When a former student turns up in David Mapstone’s office, she seems to have the perfect case for this history-professor-turned-deputy: a letter left by her deceased father, confessing to a forty-year-old murder and providing directions to the body. But things are never what they seem in Phoenix, a fast-buck city of newcomers seeking fresh starts from sometimes dark pasts. Just ask David’s wife, Deputy Lindsey Faith Mapstone. One morning the start of the Willo District home tour is interrupted by murder. A man lies dead with an ice pick in his brain. And Lindsey runs right into her half-sister Robin among the crowd gathering in the historic Phoenix neighborhood, the sister Lindsey hasn’t seen in years. The reunion with Robin rekindles memories about their rough upbringing and the deep rift that they may, or may not, bridge. Why is Robin here now? David has his own problems. There’s a body in the desert, right where the letter said it would be found. But it’s weeks old, not years. And the “former student” who brought in the letter has disappeared. When David finally locates her, she turns out to be a sham, the wife of a politician with a vendetta against Mapstone’s boss, Sheriff Mike Peralta. But what’s her agenda? And then even fresher bodies turn up, the clues keep pointing back to the same remote piece of desert and a seemingly unconnected real-estate development called Arizona Dreams. But Mapstone knows something sinister is fueling this increasingly dangerous case….
About the Author
Jon Talton is the author of 11 novels, including the David Mapstone Mysteries and the thriller Deadline Man. He is also a veteran journalist, including the former business editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Jon lives in Seattle where he is the economics columnist for the Seattle Times and runs the blog Rogue Columnist.
Read an Excerpt
By Jon Talton
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2006 Jon Talton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI knew what was coming. A gentleman reaches a point in his life when he knows the moment a woman wants to be kissed. He knows the moment when she has decided to kiss him. I acquired this critical intuition in my early thirties—probably later than most, but I had spent more time in libraries than on dates when I was younger. Although I had seemed to start kissing with promise, at fourteen, when a girl named Wendy planted a revelation on me. "Close your eyes," she ordered. Wendy was a younger woman of thirteen, but she knew things, as girls always do.
Now I knew and I could see what was coming. Even so, I'm not sure I could teach it the way I once could breeze through a semester of lectures about American history. How do you know that moment? It's something in the eyes, a widening and darkening perhaps. It's an expectant upward tilt of the head, especially if the woman is standing close. She was sitting across from me, but I could still sense that tilt. Around us, Portland's bar was busy for July in Phoenix, a brutal month of a brutal season. The let-me-die-in-peace season of my hometown, when the rich flee for cooler climes and even triumphs seem freighted with sweaty hopelessness. "Never make life decisions in the summer," was one of Lindsey's axioms. The area around the bar was bright with conversation, and through the large windows I could see a dust storm was boiling. I had had to speak loudly to make myself heard, and she had talked, too. Then there seemed to be nothing more to say. And that's when she raised up, leaned over and brought her lips to mine.
When a man is really crazy about a woman, he will inevitably begin to talk like a teenage boy cataloging his pinup fantasy. So let me admit my bias about Lindsey up front. These are the facts: She stands five feet seven inches, and although she won't tell me her weight, she seems average. She has fair skin that doesn't tan. Her hair is a very dark brown, just one shade above black, naturally straight. Lately she had been wearing it shorter, in a pageboy with bangs. Her eyes are dark blue, and her lashes are unremarkable. Little crinkles have begun to appear around her eyes, just as the lines around her mouth have deepened. But those only come out when she smiles, a wondrous event. It's her mouth that men probably first notice and they would call it "sensual." That, and her legs, which she would say are her best physical features. She is the kindest and wisest person I know.
I could tell you more, but it would just be my opinion. What I did know for sure was that my eyes were still open at that moment, and I saw Lindsey standing just outside the bar, watching this kiss. Even if I had been of a mind to run after her, she was gone by the next time I looked in that direction.
How we all reached that moment, I couldn't exactly say. But I knew when it began. It began, like too much of my recent history, with a killing.
Chapter TwoThe Willo Historic District is a mile long and half a mile wide. Every February, it holds a home tour that attracts thousands of people to its narrow, palm-lined streets and Period Revival and bungalow houses built in the early decades of the last century. That year, as usual, Lindsey and I made Bloody Marys and sat on the front patio, in preparation for watching the people streaming down Cypress Street past our 1924 Spanish Colonial house.
