent building, she had a glimpse of the side of the mountain.
Pretty, yes. The drive up had been beautiful, in fact. She could see why tourists flocked to the mountains, especially during the heat of summer. Her reason for being here had nothing to do with the weather, however. She needed the money this town was willing to pay her for her…her gifts. That wasn’t the sole reason. She had four years of exhaustive research to go through. She had a book to write. She was planning to stay through October, whether she led them to the killer or not. Provided, of course, that they didn’t run her out of town like they had the last psychic they’d hired.
The money and the time—no, those actually weren’t the main reasons either. She’d tried to read through the file twice, and both times a giant claw had seemed to squeeze at her chest, choking her. She heard a voice, a young man’s voice, telling her to stay away. It had frightened her at first; she couldn’t seem to take a breath without pain. She’d had to close her eyes, to focus all her energy on herself, sucking in air, filling her lungs, letting it out again, over and over. By the time the pain left her, she’d collapsed in a heap of exhaustion, too weary to even make it to her bed. She’d been shocked to see that she’d lost almost an hour in her semiconscious state.
She’d waited two days before she tackled the file again. When she felt the unease start, she closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing, keeping the worst of it at bay. She did that five or six times to get through the entire file. When she’d closed it, her mind saturated with the gruesome details of the murders, she’d again felt the weight on her chest, felt the air being sucked out of her.
She wasn’t surprised by it that time; she knew what to do. A mere twenty-two minutes later she’d been pacing in her living room, the file now opened to a page from 2009. A school photo of a fourteen-year-old girl—Lucy Hines—stared back at her. Lucy Hines went missing like all the others, but Lucy—like most of the others—was never found. Grace didn’t remember opening the file, didn’t remember flipping to that particular page, but surely she had. She heard a voice in her mind then, a voice that she was certain was not Lucy Hines. It was a girl’s childlike voice that beckoned her to come to Gillette Park. Begged her to come. She remembered the young man’s voice telling her to stay away, but this child’s voice was so compelling, she’d called Roger Kellogg back right then, saying she’d take the case.
She brought a hand to her chest now and rubbed lightly between her breasts. Yes, there was something evil in this town…something that lived in the shadows…just out of sight. She could feel it. Something was here, yes, but she wasn’t sure if that frightened her or not. She hadn’t been frightened by things she saw and heard, not since she was a kid.
That was the real reason she’d taken this case. Whatever lived in the shadows and preyed on this town wasn’t going to go away on its own. She would have to find it, expose it. She may even have to go inside where it lived.
And hope she came back out again. Alive.
“Keep an open mind, everyone.”
Mason smiled at her uncle, wondering if he was taking his own words to heart. “My mind is as open as anybody’s here,” she said, eliciting a “Yeah, right” from Brady. But it was. She was going to give the psychic a chance, despite the grumblings of everyone else. Dalton in particular. He thought it was a “waste of time” and “goddamn desperate” and he told that to anyone who would listen.
Desperate? Perhaps. A waste of time? Well, they had nothing else to spend their time on. She looked around, nodding at her two closest friends—Brady and Dalton. Brady was her older cousin by a year, but they were close enough to be siblings. She and Dalton had gone through school together.
She looked past them to the others. The police chief had brought two of his officers along…Jenkins and Sheffield. She got along fine with Jenkins, but Sheffield had an attitude. He’d been a cop in Phoenix and thought he was better than everyone else, especially the lowly sheriff’s department. Truth was, compared to most there, he was better. Her time spent in Los Angeles trumped his Phoenix, however. For the most part, he left her alone.
“And try to play nice,” her uncle added. “Who knows? This might pan out.”
Dalton snorted. “A damn psychic?” He shook his head. “This is a waste of time and money. I keep picturing some gypsy woman with a crystal ball.”
Mason nodded. “Me too. I keep picturing that crazy woman who was here back when we were in high school.”
“Yeah. She came up to the school to go through Deb Meckel’s locker. Remember?”
