The year is 2065, almost thirty years since a bioterrorist attack decimated the population. The world has been divided, and new nations have formed. Those mutated from exposure inhabit the red zones, while “norms” live in the green zones.
In the nation of Pacifica, Los Angeles detective Cassandra Lee is in charge of investigating a disturbing case, tracking a cop killer dubbed the Bonebreaker. But strange new murders have occurred, falling outside the normal pattern and leaving Lee and her team wondering if the serial killer has become unpredictable—or if he’s no longer acting alone…
To make matters worse, Lee’s attention is diverted after she receives a letter from her long-lost mother. Now she must venture into the red zone, a lawless land where might makes right—and where the biggest danger may be her own family.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
DEPUTY CHIEF ROSS McGinty had been dismembered by a serial killer called the Bonebreaker—and his body parts dumped next to a freeway. Unfortunately, that was the same fate that had befallen Cassandra Lee’s father two years earlier. And now, as the long procession of police cars and limos followed the black hearse toward LA’s Evergreen Cemetery, there should have been a sign. Rain perhaps . . . to match the mood. But no, the sky was blue, and it was going to be a nice day. For most people, anyway.
Lee was seated in an unmarked car along with Assistant Chief Sean Jenkins and two other members of the LAPD’s Special Investigative Section (S.I.S.). It was the unit McGinty had led prior to his death—and was supposed to hunt down the Bonebreaker.
Lee was the only member of the force who had encountered the serial killer and lived to tell about it. “I am the Avenger,” the Bonebreaker had told her. “I’m the one God sent to kill the monsters and their progeny. That’s why you’re going to die the way your father died.”
That threat had been hanging over her ever since. But if the Bonebreaker was hunting her, she was hunting him, and had been for years. “I’m going to miss the chief,” Jenkins commented. He had dark skin, green eyes, and was seated next to her.
“Yeah,” Lee agreed. “Me too.” And that came as a surprise. McGinty and her father had been partners once. But they had fallen for the same girl, got into a fight, and wound up as enemies. Some of that hostility had been apparent in the way McGinty treated her. Although, truth be told, Lee knew that some of the friction stemmed from her rebellious personality. Then the Screed kidnapping brought them together. And that was when Lee learned that there was a lot to like about McGinty, who, as it turned out, had a legitimate reason to dislike her father.
A brace of motorcycle cops led the funeral procession into the cemetery and its carefully kept grounds. The graveyard had been there since 1877 and was very crowded. Thickets of markers lined both sides of the gently curving road. I won’t let them bury me here, Lee decided. When I go down, there won’t be any police cars, bagpipes, or mourners. I’ll leave instructions for a couple of motorcycle riders to scatter my ashes along a good stretch of road. Highway 26 out of Stockton would do . . . The last thing I want is a box and a hole in the ground.
Then Lee remembered McGinty’s coffin and why it was so light. The Bonebreaker liked to keep his victims’ limbs. So all McGinty’s family had to bury was a head and a torso.
Later, once the flesh had been removed from McGinty’s arms and legs, the killer might send some of the bones to the police, members of the press, or relatives. But he kept most of them for himself. Maybe they were buried somewhere. But Lee figured that the Bonebreaker kept the missing bones close to him, so he could look at and touch them. Including those that belonged to her father. She shivered.
The vehicles ahead of them were pulling over by that time, so Detective Yanty did likewise. Lee opened the door, got out, and was forced to squint in the sunlight. She put on a pair of sunglasses and was following a column of mourners into the maze of markers, when a reporter stepped out from behind a large monument. She looked like a fashion model and was holding a microphone. Her cameraman hurried to frame a two-shot. “Detective Lee! I’m Carla Zumin with Channel 7 News . . . The Bonebreaker killed your father. Now Deputy Chief McGinty is dead as well. How do you feel about that?”
Suddenly, everything that Lee felt, all of the emotions that were bottled up inside of her, came boiling to the surface. The result was a roundhouse right that struck Zumin in the temple. Lee felt the impact all the way up her arm, saw the lights go out in the reporter’s eyes, and watched the blonde slump to the ground. “That’s how I feel,” Lee said, as Jenkins knelt next to the reporter. “I hope that helps.” Then she walked away.
There was a great deal of fuss as medics were summoned to revive the reporter, her peers converged on the scene, and Channel 7’s footage of the knockout was sent back to the station.
Meanwhile, most of the mourners remained unaware of the dustup as bagpipes played and a large crowd gathered around the open grave. Then, after a lengthy eulogy and a prayer, McGinty’s coffin was lowered into the ground.
Lee turned to watch the woman everybody referred to as “McGinty’s companion.” Her name was Cheyenne Darling, and Lee had seen her at parties but had never exchanged more than a couple of words with her. Darling’s blond bangs fell to a point just above her eyebrows. She had high cheekbones, a well-proportioned nose, and a generous mouth.
Like the rest of the mourners, Darling was dressed in black but with a difference. She was wearing silver jewelry, her dress was a little too short for the occasion, and her heels were red. It wasn’t typical widow wear by any means, but Darling was crying, and that was when Lee realized that she wasn’t.
Should she cry? Should she have to think about crying? What the hell was wrong with her anyway? Such were Lee’s thoughts as her eyes scanned the crowd. Was the Bonebreaker present? Feeding off the misery? And feeling superior?
