"THE GRAVE DIGGER IS BACK."
Special Agent Brad Booker stared at the crime scene in
shock, the detective's voice mimicking his own thoughts.
The Grave Digger case â€” this whole scenario reeked of it.
That first one had almost cost him his career, his entire
His mind ticked over the similarities. Four years ago, the
final victim, Lisa Langley, had been found on another
moonless night. It had been dark and so damn hot the heat
had literally robbed his breath. As if the thought of her
missing hadn't already done so.
Just like the other victims, he'd found her in a rural,
deserted wooded area. Rotting vegetation and overgrown
bushes marred the trail. Yet they had plowed through and
found the grave tucked into the midst of Death Valley.
Except today, there was no white rose on the grave. This
killer was making his own statement. Adding his personal
signature with the gold cross dangling around the woman's
neck. But what was the significance?
Hopefully, Joann Worthy's battered body would give them
some answers. The stench of blood, decay and death
permeated the air. Crime scene technicians combed the
woods with flashlights, searching for evidence in the inky
night. Insects buzzed noisily. Cameras flashed, capturing
all angles of the woman's lifeless body and her burial
spot. The medical examiner was busy logging details of
injuries and determining the cause of death. A rookie
Buford cop named Surges turned green as he spotted the
already decaying body, and ran toward the bushes.
Brad stood rooted to the spot, sweat coating his neck and
trickling down his back. An image of Lisa's grave four
years ago flashed back. Digging furiously in the heat of
the night. Praying she was alive. Knowing it was his fault
if she didn't survive.
Barely resuscitating her.
And then the trial. Watching Lisa face her attacker.
Listening to the gruesome details describing what the man
had done to her. Then seeing the man finally locked away.
Another local, Gunther, sidled up to him. "You sure it's
not the same man? Maybe that first Grave Digger got out of
"Impossible." Brad swiped at the gnats swarming around his
face. "William White died in jail nine months ago, of a
massive head injury from a prison fight. I identified his
body myself." In fact, he had flown directly to the
facility the minute he'd heard of White's demise. Had
wanted to make sure for himself the sadistic psycho was
really gone. That he could never escape and hurt another
Then Brad had driven to the mountain cabin she'd rented
near Ellijay in North Georgia to deliver the news himself.
To see the relief on her face.
To find out if the ghosts still haunted her.
He'd somehow known they would, that she'd never fully
escape them. And when he'd realized that he reminded her
of the worst time of her life, he'd forced himself to
leave. But he'd never forgotten her. Never stopped blaming
Never stopped admiring her courage or...imagining that
things could have been different if she'd never been a
But a personal relationship with Lisa Langley was a pipe
dream, especially a short-term one, which was all a jaded
man like him had to offer. He knew nothing about love.
Dealing with a traumatized victim. His own mother had
thrown him out as a kid, discarded him like day-old meat.
His bitter childhood had nearly turned him into the type
of men he chased today. And there were times even now when
he thought he might cross the line. Times when he'd come
so close that he'd nearly tripped and fallen over to the
He had actually done so in the past.
The night he'd finally gotten his hands on William White,
that killer instinct in him had emerged again.
Sweet, blissful relief to have caught the man had filled
him, just as the rage and injustice of what White had done
to his victims had made Brad nearly take the man's life.
Because Brad Booker was a man without mercy.
And White had seen that wrath.
Brad had no regrets. He would have enjoyed watching the
Forcing himself back to the present, he glanced at the
victim's body as the M.E. rolled her over. Bile rose in
his throat. When they'd found her, Lisa's lower back had
been covered in welts in much the same way. Thank God she
was safe now.
And keeping her safe continued to be part of the job. No
one knew where she was. The new name she'd assumed.
And he intended to keep it that way.
But this poor woman...it was too late. "Can you believe
this?" His partner, Ethan Manning, strode up, notepad in
hand, rubbing at the sweat on his neck. "We were in a
drought back then, too, a real scorching heat wave."
Brad nodded. "And the killer always left the body in an
isolated place." The proximity to his own cabin on the
lake seemed eerie, too coincidental. He didn't like
"Wooden box was nailed shut with the same kind of nails,"
Ethan said. "And he chops off the victim's hair.
