The Monkeewrench crew returns to face the city of Minneapolis's worst nightmarea rampant serial killer on the loosein this electrifying thriller from the author of The Sixth Idea, now in paperback.
When Minneapolis homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth are called to a crime scene in a heavily wooded city park, everything about the setting is all too familiar. And when they discover a playing card on the victim's body, their worst fears are confirmedthere's a serial killer operating in the city for the first time in years.
Across town, Grace MacBride and her unconventional partners in Monkeewrench Software find themselves at both a personal and a career crossroads. Weary of the darker side of their computer work for law enforcement, they agree to take on a private missing-persons case in a small farming community in southwestern Minnesota.
As the violence accelerates in Minneapolis, Magozzi and Rolseth soon realize their killer is planning to complete the deck, and they enlist Monkeewrench to help stop the rampage. As a baffling tangle of evidence accumulates, the cops and Monkeewrench make the unlikely connections among a farmer's missing daughter, a serial killer, and a decades-old stabbing that brings them face-to-face with pure evil.
About the Author
P. J. Tracy is the pseudonym of the bestselling mother-daughter writing team Patricia Lambrecht and Traci Lambrecht, whose Monkeewrench novels have won the Anthony, Barry, Gumshoe, and Minnesota book awards. P.J. was a longtime resident of Minnesota until her death in December 2016. Traci remains in rural Minnesota, just outside Minneapolis, and continues writing about the Monkeewrench gang.
Read an Excerpt
Copyright © 2017 P.J. Tracy
Something horrible was going to happen to Marla. Somewhere down the road there had to be payback for her perfect child-
hood, her perfect career at the veterinary clinic, her perfect apartment in Minneapolis, her consistently perfect life. Friends who adored her envied her in equal measure, and secretly waited for the tragedy to come, because they believed in the law of averages and the irrefutable balance of good and bad in every life. And also because in the darkest moments of their own less than perfect lives, they just had to believe that someday Marla would get hers.
“Good things come to good people,” her father was fond of tell- ing her on those rare occasions when the shower of her good fortune made her feel just a little bit guilty. But if that were really true, why did the rest of the world believe the opposite? The notion that good- ness was punished was so pervasive that even the language was per- meated with warnings. Only the good die young. Nice guys finish last. No good deed goes unpunished. Phrases like that had often given Marla pause; made her think she should try harder to do some- thing bad occasionally, like forget to return a library book, just to even out the scales.
And then she’d run over the bunny.
“Stop crying, Marla. And stop calling it a bunny.It was just a goddamn rabbit.” Her father had tried to comfort her with seman- tics.” Probably the same one that ate every lick of my spinach plants last week. Every last lick.”
But he hadn’t known the worst of it, because she could never bring herself to say it aloud. The bunny hadn’t died right away. She’d seen it in her rearview mirror, trying to drag itself off the road with its front legs, because the hind legs wouldn’t work. She’d had to go back and run over it again.
It had been the right thing to do; but oh my God, that image in her rearview mirror would be with her to the end of her life, and although her father had felt great sympathy for her distress, he hadn’t felt a bit for the rabbit. How could that be? How could you feel sorry for someone for being sad and not feel sorry for something being dead?
She spent the next week imagining that the bunny had been a nursing mother, and that somewhere baby bunnies were cold and mewling in a hidey-hole, slowly dying of starvation. She never admit- ted that to anyone, because people tended to think you were a bit unbalanced when you empathized with animals to the point of tor- ment. But empathy was the disease Marla had inherited from her mother, and there were no boundaries to it. She couldn’t help con- necting to everyone and everything she encountered; she couldn’t stop speculating about their lives, their families, their pain—even that of silly rabbits that ate her father’s entire spinach crop and then ran out in front of a speeding car.
Normally Marla didn’t mind the night drive out to the farm, es- pecially on a Thursday, when the freeway was empty. Tomorrow night the frenetic weekend race to lake cabins would fill the two lanes heading out of Minneapolis with a jam of lights, white and red, crawling bumper-to-bumper for sixty miles before it started to thin out. But tonight, and every other summer weeknight, the road shot straight and true into deeper and deeper blackness where the exits were few and far between. Her exit, just three miles up, was what worried her. That particular two-lane road was one bunny shy this week, thanks to her, and she greatly feared a repeat of last week’s carnage.
