Read an Excerpt
The Devil's Laughter
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1992 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Lincoln Donovan. He never did get his father to tell him why he named him Lincoln. Everytime he asked, his father would just chuckle. Finally, he quit asking. Not that it really made much difference. After a couple of dozen fights over his name in elementary school, fights that young Donovan always won – usually by fighting dirty – the nickname Link was hung on him and that satisfied all concerned. However, in the years that followed, most folks usually referred to him behind his back as "that goddamn Link Donovan."
Link had sipped from the cup of life often, never really caring or understanding why he had been such a disappointment to his teachers in high school and college, his brothers and sisters, his mother and father, his minister, his football coach, his two ex-wives, and damn near anyone else who ever got close to him.
Link did not necessarily look for the easy road; that route invariably opened up for him. All too often just in the nick of time. He breezed through high school academics without studying much, he breezed through team athletics with an indifference that infuriated his coaches, and in his second year of college, in a burst of patriotism brought on by a weekend of hard drinking, he joined the Army.
He found Vietnam to be a most profound experience – among other things. He did two tours. When asked if he would like to stay In Country for another tour and perhaps make the Army his career, it took four enlisted men, two nurses, and a very excitable Methodist chaplain to drag him off the man who'd asked. The Army said he had an attitude problem.
Link's problem – if it could be called a problem – was that he could do anything ... and do it extremely well. He just didn't do anything for very long. He'd been, among other things, a carpenter, a welder, a mechanic, a game warden, a bush pilot, and he'd spent almost eight years with the CIA. He was also a very good journalist – which is what he'd set out to be in the first place. That was his profession at the moment. Subject to change at any time.
Link's philosophy could best be summed up by a statement he made to a board of supervisors while working as a game warden in one of the western states – right before they fired him. A very large and very irritated grizzly bear had chased Link up a tree and kept him there all night long. When they asked why he didn't shoot the damn thing, Link replied, "Well, hell, it's his woods."
On this lovely late fall morning in Louisiana, Link stared at his reflection in the dresser mirror and remembered that it was his birthday. He was forty-two years old. High school graduating class of '65. He looked at his face. He still had most of his thick brown hair – a little gray here and there – and most of his teeth, although he'd lost a couple in fights. Six feet tall and muscular. Square-jawed with pale blue eyes. Link was considered to be a handsome man in a rugged sort of way and an exceptional catch for any woman – who didn't know him very well. A woman's fascination with Link Donovan lasted until she was invited into his house.
Link liked animals. Nearly any sort of animal. He had even become a vegetarian – but not one of those preachy kinds. And he saw nothing wrong with keeping a few animals in the house. As long as they were bathed and brushed and groomed and kept up to date on their shots, what was wrong with having a few pets around the place? Dogs, cats, raccoons, hawks, owls, possums ... it didn't matter to Link. Whatever wandered up – lost, hurt, stray, abandoned – Link took in, doctored, and kept. The wild critters, he released back to the wild – those that could or would go. The dogs and cats, he found homes for or just kept.
At the moment, he had fifteen dogs and at least as many cats, a raccoon named Hector, a huge ocelot he called Kat, Brutus the hawk, two goats, a burro named Clyde, and a number of animals that were being doctored in his "hospital," as he jokingly referred to the barn. The goats, burro, and wild critters did not come into his house. The other animals did.
Link figured he would probably never remarry. Most women he met and invited to his house felt the same way.
When Link's parents had retired and moved to Arizona, they left the house and five hundred acres of wooded land to Link. Link's brothers and sisters, all older, objected – none of them liked Link very much and the feeling was mutual – but Dr. Donovan (MD) and Mrs. Donovan (Ph.D) signed the land over to him anyway, even though they figured Link would probably start growing marijuana and having hordes of wild-eyed partiers over for all-night orgies.
But the wildness was gone from Link, and at age thirty-seven he'd settled in and quietly began writing his articles and his paperback books and seeing to the needs of hurt critters.
Link waded through the dogs and cats and paused long enough to ask the ocelot, which he'd raised from a kitten, why she considered the coffee table – all four feet of it – more comfortable than her bed. Kat looked at him, showed him her impressive teeth, and went back to sleep. Link walked down to the blacktop, got his morning paper out of the drop, and went back to the house to fix breakfast.
After breakfast, he showered, shaved, went into his study, and turned on his computer. There were no messages for him on his electronic bulletin board. He fiddled around and tried to work on a fiction manuscript he had going. He wrote for an hour and then shut it down. He was not unhappy with what he had written; it was just one of those rare mornings when he didn't feel like writing.
