Close Enough To Touch
He's their secret admirer wooing them with phone calls love letters and special gifts. From a distance he admires them. Desires them. Despises them. And when he gets close enough he kills them all. Close Enough To Kiss Adams County Alabama is a small friendly place where everyone knows each other--but not well enough it seems because Sheriff Bernie Granger has a serial killer on her hands a total psycho who stalks woos kidnaps and kills his victims.
It's Bernie's first big case a chance for her to prove herself to her new boss former Memphis police detective Jim Norton but it won't be easy. This killer is uncannily smart. It's as if he knows what Bernie's thinking. And his next move is more than shocking--it's chillingly personal. Close Enough To Kill.
A terrifying game is underway. A desperate hunt has begun. And a rookie sheriff is determined to stop a killer at all costs. But is she getting nearer to catching him or drawing far too close to his deadly flame
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April 30, 2011
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Excerpt from Close Enough To Kill by Beverly Barton
When they arrived at the crime scene, a small crowd had already formed along the roadside and the rutted lane leading into farmer Earl Wheeler's soybean fields. Jim had seen this happen all too often, thanks to citizens in possession of police scanners. Although several deputies had beaten them there and were doing their best to keep the spectators at bay, Lieutenant Downs was sweating profusely, apparently concerned about keeping the scene secured.
"Look at them," Hensley said. "Swarming like maggots. Why is it that people are so damn fascinated by murder and mayhem?"
Neither Jim nor Bernie replied since the deputy's question was obviously rhetorical.
Bernie parked her Jeep just short of the yellow tape marking the scene, opened the driver's door and hopped out, with Hensley on her heels. She gave the bystanders a hard glare and ordered everyone to keep their distance, then met Downs as he came toward her. Jim, who'd been sitting in the backseat, didn't rush, allowing the sheriff to take the lead. After all, when it came time to speak to the press, she'd be the one to take the heat. And when the case was solved, it was her right to take most, if not all, the glory. As the new chief investigator, this should be his case, but he wasn't about to inform either the sheriff or Hensley of that fact. After he got out of the Jeep, he stood back, surveying the scene. Bernie paused after speaking to Downs and looked at Jim. She motioned to him with a wave of her hand. He nodded, and then joined the others at the edge of the yellow tape. "It's Stephanie Preston," Bernie said. "John called Morris Claunch, our county coroner, and he should be here any minute now. He'll be able to give us some basic info, but it seems fairly obvious that Stephanie's throat has been slashed."
Jim stepped over the tape and moved closer to the body, stopping a good five feet away. Stephanie was young, pretty, dark haired, full breasted and slender. With no apparent signs of a struggle and no blood anywhere on the ground near the victim, Jim surmised that she had been killed elsewhere and brought to this spot. And it was apparent, even to an untrained eye, that she had been posed in a somewhat seductive manner. One arm was draped across her breasts and one hand covered her mound, as if although the killer had wanted to expose her lush body, he'd also wanted to present her corpse with a small degree of modesty. The way he had arranged her limbs and long dark hair said that, in his own sick, perverted way, the killer had cared about his victim. Jim had seen this before, usually in cases where a member of the family turned out to be the murderer and in one case where the perpetrator had been a serial killer and posing his victims had been part of his MO.
Just as Jim noticed several marks on Stephanie's otherwise flawless skin, Bernie walked up beside him.
"I have to call Sheriff Mays over in Jackson County," she said. When Jim looked at her questioningly, she added, "Ed Mays is Stephanie's uncle."
Jim nodded. "Take a look at those marks on her." He pointed them out, one by one. "What do they look like to you?"
"I'm not sure. Some look like small burns, as if--"
Bernie swallowed hard. "They look like cigarette burns. And the others look almost like bite marks."
"I'd say the body was placed here recently, within the past few hours, so it's hardly likely that any wild animals would have caused those bite marks. If they had, there would be deeper wounds, some tearing, some flesh torn away."
"They're human bite marks, aren't they?"
"That would be my educated guess," Jim told her.
"Someone tortured Stephanie." Bernie closed her eyes for a couple of seconds, then reopened them and cleared her throat.
