Daryl Eugene Wardell wasn’t a smart man. Never
claimed to be. After all, genius had never alighted
on the branches of the Wardell family tree. Like
him, his daddy never finished highschool. And
neither had his mother, who-according to Daryl
Senior—ran off when junior was barely out of
diapers, taking up whoring to pay for her drug
habit. But it was his brother who’d been the dumbest
dumbass of the brainless lot, dead at age twelve
after adopting the
overnight notion that he was Superman and could stop a speeding
train along the Conemaugh & Blacklick Railroad just west of
Yes, the Wardell lineage was like a dip in the shallow end of a
sun-bleached, kiddie-sized gene pool.
And so, Daryl Eugene Wardell lived by his strengths. His
third-grade teacher had noted in his report card that young
Daryl had a ‘keen sense for problem solving’ and seemed more
‘mechanically inclined.’ Of course, his daddy—with his limited
literacy—interpreted the notation literally and assumed Ms.
Agnew was suggesting junior become a mechanic. From that day
forward, Daryl carried a wrench in the back pocket of his jeans,
proud in the knowledge that he would follow in his daddy’s
But genius and mechanical inclination aside, Daryl Eugene
Wardell knew it didn’t take brains to recognize a good specimen
when he saw one.
From behind the wheel of his 1965 Ford F-100, Daryl watched her
negotiate the trash-littered sidewalk of Govans. He studied her
form: the slope of her shoulders under the spaghetti straps of
the hot-pink halter top, the roundness of her hips and rump
under the latex mini skirt, and her long, lean calves made even
longer by the three-inch pumps she wobbled on.
She didn’t look at home in the shoes. Or maybe she was just too
pissed off to walk straight.
He’d first spotted her back on Edmondson where the rest of the
hookers plied their trade to a thinning stream of late-night
johns in the 2 a.m. heat. She’d stumbled out of a grey Cavalier
idling at the curb, hurled a few choice words at the john then
slammed the car door and strutted off in those heels.
It was when she turned up the side street that Daryl recognized
He followed with the truck, saw the quick flame from a lighter
when she lit up. A nasty habit. Cigarette smoke wafted through
the open window of the pickup and somewhere down the block he
heard a corner dealer yelling out his wares: “Yellow-tops.
Yellows. Got yellow-tops here.” like he was selling fruit at
some farmer’s market instead of crack-cocaine.
The dealer’s call reminded Daryl of his junkie mother, but he
pushed the hatred deeper. Focused on his mission.
He trailed her at a distance, past a burned-out store and
deserted row houses, past a small clutch of jugglers heading
down to the Edmondson corners to sell their dimebags of rock,
until a block and a half in she finally glanced over her
She eyed the truck. Shook her head. Then waved a dismissive hand
at him as the end of her cigarette flared.
Daryl moved the truck up alongside her, his good Bridgestones
rubbing the curb. Her small breasts jiggled with each step as
she maintained her determined pace. When she finally glared at
him through the open passenger window, her anger excited him.
“You still working?” he asked her over the truck’s idle.
“In your dreams, asshole.”
His laugh erupted before he could stop it.
“You think that’s funny, dickhead?”
But he didn’t answer, only laughed again as he gunned the 352
V-8 under the hood and left her there in the canyon of dark row
In your dreams. He wondered if she’d think it was funny when he
explained to her later the reason he’d laughed. Wondered if
she’d believe him when he told her she had been in his dreams.
It wasn’t that Daryl Eugene Wardell entertained notions of
psychic powers or E.S.P. and he didn’t believe in omens either.
But sometimes...when he really needed them, answers came to him
in his dreams.
Last night he’d had such a dream.
And the answer his dream had presented to him was now perfectly
framed in the Ford’s rearview mirror.
Daryl Eugene Wardell’s smile faded. Sweat snaked down his back
under his damp shirt as he watched her grow smaller in the
mirror and finally disappear when he took a left two blocks up.