He had another cup of coffee and then checked his animal hospital. All his patients were healing nicely. He refilled water bowls and cups and made sure food was available.
Back in the house, he slipped into a sport coat and put a. 25 caliber Beretta autoloader into his back pocket. Link had done extensive flying for the Company in Central and South America, and a dozen or more terrorist groups operating out of those countries had him marked for death – if they could find him. The pistol was legal. He had a federal gun permit signed by the United States Attorney General. It was updated periodically.
He put out those critters that stayed outside when he was gone, and made sure plenty of food and water was available for those who stayed inside – the ocelot, a couple of older cats, and Hector the raccoon, who was put on the back porch. They were all litter-box trained and never made a mess.
None of the animals ever left the five acres cleared around the stone house. Link had a six-foot-high cyclone fence around the compound – as he called it – and a hot wire running along the bottom and another one running a foot from the top. The animals quickly developed a healthy respect for the electrically charged wires (as did any human who touched one). Any new critter would test the wire once and maybe a second time. Rarely would they hit it a third time. It scared them more than hurt them.
He backed his Ford Bronco out and relocked the gates to the five acres. He opened the console between the front seats. The model 84 Beretta .380 was snug in leather, two full clips in a pouch beside it. There were other reasons why Link always went armed. Finally settling on journalism as his career, he had angered a lot of people with any number of articles. If he couldn't get an article published in the newspaper, he wrote a letter to the editor.
Link would take on any person or organization that he felt was getting away with something hurtful. Consequently, he always had something to write about and somebody mad at him.
A lot of people did not like Link Donovan. A lot of people in the parish, surrounding parishes, and across the state had tried for several years to get him fired as a reporter for the local paper. They had succeeded a few months back. Not that Link really gave a damn, for he was an excellent journalist with a good reputation for accuracy. He was a stringer for a lot of newspapers and several national magazines, and he wrote several paperback novels a year. He was far from being wealthy, but he was comfortable.
Link closed and locked the gates by the parish road. He was not being overly cautious. Several times shots had been fired from the road at his house and from trespassers on his carefully and legally posted property. He regularly received threatening letters through the mail. And a surprisingly large number of people objected to Link's views toward animals and had threatened to kill his critters.
Link was usually slow to anger. But threatening to do harm to an innocent pet turned him menacingly cold and into what the CIA's resident shrinks had written: "... a highly dangerous and devious man, capable of killing without remorse." He had killed in Vietnam, he had killed while working for the Company. And he hadn't lost any sleep over it yet.
Link was a kind, giving, and compassionate man when it came to young kids, old people, and animals. He was cold-blooded and ruthless when it came to anyone who would hurt him or his critters.
The local sheriff, a longtime friend of his, had asked if Link would like a commission from his department. The only way a person can legally carry a concealed weapon in Louisiana is to get a deputy sheriffs commission from the local parish sheriff – and that commission is only good in the parish where it is issued. To legally carry a concealed weapon statewide, one must fill out an application from the Louisiana State Police. If approved by them, the parish sheriff must then okay it. The permit is good only as long as that sheriff is in office. The system is arbitrary and subject to abuse. Link had gotten in hot water with many sheriffs statewide after he wrote several articles condemning the practice and comparing it to good-old-boyism and cronyism, since sheriffs are oftentimes elected in nothing more than a popularity contest that has nothing to do with their ability – or more accurately, the lack of it – to run a fair and impartial office.
Both Sheriff Ray Ingalls and his Chief Deputy Gerard Lucas knew about Link's federal permit. Ray ran a good, tight, straight office, and both he and Gerard knew that Link still had strong ties with the Company.
Ray, Gerard, and Link were all the same age and had gone all the way through school together, from kindergarten through grade twelve. Link got along well with most of the deputies, although there were a few who did not like him at all. But Link never worried about that and paid little attention to it. He was not a man who gave a damn what others thought of him.
Link stopped by the offices of the local paper to see if he could put the needle to the editor, George Keenan. George was not really a bad sort; he just didn't respond well to threats from local businesspeople who had told him that either that "goddamn Link Donovan" was fired or they would pull their advertising out of the paper. So Link got the boot.
The receptionist smiled at him. "Morning, Link. How's your zoo?"
"Everybody's doing fine, Jenny. All the critters say hello." He looked around the place. George and the two full-time reporters were gone.
"Where's the fearless leader this morning?"
