THE IRON COLLAR, A JOI SOMMERS MYSTERY BY BESTSELLING AWARD WINNING AUTHOR SUSAN D. PETERS.
SECRETS BEGET LIES.
LIES BEGET SECRETS.
Four years after closing the gruesome murder of church Elder Dennis Gregg, in Broken Dolls, Detective Joi Sommers and her partner Russell Wilkerson are summoned to a South Suburban commuter college where the body of a sexy coed is found garroted in the chemistry lab. From their first horrified glimpse at the corpse they recognize they have been tasked with an extraordinary case.
The evidentiary trail leads them to similarly murdered victims. Is this a pattern, or a series of random coincidences? Tracking the wanton killer from the South Suburban hamlet to Chicago’s trendy North side, their investigation thickens and threatens to excavate darkly hidden appetites.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.59(d)|
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South Suburban College, Monday, November 3, 2008 6:45 p.m.
Fall was in full effect, as pretty as a postcard and really chilly. Keisha smiled because she loved the crisp November air. She could wear her designer clothes without sweating, and it was time for boots. She had twenty pairs in all heel heights, colors and styles. Boots were her passion, or at least one of them. Keisha Norman pulled out her oversized Michael Kors handbag and retrieved her MAC products from her makeup kit. She reapplied her creamy lipstick, Intimidate her favorite pink shade. She pressed her lips together and glanced at her hair, carefully arranging it on her shoulders, forming a perfect frame for her narrow face. Frowning in the compact mirror, she checked out her recently whitened teeth. She remembered how pissed she had been by the message left on her voice mail.
Still tryin' to jerk my freakin' chain. She smirked at her reflection. She was a woman who knew just how to handle a stupid man.
Keisha was done with the pretending. In fact, she was done with the relationship. Tired of the kiss-and-makeup roller coaster — Hell, he can just kiss my fine ass, period!
As she pulled into Student Parking, she noticed that many of the cars had "Obama for President" stickers on their bumpers. The exception, from her sight line, was one very conspicuous sticker on a green Chevy with "John McCain for President" in bold display. She parked and swung her curvy body from beneath the steering wheel of the white 2005 Nissan Maxima. Thanks to Carl, she had just made the final payment and was determined to hang onto the car until she finished school. She felt a twinge of guilt as she headed for her rather clandestine meeting. Her strut was half runway and half slut as she hurried into the building wearing her tightest, favorite Gucci jeans, a short-burnished leather jacket, and tan blouse opened to the matching tan push-up bra. The fashion forward look was finished with brown stiletto boots that pinched her baby toe and rubbed the back of her left heel. That's what Band-Aids are for.
She walked past the main office and a small alcove with several comfy earth-toned chairs arranged around a round coffee table. It was strewn with copies of the South Holland News and South Town Star and assorted real estate flyers. She stopped at a wooden glass-windowed door with Chemistry Lab stenciled across the glass. When Keisha pivoted and reached for the knob, she smiled when she found that it was slightly ajar.
She entered the darkened lab muttering a few choice words under her breath. Finally, she challenged the darkness, "So, you got me down here, babe, now what?" Sensing she wasn't alone, she seethed at the obvious manipulation. So damn predictable, she thought. A noise behind her made her turn, but there was nothing there. She pursed her lips in disdain, but there came a split second of foreboding ... and then one second later it was too late.
The piercing pain seared through her. She let out what was intended as a scream, but due to the sheer force of the grab, it escaped as a yelp — like that of a wounded puppy — as she clawed desperately at her neck. Her caramel-colored face reddened, the brown thinly-lashed eyes bulged as corpuscles fired and burst; hot liquid filled her mouth. Seconds later her body went limp and crumpled onto the cold ceramic-tiled floor.
Her assailant, suddenly overwhelmed with an unbridled release of sexual tension reveled as the warm discharge ran down the legs of the loose athletic trousers. A deep breath accompanied the long awaited and satisfying release, followed by heart palpitations, the desire for a cigarette and a forceful caress. Orgasmic euphoria was shortened only by the distant sound of rapid footfalls on the stone-tiled hallway.
Eli Perkins moved quickly past the main office and a wall-mounted glass display case with photos of faculty and student activities. He noticed the photos from the school's Halloween Horror Week had been posted.
