Read Cold Truth Online

Authors: Mariah Stewart

Tags: #Fiction

Cold Truth

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For Chery Griffin, the very best and truest of friends, who laughs and occasionally cries with me; who never fails to offer support, encouragement, and—dare I say it with a straight face?—her wisdom; and who, as Victoria Alexander, is a most excellent partner in whine

I believe that in the end
the truth will conquer.

—J
OHN
W
YCLIFFE

P
rologue

Under the hot lights of the television studio, Regan Landry shifted uncomfortably in her chair even as she reminded herself that her appearance today on
This Morning, USA,
the daily show that followed the network morning news program, was business, and therefore need not be pleasurable.

This would be her final televised spot on the tour promoting
In His Shoes,
the last book she’d co-authored with her father, Josh Landry, before his death eight months earlier. She didn’t have to be comfortable; she merely had to be good, good enough to do justice to her father and their work.

In the past, it had been Josh who’d done the book tours, the television appearances, the magazine and radio interviews. Regan had always watched from the wings as he captivated every audience with his wit and easy charm, mesmerizing them with the gritty details of his research into the minds of some of society’s most loathsome killers. Josh’s own murder had changed all that.

While Regan was not as comfortable in the spotlight as her father had been, she felt she owed it to him—and to his many fans—to keep the schedule that their publisher had arranged before Josh died. For years, her father had returned for book signings at many of the same bookstores across the country, some of whose patrons had never missed a visit. Some readers had become so familiar, he’d known them by name. Regan believed he looked forward to the signings as much as his faithful fans looked forward to seeing him and hearing him talk about the research he’d done to prepare for each new book.

Regan had been tempted, but she couldn’t bring herself to back out of the tour, and in retrospect was glad she had not. She’d come to look upon the past few weeks as a sort of pilgrimage, following in her father’s footsteps, accepting the sympathy of his longtime readers, many of whom had pressed letters or cards into her hands. Their thoughtful words of condolence and remembrance had given her great comfort; at each bookstore, there had been moments when she’d truly felt her father’s presence. The book tour which she had dreaded and had hoped to avoid had become a journey that, in the end, had brought her the first peace she’d known since the day Josh had died.

“Are you all set there?” Heather Cannon, the perky morning hostess—dubbed “America’s kid sister” by the media—took a seat in the chair opposite the one in which Regan sat, and smoothed her skirt with one hand and her hair with the other.

“Fine, yes. Thanks.” Regan nodded somewhat stiffly.

As a regular morning viewer, Regan had watched hundreds of celebrities—movie and television stars, athletes, musicians—sit in this very seat. It suddenly occurred to her that perhaps some of those same people might be sitting at home watching her.

It was a thought she wished she had not had.

She pressed sweating palms against her thighs and tried to force calming breaths into her lungs. So far, it hadn’t worked.

“Can we get you some water?” the hostess asked. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Yes. I’m fine.”

“Everyone gets a little stage fright here.” Heather flashed her most reassuring smile. “Once the cameras begin to roll, and we start to chat, you’ll be fine.”

“I am fine,” Regan insisted.

“Not too late for a little water,” Heather offered again.

“Thanks, but no.”

“Okay, if you’re sure.” Heather nodded to someone behind Regan. “We’re a go whenever you are. Regan, watch the red light on the monitor . . .”

For a moment, Regan couldn’t remember where the monitor was, but she followed the lead of her hostess.

Sorry, Dad. I’d hoped to have made a better showing.

“For over twenty years, Josh Landry was the gold standard when it came to writing true crime bestsellers,” Heather began. “He made a highly respected career out of investigating old, unsolved murders with the intent of cracking them, and then told the story in one of his many books, the last few with the assistance of his daughter, Regan. Tragically, Josh Landry was murdered last year at his farm outside of Princeton, New Jersey, by a man named Archer Lowell, who had targeted Landry as part of a bizarre murder-triangle that had, for several months, stumped even the FBI. Regan Landry is here with me today to talk about the last book that she and her father wrote together.”

Heather reached across the spare distance and touched Regan lightly on the arm. “Regan, how hard has it been to carry on in your father’s footsteps?”

