Strange lesions found in the brain of a dead man have forensic pathologist Andy Broussard stumped. Even more baffling are the corpse’s fingerprints. They belong to Ronald Cicero, a lifer at Angola State Prison… an inmate the warden insists is still there. Broussard sends psychologist Kit Franklyn to find out who is locked up in Cicero’s cell. But an astonishing discovery at the jail and an attempt on her life almost has Kit sleeping with the crawfish in a bayou swamp. And Broussard, making a brilliant deduction about another murder, may soon be digging his own grave.
About the Author
Donald (Don) Jay Donaldson, who also writes as David Best, was born in 1940 and is a now retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology. He holds a Ph.D. in human anatomy and his entire academic career was spent at the University of Tennessee, Health Science Center, where he published dozens of papers on wound-healing, and taught microscopic anatomy to thousands of medical and dental students.
He lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his wife and two West Highland terriers. In the spring of most years he simply cannot stop buying new flowers and other plants for the couple’s prized backyard garden.
He is the author of five medical thrillers and seven forensic mysteries, the latter featuring the hugely overweight and equally brilliant New Orleans medical examiner, Andy Broussard, and his gorgeous psychologist sidekick, Kit Franklyn. Of these it has been said that they contain ‘lots of Louisiana color, pinpoint plotting and two highly likable characters’, whilst the Los Angeles Times states ‘the autopsies are detailed enough to make Patricia Cornwell fans move farther south for their forensic fixes ….. splendidly eccentric local denizens, authentic New Orleans and bayou backgrounds’.
Read an Excerpt
SLEEPING WITH THE CRAWFISH
By D.J. Donaldson
Astor + Blue EditionsCopyright © 2012 D.J. Donaldson
All rights reserved.
"All right, Warden Guillory ... thanks. It's a puzzle, no question. But if he's there, he can't be here, too. I'll be in touch."
Chief Medical Examiner Andy Broussard hung up and stared into space, his hand remaining on the phone. Then he picked up the file that had come over from Central Records and looked again at the mug shot of Ronald Cicero.
The man in the picture and the guy on the table downstairs in the morgue were obviously the same person. The photo had been taken nineteen years ago when Cicero had been booked for killing a clerk in a liquor-store robbery. Now, at sixty-eight, he didn't look much different ... and his prints matched. He'd been sent to the state prison at Angola for life, and the warden had just said he was still there.
Broussard closed the file and tossed it onto his desk. He reached into the fishbowl of lemon drops next to the wooden sign that read THOSE WHO DON'T BELIEVE THE DEAD CAN COME BACK TO LIFE SHOULD BE HERE AT QUITTING TIME and popped a candy into each cheek. He then rocked back in his chair and folded his stubby fingers over his ample belly, his mind going back to the odd lesions he'd found in the depths of Cicero's brain—clean holes of degeneration without signs of inflammation. That was perplexing enough ... one puzzle to a customer. Now the warden at Angola says he's got Cicero.
Broussard reflected on the situation for about ninety seconds, the lemon balls in his cheek clicking around his mouth like marbles in a sack. Hitting on a way to solve two of his problems at the same time, he rocked forward in his chair and reached for the phone book.
"OH, IT'S GONE," THE woman moaned, stomping her heel on the floor. She turned to Kit and pointed at the wall. "Yesterday, in that spot there was a scene of Jackson Square right after a rain, with the light reflecting off the wet bricks ... kind of eerie."
"I remember it," Kit Franklyn said.
"Is it in the back somewhere?" the woman asked hopefully.
"I'm afraid it's sold."
"Why'd you do that?"
"People give us money, we give them pictures—it's kind of a business thing."
"You don't have to be snotty about it."
She was right, of course. The customer should always be right, even if they ask stupid questions. It was just hard for Kit to adapt to her current status. Five weeks earlier, she'd been the medical examiner's suicide investigator and psychological profiler for the police. Now ... a clerk.