"It's okay to be upset," Jim said. "You don't have to pretend that it doesn't bother you to know that not only was this young woman killed, but she was probably tortured for a couple of weeks before he slit her throat." He glanced at Bernie and noted how pale her face was. "It bothers me a hell of a lot, too. I'm just better at hiding my feelings." "I don't have the luxury of crying or screaming. I'm the sheriff. How would it look to my deputies--to anyone for that matter--if every time I'm exposed to something terrible, I break down and boohoo like a . . . a . . ."
"Like a woman?"
Bernie blew out a disgruntled moan. "Since she's naked, do you think that means he raped her?"
"Probably, but it's possible he didn't. An autopsy should tell us everything we need to know about what she endured in the what, two weeks since she came up missing."
"Our coroner, Morris Claunch, is the local undertaker," Bernie said. "He's not trained to do the kind of autopsy we need."
"I figured that. So you'll recommend that Claunch contact DFS, right? Or am I being presumptuous in assuming the sheriff 's department usually calls in the state boys when there's a murder?"
"You're my chief deputy, the lead investigator for my department," she told him. "Is it your recommendation that the DFS and the ABI be brought in on this case?"
He looked her square in the eyes. Was she testing him by asking what he thought should be done? "Yeah, it's my recommendation, but you're the sheriff. It's your call."
"Look, I'm more aware than most that law enforcement in many Alabama counties still suffers from a prevailing 'turf ' mentality, and some sheriffs and police chiefs are reluctant to call in the ABI. I'm not one of those sheriffs."
"I had a feeling you weren't." The corners of his mouth lifted, hinting at an approving smile.
"Adams County simply doesn't have the resources we'd need to do justice to this type of crime investigation," Bernie told him. "My only other murder case was simple. Cut and dried. The killer confessed. So I haven't worked with the ABI, but my dad knows the ABI area commander in Huntsville, and I've heard him say that he's never had a problem working with the Bureau."
Jim glanced at the cell phone clipped to Bernie's belt, then said, "The sooner the better."
"Right." She removed her phone and scanned through the programmed numbers, then walked away from Jim and farther away from the crowd before placing her call.
Hensley came over to Jim and nodded toward Bernie. "Is she calling in the ABI?"
"Morris Claunch just drove up," Hensley said. "What should I tell him?"
Day one as Hensley's supervisor and Jim noticed that the guy was already playing by the rules. That was a good sign. "Tell him the sheriff is calling in the ABI and she'll want DFS involved." Jim looked directly at his deputy. "How long's it going to take to get an autopsy report from DFS?" "Average time? A week to a month. And for DNA evidence, that could be up to six months or longer. Worst case scenario-- up to a year."
"I was afraid of that."
"The DFS guys are overworked and underpaid, and there aren't enough of them to go around," Hensley said. "In the past, we've worked with a preliminary draft right up to the trial."
"Unless the coroner can tell us otherwise, I'm going to work under the assumption that Stephanie Preston was repeatedly raped and tortured before being killed."
A tall, gangly man with thinning brown hair and a decided slump to his shoulders plodded casually over to them; he spoke to Hensley and glanced at Jim. "You the new chief deputy?"
"Yeah, I'm Jim Norton."
The man held out his hand. "I'm Morris Claunch, the coroner."
Bernie replaced her cell phone on the belt clip as she approached them. "A response unit is on its way from Huntsville, along with an agent, a guy named Charlie Patterson." She looked right at Claunch. "I called Dad and he said you and he had worked with Patterson several years back."
"Hmm . . . yeah, we did. Patterson's okay. As I recall, he's a team player. He'll work with you"--Claunch glanced at Jim--"with your chief investigator and his team." "Once you take a look at the body, I'd like to know what you think," Jim said.
Claunch raised one eyebrow, then nodded before making his way toward the beautiful young woman lying naked on a dirt lane in the middle of a soybean field.
Thomasina Hardy loaded the dishwasher and cleaned up her mother's kitchen, then washed her hands and applied scented lotion. Her brother had a Friday night date and her mother had just left to go to her older sister Amanda's to babysit the children so Amanda and her husband could go bowling over in Adams Landing. So here she was all alone on a Friday night. She and Ron broke up six months ago, so she should be back in circulation by now, shouldn't she? She'd had a total of five dates in the past few months and not once had she accepted a second date with any one of the guys. Yes, she was picky. She might give just about any guy a chance with one date, but if he didn't measure up, she didn't waste her time or his.
Paul Landon, the richest bachelor in Adams County, had thought buying her dinner meant he got to screw her on a first date. The guy was a jerk. Neither his good looks nor his sizable bank account impressed her enough to give him a second chance.
