Someone is killing the most alluring women of Boston. Someone whose keen eye for beauty masks a twisted mind. Someone who insinuates himself into his victims' lives and leaves them with nothing but an elegant black stocking knotted around their necks.
Homicide detective Lieutenant Steve Markarian must stop the killer before another woman is sacrificed. The stakes increase when he realizes his own wife has caught the killer's eye.
In this stunning psychological thriller, bestselling author Gary Braver explores the nature of beauty, and the forbidding yearnings that kill in its name.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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About the Author
Gary Braver is the pen name of Gary Goshgarian, the bestselling author of six critically acclaimed suspense novels: three under his own name (Atlantis Fire, Rough Beast, and The Stone Circle) and three under his pen name (Elixir, Gray Matter, and Flashback). Flashback is the only thriller to have won a prestigious Massachusetts Book Award (2006). He is also the author of five popular textbooks on creative writing. He teaches fiction writing as well as courses in popular literature as a professor English at Northeastern University. He has taught fiction-writing workshops throughout the United States and Europe for more than twenty years. He lives with his family in Arlington, Massachusetts.
Gary Braver is the award-winning author of six critically acclaimed thrillers including Elixir, Gray Matter, and Flashback, which was recipient of the 2006 Massachusetts Honor Book Award for Fiction--a first for a thriller--and which in a starred review Publishers Weekly called “an exceptional medical thriller.” His novels have been translated into five languages, and three have been optioned for movies.
Under his own name, Gary Goshgarian, he is an award-winning professor of English at Northeastern University where he teaches courses in Modern Bestsellers, Science Fiction, Horror Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has taught fiction-writing workshops through out the United States and Europe for over twenty years. He is the author of five college writing textbooks.
Read an Excerpt
By Gary Braver
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 Gary Braver
All rights reserved.
"If looks could kill."
Terry Farina was pleased with her image as she regarded herself in the mirror. She fluffed up her hair and touched up her lips, then turned to view her profile. The black satin sheath fit her like lacquer. Even without the straps, the dress would no doubt hold in place by the mere exertion of her flesh.
Her heart did a little jig at the thought of his dropping by. He had said he'd be over in about ten minutes, so she scrambled to straighten out the place, stuffing the mail into the kitchen cabinets, the counter drawers, and the dishwasher. She pushed books and papers into the closet and was just closing her laptop when he tapped at the front door.
She lit her face with a grand smile. "A man as good as his word," she said as she swung open the door.
He held up a bottle of champagne. "Something to celebrate with."
"Oh, how lovely. Thank you." She closed the door and led him into the living room. He was dressed in a shiny jogging outfit and running shoes.
"My!" he said, taking her in. "You're all decked out."
"I was trying it on when you'd said you'd drop by, so I left it on."
His eyes scanned her from top to bottom, then rested for an instant on her cleavage. "You look like you just stepped out of Vogue magazine."
"You're too kind."
He raised his eyes to her face and the look in them set off a tiny ripple of pleasure inside her. She took the champagne and gave him a kiss on the cheek and led him into the kitchen.
She had lived in the apartment for the past eight months and had furnished it with a postmodern flare, combining a Duncan Phyfe sofa with teak chairs, tables, silver lamps, and watercolors. But he was not interested in her furnishings or the collectibles.
"You do the honors," she said, and handed him the champagne as she got two glasses. "I'm so glad you came by."
His face had a strange intensity. She watched as he undid the foil and wire mesh. Then with a quick flourish he twisted off the cork with a pop. She took the bottle and began to fill the glasses.
"Nothing for me."
"You're not going to make me drink alone, are you?"
"Okay, but just a little." His eyes fluttered for a brief moment.
"You all right?"
"I've got something of a headache."
"There's some Tylenol in the cabinet by your head."
"I already took something. I'll be fine."
She handed him the glass. "What shall we toast?"
He stared into the glass for a moment without response. He seemed a little displaced, as if only partly here. Maybe it was the headache. He had said that he was prone to bad ones.
"How about to a new beginning."
She beamed. "I'll drink to that." Her glass clinked against his glass and she took a swallow. "Are you hungry? I haven't got much, maybe some saltines and peanut butter — not exactly champagne food."
"No, I already ate." He took a tiny sip and looked at her with glazed expectation.
"Let's go in here," she said, and led him to the living-room sofa.
He sat beside her and again eyed her breasts. "Is the dress new?"
She sensed he was groping to make conversation. "I bought it a few months ago, but I think it's a little snug."
"No, it flatters you."
She thanked him and sipped her drink. "You're not drinking."
"I'll catch up." He raised the glass, then lowered it.
He was clearly a bit anxious. She put her hand on his leg and gave him a little pat. "Come on, relax." He really had no reason to feel uncomfortable with her, yet he was acting as if this were his first date.
He glanced at the clock. "I know you're leaving early in the morning," he said.
Her friend Katie was coming by around eight to drive them to Vermont for a few days.
"I just wanted to see you again before you left."
"Well, here I am." She took another sip from her glass and felt the alcohol send a warm glow throughout her brain. Champagne always did that to her — something about the carbon dioxide bubbles that intensified the buzz. She reached over for his glass and raised it. "I refuse to drink alone."
He took a small sip and looked at her. His large opaque eyes filled his face. "You're a very attractive woman."
There was another awkward silence as she swallowed more champagne. She slipped her hand on his arm. He seemed to feel a small jolt, but he didn't pull away. The next moment happened so fast that she even surprised herself. She leaned toward him and softly kissed his mouth. His eyes seemed to swirl as he studied her face. Then he moved his face to hers and pressed his lips into a long lingering kiss. As they continued, he began to writhe and make deep-throated groans, his mouth moving wetly over hers.
Suddenly he pulled away. "I've got a better idea," he whispered, and took her hand.
He stood up. "This way," he said, and led her into the dining room and through the door on the left and down the hall toward her bedroom.
"And what exactly do we have in mind?"
But he didn't respond. But when he clapped eyes on her bed he said, "Very nice."
She had recently ordered an expensive new unit with a high white metal headboard and all new bedding, as well as a fluffy white summer comforter and colorful pillows. He walked her to the bed. His hand was hot. "My, my," she said. "We seem to be on a mission."
The phone beside the bed began to ring. "Don't answer it."
"Whoa! This is serious." It was probably Katie calling about the pickup time tomorrow. She'd call her back later.
At the edge of the bed he turned to face her. His eyes were large and dark and the look in them set off a giddy sensation in her loins. He kissed her again.
"Maybe you can do the honors this time."
He ran his finger gently down her neck, over her cleavage, and down her belly.
She took his hand and gave him a kiss on the mouth. "You're getting me excited."
"All the better."
Under that hot feral gaze — a look that she knew and took pleasure in — she began to undress. She undid the straps and reached behind and pulled down the zipper, then slithered out of the dress like a molting snake. With fascination he looked on as the dress pooled at her feet. She laid it on a chair, then removed her bra. Her nipples were taut little fingers pointing at him, and he regarded them with approval. She wanted him to touch her, to kiss her, but he just nodded at her black thong. So she slipped that off and laid it beside her bra and dress. Then she turned toward him.
"Hello, Beauty Girl," he said, his voice barely audible.
She reached to give him a kiss, but he took her hand and led her to the bed. "Come on," she said, reaching for his jacket.
"No, lie against the pillows."
She got on the bed, feeling her skin stipple. "I'm getting cold."
"You'll get warm in a minute." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a thin package and handed it to her.
"For me?" She opened it up and inside were two chic black stockings, silky smooth and with intricate lace stay-up tops. She could tell they were very expensive. "They're beautiful. Should I try them on?"
