Authors: HA Fortman
Book 1 of the UGS Constellation Series
Cover Design by: Melody Simmons
All books copyrighted to the author and may not be resold or given away without written permission from the author.
This novel is a work of fiction. Any and all characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and should not be confused with fact. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or events or places is merely coincidence. This book is intended for adults only. Must be 18 years or older to read.
I want to thank my wonderful husband, for pushing and encouraging me to write. Something I've always wanted to do, but I was never brave enough.
To my wonderful friends, thank you for dealing with me while I pestered you all for advice non-stop and asking you to give me your input.
SE Smith, thank you for all of the help and guidance!!!
Elisa Jones has just graduated college with her journalism degree and now she’s trying to make her way in the world alone. Without any idea what to do, Elisa turns back to her first love - cold serial killer
cases. She decides to follow up on a lead she found that the police overlooked. It's a clue that takes her to California, where she thinks she might be able to assist in uncovering the killer.
Commander Turock Gav’rin is on the hunt for a fugitive, one that has taken him across the stars to a small blue planet with worlds of potential. Hiding who he really is, “Chase Ricter” has to find and capture his fugitive before any of the natives discover who, and what, he truly is.
Elisa and Chase are thrust on an adventure that will test their very beings. A twist of fate brings them together in a collision that will set their worlds on edge. Will the two of them survive as mighty hunters? Or will they lose it all as they become the hunted?
rain splashed off of the window in front of Elisa, creating little rivers that wound their way down beyond the glass to the small ledge before falling to the ground.
With a soft
sigh, she picked up her cup of coffee and read the article in the Los Angeles Times. Although it was a copy of an older edition, one she managed to get her hands on much later, this one was from March Thirteenth. The article had run eight years previously, in Nineteen Seventy One.
Another double murder headlined the paper; no one knew who the killer was or if he was going be stopped,
everyone was baffled, even the police. This time the killer touted his rage at the editor, proclaiming the additional killings if the letter wasn’t in the paper.
Elisa didn’t know what to think, there’d already been several killings and each letter was signed with a segmented circle that looked almost like a target. A few times the mysterious perpetrator had sent in a strange code, a cypher that only he knew the meaning of. Even though the person seemed sure that the police and the general public would understand.
Watching out the window as the rain mixed with snow outside the Detroit Diner, people bustled about their lives in an endless stream of bundled traffic. It wasn’t common for there to be snow in early October, but it wasn’t exactly common either, and apparently many of the people outside were caught unaware of the incoming storm.
The sensationalism of the first
reporting was slowly dying, but Elisa knew people would begin to wonder even as the younger generation never learned of it, and the older would unfortunately eventually forget.
It wasn’t often that a serial killer was able to undermine the work of so many officers, never mind
the FBI was attempting to catch the killer or killers. In the letter written to the paper, the person proclaimed killing at least seventeen people and possibly more.
“Why haven’t they caught you yet? What are you trying to tell everyone in your cipher?”
Muttering softly Elisa scanned her eyes down from the window to glance at the stacks of papers littered about the table, surrounding the remains of her early morning breakfast. She sighed softly as she rifled through them, once again picking up the old newspaper clippings that held the ciphers on them and holding them up to the various letters and public police records. “What are you trying to prove? Why did these people have to die? Was there something you’re not saying?” All questions that rattled around in her mind over and over again. “I’m sure the police and the FBI have asked this as well.”
With a shake of her head she set the cipher down and lift
ed the pages lumped together of her own notes, scanning them again to see if there’s anything she had left out.
“Haven’t you given up on this yet? They’re never going to catch him and you’re not either. What makes you think some woman can do what the FBI can’t even manage?
Yeah it’s nineteen sixty nine, but that doesn’t mean they’re gunna want some woman helping them.” The gruff voice of Alex Stenza interrupted her thoughts, his heavy belly scraping and knocking papers off of the far edge of the table as he dropped into the booth without even a ‘by your leave’, never asked if she would mind first.
With a snort and barely contained
sneer, Elisa bent over to retrieve the papers. “Go away Alex. I told you I never wanted to see you again.” Popping back up with the papers in hand, Elisa had no idea what she ever saw in Alex in the first place. At one time she might have considered him cute, like a lost little puppy, but those days were long gone. Back in college he’d been in good shape, but that shape had gotten considerably more… round. His shaggy brown hair, nondescript brown eyes and five o’clock shadow, his mismatched light blue shirt and dark green pants showed several stains that attested to his lack of personal hygiene.