Our house wasn't on the tour, and I suspected it never would be. Lindsey didn't want a few thousand people tromping through her living room. And our Sheriff's Department salaries didn't allow us to do the big rehab jobs that had gone on up and down the street. The neighborhood had changed since I had grown up in the house, then gone off to college and spent many years away from Phoenix. When I was a kid, it was headed down on its heels. People didn't want to live close to downtown in old houses. But tastes change, and today Willo was one of the more expensive neighborhoods outside of Paradise Valley and North Scottsdale. Many of the houses had been lovingly restored and enhanced, and now the neighborhood held the mix of gays and dual-income-no-kids straights you find anywhere in urban America, plus a few families with children. There was a handful of old families that remembered me, plus a few eccentrics and cranks.
We settled into our chairs a little before ten a.m., starting time for the home tour, to enjoy the people watching and the Sunday newspapers. Lindsey had mapped out three houses she wanted to see later, if the lines to get in weren't too long. Above us, the sky was a magnificent deep blue with a few scattered fat white clouds. The temperature was on the warm side of seventy-five. It was the kind of day that seemed all magic and promise, with the hell of summer just a memory.
"You're in the paper, Dave."
Lindsey was reading the Arizona Republic. I looked at her over the first section of The New York Times.
"I didn't realize you were a 'liberal elite academic seeking to undermine traditional American values,'" she said. "Although, you've done your part to lead me astray, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."
"Give me that." I took the paper and read:
Maricopa County Supervisor Tom Earley on Saturday blasted the Sheriff's Office for spending money on such items as a historian to work cold cases and for failing to address what he called the greatest problem facing Arizona, illegal immigration.
Speaking at Golden Sunrise Church in Chandler, Earley took special aim at Deputy David Mapstone, a former professor who has solved several notorious cases from Phoenix's past.
"Professors like Mapstone are liberal elite academics seeking to undermine traditional American values, and your tax dollars are paying for it," Earley said to sustained applause. "Mapstone only has this job because he's a friend of Sheriff Peralta. So what you have here is cronyism on top of a terrible waste of taxpayers' money and just plain ridiculousness. What does some history professor know about anything?"
I handed the paper back and sipped the Bloody Mary, wishing I had upped the vodka. "Sustained applause?"
"It's the East Valley," she sighed. "The reddest red state is too blue for them." "I'm surprised Peralta hasn't called."
"Dave," Lindsey said, smiling, "this ridiculousness must stop."
I was about to take a deep gulp when a man came running up our walk.
"You got to come," he panted, standing bent over, his hands on his knees.
"What's up, Jim?" I only knew him by his first name, a man from somewhere in the neighborhood who walked a big dog early in the morning and sometimes stopped to talk.
"We need help," he said. "There's a man ... I think he might be dead ..."
"Where?" Lindsey asked. He gave a street number, a block away, and we rose and followed him. We moved at a quick trot west on Cypress, stepping out into the street to get around the tour-goers. Fire Station Four was five blocks away and the neighborhood had its share of current and retired cops. But there we were on our porch, and a neighbor was asking for help. We crossed Fifth Avenue and up ahead I could see a disorganized crowd gathered on the sidewalk, all turning to watch us.
We slowed to a walk and people let us through. Ahead was a two-story Monterey revival house with a perfect lawn and perfect citrus trees out front. It was the most impressive place on the block, with a long balcony and ornate railing. Its door was standing open. Jim was talking as we went up the sidewalk.
"This house was supposed to be on the tour," he said, wiping sweat from his forehead. "But when the committee came by this morning to help get ready, nobody answered and the door was standing open ..."
By that time, we were inside.
"It's down this hall," he said.
Somebody had spent a sweet inheritance on the place. Off the Entryway was a living room that looked straight out of Architectural Digest: dark, Mission-style furniture, flawless barrel ceiling, ornate Spanish tile around the fireplace, and Indian pottery of a size and quality I usually saw only at the Heard Museum. There were the remains of a fire in the fireplace, but I didn't have time to linger.
"Here," Jim said, standing before a doorway.
I stepped into a bedroom, followed by Lindsey. It was probably a nice bedroom, with a sweet smell in the air and French doors looking out on a shaded courtyard, but I felt like an intruder. A man was asleep in the middle of a king-size bed. He was a tall, dark-haired man, lying naked atop the covers. But then my eye went to the right side of his head and I knew he wasn't sleeping. A handle was attached to the man's ear.
