The Obsession Page 114

“He does, and that was a shock to the system. And he makes me, or helps me, think beyond the moment. I’d gotten too much in the habit of only right now. I like thinking about tomorrow.”

“Then I may start calling him Xander. But what kind of name is that anyway?”

“Really, Mason Jar?”

“Shut up,” he said, and pushed away from the table to help her clear.

He waited until just after two in the morning to drive the quiet roads to the woods near the bluff. He parked on the shoulder.

Maybe they had patrols out at this hour, looking for the likes of him. But in his considerable experience it was far too early in the game for it, considering the two-bit town and half-ass police force.

And this wouldn’t take long.

He had her wrapped in a standard sheet of plastic. Trial and error had proven this method worked best. He had to put some muscle into hauling her out and up over his shoulder—fireman’s carry. He took some pride in being stronger than he looked, but she was a heftier package than he preferred.

All in all she’d been a disappointment. No fight or sass in her, not after the first couple hours anyway. It just cut into his fun when they didn’t try to scream or beg, when they stopped fighting, and she’d gone downhill so fast he’d nearly killed her out of sheer boredom.

Too much like that scrawny old bitch he’d grabbed up in godforsaken Kansas when he couldn’t get the one he’d had his eye on.

Or that fat-ass in Louisville. Or—

No point in dwelling on past mistakes, he assured himself as he shifted the dead weight on his shoulder and used the hunter’s light on his hat to light the track.

He just had to stop repeating them, remember patience was a virtue.

He’d already scoped his ground, using Naomi’s website pictures as a guide, and gratefully dropped Donna’s body between the track and a nurse log. With practiced moves, he rolled it out of the plastic, studied it while he folded the sheet to take with him.

Waste not, want not.

He took out his phone, switched to camera mode, and took his last souvenir pictures of Donna Lanier.

Then he walked away without giving the woman he’d killed another thought. She was the past, and he had his path set for the future.

He cruised the road just far enough to bring the house on the bluff, its spreading silhouette against a starstruck sky, into view.

Sleep well, Naomi, he thought. Rest up. I’ll be seeing you soon, and we’re going to have some fun.


A young couple from Spokane, with a baby in a backpack, found the body on a nature hike on Monday’s sparkling afternoon.

Within minutes, Sam Winston stood over the body of a woman he’d known for three decades, and had liked every day of them.

Minutes later, Mason made his way through the woods to join him.

“I had to hope it wouldn’t end this way.”

“I’m sorry, very sorry, for your loss, Chief.”

“She’s everyone’s loss. Well.” Determined to do his best for her, Sam rubbed his hands over his face, shook it off. “Bound and gagged, naked, like Marla. Wounds are worse—he cut and beat her more severely.”

“He may be escalating. Or . . . it may be frustration that she wasn’t his first choice.”

“He brushed out any footprints—you can see how he stirred up the dirt, the layer of pine needles. So he’s careful. He had to carry her to this spot, most likely from the road—down the track. She’s easily one-fifty, so he’s got some muscle.”

Careful to touch nothing, disturb nothing, Mason crouched down, studied the wounds, the position of the body.

“She’s not posed, no attempt to cover or bury her. No remorse, nothing symbolic. He was simply finished, and dumped the body here, walked away.”

“She didn’t mean anything to him.”

“No. The first victim, she was laid out differently—the way her arms reached out. And he left her shoes. She was more important—may be a surrogate. Younger, blonde, attractive, slim.”

“Like Maxie would’ve been.”

“Yes. We’re not that far from my sister’s house. Is this trail popular?”

“It gets some use, yeah. A little farther west, toward the park, into the park, you get more hikers, but this area gets visitors pretty regularly. He wanted her found, and directly.”

“I agree. Do you mind if I take some pictures?”

“Go ahead. We’ll be taking our own—I wanted a minute with her first.”

And, Sam could admit to himself, had to resist the gnawing urge to cover her. Once again, he shook it off.

“My deputy back on the road, you probably saw him, is getting the statements from the couple who found her. They’ve got a three-month-old baby with them. Their first vacation as a family.” Sam sighed out air. “They won’t forget it.”

He looked into the woods, into the green deepening as spring slid toward summer. “We’ll get this taped off, do what we do, and do what we can. And once we do that here, I’ll go see her sister, her daughter.”

“Do you want me to go with you for the notifications?”

“I appreciate the offer, but they know me. It’ll be a little easier, as much as it can be, from somebody they know.”

Naomi understood a process came with death, and with murder that process became official. But she wouldn’t let Xander hear about his friend through a process.

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