A thriller from Edgar-nominated author Brian Freeman, The Burying Place features detective Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial.
One cold night. Two shocking mysteries.
In the quiet town of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, a baby vanishes from her bedroom in an opulent lakeside home. Was she abducted – or does her father have a terrible secret to hide? That same night, a young policewoman gets lost in the fog and stumbles into the middle of a horrific crime. Now a sadistic killer wants her to play his deadly game.
Lieutenant Jonathan Stride and his team need to move fast to save a child and stop a vicious killing spree. As fear grips the frozen winter farm lands, Stride knows that every snow-covered field may be the next burying place.
Each twist in the investigation takes Stride into an elaborate web of deceit and desire. But his biggest obstacles may be the very people he's trying to help. With everything at risk and time running out, Stride worries how far a desperate mother will go to rescue her baby – and how far a desperate cop will go to save herself.
About the Author
Brian Freeman is the internationally bestselling author of psychological suspense novels featuring detectives Jonathan Stride and Serena Dial. His books have been sold in 46 countries and 18 languages. His debut thriller, Immoral, won the Macavity Award and was a nominee for the Edgar, Dagger, Anthony, and Barry awards for best first novel. His other novels include The Bone House, The Burying Place, In the Dark, and Stalked. Brian is drawn to complex characters, and says, “My stories are about the hidden intimate motives that draw people across some terrible lines.” Brian and his wife, Marcia, have lived in Minnesota for more than twenty years.
Read an Excerpt
The Burying Place
By Brian Freeman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Brian Freeman
All rights reserved.
Jonathan Stride watched the knife fall to the floor. It was a simple thing, the knife falling. His hand laid it on the counter wrong; it slipped off, blade pointed down. In the past month, though, nothing had been simple for Stride. His eyes followed the downward path of the knife, and just like that, he was falling, too.
He was no longer in the cabin where he had gone to recover from his injuries. He was over Superior Bay, hurtling through one hundred and twenty feet of air to the hard water below. He felt the speeding rush of his body as it became a missile; he endured the helplessness and fear of those three long seconds; he suffered the excruciating pain of impact, his bones breaking, the water choking off his oxygen, the lights around him extinguishing to blackness and cold. Everything he had tried to forget, he remembered.
Stride's eyes sprang open. He stood in the cabin's small kitchen with his palms flat on the granite counter. He felt on his neck for his pulse; his heart was racing. He wondered how long he had been gone this time. The knife stood straight up, its point jabbed into the wooden floor, but it wasn't vibrating like a tuning fork. He had been standing there frozen, caught up in the flashback, for a minute or more.
He grabbed the back of a chair to keep his knees from buckling. He sat down and propped his chin on his clenched fists. Gradually, the longer he sat, the more the memory retreated. His breathing slowed down. He studied the cabin and let his eyes linger on the furnishings to remind himself that he was far away from the bridge. The brown tweed sofa. The deer head trophy with its antlers and staring eyes on the wall. The 1920s photo of grimy workers in the iron mines. The oak door to the master bedroom, where Serena slept, unaware that Stride was awake for the tenth night in a row.
Stride pushed his hand back through his messy shock of black-and-gray hair. He got up, retrieved the knife from the floor, and opened the refrigerator to grab a half-full bottle of water. He shook a few Advil tablets into his hand and washed them down with a long swallow from the bottle. When he closed the refrigerator door, he caught sight of his face reflected in the black oven and didn't like what he saw. The skin on his craggy face was pale. His dark eyes were tired.
He favored his left leg as he walked into the great room. The fall from the bridge had broken his leg and left him in a cast for six weeks, and although he was walking on his own again, the lingering pain was a daily reminder that he wasn't fully healed. He drove into the nearby town of Grand Rapids for physical therapy four times a week. He used breathing exercises to restore full capacity to his lungs, which had collapsed as he hit the water. He was getting better, but slowly. What he hadn't admitted to Serena was that, as his physical injuries healed, his mental health had been deteriorating.
