The Perfect Prey

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Overview

A True Hunter Knows. . .

Spring break in Jacksonville, Florida. Pretty girls are everywhere--in the bars and dance clubs, on the beaches. None of them suspect the hot guy they're flirting with isn't what he seems. Because spring break is also hunting season. And it's time for the killing to begin. . .

The Perfect Time...

Detective John Stallings is still raw from his last case, with a high profile and a failed marriage to show for it. All he ...

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The Perfect Prey

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Overview

A True Hunter Knows. . .

Spring break in Jacksonville, Florida. Pretty girls are everywhere--in the bars and dance clubs, on the beaches. None of them suspect the hot guy they're flirting with isn't what he seems. Because spring break is also hunting season. And it's time for the killing to begin. . .

The Perfect Time...

Detective John Stallings is still raw from his last case, with a high profile and a failed marriage to show for it. All he needs is another serial killer. But while the methods differ, the string of blond, blue-eyed victims points to one thing: a psychopath with a terrifying agenda.

To Strike...

There's no shortage of clues, but the target is clever, elusive, and ruthless. At this very moment, he's singling out the next innocent young thing who'll die for his pleasure. And soon Stallings will face a choice between the law he's trained to enforce, and his own need for vengeance. . .

Praise For James Andrus And The Perfect Woman

"This book moves with deadly speed and the assured hand of a writer who knows his stuff." --Michael Connelly

"An insider's view of how a true police investigation unfolds. It's as close a look at police work as you can get." –Elmore Leonard

"One of the best cop novels to come along in years." --Jeffery Deaver

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Andrus's engaging second thriller to feature James Stalling and Patty Levine (after The Perfect Woman), the two missing persons detectives look into the puzzling case of college student Allie Marsh, who died of an overdose of home-made ecstasy while having sex. Allie's is just one of several suspicious deaths among the Jacksonville, Fla., spring break crowd. As a career law enforcement officer, Andrus brings authenticity to the police procedural details. He's also good at depicting the complicated lives of his leads--Stalling, whose own daughter disappeared at 16 and whose home life is in disarray, is particularly devoted to cases of missing persons and endangered young women--as well as the care the killer takes to avoid getting caught. The one flaw is the author's tendency to dwell on the motivations of his many characters, as if he couldn't trust the reader to remember what he'd already established. (Jan.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786022168
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 1/1/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.60 (h) x 1.20 (d)

First Chapter

The Perfect Prey


By JAMES ANDRUS

PINNACLE BOOKS

Copyright © 2011 James Andrus
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7860-2216-8


Chapter One

Detective John Stallings had seen plenty of homicide scenes in and around the city of Jacksonville. Each one ate at him, stealing a little of his own life no matter who lay dead behind the tape.

On this cool, spring evening he felt a stab of annoyance when the young patrolman securing the crime scene asked to see his sheriff's office ID. There was a time when Stallings knew every patrol officer, detective, and administrator employed by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, but now, after years in the detective bureau and the massive hiring pushes, he was reduced to proving his identity just to enter a homicide scene. Fucking great.

His partner, Patty Levine, gave the young uniformed officer a wink as she held up her detective's badge. The patrolman didn't even examine it and said, "I recognized you, Detective."

As they walked toward the herd of crime scene technicians and detectives in the center of the scene, Patty said, "That creeps me out. How is it that you caught The Bag Man, but he recognized me?"

Stallings stopped and faced the diminutive detective. Her blond hair whipped around her face in the strong March breeze, her bright eyes and white teeth on a pretty, all-American girl's face. "Gee, I wonder why the horny young cop knew you and not me?" He scratched his head and started to make another comment when he heard the unmistakable bark of the lead homicide detective, Tony Mazzetti.

"What're you two doing over here? This is my scene." Twenty years in Florida hadn't dulled his Brooklyn accent.

Stallings held up a hand. "Relax, Tony. Just swinging by to see if you need any help."

"Do I horn in on missing persons cases?"

"You're not assigned to both squads."

"As I recall the damn LT said if we got busy you'd be a good guy to help, and one suicide in the park isn't what I call busy." He turned to yell at a crime scene tech. "Jesus fucking Christ, Kenny, try not to get your chewing tobacco on the corpse." He shook his head, mumbling, "Bunch of rednecks."

Stallings said calmly, "It came out on the radio as a body in Brackridge Park. I didn't know it was a suicide." He started easing his way toward the scene to get a look for himself, pulling Patty and Mazzetti with him. He didn't really know why he liked pushing the homicide detective's buttons so much, but right now it was one of the few bright spots in his life.

