The Cruelest Cut

**This story immediately follows "They're All Somebody's Little Girl"**

CHAPTER 1

"Mattlock, you need to go home. Get some sleep. We'll work on this again tomorrow." Roy Houston laid a hand on his nephew's shoulder.

"Yeah, CJ is probably going to be upset. There just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to try to find this bastard." Matt stood up and stretched. He had been staring at the computer monitor for over eight hours and his eyes were feeling the strain.

"We'll get him; it's just a matter of time." Roy walked toward the elevator followed by Matt. Both men had been working tirelessly to try to find the hideout of the country's number one enemy in the Middle East. After spending $5 million of his own money on a used Russian satellite, Matt had been using every free moment he had looking for the terrorist.

When he got to the ranch, CJ was sitting in the den looking disgusted. Roy and Matt wouldn't tell her what they were working on for fear that she would be a target if the wrong people found out about it. She and Matt had argued several times about their "project" as the two men referred to it.

Matt walked into the den and sat down next to her on the couch, putting his arm around her and kissing her on the cheek. "Love you, babe." He knew she was mad, but he just couldn't risk telling her for fear of what could happen to her.

CJ knew he was trying to make the world a safer place for the children that they hoped to have some day, and she respected his efforts. But she still felt like an outsider and it didn't sit well with her. "Love you, hon." She rested her head on his chest. "Did you guys get any dinner tonight?" CJ looked up at her husband of over seven months and noticed the dark circles around his eyes and the tired look on his face.

"Nah, I wasn't really hungry." He pulled her closer. "But I sure did miss you." He tilted her chin up and kissed her. No matter how upset she was with him, CJ loved Matt more than anything and couldn't stay mad at him for very long. She returned his kiss, then took him by the hand and led him back to their bedroom.

At eight the next morning, Matt and CJ stepped off of the elevator at the penthouse office of Houston Investigations. Their secretary, Chris, was already there and was answering the phone. "Sure, Michael, he just walked in the door." She put the police lieutenant, Michael Hoyt, on hold.

"Thanks Chris." Matt walked on into the office, stepped over the back of the couch as was his custom, and had a seat. He picked up the phone. "Hey Hoyt, how's it goin'?"

"Well I would love to say great but then I would be lying." Lt. Michael Hoyt was one of Matt's best friends, although they hadn't started out that way. Hoyt put the private investigator through hell before finally realizing that he was a much better ally than an enemy. They had worked together for the past three years and were almost as close as brothers now.

"What's the problem?" Matt had worked as a consultant to the LAPD for several years now and had a reputation as the best investigator, public or private.

"We've got a rapist on the loose. He struck again last night. That makes five victims in the last five days." Hoyt had come to depend on Matt a lot.

"Okay. Want me to come to the office or do I need to be somewhere else?"

"Yeah, come on by the office. I've got the records here. If I should happen to be gone, they're in the top right hand drawer of my desk. The chief is on the warpath and I've been asked to make an appearance upstairs." Hoyt sounded about as thrilled as he could possibly be, knowing that he would be raked over the coals by the chief for not catching the guy yet.

"Oh yeah, that's gonna really help you catch him: wasting time with the chief." Matt shook his head. He felt sorry for Hoyt and wondered how many more years the man would be able to put up with the politics of being a police officer. "I'll be there quick as I can, bud. 'Bye." He hung up the phone and went into CJ's office. Leaning over and giving her a kiss, Matt told her where he was going. "Love you, babe." He kissed her again and gave her a big hug.

"Love you, too. Be careful, okay?" She always worried about him, but since they had been married she worried even more.

"I will. See you later." Matt went out and hit the button for the elevator. While he was waiting, he looked over at Chris. She looked tired and her eyes were a little red. "Everything okay, Chris?"

"Yeah, sure." She didn't look up at her boss and Matt wasn't convinced. He walked over to her desk.

"Are you trying to convince me or yourself?" He wasn't falling for it. "What's the matter?"

"Oh, nothing. I just keep getting phone calls from a guy I used to date. He doesn't seem to understand that I'm not interested in him anymore." She smiled up at Matt. "Guess I'm just more irresistible than I thought."

"If he calls you again, let me know, okay?" He patted her on the shoulder. Chris was now dating Murray Chase, head of Houston Industries. The two had been dating for a few months and everyone fully expected Murray to pop the question any day now. The secretary nodded. "I mean it; you let me know and we'll put him in his place." He stepped onto the elevator and went down to the parking garage, got in his truck and headed for Hoyt's office.

