The Next Victim

The Next Victim

4.6 3
by Jonnie Jacobs

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When wealthy heiress Sloane Winslow is found murdered in her house along with the body of pretty college coed Olivia Perez, the evidence all points to one suspect, John O'Brien-San Francisco defense attorney Kali O'Brien's brother. The last time Kali spoke to John, he was desperate to tell her something but too drunk to get it out. Now, he's

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When wealthy heiress Sloane Winslow is found murdered in her house along with the body of pretty college coed Olivia Perez, the evidence all points to one suspect, John O'Brien-San Francisco defense attorney Kali O'Brien's brother. The last time Kali spoke to John, he was desperate to tell her something but too drunk to get it out. Now, he's dead, an apparent suicide by overdose.


Although Kali wasn't close to her brother, she can't believe he was capable of murder. But when she finds a clue hidden in his dictionary-a photo of three attractive young women, one of whom is the slain Olivia Perez, she realizes her brother had many secrets. And when one of the other women in the photo-a stripper and porn actress- is found brutally murdered in a ditch, Kali wonders if her brother really did commit suicide.


As Kali digs deeper for the truth, her search plunges her deep into the sex industry's hidden underworld. Now her only hope for solving the case lies in finding the last girl in the picture, a witness who knows far more than she should, maybe too much to live-and Kali has to get to her before she becomes the next victim.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Jacob's smart seventh Kali O'Brien legal thriller (after Intent to Harm), the San Francisco DA faces two horrifying possibilities: Did her brother, John, kill himself in remorse over murdering ex-girlfriend Sloane Winslow and her young housekeeper, Olivia Perez, or was John murdered by their real killer? After receiving the shocking call about her brother's "accident," grieving Kali heads for Tucson, Ariz., to meet with her sister, Sabrina, to settle John's estate under a cloud of confusion about a brother she rarely communicated with. After the sisters discover their brother was the prime suspect in the double homicide and his estate the subject of a wrongful death civil suit, Kali is shocked to find John might also be connected to a young stripper's murder and the disappearance of a 16-year-old runaway. Jacobs deftly juggles a large cast and a multilayered plot while compassionately depicting Kali's struggle with family issues. (Feb.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A Bay Area defense attorney is called unexpectedly to Tucson for the most somber of all possible reasons. Now that her brother John's body has been found floating in his backyard pool, Kali O'Brien (The Only Suspect, 2005, etc.) wishes she had tried harder, wishes she'd known him better-but most of all, she wishes she'd returned his calls a little sooner. If she had, she'd have known he was the chief suspect in the murder of supermarket heiress Sloane Winslow-a murder Tucson detective Erling Shafer has his own reasons to want solved as soon as possible. If she'd called, she might know why he'd hired p.i. Doug Simon to investigate a couple named Adams, or how he was involved with porn producer Wayne Clark. Instead, all she has now is a picture of three girls-Olivia Perez, a college student who was killed along with Sloane; Hayley Hendrix, whose nude body had been dumped in a canyon; and a drifter named Crystal-that was hidden in John's office dictionary. Armed with that picture, she's determined to prove John's innocence, both to fend off the wrongful-death suit abrasive attorney Carmen Escobar has lodged on behalf of Olivia's parents, and to soothe her tender-hearted sister Sabrina, who can't believe her brother's the heartless killer the police say he is. Kali's eighth case explores complex human attachments through a sharply focused plot that unfolds with beautifully controlled momentum.

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Product Details

Publication date:
Kali O'Brien Mystery Series, #7
Product dimensions:
6.14(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.24(d)

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Kensington Publishing Corp.

Copyright © 2007 Jonnie Jacobs
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-7582-0801-4

Chapter One

The call came a little after two in the morning and pulled Erling from a particularly pleasant dream. As a homicide detective with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, he was used to being awakened at odd hours, but engaging his brain was always a struggle. He remained blurry eyed, clinging to the remnants of sleep, until the dispatcher read off the address of the crime scene-one that was painfully etched in Erling's memory.

Instantly, he was fully alert.

His pulse quickened and an involuntary cry escaped from his lips, waking Deena, who had long ago learned to sleep through the intrusion of middle-of-the-night calls. She shot him an inquiring look, which he pretended not to see.

"Sorry, honey," he said. "I've got to go."

"What is it?"

"Just work."

"Figures." Deena sighed and rolled over, turning her back to him.

