Savage Lane

Savage Lane

by Jason Starr


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940610641
Publisher: Polis Books
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jason Starr is the internationally best-selling author of many crime novels and thrillers, and his books have been published in over a dozen languages. He has also cowritten several novels with Ken Bruen for Hard Case Crime, and his work in comics for Marvel, D.C, Vertigo, and Boom! Studios has featured Wolverine, The Punisher, Batman, Doc Savage, The Avenger, Ant-Man, and The Sandman. Many of his books are in development for film and TV. Starr's best-selling crime novels include Nothing Personal, Hard Feelings, Tough Luck, Twisted City, Lights Out, The Follower, and Panic Attack. He is one of only several authors who have won the Anthony Award for mystery fiction multiple times. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, and lives in Manhattan, NY.

Read an Excerpt


Five Month before the Murders

October. He could smell her perfume as he passed her in the doorway. She was an attractive, petite woman with keen expressions, still slightly girlish. He'd thought when they first met that she looked bookish but sexy, the kind of young woman the young professor would fall for in a movie. The detective liked her, but with reservations, a hallmark of their Facebook generation. He was only a few years older than she, but felt much older.

It was just past noon when he walked into Dr. Maya Schneider's office in San Francisco, ten minutes late for his appointment.

"Doctor," Detective Michael O'Higgins said, pensive and slightly agitated. He'd been forced to hurry, driving from San Rafael in the fast lane, having decided to make his appointment at the very last moment. The detective wanted to sound normal, even bright. He was aiming for his psychiatrist to refill his Valium proscription, and didn't want to set off any false alarms.

Dr. Schneider opened the door to her inner office, her sanctum sanctorum, smiling as she always did, signaling a professional affability that he thought she genuinely felt. She was wearing black pants and a simple white blouse, her usual attire. She was attractive: Sephardic-looking, almost exotic, her eyes brown with a searching quality he liked.

When he got to his appointments early, he would sit in Schneider's small waiting room. Without meaning to, he could eavesdrop on her calls on the other side of the door. They were calls to pharmacies or to colleagues. He learnt, overhearing her telephone conversations, she was teaching psychiatry at UCSF, which had impressed him. Once he'd heard her talking to someone he suspected was her boyfriend, because her tone was entirely different: coquettish.

The doctor wore no wedding ring and was not more than thirty years old, if that. Because they were so close in age, they had their generation's key bonds: cell phones, dating sites, Facebook selfies, thongs, Bezos drones, and the war in Iraq — where O'Higgins had served in the Marine Corps, having survived the battle of Fallujah.

On a few occasions a patient would leave her office and pass him in the waiting room, but not often. He'd guessed her practice was just starting, and she had only a few patients. The patients he did see were mostly up-and-coming young women, much like the doctor herself.

She was sitting now directly across from him. The doctor gave him an obvious look of appraisal: Is the patient unkempt? Is the patient sullen? Are his shoelaces tied? Are his eyes red from drugs? She glanced at her notebook, then back to him. Her notebook was similar to the one he'd kept in Iraq. His had included the names of the dead and the maimed he'd commanded.

She broke the ice. "How are you today, Michael?"

"I almost didn't make it," he said. "Tell me doctor, why do fools fall in love? Tell me why ... sorry, I heard the song on the way here. But it's a good question, right?"

"Because that's what people do, Michael," she said, and smiled. "You're here, and not at the Giants' game. That's a start." She had a sense of fun. He liked that about her. Self-assured, but not uptight. She is a good person.

"Yes." He looked around the room, not wanting to engage, not feeling like it. His eyes landed on a block print of geese flying in winter. He liked the print. He'd liked to hunt when he was younger, before he'd shot at real live people in Iraq and seen them fall into the dirt gasping in pain, afraid.

