Fort Lauderdale, Florida, last week of May:
"I'm serious," Harry Lipschitz's voice said through the phone, "You and Rita work too hard, and you need a vacation! School's out next week; you take those kids on a trip somewhere! And I don't mean the beach or Disney World or anything else anybody in the state of Florida can do! You get them, and yourselves, out of here and have some fun!"
Grinning, Chris Lorenzo leaned back in his chair as he listened to the familiar voice. Harry hadn't been Chris' boss for several years now, but half the time he still sounded like one, and the other half, he sounded like an over-protective father. "I know, Harry," Chris answered. "We haven't had a chance to get away in a long time. I'll talk to Rita about it and see what she thinks. The workload's been pretty heavy around here, so it's not exactly the best time to take off, but you're right. School will be out soon, and I'm sure Alicia would love to go somewhere. Now that Daniel's older, traveling with him won't be such a production anymore. No more diapers or bottles."
"Quit sitting there with that goofy grin on your face, giving me a load of bull!" Harry continued. "Don't think I don't know that's exactly what you're doing, just because I can't see you! I know you too well, Lorenzo!"
Chris laughed. "No, I'm listening. I know you're right, just hadn't thought about it before. Really, I'll talk to Rita about it."
"I will, Cap. I promise. Listen, I've gotta go now. See ya."
Rita Lorenzo heard her husband's famous line as she approached the door of their office. She smiled as she peeked around the door frame, watching as he hung up the phone. He seemed lost in thought for a few seconds as he leaned back in his chair. "Problem, Sam?" she asked.
Chris' eyes lit up as he looked at her. "Oh, hi. No, no problem. Just Harry preaching at me as usual."
"What was it this time, warning you about catching another one of his imaginary health problems?" Rita smiled as she remembered their former captain's constant obsessions about his health. He was actually a fairly healthy person; his main problem was hypochondria.
Chris shook his head. "No, this one was actually worth listening to. He thinks we need to take the kids and go on a vacation after Alicia gets out of school next week."
Rita pondered that idea for a few seconds before answering, "He's probably right," she admitted. "When was the last time we took them anywhere but the beach? Of course, it was awfully hard to go anywhere when we had to take all the baby things with us."
Chris watched his wife's eyes shine when she referred to their son. "You wouldn't change that for anything in the world, though, would you?"
Rita shook her head, "Not at all."
"Neither would I. But I think Harry's right. They're both probably ready for a trip somewhere now, and I guess we need one, too."
Later that afternoon, Rita picked Alicia up from school. When they got home, Chris was sitting on the deck, watching Daniel play in the sandbox.
"Daddy, I got an A!" Alicia exclaimed, running across the deck and jumping into her father's lap. She pulled a paper out of her backpack to show him.
Chris hugged his daughter as he looked at her schoolwork. "Good girl! I'm proud of you." He smiled at Rita over the top of Alicia's head.
Alicia dropped her backpack on the deck. Leaving her school paper in Chris' hand, she ran down the steps toward Daniel's sandbox. "Hi, Danny! Are you building a sand castle? Let me show you something." She then proceeded to take over Daniel's project.
Rita smiled as she quietly slipped onto Chris' lap. He hugged her and brushed his lips against her forehead as they watched their children play. Alicia had fallen quite naturally into the role of bossy but loving big sister as Daniel had grown old enough to play with her. He often looked like he didn't know what had hit him when she took over, as she had just now, but he could usually hold his own with her fairly well.
"Have you mentioned going on a trip to her?" Chris asked softly.
Rita shook her head. "She's learned about so many places in school, why don't we ask her where she'd like to go? Unless you already have someplace in mind?"
Shaking his head, Chris answered. "No ideas at all. Let's see what she has to say."
After dinner that night, Alicia sat with the TV remote control in her hand, flipping between VH-1 and the country music video channel. Chris and Rita put Daniel to bed and came downstairs to find Alicia glued to the TV set.
"That remote's going to stick to your hand," Chris teased as he sat down beside Alicia. "What's so interesting on TV?"
"I love these videos, Dad!" she exclaimed, not taking her eyes off the TV. "Look! Garth Brooks is swinging from that ladder!"
Rita quietly sat down on the other side of Alicia. When the Garth Brooks video ended, she asked, "Well, can we turn this off long enough to talk for a minute?"
"Talk about what?" Alicia asked, her head swiveling from one parent to the other.
Rita gently took the remote control from her hand and turned the volume down. "How would you like to take a trip somewhere after school gets out?"
"That's what we wanted to ask you," Chris answered. "It's been a long time since we've been anywhere. Is there any place you'd like to go?"
Alicia's eyes widened. "Anywhere in the whole world?"
Rita smiled and stifled a laugh. "Not exactly the whole world. Somewhere out of Florida, but not too far away. We don't want to spend all our time in the road."
"Somewhere not too expensive, either," Chris put in, "but I don't suppose there is such a place anymore. Any ideas?"
Alicia frowned as she thought about it. "Is New York far away?" she asked.
"Very," Chris confirmed. "I think we need to keep this trip somewhere in the south."
"Is California in the south?"
"Southwest. And way too far." Over Alicia's head Chris and Rita looked at each other, grinned, and mouthed, "She's been watching too much TV!"
Alicia stared at the silent TV, which was still broadcasting the CMT video channel. On the screen, Reba McEntire appeared in a flashy video production. Suddenly Alicia's eyes lit up. "Where could we go and meet Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks and other singers I see on TV?"
"That would be Nashville, Tennessee," Rita answered, not wanting to burst her daughter's bubble by telling her that chances of meeting any celebrities were slim to none.
"Is that too far?"
Rita looked at Chris, not sure what he would say. It was far away, but at least was in the southeast, and was Alicia's best choice so far.
"Hmm, probably not," Chris answered. He reached into a drawer in the end table and pulled out a map. "Look here, Alicia." He unfolded the map and pointed to the Florida coast. "This is where we are." Alicia leaned across her father's lap to look. "And up here," Chris continued, pointing, "is Tennessee. Nashville's in the middle of the state."
Alicia looked disappointed. "It is kind of far, isn't it?"
"Not as far as New York," Chris said, unfolding the top half of the map. "It's way up here."
Alicia brightened. "Nashville's close, then!"
"Well, not exactly close. It will still be a long ride," Rita told her. "You and Daniel will have to be very good in the car. Can you help keep him entertained on a long trip like that?"
Alicia nodded. "Sure!"
Chris and Rita looked at each other for confirmation before Rita said, "Nashville it is, then."
Nashville, Tennessee, same day:
A shadowy figure stood behind the tall rack in the gift shop, impatiently waiting for the other customers to leave. Gradually, the shop cleared out, and the man watched the lone clerk lock the door and begin her closing duties. Silently he sneaked up behind her, and within seconds, she lay lifeless on the floor in front of him. One more out of the way, he thought triumphantly as he unlocked the door and let himself out.
Fort Lauderdale, one week later:
Rita buckled Daniel into his car seat as Chris shut the back door of the van. Neither of them could believe they were actually taking so much stuff on vacation! And I thought now that Daniel was out of diapers and off bottles, it would be less, Chris thought. But at least they were going! It hadn't been easy to get away from work, but they had both known that their children came first, and the four of them as a family needed some time off together, away from all the crime they dealt with every day of their lives. Within minutes, they were heading north on I-95.
Nashville, same day:
The front page of The Tennessean sported a chilling headline: SERIAL KILLER STRIKES AGAIN. A lone figure sat in a booth at the back of the diner, reading the accompanying article about the efforts of the Metro Nashville and Davidson County police and their determination to catch this unknown killer who had struck twice within a week. He allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. Grinding out his cigarette in the ash tray, he stood and folded the paper. As he exited the diner, he thought, "Never. They'll never figure it out. I'm in the clear," and slowly made his way down Broadway.
Atlanta, Georgia, two days later:
Chris stood in line in the convenience store, waiting to pay for the gasoline he had just pumped. He glanced outside at Rita playing with the children in front of the store, then down at the news rack that held copies of the day's Atlanta Constitution newspaper. A headline briefly caught his attention, something about local police believing an unapprehended serial killer might have left the Atlanta area. Chris scanned the article while he waited. Something about this killer seemed vaguely familiar to him; he just couldn't put his finger on what it was, exactly. The person in line ahead of him moved, so Chris quickly put the article out of his mind. After all, they were on vacation. What was he doing reading about unsolved crimes away from home!
Outside, he scooped Daniel up as he turned to Rita and Alicia and said, "Let's hit the road. We've still got over 200 miles to go!"
Nashville, later that day:
"Whoa! Look at that skyline!" Chris exclaimed from behind the wheel as they approached the middle of downtown Nashville.
"What's a skyline?" Alicia asked, leaning around Chris to see.
"See all the tall buildings in the middle of the city against the sky?" Rita pointed out. "That's Nashville's skyline."
"Mommy! Batman!" Daniel nearly screamed in Rita's ear as he leaned around her and pointed at a tall building with two spires, the top of which did indeed look like the top of Batman's head!
Chris grinned. "I guess you're right. That one does look a little like Batman."
Later, with Rita reading the city map and navigating as Chris drove, they arrived at the Opryland Hotel. "Wow! This place is huge!" Alicia exclaimed, her eyes wide.
"It sure is," Rita agreed. She looked at Chris as she said, "I don't think we've ever stayed in anything this luxurious before."
"I don't know, Sam. Some of those fancy places we stayed at on undercover jobs in Palm Beach come awfully close."
Rita smiled. "But that was different. We were working then. I mean on vacation."
Chris grinned and couldn't resist teasing her. "Are you saying I haven't taken you to nice places on vacation, Sam?"
Rita caught that famous Lorenzo grin and knew he was teasing. "Who, me? Would I do that? No, I've lived in the lap of luxury every time I've been on vacation with you, Sam."
Alicia's "I don't remember us going on vacation before at all," made both smiles disappear. She was right, both Chris and Rita had to admit. Other than short trips to the Florida beaches and one weekend visit to Disney World, they hadn't taken a real vacation at all since Alicia had been old enough to remember. Rita saw the firm set of her husband's jaw and knew his determination matched hers. They would make this a memorable family vacation for themselves and both children.
After checking in and somehow finding their way through the hotel to their adjoining rooms, they decided to find something to eat and do a little sight-seeing. Before they could consult the city map and decide where to go, Alicia spotted a T-shirt she wanted in one of the gift shops.
"Mom! Dad! Look at that cool shirt! Can I have it? Pleeeeeeease!"
Rita took one look at the price on the shirt Alicia had chosen and nearly went into shock. "I thought the prices in Florida were outrageous," she said to Chris. Turning to Alicia, she said, "I think we can find this cheaper somewhere else. I'm sure we'll see this same shirt in shops all over Nashville, probably for less. Let's look somewhere else."
Alicia looked disappointed but knew this was one argument she couldn't win. "Okay."
Rita saw her daughter's downcast face and knew they needed to set reasonable limits on souvenir shopping right away. "And while we're on this subject, let's remember not to get carried away in the gift shops. Sure, we all want a few souvenirs of our trip to Nashville, but we only have so much room in the van and so much money in our pockets. So let's be sensible, okay?"
Alicia nodded. "Okay."
Chris grinned at Rita and whispered, "Couldn't have said it better myself, Sam."
Rita smiled back at him. "I don't want our whole time here to be one power struggle after another over what we buy in every gift shop we see. We're here to go sight-seeing, not shopping."
"Right again, Sam."
Downtown in the area known as Music Row, Chris pulled the van into a parking space in a nearly full parking lot. Neither he, Rita, nor the children noticed anyone watching as they got out of the van and locked it, but their arrival did not go unnoticed. A man stood between two parked vehicles several rows away and watched in disbelief. No, it couldn't be them, he said to himself. Lance and Lorenzo? Here? In Nashville? He took note of the Florida license plate on the van, then saw the children. Well, I guess that's Lorenzo and Lorenzo now, he said to himself. Yeah, that was right. He'd heard that they had gotten married awhile back, some time after he himself had moved on from the Palm Beach area. Fortunately he had made it out of Florida entirely before they had taken any interest in any of his other "handiwork" in the state. He chuckled to himself as he watched them; he was probably their one and only "one that got away." Well, now that fate had landed them in the same place again, maybe he would have a little fun with them. He'd managed to get away from them before; he was certain he could do it again. After all, they were obviously here on vacation and probably wouldn't care about any of his local accomplishments. But maybe it would be fun just to give their memories a little jog, he told himself.
