At first she denied it.
It was the ghost. Surely it was no more than the ghost, and she was there to lead Genevieve to the treasure, some new find….
But it wasn’t the ghost.
It was real.
Like the body on the beach, this one was real.
Caught just the other side of a huge field of staghorn coral, this was not a ghost.
Not a mannequin.
Suddenly she felt a deepening certainty that it was Audrey.
Her heart seemed to scream. Her stomach pitched. Thor was just feet away from her, but she couldn’t bring herself to reach out to him.
She didn’t want to know.
She had to know.
She gave a thrust with her flippers and approached the body, desperate to know the worst.
Adam Harrison caught up with Jay before he left the parking lot.
Jay was annoyed. What the hell was with the guy? There was no reason for him to be so concerned so quickly.
Victor had walked Audrey home, undoubtedly made sure she was inside with her door locked before he left.
Then again, Audrey still wasn’t opening her door. He’d tried her home phone, her cell and her business number, and there had been no response, only her cheerful normal voice on the first two, and her “business” voice on the last, explaining that it was very important to leave a message, then make an appointment to learn what the future held.
“Are you going in?” Adam demanded.
He’d promised Nikki he would. He had the tools in his car to pick a lock like Audrey’s. He could do it easily enough.
“Shit,” he swore out loud.
Adam Harrison just stared at him.
Jay threw his arms up in the air. “You’re the great medium. Do I need to go in? Is she there? Is it life or death?”
“I’m sorry. I’m more of a coordinator than a medium,” Adam said, totally unruffled. Of course he was unruffled, Jay thought. This wasn’t his home, his life. These weren’t his friends. Key West and all that happened here would fade from his memory once he stepped on a plane and moved on to the next…whatever.
“Are you going in?” Adam repeated.
Jay swore again, his language worse. He paced in a circle, then faced Adam.
“Yeah, what the hell. I can live on the fish I catch, I guess,” he muttered. “Stay here.”
He left Adam at Audrey’s door and went to his car for his tools. He wondered just how discreetly he was going to be able to pick the lock. Genevieve had asked him to do this, he reminded himself. But frankly, Genevieve didn’t have the right. He didn’t have the right to do what he was about to do.
Yeah, probable cause. Please, God, let someone else—like the brass—believe that was true.
He felt like a thief himself, as he carefully worked the lock.
“If you see anyone coming…” he started to tell Adam. Then he just swore again. “Never mind. What can they do? Call the cops? I am a cop.”
The door opened. They both just stood there for a full minute.
“Audrey?” Jay called.
They stepped in. They both stood quietly at the entry for a moment. “Audrey?” Jay called again. “Don’t touch anything,” he told Adam.
“Of course not,” Adam said with his customary smooth Southern dignity.
Jay walked through the small house. There was nothing to indicate there had been a struggle anywhere.
Until he picked the lock, he thought ruefully, there hadn’t been any damage to the door whatsoever.
So, either Audrey had simply gone out…
Or she had let someone in. Who had then…
The bed was neatly made. Either Audrey had never gone to sleep the night before or she’d gotten up and made her bed this morning before heading out to…to not have breakfast with Adam Harrison. Nope, she must not have gone to sleep at all.
With a sinking heart, Jay walked back to Adam. He shook his head. “She didn’t sleep here. But as you can see, there’s no sign of a disturbance.”
“Where do we go from here?”
Jay looked down with a sigh. “Lots of paperwork. I can’t get started on Audrey till twenty-four hours have passed. At least Marshall has been gone long enough to be considered a missing person.”
He walked past Adam, speaking aloud. “I need someone to agree to a crime-scene unit in here quickly. Shit! She opened her door to anyone with an appointment. Then again, she must have opened her door to someone really late, and now she’s not here.”
“I’ll be combing the city,” Adam said quietly as they left.
“Yeah, you do that,” Jay muttered. “You just do that.”
It slowly began to register on Genevieve, just as she swam around to see the corpse’s face, that the woman was blond. Audrey was a brunette, with a touch of red in her hair, much like herself.
Not Audrey. Not Audrey!
For a moment the rush of relief eased the agony of what she was about to witness. Then the sad truth and blood-chilling horror set in again.
