The Bride Collector

1

“THANK YOU, DETECTIVE. We’ll take it from here.”

FBI Special Agent Brad Raines stood in the small barn’s wide doorway and scanned the dimly lit interior. Dusk fell on an ancient wood floor covered in dust disturbed by numerous footprints. Shafts of light streamed from cracks in a sagging roof.

Long abandoned. A natural choice.

“With all due respect, Agent Raines, my team is here,” the detective replied. “They can work the scene.”

“But they won’t, Detective Lambert.”

Raines turned his head slowly, taking it all in.

One rectangular room roughly fifteen by forty, covered by a tin roof. Interior walls formed by six-inch graying wooden planks. Ten, twenty, thirty, thirty-two on the narrow side. Fifteen feet, as estimated. Two shovels and a pitchfork on the floor to his right. A single window with dirty, tinted panes, crowded by empty cobwebs.

A dust-covered wooden bucket rested in the corner, its rusted handle covered with filth. Several old rusted tin cans—GIANT brand peas with the label mostly missing, HEINZ canned hot dogs—scattered on the floor, left by campers long gone. An old plow blade lay against the near wall. An even older worktable sat to the left, near the far wall.

All unsurprising. All but what had brought Brad.

The woman’s body was glued to the wall to his left, arms wide, wrists limp. Like the other three.

“… Chief Lorenzo for clearance.” The detective’s voice edged in on his thoughts. Lambert was still here.

Brad looked over his left shoulder where Nikki Holden, a leading forensic psychologist, stood staring at the woman’s body with those wide blue eyes of hers. She caught his get-rid-of-the-cop glance and turned to face Detective Lambert. Brad returned his gaze to the shed’s interior as she spoke.

“I’m sorry, Detective,” she said in her most reasonable tone of voice, “but I’m sure you can appreciate our position here. Give my team a few hours. If this isn’t our guy, you’ll be the first to know. The police department’s been more than helpful.”

Brad looked up to mask his knowing grin. One of the rafters was cracked, and its gray husk revealed a lighter, tan core. Freshly broken.

“I don’t like it,” Lambert said. “For the record.”

Brad pulled his eyes from the crime scene and smiled at the detective. “Thank you, Detective. Noted. There’s quite a bit about this job not to like. If your men could secure the perimeter, that would be helpful. Our forensics team will be here any minute.”

Lambert held his gaze for a moment, then turned away and addressed a man behind him. “Okay, Larry, cancel the forensics, this is now an FBI investigation. Tell Bill to secure and hold the perimeter.”

Larry muttered a curse and flicked away a bit of straw he’d taken from a pile of old bales. A white unmarked van rolled over the yellow perimeter tape and slowly crunched over the gravel driveway. It had taken the forensics team an hour to reach the scene, just south of West Dillon Road, from the Stout Street field office in downtown Denver. A farm had evidently once occupied this empty field in Louisville, twenty-plus miles northwest from Denver up the Denver-Boulder Turnpike.

Brad glanced at Nikki. “Tell them to start on the outside,” he said flatly. “Give us a minute. Bring Kim in when she arrives.”

Kim Peterson, the forensic pathologist, would determine what the body could tell them postmortem. Nikki headed for the van without comment.

Brad turned his attention back to the small barn. The shack. The farm shed. The killer’s nest. The rest of the story was here, in the dark corners. The walls had watched the killer as he’d methodically ended a woman’s life.