Sight Unseen: A Novel (Kendra Michaels)

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9781250020529: Sight Unseen: A Novel (Kendra Michaels)
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She was safe in a world of darkness.
Now danger threatens in the cold light of day...
Before the experimental surgery that gave her sight, Kendra Michaels developed her other senses to an amazing capacity. Now she can identify a Nissan by the sound of its engine, a Norelco electric razor by the pattern of stubble it leaves behind, or an obscure colorless fire accelerant by its sweet smell. Law enforcement agencies clamor for her rare powers of perception and observation, too often disrupting the life she has built helping others through music therapy. Because so very often, only Kendra can get the job done.

But in this case, it's Kendra who first realizes that the apparent traffic accident on San Diego's historic Cabrillo Bridge is in fact a murder scene, and she rushes to alert the police before crucial evidence is destroyed. As the body count rises and one murder unveils another, a gruesome pattern emerges. Someone is killing people in ways that mirror Kendra's most notorious cases. She has a fan: someone who admires her work and is twisted enough to show that admiration through murder--while naming himself after the biggest art forger of the 20th century. He views himself not as a monster but as an artist. And he is not working alone.

In Iris Johansen's Sight Unseen, as the darkness closes in, near enough to touch Kendra and those she loves, Kendra must come face to face with her greatest fears--and her most ruthless enemy. A man who moves through the shadows, a man she may even know, who hides behind the mask of sanity, sight unseen.

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About the Author:

IRIS JOHANSEN is The New York Times bestselling author of Live to See Tomorrow, Silencing Eve, Hunting Eve, Taking Eve, Sleep No More, What Doesn't Kill You, Bonnie, Quinn, Eve, Chasing The Night, Eight Days to Live, Blood Game, Deadlock, Dark Summer, Pandora's Daughter, Quicksand, Killer Dreams, On The Run, Countdown, Firestorm, Fatal Tide, Dead Aim, No One To Trust and more.

ROY JOHANSEN is an Edgar Award winning author and the son of Iris Johansen. He has written many well-received mysteries, including Deadly Visions, Beyond Belief and The Answer Man.
Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen together have written Close Your Eyes, Shadow Zone, Storm Cycle, and Silent Thunder.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER

1

 

“NICE TO MEET YOU, KENDRA. Sorry I’m late. I’m Dean Halley.”

Kendra Michaels stood and shook hands with the handsome man who had just dashed into the Gaslamp Bar and Restaurant. She was experiencing a sinking feeling. Halley’s smile was a couple shades too white. He was also too good-looking and too well dressed. He breathed casual elegance and easy charm.

Mom, what have you gotten me into?

Halley’s brows rose. “You are Kendra, right?”

“Yes.” She forced a smile. “Sorry I had to cancel last week. Things got complicated.”

He shrugged. “It happens. But we’re here now, so that’s what matters.”

He was also too polite.

Oh, for God’s sake, give the guy a break.

It was her mother’s first attempt at arranging a blind date, and anyone but Kendra would have said that she’d done well.

Of course, the evening was still young.

Kendra had come straight from the office, where she had conducted five music-therapy sessions back-to-back. Her clients couldn’t have been more different from each other, ranging in age from eight months to ninety-two years. Her techniques varied for each patient, with simple mood-soothing music for some, with more complex exercises to draw out others who were autistic and emotionally withdrawn. Not all would respond to her techniques, but she had high hopes for a few of them. Despite the presence of this charming and too-perfect man in front of her, she wanted nothing more than to go home and write up her impressions while the sessions were still fresh in her mind.

Don’t let him see it. She had promised Mom. She smiled. “Yes, that’s all that matters.”

They took a booth in the bar and placed their drink orders. Dean drummed his fingers on the tabletop. “Your mother told me a lot about you, but I forgot almost all of it instantly.”

Now that was both honest and promising. “You sure know how to flatter a girl.”

“It’s not because I wasn’t interested. I was. But after she told me you used to be blind, I had trouble thinking about anything else.”

