Legally Dead: A Novel

Legally Dead: A Novel

by Edna Buchanan

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U.S. Marshal Michael Venturi of the Witness Protection Program relocates a mobster, now a government witness, to a small rural town after creating a new identity for him. The man proves to be a monster unleashed on an unsuspecting community. The results are tragic. To make amends Venturi leaves the Marshals Service and assembles a team of close confidants to secretly create new identities for innocent men and women whose lives have been ruined through no fault of their own -- people who really deserve fresh starts in new lives. But before they are relocated and reborn, each must change a lifetime of habits and actually become someone else, with new traits, tastes, and personalities.

And before being declared "legally dead" -- they have to die. The result is a combination of Extreme Makeover, Mission Impossible, and CSI -- the last in reverse. In these "deaths," some of them spectacular, phony forensics must be created to fit the "facts" and fool the experts.

His fascinating experiment works -- for a time. But as Venturi continues to relocate the deserving, evil begins to stalk Venturi and his legally dead clients.

Soon one is dead.

Really dead.

Are the relentless killers from his own past, or was one of his clients not so innocent after all? His own loved ones are now targets because of his attempts to atone for a tragedy that haunts him.

In a desperate race to protect those he has relocated, Venturi must call upon his former training in both the U.S. Marines Force Recon and the Marshals Service, as he is hunted by police, prosecutors, ruthless killers, and his own former federal colleagues.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416579410
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/12/2008
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 485,138
File size: 453 KB

About the Author

Edna Buchanan worked The Miami Herald police beat for eighteen years, during which she won scores of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award for Career Achievement in Journalism. Edna attracted international acclaim for her classic true-crime memoirs, The Corpse Has a Familiar Face and Never Let Them See You Cry. Her first novel of suspense, Nobody Lives Forever, was nominated for an Edgar Award.

Read an Excerpt


She was all he desired but everything forbidden.

Her appeal was lethal. Her spirited steps, her laughter, each reckless toss of her shiny blond hair struck him like bullets to the heart. She had a way about her. And the body type that never failed to excite him.

By daylight she haunted him, materializing like an apparition in the supermarket, at the community center, or walking her dog. As he collected his mail or plucked his paper off the grass, he'd glimpse her face in a passing car. Wherever he went, she was there.

He thought of her the most when he was alone in the dark.

Fate was giving him the finger. That he knew. Led into temptation, he resisted. Why complicate his existence in this community of six thousand souls in neat frame houses with maple and pine trees standing like sentinels along streets that all led to nowhere? A bowling ball rolling down Main Street at 11 p.m. would not strike anyone. If he hungered for a late-night steak or burger he had a choice: stay hungry or learn to cook.

The huge flocks of Canada geese migrating overhead were another frequent frustration. Honking and flying, flying and honking, until all he wanted was to shotgun them out of the goddamn sky. The profound silence when they neither honked nor flew was even worse. He'd wake up alone in the night convinced he'd gone deaf in the dark.

His passion went unrequited, but he and the object of his attention did share rare moments: they nearly collided one Saturday morning as he browsed hangover remedies in an aisle at the Rite Aid Drugstore. Her megawatt smile deepened her killer dimples and crinkled her mischievous blue eyes. She obviously recognized him.

He whistled softly through his teeth as he watched her go. "You know what you just did to me," he whispered.

They always knew.

He fought his basic instincts, kept his profile low, and stuck to the rules -- some of them. He had a secret plan about to spin into play. Who could blame him? Bored to distraction, he missed the money, the sex, the power. Nightlife here revolved around a pizza joint that closed early and monthly church suppers at which participants prayed, no doubt to survive the inedibly gummy spaghetti dinner.

Sleepless, he paced his modest middle-class home like a caged and moody lion yearning for his natural habitat, a concrete jungle astir with the wild life and high-risk encounters among the creatures of the night.