Mason’s smile faded as did Dalton’s. Deb Meckel was a year behind them in school. She’d gone missing while walking home from band practice. She played the clarinet and the police had found it beside the sidewalk on School Road. Odd, because it wasn’t in its case. According to her friends, she’d been carrying her case—with the clarinet inside—but she’d forgotten something at school and had gone back. A book for homework or something—Mason couldn’t remember. The clarinet case was never found. Two days later, Deb’s body was found clear on the other side of town, up near the trailhead by Gillette Creek. 2004. They had five murders that year. Deb was the second one.
A quick knock on the conference room’s door—actually, the door of the breakroom that doubled as a conference room—and Sandy, the longtime receptionist and sometimes dispatcher, stuck her head in.
“FBI is here,” she said in a loud whisper. “Agent Kemp and some woman.”
Uncle Alan nodded. “Send him on back, Sandy.”
As far as FBI agents went, Scott Kemp was okay. Friendly, amicable, without the arrogance and haughtiness that followed most agents. That was a plus, considering he’d spent the better part of six months with them last year. From what her uncle had said, he was assigned to them again this year, but he probably wouldn’t stay for the duration, only long enough to get the psychic up and running.
When Kemp walked into the room, Mason nearly dropped the cup of coffee she’d been holding. The woman following him was so not a short, round gypsy with a scarf and beads.
“Hello again, everyone,” Scott said, holding out his hand to shake first her uncle’s, then Chief Danner’s hand. He looked in her direction and smiled. “Mason. I guess you owe me a beer.”
She smiled at that. Her parting shot last year was that she’d buy him a beer if he was unlucky enough to get assigned to their case again. The agents who filtered through town rarely made repeat appearances.
Scott stepped to the side, motioning to the woman behind him. “This is Dr. Jennings. She’s the…well, the woman…the—”
“The psychic we hired?” her uncle asked, saving Scott from saying the word he was apparently stumbling over. He stood up and reached across the table, offering his hand to the woman. Mason was surprised at how amiable he was being, considering he hadn’t wanted to hire her in the first place. “Dr. Jennings, welcome to Gillette Park. I’m Sheriff Cooper.”
“This is Chief Danner,” he introduced, motioning to his left. He turned toward them. “Deputies Cooper, Cooper, and Wilcox,” he continued, making them sound more like a law firm than sheriff’s deputies. “Down there are Officers Jenkins and Sheffield.”
Mason held her hand out, making brief eye contact as a firm hand took hers. Dr. Jennings was a little taller than average…five-seven, maybe even five-eight. Her light brown hair hinted at blond and her blue eyes were nearly cobalt. Her eyebrows were darker than her hair and one disappeared into bangs that swept from left to right. She noted all of that in the few seconds she was allotted as Dr. Jennings moved down the line, shaking everyone’s hand.
“Nice to meet you all.” Dr. Jennings settled into a chair almost directly across from Mason. “Who is in charge of the investigation?”
“In charge? It’s a group effort,” her uncle said as he sat back down. “Jurisdiction is based on where the body is found. In all these years, we’ve never stumbled upon the…well, the murder scene.”
“I’ve read through the file, Sheriff. The closest thing to a pattern is who his victims are. The youngest was eight, the oldest was nineteen. I’m asking the obvious, of course, but all of the teachers, janitors—custodians—they’ve all been thoroughly investigated?”
“We have investigated pretty much everyone in the whole damn town by now, Dr. Jennings.” He spread his hands out. “Hiring a…a psychic is sort of a last crazy resort. No offense, of course.”
“We’ve tried this before. Way back in—”
“Two thousand and four,” she supplied for him. “I understand it didn’t go the way you had planned.”
“I was a deputy in the department back then, but no, it was pretty much a fiasco. I think the woman thought she was on some kind of a reality TV show or something. Had the whole town up in arms by the time she left.”
“From what I gathered from the file—and the FBI’s briefing—she was run out of town.” Dr. Jennings smiled. “I hope I don’t meet with the same fate.”
“Guess it depends if you plan to do a public séance at the park and call up Susie Shackle from the dead or not.”
Dr. Jennings nodded. “She was the first girl murdered.” Then she smiled again. “Speaking to the dead can be very beneficial.”
“Susie Shackle’s mother wasn’t too impressed,” her uncle said dryly. “This psychic woman was a quack all the way around.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“Look, I’m not even going to pretend that I know what your game is. Like I said, we’re desperate and the FBI had some good things to say about you.”
