The Fault Tree

The Fault Tree

by Louise Ure
The Fault Tree

The Fault Tree

by Louise Ure

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Overview

This chilling novel of suspense and unseen danger hailed is “a great nail-biter . . . Moran is headed straight for the thriller hall of fame” (Lee Child, New York Times–bestselling author).
 
Arizona auto mechanic Cadence Moran is no stranger to darkness. Since she was blinded eight years ago in a horrific car accident that also took the life of her three-year-old niece, she has struggled to deal with the lingering guilt and pain. But she manages to get by.
 
Then, on the way home from work, she is almost run down in the street by a speeding car. At first, Cadence thinks she’s the victim of road rage, bad driving, or just plain bad luck. But the truth is far more terrifying. Someone out there thinks she’s a witness to murder—one that needs to be eliminated. Now Cadence must piece together a deadly puzzle in the dark. And if she can’t, that darkness will certainly lead to her death . . .
 
Contrasting the glare of a Southwestern summer with the shadows of a blind woman’s nightmares, The Fault Tree delivers “an original and gripping work, more proof—as if any was needed—that Louise Ure is an exciting new voice in the mystery field (Laura Lippman, New York Times–bestselling author of Wilde Lake).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626814639
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication date: 02/06/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 351
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Louise currently lives in San Francisco with her husband and whichever senior golden retriever rescue dog has most recently captured her heart.  She is the Shamus-Award winning author of Forcing Amaryllis. This is her second novel.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

At the end, there was so much blame to spread around that we could all have taken a few shovelfuls home and rolled around in it like pigs in stink. But that's not the way it goes with most of us. Most of us like to think that blame belongs on somebody else's doorstep. And I'm no different.

I can picture the way it was on the day everything went bad just as clearly as if I still had my sight. Of course, I probably made up most of it. You know how it goes: your mouth fills in the details your mind doesn't catch. And then later, when you're looking back over everything that happened, your memory just smoothes out some of the corners, takes away that metal taste of fear, makes you seem a little braver than you really were, and then paints in a rosy-toned sunset.

You're always the hero of your own story. Even if that's not the way it happened at all.

CHAPTER 2

I slammed down the hood on the old Impala. Mrs. Wiggins was just whistling through the graveyard if she thought it was going to last another hundred thousand miles. I wiped the sheen of oil off my hands with a shop rag, then used the same cloth on my forehead and jammed it into the back pocket of my overalls.

By now, nobody expected me to leave when the shop closed. I liked working alone at night. No one around to bump into, no one to misplace my tools, and no other sound than that of an ailing engine. It was a bonus that, by this time of night, Arizona temperatures had usually dipped below ninety and I didn't feel like a freshly baked Frito anymore.

There was no buzzing from the fluorescent lights, but I made sure the switch was in the off position anyway and double-checked the locks on the doors. It was fine with me if the rest of the world thought that Walt's Auto Shop was closed for the day.

I'd been at the garage for six years now. Walt saved all his problem cars for me — the ones that couldn't be fixed just by reading the repair manual or plugging into a diagnostic machine — the ones you had to listen to. And that suited me just fine. I'd rather be around cars than people anyway.

I skinned off the overalls, hung them on a hook marked with a wooden C for Cadence, and tugged the tank top and shorts I had worn underneath into a more comfortable position. I found a clean sheet of paper in the drawer, rolled it into the typewriter Walt had resurrected just for me, and typed a note telling Walt what I'd done on the Impala. Flipping up the dial on my watch, I calculated my hours for the invoice and typed that in as a last line. Then, like a thief with a conscience, I walked out through the front of the darkened shop and locked the door behind me.

It was nine-thirty and quiet on the street. The desert air was calm, but heat still radiated from the asphalt and sidewalk. It was going to be another record-baking July in Tucson. I sidestepped around the prickly pear cactus that grew next to the doorway.

"C'mon, Lucy," I said to the cane in my hand. It was a gift from my cousin Kevin eight years ago when I was blinded, and was made of ironwood, with the rounded shape of a floppy-eared dog's head as a handle. "I put turquoise in for the eyes. Now you have your own Seeing Eye dog," Kevin said, after his arguments to get me to ask for a real Seeing Eye dog had failed. I didn't want anything that relied upon me for food or water, companionship, or a job.