Brutalizes them. Even calls a reporter to gloat."
Brad grimaced. "But this time he left a cross instead of a
"What's that all about?" Ethan asked.
"Maybe some indication that he's a religious freak." Brad
scoffed at the idea. "Any sign of rape?"
The one thing Lisa had been spared. Thank God. Apparently
White had been impotent.
"Can't tell yet, but I'll let you know," the M.E. said.
"He cuts the fingernails off to get rid of trace evidence."
If the woman had been raped, then the copycat was
deviating slightly from the first killer's MO. Still,
there were so many similarities. "How could this copycat
know every last detail?"
"The papers carried the trial," Ethan suggested. "And he
could have read the transcript of Lisa's testimony."
Brad's gut clenched. Every word of that agonizing
testimony had been seared into his brain.
"Or hell, he probably bragged about it in prison," Ethan
said. "You know how these sickos are. White was a
Brad nodded. Right, the bastard had no conscience. Brad
almost understood. He'd been forced to get into
perps'heads too many times. Had seen their handiwork. Had
witnessed their unspeakable acts.
Had begun to think he might be tainted himself from the
violence. Not knowing his daddy or the genetic pool he'd
come from triggered disturbing questions in the dark hours
of the night.
The M.E. lifted a maggot from inside the box and bagged
it. July 1, the dead of summer, and the Atlanta
temperature soared near a hundred, making the heat in the
box even more suffocating.
The poor woman. How long had she been kept down there
before her killer had called? Brad turned toward Gunther,
the local officer. "She the one you've been looking for?"
"Matches the sketch," he said, tight-mouthed. "I'll phone
the family to meet us at the morgue and verify her
Brad grimaced. One of the worst parts of the job. Telling
the victim's family.
He still remembered Dr. Langley's reaction when he'd
phoned to relay the news that they'd found Lisa. Alive.
Only the man hadn't reacted as he'd expected.
"We'll question the other inmates where White was
imprisoned," Ethan said.
Brad mumbled agreement. "And I want to talk to that
"I'll get someone on the lumber supply companies," Ethan
said. "He may be building these boxes himself, like White
did. Maybe we can get a jump on where he bought the wood."
Surges staggered up, wiping at his mouth. "Sorry."
"Don't sweat it, kid. You'll get used to it," Brad
said. "Just start canvassing those cabins around the lake."
Surges nodded, and Brad contemplated different
possibilities â€” such as what if White hadn't been
operating alone years ago?
Sometimes serial killers worked in pairs....
The hairs on his neck tingled. They'd explored that angle
during the original trial, but had never found any
evidence to support it. But they could have been wrong.
Ethan moved up to his side. "Are you going to tell Lisa?"
Brad jerked his head toward his partner and swallowed
hard. He'd never confided his feelings for White's final
victim, but Ethan had sensed the attraction. That Brad had
nearly lost perspective.
But Lisa hated him. Would barely even look him in the eye.
How could he blame her? He'd hounded her for information
on her boyfriend for weeks, accused her of covering for
the man, even suggested White had used her, that she was a
fool if she didn't know the truth.
Then, when she'd finally phoned him to admit her
suspicions, he'd promised to protect her. But White had
gotten to Lisa first. The week that followed had been hell
But nothing compared to the ordeal Lisa had endured. Seven
days and nights of pure torture.
Ethan cleared his throat. "Booker?"
"No, not yet. I don't want to alarm her."
"You think that's wise? Maybe she remembered something
during the last four years that might help us. Like the
place where White kept her. Or a second man."
Brad nodded, feeling resigned, while they both tried to
focus on the details regarding this other woman.
But as things wound down, and he strode back to his car, a
sense of foreboding followed him. Could he ask Lisa to
relive those nightmarish details again? To tap into her
subconscious, where she'd repressed some of the horror?
Of course you can. You're the man without mercy. You can
do whatever it takes to get the job done.
His stomach knotted as another thought struck him. If this
psycho was copying White's crimes to a tee, would he go
after Lisa just as the last madman had?