When First We Deceive

Overview

Charles Wilson, termed a "wizard plotter" by the Los Angeles Times and whose writings are compared by many to John D. McDonald, once again demonstrates why he has earned such critical acclaim in When First We Deceive, his best and most terrifying thriller to date. A most fearsome, crazed presence stalks the deep South, terrifying citizens in cities from Memphis to New Orleans to Mobile, and the FBI has set up local headquarters along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to try and put a stop to this madness. But as fearful...
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Overview

Charles Wilson, termed a "wizard plotter" by the Los Angeles Times and whose writings are compared by many to John D. McDonald, once again demonstrates why he has earned such critical acclaim in When First We Deceive, his best and most terrifying thriller to date. A most fearsome, crazed presence stalks the deep South, terrifying citizens in cities from Memphis to New Orleans to Mobile, and the FBI has set up local headquarters along the Mississippi Gulf Coast to try and put a stop to this madness. But as fearful as this lone, demented presence is, it does not compare to the evil born of a so-called sane mind bent on gratification, as all involved soon learn. Young police lieutenant Brett Dunnigan and his wife Paige Dunnigan, members of a small police force in a sleepy Mississippi coastal town, are steered to a last-minute prowler call as Brett's shift is about to end and he has already picked Paige up to celebrate their first anniversary. What they find that night changes their dreams to nightmares and starts them on an investigation fraught with terror - and ultimately puts both of their lives in danger from which there seems no escape.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Steadily accelerating suspense, deft plotting and a broad cast of likely suspects highlight Wilson's ( Night watch er ; The Cassandra Prophecy ) latest crime thriller. In tiny Pass Christian, Miss., police officers Paige and Brett Dunnigan are headed toward Biloxi and a first wedding anniversary celebration when the report of a prowler sends them to the home of Brett's old girlfriend. There Brett stumbles over the still warm, nearly decapitated body of Tiffany Anderson. The area is immediately overrun by local law enforcement agencies and the FBI, all hoping to collar the elusive psychopath responsible for a rash of murders of young women along the Gulf Coast. Brett's longtime buddy Vic, a former cop turned PI who has been hired by the wife of a New Orleans man murdered with one of the mutilated victims, is also on the scene. As clues are bungled or lost, it soon appears that the killer may be a cop. While Brett harbors guilt at not telling Paige about a chance rendezvous with Tiffany just before their marriage or of his recent encounter with her in the supermarket, Paige disappears, and suspicion then focuses on Brett, who must solve the murder to save his life. (June)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780843944013
  • Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/5/1998
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 4.23 (w) x 6.80 (h) x 0.84 (d)

First Chapter

Trinity went out of her way to look her best that night, accentuating her high cheekbones and full lips with just the right amount of makeup, slipping on the pullover blouse that emphasized her small breasts and tiny waist, finally selecting the leather miniskirt that dropped barely to the top of her thighs. Her bare legs were eye-catching in the highest heels she owned.

And what had it gained her? she thought. She touched her fingers gingerly to her swollen lip; her eyes moistened and she shook her head. For the twentieth time her gaze moved to the telephone on the table next to her chair. But this time she didn't quickly look away.

Continuing to stare, she drew her mouth into a firm line, suddenly reached for the telephone directory lying next to the telephone, lifted it into her lap and opened it. In a moment she found the name she was looking for -- Brett Dunnigan.

She reached for the receiver, but hesitated. There was a pencil on the table and she picked it up, rolled it in her fingers for a moment, turned the directory back to its front, printed the number at the top of the inside page and stared at it.

Then she shook her head. She was acting foolishly. She would have her revenge, but she needed to be careful she gained it in such a manner that she wasn't destroyed in the process. She needed to plan first -- she had always been good at planning.

She moved the directory back to the table, sat a moment longer in thought, then raised her face toward the hallway at the back of the living room. "James!" she called.

After a moment with no answer she called his name again. Frowning, she came up out of the chair and walked toward the hallway.

Entering her bedroom, she saw the bathroom door to her right was closed. She could hear the sound of running water. She walked to the door and opened it.

"James?" she said, peering inside.