Several hours later, Alicia had so far acquired a Garth Brooks T-shirt, a Hank Williams, Jr. bandana, a Reba McEntire hat, and had her heart set on finding a Trisha Yearwood T-shirt before they went back to the hotel for the night. So much for my speech earlier, Rita thought as she watched her daughter run from one display to another in each gift shop they visited. Well, maybe after she gets her fill of collecting things, she'll calm down and enjoy sight-seeing, Rita tried to convince herself.
It was nearly nine o'clock, closing time for many of the shops that hadn't already closed. Daniel was nearly asleep in his car seat. They decided to indulge Alicia and check one more place for a Trisha Yearwood T-shirt before going back to the hotel. "We can look at other places tomorrow if they don't have one here," Rita told her firmly. Chris stopped the van in front of the only store on the street that they hadn't been to yet. "Let me run in and see if they're still open," Rita said. She shut the van door and walked the few steps to the store's entrance.
"I want to go in, too!" Alicia had her seat belt unbuckled and was opening the door.
"No," Chris told her, "you wait here. Mom will ask if they have it, and if they have more than one, she'll come get you to pick one out. Just sit tight."
Alicia reluctantly shut the door, but left the seat belt unbuckled.
Inside the shop, Rita didn't see anyone around. "Hello," she called out. "Are you still open?" Receiving no answer, she walked a few steps further. "Is anybody here?" Again, no answer. She took a few more steps, coming closer to the check-out counter. She gasped when she saw the young woman lying motionless on the floor. Her cop instinct kicked in; she knelt beside the victim and checked for a pulse but found none. Suddenly she had a clear picture of what all the people she had questioned over the years must have felt - the disbelief, the panic, the helplessness. Careful not to disturb anything, she ran outside, knowing they could call for help on the cell phone in the van.
Outside, Alicia grew impatient. "I want to go in, Dad," she said determinedly, and before Chris could stop her, she opened the van door again. She was halfway out of the van when Rita came running out.
"Chris! Call 911!" she yelled. Then, seeing what Alicia was doing, she panicked when she realized her daughter was seconds away from walking in on what was evidently the scene of a violent crime! "Alicia, get back in the van!"
Within minutes after Chris made the call from the cell phone, a fire truck, an ambulance, and several blue and white Metro Police cars arrived. Having been through this same scenario from the other side more times than they cared to remember, Chris and Rita tried to be patient, but all they could both think of was getting their children away from all this as quickly as possible.
"Ma'am," a uniformed officer began, "can you tell us what happened?" Rita was still shaking, but since she had found the body, she knew she had to do all she could to help. She glanced at the van and saw that Chris had the children safely inside and was hopefully distracting them from all the commotion. She took a deep breath and turned her attention back to the officer, remembering all the times she had been in his place. She told him everything she could about what she had found inside the store, glancing over at the van every so often to make sure both children were all right. The policeman noticed her distraction.
At the officer's impatient look, Rita explained, "I don't want my children around this."
"I understand, ma'am," the officer said, "but you found the body. Right now you are all we have to work with."
"I know. I'm Lt. Rita Lorenzo of the Florida State Police. My husband, Lt. Christopher Lorenzo, also of the Florida State Police, and I are here on vacation with our children. We've been through this from your position more times than we can count, and we understand fully what you're doing and what you need, but right now, our main concern is our children. They shouldn't be around this. My daughter almost walked in on that crime scene!"
Rita had hoped the cop would back down at least a little when he learned that she was a fellow law enforcement officer, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. The policeman took one step back from her and folded his arms, on the defensive. Rita recognized his attitude for what it was; the man wasn't about to let any outsiders horn in on his investigation! Again, she understood. "Please! We don't want to interfere; we're on vacation! Neither of us imagined we would run across anything like this here! Look, I've already told you all I know, which isn't much. I walked into that store looking for a T-shirt for my daughter, and happened to find that young girl. End of story! I don't know anything else about what happened in there, and right now, all my husband and I want to do is get our children back to our hotel and put them to bed!"
The officer sighed, evidently realizing he had pushed her too far. "Okay, lady. If you can wait a few more minutes till the murder squad gets here, I'm sure some of them will arrange to meet with you and your husband later. Then you can go put your kids to bed."
Chris watched Rita through the window of the van, not quite able to hear clearly all she had said, but he knew she was thinking the same thing he was - they had to get Alicia and Daniel out of here - and no doubt she had made that clear to the police officer who was questioning her. Chris longed to go outside and give Rita some support, but he wasn't about to leave the children alone in the van. Fortunately, after waking up when the emergency vehicles first arrived, Daniel had once again fallen asleep in his car seat, evidently unfazed by all the sirens and lights. Alicia, however, was another matter.
"Dad, what happened?" she asked for what seemed like the hundredth time. "Why did Mom run out of there like that? Why are all the policemen here?"
Chris tried once again to calm her. "Alicia, someone in that store is in trouble, and we had to try to help as much as we could." He wasn't about to go into any more detail than that. Alicia was used to the kind of work her parents did, but fortunately, they had so far been able to keep her and Daniel away from any danger related to their jobs and any graphic details of their work.
"You call homicide?" another uniformed officer asked the one that was questioning Rita, trying to make himself heard over the screaming of the store's manager in the background. The man had been summoned to the scene shortly after the first police car had arrived.
"NO! It CAN'T be her! Not Lindsay! She had a recording session next week! She was about to MAKE IT!" The manager went off into a tirade about how many young kids came to Nashville seeking a music career and didn't make it. Lindsay was special, he insisted. Talented. Like a daughter to him. Going to be a star.
The other officer answered, trying, also, to make himself heard over the man's screams. "Yeah, this looks like another one, so they've called in the murder squad. Cates and Corrigan are on the way; maybe the others, too."
Rita listened closely. Another one? Murder squad? What was going on here? What had she walked into? But, remembering how defensive the officer had been earlier, she wasn't about to ask. She watched as a petite, blond woman arrived in a blue Ford Taurus. Homicide detective, she guessed. She watched as the woman consulted with the uniformed officers for a few minutes, then turned toward Rita.
"Mrs. Lorenzo? Or, Lt. Lorenzo, I understand?" She didn't sound anywhere near as defensive as the uniformed officer had.
Rita nodded. "Yes, ma'am. Rita Lorenzo."
"I'm Detective Cates, of the Metro Nashville murder squad. I understand you found the body?" She then began to question Rita, mainly repeating a lot of what the other officer had already asked. She turned to look as a dark-haired man with a mustache pulled up alongside them in a Chevrolet pickup truck.
"Another one?" the man asked Cates as he stepped down from his truck.
Cates nodded. "I have a feeling I'll be getting another piece of mail soon."
Rita wondered what that was all about but again knew better than to interfere. Cates turned back to face her. "This is Sgt. Corrigan, head of the murder squad. I understand you and your husband need to get your children back to your hotel and put them to bed. You're free to go now, if you'll tell us where you're staying. He or I will contact you tomorrow."
"We're staying at the Opryland Hotel." She watched Cates write down the room number, then took the business card the young detective handed her.
Back at the hotel, Rita checked once more to make sure both children were asleep. She quietly shut the door between the adjoining rooms and turned to face Chris, who was sprawled on the king-sized bed in their room. He looked up knowing she would finally let go of the tight grip she had held on her emotions now that they were alone. Seeing her lips trembling and the tears in her eyes, he held out his arms to her. Rita collapsed onto the bed as Chris wrapped his arms around her. He held her tightly for a few minutes and just let her cry.
Gradually, Rita stopped sobbing and lifted her head from Chris' shoulder. He gently wiped the tears from her cheeks as she whispered, "Alicia almost walked in there."
Chris kissed her forehead, then held her tightly again. "I know. It scared me, too. And it scares me even more to think that, if we had been a few minutes earlier, you would have walked in on the killer."
They lay on the bed holding each other, neither of them needing to say anything, their silence communicating everything they were feeling. Rita slowly relaxed, thinking of the death she had come face to face with tonight, then in contrast, how alive Chris made her feel just holding her. She reached up and gently stroked his cheek. He smiled that famous Lorenzo smile and kissed her, softly at first, then more passionately. "I love you, Sam," he whispered.
She smiled back. "I love you, too." Her words were nearly cut off as he kissed her again, this time setting off sparks inside her. She stroked his muscular back and felt him tremble with desire. "Are we trying to set some kind of record, Sam? Every city in the country?" She grinned impishly at him.
"I don't know. Maybe so. Didn't we almost burn Atlanta down again last night?" He was still grinning as he kissed her again.
"Mommy." Rita slowly came awake as she heard Daniel's voice on the other side of the door between the rooms. She stirred, trying not to wake Chris but failing. They had fallen asleep in each others' arms after making love, and he was still holding her close.
"That boy gets up with the chickens," he murmured groggily.
Rita smiled and pulled on her robe. "Just like his father, most of the time." She leaned over and kissed Chris before calling out to Daniel, "Coming, sweetheart."
Both children seemed to have forgotten the events of the night before, both Chris and Rita noticed. Daniel wanted to go swimming in one of the hotel's pools, while Alicia chattered about going to Opryland and riding the rides. Fortunately, neither of them seemed affected by what had happened.
They ordered breakfast from room service, giving all four of them plenty of time to get ready for the day ahead. Rita emerged from the bathroom, her wet hair wrapped in a towel, just as the phone rang. Chris, who had showered earlier, was still trying to get Daniel to finish eating some now-soggy cereal. Alicia was sprawled in front of the TV in the other room watching cartoons. Rita leaned over and grabbed the phone on the second ring, fairly sure it was one of the detectives calling.
She was right. "Mrs. Lorenzo, this is Sgt. Corrigan. Detective Cates and I would like to come talk with you and your husband today if it's convenient."
Rita arranged to meet with them later while Chris took the children to the pool. She was determined that what she had accidentally stumbled upon last night would not interfere with their vacation anymore than was absolutely necessary.
In the hotel lobby, Rita sat across from Detective Emily Cates and Sgt. Brad Corrigan, knowing there was nothing more she could tell them that she hadn't already. Or was there? Something about the bits and pieces she had picked up on sounded vaguely familiar. She remembered what she had overheard last night. "Another one." The victim had been trying to build a career in the music business. And the murder squad had been called in. And what was it Cates had said about receiving something in the mail? Her curiosity got the better of her, and she asked, "Do you mind if I ask you something? You know my husband and I work for the Florida State Police, now mostly on unsolved crimes statewide, and before that, we were private investigators for awhile, and before that, homicide detectives in Palm Beach."
Cates and Corrigan both nodded. Rita was certain that they had thoroughly checked out everything she had told them about herself and Chris.
She continued. "Something about all this sounds familiar, but I can't put my finger on exactly what. Am I right in guessing that you're dealing with a serial killer?"
Cates looked at her supervisor, who nodded slightly, giving her the okay to answer Rita's question. Rita thought the two looked at each other just a fraction of a second too long before Cates answered, "Yes, we think so."
"Something to do with the music or entertainment business?"
"It looks that way. All the victims so far have been in the music business or trying to make it." She glanced at Corrigan once more before continuing. "And the murder weapon, which we haven't been able to find in any of these instances, was a very thin cord. It looks like this killer is strangling his victims with a guitar string."
Rita was shocked. If Cates and Corrigan hadn't looked so serious, she might have laughed. Nashville? Music business? A killer who used a guitar string to murder his victims?
"I know it sounds unbelievable," Corrigan was saying, "like something out of a bad crime movie, but that's what it looks like so far."
Something else tugged at Rita's memory. "What did I hear you say last night about getting something in the mail?" she asked Cates.
"This is going to sound even stranger than the guitar string, but after every murder, this killer has mailed me an audio tape. On every one, it's been him playing a guitar and singing some sick song about each killing, evidently something he's written. The words always contain specific details about the victim, and are very graphic about the killing procedure, too. We're dealing with a real sicko here."
Rita stared at Cates in shock. "Now I remember! We did have one like that in Florida! Back when my husband and I were working homicide in Palm Beach, some girl who sang in one of the big clubs down there got killed. We weren't the primaries on that case. We worked mostly high-society murders then. But the girl was the daughter of a very prominent family in town, so we were in on it for awhile. Then I think someone eventually figured out that the girl was killed because she was making a name for herself as a singer; it didn't have anything to do with her family. The detectives who handled the case thought the killer was probably someone who was jealous of her, someone who wanted to make it in the business, too, but didn't, and was getting his revenge."
Cates and Corrigan were both in shock and couldn't speak for a few seconds. Finally Corrigan asked, "Was the killer ever caught?"