Circling back onto Harlem, he parked the pickup just past the
mouth of a cluttered back alley, the hood bathed in the sodium
glare of a street lamp. He left the headlights on, grabbed his
rope, and got out of the cab, then jogged across Govans. From
one block down he could just make out the staccato of her heels
striking the concrete.
He nudged back the beak of his cap and clenched the rope
tighter. Pressing himself flat against the rough Formstone of
the corner row house, he closed his eyes. Rehearsed the moves in
The clacking of her heels grew louder.
Anticipation bristled every hair, and a prickling heat climbed
up between his shoulder blades and the back of his neck.
Unbidden, the memory of his last girl seeped into his brain. The
sweet smell of the shed. The feel of her pinned beneath him. The
rhythmic slapping of his thighs against her rump. Her flesh
between his teeth and her muffled squeals. And
finally...finally, the taste of her blood, glorious and hot,
filling his mouth when he exploded inside of her.
And tonight a new one. New tastes. New opportunities.
Nestling his head back onto the paint-chipped windowsill, he
felt his heart rate surge as adrenaline spilled into his blood
stream. His senses heightened.
She was so close. He imagined he could almost smell her now: her
perfume, and beneath that her sweat. He could sense the warmth
of her flesh, hear her blood coursing through her veins. And
when she emerged at last around the corner of the row house, he
wondered how she couldn’t hear his own predator’s heart
hammering in his chest.
She stopped, her gaze swinging left to the pickup’s blazing
headlights. He saw tension tighten the muscles along her bare
back, then heard her mutter: “Fucking asshole.”
Daryl knew she couldn’t see inside the truck through the street
lamp’s glare across the windshield, knew she couldn’t tell if he
sat behind the wheel or not.
She flicked her cigarette into the gutter. It tumbled through
the air, sparks flying from its tip when it hit the asphalt and
rolled away. Every detail crackling in his brain, registering in
slow motion as the hunt unfolded.
And when she finally turned, his heart roared in his ears.
A thin gasp of surprise barely escaped her lips when he stepped
away from the house and took out her legs in one well-aimed
kick. She went down like a sack of feed, one arm pinwheeling
uselessly behind her.
She hit the sidewalk hard, the air coming out of her in a rush.
Stunned. And he was on top of her. His training kicking in.
She was winded. Couldn’t scream. He threw her over, face into
the concrete, his knee driving into the small of her back,
pinning her as his hands expertly worked the rope.
The street was empty, but he had to work fast. Headlights
whipped by a block west.
Daryl Eugene Wardell smiled as he she struggled beneath him, her
feeble desperation arousing him. And when she threatened to
scream, he clamped one hand over her mouth.
His first error.
He swallowed his own scream when her teeth sank into the flesh
of his hand, and the sharp, crushing pain coursed up his arm.
With his good hand he grabbed her hair and slammed her forehead
into the concrete. Once. Twice. And on the third blow his hand
came free of her jaws at last.
She was still then. Knocked-out, he guessed. He leaned in close,
smelled her fear oozing from every pore, and he couldn’t help
He slid his tongue along the back of her neck, greedy for the
elixir of that fear. One taste. Tide him over.
Daryl Eugene Wardell realized his second error too late.
The pain blinded him before he’d even registered her tactic, her
head snapping back, her skull connecting solidly with the softer
bone and cartilage of his face. Searing, fucking pain like a
knife driving into his forehead. Stars exploding behind his
This time he did scream.
His blood flowed, and he felt her squirm away. He expected to
open his eyes and see her in full flight down the sidewalk.
But this one was full of surprises.
Kneeling on the gritty concrete, his bloodied nose cradled in
one hand, he looked up. And she was there. Her mouth covered in
his blood, and undiluted rage in her eyes as she glared down at
And then Daryl knew: this one was different.
“You low-life piece of shit!” she said. “You have no fucking
clue who you’re dealing with, do you, motherfucker?”
He tried to see past the blood-red blur of the pain, tried to
collect the scattered thoughts that stumbled through his brain.