He wasn't there. The tub was nearly overflowing. She walked to it and turned off the water. Looking back toward the door, her brow wrinkled at her thought:

He couldn't have left the house without her knowing. He would've had to come up the hall and through the living room to go out either the front or back door.

The other bedroom, maybe he was in there; or maybe the bathroom across the hall. She hadn't noticed if its door was closed.

She looked back at the water lapping at the top of the tub and shook her head in exasperation. She couldn't take much more, not very much more at all.

She leaned to open the drain -- and the lights went out.

Stopping her hand in its movement toward the tub, she straightened and looked back toward the bedroom, waiting for the power to come back on.

But after several seconds there was still only the dark.

Damn, she thought. She only hoped the lights were out on the whole street and not something wrong with the house's wiring. But if there was something wrong, that wouldn't be any surprise; not any surprise at all. The air conditioner had gone out only two days after they moved in. A couple of days after that, only the week before, the roof had leaked during a rain shower that swept down the edge of the coast. Lucky it had only been a shower, but even that caused enough leakage to ruin the ceiling in the kitchen. The old house was all they could afford, he had said. Yeah, with his habit it was.

But who else did she have to blame but herself? She had known from the very beginning how he was, and had still married him. What a fool.

Shaking her head in irritation, she reached back to the tub, felt in the darkness for the drain-control lever, opened it, then turned and moved carefully across the tile floor into the bedroom, dimly lit by the moonlight coming in through the curtained windows.

There was a flashlight in the nightstand on the far side of the room and she walked toward it, circling the end of the bed -- and a flashlight suddenly came on behind her, startling her.

She frowned and turned into the bright light. "James, where have you..." She saw from the position of the light that he hadn't walked into the room from the hallway to the left, but had stepped out of the walk-in closet a few feet in front of her. "James, what are you doing?"

She felt a gentle draft against her right side and something brush against her arm. The curtain billowing out toward her. The window was raised.

The light came quickly toward her.

"James?"

"Uh!" She grunted at the hard force that slammed into her forehead, jolting her head backward.

Uncomprehending, she raised her hand to her head. She felt the sticky warmth. Her eyes widened.

The dark shape stepped closer.

"Noooo!" she screamed in horror and raised her arms in front of her face. A second heavy blow came down through her hands, smashing into her head -- and she grunted again and crumpled backward to the floor.

The flashlight was laid on the bed. A short section of lead pipe thudded to the carpet. A steel blade glinted the flashlight's beam. The figure stepped forward.

His feet straddling Trinity's limp form, he slowly lowered himself down to her body, his hard knees pinning her outstretched arms to the floor.

Down the street, a tiny, gray-haired woman stood at her open dining-room window. She narrowed her eyes quizzically behind a large pair of black binoculars as she swung the glasses quickly through the tree-lined yards.

A dog's yelp? she wondered. It almost sounded like the start of a woman's scream, abruptly cut off.

After a minute, still unable to locate an injured animal -- or anyone being raped in plain view -- she gave up her search and lowered the binoculars to let them hang against the front of her white terry-cloth robe.

Raped in plain view, she thought again, and herself running to the rescue. That would be a gasser, wouldn't it? All her life she had wanted to do something like that, or maybe break up a drug-smuggling ring. She smiled and raised the binoculars back to her eyes. Something like that.

The full moon brightly illuminated Brett Dunnigan's unmarked patrol car as he drove slowly along U. S. 90, the coastal highway running alongside the dark waters of the Mississippi Sound and comprising the southern limits of the small town of Pass Christian. Back to his right, away from the white sand beach on his left and at the top of a bluff gently sloping up away from the pavement, a continuous line of large houses, most of them wood-frame and some of them over a hundred years old, faced out over the top of his car toward the Sound, and the Gulf of Mexico beyond it. He looked at the houses. Though he had passed by them a million times, he always looked. How could someone not stare up at them? he wondered. Mostly built by wealthy New Orleanians when the Mississippi Coast was considered their playground, the houses' hand-carved woodwork, tall columns, and prominent roof lines represented a lifestyle that lasted for better than a hundred years, a way of life that thrived on luxury, peacefulness, and graciousness; a calm, slow way of life, and a closeness of family, a lifestyle that wouldn't be seen again. The equally as big, and some even bigger, modern mansions of brick and stone built later, farther east along the highway toward Long Beach and Gulfport just weren't the same.

