The Perfect Woman

The Perfect Woman

4.2 23
by James Andrus

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Pharmacy clerk William Dremmel is hooked—on drugging pretty young women and lulling them into slow, blissfully quiet deaths. Then he packs his victims in luggage—a nod to the cops that he works alone. Dremmel's no fool, he's also a college professor. He just likes using his



Pharmacy clerk William Dremmel is hooked—on drugging pretty young women and lulling them into slow, blissfully quiet deaths. Then he packs his victims in luggage—a nod to the cops that he works alone. Dremmel's no fool, he's also a college professor. He just likes using his intellect for darker purposes. . ..


Haunted by his own daughter's unsolved disappearance, Detective John Stallings is committed to finding runaways and busting their abductors. When a series of girls is found dead and stuffed into duffle bags, he's consumed with capturing "The Bagman"—at the risk of his marriage, his career, and possibly his tough-as-nails partner, Patty Levine. . .


As The Bagman grows more brazen in his crimes, the clues line up. But when he draws terrifyingly close to Patty, Stallings is determined to play by his own rules—and they won't be pretty—or quiet. . .


Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Using experiences from his law enforcement career, Andrus weaves authentic police procedures into his strong debut thriller. William Dremmel, adjunct science instructor at a community college and part-time pharmacy clerk, delights in experimentally drugging his teenage “girlfriends”; then he kills them and stuffs their bodies into duffel bags. Dubbed the Bag Man, he takes pride in his intelligence and ability to dodge the police. Det. John Stallings's daughter has been missing for three years, which is why he transferred into the missing persons division of the Jacksonville, Fla., sheriff's office. While operating on a tip about a runaway, he discovers the corpse of one of Dremmel's victims. Stallings follows every lead as he tries to balance family life and this serial murder case. Andrus's complex, devious characters keep the plot moving right up to the vague, sequel-promising conclusion. (Apr.)

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Detective John Stallings , #1
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The Perfect Woman



Copyright © 2010 James Andrus
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7860-2215-1

Chapter One

Lee Ann Moffit sprawled across the slick leather couch with a brown stain on the middle cushion and let her head slip onto the guy's broad shoulder. Why not? It was a clean house, and he'd been nice to her all evening. He bought her a fried shrimp dinner at Popeye's (the big shrimp dinner, not the snack meal), gave her a couple of Vicodin to keep her sane, and now he sat quietly with her as she drank a Rolling Rock and watched some cheap rip-off of America's Next Top Model. It had been awhile since she was someplace she could watch TV this time of night, especially a show like this. One of the few fantasies she still held was being a supermodel on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Everyone at Sandalwood High had told her she was pretty enough to model. She was convinced of it too until she scraped together three hundred bucks for a "photo-shoot." She believed the tubby, bald photographer when he said she could be a star. It wasn't until she found out what kind of star he meant that her dreams came crashing down.

Now she realized that at an even five feet she was too short to be a model, even if God had given her good cheekbones and an athletic body. Her high school career had been as successful as her attempt at modeling. Aside from playing lacrosse, she didn'taccomplish a whole lot in school. She was nice to people and loved kids, so why was it so important to find France on a map or know that President Reagan didn't free the slaves?

She had fights with her mom and new stepdad that she now understood were useless. It was just her way of showing she was growing up. Her stepdad wasn't that bad of a guy. Even her new stepbrother and sister didn't seem so annoying. Lee Ann had to prove she was independent and knew what was best, so she moved out (her mom called it running away) at fifteen. She'd been on her own for a few months when she was found dancing at a strip club off the interstate and sent back home.

Then, at sixteen, she moved out for good. Or so she thought. It was frustrating six months later when the same cop found her, bought her lunch, then took her back home to live. She even knew the cop a little. She had played lacrosse in the same league as his daughter, and that embarrassed her mom.

The third time was the charm. She was close enough to eighteen that her mom didn't even bother calling the cops. She'd moved out and was on her own. Now, Lee Ann didn't like where she had ended up.

It felt like her luck was changing. The right guy might give her the chance to turn things around. Lee Ann was working two different jobs. During the day she was a clerk at a copy/printing place. She liked the word "clerk," and that's what she told people when they asked what she did for a living. It was nice to have a legitimate job. A couple of nights a week she still worked as a dancer. The money was too good to ignore, and she no longer looked at it like a lifetime job, what most people called a career.

She didn't have a drug habit like a lot of the dancers at the Bare Belly Club. She only used prescription drugs, because they were safe. A few painkillers a day, some Oxy when she had the cash, and then the Lunesta to sleep. It all helped and kept her drug-free. That was important to her. She always bought her "safe" prescription drugs from the same two guys. One was a friend of hers named Malachi and the other guy, Ernie, was a sweet college kid who made sure she only took pills that wouldn't hurt her long term. He always stressed that she couldn't get addicted to pills; that's why he sold them instead of crack.

