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THE QUEENA PATRICK BOWERS THRILLER
By STEVEN JAMES
RevellCopyright © 2011 Steven James
All right reserved.
Chapter One18 hours later Thursday, January 8 Lorelette Mobile Home Park Merrill, Wisconsin 4:21 p.m.
I scanned the trailer park through the binoculars I'd borrowed from FBI SWAT Team Leader Torres.
Most of the task force had agreed that we should go in light, but FBI Director Wellington didn't want to take any chances. So, even though we hadn't been able to confirm that Travis Reiser was actually in the trailer, she'd ordered a full SWAT team present on site.
Now I was a quarter mile away with Team Leader Antón Torres, a rock-jawed jock I'd worked with on a dozen previous cases, by my side.
Eight inches of crusty snow covered the ground, but mounds at least four feet deep lay pushed up on the shoulders of the roads and at the ends of the parking areas.
A low pressure system was sweeping down from Canada, leaving a foot of snow in its wake. It would arrive tomorrow afternoon, and I was glad we were here today and not in the thick of the storm.
Most of the trailers in the park had paint that was faded or peeling, ripped screen doors, or rusted sheet-metal roofs telegraphing the economic demographic of the people living here. Nearly a third of the sixty trailers had abandoned toys, discarded sleds, or half-melted snowmen sandwiched in the tight quarters between the homes. A lot of children lived in this park. Not good.
The sun edged toward the bottom of the sky, lengthening the late-day shadows around us. Nearby, Torres's snipers waited for his go-ahead to take up position before twilight swallowed the park.
"Well?" he asked.
Once again I directed my gaze at the yellow single-wide trailer where we believed Reiser was staying. "Still no movement."
"His car is there."
"Yes." An eyewitness had seen Reiser enter the trailer last night. I didn't need to tell Antón that. We'd gone over all this earlier.
I handed him the binoculars, and while he studied the trailer I surveyed the area, noting entrance and exit routes and evaluating their relationship to the roads that wandered through this part of the county.
"All right." Torres set down the binoculars. "What are you thinking?"
"I see four possible exit routes." I gestured toward the west end of the park. "There, near the quarry, but if we put Saunders and Haley on the ridge, they'll have that one covered; the main entrance, one sniper can take that. There's a break in the metal fence to the south, but it looks like Reiser would need to cross the field behind his trailer to get there, so, unlikely." I pointed to the east. "I'd say that based on the layout of the park, if he rabbits he'll most likely head south, past that home—"
"With the snow angels."
Torres's jaw was set. "Kids are easier to handle than adults."
"And Reiser is experienced. He'll know it's a lot harder for snipers to take a shot if they see a child in the scope along with the target."
He studied the park. "I'm telling you, Pat, you have an instinct for this. You should've been SWAT instead of all this theoretical geospatial bull—" He cut himself off mid-curse, no doubt realizing that he was inadvertently turning his compliment into an insult. He corrected himself: "I'm just saying."
"I appreciate it."
Actually, the FBI's SWAT program wouldn't have been a bad choice, but I was born to work for the Bureau's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, or NCAVC, and the last ten years had been a perfect fit for me.
"I'll go in first," I said.
He shook his head. "The director was clear. She wanted us to send in SWAT before you or Jake access the trailer."
"That's not the way to play this." This was not the only thing I disagreed with the director on. "People react in kind. When they feel threatened, they respond accordingly. You go in heavy, he's going to respond to meet the threat. I can talk him out." My experience as a field agent and as a homicide detective before that gave me street cred with Torres, and he didn't argue with me, just took a moment to peer through the binocs again. "Those are trailer homes," I added. "A shoot-out would mean—"
"Yeah. Rounds flying through the walls," he said grimly.
While he considered what I'd said, Agent Jake Vanderveld, the NCAVC profiler who was working this case with me, sauntered toward us. Broad shoulders. Blond hair. Meticulously trimmed mustache. I was thirty-seven, he was a few years younger. He nodded a greeting and slapped Torres on the shoulder.
"Where're we at?" Jake asked.
"Still deciding." Torres lowered the binoculars.