She took the ramp more slowly than usual, stopped at the top and spent a long time looking both ways before easing right onto the two-lane road. There was no moon tonight, and the darkness seemed to swallow the beams of her headlights, as if she were shining them down the throat of a monster. She slowed even further as she ap- proached the S curve through the woods where the bunny had once lived, and that was the only reason she didn’t run right over the large black shape in the middle of the road.
As soon as her headlights hit the thing, she recognized it as one of those large plastic bags the volunteer crews used to pick up the occasional litter on road cleanup days. Still, it had startled her, and she could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she pulled over onto the shoulder and stopped. She sat there for a minute trying to catch her breath, her fingers still curled tight around the wheel, eyes wide and fixed on the bag.
Relax, Marla. Blink, for God’s sake. It’s not an animal, not a per- son; it’s just a bag of trash. Normally these bags were carefully placed on the shoulder for the township truck to collect, but this one was smack-dab in the middle of the two-lane road, and a genuine hazard
to any vehicle coming around the blind S curve at a normal rate of speed. It never occurred to her to simply drive around it and go on.
Her mind was already busy imagining a speeding car zipping around the first bend in the curve, slamming on the brakes, veering off the road and plowing head-on into a tree.
It was only after she got out of the car that she also imagined that same speeding car running into her while she was trying to drag the bag off the road, which made her move a lot faster.
It was surprisingly heavy, and it made a terrible scraping sound on the pebbly asphalt as she tugged and pulled it by inches toward the shoulder, and that was when she began to suspect what was re- ally in the bag. She released it with a little squeal and a shiver, and backed away.
Motorists killed more deer on this particular curve than all the hunters in the county managed to bring down during hunting sea- son. You didn’t think much about what happened after the accidents unless you happened to see the roadkill crews making their rounds, loading grisly remains into the open-backed truck that hauled them away. Sometimes the job got messy, and then they had to use a shovel and a bag. Apparently this particular bag had fallen unnoticed off the back of the truck when it accelerated on the curve.
Marla looked down at the bag with a mixture of sadness and distaste, understanding the heaviness now, seeing the telltale swells and lumps that clearly marked a large object and not a collection of discarded cans and paper. At least she hadn’t killed this one; hadn’t witnessed its violent end, which made the job ahead a little easier. She wondered absently why it didn’t smell, murmured a brief prayer that the bag didn’t rip when she tried moving it again, then bent to her work.
This time she put her back to the side of the road and tried pull-
ing the bag toward her. The large animal inside shifted and rolled with the first tug. Marla winced, but kept at it, right up until the moment the bag snagged on a sharp piece of broken asphalt, tore open, and a bloody human arm fell out.
Marla snapped upright and stifled a choked gasp. For a minute her mind didn’t work at all, and then when it started up again it manufactured terrible pictures. Not that there was a dead person in that bag, because that was a reality she just couldn’t accept at the moment. What occurred to her instead was that in the movies, just when the heroine thought she was safe, the supposedly dead per- son’s hand jerked out and grabbed her ankle.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God.” She began to back very, very care- fully away, toward her car, keeping her eyes focused on the inky blackness of the road ahead, because she didn’t dare look down at the bag again.
And then suddenly, twin white lights pierced the darkness and began rolling toward her, faster and faster. Too small for headlights. They’re reverse lights. Dear Jesus, there was a truck up there, so close, and she’d never even seen it. And now it was coming for her.
Marla was totally paralyzed for a few moments, trying to regain her composure, rationalizing for the sake of her sanity, because none of this made sense in her perfect world.
The truck is not coming for you, it’s coming to help you. This is the country—people stop to offer assistance when they see a car on the side of the road, because in Buttonwillow, Minnesota, everybody is your neighbor, even if you live twenty miles apart. It’s probably somebody you know, maybe even somebody you went to grade school with. And there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for that body in the trash bag. . . .
Marla snapped back to reality. No, no, no, there wasn’t. There
was no perfectly reasonable explanation on God’s green Earth for a dead body in a trash bag in the middle of a deserted country road. No perfectly reasonable explanation for this truck, suddenly appear- ing out of nowhere. And now, because she’d been thinking too much again, it was too late to duck into the safety of her car and screech away. Too late to call 911 or Jacob, because the truck had rolled to a stop a few feet in front of her car and now the driver’s door was slowly creaking open. At that point, she abandoned all thought, suc- cumbed to panic and instinct, and bolted into the woods.