No one had forced this on her. It had been her choice. To Broussard and everyone else who knew her, a totally puzzling one. Of course, they hadn't been degraded and humiliated by a pair of psychotic kidnappers. It was all still fresh in her mind—the Ph.D. ... the big psychologist ... totally dominated by two bottom-feeders. Who wouldn't suffer a loss of confidence after that?
She'd felt like a fraud—like if she had a CAT scan, they'd find that the ventricles in her brain were hugely enlarged and she was getting by on a thin shell of gray matter. It could happen—had already, in fact—to another woman in this country. You could look it up. Such a person shouldn't be investigating anything. They should be a clerk. And right now, she wasn't even doing that well.
"I'm sorry," she said to the irritated customer. "Would you like to order a print of that photo? I'm sure the owner has the negative and would be happy to make one for you."
"Tell him he can take his negative and shove it."
As the woman stormed out, the phone rang.
"Kit, is that you?" Andy Broussard said.
"Sometimes I wonder myself."
"It's good to hear your voice."
"Say, I've got a problem over here I was hopin' you'd be willin' to help me with."
"I'm not good at solving problems."
"This one is pretty straightforward. I just don't have anyone I can put on it."
"I don't know ..."
"Please. As a personal favor."
He was hitting below the belt now. After all they'd been through together and how much she respected and, yes, loved the old curmudgeon, granting him a small favor didn't seem like too much to ask. Still ... "I've got responsibilities here at the gallery."
"I understand, but maybe you could get free for a while and drop by the office."
She hesitated, wishing she was the person Broussard thought she was. She pictured her office, sitting there empty, the chapters of her unfinished manuscript on suicide languishing in her desk.
A book. She'd actually had the nerve to believe she could write a book. Utterly self-delusional.
"Kit, you still there?"
"What do you say? Will you help me?"
"Umm ... I don't know if I can.... Maybe ... I don't know. I'll call you."
She hung up without giving him the opportunity to coax her again. Remaining by the phone, she watched the foot traffic pass by the window on Toulouse. Andy needed help.
Outside, a kid on his father's shoulders looked at her through the glass and waved happily. She waved back, envying the child, his life stretching before him, no choices yet made, a fresh, unstained existence, everything to come, his potential still a mystery.
Nolen Boyd, the owner of the gallery, came through the door, eating a Lucky Dog from the pushcart on the corner, a Coke in the other hand. He was a big, overweight guy with a soft, slack face and a deep, resonant voice Kit suspected could do a killer rendition of "Old Man River." He subsisted, it seemed, on Lucky Dogs blanketed with chili that frequently dripped onto his paunch, where the stain usually disappeared into the psychedelic floral pattern on the Hawaiian shirts he favored.
"Did I see a woman come out of here empty-handed?" he asked.
Kit pointed at the blank spot on the wall. "She wanted that rainy Cabildo scene."
"You tell her I'd make her one?"
"I did, but we sort of got off on the wrong foot."
"Mine. She asked a goofy question and I didn't handle it well."
"Done that myself from time to time. Trouble with having a business open to the general public is, that's who comes in.
Forget it. She obviously didn't deserve one of my pictures."
He took another bite of his hot dog.
Andy needed help.
"Nolen, would you mind if I left for an hour or so? There's something I have to do."
He waved his hand theatrically. "Away, then."
She picked up the phone and called Broussard.
"Hi, it's me, Kit. I'll come over and listen, but I can't promise anything. I should be there in twenty minutes."
She hung up and left by the back door. Like most buildings in the French Quarter, there was a courtyard behind the gallery. Two hundred years ago, the place had housed a single family, the owners living in the wrought iron–decorated two stories facing Toulouse, the servants occupying the two floors of plain brick that formed the left and back boundaries of the courtyard. The rear wing had recently been declared structurally unsafe and there was a chain-link fence across that part of the courtyard to keep people a safe distance away. Kit's apartment and one other were on the second floor of the refurbished left wing. Because there was so much street noise at night, Nolen had put his darkroom above the gallery and lived in the apartment below Kit.
