PROLOGUE AND CHAPTER ONE
In August 2005 the Federal Bureau of Investigation held a conference in San Antonio, TX, with experts from a wide range of fields to discuss the topic of serial murder. This was the first real attempt made by law enforcement and academics to share their thoughts and experiences about those individuals prone to killing more than once in clear, cold, and calculated ways.
At the same time, unknown to most at the conference, twenty sleep deprived high security prisoners, male and female, were being transported on a scratched and beaten up white bus to a government research facility in rural Wyoming. All of the prisoners were considered psychopathic and each one had a total kill count of over twenty-five.
Each prisoner was heavily shackled, wrist to wrist and ankle to ankle, with not much more than a foot for movement between opposing limbs. When they arrived at the gray stone compound at sunrise they were greeted by a cadre of armed guards dressed in green and brown military fatigues and escorted through the gates and behind the imposing and somber walls.
The prisoners were hurriedly led underground, down a dark and grimy ramp between two cement walls, and out into a wide and sterile underground corridor lined with white tile and lit only by buzzing and flickering bulbs every fifteen feet. The prisoners, although curious, still marched in line with the obedient boot stomps of the damned, their shackles rattling and scraping along the floor.
At the end of the corridor was an open thick green metal door with an embedded circular glass window, which led into a small room. The guard in front stepped aside and ushered the prisoners inside with the barrel of his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
The prisoners stepped through the doorway and broke line, squinting as they found their own space in the large bright circular room. The walls were bare with the exception of an ominous gray air vent towards the ceiling, opposite the door. The vent cover had flecks of rust around the bottom corners and was noticeably askew.
Once all of the prisoners were inside, their shackles were removed at gunpoint, and they were ordered to take off their orange jumpsuits, leaving them naked and primal, disoriented by the powerful fluorescent lighting. The shackles and jumpsuits were taken away and the door was locked.
Before the prisoners could assess each other and their environment a sudden hiss erupted through the vent and the smell of almonds permeated the room. Many pairs of desperate eyes caught site of a lone black gas mask sitting on the floor, directly underneath the vent.
In San Antonio, they’d just sat down for coffee.
114 W 15th STREET, HAVERBROOK
There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the house.
The fridge and cupboards were stocked with normal food and drinks. Abstract Picasso-like paintings adorned the walls in all rooms but the child’s bedroom and the bathroom. The bookcases in the living room were stocked with cookbooks, history books, and a wealth of science fiction. The smell of lemon cleaning fluid hung faint in the air, and the wooden floors in the busiest areas were spotless and shiny.
Nothing betrayed the fact that this was the house of a wanted pedophile.
Michael stood at one of the bookcases, thumbing through the contents and not really knowing what he was looking for. He raised his head and heard the low dull whir of an SUV pull into the driveway. He eased the book he had been holding back into the bookcase and quickly sidestepped towards the kitchen, keeping his eye towards the front of the house. He hopped up onto the draining board and dropped catlike out of the window into the back garden, and pushed the window gently closed.
The engine was still running and Michael made a calculated move and scuttled across a patch of grass and through the loose bushes into the neighbor’s garden. From there he could approach the front of the house towards the road and use the bushes as cover to keep his eye on Mr. Meek.
It was now dusk, and Michael’s black garb began to merge with the shadows. Through the leaves, he saw the light inside the SUV flick on, and Meek, a middle-aged man, with a chubby face and short messy brown hair, was looking down and talking to someone in the passenger seat.
Bobbing above the dashboard on the passenger side, Michael could just make out the blond head of Charlie Hanes.
Hanes had been missing for close to a week. He had been snatched on the ground floor of the Huntington Mall near the main entrance, right outside of a clothes store. His mother, Sophia Hanes, had turned her back only momentarily to discuss a discount with the shop assistant, and the security feed showed Charlie wander out of the store to be immediately picked up by a stranger on the way out of the exit. The black and white footage didn’t show a clear image of the kidnapper, only a generic and ambiguous baseball cap and large shades, and nondescript jeans and a t-shirt.
Michael had his eye on Meek for a couple of weeks.