A shaft of moonlight illuminated her form and Erling took a moment to study the familiar curves of her body, the splash of auburn hair streaked with gray. There were times he could still see in her the playful and sexy woman he'd married twenty years earlier. What he saw more often, though, or rather felt, was an aloofness tinged with reproach. It had been that way for four years-since their eleven-year-old son, Danny, had died in a skateboarding accident. Erling could never decide whether the tragedy had caused the problems in theirmarriage or simply exacerbated existing ones he'd been blind to at the time.

Erling headed for the bathroom, where he showered quickly before pulling on slacks and a collared knit shirt. Before leaving the house he gently shook Deena.

"Don't forget, Mindy needs to be up by seven in order to study for her sociology test." At eighteen, their daughter still had trouble getting out of bed on her own.

"I'll make sure she's up."

He kissed Deena on the cheek. "Have a good day."

"I'd tell you the same but I guess a dead body kind of precludes that."

Especially given the address, Erling thought, with an ache in his gut.

There was no mistaking that the large, tile-roofed house on Canyon View Drive was a crime scene. Half a dozen patrol cars were parked in front. The coroner's van and mobile crime tech unit sat in the driveway. Yellow police tape cordoned off the house entrance and part of the yard. Already, a news helicopter was circling overhead.

As he passed under the tape and through the front door, Erling felt a tremor of longing and sadness. Please, he whispered silently, don't let it be her.

Inside, the evidence of carnage was everywhere. A blue handblown glass vase had been knocked from the library table, one of the floor lamps had been overturned, and the rocking chair lay on its side. Bits of flesh and brain matter were splattered against the cherry cabinets. Dark, sticky blood pooled on the terra-cotta tile floor. Erling had trouble breathing.

Across the room, he could see a female form crumpled against the wall. Olive-toned skin. Wavy black hair, long enough to fall below the shoulders. Erling felt a surge of relief. Definitely not Sloane.

"Other one's over there," the uniformed officer told him, pointing in the direction of the fieldstone fireplace. An image flashed in Erling's mind: Sloane in front of a blazing fire, facing him and slowly unbuttoning her blue silk blouse. Don't think about it, he told himself. Stay cool and don't think.

"It's pretty awful," the uniform warned. "I couldn't do more than take a peek myself."

Erling glanced over and saw a woman's leg and sandaled foot protruding from behind the sofa. Female also, but fair. He didn't recognize the shoes but that didn't mean anything. He hadn't seen Sloane in five months.

He said a silent prayer as he moved closer. The body was sprawled on the floor, arms and legs akimbo, the face largely blown away. Erling's gut rumbled and churned.

It might not be her. No way to know for sure without a formal ID.

But in his heart, he knew. The curve of the neck, the mole on her shoulder, the jade and silver ring on her right hand. Swallowing hard against the bile that threatened to rise in his throat, he crammed his shaking hands into his jacket pockets, hoping no one would notice, and closed his mind to the memories.

Erling experienced a familiar tug of anger and sadness at the senseless loss of life. The feelings came with the job, he supposed. Only this time the mantle of professional distance failed him. This wasn't just another victim; this was a woman he'd held and kissed, and laughed and loved with. This was Sloane.

Michelle Parker, his partner of six months-a younger detective with the tenacity of a bulldog-had been talking to the responding officers when he had arrived. Now, notebook still in hand, she crossed from the wall of windows in the living room to join Erling by the kitchen archway.

Michelle brushed a wisp of chestnut brown hair from her forehead. "What a way to start the day, huh?"

"It's what we do," he snapped. His chest was so tight he could barely breathe.

Michelle's face registered surprise at the curt response. A moment of hollow silence followed while she regarded him thoughtfully. "Some of us do it in better humor than others," she said finally.

The sudden, if subtle, hint of tension in the air jolted him like the snap of a rubber band against his skin. Get a grip, Shafer. You want the whole damn world to know?

"So, what've we got?" he asked, more hospitably.

Michelle glanced at her notebook. "Call came in just after midnight. A neighbor noticed the lights had been on all day and the morning paper hadn't been picked up. She called the house and when no one answered came over and rang the bell. Then she went around the side and peeked in the window. She saw a body on the floor and called nine-one-one."

"Do we have an ID on the victims?"

"Nothing positive. Best guess is that the older one is Sloane Winslow. This is her home."

Older one. Erling cringed. Sloane was only forty-one, two years younger than himself, and much too lovely to be called older.

"Her maiden name was Logan." Michelle paused. "As in Logan Foods."