“No one could fill my dad’s shoes, but I couldn’t not go on this tour. He was very, very proud of this book, and I felt obligated to go on with the schedule. Dad always looked forward to seeing his readers, and I felt I owed it to them—and to him—to take this last trip.”

“Do you think it will be the last trip?” Heather leaned closer. “You’re not thinking about continuing your father’s work?”

Regan hesitated for a long moment.

“I hadn’t planned on it. My intention was to finish out this tour for him, then move on to something else with my life. But before I left last month, I’d started cleaning out my dad’s house with an eye toward getting it ready to put on the market. In the course of going through his files, I came across some notes that he’d made regarding different cases he’d looked into over the years—books he’d planned on writing in the future—and I have to admit, some of those cases are stories just begging to be told.”

“Ah, so there might yet be more Landry true crime?”

“Possibly. I have to give it a bit more thought, but my dad left some pretty interesting notes and interviews, even some correspondence from people who may or may not have been involved in violent crimes.”

“Correspondence? From killers?”

“Some, claiming to be. It’s pretty scary reading, actually.”

“Your father didn’t turn these letters over to the police?”

“In some cases, apparently, he did, and only kept photocopies for his file. In others, I can’t really tell, because I don’t know if the files contain all his notes. Sometimes he’d remove material if he was working on something and forget to put it back in the file, or just as often, he’d stuff papers into an otherwise empty file, so I never know where I will find things. His housekeeping was notoriously poor—notes pop up in the darnedest places. I’m still trying to sort things out and organize the files. To answer your question, I can’t tell what’s been handed over to law enforcement because I don’t know what the files originally contained. And others, well, it’s hard to know which letters were from real criminals.”

“Because some of the letters might be from people who just got a charge out of writing to him and saying they had committed certain acts, to get his attention?”

“To be sure, there was some of that. He’d mentioned several times that he’d get letters from one state or another, describing killings or whatever, but when he’d contact the local police, he’d be told there were no bodies buried where the letter said there’d be, that sort of thing.”

“So it was hard for him to know who was on the level?”

“Yes. But he did amass a wealth of information on many cases that he’d shared with police and with the FBI over the years.”

“Any notorious cases, ones we’d recognize?”

“Oh, sure. He had several boxes of material on the Hillcrest Rapist, the Bayside Strangler, and the Six-Year Killer, to name just a few.”

“The Six-Year Killer who was active in Massachusetts, so named because he seemed to surface and kill every six years,” Heather interjected.

“Right.”

“Have you read through your father’s notes on that case?”

“Some of them. I haven’t had time to read through all of it.”

“Any insights?”

“Not yet. I’ve been skimming through merely to see what there is. And again, I haven’t had time to organize things in a way that would make any sense or would give me any feelings about the case—or any of the cases—one way or another.”

“Which case do you think you’d be most likely to pick up first? Assuming, of course, that you decide to go ahead and write a book on your own.”

“I can’t really say.” Regan shrugged. “There are boxes of files I haven’t even opened yet. Who knows what I might find in one of them?”

“Well, I feel certain that one of those files will be calling your name, and maybe by this time next year we’ll be looking at a new Landry true crime bestseller. I know I will be first in line for my copy.”

Heather turned to the camera. “We’ll be right back with Regan Landry to talk about
In His Shoes . . .

Heather turned back to reassure Regan. “You did just fine. You’re a natural.”

“Thank you. You’re making this a lot easier than I thought it would be.” Regan smiled for the first time that morning. “And if that bottle of water is still available, I think I’d like it now.”

 

He sat back in the chair and rewound the tape, then pushed
Play.

“There are boxes of files I haven’t even opened yet,” the pretty blonde was saying. “Who knows what I might find in one of them?”

Who indeed?

Well,
he
knew what she would find in at least one of those boxes. Or many boxes, depending on how disorganized the man really had been when it came to record keeping.

And assuming, of course, that Josh Landry had kept the letters
he
had written so long ago. Letters meant to taunt, letters meant to tease and intrigue, and, yes, to frustrate.

He smiled, recalling how Josh Landry had ignored the first few, perhaps thinking them the work of someone who was merely seeking attention. Of course, that had been before his body of work—he loved that expression—had been discovered, so to speak.

