CO-ED SLAIN. That's the call that brings St. Louis Police Lieutenant George Hastings to the downtown banks of the Mississippi River, where Reesa Woods has been strangled and dumped. The hard-charging Hastings is no stranger to murder, but he's stuck without any leads until a second body—also strangled—turns up across town and he knows he's chasing a monster.
A talented doctor with an otherwise ordinary and enviable life, Raymond Sheffield has some very dark needs. His first victims are targets of opportunity, but his ambitions go far beyond that. He's formed a taste for killing, and his only interest is in getting better at it.
As the violence mounts, the line between upstanding citizens and their secret desires gets thinner and thinner in this thrilling game of catch-me-if-you-can from acclaimed crime novelist James Patrick Hunt.
About the Author
JAMES PATRICK HUNT, a practicing lawyer, was born in Surrey, England. A graduate of St. Louis University and Marquette University Law School, he is the author of two previous Hastings novels and now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
James Patrick Hunt, a lawyer, was born in Surrey, England. He graduated from St. Louis University and Marquette University Law School and is the author of three previous novels. The Betrayers is his first novel featuring George Hastings. Hunt now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Read an Excerpt
By James Patrick Hunt
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 James Patrick Hunt
All rights reserved.
The young woman of twenty-two slowed her walk. She heard the name called again and then she turned to look at the caller.
"Ashley," he said. "It is you. Hey," he said. Smiling now.
Ashley waited to see if she recognized the man. Well dressed and professional. A soft, almost feminine way about him. He had not called to schedule an appointment tonight. But she thought she might have remembered him from before. A convention ...? She gave him her working smile anyway. The all-American college girl smile.
"Hey," she said, her voice bright without being warm.
The man said, "What are you doing here?"
"Just, you know, chilling."
Some of them liked it when you used kids' words. Chilling, hanging, balling. Middle-aged men with money, wanting to feel young. She could help them with that sort of thing. Anything to move things along.
The man smiled at her. And some part of her recoiled at that. His toothy smile beneath his spectacles. Discomforting, even from a customer.
They were standing on Market Street in downtown St. Louis. A November evening, the threat of cold rain in the air. The Cardinals had won the Series a few weeks earlier and the city was relatively quiet.
The girl's name was Reesa Woods, but when she was on duty she was called Ashley. She had left a hotel room at the Adam's Mark only a few minutes earlier. The client had been an old man, older than this guy in front of her. Sixty at least. He had made a lot of money in something called options and he was from England or Australia or someplace like that. He had dressed well and he had been a gentleman. She had been with him before. Tonight, he had done it to her only once, but then asked her if she would stay with him for a second hour and told her he would pay for it. Pay for her company. Another $450. Ashley had agreed to do so.
For the second hour, the old man was back in his clothes and had actually started to lecture her about her career options. Her future. He told her that she was a courtesan, not a prostitute, and there was a difference between the two. He told her that she had been born in the wrong country and probably the wrong century. He told her that she would have made a good Frenchwoman and that he meant that in a good way.
Reesa "Ashley" Woods had heard this sort of thing before. An old, lonely man with money, perhaps he wanted to believe she was something more than she was. A French courtesan as opposed to a girl from Springfield, Missouri, who had simply gotten bored with small-town life and a creepy, abusive boyfriend and had left it all behind as soon as she finished high school.
She had enrolled in classes at the University of Missouri, St. Louis (UMSL), starting with twelve hours for the semester and soon scaling it back to six because it was harder than she'd thought it would be. She believed she was smart enough to handle the load, but she felt there was no hurry.
When she was twenty, she took a job as a dancer at a strip club near the airport. It paid well with tips, and after a few months of that she was asked to have a drink with an older woman who looked a little like Jacqueline Bissett. Older, but sexy and mysterious. The woman's name was Bobbie Cafaza and she was the madam of what she said was the most exclusive escort service in the St. Louis area. One of the first questions she put to Reesa Woods was, "Are you using drugs? Don't lie to me, because if you do, I'll know it."
Reesa said she was not.
Bobbie said, "That's good. Because I can't have that in my house. I won't have it. At least half the girls who work at these strip clubs are addicted to coke or heroin. But I don't see the signs with you."
Reesa said she wouldn't touch it.
Bobbie Cafaza, at that time, was the madam of four escort services. But the one she had in mind for Reesa Woods was Executive Escorts, which was a part of Tia's Flower Shop. She told Reesa that their clients were not street-corner bums but high-class: doctors, lawyers, CEOs, and politicians. She told Reesa that she had that college, fresh-girl look that the clients were after.