If so, he was pretty damned stupid because police officers dressed as reporters were salted throughout the crowd. Their job was to photograph the mourners so that detectives from the S.I.S. could check them over later.
The coffin was in the ground and a final prayer was being said as Lee sensed movement beside her. She turned to find that Jenkins was there. Their eyes met, and he shook his head sadly. “I’m sorry, Cassandra,” he said. “But I’ve got to place you under arrest. Let’s go to the car. Do not, I repeat do not, interact with the press. And that includes punching reporters. Do I make myself clear?”
Lee nodded contritely. “Sorry, boss. Is she okay?”
“Yes,” Jenkins said, “or so it seems. When Zumin came to she looked up at her camera operator, and said, ‘Did you get that? Did you fucking get that?’ So I think she’s going to survive.”
Lee laughed as they returned to the car, but she knew the incident wasn’t any laughing matter. It could, and probably would, cost her her badge.
Things went from bad to worse once Lee entered the car and was ordered to surrender both her weapons and her ID. Then, with the other officers listening in, Jenkins read her her rights. “Okay,” he said, once the formalities were complete, “take us to the MDC.”
The Metro Detention Center was located downtown, a short walk from LAPD headquarters. The process of being booked was something that Lee, like every police officer, was very familiar with. She’d never been through it herself however—and was struck by how powerless she felt. Plus, there was the shame that went with the abrupt transition from police officer to accused criminal.
After being searched and forced to surrender the rest of her belongings, Lee had to sign for them. Then she was given an opportunity to lawyer up. Something she definitely needed to do. But it was evening by then, and she feared that it might be difficult to reach people.
Lee knew dozens of lawyers, but there was only one she wanted, and that was a wily old legal lizard named Marvin Codicil, or “Coddy” as he was known at the courthouse. How many times had she arrested a scumbag only to see Coddy get him off? A dozen? At least that. Lee hoped he was still in the office.
* * *
After arriving home from work, Marvin Codicil took his clothes off and forced himself to stand in front of a full-length mirror. Not because he was vain but because he was a mutant and had to be vigilant. That included looking at all the things he would have preferred to ignore, including the pasty white skin, the paunch, and the bushy pubic hair. None of it was pretty—but all of it was normal. And that was the key. To look normal even though a third kidney was growing inside his body.
Yes, a small number of norms were born with a third kidney, but his situation was different. Codicil had been born with two kidneys, but had contracted Bacillus nosilla, and begun to grow a third shortly thereafter. That was in the year 2038, when a terrorist who called himself Al Mumit (the taker of life) turned the plague loose on the world.
The bioengineered bacteria was delivered to Kaffar (unbelievers) all around the world by 786 Shaheed, or martyrs, each of whom had been selected because they had light-colored skin, were elderly, or only a few months old. Babies turned into weapons. The thought of it made Codicil sick to his stomach.
The results were everything that Al Mumit hoped for. Bacillus nosilla spread quickly. Billions fell ill, and of those who did, only 9 percent survived. Most of the survivors went on to develop mutations. Some were good, but most were bad, and frequently disfiguring.
Hundreds of thousands of such people were declared communicable, some mistakenly, and herded into hastily organized “recovery” camps. And by all rights, Codicil should have been one of them. But his mutation was internal and would have remained a secret even to him had it not been for some emergency surgery in 2040.
“You aren’t a carrier, Mr. Codicil,” his doctor told him during a private conversation. “But you are a mutant. A third kidney is growing between the others. That shouldn’t cause you any distress, and odds are that you’ll die of something else. But the mutation could be a harbinger of things to come. So examine yourself frequently and seek help if you see unusual changes. In the meantime, I recommend that you keep this condition to yourself. You know what will happen if you don’t.”
And Codicil did know. It hadn’t been long before the “recovery” camps evolved into “relocation” camps—and untold thousands of people were loaded onto trucks and sent east into the states of Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. The sudden influx of mutants caused the “norms” in those states to flee in the other direction. And, so long as they were B. nosilla negative, they were allowed to immigrate. A policy that wasn’t as generous as it seemed since the people along the West Coast were going to need workers with a wide variety of skills.
Meanwhile, other parts of what had been the United States of America were going through a similar sorting process. The result was a patchwork quilt of so-called red zones, where mutants lived, and green zones, which were occupied by norms. Soon the zones and collections of zones gave birth to nations like Pacifica. It consisted of what had originally been the states of Washington, Oregon, and California.
During that same period, the Republic of Texas annexed Idaho, Utah, and Arizona, which, based on what Codicil had heard, liked to keep government small and taxes low so that citizens could enjoy their full measure of freedom.
The phone rang. It was sitting on his dresser, and since his office number was set up to forward to Codicil’s cell phone, chances were that a client was calling. A DUI probably . . . Or a pimp. Either of which would be boring. He picked up the phone. “This is Marvin Codicil.”
The voice on the other end of the line was female. “Mr. Codicil? I don’t know if you remember me . . . This is Detective Lee. I could use some help.”
Codicil walked over to look at the flat-screen TV mounted on the wall of his bedroom. Channel 7 was playing the head-punch video for what? The billionth time? “Yes,” Codicil said, as Zumin hit the ground again. “You could definitely use some help.”
“So you’ve seen the footage?”
“I think it’s safe to say that everyone in LA has,” Codicil replied dryly.
“Yes, I suppose so,” Lee said. Her voice was subdued. “I’m being held at the MDC. Can you get me out of here?”
