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Zero at the Bone


Katherine Driscoll is just three weeks away from disaster: foreclosure on her home and business, even the sale of her beloved dog.  She has no hope of raising the $91,000 she so desperately needs—until the father she hasn't seen for thirty years writes to her, offering her enough money to solve her problems...if she will do one thing in return.

But Katherine may never learn what that is.  When she arrives in Austin, she is ...
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Katherine Driscoll is just three weeks away from disaster: foreclosure on her home and business, even the sale of her beloved dog.  She has no hope of raising the $91,000 she so desperately needs—until the father she hasn't seen for thirty years writes to her, offering her enough money to solve her problems...if she will do one thing in return.

But Katherine may never learn what that is.  When she arrives in Austin, she is hours too late: her father has died in a bizarre accident.  As she sifts through the cryptic notes he left behind, she finds herself caught up in terrible family secrets—and a deadly illicit trade.  The more she learns, the more determined she becomes to prove her father's death was no accident.  In doing so, Katherine will make a bitter enemy—one desperate enough to kill...and perhaps, kill again.

Dog trainer Katherine Driscoll gets a letter promising a reunion and monetary assistance from her father, a senior zookeeper of large cats at the Austin zoo. But not long after Katherine finds that her father has been mauled to death by a tiger, she realizes that another kind of predator is on the prowl. Targeted ads. HC: St. Martin's Press. (Fiction--Mystery)

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This Agatha Award-winning mystery (nominated for the Edgar) pits a dog-training sleuth against the deadliest denizens of the Austin zoo. (Apr.)
School Library Journal
YA-- This book grabs readers from the beginning paragraphs and doesn't let go until a satisfying conclusion promises more adventures for heroine, dog trainer, and sleuth Katherine Driscoll. The 36-year-old protagonist receives a letter from her father, whom she has not seen since she was five. The letter promises much needed financial help, but when she arrives at the zoo where he works, she discovers that he is dead. Long-kept family secrets begin to emerge when the woman takes a job at the same zoo, which is run by her deceased mother's brother and largely financed by her maternal grandmother. The mystery brings in various literary tidbits from Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, and Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner that add depth to the book. Katherine is a likable heroine with a gutsy intelligence that mixes well with her realistic human frailties. A gripping book, and its cover art--a terrifying snake, fangs bared, tongue flicking--is sure to increase its popularity.-- Bunni Union, Geauga West Library, Chesterland, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553575057
  • Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/1/1997
  • Series: Katherine Driscoll Series , #1
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 306
  • Product dimensions: 4.13 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The pointman waited until dusk to take the hunk of rotting meat out of the toilet tank where he had hidden it three days before.  Raising the dripping bag, he caught a whiff of spoiled meat through the plastic.  Yes, three days in the heat was perfect for aging a beef brisket to just the right putrescence. Lucky this place smelled so bad no one had noticed the stench.

He tied the bag to the left side of his belt to balance the one on his right and padded to the lavatory door.  He eased the door open and looked through the gathering darkness over Bird Lake, past the huge brick reptile house toward the Phase II section.  Amazing how quiet this place was with visitors locked out and animals confined to their holding cages for the night.  He preferred it like this.  Only he, the pointman, was at large, free finally to do what had to be done.

A quiver of pleasure rippled from his scalp to his toes.  This first one was going to be so easy.  Too easy.  After the years of anticipation, the act itself might not be enough.

No matter.  Pleasure wasn't the point.  Justice was the point.  He had been training for this all his life and now, finally, the time was right.  Nothing could go wrong.  The time was auspicious—he liked that word—auspicious.  It made his mouth water with anticipation for what was coming, the work of the night and dawn.

He stepped out into the open.  The night watchman—that plump, pale, grinning fool—would be sitting at his station sipping coffee from his stainless-steelthermos.  No sweat.  No threat.

Wearing only black Reeboks, black spandex pants, and a black jersey, he moved soundlessly along the path.  His good-luck piece, which had never failed him, even in the most desperate times, swayed on its cord under his shirt, stroking his chest, its scales catching a hair occasionally, like the caress of a woman with jagged fingernails.