Bobbie said, "There are escorts and there are whores. I run a professional outfit. When you're working, you wear a dress or a skirt. No shorts or pants. If you're standing on a street corner and you look like a whore, you're not doing it right. You need to look like you could be working for these men. Or with them. Like you're about to go to one of their meetings. That's what they're paying for. The illusion. Do you have a tattoo?"
"No," Reesa said.
"Good. Get one and you're fired. When can you start?"
Reesa quit the strip club and started a week later. Now she had been with the Flower Shop about a year. In that time, she had netted about ninety thousand dollars, all of it tax free. She owned a secondhand Mercedes convertible and had an attractive apartment in the Central West End. She believed that her working, "Ashley" identity was separate from that of Reesa Woods.
Walking away from the hotel, downtown on an evening that was turning cold, was she Ashley or was she Reesa Woods wanting to get home and take a shower?
The man on the street was sort of hovering around her now. "You keeping busy?"
She knew what he meant by that. Asking if she was working. "Yeah. How about you?"
"Oh, I was down here for a meeting. Bunch of pointy heads talking about administrative procedure. You know how that can be."
"Yeah," she said, though she had no idea what he was talking about. She was used to going along.
He said, "Are you busy now?" He was smiling at her again.
"Well," Reesa said, "you're supposed to go through the agency, you know."
"Oh, is that how it works?" he said, and Reesa picked up a bit of scorn in his voice. Like he needed to tell her he wasn't stupid. Creep. He said, "Can't you do things on your own?"
Reesa sighed. "Look, I can, but ..."
Jesus, he was starting to pull his hand out of his pocket. A roll of bills.
"Christ," Reesa said. "Don't pull out money here."
"Oh. Sorry." He put it back in his pocket.
"Jesus," Reesa said.
"Well," he said, "if you're in such a hurry."
Shit, Reesa thought. Bobbie fired any girl caught freelancing. Bobbie's view was that she took good care of her girls, and if any of them thought about not reporting jobs to her, thought about skimming for themselves, they could go stand on the street corner with the rest of the whores because she'd fire their little asses pronto. Reesa believed she would too. But hell ...
Reesa said, "I can give you an hour. Okay? That's it."
"Sounds great," the man said.
He walked her to his car. He opened the door and shut it after she got into the front seat.
It was when she got into the car that she started to worry. Because the car didn't really fit the man. It was a secondhand Ford Crown Victoria. Stripped, utilitarian, and plain. She expected him to have a Jaguar or a BMW. A secondhand car, but the man was wearing a nice suit and a Burberry raincoat. They didn't go together. A small alarm went off then. She could hear Bobbie's counsel from the earliest days: You sense danger, you get out of there. ...
Reesa said, "Where did we meet before?"
The man kept his eyes ahead, on the road. They were south of the I-64 overpass now, heading toward the loading docks beyond Laclede's Landing.
The man said, "The pharmaceutical wine-and-cheese party. It was a couple of weeks ago."
"Oh," she said. And now she was looking at him again. "So you're a doctor?"
He nodded, smiling again. Pleased with himself.
And Reesa said, "Is this your car?"
"It's a loaner," the doctor said.
Soon they were stopped. And she could sense the Mississippi River not far off. Dark and cold and abandoned buildings were on both sides of them. And he had shut off the ignition to the car, and Reesa was not liking this at all. She was not the sort to work in cars. Hotel rooms, homes, apartments, that was her thing. She thought about her purse and the small mace dispenser inside, hoping she was wrong.
"Hey," she said, putting some harshness in her words because often that tone could put guys like this in their place. Particularly the professional ones who worried about exposure and scandal.
"Hey," she said, "I don't like this."
That's when she noticed him pulling on the black gloves. Not looking at her as he pulled them on, and then when they were pulled tight, he turned and punched her in the face.
The force of the blow did not knock her unconscious. In her last few seconds, she started to wish that it had.CHAPTER 2
Dr. Raymond Sheffield arrived at the emergency room at St. Mary's Hospital ten minutes before the beginning of his shift. It was a twelve-hour one, midnight to noon. He went to the locker room and changed into medical scrubs. On some days, he wore his business attire with a doctor's smock over, the tie showing. Today he chose not to.
In the locker room were Dr. Ogilvy and Dr. Tassett. They were interns in their late twenties. Dr. Sheffield was thirty-three. He was not an intern. He was a regular working emergency-room physician. His contracted annual salary was a little under four hundred thousand dollars.
Dr. Sheffield regarded the younger physicians. Robert Ogilvy, graduate of the University of Missouri medical school. Chubby, loud. A mediocrity. Slightly more intelligent than the typical shaved bears one saw out of state schools, but not much. Liked to repeat jokes he heard on cable television, get the laughs as if he deserved the credit. A fool.