His father used to take him duck hunting. Sitting in the ice cold, rain- wet blind out in the Central Valley had been fun, exciting. The moment they saw the ducks above them was always exhilarating and cathartic. The steam/fog rose from ponds that reflected the fall's blue-sky enormity. The ducks flying at speed. The sound of shotguns when they went off in the distance from other blinds. Boom-boom! The decoys roped together, tethered wooden flocks sitting dumb in the silver-skin water — waiting for falling death.

"Some geese mate for life," he said, trying to make conversation. "And some fools fall in love." He doubted he could shoot anything now, unless it was shooting at him.

"Yes," she said. "I've heard that, too." She turned on her searchlight gaze and pointed it at him, wondering what the trippy — what his teenage daughter would call random — conversation was really about.

"I didn't know what kind," he said, and looked at her. She was pretty, her expression intent hunting for answers. He wondered if she had ever experienced anything damaging or even truly disruptive — outside of a bad grade in med school. He studied her face and saw that Fate had left no marks yet: no war, no loss, not even a hapless love affair it seemed — not much, maybe a great orgasm that she catalogued under "that guy can fuck." He liked her, though. Something about her reassured him, something that wouldn't stop investigating. As a detective, he appreciated that dogged thing she seemed to have, her keen Jewish eye. He — his psyche — was the bone she was chewing on. God knew he wanted help. He wanted to be fixed, but didn't have a clue how to do that. If ever a man was adrift ...

"I was wondering if it isn't time we talked about that day," she said. "What do you think, Michael? This is our seventh session. You've been avoiding the subject that brought you here. That day — the day it all happened. You've talked about the war, but not that day."

"Combat was easy compared to these last months," he said not answering her question. He knew exactly which day she meant.

"Michael, we have to go there. I wanted to wait —"

"Why?" he said. "Why do we have to go there?"

"Because you're here to get better. And now we know each other. You trust me — I think," she said.

"I'm here because it's noon on Friday," he said, crossing his leg, a sudden mean tone in his voice — his war voice. He rubbed his face. He'd not shaved. His face felt a little greasy. His running shoes were dirty and worn-looking.

"I've asked to be let back to work. My partner wants me back. He's confident I can do the job," he said. "You'd like him. He looks like Sam Cooke. Women love him."

"Are you ready for that kind of pressure? Being a homicide detective again?"

"I haven't a clue. Maybe? Maybe not. I want to help him. Marvin is part of my old life. It's strange, when I'm with Marvin, it's as if nothing happened. I mean I can pretend that Jen — I can pretend — and I do pretend. Why shouldn't I pretend?" he said. "Is that wrong? Delusional?

"We had lunch, Marvin and I. And I pretended that it was before. He won't talk about the accident, so it's not hard. But when I walked in the door of my place, afterwards, I knew of course it wasn't like before, and I panicked. I ran for the new pistol I bought — Marvin had come and taken my Glock the day after it happened — and I pulled back the hammer on my backup, and stared at the barrel. It's an old-school .38. I was pointing at my face. I don't know how long, an hour maybe? I was this close to pulling the trigger. It's got a five-pound trigger pull, so it takes some pulling." He held his fingers up to show just how close he'd come.

It was all true. He'd even begun to squeeze the trigger. It had been close. Very close. Nirvana, an instant away. Only simple mechanical parts and friction had stood between him and death.

"But you didn't," she said, a startled look on her face. She leaned forward. He'd frightened her. Finally. Nothing he'd said about combat had seemed to faze her. She'd not understood that kind of death, that man's world. The women who had entered it in Iraq had to play by men's rules.

"No, of course not." He sounded mean again. "I wouldn't be here. Would I?"

"Why not?" she asked. "Why didn't you?" She was watching him as if he might explode. The six-foot-four-man bomb who usually came on time, and stared at her.

"I don't have a fucking clue. I wanted to pull the trigger, but I'm not man enough. Maybe because it was Monday and not Sunday. Or because of my daughter."

"I don't think that's it," she said. "What do you mean, it was Monday?"

