Somewhere in Anchorage, Alaska—Tuesday,3:00 p.m. AKDT
Dr. Evelyn Talbot sat trembling on a cold cement floor, blinking into pure darkness. No matter how hard she strained her eyes, she couldn’t see so much as a glimmer of light, had no idea of the dimensions of the room where she’d been tossed or who’d thrown her in it before locking and bolting the door.
Considering all the psychopaths she’d studied over the years, she was afraid to find out who it was.
She had to calm down, she told herself. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have the presence of mind, or the physical strength, to save her own life. Not only did she have to manage her fear, she had to remember everything she’d learned as a forensic psychiatrist who’d spent the past twenty years studying serial killers. In this moment, her education was the only weapon she had.
She removed the suit jacket she was wearing over a matching beige dress and rubbed the arm she’d landed on to see if it might be broken. Whoever had grabbed her as she was getting out of the car at her own house had attacked without warning. He’d come up from behind, thrown a bag over her head, hauled her off her feet and shoved her into the back of a van. Before she could even reach up to try to remove the bag, she’d felt a knee in her spine as her hands were jerked behind her and tied. Then the door had slammed shut and she’d heard an engine rev and tires squeal as she was launched to one side with the motion of the vehicle.
She didn’t believe her arm was broken, just bruised or sprained. Fortunately, the rope that’d been used to tie her up had been cut off as she was dumped into this room, so she had feeling again in her hands. Until this moment, she hadn’t realized that her ankle was tender, too. She must’ve rolled it in the brief scuffle. At least whoever kidnapped her hadn’t been particularly rough when he forced her onto her stomach, so nothing had happened that would’ve injured the child she carried—yet.
But who’d abducted her? She hadn’t caught a glimpse of her attacker, but she assumed she knew him.
Her mind sifted through the dangerous men she’d studied since graduating from college, but she couldn’t even venture a guess.
It was frightening not knowing what she was up against.
It was even more frightening to acknowledge that no one would have any clue where she was—or even that she’d been taken—least of all Sergeant Benjamin Murphy, or Amarok as the locals called him, Hilltop’s only police presence and the man she loved. It was summer in Alaska, that brief period where the days lengthened to almost twenty hours and tourists came from all over the world to enjoy the natural beauty of the last frontier.
She and Amarok—his nickname came from the Inuktitut word for “wolf” and went all the way back to junior high—had finally relaxed and begun to believe that the danger Evelyn had faced for so long, until Jasper Moore had been caught and imprisoned seven months ago, was over. They’d been so sure of it they’d begun planning their wedding. She was supposed to meet Amarok at the Moosehead today—possibly right now; she’d lost track of time—to talk about the food they’d serve. On the eighth of July, they were going to be married in a small ceremony in Alaska, where he’d been born and raised. Then, after the birth of their baby, they were going to fly to Boston, where she’d grown up, for a second reception in the fall.
Struggling to even out her breathing and slow the pounding of her heart, she hugged her knees tighter to her chest—as much as her swollen stomach would allow. If the person who’d kidnapped her was one of the psychopaths she’d worked with, she had some inkling what to expect. He was probably someone who was easily threatened. Someone who lived to dominate others. Someone who had to win no matter what the cost. Someone who enjoyed torture and/or killing.
She could go on simply by ticking off the traits named on the PCL-R, which was what Dr. Robert Hare had created to help diagnose a psychopath. She knew what such people had in common. Glib charm. Impulsivity. Grandiose estimation of self. Cunning and manipulative. The list went on. The real question was: Could she tolerate what her captor had in store for her? Hold him off long enough to get away?
She had to. If she wanted to live, if she wanted the unborn child she carried to survive, she had to be both strong and smart. But the most debilitating of memories exacerbated her panic and fear. This wasn’t the first time she’d been victimized. She’d been only sixteen when her boyfriend, intelligent, popular and well-loved Jasper Moore, had killed her best friends and tried to kill her. It was a miracle she’d managed to drag her broken and bruised body from the shack where he’d left her after torturing her for three days. Had she been any less determined to survive, she wouldn’t have made it.
That experience had changed her life in so many ways. First and foremost, it was the reason she’d decided to make the study of such individuals her life’s work. Jasper had been an only child who’d come from a good family. His wealthy parents had doted on him. There’d been no abuse or deprivation, nothing one would think necessary to “create” such a monster. That was the most puzzling part of the equation, and what had prompted her to establish Hanover House, the first prison of its kind. Located in a town of only five hundred people an hour outside of Anchorage, it housed over three hundred inmates, including 110 of the worst serial killers in America. According to some estimates, psychopaths made up 4 percent of the general population and over 20 percent of America’s prison populations, so someone had to figure out a way to treat them.