Every inch of her felt like it was on fire as she leapt through the brush and bramble, dodging trees in the darkness, clambering over fallen logs, tripping over exposed roots and scrambling back to her feet. She knew these woods—Cutter Creek was to her right, and a few hundred yards up ahead there was a clearing and then Hank Schifsky’s cornfield. Another quarter of a mile up was his long dirt driveway and his old farmhouse. She could make it.
And then she felt herself falling, felt her ankle give way as she tumbled down a steep, washed-out gully that hadn’t existed when she’d run wild in these woods as a kid.
She choked back whimpers of fear and pain and dragged herself to the base of a large oak tree, trying to make herself as small as pos- sible. And as stupid as it was, she hadn’t lost hope; she was still wait- ing to hear the call of a friendly voice behind her. “Ma’am? Ma’am! Don’t run, I’m here to help you!”
But all she heard was relentless, crashing footsteps in the woods behind her. The raspy pant of her pursuer.
Something switched off inside her. She divorced herself from her immediate reality, from her physical being, and retreated deep into the core of her soul. There it was peaceful, a place where she could
think of her past and her future. She should have married Jacob. And if he’d still have her, she’d do just that. They’d have babies and live in Buttonwillow until the end of their days. They should have done it a long time ago, back when they were both eighteen and Jacob had given her the promise ring she still wore on her right ring finger, even though she was a grown woman.
The footsteps were getting closer now, crunching through the dead branches and old, dried leaves that littered the forest floor. Things couldn’t end here. She had to leave something so Jacob and her father would know she’d been here, had made it this far, and could maybe piece together what had happened if she didn’t make it out of these woods alive.
She pulled the ring off her finger and placed it by the base of the tree where she was hiding, and as she heard the labored breathing getting louder, she got up and started running on her swollen, ru-
ined ankle, screaming at the top of her lungs.
he lights were what Walt would always remember. They didn’t belong in this dark night in the countryside. They lit up the
thick woods on the north side of the narrow road, throwing spooky shadows through the tightly packed tree trunks and brush.
They shed unwelcome light on the north side, where there was a turnaround with space enough for one car to park, for the daring anglers who skidded down the treacherous slope to drop their lines in the creek below. You fished at night during the few weeks when the suckers were running, but for the rest of the summer, only kids parked there at night to kiss and hold hands, and sometimes more than that, before the clock ticked to curfew.
The turnaround had been there as long as Walt had been alive. He’d parked there with Mary, his high school sweetheart, before sneaking back home, and he’d proposed to her there, too. Right there, where the path down to the creek carved a hole in a stand of cottonwoods far older than he was now.
All these things belonged here, had always been here, but not the lights, and yet tonight they were everywhere, startling the early spring frogs into silence, as if the whole place had been swept clean of night creatures.
Marla’s car, the white Ford Explorer he’d bought for her when she graduated from college, was sitting in the turnaround, visiting the very spot where she might have been conceived all those years ago. It was spotting from the gentle April rain that had just started to fall, and Walt’s eyes brushed over it as if it wasn’t there, because it shouldn’t be.
He had been standing here so long while the Highway Patrol set up the lights and county deputies paced the grounds. He was glad the Highway Patrol was here. The more departments, the better. It gave the scene, the tragedy, a level of import that promised careful attention.
The crime-scene techs, who looked like astronauts in their white suits and booties, hurried to cover that dreadful, bloody place in the middle of the road that was surrounded by blinking red lights and peppered with iridescent yellow crime-scene markers. One of the techs, who had known Walt since he’d worked for him baling hay as a high schooler, looked over his shoulder at the old man.
“Probably isn’t human blood at all,” he said with a fake, forced shrug. “Raccoon, squirrel, deer more than likely.”
Walt didn’t move. He kept looking at the plastic now covering
the blood, protecting it from the rain.”Marla hit a rabbit last week on this very road,” he said.
“Could have been a rabbit,” the tech said, but it was too damn much blood for anything that small and he knew it.
Marla had been missing for only a few hours, but out here, there were no time limits on reporting a missing person. This was Marla. They all knew her, like they knew every person in their district, and they knew she would have called her dad if she was going to be late for dinner.
A deputy approached Walt and tipped his brown plastic-covered hat. “Mr. Gustafson, is that Marla’s vehicle?”
Walt hesitated because no one ever called him Mr. Gustafson. “It is.”
The deputy sighed and looked down. “We’ll find her, sir. Don’t you worry.”
