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The Empty Chair

Jeffery Deaver

  Enter the world of

  Jeffery Deaver

  ... and meet the unforgettable crime-solvers of his

  acclaimed New York Times bestselling novels!

  California Bureau of Investigation agent Kathryn

  Dance, who first appeared in The Cold Moon, locks

  into a "dazzling mental contest"* with a killer in


  "[An] intricately plotted thriller.... Master manipulator that he is, Deaver shows us exactly how it's done--and makes us admire his own literary artistry."

  --Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times*

  "The chase is on, and so are the surprises."

  --Sacramento Bee

  "[A] pulse-pounder.... [The] procedural scenes ... are fascinating.... Deaver digs into his bottomless bag of unexpected twists and turns, keeping readers wide-eyed with surprise, and leaving them looking forward to more of the perspicacious Kathryn Dance." --Publishers Weekly

  "A fascinating novel, full of surprises.... Rewarding reading."

  --Crimespree Magazine

  Jeffery Deaver's beloved detective Lincoln Rhyme shines in these bestselling "masterpieces of modern criminology" (Philadelphia Daily News)


  "Dazzling.... Deaver argues that stopping time in its tracks is a madman's ruse for stopping life itself."

  --The New York Times

  "Ingenious.... Deaver is a mastermind of manipulation.... Readers will be shocked and amazed at the end result."

  --Library Journal

  "Spending time with the likeably crusty Rhyme is always a delight.... Devilishly intricate. ... [A] thriller laced with wit and sharp characterizations."



  "Absorbing.... Like the CBS hit CSI, Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme books have nearly fetishized crime-scene procedures and technology."

  --Entertainment Weekly

  "Deaver has no trouble getting inside the tormented mind of a killer."

  --The New York Times


  "A crackling thriller."

  --Chicago Sun-Times


  "Devious and heart-stopping."

  --The Ottawa Citizen


  "[A] pulse-racing chase.... Scientific smarts and psychological cunning."

  --The New York Times Book Review


  "This is as good as it gets.... The Lincoln Rhyme series is simply outstanding."

  --San Jose Mercury News

  And read Jeffery Deaver's explosive stand-alone bestsellers GARDEN OF BEASTS




  "A thrill ride between covers."

  --Los Angeles Times

  "This is prime Deaver, which means prime entertainment."

  --Publishers Weekly (starred review) "Deaver must have been born with a special plot-twist gene."


  "Keeps the pulse racing while challenging the emotions.... A masterful job of conveying incipient evil."

  --The Orlando Sentinel (FL)

  "Deaver pulls out all the stops in building up the suspense. ... [A] page-turner."

  --The Denver Post

  "A fiendish suspense thriller.... Leaves us weak."

  --The New York Times Book Review

  "High-tension wired.... Deaver ... fills every keystroke with suspense."



  The Sleeping Doll

  The Cold Moon*

  The Twelfth Card*

  Garden of Beasts

  More Twisted: Collected Stories, Vol. II

  The Vanished Man*

  The Stone Monkey*

  The Blue Nowhere

  The Empty Chair*

  Speaking in Tongues

  The Devils Teardrop

  The Coffin Dancer*

  The Bone Collector*

  A Maidens Grave

  Praying for Sleep

  The Lesson of Her Death

  Mistress of Justice

  Hard News

  Death of a Blue Movie Star

  Manhattan Is My Beat

  Hells Kitchen

  Bloody River Blues

  Shallow Graves

  Twisted: The Collected Stories of Jeffery Deaver

  A Century of Great Suspense Stories (Editor)

  *Novels featuring Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.

  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  Copyright (c) 2000 by Jeffery Deaver Originally published in hardcover in 2000 by

  Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce

  this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

  For information address Simon & Schuster, Inc.,

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  ISBN-13: 978-0-671-02601-1

  eISBN-13: 978-0-74321165-9

  ISBN-10: 0-671-02601-1

  First Pocket Books printing April 2001

  20 19 18 17 16 15

  POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of

  Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  Design: Richard Yoo

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  For Deborah Schneider...

  no better agent, no better friend

  From the brain, and the brain alone, arise our pleasures, joys, laughter and jests, as well as our sorrow, pain, grief, and tears.... The brain is also the seat of madness and delirium, of the fears and terrors which assail by night or by day....



  Part I: North of the Paquo

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Part II: The White Doc

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Part III: Knuckle Time

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Part IV: Hornets' Nest

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Chapter Thirty-Seven

  Chapter Thirty-Eight

  Chapter Thirty-Nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-One

  Part V: The Town Without Children

  Chapter Forty-Two

  Chapter Forty-Three

  Chapter Forty-Four

  Chapter Forty-Five

  Chapter Forty-Six

  Author's Note

  North of the Paquo

  ... chapter one

  She came here to lay flowers at the place where the boy died and the girl was kidnapped.

  She came here because she was a heavy girl and had a pocked face and not many friends.