As he neared the carnivora complex he sniffed the air, trying to separate Brum's smell from the rest of the animal odors.  A full hundred yards away, the sharp acidic scent filled his nostrils.  Brum.  It was the big male's turn to spend the night outside.  He would be ready.  Just like the pointman, it was Brum's nature to be ready for the kill.

"Opportunity's about to knock on your door, brother," he whispered, breaking from a walk into an easy lope.  Approaching the high wire mesh fence that surrounded the quarter-acre exhibit, he spotted Brum, sprawled on his side, half-concealed behind an artificial boulder on the bank of the recycling stream.

As if he had been waiting, the tiger leapt to his feet and glided toward the fence on huge spongy paws.  The last rays of the setting sun transformed each hair of his thick orange coat into a glowing electric wire.  As he walked his nose seemed connected to the bag at the pointman's waist by an invisible thread of scent.  When he was a few feet from the fence, the tiger stopped and hissed through his yellowed fangs.

The pointman jumped the guardrail to approach closer to the high fence.  "Smell good, don't I, Brum-boy? You ready for me? You better be."  He pressed his palm against the fence and felt a ripple in his groin when the tiger rubbed his body along the other side of the fence, dragging his coarse fur against the pointman's skin.

Seeing the tiger at twilight like this, against the backdrop of grass and trees and rocks, it was easy to imagine away the fence and picture Brum as a wild tiger.  A solitary hunter in the forest at night.  Senses honed by hunger, forced by the void at his center, the tiger would scent the prey and his stomach would shudder at the smell of warm blood pumping beneath thin skin.  He would hold a crouch, listening, his small rounded ears twitching.  Here the pointman laughed aloud, remembering he had read that Indonesian hunters shaved their nostrils because they were certain tigers could hear a man's breath rustling through his nose hairs.  He believed it.  Brum would hear every breath, every blink, every tremble.  And slowly, silently, eyes riveted on the prey, he would creep into range.

Then would come the best part, the part the pointman had imagined so often, asleep and waking.  He saw it now: the cat launching his body into the air, hooking his claws deep into the flesh of the right flank, pulling the shrieking prey to the ground.  And then ...  the tiger's teeth knowing just what to do. Like a guillotine falling, his four yellowed saber teeth clamping shut on the throat, cracking the neck.  Merciful and elegant.  Maybe too merciful.

While the pointman stood dreaming, Brum paced the high fence, staring at the bag.  When the man started to walk again, Brum glided along beside him, only thin strands of wire separating them.

At the door concealed behind the fake rock wall, the pointman reached inside his jersey for the cord around his neck.  His good-luck piece.  He pressed his thumb against one of the sharp fangs until a single drop of blood beaded up. Then he gripped the whole rattlesnake head in his fist and held it tight for a few seconds.

He pulled his keys from their secure place inside his pants and unlocked the door, his breath coming faster now.  Inside the keepers' area, he relocked the door, nodding at Brum's empty holding cage.

His hand trembled as he unlocked the door to the tiny closet-sized room where it would all happen.  He stepped inside and locked the door behind him.  Good zoo procedure.  Always.

He smiled.

Then he sat on the floor of the tiny room, his back propped against the wall, and studied the steel door leading out to the exhibit.  It was several inches thick, locked and bolted, with an observation window at eye level.  The window was made of heavy wire-reinforced glass, two and one-half feet square—just big enough—he'd measured carefully.

He sighed with pleasure and untied the two plastic bags from his belt.  He worked out the knots in the first bag and reached in to pull out the brisket. The slimy feel on his fingers made him grunt and the stench prickled his sinuses.  It was intolerable.  Simultaneously he sneezed and heaved the offending bloody slab against the metal door.  It hit with a smack and fell to the floor.

The pointman couldn't hear him, but he knew for a certainty that Brum was there, right on the other side of that door, probably with his nose pressed to the crack underneath.  "Hungry, big boy? You cats like your meat at blood-heat, don't you? Well, just wait and see what I have for you.  It's what you've been wanting all your life."

From the other bag, he took a pair of soft cotton gardening gloves, a piece of beef jerky, and a brand-new pair of wire-cutters.

With his front teeth he grabbed the jerky and pulled hard to rip off a piece. He could take his time now.  He had all night and very little work to do.

He wanted to make it last as long as possible.
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