"Too long a story. A Chinese girl's suicide note, a jumper — she left a note on her refrigerator. That's what she'd written, something about it being Sunday and not Monday. She might not have done it if it had been Monday, she wrote," he said. "Okay, doc, what is it then — keeping me alive?" He called her "doc" when he was angry or upset, and she knew it. Their language had become intimate without their intending it.

"I think you don't want to hurt anyone. Not your daughter, not your partner, or your sister. Your brother? Your wife's family. I think you know that you would be passing something on," the doctor said, "something painful, and you won't do it. Suicide is an aggressive act."

She was right, of course. As soon as he heard it, he knew she was right.

He'd not thought it. But he knew it was true. It was always the person who would find him that he cared about. What would they think? What would they suffer, discovering his dead body? If he could only just disappear, leave nothing behind. Zero out. He'd found lots of suicides as a patrol officer. Each one had taken something out of him.

He'd thought about going up to the Marble Mountains and just disappearing, walking into the wilderness. It was appealing, that idea: hiking into the wilderness and not coming out. Was death the ultimate dark wilderness? He was keeping that idea like a gambler keeps an ace, tucked away. He kept a topo map of the Marble Mountains open on his kitchen table, to remind him that his ace was in the deck. He could pull that card if he needed to. He just had to get in the car and drive off. Sayonara, fools.

"Maybe. Okay. I see. So I'm just holding it over myself. A threat."

"We should move on, don't you think?" she said. "I think so. It's time. You're not going to kill yourself. So let's do the work we need to do. And stop the pity party —"

"Pity party?"

He looked carefully at her and suddenly smiled back, the sting of the phrase passing. He wanted to hate her, as he did so many who wanted to discuss that day of the accident, but he couldn't. She was the investigator. He saw the look. She was the soul-detective, and she was going to get the perpetrator who was driving him crazy. Before, he hoped, the perpetrator killed him. His head was the scene of the crime. He was lying there for her to measure, photograph, map, and dust for prints. His psychology the corpus delicti. Who done it?

"You remind me of myself, sometimes," he said. "When I was working."

She smiled, enjoying the idea.

"What if I tell you I don't want to?" he said. "What are you going to do, lock me up? Charge me with being crazy — 5150? That's the police radio sign for nuts."

"5150?" she said.

"Loco in la cabeza." He made the international sign for crazy: pointing at his head and circling his ear with his index finger. "Look, doctor, I only came today to see if you'd sign off on my going back to work. And to refill my Valium prescription."

"Okay, I will — if that's what you want," she said. "You're not crazy."

"What about the Valium?"

"What about it? You're abusing it."

It was the first time she'd suggested that she might cut him off, and it scared him. Nighttime without Valium was a nightmare, worse: it was a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. Before he had the Valium prescription, he couldn't sleep. He would lie in bed and feel a physical pain, from the grief. It was as if someone was grinding his heart into small pieces every night and then feeding them back to him, one jagged piece of glass at a time. Sometimes he just wanted to scream. He'd experienced actual physical pain in his chest.

It was then that he'd taken to going for walks in the middle of the night, driving into San Francisco and going down by the Marina Green, thinking that being near the water would somehow cure him of the agoraphobia he'd developed. The police often stopped and questioned him. He would flash his badge and move on toward Fort Ross, sweating like a speed freak. Walking helped. He had whole days when he didn't sleep at all, and didn't even bother trying. Instead he stared at infomercials for "Butt Blasters" or get-rich schemes shouted at morons who didn't know enough to go to bed.

"I can't sleep without it," he said. "Without the medication."

"Have you heard of the therapeutic alliance?" she asked.

"No. Is that a new Obama thing? Israeli? German? English? I was part of the Iraq Freedom Alliance. The Iraq —"

"It's this. What we do here. The doctor-patient relationship. You trust me to help you. We work together to get to the bottom of what's troubling you. We work at it together. We're partners. You have to trust me, Michael."