He made a mental note to check the case after he finished his business. He enjoyed the school's warm environment and for a man living alone, having young people and their nonsense around him helped fill the longing he had for his own child. He limped toward the area Ms. Sterling swore was the source of the commotion she had heard. His keys clinked in the mass of gold and silver that weighted his right arthritic hip. He choked the neck of a baseball bat in his left hand.
Sick and tired of these kids using these classrooms as motels.
He was barely able to remember when he was horny enough to sex a woman anywhere she would let him. He smiled quickly at a foggy flashback. It wasn't a completely foreign idea to get some pussy on the sly.
Gawt damn! Get-a-room!
Back ramrod straight, despite a slight arthritic limp, his stride was strong. Eli was ex-Special Forces and proud of it. He made it his business to be responsive to the faculty of the small tightly knit college, "A brother gots to keep an address." After unlocking and looking around two classrooms, he approached the third. He remembered this classroom because the lock was so damned hard to open, and he kept forgetting to grease it. He automatically pushed the door with his right knee while turning the lock. The doors often stuck, but Eli had mastered the right technique. The element of surprise on his side, clutching his bat, he entered quickly, scanning the room for movement. He was relieved he didn't see anything alarming. He flicked one of the three switches on the wall plate and moved deeper into the semi-dark room. After several cautious steps, he saw something to his right. Advancing, he stared in utter disbelief. He expected to catch kids screwing, or hiding, not this ... never this. He blinked, almost passing out from the sight. He first noticed the blood on the floor that seeped through her long hair. She lay there, legs akimbo, with both eyes popped wide open. Sickened, his instincts propelled him from the room. Leaving the door open, he fled toward the main office and a phone.
As soon as the old man left, a figure exited the room's storage closet, walked over to the dead woman and knelt to deftly finish the business at hand before fleeing down the darkened hallway in the opposite direction.CHAPTER 2
Detective Joi Sommers and her partner of eight years, Russell Wilkerson, were distracted on the ride to South Suburban College. Very likely both with thoughts of what had just happened between them ... again. Joi had, in the initial years of being partnered with Russell, made it her business to befriend his wife, Helen. Before her illness, Joi and Helen had occasionally shopped and lunched, and Joi had been invited to barbecues at their home. That was before Helen's illness. Russell and Joi had just rolled out of bed together. Something they had been doing for a long time.
"Ooops, I did it again," said Joi, mimicking Britney Spears and interrupting Russell's thoughts. "Sargent Rimmer has a real knack for interrupting great 'after sex.'" She glanced over at Russell who seemed lost in his thoughts.
"He must have a sixth sense," said Russell with an uneasy laugh.
"Or f'd up timing," snapped Joi. She thought about the fact that while there was definitely crime and murder in the south burbs, most of their cases referenced gun violence as the cause of death. Rimmer had simply ordered the pair to the college saying an African-American woman had been found dead. When a death was due to gunshots, Rimmer barked that out.
"Well, it's not like we've had many cases that have not been about gun violence in the past few years. Does he really need to say that's the cause of death?"
"You are probably right." Joi smoothly maneuvered the Saturn across 159th to State Street before hanging a right and pulling into the spacious parking lot. It was dark and after eight, and most students had left for the day. Joi lamented that summer was over. She smoothed her tousled chin-length dreadlocked hair. The chilly fall wind caused nearby trees to sway and scattered leaves of orange and green hues to swirl through the parking lot. Joi pulled her soft-gray suede jacket tightly around her curvy figure and fastened its middle and last buttons. The detectives walked side by side. Joi fought to maintain professional distance, which was almost impossible, after lovemaking that had left them both thoroughly sated. She peered at Russell out the corner of her thickly-lashed eyes, fighting back the ridiculous urge to tenderly hold onto his powerful hand.
They were greeted by a group of seven or eight gawkers naïvely pretending they usually milled around the school at night. Joi looked over at Russell's left hand to spy the roll of crime scene tape he kept stashed in his trench coat pocket.
"Excuse us, people ... there is nothing to see here ... Why don't you go on home?" she heard him say to the three or four crowded closest to the door. Building security had escorted everyone out of the building, providing the detectives easy access. Russell grinned and extended his right hand to a heavyset guy with fresh cornrow braids and a neatly trimmed moustache framing his ample, slightly ashy lips. He was wearing a dark-blue uniform with Vinson embroidered in gold.
"Hey, