Near Minneapolis, Minnesota
Patricia Campbell picked up a newspaper from the lunchroom table in the medical clinic where she worked. The headline read: “Young woman found dead.”
Her eyes scanned the story. The victim was only a year younger than she was. Patricia trembled as she set the paper back on the table. Someone might have written that same story about her two years earlier if she hadn’t slipped through the madman’s clutches.
Jerry Windham’s handsome face materialized as flashbacks played out like a bad home movie in her mind. A chill crept up her neck. She wished she’d never met him.
Her half-eaten sandwich landed in the trashcan, her appetite along with it. Just thinking about Jerry had that effect on her.
She left the lunchroom and strolled outside the building. Up ahead, an unoccupied picnic bench beckoned. Patricia took a seat and breathed in the fragrance of freshly cut grass. But it didn’t take her mind off her fear.
Jerry didn’t like loose ends. He didn’t like people who knew too much. Patricia knew that. She slumped back into the park bench and shook her head. Would she have gotten away at all if she hadn’t found out about his crimes?
She swallowed hard and whispered the truth aloud, “He won’t stop until he finds me.” And if he found her—
She got up and ambled down the street. The blustery wind tousled her thick, shoulder-length auburn hair.
Yes, she’d been fortunate to escape when she did.
As she walked, she took deep breaths to calm her out-of-control anxiety. Why Jerry was still free, and not in prison, puzzled her. The authorities must not know what she knew. But at least the police had given her time to vanish when they detained him back then in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Had she left any clues to where she’d gone, or ever mentioned her family to him? She hoped not! Did she tell him she used to live in Minnesota?
Patricia gave a short, barely audible laugh. Jerry was too interested in himself to ask about her.
Still, she’d been in one place too long.
Lunchtime was over. Patricia made her way back to the building and her desk. She tried to concentrate, but the gloomy thoughts persisted. Mounting fears suddenly enveloped her.
Rushing into the ladies’ room, she locked the door behind her. She had to stay calm. Figure out what to do.
Jerry would send someone to find her if they weren’t looking already. She’d leave the state. But where could she go?
She didn’t have much choice.
* * *
Downtown Chicago, Illinois
Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Agent Nolan Fitzgerald sat behind his cluttered desk. He shook his head as he addressed the subordinate across from him. “This case has hit more dead ends than any we’ve ever had. I thought we’d have Ms. Campbell in here by now. How hard can it be to find one pretty woman?”
He pushed a fax from their Minneapolis office across the one open space on his desk.
The younger agent, a man in his late twenties, picked it up and scanned the paper. “Well, at least we know she’s been seen in Minnesota. It’s somewhere to start again after all these months. But this tip isn’t all that fresh. She’s a sly one.” The subordinate laid the fax back on the desk.
Agent Fitzgerald leaned his stocky, middle-aged body back in the leather chair. His mop of dull brown hair hit the headrest. Weary eyes searched the ceiling, as though looking for clues.
After a minute, he stood and walked to the window. The other agent followed him, and they both peered down at the people who scurried on the street four stories below them.
“Look, boss, I’ll leave tonight and pick up the trail in Minneapolis. It’s a big town, lots of places for her to hide. But the local office should have an idea of where to start.”
“She could be anywhere. Look at all those people down there. The woman could be walking right under our noses.”
Nolan turned to his subordinate. “Let’s hope she’s still in Minnesota.”
The younger man pursed his lips and ran his fingers through his blond hair. “And let’s hope I discover another lead when I get there. Windham is probably nervous. He’s sure to have gotten wind by now that we’ve been asking about him. Do you think he suspects we’re trying to locate Ms. Campbell?”
“We’ve all eased up on him. But, if he thinks we’re after her for information, he’ll send somebody to find her. She’s in for a rough time if his goons get there first.”
* * *
Des Plaines, Illinois
Jerry Windham sat in his office at a desk piled high with paperwork. Patricia Campbell’s face came to mind, as it often did. His thoughts were as dark as the clouds gathering outside from an approaching storm. Thunder rolled, and the house trembled.
He slammed his hand down on the papers, scattering a few notes to the floor. His desk lamp vibrated. That witch left before he could do anything about her.