He glanced back across the median and the two lanes to his left at the choppy waves building in the Sound, their tops fluorescing into foam before the strengthening wind. He reached forward to the dash, switched off the air conditioner and lowered his window.

Unbuttoning the collar of his uniform and loosening his tie, he let the fresh breeze blow across his lean face and taut neck and took a deep breath. With several hours passing since the sun had set, there was now some relief from the unusually warm spring temperatures the area had been experiencing. It would be mid-morning before the air conditioning in the small town would again go into full gear.

He glanced at his watch, his new watch with its heavy, solid gold band. He looked at the little box wrapped in bright red wrapping paper lying on the seat next to him, then reached to the two-way radio mounted underneath the dash and lifted its mike to his lips, calling in to the station.

In a moment the radio crackled at the voice of the old woman who served as the force's night radio dispatcher. "Yeah, unit two," she said.

"Martha, you mind telephoning Paige for me? Tell her my brakes are vibrating and I'm going to leave the car down at the garage. Ask her to meet me there and bring a pair of jeans and a shirt and I'll dress on the way to Biloxi."

"What's that?"

He smiled and shook his head in amusement. Martha had to know everything. "I'm taking Paige over to Biloxi to eat, Martha. If that's all right with you?"

The woman didn't reply, but he knew she was satisfied now. She knew what was going on. He smiled again, replaced the mike, glanced at the shrimp boats moored in their berths in the Pass off the highway. He steered up the gentle rise into the center of the old town, comprised of narrow streets and buildings that for the most part would not have been out of place in a movie filmed before the turn of the century.

In a minute, he had wound back along a road at the edge of the bluff, and turned away from the beach onto a narrow, alleylike street leading between a pair of massive, two-story antebellum homes. In another couple of minutes he was on a main street, driving toward the garage where he would leave the car for the night. He was almost there when his radio crackled again.

"Unit two."

"Yeah, Martha."

"I'd be ashamed, Brett."

"What?"

"I thought you young ones would be a little different. You sound just like my husband. That's what I've just been telling Paige. That's what he would do on my anniversary -- if he took me out to eat in the first place. You ever thought about waiting until tomorrow, when it's early enough to go to a really nice place? I mean, it's almost eleven, Brett."

A telephone sounded in the background, and he heard the woman snort her irritation. "Hold on, Brett. This phone's been ringing tonight like I'm Larry King Live or something."

She didn't come back on the radio, and in a minute he guided his car up to the front of the garage. Seconds later, Paige drove her Maxima in behind him and stopped. He didn't move to open his door, but instead lifted the little box from the seat and held it up in the glare of her headlights where she could see it through his rear windshield.

Her door opened and in a moment she stood at his window and looked down at him. "Brett, you're not fair." He had given her a thin gold bracelet studded with tiny diamonds when he had wished her Happy Anniversary that morning, had a dozen roses in his hand when he met her for lunch, and now this.

She still stared down at him, trying to look serious. But a smile played at the corner of her lips. "Brett, we're supposed to be saving money, remember -- for when we're at the academy."

"You bought me a watch."

"One watch."

"Worth more than all my presents together." The watch was a beauty, especially with the heavy gold band her grandfather willed to his "favorite tomboy" at his death, a gift that meant the world to Paige. He raised his wrist up to the window and showed the watch to her, as if to remind her she had given it to him.

Her smile broke through. "Let me have it," she said, and reached for the little gift-wrapped box.

The radio crackled. "Unit two."

He reached for his mike. "This is unit two."

"Brett, I just got a signal 56. It's close to you and you still have ten minutes on duty. Sorry."

Brett closed his eyes. A signal 56, a damn prowler who would already be gone by the time he got there. He looked at his watch. He was scheduled to switch to the morning shift the next day. It would be two hours at least, eating in Biloxi and getting back to the house before he could get into bed. He wasn't going to get much sleep. He lifted his mike, but before he spoke the radio crackled again, this time with the heavy voice of a large male -- Sergeant Armont Green.