At his urging, I nicknamed it "Lucy" for one of the patron saints of the blind.

It was better than those red-tipped white canes. I don't like people thinking of me as a blind person before they've had a chance to think of me as a person at all.

A lawn sprinkler ratcheted around several yards to my left — probably a last-ditch effort to save that little patch of dry grass in front of the insurance office — and a horn honked down by the Guardian Motel on the corner. Although the air was cooling, Apache cicadas still thrummed in concert from the cottonwood tree down the block. Farther away I heard the dentist's drill whine of a Japanese motorcycle revving through the intersection at Ft. Lowell. Rice burners, Kevin used to call them.

The sound was a reminder of my cousin's Guidelines for Being Able to Move Away From Home. "There are three tests. First, you have to do a major tune-up, blindfolded, in thirty minutes. Second, you have to recognize the make and model of a motorcycle by the sound of its engine. And third, you have to know the passing record of every quarterback in the NFL."

Kevin Dulcey was seventeen that summer and I was a ten-year-old tomboy who idolized her older cousin and tried to mimic his shoulder shrugs and gliding gait. I would sit quietly beside him as he struggled through algebra homework, and if he'd let me, I'd tag along when he trolled El Con Mall with his friends. My mom called him a cheap babysitter. I called him the best thing that had ever happened to me.

What a joke. I had finally perfected those thirty-minute tune-ups, but of course I didn't need the blindfold now. And I never did find a use for the football stats I'd memorized.

I stopped at the corner and listened for approaching traffic. Nothing. There was a major intersection a quarter of a mile away but not much traffic to worry about on this two-lane cross street. This part of Tucson was mostly residential, with a couple of strip malls, grocery stores, and one-man insurance offices thrown in for good measure.

I heard a cry of distress from some house down the block, but silence followed it. Probably somebody burning dinner. I moved toward the corner. Not many people going not many places on a summertime Tucson night. An engine idled behind me, but the car wasn't moving. I tapped the cane once on the edge of the curb and stepped into the street.

Suddenly, running footsteps stilled the cicadas. I stopped halfway across the street. The runners were behind me, in the direction of that idling engine. I swiveled my head, pivoting left and right like a bat, to triangulate the sound. A moment later two car doors slammed, and I heard high-pitched laughter.

I was head on to the sound. A young voice above the dull rumble. Tight. Higher register. Then the screech of spinning tires. My heart rose to my throat.

How many steps had I taken into the street? The angry-engine roar kept coming. A sound that had caused me nightmares for eight years.

I threw myself sideways and landed with a gasp as the edge of the curb caught my ribs. The cane clattered out of my hand and I cried out, orphaned by the loss of my divining rod.

Rolling into the gutter, I pulled my arms over my head as if they could protect me from three thousand pounds of hurtling metal. The engine revved to a banshee wail and raced toward me.

CHAPTER 3

The old woman on the floor had reached up and wrapped herself around his legs. He pushed Lolly toward the front door but she stumbled, grabbing on to the doorjamb to keep herself upright.

He kicked again, but the old lady held on like Velcro.

Lolly turned back from the door, readjusted her grip on the buck knife, and stabbed the old woman again. The woman's grip went suddenly slack, her final breath a wet, sucking sound.

"Oh, God, Lolly. Oh, my God."

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Lolly had told him about a mattress stuffed with cash and piles of jewelry hidden in the ice cube trays. But none of it had been true. The woman had put up a struggle, and he'd just frozen. Lolly had had to do all the fighting for them. He didn't know that an old lady could scream that loud.

He wiped a sleeve across the doorjamb to blur the prints, grabbed Lolly's hand, and raced to the car, the screen door slapping uselessly against the old woman's arm in their wake.

Lolly — already on that continental divide between fear and hysteria — laughed, then cried out, "Get her! She's seen us!" He looked up, surprised to see a tall, dark-haired woman in the street only ten or fifteen yards away from the car. He hadn't seen anyone come down the sidewalk and there were no businesses open except for the motel back the other way.

Shit, oh shit. How had it all gone so wrong so fast?

"Quiet. I'll take care of it."

