Rookie detective Izzy O’Donnell is on the trail of a serial killer who’s murdering victims and leaving behind body parts wrapped in Bible verses. Izzy tracks him down with the help of her two partners—a very enigmatic Moreno and a rather grumpy Cal—her injured dad’s former partner.
Meanwhile, her wacky sidekick, Apple MacIntosh, totes a pet rabbit around in a baby sling, insisting he’s telepathic and can smell death on Izzy’s clothes. Unnerved by unexplained dreams, Izzy forges forth to solve the case. A homeless man, a philandering televangelist, and a mentally challenged gardener are among the suspects who distract Izzy from seeing the killer, who has been getting to know her all along.
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She had sinned. He knew what had to be done. He had watched her with a twist in his lips as she scolded her children, ignored them, ignored their needs. She had brushed them off when they tried to get her attention. Then, when the little girl said she had to go to the bathroom, the mother snapped at her for interrupting and made the little girl cry.
This woman was impatient and mean. She had to die.
He drove to her house. She'd be alone. Her husband would be at work and the kids were at a Mother's Day Out program, because it was Friday. Then grandma would pick the kids up from Mother's Day Out and keep them overnight so she and her husband could have their precious date night. That was the Friday routine at Polly Fullerton's house. He knew this.
He pulled into her driveway, opened the door to his car and the Miami humidity stuck to him like plastic wrap. He looked up at the morning sun and walked to her door. A thrill shot through him and he rang the doorbell. He flexed his hands while he waited for her to answer, adjusted the knife in its sheath at the small of his back. He heard footsteps. A pause. The viewer on the door darkened, and she was there, looking out at him through the peephole. He managed a smile, one that was easy to conjure. He had a duty, after all. Then the peephole brightened and the lock clicked and turned.
She opened the door. They always opened the door. Why wouldn't they? They knew him.
She smiled, stepped back, and invited him in. The look on her face was pleasant, but perplexed. Why was he here? She'd soon find out.
He got through an eternity of mindless chitchat. Would she ever shut up? But if he interrupted, she might get suspicious. Probably wondering why he'd come, she rattled on and on, tapping her toe against the tile floor. It sounded like a woodpecker hammering away at a tree. So very impatient. Didn't she know that patience is a virtue?
His blood ran hot and eager. He struggled to stay calm. If he let her rush him, he'd be no better than she. He sent up a silent prayer for patience and imagined the words wafting out of his head, up to the ceiling and through the roof, up to the ears of the Almighty, the One he wanted to serve and obey. Her phone rang and mid-sentence, she cut away from her conversation with him and rushed to the sofa where her purse lay, the phone dingling inside it.
This was his chance. He pulled latex gloves from his pockets and put them on. She was madly digging through her purse to find her phone. His need intensified — the moment had come. He quickstepped over to her. She looked up at him in surprise, clinging to her phone. He knocked it out of her hand. It skittered to the floor and across the carpet. Her purse fell, a female calamity.
At last. He raised his hands and jammed them around her throat. Her eyes widened. He squeezed. Her fear was a banquet of ozone and sweat. She tried to pull his hands away, but she was no match for him. He held pressure. Steady pressure. She tried to scream, no luck. She scratched at his gloved hands. He pressed harder and felt her blood pulsing. She kicked him. He laughed out loud and held on. She thrashed, hair flying, eyes gaping. The tendons in his hands strained taut and he looked straight into her eyes. Her eyes darted from side to side, searching for someone to save her. The whites gleamed. His gaze was implacable. She'd look back at him. Her eyes would beg for the mercy he would never give. It always happened that way. Wait for it. Wait ... Then, there it was. Her eyes stared into his.
She's almost done. Here comes the moment of surrender. He smiled at her.
Her eyes swamped with fear, now. He liked that. Her face contorted, a still-living mask. She kicked at him again, tried to hit him in the groin. You fool. You're no match for me. She flailed, clawed at him, and he refocused, pressed harder.
Her pathetic thrashing weakened. Her body turned limp and loose. A surge of joy rushed through him. He was strong enough to do the right thing, his grip fierce against her throat. She went limp, but she was still breathing. He never went too far. He never strangled them to death. Unconsciousness was the key.
He picked her up and laid her on the couch. She looked like she was taking a nap on the deep yellow cushions with a blue and white floral motif. It was time for the ceremony.
He opened the front door — stepped out, looked toward his car, then skyward and said, "It's time for the cleansing." He walked back in and admired his handiwork. He stroked her locks away from her neck. He carefully slipped his polished knife from its sheath and slit her throat from ear to ear.
Blood squirted from her neck. It stained the flowers on the couch, covered her phone and pooled onto the floor. The sight of it thrilled him. He touched it, warm and slippery. Blood always seemed warmer than human skin. He stroked her hair with his bloodied hand. He was helping to deliver and cleanse her from her sins. Helping society by ridding it of this horrible, impatient creature. He should be thanked, applauded, honored.
The blood only trickled now. It was over.