Jacob was here, too, coming out of the woods now, his face a frozen, unreadable mask. He’d been the first to arrive, getting here so soon after Walt had phoned him that he worried about how fast the boy had been driving, and how carelessly. He’d been sweet on Marla damn near forever, and was the one person in this world who was as panicked as Walt, trying hard not to show it. He was sheriff now, like his daddy before him, but he was more than that.
“How are you doing, Walt?” “Not so good. Just like you.”
Jacob scuffed his boot through the agate stones scattered in the turnaround near Marla’s car. Harry Michaelson’s bluetick hounds started baying in the far distance, the first dogs on-site long before the patrol brought in their own hounds.
Jacob looked in the general direction of the sound as if he could see through the black of the woods beyond the lights, and looked back at Walt’s face. It was partly in shadow, and he looked younger than his seventy-odd years, with his teeth clenched and his jaw mus- cles bulging as he looked toward the baying sound, too. His pupils were dilated so wide, they ate nearly all of the blue of his eyes, and Jacob knew the man had to be dying inside at this moment. What had the dogs found? The seconds ticked by with interminable slow- ness before his shoulder unit squelched.
“Coons,” a voice came from the other end. “A whole mess of ’em.” Walt took his first breath in a while and released a shaky exhale. He’s in hell, Jacob thought, just like he’d been ever since he had gotten the call. “Sorry, Walt. Damn blueticks. The Highway Patrol dogs should be here any minute, and they don’t sound at a god-
Walt nodded, took another breath. He bobbed his head toward the Explorer without looking at it. “Maybe she broke down.”
Jacob shook his head. “Keys are still in it. It started right up. Tires are all okay.”
“Still, maybe it broke down earlier and just fixed itself sitting there. Maybe Marla . . . I don’t know, started walking, got tired, fell asleep somewhere, she works so hard, you know. . . .” His voice faded as he pressed a hand hard over his gut, because the agony was eating at him from the inside out.
Jacob looked away, pretended he didn’t hear the absolute des- peration in Walt’s speculation, pretended he didn’t see anything but a lot of people, a lot of lights, and an empty car.
Nightmare. Jesus God, I’ll do anything, just let her be safe. . . .
“What’s on your mind, Jacob?”
“Walt, the hounds picked up a clear trail in the woods. It ended in a washed-out gully near the creek.”
“What does that mean?”
Jacob reached into his pocket and pulled out an evidence bag. “I
found this at the base of a tree in the gully.”
Walt took a sharp breath. “That’s Marla’s ring. The ring you gave her in high school.”
“I think she left it for us, Walt.”
ife was weird in unquantifiable ways: one day you were an urban depressive, living in the emotionally burned-out shell of
a house you had once shared with your philandering ex-wife, watch- ing unremarkable years slowlyooze by like cooling lava. The next, you were living on a tranquil lake an hour outside the city with a baby on the way, carried by the mercurial woman who had owned your heart since the first, combative encounter. Of course, back then she’d been a person of interest in a string of serial murders he’d been working, and who wouldn’t get a little prickly over something like that?
But Minneapolis homicide detective Leo Magozzi was pragmatic and cynicalabove all, and certainly no idiot—as over-the-moon as he was with the prospect of first-time fatherhood, he harbored no illu- sions about a traditional coupling with a complicated soul like Grace MacBride. There might never be a sentimental march down the aisle, maybe not even a happily ever after, although it was his fervent
wish. Sometimes he thought such things of permanence were as an- tithetical to her nature as vegetarianism to a tiger.
But babies were about as permanent as you could get, and Grace seemed to be flourishing as a pregnant woman; a happy side effect of that was she seemed to be opening the door for him just a little. Not more than a crack, but it was marked progress by previous stan- dards and something he could work with.
For instance, she occasionally touched his arm in public—a shocking development if there ever was one. Even more shocking was the fact that lately,they were spending a couple of nights a week together. And those little things allowed him to be guardedly opti- mistic about the trajectory of things in the future. His situation still wasn’t free of uncertainties, but he was finally okay with that—he and Grace were now forever tethered by a miraculous little human that they had created together.
He suddenly thought of his grandfather, years dead now—a cur- mudgeonly man fond of dispensing coarse nuggets of realism whether you wanted to hear them or not. Magozzi had spent a lot of time with him during his formative years and he was truly the one who had prepared him for a perfectly imperfect life, had taught him that nothing was simple or preordained.