“There’s no game, Sheriff Cooper. There are several different methods I can use to try to help you, but it’s no game. I take my work seriously. I hope you will as well.”
“I appreciate that. We just don’t want to be taken for a fool again…you know, you take our money and run all the way to the bank. I mean, I know what we’re paying you is nonrefundable, but we’d like some guarantee that—”
“There are no guarantees in my line of work, Sheriff Cooper. I told the FBI to make that very clear to you. The methods that I employ don’t always work.” She leaned her elbows on the table. “That being said—the vibes that I’m getting—I feel like I will have some success here. Perhaps. It won’t be without a fight, however.”
Mason frowned. What the hell did that mean?
“A fight?” Chief Danner asked the question Mason had not.
“My fight, not yours,” she clarified.
Mason shifted uneasily. And what the hell did that mean?
“I would like a tour of the area,” the psychic continued. “You had three murders last year. If I could see the sites where they were found, that would be helpful. That’s where I’d like to start. I’d like to visit the sites of past years too. Can you have someone assist me?”
“You don’t want to start with Donnie Redman? He was found just two weeks ago. He—”
“I’d like to start with last year,” she said firmly.
“Okay. Your call, of course.” He looked down the table, his gaze landing on hers. “Mason, why don’t you do the honors.”
She nodded, dreading it even though she had expected it. “Of course.”
“I’d like to get an early start in the morning.” Dr. Jennings looked her way for the first time. “I’ll need coffee.”
Mason nodded. “I normally stop by Dottie’s each morning.”
Dr. Jennings stood and pushed her chair away. “Good.” She met her gaze and held it, long enough to make Mason feel uncomfortable. “A muffin and coffee would be a nice start to the morning.” She turned. “Agent Kemp? Anything else?”
“I’m good if you are.”
She nodded at him, then turned her attention back to the others at the table. “Nice to meet you all. I don’t imagine there will be a need for these group sessions. I prefer to work a little more informally, and…well, off the radar.” She smiled again—a forced smile—and Mason found herself staring, not sure what to make of this attractive woman who was a little on the odd side. “I hope you’re comfortable with that.”
“I’m not comfortable giving you free rein to our town, no. I’ll assign Deputy Cooper—Mason—to be your escort while you’re here. After what happened the last time, I’d prefer that you not do anything on your own. Mason will accompany you. It’ll make it easier on you that way too. It’s not like we’ve advertised your presence. In fact, no one knows except the people in this room.”
“Very well.” The psychic turned to her once again. “I like to start early. Seven? You’ll pick me up? We’re at the Aspen Resort. I trust you can find me.”
Mason nodded. “I will.”
They walked out, then Scott stuck his head back inside. “Mason, I’ll take you up on that beer tonight. Bucky’s?”
She nodded. “See you there.” As soon as the door closed, she stood up. “So that was a little creepy, don’t you think?”
“How the hell did she know that I have a muffin and coffee every morning?”
Brady laughed. “Duh, Mason! Because she’s psychic!”
“I don’t think I’m going to like her being here,” Dalton offered. “Because, yeah, that kind of stuff creeps me out.”
Brady nudged her hip as she stood beside him. “Psychic or not…she sure is cute. Didn’t see a ring on her finger either. If you don’t want to be her escort, Mason, I’ll volunteer my services.”
“Cute or not, she’s still a weirdo,” Dalton said.
“How about we keep all of this strictly business, huh?” Uncle Alan stood up too. “I’m not sure what to make of her myself. I was expecting someone older, that’s for sure.”
“I only hope it doesn’t end up like the last time,” Chief Danner added. “When word gets around town that we’ve hired her, people are going to be watching her every move.”
“Maybe she knows that. Maybe that’s why she likes to work ‘off the radar’ as she called it. She’s done this before. I’m sure she’s used to being scrutinized.”
Uncle Alan pointed his finger at her. “You keep an eye on her, Mason. We don’t need any crazy happenings going on. If she even breathes the word ‘séance’ you shut her down. As for the rest of you, there’s no need to go broadcast that she’s here. I’d like to keep it quiet for as long as we can.”