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09 November 2017 @ 06:57 am
_Stone_ part 2  
 

Chapter Two

R

Having a big old dog along for the ride was kind of nice.

"It's less lonely with something alive to talk to." Rachel Bell shrugged. "Not that I talk to myself. I just think too much. Well, all right. I talk to myself. All the time."

From the back seat of the car, the thump, thump of a tail wag.

And I need to stop thinking. Dominic wasn't even really a boyfriend, so it's not like any big deal he started dating Helen. We just . . . like the same movies, went out to dinner a couple of times. But I bought the tickets and he bought the dinner, so it wasn't like real dating. I only kissed him once.

Gawd, I sound like a whiney high schooler. Any way, the company folded, and my job with it, so my sister wanting me to come stay with her in Phoenix . . . is timely. She said I should go back to college. Good plan. Maybe. I hated it. I made it through the first year and couldn't stand it any longer.

But ugh. Receptionist. Pretty doll. Assumed to have no brain. Not to mention morals. Why didn't I get out of Nashville years ago, like Nichole?

I think I really had better get back into college.

"So, Stone? What do you say we stop in Flagstaff to gas up and get some food? Then we'll head south for Phoenix." She shot a glance over the seat at the big dog. "Getting you into a hotel may be interesting. Maybe I'll just catch a few winks in a rest stop or something."

Thump, thump, thump.

"So, you understand 'food' do you?"

Thump, thump, thump.

Rachel found herself grinning for the first time in days. "Yep. Moving to Phoenix is an excellent idea. Especially with a big dog."

Thump, thump, thump.

She figured Stone was good for three hamburgers. And two bottles of water.

She drove on down the highway to the rest stop, to eat.

Where Stone limped out into the desert to dig a hole and take a dump. Bury it. Limp back.

"Well, that was certainly handy. I thought only cats did that . . . I suppose someone trained you, but it'd be a bit hard on the lawn or the flower beds. I hope Kris isn't an avid gardener." Rachel unwrapped the first burger, and handed it to him. He bit it in half, swallowed half with a couple of chews and scarfed the half on the sidewalk just as fast.

"Slow down, Pup. you don't want to get sick." She unwrapped hers and took a bite.

Of course I can't keep him. One, he belongs to someone, and two, I haven't the faintest idea if Kris likes dogs. What if he's a cat person?

"You know, Stone, I've only met my brother-in-law once, when I went to their wedding. I really don't know him at all." She unwrapped another burger and handed it over. "I may have to get a job quick and move out."

"Woof?" Big begging eyes shifting between her and the bag of burgers.

She snickered. "Ham. You ought to be in the movies."

She unscrewed the cap on the bottle of water . . . "Oh dear, we have a logistics problem." But yesterday's fast food glass was under the seat and she poured the water in.

He made a bit of a mess on the sidewalk, but he drank pretty much all of it. And inhaled his next burger.

"Typical dog."

"Woof?"

"Sorry, that's it." she popped the last of her own in her mouth and opened the back door for him. Shifted the front passenger seat all the way forward and reclined it as far as it would go, which wasn't very far.

Stone turned around and laid down, resting his head on the front seat headrest.

"That's about the right height for you, isn't it? Well. Let's hit the road."

An hour and a half later she was yawning, and glad to pull over at another rest stop. She parked in a far corner of the parking lot and looked worriedly at Stone. "Stay. I'll be right back and take you for a walk. Stay."

She trotted over to the ladies for important personal reasons . . . and came back out to find Stone crouched on the floor facing two men who were plastered to the wall.

"Lady? Is this your nice doggy?" A nervous smile from the nearest fellow.

"Gentlemen? Is this the men's room that I have accidentally wandered in to?"

She walked out, double checked the sign. Definitely the ladies' room. No apology needed. "Come Stone."

From her car, she watched the men exit and rush off to the far side. She heard a car start, and drive away. Heaved a breath of relief.

Stone trotted off into the darkness, returned a few minutes later and climbed in the back seat.

Rachel climbed behind the wheel, with a sigh. "I'll just relax, rest my eyes for a minute, then we can get out of here. Meet this brother-in-law of mine. Heck, it's been three years since I've seen my sister. Five since we lived in the same house. I was sixteen when she moved out, right out of college, got a job offer . . . fell in love . . . married. We don't hardly know each other as adults, you know? I really hope we still like each other. I was kind of a pest, as a kid." She sighed. "And Mom and Dad sold the old house and bought a condo on a golf course and strongly hinted that the guest room was for guests. Not a daughter who'd dropped out of college."

She leaned to scratch the dog behind the ears. "You're a good listener, Stone."

She leaned her head back and closed her eyes.



Chapter Three

K-NOLA

"Werewolves?" Senior Special Agent Kristjan Kovac shook his head. "The Forty-eight gang thinks they are actual shape changing werewolves?"

The head of the Louisiana FBI nodded. "The kids bragged, and laughed when the cops told them to stop being so stupid. They could only be charged with vandalism. No ID, but they claimed to be sixteen—and looked it—so the judge turned them loose. They'd sent in DNA to help identifying them, much too late to find the boys. They'd disappeared. The preliminary results—forty-eight chromosomes—meant nothing to them. But we get notified of any such results, and duplicated the genetic analysis, and the comparisons. At least, with the new tests we get results in a week. These came in yesterday."