“Of course I can,” Codicil answered confidently. “First, I’ll try to get you released on your own recognizance. Failing that, I’ll get you out on bail. In the meantime, keep your mouth shut.”
“Maybe I should plead guilty.”
“Don’t be silly,” Codicil said condescendingly. “I plan to get you off.”
“But how?” Lee wanted to know. “You’ve seen the tape.”
“Have faith,” Codicil replied. “Punching a reporter in the face was stupid—but the decision to hire me was brilliant. Sit back and relax. I’ll keep you informed.”
Lee started to say something, but Codicil thumbed the phone off. A boring day wasn’t boring anymore. And for that, the attorney was grateful.
* * *
In order to protect her from the people she had arrested in the past, Lee was placed in a jail cell by herself. That was SOP for such situations, and Lee was glad. Otherwise, she might have been locked up with somebody who was drunk, coming down from a meth-induced high, or just plain stupid.
But with no TV, and nothing to read, time passed slowly. So much so that Lee had begun to lose faith in Codicil when a jailer arrived. “Good news,” the woman said as she unlocked the cell. “You’re out of here. Come with me.”
Lee’s spirits rose as the jailer led her through a maze of halls to a heavily secured door. There, she had to show her wrist tag and sign a log before being allowed to enter the room where she’d been processed six hours earlier. Marvin Codicil was waiting for her.
Codicil was bald on top with white hair that was combed back along both sides of his head. His cheeks were hollow, and that made his face appear gaunt. A pair of glasses, a thin mustache, and a neat goatee completed the look. Codicil was dressed in a blue windbreaker and a polo shirt with khaki pants. “There you are!” he said warmly. “I was able to get you out on your own recognizance. No need to thank me now—the bill will arrive later. Come on . . . Let’s get your belongings, and I’ll take you home.”
It took ten minutes for Lee to retrieve her belt, a lipstick, and a wallet from the man behind the bulletproof glass. Then she had to sign yet another piece of paper before following Codicil out into the cool night air. His especiale was sitting in a clearly marked handicapped parking zone. And as Lee got in, she saw the permit that was dangling from the rearview mirror. “You aren’t handicapped,” she pointed out. “I should give you a ticket.”
“Yes, you should,” Codicil agreed, as the car pulled away from the curb. “But you can’t. Not until you get your badge back.”
Lee couldn’t help but laugh. “You’re incorrigible.”
“Look who’s talking,” Codicil replied. “Now here’s the plan. You aren’t just any cop . . . You’re the detective who killed nine bank robbers in a single gunfight—and had the ovaries to go after human traffickers in the red zone. And that makes you something of a folk hero. So the mayor and the chief of police will have to hold at least five meetings and consult a PR agency before they can decide what to do. I’ll use that time to work my magic. You will use that time to watch TV and paint your toenails. At no point will you communicate with anyone other than me. Is that clear?”
“Yes. Can I ask what you plan to do?”
Lee looked at him. “Is that because you don’t know what you’re going to do?”
Lee smiled. “Well, at least you’re honest about it.”
“Never fear,” Codicil said, as the car pulled into her driveway. “I promised to get you off, and I will. All you need to do is sit tight.”
Lee thanked him, got out, and made her way up the drive to the kind of four plex that critics referred to as a “dingbat.” Meaning one of the formulaic 1950s-era apartment buildings that were still common throughout California. Frank Lee had lived there until his death. Lee had moved in a month later, hoping to find a clue among her father’s effects. An overlooked something that would lead her to the Bonebreaker. She was still working on it.
But, as Lee climbed the stairs to the second floor, she came to a horrible realization. Were she to lose her badge, it would be difficult if not impossible to find her father’s killer. And that prospect frightened her. Lee felt that she owed it to the man who had raised her all by himself even if she didn’t like him as much as she wanted to.
But there was another reason as well. Something she was conscious of but didn’t want to fully confront. Somewhere along the line, finding the Bonebreaker had become central to her life. The hunt was her mission, her purpose, and her reason for existing. Healthy? Hell, no. But there it was.
The door opened, and the lights came on as Lee’s fingers flipped the familiar switch. “Man-cave modern.” That’s how one friend described the apartment. And for good reason. The kitchen, which was off to her right, was a tiny space hemmed in by dark wood cabinets. And the appliances were black. Bought on sale probably—by the dingbat’s penny-pinching owner.
The kitchen opened into a small eating area, and the living room beyond, where closely drawn floor-to-ceiling curtains made everything seem smaller than was necessary. Brown paint added to the gloomy feel. She could change those things, of course . . . But that would require her to make a commitment to the place.
The bath was to the left, with the bedrooms beyond. It felt good to shed the black pantsuit and get into some sweats. Since it was too late for a predinner jog, Lee went straight to the kitchen and opened the freezer. It was half-full of three-hundred-calorie prepackaged chicken and veggie dinners. Lee popped one of them into the microwave and took a moment to check her mail. There were forty-six voice mails waiting, along with a couple hundred e-mails, all from various media outlets.
The microwave beeped. So Lee pulled the entree out, plopped the steaming tray onto a dinner plate, and took it into the living room. That was where she usually ate, which explained why the salt and pepper shakers were on the coffee table. A quick check served to confirm her worst fears. “The punch” was still getting a lot of play on the local twenty-four-hour news channel. Lee sighed, switched to a documentary about how B. nosilla was causing animals to mutate, and ate her dinner. She’d seen how the virus could change dogs, and it was scary.