Rita shook her head. "No, and some time after a few more local entertainment figures were killed, one of the detectives got a tape just like what you were telling me about! We all thought then that the guy was really sick!"
"Just one tape was sent?"
"I don't remember for sure. It's been so long ago now. But I do know the case was never solved, and several years later, after Chris and I were married, we went to work for the state police, mostly handling unsolved crimes from all over Florida. I remember something very similar involving some of the performers at Disney World and the MGM theme park, as well as the night clubs. The killings eventually stopped, but no one was ever charged with the crimes. We figured the guy got all the revenge he wanted there and moved on. But we had quite a collection of tapes before it was all over."
Looking once more at Corrigan for confirmation, Cates asked, "We realize you're on vacation and don't want to intrude anymore than we've already had to, but is there any way you and your husband can get us what you have on the case in Florida? It sounds like the same person, and what you have would be a big help to us. If this is the same guy, we don't want him to leave Nashville. It has to stop!"
"I'm sure we can, and we'll be glad to help in any way possible. Let me get Chris. He's at the pool with the kids right now, but I think he will remember more than I have so far. And we can easily call our office down there and have them send you whatever is available."
Chris faced Cates and Corrigan, barely able to believe what they had told him. Florida's "Singer Strangler" had moved on to Nashville? He filled them in on all he could remember, then promised, "I'll see that you get whatever you need from our office in Fort Lauderdale, and I'll contact Palm Beach for you, too. This sick guy has to be stopped. Who would have thought he'd pull the same thing in two different places!" Something tugged at his memory. Where else had he seen something like this? Then he remembered - the front page of the Atlanta paper yesterday morning! His eyes widened as he made the connection. "You might want to contact the Atlanta police, too. I just realized I saw an article in the newspaper there yesterday morning that sounded like this guy might have been there for awhile, too. I didn't pay much attention to it - I just scanned through the article while I was waiting in line in a store - so I don't know anything about it, really, but it sounds like it's worth checking into."
Cates and Corrigan thanked Chris for his help, and each gave him one of their cards before they left. Walking back to the pool to join Rita and the children, Chris looked at the cards. Detective Emily Cates, Metro Nashville and Davidson County murder squad, he read silently. Sgt. Brad Corrigan. Cates and Corrigan. Another place, another time, they could have been Lance and Lorenzo. Grinning, he recalled a few of the looks he'd seen pass between Cates and her supervisor Corrigan. Unless he was wrong, they had a lot in common with Lance and Lorenzo! And a similar problem, too, he guessed. It was probably against department regulations for anything other than their work to be going on between Detective Cates and her supervisor Sgt. Corrigan. Oh, yeah, they had a Lance-Lorenzo problem, all right, or an even bigger one! At least he and Rita hadn't had the added problem of one of them being the other's boss!
Rita leaned against the front desk and tapped her fingers, trying not to get too impatient. Surely they would have the package if it had arrived by now, and it certainly should have if it had been shipped overnight. "Lorenzo," she repeated, giving their room number once again. "It should have come this morning." As the clerk took off to hunt for the package again, Rita turned and glanced across the lobby at Chris playing with the children. She couldn't believe they still had so much energy after spending the morning at the Opryland theme park. They must have ridden every ride in the park at least three times, and eaten enough junk food for an army, and now all she wanted to do was get their package from Florida and go to the room and take a nap! She watched Chris chase Daniel into a gift shop, and was sure Chris had to be as tired as she was. Alicia caught up with her brother before Chris did, evidently; Rita saw her leading him by the hand as they followed Chris out of the store and back to where they had been sitting.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Lorenzo," the clerk said, "but it doesn't seem to be here yet. We'll call you in your room as soon as it comes."
Rita intended to call their office in Fort Lauderdale as soon as they were in the room and find out if everything on the case they had discussed with Cates and Corrigan had shipped out for overnight delivery yesterday as it should have. She thanked the clerk, and just as she turned away to join Chris and the children, she heard Alicia's excited screech.
"Dad! Look who's here!"
Rita looked in the direction her daughter was pointing, making a mental note to have a talk with Alicia about manners and pointing at people, but quickly forgot it when she saw Harry and Frannie Lipschitz looking at them from across the lobby!
Chris saw them the same time she did. What were they doing here? Was something wrong? Too surprised to say anything, he watched as Daniel ran toward them. Frannie scooped Daniel up in her arms as Alicia ran to Harry.
"Well, Lorenzo, don't just stand there with your mouth hanging open looking like an idiot," Harry chided. "Come here and tell us hello, like your kids did!"
That snapped Chris out of his momentary shock. If Harry was being his usual self; nothing could possibly be wrong!
"What are you doing here?" Rita asked, running to hug both of them.
"Yeah, really," Chris said. "This is a surprise."
"What am I doing here? I'm coming to save your butt as usual, Lorenzo! You guys are supposed to be here on vacation, relaxing, taking it easy, showing the kids a good time, and I'm actually stupid enough to believe that's what you're doing! Then I get a call and find out you're asking for info on a case in Florida that's several years old, and when I look into it, I find out you two got yourselves in the middle of a murder investigation! You come 900 miles, supposedly for some R and R, but you just can't leave the job alone, can you?"
Chris opened his mouth to protest, but Harry cut him off. "Save it, Lorenzo! Frannie and I are hand-delivering this stuff to you, and while we're here, we're going to make sure you take that vacation you're supposed to be here for!"
Rita burst out laughing. Harry and Fran had come 900 miles to bring them what Cates and Corrigan had asked for?"Are you serious?" she asked. "You came all this way just to bring us what we called about yesterday?"
Still holding Daniel with one arm, Frannie grabbed Harry's shoulder with her free hand. "Harry, you're upsetting them! And you're getting yourself all excited, too! Didn't you tell me you were having trouble breathing when we got off the plane? Calm down; you'll have an asthma attack!"
"Frannie, it's this heat and humidity and all the pollen and ragweed in the air here! That's why I can't breathe!"
Chris and Rita couldn't help themselves; they stood there and laughed as Harry and Frannie continued to bicker over yet another of his health concerns. Those two were certainly in a category all by themselves; who else would come 900 miles just to chew them out about working while on vacation! Everything Cates and Corrigan needed could easily have been shipped! There was no need for them to hand-deliver it!
Harry and Frannie checked into their room, then joined Chris, Rita and the children in their adjoining rooms with the information they had brought from Florida.While Rita and Frannie played with the children, Chris filled Harry in on the situation they had stumbled onto in Nashville. "Actually, I'm glad you're here," Chris told Harry, "even though you didn't need to come all this way just to bring this to us. You'll probably remember some things about this case that will help the police here. Rita and I told them everything we could think of, but I know you remember when that girl got killed in Palm Beach. Maybe you can give them more help here."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I remember. Kristy Hammill, Jonathan Hammill's daughter. Nineteen years old, and just started singing at that fancy club down there when she got killed. Took us forever to figure out she was killed because of what she did for a living. We thought for awhile that one of Hammill's enemies had done it."
"It looks like this guy might have started with her, then hit the clubs all over Florida and the theme parks down there, too, and finally wound up in Nashville, by way of Atlanta."
Chris told Harry about the article he had noticed in the convenience store. "I didn't pay much attention to it, but I did tell Corrigan and Cates about it, and suggested they talk to the Atlanta police. Could be the same person, and he would have to go through Atlanta to get here from Florida."
In the other room, Frannie chattered to Rita about always wanting to see Nashville and being thrilled when Harry had suggested they deliver what Chris and Rita had asked for in person. "But I'm worried about him, Rita. This heat and humidity, not to mention all the pollen in the air, can't be good for his allergies."
Rita smiled indulgently. How many times over the years had they gone through this? "I'm sure he'll be fine, Fran. Just be sure you and he take time to do some sight-seeing while you're here. We love what we've seen so far."
The phone rang then, interrupting what would probably have been another of Frannie's tirades about Harry's health. Knowing Chris and Harry were in the middle of work, Rita answered the phone.
"Rita? Hi, it's Emily Cates. Did you get anything from Florida yet?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact, we did, hand-delivered by our former captain and his wife!"
Rita chuckled at Emily's surprise. She was in for an experience when she finally got to meet Harry and Frannie! "Yes, they heard we were asking for information about a murder investigation, and decided to come up here and make sure we were taking a vacation like we were supposed to be!"
"Oh, Rita, I'm sorry if we've ruined your vacation. Those two precious children don't deserve to have us demanding so much of your time, and I know you and Chris need the time off."
Rita hadn't meant to make her feel bad. "No, it's all right. We're in the same line of work, remember? And since we think this guy got away from us in Florida, we'd like to do all we can to help make sure he doesn't move on somewhere else!"
They arranged to meet the next morning at the police department. While Frannie looked after the children, Chris, Rita, and Harry would meet with the entire murder squad in Brad Corrigan's office with all the information Harry had brought from Florida. Hopefully, by then everything would be in from Atlanta, too.
When Harry and Chris finished discussing everything Harry had brought from Florida, Chris and Rita tried to get Harry and Frannie to do some sight-seeing. "Why don't you take a tour?" Rita suggested, raising her voice slightly to make herself heard over the TV in the next room. Alicia and Daniel were watching an afternoon cartoon show, with the volume up louder than necessary. Quietly shutting the door between the rooms, she added, "I know there are some night tours available."
Frannie wouldn't hear of it. "No, no," she insisted. "We will spend the evening playing with Alicia and Daniel, while you two go out! You're on vacation, remember?"
"We've already done a lot of sight-seeing, Fran," Chris told her, "and you just got here. Since you'll be babysitting tomorrow, and Harry will be working with us, you should take tonight and go out."
"I know you've been sight-seeing, but what I mean is, you and Rita need a night out together, just the two of you. You know how much Harry and I love those children of yours as if they were our own grandchildren. We will babysit tonight; you go out and have some fun! How about one of those riverboat cruises I was reading about at the airport?" Frannie then pulled a handful of brochures on various tourist attractions from her purse and leafed through them until she found what she was looking for. Handing one to Rita, she said, "Here. This is what you should do tonight."
Rita took the brochure Frannie handed to her. She studied it for a few seconds. "Look, Chris, I think they're right. This would be a lot of fun. The General Jackson Showboat has a dinner cruise tonight. Do you think we could get reservations?"
Chris took the brochure and looked at it, then turned to Frannie. "Are you sure you want to babysit tonight and tomorrow? We hate for you to come all this way and spend all your time watching our kids."
"Nonsense, Christopher! You and Rita need an adults only night out. Go ahead and make your reservations and have fun tonight!"
Several hours later, Rita emerged from the bathroom, wearing a hunter-green sleeveless dress that matched the color of her eyes. Chris watched as she slipped on the matching jacket, and when she turned to face him, his eyes widened.
"Wow, Sammy, you look fantastic!"
Rita smiled as she crossed the room to where he stood, dressed in a dark gray suit and tie. "You don't look so bad yourself." She gave him a lingering kiss. Reaching up with her thumb to wipe traces of her lipstick from his lips, she continued, "As a matter of fact, you are absolutely gorgeous."
He grinned that famous Lorenzo grin. "Thank you ma'am. So are you."
The TV blared in the adjoining room, distracting them. "What are they watching now?" Rita asked, frowning slightly.
Chris shook his head. "I don't know. I think Alicia discovered some cartoon channel. I'd say we definitely have one little TV addict, and she's fast turning Daniel into one, too."
"Isn't that how we wound up in Nashville?"
Chris grinned at her again. "I guess it is. Never thought of it that way."
A knock sounded at the door, and Rita turned to open it. "Where's Harry?" she asked when she saw that Frannie was alone.
"His sinuses were bothering him, so he decided to stay in our room and rest," Frannie explained. "But don't you worry. Those little darlings and I will be just fine. Go out and enjoy yourselves."
Chris stifled a grin as he listened to Frannie's assessment of Harry's latest health complaint. "Good luck getting them away from the TV," he said, gesturing toward the adjoining room.
A commercial must have come on TV, Rita realized when Alicia ran into the room, closely followed by Daniel. "Are you leaving?" Alicia asked.
"Yes, we are," Chris answered, stooping down to give his daughter a hug and a kiss. "You and Daniel behave yourselves, and please don't spend the night in front of the TV!"
"We won't," Alicia promised, "and we'll be very, very good. Right, Danny?"
"I want to go with you," Daniel whined as Rita hugged him.
"Not tonight, sweetheart. You stay here and have fun with Aunt Frannie. And be good!"
Daniel hesitated for a second before promising, "I will."
"That's my boy," Chris told him. He hugged and kissed Daniel as Rita did the same with Alicia.