So scattered that Daryl Eugene Wardell didn’t immediately
realize how lucky he was that she wore those three-inch pumps.
Only later would he thank his maker for them, because when she
raised her foot, determined to strike out at him, she teetered
on one stiletto heel. It took little effort to bring her down
then. Snatching her kick in midair, he clamped onto her small
ankle and yanked hard.
This time when the whore came down, she stayed down.
and now for a special sneak peek from deep within
and deep in the Catoctin mountains of western Maryland...
Finn could already smell the decay. It hung in the thick, sultry
air. Putrid and unmistakable. Clinging to him like his
When Kay finally stopped the ATV next to two others, Otis Reaney
had just made his way up out of the ravine fifty feet away. The
Sheriff’s Office detective was a bull of a man. Solid and wide,
and perhaps just a little out of shape. He was winded when he
joined them, and he used one sleeve to wipe the perspiration
beading across his brow.
Kay made the introductions. Between the vibrations of the
Outlander and the white-knuckled grip he’d maintained during the
ride into the site, Finn could barely feel Reaney’s handshake.
“Glad you could make it,” he said, his attention going back to
Kay. And as she shut off the ATV, Reaney seemed impressed that
she’d been the one to maneuver the four-wheeler over the
“Even if you hadn’t come seen me two days ago and put Frances
fresh in my mind,” Reaney told Kay, “I would’ve thought of her
the second I saw this girl.”
Reaney gestured for them to follow him through the raspberry and
sticker bushes, along a single path that had been tamped down
between the ATVs and the ravine. “Some buddies out on a fishing
trip found her last night, but didn’t want to risk four-wheeling
it out in the dark. First light they rode back to their trucks
and called it in. Watch that,” Reaney said as he held back a
branch of thorns for Kay.
“Lucky for us they had a GPS with ‘em. They waypointed the body,
then went south to their trucks. With the data from their unit
we were able to find a closer access point.” He shoved a thumb
in the direction of the road, still a ten-minute, bone-jarring
“No way someone brought her in all this way just to dump her,”
Reaney speculated, swatting at a mosquito as he stopped at the
brink of the steep ravine. “I figure she must’ve wandered in on
her own, lost her footing and fell down this bank, or the other
side. Can’t say for sure right now, but it looks like her neck’s
About thirty feet down, the trees gave way only marginally, and
sunlight dappled the slow-moving creek below. Through the
undergrowth, Finn could just make out flashes of white skin down
where the creek spilled out into a shallow, rocky pool.
He was immediately impressed with Reaney’s handling of the crime
scene. Where it could have been overrun with FCSO and Thurmont
PD scoping for a gawk, the detective had kept the personnel on
the scene limited to only those absolutely necessary: two
crime-scene technicians, three uniforms who searched tediously
through the ferns and forest-floor growth, and a plainclothes
whom Finn guessed was Reaney’s partner.
“Detective!” one of the TPD uniforms called out to Reaney from
the ATVs. He held up a thick, black Motorola radio. “O’Hearn’s
at the road. You want me to get him?”
“Meet Dave halfway. I want O’Hearn asap.”
“Rudy O’Hearn,” Reaney explained to Finn and Kay. “Armed Forces
Police. Specializes in entomology. Sure, we can collect
whatever’s needed and send it on to O’Hearn. But I figured,
given the possible connection to your missing cop and the press
this thing might get, we’d better not screw around. I’d rather
have O’Hearn collect his own maggots.”
“Maggots? How long do you figure she’s been down there?” Kay
“More than a few days,” Reaney said. “County ME can probably
narrow it down when he gets here. Or O’Hearn can age his
creepy-crawlers. I think decomp might have been worse except she
got snagged up in the creek. It’s spring-fed so the water’s
pretty cold. She’s still a mess though.”
“Let’s see her,” Kay said, and Finn heard the restlessness in
Reaney pointed to the guideline secured between the trees and
the smaller saplings along the precipitous slope. But when Kay’s
hand closed around the rope, Reaney stopped her.
