It’s a big leap to take, and Bernadette’s going to need some serious evidence to back it up. Unfortunately, her best lead is an uncooperative psychiatrist, and when Saint Clare resorts to using her second sight, she’ll discover dark secrets in the doctor’s past as complex as they are disturbing.
With a cast of characters including a partner who’s no longer among the living and a handsome boss who’s available, this is the most unique psychological thriller you’re bound to read all year.
In her second novel featuring FBI Agent Bernadette Saint Clare, Terri Persons delivers enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the last page.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Minnesota braced itself for a white Halloween. One of the wettest summers on record had been followed by a frigid fall, inviting speculation that there'd be snow on the ground by the end of October. Northland kids were accustomed to incorporating rain gear into their costumes, creating Spidermen in slickers and vampires armed with umbrellas. Being forced to add boots and mittens and down vests to their ensembles wouldn't be a huge leap; the show would go on.
In every neighborhood, picture windows were plastered with paper ghosts and Frankenstein heads, subtle declarations of war against the threatened early winter. Plastic tombstones were propped in front yards like protest signs. Bags of mini-candy bars were optimistically stockpiled in cupboards. Orange lights dripped from bushes and twined around tree limbs. Rubber skeletons dangled from porch ceilings while glowing skulls punched through the darkness.
The scariest thing about the Midwest that autumn, however, was the water.
Six college women had drowned in the Mississippi over a period of six months. Four had gone into the river at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus, and two had perished around the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse. Authorities determined that the women had killed themselves, but rumors of a serial killer and a cover-up persisted and grew. By that fall, the police and the public were at each other's throats.
Students demonstrated on both campuses, demanding the investigations into the deaths be reopened. During a press conference held in La Crosse, angry community members shouted down the cops and college administrators. The father of one of the Twin Cities victims took a swing at a university vice president in the middle of a regents' meeting. The mood was so volatile, professors on both sides of the border teamed up to issue an open letter to the cities asking for calm.
Bernadette Saint Clare, the FBI's lone agent in its downtown St. Paul office—a subterranean cell in the Warren E. Burger Federal Building—was not invited to the investigation. She sat at her desk late Monday morning, reading a Star Tribune story that rehashed the deaths.
The first drowning had taken place in April. No one witnessed the woman's plunge into the river, but University of Minnesota police found a note on the upper deck of the Washington Avenue Bridge. They called the death a suicide. The freshman's own parents agreed with the ruling, revealing that the girl had struggled with emotional problems and had been seeing psychiatrists off and on over the years.
"Sounds pretty cut and dried," Bernadette muttered, flipping to the next page of the news story.
The second drowning took place a month later, probably in the middle of the night. No one saw the jump, but authorities believed the graduate student could have gone off the same bridge. In place of a note, police found a telltale scarf left at the base of a lamppost. Another troubled young woman, they said. Another suicide. A drowning in June left investigators and university officials fearing a rash of copycat suicides. A flurry of press releases from health organizations followed, warning the public about the signs of depression. Television news tapped assorted shrinks for interviews. Suicide help lines geared up for action.
For two months, there were no drownings at the University of Minnesota. Downriver was another story. During the summer session at the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse, two girls died, one of them in July and the other in August. In each case, the young woman had left a tavern on a Saturday night and turned up floating in the Mississippi days later. Autopsies determined the girls had been drinking. While neither had left a suicide note, both had been battling depression and eating disorders.
Come September, a medical student disappeared from the University of Minnesota campus after attending an evening seminar. Her high heels were found at the base of the rail lining the Washington Avenue Bridge, inspiring the editor of an underground student newspaper to dub the walkway "Murderer's Alley." Her body hadn't been found.
Reporters in both states connected the dots between the Twin Cities and La Crosse deaths, and the fists started flying.
Bernadette knew there were things going on behind the scenes that could serve to either placate the fearful public or inflame it further. The FBI's Milwaukee and Minneapolis offices were joining together to quietly review all the evidence in the deaths to see if local law enforcement had missed something. Were these drownings truly suicides, or were they the work of a serial killer?
"I could figure it out," Bernadette muttered to the newsprint.
She'd begged her immediate supervisor--Assistant Special Agent in Charge Tony Garcia--to let her pitch in. Garcia had instead assigned her to tracking down yet another bank robber, this one dubbed the Fishing Hat Bandit. She suspected her ASAC was holding her back from the bigger case because he feared she'd mess it up, especially if she tried utilizing all of her abilities.
