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Chapter One September 22
It was a vision of hell.
A dismally foggy day over stinking heaps of refuse—a city land-fill, the modern euphemism for an old-fashioned dump. Caterpillar trucks and front-loaders crouched with metal jaws gaping, like gigantic prehistoric insects on the mountains of trash, an appalling chaos of rotting vegetables, discarded appliances, filthy clothing, rusted cans, mildewed paper: the terribly random refuse of a consumer society gone mad. A lone office chair sat on the top of one hill, empty and waiting, its black lines stark against the fog.
And below it, tangled in the trash like a broken doll, was the body of a teenaged girl.
Stiffened . . . naked . . . bloody stumps at her neck and wrist where her head and hand used to be.
Homicide detectives Adam Garrett and Carl Landauer stood on the trash hill: Garrett, with his Black Irish eyes and hair and temper, hard-muscled, impatient, edgy; and chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking, donut-eating Landauer, a living, breathing amalgam of every cop cliché known to man: middle-aged spread, broad sweating face, and bawdy, cynical humor—a lifer who used the caricature as a disguise. The partners were silent, each taking in the totality of the scene. The landfill was a succession of hills and pits and carefully leveled ground. Rutted roads wound up the slopes to the fresh dumping mound on which they now stood. A strong, cold wind whipped at their coats and hair, swirling plastic carrier bags across the trash heaps like ghost tumbleweeds and mercifully diffusing the stench. On a hot day the smell would have been beyond bearing.
On one side of the summit a forest stretched below, startlingly green and pure against the chaos of human waste. On the other side the city of Boston was a hazy outline, like a translucent Oz in the bluish fog. Far below, at ground level, were smaller hills of gravel, sand, broken chunks of concrete, logs and stumps, wood chips, various earthy colors of mulch, a black pile of tires. A corrugated tin roof sheltered an open-walled recycling center.
A row of BPD cruisers lined the dirt drive up to the landfill’s main office trailer. The temporary command post had been set up beside the trailer, and two dozen mostly African-American and Latino workers huddled beside it, waiting to give statements to a couple of uniforms, while other patrolmen walked the periphery of the fence. A long line of city sanitation trucks was stalled at the front gate, being diverted by traffic control. The first responders had done their best to establish a perimeter, considering the crime scene was a joke: how do you begin to process a mountain of refuse a hundred yards high?
Landauer looked over the reeking heaps of garbage, shook his head gloomily. “Shit.” He spat the word. “I don’t know if he’s the smartest perp I’ve ever seen or the dumbest.”
Garrett nodded, keeping his breathing even, trying not to suck in too deep a breath of the sulfurous stink. Smartest—because any trace evidence would be completely lost in the junk heap. Dumbest—because the unsub must have driven straight in past the office trailer and paid the attendant for the privilege of dumping his terrible cargo. Garrett lit a mental candle, half thought something like a prayer. Please let there be a record.
The partners turned away from the dismal panorama and climbed over trash to where Medical Examiner George Edwards, a stocky Irish banty rooster of a man, stood looking down at the body. Seagulls circled sullenly high above, their breakfast taken from them.
Two crime-scene techs were extracting and bagging one piece of garbage at a time from around the corpse, meticulously preserving as much evidence as possible in the hope that the refuse in which she lay might yield some personal connection to the killer. A videographer documented the original placement of each piece. All three technicians stood and moved back in solemn simultaneity so Garrett and Landauer could approach.
It was Saturday, which meant Garrett was the lead on the case. Department protocol was that partners alternated leads, but Garrett and Landauer had found through long experience that if they took regular days of the week and flipped for Sundays, it all evened out anyway. Garrett nodded to Dr. Edwards and crouched beside the body.
The young woman was as stiff as a Barbie doll—still half-buried and splayed on her stomach; a handless arm, a curve of buttock, one leg visible in the bed of trash. Garrett’s face tightened as he stared down at the jagged red stump of the neck, the gleaming white nubs of cartilage, the black stream of ants swarming over the gaping wound. The gulls had also been at it. But there was shockingly little blood; none at all on the trash below the severed neck and very little congealed around the stump—a small blessing: the decapitation had occurred after she was dead.
Garrett pulled a micro-recorder from his suit coat pocket and clicked it on. “Killed elsewhere and dumped,” he said aloud. “Decapitation was postmortem.” Above him, the M.E. grunted affirmation, before Garrett continued. “Head and hands probably removed to prevent identification.” It happened more often than anyone would want to think.
Garrett studied the visible arm and leg. Despite a fashionable slenderness and gym-enhanced muscle tone the girl’s limbs were rounded, and silky smooth, the heartbreaking plumpness of baby fat. Garrett felt hot and cold flashes of anger. He spoke aloud, biting off the words.
“Eighteen, nineteen years old. Twenty-five at the most, but I doubt it.”
Landauer shifted behind him grimly. “Yep.”