How did I not
him before he sat down? No wonder he’s on the prowl for a wife, someone to slave at the wash to get rid of the stains because he can’t eat without dribbling like the pig he is! I’m so glad I saw him for what he is, now if only he’d take the hint and leave me alone, you’d think a size seven shoes for the boys would drive the point home that I want nothing to do with him.
“I don’t care. You’re a woman and don’t know what you want. Or what’s good for you.” Reaching out he
had snatched her notes from her hand and started reading them. “You’ve been following this creep for years now, even wrote your paper on him. Give it up. It’s not healthy! Someone as nice as you, following some jerk like your life revolved around it.” Slapping the papers down onto the table, Alex leaned forward and brushed a finger down the side of her face. “Someone as pretty as you should be considering having babies and keeping house, not chasing dreams that’ll never happen.”
With a growl Elisa snatched her papers back, his grip so tight on them that a portion of them
had ripped, before throwing them down in front of her. “Get out of here Alex! I mean it! Leave me alone and go back to your booze! I am
interested in you and I never will be.” In her anger Elisa began to throw her papers into a bag, not caring how they ended up inside just so long as she could get them away from his greasy hands.
“You’re fooling yourself if you think anyone is going to listen to you. The only thing you’re good for is warming my bed and making my dinner.” With a
shove, he lurched out of the booth, making sure to jostle the table just hard enough to slosh the hot coffee all over the remaining papers before waddling his way out of the small diner. “Just remember, I’m not gunna wait around for you forever! This here is prime real estate that’s up for sale and someone is bound to snatch it up!”
As if she’d want that chunk of blubber, but telling that to Alex was a waste of air, one that he would never listen to, “I have to get out of here; maybe if I go out to California I can better piece together what happened.” With that thought in mind, Elisa raced home to pack her bags.
Being sure to include her notes, Elisa arranged things for the open ended trip. She never thought once about leaving everything behind; she had no family to worry about her vanishing, her friend and roommate had already planned to leave at the end of the month to move in with her fiancés family and without Elisa there they could have the apartment until she returned, she had no real job as she’d just graduated college with her journalism degree and no pets to concern herself with.
Elisa never knew how hard it would be, she never guessed how people in California would scoff at a single woman intending to investigate the murders would be treated with such indifference. Even though women’s lib had supposedly made them equal to men, at least in some aspects, it was still frowned upon for a woman to do certain things. Thankfully, she had the money to fund her searches; having rented a time share apartment and a car for however long she needed it.
Slowly she walked to the wall covered in papers, a timeline of information, photos, and letters from the killer calling themselves the Zodiac. She wondered yet again why the police didn’t see the connection. It was all there, spread out before her. There was a list of suspects, but all had been cleared for one reason or another, although the police didn’t have one name listed. Chase Ricter’s photo stood front and center, placed higher than the other suspects on the wall. Not a common name and not a common person from what all Elisa was able to piece together. With a sigh, she shook her head and turned to head towards the small table beside the door where she kept her purse and keys, her note pad digging into her side as she juggled it and her purse while leaving the temporary abode.
Sometime later, Elisa stood in the waiting room of the local police department. Her annoyance at the officer on duty at the front desk had shown in small ways, namely how as she ground out her reasons for needing to speak with someone. “I know you don’t believe me Officer…” Elisa was getting annoyed with the men in the world not believing her, with a huff she leaned forward and peered at the desk clerk’s name. “Officer Smitty? Are you serious? OK, it doesn’t matter; I need to speak with the detective in charge of the Zodiac murders. Now! It’s important!”
“Look, Miss. I know you
it’s important, but the detective isn’t going to just want to speak to some young child, from out of town, that
at doing his job. So why don’t you just pack up your pricey, high maintenance ass and head back to wherever you came from and let a real man do the work. Shouldn’t you be at home playing with your dolls anyway?” With a sneer the officer returned to doing whatever it was he happened to be doing before Elisa showed up, which turned out to be a crossword puzzle from the local paper.
With a soft growl, Elisa turned around and started to head towards the door when a commotion brought her to a stop. Three officers brought in a man struggling and nearly knocking them off their feet. “Get the door, Charlie! This one’s not coming easy!” The tallest of the three cops shouted and Elisa assumed correctly that he was talking to the desk cop as the man jumped out of his chair and raced to the door leading to the jail cells.