Two months ago, as he climbed into his Ford Expedition, he had dropped his keys. Out of nowhere, the sight and sound of the keys hitting the ground had triggered a storm of memories from his fall. The panic attack was debilitating, like a fire sucking the oxygen out of a room. He'd told himself that it was a one-time occurrence, but then it had happened again several days later — and then again.
Stride decided to get out of town in the last month before he returned to his job as lieutenant in the Duluth police. He and Serena had escaped to a getaway cabin outside the city to fish, hike, and make love. They had done almost none of those things. Instead, he had tunneled deeper inside himself, pulling away from his job, his life, and even from Serena. Now he was supposed to go back to the Detective Bureau in another week, and he wasn't sure he was in any shape to do so.
Stride saw the red light flashing on his BlackBerry. A new e-mail had arrived. He slid the phone out of its holster and saw a message from his Duluth partner, Maggie Bei. The subject line read:
Stride stiffened with unease, because he knew what Maggie meant. When he opened the message, he saw a brief note:
Get your ass back here soon, boss. We've got a body near the Lester River.
In the past month, three women had disappeared from their homes in the rural farmlands north of Duluth. Despite a massive search, no trace of them had been found, but the evidence suggested they had each suffered a violent assault. Now the assailant had struck a fourth time and left behind a body.
Stride was frustrated that one of the most disturbing strings of crimes in the city in recent years had been laid at Maggie's feet while he struggled with his injuries in the woods more than an hour away. He trusted her instincts as an investigator, but they both preferred working as a team. Without him, she felt adrift. He felt the same way without her.
Maybe he should go back early. Tomorrow.
Or maybe not at all.
He didn't text her back. He never got the chance. Before he could key in a message, he saw headlights cut through the room. He looked out the front window and saw an Itasca County sheriff's vehicle parking in the damp ground near his Expedition. As he watched, the lights disappeared, and a woman in uniform climbed out and walked up to their front door.
He knew her. In her uniform, she could have passed for a beat cop, but Denise Sheridan was the deputy sheriff for Itasca County. She was as close as Stride had to a counterpart in the sprawling, sparsely populated countryside northwest of Duluth. He opened the door. It was a freezing night, and the wind scattered oak leaves on the hardwood floor as he waited.
"Hello, Stride," Denise said, marching past him into the great room of the cabin without an invitation.
She smelled of sweat and smoke. The knees of her trousers were wet, and her boots tracked mud across the floor. Denise did a quick survey of the small cabin as he shut the door.
"What are you doing out here?" she asked, chewing on the stump of a fingernail. "It took me twenty minutes to find you on these back roads."
"Recovering," he said.
"Yeah, I heard about your fall. Nice to see you're not dead."
Denise didn't waste time on sympathy. For as long as he'd known her, she had been a no-nonsense cop, full of rough edges and discipline. She had recently turned forty, and her face had the spiderwebs of wrinkles at her eyes and lips to prove it. She was tall, only a couple of inches shorter than Stride, who reached six feet one in his bare feet. She wasn't heavy, but her muscular arms and legs stretched out the fabric of her uniform. Her brunette hair fell to the middle of her neck, and she kept it parted in the middle and shoved back behind her ears. She wasn't wearing makeup. Dark crescents sagged under both eyes.
"It's three in the morning," Stride said.
Denise shrugged, as if the time didn't need any explanation or apology. "Maggie told me where you were hiding."
"Did she send you here to hijack me back to Duluth?" he replied. "The guy struck on another farm to night. He left a body this time."
"I heard. No, it's not about that."
"It's a different case. I need your help."
"I'm on leave, remember?" Stride said.
"I remember. I also remember we were partners once upon a time. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."
That was true. Denise had started her police career in Duluth fifteen years earlier. She and Stride had spent four years working together after Stride was chosen to lead the Detective Bureau. Then Denise married her high school boyfriend and moved back home to Grand Rapids. The next cop Stride had hired to work at his side was Maggie Bei.