He stood up, suddenly angry — white hot anger exploding. "Have you ever seen someone shot in the face? What the bullet does to their face? The way it smashes the bones? They don't look the same afterwards. I can tell you that!"

He was clenching his fists and yelling. She looked frightened, and he was glad. He was tired of her schoolgirl looks, the earnest-young-doctor looks, the straight-A-student-who'd-gone-to-medical-school looks. The unflappable-rich-girl looks. All of it. He was tired of the leather chairs, the geese on the fucking walls, and most of all her just-coined Authority that gave her the right to ask him anything.

"You want to know what's wrong with me, you silly bitch? My wife is dead! She's gone. How is us, working together, in some bullshit alliance, going to change that? Tell me. I'd like to know. And it was my fault —"

"Michael," she said. "Sit down."

And he did.

She wasn't afraid of him. Her tone was motherly, despite his calling her a bitch. He looked across to the print of the geese on the wall and shut his eyes. He wanted to throw up. He was as embarrassed as if he'd shit in his pants in public.

"Jesus, I'm sorry," he said. "Really — the fuse is getting shorter and shorter. Maybe I shouldn't be going back to work. Maybe I should quit altogether. I just called you a bitch." He felt ridiculous, all the anger out of his voice.

"What would you do?" she said. "If you didn't go back to the police force?"

"Camp in the woods," he said.

"What's that mean?"

"Camp. Eat s'mores. Sleep in our tent. I still have it, the one we used when our daughter was born."

"Why don't you tell me what happened that day."

He looked at her a long time. He didn't know how long he stared at her; it seemed like an hour, or a century — a stolen eternity, like in war when panic sets in and ammunition is running low, metal boxes turned over, empty. Men yelling. Time standing around stupid and dangerous and waiting for Death to make up its mind.

"I can't. I'm afraid if I start, I'll go mad by the end," he said. "Do you understand? It's too hard. I won't live through it, Detective. I didn't do it, Detective. I swear to you, I'm not guilty. I didn't see who did do it! I was around the corner and only heard the shot, Detective! Fuck it."

"Tell me what happened that day," she said. "I believe it will help."

"You want me to go crazy? Is that it? Is that what you want? I thought we had an alliance."

"I want to help you, for God's sake. I don't want to lose you. Do you understand? You're my very first patient since I started this practice. Okay? Does that make you feel like you're in control? If I lose you, if you kill yourself, then what good am I? Give me a break, Michael," she said. "I am new at this. All right? Give me a fucking break."

This was a complete breakdown of the doctor-patient protocol, and she knew it. She'd crossed the line, but it had gotten through to him, like seeing someone cry in combat. The sheer honesty of it. It was like some trooper saying he didn't want to go back out on patrol. Who the fuck did want to go back out there? Only crazy people.

The two looked at each other, more like drowning people than like doctor and patient. She moved back in her chair, trying to take back her authority, reload the doctor program. He heard her snap her pen closed.

"It was foggy," he said. "I didn't believe the fog would come back, you see ..." he drifted into silence.

Their eyes remained locked.

"It was around noon ..." he said. "I don't think I can do this."

She said nothing, but kept looking at him. The room was completely silent. In the distance he could hear a siren wailing, an ambulance heading down California Street far below them.

Before he could really start, their hour was up. He got only to the point of their sailing under the Golden Gate, passing its north tower. He was relieved. He got up and left.


Excerpted from "Last Ferry Home"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Kent Harrington.
Excerpted by permission of Polis Books, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Savage Lane 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
CaraBrookins More than 1 year ago
Things start out pretty dark and tangled for the families on Savage Lane, but they can't even imagine how much worse life can get until their most stable relationships and beliefs collapse. I loved the intimate look into so many lives as well as the harsh reveal that no one was who they appeared to be. Starr doesn't shy away from tough human realities or ugly deeds. As much as I'd love to say I'm glad I don't live on Savage lane, the story made me wonder if we all do. I was pulled right in and will definitely be back for more.