On a dark night, Agent Sherlock is driving along circuitous mountain roads in West Virginia when her car is suddenly T-boned at an intersection. As her car spins out of control, a man’s body slams against her windshield and then—blackness. When she finally comes to, Sherlock has no memory of the accident, nor of the moments that led right up to it. But what she does know is that the man she hit is a local CIA analyst…and now he’s missing.
Meanwhile, in the small town of Gaffer’s Ridge, Virginia, Special Agent Griffin Hammersmith has just rescued a kidnapped woman who claims her captor admitted to the murder of three teenage girls. However, the man she accuses is related to the local sheriff and a member of a very powerful family. Special Agent Hammersmith reaches out to Sherlock for help, and they soon realize that the disappearance of the CIA analyst is actually connected to the string of murders. But how?
Excerpt #1 for LABYRINTH by Catherine Coulter
Tuesday, late afternoon
Sherlock had the next hour planned out to the minute. A quick stop at Clyde’s Market for mozzarella cheese for Dillon’s lasagna and some Cheerios for Sean’s breakfast tomorrow, then thirty minutes at the gym: fifteen minutes on the treadmill and some quick upper-body work, that is if she managed to avoid Tim Maynard, a newly divorced firefighter who kept putting moves on her. She was bummed she couldn’t be with Dillon at the gym as usual, sweating her eyebrows off, but she’d been tied up in a meeting about the Masons Springs, Ohio, middle school murders. She thought of Agent Lucy McKnight, who’d been in the meeting with her until she had to run out to throw up. Lucy was four months pregnant now, nearly over the heaves, she had announced when she returned to the meeting, and everyone had applauded. Sherlock, Shirley, the CAU secretary and commandant, and Agent Ruth Noble were giving Lucy a just-beyond first-trimester party this Friday evening at Shirley’s condo. Not a baby shower, too early for that. Their gift to her would be two pairs of pants with elastic waists. Sherlock flashed back to her own pregnancy with Sean, how happy and terrified she’d been. Lucy had a good man in Agent Coop McKnight. What a wild ride the two of them had had before they’d hooked up.
Sherlock had only enough time to jerk the wheel left, fast and hard, before a black SUV struck her passenger side. The impact hurled her Volvo into the car beside her, and then spun her into the oncoming traffic. The world sped up, blurred into insanity. As if from a great distance, she heard horns honking, screaming metal, yells. Her Volvo struck the front fender of a parked sedan, glanced off, hit another car trying to swerve out of her way. Her head slammed against the steering wheel an instant before the airbag exploded in her face. She heard a sharp thunk and saw only a flash of what looked like a body flying across the hood of the Volvo, and bouncing off her spinning car. Her brain registered splattered blood on the windshield—she’d hit someone. He’d come out of nowhere. She looked at all the blood, so much blood. Hers? The person’s he’d hit? The world turned round and round, a whirling kaleidoscope of colors and shapes, until they ended when the Volvo’s rear end slammed into a fire hydrant. Her head was thrown violently forward into the bag and she was out.
Excerpt #2 for LABYRINTH by Catherine Coulter
Gaffer’s Ridge, Virginia
Carson DeSilva didn’t want to die. When she awoke, her head pounding from the blow, she found herself propped up against a concrete wall. She couldn’t move. She held still until the pain began to lessen. She saw her legs were straight out in front of her, her ankles bound tight with duct tape. Her arms were pulled behind her, her wrists taped together, with more duct tape, she imagined, and her hands and arms ached fiercely. She forgot the pain in her head as terror from the attack froze her. Her world shrank, turned dark, and she knew deep down more violence was coming. She would die, simply die, and no one would know. She was only twenty-eight years old and she’d be dead, simply gone. Forever. Despair slammed deep. She wanted to scream, howl at the unfairness of it all, but she didn’t have enough spit in her mouth to make it worthwhile.