Now, in this pleasant house she felt a thick arm wrap around her bare shoulder. This guy was quiet but smart, really smart. His whole house was wired with cool electronics and he used a few words she had never even heard. He was some kind of teacher in college and seemed just that brainy. The guy also worked at a pharmacy, and that's what interested her. If she got a good hookup in a pharmacy and introduced him to Malachi, things might get better for her. She told Mal she'd met a pharmacy worker, but he told her to play it cool for a few weeks before asking him about supplying some pharmaceuticals or "Farm Aids."

This guy was built too, with a hard strap across his shoulders and biceps she couldn't fit both hands around. She knew how much dedication it took to put on muscle like that. Her old manager, Jamais, who now went by his real name, Franklin, had the same kind of build, only a little taller.

"You okay, Lee Ann? Can I get you anything?"

She purred and gave him a peck on the cheek.

He held out his hand with a couple of Oxycontin pills.

She just nodded and he set them on the coffee table, then used the bottom of his glass to mash them into a light powder. A black cat scurried past when he started to grind the pills.

The guy said, "That's Mr. Whiskers IV. He's a little skittish."

Lee Ann smiled, scooped up the powder, then licked her hand to take in every grain of it. She gulped her beer to wash away the bitter taste.

The room already had a hazy quality to it, and she felt a slight whirl. This was some good shit. She reached for the green Rolling Rock bottle again and knocked it onto the throw rug on top of the hard, cold terrazzo.

"I am so sorry." She meant it, but the words sounded slurred. She hoped she hadn't frightened the cat even more.

He shrugged. "Don't worry about it." He stroked her face, then added, "You wanna go into the bedroom?"

She didn't really, but he'd been so nice. "Maybe just to lay down for a few minutes. This stuff is really hitting me."

He stood and helped her to her feet. Earlier she'd stepped off the path to the front door and her left foot slipped out of her shoe into the decorative sand. Lee Ann was afraid she had twisted her ankle, but now with the Oxy in her system she couldn't tell. Since then she'd carried the shoes around the house with her. Now she discarded the clogs with three-inch heels next to the old couch and allowed him to lead her through the small house. She tripped twice on funky little steps between rooms. It was weird that each room was on a different level. She stumbled once more as they stepped through a doorway near the front of the house.

She paused as he flipped on the overhead light. The room was bare except for a mattress on the floor. Her knees buckled and she lost her balance, but he steadied her. What a gentleman.

An empty duffel bag lay on the terrazzo floor next to the bed.

Lee Ann said, "I've never had Oxy hit me like this before."

"That's because it's not just Oxycontin."

She stared at him, but her eyes couldn't focus well. She felt herself falling, but he helped her land on the soft mattress. In an instant he had slipped off her tank top and was working the hook on the back of her bra.

Before she could protest, her breasts swung free as the room seemed to turn at odd angles. For the first time, she was worried, twisting her head around to see where he was standing. Her heart started to pound.

He chuckled and said, "Lay down. This'll be fun."

His powerful hand pulled her flat onto the bed, then jerked her arms over her head. A pinch around her wrists made her squirm to look over her shoulders. Now her stomach had a block of ice in it as she realized the guy had handcuffed her to some kind of hook in the wall. Fear washed over her, making her head spin faster, like the whirly-wheel at the fair.

She lost track of where he had gone. Her jeans were unsnapped and roughly yanked off along with her favorite pair of panties. She tried kicking her legs, but they felt like cement as he secured her ankles with another set of steel cuffs. Lee Ann thought she might vomit from fear.

Now he sat on the edge of the bed, writing in a small blue journal. His eyes focused on the precise movements of his pen.

"What are you doing?" She couldn't form the question in her mind.

He smiled, revealing strong, healthy teeth. "Just a few notes. All has to do with my pharmaceutical work. I think I gave you just the right amount of Oxy and 200 milligrams of Anafranil, but I want to see what happens."

Panic surged up her throat. "Right amount for what?"

"We're gonna see how long I can keep you here quiet and happy and with me."

Detective John Stallings scanned the front of the shitty old lime-green motel, nasty parking lot, and the alley that led to the beach behind it. The low clouds and light drizzle gave the whole image the perfect accent of grime, gray, and grit. Typical Jacksonville.

A behemoth in a cheap jacket standing in the front of the building was his main concern. Just some guntoting crack dealer from Springfield hoping to stake out a new zone over here. He was a mountain of "show" muscle, all chest and biceps, probably an exjock who used his gym time to look scary but not necessarily to stay in shape. All street cops could tell the difference. Probably scared the damn hotel owner into silence and set up a stash in one of the rooms upstairs. That's why a lanky kid in a Patriots hoodie was at the base of the stairs. If they moved in too quick the whole place would know the po-po were on-site.