Her mom had fixed her up with widower Steve Banyan, an Adams Landing pharmacist, but an hour into their date, she'd been bored to tears. All the man talked about was his kids and his deceased wife.
Her sister had fixed her up with two different duds--one worked at the phone company with Amanda's husband and the other was a guy on their bowling team.
The only contender in the bunch had been Raymond Long, a recently divorced nice guy. But he'd never called her for a second date. Maybe she simply wasn't his type.
Thomasina picked up the TV Guide and the remote control as she sat down on the sofa in the den and contemplated another Friday night alone. As she curled up on the sofa, she turned on the television and laid the remote at her side, then flipped through the guide. She had her choice of cop shows, reality shows and sitcoms, but she decided on a cable channel that showed an attractive young woman undergoing breast enlargement surgery. Although she filled out a C cup, Thomasina had often wondered how she'd look with a set of D or double-D boobs.
Ten minutes into the show, the telephone rang. Thomasina groaned. It was probably one of those annoying telephone solicitors. She hit the MUTE button on the remote, then got up and walked across the room to where her mom had left the cordless phone earlier this evening when she'd made a call to Amanda. Thomasina checked the caller ID. PAY PHONE. A pay telephone? How odd. She knew there were several of those old pay phone booths still around in various areas in Adams County, but she wasn't personally acquainted with anyone who used them. Debating whether to answer or allow the answering machine to pick up, she let the phone ring four times, then quickly hit the ON button and said, "Hello."
"Thomasina?" the unfamiliar voice said.
"Did you get my note?"
It was then that Thomasina realized his voice sounded odd. A deep, throaty baritone.
"Who is this?" she asked.
"I'm your secret admirer."
A cold chill raced up Thomasina's spine. Don't overreact. Don't assume this guy is some nut job. It could be Brandon Kelley simply being romantic, choosing to woo you as a secret admirer first, before revealing his true identity.
"Why keep your identity a secret?"
"I will reveal my identity when the time is right," he told her. "But for now . . . sleep well tonight, my beautiful Thomasina, and dream of your secret lover who longs to touch you, to whisper love sonnets in your ear, to fulfill your every fantasy."
Thomasina gasped softly, undeniably aroused by the man's words, by the image his comments painted in her mind. Images of Brandon and her together.
"Please, tell me--"
The dial tone alerted her to the fact that he had ended their conversation.
Thomasina closed her eyes and sighed. Her Friday night wasn't turning out to be so dull and uneventful after all. Will he call back tonight? No, probably not. But maybe tomorrow or tomorrow night. In a way, she wished Brandon would just come right out and ask her for a date, but in another way, she thought it was romantic and rather sweet that he had thought of a unique way to begin an old-fashioned courtship.
But what if it's not Brandon? Of course, it was Brandon. Who else could it be?
She carried the phone with her when she returned to the sofa. After sitting down, she laid the phone beside the remote. For several minutes she stared at the silent television screen and considered the possibilities. If her secret admirer wasn't Brandon Kelley, then who could it be? She couldn't think of another man she knew who would do something so unconventional and romantic.
It has to be Brandon.
She hit the MUTE button again to resume the sound on the TV and tried to renew her interest in the show she'd been watching. But her mind kept wandering, alternating between fantasizing about Brandon and wondering whether she should be flattered or concerned about this little game he was playing with her.
Jim wolfed down a bologna sandwich and swigged on a Dr. Pepper as he tried to decide whether he should shave before heading over to the Adams Landing Hotel to pick up Agent Patterson for a late-evening session with the sheriff. The ABI agent had shown up less than an hour after Bernie had placed her phone call. He came with the crime scene guys, although he'd driven his own vehicle since he'd be staying in town for several days. If they didn't break the case within a few days, Patterson would probably drive back and forth from Huntsville after that, since it was only a forty five- minute drive. Jim's guess was that this case wouldn't be solved easily, maybe not for weeks or months. Maybe never. He had his own theories, but before mouthing off his opinion, he'd decided to wait until this evening and hear what Patterson had to say and get Bernie's input after she spoke to her father. He wondered how many on-the-job years it would take before she felt confident enough not to run things by her dad. It couldn't be easy for her trying to live up to the old man, living and working in his shadow.
