Read an Excerpt
By Steve Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Steve Jackson
All rights reserved.
March 28, 1993 — Somewhere in the mountains west of Denver, Colorado
It was sometime after 2 A.M. when the small car pulled into the gravel turnoff from the highway and rolled to a stop with its lights out. A dark figure emerged from the driver's door, pausing a moment to make sure he was alone on the mountainside.
The night was bitterly cold, and the wind howled like wolves, rattling the tall dry grasses that poked through the snow. A stream rushed noisily over rock in the valley below, invigorated by the spring thaw.
Rock, bush, and tree cast black shadows in the moonlight, but no headlights appeared on the highway. Satisfied, the man opened the rear door and, leaning over, reached inside. Straining against the dead weight, he hauled the body of a young woman out and onto the ground.
Cher Elder lay unconscious and naked in the moonlight. He had beat her, punching her repeatedly in the face, and strangled her to the point of nearly passing out before he raped her. Then he fractured her skull with a blow from behind.
It had been a mistake to go anywhere with this man. But Cher, a pretty 20-year-old whose schoolbooks were laid out neatly at home for a future she would never see, was a friendly young woman, always laughing, trusting. She'd had no reason to fear him, until it was too late — when he changed into a monster.
The man reached back into the car and removed something small and dark from under the front seat and put it in his pocket. Then he half-dragged, half-carried Cher to a place out of sight from the road. As she lay helpless, he pulled the gun from his pocket and pressed it against her head, just above and behind her left ear. Three quick shots echoed briefly off the surrounding hills, then were swallowed by the wind.
The man thought for a moment, looking down at the body as dark blood seeped into the ground beneath her head. Crouching, he picked up Cher's hand and tugged a ring from her lifeless finger.
Scott Richardson reluctantly climbed off his Harley-Davidson. It was days like this when all he wanted was to head the bike up one of the mountain passes west of Denver and ride. Forget the crimes and the tragedies, and clear his mind in the fresh air and sunshine as he leaned into each curve and opened up the throttle on the straightaways.
But duty called, so he turned and walked into the Lakewood city building, down the stairs and, after punching in a code number, through the police department's security doors. He had just poured a cup of the bitter black brew that passed for coffee in the squad room when the detective division secretary, Donna, handed him a slip of paper. "Some guy named Tom Luther called, said he's the one you're looking for. Here's his number."
"Thanks, Donna," Richardson said, taking the note. He was expecting the call — has to be the mystery man in the videotape, he thought — but he hadn't known the man's name, nor had he anticipated the call coming so soon.
Donna stood watching but was disappointed when Richardson turned away without further comment. Lean and handsome, despite the thinning of his coal black hair, the soft-spoken Texan wasn't an imposing man physically, even though his fellow detectives kidded that his thick, Fu Manchu mustache made him look more like an outlaw biker than a cop. But it was his coffee-brown eyes that suspects found intimidating, especially when he was angry and they turned as dark as his mood.
His eyes were dark now. There was a girl missing, more than likely dead, from his adopted home of Lakewood, a bedroom community washed up against the Rocky Mountains due west of Denver. And this Tom Luther character had something to do with it, he thought. There had been too many false leads in his career, let alone this case, to get too excited, but Luther smelled like the real thing.
Richardson took a deep breath and let it go slowly to take the edge off as he walked back to his cubicle in the crowded office. He sat back in his chair and put his worn cowboy boots up on the desk to collect his thoughts before he called Mr. Luther.
As he did, he glanced up at the photograph of the dark-haired young woman he'd tacked to the wall. Cher Elder. The picture hung purposely near the photos of the five things he loved most in the world: his wife, Sabrina; his three-year-old twin sons, Brent and Brandon; hunting; and his Harley-Davidson softtail motorcycle. ("Not necessarily in that order," Sabrina teased when she was in a good mood, a little more pointedly when ticked at him.)
Richardson's gaze shifted to the photograph of Sabrina. A pretty woman. Blond, hazel eyes set in an oval face, and an east Texas drawl soft as a spring breeze off the prairie. They'd been together since she was a 13-year-old Texas rose and he a 17-year-old rebel just out of high school. They married five years later, in 1984, shortly after he'd been made a detective on the tiny Gladewater, Texas, police force — at 22, one of the youngest detectives in that state. She'd put up with a lot of crap ever since, including the long hours and fears that came with being a cop's wife.
Working in the rough-and-ready oiltown of Gladewater in Gregg County, a swamp-covered hotbed for car thieves and drug dealers, he'd had his head busted open by a pool cue and come within millimeters of being shot a couple of times. But when he'd tried to quit police work for her sake, it was Sabrina who'd said, "You know you're a cop, now get your butt back where you belong."