"Don't keep me in suspense," Stride said. "What's the case?"
"Look, get dressed, will you? There's no time."
"If you want my help, you can tell me what the hell is going on," Stride retorted.
Denise folded her arms in impatience. She cocked her head and frowned. "A child is missing. A baby. Snatched right out of her room tonight, according to the father. I need you to take over the investigation."
When Stride slipped inside the bedroom, he saw that Serena Dial was already half dressed. She buttoned a burgundy flannel shirt over her bra and pushed a brush several times through her long black hair. She sat on the end of the bed and began to squeeze her long legs into a pair of jeans.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Denise Sheridan wants to pull me into one of her cases. Missing kid."
"Why can't the locals handle it?"
"I don't know. We haven't gotten that far."
Serena stood up, zipped up her jeans, and left the flannel shirt untucked. "Couldn't sleep again?" she asked him.
She stepped into leather boots and hooked dangling ruby earrings in both ears. Even though it was the middle of the night, in the middle of the northern Minnesota woods, Serena wasn't casual about her looks. She had spent most of her life in Las Vegas, and two years in Duluth hadn't softened her touch of glamour.
He shrugged a charcoal turtleneck over his chest and tucked it into his jeans. He rubbed his chin and decided to push an electric razor quickly around his face. When he was done, he retrieved a wool sport coat from the closet and squeezed into it.
Serena came up to Stride and kissed him on the cheek. In her heels, she was as tall as he was. "This is a mistake," she murmured.
"You. Working. You need more time."
"I didn't tell her I was in. I just said I'd listen."
"Sure," Serena said. Her voice was cool.
He opened the door and waited for Serena to go ahead of him into the living room, where she and Denise shook hands. He could see Denise sizing her up with suspicion. Most cops in the northland knew Serena because of her relationship with Stride, but that didn't give her a free pass with the local police. To them, she was a big-city detective treading on small-town turf.
"Maggie tells me you used to be a Vegas cop," Denise said.
"I spent ten years in the Metro Police," Serena replied with a cynical smile. She could read the hostility in Denise's face. "Homicides, mostly," she added.
Denise shoved her hands in her pockets, and her gun bulged from the holster in her belt. "Good for you."
"If I'm in, Serena's in," Stride told her. "I want her on the case with me."
"My boys won't like it," Denise replied sourly.
"I don't care. Do what you have to do. Serena's worked more abductions than either of us. She's in."
Denise scowled but didn't protest. "Fine. What ever. Look, let's be quick about this. The clock is ticking. There's a surgeon named Marcus Glenn who lives out on Pokegama Lake. Rich doctor, big house. He called 911 about two hours ago to report that his eleven-month-old daughter was gone. A couple uniforms reported to the scene, did a search of the house and found no trace of the girl, and called me."
"The cops searched the scene?" Stride said unhappily.
"Yeah, I know, they probably screwed up the forensics. We don't get many cases like this, and these guys are twenty-three-year-olds working the graveyard shift."
"Did they find anything?"
Denise shook her head. "No. There was nothing disturbed in the house, nothing taken, no sign of forced entry at the doors or windows. Everything was locked and intact. The girl just vanished."
"Does Marcus Glenn live alone?" Stride asked.
"No, he's married," Denise snapped with surprising venom. "His wife was in the Cities last night. They only have the one child."
"So what happened?"
"Marcus says the baby was sleeping in her bedroom by seven o'clock. He checked on her and went to bed around ten. He got up about one, and she was gone. The baby was there, and then she wasn't. Or so he says."
"Did the cops look for a ransom note?"
"They did, and they didn't find one. Marcus checked his e-mail, too. Nothing. He's well known around Grand Rapids, though. People know he has money."
"What's the girl's name?" Serena interjected.
Denise softened and smiled for the first time. "Callie."
"Have you gathered all of her physical information? Photograph, weight, hair color, identifying features?"
"Yes, I've already got the BCA doing a statewide notice to the crime alert network. They're sending a team up here to run the scene in the morning."
