By P.J. TRACY
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS Copyright © 2004 Patricia Lambrecht and Traci Lambrecht
All right reserved. ISBN: 0-399-15147-8
It was just after sunrise and still raining when Lily found her husband's body. He was lying faceup on the asphalt apron in front of the greenhouse, eyes and mouth open, collecting rainwater.
Even dead, he looked quite handsome in this position, gravity pulling back the loose, wrinkled skin of his face, smoothing away eighty-four years of pain and smiles and worries.
Lily stood over him for a moment, wincing when the raindrops plopped noisily onto his eyes.
I hate eyedrops.
Morey, hold still. Stop blinking. Stop blinking, she says, while she pours chemicals into my eyes.
Hush. It's not chemicals. Natural tears, see? It says so right on the bottle.
You expect a blind man to read?
A little grain of sand in your eye and suddenly you're blind. Big tough guy. And they're not natural tears. What do they do? Go to funerals and hold little bottles under crying people? No, they mix chemicals together and call it natural tears. It's false advertising, is what it is. These are unnatural tears. A little bottle of lies.
Shut up, old man.
This is the thing, Lily. Nothing should pretend to be what it's not. Everything should have a big label that says what it is so there's no confusion. Like the fertilizer we used on the bedding plants that year that killed all our ladybugs, what was it called?
Plant So Green.
Right. So it should have been called Plant So Green Ladybug So Dead. Forget the tiny print on the back you can't read. Real truth in labeling, that's what we need. This is a good rule. God should follow such a rule.
What can I say? He made a big mistake there. Would it have been such a problem for Him to make things look like what they are? I mean, He's God, right? This is something He could do. Think about it. You've got a guy at the door with this great smile and nice face and you let him in and he kills your whole family. This is God's mistake. Evil should look evil. Then you don't let it in.
You, of all people, should know it's not that simple.
It's exactly that simple.
Lily took a breath, then sat on her heels-a young posture for such an old woman, but her knees were still good, still strong and flexible. She couldn't get Morey's eyes to close all the way, and with them open only a slit, he looked sinister. It was the first thing that had frightened Lily in a very long time. She wouldn't look at them as she pushed back the darkened silver hair the rain had plastered to his skull.
One of her fingers slipped into a hole on the side of his head and she froze. "Oh, no," she whispered, then rose quickly, wiping her fingers on her overalls.
"I told you so, Morey," she scolded her husband one last time. "I told you so."
April in Minnesota was always unpredictable, but once every decade or so, it got downright sadistic, fluctuating wildly between tantalizing promises of spring and the last, angry death throes of a stubborn winter that had no intention of going quietly.
It had been just such a year. Last week, a freak snowstorm had blustered in on what had been the warmest April on record, scaring the hell out of the budding trees and launching statewide discussions of a mass migration to Florida.
But spring had eventually prevailed, and right now she was busy playing kiss-and-make-up, and doing a damn fine job of it. The mercury was pushing seventy-five, the snow-stunned flora had rallied with a shameless explosion of neon green, and best of all, the mother lode of mosquito larvae was still percolating in the lakes and swamps. Giddy, sun-starved Minnesotans were out in force, cherishing the temporary delusion that the state was actually habitable.
Detective Leo Magozzi was stretched out on a decrepit chaise on his front porch, Sunday paper in one hand, a mug of coffee in the other. He hadn't forgotten about last week's snowstorm and he was pragmatic enough to know that it wasn't too late for another, but there was no point in letting cynicism ruin a perfectly beautiful day. Besides, it was a rare thing when he could practice the sloth he'd always aspired to-homicide detectives' vacations were always contingent on murderers' vacations, and murderers seemed to be the hardest-working citizens in the country. But for some inexplicable reason, Minneapolis was enjoying the longest murder-free spell in years. As his partner, Gino Rolseth, had put it so eloquently: Homicide was dead. For the past few months they'd had nothing to do but work cold cases, and if they ever solved all of them, they'd be back on the beat, frisking transvestites and wishing they'd been dentists instead of cops.
Magozzi sipped his coffee and watched as the neighborhood masochists engaged in all manner of personal torture, huffing and puffing and sweating as they raced furiously against a climatic clock that would have them locked indoors again in a few months' time. They jogged, they Rollerbladed, they ran with their dogs, and celebrated every degree that rose on the thermometer by shedding another article of clothing.