They moved to Denver in 1985, and he joined the Lakewood Police Department. The twins were born in 1990. It was hard to believe that they'd been married now for nearly ten years.
Richardson looked back at the photograph of Cher Elder. It was a portrait shot taken shortly before she disappeared. She was smiling, and a hint of the mischievousness he'd been told about played at the corners of her mouth and in her green eyes. It was a nice picture of a nice girl. Twenty years old.
Cher, 5'3" and 120 pounds, had been reported missing by her father, Earl Elder, on March 31, 1993. Richardson got the case on April 1.
According to the dispatch report, Mr. Elder had contacted other family members and friends, including the girl's boyfriend, one Byron Eerebout, after no one had seen her for several days. There was a possible sitting at a local bingo hall the preceding Sunday, March 28, but nothing since. Earl was "very concerned as his daughter has never failed to return home, or be in contact with family," the dispatch officer had written.
Richardson's first impulse had been to let it slide. Chances were the so-called "missing person" was pissed off at her folks or her boyfriend and was getting even by sunning herself on a beach in Acapulco. Wait a week and, often as not, those cases resolved themselves with the subject turning up back at home.
Call it case management, but he had a whole stack of assaults and robberies that demanded his attention before he was going to leap too far into a missing person case. He had dropped the file back in the basket when his partner, Detective Mike Heylin, poked his face into his cubicle with an offer to go work out at a local gym. It can wait, Richardson told himself, grabbing his coat.
As he lifted weights at the gym, he'd tried to push the Cher Elder case out his mind, but something nagged at him. Nothing he could explain, but he had learned to trust his instincts. So much so that he mentioned the case to Heylin as they drove back to the department, something he normally wouldn't have bothered with on such a trivial matter.
"To hell with it," he muttered. "I oughta just let it sit. But as soon as I say that, sure as hell, it'll turn into a homicide. Guess I'll place a couple of calls." Heylin just nodded. He knew that once a case started eating at his partner, there was no stopping him.
It was now April 20. Cher had been missing for three weeks, a long time to be sunning in Mexico.
Richardson customarily tacked the photographs of victims in his cases on the walls near those of his family. It was hard to think of someone as just another case if that person was smiling at him from the wall every morning when he came to work and every evening when he left. Particularly the homicides or, he corrected himself, the suspected homicides.
The photograph reminded him that Case No. 93-31067 was a girl whose family loved her every bit as much as he loved his boys. Cher's family was suffering now, wondering what had become of her, blaming themselves, as families do, for something they had no control over. He suspected he couldn't do anything for Cher, but it was his responsibility to bring her family some peace and, if she was indeed dead, her killer to justice.
It was a mission he took personally, even if it hadn't started that way. And it was a damn good thing he'd listened to his instincts and picked up a telephone or he might have missed the one piece of evidence that would allow him to someday, soon he hoped, take Cher Elder's picture off the wall.
Just that morning Heylin reminded him, "You said if you didn't call on it, sure enough, it'd turn into a homicide. You called, but it looks like that's what we got anyway."
Richardson had nodded. There was no use denying the obvious. In his heart, he'd known almost from the beginning ... when the Eerebout boys started lying. He'd known for sure three days ago when an officer found Cher's car abandoned in a grocery store parking lot.
While some homicide cops made a big show of not getting emotionally involved in their cases, he approached his work from the opposite direction. He wanted to know everything he could about the victim. In the past three weeks, he had learned as much as he could about Cher Elder, and what he learned had convinced him that she wasn't the sort of girl who dumped her car and ran away without contacting her family and friends.
"Slow down," he told himself periodically. "She may be on that beach in Mexico." It became almost a mantra and it was a good practice in theory: avoid putting on blinders, consider everything. But he knew better.
This case just plain bothered him more than most. He'd seen his share of victims walk to their fates with their eyes open. It wasn't uncommon for one of them to be portrayed as some kind of choir girl by her family and friends only for him to find out that she'd been running dope, or prostitutin', or a hundred other dangerous and illegal things. But this case was different. Cher was different. Her mistake, he believed, was that she had fallen in love with Byron Eerebout, a petty thief and small-time drug dealer.
Now nobody would admit to having seen Cher since the early morning hours of March 28 when, according to Byron, he peeked out his apartment window and watched her drive away. Of course that all depended on which version of the story Byron, or his younger brothers, J.D. and Tristan, were telling on any given day.
Richardson didn't mind the changing stories. The Eerebouts were a convict's kids. They weren't going to fall down on their knees and confess just 'cause he looked at 'em cross-eyed. But let them run off at the mouth and, sooner or later, they'd slip. "Get their lips movin'," was his motto, and sure enough, he'd caught Byron in several lies and that told him a lot. After all, why lie about a missing persons case?