Ever since Meek entered the Emergency Room at Huntington General, where Michael worked in triage, Michael had known something was very off about him. Michael had a rare form of synesthesia that meant his brain took the shapes of people’s bodies and added a bright colored outline to his perception of their figure. He liked to call these outlines coats or auras. Most of these auras were intriguing and entertaining, all accept the minority of people with the red.
Michael had never seen a red aura until six months ago, not long after his twenty fifth birthday. At first, he had thought nothing of it, but he soon noticed that the red auras tended to accompany bruised and battered women into the E.R., spoke on their behalf, and always had an arm around their shoulder or a hand on their knee.
The red auras made Michael feel queasy, not just because there was something clearly very off about them, but the red around their bodies flickered and snapped like a coat of fire, demonic and repulsive, and when Michael got too close to them, it seared around him until he felt like he himself was engulfed in flames.
This powerful sensation both terrified and delighted Michael.
And here it was, again, searing around Meek, who now had his arm around the shoulders of the missing boy.
Michael had quickly realized his unique gift, and wanted to stop those with the red auras, as he knew nobody else was able to see them. Every time a red aura entered the Emergency Room, he would alert Johnny in the hospital police to keep an eye on them, but he also, in direct violation of HIPAA regulations, jotted down their name and address to begin his own investigation in his downtime.
After a week and a half of tailing Meek, Michael suddenly spotted him with a young boy. Hanes’ face had been all over the news, and Michael was all but sure that it was Meek who had kidnapped the boy.
Michael lifted his binoculars out from the inside of his jacket and focused inside the car. The boy’s face lifted above the dash as Meek handed him a lollipop.
There was no doubt about it. This young lad was Charlie Hanes.
The automated garage door jarred and whirred to life, and rattled up into the rails. Meek rolled the car forward into the garage and the door descended on the rollers back down to the ground.
Michael’s heart raced, conflicted. He wanted desperately to kick down the front door and rescue Hanes, after all, he had done all of the detective work himself. He frowned and decided it wasn’t the time, and decided to keep watch instead, and make yet another call to the police hotline. He was also perched with the number of Hanes’ mother ready to go, so she could come and be reunited with her boy tonight.
The garage door touched down on the ground and the mechanical whir yielded to the silence of the night.
“Hi,” said Michael into his phone. “I know where Charlie Hanes is.”
Detective Connors was on her way back to the station. She had driven out to Charlie Hanes’ birth father’s residence just outside of the city, in Spring Mills, but he had an alibi for the time of the abduction that was corroborated by the other fishermen at Lake Keechee. The sorrow had seemed genuine enough; he had offered to take Charlie with him to the lake on the day of the kidnap, but Sofia had wanted to take him to the Mall for some professional photographs. The fact that Charlie could’ve been out fishing instead smarted badly for both his mom and his dad.
Connors pulled off the freeway onto Main Street just as the sun had almost set behind the Huntington, Pennsylvania skyline. The top of her dark green convertible was down and her long wavy auburn wood hair flew out behind her in the drag. She wore her black sports coat with a white t-shirt and jeans, and overcompensated with perfume to hide the fact that her clothes had not been clean for a couple of days. She sighed and reached down for her energy drink in the cup holder but instead rested her hand on the cold steel rim.
Steering around the traffic, she wondered if it was wise to try and jumpstart her body yet again; sometimes you just had to sleep.
Her phone rang and she checked the display. It was her partner, Whitman.
Connors slid her hand up underneath her hair and pressed the Bluetooth device in her ear. “Talk to me,” she said, in her deep and gravelly voice.
“Hey, where are you?” a man’s voice replied.
“Main. Be back at the station in ten, maybe fifteen.”
“How’d it go with the dad?”
Connors swallowed to shift the lump in her throat. The look she’d seen on his face was the same look she’d seen before on the faces of many parents – distraught, despondent, broken. In losing their child they had lost a piece of themselves, and guilt was forever at the ready to consume them entirely.
“That good, huh?” continued Whitman, more than familiar with his partner’s silences.
Fracture lines split through her voice. “It’s not him,” she said. “Where are we with the mom’s boyfriend, was he in L.A.?”
“Yeah. We’ve checked with the airline staff, airport security, and numerous friends and family. But listen, before you get back, do you feel like following up on another lead?”
“You serious?” she replied, quickly. “What is it?”
