Authors: Patrick Hurley
Tags: #Fiction, #Psychological, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thrillers
To Tom Renfree for believing in me to finish this book and to Kathleen Buckman for her loving care in making it better.
“Innocence, once Lost, can Never Be Regained.”
rologue—treasures of Life
Girls are special. Unlike boys, they are vulnerable, mystical, capricious and alluring.
They are also innocent from the moment they are born until the moment they die. Some die old, some die young, some die gracefully, but all girls, in some way, will die.
And, when they die young, it is a tragedy of the deepest emotion and the saddest of days.
Girls are special.
And, we need to always appreciate them, honor them, love them and most of all, protect them.
hapter One--A day like any Other
Late August in Georgia is hot and damp. The dogwoods and the magnolias are as still as the perspiration that sticks to one's face and lays there like an unwelcome visitor who refuses to go away.
It is one of the reasons why southern people move a little slower than the rest of the mainland.
The University of Georgia celebrates the early vestiges of the fall quarter in the middle of this intemperate environment forcing her students to traditionally start classes wearing as little as possible because of it.
The Athens campus is one of the most stunning in the Southeastern Conference serving as the ideal frame for the aqua and turquoise clad youth that frolic across the green grass seemingly without a care in the world.
Everyone seems to be wearing shorts. The girls wear halter tops and sleeveless blouses. The boys wear khakis and polo shirts. The goal is to wear as little as possible in the stifling dampness of a late summer day.
There is a lot of obvious flirting and the smiles seem to belie the serious study ahead. Almost everyone is optimistic at the beginning of the school year, the dark clouds of homework, grinding lectures and critical exams are non-existent on their horizon.
For now, everyone is happy and good-looking and the pre-class barbecues and drinking toasts are in full swing. Being a college student is an honor to be celebrated here.
In the midst of this sea of human seduction passes a young woman of striking, physical presence.
She moves easily and quickly through the crowd as though it was parting just for her.
The young men notice her instantly and their heads turn as though they were magnetized to every fiber in her body. Even the ones with girlfriends seem to notice, of course in a briefer and more discreet way.
For this was not just any girl passing through their lives at this moment in time, she is Allison Taylor.
Allison is not just another coed, to many she is a memorable occasion.
Bred in wealth and educated at the finest prep schools, Allison Taylor is the American Dream in the flesh.
Her father, Archer Taylor, is the owner and founder of Home Buys, Inc., the largest retail chain of its kind in the world.
Beginning with his family's floundering furniture store in the late 50's, Mr. Taylor parlayed a few sofas and beds into a conglomerate of antiques, entertainment centers, home security systems and specialized rooms to go.
You could walk into one of his stores and custom choose just about any country for your home interior. He would even sell you the financing, the insurance and your own personal interior decorator, too.
He did not take lunch breaks or sleep at night. He only had time for one thing in his life and that was his company.
There was one luxury he afforded and that was time with his daughter. If his company was his passion, Allison is his reason for living. She is his only link to any personal contact on the planet.
Blonde, green-eyed and slender with long tanned legs, young Allison could have been a model or an actress had she chose either of those professions.
She would have been ideal for public relations or advertising, too.
With her academic achievements, a career in law or medicine would not have been out of the question. She is was gifted as her father and endowed with a grace that had eluded him.
Allison had a charming vulnerability that drew people to her. To young men, she was the beauty queen who lived next door. To the other girls she was the sister and best friend they always wanted.
She was not only the most popular girl in her school, but the most likely to succeed, as well.
She was also the homecoming queen and could have been the valedictorian of her class. This caused many to believe that she purposefully made a “B” in typing to let someone else win for a change.
It would not be unusual for Allison Taylor to do something unselfish. She was a special person and her inner character was as stunning as her outward beauty.
The president of the University personally petitioned Allison to come to Athens.
Her father, an alumnus, had sealed the deal by telling his daughter that it would mean a lot to him if she carried on the tradition at the same institution that proudly bore his name over the doorway of the business school.
Allison finally decided to go to Georgia because she had interned there during the summer with junior high kids in a special education project in nearby Winterville. She wanted to finish up with them as they made the critical transition from middle school to high school.
It was out of loyalty to them, more than to her father or the President that convinced her to enroll in the red and red of UGA. That spoke volumes about the character of Allison Taylor.
Stopping briefly, to say hello to a friend from high school, Allison laughs and promises to meet her at the freshman social that evening.
Seemingly oblivious to the intense interest on the part of practically every male hormone within six Southern states, she finishes the conversation and quickly makes her way along the walk in front of the library.
As she turns the corner on Jackson Street she waves to one of her professors and disappears behind the building.
And no one has seen her since.
The main police station in Athens, Georgia is on Lexington Road. Its red brick exterior and ivy covered portal reminds one of another campus building.
But, inside among the bustle of jangling phones and extroverted officers the feeling here is all business. Crime is taken very seriously because of the campus environment and the vulnerable young people who reside close by.
The police in the Southeastern part of the United States are well aware that any of their colleges are an easy target for madness.
Of all the police officers in Athens, detective Michael Gallagher is especially sensitive to it. His own daughter, Megan, was brutally murdered in high school by a sniper as part of an organized team designed to bring terror to not just the South, but to the entire country as well.
As a father who relentlessly sought justice for the death of his child, he was instrumental in saving the lives of thousands of others who potentially stood in the cross hairs of that vile plot.
Michael Patrick Gallagher.
The man grew up in a Roswell, a suburb of Atlanta. He attended local schools, went to Auburn University and got his B.S. degree in criminology.
He returned to his hometown near Atlanta, married Alisha Leigh Abernathy and soon they started having babies, a son and the fated, Megan.
He had his own private detective firm but the money wasn’t consistent enough and his family was growing, so he became a cop.
The steady income was vital here.
It wasn’t long before Mike Gallagher became one of the best in law enforcement. He was promoted to lead homicide detective within four years of graduating from the police academy. A remarkable jump in police annals.
A major part of that swift success was his ability to solve two cold case murders in the Athens area.
One involved a slain elementary school teacher and the other was an elderly woman who lived alone in a mobile home on the edge of town.
In her case, it was a presumed suicide. By the time Gallagher was through grinding down the twenty-year old evidence, the coroner changed his opinion to homicide and her nephew was convicted of her murder.
If there was a homicide in Georgia, Mike Gallagher was either going to solve it or come so close, the perpetrator was not going to sleep at night.