India Carsten reads a newspaper account of a recent murder that triggers a memory from her childhood. She and a friend TK Jonas witnessed a brutal murder fifteen years before—a memory India had repressed. India researches the murder and involves investigators to help her get to the truth. Along the way, they realize they are dealing with a bizarre serial killer.
India Carsten sat on the marble bench waiting. The courthouse in Raleigh, North Carolina, was cool at this time of the day and almost deserted. The four story building looked rather plain on the outside, but inside the walls and floor were tiled with brown marble. When you came into the foyer, there were two open staircases leading to the upper floors. The halls of justice housed many offices and several courtrooms.
She knew every inch of the law library, and it was here she found solace. Reading had always been her passion and her escape. So much had happened in her young life that when she picked up a book, she could be carried off to her own new world.
She had waited until the end of the workday for privacy for her talk with District Attorney, Briar Rivers. She had been sitting there trying to gather her courage to present her evidence. She glanced down at the files in her hand. Inside the manila file folders were what she hoped was enough evidence to open an old case, a case that had haunted her for the last fifteen years.
The door to his office opened, and Briar Rivers paused, “India, what in the world are you doing here?”
She stood up, “I’m waiting to talk to you.”
Briar motioned for her to join him. “Well, then come on in and talk to me.”
India looked around the office. It was a man’s office. The counters and desk were clean and clutter free. His desk took up a great deal of the room. His chair was very comfortable looking. Briar sat down. He looked very distinguished in his dark suit. The white shirt he wore contrasted starkly with the darkness of his suit as did his bright red tie. His dark hair was just beginning to turn silver at the temples. His dark blue eyes searched her face as he waiting for her to speak.
India sat down on the other side of the desk and laid the folders on the desk. She was nervous as she searched for the proper way to say what she had to say. She tucked her strawberry blonde hair behind her ears and began her story. “This may sound crazy, so please hear me out. I was reading an article the other day about a murder that happened six months ago in Savannah, Georgia. It involved a woman who had been eviscerated. Her organs were removed and not found with her linen-wrapped body.” She paused and blurted out, “I think I saw such a murder fifteen years ago in Boston.”
Briar stared at her for a moment, “What do you mean you think you saw such a murderfifteen years ago? I don’t understand.”
“When I was growing up, it was just me and my Mom. My grandparents threw her out of their home when they found out she was going to have me. She often had to work two jobs to make ends meet, and I was left alone most of the time. My best friend at the time was T.K. Jonas. Anyway, one night TK and I were in an abandoned warehouse down by the docks when we heard a noise. We didn’t want to get caught, but we wanted to know what was going on.” India paused, then continued her story, “We saw this man carrying in the body of a woman. The woman was unconscious, but she was alive. He tied her to a wooden platform and undressed her. Then we saw him start cutting her open. The woman screamed, but the man continued to open her torso. She must have passed out at some point because we couldn’t hear her anymore.” She shuddered slightly, “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to close my eyes and not hear those screams in my nightmares.”
“What else was the man doing to her?”
“He drained her blood and began removing her organs and placed them in four ceramic jars. He was playing music while he cut her up, and when he placed her body parts in the jars, he was mumbling some gibberish in a foreign language. When he was finished, he cut off her head. He placed her head in a clear glass jar and sealed the jar, then began wrapping her body in bright orange linen. When he finished, he sealed the jars and began loading them into a box.”
“How do you know that?”
“My friend and I were watching him. We were up on the second floor, and we had a direct line of sight to what he was doing.” She went on, “When he had finished, he first took the woman’s head outside; then he came back. On his second trip, he carried her body outside. TK and I snuck down to his table, and we saw what was left there. All we found were the four small ceramic jars.”
Briar sat forward. “Are you totally nuts? If he had caught you, he would have killed you.”
I know that now, but when you’re ten years old, you don’t think about stuff like that,” she told him as she admitted, “Back then we didn’t think he would miss one small jar.”