Matt went up to the lieutenant's office on the fourth floor of the police precinct. He was out of the office, so Matt got the files out of the drawer and sat down on the couch to read through them. The first four victims had been single women in their twenty's. The rapist was described as a white male in his late twenty's to early thirty's; about six feet tall and with a heavy build. He had been wearing a black ski mask and been armed with a knife which he had used to cut the faces of his victims. Each one had received a slash on their right cheek. Matt thought about that: it sounded like their rapist was left handed. He went back through the files to find out how the victims had been described. All were blonde with shoulder length hair. Apparently the guy had a preference for women matching that description.

The first four victims had lived in different areas of Los Angeles. The first victim, Lisa Spaulding, was a florist who lived in the Silver Lake area. Angela Gardner, the second victim, was a nurse who lived in the West Hollywood area. Number three was Patty Neighbors, a freelance photographer living in the Hollywood Hills area. Victim number four was Laura Giles, a masseuse who lived in Sherman Oaks. He got up and looked around on Hoyt's desk and found his notes on the fifth victim. She was Marsha Patterson, a seamstress who lived in the Griffith Park area, and was also blonde with shoulder length hair.

Matt sat back down on the couch. Other than the fact that all of the women were single with shoulder length blonde hair, there didn't appear to be any other similarities. They all lived in different neighborhoods and had different professions. The rapist seemed to be picking the women at random, which wasn't going to make it easy to catch him. Hoyt walked into the office and plopped down on the couch next to Houston. "How did it go?"

Hoyt shook his head. "Not good. I told him we were working on it as best we could, but that didn't seem to please him any." He leaned forward and put his head in his hands. "Have you been through the files?"

Matt nodded. "Yeah, but he seems to be hitting at random. The only connection that I've found so far is that all of the women have shoulder-length blonde hair. And since the cut is on their right cheek and they were attacked from the front, it sounds like the guy is left handed."

Hoyt nodded. "Now the question is: how to catch him? The CSI's haven't found any fingerprints at the scenes and there hasn't been any DNA collected. Yet, that is. The latest victim is at the hospital right now."

"I guess our best bet right now is to interview these ladies and see if they have remembered anything else about him." Matt pulled out his notebook and wrote down the addresses of the ladies. "I'm going to get CJ to go with me – they might feel more comfortable talking to another lady about this."

"Good idea. Tell her I said thanks, will you?" Hoyt moved over to his desk and pulled out the bottle of antacid that he kept in the drawer, taking a big swig and replacing the bottle, while Matt watched. "Don't say a word about it, PI, I've been eating yogurt. But some days it just isn't enough." The private investigator nodded and started out the door. "Hey." Hoyt called after him and Matt stuck his head back in the door. "Are you okay? You look kind of tired."

"Yeah, just been spending some late nights at the office working on the project. See ya later." He left and headed on down to the parking garage and back to his office to get CJ. When he stepped off the elevator at the penthouse office, he was just in time to hear Chris telling someone on the phone to leave her alone and not to call her again. She slammed the phone down. "The old boyfriend again?" Matt stepped over to her desk.

Chris nodded. "Maybe that will be the last time I have to tell him."

"If he calls back again, let us know. CJ can see about getting a restraining order on him…and I can see about having a chat with him."

"No, I don't want you to get hurt." She looked up at her boss, knowing that he would more than likely get into a fist fight with her ex, who was a lot bigger than Matt.

"I mean it, Chris. You let me know, okay?" He headed on into CJ's office and told her about the case. "I was wondering if you would come with me to talk to these ladies. They might feel a little more comfortable with you."

"Sure, I can do that." They started out of the office and as they were waiting for the elevator, the phone rang. Chris looked at the caller ID and let it continue to ring. CJ looked at her and was about to ask why she wasn't answering the phone when Matt walked over and picked it up.

"Houston Investigations. No, she isn't here. But I tell you what; if you call back again you'll be getting a visit from me." Matt listened to the reply. "Uh huh, well just try it, I guarantee you won't like the results." He hung up the phone and looked at his wife. "You need to help Chris with this ex of hers when we get back. I believe a restraining order will fit the bill."

"Alright. Chris, write down all of his information for me and we'll get started on it as soon as I get back, okay?" She and Houston stepped into the elevator. Matt hit the "door open" button and stuck his head back out. "I'm going to tell Walter to send up a guard to keep you company, just in case." He hit the button for the first floor and the doors closed. Chris stood there looking at the phone, praying that it wouldn't ring again.

True to his word, Matt stopped at the security desk and asked Walter to send up someone to keep Chris company until he and CJ got back and told him why. "No problem, Houston, we've got her covered." Matt thanked him and he and CJ made their way to the parking garage and then on to meet with Lisa Spaulding, the first victim of the rapist. Her mother answered the doorbell and Matt and CJ explained who they were and why they were there. They were led into the living room of the apartment and met Lisa. Her face was bandaged and it was obvious that she had spent a good deal of time crying lately. Matt kept his distance from her and CJ took the lead on the questioning.