Maybe it wouldn't be a problem. With any luck, the dark-haired lady couldn't see the dead woman from here. And the lighting wasn't great; maybe she wouldn't be able to identify them.

They needed to get away before the woman saw any more. A flick of the headlights to blind her, a stomp on the accelerator, and they'd be outta there.

Twenty feet ... fifteen ... ten. "Stand up! Stand up!" The voice that haunted his dreams. He bit his lip when he saw the woman leap toward the curb.

He knew the tires had missed her entirely, but there was a ricochet of sound against the undercarriage, as if he'd hit something solid, like a pipe.

Lolly laughed again. "Guess what?"

"What, Lollipop?" he said, concentrating on the road ahead.

"We got nineteen dollars." She grinned as she pulled the one-dollar bills from the canister, then dumped the remaining coffee grounds out the window.

CHAPTER 4

I tried to stand, but my knees folded. My breath was a whimper. I stayed on all fours until the tremors subsided, then groaned into a sitting position.

Everything hurt. Sharp pieces of gravel were embedded in my hands and forearms, and my head and ribs throbbed from contact with the sidewalk and curb.

Heart pounding, I was adrift in a black sea. I scrambled left and right but couldn't locate the cane. Calm down. You're alive; you know how to take care of yourself. It was a lifetime of moments before I could breathe without that mewling sound.

I stretched out on my back and made dusty desert snow angels. My right heel tapped something wooden ahead of me and I groped the empty air in wide, frantic sweeping motions until I connected with the wooden shaft. Fuck. There were jagged splinters about eighteen inches below the dog's head. Another eighteen inches and those splinters would have been my bones.

Feeling my way back to the shop entrance, I sank to the stoop, inadvertently rubbing up against the prickly pear next to the door. Fuck again. I picked off the beaver-tailed paddle and winced when the long thorns let go. My breathing remained shallow until the fright tapered off and my heart slowed down from its woodpecker pace.

That asshole. I had taken my share of falls and smacked into an untold number of overhanging objects through the years, but this one wasn't my fault. The jerk.

I took a deeper, calming breath and got the street and the buildings realigned in my mind. I had taken this walk almost every day for six years. I could do it without Lucy, but it would be slower going.

Sweeping the amputated dog's-head cane ahead of me like a bomb detector, I crossed the street and limped toward home.

Idiots, that's for damn sure. Maybe they were drunk and didn't have their lights on. Maybe I was the victim of somebody's end-of-day road rage. Didn't matter. I'd still be just as run over if I hadn't jumped.

I reached out with my right arm and confirmed the placement of the arch-shaped mailbox on the corner. Thirty paces farther on I found the concrete bus stop bench. Maybe the streetlights hadn't been working or were too dim. I'd heard a story on the radio earlier in the week about limiting the wattage of streetlights in Tucson so the reflected glare wouldn't affect the telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. That'd make for a great headline: "Blind Woman Killed Because She Could See Better Than the Guy Driving the Car."

My street didn't have a sidewalk, but the hard-packed earth next to the curb felt almost as smooth. A fast, short step with the left leg to get the pain over with, then a drag and shuffle with the right to make some progress down the road. I whistled with the ache of each step.

I try not to whine about being blind, but this was one time that I really could have used a pair of working eyes. I would have loved to pass along that license plate. Sons of bitches.

Two blocks later my feet scuffed across the larger pebbles of the Cardozas' front yard. I turned the corner and, three houses down, turned left when I smelled the honeysuckle vine that marked the edge of my driveway. I winced as I dug bloody fingers into the small front pocket of my shorts in search of house keys. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck," I muttered, a powerless four-letter incantation, as my stiff fingers forced the key into the lock.

I headed into the bathroom and opened the mirror-fronted medicine cabinet, imagining what my reflection would look like: gravel and road rash strewn across my cheeks and chin like the remains of a messy spaghetti dinner. My ribs were raw and the heels of my hands were puffy with scratches. I rifled past a metal box of Band-Aids, a small round tub of ProSoap, and a square, plastic container of floss I'd gotten free from the dentist. On the second shelf, I knocked over a plastic bottle with a screw top.