Avoiding the drops of blood from Nolen's miniature dachshund, which had been menstruating all over the place for the last three days, Kit walked to the gray cypress stairs that led to the second floor. "Lucky ... here, boy."
Her own little brown dog wiggled out of a tall patch of straw grass and bounded toward her, tongue lolling. At the steps, he skidded to a stop and sat down, his hind feet facing forward like a child, waiting for her to tell him what she wanted.
"I'm going out for a while and I want you to be a good boy." Brown eyes glistening, Lucky cocked his head, trying so hard to understand.
"Can you do that? Can you be a good boy?"
Jesus, he was cute. She stepped off the stairs, knelt, and ruffled the fur on Lucky's head with both hands. When she started to go, he grabbed her shoelace.
"No, Lucky ... no."
He released the lace, sat again, and watched her go up the stairs.
As Kit passed the apartment before hers, the door flew open and the occupant came out holding a tray filled with disturbing objects.
"Kit, dear. I've just developed a new line and I wanted your opinion. It's been so long since I've seen one, I wasn't sure I got it right."
It was Eunice Dalehite, a rail-thin woman with straight gray hair and eyes that functioned independently of each other, like those of a chameleon.
"What do you think?" she asked, one eye looking at Kit, the other glancing over Kit's shoulder. She thrust the tray at Kit's face, forcing her to take a step backward. Eunice made erotic candy for the Naughty but Nice shop two blocks down Bourbon Street. On the tray were six chocolate erections, complete with shaved chocolate pubic hair.
Kit was speechless.
"Is it accurate?" Eunice said.
"I ... I'm no expert, but they look good—Ah ... accurate to me."
Eunice beamed. "It's my own special blend of chocolate. Try one." She thrust the tray forward.
Even if she'd wanted to sample one, Kit hadn't the slightest idea how one would do it and retain a shred of dignity.
"It's tempting ... but I'm allergic to chocolate," Kit said.
"Oh dear. How terrible for you."
"It's a burden, but I manage."
"Maybe I'll make you some nice open-zipper cookies instead."
"You're too kind."
Kit's apartment was Lilliputian: a living room, one bedroom, a bathroom, and a tiny kitchen with a counter between it and the living room. Last week, a crack had developed in the center of the living room ceiling, ominously creeping a couple of inches a day, so it now formed a large nasty smile. Uncomforted by Nolen's assurance that it was just the old building settling and meant nothing, Kit looked up to check its progress, noting with alarm that it was several inches longer than it had been a few hours ago.
Tired of worrying about the crack, Kit's mind drifted back to the wonderful old house she'd once owned in the uptown section—its beautiful Victorian beadwork and solid oak columns in the entry foyer, the glistening quarter-sawn oak floors ... the human remains she'd found buried in the backyard, the intruder who'd attacked her in her own bedroom.
Reminded of why she'd had to sell, her thoughts shifted to the gorgeous Italianate villa she'd lived in next. But that image, too, was sullied ... by the faces of the two kidnappers. Trouble, it seems, always knew her address.
But this was now her home and she'd have to make the best of it. Detouring around the x she'd taped on the carpet to remind her of the danger overhead, she went into the bathroom, where she put on a fresh coat of lip gloss, then brushed her long auburn hair and reset the faux tortoiseshell combs that kept it out of her eyes.
She paused and studied her reflection, looking for outward evidence of the changes she'd experienced internally. But her eyes were still brown, there were still sixteen freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose, and her neck was still one of her nicest features. On the surface, she was still Kit. Inside ... who knows?
There simply wasn't enough room in the French Quarter. This applied particularly to cars, which, if you lived there, were a financial liability of ruinous proportions because of the cost of garage space. This caused many of the Quarter's residents to give them up. Without convenient transportation, and finding they could satisfy all their needs in the Quarter, a large number of the carless became exiles who rarely, if ever, ventured out of its boundaries. Not so depressed that she was willing to join their number, Kit had taken the job at the gallery mostly because Nolen had thrown in a parking space in a garage three blocks away on Dauphine Street, her next destination.