Everybody’s got problems, Leo, doesn’t matter how old you are, who you are, where you come from, or where you’re going. They get better, they get worse, but they stay with you until the day you die, so get used to it. And the minute you think you’ve got the world by the balls, think again. If you want a sure ticket, join the priesthood like your great-uncle Dom. Life will never surprise you if you’re wearing the cloth.
I don’t think I’m cut out for the priesthood, Grandpa.
Most of us aren’t. So ride the storm. Just because you got benched
from the big Homecoming game and now Miss Jenny Perky Tits won’t give you the time of day doesn’t mean life is over. . . .
Grandpa! God . . .
Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, son. Sorry.
Don’t tell me you’re sorry, tell your Lord. Ten Hail Marys and Ten
Our Fathers should cover it.
Her name is Shelly.
Shelly, Jenny, whatever. You’re only sixteen years old and you’re gonna go through a lot of Shellys and Jennys before you settle on one, so like I just said, ride the storm. Women will make a mess of you, but if you find the right one, she’ll put you back together again.
Magozzi cringed and smiled at the same time, remembering his deep distress over his grandfather’s scrutiny of his high school sweetheart’s anatomy, wondering why taking God’s name in vain was worse than using vulgar language to describe a woman’s breasts. It was only later that he’d learned his grandfather was beginning to suffer dementia. Apparently one of the symptoms was losing your filter for polite conversation.
He was thinking of these things as he lay sweating on the floor beneath a partially assembled crib, wondering why in the hell he hadn’t ponied up the extra thirty bucks to have the store put it to- gether for him.
He rolled his head to the side, trying to release the crick in his neck, and got a good look at his partner Gino Rolseth’s white calves and Sperry Top-Siders, the only thing visible of him from this posi- tion on the floor. He’d seen worse things in his life, but not by much. “Okay, Gino, I’m waiting for my logistical support. It’s eighty-eight degrees and I don’t have central air. It’s getting hot down here.”
“Count your blessings, you’re on the floor and heat rises. It’s fif-
teen degrees hotter up here and I’m only five-seven.I wouldn’t stand up if I were you.”
“Come on, let’s get this show on the road. What do I do next?” “I’m working on it, but this damn instruction manual is written
in Mongolian or something. This is purely interpretive work on my part.”
Magozzi sighed. “Then give me the drill, I’ll figure it out.”
“You don’t need a drill, says so right here in Figure 8. You need one of these nut-thingies.”
“What’s a nut-thingie?”
“This cheap tin piece of crap that’s supposed to tighten the nuts on the legs.” He tossed it under the crib.” Jesus, Leo, why didn’t you buy this thing already put together?”
“I was just thinking about that.”
“Yeah? So what did you come up with?” “Real men don’t buy things preassembled.”
He heard Gino snuffle. “Yeah, I went down this very same road seventeen years ago when Angela was pregnant with Helen. ‘Let’s buy it assembled, Gino,’ she begged. ‘No, honey, it’ll be a piece of cake, I’ve got this covered,’ I reassured her. Well, guess what? We spent two days trying to put the damn crib together and we almost got divorced over it. Lesson number one—don’t ever argue with a pregnant woman, or she’ll take a pound of flesh, and it’s not the flesh a man wants to lose.”
Magozzi crawled out from under the crib. “That’s kind of a gen- erous weight estimate, isn’t it?”
Gino smirked. “Speak for yourself. So, are you giving up al- ready?”
“No, I’m going to get us some beer and we’re going to figure this out before I crawl back under there.”
“Let’s do it down on the dock and throw some lines in while we’re at it. Fishing is good for the thought process. Plus, it’s cooler down by the lake.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
Gino looked around the spare bedroom that was slowly meta- morphosing into what Magozzi apparently thought was a nursery, which meant there was an almost-crib in a bunch of empty space. “You’re going to need a changing table, a rocking chair, a dresser, stuff on the walls . . .”
“Why? Babies are born blind, right?”
“That’s kittens.” Gino narrowed his eyes. “You’re kidding, right?” Magozzi gave him a noncommittal shrug.
“Please tell me you’re kidding. . . . Never mind. So what does
Grace think of the green walls?”
“Desert Sage. And she hasn’t seen them yet.”
Gino frowned. “I thought she was pretty much living here.” “Part-time. She stays here a couple nights a week, but she’s still
got her house in the city, and the Monkeewrench office is only half a mile away.”
“Yeah, yeah, it’s convenient for work, but how’s that going to fly once you two have the baby? I mean, that’s like shared custody, ex- cept between two houses instead of two people.”
And that was the problem with Gino. He saw everything in black and white. But with Grace MacBride, nothing was black and white. And Gino had a point, except the shared custody thing also entailed a third party—Monkeewrench. Harley, Annie, and Roadrunner, Grace’s business partners and the only family she had ever known. Their baby was going to have a whole lot of parents, which probably wasn’t such a bad thing. “We’ll figure it out, Gino. Come on, let’s get those beers and go fishing.”
“Yeah. Hey, just for the record, I like the green walls. Nice and neutral.”
“Whatever.” A goofy grin suddenly gobbled up Gino’s face. “This is so awesome, Leo. A few months and your life is going to take on a whole new meaning.”
“It’s beyond awesome. I’m the first man in the history of the planet to father a child.”
“It feels that way, doesn’t it?” “You mean I’m not?”
“There were a few trillion before you, but who’s counting?”
In the kitchen, Magozzi splashed his face with cold water,then grabbed two frosty bottles of beer from the fridge while Gino wan- dered into the living room. There was a wall of floor-to-ceiling win- dows that overlooked woods and the lake beyond.
“You really scored with this place, Leo, you know that? It was the real estate deal of the century.”
“Tell me about it. If there hadn’t been a double murder here in
December, I never could have afforded it.”
“Yeah, I can see how that might make some potential buyers a little skittish.”
“One of the perks of being a homicide cop, I guess.” “Any bites on your place in town?”
“The realtor had a couple open houses, but no offers yet. He gave me a list of staging suggestions he thinks will help it show better. Pictures on the wall, new hardware on the kitchen cabinets, plants, stuff like that.”
“What’s wrong with the hardware on your kitchen cabinets?” “Hell if I know.”
“Well, it couldn’t hurt.”
“Yeah, but some of it’s ridiculous. There’s a limit to how much time I’m willing to piss away arranging flowers and folding the throw on my sofa just right. I’ve got enough to do with this place.”
“You’re heading into town tonight, right?”
“To have dinner with Grace, not to stage my house.”
“So leave a halfhour early, stop somewhere on the way, and pick up a couple of ferns or something. Hopefully you’ll sell the house before you can kill them.” Gino wiped his brow with the back of his hand. “You really need to look into central air. It’s barely June, what do you think it’s going to be like in July?”
“This is an anomaly. It’ll probably be snowing next week. It might even be snowing in July.”
side from an occasional workout routine in the basement of her Minneapolis home, Grace MacBride never exercised—
she’d always thought it to be a deplorable waste of time. But she’d been genetically blessed—for all her thirty-odd years, she had been thin, toned, and unreasonably healthy for a woman who spent most of her time sitting in front of a computer.
She was still toned and healthy, according to her doctor visit two weeks ago, but the thin part had gone out the window a while ago. She still did doubletakes whenever she passed a mirror and saw her burgeoning belly awkwardly fused onto an otherwise svelte body. Grace thought it looked hysterically funny and absolutely fantastic.
She’d chosen a doctor on a whim, through an online referral service. He was only the second she’d been to in her adult life. He turned out to be a kind, elderly gentleman who had probably sur- passed retirement age by several years. He smelled of antiseptic soap
and cigarette smoke and had been befuddled by her lack of history. And later, probably a little terrified by it.
I can’t find your records in the database, Ms. MacBride. I don’t have any records.
You’ve never been to a doctor?
Once. I had to have a physical to get into college. And yet I find no record of that visit.
I was using a different name then.
Perhaps I could try that . . . um . . . alternative name. That person doesn’t exist anymore.
Oh . . . I see. Then perhaps you could tell me a little about your family history.
I don’t have a family history, either. I never knew my parents. Well, then. Right. So let’s deal with the present, shall we? What I
can tell you right now is that you seem to be in excellent physical condi- tion and so does your baby, at least as far as I can determine without an ultrasound, which I recommend you schedule soon. Do you exercise?
I still go to the shooting range every week, does that count?
She smiled, remembering the expression on the doctor’s face. The poor man. In retrospect, she probably could have been more tactful, but that was another thing she considered a deplorable waste of time.
Magozzi stirred next to her and sighed in his sleep. Bars of early sun were beginning to seep through the partially open blinds, laying strips of warm light across his dark, wavy hair. For some reason, she wanted to reach out and touch it, but she didn’t.