"We should be back shortly after 11:00, Fran," Chris said as he stood up.
"Take your time, and have fun," Frannie admonished, ushering them out the door.
Chris and Rita rode the Opryland Hotel's shuttle bus to the General Jackson's dock. The sun was setting, but it was still hot and muggy outside. "I'm glad we're going somewhere that's air conditioned," Chris remarked as they boarded the boat. "After spending all morning out in that heat, I'm ready for it!"
"Me, too," Rita agreed. "It's awfully humid here, a lot worse than I thought it would be."
As the General Jackson Showboat slowly made its way along the winding Cumberland River, Chris and Rita enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner, and watched a musical show featuring some of Opryland's singers and dancers. When the show ended, Chris turned to Rita and said, "I don't know about you, Sammy, but I need to walk off some of that dinner I ate. Want to take a walk on the upper deck?"
"I'd love to."
They climbed the stairs to the upper deck and strolled leisurely as the boat continued its slow journey down the river. They stopped, leaning against the railing as they looked out over the river. Rita turned to face Chris, and he wrapped his arms around her. She rested her head on his shoulder as she continued to look at the lights along the riverbank, and then at the moon and stars. "Beautiful out tonight, isn't it?" she remarked.
"Very beautiful," he responded.
Rita lifted her head from Chris' shoulder as she caught the deeper meaning in his voice. His blue eyes gazed at her intensely, and she knew he didn't mean the weather or the moon or the stars.
"Very, very beautiful," he repeated as he lowered his head to kiss her. "I love you, Rita," he whispered as he broke the kiss.
"I love, you, too, Chris," she whispered back, as he kissed her again, this time more intensely.
Rita chuckled as she broke the kiss. "Down, boy," she teased. "Remember, we're in public!"
Chris grinned at her. "I seem to have a problem remembering anything when I kiss you, except how much I want to do it again!" He looked at his watch, trying to read it in the dark. "How much longer till we dock?"
Rita burst out laughing. "Chris Lorenzo, you have a one-track mind!"
He gave her his best bad-boy grin. "Oh, yes. All the time when I'm with you!"
Rita continued to tease him as they made their way back downstairs. Within a half an hour, the boat docked, and soon they were on their way back to the hotel.
In Brad Corrigan's office the next morning, Rita glanced around the room at all the officers who had come together to try to catch this elusive killer. In addition to herself, Chris, Harry, Brad and Emily, and the other three members of Nashville's murder squad, two detectives from Atlanta were also there. She then looked at the mound of paperwork and audio cassettes that covered the surface of Brad's desk. Had this killer really been going for so long without being caught?
"We had every tape checked for fingerprints," Emily Cates was saying, "but we couldn't get anything clear off any of them. We also had a sound engineer check them out and enhance them, but so far, no major clues. The engineer just confirmed what we already thought. These are not professional recordings at all; probably just the guy playing and singing into his tape recorder. And since the acoustics on all of them are so poor, we doubt that any of them were done in a studio; most likely these were all made in the guy's home, or wherever he's staying."
Majors from Atlanta opened the box of tapes he and his partner Myers had brought. "We had these analyzed by an engineer, too. He gave us the same verdict - very crudely made, all by the same person, he was reasonably sure."
"We will have our engineer check those out, and yours, too," Brad Corrigan added, looking at Harry, Chris, and Rita, "to see if they were all done by the same person. But we don't have to wait for a professional opinion to keep moving with this investigation." Turning to Emily, he asked, "Still got your tape recorder?"
"Sure do." Emily produced a small tape player. "I've learned to stay prepared," she explained. "The killer started sending these tapes to me personally after the first few victims were found, and we realized we had a serial killer on our hands."
She took one of the tapes Majors handed her and inserted it into the player and punched the play button. After a few seconds of silence, guitar chords sounded from the tape player, followed by a nondescript male voice.
Julie thought she was gonna be a star.
She was so excited, like all of them are.
On the day before her big night,
I caught up with her, and made things right!
She thought it was her time, but I had to make her see
That it shouldn't be her; it should have been me!
And then I killed her!
I killed her!
She wanted what was mine, and so I killed her!
I've been trying and trying for, oh, so long!
They'll all soon know I've got a killer song!
"That's the same one!" Rita, Chris, and Harry exclaimed in unison.
Majors frowned. "You're already sure?"
"Yes! I recognize the 'I killed her' line from all those tapes we got!" Rita answered. "Every tape ended just like that, with something about the victim having what should have been his, but the first few lines were all something personal about the victim!"
Emily looked at Brad for a second before saying, "I know this has to be the same one! All my tapes are like that, too, right down to the 'killer song' reference in the last line!"
Brad nodded. "Tell us about the victim he mentions on this tape," he said to Majors.
"Julie McDonald. She had just landed a regular job singing at one of the big, fancy clubs downtown. Like the tape says, she was killed on the morning before her big opening night. Strangled when she got in her car in a parking garage. It was very sad. Everyone seemed to love Julie, no enemies that we could find, anyway. We thought it was obvious that this was someone who wanted the job Julie got, so we asked the manager of the club for a list of others who had auditioned there, males especially, but by that time, most of them had moved on from the area, or we weren't able to find them. The few we did find had alibis that checked out."
Chris looked at Harry. "Sound familiar?"
"Sure does. We went through this in Palm Beach several years ago. How many victims did you have before you got the first tape?" Harry asked Majors.
"Three, I think, maybe four."
"And you?" Harry asked, turning to the Nashville officers.
"Three," Brad answered. "We got the first tape just after we realized we were dealing with a serial killer. Somebody speculated about that in the paper, and all our names," he gestured around the room at Emily and the other murder squad detectives, "were also listed. As soon as he realized we were on to him and he had a name, he sent the first tape to Detective Emily Cates. She's received all the others, too, addressed personally to her."
"The same thing happened down there," Harry continued."He evidently waited until we knew we had a serial killer, then he started sending tapes to the same detective." Turning to Majors again, he asked, "What kind of pattern did he go through in Atlanta before he stopped?"
Majors thought for a few seconds before answering. "I'd have to study the reports on it to be sure, but I think the killings just kept getting closer and closer together, and some of the tapes eventually contained clues about what was coming next. He played a cat and mouse game with us, and let us get very close to catching him. I think the last time we only missed him by a few seconds, minutes at the most!"
Rita gasped. "That's what happened in Palm Beach, and on those around Disney World and the MGM theme park! He let the cops get just so close, then suddenly stopped. It was like he thought he'd won if we could get that close and he could still get away." Turning to Emily, she asked, "Do you have your most recent tape handy?"
"I think so. Give me a second to find it. Why do you ask?"
"After what happened that night we got here, I think he might be getting close to finishing up in Nashville. I couldn't have missed him by more than a few minutes when I walked into that gift shop."
"Then our time's running out?"
"I'd say it's a strong possibility."
"Be right back." Emily dashed out of the room and was back shortly with the latest tape. She removed the one from Atlanta from the player, inserted the newest one, and pushed the play button. They heard the same series of guitar chords that had started the tape Majors had brought, then the same voice singing another crudely written song.
Lindsay just got a record deal.
She was about as proud as she could feel.
I came along and stopped her in her tracks.
Now can you guess what's coming next?
You'll find another one, there's no doubt,
Where the cowboys dance and the stars come out!
You know I killed her!
I killed her!
She took all that was mine, and so I killed her!
I've been trying and trying for, oh so long!
They'll all soon know I've got a killer song!
"That's what he means! He's getting close!" Rita insisted. "What does he mean, 'where the cowboys dance and the stars come out'? 'Stars come out' sounds like it's outside somewhere at night. Is there an outdoor country dance club here anywhere?"
"Not that we know of," Emily answered. "We've checked into that as thoroughly as we can so far. Of course, 'stars come out' could also refer to some of our local country music stars. None of the really major stars, that is, those with records on the charts, usually play any of the clubs around here. Occasionally some will show up in the audience at certain places, and then there are special……wait a minute!" She turned to Brad and the other murder squad members. "Could that be the Wildhorse? 'Cowboys dance' would certainly fit, and with all the special events they hold there, 'stars come out' fits, too! Is this sick guy planning to hit the Wildhorse Saloon?"
Chris choked back a laugh as Rita elbowed him in the ribs. "Wildhorse Saloon?"
Brad Corrigan's lips twitched into a smile under his mustache. "I thought the same thing when I first heard what they were going to call it," he told Chris. "I thought it sounded like a redneck joint. But it's actually quite nice. It's Opryland's dance club down on Second Avenue near the riverfront. And she's right," he added, referring to what Emily had said, "it's a popular place for line dancing, and on any given night, I'd say two-thirds of the people in the place are wearing cowboy hats and boots. And it's true that they do have a lot of special events down there that bring out a lot of the big-name stars."
"This is the place this sicko's talking about killing next?" Chris asked.
Brad hesitated. "Of course, we can't be sure. What he's said on this tape could mean something entirely different, and there are a few other places in town that he could be talking about, if we're on the right track. But that seems like the most obvious possibility. I do know that anyone trying to make it in the business here would definitely feel like they're on their way up if they get to play there. Let's take a look at everything you brought us, all the reports and sketches and anything else we have, and then we'll let you get back to your vacation." Turning to Majors and Myers, he added, "I'm sure you need to get back to Atlanta, too. Let's put our heads together over everything we've got, and if we come up with anything, the murder squad and I will check out everything we can. Hopefully, we won't have to bother any of you anymore."
Two hours later, Harry, Chris, and Rita walked out of Corrigan's office, followed by the Atlanta detectives. "Hope that's the end of it for us," Chris remarked, "but somehow, I have a feeling it isn't."
He was right. None of them saw the man watching them from across the street. Staring across James Robertson Parkway at the five police officers from out of town, the man began to panic. Oh, no, he thought. He certainly hadn't intended for the Lorenzos to actually get involved here; he had only meant to jog their memories and have a little fun! And was that their former Captain with them? And could that really be Majors from Atlanta, with that dumb partner of his? He couldn't remember the partner's name; he had always thought of them as Major and Minor, since that partner was such an idiot. He'd always sent all his tapes to Majors; he wasn't about to deal with that stupid guy. Same here with Cates; she was the only one in Nashville with any sense, and it was no fun playing with an idiot! But he had a problem now; if the Lorenzos and their Captain, and those two guys from Atlanta were all here, and helping the Nashville detectives, as it looked, he wasn't at all sure he could stand up against that many of them. Oh, well, he thought, as he watched them turn the corner and head toward the parking garage, he might just have to put things into action a little sooner than planned!
Back at the hotel, Alicia jumped up as soon as she heard her parents' key in the lock. "You're back! Can we go to Opryland again? Pleeeeaase! Aunt Frannie says she wants to go see some shows, and Danny wants to ride the-"
Chris grabbed his daughter in a bear hug, trying his best to calm her. "Hold it," he said, chuckling. "We just got back. Give us a minute."
Alicia did her best imitation of her father's puppy dog face. "Daaaaad," she whined, "pleeeeease?"
In the end, Alicia got her way. Chris, Harry, and Daniel stood watching as Rita and Frannie took Alicia for her third trip so far on the Old Mill Scream, a ride that usually got its occupants thoroughly soaked. "Daddy, I want to ride," Daniel said.
"Sorry, buddy, you're a little too young. We'll go check out some rides that are more your size in a few minutes." Chris knew it had been hard for Daniel to watch Alicia try things he couldn't do yet.
Harry coughed, sneezed, then coughed again before complaining, "I'm dying, Lorenzo! This pollen and ragweed are going to kill me before I can get back home!"
Chris grinned at Harry and couldn't resist teasing him. "You know, Harry, you didn't have to come."
"What? You think I'd let you guys bring Frannie out here and run her ragged without me here to look after her?"
"I don't think you have anything to worry about. Look." Chris gestured to where Frannie, Rita, and Alicia were exiting the ride.
"Oh, that was fun!" Frannie chattered. "I think I could do that again!" She didn't seem to even notice that her clothes were almost completely soaked.
"Really?" Alicia's eyes were wide. "I'll get to go four times?"
Rita tried unsuccessfully to wring the water out of the hem of her T-shirt. After taking Alicia on the ride three times, she was thoroughly soaked. She noticed Chris grinning at her, and knew he was about to make some smart remark. "I should have let you take her on that!" she said, trying to beat him to the punch.
"No way, Sam. I intend to stay dry." His grin widened. "Besides, you look a lot better in a wet T-shirt than I do!"