If he hadn't missed his guess, this Tom Luther fellow was the grey-haired mystery man caught on a videotape with Cher by a casino security camera on the night of March 27, a Saturday. It was a piece of the puzzle, one he'd almost missed.
The grey-haired man, according to witnesses, was a friend of Byron's. But that morning, Byron denied knowing him.
Richardson hadn't called him on the lie. "Guess I'll have to give this to the news media," he shrugged instead, pulling the tape from the VCR, "and get this guy's face plastered all over the television and newspapers. See if anybody knows who he is."
The ploy worked faster than he dared hope. Byron walked out of the interrogation room, promising to contact him if "anything else comes to me." An hour later, while he was out for a spin on the motorcycle, Donna took the call from Tom Luther. "I'm the one he's lookin' for," Luther had told her.
"You're right, bud," Richardson muttered as he lifted his boots off the desk, picked up the telephone, and punched in the number left by Tom Luther. "You're the one I'm lookin' for — but for what?"
The telephone rang. "Hello?" a male voice answered. Just get his lips movin', Richardson told himself, and this will be over in nothin' flat.
"Hello, Mr. Luther, please," Richardson said.
"Yeah. This is he." The voice from the other end of the line was cautious.
"Hi. How you doin'? I gotta message here that you called." Richardson tried to sound friendly and confused, as if he couldn't figure out why he'd been contacted.
"Okay. And you?" Luther responded. "The Eerebout boys called and told me you guys had a picture of me, uh, you know, and were going to plaster it all over the news and stuff. So I figured I better give you a call."
Richardson listened carefully. Luther had no regional accent that he could discern, maybe a little country, but there was something he couldn't quite put his finger on. Keep him talking, he thought, and see what shakes. He started by asking innocent questions — like Luther's address, which was in Fort Collins, a college town 60 miles straight north of Denver, and the correct spelling of his name.
After a couple minutes of this, it was Luther who cut to the chase. "The reason the boys were playing stupid, all right, is 'cause I just was recently released from the joint."
There we go, Richardson thought, somethin' right off the bat. The guy's an ex-con. That's what I was picking up in his voice — that ol' prison tough guy bullshit. He wondered what the charges had been but let Luther keep talking.
"They were playin' stupid, hopin' that maybe this girl would just pop up somewheres or somethin', or ... call her people, you know what I mean, to let everybody know that she's okay, see? I-I-now, I don't trust, uh, the cops. I mean, I'm gonna tell you that straight up. You know I've had some bad experiences with 'em. You know, prison guards. The detectives that originally arrested me on my case, you know what I mean, said that I made a statement which I never made ..."
Richardson scowled, his dark eyebrows knitting a solid line above his eyes. Another innocent "victim" of the system. How many times have I heard that one? he thought. Ain't no criminals in prison, just a bunch of innocent guys who got railroaded by crooked cops, grandstanding DAs, bad judges, and ignorant juries.
Next, he'll start talking about his poor, abused childhood, Richardson thought. Well, mine wasn't so all-fired happy either, buddy.
Richardson's father, an alcoholic who had abused his wife and two sons, shot and killed himself shortly before Scott's 13th birthday. Doyle Richardson had drilled a heightened sense of moral duty into his boys ("There's right and there's wrong, and you gotta choose where you stand"), but along the way forgot to tell them that he loved them.
Richardson's teenaged years had been spent hell-bent for leather, and those who knew him, including his mother, had wondered which side of the law he would wind up on. He'd been on his own at 16 with a fast car and not much else to his name except a reputation for wildness. But then he had gone to Gladewater to visit his father's grave, and met Sabrina.
So he'd stayed and, working two jobs, put himself through community college as a criminal justice major. He was a cop by 19, so young that his partners had to buy his bullets for him, the same year Sabrina's parents finally let them go out on a date.
Everything he had, everything he was, he got by working hard and patience; nobody had handed him anything. So Richardson didn't put much stock in the stories of criminals who whined that they'd had a rough childhood. I somehow managed to stay out of prison, he thought when Luther began complaining about the police hounding him, and no one's lookin' at me now 'cause some girl's missin'.
Out loud, he sympathized, which seemed to encourage Luther. The ex-con repeated himself. "You know, they said I made a confession, which I never made."
Now, Richardson thought, get him while he's on the defensive. "Let's break the ice right off the bat," he interrupted. "I'm not gonna jack with you, I'm not gonna jack with anybody. All we're concerned about is findin' Cher and makin' sure Cher's okay."
Excerpted from Monster by Steve Jackson. Copyright © 2013 Steve Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.