“There’s something else you should know,” he said, and there was
a graveness in Reaney’s expression as the detective looked
toward the body in the creek.
“What is it?”
“The girl...she’s not the only victim here.”
* * *
Sixteen years on the job, half to those working murders, Kay
couldn’t remember if she’d ever been as deeply affected as she
was by what lay at the bottom of the ravine.
Making their way down the sheer slope, the smell of decay
intensifying with every step, Kay knew it wasn’t good even
before she’d laid eyes on the naked, bloated remains listing in
the stream. In the mid-summer heat the body in the creek, in
spite of the eight or ten inches of cold spring water, had
certainly passed the early stages of decomposition.
It wasn’t Micky.
The woman had fallen face-up, and Reaney’s guess at a broken
neck had been a no-brainer, her head wedged in a severely wrong
angle between a rock and her shoulder. Across her bloated body,
the skin had blistered and was peeling. Marbling was pronounced
along the limbs, extending across the chest and distended
abdomen, the greenish-black discoloration marking the
decomposition of blood within the vessels just below the skin’s
Her face was the worst: swollen beyond recognition, the lips
mushroomed out, and the skin almost purple in color. There would
be no visual identification of the remains, and Kay hoped she
was a hooker. That her prints were on file somewhere.
The hands and feet were already gloving, the skin sloughing off,
detaching in one piece like a glove. It would be work, but Kay
suspected they’d get at least a couple useable prints.
She waved at several slow, metallic-colored flies. Reaney had
given both her and Finn a good dose of bug repellent before
they’d gone down into the ravine. It worked for the mosquitos,
more or less, but did nothing for the flies. And as they crawled
across Kay’s skin, she shuddered as she imagined where they’d
More than any decomp case Kay had worked, this one was rife with
insect activity. Rudy O’Hearn, the Armed Forces Police
entomology specialist, had arrived not long after Kay and Finn
had finished their preliminary survey. Now the bug guy squatted
in the shallow stream, the water lapping over his boots, as he
examined the insect microcosm playing out across the woman’s
body. He was a small, eager man with a careful and serious
demeanor. He’d already snapped dozens of photos of the insects
laying claim to the exposed flesh, and now picked through the
maggots and carrion beetles with a pair of long forceps. Some he
deposited into jars of ethanol, while others were placed in
He smiled when he lifted one of the flat receptacles to the
light and rattled several maggots around its bottom.
“We’ll raise these little guys in the lab,” he explained when he
noticed Kay’s stare.
“And then what?”
“Determine species. That’ll give us a time frame. Different
insects are drawn to carrion at different stages. Some prefer
the freshly dead. Others aren’t attracted until the putrefactive
gases are present. And then there are others who are only
interested in the molds or the other insects. But these here are
likely your typical blue blowflies.”
“And what does that tell you?”
“Blowflies are generally your first on the scene. They can
arrive within minutes of a body hitting the ground.”
“So what’s your guess on how long she’s been out here?” Finn
“Won’t know until I run all the stats. Temperature, humidity,
weather data for the past few days. Then replicate the
conditions in order to raise these beauts.” He leaned across the
body and extracted several larger maggots from the corner of the
girl’s nose. “These look to be second instar. Meaning, your
second crop. In this heat, blowfly eggs can hatch in one or two
“Which means what? She’s been here three, maybe four days?”
O’Hearn’s balding head bobbed once. “It’s a good estimate. But
like I said, I’ll have a more accurate time-frame once I factor
in the temperatures and other environmental factors.”
Kay swatted at a couple of mosquitos. She felt faint. It was the
heat, she was sure. The sauna-like humidity had sapped her
energy. And she should have eaten before they’d left the city.
Time had ceased to have any meaning in the heat and stench of
the small clearing. She had no idea how long she’d stood there
at the water’s edge, the toes of her runners already soaked from
sliding on the slick rocks, her gaze raking over and over the
dead girl, scrutinizing every aspect as though, somehow,
something would speak to her, give her direction.