Hidden a couple of blocks north with his black Impala in front of them, Stallings twisted his six-foot frame to stretch a kink out of his back, then looked down at his partner and said, "I just see the two assholes. The one that looks like a Jaguars lineman out front could cause some shit." He had a good sense of danger. At least danger to himself. After sixteen years with the Jacksonville Sheriff 's Office he trusted his judgment when it came to tactical operations. It had taken a few too many beatings, a knife wound, and a bullet in the leg to teach him that, but no one acquired knowledge without suffering or work. Sister Mary had taught him that his first day in kindergarten.

Patty Levine nodded at his assessment, then said, "We should get narcotics in here for these two, then check out room 2-B." Her blond hair hung in a loose braid down her muscular back. Stallings thought she looked like a cheerleader who would kick your ass. And he had seen her do it on several occasions.

"No time for the street team. If she's up in the room, we gotta move right now." He didn't want to get his younger, more ambitious partner in the shithouse with the agency, but this was what kept him going. Finding a young girl who had run away with some middle-aged jack-off gave him the will to move in the morning and fall asleep at night. At least on the nights he slept at all. Unlike most of his fellow detectives he needed work to give him a break from home once in a while. And he needed lucky tips like this one to feel like he was doing all he could for these kids. God knows he hoped some cop somewhere was doing all he could for his Jeanie.

Stallings had asked to be assigned to the missing persons unit. First time they had ever had a detective transfer in. Usually it was just a way for a patrolman to make detective, then move on to the more interesting narcotics or high-profile homicide. For Stallings it was logical, after everything that had happened, to work in crimes/persons and handle missing persons. Even if the other detectives called it the "runaway roundup," he didn't care. It meant something. It also gave him the schedule to see his family more, to coach soccer, and to help Lauren with her homework. Maybe he could correct the mistakes he'd made with Jeanie. He knew his partner, Patty, wanted to try robbery or homicide if she got the chance, but this was the only unit that made sense to him now.

They had the run of the county, and way out here in Jacksonville Beach, fifteen miles east of their main office, he had the freedom to make choices and do the right thing no matter what policy said.

Patty saw his mind drift and smiled at him. "What is it you like to say? Is today the day?"

"C'mon, I know you went through the academy ten years after I did, but they had to still be preaching it. 'Is today the day that changes the rest of your life?'" He glanced back across the two blocks to the monstrous crack dealer, with a neck like a spare tire, in front of the hotel. When he was sure no one had moved, Stallings turned his attention back to Patty. "It's a way to stay focused on the job. I've said it before every assignment, and it keeps me alert."

Patty said, "What if I don't want a change today? What if, and I know this sounds crazy to you, we call for backup before we tangle with a drug dealer who looks like a brown Incredible Hulk in a cheap vinyl jacket?"

Stallings let out a quick laugh. Patty was a great partner: smart, tough, and knew when to crack a joke or two. It had been hard to be around him the past few years, but she never complained or let him down. He hoped he could return the favor. But right now he was on a mission. Keeping his eyes on the mountain of dark flesh and the young lookout at the base of the stairs, Stallings untucked his shirt to cover his Glock and gold badge clipped on his belt.

Patty flipped over the cover of the battered gray metal notebook case she carried everywhere that stored all aspects of their work and her life, including her schedule, to-do lists, her family's birthdays, and a complete schedule of the University of Florida's sports teams games. She slid out a small photograph of a fourteen-year-old girl with bright orange hair holding a small black dog.

Stallings glanced at the photo. "I saw her picture before. If there's a girl in that room she's coming with us. I don't care who she is."

"And if there's a man with her? We got no PC or warrant. Just a shaky tip."

"Jail is the least of that creep's concerns if he's in a hotel with an underaged girl." He looked down the empty street again. They'd have to walk down there, because the Impala the county issued him was too obvious. "Can you handle the guy by the stairs?"

Patty gave him a sly smile. "No sweat."

Stallings never had to worry about Patty having his back. She could kick just about anyone's ass and moved like a leopard in a fight. Her looks sometimes lulled men into thinking she wasn't a threat. They were always wrong. He gave no more thought to the smaller thug by the stairs.

He was about to start walking when he saw someone at the base of the stairs of the little hotel. Stallings paused, then slowly ducked back into his car and retrieved a small set of Bushnell binoculars with the logo for the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club on the side. He surveyed the area under slightly more magnification and then said, "Shit, hold on."

"What is it?" Patty held a closed ASP expandable baton in her small hand.

"A family is gettin' ready for a trip to the pool. Looks like an Asian family with three little kids." He checked again and saw one small girl holding a bright pink plastic tube as her mother bent to adjust her tiny suit.

"Who'd go swimming in this weather?"