During a routine physical his new doctor suggested that he smoke less and exercise more. They won't be satisfied, he thought bitterly, until I am stripped of every comfort and simple pleasure. Nonetheless, he began a regimen of brisk daily walks. Fresh air and exercise would keep him too busy for unhealthy obsessions. But soon her house became a major landmark on his route. She lived on the far side of a small park surrounding an imposing stone sculpture, a horseman wielding a raised sword.

He paused to read the plaque at its base. The inscription identified the rider: he was General John Stark, who led the New Hampshire Minutemen to battle in the Revolutionary War and coined the state's motto, Live Free or Die. He studied the horseman's face and his sword, then checked his watch and quickly moved on. His walks were synchronized with her schedule so he could see what she wore -- and didn't. How much more smooth, milky skin would she bare as the long, dreary days of winter began to yield to blindingly bright yellow daffodils? Unlike the stone-faced general, she exuded life and energy. He obsessed over the impatient jut of her hip, her merry laughter, and the graceful curve of her neck, exposed when she pinned her glowing hair back. They all fueled his fantasies.

Spontaneous and typically female, she was not always predictable, or inclement weather would intervene. Often he was disappointed, but when she was on her front porch, in the driveway, or her yard, it was worth the wait. Eventually, she began to acknowledge him with a look of recognition, then a smile, and most recently, a friendly wave.

He responded with a neighborly nod, nothing more.

He had been told to make friends. How do you do that in middle age, when all your previous friendships were forged and flourished in childhood? Friends grow up together, cover each other's backs, and build alliances through a lifetime of history shared back in the day.

An outsider here, he was as disoriented as an alien from a distant planet. He and his new neighbors shared nothing in common. Many seemed short on teeth but still spoke in uppity tones. The women appalled him. Where did they grow these heifers? Yet the gaggles of runny-nosed kids who trailed behind them were proof that men actually slept with them. Disgusting. So he kept to himself, kept control, held his demons at bay.

He did wrestle the devil on occasion. He emerged from the exercise room at the community center one sunny afternoon, sweaty and exhausted, and she was there at the pool, hair wet, skin glistening, a thirsty towel draped around her neck. She giggled with a friend, hunched her slim shoulders, and hugged her arms against a chilly breeze. Teeth chattering, she turned away.

He licked his lips and swallowed, close enough to see the gooseflesh rise on the inside of her pale thighs and how the clingy fabric of her wet bikini bottom rode up her crotch.

He positioned his exercise bag in front of him to conceal his excitement, catching his breath at the sight of her daintily extended bare leg as she slid gracefully into the car for the ride home.

The moment was defining. She saw him watching, he thought, and flaunted herself. Deliberately. Tried to turn him on and succeeded. Females are born knowing how to drive a man crazy.

Still, he never would have touched her but destiny intervened. Late one afternoon, as he nodded off in his underwear and socks watching a Yankees game taped over the weekend, the doorbell launched him to his feet, totally awake.

Instinctively, he dove for the small silver-colored automatic pistol concealed beneath a sofa cushion. He pressed his thick back to the wall and released the safety.

There was a growing chill outside the window and the feel of rain in the air. The streetlights were still dark. Cautiously, from behind the curtains, he squinted into the deepening dusk.

When he saw the figure alone in the lengthening shadows, persistently pushing his doorbell, he gasped. Quickly, he scanned the street. Perfect. No traffic in sight. No one watching.

"Hold on! I'll be right there!" He snatched his trousers off the back of a chair.

He zipped up, fingers fumbling as he fastened his belt, afraid she might leave.

He checked the window again before unlocking the door. Nothing had changed. She still stood there alone. He could scarcely believe his good fortune. What she wore electrified him: a badge, and her crisp, neatly starched uniform. His wildest fantasy come true!

He threw the door open and laughed aloud when he saw what had brought her, delivered her, to his door.

She was selling Girl Scout cookies. Copyright © 2008 by Edna Buchanan

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