And always, involuntarily, Kay’s eyes returned to the other
victim in the ravine.
The other life that had been lost.
She wondered if the men who’d found her had recognized the
double tragedy in the woman’s death.
Just below the stream’s surface, the tiny, perfectly-formed feet
and legs were barely noticeable between the woman’s swollen and
peeling thighs. The feeble current stirred them, making them
appear almost animated. She’d heard of it happening: the
bloating and putrefactive gases expelling a fetus, and Kay
wondered if another day in the heat would have caused a full
“You doing okay?” Finn’s voice was a whisper as he moved
“You don’t look too good.”
“It’s this fucking heat.”
The little feet dipped and swayed in the stream.
A life ended before it had ever taken a breath. All because of a
“Someone’s gotta be missing this girl, Finn.”
“You mean a husband?”
“Or boyfriend.” She couldn’t take her eyes off the fetus. “Why
haven’t we heard about a missing pregnant woman?”
“Not every Laci Peterson becomes a media frenzy.”
Kay looked past the stream into the thick woods. “He’s got to be
She scanned the bank, the dense underbrush and beyond. “She
can’t have come far,” she said, and suddenly Kay imagined Micky
somewhere beyond the dark trunks of the maple and basswood, the
choking creepers and kudzu. She imagined screaming Micky’s name
into the woods. She imagined getting an answer.
“Or she might have wandered for days,” Finn argued. “If this was
one of his victims, I doubt he would have hunted for a new
victim until she was gone.”
“You mean Micky.”
Finn nodded. He looked as sapped of energy as she felt. His
T-shirt was damp and even his hair under the short ponytail was
soaked with sweat. “Micky was snatched Saturday night.” Kay knew
he was thinking aloud. “If Micky was this girl’s replacement,
then she could have been out here since Saturday. Maybe longer
if you figure he might have spent a day or two looking for her.”
“Unless he realized she was pregnant and didn’t want her,” Kay
said. “Maybe he wanted to get rid of her. Drove her out here,
dumped her in the dead of night so she wouldn’t find the road.
Or maybe even pushed her down into this ravine himself.”
“Which means he could live in the next county. Or fucking West
Virginia for all we know.”
Kay’s frustration was about to brim over.
“But what about the shackle then?” She pointed to the steel jaws
around the woman’s ankle, held together with a heavy padlock.
The device looked medieval, but even though rust had started
eating the surface, it wasn’t that old. And forged directly to
the shackle was what looked to be at least twenty pounds of
chain, the heavy links snaking through the rocks along the
creek’s bank. “She had to have escaped,” Kay said. “The
eye-screw is still attached to the chain. If he was dumping her,
why wouldn’t he have removed the shackle and chain?”
But Finn didn’t have an answer.
“Jesus Christ, Finn. Who is this son of a bitch?”
Loose stones rained down the slope as Reaney descended again. He
crossed the rocky streambed to join them. “We’re not finding any
kind of footprints, Detectives. Ground’s too hard up on either
side of the ravine. There’s no telling which direction she came
“We need a dog out here,” Kay said, and Reaney was already
“Once we get some of the personnel cleared out, and lift her out
of here, we’ll bring in the K9 unit.” He removed his cap and ran
one meaty hand through his sandy-colored hair. “You two be
wanting a ride back outta here soon?”
Kay shook her head. “No. I want to help carrying her out of
here.” It wasn’t that she didn’t trust the County’s technicians
to handle it properly. Kay just wanted to be there for the girl.
And the fetus. She couldn’t explain why.
Reaney nodded, then moved on, giving instructions for his men to
wrap up the scene.
Kay scanned the forest again, the heat and humidity washing over
her. And she imagined eyes, imagined they were being watched,
but she doubted that was true.
Where are you, Micky?
And as Kay considered all the copies of all the case files
collecting dust in Ed Gunderson’s basement, all the missing
prostitutes over the years, she wondered how many more bodies
these woods must be hiding. How may girl’s bodies were lost out
here on this mountain side, never to be found?
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