“Are you saying you took one of the jars?” It sounded like something he or one of his brothers would have done.
India nodded. “I took one of the smaller jars, and T.K and I got the hell out of there. T.K. went her way and I went mine. I went home and locked all the doors and windows. I stayed awake all night, fully expecting the man to come after me. I was still awake when my Mom got home at six.”
“What happened the next day?”
“Nothing, and that’s what so strange. Nothing happened, and the murder was never reported. I kept checking the newspaper for an article about someone finding her body, but I never saw one.”
“What happened to the jar?”
“I hid the jar. For all I know, it’s still right where I put it fifteen years ago.”
“And where would that be?”
“I buried it in the corner of the basement in the apartment building we lived in,” she told him. “I doubt anyone has disturbed it since I buried it.”
“What makes you think that that murder and the latest murder are connected?”
India licked her dry lips. She went through the files until she found the one she wanted. Briar picked up a pair of reading glasses and opened the file. “A woman’s body was uncovered in a shallow grave. It was wrapped in bright orange linen, almost in the same style as the ancient mummies of Egypt. When the medical examiner unbound her, he found the woman’s internal organs missing, along with the woman’s head. He also found small pieces of jewelry wrapped in the linens. I think this is the woman we saw being murdered all those years ago.”
Briar listened to her explanation, and when she was finished, he read the exact same account in the newspaper clippings. When he was finished, he glanced over to the other files. “What are those?”
“More files of murders with similar particulars, all from different areas of the East Coast,” India told him. “I found seven other murders besides the one I told you about that happened fifteen years ago.”
Briar reached for the other files. He spent the next several minutes looking at the newspaper clippings dating back ten years from different cities up and down the east coast. “This is all very interesting. It seems like you found a serial killer, and he’s been in business for at least fifteen years.” He placed the files down on his desk and sat back in his chair for a moment. He folded his hands in front of his face and steepling his pointer fingers, he rested them against his lips. He seemed to be thinking about something, and that made India nervous.
“I think you should look into this a little deeper,” Briar finally told her. “We need to find out if these murders are truly related, and then we need to find the killer and stop him.”
“How? I mean, how do we do that?” India asked. “I can’t go to all these cities and dig up information that’s ten years old. Besides, this killer could be anywhere.”
“I’m not suggesting you go anywhere except to see my brothers. Cade and Elliot, along with our youngest brother, have established a foundation that works with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to track down desperate and dangerous criminals. I think you should tell them your story. This guy needs to be found and stopped, and that’s exactly what they do. They can contact the police departments and get copies of Medical Examiner’s reports.”
“Then you believe me?” She had been nervous about coming to Briar in the first place. She hadn’t thought about the first murder in so long that she had almost convinced herself it had all been just a bad dream. It wasn’t until she read about the latest murder that the memory came back to her.
“I think you are very lucky to be alive. Whoever murdered that woman fifteen years ago in Boston could have just as easily murdered both you and your friend T. K. that night.”
“I realize that. Believe me, I do. I lived in fear for days. I didn’t see T.K. for a few days, and then when I did, I was going through a very hard time. My mom had just been the victim of a robbery gone wrong, and she was dead. The junkie that tried to rob the place ended up shooting her in order to get away. I don’t remember even talking about that night with her,” India told him.
“I’m sorry about your mom. It must have been a dark time for you.”
India nodded. “It was. She was all I had. After her parents threw her out, she made her own way. She got a job and a small apartment. She finished school, and after I was born, she was always there for me, no matter what.”
“What about your grandparents? After her death, you could have gone to live with them. Why didn’t you?”
India took a deep breath and said, “My grandparents wanted nothing to do with me before I was born, and I didn’t want anything to do with them after my mom died. I watched her struggle to make ends meet, but I never heard her complain. There were nights when she gave me all the food she had to make sure I didn’t go hungry, but I know she did. I would lay there at night and listen to her cry herself to sleep, but the next morning she had a smile on her face when she woke me up for school.” India paused and shrugged. “I was a bitter kid back then. I guess I had enough of my mom inside me that I didn’t want to live with someone who didn’t want me. Besides, the county had contacted them, but I ended up in the foster system. By the time I was seventeen, I’d moved around to seven different foster homes.”
