At first, they struggle to escape. Then a torrent of blows rains down upon their bodies until their eyes cloud over in final agony. The killer shows no remorsejust a twisted need to witness each victim's last terrified moments.
Public defender Rachel Wainwright is struggling to reopen a decades-old case, convinced that the wrong man is in prison. Homicide detective Deke Morgan doesn't want to agree. But if Rachel's hunch is correct, whoever fatally bludgeoned young, beautiful Annie Dawson thirty years ago could be the source of a new string of brutal slayings.
JUST PREPARE TO DIE
Rachel's investigation is about to reveal answersbut at a price she never thought to pay. Now she's become the target of a rage honed by years of jealousy and madness. And a murderer is ready to show her just how vicious the truth can be...
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Cover Your Eyes
By MARY BURTON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mary Burton
All rights reserved.
Thursday, October 13, 8 AM
Rain dripped from Detective Deke Morgan's jacket as he pushed through the doors of the Tennessee medical examiner's office, his shoulders tense with fatigue and a headache hammering his eyes. His latest homicide call had come after three thirty a.m., minutes after he'd polished off his second beer and scrawled his name on papers dissolving his second, and what he'd sworn would be his last, marriage. Conditioned by fifteen years on the force, he'd swapped regrets, faded jeans, and a Titans T-shirt for purpose, a coat and tie, and strong coffee.
With rain falling and thunder rumbling in the distance, he'd arrived at the murder scene by four thirty, greeted by the swarm of cops and news vans. "Driver's license says Dixie Simmons," said a young uniformed officer, eyes watery and troubled. The license showed the face of a pretty woman, thick lightly colored hair and eyes bright with amusement.
As the media had been corralled on the opposite corner and were firing questions at Deke, he'd donned gloves, passed the pallid faces of more uniforms, and ducked under the yellow crime-scene tape. When he had lifted the bloody sheet, he'd found an unrecognizable mess, which he'd studied with a clinician's eye. As he'd left the scene he had heard whispered comparisons to his cop father, also known for a fearsome detachment that had made him as efficient as he was untouchable.
At the medical examiner's security desk, separated from the lobby by a thick glass wall, Deke tossed the dregs of a fourth coffee into the trash and dug his badge from his pocket. With an all clear from a burly guard, the locked side door clicked open and he wound his way into the building.
Assistant medical examiner Dr. Miriam Heller had texted him a half-hour ago and told him his victim would be autopsied in exam room two. Outside the double doors, he put on a gown and gloves and then pushed inside the exam room.
Dr. Heller stood at the head of a stainless steel exam table, the body of Dixie Simmons covered in a clean white sheet.
Standing at five-foot-ten, Heller was a slim woman in her midthirties with a smooth olive complexion and long dark hair she kept twisted in a tight knot. Dark thick lashes framed blue eyes with a slight almond tilt. She rarely wore makeup and favored skinny jeans, flats, and sleeveless blouses. Caring and compassionate, she also possessed a dry sense of humor that kept most of the cops on their toes.
She peered around the computer screen. "Detective Morgan. Where is your partner in crime?"
Detective KC Kelly had five days remaining until Department retirement. With thirty-two years on the Nashville Police force, he'd worked with everyone who'd been on the murder squad, including Deke's father, the late great Detective Buddy Morgan.
Deke stretched the kinks from his neck. "He'll be here soon."
She tsked. "Short-timer? Less than a week to go but he's already quit."
KC now talked constantly about sailing the seas with his new girlfriend, who'd given him renewed purpose after his wife lost her life to cancer last year. "No. He's still hitting it hard. He was interviewing witnesses at the murder scene when I left."
"He doesn't like my office. Calls me Morticia behind my back."
"No offense intended, Dr. Heller." KC was a good cop, but could run his mouth. "He doesn't like the ME's office."
Eyes flashed with a mixture of annoyance and curiosity. "Then why choose homicide?"
"I never said he was sane."
"Which one of you on the squad is?"
The Nashville homicide team had five members, Deke and KC, Ian McGowan, Jake Bishop, and Red Dickens. All solid cops and, except for KC and Deke, under forty.
"Is he having a big retirement party?"
"So I hear. I kicked into the kitty but haven't paid much attention to the plans. When I'm told where to go, I'll go."
She adjusted the overhead microphone to within inches of her mouth. "Still working on that house?"
"Getting around to unpacking last night."
A dark brow rose. "You've been out there what, six months?"
"There about. Never a fan of chores." Unpacking amounted to accepting failures and a new life that still didn't fit right.
Dr. Heller cut through the small talk to the heart of the matter. "If you want to sell, then do it. No law says you have to live in the family home."
"The Big House is wrapped around a lot of family history. Got to give it a try."
His mother had inherited the white plantation style house set on thirty acres from her parents and she and Deke's father had moved into the showpiece right after they'd married. The four Morgan children had been a tight-knit pack thanks to their mother who'd served dinner nightly at the big table. Buddy took his place at the table often enough to regale his children with wild cop tales and to infect each child with the law enforcement bug. When their mother had died twelve years ago, the family tapestry had frayed and when a heart attack had claimed Buddy six months ago it had unraveled. Though all the Morgan children lived or worked within miles of each other they saw one another only when their jobs demanded it. The Big House was the last bit of Morgan glue.
