"His name is Oliver Smith." Jake Kirby looked across the body at the detective, Mac something-or-other, kneeling on the other side. Jake never forgot who he was hunting or any details about them, but there were just too many cops in too many towns and he'd met most of them tracking fugitives for the U.S. Marshals Service. "Ollie to his friends. He was on my least-likely-to-die-violently list."
Mac, middle-aged and showing signs of awe at working a crime scene with a Deputy U.S. Marshal, gestured toward Ollie's face, taking care not to touch the hole punched between his bruised eyes. "Someone sure worked him over good before they killed him?"
Mac didn't say it, but Jake heard the "why" in his voice. A good question with no answer. Had the killer got the answer he wanted?
Jake rose, his senses on full alert as he studied the one-room apartment that had been Ollie's last stand. It had one official entrance, though a fire escape was visible out the lone window. Two other doors led to a closet and a bathroom, now being rummaged through by what passed for crime scene techs in this small Montana backwater. Shabby furniture and a clutter of dishes around the Pullman kitchen affixed to one wall looked odd sharing space with the high-tech computer being dusted for prints. The smell of blood mingled with that of old food, older building and Ollie's slowly dissipating aftershave.
"What'd a geek like him do to get federal attention?" Mac asked, giving Ollie's innocuous-looking face a last glance before straightening his own fifty-something body with a grimace of pain.
"Failing to do his time for a variety of computer-related crimes and high-tech burglaries," Jake said. "He is--was--a hard man to hang on to."
"What put you on his trail?"
"He used an old alias to book his flight out of Denver. Must have been in deep trouble to make a mistake like that." Jake signaled to the tech emerging from the bathroom with various bagged toiletries, examined each bag, then frowned. "No Old Spice. So Ollie didn't live here."
"Old Spice?" Mac asked.
"Everybody has something they can't give up. Ollie's was Old Spice."
Mac gave him a skeptical look. Jake got a lot of skeptical looks, so he wasn't offended. "Smell him."
It was obvious Mac didn't want to sniff Ollie's corpse, but he didn't know how to get out of it, so he did, a look of surprise chasing distaste from his face.
"Landlord says the tenant's name was Jones. John Jones. Young guy," he offered in lieu of anything better to say as he got up and followed Jake to the kitchen area.
Jake studied the debris, looking without touching. A tech dumped the contents of the trash can out onto a plastic sheet; a tiny shower of pistachio shells caught his attention and began sorting it into evidence bags.
"Speaking of things you can't give up." A lot of people liked pistachios, but few liked them as much as Dewey Hyatt. Did that make Hyatt the tenant or another visitor? With luck, fingerprints would tell the tale.
"I want you to compare any prints with--"
A stir in the doorway swallowed up the end of his sentence. Jake turned in time to see Bryn Bailey flash her FBI badge at the cop trying to stop her from coming in. The cop, not surprisingly, fell back. It was a common reaction to Bryn, even without the badge.
Vigorous and driven, this poster girl for FBI affirmative action was high gloss, with a near-regal beauty wrapped in a sexy black power suit that concealed her practical side. Beneath the suit and the flawless makeup was a farmer's daughter, a lass of the soil. Yeah, she wore spiked heels, but she used them like boots. Wasn't afraid to mess up her hair tackling a perp either. Not that her assignment to electronic crimes required a lot of body contact with the bad guys. Wasn't too hard on her manicure either, if the red pointed tips were any indication.
If Jake had to hunt with a "Fibbie," then it might as well be Bryn. She had a good nose for following a trail and was less averse than some to following what seemed like a wild-goose chase. Couldn't relax with her, though. Anyone dumb enough to give Bryn even the slim edge of the wedge would find she'd taken a big chunk of the credit. And she'd look surprised if anyone had the guts to object.
Right now she looked annoyed.
Bryn was more than annoyed at finding Jake here before her. She crossed her arms and looked at him, fighting to stop the mixture of chagrin and resignation bubbling up her inside appearing on her outside. "Jake Kirby. Why am I not surprised?"
Bryn was tall, but Jake topped her by at least four inches, which did nothing to help her shake off the "little woman" feeling she always got around him. Maybe it was a genetic response. Or a primal one. Lean to the point of lanky, he had a graceful strength only apparent when he was in motion. Worn blue denims and a soft white tee shirt hugged his lean body the way half the female population would like to.
Something about a guy not in uniform, she decided with an inward sigh.
As if he caught her thought, his signature charm-intensive grin spread across his absurdly young-looking face. Amusement lit eyes too blue for any woman's good and piercing enough to see through lead. The nose between the eyes was straight, the full mouth below sweet in repose, wicked in response.
His tousled, light brown hair was brushed straight back from his high, broad forehead, except for a few tendrils that fell forward, adding to his little-boy-lost look. His eyes weren't lost or young though. They were old and wise. Set deep beneath run-amok brows and framed by worry lines a girl had to curl her hands into fists to resist smoothing away, they saw everything, were surprised by nothing. His deceptive air of innocence put a smoke screen around a just-shy-of-ruthless determination. This wasn't a man who feared anything or gave up ground. He was the Marshals Service's top tracker. If he didn't get his man, no one could. Or the quarry was dead, like poor old Ollie Smith soon to be tucked into a morgue drawer.
"Let me guess," she said on a deliberate drawl, "you found him?"
Jake's shrug and quick grin was her answer. It was almost spooky the way he could feel his way to the fugitive of the hour. The guy was a born hunter. Pity the poor woman he finally set his sights on. She'd be shoeless and in the kitchen before she knew what hit her.
For an instant Bryn let herself wonder what she'd be like, this mythical woman Jake might someday hunt, might someday want enough to keep. To her annoyance, it wasn't pity she felt. It was envy.
She walked up to Ollie and looked down, directing her attention to the problem at hand. His killer had saved the taxpayers a bunch of cash in court and incarceration fees, but had cost her a lead in her own investigation. Like Jake, she was hunting. "Wish I knew how you did it."
His grin got wider and whiter. His dentist must love him.
"Magic," he said.
Bryn didn't grin back, but only because she wouldn't let herself, not because her mouth wasn't entirely willing to oblige him. He didn't need to be encouraged in his pain-in-the-ass behavior.
Jake looked at his watch. "You take a rocket out of DC?"
"I was already on my way." Just thinking about why took away all desire to smile. The quick, questioning arch of Jake's brow didn't improve her mood. "I got a hot tip."
Her mouth tightened as she thought about her hot tipper, the mythical and mysterious hacker known only as Phagan. It was him she hunted, though apparently not very well, or he wouldn't be sending her leads. She wouldn't allow herself to stop and think why he did that. It just made her crazy.
She saw questions in Jake's eyes and put up a do-not-ask sign in hers, then went on the attack with a subject change. "This closes the file on Ollie-as-fugitive, so why are you still here and not already after your next fugitive?" She waited a beat, then added, "And don't give me that curiosity crap."
"I am after my next fugitive," Jake said, then made her wait for whom.
He hadn't been spanked enough as a child. She gave him a look, so he gave her what she wanted.
"Dewey Hyatt?" Her smile was slow and loaded enough to make Mac catch his aging breath. "Maybe you are magic, Kirby."