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16

MCGOVERN MADE THE trip back to Philadelphia in forty-five minutes, because she was speeding. She had radioed her field office and talked on a secure tac channel. Although she was still very careful what she relayed, she had made it clear that she wanted every available agent out on the street looking for Carrie. While this was going on, I reached Marino on my cellular phone and told him to get on a plane now.

'She's here,' I said.

'Oh shit. Do Benton and Lucy know?'

'As soon as I find them.'

'I'm out the door,' he said.

I did not believe, nor did McGovern, that Carrie was still in Lehigh County. She wanted to be where she could do the most damage, and I was convinced she somehow knew that Lucy had moved to Philadelphia. Carrie could have been stalking Lucy, for that matter. One thing I believed but could not make sense of was that the murders in Warrenton and now here were intended to lure those of us who had defeated Carrie in the past.

'But Warrenton happened before she escaped from Kirby,' McGovern reminded me as she turned onto Chestnut Street.

'I know,' I said as fear turned my pulse to static. 'I don't understand any of it except that somehow she's involved. It's not coincidence that she was on that news clip, Teun. She knew that after Kellie Shephard's murder we would review everything we could find. Carrie knew damn well we would see that tape.'

The fire was located on a seedy strip on the western fringes of the University of Pennsylvania. Darkness had fallen, and flashing emergency lights were visible miles away. Police cars had closed off two blocks of the street. There were at least eight fire engines and four ladder trucks, and more than seventy feet in the air, firefighters in buckets blasted the smoking roof with deluge guns. The night rumbled with diesel engines, and the blasting of high pressure water drummed over wood and shattered more glass. Tumescent hoses snaked across the street, and water was up to the hubcaps of parked cars that would be going nowhere anytime soon.

Photographers and news crews prowled sidewalks and were suddenly on alert when McGovern and I got out of her car.

'Is ATF involved in this case?' asked a TV reporter.

'We're just here taking a look,' McGovern answered as we walked without pause.

'Then it's a suspected arson, like the other grocery stores?'

The microphone followed as our boots splashed.

'It's under investigation,' McGovern said. 'And you need to stay back, ma'am.'

The reporter was left at the hood of a fire engine while McGovern and I drew closer to the store. Flames had jumped to the barbershop next door, where firefighters with axes and pike poles chopped square holes in the roof. Agents in ATF flak jackets were interviewing potential witnesses, and investigators in turn-outs and helmets moved in and out of a basement. I overheard something about toggle switches and the meter and stealing service. Black smoke billowed, and there seemed to be only one area in the plenum that stubbornly smoldered and spurted flame.

'She might be inside,' McGovern said in my ear.

I followed her in closer. The plate-glass storefront was wide open, and part of the inventory flowed out on a cold river of water. Cans of tuna fish, blackened bananas, sanitary napkins, bags of potato chips, and bottles of salad dressing flowed by, and a firefighter rescued a can of coffee and shrugged as he tossed it inside his truck. The strong beams of flashlights probed the smoky, black interior of the devastated store, illuminating girders twisted like taffy and exposed wires hanging in tangles from I-beams.

'Is Lucy Farinelli in there?' McGovern called inside.

'Last I saw her she was out back talking to the owner,' a male voice called back.

'Be careful in there,' McGovern said loudly.

'Yeah, well, we're having a real problem getting the power to shut down. Must be an underground feed. Maybe if you could look into that?'

'Will do.'

'So this is what my niece does,' I said as McGovern and I waded back out to the street and more ruined produce and canned goods floated past.

'On her good days. I think her unit number's 718. Let me see if I can raise her.'

McGovern held the portable radio to her lips and searched for Lucy on the air.

'What'cha got?' my niece's voice came back.

'You in the middle of something?'

'Finishing up.'

'Can you meet us in front?'

'On my way.'

My relief was apparent, and McGovern smiled at me as lights strobed and water arched. Firefighters were black with soot and sweating. I watched them moving slowly in their boots, dragging hoses over their shoulders and drinking cups of a green thirst quencher that they mixed in plastic jugs. Bright lights had been set up in a truck, and the glare was harsh and confusing as the scene became surreal. Fire buffs, or whackers, as ATF agents called them, had crawled out of the dark and were taking photographs with disposable cameras, while entrepreneurial venders hawked incense and counterfeit watches.

By the time Lucy got to us, the smoke had thinned and was white, indicating a lot of steam. Water was getting to the source.