Grace didn’t particularly like to share her bed. Sex, yes, cuddling in sleep, not really. She and Magozzi slept together occasionally— obviously, she thought, drawing a hand over her belly—but the truth
was that her history sometimes made the sudden touch of another human being during sleep terrifying.
Magozzi wasn’t terribly happy about her aversion to closeness. All his life he’d dreamed of a fairy tale marriage complete with a white picket fence and a baby carriage. And as it turned out, he was getting the baby carriage without the rest of it. But he never pried too hard, never pushed too hard, this man whose stock-in-trade was getting people to tell the truth. He was endlessly patient and respected her boundaries, which was probably a big part of why she loved him, al- though he wasn’t in short supply of other admirable characteristics.
But things had started changing gradually, and now, six months into this pregnancy, she found herself wanting to feel him next to her at night. She had spent a lot of time ruminating over this dis- turbing shift in her persona and finally rationalized that some bio- logical dominion mandated she have a protector in her vulnerable condition. Some animals did it, and humans were nothing if not animals, albeit in some cases, a much poorer version.
“I can hear you thinking,” she heard Magozzi’s sleep-thick voice talking into his pillow.
“You’re still sleeping. It’s just a dream.” “I’m pretty sure I’m awake.”
“Okay, so what am I thinking?”
“That you want me to make you French toast for breakfast.” He rolled over and gave her a sleepy, lopsided smile.
“I don’t like French toast.”
“You’d like mine. I dip the bread in melted vanilla ice cream before I fry it.”
Grace smiled a little. “That’s actually pretty clever.”
“Of course it’s clever.” He reached out and brushed a few strands of black hair from her face. “Good morning.”
And then Magozzi’s cell phone started ringing. He looked at the screen and sighed.
“It’s Gino. Rain check on the French toast, okay?” “I’ll go make coffee.”
After Magozzi had rushed out with a mug of coffee and a ba- nana, Grace fed her dog, Charlie, his morning kibble, then went back upstairs to get dressed, which was getting more and more dif- ficult to do these days. In another month, she’d be wearing a tent.
She finally tossed her favorite belt holster into the purgatory bin of things that didn’t fit her anymore and retrieved her old shoulder holster from the top shelf of the bedroom closet. It didn’t fit much better, but her boobs were still smaller than her stomach, and there was no way she was going to go out into the world unarmed just because she was six months pregnant. In fact, being pregnant was double the reason to carry—she wasn’t just protecting her own life anymore.
Charlie snuffled his approval from his perch on the bed. “You like?”
The dog’s stump tail wagged back and forth, but he didn’t bother to lift his head. He’d been moody like this for a while, falling into a deep melancholy whenever they came back to the city. And who could blame him? At Magozzi’s lake house, he could run to his heart’s content, chase squirrels and butterflies, explore the woods, and on one regrettable occasion, he’d found a dead fish on shore to roll in. There, he could do the things a dog was born to do; here, he was confined to a tiny fenced-in yard which probably felt like a prison to him now.
And in truth, Grace was beginning to feel the same way. Not long ago, her small house had been her inviolate sanctuary; a physical and
emotional fortress jealously guarded by fear and paranoia and every security precaution imaginable that kept everything and everyone out. But recently, her very carefully planned and constructed secu- rity blanket was starting to feel suffocating. Whether Charlie’s dis- content was mirroring her own or the other way around, she would never know. And in the end, it didn’t matter. As she had learned these past few years, things changed—life, people, animals—all without your permission, no matter how zealously you fought to maintain supreme control.
She sat down on the bed and stroked Charlie’s head. “I know, buddy, I’m sorry. We won’t be here long.Just a couple days.”
Charlie blinked at her and whined.
“Somebody in this relationship has to work, you know. Your kibble doesn’t grow on trees.”
The dog snorted, as if he knew all about the multiple zeroes at the end of her bank account balance.Grace sighed, stood up, and patted her thigh. “Come on, let’s go to Harley’s.”
At the sound of Harley’s name, the dog’s malaise vanished and he scrambled off the bed, anticipating the banquet of people food that was always waiting for him at the Monkeewrench office. Charlie loved Harley, of course, and Annie and Roadrunner, but Grace had always suspected that food was the main attraction. There was such a striking resemblance between dogs and men.
