What they had to do was pray that they could find a piece of evidence that truly pointed them in the direction of the killer—before he struck again.
She wasn’t known for being shy, and yet, she felt somewhat awkward around Jude. Her first impression of him had been that he was just a hard, cold, macho cop, and that she had to stoically and quietly hold her ground. But the more she was with him, the more she liked him, and the more she accepted that fact, the more she accepted that she was physically attracted to him. She also had to accept that he was extremely attractive in all the right ways; many women probably felt the same—simple biology, he was rock solid, tall and strong, the kind of man whose survival instincts would have made him most appealing once upon a time—and that he appeared totally indifferent to his effect on those around him. He was confident, but not cocky, and could be aggressive, but also careful in his treatment of people, as in the case of Captain Tyler. If he had something to go on, she was certain he could be harsh but fair in an interrogation room as well.
“Food,” she said.
“Pardon?” he asked. Apparently, he’d been deep in thought.
He looked at her and she smiled. “Don’t you feel the need to stop—refuel?”
“Oh, yeah, food,” he said. He smiled in return, and shook his head. “You know, it’s true, the first forty-eight hours in any case usually points to whether or not you will solve a crime, but even then, and in the midst of some pretty bad cases in New York, I usually have a sense of self-preservation. You can’t turn off the thinking about a case, but you still remember to live and breathe. With this—” He broke off, shaking his head. “We have dozens of capable men and women out there working around the clock in one way or another, but I still feel as if it’s all on me. Food, yes. Food would be good. There’s an all-night diner on Avenue A that’s pretty decent. Are you good with your team?”
“They can reach me anytime they want,” Whitney said. “And if they haven’t gotten hold of me yet, they’re doing fine without me.”
He nodded, looking toward the road again, and he was back in thought. But when they reached the restaurant, and they’d chosen a booth and ordered food, he looked at her with a polite grin. “Miss Whitney Tremont, FBI agent with a special investigative unit. Tell me more about yourself.”
“Ah! An interrogation,” she said, nodding gravely.
“No bright lights, no fists thumping on the table, no mirrored room,” Jude said. “Just the facts, missy, just the facts.”
“Hmm. Well, I did major in film at NYU, but I’m from New Orleans, born at Tulane Medical Center.” Her smile deepened. “And my great-grandmother is one of the most respected voodoo priestesses in New Orleans—she doesn’t raise the dead or sell love potions or stick pins in dolls or anything like that—the dolls are for tourists to buy. She is a brilliant and fascinating woman. My mother was a teacher, my father was a philosophy professor, and his background was French. I was raised attending Mass at the cathedral in Jackson Square every Sunday morning, but I also really respect my great-grandmother’s beliefs. Her life is all about balance, and she has tremendous faith. She’s a wonderful woman—you would really like her. It’s pretty obvious that I come from a complete ethnic olio, and I believe my mom’s father was a Cherokee, though Dad’s folks arrived off a boat from Marseilles. Voodoo has a lot in common with Catholicism, and the two worked well enough together in my family.”
“I don’t have a problem with any faith—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, you name it,” Jude said. “Not when it’s a faith that brings people through life respecting life and his fellow humans, believe me. All New Yorkers don’t think that a voodoo priestess has to be a quack.” He grinned. “I watch the Discovery Channel!”
Whitney laughed. “Maybe I do get defensive sometimes. Far too often, people do mock each other’s beliefs.”
“Face it—wars are fought over minor differences in belief,” he said. He drummed his fingers on the table. “Film to the FBI. And you’re not in the audiovisual department. How did the career segue come about?” he asked her.
She hesitated again, and then shrugged. He knew they set up cameras everywhere; he knew they looked into the past. He’d surely read up on Adam Harrison, and knew that many people considered them to be quacks. He’d known from the beginning about the cameras—he’d already asked her if she filmed ghosts.