Patty had been neutral in his ongoing feud with Mazzetti. She had, unfortunately, started dating the turd and was careful not to pick sides. To Mazzetti's credit, just because he was seeing Patty, he didn't treat her any differently at work. He insulted her right along with Stallings and everyone else, but she gave it back like the little fighter she was. Stallings admired that kind of commitment to sarcasm and strife.

Mazzetti said, "Stall, what're you, deaf? I said we got this shit handled. It's just a suicide."

Stallings looked over the shoulder of a crime scene photographer at the body of a very young blond woman with a white cord still looped around her discolored neck. She'd already been pulled down and now lay on a plastic sheet. The cord had worked its way into her skin, and the hours of deterioration had made it appear to be part of her body. She was dressed in jeans and a nice shirt, as if she was going out for the evening. She had that grimace on her distorted face Stallings had seen too many times. An expression that wasn't peaceful but scared. The look that caused parents to grieve and reporters to salivate. He saw the whole story unfolding now: beautiful girl unable to cope with—any problem could be inserted in the sentence—takes own life. He'd read that some kids think it's dramatic or even romantic. He'd seen too much to think any of that was true. His Catholic school education leaked from the back of his head about the sin of suicide, and he shuddered.

Patty peeked around him and let out the sigh of relief that he should have. As a cop he could view any scene professionally and start trying to piece together what happened, but as the parent of a missing daughter he tensed whenever he heard about a female body. After three years it had gotten no easier.

He asked Mazzetti, "Any ID?"

"What are you, the new boss? I know the new sergeant is coming soon, but I didn't see your name on the list."

Patty stepped up. "It's a simple question, shithead. Who is she?"

Stallings suppressed a smile. He saw Patty do the same. Mazzetti was the only one who didn't see the humor in it, but that was normal.

Mazzetti said, "Her purse was on the bench over there. Her DL is from South Carolina. My bet is she was down here on spring break. Her license says she's Kathleen Harding, and there's a student ID from the University of South Carolina."

"How old?"

"Twenty-one."

All Stallings could do was shake his head. What a waste. What a shame.

Mazzetti said, "Aren't you on spring break patrol?" Patty said, "I thought you called it the 'runaway roundup'?"

He smiled, his neatly trimmed mustache spreading with his mouth. "This is a seasonal name. In a few months you'll be on the 'summertime student sweep.' I got a bunch of names to use."

Patty leveled a stare at him. "You got a nickname for masturbating? Because something tells me that's what you'll be doing for a while."

Mazzetti seemed hurt. "What happened to keeping work and personal lives completely separate?"

Stallings chimed in. "Yeah, I think I like that better too. Keeps things more interesting on the job."

Patty nodded her head and glared down Mazzetti. "Fine," she said through clinched teeth. "You better make sure your people do a good job here, because we don't want to have to clean up one of your messes again."

Stallings thought, Wow, good one, partner. But when he looked back toward the crime scene techs around the body all good humor drained out of him.

Chapter Two

Allie Marsh felt a wave of joy as she gazed out at the dark, choppy Atlantic Ocean from the hotel room crowded with suitcases and sleeping girls. She didn't care that a misty rain was falling or that it was only sixty-five degrees. She could swim in the Gulf off Biloxi or even a few hours east in Pensacola, but for six days she was free for the first time in her life. Her parents had agreed to fund the trip during the week off from her classes in elementary education at the University of Southern Mississippi. It was her first time away from home without another family member, and she intended to make the most of it. She liked some aspects of living at home and commuting forty-five minutes to Hattiesburg three times a week. It saved money, and she could never have afforded a place half as nice as her parents' house. The downside was her social life was still centered in the small town of Laurel, where everyone knew everything you did or didn't do.

She did things she shouldn't, but it was the things she didn't do that she wanted to try on this excursion to the big city of Jacksonville, or at least Atlantic Beach. Her friends promised that they'd go to all the hot clubs in Jacksonville every night and that whatever happened wouldn't ever be spoken of inside the state of Mississippi. Last night the four young women had visited five different clubs. Most were crammed with students from across the Southeast. Allie knew enough students and wanted to meet someone a little older and more mature. Someone totally different. That's what Allie was looking forward to: meeting guys who didn't say things like, "I might could do that," or "You seen my new custom Camaro?" She'd only had one serious boyfriend, Tommy McLaughlin, and he'd moved away to go to LSU, then a week later had pictures of a new girlfriend up on Facebook. She didn't even bother to call him to find out what had happened. Allie did hook up with one nice boy from Louisville who was in the counseling psychology program at USM. He had a sweet smile and good, tight body and had come all the way to Laurel to meet her parents. They did it in his seven-year-old Volvo in the driveway and in the parking lot of the university admin building. She liked it but never felt as if she could let go when either her mom or some flunky security guard might find her naked with a man.