He’d certainly given old Josh something to think about, once upon a time. By the time Landry had figured out he was on the level, it had been too late. Way too late. And by then, of course, he’d moved on, bored with the game and in need of fresh surroundings and new challenges.

Over the years, it had been grand, watching the police here and there trip over themselves, looking for clues, frantically searching for suspects. Their confusion had merely reinforced his belief in the stupidity of the law enforcement community in general. He’d yet to meet his match.

He rewound the tape to the beginning, and watched it again.

Pretty thing, that Landry girl. Smart, too.

Was she smarter than her father had been?

He pondered the thought, stopped the tape, and rewound it and played it again. Watching her had made him think of other pretty things. Pretty things and pretty places, from long ago and far away.

He walked to the expanse of windows that looked out on the desert that lay beyond, and thought back to the town where he’d grown up, where it had all begun. His first mischief. His first willing venture into the dark places where his mind had led.

He turned back from the vista and paced the length of the cavernous living room, scents and sounds and images from the past now alive in his mind. Long stretches of wetlands lush with tall reeds and grasses that whispered softly and beckoned in the breeze. Long arms of beach over which gulls soared and screamed. Summer afternoons spent in a small boat, catching crabs in a net under a rickety two-lane wooden bridge. If he closed his eyes, he could see it. Hear it. Smell it.

Once he had been a child of the sea. What, he asked himself, was he doing here, surrounded by hot sand and blazing sun? Perhaps it was time to think about going home.

Besides, he’d pretty much come to the end of his run here. Sooner or later, the police would start putting two and two and two together and they would get six, sure enough. Within the past two weeks, several bodies had surfaced. Might not the sheriff’s department start to catch on to the fact that those naked bodies that had turned up recently in the desert were not the run-of-the-mill border killings they’d been dealing with over the years, but something of a different nature? It was far from unusual to find the body of a young girl along the border—the count had been growing steadily for years—but his victims had all met their end in the same precise manner. Surely soon someone would notice and would begin to question the possibility of such coincidence.

He alone knew there were many, many more bodies, here and elsewhere, and that there were no coincidences.

All things considered, maybe it
was
time to go home. Return to the scene of the crime. Literally.

He sat on the plush leather ottoman and rewound the tape, suddenly feeling old. How much longer could he safely keep on, he wondered.

Over the years, he’d been lucky, but how much longer before his luck would run out?

He’d had one close call, about three weeks ago, the memory of which, even now, made him dizzy. He’d just dumped his latest kill in the foothills in the state park outside of town, and was walking back to his car, her clothes in a plastic trash bag slung over his shoulder, when he ran smack into a park guard.

“What’s in the bag?” the guard had asked.

“Oh. Just some trash I picked up at a campsite about a half mile up the trail there,” he’d replied, even as he’d patted his jacket for the small revolver he always carried there and wondered if he’d need it now.

“Don’t it just kill you, the way people will leave their shit around?” The guard had shaken his head in disgust. “You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff we’ve found up there.”

“Oh, I bet I would.” He relaxed and shifted the bag from one hand to the other.

“Well, thanks for being a good citizen and pitching in here. We appreciate the help, you know, not enough staff to keep track of everything.”

“Hey, my pleasure.”

“Want me to take that?” The guard reached for the bag.

“No need. There’s a Dumpster in the parking lot at my apartment building. I’ll drop it in on my way past.”

“Well, hey, thanks again.”

“Glad to help.” He’d nodded and strolled on off to his car, glancing back casually, but the guard had already disappeared. He’d opened the rear door and casually tossed the bag inside.

He’d slid into the driver’s seat of his Mercedes SUV and stole an anxious glance in the rearview mirror to reassure himself that he had not been observed. It was then he’d realized that his hands were shaking and he was sweating. But he hadn’t been caught, and since the body he’d left deep in the hills hadn’t been discovered for another ten days, the guard had remembered only vaguely that someone had been around the park that night. The well-meaning public servant couldn’t remember anything about the stranger except that he’d been kind enough to dispose of some trash left behind by a careless camper.

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