Stop it, Carson! You can figure this out, you always do. Don’t you dare give up or I’ll disown you. It was her mother’s voice, usually bright as Christmas bells, but now it was low and persistent in her ear—Carson, get yourself together, handle the head pain, you can do this, get yourself free, you have no choice.
And so she forced herself to take deep breaths to slow down her galloping heart. She could handle the pain in her head. She could do this. Her mother was right, she had no choice.
She looked around. She was in a basement—a concrete floor, naked pipes overhead, an ancient refrigerator against the far wall maybe fifteen feet away, beside the dozen wooden stairs leading up into shadows. Luckily, he’d left on the naked low-watt bulb overhead or she’d be blind as well as duct-taped. She saw a stainless-steel double sink on the far wall, shelves above it lined with cobwebbed mason jars and defunct tools, other odds and ends of a past life. She shuddered at the thought of what was in those decade-old jars. There was nothing else, only the overwhelming stench of stale dead air. Was this basement in his house? The man who’d attacked her? Yes, she knew who’d struck her down, even though he’d bashed her on the back of the head. It was the same man she’d heard thinking at her loud and clear as she’d stood in front of Ellerby’s Market, two bags of groceries in her arms. She’d nearly stumbled over with the shock. It was amazing, impossible, that it was happening again right in front of a grocery store in the small Southern town of Gaffer’s Ridge, of all places. She’d only just arrived from New York for a few days’ stay to interview a Nobel Prize-winning scientist for her employer, Aquino Communications. It was as if he’d been inside her head, or she in his. It had happened to her a few times before, always unbidden, always unexpected. She’d gasped with shock at what she’d heard, and whispered, “The girls—what did you do to the girls?” He’d have had to be blind not to see her alarm, deaf not to have heard her words.
He’d stood frozen, staring at her. “What? What did you say?”
Her brain kicked back in with red danger signals and she’d managed to say in a level voice, “Nothing, nothing important,” and hurried away. He hadn’t tried to stop her. Had he believed he’d spoken aloud and she’d heard him? Carson had piled the groceries into her Toyota and drove to her small rental cottage four blocks away, hardly knowing whether to believe what had just happened. But she had to believe it, the impossible had happened, she’d actually heard him thinking. She had to put the groceries away, then she had to go to the sheriff—and tell him what? I heard this man thinking about the three teenage girls I’d already heard were missing and he thought their names and remembered Amy had died hard? Would the sheriff lock her up for disturbing his peace? Haul her off to the psych ward of the local hospital? And what if the man hadn’t killed those missing girls? But then how would he know Amy had died hard?
She had to go to the sheriff—no choice, let the chips fall where they may. But he’d been faster. Now she was here, duct-taped and tied against the cold wall of a basement, probably in his house, and this wretched, beyond-weird nightmare could end up killing her.
Her mom shouted at her again: Get it together, you’re being pathetic. For heaven’s sake, stop feeling sorry for yourself and figure out how to get yourself free so you can fight. You’ve got to get out of here before he comes back, because if he does, if you’re still tied up, he’ll kill you, maybe rape you for good measure. He knows you somehow guessed he was the one who disappeared those three teenagers, probably killed them.
He’d thought all their names—Heather, Latisha, Amy—and he’d seen them, like perfect snapshots, and she’d seen them, too, lying motionless on beds, unmoving, blankets covering them. He’d thought of them only by their first names and with the tenderness of a lover.
Seeing the three girls was horrible, she couldn’t bear it. Carson thought she’d pass out from the soul-grinding fear if she didn’t get hold of herself. She had to push herself away from the three girls’ faces.
Carson Estevao DeSilva, use your brain.
She took a deep breath, sucked in the stale air. First, how to get out of the duct tape, the modern world’s holy of holies for repairing everything under the sun? She worked her wrists, her ankles, but there was no play at all. She leaned her head back against the rough, cold concrete, closed her eyes, and thought. It hit her square between the eyes. She saw herself when she was ten years old, doing a forward flip off the balance beam, and wonder of wonders, nailing the landing. She’d been a limber little monkey until a torn labrum had ended it. It was so long ago, but she still worked out hard, but—no, no negative thoughts—she could try. No, more than that, she would do it. She was her mother’s daughter.
