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I'll Never Let You Go
By MARY BURTON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Mary Burton
All rights reserved.
Four Years Later Saturday, January 14, 7 P.M. Nashville, Tennessee
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent Alex Morgan arrived at an abandoned warehouse located on the frigid banks of the Cumberland River. Weeds and yellow crime scene tape circled the warehouse, which was scarred with black scorch marks from a recent fire. Each window was smashed.
On cold nights, the homeless broke into abandoned structures like this one, and set paper and sticks on fire for warmth. He guessed flames had jumped, spread too quickly, and licked up the wooden rafters.
An unseen door banged open and closed in the bitter wind that cut across the mile-wide river, flapping the tape and chilling him to the bone. He turned up his charcoal-gray overcoat collar and burrowed his hands deeper into his pockets fingering a pocketknife he always carried. Fifteen minutes earlier, he'd been on his way to Rudy's, a honky-tonk on Broadway. Not a normal haunt for him, but tonight was a rare night off. And surprisingly, a date. Both rarities.
Blue lights from three cop cars flashed as three officers huddled near the ring of yellow tape.
Frozen dirt crunched and crackled under his neatly polished wingtips. Brittle grass brushed the sides of his freshly dry-cleaned suit pants as his long legs ate up the ground separating him and the abandoned metal building.
This part of the river, in East Nashville, didn't enjoy the vibrant beat of the city's West End, where the famed Broadway strip sported the neon lights of honky-tonks and restaurants. Even on a night as cold as this, Broadway had its charm, and though the streets weren't as packed as they would be on a summer night, the honky-tonks remained filled with laughter and the music of aspiring artists.
On the East Side of the river, no lights or live music beckoned. The architecture was neither charming nor historic. Instead, not-so-sexy garages, scrap metal companies, and storage facilities housed in boxy one-story metal and industrial brick buildings lined the streets.
A uniformed officer stood at the edge of the crime scene tape. The officer's thin frame, thick blond hair, and ruddy cheeks gave away his youth. He rubbed two gloved hands together and stomped his feet to stay warm.
Alex pulled his badge from his breast pocket. "Alex Morgan, TBI."
The officer frowned. He knew Alex. All the cops knew Alex. The traitor. The turncoat. The agent, who for the last three years, investigated cops. "Yes, sir. Your brother is waiting."
Mindful that the other officers were also staring at him, Alex moved toward the yellow tape. The uniformed officer didn't bother to raise the tape for Alex. Uncaring and accustomed to this kind of chill, Alex ducked under the tape and crossed the cracked and potted asphalt. If he really cared about their opinion, which he didn't, he'd have asked them to explain their resentment. Like them, he had joined the force to catch bad guys. The only difference was that he tracked bad guys who hid behind a uniform. If he cared ...
By the building's entrance stood a tall, broad-shouldered man powerfully built, and wearing a perpetual frown. He wore a knit cap and a thick, black, well-worn overcoat that covered dark pants and heavy muddied boots. He was Alex's older brother, Deke Morgan, and he headed up the Nashville Police Department's Homicide Squad.
"Deke," he said.
His brother turned, the scowl on his face easing a fraction. "Thanks for coming."
"This is a first. A murder scene?" As an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, it had been a couple of years since he'd shifted away from murder investigations to internal affairs. "What do you have?"
Deke handed Alex a set of black rubber gloves. "A burned torso. No hands, no feet. No head." Each word puffed out in cold clouds as he spoke.
Alex's tall, rawboned frame topped six three. Deke had been gifted with strength and bulk, whereas Alex enjoyed speed and agility. Despite physical differences, each matched the other in raw determination.
Alex yanked on the gloves. "There's a homeless problem down here. And normally, the death of a vagrant doesn't rate this kind of attention."
They'd both been in police work long enough to understand that politics followed, even in death.
"Not so sure this guy is homeless."
Deke clicked on a heavy-duty flashlight, and the two moved into the building. The scent of gasoline and charred flesh hung heavy in the room. In the far right corner, portable lights glared over the blackened remains of something that didn't resemble anything human. Fire could do that. Melt away all traces of humanity.
One forensic technician dressed in a jumpsuit and a jacket shot pictures of the body while another sketched the scene.
Alex stared closely at the body. In an intense fire, flames ate away the hands and feet first. "Extremities burned by fire?"
"Dismembered. Bone cuts are clean and precise."
Interesting. "Cause of death?"
"Gunshot wound to the chest. No large bloodstains, which makes me think murder and dismemberment happened at another location."
"Male or female?" Alex asked, his interest growing.
"Appears to be male," he said. "Someone tossed gasoline or diesel on him and then set him on fire. The flames burned quickly and hot, ate up his skin before it fizzled out."
"Body was stripped."
"Any sign of the extremities or head?"
"No. I've got an officer coming with a dog in the morning to search the area."