Rita met his challenge head-on. "Oh, really. You think so?" Catching Chris completely off guard, she wrapped him in a tight hug, and by the time she let him go, he had a huge water stain on the front of his T-shirt. Harry, Frannie, and the children laughed hysterically as they watched Chris and Rita tease each other. "Intend to stay dry, huh?" Rita continued. "So much for that. And for your information, I don't think either one of us looks so good with our clothes soaking wet."
Chris kept grinning at her as he said, only half teasing, "That's what you think, Sam," as he kept gazing at the way her wet clothes clung to her body.
"I know what we can do!" Alicia exclaimed. "There's another ride that gets you wet. I think you sit in this round thing kind of like a big raft. We can all ride it, even Danny!"
Rita had seen signs advertising the Grizzly River Rampage, and knew that was what Alicia was talking about, but she didn't intend to ride anything else involving water. But before she could say so, Harry interrupted.
"No way! I'll catch a cold if I get wet!" He coughed loudly for emphasis.
Frannie looked at him with a worried frown. "Harry? Do you think you might be coming down with a cold? You're coughing a lot."
Not about to let them get started, Chris looked at his watch. "We've been here almost three hours," he said. "I promised Daniel he could ride another kiddie ride, and after that, I think it will probably be a good time to head back to the hotel and get some dry clothes."
The phone was ringing when they opened the door to their room. Chris answered while Rita went in search of dry clothes for herself and Alicia.
"Chris? Hi, it's Brad Corrigan. Listen, I hate to bother you again, but would you and Rita be up for a night of dancing at the Wildhorse?"
Chris almost groaned. He knew he had been wrong to think they had heard the last from the local police about the killer, and he was certain that Brad's call was more than just a friendly invitation. "Tonight?"
"Yes, if it's convenient. We went through everything you and the guys from Atlanta brought us, and I hate to say we've got more questions than answers. We've got all kinds of profiles on this killer, but very little in the way of sketches or physical descriptions. Tonight they've got a new girl making her first appearance at the Wildhorse, so it seems like a smart idea to check things out down there. I thought if you and Rita came along, you could help us watch out for anyone suspicious, or maybe since you ran across this guy way back, you might even see someone who looks familiar."
"I don't know about recognizing him, Brad. Remember, we got most of the information on him long after a lot of the murders had taken place, so we never came in direct contact with him. But I don't see why we can't come along and help you out. I'll ask Rita, and we'll see if Harry and Frannie will babysit again. They might decide they're too worn out; we just got back in from Opryland!"
Brad laughed. "Well, I can understand if you'd rather not. I'm sorry we keep interrupting your vacation, but you and Rita both have the best reputations down there in Florida, so we'll take all the help you're willing to give us. We want to catch this guy before he kills again!"
"I know. And we want to help you if we can." He looked up as Rita came back into the room, toweling her hair dry. "Hold on, let me ask Rita." He put his hand over the mouthpiece as she looked questioningly at him. "It's Brad Corrigan," he explained. "He wants to know if we'll come along and help them out at the Wildhorse tonight." Rita grimaced as he continued. "He asked if we're up for a night of dancing, but they think the killer might make a move there tonight since there's a new girl singing, so they want us to come help them check things out. Daniel, cut that out!" he said sharply as Daniel stood up on the foot of the bed and began to jump. "Hey, Brad, can we get back to you? We need to check with Harry and Frannie." He paused. "Okay. See ya."
Chris hung up the phone as Alicia came into the room, evidently after overhearing part of the conversation. "You're going out again tonight?" she asked. "Oh, good! That means we can play with Aunt Frannie again! We had a lot of fun with her last night and this morning, didn't we, Danny?" She chattered on about some story Frannie had told them, letting Chris and Rita know that she, at least, didn't care if they got involved with work while they were supposed to be on vacation.
Rita smiled at Chris as Alicia continued her chatter. "I'll call Frannie and see if it's all right," she told him. She nudged Chris. "Get your dancing shoes on, partner." He snickered as she reached for the phone to call Frannie.
Two hours later, Rita watched as Chris tucked his shirt-tail into his jeans and tried hard to look like he would blend in easily at a country music nightclub. Neither of them was really into country music or dancing; still, they thought a night out at a place like that would be fun, and since Frannie had agreed to babysit again, they had decided to help Brad out.
Chris kept squirming and pulling at his clothes. "Do you think this looks right, Sam?" he asked, turning around in front of her.
Knowing both children were within earshot, Rita stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear, "Looks great from behind, Sam. I love the way you fill out those jeans!"
That famous Lorenzo grin was firmly in place as he looked at her. "Yeah? I could say the same for you!"
Alicia interrupted them. "Are you really going dancing with cowboys?" she asked.
Chris just kept grinning as Rita answered, "That's what we've been told, though I doubt we'll see any real cowboys, probably just a lot of people dressed like them."
A knock sounded at the door. Chris opened it to find Emily Cates and Brad Corrigan standing in the hall. Both looked like they would fit in perfectly at any cowboy bar or country dance club.
"Come in," Chris said, opening the door wider. "We're ready. We just have to wait for Frannie."
"Sorry if we're early," Emily apologized as Rita came to greet them.
"No problem at all," Rita assured her. "Frannie will be here in a minute." They introduced Alicia and Daniel to Emily and Brad while they waited.
"You're police officers?" Alicia asked them. "Like my mom and dad?"
"We sure are," Brad answered. "Why? Do you think we look more like country music stars or cowboys?" he teased.
Alicia giggled. "Not really."
"Are you enjoying Nashville?" Emily asked Alicia.
"Yes! I love it!" Alicia became slightly subdued as she said, "But I want to see some country music stars while we're here. I want to meet Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire and Vince Gill."
"Do you?" Brad asked her. "I think all three of them are supposed to be at the Opry Saturday night. Do you plan to go to the Opry while you're here?" he asked Chris and Rita.
Not being country music fans, neither Chris nor Rita had cared much about seeing a Grand Ole Opry performance, but they were certainly willing to consider it if Alicia could get to see some of her favorite stars. "We hadn't planned on it," Rita answered, "but if some of her favorites are going to be there, we might. Do you know how we can get tickets?"
Brad explained what he knew about Opry tickets, then told them, "Several years ago, when I was still fairly new to the force, I worked security at a number one party for Vince Gill downtown at the Batman building. I met his manager, and we've stayed good friends. I'll be glad to see what I can do about getting you cleared to go backstage at the Opry."
Alicia gaped at him. "Are you serious?"
Smiling at her, Brad nodded. "I sure am. I can't make any promises, but I'll see what I can do."
"Oh, thank you! Wow!"
"Wait a minute. Did I hear you right?" Chris asked. "Did you just say 'Batman building'? Are you talking about that tall building downtown with the two spires? Is that what you really call it?"
Laughing, Brad explained, "Well, it's really called the Bell South Tower, but when it was first built, we locals started calling it the Batman building for obvious reasons."
"On our way into town that first day, Daniel saw it and just about blew my ear out!" Rita told him. "He screamed 'Batman' loud enough for the whole city of Nashville to hear!"
"Batman fan, huh?" Brad asked Daniel.
"Yes! Batman!" Daniel yelled, his arms waving as he did his best Batman impression.
Frannie knocked at the door then, and Chris and Rita introduced her to Brad and Emily, then kissed the children goodbye before leaving.
The line to get in the Wildhorse Saloon was long, stretching nearly half a block down Second Avenue. Chris, Rita, Brad, and Emily tried to be patient as they waited in the muggy heat. "I had no idea it would be this humid so far inland," Chris remarked. "We noticed that when we took the riverboat cruise. It never seems to let up."
"We're a stone's throw from the Cumberland River," Emily told him. "It stays like that a lot here so close to the river."
Eventually they got inside the Wildhorse, and enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner, while keeping a watchful eye out for anything or anyone unusual. The show wouldn't start for another hour; right now a DJ was playing music while people danced.
"You think we could learn to do that, Sam?" Chris asked as he watched the couples twirl to a country song across the dance floor.
"Why not? I'm game if you are," Rita responded.
"In that case, then, may I have this dance?" He took Rita's hand and led her onto the dance floor.
After watching the dancers for awhile, they both picked up the dance steps fairly easily and soon were keeping up with the other couples on the floor. Chris glanced up as he saw Brad and Emily dancing together nearby. "Do they remind you of anyone, Sam?"
Rita smiled. "You noticed it, too, huh?"
"Sure did. But I think they've got a bigger problem than we ever had. I doubt very seriously that department regulations allow a detective to date her supervisor!"
"I'm sure you're right." Rita sighed. "But they'll probably work it out. After all, we did!"
"We sure did," Chris agreed, giving Rita a quick kiss as the song ended. They slowly moved away from the dance floor, and had taken two steps toward the bar when a huge guy in a cowboy hat grabbed Rita by the arm.
"Hey, come dance with me, little lady," he mumbled, his speech garbled by too much alcohol, no doubt.
"No, thank you," Rita said firmly, jerking her arm away.
The man tightened his grip. "Hey! I said, come dance with me." His words were slurred even worse this time.
Another man came up and grabbed the big guy by his other arm. "Bubba, you're drunk. Leave them alone. Let me call you a cab."
"No!" Bubba yelled, jerking his arm out of his friend's grasp and nearly falling backward on Rita. "She's gonna dance with me!"
Chris stepped forward. "Listen, Bubba," he began, but Rita interrupted him.
"Chris, he's twice your size," she said firmly. "This isn't worth a fight. Besides, we need to keep a low profile."
Bubba staggered toward the dance floor, trying to drag Rita with him. She held her ground firmly, but the man still wouldn't let her go. Rita turned so she was face to face with him. "Bubba, I said NO!" Her right heel stomped firmly down on Bubba's left foot, then her left knee hit him hard in the groin. Bubba's eyes widened, and he teetered on his right foot for a few seconds before falling backwards on the floor, letting go of Rita's arm.
Chris grinned as he hugged her. "Great move, Sam!"
Emily ran up to them, laughing hysterically. "Rita, I wouldn't have believed that if I hadn't seen it myself! I think you need to be teaching self-defense to rookies!"
"Thanks, but I just blew our cover," Rita said. "So much for keeping a low profile. If the killer's in here, after that he certainly knows we are, too."
"Don't worry about it," Brad told her. "Bubba wasn't going to leave you alone, so you had to do something." He chuckled as he added, "I just never imagined what!"
Chris grinned. "Yeah, I think my wife's pretty amazing!"
As two security guards handcuffed Bubba and helped him stand up, the manager of the
Wildhorse came up to them. "Are you all right, ma'am?" he asked Rita. "Did he hurt you?"
"No, sir. I'm fine," she assured him.
"I'm very sorry that happened. We try not to let anyone get out of control, but unfortunately we can't always help it."
"I understand. Really, I'm fine. There's no problem."
"Thank you, ma'am. You're a lot more gracious than most people would be. In many cases, we might have a lawsuit on our hands after an incident like that!" The manager laughed, but it was clear that he wanted to make sure he wasn't going to wind up in court later on.
"You don't have to worry about that with us," Chris assured him. "My wife can handle herself just fine without suing anyone."
The manager grinned at him. "Yes, sir, I could see that! Thank you all for being so understanding."
"It's no problem at all. Believe me, we've seen much worse," Chris told him.
Once the manager was convinced that they weren't going to sue him, he left them alone. Rita turned to Emily and Brad apologetically. "I'm sorry I called attention to us. Do you think there's any point in us staying here any longer?"
"Don't worry about it," Emily told her. "I don't know about staying here. What do you think?" she asked Brad.
"It's probably not worth it," he admitted. "We've intruded on your vacation time far too much as it is already," he told Chris and Rita, "and I doubt that our strangler's going to make a move here after that, if he ever was to begin with. This was just a shot in the dark anyway, so we might as well call it an early night."
They left the Wildhorse Saloon, not knowing they were being watched. The young man staring at them through the window as they walked up Second Avenue realized they were giving up on him for tonight at least. Well, Bubba had bought him some time; maybe he didn't need to feel so desperate after all. And he had to give that little Lorenzo lady a lot of credit; she sure could handle herself against Bubba, with no difficulty at all!
In the car, Brad checked his watch. "It's not that late yet. Maybe I can make those calls I promised your daughter and see what I can do about getting you backstage at the Opry Saturday night."
"Please don't feel like you have to go to so much trouble. Alicia's happy to be here, and she will survive without meeting any stars," Rita assured him.
Brad laughed. "It's no trouble at all, as long as I can get hold of someone who can get you in." He turned on his mobile phone. "Give me a few minutes."