When he didn't respond right away, she added, "The grocery chain."

Erling whistled softly. It bought him a moment's time. "You know anything about the family?"

"I didn't even know it was a family business until the neighbor filled me in. Do you?"

The moment of truth.

Or not.

Erling knew he should remove himself from the investigation. He had personal connections to one of the victims. Emotional connections. Big-time emotional connections. Department policy dictated he step aside and let someone else handle it.

But he couldn't do that. Not without explaining. Word would get around. Eventually it would get back to Deena. His stomach clenched. He couldn't. He simply couldn't take that chance. Not after Danny.

Besides, he wanted to personally nail the creep who'd done this. He needed to do it-for Sloane even more than for himself.

Michelle gave him that curious look again. She was still waiting for an answer.

"Only what I read in the papers," Erling said. The lie burned his tongue. Maybe, just maybe, they'd find the killer and wrap this up quickly.

"So, tell me."

"The grandfather started the business right here in Tucson. Sloane Winslow and her brother, Reed Logan, have controlling interest, though it's Reed who actually runs the company. Winslow lived in L.A. with her husband. It wasn't until she divorced and returned to Tucson a few years ago that she got involved in the business at all."

"Local gentry, local money." Michelle frowned. "I guess this one's going to be in the headlines."

"Afraid so." They looked at one another and Erling voiced what they were both thinking. "The lieutenant will put our feet to the fire if we don't hand him a suspect in short order."

"Can we do that?"

"You tell me. How's it look?"

Michelle flipped to a different page in her notebook. "Crawford's here from the medical examiner's office. His initial estimate is that they've been dead twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Both were shot at close range. The older woman in the head. The younger one in the chest and right leg. Weapon appears to be a shotgun."

Again Erling felt the tightness in his chest. Sloane moved with grace. A woman completely comfortable in her own skin. He couldn't imagine the terror she must have felt when she saw the gun in the killer's hands. His mind flashed to a vision of Sloane trying frantically to fend off the inevitable. For a moment, he couldn't breathe. Then he shook his thoughts clear.

"We have the weapon?" he asked.

"No." Michelle paused and glanced around the room. "Looks like they put up a fight, doesn't it? But even with two of them, they'd be no match for a sleazeball with a gun."

Erling grunted agreement. "Any ID on the second victim?" he asked, moving in to take a closer look. She appeared to be in her late teens or early twenties. The older woman comment made sense to him now.

"The neighbor who called it in is a regular verbal fountain. Says there was a young woman living here with Winslow. Olivia Perez is the name. She was a student at the university."

"A relative?" Last Erling knew, Sloane had been living alone.

"A boarder, I think."

"A boarder?"

"I know, it doesn't make a lot of sense. The Logans must be loaded."

Certainly not in need of taking in boarders. "What do we have in the way of trace evidence?" Erling sent a silent prayer to the heavens for a dumb perp. One who'd left fingerprints and fibers, maybe even his driver's license.

"We won't know until the techs have finished going over the place. But there's an old guy a couple of houses down who gave us the description of a car he saw out front Tuesday night. A silver Porsche with a broken taillight. If Crawford's right about the time of death, that would put the car here near the time of the murders."

An eyewitness wasn't as good as a dumb perp, but Erling would take it. At least a Porsche wasn't your average, run-of-the-mill kind of car. "Did the old guy see anyone?"

"He thinks the driver was male but can't say for sure."

"What about other neighbors?"

"Nothing so far. The houses are pretty far apart and private."

That was one of the things Sloane had liked about living in this part of Tucson. It wasn't as affluent as some of the newer gated communities, but the houses were all set on large lots, many of them an acre or more, and the neighborhood landscaping had matured to the point where plantings provided a screen. They'd made love one night out in the yard under the black, star-speckled sky. Erling remembered the soft breeze that grazed their skin, the lilac scent of Sloane's hair, and the rough texture of the nubby blanket beneath them.

The crime scene photographer reached into his equipment bag. "I'm about done here unless there's something in particular you want."

"You get both stills and movies?" Erling asked. His voice was gruff with the invasion of memories.

"Right. And I checked with Crawford about shots of the vics."

"When do you think you'll be able to get us prints?"

"Later today good enough?"

"That the best you can do?" Erling asked.

The photographer capped his camera. "Afraid so."

"I guess it's good enough, then." He turned to Michelle. "Anyone notified next of kin yet?"