It was a beautiful late-spring day in which the slit of sky between the balconied buildings lining Toulouse was blue and cloudless and the temperature was cool enough to keep the Quarter from smelling like an errant compost heap, as it did in summer. The sidewalks were crowded with tourists, street magicians, singers, and mimes, giving the place an aimless energy that made Kit feel as though she lived on the grounds of an insane asylum. At the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse, a mechanical mime in a tuxedo and white gloves offered her a carnation, his every rachety move accompanied by a convincing whirring noise. Leaving the flower for one of the tourists, she stepped over a spilled ice cream cone and kept moving.
At Dauphine, a dirty old man with a sooty gray beard came around the corner, pushing a grocery cart. Tied to the cart and leading the way was an equally sooty Sheltie, who began straining at his leash when he saw her. Curtis and Jimmy.
Upon reaching her, Jimmy put his front paws on her shoes and bowed in a doggy greeting. Protocol observed, he then began jumping against her legs, deliriously happy to see her.
"I've told him to play hard to get," Curtis said. "But he just won't listen."
Kit knelt and pulled on Jimmy's ruff. "That's because we're old friends."
"Are you well, then?" Curtis inquired, leaning on the handle of the cart.
Kit had definitely been better, but she wasn't about to complain to poor Curtis. "I am well," she said, giving Jimmy one last rub. "And you?"
"Not an hour ago, a fine young man from Mobile gave me five dollars, so Jimmy and I have had a grand meal and are feelin' like we could whip a small polar bear."
"We can't have out-of-towners doing more for our friends than we do," she said, digging in her purse. She took out a ten she could ill afford to part with and gave it to Curtis, whose eyes told her there had been no man from Mobile.
"You're a saint," Curtis said. "And surely the prettiest of the lot. Give Lucky our regards." Curtis pushed his cart forward, tightening the leash and pulling Jimmy reluctantly away from her.
Watching them leave, Kit was heartened that Jimmy didn't seem to know his master was homeless, which meant Lucky probably wasn't aware of her own altered circumstances. BROUSSARD'S FILING SYSTEM CONSISTED of books and letters and Xeroxed articles stacked around his office in piles that made the place an obstacle course. Kit found him with half of one of those piles in his arms.
He dropped his load onto the only available spot on his green vinyl sofa and steamed toward her, arms spread wide, as if intending to embrace her. But the closer he got, the more his arms sagged, until when he reached her, he touched only her hand, grasping it firmly in his chubby fingers.
"I ... everyone's missed you," he said.
It had been Kit's strongest desire since she'd joined his staff to hear Broussard praise her work. A childish need, she knew, but it was there nevertheless. And he had never done it. She'd once believed the fault was his. Now, confidence shattered, she was sure she'd simply never deserved his approval.
It had been six weeks since she'd last seen him, and outwardly, he hadn't changed, either—still hugely overweight, his hair and beard no grayer, his small eyes just as clear and bright, glasses still equipped with a lanyard that let them dangle within reach when he worked at the microscope, a real bow tie at his throat, not a clip-on.
"I see you still have your sweet tooth," she said, referring to the lemon ball pushing his cheek out.
Broussard eagerly dug in his pants pocket and produced two cellophane-wrapped lemon balls, which he put in her hand. He folded her fingers over them and covered her hand with both of his.
When she'd first come aboard, he'd frequently offered her naked lemon balls from his pocket, but she consistently refused them. Realizing she was concerned about the other things he touched during a typical day, he'd begun carrying wrapped ones just for her. Her reference to his sweet tooth had been a test to see if he'd continued the practice. The fact that he had, touched her.
They exchanged a few more pleasantries and then Kit said, "What is it you wanted me to do?"
Excerpted from SLEEPING WITH THE CRAWFISH by D.J. Donaldson. Copyright © 2012 D.J. Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of Astor + Blue Editions.
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