“A thoroughly compulsive police procedural by one of America’s most promising new writers.” –Best Thrillers
He blends in. He is successful, intelligent and methodical. There are no clues. There are no leads. The only thing the FBI and local police have to go on is the method of death: two bullets to the face- gruesome and meant to send a message. But it’s difficult to understand any message coming from a dark and damaged mind. Two adopted boys, struggling in their own world, have no idea they are the next targets. Neither does their family. And neither does local law enforcement.
|Publisher:||Black Rose Writing|
|Edition description:||First Printing ed.|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Vincent O'Laughlin was the youngest partner of the firm. Just four years out of grad school, he had skyrocketed up the food chain, leaving several dead bodies in his wake. Well, not actually dead. Just dead in the firm. Three of the four went on to different advertising outfits, one in Minneapolis, one in Chicago, and one in Kansas City. The fourth was still unemployed, as much to do with his age as it was his lack of creativity.
O'Laughlin rose up the ladder by capturing the Midwest Seed account, the Party Time USA account, and the Grand National Foods account, along with a nationally operated grocery store chain. And because of these acquisitions, his client list went from lackluster to golden, raking in money, accolades, and envy from the big boys in the advertising industry.
With his blond hair, blue eyes, and a dimple when he smiled, Vincent was a natural at sales. But his greatest strength was as an art director, the title he held before he moved to partner. He was a visionary, and because of this talent, he still oversaw the four biggest accounts in the firm. He wined and dined the CEOs of those companies and corporations, and he was given the luxury of hand-picking the art directors and had final approval on all TV, radio, and print advertising on those four accounts. And now with a corner office and a full-time personal assistant, he sipped Evian and gazed out of his fourteenth-floor window overlooking Old World Third Street and the Milwaukee skyline, small as it was, and pondered where he would go from here.
Billy Joel sang it, and Vincent believed it: New York State of Mind.
With every breath, every pulse beat, his only goal was to make it as big in New York as he did in sleepy, little Milwaukee. The only goal he had. There was not enough money or women to hold him in Milwaukee. Not even the 3700 square foot, lakeside condo in Whitefish Bay, a rich, upscale northern suburb of Milwaukee could contain him. His only focus was to get to New York and make his mark there, just as he had in Milwaukee.
Vincent opened his briefcase and placed his checkbook, his wallet, three empty manila folders, a yellow pad of paper in a leather pad protector with his initials embossed in faux gold lettering, and a small calculator neatly inside. He did not have anything to take home, and he did not need a briefcase, at least not one this expensive. But because he was now a partner, he thought the soft, brown leather briefcase gave him legitimacy. He felt it made him look important, just as the tailored Brooks Brothers cashmere suits, silk shirts, and the tan cashmere top coat and matching leather gloves did. The gloves did not keep his hands warm, but they looked good, and looks were everything.
The last thing Vincent did before leaving his office and turning off his light was to pick up the Kodak box holding his portfolio. He preferred a hard copy in addition to the disk and thumb drive. With the hard copy, he could sit across from someone and talk him or her through it. Vincent placed much confidence in his ability to talk someone into just about anything. So as a consequence and precaution, he carried it with him everywhere. It was his present life and the key to his next life. He used the Kodak Film box as a disguise because he could not afford for anyone to know he kept his portfolio updated and ready. And he was so ready.
Like he did each day after work, he took the stairs down fourteen flights instead of taking the elevator. He reasoned it was an inexpensive way to get a cardio workout in before he got to the gym.
After signing out at the front desk and wishing a good evening to the portly and elderly night security man, he paused at the door, buttoned up his top coat, clamped his portfolio under his arm, and then stepped into the sub-zero late afternoon.
So cold, his nose hair froze. The dirty snow and ice that had melted in the early afternoon sun now crunched under the soles of his leather slipons. The shoes, like his gloves, looked good, but for all the warmth they provided, he may as well have been barefoot.
Vincent emerged between two cars, dodged a bus, and jay-walked across the street and then jogged into the parking garage. He had parked his silver Lexus on the fourth floor. Because it was so cold, he took the elevator which had a faint cigarette and urine smell to it. He tried breathing through his mouth. It did not work because then he could taste it. The slow-moving elevator opened and he quick-walked toward his car. It was within sight at the far end of the garage. The sound was his loafers echoed off the cement and cinder block walls.
The garage was dark. Two of the overhead lights were out, which made him curious. He remembered them working when he had arrived.
He slowed down as he neared his car, tucked his portfolio under his arm, slipped off his glove and held it in his mouth and dug into his pocket for his key fob.
"Excuse me, sir."
The voice came from behind and to his left.
Startled, Vincent jumped and spun around, his heart rate ratcheting up twenty beats. The glove fell out of his mouth and he dropped the key fob.
"Excuse me, sir. Are you Vincent O'Laughlin?"