Carson inch-wormed herself away from the wall. When at last she was flat on her back, she lifted her hips and brought her bound hands beneath her butt. Now for the hard part. Limber was one thing, contortion was quite another. She still couldn’t reach the duct tape on her ankles.
She heard something, froze. Was he back? Would he open the basement door and come down any second? Would he kill her, like he had the three teenage girls? With his bare hands around her neck, choking her until she was gone? Carson didn’t move, barely breathed, listened for all she was worth.
Nothing more. Maybe it was only the house settling, but still she knew she had to hurry. She dug in her heels and lifted her hips again as high as she could. She gritted her teeth, ignored the awful cramping in her legs, and twisted and bent until finally she managed to work her legs through her arms. She was breathing hard, clammy with sweat, but she’d done it, her arms were in front of her. She lay there panting, thanking her mom for the gymnastics lessons and her hard-nose coach. She’d swear she heard her mother shout, Move!
Carson went to work with her teeth, tugging gently on the duct tape seam at her wrists. Slowly, she peeled it back further and further. He’d wrapped the tape three times, he wasn’t taking any chances. When the last layer fell to the concrete floor, she shook her numb hands, then rubbed them against each other like Lady Macbeth, until finally she felt pins and needles. Now, for the duct tape on her ankles. As her hands strengthened, she was able to work faster. She couldn’t believe it, but finally, she was free. She slowly stood up, nearly collapsed, and leaned against the wall, breathing hard. She stamped her feet, leaned down to rub her calf muscles, willing the feeling to come back.
She had no idea how long she’d been unconscious, if it was still day or evening. He’d gotten to her so fast. She’d turned to open her front door, thinking she was going to call her mom first, tell her what she’d seen and ask her advice—and felt a sudden flash of pain on the back of her head where he’d struck her. She touched the lump with light fingers, and thankfully didn’t feel any blood. She ignored her head and continued to work until she could feel her feet, and her legs were waking up. She walked a few steps, weaved a bit, and stamped her feet again against the concrete floor. Finally, she was good to go.
She wanted to run up the basement stairs and keep running, but he could be up there, waiting. She’d been concentrating so hard on contorting her body to get free, it was possible she hadn’t heard him. Or maybe the basement was soundproofed. But if he was up there, wouldn’t she hear him thinking, like before? She didn’t know. Maybe it had been a one-time thing. Better not blast out of the basement, not without a weapon. She saw a jagged, bent old water pipe overhead, looking nearly ready to fall down. She jumped for it, but it was too high. She found an ancient three-legged stool in the corner next to the refrigerator, and pushed it over beneath the pipe. Now, the trick would be not to fall off the stool and break her leg. Slowly, carefully, she managed to balance on it. When one of the legs started to wobble, she grabbed the pipe with both hands, steadied herself, gently eased her weight back onto the stool, got her balance again. She saw the jagged pipe was screwed into another pipe, so all she had to do was twist it free. Easier said than done, even with the pipes looking older than her grandmother. She didn’t have much leverage, but she was strong. She twisted again but no movement. She pulled off her T-shirt, wrapped it around her hands, and tried again. Finally, she felt the pipe give.
She twisted until it fell off into her hands. It was more than a foot long with edges sharp enough to plunge into a man’s throat. How had the pipe gotten so rusted? It didn’t matter. She carefully climbed off the stool, pulled her filthy T-shirt back over her head.
She had her weapon, and even better, she had hope. She filled herself with cold rage at this monster who’d brought her here to kill her, who’d probably murdered three teenage girls. She began to climb the basement stairs, listened to the wooden boards creak beneath her weight, loud as the crack of a fired gun to her ears, too loud.
She walked to the top of the stirs, tried the door handle. To her relief, it wasn’t locked. Slowly, she pushed the door open. And froze.