Way to go, Mom. “She actually led with that?”

“Good salesmanship. I was intrigued.”

“I don’t need anyone to sell me. What you see is what you get.”

“Of course you don’t. Poor choice of words. I’m sure you’re as leery of setups as I am. What exactly did she say to convince you to go out with me?”

“She said if I didn’t, she would use her keys to scratch disparaging things about me on the hood of my car.”

He smiled that charming smile again. “She didn’t really say that.”

“She did. And she said she would let all my plants die the next time I had to attend an overseas conference. So you see, I had little choice.”

“Now it’s my turn to be flattered.”

“I think she was joking, at least about the car.”

“This would make some interesting fodder for the next departmental dinner. Do you mind if I tell the other faculty members?”

She smiled. “I wish you would. Though from what I understand, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone. Ask around. She’s made quite a reputation for herself.”

He chuckled. “You’re right about that.”

Dean and her mother, Professor Diane Michaels, were both history professors at the University of California Campus in La Jolla. Mom had been cooking up this date practically from the time Halley had taken over the post the previous spring. But as Kendra’s eyes darted over him, she went still with surprise.

How … interesting. Did Mom have any idea that Halley—?

“So you were born blind?” he asked.

She sipped her wine, still trying to process her observations. “Yes. And I stayed that way for the first twenty years of my life.”

“Incredible. And two surgical procedures later, you now see perfectly.”

“I don’t know perfectly, but well enough. Probably better than you without your contact lenses.”

He raised his eyebrows. “If you could see that in this lighting, then you’re doing all right.”

She nodded toward the bar’s street window. “Car headlights helped. My mother actually deserves most of the credit for how I turned out. I never felt handicapped. I learned to use what I had.”

“And you gained your sight from some kind of stem-cell procedure?”

She nodded again. “In England. They did a lot of the early work in ocular regeneration. It was an amazing time of my life, and a little overwhelming.”

“I can only imagine.”

No, he couldn’t even begin to imagine, and Kendra didn’t want to talk about it. She glanced up at a large TV over the bar. A live remote newscast was at the scene of a horrific traffic accident, and the reporter was struggling to make sense of the carnage and twisted metal strewn over the roadway.

Dean turned to see what had grabbed her attention. “Quite a pileup.”

She nodded, her gaze narrowed on the screen. A helicopter shot of the scene showed that the roadway was covered with work lights, police cars, and fire trucks, and was atop a tall white bridge.

She suddenly straightened in her chair.

Then she stood up and stepped closer to the television. Dean quickly joined her at the bar.

“The Cabrillo State Bridge,” she said, studying the overview that the helicopter shot offered.

“The one that goes toward the zoo?”

She nodded. “Those idiots. They’re treating it like an accident.”

He turned toward her. “Why wouldn’t they?”

“Because it’s not an accident.”

Dean laughed, but cut it short when he realized she was serious.

“Um, why do you think that?”

Kendra was still staring at the television and shook her head in disgust. “They’re blowing it. I can’t believe it. They’re totally blowing it.”

“I still don’t get how—”

Kendra muttered a curse beneath her breath. “I wish we’d never seen this damn thing.”

“I’m starting to wish that, too,” he said dryly. “Want me to ask the bartender to change the channel?”

“No.”

“Come on, let’s go back and sit down. I’ll tell you all about myself.” He tried to take her arm, but she remained planted at the bar.

“I know quite a bit already,” she said absently, her gaze still locked on the television. “I know you’ve been to prison.”

He froze. “What?”

Her eyes narrowed on the screen when another camera angle came on the screen. “When you were younger.”

He was silent. “Nobody knows that.”

“You grew up in Florida, then spent some time in the Northeast. Maybe your college years? Are you an Ivy Leaguer?”

“You Googled me?”

“What? No, life’s too short.” She swore again. “I can’t believe those damned cops don’t see what’s right in front of them.”

