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RUTHLESS
by Debra Webb

Genre: General Romantic Suspense, Romantic Suspense

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12:45 p.m., Channel Six Studios

The fact that he was the chief of police with a job to do gave Dan no comfort when what he wanted right now more than anything in this world was to protect Jess from opening that damned bundle.

Every part of him howled with the need to do this himself, but Jess would never stand for it and with a unit from the Bomb Squad as well as a dozen other cops including evidence techs standing by, he couldn’t exactly argue with his newest deputy chief.

Deputy Chief Jess Harris had a job to do, too.

The building had been evacuated of Channel Six personnel, including Gina Coleman, who had argued the edict all the way out the door. The experts had examined the box intended for Jess and pronounced it free of incendiary materials and other destructive substances. That assessment made the package’s contents no less explosive.

Bones.

After a thorough analyzing, including digital X-rays and probing, the contents were deemed skeletal remains wrapped in disintegrating burlap and plastic.

Once placed on a trace sheet to ensure no evidence was lost, the bundle had been removed from the cardboard shipping box. With Harper standing on one side and an evidence tech on the other, Jess carefully opened the bundle of fabric. Dan and the rest of those gathered stayed back. The fewer bodies crammed around that table, the less likelihood of contaminating whatever evidence the package contained or represented.

The Channel Six security video showed the delivery was made to the station via UPS just after ten that morning. Detective Wells and Officer Cook had interviewed the clerks at the originating UPS Store. One clerk remembered the guy, who’d given his name as Smith Johnson. Johnson was old with thick-lensed glasses, thin gray hair, and a walking cane. His long sleeves and gloves despite the August heat wave hadn’t triggered the usual alarms. The clerk figured he was just an old man trying to avoid sun exposure.

The return address Johnson gave was just as bogus as the name he’d used.

Detective Wells was standing by at the UPS Store for a copy of the video footage from the security system.

A new rush of frustration rammed Dan. What the hell was Spears up to now? Had he dared to disguise himself and waltz into that store right here in Birmingham so he could personally mail this package to Jess? Wasn’t it enough that he was torturing her with potential victims?

More outrage threatened to consume Dan whenever he thought of the SOB, and it had to be wrestled back. If he was going to be any good to Jess or this department, he had to keep his emotions in check.

Harper and Jess exchanged a look, and Dan’s attention zeroed back in on the here and now. “Chief,” Harper said with a grim look in Dan’s direction, “you should call Deputy Chief Black.”

Black? Why would they need another cop on the scene? To hell with it. Dan strode to the table. Harper pointed to the newspaper article preserved in a small plastic sleeve that he had placed on the trace sheet next to pieces of crumpled newspaper and ragged burlap along with the first of several small human bones.

Search Continues for Missing Child.

Recognition slammed Dan in the gut, and the blood in his veins went cold. Dorie Myers. “Jesus Christ.”

Jess stared up at him, her face showing the same shock and confusion he felt. “Do you know the name?”

The dread resonating in her voice made what he had to say all the more difficult. “A third grader who went missing twelve…” he shook his head “…no, thirteen years ago.”

“The Man in the Moon,” Harper said quietly.

God Almighty, this would rip open old wounds in this community that went back decades.

Jess’s breath caught. “Oh my God. I remember that case.”

Though she hadn’t lived here for the past twenty years she would remember the case from before…when she was a kid. Just as Dan did. Like anyone who had resided in or around Birmingham in those days would. He’d been almost ten when the first little girl went missing. His heart felt like a massive rock in his chest.

Twenty little girls had gone missing and were dubbed victims of the so-called Man in the Moon. For two decades he had struck every fall on the night of the harvest moon, like clockwork, and then, thirteen years ago, he suddenly stopped…with Dorie Myers.

This wasn’t Spears’s kind of evil, but it was the work of an equally ruthless monster.