Kris looked back at the photographs of the two boys. Five foot eight inches. Light hair, wiry build. Sharp boned faces with a strong family resemblance. "What are they taking to give them delusions of being werewolves?"

The other man, who'd done the footwork, shook his head. "The lab said they were clean. We figure the Forty-eights are playing games because of the dog bites on some of the bodies. Trying to scare their rivals. We're looking—again—for large vicious dogs."

Kris snorted. "Faked, using dog teeth in some sort of crushing mechanism. Otherwise we'd have found canine DNA in the bites. And feline DNA in the claw marks." And a damn good thing we've managed to keep a lot of the details quiet! Much better that they be known as a vicious drug gang. Or a satanic cult. Which might actually be true, but whatever they are, we need to find them.

"True." The district head tapped one report. "The detailed DNA results are interesting. The boys', well, putatively young men's, extra chromosome pair is the same as all the rest of the gang's. And the same damned Y chromosome. Of the rest, lots of overlap, between the two of them and with the samples from the various rape-murder scenes. They aren't the rapists, but they are family."

"And they're gone." Kris eyed the pictures. A convex profile with the entire lower face thrust a bit forward, the dental arc prominent in a long heavy jaw with a long narrow chin. Light brown hair, almost blond, short and straight in front, allowed to grow a bit at the nape of the neck and show a bit of curl.

"Good looking boys, but distinctive." One of the local men showed his teeth. "We're wondering if the whole family looks like this."

Kris raised his eyebrows. "Indeed. It would be nice to know what to look for.

Thirty-five multiple rape-murder scenes—the remains of over a hundred people found—spread out all over the country. Mind you, that's over a twenty year time period. Some of it before DNA analysis was sufficiently developed. But the old samples were kept, and the scene analyses. Most serial rapists and murderers are loners. But with these people . . . gang rapes, torture, dismemberment . . . Cannibalism. Some of the killing grounds very well concealed, only discovered accidentally, years or decades later. There are probably a lot more we haven't found.

I understand the Bureau not wanting to go public, to tell the public that all these various murders around the country are all related. That they have failed to find a single one of this gang or cult.

But if the public knew . . . would they help us find them?

He looked down at the chart. Each member of the gang had a letter and number designation. The letters from the scene where that specific DNA had first been found. And lines of relationships. Brothers, fathers and sons. Uncles. Grandfathers. Cousins. A hundred and fourteen individuals.

And now these two boys.

"The son of FL4. A possible cousin of PL1. So, one of the southern gang and one from the northeast. Only the fourth time we've seen individuals from different regions together. According to the records, your area's been free of their activity."

Four subgroups. Northwest, Southwest, South and East Coast. DNA suggests cousins, all descended from the same man. The Mitochondria are a bit more diverse. Three female lines produced eighty-two of the . . . werewolves. Nine other mitochondrial lines for the other thirty-two killers.

"Yeah. We're really hoping they're out-of-towers, visiting the Big Easy. You've got a big problem in Phoenix."

"Yes. Hideous mess. Worse than the Carolinas. I was in the Charlotte Field Office, then. They transferred me to Phoenix when they found the first mass grave, so they'd have an experienced investigator." Kris grimaced. "If they hit again. For better or worse the two other sites we've found since then were even older."

"Yeah. We've all read up on the reports. So each group has a . . . spree every two to five years. And the most recent site is four years old. Right?"

"Right." Kris glanced from the head honcho to the agent who was working the case. "I'm surprised you could get the DNA profiles for juveniles."

A shrug from the agent. "The cops never ID'd them. They . . . sort of slipped into the system as being of uncertain age."

Kris nodded. "We keep trying to get permission to check juvenile records, and hitting a judicial wall. The new terrorism bill may help. Even though this is homegrown, and criminal."

The division head nodded. "Not that we have any idea if the gang includes its juvenile members in any of the rape-murders." He passed over a thumb drive. "Not that we couldn't have done this over the phone."

"True. I think my boss was hoping the police had a handle on the boys and I could get a look at them. The pictures will have to do." Kris shook hands around and headed for the airport.

I shouldn't have taken this special assignment. Kept Nicole closer to her home, stayed local so I wasn't leaving her alone so often. I grew up in Tucson, missed the desert, wanted to get away from the horrors of these mass killings. Well, I'm back in the desert, but haven't escaped the horrors of the Forty-eight gang. Six months and I've been out of town five times, now. Damn, investigating mass murders sure makes a man paranoid.

Southwest had a one-stopper to Phoenix, so he didn't have to change planes.

Nicole was waiting for him, worried. "Rachel isn't here yet. She called from Albuquerque last night and said she'd call if she decided to stop again. But she hasn't called."

"It's a long drive. She'll take breaks, and if she get tired, she'll spend the night in Flagstaff. Your sister's got good sense." Kris hugged her, his own worries easing. I hate leaving Nicole alone, so far from all of her old friends. Having her sister staying with us will be a big relief.