Too bad it was such a dangerous job.
Evelyn had a terrible feeling she was about to be reminded of just how dangerous.
Tilting her head back, she hauled in a deep, calming breath as she tried to estimate the length of time she’d been in the van so she could attempt to determine where she might be in relation to Hilltop. Had her kidnapper driven an hour? Longer?
Tough to say. Shock and fear—not to mention disorientation—made it almost impossible to come up with an accurate estimate. Ten minutes in such a situation felt like ten hours. Her captor could’ve taken her to a remote cabin in the middle of the wilderness on the far side of Hilltop. There was no snow on the ground right now, nothing to make those mountain roads impassable. Or he could’ve taken her to Anchorage or some other town or community where it would be easier to get groceries and necessities.
She held her breath, listening, but she couldn’t hear anything. When would her captor make himself known? Where was he?
That the attack had been so well coordinated, so efficient and restrained, told her she wasn’t dealing with a disorganized personality. This wasn’t the kind of crime that came without much, if any, forethought or planning. But what did that tell her?
Her attacker was probably smart. And she knew him. Or he knew her.
After a few more minutes, she gathered the nerve to move from the spot where he’d dumped her. By pressing her ear to the door, she thought she might be able to make out a noise or two that would provide some clue as to what was going on.
She managed to find the door by crawling on her hands and knees and feeling her way across the rough, hard floor. If her captor had left the premises, maybe she could bang on the door or the walls of her prison and bring help. It might even be possible for her to kick the door open and escape—
That tantalizing hope was dashed the second she felt the door. It wasn’t the usual somewhat flimsy wooden panel found on most houses these days. And there was no crack underneath. It felt like the heavy steel door of a walk-in cooler. She couldn’t hear anything through it, and she couldn’t break it. There wasn’t even a handle on her side, just what felt like a six-by-twelve-inch slot in the middle with a metal cover over it on the outside.
Once again, her unease began to spiral toward panic. Was she about to run out of air? Had whoever grabbed her tossed her in here to suffocate?
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” she whispered as she began to crawl around the room, searching for any opening or other possibility of escape.
On the opposite wall, in the corner, she ran into a small commode. She had no idea how dirty it might be, so she hesitated to touch it once she figured out what it was, but she could tell it was a toilet. There was no tank, but there was a handle and a round seat. There didn’t seem to be an accompanying sink, however. There didn’t seem to be anything else in the room except a cot, which was bolted to the floor, with a lumpy mattress, a pillow and a blanket.
By the time she made it all the way around her small prison, she’d determined that it was only about six feet by seven feet: the size of some walk-in coolers. She was fairly certain it was a cooler, or had been. The walls felt like a smooth, hard plastic. But the presence of the toilet and the bed made her think she hadn’t been put here to suffocate. Those items wouldn’t be necessary if she was going to run out of air.
Forcing herself to stand, despite her wobbly legs, she made a second circuit. The blackness was so complete she doubted she’d find the window she was praying for. It had been daytime when she’d been abducted. No way had enough hours passed for it to be night—not in June. There should be some glimmer, somewhere, and there wasn’t.
Determined to learn as much as possible about her surroundings, to perhaps find a light switch, she kept investigating. There was nothing on the walls, not so much as a picture or a nail. But once she gathered the courage to walk straight through the middle of the room, waving her arms to see if she could determine whether there was a high ceiling or a low one, she encountered a thin chain. It hit her face, startling her before she gave it a hesitant tug.
A small snap sounded and a single lightbulb flickered on, buzzing with the flow of electricity and painting the stark white walls of the narrow room a dull yellow.
Evelyn felt infinitely better just being able to see. Darkness made everything more frightening. But her situation hadn’t improved otherwise. There was nothing else in the small, enclosed space besides what she’d already discovered—nothing except a drain in the floor so the cooler could be easily washed out and what looked like an HVAC vent to one side of the light on the ceiling. As she stared up at it, she realized that she would have air, but her captor had taken great care in selecting and preparing this place.
No way would she be able to escape on her own.
Hilltop, AK—Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. AKDT
“She get caught up at work?”
