The Obsession Page 122

Saying nothing, Mason brought up another photo—one she’d taken of the bluff—then brought up another side by side. “Yours, and the crime scene shot. Up on your site, Naomi, for a couple months.”

And that chill seeped in, dug into her bones.

“Why would anyone use my photos to choose where they left a body? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t.”

“Stop it.” Clamping a hand on her shoulder, Xander spoke sharply. “Stop it and breathe.”

Annoyance at the tone shoved the weight off her chest. “It doesn’t make any goddamn sense.”

“And doing what he did to Marla and Donna does?”

“No, no, but that’s—that’s a pathology, right?” She appealed to Mason. “I know enough about what you do to understand that. But I don’t understand how you could take these pictures and begin to think this killer is, what, a fan of my work?”

“It’s more.”

Xander had both hands on her shoulders now, and though they kneaded at the tensed muscles, she understood that another purpose was to keep her in place.

“What’s more?”

Mason took her hand a moment, squeezed it, then brought up another image. “You took this shot in Death Valley in February. I had the locals send me the shots from the body dump.”

He brought it up, heard her breath shudder out. “The victim was midtwenties, white, blonde, lived and worked in Vegas. High-risk vic—stripper, junkie, hooker. It didn’t pop on Winston’s like-crimes search because the locals charged her pimp—who’d been known to tune up his girls—with the crime.

“In January, you took this in Kansas—Melvern Lake. The body of a sixty-eight-year-old female was left here.” Again, he brought up the matching shot. “She lived alone, and as her house had been broken into, things taken, they put it down to robbery gone south.”

“But it was the same,” Naomi said quietly. “What was done to her, the same.”

“There’s a pattern. You flew home for Christmas.”

“Yes. I left my car at the airport. I didn’t want to drive that far for the week I’d be home.”

“A shot you took in Battery Park, and the corresponding crime scene photo. Another high-risk vic. Working girl, junkie, early midtwenties. Blonde.”

“Donna wasn’t blonde. And the older woman—”

“Donna wasn’t his first choice. Neither was the older woman. It’s a pattern, Naomi.”

The cold, a jagged ball of ice, settled in her belly. “He’s using my work.”

“There are more.”

“How many more?”

“Four more I can connect through the photos. Then there are the missings, missing from areas I’ve been able to track you to through the photos. I need the dates—the dates and locations for the last two years. You keep track.”

“Yes. I don’t blog about a place until I’ve left it—I’m careful. But I keep a log of where I was, what date I took what shots. On my computer.”

“I need you to send them to me. If you’ve kept a log further back, I want that, too.”

She focused on Xander’s hands, hands warm and firm on her shoulders. “I have a log from when I left New York, from when I left six years ago. I have everything.”

“I want everything. I’m sorry, Naomi.”

“He didn’t just stumble onto my site and decide to use my photos. He’s following me, either literally or through my blog, or my photos. How far back have you gone?”

“Those two years so far.”

“And you think it’s longer.”

“I’m going to find out.”

“He’s not following, he’s stalking.” When her shoulders only went stiffer under his hands, Xander turned her around on the stool. “You’ll handle it because you have to. She’ll handle it,” he said to Mason without taking his eyes off Naomi. “He’s been stalking you for at least two years. His preferred victim is blonde because you are. And they’re all you. That’s what your brother’s not saying.”

“It’s a theory, and I need more information.”

Xander flicked a glance at Mason, barely a heartbeat. “You’re trying to ease her into it because you’re worried she’ll break. But that’s not the way for you, is it, Naomi?” His gaze met hers, held her. “You’re not going to break.”

“I’m not going to break.” But a part of her was trying desperately to shore up the cracks. “He . . . He takes them, and he keeps them at least for a couple of days so he can rape them, torture them, gratify himself. After he’s beaten them and raped them, kept them in the dark, cut them, choked them, kept them bound and gagged, he strangles them.”

She drew a shaky breath, then another, steadier before she turned to Mason. “Like our father. Too much like our father now, too much like it to say there are other cruel, sick men who do this. He’s killing like Thomas Bowes, and following me, the way I followed our father that night.”

“I believe he’s studied Thomas Bowes—he may have written to him, visited him, and I’m pulling that line. I believe he’s studied you. He’s here, and for the first time that I can verify, he’s killed twice in the same place.”

“Because I’m in the same place.”

“Yes. From what I’m putting together, he’s evolved. His method, while not exactly the same as Bowes’s, has mimicked it.”

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