“Let’s get back to me for a second. Does your mother know about the prison thing? Because if this got out—”

“Don’t sweat it. I didn’t know until two minutes ago. I was just looking you over to see what Mom saw in you, and it popped up.”

“What else ‘popped’ up?”

“You’re a motorcycle enthusiast. That’s where a lot of your time and money goes. Not just riding, but the tinkering. You have a Harley Sportster. I’m thinking you did some degreasing on it today.”

“Jesus.”

“I take that as a confirmation.”

“Either you were spying on me, or you’re psychic.”

“Neither.” She was still concentrating on the screen. “Fools. Not one homicide detective there. Not one. All accident investigators.”

Dean smiled. “Your mother said you were very observant and not to let it rattle me. I’m just now realizing what she meant by that. And, for the record, you did rattle me.”

“Sorry. Mom always tells me to wait and let things just come out in conversation. I was distracted.”

“Don’t be sorry. I like it. I’d always heard that blind people develop their other senses to an amazing degree. I guess you’re living proof. But it must be more than that.”

“I’m a little obsessive. No, a lot obsessive. I now treasure everything that I can see. And I won’t let go of what I learned from my other senses when I was blind. I don’t take anything for granted.”

“I’ll accept that answer. But you have to tell me how you knew all those things about me.”

“Sure.” She pointed to the television screen. “But first I need you to drive me there.”

“To the accident?”

“It’s not an accident, remember?”

“Now?”

“Yes.”

He was silent a moment. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those fetishists who get off on—”

“Someone needs to talk to them before they break down the scene and destroy evidence.” She turned and looked him in the eye. “I walked here. Either you’re giving me a ride there, or I’m calling a cab.”

“So our date is over?”

“It’s only over if you don’t give me a ride.”

Dean looked back at the television, where the news copter was circling the platoon of emergency workers and their flashing vehicles. He shook his head. “Got to be the weirdest date of my life.”

*   *   *

KENDRA’S CELL PHONE RANG WHEN they were on the road only ten minutes. She made a face when she glanced at the ID. “Mom. I was half expecting this.”

“Really? We haven’t had time for her to wonder if I’m threatening your virtue.”

“It’s not my virtue Mom’s concerned about.” She accessed the call. “Hi, Mom. I’m with Dean Halley now. I didn’t no-show, and I haven’t scared him off yet.” She looked inquiringly at Dean. He shook his head. “No, he thinks I’m weird, but he’s sticking with me.”

“Brave man. I knew I could count on him. He’s a fine teacher and a great guy. You have to admit I did a good job of bringing you two together. Now all you have to do is cement the relationship.”

“A relationship neither one of us wanted from the beginning. Why, Mom?”

“You know the answer. Dean is steady and wonderfully normal. He’s as close to the guy next door as I could find. That’s what you need, Kendra. Dean could lead you away from all those police and FBI types and make you enjoy it. He’s intelligent, gorgeous, and has a sense of humor. The only thing he’ll want from you won’t be anything more complicated than sex.”

She chuckled. “I told Dean you wouldn’t be concerned about my virtue.”

“Screw virtue. I’m concerned about your life. I want you safe.”

“I know, Mom,” she said gently. “And that’s the only reason I gave in about tonight. I love you and wanted to give you the chance to play Mother Teresa and save me from myself. You’ve done that all my life and done a great job. Tell me, are you missing it?”

“Maybe a little. You were my whole life for quite a while.” She cleared her throat. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m not right in this. Now, do you like Dean?”

“We haven’t had time to—” She glanced at Dean. “Yes, I like him. At first, I thought that he was too pretty, but maybe he can’t help that. And he doesn’t try to dodge, and I think maybe he’s honest.”

Dean smiled, still staring out the windshield. “You do know I can hear everything you’re saying, right?”

“You didn’t put him through any hoops?” Diane asked.

“Not intentionally.” She had just spotted blinking lights ahead. “Look, Mom, I have to go. I’m in his car and I—”

“You’re going out to dinner?” Diane sounded pleased. “That’s progress.”