"Play it safe, Antón," I said. "Have people in place, but then—"
He made his decision, shook his head. "No. I'm not comfortable with it. I want my men in there first. You can follow close, right after the team, but I want to secure the premises first."
"Hang on," Jake spoke up, a little too authoritatively. "This is all a game to Reiser. He'll want to taunt Pat." Jake had helped lead us here and knew Reiser's file better than almost anyone. "If we send in a man in civilian clothes, Reiser'll think he has the upper hand. Play to his weakness, his arrogance, and you'll get close."
It was unusual for me and Jake to agree about anything, but apparently this time we were on the same wavelength.
Torres worked his jaw back and forth for a moment, then let out a small sigh. "All right. Listen. I go in with you, Pat. But I enter the trailer first."
"Plainclothes?" I said.
"Agreed." I stood. "And Travis Reiser might be the only key to finding Basque, so tell your team minimum force. We need to take him alive."
"That's not the priority here."
Basque had eluded us for six months now, and if we were right about Reiser, he might flip on Basque, turn him in. "Keep him alive, Antón."
"If this little prick takes any aggressive action, we're dropping him."
Though I wanted more reassurance that the SWAT team would hold off from taking Reiser down, they'd been trained, as I had, to fire at a target until it's no longer a threat. That wasn't the outcome I was looking for, but I knew Torres was right. You don't take chances, especially with someone like Reiser.
"All right," I said. "Let's go."
We all quieted our cells, one of the SWAT guys distributed radios to us, small, nearly invisible patches you wear just behind your ear, and while Torres changed into civilian clothes, I went to get some body armor.
Chapter TwoTorres by my side.
Reiser's pale yellow trailer sixty meters ahead of us.
The air—crisp, bitingly cold.
We knew if we pulled our guns at this point it would increase our perceived threat level, so we kept them holstered as we walked, as we scanned the area. "So, you asked her yet?" Torres said, keeping his voice low.
I glanced his way. "Who told you about that?"
"Okay, a big birdie."
I went back to scrutinizing the park. "If you must know. I'm waiting for the right time."
"The right time." "Yes."
"I'm telling you, don't be nervous, bro. You'll do fine."
"I'm not nervous."
"Mm-hmm." He crunched along the road beside me, sturdy, confident but not brash. I realized I was glad he was with me. "Just don't put it off too long. You only live once, you know."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Forty meters to Reiser's trailer.
Though I didn't want to, I eased aside thoughts of Lien-hua and carefully observed the park.
Despite the weather, several small faces were staring at me through the torn screen door of the trailer home that lay directly across the road. Abruptly, a woman pulled the children back into the shadows and swung the screen door, then the trailer door shut.
I didn't like this.
Any of it.
The trailer park brought back a swarm of dark memories from a crime scene fourteen years ago when I was a Milwaukee police detective and was forced to view the kinds of things no one should ever have to see: the body of Jasmine Luecke in her trailer home—or more precisely, what was left of her body, laid out gruesomely in the hallway.
The aftermath of one of Richard Devin Basque's crimes.
There were sixteen victims that we knew of. All young women. He kept them alive for as long as twelve hours while he surgically removed their lungs piece by piece and ate them, making the dying women watch as he did.
When I finally cornered him in an abandoned slaughterhouse in Milwaukee, he was holding his scalpel over his final victim, Sylvia Padilla. She was still alive when I arrived. Which, even after all these years, made the memory even more troubling.
I hadn't been able to save her—I doubted anyone could have—but I did manage to apprehend Basque, and he was eventually convicted, sent to prison, and spent thirteen years behind bars, most of it in solitary confinement.
But then, just over a year ago, the Seventh District Court announced Basque was going to receive a retrial after "a careful review of the culpatory DNA evidence and eyewitness testimony pertinent to the case."
And unbelievably, at the conclusion of his retrial last May, he was found not guilty and released from prison with official apologies from the judge, the warden, and even the governor.
Less than a month later, Basque started killing again.
This time with an accomplice.
Fifteen meters to the trailer.
Excerpted from THE QUEEN by STEVEN JAMES Copyright © 2011 by Steven James. Excerpted by permission of Revell. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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