  She came because she was expected to.

  She came because she wanted to.

  Ungainly and sweating, twenty-six-year-old Lydia Johansson walked along the dirt shoulder of Route 112, where she'd parked her Honda Accord, then stepped carefully down the hill to the muddy bank where Blackwater Canal met the opaque Paquenoke River.

  She came here because she thought it was the right thing to do.

  She came even though she was afraid.

  It wasn't long after dawn but this August had been the hottest in years in North Carolina and Lydia was already sweating through her nurse's whites by the time she started toward the clearing on the riverbank, surrounded by willows and tupelo gum and broad-leafed bay trees. She easily found the place she was looking for; the yellow police tape was very evident through the haze.

  Early morning sounds. Loons, an animal foraging in the thick brush nearby, hot wind through sedge and swamp grass.

  Lord, I'm scared, she thought. Flashing back vividly on the most gruesome scenes from the Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels she read late at night with her companion, a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

  More noises in the brush. She hesitated, looked around. Then continued on.

  "Hey," a man's voice said. Very near.

  Lydia gasped and spun around. Nearly dropped the flowers. "Jesse, you scared me."

  "Sorry." Jesse Corn stood on the other side of a weeping willow, near the clearing that was roped off. Lydia noticed that their eyes were fixed on the same thing: a glistening white outline on the ground where the boy's body'd been found. Surrounding the line indicating Billy's head was a dark stain that, as a nurse, she recognized immediately as old blood.

  "So that's where it happened," she whispered.

  "It is, yep." Jesse wiped his forehead and rearranged the floppy hook of blond hair. His uniform--the beige outfit of the Paquenoke County Sheriff's Department--was wrinkled and dusty. Dark stains of sweat blossomed under his arms. He was thirty and boyishly cute. "How long you been here?" she asked.

  "I don't know. Since five maybe."

  "I saw another car," she said. "Up the road. Is that Jim?"

  "Nope. Ed Schaeffer. He's on the other side of the river." Jesse nodded at the flowers. "Those're pretty."

  After a moment Lydia looked down at the daisies in her hand. "Two forty-nine. At Food Lion. Got 'em last night. I knew nothing'd be open this early. Well, Dell's is but they don't sell flowers." She wondered why she was rambling. She looked around again. "No idea where Mary Beth is?"

  Jesse shook his head. "Not hide nor hair."

  "Him neither, I guess that means."

  "Him neither." Jesse looked at his watch. Then out over the dark water, dense reeds and concealing grass, the rotting pier.

  Lydia didn't like it that a county deputy, sporting a large pistol, seemed as nervous as she was. Jesse started up the grassy hill to the highway. He paused, glanced at the flowers. "Only two ninety-nine?"

  "Forty-nine. Food Lion."

  "That's a bargain," the young cop said, squinting toward a thick sea of grass. He turned back to the hill. "I'll be up by the patrol car."

  Lydia Johansson walked closer to the crime scene. She pictured Jesus, she pictured angels and she prayed for a few minutes. She prayed for the soul of Billy Stail, which had been released from his bloody body on this very spot just yesterday morning. She prayed that the sorrow visiting Tanner's Corner would soon be over.

  She prayed for herself too.

  More noise in the brush. Snapping, rustling.

  The day was lighter now but the sun didn't do much to brighten up Blackwater Landing. The river was deep here and fringed with messy black willows and thick trunks of cedar and cypress--some living, some not, and all choked with moss and viny kudzu. To the northeast, not far, was the Great Dismal Swamp, and Lydia Johansson, like every Girl Scout past and present in Paquenoke County, knew all the legends about that place: the Lady of the Lake, the Headless Trainman.... But it wasn't those apparitions that bothered her; Blackwater Landing had its own ghost--the boy who'd kidnapped Mary Beth McConnell.

  Lydia opened her purse and lit a cigarette with shaking hands. Felt a bit calmer. She strolled along the shore. Stopped beside a stand of tall grass and cattails, which bent in the scorching breeze.

  On top of the hill she heard a car engine start. Jesse wasn't leaving, was he? Lydia looked toward it, alarmed. But she saw the car hadn't moved. Just getting the air-conditioning going, she supposed. When she looked back toward the water she noticed the sedge and cattails and wild rice plants were still bending, waving, rustling.

  As if someone was there, moving closer to the yellow tape, staying low to the ground.

  But no, no, of course that wasn't the case. It's just the wind, she told herself. And she reverently set the flowers in the crook of a gnarly black willow not far from the eerie outline of the sprawled body, spattered with blood dark as the river water. She began praying once more.

  Across the Paquenoke River from the crime scene, Deputy Ed Schaeffer leaned against an oak tree and ignored the early morning mosquitoes fluttering near his arms in his short-sleeved uniform shirt. He shrank down to a crouch and scanned the floor of the woods again for signs of the boy.