"Brett, you take Paige on to the big eat-out. Arnie's already on duty. I saw him drive by a minute ago. He can back me up."

"Thanks, Armont."

The dispatcher spoke again. "Same address as before, Armont."

"What before?" Brett asked.

"I tried you, Brett," the old woman said. "You didn't answer. Radio's working now. Bet it was then."

The call had to have come when he was out of his car checking an open window at the back of a restaurant on the east edge of town.

"Brett," Sergeant Green said.

"Yeah."

"There was nobody around when I went by the first time, or they were keeping out of sight if they were still there. I'll go up on foot this time. Martha..."

"Uh-huh, Armont."

"You holler back at whoever called in the report. Get the name of the people at the house where the prowler was seen. Give them a call and tell them I'll be walking around in their backyard. I don't need to be getting shot. Tell them not to do anything other than what they're doing now -- just stay inside. Arnie, you on the line?"

There was no response to the call.

A waft of Oscar de la Renta drifted inside the window, replacing the smell of salt air. "It's my favorite," Paige said as she slipped the spray bottle back into its box. She glanced past him at the radio. "If the prowler's been back twice -- could be the burglar."

He raised the mike back to his mouth. "Armont, you saw that the occupants were home?"

"Lights were all on, and that old red MG I been seeing all over town is there. Guess that's where that woman lives who drives it."

Trinity.

Paige looked at him.

He felt awkward.

"Arnie," Sergeant Green called.

There was still no response.

"For God's sake," the old woman exclaimed in an exasperated voice. "Am I the only one working full-time tonight? Arnie, you out there?"

Brett depressed his mike button. "Forget him, Martha. Armont, I'm on my way to the location."

"Copy that," the sergeant came back, "but it'll take me a couple of minutes to get there. I'm down near the yacht club."

"Let me get my purse," Paige said, and hurried toward her car.

In a few seconds she was back and slipped inside the car onto the passenger seat. Brett drove back out onto the street.

After a minute, still staring straight ahead through the windshield, she casually asked, "Have you run into her since she moved back into town?"

"I saw her at the grocery store a few days ago."

She looked at him. "Talk to her?"

He had for just a moment. "No."

As she faced forward again, he glanced at her clothes. It had been her day off duty and she was still dressed in the white blouse and dark slacks she wore when she met him for lunch. The slacks were okay, but the blouse would stand out noticeably in the bright moonlight.

He nodded over his shoulder into the rear seat. "I have an old sweatshirt back there on the floor. Put it on."

"What?"

"Your blouse is too bright."

She leaned over the seat and looked down at the floor. "Brett -- that old nasty thing."

"Put it on -- Officer Dunnigan."

She frowned but reached for the garment. Turning back around, she quickly slipped it down over her head, fluffed her hair out from under the collar, rolled the sleeves up to her elbows, and leaned forward to peer through the windshield.

With her brown eyes open wide and her slim body lost in the folds of the sweatshirt, she now looked more like a college student than a cop. But he wouldn't dare mention that. She hated that she looked so young, always saying it hurt her authority as a policewoman. That was almost all she cared about -- police work. With her gung-ho attitude it wouldn't surprise him if she ended up being the first woman director of the FBI -- if, after they entered the academy, she didn't get kicked out for telling off one of the instructors. She was quick to voice her opinion when she didn't think she was being treated right. He smiled at the thought, turned off the headlights, and guided the car to the right, onto the street where Trinity lived.

The street was a blacktop shaded by the kind of oak trees common to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, many of them hundreds of years old with massive short trunks and long, heavy limbs hanging out over the streets, some draping so low that a pickup truck could barely drive under them. The old houses were mostly of a moderate size and a mixture of wood-siding structures and those finished in brick. The occupants ranged widely in age, from gray-haired couples who had lived there most of their lives to young marrieds who mainly worked in Gulfport and Biloxi but who had been attracted down the coast by the relatively cheap prices of the lots and homes, and the almost nonexistent crime rate -- prior to the burglar.

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