Harry Tassett. Another mediocrity. Only he didn't know it. Graduate of the University of Texas medical school, but had gone to Penn undergrad. Ivy League, but the school you went to if you couldn't get into the others. It was no Dartmouth. Harry came from Dallas and he seemed not to be ashamed of it. Harry was not loud like Robert was, but too self-assured.
When they first began working together, they had shown some deference to Raymond. They did this even though he was not the director of the ER and didn't hold a teaching position. He was merely older by a few years and had concluded his internship. In Boston. In a real hospital. They had tried to be friendly to him at first, but he hadn't responded to their jokes. He found them tiresome and immature. It took them a while to figure out that Raymond Sheffield was not shy but perhaps superior. Above things. This suited Raymond.
Yet, as much as they may not have liked it, they did think he was a better doctor. And when they needed help, when they genuinely thought they might be lost, it was Raymond whom they consulted. Raymond could tell that they didn't like doing this and it pleased him all the more.
* * *
St. Mary's Hospital was located in North St. Louis, a high-crime area of the city and county. Near interstates, construction sites, industrial workplaces, and not a few crackhouses. St. Mary's emergency room rarely suffered for lack of business. The ER was supposed to be used to treat medical and surgical emergencies. But patients and doctors alike treated it like a clinic.
The "working" physicians and interns generally logged twelve-hour shifts, while the nurses worked eight-hour shifts.
An hour into his shift, Raymond Sheffield was suturing a laceration to a teenaged boy's calf. He was being assisted by one of the staff nurses. Sheffield kept the sutures tense but not too tight. He wanted to avoid scarring or edema.
Raymond tilted his head.
It was Helen Krans, an intern. She stood far enough away to prevent infection to the patient.
Raymond said, "Yes, Helen."
"I have a patient, a woman in her early thirties, came in saying she fell down the stairs and thinks she may have cracked a few ribs."
"Well, the X-rays don't show any rib fracture. But she's complaining of considerable upper-abdominal tenderness."
"I think so."
"Get a flat plate of her lower abdomen. Stat."
Raymond Sheffield smiled. "Don't call me sir. We work together." He turned to the nurse assisting him and said, "Give him a tetanus booster plus intramuscular penicillin. Okay?"
He cleaned and met with Dr. Krans later. Together they looked at the flat plate. Raymond Sheffield said, "That's what I was afraid of. A ruptured spleen."
It was bleeding under the capsule but had not yet come apart. Once it did, the patient would either bleed to death or die of peritonitis. She could also suffer paralysis of the intestines.
Helen Krans said, "Is she going to have to have a splenectomy?"
"Yes," Dr. Sheffield said. "Or she'll die. The capsule's on the verge of exploding now."
Dr. Krans said, "I'll call the attending surgeon to assist."
"Who is it?"
"Okay," Dr. Sheffield said. "Why don't you assist me as well?"
"I'd like that," she said. "How did you —"
"We need her authorization, don't we?"
Dr. Sheffield said, "I'll speak to her."
The patient's name was Tilda Mercer. She was heavyset and unattractive, and she looked like she wanted to go home.
The physician said, "Mrs. Mercer, my name is Dr. Sheffield. We've been looking at your X-rays and we believe we need to remove your spleen."
The woman's lower lip quivered. She said, "Why do you need to do that?"
"Because it's been ruptured, and if we don't do it soon, there's a good chance you're going to die."
"But it's just ... all I did was fall."
"On the floor."
"I thought you said you fell down the stairs?"
"Yeah. The stairs."
She was looking away from him.
Dr. Sheffield said, "Mrs. Mercer, where is your husband now?"
"He's at home."
"You drove yourself to the hospital?"
"Yeah. I mean, he's busy."
"Mrs. Mercer, pardon me for being blunt, but I don't think you've given us an honest history. Did you really fall down the stairs?"
"Or did you and your husband have an argument?"
"Mrs. Mercer, we can't help you unless you give us an adequate history. Did your husband hit you?"
The patient sighed. She said, "He didn't ... mean to. He'd been drinking and I called him something and he pushed me down."
"Was that it?"
"And then he kicked me."
"In the stomach?"
After a moment, Dr. Sheffield said, "Okay, then. We'll need you to sign some forms, and then we're going to conduct the surgery. I don't foresee any problems."
* * *
The surgery went well. After it was finished, Dr. Sheffield instructed the ER chief nurse to notify the police and report Mrs. Mercer's husband for assault and battery. He further instructed her to notify him when the police arrived so that he could give them a statement for their report.