"Who found the body?"
"A couple of homeless guys called. They didn't give names but said where the body could be found. Officer O'Connor responded and reported it."
"No identification on or near the body?"
"Time of death estimates?"
"Don't know yet. Cold is making that a tough call. Could be a couple of days if not more."
"I'm surprised the fire wasn't reported."
"We had that snowstorm last week. Could have been missed, and judging by the looks, the building contained the fire. I expect the medical examiner will be able to tell us quite a bit more."
The facts processed, Alex met his brother's gaze. "Why am I here for a dead guy who may or may not be homeless?"
A smile flickered on Deke's bulldog face. "Always warm and fuzzy."
Small talk wasted time. "I'm trying."
That jostled a laugh. "Right." Deke shined the light toward a distant corner filled with rubble, where moonlight leaked in through the building's patchwork roof and cast eerie slashes of light across the cement floor. An animal scurried across the floor.
"It's what I found near the victim." The two moved toward a midsize, worn brown leather bag.
"Looks like a tool kit," Alex said.
"Might be. I'm guessing it belongs to our guy."
Alex knelt and studied the case's weathered exterior. Inside it looked as if it had once held wrenches, screwdrivers, and an assortment of other items but now was empty. Deke wouldn't have mentioned the bag without reason. "Has this been photographed?"
"And dusted for prints."
With a gloved hand, he reached inside the case and, in a side pocket, found a 9mm Beretta. "He stashes the bag and gun in the corner."
"He wasn't expecting trouble, or he had another gun on him that was taken."
Alex glanced back at the charred body. "I'd say trouble found him."
Deke rubbed his chilled hands together, seeming to replay the crime in his head. "Company shoots him. Strips the body and cuts off head, hands, and feet. Sets the torso on fire."
"Nothing to identify the victim." A lot of trouble to go to for a homeless guy.
Deke squatted in front of the bag and shined the light inside. "There's a card tucked in the side pocket. Easy to miss the first time."
Alex fished through the pocket until his fingers brushed the dog-eared card. He pulled it up into Deke's light. The card read Deidre Jones, Police Officer, Nashville Police Department. "What the hell."
Deke read the card. "Shit. What's her card doing here?"
"You called me about Jones last week. Wanted me to do some digging. Think she's skimming money. But you gave me her rank as detective. This is an old card. This guy knew her from the past."
"That's my guess."
"Could he have been a confidential informant?"
"Maybe." Deke allowed his gaze to drift. "Keep talking."
"The two had a meet. This guy gets shot and dismembered. You think Jones could have shot him?"
"A cop would know how to make an identification difficult. And this is going to be a difficult identification unless we've got DNA for a cross-check."
Alex had dug only a little into Deidre Jones's past and work life. What he had learned so far was that she was smart. She closed a lot of cases and was well respected.
Deke shifted his stance. "You'd think she'd also have the sense to search the area first. Sanitize it completely."
"Jones has been with the Nashville Police Department for eight years. Top in her class at the academy. Worked as a uniformed officer for four years before being promoted to detective. Impressive closure rate. Good cop by all appearances. But that's skimming the surface." Alex sifted through more Deidre Jones facts. "She's in tremendous shape. Organized a marathon training group. Well liked. I considered joining the group but decided against it. These days when I show up, people clam up. I'm trying to make friends with a member of Jones's running group."
"Miracles do happen." Alex's waking hours were spent working, and the one or two folks he called friends dated back to middle school. "She's recently separated from her husband. Divorce wasn't friendly."
Deke grunted. "Which ones are?"
"You should know."
Deke absently rubbed his thumb against his naked ring finger. "Two divorces is my limit."
"You have two strikes already so does that mean you're not getting married again or divorced again?"
"Divorced again." Deke shoved his hand in his pocket. "I asked Rachel to marry me."
"She's chewing on it." Deke and defense attorney Rachel Wainwright had been living together for almost a year and a half.
"She's a lawyer. They weigh all the options."
"That's what worries me. On paper, I don't look like a winning horse."
Alex noted the rising and unexpected worry in his brother's voice. "Rachel is the patron saint of lost causes. She'll say yes eventually."
"Saying I'm a lost cause?"
"When it comes to marriage, yes."
Alex shrugged and shifted his focus back to the case. "Deidre did a hell of a job bringing down Ray Murphy. Her case was ironclad, but if she comes up dirty, his defense attorneys are going to have a field day." Ray Murphy was a drug dealer who'd made millions selling meth. Deidre had worked undercover, getting Murphy's girlfriend to flip and wear a wire. It had taken a year, but Deidre had worked the case better than any other cop could have.
"You think Murphy set this little scene up?"
"He's smart enough. I wouldn't put it past him."
Alex studied the bag and then glanced back at the body. "Find anything else?"
"That's it. Ballistics and whatever else forensics finds will have to be sifted through at the lab."