It was one of the things Magozzi loved most about Minnesotans. Fat, thin, muscled, or flabby, there were no self-conscious people in this state when the weather got warm, and by the time you got a nice day like this one, most of them were half naked. Of course this was not always a good thing, certainly not in the case of Jim, his extremely hirsute next-door neighbor. You could never be really sure if Jim were wearing a shirt or not. He was out there now, possibly shirtless, possibly not, hard at work preparing the flower beds that would put him in pole position for next month's Beautiful Gardens of the Twin Cities Tour. If Jim was trying to shame Magozzi into being a better homeowner, it wasn't going to work.
He looked out at his own sorry excuse for a yard-a couple of mud puddles from last night's rain, some brave dandelions, and a few blue spruce in various stages of demise. Occasionally he had a fleeting memory of what the place had looked like before the divorce. Flowers everywhere, Kentucky bluegrass standing at attention, and Heather out there each day with sharp instruments and a stern expression, frightening plants into submission. She'd been good at frightening things into submission-it had certainly worked on him, and he'd been armed.
He was on his second cup of coffee and almost to the sports section when a Volvo station wagon pulled into the driveway. Gino Rolseth hopped out, lugging an enormous cooler and a bag of Kingsford. His belly tested the generous limits of a Tommy Bahama shirt, and beefy legs poked out from a terrible pair of plaid Bermuda shorts.
"Hey, Leo!" He lumbered up onto the porch and dropped the cooler. "I come bearing gifts of animal flesh and fermented grain."
Magozzi lifted a dark brow. "At eight o'clock in the morning? Tell me this means Angela finally kicked your sorry ass out, so I can call her and propose."
"You should be so lucky. This is charity. Angela's folks took her and the kids to some craft thing at Maplewood Mall, so I had a free Sunday, thought I'd liven up your so-called life."
Magozzi got up and looked into the cooler. "What's a craft thing?"
"You know, those places with all the booths where people knit houses out of old grocery bags and stuff like that."
Magozzi rummaged in the cooler and pulled out a package of sickly-looking, plump, gray-white sausages. "What are these things that look like your legs?"
"Those are uncooked brats, imported all the way from Milwaukee, you food pygmy. Where's your grill?"
Magozzi gestured toward a rusty old Weber in the corner of the porch.
Gino nudged it with his foot and it collapsed. "We're going to need duct tape."
Magozzi hefted a suspicious-looking, dark orange brick of cheese. "Twelve-year cheddar? Is that legal?"
Gino grinned. "That stuff'll make you weep with joy, I promise. Got it at a great little cheese house in Door County. Somebody forgot about a wheel in the cellar and found it twelve years later, covered in about a foot of mold. Nirvana, my friend. Pure nirvana. It's amazing what a cow and some bacteria can do."
Magozzi sniffed it and cringed. "Oh yeah. Every time I see a cow I think, Hey, wouldn't it be great to get some bacteria and really do something with this thing. Why do you have a file folder in the cooler?"
"It's a cold case."
Gino lifted the grill and another leg fell off in a shower of rust. "This one's from ninety-four. Thought we could take a look at it later. You know, just to keep our hand in, in case anyone ever kills somebody in this town again. You remember hearing anything about the Valensky case?"
Magozzi sat down on the chaise and opened the folder. "Sort of. The plumber, right?"
"That's the one. Shot seven times, three of them in places I don't even want to think about."
"Plumbers charge too much."
"Tell me about it. But other than that, this guy was damn near a candidate for sainthood. Some Polack who actually made it out of the war alive, emigrated to the good old U. S. of A., started a business, married, had three kids, deacon at his church, scout leader, the whole American dream, then bled to death on his own bathroom floor after someone used him for target practice."
"Hell no. According to the reports in there, everybody loved him. Case dried up in about two seconds."
Magozzi grunted and tossed the folder on the floor. "Most guys with a free Sunday would probably find something else to do, like sit on a bench at Lake Calhoun and count bikinis."
"Yeah, well, I'm a crime fighter, I have a higher purpose." Gino ran a hand through his hedge of closely cropped blond hair, reconsidering. "Besides, it's probably too early for bikinis."
They got the call before Magozzi had finished duct-taping the legs back on his grill. Gino had gone inside to unload the cooler, and when he came back out to the porch he was beaming.
"Hey, want to go see a body?"