"What is that thing, Dave?" Lindsey spoke softly.
I said, "It's an ice pick."
We both turned to Jim.
"Who else lives here?" Lindsey asked.
Jim shook his head. "A lawyer, I think. He lived alone ...
"I didn't let anybody come in, once I found him," he stammered. He was still sweating profusely.
I walked carefully around to one side of the bed. Before I got to the carotid pulse I could tell he was dead. His skin had that corpse coldness that you never forget once you've touched it.
I knew everybody in my block of Cypress, but I didn't know this one. And even if I might recognize the man in the bed, that would have to wait for the detectives and evidence techs. His face was hidden, buried in a pillow, and all I saw was a nice haircut and a misplaced kitchen tool.
"OK." I took a deep breath. "Let's go over to your house and use the phone." But as I looked over at Lindsey, I saw my ever-resourceful wife had brought her cell phone and was using it.
Later, after the city cops were through with us, we started back home. The tour organizers were expecting fifteen thousand people, and out on the sidewalk it seemed as if a few hundred were watching our show, along with an obligatory TV news crew. I bet this would have been the best house they'd see, if they could have gotten inside. And they would have received the bonus of seeing how one human being could drive an ice pick into another human being's brain, neat as can be. I suppressed an involuntary shiver as Lindsey took my hand.
We crouched to get under the yellow tape. Then, the people on the sidewalk made way for us. Nobody talked. And that's when I saw her. Most everybody was watching the house, and the official comings and goings. But she was watching me. At first, I might have mistaken her for a man: a young, cute man. The kind of boy who makes teenaged girls melt. She was wearing a loose, sleeveless T-shirt, the kind you see at a gym, and cargo shorts that reached to her knees, and something about her was tough looking. Her arms were muscled, and her face was what a less politically correct age would call mannish. Her hair was straw blond, carelessly pushed back under a newsboy's cap turned backward. But her calves were shapely and smooth—a small tattoo that looked like a Chinese character decorated one ankle—and I detected breasts pushing against the T-shirt. This was an interesting, striking, androgynous person, and I needed something to take my mind off death on a Sunday morning.
We stopped and turned, and it was the same woman. She had not quite a smile on her face.
"Hey, Lindsey," she said again. "You're a real cop now..."
Lindsey was still wearing her badge, on a chain around her neck. Her hand stiffened in mine, and then pulled away.
"Hello, Robin. What are you doing here?"
"I live near here. I just got back to Phoenix this winter. Are you here for the tour?"
Lindsey said nothing.
The woman stood there smiling. It brought all her features together, and her face was suddenly more attractive. She looked me over and smiled more.
"So are you going to introduce me to your friend?"
Lindsey bit her lip, then said, "This is my husband, David Mapstone. Dave, this is my sister, Robin."
Chapter Three"I didn't know Lindsey had a sister," Peralta said.
"Nor did I."
"'Nor did I.' You talk weird, Mapstone. Like some college professor. No wonder Tom Earley doesn't like you." He didn't smile. He inclined his head to one side, as if a weight had attached itself to his ear. "Is she good looking?"
I stared at him.
"No," I said. "Well, maybe. I don't know. Jeez, she's my sister-in-law." The words still sounded strange. The lost sister that I'd never heard of. Robin and Lindsey. Our encounter lasted all of five minutes. No sisterly embrace. No invitation back to our house. I had never seen Lindsey so uncomfortable, or, later that evening, so quietly withdrawn.
"What does she do for a living?" Peralta demanded.
"She says she's an art curator."
"You mean like in a museum?"
"No," I said. "For some rich person out in Paradise Valley. And, no, I didn't know there were jobs like that, either."
Peralta made a dissatisfied grunt. I knew what he meant. We were sitting in my office on the fourth floor of the old county courthouse. Behind the county-issue nameplate that read Deputy DaviD Mapstone, sheriff's office historian. I was behind the old walnut desk. But he had his feet on it, propped from the straight-back chair in front, in a proprietary way. My desktop was hosting highly polished black cowboy boots, attached to a big man in a dark suit. He still had a full head of hair, and it was as lustrously black as the first day I met him, so many years before. He was one of those men who grew handsome as they aged, and his face was distinguished with strong cheekbones, a powerful jaw and large black eyes that could intimidate with a half-second glance.