Deke stared at the bag, illuminated in the halo of the flashlight. "She's a highly decorated officer. I want whatever facts you can dig up before I talk to her."
Never ask a question without knowing the answer first. They'd learned the lesson in the cradle from their father, the late Buddy Morgan, a legend in the Nashville Police Department Homicide Squad. Most kids got bedtime stories. The Morgan kids heard recaps of homicide cases. Not a surprise all of the Morgan children had gone into law enforcement. Their other brother, Rick, worked homicide with Deke, and baby sister, Georgia, was a forensic technician.
Of all the Morgan children, Deke looked the most like their father. Old-timers said he was a carbon copy. Rick, the next in line, was a slighter version of Deke. Alex shared their dark coloring, but his features were more aquiline and narrow, like their mother's. Georgia, adopted when she was days old, was the outlier when it came to looks. She favored her birth mother's strawberry-blond hair and freckles, though when it came to temperament, she was all Morgan.
Deke and Rick loved homicide and, no doubt, would do the work until the city forced them to take the gold retirement watch. Alex didn't see himself in TBI in the next decade. He made no secret about his political ambitions.
"Okay. I'll keep digging." Alex checked his watch. "I've got to go. Georgia is singing tonight."
Georgia sang on her off nights in Rudy's. Her musical talent had also been a gift from her birth mother. No Morgan brother could have identified a musical key or note, even if presented with a lineup. "I texted her and told her I was here. She understands."
"Right." They might not like it, but they understood the demands of being a cop.
Deke's lips lifted into a rusty grin. "You sure you want to go to Rudy's?" A retired cop owned the bar, which had become a favorite hangout for anyone wearing a badge.
"I told Georgia I'd be there."
"You're going to get hassled."
A smile tipped the edge of his lips. "They can try."
Deke laughed. "I remember when you were a kid. Mom bought you that stupid striped shirt. You were in the fourth grade?"
"You got all kinds of teasing over that shirt. And instead of trashing it, you wore it every day for two months."
"Became known as my fighting shirt." Alex had never gone looking for a fight, but when one found him, he never backed away. After eight weeks, the shirt had been torn, mended, and bloodied more times than anyone could remember. When it vanished from the wash, his mother had denied responsibility, but they all knew she'd finally thrown it out. Alex could handle the trouble, but their mom could not.
"Georgia also tells me you have a date."
Alex could have asked how his sister knew about the date but didn't bother. She had radar, a fact he'd accepted long ago. "Yep."
"I thought she was joking."
"So who's the lucky girl?"
"The veterinarian who takes care of Rick's dog?"
Their brother Rick had been a canine officer who'd been allowed to adopt Tracker after the dog had been retired. "Yes."
"How'd you meet?"
"Rick is boarding his dog at the vet's kennel. I told him I'd check on Tracker while he was gone."
"What's special about Leah?"
"She's Deidre's new best friend."
Deke nodded. "You set this up."
"How'd you get Rick to board Tracker?"
"Told him I needed an undercover officer with four legs. He liked the idea of his canine working again."
"And now you and Deidre's friend are going on a date?"
"That's right." Digging his phone out of his pocket, he texted Georgia. Running late. Give my date the heads-up. Buy her a drink. Be there in twenty.
"What do you know about her?"
"Not much. But that's the point of a date. To learn."
"Mixing business with pleasure?"
When it came to catching the bad guys, lying came naturally to Alex. He did what he had to do. In his personal life he never lied. Leah was the first time black and white had muddied to gray.
"Leah's the only personal friend Deidre Jones seems to have these days. Wouldn't hurt to find out what she knows about Deidre." Alex's phone dinged with a text. WILL DO. He slid his phone back into his pocket. "Have you gotten me a rundown on Deidre's recent cases?"
"On my desk. I'll send it tomorrow."
Neither one of them liked the idea of investigating Deidre. But good cops went bad for all variety of reasons, and when they went bad, Alex had the unpleasant job of mopping up the mess. "I'll call you when I have something."
"Talk only to me."
Saturday, January 14, 8 P.M.
Until death do us part.
The freshly tattooed wedding vow ran along the twenty-six bones of his spine, entwined by a thorny, flowerless vine that coiled around and cut through the neatly scripted letters. A delicate sparrow fluttered above a jagged thorn and the word Death.
Each prick of the tattoo artist's needle had been a painful reminder of the love he carried for his sparrow, a lovely wife who, confused and misled by lying friends, didn't understand the true depth of his commitment.
Though she'd left him, he'd never stopped keeping tabs on her, and he'd tracked her to her rented town house near Nashville's West End Park. He'd cried when she'd begun flirting shamelessly with men. When she'd begun sleeping with them, hurt had turned to rage. His little lark had turned into a whore.
Excerpted from I'll Never Let You Go by MARY BURTON. Copyright © 2015 Mary Burton. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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