Magozzi sat back on his heels and frowned. "You found a body in my kitchen?"
"Nah. Phone rang while I was in there, so I picked up. Dispatch got an honest-to-God homicide call. Uptown Nursery. The owner's wife found him this morning by one of the greenhouses and figured it was a heart attack, because the guy is pushing eighty-five and what else would drop a man that age? So she called the funeral director. He finds a bullet hole in the guy's head and calls nine-one-one."
Magozzi looked wistfully at the grill and sighed. "So what happened to the on-duty guys who are supposed to be taking this?"
"Tinker and Peterson. Just what I wanted to know. They just took a call at the train yard over in Northeast. Found some poor bastard tied to the tracks."
"Nah, don't worry. Train never hit him."
"So he's okay?"
"Nope, he's dead."
Magozzi looked at him expectantly.
"Don't look at me. That's all I got." He jumped when his shirt pocket spit out an irritating, tinny version of Beethoven's Fifth.
"What is that?"
Gino pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and stabbed viciously at buttons half the size of his chubby fingers. "Goddamnit. Helen keeps programming in all these weird rings 'cause she knows I got no clue how to change it."
Magozzi grinned. "That's funny."
Beethoven spoke again.
"Fourteen-year-olds are only funny when they belong to somebody else ... shit. I'm gonna invent one of these things with big fat buttons and make a jillion dollars ... Hello, this is Rolseth."
Magozzi stood and brushed the rust off his hands, listened to Gino grunt into the phone for a few seconds, then went inside to lock up. By the time he got back out to the porch, Gino had retrieved his gun from the car and was hooking it to the belt that almost held up his Bermuda shorts. He looked like an armed and dangerous tourist.
"I don't suppose you've got a pair of pants that would fit me."
Magozzi just smiled at him.
"Aw, shut up. That was Langer on the phone. He and McLaren just got called in for a suspected homicide-'suspected' meaning someone did a little interior design with a few gallons of blood, but there's no body. And guess what?"
"He wants us to take it?"
"Nah, Dispatch told him we were on the nursery thing, that's why he called. The bloody house is just a few blocks over."
Magozzi frowned. "That's a pretty decent neighborhood."
"Right. Not exactly a killing field, and all of a sudden we've got two possibles in one day. And there's another thing. The guy who lives in that house is-or was-also in his eighties, just like our guy."
Magozzi thought about that for a minute. "He's thinking cluster? What, that some psycho's running around killing old people?"
Gino shrugged. "He was just giving us a heads-up. Thought we should keep in touch in case something clicks."
Magozzi sighed, looked longingly at the Weber. "So we're back in business."
"Big-time." Gino paused for a moment. "You ever think there's something wrong with a job where you only have something to do if someone gets murdered?"
"Every day, buddy."
Marty Pullman was sitting on the closed toilet lid in his downstairs bathroom, staring down the muzzle of a .357 Magnum. The round black hole looked very large, which worried him. Worse yet, the toilet faced the big mirror on the sliding doors that enclosed the bathtub, and he wasn't too keen on watching his own snuff film. He thought about it for a minute, then got into the bathtub and slid the doors closed behind him.
He smiled a little as he aimed the shower nozzle toward the back of the tub and turned the spray on full blast. He may have made a mess of his life, but he sure as hell wasn't going to make a mess of his death.
Finally satisfied, he sat down in the tub and put the muzzle in his mouth. Water poured over his head, his clothes, his shoes.
He hesitated for just a few seconds, wondering again what, if anything, he'd done last night. Not that it would matter now, he thought, slipping his thumb through the trigger guard.
Marty froze, his thumb quivering on the trigger. Goddamn it, he was hallucinating. He had to be. No one ever came to this house, and certainly no one would just let himself in-except maybe a Jehovah's Witness, which made him glad he had the gun.
"Mr. Pullman?" The male voice was louder now, closer, and he sounded young. "Are you in there, sir?" A forceful knock rattled the bathroom door in its frame.
The gun tasted terrible as he pulled it from his mouth, and he spat into the water swirling toward the drain. "Who is it?" he shouted, trying his best to sound scary and aggressive.
"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Pullman, but Mrs. Gilbert told me to break the door down if I had to ..."
Excerpted from LIVE BAIT by P.J. TRACY Copyright © 2004 by Patricia Lambrecht and Traci Lambrecht. Excerpted by permission.
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