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CUT TO THE BONE
By SHANE GERICKE
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Shane Gericke
All right reserved.
Chapter One11:00 A.M.
"Ready for next Friday?" Emily Thompson said.
"Let's talk about that later," Martin Benedetti said. "I'm enjoying myself too much."
Emily smiled. "So you're glad you changed your mind."
"Oh, yeah, this is great," he groaned as the attendant shoveled on more steaming mud. "I feel like the marshmallow in the hot chocolate. Why didn't you make me do this years ago?"
Her face pats left stripes on both cheeks.
They were at a "mud spa" on Ogden Avenue, on Naperville's Far North Side. She'd been asking Marty for months to try the tub for two. He'd kept declining, saying he wanted nothing to do with "exfoliants and lite FM." Then, on her forty-second birthday, he'd bowed, handed her a gift certificate for two, and said, "Slap my chaps and call me Mary ..."
She squished deeper.
Their cheerful attendant described the 104-degree mud as a "mystic Zen formula" that "detoxified and cleansed" body and spirit. Emily knew better. It was the same peat moss, volcanic ash, and tap water she dumped in her flower beds. She didn't care. Its clinging heat whacked her stress like a hit man. Having Marty cheek to cheek was a bonus-they could make fun of it later as they snuggled up in her bed, all Zenned.
The attendant filledtwo Waterford flutes with Soy-Carrot Infusion Juice. The lead crystal glowed tangerine in the soft mood lighting. She offered to swaddle their eyes with cucumbers dipped in chilled lemon water. "So your inner child stays cool," she murmured.
Emily tilted her face to accept them. Marty declined, muttering about needing a testosterone patch. The attendant giggled, shoveled on the final steamy layer. "I'll step out now, let the Zen work its magic. Call if you need me." Marty thanked her, waited for the door to latch, cleared his throat.
"You're not going to tell anyone about this, right?" he said.
"About what, darling?" Emily asked, hearing the skritch-skritch of his fingers worrying the side of the redwood tub. She smiled into the lemon-scented darkness.
"About my parking my hamhocks in a tub of goo."
"And liking it," she said.
"Don't rub it in."
Emily threaded her fingers into Marty's. "Don't worry, tough guy," she said, squeezing tight. "I won't tell anyone your precious secret-"
A chorus of screams echoed through the spa room.
The cucumber slices flew as Emily's eyes popped open.
Marty was already fighting out of the tub. Emily struggled against the black quicksand. Marty pulled her slender wrists till her top sucked free.
Their attendant raced into the room, slamming the door so hard the glass shattered. "A man just killed Zabrina!" she screeched with plate-size eyes. "Hide or he'll kill us all!"
"Get our clothes!" Marty roared, mud flying as he fought to stay upright on the pebbled glass.
"No time!" Emily shouted, shoving her heels against the bottom of the tub. Her hamstrings twanged, and the rest of her popped free.
She swung her rubbery legs over the ledge. Lunged for her black leather purse. Slipped on the glass and fell sideways, banging her head off the cornflower wall tiles as she hit the floor.
"Ow!" she yelped.
"Emily! You all right?"
"Go! Go! I'll catch up!" Emily gasped through the bells clanging in her head.
Marty knotted a bath towel around his waist. Emily reached up, ripped her purse off the peg, and pulled out two Glocks-hers 9-millimeter, his .45.
The attendant shrank into a corner. "Don't hurt me," she begged. "Please, miss, I'll do whatever you say."
"We're police!" Emily said, holding up Marty's gun like the Statue of Liberty. He snatched it and bolted. A moment later he reappeared, threw Emily a thick white robe, and rushed off.
Emily grabbed the pitcher of Infusion Juice and poured it over her head. She gasped as the icy slush melted on her steam-ironed body. The bells fell silent. She scrabbled to her feet, punched her arms through the sleeves of too-large terrycloth robe, wrapped her hands around the butt of her gun, and sprinted to the lobby.