'Good,' McGovern commented, observing the same thing. 'I think we're almost there.'

'Rats chewing wires,' Lucy said first thing. 'That's the owner's theory.'

She looked at me oddly.

'What brings you out?' she asked.

'It's looking like Carrie is involved in the Lehigh arson-homicide,' McGovern answered for me. 'And it's possible she's still in the area, maybe even here in Philadelphia.'

'What?' Lucy looked stunned. 'How? What about Warrenton?'

'I know,' I replied. 'It seems inexplicable. But there are definite parallels.'

'So maybe this one's a copycat,' my niece then said. 'She read about it and is jerking us around.'

I thought of the metal shaving again, and of the point of origin. There had been nothing in the news about details like that. Nor had it ever been released that Claire Rawley had been killed with a sharp cutting instrument, such as a knife, and I could not get away from one other similarity. Both Rawley and Shephard were beautiful.

'We've got a lot of agents on the street,' McGovern said to Lucy. 'The point is for you to be aware and alert, all right? And Kay.' She looked at me. 'This may not be the best place for you to be.'

I did not answer her, but instead said to Lucy, 'Have you heard from Benton?'

'No.'

'I just don't understand,' I muttered. 'I wonder where he could be.'

'When did you have contact with him last?' Lucy asked.

'At the morgue. He left saying he was going to the scene. And he what? Stayed there maybe an hour?' I said to McGovern.

'If that. You don't think he would have gone back to New York, or maybe Richmond?' she asked me.

'I'm sure he would have told me. I'll keep paging him. Maybe when Marino gets here, he'll know something,' I added as fire hoses blasted and a fine mist settled over us.

It was almost midnight when Marino came to my hotel room, and he knew nothing.

'I don't think you should be here by yourself,' he said right off, and he was keyed up and disheveled.

'You want to tell me where I might be safer? I don't know what's happening. Benton's left no messages. He isn't answering his pager.'

'You two didn't get in a fight or something, did you?'

'For God's sake,' I said in exasperation.

'Look, you asked me, and I'm just trying to help.'

'I know.'

I took a deep breath and tried to settle down.

'What about Lucy?'

He sat on the edge of my bed.

'There was a pretty big fire near the university. She's probably still there,' I answered.

'Arson?'

'I'm not sure they know yet.'

We were quiet for a moment, and my tension grew.

'Look,' I said. 'We can stay here and wait for God knows what. Or we can go out. I can't sleep.'

I began to pace.

'I'm not sitting here all night worrying that Carrie might be lying in wait, damn it.'

Tears filled my eyes.

'Benton's out there somewhere. Maybe at the fire scene with Lucy. I don't know.'

I turned my back to him and stared out at the harbor. My breath trembled in my breast, and my hands were so cold the fingernails had turned blue.

Marino got up, and I knew he was watching me.

'Come on,' he said. 'Let's check it out.'

When we reached the fire scene on Walnut Street, the activity had diminished considerably. Most of the fire trucks had left, and those few firefighters still on the job were exhausted and coiling hoses. Steamy smoke drifted up from the plenum area of the store, but I could see no flames, and from within voices and footsteps sounded as the strong beam of flashlights cut the darkness and were caught in shards of broken glass. I sloshed through water as more groceries and debris floated past, and when I reached the entrance, I heard McGovern's voice. She was saying something about a medical examiner.

'Get him here now,' she barked. 'And watch it over there, okay? No telling where it's all scattered, and I don't want us stepping on anything.'

'Someone got a camera?'

'Okay, I got a watch, stainless steel, men's. Crystal's shattered. And we got one pair of handcuffs?'

'What did you say?'

'You heard me. Handcuffs, Smith Wesson, the genuine article. Closed and locked like someone had them on. In fact, they're double locked.'

'You're shittin' me.'

I made my way inside as large drops of cold water smacked my helmet and dripped down my neck. I recognized Lucy's voice, but I could not make out what she was saying. She sounded almost hysterical, and there was suddenly a lot of splashing and commotion.

'Hold on, hold on!' McGovern commanded. 'Lucy! Someone get her out of here!'

'No!' Lucy screamed.

'Come on, come on,' McGovern was saying. 'I've got your arm. Take it easy, okay?'

'No!' Lucy screamed. 'NO! NO! NO!'

Then there was a loud splash and a surprised outcry.