Then, after throwing the empty tray into the garbage and brushing her teeth, Lee went looking for a gun. She never slept without one, not since the Bonebreaker had threatened her in Tucson, and wasn’t about to start.
The solution was the venerable Colt .45 double-action semiauto that her father had liked to carry off duty. It was a reliable weapon although Lee would have preferred a larger magazine. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so she placed the pistol next to her bed. It had been a long and stressful day. But sleep came easily, as did the dreams, and all the things Lee wanted to hide from.
* * *
Lee was negotiating a maze, looking for a way out, when her alarm went off. She opened her eyes, saw the horizontal bars of sunlight on the far wall, and knew she’d overslept. On second thought, she couldn’t oversleep. Not while she was on administrative leave. That meant the sound was emanating from her phone rather than her clock. A member of the media then? Some dickhead who had been able to get a hold of her unlisted number? Probably. Lee let the call go to voice mail. Then it started again.
Lee swore, rolled out of bed, and made her way over to the dresser. The phone continued to ring as she picked it up. She was about to turn the instrument off when she saw that the incoming call was from Marvin Codicil. She thumbed the green bar. “This is Cassandra.”
“Finally,” Codicil said. “It’s nine thirty for God’s sake . . . I have good news for you.”
Lee felt a sudden surge of hope. “Really?”
“Yes. You can go back to work as of 1:00 P.M. this afternoon if you do exactly what I say.”
Lee felt the hope start to fade a bit. “Which is?”
“Which is to participate in a twelve-minute sit-down interview with Carla Zumin at noon today. If you agree, she’ll refuse to press charges. That will force the DA to drop the case, and you’ll be in the clear.”
Lee could imagine it, sitting there under the lights, being grilled for twelve long minutes. It was her idea of hell and would constitute the first such interview she had ever granted. Codicil cleared his throat. “Are you still there?”
“Yes,” Lee said, as she sat on the bed. “There’s no other way?”
“We can go to trial, the DA will play the tape, and we’ll lose. Then I’ll ask for a suspended sentence. If we’re lucky, he or she will agree but order you to get counseling.”
“So, I would lose my job.”
“Yes, you would.”
Lee considered that. To lose her badge was to lose the Bonebreaker, and she wasn’t ready to live without him. “Okay,” she said finally, “I’ll do it. But I’ll have to get a clearance first.”
“No need,” Codicil said cheerfully. “I proposed the arrangement to Deputy Chief Jenkins an hour ago—and Chief Corso agreed. And why not? If Zumin drops the charges, that’s good for the department.”
Lee frowned. “Did you say Deputy Chief Jenkins?”
“Yes I did. Jenkins has been promoted into McGinty’s slot.”
“He deserves it,” Lee said.
“If you say so,” Codicil said. “Now get dressed and be ready in half an hour. I’ll pick you up. And, Cassandra . . .”
“Work on an apology. Something sincere.” And with that, the phone went dead.
Lee rushed to shower, put on some makeup, and get dressed. She chose to wear a dress rather than a suit. Hopefully, that, plus some low-key jewelry, would help soften the rogue-cop persona that the media had assigned to her.
Three news teams were parked out front, all hoping for the sort of scoop that Zumin was about to get, so Lee waited for Codicil to pull up before running the gauntlet. Reporters yelled questions at her. “Detective Lee! What was it like in jail?” “Channel 5 here . . . Has a trial date been set?” “Detective Lee . . . Is it true that Carla Zumin stole your boyfriend in high school?”
Lee managed to get through without shoving anyone, jumped into the car, and pulled the door closed. Codicil nodded. “Don’t worry, we’ll drop the press release immediately after the interview. By this time tomorrow, they’ll be focused on something else.”
Both remained silent until the car pulled into the lot next to Channel 7. “Are you ready?” Codicil inquired.
“Well, do your best. Remember, your badge is at stake.”
“And don’t hit anyone.”
“Good. Break a leg.”
* * *
It was Jenkins’s first day as deputy chief and he was already knee deep in crap. Prior to the boss’s death, he’d been good cop to McGinty’s bad cop—and served as a buffer between the no-nonsense head of the S.I.S. and the team’s most controversial member.
But now, as he entered Chief Corso’s office, Jenkins had a far better appreciation of why McGinty had been pissed off at Lee so much of the time. And the fact that her latest screwup had taken place at McGinty’s funeral was ironic to say the least.
As befitted his station in life, Corso had an enormous office, a large desk, and a wall covered with photos of himself. They included Corso with the president, Corso with the governor, and Corso with the mayor. And in keeping with his political ambitions, the chief had movie-star good looks. His carefully combed hair was just so, his features were boyishly young, and his teeth were unnaturally white. He looked up from his computer terminal as Jenkins entered the office. “So what do you think, Sean? Will she implode?”
“I hope not,” Jenkins said grimly. “Codicil promised me that everything would go smoothly.”
“Let’s hope so,” Corso said as he aimed a remote at the wall-mounted flat-screen TV. “The mayor wants this story to go away, and so do I.”
It was almost noon, and they had to watch a commercial before the Channel 7 news logo came spinning onto the screen. Jenkins took a seat as the technical director faded up onto a wide shot. And there, seated behind a curving Plexiglas desk, were the noon hour’s anchors. The eternally perky Dolly Day was screen left, while square-jawed Tom Cole sat in the middle, with weather nerd Art McGee standing on the right.