"Good Lord," she breathed at the explosion of tomato soup. Marty was on his knees, blowing air into a young, pretty woman. Her face was white as spun sugar. Blood fizzed from her chest and neck when Marty exhaled. Emily knew instantly the CPR was form, not substance.
"I'm a Naperville Police detective!" she announced, ready to fire if the shooter popped out of the crowd. "Which way did he go?"
No answer, just a frantic fear-buzz.
"Did he leave?" she demanded. "Come on, somebody talk!"
"He didn't say a word," a manicurist blubbered. "Just shoved a knife in Zabrina and took off."
Emily looked around, didn't see a weapon. Maybe still on him. "Which way?"
The manicurist pointed at the main door.
"Parking lot," Marty said, looking up. "Watch yourself, Detective. I'll be there soon as someone takes over." He surveyed the crowd. "All right, who knows CPR?"
Emily charged across the striped asphalt, robe flapping, eyes everywhere. Nobody fleeing. Nobody sauntering too nonchalant. Nobody jumping in a Dumpster or darting behind a store.
She ran her emerald eyes over the closest group of cars. Nobody hiding. No doors slamming. Ditto the next, the next, the next-
"Look out!" Marty yelled.
Emily whirled to see an Audi streak from a slot and charge her. Shooting was useless-it'd be on her in a heartbeat. She jumped straight up, desperately clawing air to clear the metallic blue bumper that would mash her to roadkill-
"Aaaah!" she screamed as her body shoveled up and over the hood. She crashed into the windshield, heard a sickening crunch. Glass or shoulder, she didn't know which.
The driver jammed the gas pedal. The sucker punch of acceleration flipped her up on the roof. She windsurfed a moment, scrabbling for a hold on the hot, slick metal.
A sharp swerve bucked her off.
She slammed into the rear gate of an ancient pickup truck. She and rust rained to the pavement. She rolled the moment her body touched, to avoid breaking her neck. The Glock skittered out of her hands. She quick-crawled after it, vision jangled, skin on fire.
Marty triggered a pair of hollowpoint bullets. She saw the flames but didn't hear the blasts. The rear passenger window shattered.
She reached her gun and fired at the driver's head. Three sheet-metal craters opened in the door. Too low. She adjusted, reaimed.
The Audi careened onto Ogden. She couldn't shoot. Too much traffic.
She grunted to her feet and broke into a sprint, triangulating the lot, gulping and blowing, trying to cut the gap with the fleeing-
She toppled, clutching her leg.
"Officer down!" Marty bellowed. "Someone tell nine-one-one!"
"I'm not hit!" Emily yelped.
"What is it, then?" he said, flopping down next to her.
She'd taken a bullet in her left calf two years ago during a nightmare encounter with a serial killer. The knotty wound healed enough to pass the department's medical exam, but when pushed to extreme physical limits-like now-it could squeal like a ripped pig.
"Dig into it, Marty," she begged. "Make it stop. Oh God, it hurts." She prayed the sirens were paramedics bearing needles of painkiller.
"I've got you, Em," Marty reassured, his big knuckles drilling for oil. "I've got you . . ."
The first Naperville Police cruiser skidded into the lot.
She clutched Marty's waist and pulled herself sitting, fighting the sudden blizzard of panic. Her killer was back, choking her life away. She made herself breathe deep and slow, four seconds in, four seconds out. In. Out. In. Out.
"Woman's ... dead?" she wheezed, massaging both sides of her neck.
"Who knifes ... receptionist ... at a spa?"
"Dunno," Marty said, hugging Emily close. "But we're sure as hell gonna find out."
Chapter Two11:08 A.M.
The Executioner whipped into an empty slot, his blue eyes pulsing radar.
No cops. Not even a curious civilian.
He turned off the engine. As he'd learned from his numerous practice runs, this medical-office parking lot on Sherman Avenue-thirty seconds from the spa, nicely screened by trees and buildings-made an ideal place to switch cars.