"Have you thought of any other information that could help us catch the man?" CJ was sitting in a chair across from the couch where Lisa was huddled under a quilt. "Do you remember a certain smell, or did you see any tattoos on his arms or hands? Anything like that could help us to find him."

Spaulding looked up at her. "Yes, I do remember a smell. He smelled like gasoline." CJ looked over at Matt who nodded. "But I didn't see any tattoos. It was dark when…" she paused for a minute, "when he attacked me. It started outside my front door. I had just gotten home and was carrying in some groceries. My hands were full. I usually have my key ready as soon as I get out of my car, but with my hands full I wasn't able to do that." She closed her eyes. "He jumped me from behind and grabbed a handful of my hair, then told me to be quiet and unlock the door." She reopened her eyes. "When we got inside he threw me to the floor and was on top of me like that." Lisa snapped her fingers and shook her head. "I tried to fight him off but he was just too big. He must have weighed at least two hundred pounds."

"It sounds like you did everything you could have possibly done, Lisa." CJ paused for a minute to see if the girl would remember anything else. "Did he have an accent when he spoke?"

Lisa shook her head. "No, he just sounded normal. I wish there was something else I could tell you, but there just isn't."

"You've already given us more than we had when we got here. Here's my card, and this is my husband's card." She handed both of them to the girl. "If you think of anything else, you call one of us and tell us, okay?"

Lisa nodded. "I will. This has made me scared, but I'm mad, too. He had no right to do that to me."

"Thanks for your time, Miss Spaulding." Matt put his arm around CJ as they started out of the apartment.

As they drove to the home of Angela Gardner, Matt reached over and took CJ's hand. "Thanks for coming with me, babe. I think all of them will be a lot happier talking to you than me right now." She squeezed his hand and watched him as he drove through the traffic. He looked tired, like he hadn't slept at all the night before.

"Matt, you aren't going to stay late again tonight are you?"

He looked over at her and gave her a smile. "Well, I had planned on it, but maybe not. I'd like to spend some time with my lady tonight."

"Good. You need to get more rest." She squeezed his hand again. "If you don't you're going to have gray hair and wrinkles before you're forty." Both of them laughed, but CJ really was worried about Matt. He had lost weight in the last few weeks since he and Uncle Roy had started the project, and he wasn't on the heavy side to begin with. She thought it was a good thing that Mama Novelli, mother of Matt's best friend Vince Novelli, couldn't see him right now. Mama was always telling Matt that he was too skinny. When Matt and Roy were done with their project, she wanted him to take some time off and take care of himself.

They arrived at the home of Angela Gardner at a house in the West Hollywood area. She was there with her best friend, Suzy Goetz who answered the door. Suzy was reluctant to let Matt into the house for fear that it would distress Angela but Matt assured her that CJ would be doing most of the talking and that he wouldn't approach her at all. When Suzy introduced the couple, Angela actually seemed happy that they were there. "I'm glad that someone is working on the case. I know the police detective that I talked to at the hospital was nice, but he seemed like he was overloaded." Matt nodded. He was standing across the room by the fireplace. "Mr. Houston, would you like to have a seat?" Matt thanked her and sat down on the sofa next to CJ, who began asking her if she had remembered any other details about the attacker.

"Well, I did think of something just this morning. He had a smell about him – like a mechanic, you know what I mean?"

"Did he smell like gasoline?" Matt leaned back and put his arm around CJ's shoulders.

"Yeah, but it was something else, too. I'm not sure what, but he smelled like an auto repair shop." Angela seemed to be dealing with the attack pretty well. "It was dark when he jumped me out on the front porch. I had my hands full of wallpaper and carpet samples. He grabbed my hair and told me to open the door." CJ looked at Matt. The attacker had done the same thing to the first victim, Lisa Spaulding. "The minute we got inside he was all over me. My head hit the floor and I was knocked out for a minute, I guess. When I woke up, he was…you know." She wrapped her arms around herself and looked down for a minute. "I sure would like to catch this guy and make him pay for what he did."

CJ nodded. "Can you think of anything else? Like an accent when he spoke?"

"No, he just sounded like he was from around here." She thought for another minute. "That's about it really. I wish I could remember more, but like I said, he knocked me out for a minute."

"You did great. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us." Matt handed CJ one of his cards and she put one of hers with it and gave it to Angela. "If you think of anything else just give us a call, okay?"

"You bet I will."

As they walked back out to the truck, CJ spoke to Matt. "Well, that makes two that smelled gasoline."

"Yep, I sure hope it will help us track him down." He was opening the truck door and helping her inside when his phone rang. It was Chris. "Hey, Chris, what's…?"

"Houston! He came up here and beat up the security guard!"