Vincent squinted into the shadow and took a step back, the safety of his car forgotten. The voice sounded middle-aged, curious and almost friendly, not at all threatening.
"Who's there?" Vincent said, angry this person caused him to drop his glove in a filthy puddle of melted snow and street grime.
"Are you Vincent O'Laughlin?" the voice asked again.
"Yes, I am. Who are you and what do you want?" Vincent asked. He did not like talking to someone he could not see in the freezing, dark, and dirty garage.
"That's what I thought. It should never have happened. You shouldn't have done it."
The muzzle flashed bright, the report loud, echoing off the concrete walls.
The first shot had done the work, but the second shot was for fun.CHAPTER 2
Shirley Bodencamp loved middle school kids. She loved their unpredictability and goofiness. She loved being a middle school principal except for the meetings, the bureaucracy, the politics, the infighting, and the paperwork. All the bullshit that went with being a principal. But even after almost thirty years, it was all she could see herself being.
Although she had a pleasant and comfortable enough office, she was seldom in it. Instead, she would wander hallways during and between classes, peeking into a classroom, maybe playing a game of ping pong in physical education class or cutting boards in carpentry. Each day, she supervised the cafeteria during each of the three lunch shifts, because she loved being around the kids.
The kids loved her. Her staff adored her. And the parents admired her.
She had a way of turning an angry parent into one who laughed as together they left her office. She had a special way of listening to a middle-aged staff member going through a tough divorce or a young worried teacher facing financial troubles or an older distraught custodian who had not gotten over burying his wife.
When she had won Principal of the Year the previous year, one of the recommendation letters read in front of the board of education called her - "gifted." - Heads nodded. Another letter called her - "a kind, caring and a consummate professional who put the needs and interests of children above all else." - Her staff and parents present in the audience stood up and cheered, breaking all decorum.
Fifty-four years old, she wanted two things: to be the best wife possible and the best-damned principal she knew how to be. She and her husband of thirty-one years had never had children of their own. They tried. They discussed adopting, but decided they had a good life, a great life, and though they both had wanted children, together they had decided their tabby, Sasquatch, and their toy poodle, Buster, were enough for them. They had each other and life was more than good.
As was the case many times at the end of a busy week, she sat in her office finishing the report the District Office had needed by noon on Monday. It was late on this Friday afternoon and everyone had long ago left. The last to leave was Curley, the older custodian, who she had sent home over an hour before. The plan was for Shirley to meet her husband at Sallies for a nice Italian dinner to cap off a great week and start a relaxing weekend.
She saved the report to her desktop, knowing she should have saved it to her hard drive that was district policy. She smiled and shrugged, satisfied she had, at least in a small way, defied authority once again.
Shirley closed down her computer, grabbed a clean mug, and watered her plants sitting on the windowsill. As she did, she glanced out the window and thought she saw someone in the courtyard standing in the shadows. Puzzled, she wondered who would be out there on this cold early evening. The water ran out from under the small clay pot, so Shirley grabbed a paper towel and wiped up the spill and looked out the window again. No one and nothing other than the picnic tables, the decorative stone garbage receptacles, and the shrubbery.
Shirley grabbed her purse, her scarf, coat and gloves, turned off the light and locked up her office. She moved through the outer office and locked the door behind her and picked up her pace down the short hallway, heels click-clacking as she walked on the clean and shiny linoleum.
She stepped outside, and the cold took away her breath. She turned toward the door and pushed against it, making sure it was locked.
"Excuse me, ma'am. Are you Shirley Bodencamp?"
Startled, Shirley spun around and gasped.
"Are you Shirley Bodencamp?"
Shirley did not recognize her visitor, but she recovered enough to say with a smile, "Why, yes, I am. And who might you be?"
"That's what I thought. It should never have happened. You shouldn't have done it."
"I beg your pardon?"
The gun went off once, then twice.
A dog barked and then another.
The shooter walked away with a smile and without a worry, satisfied because Shirley's face had dissolved into an indistinguishable mass of blood, bone, and brain.CHAPTER 3
Jamie Graff slept in until his back ached. A stiff neck did not help because it gave him a headache that four Motrin could not chase away. Sleeping in meant getting up at eight instead of six-thirty, but an hour and a half extra did not hurt. Except for his back, his neck, and his head.
Kelli had already left for work at the insurance agency. As she and Jamie had planned the night before, she would drop Garrett off at the daycare on her way. As a result, the house was dark and quiet and smelled of freshly brewed coffee. Jamie enjoyed the smell as much as he did the taste, and part of his routine was to drink two cups before he left for work and another on the way. Not that he ever kept track.
He got up, stretched, and walked stiffly to the bathroom for a quick shave and shower.
Thirty minutes later, he sat at the counter in the kitchen eating an egg sandwich while he drank his second cup of coffee. He hunched over the paper, but there was not much he did not know already.