"Might be just what I'm looking for." I unscrewed the cap and sniffed. No fragrance, no clue to its identity. I usually labeled any new purchase with a Braille marker as soon as I brought it home. I must have forgotten this time, and I hoped that the only bottle of liquid in there that didn't have an odor would be the hydrogen peroxide.

I dipped a finger in and brought it to my lips. Recognizing the familiar bubbling on my tongue, I set the bottle on the counter and groped to find a washcloth and gauze pads.

After I cleaned and dressed the most obvious scrapes, I called Kevin.

"Sorry, Kev, but I think Lucy's going to need repair. I almost got run down tonight. A bad driver in a bad mood." I didn't want him to hear the marrow-chilling fear that still crept through my bones. Silence on the line while we thought of another bad driver we both knew too well.

"Forget the cane," Kevin said. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

He promised to come by the house the next day and told me to tuck the decapitated stick behind the pot of lavender on the front porch, where he could find it if I wasn't home.

I opened all the windows to encourage a breeze and went to bed cursing bad drivers everywhere, including myself.

CHAPTER 5

Detective August Dupree squatted inside the front entrance, next to the old woman's body. The pool of blood had gelled into the shape of Australia just beyond his wing-tipped toes. She lay on her side, one arm stretched through the open doorway in a last-minute plea for attention. The newspaper delivery boy had phoned 911 at seven o'clock this morning, when he'd spotted Mrs. Prentice's body in the doorway.

"Forced entry?" He pointed to the gouges on the lock's striker plate.

"Looks like it," the police officer at the door replied.

Dupree turned to the medical examiner, who knelt next to the body. "Cause of death?" He never knew how to address the guy. Harry, like his first name? Or James, like his last? They both sounded too casual for the death dance he and the medical examiner had to do.

James didn't seem to notice either way. "Multiple stab wounds. She fought back. I'll have a better idea about the weapon after we do the autopsy."

Dupree examined the wounds on her back and chest. Had she surprised someone? Tried to stop a burglary? "Any guess on time of death?"

"Body temperature suggests sometime between eight and midnight last night. Can't be sure with this summer heat. And she was wearing a heavy robe. That would have stalled it even more."

Wanda Prentice had been small but strong. Even at seventy-six, her crepey arms still held the definition of solid muscle beneath the skin. Dupree lifted one outstretched arm. He didn't see anything under the dead woman's nails, but they would bag the hands anyway.

"Starting to come out of rigor," the medical examiner noted. "Might err on the early side of that estimate."

Dupree nodded, rose with a groan, and followed the trail of blood into the kitchen. Although his childhood home had been tidier, the room reminded him of his mother's kitchen back in Louisiana. The refrigerator was new enough to have sharp corners instead of the rounded silhouette he remembered, but all the appliances, along with the furniture in the living room, were firmly fixed in a forty-year-old time warp.

"Find anything?" he asked his partner. The door to the freezer compartment stood open. Ice cube trays, coffee grounds, flour, and dry cereal had been dumped in the sink and scattered on the floor. One kitchen chair was overturned and the tablecloth pulled askew.

Detective Richard Nellis picked up a flower-patterned green and orange apron with gloved hands, placed it in an evidence bag, and stood up. The junior member of the team, he towered over Dupree. "It looks like the fight started in here. And we may be looking for more than one suspect. Can't be sure yet, but I think there are two sets of footprints leading out to the door."

"Does one of them belong to the victim?"

"She had slippers on — lost one during the fight — and there's plenty of blood on them. But no, these look like two different sets of shoes."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Fault Tree"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Louise Ure.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion 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.

Recipe

Arizona auto mechanic Cadence Moran is no stranger to darkness. She was blinded in a horrific car accident eight years ago that also took the life of her three-year old niece. She knows she was only partially to blame, but that doesn't make the loss any easier to bear. She's learned to get by, but there are still painful memories. When she is almost run down by a speeding car on the way home from work, Cadence at first thinks that she is the victim of road rage or a bad driver. But that's not the case. In fact, she is the only witness to the murder of her elderly neighbor, and now the killer believes that she's seen the getaway car.Louise Ure paints the glare of a Southwestern summer with the brush of a blind woman's darkness in this novel of jeopardy and courage … and the fine line between them--as Cadence fights to stop a killer she can't see.
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