Cole wasted no time teasing Carla Zumin’s big get. “Good afternoon. By now I think most of our viewers have seen the footage in which Los Angeles Police Detective Cassandra Lee punched one of our reporters in the face. But just in case you missed it—here’s what took place when Carla Zumin approached Lee to ask a question.”
As the anchorman spoke, the three-shot was replaced by the now-notorious clip. So Jenkins, Corso, and thousands of viewers could enjoy the footage in delicious slow motion as Lee’s fist came around to impact the side of Zumin’s head. Spittle flew out of Zumin’s mouth, and the reporter’s eyes rolled back in her head as she collapsed.
“Ouch!” Day said, as the director came back to her. “That had to hurt! But now, in a Channel 7 exclusive, the two women are face-to-face in Studio B. Carla?”
The picture dissolved to a different set, where two women were seated across from each other at an oval table. “Oh my God,” Corso exclaimed. “Look at that! Lee is wearing a dress.”
Jenkins saw that it was true and felt a new sense of respect for Codicil’s powers of persuasion. The director was on a tight shot of Zumin by then. Amazingly enough, the reporter still looked pretty in spite of the black eye. As far as Jenkins could tell, no attempt had been made to conceal the damage with makeup, and, for all he knew, the people at Channel 7 wanted to emphasize it. “Good afternoon,” Zumin said. “My name is Carla Zumin—and I’m here with LAPD Detective Cassandra Lee. As Dolly indicated I was covering Deputy Chief McGinty’s funeral, when I saw an opportunity to approach Detective Lee and ask her how she felt. That was when Detective Lee hit me.”
“That’s bullshit,” Jenkins growled. “I was there. The bitch ambushed us.”
Corso nodded as the director went to an over-the-shoulder shot of Lee. A halo of black hair framed her face. Her skin was brown, she had big eyes and full lips. Jenkins would never admit it to anyone else, couldn’t admit such a thing, but he thought she was beautiful. Lee spoke as the camera zoomed in. “I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for that,” she said. “Counting my father, and Deputy Chief McGinty, the Bonebreaker is believed to be responsible for murdering nine members of the LAPD over a period of sixteen years. That makes me angry every time I think about it. Still, there’s no excuse for what I did, and I hope you’ll accept my apology.”
“Well done!” Corso said admiringly. “I didn’t know she had it in her.”
“Apology accepted,” Zumin said, as the director cut to her. Then the reporter took the opportunity to ask Lee about the status of the Bonebreaker investigation, the now-famous bank shootout, and the well-publicized Screed case. All of which were subjects Lee hadn’t discussed publicly before. A scoop to be sure.
“So,” Corso said, when the interview came to an end. “She performed well. Once the DA drops the charge, you can take her off administrative leave. I would suggest a desk job somewhere. Not in media relations, though.”
Going one-on-one with the chief was a new experience for Jenkins. And Corso made him nervous. But he was determined to overcome that and took the opportunity to assert himself. “I understand where you’re coming from, sir . . . But I would like to suggest an alternative.”
Corso listened, skeptically at first, but it wasn’t long before a smile appeared. “I can see that I promoted the right man! You are one tricky son of a bitch, Sean . . . Make it happen.”
* * *
Although the overall plan worked as advertised—Codicil was wrong in one respect. Rather than being allowed to return to work the day of the television interview—three days passed before the DA’s Office got around to dropping the assault charge. But that was okay, all things considered, so Lee was in a good mood as she locked the front door and made her way down to the first-floor garage.
When Lee wasn’t driving an unmarked car, her sole means of transportation was a postplague replica of a Harley Road King Police Edition motorcycle. Lee kept the bike under a tarp and always looked forward to seeing it again. It was a brutish motorcycle, with a huge headlamp, a teardrop-shaped tank, and saddle-style seat. A pair of white panniers completed the look.
Lee pulled the black-helmet-and-visor combination down over her head, turned the key, and listened as the bike came to life. Even though it hadn’t been manufactured in a Harley factory, the big hog produced a satisfying rumble nevertheless. Lee kicked the stand up out of the way, toed the bike into gear, and let it roll down the driveway and onto the street.
From there it was a short trip to a tiny restaurant called Maria’s. That was where Lee purchased a breakfast burrito every morning, and because she was usually late, took it with her. That morning was no exception, which meant Lee would have to warm the burrito up once she arrived at work.
From there it was a ten-minute journey through Monday-morning traffic to LAPD headquarters and the ramp that took her down to the point where a steel pipe barred the way. She put the motorcycle in neutral and used her feet to prevent it from rolling downhill as she removed the helmet and shook her hair out. That allowed the officers who were on duty to see her face. “Sorry,” Lee said. “I don’t have my ID on me. You can call Deputy Chief Jenkins if you need to.”
“There’s no need for that,” one of the patrolmen said. “I love the video . . . That shit never gets old. Welcome back.”
And that, as it turned out, was a good indicator of the way most of her fellow cops felt. It was a rare police officer who hadn’t had some sort of run-in with the media during the course of their careers—and watching Lee punch a reporter had a cathartic effect. So the trip from the parking garage up to the sixth floor was a celebration of sorts complete with fist bumps, high fives, and raucous greetings.
Lee was already running late, and all of the social interaction made her later, as did the need to microwave her breakfast in the break room. So by the time she arrived at roll call, Jenkins was halfway through the morning agenda and, like McGinty before him, was anything but pleased. “I’m glad you could fit us in, Detective Lee . . . How many times have you been told to eat your breakfast before you come to work?”