This week was her chance to just let go and see what life on TV was like. She knew why they never filmed any of those reality shows in Mississippi. People were too boring there. Here in Florida things would be a lot different.

This was his third night out in a row. He was afraid the unusually cold Jacksonville weather might affect the small but steady spring break crowd that settled for the city. Daytona and Fort Lauderdale, farther down the East Coast, were both still more popular than dreary old Jacksonville, but this was his hunting ground for now. That's how he saw himself: a predator prowling the concrete plain for his next victim. He was a leopard looking for antelope. Why not? God had given him animal instincts, athletic grace, and the looks to attract his favorite prey. He could blend into his habitat until he was ready to be seen and strike silently. He was so beautiful that he rarely scared his prey. Even at the end.

He peered across the bar of the busy dance club and saw tall girls with pretty faces, a shapely Latin woman with dark eyes, and a group of apparent cheerleaders with brown ponytails swaying behind their heads like horsetails shooing flies. But none of them interested him. He had specific tastes. Light eyes and hair. Anything else was negotiable.

He liked this particular dance club because the cops didn't come around much and he wasn't known here. The only patrons this time of year were college kids, his meat and potatoes. Then he saw his prey. The one he'd noticed and started to approach last night. She was with her own little herd so he had to be patient to avoid possible identification. The hair on the back of his neck began to rise. So did his dick. He felt that uncontrollable smile stretch across his face and his nostrils flare. Just like a predator. He flexed under his tight shirt for confidence, a mating ritual and signal to others to stay away. He waited at his end of the bar as the four young women chatted and laughed, sipping their colorful drinks. Two of the girls were asked out on the dance floor by tall young black men.

The shorter, pudgy girl headed toward the bathroom with a slight wobble in her step.

He made his move.

As he approached her, she turned, blond hair flipping with the movement.

He smiled and said, "Hey."

The girl had healthy white teeth and full, soft lips. "Hey there," she said in her light Southern accent. "What're you doing here?"

"I hit a couple of clubs on my night off." He gazed into her clear blue eyes and wondered if this was the right time to strike. Ease her out of the club before her friends noticed him. He had several magic pills. Then he said, "Wanna come to a different club with me?" He held out his hand with the spotted hit of Ecstasy. The homemade white pill was the size of a baby aspirin. He had a source that supplied him all he needed. So far no one had turned down the offer.

"What's that?" The girl asked.

"X."

"What's X?"

"It'll make you lose a little control. It's fun. That's why it's called Ecstasy."

She hesitated, then plucked the pill from his palm, examined it and turned toward the bar and took a sip of her rumrunner.

He wasn't sure she'd taken it, but asked, "So how about we try another place? Maybe one with a live band." She gave him a smile and said, "Do you even remember my name?"

He froze. She had darted like smart prey trying to throw off a predator. He remembered she was from Mississippi. He searched for her name. What was it?

She waited, now frowning slightly.

Then out of nowhere he said, "Allie."

Now she let loose with a broad smile.

This would be one sweet hunt.

Chapter Three

John Stallings squinted through the water-spotted windshield to make sure he'd read the right address on the clean older apartment building off Roosevelt in the trendy Avondale section of the city. The address was the same as the lead sheet the crimes/persons analyst had given him. This missing persons case was a little different from the usual missing college kid who turned up drunk in New Orleans or in the slammer in Savannah. This guy, Jason Ferrell, was thirty and professional. Some kind of engineer over at one of the supporting companies for Maxwell House. He knew the building near the Police Memorial Building, or PMB. Ferrell's mother in Chicago hadn't heard from him, and he'd missed work the last few days. This one might be a real mystery. Something to sink his teeth into. He needed the distraction about now. Even though it was his concentration on police work in the first place that put him in this position.

Patty made a few notes on the pad in her battered metal case and said, "Looks like the place."

He nodded.

Patty said, "If he's here I'm gonna smack him for scaring his mom like that."

"I'd think he was avoiding her except he hasn't been to work."

Patty nodded, looking closely at him. "Are you sleeping any, John?"

"Some?"

"I'm not trying to pry, but what's your status with Maria?"

"I talk to her a couple times a week. She's usually scarce when I visit the kids and help them with homework in the evenings."

"You seeing them enough?"

"Every day. Charlie seems to be adjusting because we still play games and I coach his soccer team. Lauren is harder to gauge. She's got that moody teenage thing and she's so mature. She's been spending a few evenings with some girls from school." He turned to her and said, "Older girls."

"Don't worry too much-older girls could be a good thing. Older smart girls are the best."

"All I see are older pretty girls."

Patty snickered. "All fathers are the same."

Stallings considered his own childhood and thought, I wish that were true.

Patty Levine let her partner knock on the doors of the neighbors on either side of Ferrell's apartment. Stallings had no idea the effect he had on most women. They'd take one look at that curly dark hair and kind eyes and tell him anything he wanted to know. That whole ruggedly handsome, intelligent look was hot right now, but she figured it was timeless and Stallings had always been charming.

Instead, Patty waited on the first floor. She needed a moment alone to pop one of her Xanax and swallow it dry. She'd been starting to control her prescription drug use until she'd gotten caught up in the massive Bag Man case, and the trauma she'd suffered at the end of it hadn't help wean her from her regular regimen of Xanax for her anxiety, Vicodin for joint and back pain, then Ambien to sleep at night. Dating Tony Mazzetti had affected her use a little. She had to plan things better and sometimes lay awake at night with her head on his shoulder, staring blankly up at the ceiling instead of downing twice the recommended dosage of the sleep aid. Even Tony had no idea that she used the drugs. No one did and no one would. Unless disaster struck. No single doctor realized she was taking any prescription other than what he had prescribed.

Patty knocked on the building manager's door. Then knocked again. Finally, as she was about to leave her card on the door, she heard someone inside say, "Hang on, hang on."

The door opened and a man about fifty stood looking down at her. Instantly she made a cop's assessment: This is an annoyed redneck who had one too many beers at lunch. The red face, sloppy comb-over, gut sticking out of his Dickies plaid shirt, and dirty jeans led her to this conclusion. When he said, "What's the po-po want?" before she even showed ID, she added ex-con to her assessment.

Patty stayed professional and took the time to show her credentials, badge first. "I'm trying to find one of your residents."

"Jason Ferrell?"

"How'd you know?"

"'Cause some other ol' boys were by here yesterday and a couple of really big colored boys were looking for him the day before."

"Really?"

"Do I look like I wanna waste time jawing with a cop when Jerry Springer is on and I got the couch just the way I like it?"

"Do I look like I want to smell your stale beer breath?"

The guy smiled. "I like cute, feisty cops."

"Then we better get this over with because the next cop you'll see isn't nearly as friendly. What do you know about Ferrell?"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Perfect Prey by JAMES ANDRUS Copyright © 2011 by James Andrus. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 28, 2012

    Highly recommended

    Great book, keep me in suspense all the way through it. great characters and story. Keeps you gussing who did it. Hope to read many more from this author.

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  • Posted January 24, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    This is the first time I have read anything by this author (it is only his second book I believe) and it was superb. This is the kind of thriller/mystery I love to read, a serial killer, a story that keeps you guessing and a terrific ending. I have already ordered the first book in what appears to be a series or at least a related book with the same detectives. It is written much like Brian Freeman's thrillers with short chapters like James Patterson. One of the best mysteries I have read in a while, I highly recommend this one.

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  • Posted December 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    exciting police procedural

    Detective James Stalling is in a very bad place at this time in his life. His then sixteen years old daughter disappeared three years ago, which leaves him to wonder if she still lives, and he is separated from his wife. John also remains raw from his last case involving the capture of a nasty serial killer (see The Perfect Woman). The last thing he needs at this time is another high profile investigation, but he cannot say no to a young adult or child missing person's case.

    The predator selects blonde hair blue eyed females who are in Florida during mid-term break. He gives them ecstasy and has sex with her before The Other kills her. When college student Allie Marsh vanishes, her mother knows people in high places so the Jacksonville police department makes her disappearance a top priority. John and his partner Patty Levine learn of several young women with ecstasy in their system who were found dead. They realize these females did not commit suicide or overdosed. They conclude a predatory serial killer is on the prowl, but knows how to hide by blending into the youth scene.

    James Andrus has written a very exciting police procedural that for the most part leaves readers breathless with the faster than the speed of light story line. Fans will feel they are part of the investigative team as they will feel the frustrations of the lead cops; although that also leads to some repetitiveness on the part of how the detectives feel, and to a lesser degree the euphoria of the killer, who is front and center in several chapters. This is a winning thriller.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted May 16, 2011

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    Posted September 27, 2011

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    Posted July 28, 2010

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