She folded the newspaper and dropped it into the wastebasket next to her desk, one of three in her basement office. The other two were unoccupied, at least by living beings, and she used them as extra workspaces. They both contained dead computer monitors and were piled with paperwork.
Reluctantly, she reached for the manila file folder she'd kept pushed to the side of her desktop like a moldy sandwich. Flipping it open, she started to read. Overhead, she heard banging and sawing. They were renovating the building, a project that had started over the summer and promised to stretch well into the next calendar year. The sound of a jackhammer joined the chorus.
When her phone rang above the din, she was more than happy to drop the robber's file and pick up the receiver. "Agent Saint Clare!"
Garcia: "Why are you hollering at me?"
The racket stopped, and she glanced up at the ceiling. "Sorry. Construction noise is making me deaf."
"We've got another one, Cat."
Bernadette ran a hand through her short blond hair. "Which bank?"
"No. Another drowning victim. I need you at the scene."
She pushed the Fishing Hat file off to the side again. "What's changed? Why do you want me now?"
"This one turned up dead in her own bathtub."
She switched the phone to her other ear. "It can't be a suicide, then, right? This is something else."
"I don't know what it is. Just get over here."
Bernadette grabbed a pen and a pad. "Where am I going?"
"Dinkytown," Garcia said.
Dinkytown was a Minneapolis neighborhood immediately north of the University of Minnesota's east bank. "She lived in an apartment?"
"Shared a house with a bunch of other gals. It's off Fourth Street."
Bernadette scratched down the address and his directions. "I'll be there in twenty."
"Take a company car," he said. "Please."
Bernadette rolled her eyes. Garcia had been scolding her for continuing to drive her Ford pickup on the job. "All right. I'll take the damn Vicky. You happy?"
"Never," he said, and hung up.
She checked the holstered Glock tucked into her slacks, slipped her coat on over her blazer, and pulled on her leather gloves. It was cold out, but that's not why she shielded her hands. She didn't want any surprises this time. Even though it was a cloudy day, she plucked her sunglasses off her desk and dropped them in her pocket. Once she got to the scene, she didn't want to surprise anybody with her eyes.
She bumped out of the parking ramp and steered the Crown Vic to Wabasha Street. After a half mile of stop-and-go movement through the heart of downtown St. Paul, she turned onto Interstate 94 heading west. Traffic was heavy and got worse as she neared the Minneapolis border. Ever since she'd returned to her home state, she'd been struck by how congested the Twin Cities roads had become. She took the Huron Boulevard exit to the University of Minnesota. Huron Boulevard Southeast became Southeast Fourth Street.
Braking at a red light, she took in the storefront shops and restaurants lining the street. While she'd been born and raised on a farm, she had cousins who'd lived in town and attended the "Zoo of M," as they called it. They told her Minnesota native Bob Dylan wrote "Positively 4th Street" about this particular route and that he'd lived somewhere around Dinkytown. She'd visited the neighborhood a couple of times when she was a teenager. The Varsity Theater looked pretty much the way she remembered it, and so did many of the storefronts, but the students looked a little dressier. They seemed younger, too. Maybe that was because she was so much older than the last time she'd called the state home.
Adjusting the rearview mirror of the bureau car, she noted that the woman in the reflection was pale and tired looking—she rarely got a full night's sleep--but carried no lines on her face. When she dressed in jeans and sweatshirts (her preferred weekend attire), she could pass for a teenage boy. Was that a good thing or a bad thing for a thirty-eight-year-old woman? Frowning into the mirror, she took her sunglasses out of her coat and put them on. Now she looked like a teenage boy wearing shades.
The light turned green, and she accelerated.
Bernadette didn't need to double-check the address as she approached the house; the circus had to be visible from outer space. A fleet of Minneapolis squad cars lined both sides of the narrow road. Parked on the street directly in front of the house were an EMS ambulance and a medical examiner's wagon; only one of the rigs would be leaving with a passenger. Uniformed officers and plainclothes investigators milled around the walk leading up to the home. Police tape stretched across the front yard and ran down each side. The lawn was planted with cardboard tombstones. Television crews were going to have a field day setting up with those props in the background. She'd lay money at least one television reporter was going to use the word ironically during a live shot.
What's that behind you, Angela?
Ironically, Jeff, Halloween grave markers decorate the victim's front yard.