“I was working on a project for one of the educational channels, but, of course, they, like everyone—so it seems these days—have to bring in the advertising dollars, and so you have to have shows that lure in an audience. You may not want to believe this, but while we’re often looked on as imaginative or quacks, the majority of American people do believe that the paranormal exists in one form or another, so ghost shows are immensely popular. Anyway, I filmed some truly strange phenomena, and the producers were convinced that I’d rigged the film, and I hadn’t done so. I refused to unrig what wasn’t rigged. They’d been planning on doing more of a storyboard, with ghosts appearing and disappearing, and they were dismayed that what I caught was something, but not a woman in white fluttering across the screen. I was young—”
“Was?” he asked her with a teasing note in his voice.
She laughed, giving him the point. “I’m not just out of high school,” she told him. “I’m short and look younger than I am. I’m twenty-eight.”
“A vast age,” he said gravely.
“Age is irrelevant—it depends on where you’ve been and what you’ve done in your time on earth, my friend,” she told him.
“Then I think I’m feeling about a hundred and eight right now,” Jude said.
Whitney grinned. “Well, you’re well preserved.”
Their food arrived; they’d both opted for omelets, which seemed a fitting meal since it had gotten so late that dinner and breakfast might be combined.
“Anyway,” she told him, “I resigned from the project. I was lucky, because I had a book on the market about the philosophy of world religions, and although it was never on any bestseller lists, it has steady sales, and those sales saved me from poverty while I mulled over my next move. I’d pretty much decided to go into filming my own documentaries when I was called by Adam Harrison and asked to join the team. Jake Mallory had been an agent for almost fifteen years, but the rest of us were drawn from other walks of life. I think our first case was an experiment on Adam’s part, but the six of us worked well together. They sent us through training and we all became agents officially.” She grimaced. “I admit, I’ve never worked with any other agents, and even in the bureau, we are unusual.”
“Ghost busters?” Jude asked.
She couldn’t really read the tone of his voice. “We have an amazing success rate on the cases with which we’ve been involved. Ordinarily, it’s not just profiling a killer or his victims, but a situation. That’s often done by discovering what went on in the past.”
That brought Jude back around to the case. “All right, then, let’s take our situation. A tough one. You may be right, that actresses, not prostitutes, are being singled out. Which brings us back to the film. Except, of course, we could all still be wrong on this—Jane Doe dry might have died because she was randomly attacked, and Sarah Larson might have met with your usual run-of-the-mill heinous killer. We had nothing to go on, nothing at all. The thing is, when we discovered Virginia Rockford’s body, she was so mutilated, and she had been left so blatantly in the open, that it does seem like the killer is demanding attention—Ripper- style attention.”
“Ripper-style—but if there is one killer and the victims were all his, he’s really starting to escalate on the rate of the murders,” Whitney said to him.
He nodded thoughtfully. “Very scary thought. To be honest, I wasn’t convinced that the women were all killed by the same man until it began to appear that there was a pattern between the victims—they were all women who wanted something. They wanted the dream. They wound up doing what they needed to do, in their own minds, at least, to get by. But they wanted to be entertainers—stars. Each of those women might have been easily seduced by someone who was promising them a role in a movie. What someone could do that better than the director?”
“The producer,” Whitney told him dryly. “In this case, as in many, there are half a dozen producers, but not one of the real money people is in New York, from what I’ve read about the shoot. So, yes, the director. And, as far as extras go, they’re often brought in by a casting agency. But…”
“But Angus Avery would certainly have the power,” Jude said.
“Yes. But, remember, you pointed out that we don’t really have to work with facts—perception would work just as well. Anyone involved with the shoot could probably convince a woman who was dying to break into films that he had the power to get them a small role.”
“True,” Jude agreed.
They’d finished their omelets; the check came. Whitney reached for her wallet. “Hey, please, it’s my pleasure to take you to dinner,” he told her politely. “Contrary to popular belief, NYPD cops are paid enough to eat,” he said lightly.
She laughed. “Agents, too. But I doubt either of us is going to get rich in this.”
“Probably not,” he agreed.
She didn’t fight for the check. She thanked him, and they walked back out to his car. The night was clear and beautiful.
She felt his hand at the small of her back. “I should get you back to Blair House.” The sound of his voice was husky. The touch of his hand seemed to send electrical currents along her spine.
“Yes,” she said simply.
Jude walked Whitney into the house.
Will Chan was seated in front of the bank of computer screens they’d set up in the broad hallway of Blair House. He rose, smiled and stretched when they came in.