Special Excerpt: “The Doll” by Taylor Stevens

Special Excerpt: “The Doll” by Taylor Stevens

 

Far along the street on either side and in both directions  were  squat  block buildings,  businesses  divided  one  from the next by narrow windows and truck bays. The signage on one, scripted in large metallic block letters, read LOGAN’S, and Bradford pulled to the front of it.

The parking area was empty, and from the ground level the building appeared quiet, if not deserted. Concrete steps under a roofed walkway led up to a mostly glass front door. Beyond the entry, all was dark, and daylight reflecting off the glass created a mirrored effect. The door’s latch rested against the frame as if someone in a hurry hadn’t realized the spring was broken.

Bradford reached for the weapon holstered under his arm and toed the door open. Walker, following suit, went in behind him.

The hallway was a straight, empty shot forty-five feet back to another door, which led to the warehouse area. Off the hall on both sides were the four rooms that made up the entire office—two in the front for workspace, two to the rear that had been used as a kitchen and a bedroom for as long as Logan had leased the place. At the moment, the only light was what filtered through the front door.

The interior  was silent, the floor littered  with  glass shattered from one of the large framed posters that had once hung high and now lay disjointed at the base of the wall. Bradford stepped beyond the shards, moved from one room to the next, staying in each just long enough to confirm it empty.

The primary evidence of a struggle was in the kitchen, where the table was broken and dishes lay shattered on the floor. Dried blood streaked across the floor and counters. He found a light switch and elbowed it on, adding a garish illumination  to the mix, and then, seeing what he needed to see, backed out, nodding for Walker to take a look.

She stopped just before the chaos, and after a moment her eyes cut to his. He continued  down the hall to the door that led to the warehouse and the restrooms, though he knew he’d find nothing out there. Whoever had done this had come for Logan, found him in the kitchen, taken him, and left.

The warehouse, double the width of the front office, was spaced with machines, tools, and storage. Bradford stood in the oversize area listening  to the buzz of electricity that  ran through  unseen wires to powerful lights. In the silence, he holstered the weapon, then turned a slow circle and willed the facts to come to him.

The events of today were too connected to be coincidence, were too well informed to be new. There was a history that pulled everything  together,  something  from  their  past, someone  who would have known where to look and who to grab, and somehow all of this tied in to today. The events of Argentina tumbled  inside his head.

He pushed past Walker, who guarded the egress.

In Logan’s bedroom, he dug through dressers and drawers, scanned the walls and surfaces, added almost as much to the mess as those who’d come before him, searching for photographs,  artwork, personal touches, anything  that would lead from Logan to Hannah, Logan’s daughter, who’d been the catalyst for Munroe’s infiltration in Buenos Aires.

He found nothing. Like Munroe, Logan was careful not to leave anything that traced back to the ones he loved, and this one relief was drowned out by several more destructive possibilities. Bradford paused, then looked up to find Walker studying him. He straightened, ignoring what she left unsaid. No matter  how it might appear to her, his weren’t the actions of a man who’d witnessed the abduction of his girlfriend. Walker didn’t know Munroe’s history, didn’t understand how Logan factored into the equation, and without having seen it, lived through it—survived it—she could never understand the place from which his fear was born.

Vanessa Michael Munroe was a killer with a predator’s natural instincts; she could take care of herself. What scared him—terrified him—was what would happen if she was pushed too far. He’d seen that place of destruction,  had witnessed  firsthand  what the darkness could do to her mind, and if whoever had taken her had also taken Logan . . .

Bradford let the thought  die and cut off the murky  places to which it led. He stood in place, deliberating, analyzing, then whispered, “Surveillance footage.”

Walker’s head tipped up and around.

He said, “Fiber optics.”

They  found  the  security  system  racked  inside  the  kitchen’s closet, the miniature cooling fans still blowing and signs of hurried disturbance along the walls.

The recording tray was empty.

Bradford scanned behind the equipment, where clusters of wires fed to and from machines  through  the wall. He used the closet walls to brace himself and shimmied  up to the faint outline of a cutaway. Pushed up, and the segment of ceiling lifted and slid away on rollers.

The area above the kitchen was clean, had been decked, and the heating and cooling air vents redirected to include this small area—everything opposite what one might expect in an unused crawl space. A foot away from the opening were two servers and next to them a small rack of jacketed DVDs. He punched the button to open the recording tray, ejected an unmarked  disk, slid it into a sleeve, and dropped it down to Walker.

They moved  from  the  kitchen  back to the  front  area, where the computers had been destroyed and the hard drives removed. Hunted for logs, journals, notations on paper, anything that might direct them  to Logan’s last visitor, but what they were searching for, if it had ever existed at all, had probably ended up on a scrap of paper tossed out with yesterday’s trash.

They didn’t speak again until they were back inside the Explorer and Bradford had found a random pay phone from which he made an anonymous call to 911.

“What’s the connection?” Walker asked. “Michael and Logan?”

Bradford, eyes fixed on the road ahead, didn’t respond. He didn’t have the words to articulate the jumbled confusion of experience and history, the obscure paths Munroe had trod, from them the murky depths they were about to wade.

Walker sighed and turned back to the window. Said, “You know things I don’t know and I can’t help solve this thing if you insist on playing the role of grieving boyfriend.”

Bradford stole a glance in her  direction.  Said, “Whoever  did this  came after  Michael and  took Logan as collateral, as a hostage.” Paused. “Either that or they took him as a setup to a revenge killing—for Michael to witness  before they kill her, too. One of those two.”

A long, heavy silence filled the car and eventually Walker said, “Wow.”

“It’s all just conjecture,” he said, “but you wanted to know.”

She shifted in the seat so that she faced him. “I don’t understand. Logan races motorcycles for a living. Why the hell does he need his place wired like that?”

“He races, he retools performance  engines, but he’s also got a supply business that has nothing to do with his machine shop. Logan’s kind of a go-to guy. If you need something military-grade and difficult to get, he’ll do the getting.”

“But no alarm system?”

“Nothing that would bring law enforcement to his doorstep.”

“And you don’t think what happened  today might possibly be because of him and”—Walker air-quoted—“his supply business?”

Bradford shot her another  glance and turned  back to the road. Whoever  had  done  this  had  taken  Munroe  clean while Logan’s place was trashed and bloody. Even without knowing the history, it didn’t take a genius to follow the logic. He waited until he’d exited the freeway and stopped at a traffic light before answering. “It may be intertwined with his business somehow,” he said, “but ultimately this is about Michael.”

“And you know this how? More gut instinct?”

“Stop sniping at me,” he said. “I know you see it. Whoever did this grabbed Michael in public and in broad daylight, went through a hell of a lot of effort to create a diversion. This is not an amateur, so let’s just assume that if all he wanted was her dead, Logan would be here grieving over her body with us, but instead he’s missing, too. The only reason to take Logan is to control Michael.”

“Fine for a theory,” she said, “but why take Logan specifically? Sure, he’s her friend, but if the idea is some sort of hostage situation, why not take you? Why not me for that matter, or some kid on the street?”

Bradford waited  again before speaking. How to explain  who Logan was to Munroe? “Holding Logan hostage is the best weapon they could have come up with,”  he said. “She’s  tighter  with him than with any blood bond.”

“Someone knows this?”

Bradford  nodded.  Someone  knew.  Who was the  big fucking question.  ■

 

Taylor Stevens is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Informationist” and “The Innocent.” Both featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, they received critical acclaim and have been published in seventeen languages.  Raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond the sixth grade, Stevens broke free of the Children of God and now lives in Texas. Her third book in the Munroe series, “The Doll,” will be published by Crown in June 2013.

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