“Yes, isn’t it? I’ll talk to you later, Mom.” She hung up.

“You’re very close,” Dean said quietly. “I thought so when Diane was talking about you to me. But you just confirmed it.”

“I love her. She made me what I am. Both physically and mentally.” She grimaced. “Well, maybe not quite. I take full responsibility for my faults and the wild oats I’ve sown. She had nothing to do with them.”

“Wild oats? You’re a music-therapy teacher.”

“Who after I began to see believed that the wine of life should be tasted to the last drop.”

“Really?” He looked intrigued. “Diane never mentioned wild oats to me.”

“She wouldn’t. You’re her idea of the wholesome guy next door. She wouldn’t want to scare you away.”

“I notice you didn’t disillusion her … yet.”

“No. I’ll have to probe a little more.” She smiled. “Guy-next-door types generally bore me. It shows a lack of courage to reach out.” She held up her hand to stop him from answering. “Later. Those lights up ahead is our destination. We’re going to have to run the gauntlet.”

*   *   *

“MA’AM, YOU’LL HAVE TO GET BACK in your car and clear out. Authorized personnel only.”

Kendra and Dean had driven around the two-mile-long line of stopped cars that extended from the bridge, down Laurel Boulevard and across the 1-5 freeway. A stocky, female traffic cop was holding back the curious onlookers, mostly joggers and dog walkers, angling for a glimpse of the chaotic scene.

Kendra turned back toward Dean, who had just parked his car on the side of the Prado Road that transitioned to the bridge’s two-lane roadway. She motioned for him to join her.

The traffic officer glared at him and raised her walkie-talkie as she would a lethal weapon. “Sir, don’t even think of leaving your car there. I have a tow truck on speed dial.”

Kendra waved him over again. Dean hesitated, then climbed out of the car.

The stocky cop shouted something that was lost in the roar of the circling news’copters. Kendra surveyed the scene behind her. There had to be someone she knew here. She had assisted in a few police investigations in the past few years, but none of them involved the accident-investigations cops now on the bridge snapping photos and taping off the scene.

Finally, she saw a familiar face. Lieutenant Wallace Poole, a tall, gangly, bald man who seemed to be doing little other than positioning himself toward the bank of news cameras.

Poole …

Kendra tried to remember if she had pissed him off during the Petco Stadium case a couple years before. Not that much, apparently. He stepped closer and waved her through the police line while simultaneously quieting the walkie-talkie-wielding traffic cop. He smiled. “Why, Dr. Michaels, what brings you here?”

“The same thing that brings you. How many fatalities?”

“Four.” He gestured back to the three wrecked vehicles on the bridge. “A man and woman in the convertible, a man in the pickup truck, and a woman in the minivan.” Poole’s eyes narrowed on her face. “I thought you only helped out on murder cases. Who called you in?”

“I’m being rude.” Kendra motioned toward Halley. “This is Dean Halley. Care to walk us through it?”

Poole appeared more mystified than before, but he nodded. “Uh, sure.” He led them past a fire truck and a line of road flares.

Dean shot her a “what-in-the-hell-are-we-doing” glance, but Kendra was busy scanning the scene in front of her.

The pickup truck, charred and dripping with extinguisher foam, was still smoldering alongside the bridge’s right-hand railing. A gray tarp was thrown over the driver’s compartment, obviously to conceal a corpse. The convertible BMW was right behind, grill first into the granite railing. The minivan was on its side a few paces behind, also surrounded by mounds of extinguisher foam.

Poole motioned toward the pickup truck. “We figure the driver of the truck lost control and plowed into the bridge. It triggered a chain reaction. The Beamer swerved and hit the stone railing. The van swerved the other way, rolled, and ended on its side.”

Kendra nodded. “No one was wearing seat belts?”

“No. That’s probably why none of them survived.”

“And no air bags deployed?”

“No. The investigators say it’s not all that uncommon unfortunately. They get stolen, or if they’re deployed once, they’re expensive to replace, ...

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