The woman strolled past Adam toward the produce aisle, the essence of her fertility wafting through the air like a perfume. He waited until she stopped to squeeze the cantaloupes before he followed. The fruit she fondled couldn’t be nearly as ripe as she was, but by all appearances, the melons were more attractive.
Today she wore her hair pulled back in a tight, unflattering ponytail, and her baggy clothing hid her as well as any camouflage. But he saw the female for what she was. A perfect vessel he’d spent weeks carefully choosing. Whether in this butt-ugly guise or when he’d first seen the girl with a simple dress flowing around those shapely bare legs, the essence of her femininity called to him. He wouldn’t need to actually look at her. Not for long, anyway. Finding these women attractive had never been a requirement. He only needed to get inside and plant his seed. Then he could be done with her. For now.
Nine months down the road, she’d bear a child in his image. They all did. And that’s all that mattered.
Seven weeks ago this girl had simply been another prey animal passing through his hunting grounds. She’d claimed his notice then, but he’d already had a target in mind. Since then, he had insured the other girl would be draped over the porcelain, proving that her womb bore his fruit. Time to move on to this next vessel.
When the brunette squeezed a tomato to test its ripeness, he smiled. Even as dedicated to his mission as Adam was, he could spare a moment to appreciate the irony. Most likely the girl didn’t possess the self-awareness to know how ripe her own body had become.
Fertile ground. Like the others. And exactly like the others, she couldn’t be bothered to keep track of her cycles. Women never watched for the signs. They never bothered to understand God’s rhythm or His plan for the female of the human bond.
Only Adam understood the Lord’s intentions.
“Be fruitful and multiply,” he said on a whisper of breath as the girl painstakingly chose a half dozen apples, placed them carefully into a bag, and gently set it in her cart. Those meticulous hands would someday hold his son.
A soft smile crept over his lips as he imagined his boy’s sturdy legs taking their first steps. The toddler’s smile of too-few teeth would express the initial joy of becoming a man and leaving the life of an animal behind.
For the first few years, children were little more than the monkeys some claimed mankind descended from. Adam knew better. The beginning of a man’s life amounted to a test. He could choose to crawl like an animal or not. Walking upright signified the passage from base creature into the greater ideals of God’s plan.
Adam’s sons would know their true place in the world. The women could raise them through those monkey years. Time enough to claim them once they joined the human race. Once they became men.
“Excuse me.” The shy voice was so close he jumped. “Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
He steeled himself against the annoyance welling up. Pasting on a deprecating smile, he tilted his head. “Not a problem. I was trying to decide if I want salad for dinner tonight.”
“It’s just that… Do I know you from somewhere?”
This wasn’t the first member of his herd to recognize him. Sometimes, he let them stumble across him on purpose. It made the hunt so much more exciting. Gazing at her carefully, he pretended to try and place her face. “Were you at the protest on campus a couple months ago?”
Her lush mouth split into a wide smile filled with the perfect teeth he hoped were natural. “Right. Over at Eastern. I figured that was you. Funny running into you here.”
“I was thinking that exact thing myself.” Enough people populated the metro-Detroit area they never would’ve crossed paths accidentally, but letting her think his appearance was a coincidence or fate played into his plans.
“Do you live near here, too?” Her green eyes narrowed under sculpted eyebrows. “Weird that I haven’t seen you before.”
“I travel around the area for work. I happened to be driving by on my way east, saw this place, and got the idea to grab something for dinner.” The words dropped smoothly from his mouth. He’d spoken the same lies too many times before for them to come out as anything but natural. Of course, it helped that they weren’t total falsehoods. He did travel for work and he was hungry.
“I live a couple blocks from here,” she said, nodding in the general direction of her apartment. He pasted a surprised look on his face, as if he hadn’t spent the previous night in her backyard watching her.
“Small world.” He grabbed a tomato and a bag of lettuce. “Well. Gotta get back on the road. It was nice running into you.”
“Sure. Next time you’re in the area, look me up.” Her words sounded friendly enough, but he knew she didn’t want to see him again. None of them wanted to.
But they all did.
A baby wailed its displeasure, jerking Agent Teri Buchanan upright and causing her to hammer both shins on the seat in front of her. The businessman there craned his head around to glare at the source of his discomfort. She grimaced back. Nothing like a red-eye flight to bring out the best in people. Nothing like a lack of coffee to bring out the worst in Teri.
Still, she must’ve slept. And so deeply that she’d missed the pilot’s standard ‘we’re beginning our descent’ speech. The problem was she didn’t feel the slightest bit rested. Wired, maybe. Keyed-up, definitely.
Popping a hard candy into her mouth, she readied herself for her first arrival into Detroit. She certainly didn’t need to wade through crowds in a strange airport with her ears plugged from air pressure. That kind of headache she could live without, especially if she wanted to make a good impression on her first day in a new assignment.
Her watch said 5:42 when the plane landed. The timepiece, along with the rest of her, was still on Dallas time. Adding an hour, she did a little more math and calculated she had barely enough time to make it to her new office before the conference call from Director Walter Graham. She’d seen the man on Friday, for petesakes, but a text the day before her Monday flight made it clear he wanted her in this meeting.
The question was ‘why?’
“I really appreciate your assistance with staffing this branch, Teri,” he’d said. He acted like she didn’t have an ulterior motive for getting the flock out of Texas. They both pretended the move had only been to improve her skills and advance her career. When she thanked him, neither delved too deeply into her gratitude.
Teri had her reasons. She needed to get away from Dallas. If only to get out from under the shadow of Graham’s golden girl, Jace Douglas, and shine in an environment all her own. If she had to hear about how Jace had brought down the car-be-que killer one more time, she might scream. If she had to watch the woman, who had everything Teri could never have, parade around the office doing everything right, she’d implode. Hell, the woman had even come back from the case with a new partner—both personally and professionally.
She’d hate the woman if Jace wasn’t so damn good at her job.
What she couldn’t afford to admit, even to herself, was that Jace had nothing to do with her need to transfer. Teri was running from the weight of her past. And putting as much distance as she could between herself and him.
Even as she pushed herself out of her too-small airplane seat and tugged her carry-on from the overhead compartment, she could still hear his breathy grunts in her ear. She could feel his weight upon her—
A wayward elbow to her ribs pulled her back into focus. If she allowed herself to fall into old memories best left to rot, she’d never get the hell off the flying sausage casing.
Following the sea of lemmings through the terminal, she made it to baggage claim ahead of her belongings. One of her bags tumbled out onto the conveyor before too long. The other had to have been the last bag unloaded from the plane, and it looked like a gorilla had used it for a trampoline. Cursing her dumb luck and lack of time, she made a mental note to harass the airline later and scurried for the taxi area.
Not long after, she slid into the back of a cab and headed east toward the city. The Detroit office, according to her orientation packet, wasn’t actually in the city proper. It was tucked into a suburban industrial park on the western outskirts of the metropolis. That suited her fine. From what she’d heard, Detroit wasn’t the safest of cities to live or work in.
Exactly the sort of place to put a new branch of the S.C.I.U., though.
A quick glance at her compact showed the ravages of red-eye travel. Her shoulder-length hair had taken on a luster that leaned more toward dirty-dishwater than the ash-blonde she paid good money for. The bags under her eyes were only slightly less heavy than her luggage. And at some point, her skin had lost the rosy-glow one would hope for on the first day at a new job.
Pawing through her purse like a raccoon after crayfish, she located what few cosmetics the TSA would allow through to the gates and did her best to recreate Agent Teri Buchanan of the Serial Crimes Investigation Unit. Another glance in the mirror told her the effort was pointless. She looked more like the witness to a horrible crime than a woman who investigated them.
The taxi pulled in front of the Detroit branch of the S.C.I.U. with five minutes to spare. Not enough time for her to find her office and settle in, but hopefully enough to secure a cup of strong coffee before facing the Director. Graham wasn’t exactly a hard-ass to work for, but she didn’t want to push the boundaries by straggling in all bleary-eyed and caffeine-deprived.