"Do you have her picture?" Serena asked.
Denise reached into the shirt pocket of her uniform. "This is Callie."
Serena held the picture in her hand, and Stride looked at it over her shoulder. Callie Glenn sat on a quilted blanket and looked at them with happy blue eyes from under a fluffy mop of blond hair. Two white teeth peeked out from her smile. She was dressed in a white T-shirt and a pair of pink sweatpants, and she clutched one of her bare feet awkwardly in a pudgy hand.
"Sweet little girl," Serena said. "Is she walking?"
"She can walk a few steps if she's holding on to something."
"What about climbing?"
"She hasn't climbed out of her crib yet, but even if she could, the window was closed and so was the bedroom door. She didn't wander off."
"No offense, Denise," Stride told her, "but what does this have to do with us?"
"I'd like you to run the investigation."
"Yes, but why give up the case?" Stride asked.
Denise snorted. "Marcus raised a stink. He wanted me to call the attorney general, the FBI, hell, he probably expected me to call the governor. He wants me to give the case to the feds."
"That's what parents always want," Serena said.
"Yeah, but most parents don't have the clout in the northland that Marcus Glenn does. If I'm going to put someone else in charge, I'd rather it be someone I know and trust, and that's you, Stride. Anyway, not that I would ever say so to the bastard's face, but the fact is, I don't really have the resources or experience on my team to handle something like this. This is about the kid, not about my ego."
"What are you leaving out?" Serena asked Denise.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, you obviously know Marcus Glenn. There's something personal going on here."
Denise took back the photograph of Callie Glenn from Serena and held it tenderly between her fingers. "Okay, there's a conflict, too. I can't take the lead on this one. It hits too close to home."
"What's the conflict?" Serena asked.
"Callie is my niece," Denise replied. "Marcus Glenn is married to my sister."CHAPTER 2
Stride and Serena followed Denise through the dirt roads to Highway 2, which was the main artery connecting the lakeside city of Duluth with its closest inland neighbor to the northwest, Grand Rapids. The two towns were less than ninety minutes apart in good weather. At three in the morning, the highway was deserted, and the dense fog that had dogged the area for most of the night had dissipated as a dry front pushed southward from Canada. At high speed, it took them ten minutes to reach the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.
They passed the giant superstructure of the UPM mill, which served as the economic engine of the region, chewing up trees and pulping them into paper products. The other backbone of the town was tourism. In a state pockmarked with lakes, Grand Rapids played host to thousands of tourists who came to fish in the warmer weather or ski and snowmobile during the harsh winters. November was an in-between month, however, when the summer lake dwellers had gone home and the winter sports season was still a few weeks away.
Stride sailed through the green lights. Serena sat beside him, and he felt the tension simmering between them.
"So you want to tell me what's going on, Jonny?" she asked.
Stride kept his eyes on the road, but his hands tightened on the wheel. "Nothing."
"Nothing? You're not sleeping, we're not having sex, and you're constantly on edge."
"I'm impatient," Stride said. "I'm going stir-crazy doing nothing. This case is exactly what I need."
"Is that all it is?"
"That's all," he insisted. "I'm fine."
Stride wasn't fooling her, but she let it go. He regretted his stubborn denials, because that wasn't what he wanted to say. He wanted to tell her about the panic attacks. He wanted to admit that he was scared of feeling dead, without any ambition or desire. Instead he hid behind the lie that nothing was wrong.
Ahead of them, Denise turned her Jeep left off the highway and crossed the bridge on Sugar Lake Road. Stride followed. Almost immediately, they found themselves away from the developed land. They drove for another mile and then turned left again onto County Road 76, which tracked the northeastern border of Pokegama Lake. Stride passed dirt roads carved into the forest that led to expensive homes bordering the water. It was a desolate area.
"This isn't good," he said. "It would be easy for someone to come and go here without being seen."
Excerpted from The Burying Place by Brian Freeman. Copyright © 2010 Brian Freeman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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