Chris, Rita, and Emily waited quietly while Brad called his friend who worked for Vince Gill, and within minutes, he had made arrangements for them to have backstage clearance at Saturday night's Grand Ole Opry show. "Your little girl's in luck!" he told them as he turned off his phone. "As well as Vince, they've got a bunch of other big stars on this weekend. I think he said Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Barbara Mandrell, and Alan Jackson are supposed to be there, too. Alicia's going to have a big night!"
"She sure will!" Rita exclaimed. "Thank you for doing that for her. Are you sure we're not putting you or your friend out?"
"Not at all," Brad assured her. "He's happy to do this."
"We really appreciate it," Chris said. "And I know Alicia will! Since we're getting in early, she'll probably still be up and can thank you herself."
Alicia proved him right. Surprisingly, she jumped up from in front of the TV as soon as she realized her parents were back. "You're early!"
Chris scooped her up in his arms. "Yes, we are." Lowering his voice slightly, he glanced at the door to the adjoining room. "And you'd better keep your voice down. I hope Daniel's asleep by now."
"I think he is," Frannie told him. "I think he went to sleep right away."
"Good," Chris said. Still holding Alicia, he turned around to face Brad. "Sgt. Corrigan deserves a big thank you from you," he told Alicia. "He did you a huge favor tonight."
Alicia stared wide-eyed at Brad. "You got us in backstage?"
Smiling at her, Brad nodded. "Yes, I did. It's all taken care of."
Alicia gasped. "For real?" When Brad nodded, she screeched, "Thank you!"
"You're very welcome, Alicia. I hope you enjoy the Opry."
"Oh, I will! I know I will!"
After Frannie, Brad, and Emily left, Chris and Rita finally managed to get a very excited Alicia to sleep. Rita watched as Chris looked down uncertainly at his firm, flat stomach. She frowned and asked, "What's wrong?"
"Alicia told me I look like Garth Brooks in these clothes. I don't know, Sam, am I putting on weight?"
Rita's first reaction was to quickly assure him that he was still in perfect shape, which indeed he was, but she decided to tease him a little. She smiled at him impishly and reached for the top button of his shirt. "Hmmm, I don't know, Sam, I'll have to check it out."
Next morning, Rita jerked awake as the phone rang. His arms still around her, Chris shifted slightly as she reached for the phone. "Hello," she said, trying to sound more awake than she felt.
"Rita," Emily's sobbing voice gasped, "he struck again last night after we left. This sicko killed that girl who sang at the Wildhorse just after her show! And her sister is one of my very good friends."
Rita was wide awake now but was too stunned to say anything at first, "Oh, Emily, I'm so sorry," she finally managed. "Did you know your friend's sister was the new girl singing there last night?"
"No, not till after...." She trailed off into more sobs. "It was so awful, having to tell Nancy her sister had been murdered!"
Rita knew the feeling all too well. "I know. I'm sorry I messed things up for us last night. Maybe we could have caught him if that incident with Bubba hadn't happened."
"No, Rita, I certainly don't hold you responsible. Who knows, we might not have caught him anyway. But I want this guy badly now!"
"I understand. And I promise you that Chris and I will do everything we can to help. Is there anything we can do for you now?"
After arranging to meet later in the day to go over everthing on the case once more to see if any of them had missed any clues, they hung up. "The killer got that girl who sang at the Wildhorse last night," Rita told Chris, who was now wide awake. "She was the sister of one of Emily's friends."
"Oh, no! We've been through this thousands of times ourselves, haven't we, Sam?" He hugged her tightly as she nodded.
That morning, along with Harry, Frannie, and the children, they took a sight-seeing tour of the city. After putting a bored Daniel down for a nap when they returned to the hotel, Harry, Chris and Rita went once more to the police department.
Emily met them in the hall outside Brad's office. "I've already got a tape on this latest one," she told them, "delivered by courier this morning. And this time we've got a witness - the driver gave us a very detailed description of the person who gave him the package!"
"Great! How are you holding up?" Rita asked her.
Emily's lips trembled slightly, but she quickly recovered her professional demeanor. "Not great, but I have to keep going. I'm not going to let up until we catch this guy!"
In Brad's office, they looked at the police artist's drawing based on the driver's description. "Does he look familiar to you?" Brad asked them.
Chris, Rita, and Harry studied the sketch. "Somewhat," Chris answered. "How does this sketch compare with that one from Atlanta and the two from Florida?"
Brad retrieved the other sketches. "There is a resemblance to the one from Atlanta," he pointed out. "It's not necessarily the same person, but I believe it is. And we can't really tell anything, as far as the ones from Florida are concerned. This guy's somewhat older now than he was when he was down there. He could have easily altered his appearance significantly since then."
They carefully studied all four sketches. The one based on the driver's description showed a thin young man with dark, shaggy hair and brown eyes. In the sketch from Atlanta, the man had shorter hair, but very similar features.
"That one was based on a description from a neighbor of one of the victims in Atlanta," Brad told them. She was killed outside her home, and someone evidently saw a prowler earlier that day. And a gun was stolen from another home in the area that same day."
Rita and Chris were instantly alarmed. This sounded more dangerous than they had realized."A gun?" Rita asked. "I thought he strangled all his victims."
"So far he has," Brad replied. "And there might not be any connection to the stolen gun, but we have to keep it in mind that he might be armed with more than just a guitar string."
"We've contacted the management at all the clubs and recording studios where our local victims had worked," Mike Harrison, another member of the murder squad, was saying. "And we faxed them a copy of the sketch, but so far, no one has been able to identify him. We haven't
heard back from everyone yet, so we hope something might turn up."
The phone on Brad's desk rang. "Homicide, Sgt. Corrigan," he answered, then paused briefly. "Yes, we did." Another pause. "You do?" He reached for a scratch pad and retrieved a pen from his desk drawer. "Do you have a name?" He wrote quickly as he listened to what the caller said. "Great! Thanks! You've been a big help!"
After hanging the phone up, Brad jumped up. "We've got an ID! That was the manager at a club down in Printers Alley. He says our sketch looks like a guy who came in there several weeks ago looking for a singing job. When the manager politely told him no, that they had all the regular performers they needed right now, the guy just wouldn't give up. He kept going on about having written some killer songs that deserved to be played for the public. The manager finally had to threaten to call the police if he didn't leave!"
"Did he get the guy's name?" Emily asked.
"The name this guy gave the manager was Billy Warren, but we all know that wasn't necessarily his real name."
"Something about that sounds familiar," Harry said. "I keep thinking about Kristy Hammill. Seems like her parents told me about a friend of hers, a guy with a similar name. It wasn't Warren, maybe it was Warner or Worrell, or something like that. But the first name was definitely Billy, and when our detectives tried to find him to question him about Kristy, he had disappeared. "
Brad showed Harry the sketches again. "Did he look anything like any of these?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't know, and neither would they. I don't think they ever saw this friend of Kristy's, just heard her mention him a few times. She told her parents that he was a very talented singer and would make it big one day."
"That club manager told me something else, and this is very disturbing," Brad continued. "He said when this Billy guy finally left, his parting comment was something about hoping the Wildhorse or the Bluebird or a few other places would want him if that club didn't. There have been victims from all those other places, including the Wildhorse now," he added, with a sympathetic glance at Emily, "except the Bluebird. It sounds like that could be where this guy's planning to strike next. And it would fit with that tape we got today."
"What's the Bluebird?" Rita asked.
"The Bluebird Cafe is a fairly small place out on Hillsboro Road," he explained. "I know that probably doesn't mean anything to you, but it's on the southwest side of town, in an upscale area. It's a favorite place for up-and-comers because they frequently have open mike nights. That's when just about anybody can come in and audition, and the lucky ones who are chosen get to play there. That can open the door to a lot of opportunities for them."
"Then we need to see if anyone at the Bluebird recognizes this guy," Emily said firmly, clearly anxious. "We can't let him kill again!" She reached for the phone on Brad's desk and dialed the Bluebird's number. Everyone else waited while she arranged to come by with the sketch and
asked about upcoming performances. When she hung up, she turned to Brad and said, "Tonight they've got some regulars, people who have been playing there for a year or more. But tomorrow night they're having a writer's night featuring some of the new people who auditioned there recently."
Brad nodded. "So far all the victims have been newcomers, not anyone who's been a regular anywhere. I doubt anything will happen there tonight. But I think we'd better be there tomorrow night." Turning to Chris, Rita, and Harry, he asked, "Are you up for going to a writer's night
"If my wife will babysit again," Harry answered.
Emily and Mike left then to go to the Bluebird, and Chris, Rita, and Harry went back to the hotel. "Thanks again for your help," Brad told them as they turned to leave. "I hate it that we keep interrupting your vacation, but Emily's pretty upset about this latest incident. We need all the help we can get right now."
"Brad, we've all been through what she's going through many times," Rita said. "We'll certainly help in any way we can.
"I really appreciate that. I'm worried about Emily. She puts up that professional front, but I know this is killing her. I'm afraid she's going to crack under the pressure if we don't catch this guy very soon!"
"We'll be there tomorrow night to help," Chris promised. "I don't know that we'll recognize this guy, but we'll be there for moral support if nothing else."
"Thanks. That means a lot."
On the way back to the hotel, Harry asked bluntly, "What's going on with Corrigan and Cates?"
Chris and Rita smiled at each other before Chris responded. "So you noticed it, too, huh? Do they remind you of anyone?"
"Yeah, if I was their captain, I'd be getting that burning sensation in my stomach about now!"
That night, they took Harry and Frannie out to eat, then decided to turn in early. The writers' night the next night wouldn't even start until nine o'clock, so they knew they would be late getting in and decided to get enough sleep while they had the chance. Alicia, of course, didn't want to go to bed early, but they reminded her that when they went to the Opry in two nights, she would be up late, and also needed her sleep. "You wouldn't want to fall asleep while Garth Brooks is onstage, would you?" Chris teased.
"Dad, I'd never do that!" she insisted.
"You think not? Well, you still need your sleep," Chris said firmly.
With little more argument, Alicia finally went to sleep. Checking once more to be sure both children were asleep, Rita quietly shut the door between the rooms. "I'm surprised she calmed down enough to go to sleep," she said to Chris. "She's so excited about going backstage at the Opry, I was afraid she wouldn't sleep until after that's over!"
Chris grinned at her. "Yeah, I know. She's not only a TV addict, she's a star-struck country music groupie!"
Some time during the night, Chris awoke. At first, he couldn't figure out why, until Rita, who was asleep in his arms, murmured in her sleep.
"Chris," she mumbled, then made a sobbing noise.
Chris tightened his arms around her. "Rita?" He gently shook her. "Wake up, Sammy."
Rita jerked awake. She stared at him for a second before wrapping her arms around him and sobbing into his chest.
Chris held her tightly and rocked her gently. "Ssh, Sammy, you're all right. It was just a dream." He became worried when Rita couldn't seem to relax and stop crying. "Rita? What's wrong? What was the dream about?"
Finally Rita looked up at him, her face wet with tears. "You know those dreams I had when you were shot not long after we were married?"
Gently wiping the tears from her cheeks, Chris frowned. "You had one of those? It's been years since the last one!"
Still sobbing, Rita nodded. "This one was so real! There I was, standing at your grave...." She trailed off into more sobs as Chris held her tightly again.
"It's okay. I'm right here, and nothing's going to happen to me."
"I don't know. I've got a really bad feeling about that writers' night now."
"We won't be in any more danger than anyone else in the audience," Chris insisted. "We won't be chasing any bad guys, or anything like that. We'll be sitting there watching the show, just like everyone else."
Gradually, Rita relaxed and slowly drifted off to sleep in Chris' arms. He lay awake for awhile afterward, and had to admit that her dream had unnerved him. Everything he had said to her was true - they would be in little or no danger - but he was a little concerned about Emily and Brad. They reminded him so much of himself and Rita; he hoped they would be safe, too.
After a leisurely day spent at the pool with Alicia and Daniel, and walking around the hotel with Harry and Frannie, Chris and Rita nervously got ready for the writer's night. Harry had decided not to join them, opting instead to help Frannie babysit. Neither of the children had seemed to notice their parents' uneasiness about what they had facing them; they only knew that their parents were going out again, and Uncle Harry and Aunt Frannie were coming to stay with them.
The parking lot outside the Bluebird Cafe was packed, so Brad had to go further down the street to find a parking place. The line to get inside stretched halfway to the road.
"Is every place here like this?" Chris asked in astonishment. "It was this bad at theWildhorse!"
Brad grinned. "It's not unusual. Both places are very popular, with both locals and tourists."