“I don’t remember,” Lee replied blandly as she took her place at the conference table. The other detectives grinned. It was a classic Cassandra Lee moment, and they’d seen all of it before. Jenkins had something new up his sleeve, however.
“Okay,” Jenkins said. “Maybe this will help you remember . . . From now on every time you’re late you’ll have to deposit ten bucks in the S.I.S. party fund. Cough it up.”
That produced a round of cheers, and Lee made a face as she pulled a wad of nubucks out of a jacket pocket and threw a badly crumpled ten on the table. Jenkins put the bill in a screw-top jar and picked up where he’d left off. Lee took the opportunity to chow down.
The meeting came to an end fifteen minutes later. And as the other detectives began to leave, Jenkins crooked a finger at Lee. “Come with me.”
Lee followed the deputy chief into what had been McGinty’s office, where she sat on a guest chair as Jenkins circled the desk. He opened a drawer and began to remove items one at a time. “Here you go,” he said. “Your Glock, Smith & Wesson, and your badge. Welcome back.”
Lee stood to retrieve her belongings. The pistols went into their respective holsters, and the ID slid into a pocket. She felt whole again. “Thanks, boss . . . I appreciate it.”
“Okay,” Jenkins said, as he sat down. “I have some good news for you.”
“What? They’re going to close the cafeteria?”
Jenkins smiled. “No, but almost as good. We’re putting you in charge of the Bonebreaker investigation.”
Lee felt a sudden surge of excitement. “Really? But what about the conflict of interest? The Bonebreaker killed my father.”
“We’ll be up front about it,” Jenkins replied. “We’ll admit that it could be a problem but promise to monitor the situation. Imagine the headline: ‘Detective Lee leads the search for her father’s killer.’ The press will love it.”
All sorts of thoughts flitted through Lee’s mind. The promotion was like a dream come true. She wouldn’t need to look for the Bonebreaker in secret anymore—and she would have a team of detectives to help her. What could be better?
But there was something about the assignment that didn’t feel right. She’d never been popular with the brass, and she was coming off a suspension, so why give her the equivalent of a reward unless . . . Lee eyed Jenkins. His face was professionally blank. That served to confirm her suspicions. “You rotten bastard! You’re going to use me as bait! Putting me in charge of the investigation is like giving the Bonebreaker the finger . . . He’ll come for me, and you’ll use a shadow team to nail him. Unless he gets past them . . . And then you’ll find my head and torso next to the Santa Monica Freeway.”
Jenkins formed a steeple with his fingers. A boyish smile appeared on his face. “So,” he said. “Are you in?”
Lee stared at him for a moment. Then she nodded. “I’m in.”
EVEN AS A little girl, Lee had found it difficult to get up in the morning, and nothing had changed. So Lee set two alarms and placed both of them well away from her bed. When the first one went off, she managed to muffle the sound by pulling a blanket up over her head. Even so, the second and more shrill alarm was still audible.
Finally, swearing like a sailor, Lee threw off the bedcovers and hurried to silence both machines. That was when the true extent of her accomplishment struck her. She was running on time! And a good thing, too, since she was supposed to attend a very important meeting at 8:00 A.M. Lee hurried to shower, dress, and leave the apartment.
Calling her police car “unmarked” was something of a misnomer because it had exempt plates and was therefore a target for graffiti. Lots of it. So, with a small GPS and cell-phone detector in hand, she circled the car looking for trackers and concluded that it was clean.
After stopping at Maria’s for breakfast, Lee set off for work. Fifteen minutes later, she entered Conference Room B on the seventh floor of the LAPD headquarters building. There were some familiar faces and a few she didn’t know. And that made sense since Chief Corso had stolen resources from a variety of organizations in order to staff Operation Thunderstorm.
Lee chose to sit next to Detective Dick Yanty. He was balding, wore a pair of wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of his nose, and was dressed in the usual sports coat. Or maybe he had two jackets that were identical. He raised a doughnut by way of a salute. “Good morning, Cassandra . . . Where’s the burrito? Are you on a diet?”
Lee made a face. “No wonder your parents named you Dick . . . They knew how things would turn out.”
Yanty laughed. “What do you think? Are we about to take part in a huge circle jerk? Or is this for real?”
Lee shrugged. “I don’t know . . . But I hope it’s for real. I want to take this asshole down.”
All of the participants were seated by then, and as Lee looked around, she counted twenty-five people. Jenkins was the only person still on his feet. He cleared his throat. “Welcome to Operation Thunderstorm. Our mission is to find the serial killer known as the Bonebreaker and bring him to justice.
“The fact that you are here, sitting in this room, means you are one of the best and brightest that the department has to offer. Congratulations on making the cut. Your reward will be the same pay you’re already receiving, longer hours, and the satisfaction that flows from working on a high-priority case.”
Jenkins’s eyes roamed the room. “Okay, enough rah-rah. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Operation Thunderstorm is going to be structured in an unusual way. The people in this room will be divided into two teams. Detective Cassandra Lee will lead the first team—which will be referred to as the ‘public team.’ Their job will be to pursue the existing investigation and do so in a manner calculated to attract the Bonebreaker’s attention. According to the psychological profile our shrinks put together, he may perceive the public team’s activity as a personal affront and try to kill Lee or one of her detectives.