“Let me go! You don’t know what he’s going to do!” Twisting and turning the man fought with the officers as much as he was able to with his hands cuffed behind his back. Turning rapidly from left to right, he managed to break the hold of the one on the left, lurching to the right drove that man off his feet, taking the opportunity to make a run for it the male charged towards Elisa with his head bent and body doubled over. Not paying attention to his surroundings, Elisa was too stunned to move out of the way. His head connected with the left side of Elisa’s ribs and sent them both sprawling down to the cold hard black and white checkered floor. Her papers gently fluttering to the ground around them like snowflakes, Elisa didn’t even have the chance to scream as his heavy weight pinned her down.
“Get off of me, you jackass!” Shoving and pushing lead to nothing more than the man's weight dropping further onto her body. The suddenness knocked what little breath she had left out of her lungs.
“You have to get them to let me go before he kills more people! I swear I didn’t do it! Please! Make them let me go so I can stop it before it’s too late!” With a toss of blue-black hair, the man lying across Elisa lifted his head and beseeched her with his piercing blue eyes.
Eyes so blue they were almost white.
Faster than she could blink, Elisa felt the man’s lips brush lightly against her own, a feather-light touch of skin that sent a sizzle of awareness down her spine, and blocked out the rest of the chaos around them. It wasn’t until he pushed for entrance, his tongue forcing its way into her mouth and leaving a stinging sensation against the corner of her lip, that she realized just what was happening and began to struggle.
With a choked off scream Elisa began to push at the man’s chest and kick at his legs, anything to get out from under the one man that sent a zing of awareness through her entire body.
of me! Get off! Get off get off get off of me!!!!” Not caring that she was repeating herself, Elisa simply wanted to get the man away from her. She didn’t even notice as officers charged forward to pull the man from her, more running in from other doors that lined the hallway on either side, and finally wrestled the heavy man from her small five foot three inch frame.
Gratefully the weight lifted off of her and she was able to scramble in a rushed crabwalk backwards. She only stopped when her back thumped with an echo against the pulpit used as the front desk.
lie scattered everywhere, being trampled and some torn, as the writhing ball of arms and legs began to sort themselves out into actual people. It was so reminiscent of a cartoon fight that Elisa couldn’t help a weak giggle that soon turned into an almost hysterical laugh.
A scathing glare from one of the men dressed in an ill-fitting three piece suit gave her the incentive to finally stop laughing, although a few hiccupped giggles escaped as one of the uniformed officer’s slipped on a loose piece of paper and nearly crashed to the floor. Slowly the man in the rather large bow tie reached down and lifted one of her pages and read over the notes she’d written. A bushy brow lifted when he cut his eyes towards her. Unruly dark curly hair cut high over expressive brown eyes; lead into a slightly larger nose that’s seen a few breaks over time.
David Toschi, lead investigator on the Zodiac case and I think you and I need to talk, Miss…?” Elisa canted her head to the side for a moment as she studied him, she noticed how his confidence exuded from him and his soft voice seemed almost deceptive with how calm he appeared in the chaos.
Elisa watched as the man reached his right hand out to her, waiting for her to uncurl her body. She smiled slightly as her small hand vanished inside of his larger one. Noticed how the man smirked when he noticed it as well as he hauled her to her feet.
“Miss Jones. Elisa Jones. I… I was talking to Officer Smitty and trying to get in to see a detective in charge of the Zodiac case when that… that monster collided with me.” She knew she was stammering and didn’t care.
Quickly she ben
t to start gathering her papers when a searing pain in her side stopped her, sucking in a breath she let it out in a rushed gasp. “Ow. I think… I think I cracked my ribs.” Bending over once again, this time the papers littering the floor were forgotten, both hands pressed against the side of her rib cage where the man’s head had connected forcefully against her side.
“Easy. Let’s get you over to the bench there and you can sit down while I gather these up, then we’ll go to my office to talk.” David was almost like a father as he gathered Elisa and helped her take a seat, then turning back to pile the papers on the floor before he picked them up.
Elisa watched as he tucked the pages under his left arm and reached out to help her to her feet with his right.
Once she was standing he curled his hand about her shoulders and guided her out of the main lobby of the precinct. “You’re not from California, I can tell by your accent. What I can’t tell, is why a pretty young woman is here in the first place, and why she has all of these horrific pictures and notes?”
