Read an Excerpt
Monday, February 28, 2005
New Orleans, Louisiana
Stacy Killian opened her eyes, fully awake. The sound that had awakened her came again.
She sat up and, in one fluid movement, swung her legs over the side of the bed and went for the Glock .40 that waited in the drawer of her nightstand. Ten years of police work had conditioned her to react to that particular sound without hesitation.
Stacy checked the gun’s magazine, crossed to the window and inched aside the drape. The moon illuminated the deserted yard. Several spindly trees, dilapidated swing set, dog pen minus Caesar, her neighbor Cassie’s Labrador retriever puppy.
No sound. No movement.
Padding silently on bare feet, Stacy made her way out of the bedroom, into the adjoining study, weapon out. She rented one half of a hundred-year-old shotgun double, a style of home made popular in the era before air-conditioning.
Stacy swung left, then right, taking in every detail: the stacks of research books for the paper she was writing on Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” her open laptop computer, the half-drunk bottle of cheap red wine. The shadows. Their depth, stillness.
As she expected, each room in the house proved a repeat of the last. The sound that had awakened her had not come from inside her apartment.
She reached the front door, eased it open and stepped out onto the front porch. The sagging wood creaked beneath her feet, the only sound on the otherwise deserted street. She shivered as the wet, chilly night enveloped her.
The neighborhood appeared to be asleep. Few lights shone from windows or porches. Stacy scanned the street. She noted several unfamiliar vehicles, which wasn’t unusual for an area inhabited mostly by university students. All the vehicles appeared empty.
Stacy stood in the shadow of her front door, listening to the silence. Suddenly, from nearby, came the sound of a trash barrel toppling over. Laughter followed. Kids, she realized. Practicing the urban equivalent of cow tipping.
She frowned. Could that have been the sound that awakened her? Altered by sleep and instincts she no longer trusted?
A year ago such a thought wouldn’t have crossed her mind. But a year ago she’d been a cop, a homicide detective with the Dallas P.D. She’d yet to endure the betrayal that had not only stripped her of her confidence but had galvanized her to act on her growing dissatisfaction with her life and job.
Stacy gripped the Glock firmly. She was already freezing her ass off, she might as well take this thing to its conclusion. She slipped into her muddy gardening clogs that were perched on a rack by the door. She made her way across the porch and down the steps to her side yard. Circling around to the backyard, she acknowledged that nothing appeared out of order.
Her hands shook. She fought the panic wanting to rise up in her. The fear that she had lost it, and gone totally around the bend.
This had happened before. Twice. The first time just after she moved in. She’d awakened to what she thought were shots fired and had roused all her neighbors within earshot.
And those times, like now, she’d uncovered nothing but a silent, sleeping street. The false alarm had not ingratiated her to her new neighbors. Most had been understandably pissed off.
But not Cassie. Instead, the other woman had invited her in for hot chocolate.
Stacy shifted her gaze to Cassie’s side of the double, to the light that shone from one of the rear windows.
She stared at the lit window, head filling with the memory of the sound that had awakened her. The shots had been too loud to have come from anywhere but right next door.
Why hadn’t she realized that right away?
Overcome with a feeling of dread, she ran for Cassie’s porch stairs. She reached them, stumbled and righted herself, a dozen different reassurances racing through her head: the sound had been a figment of her subconscious; seriously sleep deprived, she was imagining things; Cassie was in a deep, peaceful sleep.
She reached her friend’s door and pounded on it. She waited, then pounded again. “Cassie!” she called. “It’s Stacy. Open up!”
When the other woman didn’t respond, she grabbed the knob and twisted.
The door opened.
Gripping the Glock with both hands, she nudged the door open with her foot and stepped inside. Absolute quiet greeted her.
She called out again, hearing the hopeful note in her voice. The quiver of fear.
Even as she told herself her mind was playing tricks on her, she saw that it wasn’t.
Cassie lay facedown on the living room floor, half on and half off the oval rag rug. A large, dark stain haloed her body. Blood, Stacy acknowledged. A lot of blood.