Grace followed Charlie into the kitchen and out the door, then felt a kick in her belly as she was locking up the house. Baby was already anxious to get out.
“Stay inside as long as you can,” she murmured. “It’s not safe out here.”
TH R E E
hen Harley Davidson was a kid, not one person had ever asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. It was
such a little thing, but it left a lonely hole in his heart when every other kid was asked the question a million times by a million people. Maybe nobody had ever inquired about his hopes and his dreams for the future because they didn’t think he had any—the odds were dismal in the foster home system for a bitter, aggressive boy with a bad mouth and a worse attitude. Or maybe they just didn’t care.
Put your hand there, Harley. Feel the kick. You’re the only one who hasn’t done that.
I didn’t want to be . . .
Harley. This is the newest member of our family. You need to intro- duce yourself.
Harley’s hand moved to the swell in Grace’s belly and jerked back, startled, when he felt movement against his palm.
Oh my God. There’s a person in there.
Yes, there is.
And then Grace did the strangest thing. She put her hands on his cheeks and pulled his head against her belly.
I read a book that said babies in the womb respond to voices, re- member them subliminally after birth. What do you want to say to the baby, Harley?
He released the breath he’d been holding against Grace’s stomach and whispered, Baby, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Whoever is in there will want to grow up to be just like you.
This was what Harley was remembering as he perched on a lad- der in one of the spare bedrooms in his Summit Avenue mansion, putting the final screws into the frame of an ornate, ceiling-mounted bed canopy. He could see Annie and Roadrunner in his peripheral vision, supervising from across the room. He thought Annie’s ful- some figure looked particularly fetching today in a lacy dress that had some kind of shiny beadwork on the neckline. “Your cleavage is damn near covered, Annie, what the hell is the matter with you?”
She lifted her chin haughtily. “Sometimes the magic is in what you don’t see.”
“What’s wrong with seeing stuff?”
“Nobody’s ever accused you of being refined or a gentleman,” Annie sniffed.
Harley smirked down at her. “Show me a woman who wants a gentleman, and I’ll show you a woman who is a liar.” Before Annie could retort, he made a broad, sweeping gesture toward the canopy. “What do you guys think?”
“It looks centered,” Roadrunner commented blithely as he as- sessed the layout and dimensions of the room.
“Jesus, of course it’s centered, you think I’d drill into a plaster
N O T H I N G S T AY S B U R I E D
ceiling without taking measurements? And I wasn’t asking what you thought about my carpentry skills, I was asking what you thought about the canopy. This sucker is hand-carved, gold-leafed mahog- any, painstakingly crafted in Bavaria over three hundred years ago.” Annie clucked her tongue. “It’s beautiful, Harley, but you are
one crazy fool. The child is not going to care about gold leaf or any- thing else.”
“Maybe not right away, but in time, little Leo or little Grace will grow to appreciate all the finer things in life, including my wine cellar.”
“Uh-huh. In a couple decades. Where are you going to hang the mobile?”
“The things you hang above a crib that have dangling animals and rainbows and whatnot. Babies love mobiles, it keeps them calm and puts them to sleep. Babies also have horrible eyesight, and this ceiling is eighteen feet high—no infant is going to be able to see a mobile hanging way up there.”
Harley clomped down the ladder, his jackboots a couple of sizes too large to negotiate the rungs with any grace. “Not a problem. I’ll put in a chandelier lift for the mobile, job done.”
Roadrunner politely cleared his throat, then his shoulders started shaking in suppressed laughter.
Harley scowled at him. “What?”
“No offense, but for a couple of geniuses, you’re really overcom- plicating things. You don’t hang mobiles from the ceiling, you hang them from a doodad that attaches to the side of the crib, problem solved.”
Annie tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. “Is that so?”
Harley wagged his head adamantly. “Oh, hell no. Nothing’s get- ting attached to the side of this crib. You haven’t seen it yet, but it’s the pièce de résistance, and it just got delivered this morning. . . .”
They all looked toward the open bedroom window when they heard a happy bark and a car door slam.
Harley started brushing the plaster dust from his hair and beard and off his shoulders. “Damn, Gracie’s here already. Annie, you and Roadrunner go downstairs and distract them while I clean up. I don’t want her to see the nursery until it’s finished. And feed Charlie— there’s poached chicken for him on the kitchen counter.”
“What about the frittata?” Roadrunner asked.
“Oh, shit, I forgot about it. Pull it, Roadrunner. I don’t want to burn another one.”