She’d never seen the woman before. She was wearing the bottom half of a bathing suit. Her breasts were bared.
Her eyes were open.
She stared at Genevieve in lifeless horror.
Genevieve blinked, freezing in the subtropic water. The woman was floating by the coral because she was attached to it. A rope around her ankles had tangled itself in the field of staghorn. Her ankles were chafed and bloody. She had fought desperately to free herself. She hadn’t been killed where she was, Genevieve registered dully. The rope had broken off from whatever weight had originally held the woman beneath the water, but too late for her to escape.
The woman’s bloody ankles were now of tremendous interest to dozens of fish, all swimming frantically about, taking tiny bites.
Genevieve’s stomach heaved.
She nearly screamed, despite her regulator and the fact she was more than sixty feet beneath the surface, when hands fell on her shoulders. Startled, she turned.
His expression was grave. He sternly indicated that she shouldn’t touch the body, then signaled that she should surface. Her mind in a fog, she nodded. She realized he had summoned Brent Blackhawk, who had been exploring the seabed fifty feet to their left.
Brent swept effortlessly and silently over to them. Nikki in his wake.
Genevieve saw the horror with which the other woman viewed the floating corpse. But she immediately joined Genevieve and tugged her topside. Genevieve realized they had to radio in the information as quickly as possible, not that the police could possibly help the woman now, but she deserved justice.
As she swam upward alongside Nikki, Genevieve felt a new rush of ice in her veins again, wrapping around her heart.
Two bodies. Two blondes killed in the same way.
There wasn’t just a killer loose in the Keys.
There was a serial killer at large.
For Thor, the worst part of it was the fact that he recognized the woman immediately.
She was the hooker who had propositioned him outside the hotel.
So recently alive, and now so newly dead.
He wasn’t sure why he felt it was important to remain by the body until the police divers came, but he did. It seemed to take an eon. Brent Blackhawk stayed with them, neither of them touching anything, just staring into her sightless eyes until the police came.
A pall seemed to sit over the boat when they surfaced. They’d come here seeking treasure and history; they were finding horror and tragedy.
Jay Gonzalez was topside in a police craft that had tied on to Thor’s boat. After doffing his scuba gear, Thor moved over to the other boat.
Jay looked grim. “It’s definitely not Audrey, right?”
“Thank God,” Jay breathed.
“No sign of her yet?” Thor asked.
“None. Another body, no sign of Audrey or Marshall. What the hell is going on here?” he asked, sounding frustrated.
“I recognized her,” Thor told him.
“What? Who the hell is she?” Jay demanded.
“I don’t know who she is, but I know what she did for a living.”
Thor nodded. “She was outside Adam’s hotel the other day. I don’t know if she was staying there or not, but she was looking for johns on the street.” He hesitated. “I actually warned her to be careful.”
“You didn’t take her up on anything?”
Thor felt a bolt of anger surge through him. Then he realized Jay was only doing his job.
“All right, but she spoke to you, you knew she was a hooker, and you warned her to be careful. What then?”
“She told me she had to make a living. And that was all. She headed down Duval Street, toward the water and the bars, looking for customers. I’m assuming she found someone.”
Jay nodded. “Yeah. She found someone, all right.”
“Maybe the killer is getting sloppy. That would be something, at least,” Thor said.
Jay winced. “In other words, this may have been going on for years, but he’s getting careless and drowning the girls too close to shore?”
Jay nodded grimly in return. “Or maybe he’s only just now made his way down to the Keys. Or he’s just gotten started and he’s an idiot incapable of securing a body to the ocean floor. Who knows? All I know is that now I’ve got two corpses, two missing persons, a bunch of ghost hunters—and no fucking answers.” He looked across the water and shook his head. “Who the hell would have suspected, when Gen first thought she saw a body, that it would turn into this?” he asked morosely. He looked at Thor again. “You can take your crews in now. Tell them—all of them—that I may have some questions.”
As he spoke, the police divers surfaced, one man calling out to him.
They had brought the body up on a light canvas stretcher designed to preserve whatever evidence might have remained on the corpse.
He heard a startled exclamation and looked around.
The borrowed police boat was anchored about twenty feet away. Lizzie, Zach, Bethany, Alex and Jack were standing at the stern, watching.