Deke touched his dark necktie. "Tell me what you know about the victim, Doc."
Dr. Heller pulled back the sheet. The body had been stripped of clothing, and exposed pale skin made the bruising and dried blood all the more obvious and grotesque. "Assuming the driver's license did belong to this victim, Dixie Simmons was twenty years old, stood five-foot-two, and weighed approximately one hundred and ten pounds. There're no defensive wounds. The first blow likely caught her by surprise. All her blows, except two, were sustained on or about the head and each would have been crippling."
Deke studied the misshapen, crushed face. "He destroyed her face and her identity."
She cradled the fractured face in her gloved hands and rotated it to the right to display a shattered cheekbone and eye socket. "She was hit eight to ten times on her face."
He studied the carnage. "One blow would have been enough to kill her but to keep hitting her face ... that feels personal."
"I've seen drug abusers commit great violence that wasn't personal."
"Her purse wasn't taken. None of her jewelry was taken and there're no signs of sexual assault, correct?"
"I've not done a thorough examination but so far no bruising on the inside of her legs, which would indicate rape."
"Now it's my job to figure out what whack-job in Dixie Simmons's life hated her so much."
The double doors to the exam room swung open and KC eased into the autopsy room like a man facing a rattler. He'd shaken off his jacket but his near bald head glistened with rain. "Five days to go. I was saying last night to Brenda that if I never saw the inside of this place again, it would be too soon. No offense, Dr. Heller."
She smiled. "None taken."
He took extra time to tug on gloves before approaching. He stopped several feet from the body and studied the victim's face. Sadness deepened the craggy lines etched around his eyes. "I won't miss this."
Deke shook his head. "I'll give you two weeks before you are back hanging around the station. Brenda's nice enough but not working is gonna drive you insane."
KC shook his head. "No damn way. I put in my time, and I'm retiring before the job kills me."
He stopped short of saying Buddy's name but they both knew the force had taken its toll on Buddy's heart. Eyewitness accounts had said Buddy had risen from his favorite booth at the diner after a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, winced, and dropped. He'd been dead before he'd hit the floor. "Before you take off, tell me what you learned. Witnesses have information?"
From his pocket, KC dug out a battered small notebook exactly like thousands of others he'd carried for years. He flipped through the pages until he'd reached the middle section. "I talked to a group of men who passed the victim about three o'clock in the morning. They said she grinned at them as she dug her cell from her purse. One of the boys whistled. She smiled but kept walking."
"No one was following her?"
"They didn't see anyone."
"What's their story?"
"Students at Vanderbilt on their way to a party. They said the party was a dud, which was why they left early and passed the crime scene at four a.m. I went to the party house and banged on the door. A not-too-happy kid answered. He verified that the boys had been at the party. The four had played video games, drank a beer, hoping girls would show and when the girls didn't materialize the witnesses left."
KC flipped a page in the book. "A woman who lives a block over reported hearing a car backfire about the time of the murder. And we did find the victim's cell phone. Back of the case was knocked off and I'm thinking she had it in her hand when she was attacked. Dropped, hit the sidewalk and back popped open. Forensics bagged it and will search for data."
Frustration burrowed under Deke's skin. "No one saw anything?"
KC shook his head. "I knocked on twenty doors this morning. Woke up a lot of people and messed with several morning routines. No one saw the murder."
He shoved out a breath. "Did the uniforms find the murder weapon?"
"It would be long and thin judging by the injuries. Like a pipe or a tire iron," Dr. Heller said.
KC again shook his head. "No sign of a weapon and the uniforms have been beating the bushes."
A search of the victim's purse at the crime scene had produced a napkin with a number scrawled on it. The logo on the napkin had read RUDY'S, which he knew was a honky-tonk on Broadway. The place was a local institution where the best of the aspiring singer-songwriters played hoping to get noticed by a record producer. His baby sister Georgia had been trying to get a spot on the evening lineup but so far, no luck. Georgia, unlike her three older brothers, could carry a tune but like her brothers had joined the force. She worked forensics.
If Dixie had been singing at Rudy's then she'd had some talent.
"I'll swing by Rudy's this morning," Deke said. "He might remember a customer who'd shown interest in the victim."
KC stepped back from the table. "I can do that if you like. Rudy's is my watering hole."
His partner favored the tried and true police techniques. He'd gladly knock on doors before doing a computer search. "If you run the victim's cell phone records, you can leave now. I'll observe the autopsy and tackle Rudy's in a couple of hours."
KC grinned. "Deal."
Dr. Heller reached for a set of bone shears and snipped them. "You don't want to stay?"
"Sorry, Doc. Sacrifices have to be made." KC turned, then stopped as he fished in his pocket. "By the way, Deke, I came across this flyer when I was wandering around Vanderbilt."
Deke accepted the rumpled paper and smoothed it open. His mood soured instantly at the headline that read: Justice for Jeb Jones. "What the hell?"