  He had to steady himself against a branch; he was dizzy from exhaustion. Like most of the deputies in the county sheriff's department he'd been awake for nearly twenty-four hours, searching for Mary Beth McConnell and the boy who'd kidnapped her. But while, one by one, the others had gone home to shower and eat and get a few hours' sleep Ed had stayed with the search. He was the oldest deputy on the force and the biggest (fifty-one years old and two hundred sixty-four pounds of mostly unuseful weight) but fatigue, hunger and stiff joints weren't going to stop him from continuing to look for the girl.

  The deputy examined the ground again.

  He pushed the transmit button of his radio. "Jesse, it's me. You there?"

  "Go ahead."

  He whispered, "I got footprints here. They're fresh. An hour old, tops."

  "Him, you think?"

  "Who else'd it be? This time of morning, this side of the Paquo?"

  "You were right, looks like," Jesse Corn said. "I didn't believe it at first but you hit this one on the head."

  It had been Ed's theory that the boy would come back here. Not because of the cliche--about returning to the scene of the crime--but because Blackwater Landing had always been his stalking ground and whatever kind of trouble he'd gotten himself into over the years he always came back here.

  Ed looked around, fear now replacing exhaustion and discomfort as he gazed at the infinite tangle of leaves and branches surrounding him. Jesus, the deputy thought, the boy's here someplace. He said into his radio, "The tracks look to be moving toward you but I can't tell for sure. He was walking mostly on leaves. You keep an eye out. I'm going to see where he was coming from."

  Knees creaking, Ed rose to his feet and, as quietly as a big man could, followed the boy's footsteps back in the direction they'd come--farther into the woods, away from the river.

  He followed the boy's trail about a hundred feet and saw it led to an old hunting blind--a gray shack big enough for three or four hunters. The gun slots were dark and the place seemed to be deserted. Okay, he thought. Okay.... He's probably not in there. But still...

  Breathing hard, Ed Schaeffer did something he hadn't done in nearly a year and a half: unholstered his weapon. He gripped the revolver in a sweaty hand and started forward, eyes flipping back and forth dizzily between the blind and the ground, deciding where best to step to keep his approach silent.

  Did the boy have a gun? he wondered, realizing that he was as exposed as a soldier landing on a bald beachhead. He i
magined a rifle barrel appearing fast in one of the slots, aiming down on him. Ed felt an ill flush of panic and he sprinted, in a crouch, the last ten feet to the side of the shack. He pressed against the weathered wood as he caught his breath and listened carefully. He heard nothing inside but the faint buzzing of insects.

  Okay, he told himself. Take a look. Fast.

  Before his courage broke, Ed rose and looked through a gun slot.

  No one.

  Then he squinted at the floor. His face broke into a smile at what he saw. "Jesse," he called into his radio excitedly.

  "Go ahead."

  "I'm at a blind maybe a quarter mile north of the river. I think the kid spent the night here. There's some empty food wrappers and water bottles. A roll of duct tape too. And guess what? I see a map."

  "A map?"

  "Yeah. Looks to be of the area. Might show us where he's got Mary Beth. What do you think about that?"

  But Ed Schaeffer never found out his fellow deputy's reaction to this good piece of police work; the woman's screaming filled the woods and Jesse Corn's radio went silent.

  Lydia Johansson stumbled backward and screamed again as the boy leapt from the tall sedge and grabbed her arms with his pinching fingers.

  "Oh, Jesus Lord, please don't hurt me!" she begged.

  "Shut up," he raged in a whisper, looking around, jerking movements, malice in his eyes. He was tall and skinny, like most sixteen-year-olds in small Carolina towns, and very strong. His skin was red and welty--from a run-in with poison oak, it looked like--and he had a sloppy crew cut that looked like he'd done it himself.

  "I just brought flowers ... that's all! I didn't--"

  "Shhhh," he muttered.

  But his long, dirty nails dug into her skin painfully and Lydia gave another scream. Angrily he clamped a hand over her mouth. She felt him press against her body, smelled his sour, unwashed odor.

  She twisted her head away. "You're hurting me!" she said in a wail.

  "Just shut up!" His voice snapped like ice-coated branches tapping and flecks of spit dotted her face. He shook her furiously as if she were a disobedient dog. One of his sneakers slipped off in the struggle but he paid no attention to the loss and pressed his hand over her mouth again until she stopped fighting.

  From the top of the hill Jesse Corn called, "Lydia? Where are you?"

  "Shhhhh," the boy warned again, eyes wide and crazy. "You scream and you'll get hurt bad. You understand? Do you understand?" He reached into his pocket and showed her a knife.

  She nodded.

  He pulled her toward the river.

  Oh, not there. Please, no, she thought to her guardian angel. Don't let him take me there.

  North of the Paquo ...

  Lydia glanced back and saw Jesse Corn standing by the roadside 100 yards away, hand shading his eyes from the low sun, surveying the landscape. "Lydia?" he called.