"Let's wait a minute. I don't want to ruin these kids' vacation if this is the only place their parents could afford."

Finally, after several minutes of waiting, the little troupe moved down the walkway toward the pool at the rear of the building, and Stallings watched as Patty slipped down onto the beach across the street to approach from another direction.

Stallings crossed the two-lane road and then started strolling toward the hotel and the giant sentry out front. He didn't hurry; that way Patty had time to set up. He also didn't want this monster to have any reason to suspect that Five-0 was in the area. This wasn't downtown; he probably expected a more polite police force. That assumption would be shattered in the next minute.

Stallings wasn't cocky. He knew he could be the one on the wrong end of a fist or a cheap pistol, but he had surprise on his side. He focused on the academy mantra: "Is this the day that changes my life?" It really was something he'd said his whole career. The hell of it was now he really did need a change. He needed a miracle to get back all he had lost.

There were cops he knew who were quick to mix it up with a suspect. They liked the thrill and violence. Violence accomplished a goal, whether it was an arrest or a lesson; physical aggression was just another tool in a good cop's bag of tricks. If you took it too far you had to be prepared to explain yourself. He could admit, at least to himself, that he enjoyed confrontation with the right thug. Bullies, pimps, and predators often didn't understand anything but a good thumping. And sometimes he didn't know how to deal with them except with a good thumping.


Excerpted from The Perfect Woman by JAMES ANDRUS Copyright © 2010 by James Andrus. 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.

What People are saying about this

Jeffrey Deaver
"One of the best cop novels to come along in years. Hard-hitting, fast-paced, yet heart-felt, Perfect Woman gives us a portrayal of policing as gritty and realistic as the best nonfiction. And what a great hero, Det. John Stallings. . . . We need more cops (and thriller characters) like him!"--(Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author)
Elmore Leonard
"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, New York Times bestselling author)
Michael Connelly
"This book moves with deadly speed and the assured hand of a writer who knows his stuff."--(Michael Connelly, New York Times bestselling author)
Kevin O'Brien
"The Perfect Woman delivers perfect suspense. You won't be able to put this book down!"--(Kevin O'Brien, New York Times bestselling author)
Joseph Wambaugh
"A perfect thriller for Hollywood to grab. The author's police experience and knowledge of the turf keeps the police action highly visual and at a boiling point throughout."--(Joseph Wambaugh)

Meet the Author

James Andrus is a career law enforcement officer who still works major investigations. He has been involved in real serial crime cases, which formed the basis for some of this novel. He has been featured on network news shows and been recognized for his law enforcement achievements. Andrus lives in the Southeast United States with his family, dividing his time between police work and writing.

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Perfect Woman 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. I ended up just loving the characters. It was well written and kept my attention. I did not want to put it down. Some of my favorite authors to read are James Patterson, Erica Spindler, Tess Gerritsen, Harlen Coben, and many others....James Andrus is now on that list! I look forward to his next book...hope he hurries up!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fast-paced thriller that grabs you from the start. The author does a great job in this first book in a series about a missing persons detective whose own daughter ran away three years ago of introducing his main characters. The bad guy is exceptionally creepy. It wasn't really a "who-dunnit" kind of mystery for the reader, because the author lets the reader in on that piece of information. The excitement builds up as you follow the detectives piecing the information together. This was a great read on police procedure, and after reading this, I am anxious to get the other books in the series. Thanx Mr. Andrus for a fabulous read!!! -- SPeeD
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Jennifer Williams More than 1 year ago
great read!!!
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sparky240volt More than 1 year ago
This book is for a more mature audience but it was well written and very well done. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more in the future. Keep writing!!!
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harstan More than 1 year ago
John Stallings is a police detective in the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff's Office Missing Person's Unit. Most of those assigned to this division use it as a step up the ladder. Stallings asked for the transfer after his oldest daughter Jeanie vanished three years ago. Now he spends his free time looking for runaways so he can help them while he and his family struggle with a return to normalcy. However, a case hits home, which leads to Stallings distancing himself from his loved ones as he diligently seeks the Bagman. A serial killer the Bagman is William Dremmel, a pharmacy store clerk and part-time community college science teacher. He abducts young runaways in order to perform drug experiments on his victims until they die. While following a tip on a runaway, he finds a corpse. The lieutenant adds Stallings to the investigation, which angers lead detective Mazzetti as each despises the other. When the Bagman kidnaps a female close to both cops, they team up to try and save her. The Perfect Woman is a taut action-packed police procedural that keeps the reader on the edge of the seat throughout. Stallings is wonderful as his family life is fragile because no one has moved on from the vanishing of Jeanie and he hides from his loved ones with his obsessive dedication to the job . Various characters tell the tale in a third person voice to include the Bagman, which adds to the gritty realism of capturing the serial killer before the next female is dead. Harriet Klausner