“A man has been spotted driving with a child resembling Charlie Hanes out in Haverbrook. They were in a silver Toyota SUV pulling into an automated garage. 114 west 15th street. Not five minutes ago.”
Connors jerked the car over to the exit lane. “I’ll go check it out. Who called it in?”
“Well, that’s where it gets really interesting. It’s our friend, Michael Sinclair.”
“Him again?” she snapped, incredulous. Michael Sinclair had started to show up as a regular on the police hotline, calling in tips.
“Yeah,” replied Whitman. “But if it’s anything like the last time, it should be bang on the money.”
Connors eased on the brake before the next exit ramp and whirred down to fifty. She frowned, “But if anything comes out of this… or not, I want words with Mr. Sinclair.” She clicked out the call, and accelerated around the offramp and joined the highway to Haverbook. Her hand came down decisively on the energy drink and she cracked open the can with a hiss.
She wanted to be ready if this tip played out.
West Fifteenth Street was mostly where middle class old couples retired. The houses were one level, although some had basements. The wooden porches usually had two chairs and a small black grill, and American flags either flew on their own standalone poles in the lawn or jutted out at forty-five degrees from the house. The lawns were small but well- manicured, and the flowerbeds shined with pride as if the flowers and plants had become surrogate children.
Connors cruised down the street, counting down the numbers as they became visible in her headlights. 114 didn’t look any different from the other houses. The front door was blue with a small circular window at head height, and to the right of the door was a large window. The unmistakable multicolored flickering of a TV danced on the other side of the drawn blinds.
Connors pulled up into the empty driveway, to the right of the neighbor’s bushes, and stopped before the large white garage door. She cut the engine and stepped out, taking a moment to look both ways down the street. All was quiet for a Sunday evening; there was no other traffic and no pedestrians, and the darkness of an early Fall night was solidifying to black. A few large trees lined the long street and hid some of the other houses from view.
Connors walked in her sneakers down the large stone path that separated the house from the front lawn and a security light clicked on. She knocked on the front door, but nobody answered. She leaned to the side to see if she could spot any movement behind the blinds, but the TV danced alone. She knocked again, and this time she heard a door open and what sounded like cutlery being dropped into a sink. Footsteps neared the front door and the blurred features of a man’s face appeared at the round window. A lock unclicked and the door pulled back all the way into the hallway, and the sweet smell of baked sugar wafted outside.
A chubby middle-aged man of around 5ft 8 with a very round face and short but messy brown hair had on a mostly white kitchen apron with embroidered flowers, and he was holding a pastry brush. He smiled, but expressed some confusion in the folds of his face fat. “Hi, can I help you?” he said, before peering behind Connors both ways down the empty street.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, allowing the croak of sleepiness to seep into her voice. “I’m Detective Connors with the Huntington Police Department.” She pulled up her badge using the chain around her neck and allowed the man’s dark brown eyes to flit over it.
“Well, what can I do for you, detective?”
“As you’ve probably seen in the papers, a little boy, Charlie Hanes has gone missing. We received a tip that he could be in this area, and I’ve been canvassing the street, but I just wondered if you’d seen anything?”
The man swallowed, and then inhaled, pinching his lip in his teeth. “Umm, sorry, detective, I haven’t seen anything.” He shrugged, “The only kids that come around here are on their bikes, passing through when Haverbrook High lets out in the late afternoon.”
Connors yawned into her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s been a long day, Mr…” she trailed off.
The man snorted gently and his fist subtly tightened around his pastry brush. “Meek. Daniel Meek,” he said.
Connors smiled, flashing all of her teeth. “Hey, that’s my brother’s name. Danny.”
“I go by ‘Daniel’, though,” he said, curtly.
“Do you have any kids, Danny? Oh, sorry. Daniel?” She yawned again.
The man smiled, but the rest of his face failed to light up. “No, I never had that pleasure.”
“So, the only kids you see around here, are when they’re returning from school?”
He shifted on his feet. He was wearing brown slippers that had a light dusting of powdered sugar. “That’s what I said.”
Connors stepped back and glanced from one end of the house to the other. “Do you live here with your mother, Danny?”