'My God. Are you all right?' McGovern said.

I was halfway inside when I saw McGovern helping Lucy to her feet. My niece was hysterical, and her hand was bleeding, but she didn't seem to care. I waded to them as my heart constricted and my blood seemed to turn as cold as the water I waded through.

'Let me see,' I said as I gently took Lucy's hand and shone my light on it.

She was shaking all over.

'When's the last time you had a tetanus shot?' I asked.

'Aunt Kay,' she moaned. 'Aunt Kay.'

Lucy locked her arms around my neck, and both of us almost fell. She was crying so hard she could not speak, and her embrace was a vise against my ribs.

'What's happened?' I demanded of McGovern.

'Let's get both of you out of here now,' she said.

'Tell me what's happened!'

I wasn't going anywhere until she told me. She hesitated again.

'We've found some remains. A burn victim. Kay, please.'

She took my arm and I yanked it away.

'We need to go out,' she said.

I pulled away from her as I looked toward the back corner, where investigators were talking amongst themselves and splashing and wading as fingers of light probed.

'More bones over here,' someone was saying. 'Nope, scratch that. Burned wood.'

'Well, this isn't.'

'Shit. Where the fuck's the medical examiner?'

'I'll take care of this,' I said to McGovern as if this were my scene. 'Get Lucy out and wrap a clean towel around her hand. I'll tend to her shortly. Lucy,' I then said to my niece. 'You're going to be fine.'

I unlocked her arms from my neck, and I was beginning to tremble. Somehow I knew.

'Kay, don't go over there,' McGovern raised her voice. 'Don't!'

But by now I knew I must, and I abruptly left them for that corner, splashing and almost tripping as I got weak in the knees. The investigators grew quiet with my approach, and at first I did not know what I was looking at as I followed the beams of their flashlights to something charred that was mingled with soggy paper and insulation, something on top of fallen plaster and chunks of blackened wood.

Then I saw the shape of a belt and its buckle, and the protruding femur that looked like a thick, burned stick. My heart was beating out of my chest as the shape became the burned ruins of a body attached to a blackened head that had no features, only patches of sooty silver hair.

'Let me see the watch,' I said, staring wildly at the investigators.

One of them held it out and I took it from his hand. It was a men's stainless steel Breitling, an Aerospace.

'No,' I muttered as I knelt in the water. 'Please, no.'

I covered my face with my hands. My mind shorted out. My vision failed as I swayed. Then a hand was steadying me. Bile crept up my throat.

'Come on, Doc,' a male voice said gently as hands lifted me to my feet.

'It can't be him,' I cried out. 'Oh, God, please don't let it be. Please, please, please.'

I couldn't seem to keep my balance, and it took two agents to get me out as I did what I could to gather the fragments that were left of me. I spoke to no one when I was returned to the street, and I walked weirdly, woodenly, to McGovern's Explorer, where she was with Lucy in the back, holding a blood-soaked towel around Lucy's left hand.

'I need a first aid kit,' I heard myself say to McGovern.

'It might be better to get her to the hospital,' her voice came back as she stared hard at me, fear and pity shining in her eyes.

'Get it,' I said.

McGovern reached in back, over the seat to grab something. She set an orange Pelican case on the seat and unfastened the latches. Lucy was almost in shock, shaking violently, her face white.

'She needs a blanket,' I said.

I removed the towel and washed her hand with bottled water. A thick flap of skin on her thumb was almost avulsed, and I swabbed it profusely with betadine, the iodine odor piercing my sinuses as all that I had just seen became a bad dream. It was not true.

'She needs stitches,' McGovern said.

It had not happened. A dream.

'We should go to the hospital so she can get stitches.'

But I already had out the steri-strips and benzoin glue, because I knew that stitches would not work with a wound like this. Tears were streaming down my face as I topped off my work with a thick layer of gauze. When I looked up and out the window, I realized Marino was standing by my door. His face was distorted by pain and rage. He looked like he might vomit. I got out of the Explorer.

'Lucy, you need to come on with me,' I said, taking her arm. I had always been able to function better when I was taking care of someone else. 'Come on.'

Emergency lights flashed in our faces, the night and the people in it disconnected and strange. Marino drove away with us as the medical examiner's van pulled up. There would be X-rays, dental charts, maybe even DNA used to confirm the identification. The process most likely would take a while, but it did not matter. I already knew. Benton was dead.


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