The cleansing ritual demanded that the mortal part causing the evil be removed. It was her ears that had proved her impatience. She could hear, yes, but she wouldn't listen. When her ear was gone, the cleansing would be complete. She'd go to heaven and live an eternally virtuous life. It was his duty to help her, his job to save her.
Cutting the ear off was much easier than rendering her unconscious. But each step of the ritual had to be done in precise order.
He removed a piece of parchment from his pocket and unfolded it. He'd taken considerable time looking through Brother Hamor's notes, reviewing the ritual yet again, and searching through his Bible for the proper verses. He wrought each letter with care using ink and a porcupine quill he'd fashioned himself. He then typed and printed them before placing the handwritten copy in his Bible for safekeeping Now he would put the verses to use.
James 1:19, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger."
1 Corinthians 13:4, "Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant."
Ephesians 4:2, "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love."
He laid the paper on the couch next to Polly Fullerton's body. He placed her ear on the words and wrapped it up. He left the package on the couch, lifted Polly and carried her to the fireplace.
This was always the hard part. Brother Hamor had a pyre on which to place the cleansed, but he himself would have to use the fireplace. Large marble tiles framed its opening. It would be difficult to fit her whole body inside. He folded her into a repentant kneeling position as best he could and shoved. Next, he poured alcohol on the body. He lit the match and with a poof, flames burst up.
He watched for a moment to make sure the fire caught. Fire took the thin fabric of her blouse, first. Then the flames flashed down to her Capri pants and up to her hair. It sizzled with the blood he'd left there while caressing her. When the smell of burning flesh filled the room, the familiar tumescence coursed through him. He knew he had done God's work. He would be elevated for this. He placed the wrapped ear next to the fireplace and took his leave.
Brother Hamor would be deeply pleased.
Izzy O'Donnell loved driving the unmarked Toyota Avalon. As the newbie on the team, she didn't get to drive much, but today she got lucky. It didn't look like a typical cop car, not the standard fleet-mobile. It was truly undercover, and she liked that. She loved being a cop. Like everybody else, she'd started on the streets where she wrote speeding tickets and broke up marital disputes. Recently she'd earned her wings and been switched from vice to homicide. At times, it was important to be invisible on the job, whether that meant wearing four-inch stilettos and a skin-tight, gold lame mini skirt and blouse that only covered the essentials, or driving an unmarked car.
As she drove, she noticed For Sale signs in front of houses, but house hunting would have to wait. She pulled up along the curb and parked in front of a two-story stucco house. Her place could fit three times over inside one of these houses. She felt a little out of place in this fancy neighborhood, but at least the car fit in.
Izzy was the first to open the car door and find herself swimming in Miami's humidity. She looked around. Nice neighborhood. You'd have to have a great job to live here. Beemers and Benzes in the driveways. These folks definitely brought down more than civil servant pay. The shrubs were manicured — some even cut into dolphin-shaped topiaries. Sheesh. Must have more dollars than sense. Everywhere she looked, shutters were freshly painted, front doors tinted in a complementary hue to the house stucco and trim. Windows gleamed with the care given only to homes whose children and pets were never allowed to make anything dirty. The very grass looked polished. Beautiful. Even the people standing around gawking were beautiful. She swiped at her brow as did some of the gawkers. Heat and humidity. The great levelers. Even beautiful people sweat.
Pete Moreno and his partner, Cal Callahan, slammed their doors making her jump. Moreno walked up carrying latex gloves and a black plastic forensics kit that looked like an overgrown tackle box. "Here, rookie," he said, handing each of them a set of gloves. "You'll need these."
She took hers and nodded her thanks. Rookie. Once again she was reminded of her place in the food chain — at a level somewhere near the nematodes. At least they broke the regular protocol and didn't call her the FNG — F-ing New Guy. It was great being sent to homicide only a few years after graduating from the academy, but not so great being assigned to the team with Moreno and Cal. Cal had changed her diapers. He used to be her dad's partner. Terrific. It was like being on a team with a big brother or her dad. And Moreno? Jeez. The ultimate macho cop with looks that could melt the Arctic Circle.
"Why you daydreaming?" Cal said, staring her in the face.
Embarrassed, Izzy looked up at him. "Sorry. Just thinking how strange it is to have a murder scene in a nice neighborhood like this."
"Honey, people get themselves killed in alleys and castles alike," Cal said. "Ever hear of Hamlet?"
Izzy ignored him, reached into her pocket and pulled out a ponytail holder and quickly scooped her long, dark auburn hair into it. They each snapped on their gloves. Izzy glanced around and saw a couple of uniformed officers standing on the porch with a distraught-looking man. She turned to Moreno.
His gaze met hers. "That's probably the husband," he said. "Let's get going. We'll need to see how far the forensics team has gotten and then we'll have to talk to the husband ourselves." He studied her. "Izzy O., this is your first big one, isn't it?"
"Yeah," she said.
"You gonna be okay?" he asked.