Dr. Helen Krans caught up with him in the hospital cafeteria. He was sitting at a table by himself with a cup of coffee and reading the New England Journal of Medicine. He looked up at her and gave her a gentle smile and said hello.
"Hi," Helen said. "I just wanted to tell you that you were terrific. I didn't know — I didn't think about the spleen being ruptured. What I'm saying is, you saved that woman's life."
Dr. Sheffield said, "She's a patient."
"I know," Helen said. "But you followed it up and called the police and — well, it was very impressive. May I sit?"
Helen said, "How did you know?"
"How did I know that the spleen was ruptured?"
"Well, yes, that. But what I meant was, how did you know that she's been abused?"
Dr. Sheffield said, "That was simple. Obviously the trauma had to come from somewhere. She could have fallen, but that didn't really comport with her injury. I presumed she'd either been punched or kicked. She was kicked."
"Yet she tried to protect him."
"Tried to protect her husband, you mean?"
"Yes. Well, that's very typical."
"Of women in general?"
"Yes. Of victims, I suppose." Raymond Sheffield smiled. "I don't mean to sound callous about it."
"You don't ..."
"I suppose I do. I'm in my early thirties, by no means old. Not even middle-aged. But it wasn't that long ago that I did my internship. In Boston. And I came out of there a much different person than when I went in."
Raymond frowned, paused. He wanted to convey that he was a sensitive, thoughtful person. He held the pose for just long enough. Then he said, "You learn to form a shell. Not just to sickness and trauma, but perhaps to human trauma as well. Spousal abuse, child abuse. When I first started, I wondered if Boston was the most violent, hateful place in the world. But then I found out that it was no worse there than it was anywhere else. St. Louis or Bedford Falls, Pennsylvania. It's not the place, it's the species."
Helen said, "Don't you worry?"
"About the patients?"
She smiled, seeming to believe in that moment that he was selfless. She said, "No. I mean, about yourself. That you're getting too hard."
"Yes. There's always that concern. That you can become inured to it. But if you give in to those feelings, you won't be much good as a physician. What you have to do is find that line. That midpoint. Find it, become comfortable with it, and somehow straddle it. It helps to have faith."
"Yes. And faith in humanity as well. And your work. We did something good, didn't we?"
"You did," Helen said. "Do you go to church?"
"Not as much as I used to," Raymond said. "Not the Catholic Church. But I feel myself searching for something. I believe I'm a spiritual person, if not an orthodox one." He smiled. "I suppose that makes me sort of an anachronism."
Excerpted from The Assailant by James Patrick Hunt. Copyright © 2009 James Patrick Hunt. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's 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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Advance Praise for The Assailant
“Equal parts thriller and procedural… [The killer’s] cat-and-mouse game with Hastings is carefully and disturbingly rendered.… Darkly entertaining.”
Praise for Goodbye Sister Disco
“Hunt unspools this gripping plot at breakneck speed. Not a word seems wasted, whether in breathtaking action sequences or in back-story sketches of the book’s various players.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Hunt’s roller coaster of a crime thriller has it all—great characters, plenty of action, and a nail-biting ending.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“The superbly drawn characters in this mix of thriller and police procedural would do Joseph Wambaugh or Michael Connelly proud.… Another fine piece of work.”
—Booklist (starred review)
Praise for The Betrayers
“Densely woven, economical and utterly assured. Hunt plots like a veteran of urban warfare.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
St. Louis Police Homicide Lieutenant George Hastings leads the investigation into the strangulation murder of Reesa Woods, a high price call girl paying her way through college as an escort, whose body was found in the muddy banks of the Mississippi. The evidence is near zero and her associates refuse to speak. Soon afterward a second strangulation death, escort Adele Sayers, is found outside the city.----------- A regional task force is formed with George as number two as he and the team leader SLPD Chief of Detectives Ronnie Wulf bang heads. A third body with a different MO that of realtor Marla Hilsheimer is found clubbed to death. The killer gloats and taunts the cops with tips and clues to the St. Louis Herald reporter Cliff Llewellyn. Teaming up with Woods' associate Rita Liu, George struggles to prevent any more deaths from "Springheel Jim" as the killer calls himself to the media.----------- The latest Hastings police procedural (see GOODBYE SISTER DISCO and BETRAYERS) is a well written serial killer thriller, but uses the taunting PR fame grabbing by the psychopath that is typical of the sub-genre. The story line is fast-paced as the homicides and the taunting increase. Fans will enjoy the taunting in your face of THE ASSAILANT as even the members of the task force know that without the killer's help the case would remain hot.--------------- Harriet Klausner