Amarok swiveled on his stool to see Shorty, the short, wiry, bowlegged proprietor of the Moosehead, wiping down the bar. “Must’ve.” He’d been having a beer, his Alaskan malamute, Makita, lying at his feet, while watching the Giants play baseball. He’d figured Evelyn would arrive any minute. She had more to do than most people, so he could understand why she might be a little late. Now that Shorty had interrupted the game, however, Amarok’s eyes were drawn to the huge clock between the two moose heads, which hung on the wall staring sightlessly down on the most popular gathering place in town. That clock indicated she was more than “a little” late.
She would never make Shorty or Shorty’s sister, Molly, both of whom were supposed to be meeting with them to go over the menu for the wedding, wait for thirty minutes without some form of communication.
“Want to give her a call?” Shorty asked.
“Yeah.” He could’ve walked to the pay phone back by the bathrooms, but Shorty did him the courtesy of putting the business phone within reach. Since there was no cell service in the area, he and everyone else in Hilltop couldn’t communicate as easily as most of the rest of the world. But Evelyn had a landline at the prison. Why hadn’t she taken a minute to let them know she was running so far behind?
Had something gone wrong at work?
Anxiety began to roil in the pit of Amarok’s stomach. Something could always go wrong when dealing with the men she studied. But the biggest threat to her had been Jasper Moore and Amarok had arrested him seven months ago. Although Evelyn had worked with other killers—still did—none had become quite that fixated on her, not any who were now in a situation to harm her, at any rate.
He’d believed any danger to the woman he loved was finally under control.
But was it really? She’d had Jasper transferred to Hanover House. Not only had she deemed it poetic justice that he would become her captive instead of her becoming his, she’d also longed for the opportunity to study the one man who’d sent her on the odyssey to understand evil in the first place.
Sensing his sudden anxiety, Makita lifted his head and twitched his ears forward as Amarok dialed the prison. Amarok told himself he was getting worried over nothing. In a few moments, he’d hear her voice. Maybe she’d sound a bit harried—she was probably trying to get out of the office so she could make their appointment—but she would apologize for the delay and he’d finish his beer and the game while she drove over.
That didn’t happen, however. When Penny Singh, her assistant, told him Evelyn had left three hours ago to grab some files from home and hadn’t returned as expected, the fear he’d shoved away suddenly lunged at him again. “Why didn’t you call me?” he asked.
“I-I don’t know,” she responded, obviously flustered by the question. “I figured she must’ve decided to work at home for a few hours this afternoon. She doesn’t have any appointments on her schedule until four fifteen.”
Because she’d kept the afternoon mostly clear so they could meet with Shorty and his sister.
“Is something wrong?” Now Penny sounded alarmed.
“No, nothing’s wrong,” he replied. But when he called home and couldn’t get Evelyn there, either, his concern ticked up another notch.
“Any luck?” Shorty’s sister sauntered close while drying glasses.
Amarok hung up, slapped some money on the bar and dug his keys from his pocket. Knowing that was his signal, Makita jumped to his feet. “No. She’s not at the prison and she’s not at home.”
“Must be in the car on the way over,” Molly suggested.
He hoped to God that was it. She could’ve fallen asleep when she went home or something. With the pregnancy, she was always tired. Even so, taking a nap in the middle of the day would be unlike her. She was too driven not to make the most of every minute. “Maybe.”
“Don’t freak out,” she warned. “You put that Jasper fella away, remember?”
“I remember.” But when Jasper wasn’t standing trial for one of the many murders for which he had yet to be convicted, he was at Hanover House. As a matter of fact, Amarok was fairly certain he was there now. Maybe he’d engineered a way to get to Evelyn. Or someone else had, someone just as dangerous. “I’ll give you a call when I figure out what’s going on,” he said, and walked out, Makita at his heel, without waiting for a response.
The five-minute drive home seemed like it took forever. Makita paced on the seat, even though he was too big to be walking around the cab while they were moving. Amarok felt just as uneasy, so he didn’t stop him. But he breathed a sigh of relief when he found Evelyn’s SUV parked in their driveway.
As he pulled in behind it, he decided she must’ve gotten busy and forgotten their appointment. But why wouldn’t she answer the damn phone? Why the hell would she give him such a scare?
He planned to ask. Jamming the transmission into Park, he hopped out, and Makita immediately followed. That was when he found something that made his blood run cold. One of the shoes she’d had on when she left for work this morning lay on the concrete only a few feet from the driver’s side of her vehicle. And her purse, its contents sprayed in an arc, wasn’t far away.