The Obsession Page 106

“I’m sorry? What?”

Sam kicked back in his chair—not cocky like his deputy, but a relaxed, even amused body language. “You didn’t get that part? Well, Marla was the type who wanted whatever she wanted—and she’d decided a while back she wanted Xander Keaton.”


“Yeah—apparently they’d hit a hot round or two back in high school, which was all Xander wanted. And added to it, Xander thinks a lot of Chip. Divorced or not, he’d never go with Marla. Added to that added-to, Xander had his eye on your sister—and that was clear to anybody who cared to look. Marla took objection, and being half shit-faced at the time, got pushy with Naomi. Literally.”

“She put hands on Naomi?”

“A couple of times, making a scene, using we’ll say strong language.”

“At the bar?” Mason qualified, wanting it lined up tight. “At Loo’s the Friday night she went missing?”

“That’s right. Witness reports agree on how that went down. Marla started it, Naomi asked her to back off, a couple times. Marla shoved her again. Naomi grabbed her wrist—that’s the one most agree on—twisted it in a way that had Marla going down on the floor. Then Naomi left. Marla stayed pissy, went and got sick in the toilets there, bitched at her best friend, and stomped on out. And that’s the last anyone saw of her until Naomi found her under the bluff.”

Despite the hot ball in his belly, Mason spoke evenly. “You looked into Naomi’s whereabouts, her movements, her background.”

“Yes, I did.”

“You know Thomas Bowes is our father.”

“I do.”

“And that Naomi hasn’t seen or spoken to him since the day he was arrested.”

“I do. Just as I know you’ve visited him in prison five times to date.”

“And likely will again. When your father is a serial killer, and you pursue serial killers, it’s smart to study what you have easy access to.”

“Can’t be easy, but it’s smart. I said I know the people in my town, Agent Carson. Naomi hasn’t been here long, but I’ve got a good sense of her. She’s not involved in any of this. I’m not looking at her.”

“And Keaton?”

“Not in him.” In an easy gesture, Sam lifted his fingers from the surface of the desk as if to brush the idea away. “I’m not a psychologist or a behavior specialist—or no more than any cop—but I’ve got a sister myself, and I suspect you’d like to know what kind of man he is. He works hard. He’s got a friend he’s kept close since they were in diapers—that says something to me. He’s got a head for business, though you wouldn’t think it right off. He doesn’t flaunt that around. He reads like a scholar—never seen anybody with so many books. He’s got himself a good bar band with other friends, and they’re worth hearing. I’ve seen him with your sister a time or two, and I can say I’ve never seen him look at anyone else the way he looks at her. We’re trained observers, Agent. In technical terms?” Sam smiled, just a little. “He’s hooked.”

Sam’s chair creaked as he sat up again. “Xander’s got a soft spot for Donna—most of us do. She’s a sweetheart, and I’m sick knowing I’m sitting here without a goddamn clue where she is or what’s happening to her. If you can bring in a clue, I’m going to be grateful. I’m going to throw this in the mix, as I just got this information. A young girl—pretty thing, Maxie Upton—worked that Friday-night shift with Donna. In the usual case her car would’ve been in the lot back where Donna parked, but she got a flat coming into work, caught Xander at his garage as he was closing. She told me this morning he wouldn’t put the donut on—said all her tires were bald, and she needed new. He’d get them for her the next day, and he’d give her a ride in to work, but only if she called her father to come pick her up. She had to promise not to walk home, or even to her friend’s just a block away. She came out just a few minutes before Donna, and her father pulled up almost right away.”

“More the same type as Marla Roth?”

“Younger—Maxie’s about nineteen, but more physically like Marla than Donna. Blonde and pretty. It’s got me wondering if Donna was second choice. If Maxie’s car had been in that same area, or if Xander hadn’t made her promise not to walk alone after closing, would we be looking for her?”

“It’s possible.”

“Go out on a limb, Agent. I won’t hold you to it if things change.”

“It’s possible,” Mason repeated. “You may have an opportunist. No one could anticipate Marla Roth would walk home alone, and at that time. The killer saw an opportunity, took it. The odds of two women being taken by different people in this small an area and in this time frame are slim. Ms. Lanier was alone, in a remote area of the lot, and presented an opportunity to someone who knew the closing time, the shift.”

“You’d know that after a day around here.”

Mason had only had to drive through town to see that for himself.

“He has somewhere to take them—locally, within say twenty miles—somewhere private. He held Roth for two full days, during which time he raped and tortured her. He’d need a place, and since he dumped her body here, it’s reasonable to assume that place is within a comfortable driving distance. He would need a car, a van, a truck to transport them. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know.”

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