He spent most of the time on the sports page reading about the Bucks, and then the high school sports round up. Waukesha North sat in second place and a half-game out of first. Everyone was astounded that five freshmen could play that well and that consistently. Ever since Brian Kazmarick, who was soon to be Brian Evans, and Randy Evans were inserted into the starting lineup, North was on a roll. The two boys joined Brett McGovern, Billy Schroeder, Randy's twin brother, and Troy Rivera. Five freshmen. Four from the same family.
The old timers thought they had done so well because the five freshmen did not know any better. Others thought they had done so well because four of them were brothers, and because of that, they had their own language and a way of communicating. Still, others felt it was because the four brothers were adopted or soon to be adopted by Jeremy Evans, the school counselor and former basketball coach who had worked with them on the side. Whatever the reason, Waukesha North was in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and was perhaps the hottest team in the conference.
Graff smiled. Jeremy Evans was his best friend, and he loved Jeremy's and Vicky's boys almost as much as they did. He ought to since he was godfather to two of them, Randy and Billy.
His cell buzzed, and Jamie glanced at the caller ID and saw it was the captain. O'Brien seldom called his cell, and when he did, it was because of an emergency.
"How soon will you be in?"
No pleasantries. Formal like his uniform and clipped like his bald head. O'Brien was never that abrupt, so Graff knew it was serious.
"Give me twenty minutes."
"Make it fifteen or sooner," and the call went dead.
Graff threw out the rest of the coffee, rinsed off his plate and put it in the sink, thought better of it, and placed it in the dishwasher. He grabbed his keys and his coat and walked out the door heading to the garage, locking the door behind him. He hit the garage door opener, hopped into his Pathfinder, backed out and drove off. Fifteen minutes later, he walked through O'Brien's door.
O'Brien was bald and on the short side but thick. His arms bulged out of his sleeves, and his chest strained the buttons on his crisp uniform. He seldom smiled, but when he did, people shied away because his smile was downright scary.
Among the officers, he was known as "Mr. Clean" because he resembled the animated pitchman for disinfectant. No one, however, dared call him that to his face.
"I'm thinking of making you COD," the captain said as soon as Graff sat down.
A thousand thoughts tumbled around in Jamie's head, all fighting for attention. Chief of Detectives meant politics and paperwork, and Graff was not a fan of either. He wanted police work, loved being a detective, and was most at home at a crime scene.
Jamie said nothing.
"You would still be out in the field."
"But I would have to do the paperwork. It would limit me."
"Only as much as you allow yourself to be."
Looking out the window and off in the distance, Jamie shook his head.
"It comes with a raise."
Jamie turned back to O'Brien but said nothing. Yes, he and Kelli could use the extra money, but he did not want the extra headache associated with the position.
O'Brien sighed and pushed a typed piece of paper at Graff and then leaned back with both hands behind his shiny head.
"Okay, your choice. You select the detective you want to take orders from." He gestured at the typed sheet and said, "Pick someone."
Graff read over the list and pursed his lips. He had to admit that the seven names on the list were weak investigators. He did not like to set himself above the others, but there was not anyone he thought he respected enough to take orders from. The group was not close to good, which was why O'Brien tapped him for anything presenting even the slightest difficulty.
The best detectives were in the Waukesha County Sheriff Department, not in the Waukesha City Police Department. Pat O'Connor and Paul Eiselmann were the first two who came to mind, followed by Tom Albrecht, Brooke Beranger, and Ronnie Desotel. Graff had worked with all five during the summer of death.
Eiselmann and O'Connor had led a team who freed kids from a brothel in Long Beach, California. On the same day, Albrecht and Desotel led a team freeing a different set of captive kids traveling on a circuit catering to perverts. Desotel was shot and ended up with a permanent limp. Later that same summer, Beranger and Albrecht protected Jeremy Evans and his kids as they traveled across the country toward a deadly showdown in the Arizona desert. And more recently, Jamie had worked with O'Connor and Eiselmann as they shut down a drug ring involving high school kids and staff. They cut off an arm of MS-13, a violent gang out of El Salvador who ran the drug, gun, and skin trade along the I-43 and I-94 corridor from Chicago to Door County.
He glanced back at the list and knew there was not anyone he saw as anywhere close to being in a class with the five sheriff detectives. He frowned and pushed the sheet of paper back at O'Brien.
"You see the problem I have? Or should I say, we have?"
Graff bobbed his head from side to side. He did not want to agree with him, but deep down, he knew the captain was right.
O'Brien pushed two stapled sheets across the desk and said, "Here's a list of our patrol officers. Look at this list and identify two or three of the best we can promote to detective."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Spiral Into Darkness"
Copyright © 2018 Joseph Lewis.
Excerpted by permission of Black Rose Writing.
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