“That’s where the shadow team comes in. They, which is to say most of you, will report to Lieutenant Brianna Wolfe here . . . You may be familiar with her role in breaking the Troba drug operation. Brianna, please stand up so everyone can see you.”
Lee didn’t know Wolfe and hadn’t paid any attention to the woman until then but saw that she was quite striking. The first and most jarring aspect of her appearance was the blond crew cut she wore. But rather than make her look masculine, the severe hairstyle served to emphasize her femininity. Wolfe was dressed management-style, in a nicely tailored suit and some tasteful jewelry.
Wolfe looked around the room, nodded to some of the people she knew, and paused as her eyes came to rest on Lee. A spark seemed to jump the gap. Not a sexual spark . . . but something akin to recognition in spite of the fact they didn’t know each other. And that was the moment when Lee knew that Wolfe was a potential enemy.
But why? The obvious answer was competition. In spite of her aversion to publicity, Lee had a high public profile, and Wolfe didn’t. And the other woman was on her way somewhere. To deputy chief? Yes, Lee would have been willing to put money on it. Then the moment was over as Wolfe took her seat, and the briefing continued. “The shadow team will watch over the public team twenty-four hours a day,” Jenkins said. “And that will require a lot of resources—so the public team is going to be small.
“The next few days will be spent putting electronic surveillance gear into place—and working out the details required to keep the operation running. Once we accomplish that, we’ll hold a press conference, with Detective Lee standing front and center. Will the Bonebreaker take the bait? Let’s hope so. But if he does, and the shadow team fails, then someone on the public team will die.”
There was total silence as Jenkins looked down at a piece of paper. “Okay, last, but not least . . . This is a secret operation. Do not, I repeat do not, disclose any aspect of what we are doing to other members of the LAPD, to your family, or to the press.” Jenkins finished with a nod. “That’s it . . . Let’s do this thing.”
* * *
A day had passed since the briefing, and Lee was about to meet with her two-person team. They were gathered in a small conference room on the sixth floor. Detective Dick Yanty was taking the opportunity to eat his lunch. It consisted of the P&J sandwich that his wife prepared for him every morning plus a carton of milk. Milo Prospo was digging into a meal purchased in the cafeteria. Lee wrinkled her nose. “What is that?”
Prospo looked up. He had black hair, bushy brows, and a perpetual five o’clock shadow. “It’s meat loaf with mashed potatoes. You should try it.”
“Right . . . When I want to go on medical leave, I’ll jump on that. Okay, first things first. What’s wrong with you two? Jenkins told me that you volunteered! That’s crazy.”
Yanty smiled vaguely. “Not my brightest moment, that’s for sure. But I’ve been working on the Bonebreaker case for years . . . And you’re going to need someone who is familiar with the evidence. A historian, so to speak. Assuming you plan to work the case, that is.”
Yanty pushed his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose and looked Lee in the eye. The challenge was obvious. Was the public team going to investigate? Or sit around and wait for the serial killer to attack one of them? Lee nodded. “I’m glad you raised that issue. Damned right we’re going to work the case. And hard, too . . . So your familiarity with the evidence will be a huge help. What about you, Milo? Why did you volunteer?”
Prospo barely contained a belch, and said, “Sorry.” When he frowned, two bushy brows became one. “McGinty was a friend of mine. So this is personal. I hope the Bonebreaker comes for me because if he does, I’ll kill the bastard.”
It was said matter-of-factly—and without a trace of humor. Prospo was serious. Never mind the score, which was the Bonebreaker nine, police zero. Or the fact that the detective was well past fifty and at least twenty pounds overweight. Prospo saw himself as a stone-cold killer. Lee considered some sort of lecture and decided against it. “So,” Yanty said. “When’s the press conference?”
“At three,” Lee answered. “The media-relations people figured that would provide the TV stations with plenty of time to get the story on the evening news.”
Prospo used a piece of bread to soak up the last of the gravy. “And then?” he inquired.
“And then I’m going to reinterview Cheyenne Darling. I read the original transcript, and there’s no color. It’s a straight-on ticktock of what time McGinty went out, when Darling became worried, and so on. I’m hoping for something more.
“Meanwhile, I’d like to see you guys go through the list of people the team talked to in the past and follow up. How many of them were in the slammer when the chief disappeared? How many have some other alibi? And how many are dead? Let’s narrow the list.”
“Sounds good,” Yanty said, as he threw his brown lunch bag into a trash can. “Have fun at three.”
“Watch your six,” Lee replied. “The Bonebreaker could come after any one of us.”
“Roger that,” Prospo said, as he carried his plate out of the room. “I’ll be waiting for him.”
* * *
The LAPD headquarters building had opened for business in 2009, was known for its angular appearance, and cost $437 million old bucks to construct. The façade had been damaged by a rocket attack five years earlier and was awaiting repair. But so long as the weather was good, the outside plaza was the perfect spot to hold press conferences. And that was where Lee had been told to report.
About fifteen members of the LAPD were present, including Corso, Jenkins, and Wolfe. Lee nearly missed the latter because she was dressed in a full-on blue uniform complete with hat. But, that said, why was Wolfe there since she was in charge of the shadow team? The answer was glaringly obvious, as Wolfe leaned in to say something in Corso’s ear, and he laughed. Lee was looking at a grade-A suck-up.