“Did you ever have any contact with your grandparents?”
India nodded. “I was seventeen when I heard from my grandmother. She told me my grandfather was dying, and he wanted to make amends. She had felt so bad all these years, but because of who he was, she couldn’t make contact before then.”
“Who was your grandfather?” Briar wanted to know.
India shifted in her seat before she answered. “He is Retired Judge John Carsten. It seems he wasn’t dying after all. His doctor found a tumor, and it scared them. When they were able to do surgery and take care of his cancer through chemo and radiation therapy, he wasn’t happy that she had contacted me.”
Briar sat there thinking about what she’d told him. He could feel the rage inside him growing at the actions of her grandfather. “So they ignored you all these years?”
India shook her head. “I didn’t want anything to do with them either. My mother had made her own way in the world, and so would I. I worked my way through college, and now I’m a third-year law student.” She raised her head and stared at him. “I can honestly say that I did it on my own without any help from them.”
“I just think it’s sad they never took the time to know you.”
“When I was a kid, I used to sneak into my grandfather’s courtroom and watch him at work. He was a mean-spirited man with little compassion for the people in front of him. I made up my mind I could never be like him.”
Briar leaned forward and checked his calendar. “It’s Thursday now. Can you be ready to go on Saturday?”
“Sure,” India said. “Where are your brothers?”
“They live in Edenton. It’s about a two and a half hour trip from here. I’ll call and let them know we’re coming. You might want to pack a bag for the weekend.”
India stood up and nodded. “I can do that. Should I get a motel or something?”
Briar grinned. “You won’t have to. The foundation has plenty of room.”
India got to her feet. “Do you think that even at this late date, we can catch this man?”
“This guy hasn’t stopped killing. You may have caught him when he first started fifteen years ago. If we can fill in the gaps between then and now, we might be able to find his trail. The cases you found can tell us where he’s been. If we can trace his time line, we might be able to find out where he is now.” He paused, then asked, “Can you leave your files with me for a day or so? I’d like to read through what you found and maybe fax them to my brothers so they can get started on them.”
India walked toward the door. “I’ll leave them here. I hope your family can find this monster.” She paused, “When I saw what he was doing to her that night, I should have screamed and run away, but I couldn’t. I sat there and watched him dismember another human being. If he is a monster, what does that make me?”
Briar came over to her side. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he stared at her. “What he did that night would have scared anyone. The fact that you didn’t run away screaming probably saved your life that night. You were probably in a state of shock. The human brain can protect itself by allowing you to repress certain memories. Your brain repressed this memory for a reason. You were too young to deal with the horror you were seeing. Now you’re old enough to deal with it, so the article brought back the memory.”
“Do you still think we can find this monster?” She asked.
“I think we can with your help,” Briar told her. “No one even bothered connecting the cases until now. You need to bring the details of the murder you witnessed to the authorities so they can work the case and stop the killer.”
“I’m afraid,” India told him. “What if by exposing what I saw fifteen years ago, I bring the focus of the killer to me?”
“Don’t worry about that,” Briar told her. “My brothers will protect you.”
“I hope so,” she told him. “I really don’t want what happened to that poor woman to happen to me.”
KJ Dahlen lives with her husband and dog Sammy in a small town (population495) in Wisconsin. From her deck she can see the Mississippi River on one side and the bluffs, where eagles live and nest on the other side. She has two children and two grandchildren.
Watching people informs her writing. She often writes those she observes into her books, though sharing with them her own values and habits. Once created, she places them in troubled situations, then sits back and lets them do all the work. Her characters surprise even her at times as they take on lives of their own. Ultimately she keeps her readers guessing until the very end of her books.