The man’s face blanched and his shoulders lifted and fell with a sigh. “No,” he replied, dragging out the end of the monosyllable. “My mother passed away ten years ago. I live alone now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. My mother’s still alive.”
A pair of car headlights crept down the dark street and the roar of an engine approached. “Look,” said the man. “I’m sorry I can’t h —“ he cut short midsentence. His gaze was frozen over Detective Connors’ shoulder.
The pastry brush fell to the doormat.
The man’s mouth had locked agape and his eyes betrayed a deep sense of disbelief. Connors glanced behind her and squinted against the oncoming headlights. The dark contours of a small boy were visible on the front lawn, and when the white Chevrolet roared to a stop on the road by the house, Connors could make out the boy’s features.
It was Charlie Hanes.
The front door slammed in her face and her hand touched down on her holster, but she immediately withdrew. She ran towards the boy, who was now holding his arm over his eyes to shield them from the headlights. A white Chevrolet HHR roared to a stop on the street and a woman with jaw-length blonde hair, wrapped in a black overcoat jumped out of the driver’s seat of the car and ran towards the boy.
It was Sofia Hanes, the boy’s mother.
“Oh my God!” she cried. “My baby! I thought I’d never see you again!” She bent down and picked him up. The boy hugged her tightly with his short arms around her neck.
Detective Connors stared dumbfounded at the reunited parent and child. She felt reality begin to spin, but fought through it and raised her radio to her lips. “This is detective Connors, I need backup immediately at 114 West 15th street, Haverbrook. I have Charlie Hanes.”
The radio crackled, “Copy that Connors. Back up is the on the way.” For the briefest of moments, she wondered if she was in an energy drink induced coma —in the middle of an intense stimulant dream.
“My boy, my boy, my beautiful boy,” continued Sofia. “I can’t believe I’ve found you.”
“Mommy,” the boy whined in earnest, reducing her to a weeping fit. She held him with one arm so she could wipe her face with the other.
“Get in the car!” ordered Connors, wild eyed. “Get in the car and lock the doors.” Connors stared back at the house, and then at Sofia, who was still standing paralyzed with joy. “Sofia! Get in the car with him!”
Sofia opened the back- passenger door and buckled Charlie into the seat. She then closed the door and tore around to the driver’s side. Connors noticed that she didn’t have on any shoes.
“Oh, if you see him, tell him thank you!” said Sofia.
“Tell who?” asked Connors, squinting over the hood of the car.
“Michael Sinclair,” she replied. “He told me where I could find Charlie.”
The automated garage door clicked to life and began to roll up into the ceiling. Connors shook her head and left the reunited parent and child in the white Chevrolet, drawing her gun and rapidly shifting towards the garage door.
It was dark inside the garage, even when the door was fully raised. The lights of an SUV came to life and illuminated the back wall, revealing a work bench and a wall mounted pegboard with hammers, screwdrivers, and saws sitting on the pegs. The back wheels of the SUV span in a deafening squeak, and then Connors watched in abject horror as it backed into the front of her low-lying convertible. The SUV tried to push passed the obstruction, but this only resulted in more snapping and crunching of polymer and metal.
The silhouette of a grown man stepped out of the night next to the driver’s door and smashed the driver’s side window. Meek was then dragged out through the door in a chokehold.
Connors ran around the back of her convertible and watched a young man, dressed in black, rotate his arms forward in a blur of fists. Each one connected with the side of Meek’s head with the rapid blunt thuds of machine gun fire. Meek screamed out into the night and fell to the ground. He folded on the driveway, moaning and squirming over the broken glass, his head and shoulders compressed against the running board of his SUV. He still had on his dirty apron.
Connors raised her gun and yelled, “Freeze!”
The man in black raised his hands and had his back angled towards the detective. Connors stepped forward cautiously, following the nose of her gun.
“Help!” Meek wailed from his position on the floor. “I think my nose is broken.”
Connors lowered her gun and pulled her radio up to her lips. “This is Detective Connors. We also need an ambulance, over.”
The man dressed in black suddenly darted to the left and ran through the neighbor’s bushes.
“Shit!” Connors spat.
The radio crackled. “Ambulance is on the way, Connors. Over.”
Connors re-holstered her gun and removed the handcuffs from her belt. After this mess, Michael Sinclair was going to feel her wrath.