"Boskin and Dutton are on their way to the brother's. Maybe he can give us more on the girl."

"Let's hope so."

Independently, Michelle and Erling walked the crime scene, taking their own measurements, making their own sketches. Erling pulled out his palm-sized digital camera and shot the room from a dozen angles. The crime scene photographers did a terrific job, but he liked to have his own pictures, too, because they sometimes jogged his memory and filled in the details of his sketches.

"What's your take?" Erling asked as they worked. "First impression."

Michelle rocked back on her heels and frowned. She was wearing dark, form-fitting slacks and a cream-colored silk shirt that draped softly over the swell of her breasts-her standard uniform for the job, even when she was called out in the middle of the night.

He'd initially resisted being partnered with her because he'd considered her a lightweight, or worse. But Erling had come to see that despite the eye-catching body and head of soft, brown curls, she was as earnest and intense as anyone he'd worked with before. A little too intense sometimes.

"I'd say there's a good chance the killer was someone Winslow was familiar with," Michelle replied. "Either that or she was comfortable enough with what she saw that she had no qualms about letting him in. There's no sign of forced entry, and both victims were dressed in street clothes, so it's not like they were rousted from bed in the middle of the night. The lights are on, and there's an open bottle of brandy on the counter."

Had she been entertaining a new lover? Erling wondered. But the girl, Olivia, was in the house. He doubted Sloane would bring a man home under that circumstance.

Michelle gestured toward Sloane's body. "Looks like the killer went for her first, and while she was trying to fend him off, the younger woman surprised them. He got Mrs. Winslow in the head, probably standing close to her. The girl ... my guess is that the autopsy will show she was hit from farther away."

"Not bad for someone who's only worked a couple of homicides," Erling said. Michelle had worked vice in Phoenix before moving to Tucson and signing on as a detective with the sheriff's department.

She acknowledged the compliment with a slight twist of her head. "Doesn't mean it's right."

"No, it doesn't, and it's good to remember that."

"You get locked into a mind-set too soon," she said, parroting one of Erling's favorite adages, "and you'll miss the important stuff."

"Guess I've hammered that one home."

"You might say that." This time there was the faintest hint of a smile. "Shall we check the rest of the house?"

Erling took a deep breath to still the pounding in his chest. Sloane's house. Sloane's things. Rooms charged with bittersweet memories. He wasn't sure he could manage it.

Finally he nodded. "Now's as good a time as any."

A canvass of the home was standard procedure for detectives in instances like this. The techs processed the actual crime scene, but careful inspection of a victim's personal possessions revealed a lot about his or her life. Some of it interesting, most of it dull and irrelevant to the murder. Sometimes, though, they got lucky. A receipt, a phone number, a photo, some small tidbit that would eventually lead them to the killer.

But normally the detective and the victim were strangers.

Erling and Michelle spent the next forty minutes going through dressers, files, desk drawers, wastebaskets, and medicine cabinets. He was half afraid he'd find something that marked his own previous presence in the house, and equally fearful of discovering that Sloane had obliterated his memory. He almost smiled when he found the copper and bronze pendant he'd bought her for Christmas last year laid out on the velvet lining of her jewelry drawer.

"Looks like she was a stylish woman," Michelle said at one point.

Erling shrugged. "I wouldn't know about that."

He paused at a familiar sight on Sloane's bureau: a framed picture of Sloane and her brother, Reed, taken during a family barbecue. Her fair skin was virtually unlined, her blue-green eyes sparkling with humor. And often, Erling recalled, with mischief. He felt an ache in his gut, a longing somewhere deep inside him that was less about her death than his own loss.

It had been a brief affair, six months and fourteen days, to be exact. Over since early May. Him like a panting mongrel around a pedigreed bitch in heat. Her words, but they resonated as much as they stung. His behavior was nothing to be proud of. Erling had known that even then. Still, he'd wanted to hate her for ending it. There were times he'd come close. But he'd certainly never wished her dead.

By the time he and Michelle finished their canvass of the house, the sun was just rising over the hills near Sabino Canyon. Morning was Erling's favorite time of day. Blue, cloudless sky, wide and open, the air soft, just beginning to build to the blinding heat of day.

Leaving the house, he saw that the media were already out in force. A cameraman from one of the local news channels shoved a camera in Erling's face. His cohort held a mic.


Excerpted from THE NEXT VICTIM by JONNIE JACOBS Copyright © 2007 by Jonnie Jacobs. Excerpted by permission.
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.

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