"Not yet." He took one out of her hand and draped it on the chair with her clothes. Then he took the other one out of her hand. "How about a little game first?"
"Just lie back and put your hands behind your head."
"Oh, my." She smiled and she lay back against the pillow, her naked body stretched out before him, her breasts rising up like offerings. "Whatever lights your fire."
He did not smile. He did not say anything. Just that enameled black glare.
He draped the stocking across her right foot and slowly dragged it to the other, then up her right shin and knee and across her thigh and belly and breasts. Then he drew the stocking teasingly back down to her feet again and up the other leg and across the small trimmed tuft of hair and her belly to her neck. He continued this for a while, not saying a word, but studying her with a strange intensity. She decided that this was some odd foreplay to turn himself on, so she settled into it, allowing the anticipation to mount.
He knew what he was doing, because little electrical eddies flared across her skin. She closed her eyes and spread her legs to let the stocking drift across the tender flesh of her inner thighs and across her pubis and up to her breasts. As he continued she became aroused and began to groan and raised her body against the tingling passes as if responding to a phantom lover. "Where did you learn this?" she whispered.
"I had a good teacher."
In a short time she was panting, amazed at how he had worked her up by the fairy lickings of a nylon stocking.
After several more moments, she felt herself become wet and arched her hips to catch the length of material, imagining that it were his fingers, his lips, his tongue. But it eluded her and crawled up her belly to taunt her breasts. And the more he continued, the more she wished he would stop and give her the real thing — himself, his weight across her body, his thickness moving inside of her. God! She did all she could not to touch herself. Her mouth felt parched and she licked her lips. She didn't think she could stand it much longer. "Please." She grabbed for his leg.
But he pulled back again. His face was a mask of intensity. But he wasn't even erect. She had thought this was for him, but his pants were flat. Yet his eyes were black with heat. She raised herself and held out her hand. "You're driving me crazy."
The stocking snaked across her shoulders ever so slowly, then down her front.
"I want you," she whispered.
Another long maddening moment passed until she thought she would explode. "Please."
"Close your eyes," he said softly.
She did and heard him say, "Yes."
In a lightning move, he wrapped the stocking around her neck and pulled with all his might.
The scream caught in her windpipe and came out as a single audible catch.
It happened so fast that shock had set in before she could comprehend what he was doing. This was not a little sex game. The stocking dug into her neck like a garrote, choking off the flow of blood and air.
God Almighty! she thought. This isn't happening. Why is he doing this?
By reflex she tried to get her fingers under the material before she passed out, but instantly he was upon her, straddling her hips and pressing his full weight on her upper body while keeping the strangling hold. With her eyes she pleaded, but his face was a blank.
She couldn't breathe and she couldn't move as all strength rapidly seeped from her arms and legs, abandoning her in the last moments to the realization that this was her death.
His eyes locked on hers, huge black stones filling her tunneling vision. This wasn't supposed to be. Not her. Not when things were just beginning again.
"Dirty girl," he whispered.
And the world went black.CHAPTER 2
Lieutenant Detective Steve Markarian was deep asleep that Sunday morning when the call came in on his landline. It was a little after nine and his day off, but his supervisor called to say that a Jamaica Plain woman had been found dead of suspicious causes in her apartment. Captain Charlie Reardon wanted him to take the lead because all the other detectives were busy with other cases, including a double homicide in Dorchester the previous night.
The address was 123 Payson Road, a pleasant tree-lined road off Center Street, a neighborhood of modest one- and two-family Victorian homes that once held Irish immigrants who had clawed their way into the middle class in the early decades of the twentieth century. Today the homes were pricey condos for young professional gentry with Beemers and Peg Perego baby strollers.
By the time he arrived, the street had been sealed off and three patrol cars were blocking the road. In front of the house a few uniforms stood behind stretches of yellow tape. In spite of the cool drizzle, several onlookers had gathered. At the curb a white medical examiner's van waited with a body collector inside talking to a patrol officer through the window. The rear doors were open. Steve flashed his badge, and one of the patrols said, "Second floor. They're waiting to bring her down."