KC shrugged. "Don't shoot the messenger."
Tension, like molten metal, seared his muscles. "She doesn't know when to quit."
Dr. Heller raised her brow. "And she would be?"
"A troublemaker," Deke said.
KC's demeanor toughened. "She is Rachel Wainwright, a local attorney who is wanting to reopen one of Buddy's old murder cases. Look up Pain-In-The-Ass in the dictionary and you'll see her picture."
"How old is the case?" Dr. Heller asked.
"Thirty years." Deke balled up the flyer. "She wants the DNA on the murder weapon tested."
Dr. Heller watched the wadded ball sail across the room and bounce off the trash can rim. "Thirty years ago would have been before DNA testing. Hers is not an unreasonable request."
"We didn't need DNA to prove this guy was guilty of murder. We had a solid case," KC said. "Wainwright is trying to make a name for herself."
Deke picked up the wadded paper and dunked it hard in the trash. "She's got a legal right to ask for the test."
KC snorted. "She's looking for her fifteen seconds of fame so she can build a book of business. The guy we sent away got what he deserved."
Deke adjusted his tie, ignoring the temptation to loosen it. "She's got a legal right."
KC stripped off his gown and tossed it in the trash before reaching in a pocket for a stick of gum, Brenda's current substitute for his preferred cigarettes. "Fucking ambulance chaser, if you ask me."
"No one's asking, KC," Deke said.
The attorney was out to cause trouble for trouble's sake, but bitching and moaning wouldn't stop her. "Didn't you say you had work to do?"
"Yeah." KC studied the body and took a step back. "Talk to you soon." The swinging doors soon whooshed behind him.
Dr. Heller reached for her scalpel and sliced a Y incision into the victim's chest. The next couple of hours gleaned minimal facts about Dixie Simmons. She had not been sexually assaulted but she'd had an abortion within the last year. Her body didn't bear the needle marks of a drug user, nor did she have old fractures to suggest any kind of abuse. She had breast implants and she'd had her nose redone.
By the time Dr. Heller had finished her exam, Deke had more information on his victim but no real answers. After Dr. Heller closed the body she rotated her own head from side to side, working out the tension.
"I'll walk you outside," she said.
Deke and Dr. Heller stepped into the crisp morning air. He patted his jacket pocket and remembered he'd left his cigarette habit at the house he'd lost in the divorce.
She inhaled a deep breath and tipped her face to the sun. "I never take a pretty day for granted."
Deke pulled his own notebook from his pocket and stared at the number he'd scrawled off Dixie's napkin. "Let's see if finding a killer is as easy as dialing a number."
Dr. Heller pulled out a pack of cigarettes from the side pocket of her white lab coat. "That possible?"
"It would be about the easiest case I've ever solved." He watched her light up, the old cravings tugging at him. "That stuff will kill you, Doc."
She inhaled and then slowly exhaled. "Something's going to kill us all."
"Maybe." He unclipped the phone from his belt and dialed the number.
She offered the pack to him. "You look like you could use one."
"Thanks, Doc. I'll pass."
She tucked the pack back in her pocket. "How long has it been since you quit?"
"Six months and two days."
"I quit once for a year."
"As a doctor don't you worry about what it will do to you?"
She inhaled and grinned. "Nope."
"I'm not going back. I bought a one-way ticket, Doc." Deke studied the napkin and the dark number written in a heavy, masculine scrawl. It rang once. Twice. At the tenth ring, with no answer, Deke hung up.
"Looks like it's not your lucky day."
Deke shrugged. "I'll run the number back at the office. We'll have a name soon enough."
"I've no doubt." She studied him an extra beat, as if she wanted to say more but then turned and inhaled again.
"If you get a hit with the tox screens you'll let me know?"
Deke left the doctor to finish her smoke. The drive across town and down Broadway to Rudy's honky-tonk took less than fifteen minutes. He managed parking on a side street within a half block.
He'd worked this area several times when he'd been undercover. In those days his hair had been long, his beard thick, his T-shirt and jeans dirty, and his leather jacket beat up.
At Rudy's he looked through a large glass window past the Closed sign toward the bar where he saw an older man polishing glasses. Standing over six feet, the man sported a gray beard that reached a barreled chest and salt-and-pepper hair slicked back into a ponytail. Rudy Creed.
Forty years owning a honky-tonk, Rudy had seen the area go from near slums filled with drug dealers and drunks to a bustling tourism center that brought a lot of money into the city. Rudy's was a legend in this town, known among the elite of country music for putting the best on fortune's road to fame.
Deke rapped on the window with his knuckle and held up his badge.
The old man raised his head, gray eyes narrowing. Slowly he set the glass down and moved from behind the bar. Rudy wore a blue western style shirt, and jeans and red cowboy boots.
He moved with the unhurried gait of a man who'd seen more than his share of cops. This wasn't the first time the police had visited his place and likely not the last. He unlatched the dead bolt and pushed open the door. He smelled faintly of soap and whiskey.
Excerpted from Cover Your Eyes by MARY BURTON. Copyright © 2014 Mary Burton. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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