Sighing as she pushed her long reddish-brown hair out of her face, and tucked it behind her ear, Elisa smiled ruefully up at the older man.
“I just got my degree in journalism and we had to follow a story from start to finish, or as close to finish as we could. Everyone else was doing papers and reports on crop failures or the latest gadget. Me? I had to be different. My parents were killed when I was a younger, the killer was never caught and because of that I’ve always been… drawn, I guess that’s the right word. Anyway, I did my report on the Zodiac killer and I haven’t been able to let it go.” As she spoke, Elisa attempted to ease the ache in her ribs by stretching more upright. But this only caused a sharp pain to travel down her side, forcing her to hunch over slightly.
Waving her hand towards the stacks of papers the Detective still held she said, “As you can see I brought everything I had and I was hoping I could help you, or you could help me. I don’t report for a paper or a news station so there’s no worry about being off the record here. I just… while I was researching I found similarities, things that I’m not sure your department would have looked into. I’m probably just grasping at straws, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to at least try to talk to you.”
“You’re right, it probably won’t pan out, and normally I would just turn you away, but you have a lot of information here and hell, a fresh set of eyes might make this case some good. You’re what… twenty five, twenty six? Either way you’re fresh out of school, and you have no training. You do realize that whatever you find, I can’t let you take credit for or it’ll be thrown out of court. You’ll just be a victim, to an unrelated crime, trying to find possible closure. But… you remind me of my niece, she was always so damned tenacious. Couldn’t deny her anything and always going for what she wanted with gusto!” David said with a smile.
Elisa watched as David
spread out the papers he had collected for her from the lobby floor, a smile slowly spreading over her face as his registered complete shock at what was revealed.
It was like a land mine exploded
all over the table; photos, maps, and even sketches! She even had the ciphers and all of the letters to the various newspapers!
Excited at the find, she watched as he rushed out into the hall screaming for others to join him. Elisa listened in stunned silence as his dress shoes created an odd thudding echo that followed his path up and down the hallway.
The rest of the task force eventually filed into the room,
Elisa realized that she was right. As they came in, the men began to introduce themselves to her.
Special Agent Mike Monroe was tall, the tallest of the three men that slowly sauntered in, and it was obvious under his tailored suit that he wasn’t a slouch in the gym, his close cut blond hair matched the severe cut of his chocolate eyes.
Next to him came San Francisco’s Captain, Allen
Campbell, who was of average height and build and would have been unremarkable if it weren’t for the scar slicing his left eyebrow lengthwise. The jovial smile didn’t fool Elisa either, she could see he used it to put others at ease until he went for the jugular with ruthless abandon and it was probably what lead to his being made Captain. His shaggy red hair, cut just at the nape, lead to the image of a relaxed businessman out at the bar. Helping with this image was the tie just barely holding the unbuttoned shirt collar closed.
The last to enter the room, and pushing an enormous corkboard on wheels
, used for demonstrations, was Detective Sam Whitehorse. His willowy frame was mostly hidden by the loose suit, but the ease with which he pushed the heavy board spoke of a strength many would over look. Elisa was immediately mesmerized by the coal black eyes that peered through hair so black it was nearly blue and easily reached his waist.
“They got all jumbled up when that man crashed into me, I’m sorry. I can quickly put them to rights if you want.” Elisa spoke as she slowly stood and reached for the scattered piles on the table. Mindful of her sore ribs, she kept one arm wrapped around herself and carefully turned that side of her body away from the table.
“Well, you’re not what I expected to see, such a tiny thing. David, why is she here and why were you screaming like a loon down the hallway?” The Captain’s voice was a deep, rich baritone that would have skittered in a silken caress down her spine, if Elisa had been interested in men older than her own father. She’d always been a sucker for a deep voice.
“Guys, this is Elisa. She’s got an interesting twist on this case and I thought it would be in our best interest to see what she has.” David said before he nodded to Elisa and moved around to the other side of the table, “Why don’t you grab your things there, sort them on the board for us and tell us what you have.”
Gathering her papers, and trying to put them into some form of order, Elisa nodded and moved to the board. Once there she began to talk about what brought her out to California. While she told them of her past, what started as a thesis paper, and how she started piecing things together from a different angle, she began to organize the papers on the table before her. At home she used the wall, but here she had the cork board and plenty of push pins. Gradually she started to fill the board. As she did, her thoughts became more organized by the timeline of activities.