Garrett swallowed his fury and continued his visual inspection. He was fighting his assumptions, fighting to keep his mind clear. A naked young woman on a trash heap; so often these miserable victims were prostitutes. Sex killers notoriously trolled highways and rough neighborhoods for these easy, anonymous targets. But there was not that sense about this one.
He looked her over, looking for the facts. He gently used a latex-gloved hand to lift a stiffened forearm. No track marks, no cuts or bruising, no ligature marks—although telltale abrasions might have been cut off with the hand. “No defensive marks, and it doesn’t look like she was bound.” Someone she knew? Or just someone with the element of surprise?
Garrett was about to set the arm down, then noticed a trail of six black dots along the partially exposed shoulder, about the diameter of a pencil eraser. Hard, smooth, shiny, irregular . . .
He used a fingernail to dislodge one of the drops and examined it on his thumb, held out the dot to Landauer, then Edwards. “Wax, I think.”
“Black wax? Kinky,” Landauer commented.
Garrett nodded to a tech, who crouched with an evidence bag to take samples of the dots.
Garrett turned his gaze to the exposed leg—not just smooth, but hairless—a salon wax, and fresh pedicure. The skin was healthy and blemish-free.
This was not a runaway, not a heroin addict, not a prostitute.
“Not a hooker,” Garrett muttered.
“Not any I could afford,” Landauer agreed.
Garrett stood, and the detectives watched as the techs resumed clearing the trash around the body like archaeologists uncovering an ancient skeleton, painstakingly removing trash one piece at a time, placing beer bottles, fast-food wrappers, orange rinds, a stained lampshade, into various sizes of labeled paper evidence bags. Garrett turned to the medical examiner.
“What do you say, Doc?”
“Livor mortis is fixed and she’s in full rigor. I’ll have to wait for the vitreous potassium tests to confirm, but given the temperature I’d put the time of death at no more than twelve to sixteen hours.”
The techs cleared several more pieces of refuse to reveal her back. Between her shoulder blades there was a single stab wound, in the vicinity of the heart. The slit was narrow and practically bloodless.
“Could be the fatal wound,” Edwards said neutrally. The photographer clicked off photos.
Garrett’s attention was suddenly drawn to the right arm, still mostly buried. “Look at that.” He crouched beside the body again, lifted a wet clump of coffee filter and grounds so the other men could see. The right hand was still attached to the right arm, intact.
The detectives looked at each other. “He takes the left hand but not the right?” Landauer said, perplexed. “ ’S the point of that?”
Garrett stood to let the techs back in. “Maybe he was interrupted. Didn’t get to finish.” But it sounded wrong as soon as he said it aloud.
With enough trash now removed from around her, the techs rolled the stiffened body onto its back.
“Holy shit.” Garrett heard Landauer breathe out behind him, as all the men stared down.
There were dark streaks of blood on her thighs, and the sight was a sick stab, though hardly unexpected.
The true shock was higher, in the pale flesh of the girl’s chest.
Someone had carved into the torso with a knife, cruel red cuts against the young skin, the number 333 and a strange design, three triangles with the points touching.
Looking down at the crude slashes, Garrett felt his stomach roil with apprehension, even as his investigative mind registered details. No bleeding from the cuts; they were done postmortem. So why the looseness in his bowels, the tightness in his scalp, the overwhelming impulse of fight or flight?
Landauer was speaking, the hoarseness in his voice hinting that he was struggling with a similar reaction. His eyes were fixed on the bloody carvings. “Is that supposed to be satanic?”
Garrett found his own voice, tried to breathe through the constriction in his throat. “Or someone trying to make it look that way.”
“Three-three-three?” Landauer blustered, some of his panache returning. “The fuck is that? The Devil Lite? Satan can’t count? I say someone’s messin’ with us.”
Garrett stood slowly, an anvil in the pit of his stomach. It didn’t feel like a game. Not at all.
The three men, and the techs behind them, stood looking down at the girl’s corpse, puzzling over the design. The three triangles were maddeningly familiar, and ominous. Garrett was fighting a creeping dread, a feeling of imminent danger. All of the men had moved slightly back from the body. Garrett realized what he was thinking at the moment that the M.E. spoke it.
“Radiation,” Edwards said suddenly.
The three crime-scene techs drew back, more noticeably this time.
“That’s it. The radiation symbol,” Landauer said, his voice thin.
“It’s not exactly, though. There’s something different about it. The fallout shelter symbol?” The M.E. frowned, thinking.
“Do you think she’s hot?” Landauer said. For once the morbid double entendre was completely unconscious. The wind gusted around them. All the men shifted slightly, uneasily.
“I don’t think so,” Garrett said, only half-aware that he spoke. The whole damn thing is weird enough already.
“I doubt it,” Edwards agreed. “I’ll call HazMat, but I don’t see any burns or inflammation.”
Radiation or not, this was a bad one. And the acid feeling in Garrett’s gut told him it was going to get worse.
Excerpted from Book of Shadows by Alexandra Sokoloff.
Copyright © 2010 by Alexandra Sokoloff.
Published in 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.