If it hadn’t been for the police breathing down his neck until recently, he would have gone after her long ago. Now that they’d stopped harassing him, he could eliminate this little problem.
How did that idiot associate of his make such a mess? All he had to do was ask, and arrangements could have been made for him to have the girl. But no, the dumbbell had to stalk her and then try to take her out with all those witnesses around. “Idiot.” Of all the stupid things to do.
Thanks to his lawyers, Jerry was able to disassociate himself from the crime, even if they did keep him under scrutiny for a long time.
Jerry spun around in his seat. His eyes rested on an armchair near the fireplace. Patricia looked so innocent the day he caught her sitting there, just before she ran.
As he rose and drifted toward the fireplace, he glared at the empty armchair. His hand grabbed the roughly hewn mantel and squeezed the unyielding oak, imagining it was Patricia’s neck. If only the woman he saw the other day at that restaurant had been her.
She had the same auburn hair, cut in the same short shaggy style Patricia used to wear. Her back was to him as she stood at the entrance and he made his way to her side. But it wasn’t her.
If it had been, it would have saved him a lot of trouble and expense.
Jerry moved to his desk and fingered the pile of papers strewn across it. His gut told him she’d rifled through everything the day he caught her in here. Patricia always wanted to know more about his business than he would tell her. Just how much incriminating information did she find?
He paced the floor and narrowed his eyes. This had been put off for too long. She’d been like a time bomb hidden somewhere in the room. He had no idea where or when it would go off.
At the window overlooking the backyard, Jerry watched as the men from lawn service gathered their equipment to leave. She’d packed up and left without a clue where she was going right after that day. What did she see on his desk? Someone was already poking around into his activities again, asking questions.
A knock at the door interrupted his brooding.
He shouted, “Come in!”
A man in his late twenties with hair so light it was almost white, strode through the doorway. “Mr. Windham, you asked to see me?”
“Yes, I have a job for you, the confidential kind. I mean no one can find out about this, understand?”
“Of course, don’t I always?”
The jean-clad man sat in one of the tan leather chairs in front of Jerry’s desk. He pulled out a pen and notepad from the pocket of his denim jacket.
“Let’s have the details.”
Jerry drummed his fingers on a fat envelope in front of him as he described Patricia. “I have no idea where she went. But, I once overheard her telling someone that she had connections in Minnesota. When I asked about family, she wouldn’t talk about them. Said she had none.”
The hireling nodded.
Jerry reached across the desk and handed the envelope to his visitor. “I wrote down every detail I can remember about her. Usual arrangements. The faster you take care of this, the bigger your bonus will be.”
“You got it.”
“Let me give you a word of advice.”
The hired killer raised his eyebrows.
“She’s slick. She has a knack for getting her way. Don’t fall for her, or her tricks.”
“Thanks, but she won’t be a problem. I took care of the others for you, didn’t I?”
Jerry frowned and gave the man a piercing stare.
“Keep this in mind. This one’s nobody’s fool, not Daddy’s spoiled little princess. Completely unlike most of my … girlfriends. Smartest woman I’ve ever met.”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Windham.”
“And I’ve gotten word someone else could be looking for her, someone who might be looking for information about me. Make sure you get to her first, understand?”
“So, who else is looking for her?”
“Possibly the FBI. My contact wasn’t sure.”
The man got up and stepped toward the doorway. A couple of feet from the door, he turned with a devilish grin.
“You don’t mind if I have a bit of fun with her before I finish the job, do you?”
He smirked. “Be my guest.” It would thrill him to know she’d be paid back for running out like she did. He’d hoped to settle the score himself, but this would give almost as much satisfaction before he made her disappear.
Jerry took a cigar from a carved box on his desk and lit it. Smoke filled his mouth as he turned to the departing man. He blew out the fumes. “Don’t take any chances or more time than you need. Keep me informed.”
Revenge would be sweet.
The killer shoved the envelope into his jacket pocket with the pen and notepad, and left the room with a snicker.
Satisfied that Patricia Campbell was soon to become one less problem, Jerry watched the heavy carved wooden door close behind his visitor.
His lip curled into a sneer as he expelled a hard, cruel laugh.
When Patricia’s least expecting it—