Stacy began to tremble. Swallowing hard, she worked to quell the reaction. To step outside herself. Think like a cop.
She crossed to her friend. She squatted beside her, feeling herself slipping into professional mode. Separating herself from what had happened, who it had happened to.
She checked Cassie’s wrist for a pulse. When she found none, she moved her gaze over the body. It looked as if Cassie had been shot twice, once between the shoulder blades, the other in the back of the head. What was left of her blond, curly bob was matted with blood. She was fully dressed: denims, cloud-blue T-shirt, Birkenstocks. Stacy recognized the shirt; it was one of Cassie’s favorites. From memory she knew the front read: Dream. Love. Live.
Tears choked her; Stacy fought them. Crying wouldn’t help her friend. But keeping her cool just might help catch her killer.
A sound came from the back of the apartment.
Or the killer.
Stacy firmed her grip on the Glock, though her hands shook. Heart thumping, she stood and, as quietly as possible, inched deeper into the apartment.
She found Beth in the doorway to the second bedroom. Unlike the other woman, Beth lay on her back, her eyes open, vacant. She wore pink cotton pajamas, patterned with gray-and-white kittens.
She’d also been shot. Twice in the chest.
Quickly, careful not to disturb any evidence, Stacy checked the woman’s pulse. As with Cassie, she found none.
She straightened, then swung in the direction from which the sound had come.
Whining, she realized. A snuffling at the bathroom door.
She made for the bathroom, softly calling the dog’s name. He responded with a yip and she carefully eased the door open. The Lab lunged at her feet, gratefully whining.
As she scooped the squirming puppy up, she saw that he had messed on the floor. How long had he been locked up? she wondered. Had Cassie done it? Or her killer? And why? Cassie crated the dog at night and when she wasn’t home.
Puppy tucked under her arm, Stacy made a quick but thorough search of the apartment to ensure the shooter was gone, though her gut told her he was.
She would guess he got out in the few minutes it had taken her to make her way from her own bedroom to the front porch. She hadn’t heard a car door slam or an engine start, which could mean he’d escaped on foot -- or nothing at all.
She needed to call 911, but was loath to hand the investigation over before she absorbed all she could of the crime scene. She glanced at her watch. A 911 homicide call would yield an immediate cruiser if one was in the area. Three minutes or less from the time dispatch received the call, she guessed, turning back to the scene. If not, she could be looking at fifteen minutes.
Judging by what she saw, Stacy felt certain Cassie had been killed first, Beth second. Beth had probably heard the first two shots and gotten out of bed to see what was happening. She wouldn’t have immediately recognized the sound as a gun discharging. And even if she had suspected gunshots, she would have convinced herself otherwise.
That explained the phone, untouched, on the nightstand by the bed. Stacy crossed to it and, using the edge of her pajama top, picked up the receiver. The dial tone buzzed reassuringly in her ear.
Stacy ran through the possibilities. The place didn’t appear to have been robbed. The door had been unlocked, not broken into. Cassie had invited the killer inside. He -- or she -- was a friend or an acquaintance. Someone she had been expecting. Or someone she knew. Perhaps the killer had asked her to lock up the dog?
Tucking her questions away for later, she dialed 911. “Double homicide,” she said to the operator, voice shaking.“1174 City Park Avenue.” And then, cuddling Caesar to her chest, Stacy sat on the floor and cried.
Monday, February 28, 2005
Detective Spencer Malone drew his 1977, cherry-red, mint-condition Chevy Camaro to a stop in front of the City Park neighborhood double. His older brother John had bought the car new. It had been his baby, his pride and joy until he’d gotten married and had babies to tote to and from daycare and birthday parties.
Now the Camaro was Spencer’s pride and joy.
Spencer shifted into Park and peered through the windshield at the double. The first officers had secured the scene; yellow crime scene tape stretched across the slightly sagging front porch. One of the officers stood just beyond, signing in those who arrived, noting the time of their entrance.
Spencer narrowed his eyes, recognizing the officer as a third-year rookie and one of his staunchest accusers.
Connelly. The prick.