Though the advantage wouldn't last if he dawdled.
Leaving on his gloves and Chicago Bears cap, he peeled the fake red beard from his jaw. He wiped the rubber-cement boogers into a white supermarket bag, and added the beard and bloody knife. He crumpled it tight, looked around once more, ready to escape.
An olive-green minivan was pulling next to the curb.
He had to wait now. He couldn't risk the woman behind the wheel telling a cop about the maroon Subaru wagon that peeled rubber when the sirens got close. Get out of here, he warned silently, each tick of the cooling engine loud as artillery. Thirty more seconds and you die, too. Not that he minded, but the kill would take time he didn't have. Leave. Now.
He gripped the .40-caliber Sig snugged in his waistband.
Five seconds ...
His left hand squeezed the chromed door handle.
Three seconds ...
Exit, walk, shoot till dead, walk back, drive away. Easy.
Two seconds ... one second ...
A skinny girl in pigtails hopped out of the van and dashed through a door with a sign shaped like a molar. The woman made a three-point turn and exited the lot.
The Executioner slid out, tossed the keys down the storm drain. Hopped into the Subaru with the bag, started the engine with a gasoline-heavy vroom. Nosed out on Sherman then onto Ogden Avenue. Quickly scooted to the middle divider to let a police cruiser scream past. The cop hunched over the wheel made a little wave, "Thanks."
He waved back, amused.
He drove the speed limit to Wisconsin Avenue, cranked the wheel in a quick hard right, and began his side-street escape from the city.
Chapter Three11:27 A.M.
Governor Wayne Covington tipped back in his buffalo-hide chair, allowing him to rest his crisp, white-blond hair against the paneling. He steepled his fingers, blew a thin river of smoke.
"What about riots?" he asked.
"Won't be any," Naperville Police Chief Kendall Cross said.
Covington snorted. "The antiexecution sissies agree with you, do they?"
Covington's tapered eyebrows flicked in surprise.
"Publicly, the protest groups will 'take it to the streets,'" Cross said, tapping a tail of ash into the governor's Baccarat ashtray. "But their leaders assure me privately it's marching and singing only. They've forbidden any forms of violence."
"Joe Citizen's tolerance for that garbage ended September 11," Covington said.
"Right. So I believe them when they say no rioting. But if it happens, we're prepared." He mimicked the swing of a riot baton. "We'll talk softly but carry a big stick."
Covington smiled, spun the brightly lacquered humidor.
Cross surveyed the fat Cohibas with the oily, dark-chocolate wrappers. Governorship hath its privileges. He took one and accepted the wooden match. He sat back, flamed the end bright, took a deep mouthful of smoke. He savored its mineral sharpness a moment, then released a perfect blue ring. It fluttered toward the window, where an air blower broke it into wisps.
He turned his attention to Covington, who suddenly seemed lost in thought.
"Your brother?" Cross asked gently.
"Ah. Yes. You've known me way too long," Covington said, puffing furiously to cover the crack in his news-anchor voice.
"Since you were our county's state's attorney. And now you're smoking Cubans in the Governor's Mansion." Cross tipped his head. "Helluva run you've had, Wayne."
"I'd give up every bit to have Andy back."
"I know," Cross said, flexing his mutilated backside. Damn that shotgun blast. "I'm sorry I never had the pleasure of knowing your brother."
Covington blinked. "You two never met? I'd have sworn- oh, that's right. We buried him well before Naperville hired you as chief. Time flies."
They smoked in silence.
"Earl Monroe murdered my brother in 1966," Covington said after a while. "But it feels like yesterday. I still catch myself driving by our old house sometimes, seeing if he's in the yard." His eyes got bright. Cross stared out the window to allow him the moment ...
"Sorry," Cross said, reaching for his warbling pager. He checked the display, frowned. "Use your phone, Wayne? My cell doesn't work in here."
Covington pushed it across the coffee table. "NPD?"