Bernadette cruised past the house and drove two blocks down to the reporters' ghetto. She parked between two television news vans, both plastered with propaganda claiming their station was number one in breaking news. While she walked, she dug her ID wallet out of her coat.
When she got to the sidewalk that ran in front of the home, she could make out the tombstones' inscriptions. Here rests the Pillsbury Doughboy. He will rise again. Another read: RIP. Barry M. Deep. The house was a two-story box covered in wood clapboard, with a sagging open porch running across the width of it. The front of the house was painted lemon yellow and the sides were lime green. She wondered which fruity clearance color decorated the back.
Two uniforms from Minneapolis PD stopped her the instant she stepped over the yellow tape. She held up her identification, and the bigger officer took it. She waited for him to ask her to remove her shades, but he didn't. He handed the ID back to her. "They're waiting for you."
Bernadette stuffed the wallet back in her pocket and navigated around the police officers clogging the walk.
A blob in a wrinkled suit stepped in front of her and blocked her way. He was Greg Thorsson, an agent from the bureau's Milwaukee office. He compensated for his diminutive stature with a gargantuan mouth. She'd worked with him years earlier when they were both posted in St. Louis. He started in with the insults as if they'd never parted ways. "What'd you do, stop for a latte?"
"Nice to see you, too, Greg." She veered around him. "Has your wife wised up yet and left you for another woman?"
He was on her heels as she started up the front steps. "Garcia must be desperate if he called in the witch doctor."
"Voodoo priestess," she said over her shoulder. "Get it right." As she weaved through the bodies crowding the porch, she felt the stares burning a hole in her back. As soon as she was inside, the cops would join Thorsson with the lame jokes. She'd heard it all before, behind her back and to her face. She could write the one-liners herself.
Where're her broom and crystal ball?…Maybe she can bring Hoover back from the dead…How about I dig my Ouija board outta the closet for backup?
Following her onto the porch, Thorsson continued the jabs. "Gonna cast an evil spell on me?"
She pivoted around and looked pointedly at his round belly. "I already have."
"You're not very Minnesota nice."
"Neither are you." She threw open the front door and went inside.
In the home's foyer, she spotted two men from the bureau's Minneapolis office yapping with a homicide detective. One of the agents gave her a nod and continued talking. The Minneapolis crew didn't know her well, and that was fine with Bernadette. While she'd initially wanted to work in the bureau's larger downtown Minneapolis office, she'd grown used to her basement digs in downtown St. Paul.
Garcia had instructed her to go to the second floor, and she started up the open staircase.
Someone yelled after her, "Hey!"
Thorsson had followed her inside. "Go away," she said without turning around. Looking to the top of the stairs, she could see her ASAC standing by himself, his black hair trimmed with Marine efficiency and his weight lifter's arms pushing out the sleeves of his trench coat. His back was to the stairs.
The pain in the ass jogged up next to her. "I heard you blew away a bad guy this spring. Any of that post-traumatic shit going on with you? You gonna snap on us?"
Thorsson was referring to a case she'd worked the previous May with Garcia. She and her boss had shot the killer dead. "If I snap, Greg, I promise to take you out first."
When the two agents reached the second floor, Garcia turned around and glared at Thorsson. "Don't you have someplace you need to be, Agent?"
Thorsson folded his stumpy arms in front of his bowling-ball body. "Sir. I thought Agent Saint Clare needed--"
"Agent Saint Clare doesn't need a damn thing," Garcia snapped.
Bernadette stifled a grin.
"Yes, sir," said Thorsson. He hesitated for a moment, seemingly unsure of where to go, then turned around and thumped down the stairs. He headed for a knot of police officers gathered at the bottom.
Garcia watched Thorsson with a frown and then looked at Bernadette. "Jesus. Did you fly here or what?"
She blinked, wondering for a moment if her boss was now taking shots at her, then realized she had indeed made the drive in record time despite the traffic. "How many did Milwaukee send?"
"Thorsson and another guy."
"So they sent one agent."
Garcia smiled. "Not bad, Cat."
She liked that her boss dropped the formalities when they were alone. She smiled and addressed him in kind. "Where are we going, Tony?"
With a tip of his head, he motioned her down the hallway. "This way."
While she followed him, Bernadette took off her sunglasses. She didn't need the camouflage with Garcia; he'd gotten used to her exotic eyes. "Crime lab here?"
"Come and gone."