Spencer took in a deep breath, working to control his temper, the short fuse that had gotten him in too many brawls to count. The hot head that had held him back professionally, that had contributed to the ease with which everyone had bought into the accusations that had almost ended his career.
Hot tempered and a major league fuckup. An ugly combination.
He shook the thoughts off. This scene was his. He was lead man. He wasn’t going to screw it up.
Spencer opened the car door and climbed out just as Detective Tony Sciame wheeled to a stop in front of the double. In the New Orleans Police Force, detectives didn’t have set partners, per se, they worked a rotation. When a case came in, whoever was next in line got it. That detective chose another to assist, and the factors involved in that choice were availability, experience and friendship.
Most of the guys tended to find someone they clicked with, a kind of symbiotic “partnership.” For a number of reasons, he and Tony worked well together, filling in the other’s blanks, so to speak.
Spencer had a hell of a lot more blanks to fill than Tony did.
A thirty-year veteran of the force, twenty-five of it in Homicide, Tony was an old-timer. Happily married for thirty-two years -- and a pound overweight for each of those years -- he had four kids, one grown and on his own, one still at home, and two at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, one mortgage and a scruffy dog named Frodo.
Although their partnership was new, they’d already been likened to Mutt and Jeff, Frick and Frack, and Laurel and Hardy. Spencer preferred a Gibson and Glover comparison -- with him being the good-looking, renegade Mel Gibson character -- but their fellow officers weren’t going for it.
“Yo, Slick,” Tony said.
Spencer liked to rag Tony about his pasta gut; his partner returned the favor by addressing him as Slick, Junior or Hotshot. Never mind that Spencer, at thirty-one and a nine-year veteran of the force, was neither rookie nor kid, he was new both to rank of detective and to Homicide, which in the culture of the NOPD made him a mark for ribbing.
The other man laughed and patted his middle. “You’re just jealous.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself.” Spencer motioned to the crime-scene van. “Techs beat us to the scene.”
They fell into step together. Tony squinted up at the starless sky. “I’m getting too old for this shit. Call caught me and Betty in the middle of busting our youngest for staying out past curfew.”
“My ass. That girl’s a menace. Four kids and the last one is hell on wheels. See this?” He indicated the nearly bald top of his head. “They’ve all contributed, but Carly . . . Just wait, you’ll see.”
Spencer laughed. “I grew up with six siblings. I know what kids are like. That’s why I’m not having any.”
“Whatever you need to tell yourself. By the way, what was her name?”
Truth was, he’d been out with his brothers Percy and Patrick. They’d had a couple of beers and a burger at Shannon’s Tavern. The closest he’d gotten to scoring was sinking the eight ball in the corner pocket to defeat Patrick, the family pool shark.
But Tony didn’t want to hear that. The Malone brothers were legends in the NOPD. Handsome, hard-partying hotheads with reputations as lady-killers.
“I don’t kiss and tell, partner.”
They reached Connelly. Spencer met his eyes and it all came rushing back. He’d been working the Fifth District Detective Investigative Unit, in charge of a kitty of informant money. Fifteen hundred bucks, not that much in today’s world. But enough to be raked over the coals when it turned up missing. Suspended without pay, charged, then indicted.
Charges had been dropped, his name cleared. Turned out Lieutenant Moran, his immediate superior and the one who had placed the kitty in his care, had set him up. Because he “trusted him.” Because he believed “he was up to the responsibility” even though he’d only worked DIU six months.
More like, Moran believed Spencer was a patsy.
If it hadn’t been for his family refusing to accept his guilt, the bastard would have gotten away with it. If Spencer had been found guilty, not only would he have been kicked off the force, he would have done jail time.
As it was, he’d lost a year and a half of his life.
Thinking about it still chapped his ass. Remembering how many of his brothers in arms had turned against him -- including this little weasel -- infuriated him. Up until then, he had thought of the NOPD as his extended family, his fellow officers as his brothers and sisters.
And until then, life had been one big party. Laissez les bon temps rouler, New Orleans-style.