Wow. Actual concern? She squared her shoulders. "Of course I am," she said, hoping she'd be able to keep her word and not mess up.
Cal slapped her on the back, a little too hard, and said, "Okay then, kid. Let's see if you have the same stomach as your old man. When he was my partner, he could handle the worst."
Cal and Moreno headed up the sidewalk. Izzy rubbed her shoulder, which smarted with Cal's expectations. She shook it off and fell in line behind them. A mental eye roll later, she wondered how many paces she should stay back — just to prove she knew her place. The three of them approached the front door where the officers and husband stood. One of the officers moved away from the others and approached them. Cal shoved Izzy to the front of the pack. She read the uniform's name tag and gave him a nod.
"Officer Bradley, I'm Detective O'Donnell, Homicide." She showed him her badge and indicated her partners. "Detective Callahan and Detective Moreno."
Officer Bradley nodded in acknowledgement.
"When did the call come in?" Moreno said.
"About fifteen minutes ago, when the husband came home." He gestured in the direction of the porch where Bradley's partner was consoling a tall, blond man with red eyes and a tear-streaked face.
"My partner and I got the husband away from the crime scene and secured the area. My partner's made sure he stays in one place until you got here."
"Thanks," Cal said.
"How bad is it?" Moreno said.
"It isn't pretty," Bradley said with a shudder. "This is a two bucket job."
Cal looked at Izzy and Moreno, sighed and said, "Let's do this. Moreno, you and Izzy start inside. I'll talk to the husband. Be there in a sec."
Izzy took a few steps, looked at the husband and said, "I'm sorry for your loss." She picked up her kit and walked to the threshold.
Moreno opened his kit and pulled out booties and caps.
"Here's a set for you Izzy O."
Izzy nodded her thanks and donned her gear. It was then that the smell of burned flesh met her nose. Her insides flip-flopped. She looked toward the fireplace and saw the body stuffed inside it. A garish scene with the victim's limp, crusted hand draping out of the confines of the firebox onto the hearth. Her face and neck were charred and black. Her stomach and knees were scorched, but the fire had apparently died down before it could consume her back and upper torso.
Izzy gulped hard and turned her attention to the couch and carpet.
All the blood had soaked into the sofa. Droplets of blood stained the cushions, walls, and coffee table where a picture of the victim and two young children sat. It splattered the frame, and a trickle had dried before making its way all the way down the glass to the table. Izzy's gut turned over twice when she looked back at the body. She'd seen plenty of pictures of crime scenes at the academy, and smelled plenty of piss and shit when working vice, but this pungent scene, with so much blood and scorched human flesh, hit her in the face like a heavyweight's sucker punch.
Moreno was already on his knees near the body with a forensics team member.
"You finished taking pictures?" Cal said shoving his way past Izzy into the room.
"Yes. All the pictures are in. We're looking for trace evidence and prints now," the techie said. "We haven't spent a lot of time with the body yet. The medical examiner is on his way. You can take a look if you like, but just follow protocol."
"Right," Cal said, shooting the techie his best duh look. The techie shrugged and moved on. Cal turned to Moreno. "There's a lot of blood. Call the spatter guys and get them over here."
"Sure," Moreno said. He pulled out his cell and dialed.
Izzy still stood in the entryway, transfixed by the scene.
"C'mon, kid," Cal said. "Show us what you're made of."
"Comin'," she said, pausing to look around the room.
The blood had dried, indicating it had been a while since the murder. Cal waved her into the room on his way to the fireplace.
Moreno hung up the phone and walked past Izzy, purposely brushing her elbow with his. Startled, she jumped and looked at him.
"You hangin' in?" he said.
"Guess I'm a little shell shocked."
They crossed the room and met Cal at the fireplace. He was bent over, examining the body.
"Cal, Moreno, you'd better take a look at this," said one of the techies. He motioned them over to the blood-soaked couch.
Izzy hadn't been called over, so she stayed at the fireplace. The scene was gruesome and the stench wafted up her nose. She gingerly touched the body with a stainless steel probe. It crunched. She steadied her queasies and took a deep breath. Get back on task.
She scrutinized the area, searching for fibers and trace evidence. When she picked up the fireplace poker that lay nearby, a blood-soaked packet tumbled off the hearth and plopped on the carpet. Izzy glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed. When she realized she was the sole recipient of this piece of evidence, her heart skipped a beat. This could be her first break — her way to show those seasoned guys that this newbie knew her stuff.
She fished around in her kit and found an evidence bag, leaned over the object and picked it up. It was heavier than she expected, and cold. Blood smeared the paper and streaked her gloved hand. Trying hard not to think about it, she held it up.
"Look at this," she said.
Cal and Moreno rushed over. "Open it," Cal ordered.
Izzy opened the paper revealing an object that was short and small and very bloody. A gemstone dangled underneath it. The contents of her stomach headed north. She coughed and choked down bile.
Excerpted from "An Eye for an Eye"
Copyright © 2016 Jocelyn Pedersen.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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