Stephanie Preston's body was on its way to Huntsville. Her family had been notified. Jim suspected that Bernie's call to Sheriff Ed Mays probably had been the most difficult call she'd ever made. Both the ABI and the DFS were now involved due to the type of crime that had been committed, with the two agencies working with the county sheriff 's department. Bernie had called a press conference and had faced not only local reporters, but Huntsville newspaper reporters and television crews. She had kept her comments brief and refused to take questions, which was standard procedure this early in the game. Although the statement to the press had been succinct--Stephanie Preston's body had been discovered, the cause of death to be determined by an autopsy, and yes, the death was being handled as a murder-- rumors no doubt already abounded. Any of the locals who'd been at the scene could spread the word that Stephanie's throat had been slashed and that she was naked.
After finishing off the Dr. Pepper, Jim wiped his mouth, walked over to the garbage can in the kitchen and dumped the empty cola bottle and the paper towel he'd used as a napkin. He glanced at his watch and saw that he had just enough time to shave, if he hurried. He was supposed to pick up Patterson at six-thirty; then the two of them would go to his office at the county jail, where Bernie, Ron Hensley and John Downs would meet them.
Jim made it halfway to the bathroom before his cell phone rang. Answering the call as he opened the bathroom door, he said, "Yeah?"
"Jim Norton?" He didn't recognize the man's voice.
"Yeah, this is Norton."
"Mr. Norton . . . Jim . . . this is Allen Clark." He paused, apparently waiting for a reaction from Jim. "You know, Mary Lee's husband."
"Yeah, I know who you are. What do you want? Is it something about Kevin? I'm supposed to get him next weekend. Mary Lee hasn't changed her mind, has she?"
"No, no, nothing like that."
"Then what?" Jim flipped on the light and looked at himself in the medicine cabinet mirror.
"I was wondering . . . that is, we were wondering if you could take Kevin earlier than we'd planned, say next Thursday?"
"Yeah, sure, but I don't understand what's going on. Why would Mary Lee give me a couple of extra days with Kevin?" Since their divorce nearly seven years ago, his ex-wife had done everything she could to undermine his relationship with his son and never, ever allowed them extra time together.
"Actually, we need you to keep Kevin for several weeks, possibly until school starts in August."
"What's the catch?"
"Look, Mr. Norton . . . Jim. . . I don't know any other way to explain than to just come right out and tell you. Mary Lee has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She's having a mastectomy next Friday, here in Huntsville. Her treatment will probably include radiation and chemo. She needs complete rest."
Mary Lee had breast cancer? The news hit him hard. But not because he still had any deep feelings for his ex. Nope, that wasn't it. As much as he sometimes hated Mary Lee and had on more than one occasion damned her to hell, she was his son's mother. Kevin loved her. Needed her.
"What's the prognosis?" Jim asked, a tight knot in his throat. Okay, so maybe he did still care about Mary Lee. Maybe he always would. But he wasn't in love with her. She'd killed that years ago.
"The doctor is optimistic. Of course, we won't know for sure until they run tests on the lymph nodes after surgery. But we're hoping and praying for the best."
"Yeah, of course you are. How's Mary Lee?" His ex-wife had always considered herself a sexy woman and had used her body as both a weapon and a reward for the men in her life.
"She's okay. Scared. Upset. Worrying about Kevin."
"Was my taking Kevin for the next few weeks her idea or yours?" Jim asked.
Allen Clark cleared his throat. "Mine, actually. She's concerned that with you starting a new job, Kevin might be alone too much."
"I'll see to it that he's not."
"Then you're okay with my bringing him to Adams Landing next Thursday?"
"Yeah. Sure. But what about Kevin? Have y'all told him--"
"Not yet, but we will. This weekend. And . . . uh . . . I'll call you Monday and set up a time and . . . Thanks, Mr.--"
For several seconds after their conversation ended, Jim stood in the small bathroom, his gaze fixed on the mirror in front of him. He no longer saw his reflection, no longer thought about shaving. His emotions were torn between genuine concern about his ex-wife's health and absolute joy over the fact that he was being given the gift of spending so much time with his son.
Jim snorted. Wasn't life always this way? He had a chance for his son to live with him for several weeks, maybe more than a month, and this opportunity came at the worst possible time for him. Just as he was starting a new job that had become exceedingly complicated on his very first day. How was he going to balance giving Kevin the quality time he needed and deserved and giving his all to the investigation into Stephanie Preston's brutal murder?