"Who's the detective?"
Steve's partner. He headed into the building and up to the apartment. Standing in the middle of the living room was Neil French with Tim Callahan, the superintendent of the J.P.P.D., Bobby Mangini from the M.E.'s office, and a crime scene technician. They were talking about the historic triple play from the sixth inning of last night's Red Sox–Yankee game that Neil had taken his daughter to. In the dining room forensics personnel were getting ready to leave.
Neil glanced at his watch. "What took you so long?"
Steve shrugged off the question. "I was supposed to be off. Why are you here?"
"Hogan's kid has a basketball tournament, we did a switch."
"So what do we have?"
"Looks like autoerotica gone bad."
Neil was monochromatic in a navy blazer and navy shirt and jeans. The dark colors emphasized his florid face and nearly transparent hair. In his mouth was a red plastic stirrer that he worked with his back teeth. It was what he did instead of smoking cigarettes. Half the pens and pencils on his office desk were chewed. Neil was a bundle of nervous energy that could make him impatient and ornery, especially when maxed out on overtime. And he was maxed out.
"No sign of forced entry. No scratches on the lock. No evidence of a struggle. Nothing that anybody else was here." The red stirrer jiggled up and down as he talked like one of those pens that record seismic activity.
"We're waiting for you to take a look before we take her," Mangini said.
"Who found her?" Steve's eyes fell on three framed photos on the fireplace mantel.
"Patrol came on an alarm call about seven thirty after her girlfriend found her. She got concerned, when she got no response by phone, so she came up and tried the door, and when she couldn't get in she contacted the landlady in the apartment below. They found her. They're both downstairs with the responding officer."
"Any estimate how long she's been dead?'
"Hard to tell. Based on lividity and rigor, maybe fifteen, twenty hours."
The apartment had the familiar Victorian layout — living room, dining room, kitchen in a line, a hall with two bedrooms off the dining area. Steve followed Neil through the dining room where a closed Dell laptop sat under a chair. In the kitchen were technicians he knew from crime scene services. "We're ready to take her when you are," Mangini said.
Steve nodded. The kitchen looked as if it had just been tidied up. The only thing suggesting activity was a single wineglass on the counter, and near it an open bottle of Taittinger, two-thirds full. Fingerprint dust showed latents on it and the single glass. The sink was empty. When Steve glanced at Neil, he saw something in his expression that didn't look right. "You okay?"
Neil nodded him into a small bedroom that had been set up as a workout space with an elliptical machine and free weights. On a wall was a poster of a woman in workout clothes making a muscle while three other people in workout clothes glared at her biceps in mock-dismay.
"It's Terry Farina."
It took Steve a moment to register the name. "Oh, shit." In the poster her hair was darker and cut short, so he could barely recognize the night student from Northeastern University.
"Yeah." Neil peeled off the wall and headed toward the master bedroom. "In here."
Steve felt his heart rate kick up as he followed him down the hall to the large bedroom at the end. His attention was arrested by a bizarre structure rising from the mattress of a queen-size bed, sitting cater-cornered across the far wall. A white bedsheet had been draped from the headboard and over the deceased's body like a pup tent.
"When did crime scene get here?"
"About two hours ago. Where the hell were you?"
"My PDA was dead." For some reason he had forgotten to recharge his PDA-smartphone last night. It took the captain three calls to rouse him on the landline.
Steve stepped into the room, which felt cooler than the rest of the apartment. A built-in air conditioner on the left wall was turned off. As Steve approached the bed the acrid odor of urine hit him. He snapped on a pair of latex gloves and braced himself as Neil lifted the sheet as if unveiling a sculpture.
Excerpted from Skin Deep by Gary Braver. Copyright © 2008 Gary Braver. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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