Deadly Little Secrets
The bodies lay before her. Five sets of staring eyes, five gruesome deaths mocked her from the shocking clarity of the police photos.
“Five dead,” the gravelly voice rumbled in Ana’s ear. “A completely cold case, and one fat headache. That’s what I got, Agent Burton.” Even the noise in the background didn’t disguise the irritation in Agent McGuire’s voice. “Whoever they were, they were slick, professional, and cold as hell. They left us nuthin’ to work with, ya’ know?”
Ana Burton scanned the photos, fighting her own horrified reaction. The three meticulous professional, execution-style hits juxtaposed with the tortured bodies of two of the victims. Her stomach clenched. The pictures were painfully graphic; no angle was left to the imagination. In one, the sheer volume of blood pooling around the body made the dead woman look like she was haloed in red. In another photo, a young man lay with arms akimbo, his body ribboned with slashes and his remaining clothing so covered in red that its pattern was obliterated.
“I do know,” she replied, pulling herself back from the brink. Her own losses were too fresh, too close to the surface to be looking at this kind of thing. She cleared her throat and refocused on McGuire. “You and Agent Hines, you were all over it,” Ana told the retired agent, and meant the compliment. The notes on the cold case—a nine-year-old investigation of art fraud—were meticulous. They also led absolutely nowhere. “I’m hoping new technologies might shake something loose.”
McGuire hollered at his grandkids to keep it down before he continued. “Gotta say that it would be good to get those bastards. You saw the case files—two of those people were killed slow. Mean. The art fraud part, that’s stealing. Stealin’s one thing. Good to catch them for that too, but the killing part? They need to go down, way down, for that.”
“Couldn’t have said it better, Agent McGuire. I talked to Agent Hines this morning, and he feels the same. Okay if I tap you again, if I come up with something new?”
“I’d be pissed if you didn’t, get me?” McGuire’s growl was part hopeful, part order this time.
“Got it. I’ll be in touch.”
They hung up, and Ana noted the conversation in her case log. She’d opened this cold case file two days ago, the second case in her four-month exile to the CIA’s San Francisco office and the Cold Case Division. With this one, however, she’d felt the gut-level excitement she got from a real case, a hot one. Much as she didn’t want to get involved—she was only on cold cases until her probation hearing—this one had her instincts perking up. Between her art degree, computer expertise, and Agency experience, this one would challenge her every skill set.
Don’t get cocky. The self-caution was new. A painful reminder that she’d been tested in Rome and people had died because she was wrong. As horrific as the photos were, at least these people were already dead and buried. Her lips twisted in a grimace. She couldn’t kill anyone on a cold case.
She’d already talked to the other agent, the very impatient Agent Hines. He’d handled the legwork on the original crime. Hines was a Senior Special Agent now, covering Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Wyoming. McGuire, on the other hand, had retired to New Orleans. They’d each given her a personal rundown, suggested some new areas to check, and been generally cordial. Neither recognized her name, which was a relief. To them, she was just another agent doing grunt work on a cold-as-ice case.
Her cell phone beeped an incoming text. She read about her best friend’s latest scheme, some matchmaker deal. “Jenny,” she muttered to the phone as she returned the text. “I don’t want to go to some cattle call. Nice men? I don’t think so. How many times do I have to tell you those Maximillionaire Matchmaker cocktail parties are a straight-up booty call?”
The image of some millionaire stalking up and down a line of scantily clad models, Jen included, popped into her brain.
Not in the market, she texted back. Remember the migraine?
The headache had actually come from gritting her teeth and resisting the urge to shoot the self-important moron who’d bored her to tears the last time Jen talked her into a social event.
She decided not to mention that part.
Jen was on a mission to get her out of her apartment and into the land of the living, if not the dating pool. She kept saying, “Hey, you