Lieutenant Moran had changed all that. The man had made his life a living hell; he’d destroyed Spencer’s illusions about the force and about being a cop.
The parties weren’t as much fun now. He saw the consequences of his actions.
To keep Spencer from suing, the department had reinstated him with back pay and bumped him up to ISD.
Investigative Support Division. His dream job.
In the late nineties the department had decentralized, taking detective units, such as Homicide and Vice, out of headquarters and positioning them in the eight district stations throughout the city. They bundled them into a multitask Detective Investigative Unit. The detectives in DIU didn’t specialize; they handled everything from burglary to vice to rubber-stamp homicides.
However, for the top homicide detectives -- the ones with the most experience and training, the cream of the crop -- they’d created ISD. Located in headquarters, they handled cold-case homicides -- ones unsolved after a year -- and all the juicy stuff as well: sex crimes, serial murders, child abductions.
Some touted decentralization a huge success. Some called it an embarrassing failure -- especially in terms of homicide. In the end, one thing was certain, it saved the department money.
Spencer had accepted the department’s obvious bribe because he was a cop. More than a job, it was who he was. He’d never considered being anything else. How could he have? Police work was in his blood. His father, uncle and aunt were all cops. So were several cousins and all but two of his siblings. His brother Quentin had left the force after sixteen years to study law. Even so, he hadn’t strayed far from the family business. A prosecutor with the
Orleans Parish D.A., he helped convict the guys the other Malones busted.
“Hello, Connelly,” Spencer said tightly. “Here I am, back from the dead. Surprised?”
The other officer shifted his gaze. “I don’t know what you mean, Detective.”
“My ass.” He leaned toward the other man. “You going to have a problem working with me?”
The officer took a step backward. “No problem. No, sir.”
“Good thing. Because I’m here to stay.”
“What’ve we got?”
“Double homicide.” The rookie’s voice shook slightly. “Both female. UNO students.” He glanced at his notes. “Cassie Finch and Beth Wagner. Neighbor there called it in. Name’s Stacy Killian.”
Spencer glanced in the direction he indicated. A young woman, cradling a sleeping puppy in her arms, stood on the porch. Tall, blond and, from what he could see, attractive. It looked as if she was wearing pajamas under her denim jacket. “What’s her story?”
“Thought she heard gunshots and went to investigate.”
“Now, there was an intelligent move.” Spencer shook his head in disgust. “Civilians.”
They started toward the porch. Tony angled him a glance. “Way to set the record, Slick. Stupid little prick.”
Tony had never succumbed to the Malone bashing that had become the favorite pastime of many in the NOPD. He’d stood by Spencer and the entire Malone clan’s belief in Spencer’s innocence. That hadn’t always been easy, Spencer knew, particularly when the “evidence” had begun to stack up.
There were some who still didn’t buy Spencer’s innocence -- or Lieutenant Moran’s guilt. Despite the department’s reinstatement or Moran’s confession and suicide. They figured the Malone family had “fixed” it somehow, used their considerable influence within the department to make it all go away.
It pissed him off. Spencer hated that he had been involved, albeit innocently, in the sullying of his family’s reputation, hated the speculative glances, the whispers.
“It’ll get better,” Tony murmured, as if reading his mind. “Cops’ memories aren’t that good. Lead poisoning, in my humble opinion.”
“You think?” Spencer grinned at him as they climbed the steps. “I was leaning toward excessive exposure to blue dye.”
They crossed the porch. He was aware of the neighbor’s gaze on him; he didn’t meet it. There would be time later for her distress and questions. Now was not it.
They entered the double. The techs were at work. Spencer skimmed his gaze over the scene, experiencing a small rush of excitement.
He had wanted Homicide for as long as he could remember. As a kid, he’d listened to his dad and Uncle Sammy discuss cases. And later, had watched his brothers John and Quentin with awe. When the department had decentralized, he’d wanted ISD.
ISD was the big time. Top of the heap.
He’d been too much of a screw-up to earn the appointment. But here he was. Payoff for his cooperation and goodwill.
He hadn’t been proud enough to turn it down.
Copyright © 2005 Erica Spindler