"Nine-one-one from Hercules Branch," Cross said, speed-dialing his chief of detectives. "He knows I'm here and wouldn't interrupt unless-hey, it's Ken. What's happening?" His expression darkened.
"How many dead?" he grunted.
Covington jerked straight up. He stabbed a button, and a wall of plasma TVs sprang to life. Each sported a news anchor with practiced motions and perfect hair. Each crawl spat "Naperville" and "dead" and "kill" and "slay."
"All right," Cross said. "I'll be back as soon as I can." Stiff with anger, he disconnected.
"You remember my detective Emily Thompson?" he asked.
"Sure," Covington said. "From two years ... oh Lord, she's not dead, is she?"
"No. But she came this close," Cross said, pressing thumb to forefinger. "Someone walked into a spa she was at and stabbed the receptionist."
"She ran outside and tried to capture the killer. He hit her with a car."
"Goddamn murdering scumbags!" Covington bellowed, flushing so dark his eyes glowed like high beams. "How bad was she injured?"
"She bounced off instead of going under the wheels. Nothing serious."
"Thank God. Was she able to-"
Cross shook his head. "Car absorbed the bullets. Manhunt's under way." He stubbed the cigar. "If we're done ..."
"Yes, yes, by all means get going," Covington said. "You want my jet? It'll get you home in thirty minutes."
"No, that's all right," Cross said. "Branch is acting chief when I'm out of town. Nothing I can do that he won't do better." He smiled, but it held no humor. "Just tell your troopers I'm driving a Naperville black-and-white, and I'm not stopping for any speeding tickets."
Chapter Four11:31 A.M.
"You want tickets, lady?" County Sheriff 's Sergeant Rayford Luerchen mumbled as the maroon Subaru wagon wove over the yellow line. "I'll give you tickets."
He'd gotten lippy in a roomful of brass the other day, airily correcting one of the lieutenants without dicks about some point of law she'd been droning about. Payback came this morning in the form of a new assignment-traffic citations, and nothing but, for two months. Him! A senior sergeant. A leader of men. Pulling over jerk drivers like some carrot-brained newbie.
He tried groveling. "I was wrong, ma'am, and I'm very extremely sorry," he'd said. No good. She'd insisted on her pound of flesh.
So he'd write up every two-bit violation he could muster.
The people in this snooty burg would raise hell for getting ticketed one mph over the limit. Or putting a toy in their back window-"dangerously obstructed view"-or sporting an unwashed license plate. Enough flame-throwing to the sheriff from the gentry, Luerchen reasoned, and lady lou would get the message.
Don't cross Ray Luerchen.
The Executioner stiffened. He was well away from the spa, in a quiet residential area. Five miles under the limit. Signaling every turn. There's no way he should be pulled over.
So then why was this cop swooping down in his rearview?
He caressed the Sig's walnut grips as he sorted his options.
Luerchen shook his head, wondering what to do. His computer wasn't connecting because Plank Road was a cellular "dead zone" with its steep hills and valleys. He couldn't ask the dispatchers to run the plate-they were swamped from the spa murder. Like I should be. He dare not wait for either problem to clear because lady lou would rip him for loafing.
"Awright, awright," he decided. "I'll write it up now and call it in later."
He flipped on his roof lights and burped the siren.
The Executioner spotted the colorful wooden sign for Seager Park. Nodded. He knew Seager. Lots of trees for concealment. With no playground equipment to attract children, usually deserted this time of day. It should work.
He put on his signal and crunched up the gravel driveway.
* * *
"Park it while we're young, pal," Luerchen muttered, scratching his sunburned scalp.
As if hearing him, the Subaru pulled underneath a towering maple. Brake lights flashed, window went down, engine shut off. The driver shrugged dramatically-"What did I do, Officer? I didn't do anything! Why are you pulling me over?"-but kept his hands in plain view, as the Rules of the Road encouraged.
Excerpted from CUT TO THE BONE by SHANE GERICKE Copyright © 2007 by Shane Gericke. Excerpted by permission.
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