"He's out with Suzanne, chasing down the big story and trying to get some pictures. He just radioed in. He's hopping mad. Saying the sheriff is covering something up."
"Big story? Clue me in, Jenny. I haven't heard the news this morning."
"It hasn't been on any news. Not yet, anyway. But it's real bad, Link. Jack Stern's boy was found dead out in the country about an hour ago. They're calling it suicide, but the sheriff won't let anybody within a hundred yards of the body. The deputy who found the body was so sick he threw up all over the place, so I'm told."
"Where was the body found?"
"Just off Miller Road. You going out there?"
"Might as well. Suicide, you said?"
"Yeah. But nobody's buying that. The deputy was overheard as saying that he'd never seen anything so horrible in all his life."
"Suicide can be horrible, Jenny. Depends on how it's done."
She shook her head. "The sheriff's department has roped off about a three-hundred-yard area, according to George. And they called for garbage bags and they're walking around with rubber gloves on, picking up ... things. That sound like suicide to you?"CHAPTER 2
Link headed out of town, toward Miller Road – that is, toward the ass-end of nowhere. As far as population, it was second only to the northernmost part of the road that Link lived on, out near the old Romaire Industries acreage. Link shook his head. Funny he would think of that place; hadn't thought of it in years.
The place was swarming with cops and curious onlookers, rubbernecking to get a glimpse of the macabre, the hideous, the bloody, the dead. Link parked his Bronco and walked up to the line of people. Deputies had been posted along the road's edge, keeping people out of the wooded area. Bright tape with the lettering CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS had been hung on the fence.
Suzanne Perrin, one of the local paper's reporters, smiled at him. She got along well with Link, even though she didn't agree with him on all his views. Suzanne knew how to play the small town political and power base games when it came to reporting. Link didn't give a damn.
"I'm not horning in on your story, Suzanne," Link assured her. "I'm just one of the curious."
"Yeah. But five dollars says Ray will let you in there and keep us out," she said dryly but without malice.
Link smiled. She was probably right. "Suicide, Suzanne?"
"That never came from the sheriffs department. That was just a rumor someone started. But I think the boy is scattered all over the place."
"They're picking up body parts?"
"Another rumor. That one started by good ol' George. But they did call for garbage bags."
Link had heard the talk that the Stern boy dabbled in the occult. He supposed that Suzanne had heard the same. He wondered why he thought of that now.
George Keenan walked up and nervously greeted Link. Ever since he had fired Link, George always acted as if Link were going to bust him in the mouth. Actually, Link rather liked the man and knew that George had been following orders from the paper's owners – Nelson Marshall, Jack Matisse, and Dave Bradley. They were local farmers and businessmen, all quite wealthy and all with a strong dislike for Link that went back years.
In truth, Link had never done a thing to any of the three men. It was Link's father whom they really disliked. The elder Donovan had owned a lot of land in the parish and refused to allow hunting on any of his property. Years back, when Marshall, Matisse, and Bradley had been young men, Dr. Donovan had caught them trespassing – with two illegally shot deer – and had had them arrested. Since their fathers were all wealthy men with a lot of political pull, the case never came to court. Dr. Donovan had been quite vocal about the double standard of law enforcement and the hard feelings had escalated.
George turned to Suzanne. "Listen, I have to go back into town to pick up ads. Hang around and try to get some pictures."
"Sure. I'll walk you to your car; want to talk to you," she said.
Link stepped off the narrow shoulder of the parish road and walked up to the fence. The young deputy Tom Halbert greeted him with a smile. Tom liked Link and respected his views, even though he didn't agree with all of them. "You here as a reporter or just a regular person, Link?"
Link smiled at that. "Just a regular person, Tom. No cameras or notepads."
"Hang on," Tom said, and lifted his handy-talkie.
Link heard Ray's reply, okaying his entry.
"Go on in, Link," the deputy said. "But it isn't pretty"
It sure wasn't, Link silently agreed after he had reached the scene by the woods. Pieces of the boy were scattered all over the place.
Sheriff Ingalls greeted him. "Nasty business, Link. Do I have your word that you won't speak or write about this until I give you the okay?"
"Sure, Ray. Jesus, somebody sure had a grudge against the kid, didn't they?"
"The head's over here. Look at this."
Barbed wire had been wrapped around the boy's forehead – tightly wrapped, cutting deeply into the flesh. The boy's eyes were open and bulging in shock, pain, and horror.
Excerpted from The Devil's Laughter by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1992 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.