He went on. "So did you meet her before or after the murder?"
I told him the timetable.
"Ice pick, huh," he said, his fingers entwining across his big chest. "I bet it was a fruit salad thing."
"Sure," he said, making an obscene gesture. "Lover's spat that got out of hand. Maybe some new sex toy experiment."
"You are such an automatic reactionary," I said. "I dare you to say those things to your voters. What have I said that makes you think gay?"
"Man living alone in the Willo District. A lawyer, no less. In bed. Strange device. What more do I need to say?" He glared at me smugly.
"I'm not gay, and Lindsey's not gay, and we live in Willo. It's a city neighborhood with diversity and tolerance. Unlike your mansion on the Phoenix Mountain Preserve."
"'Reactionary.' 'Diversity.' You sound like my ex-wife." His eyes refused to meet mine.
I didn't let the silence gather. "You might be interested to know that an ice pick into the brain was one of the methods used by Murder Inc. You know, the organized crime outfit back in the 1950s?"
"That's why I pay you, Mapstone. For all the history lessons." He gave an exaggerated yawn.
"Of course, Murder Inc. took the ice pick with them. The idea was to make it look like a cerebral hemorrhage," I said halfway to myself. "This one was done so we'd see it and pay attention. Nothing appeared to be taken. The house wasn't in disarray, no sign of a fight or struggle. The door was standing open. The alarm had not been tripped."
"That makes my point," the sheriff said, leaning back farther in the chair, daring gravity.
"Might be a psycho killer."
"You watch too muchTV," he said. "Actually, you don't watch TV—that's your problem. Look, it's a gay thing, and you know it." His eyes locked onto mine. "Now, don't go being a nosy neighbor or acting like a hotdog rookie. This is a city case and you have plenty to do here. How is our book coming?"
"Our" book was supposed to be about the big cases I'd worked on since coming back to Phoenix and taking the job at the Sheriff's Department. My odd personal history consisted of five years as a deputy sheriff, much of it as Peralta's partner, then 15 years as a college history professor. Back with a badge, I worked on the old unsolved cases, using a historian's techniques to budge them, if not solve them. It had turned into a little media bonanza for the sheriff. Now he wanted the most notorious cases we had solved compiled in a book. For which he, of course, would write the introduction.
"I'm getting to it ..." I started.
"Getting to it?" Peralta said. He pulled down his legs and sat up straight.
"I've got other work." I pointed to a pile of manila folders on the desktop. "You wanted me to go back and look at the 1976 Don Bolles case, remember?"
"That can wait," he said.
"I'm supposed to start teaching at ASU this fall, a course on urban American history. I need to prepare for that. It's just one course, but it will be nice to be back on a campus again."
"Why do I care?"
Excerpted from Arizona Dreams by Jon Talton Copyright © 2006 by Jon Talton. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
In the Willo Historic District of Phoenix, a neighbor rushes to the home of Mariposa County Sheriff¿s Department deputy sheriffs Lindsey Mapstone and her spouse retired history professor Dave to bring them to a nearby murder scene. Someone used an ice pick to kill lawyer Alan Cordesman in his home, which happens to be part of the historic tour of the neighborhood. At the crime scene Lindsey introduces her estranged sister Robin to her husband, who until that moment was unaware that his wife even had a sibling.----------------- Meanwhile a former student informs David that her late father confessed in a letter that he killed a man four decades ago leaving the body in the desert. Going to the location they find the remains of Harry Bell. However, the victim is only a few weeks dead not the forty years claimed by the letter and David¿s student has vanished. Soon others are killed with an ice pick. David traces his former student, who turns out never attended any of his classes instead she is Dana Earley, wife of Maricopa County supervisor Tom Earley, who publicly is criticizing Sheriff Mike Peralta for hiring a history professor to work cold cases when illegal immigration is the pressing issue.------------------- ARIZONA DREAMS is a terrific police procedural that contains several delightful spins to keep readers alert to see where Jon Talton¿s homicidal tour of Phoenix ends up. David is at his best whether he finds a corpse in the DRY HEAT of the desert, drinking a martini with a cold blooded killer, meeting a sister in law he never knew existed, or confronting ¿Lady Macbeth' and her political hack of a spouse. Using the immigration issue as a political pointmaker adds to a fabulous investigation that will keep the audience fully occupied.----------------- Harriet Klausner