Finally, they were able to get inside, but Chris and Rita weren't sure they would be able to find a place to sit. "This place is tiny!" Rita exclaimed, looking around the small room. "You say this is a popular place? How do they handle the crowds?"
At last they found a table near the door and sat down. Emily explained, "I think when they have writer's nights like this, a lot of people come and go during the performance. Very few stay for the entire show, so there's a lot of turnover, and more available seats than you'd think."
Mike Harrison joined them shortly."Davis and McCombs should be here soon," Mike told Brad and Emily, referring to the other two members of the murder squad.
"Good," Brad responded. "We need all the help we can get. I've got plenty of backup on standby. I have a feeling tonight's the night, and I don't want any mistakes."
The show started soon afterward. Six songwriters, three women and three men, sat in folding chairs arranged in a circle in the center of the room. Each took turns singing his or her original material. Rita noticed that one of the women in particular slightly resembled several of the other victims. "Tell me," she whispered to Emily, "did this killer tend to pick victims who looked alike? And has anyone figured out why he's killed a lot more women than men?"
"A lot of them did look somewhat alike," Emily answered. Her lips trembled slightly as she said, "My friend Nancy's sister looked a little like one of the girls up there, the one with the long, dark hair."
"That girl reminds me somewhat of the one I found in that gift shop our first night here. And I don't remember for sure, but I think Kristy Hammill in Palm Beach, the very first victim, had long, dark hair like that, too. I wish Harry were here; he would remember better than I can."
"I think we'd better keep a close eye on her," Emily said, indicating the dark-haired songwriter. "Her resemblance to some of the others doesn't necessarily mean the killer will go after her, and to answer your other question, we don't know why there have been a lot more female victims. Maybe it's because lots of places like this seem to prefer female singers. And if that girl in Florida kept this guy from getting a singing job he wanted, or if that was how he looked at it, at least, maybe he's got it in for women. But he has killed a few men, too."
"I remember," Rita told her. "There were a few in Florida."
They watched the show, keeping an eye on the room, and looking carefully for anyone who resembled the sketches they had of the killer. But the room was really too dark for any of them to notice anyone very well.
The show ended around midnight, and the Bluebird slowly cleared out. "Maybe we were wrong," Brad said as he stood up. "But as long as any of the songwriters are still around, they could still be in danger. And remember, lots of these victims have been killed at home, at their jobs, and other places. Too bad we can't put 24 hour police protection on every singer in Nashville! But they've got the police here outnumbered by far!"
Eventually, no one was left inside the building except Bluebird Cafe staff and the performers. As the songwriters gathered up their guitars and other equipment and left the building, Chris, Rita, Brad, Emily, and the rest of the murder squad followed, keeping a close eye on the dark-haired girl that Rita and Emily had noticed during the show. None of them had yet seen anyone who even remotely resembled the sketches, but in the dark, with so many people wearing hats and glasses, it was too hard to tell.
Outside, the parking lot was almost deserted now that most of the people who had attended the show were gone. Most of the performers had parked in the lot in front of the building, but nevertheless, Brad made sure each one got into a car and on the road safely. "That's four of them gone," Brad remarked to Chris as they watched one of the young men who had performed leave in his car. Chris nodded as Brad turned to look at the woman who was getting into her car across the parking lot. "And the fifth one." He frowned as he asked, "What happened to the dark-haired girl? We especially wanted to watch her since Emily thought she looked like some of the other victims."
"Maybe she was parked somewhere else," Chris suggested but was still worried. He turned to look down the street toward Brad's car, and saw the young woman approaching a car parked near Brad's. "There she is."
They watched as the woman opened the trunk of her car and put her guitar inside. She had just closed the trunk when a dark figure stepped up behind her from out of the shadows.
Chris and Rita, knowing they weren't armed and couldn't do anything to help, watched from a safe distance as Nashville's murder squad sprang into action. Brad took off down the street, his gun drawn. Emily, Mike, and the others followed, quickly surrounding the man and his frightened victim. They weren't close enough to hear everything that was said, but they knew the officers were trying to get the man to let the girl go. Suddenly, the man, still holding onto his hostage firmly, drew a gun from his pocket and aimed it at Brad. They could hear Emily yell, "Drop the gun!" but the man ignored her. Instead, he fired his gun, and Brad dropped to the ground.
Rita gasped, "Oh, no!" and Chris hugged her tightly, knowing the memories this was bringing back for her, as a blast from Emily's gun sent the man falling to the ground.
Emily moved toward Brad and frantically pulled at his shirt, knowing he hadn't worn his vest. Her heart sank as she saw the gaping wound in his chest. "Get an ambulance here, now!" she screamed to Mike. "Brad, can you hear me? Talk to me! Why? Why?" she asked helplessly.
Chris and Rita raced to Emily's side, and Rita tried to comfort her as best she could, but she was fighting her own demons, ones she thought she'd destroyed many years before, but in truth, she'd only beaten them back. It was not Brad lying on the cold ground, it was Chris, her husband, dying before her eyes.
Chris watched the scene with a strange detachment, finally able to understand what Rita had gone through when he'd been shot. He knelt beside her, placing a strong hand on her shoulder.
"Brad," he called out, "You have to hang in there, man! I know it's hard, but you have to stay with us!" He heard the wail of the ambulance in the distance and knew that help was on the way, but would it be too late?
The paramedics seemed more urgent in their tasks as they rushed to Brad. An office down call was always rough. They prepared him for transport and allowed Emily to ride along with them. Chris and Rita watched as the ambulance moved off at top speed for the hospital.
Rita turned to Chris, her face ashen. She hugged him, and tried to control her tears. Chris spoke to her softly, trying once and for all to vanquish the demons that had haunted the woman he loved for so long. "It's okay, Rita. I'm okay. We're okay! We both need to let the past die. It's been almost nine years, Sam! Do you hear me, Rita?"
Rita looked up at him."Yes, I do. I thought I'd dealt with what happened to you when we worked on the Carlson and Lucasa case, but I guess seeing Brad and Emily together...." She trailed off.
"I know. I saw it, too. It is strange," Chris told her.
The woman at the information desk at Vanderbilt University Medical Center looked up as Chris and Rita approached. "Can you tell us where Sgt. Corrigan was taken?" Chris asked.
"He's in surgery right now. I can help you find his family and the other officers who were with him. Are you with the police too?" she asked.
Not wanting to go into the long, complicated story of how they came to be involved in the murder investigation, Chris said simply, "We were with him when he was shot."
The woman seemed to accept his explanation and directed them to where they could find Emily and the other officers.
Upstairs in the waiting room, Rita took one look at Emily's tear-stained face and knew that Brad's condition must be extremely serious. When she saw Chris and Rita, Emily turned away from the other officers and ran to them.
"How is he?" Rita asked her, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Emily sobbed. "It's too soon to tell. He's in surgery, and he might not make it! I was right there with him, and I couldn't keep him from getting shot!" She broke down in sobs again, and Rita reached out and wrapped her arms around Emily.
Thinking it would be best to get Emily away from other people if she wanted to talk, Rita gently guided her toward the door to the hallway. Chris tried to discreetly move away, intending to give the two women some time alone, but Rita took his arm and held on firmly. After the memories that had come back to her tonight, she wasn't about to let him get too far away.
"I love him," Emily, still sobbing slightly, confided to Rita as they walked down the hall. "It wasn't supposed to happen. I mean, we're not allowed to date, since he's my supervisor, but it just happened. I don't think either of us expected it to, but it did."
Knowing Emily just wanted someone to listed to her, Rita hesitated to say anything at first. "I thought I recognized a few things that seemed familiar to me," she finally said, with a slight smile.
Emily looked confused for a second, then asked, "You two?" looking from one to the other.
Rita nodded. "We were partners and best friends for a long time, and because of a similar rule - nothing physical between partners and no married partners - we knew things couldn't ever go any further."
"But obviously things changed. How did you manage that?"
Slipping his arm around Rita's shoulders, Chris grinned as he said, "We broke a few rules, got married without telling Harry first; he was our captain at the time. He just about had a heart attack when he saw pictures of our wedding on the front page of this local tabloid!"
In spite of her worry and distraction, Emily burst out laughing. "You're kidding, right?"
Rita shook her head. "Not at all." Then, in an effort to keep Emily's mind off her worry about Brad, they began telling her stories about some of their adventures as homicide detectives in Palm Beach.
Half an hour later, Emily smiled at Chris and Rita, then glanced at her watch."I know what you've been doing, and I appreciate it. It's helped to be able to laugh for a little while, but I really need to get back and see if there's been any change. Though I'm sure Mike or somebody would come looking for me if anything happens, I still don't want to stay away too long."
"I understand," Rita said as they turned and retraced their steps. "I stayed at the hospital for three days that first time Chris was shot." Remembering what the woman at the information desk had said, she asked, "Is Brad's family here, too?"
Emily nodded. "That's another problem. They've evidently picked up on how I feel about him, and to say the least, they don't approve. They're old Nashville money, one of those very rich and prominent families who have been around for generations. They didn't want Brad to be a cop, and certainly don't want him to date one, least of all me. I wouldn't be surprised if they refuse to let me see him."
Chris frowned. "Why? Don't they understand that cops who work together and put their lives on the line every day are as close as family?"
Emily shook her head. "They don't, and I'm not so sure they'd care if they did understand.
And even if I weren't a cop, they still wouldn't approve of me. My background is nothing like theirs; I'm sure I could never measure up as far as they're concerned." She went on to tell them about her years of growing up in Mississippi, poor but determined to rise above hercircumstances. "I got a good college scholarship, which was my ticket out of there. And I always wanted to be a cop, even though my dad told me girls couldn't be cops."
"He was certainly wrong," Rita said. "It looks to me like you're a very good cop. And I believe you're very good for Brad, whether his family wants to admit it or not."
Emily smiled shakily. "Thank you, Rita. That means a lot. But he has to survive this first, before I can worry about us having a future together."
They cautiously entered the waiting room again, and for the first time, Chris and Rita noticed the older couple who sat in a corner by themselves. Brad's parents, they guessed, and the woman confirmed it when she looked pointedly at Emily and said, ice dripping from her voice,"Back again? Why don't you go on home? We don't need you here."
Emily's face crumpled, and before she could start sobbing again, Rita gently guided her out of the room again. She knew the Corrigans were upset and worried about their son, but that was no excuse for such rudeness. Out in the hall once more, Rita took Emily in her arms and said, "I know it's hard, but you can't let them get to you. They're just as worried about him as you are."
Chris watched Rita lead Emily out of the room, then turned to face Brad's parents. He knew he was way out of line with what he was about to do, but having been in Brad's position twice before, he also knew that the Corrigans needed to hear what he had to say.
"Mr. and Mrs. Corrigan, I'm Chris Lorenzo. My wife Rita and I were with Brad and the other officers when he was shot. Has there been any change in his condition?"
Mrs. Corrigan shook her head."He's still in surgery, so we haven't heard anything yet. Thank you for asking. Why were you with him? You aren't with the police, are you?"
Chris explained as briefly as he could how he and Rita had wound up at the Bluebird tonight. "We watched it happen when Brad got shot, and being police officers ourselves, we know what Emily and Mike and the others are going though."
"I wish that little piece of white trash who thinks she's in love with my son would go home and leave us alone!" Mrs. Corrigan burst out. "She thinks we're going to let her see him when he's out of surgery, but she couldn't be more wrong!"
Knowing the woman's fear for her son was most likely the reason for her attitude, Chris knew he had to proceed cautiously. "Mrs. Corrigan, you might not want to hear this, but please listen for a moment. I was shot in the line of duty and very seriously wounded twice, and I'm positive that if Rita hadn't been there at my bedside both times, I wouldn't have pulled through. I was out of it and couldn't really hear anything she said to me, but somehow I was very aware of her presence and knew that she loved me enough not to let me die. I couldn't let myself die, knowing she was there."
Mr. Corrigan frowned. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, sir, that Rita's love is what saved me both times, and I think it could make all the difference for Brad if you'd let Emily spend some time with him when he's out of surgery."
The Corrigans were silent as they looked uncertainly at each other, then at Chris. "I don't want her around my son," Mrs. Corrigan said, but Chris could tell her resolve was fading.
"I know you don't think she's right for him, but she loves him, and having her there could mean the difference between life and death for him. I know; I've been there twice, and I'm sure I wouldn't be here now if Rita's love hadn't given me a reason to live."
Mrs. Corrigan looked at her husband again and sighed. She turned to face Chris again and simply said, "We'll see. He has to make it through the surgery first."
