Stripped naked, Allie Martin weighed not quite a hundred pounds, and the man who thought of himself as Chris Nelson lifted her limp body from the tub almost effortlessly. He turned and gently laid the body on a large piece of heavy-duty plastic sheeting, which the folks at Home Depot described as “Husky.” Nelson had no idea how the marketing geniuses might have come up with that label, but whatever the case, the stuff was certainly sufficient for the task at hand.

He positioned Allie face down on top of the handbag that he’d centered on the plastic sheet. Then he laid the edges of the sheeting over her body lengthwise and taped them off. Moving from her head to her toes, he neatly folded the two ends of the package and sealed them as well. Then he picked up the body, slid it face up into the back of his van, and quietly closed the doors.

Nelson hated to say goodbye this quickly. Allie had proved to be an excellent playmate, and the thrill of finally running her to ground had been exquisite. Clearly, she had not enjoyed their time together nearly as much as he, but through no fault of her own, a destiny that had been forged years before she was even born had placed her in his path. She might have had a life; she might have had hopes and dreams that were yet unfulfilled, but in the larger scheme of things, all of that meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was the mission, and although she would never understand why, Allie Martin was the most critical key


to its success. However sad her fate, it was simply inevitable.

Nelson made one last trip up the stairs to ensure that his equipment was put away and that everything else was in order. As he did, the digital clock on the table next to the bed flipped over to two-forty-seven a.m. He sighed heavily at the thought of how little sleep he was going to get before his own bedside clock roused him into the new morning. He knew, though, that he was still so jacked from the events of the long evening that he’d probably never get to sleep tonight anyhow. Tomorrow would be a very long day.

Looking at the bed, he decided that it would probably be a good idea to spring for a new set of sheets, and he made a mental note to swing by Bed Bath & Beyond sometime in the next couple of days. Otherwise satisfied, he snapped off the lights in the loft and made his way back down to the garage. Standing by the door, he listened carefully in the unlikely event that anyone would be passing by at this hour of the morning. Hearing nothing out of the ordinary, he hit the light switch, plunging the garage into darkness. Then he slowly rolled back the large garage door, which moved silently on its well lubricated track.

Just before three o’clock on a morning in early June, the temperature in Phoenix was still in the low eighties. It had rained briefly around midnight and the air was heavy with humidity and with the pungent


smell created when the rain mixed with the oils on the Creosote bushes that populated so much of the area. The clouds had now passed out of the Valley and a half moon hung in the early morning sky, weakly illuminating the world outside of the garage. Somewhere down the street a dog barked twice, but otherwise the night was eerily quiet.

The door hit the bumper at the end of the track and shuddered briefly. Moving quickly with only the moonlight to guide him, Nelson got into the van, cranked the engine, and slowly backed out of the garage. Once clear, he threw the transmission into park, got out, and closed and locked the garage door behind him. Returning to the van and watching carefully, he backed out into the street and headed west.

Not surprisingly, traffic was relatively light and, driving exactly at the speed limit, it took him only about ten minutes to get from the garage to the intersection of Lincoln and First Street downtown, just south of the Talking Stick Resort Arena where the Suns had flailed their way through another losing season before missing the NBA playoffs yet again. He turned South on First and drove another few blocks through the darkened neighborhood, which was a mixture of warehouses, older homes, and weedy vacant lots.

This was the second-trickiest part of the whole endeavor, and as he drove along First Street, Nelson watched closely for any sign of life.


Faint light appeared around the edges of closed blinds in the windows of a couple of homes, but otherwise the houses along the street were dark and quiet, the residents seemingly still hunkered down until morning. He saw no one walking along the sidewalks, and his was the only vehicle moving in either direction along the street.

At the intersection of First Street and East Hadley, Nelson hung a left and drove another block to the corner of Hadley and Second Street. Then he braked to a stop at the northeast corner of Central Park and cut the headlights. This was far from the best part of town, and thus the park was protected by a high chain link fence and all the gates were secured with chains and padlocks. After one last look to ensure that he was alone, Nelson jumped out of the van, leaving the door cracked open and the engine idling. From behind the seat, he grabbed a set of heavy-duty bolt cutters, then ran over to the fence and snipped the chain on the gate closest to the corner. Nelson pulled the gate open and jogged back to the van.

At the back of the vehicle, he opened the double doors, set the bolt cutters inside, and gathered Allie Martin into his arms for one last time. His heart pounding, he stepped through the gate, went down on one knee, and laid the package containing the body face up on the grass just inside the fence. From somewhere on the other side of the park, a couple of cactus wrens chattered back and forth. Nelson turned toward


the sound for a moment and then turned back.

Still crouching near the body, he briefly touched a finger to Allie’s lips through the plastic sheet. Then he trotted back to the van, closed the rear doors, and jumped into the driver’s seat. Less than a minute and a half after pulling to the side of the street, Nelson was rolling once again, and Allie Martin had already disappeared from his rearview mirrors.