Her thoughts were interrupted as one of the department’s media-relations specialists appeared in front of her. The PR rep had a mop of dark hair, wide-set eyes, and a pointy chin. “Detective Lee? My name is Molly. The chief will speak first, followed by Deputy Chief Jenkins, and you. There will be some Q & A, so be careful . . . If a reporter asks a question about traffic lights, find a way to steer the conversation back to the Bonebreaker. Okay?”
“No problem,” Lee said, but that was far from the truth. Speaking to the press wasn’t one of her strong points. Maybe that explained why her palms were sweaty.
Corso stepped up to a portable podium a few seconds later and flashed one of his thousand-megawatt smiles. Then, as the TV cameras zoomed in, the police chief delivered a carefully crafted thirty-second sound pop intended to remind the public of who the Bonebreaker was and why they should care.
Next it was Jenkins’s turn to address the crowd. His job was to say all the things Lee couldn’t say about herself. After a mention of the now-famous bank shoot-out, and the recent trip into the red zone, he went for the punch line. “And that,” Jenkins said, “is why Detective Lee has been named to lead a new investigation into the Bonebreaker murders. And not only is Detective Lee supremely qualified to do the job, she’s the daughter of LAPD Sergeant Frank Lee, who is one of the Bonebreaker’s nine victims. So who better to track this despicable killer down and put him behind bars? Detective Lee?”
Lee knew that was her cue and felt slightly light-headed as she stepped up to the podium. Then, as the well-rehearsed words began to come out of her mouth, she felt slightly disassociated. As if out of her body and watching herself speak.
Fortunately, that sensation began to fade once the thirty-second statement was over, and the Q & A began. Carla Zumin was there, her eye only slightly discolored, and she cut right to the chase. “The Los Angeles Police Department has been investigating the Bonebreaker murders since 2053 without any significant success. Why should we believe that this effort will be any more successful?”
Lee was ready. “That’s a good question, Carla . . . For one thing, we plan to devote an unprecedented amount of resources to the case. I can’t get more specific without compromising security, but I can assure you that what I say is true.
“Additionally, we’re going to put some custom-designed software to work analyzing all of the existing data and looking for significant patterns, and we’re going to take advantage of some breakthrough profiling techniques to help us focus on the killer.”
Both of those initiatives were entirely fictitious . . . But the Bonebreaker didn’t know that—and maybe the prospect would spook him. “Okay,” a second reporter put in. “But what about the issue of objectivity? How can you, the daughter of a murder victim, bring the necessary objectivity to the situation?”
“That’s where Deputy Chief Jenkins comes in,” Lee said with a smile. “He’ll be looking over my shoulder. And remember . . . While I may not be entirely objective, I care about this investigation in a way that only a murder victim’s daughter can.”
That was the perfect exit line, and Molly knew it. So she stepped in to bring the press conference to a close. The trap was set, the bait was in place, and the waiting had begun.
* * *
The light was dim inside the underground ossuary. That was a matter of preference as well as necessity since power was precious. The Bonebreaker’s electricity was drawn from an illegal tap and piped into the crypt through a carefully camouflaged cable. Not an easy thing for most people to do, but the Bonebreaker wasn’t most people and had plenty of time to work with.
So, except for the pool of light provided by a single overhead fixture and the glow that emanated from a flat-screen TV set, the main room was unlit. That was why the Bonebreaker always wore a headlamp as he moved through the tunnels that radiated out from the ossuary like the spokes of a wheel. It was perpetually chilly belowground—but three layers of clothing were sufficient to combat the cold.
Plus, the Bonebreaker was busy. Very busy since each time God called on him, there was a lot of work to do. First he had to plan the abduction. A task that could require weeks if not months of observation. Then he had to create a disguise, wait for the right moment, and strike.
Of course, that was only the beginning. Then came the moment of dismemberment, a rather messy process, and the flensing. Or what the Bonebreaker thought of as the holy trinity.
At the moment, he was still in the process of preparing one of Deputy Chief McGinty’s bones prior to inscribing it with the police officer’s name, date of birth, and a short message. The blade made a scritching sound as he scraped the last bits of tissue off a femur.
Then he took a moment to examine the shaft, using a jeweler’s lit headband magnifier. Hopefully, McGinty appreciated the care and respect shown his earthly remains even as his soul burned in hell. Now it was time to put his tools aside, clean the surface of the table, and watch the news. Something he did every day at 5:30 P.M. Channel 7 was already on, so all he had to do was aim the remote and touch MUTE. The lead story had to do with the increasingly serious conflict between the Republic of Texas to the east and the Aztec Empire to the south. The tecs believed that all of the lands that had once been part of Mexico should be returned to them, regardless of the treaties and purchases signed in the past. The Bonebreaker didn’t give a shit.
The next story had to do with a terrible house fire in which two adults and three children had perished. He didn’t care about that either.
Then, in the number three slot, was a story he did care about because it was all about him. The Bonebreaker turned up the volume in order to hear Chief of Police Corso clearly. He was followed by a man named Jenkins and the person God wanted him to kill next: Detective Cassandra Lee. They’d met once, and he could have killed her then, except for one thing. It would have been too quick and painless. That’s why a stay of execution had been granted. Now, according to Lee, she was going to hunt him down. Never mind the fact that God was on his side. Still, the bitch could get lucky.
What People are Saying About This
“Dietz’s expertise in matters of mayhem is second to none.”—The Oregonian
“William Dietz can run with the best.”—Steve Perry, New York Times bestselling author of The Tejano Conflict