Chris nodded, knowing he had done all he could. He looked up as Rita and Emily returned to the room, followed by one of the doctors who had done Brad's surgery.
"He came through the surgery just fine so far," the doctor said, "but he's far from being out of the woods yet. It will be awhile yet before he's awake, but you can see him for a few minutes now if you like."
Mrs. Corrigan started to rise from her seat, but her husband grabbed her hand. Looking at Emily, Mr. Corrigan said, "You go first."
Chris and Rita waited with the Corrigans until Emily came back from seeing Brad. As Mr. and Mrs. Corrigan left to see their son, Emily filled Chris and Rita in on Brad's condition.
"He's not awake yet, like the doctor said, but I talked to him anyway," Emily said, sobbing slightly. "I told him I love him and that he couldn't die, because we have to figure out what we're going to do about us and the job that's determined to keep us apart!" She laughed nervously as
she continued, "There are ways around it, I guess. Maybe one of us could transfer to another department, but I really don't want that to happen. I love being part of the murder squad and working with him. I don't think we would work as well together without him as head of the squad.We're the perfect team, all five of us, and we wouldn't be without Brad. But as much as we both love the job, I don't want it to keep us apart."
Chris and Rita stayed with Emily a little while longer, then Mike gave them a ride back to the hotel. It was almost three o'clock in the morning when they came into their room and found Frannie dozing on their bed. Chris woke her gently and walked her back to her room, while Rita checked on Alicia and Daniel and got ready for bed.
"Tell me," Rita said as Chris slipped into bed next to her, "what did you say to the Corrigans that changed their minds?"
Chris smiled as he wrapped his arms around Rita. "Oh, I just used some of that Lorenzo charm. Works every time."
Rita laughed as she hugged him. "Well, I know that. But you must have said something that got through to them."
Chris kissed her forehead, then pulled back slightly so her could look at her. "I told them about getting shot twice, and that it was your love that saved me, that gave me the will to live both times. I wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for you, Rita. You know that, don't you?"
"Oh, Chris, I love you so much, " she said, hugging him tightly.
As much as Chris and Rita would have liked to sleep late the next morning, they knew they couldn't. Alicia and Daniel were both up early, Alicia excited about the Opry that night, and Daniel eager to go swimming again. They ordered breakfast from room service and invited Harry and Frannie to join them.
"I'd love to," Frannie said over the phone, "but I finally talked Harry into taking another sightseeing tour, so we're going to get ready and go on that. But thanks for asking. Will you be here when we get back?"
"At the pool, probably," Rita answered. "Daniel wants to go swimming again, so I think that's about all we're going to do today, and then we've got the Opry tonight."
The next call they made was to Emily's cellular phone to check on Brad's condition. She was still at the hospital.
"He's better," she told them."He's been awake this morning and talking. I've been in to see him again, and for now, his parents and I have come to a sort of uneasy truce. It's not great, but it's the best I can hope for right now."
"Emily, that's great," Rita said. "Tell him we'll be by to see him whenever he's up to having more company."
"He wouldn't want you to leave town without coming by. And he will definitely want to know how things go for Alicia at the Opry tonight!"
Rita laughed. "She's so excited. I hope she gets to meet all the stars she wants to."
"So do I. Oh, about the killer," Emily added, "he died in surgery, and I hate to have to admit I'm not the least bit sorry. After what he did to Nancy's sister and Brad and all those other innocent victims, I can't bring myself to care about what happened to him."
Rita could fully identify with what she was saying. "I understand. You're only human, Emily, and I think it's normal to feel that way. You're sure this was the same one who killed all the others?"
"Definitely. We sent some officers to find where he'd been living, and they came out with enough evidence to put this guy away forever had he lived. He'd been staying at one of those motels that rents rooms by the week, and his room was full of tapes, guitar strings, plus news articles on all the crimes from Florida, Atlanta, and here!"
"Wow! I'm glad it's finally over for you. And now that it looks like Brad's going to be all right, I hope you'll go home and get some sleep!"
"I will," Emily promised. "You and Chris and the kids have a good time at the Opry tonight, and let us know how it goes, okay?"
After they finished breakfast, Chris went ahead to save them some chairs by the pool, knowing it would probably be crowded on a Saturday morning, while Rita got the children ready. Remembering some of Harry's many words of caution about the sun, she thoroughly coated both children with sunscreen.
Rita saw Chris wave to her and the children from the place he had found for them on the far side of the pool. His muscular body gleamed in the sunlight. At 40, he was still in fantastic shape. He's perfect, she thought as she waved back. She stopped to watch as Alicia yelled "watch, Mom," and jumped into the shallow end of the pool. Daniel cautiously followed his sister into the water, choosing to walk down the steps instead of jumping in. Rita lingered to watch them for a minute, and overheard the conversation of some teenage girls nearby.
"Bambi, look at that guy!" one girl exclaimed, giggling.
"Oh, my god, Kim, he's gorgeous!" another one responded.
Rita smiled, remembering her own teenage years and knowing that what she was hearing was very typical. But when she turned around, she realized the "guy" the girls were looking at was none other than Chris! What were these kids doing looking at an adult man, her husband, no less! But she knew that was somewhat typical, too.
"He's probably too old for you," a third girl said.
"Who cares, Katie! Don't be such a party-pooper! He's still gorgeous," Kim said. She then turned to Bambi and asked, "Want to invite him up to the room?"
"Are you crazy? My mom and dad would kill me!"
"But they're at the convention all day long! They won't ever know," Kim insisted. "I will if you won't," she taunted Bambi.
"You can't be serious!" Katie exclaimed.
"Chicken?" Kim asked. "I'm not!"
Rita watched, a little surprised as Kim rose from her chair. Were teenage girls these days really that forward? She knew Chris would probably laugh in this girl's face if she actually went through with her idea, but decided she would rather burst Kim's bubble instead of letting Chris do it. With another glance at Alicia and Daniel to make sure they were safe, she walked over to Chris, sat down on his lap, and gave him a lingering, passionate kiss.
Chris looked at her wide-eyed. "Wow, Sammy, what was that for?"
Rita chuckled as she whispered. "That was for being so gorgeous that those teenage girls over there were going to invite you up to their room! I was just saving you the trouble of disappointing them."
Chris frowned as he glanced over at the girls. "Those kids?" He shook his head. "Nah, Sammy, you must be kidding."
"I'm not. I overheard the whole conversation. They were sort of daring each other, and I think one of them was on her way over to try!"
Chris shook his head. "Kids. There were plenty of loose girls around when I was in high school, but I don't remember any of them coming on to older men like that!"
"That's probably because they were too busy coming on to you, Chris Lorenzo!"
He chuckled, then his grin faded as he asked, "You were serious about what you heard them say, weren't you?"
Rita nodded. "Sad, isn't it? Those girls are too young and immature to know what they're doing! If they keep that up, sooner or later they will find someone who will go with them. And then they're likely to wind up dead or abused or catch some horrible disease!"
Chris hugged her as they both turned to watch their children playing in the water. "I know. And if there are kids like that around now, how much worse is it going to be when Alicia and Daniel are that age?"
The backstage area at the Grand Ole Opry was crowded, no doubt due to all the major stars who were appearing that night. The line of people waiting to see Garth Brooks wound through the hallway for several hundred feet at least, but Alicia was determined to see him nevertheless.
Chris, Rita, Daniel, Harry, and Frannie waited patiently in line with her until it was her turn to meet Garth, get his autograph, and have her picture taken with him. They made their way through the crowds that were gathered around the rest of the stars, letting Alicia meet and have her picture made with each one. As they moved away after Alicia had her picture taken with Barbara Mandrell, Chris looked back at the petite Barbara, then at Rita, and remarked, "She's smaller than you are!"
Rita grinned. "She is. Are you getting as star-struck as our daughter?"
Chris shook his head, but before he could answer, a starry-eyed Alicia interrupted them. "This has been the best night of my whole life! I got to meet Garth Brooks, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, and Alan Jackson!"
Rita smiled at her daughter's enthusiasm. "You must remember to thank Sgt. Corrigan again for getting us in here tonight!"
"Oh, I will! I'm so glad he's going to be all right!"
Over Alicia's head, Rita met Chris' eyes, both thinking the same thing. Brad almost hadn't lived to see the outcome of his kindness to Alicia.
Two days later, Chris pulled the van into a parking space in the garage at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. They had dropped Harry and Frannie at the airport earlier that morning, and after a stop at the hospital to see Brad, they were finally heading home to Florida.
Once Rita and the children were out of the van, Chris locked the doors and turned to Alicia and Daniel. "Remember, you two have to be on your best behavior in here. We had to get special permission for you to go in with us. Normally, you have to be a lot older to visit someone in this hospital, but they've been willing to bend the rules for us. So there's to be no loud noises, no running around, and no other foolishness like that. Understood?"
Realizing that their father was serious, both children said, "Yes, sir," before following their parents into the hospital.
Inside Brad's hospital room, they found Brad propped up in the bed, still slightly weak but very alert. Emily sat at his bedside.
"We're on our way home this morning," Chris told Brad, "but we couldn't leave without seeing for ourselves how you were doing. And Alicia has something to tell you."
Alicia cautiously approached the bed, carrying the pictures they had had developed at one of Nashville's many one-hour photo stores the day before. Brad took them from her and looked at the snapshots of Alicia with each of the stars she had met at the Opry."Thank you so much for getting us in backstage!" she said.
Brad smiled at her. "You're very welcome. Looks like you had a good time!"
"Oh, I did! It was the best night of my whole life! And I'm really glad you're going to be all right!"
"Thank you, Alicia. I am, too."
They chatted with Brad and Emily for a few more minutes, then Chris finally said, "We don't want to tire you out, and we need to get on the road." Leaning over the bed, he shook Brad's hand. "You take care of yourself, man, and don't be too impatient about getting back to work. I know how it is, but you have to give yourself plenty of time to recover."
"Thanks for the advice. I'll remember that when I'm sitting at home twiddling my thumbs."
Emily followed them into the hall. "Thanks, Rita, for all your support." Then turning to Chris, she said, "Whatever you said to the Corrigans the other night made the biggest difference. We've got a long way to go, but we're actually being civil to each other! I can't thank you enough."
"Glad I could help. And just remember, all of you love Brad, and you want him to get well. That's what's important."
"That's right. When I think about him, and stop worrying about what his parents think of me, somehow it's all easier to take." She reached out and hugged Rita. "Have a safe trip home, and keep in touch."
"We will," Rita promised. "You take care of yourself, and let us know if we can do anything else for you."
Their goodbyes said, Rita watched as Emily turned and walked back into Brad's room. Turning to Chris, she said, "They're going to be all right."
Chris smiled at her. "Yeah, Sam, they are. They're too much like us not to be."
Fort Lauderdale, six months later:
Rita opened the mailbox and found, among the bills and junk mail, an envelope postmarked Nashville, Tennessee. Smiling as she opened it, she was reasonably sure she knew what it was. Inside the house, she found Chris shuffling paperwork at the desk. Sitting down on his lap, she said, "Look what we got in the mail." She began to read, "The honor of your presence is requested at the marriage of Emily Sue Cates and James Bradford Corrigan, III."
Chris grinned at her. "I'm not at all surprised. I figured it was just a matter of time. When's the wedding?"
Rita scanned through the rest of the invitation. "Next month. Want to go?"
Chris frowned. "Go to Tennessee in January? C'mon, Sam, I'm a Florida boy. I don't know about braving the wintertime up there."
Rita gave him her best pleading look. "Oh, come on, Sam."
Chris grinned as he hugged her. "Why not? Since when have we let anything like the weather stop us?"
Standard Disclaimer: The characters of Chris Lorenzo, Rita Lance Lorenzo, Harry Lipschitz, and Frannie Lipschitz are the property of Stephen J. Cannell Productions and USA Network. The characters of Alicia Lorenzo and Daniel Lorenzo are the property of Christopher Lanza. All others are mine. No infringement intended.
Credits: Thank you to: Christopher Lanza for letting me use the Time Lines storyline and the characters of Alicia and Daniel, and most of all, for all the support, encouragement, and help! I couldn't have done this without you!
Cathy Reinhardt for proofreading and editing for me. You did an excellent job!
My friend, Officer Richard Moore, of the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Police Department, for all the information on murder investigations, crime scenes, and the police.
My cousin, singer/songwriter Holly Lamar, for exposing me to the music business and writers' nights.
Richard and Holly, I know I've taken a liberal dose of poetic license, but I hope that what I've written is at least somewhere close to realistic!
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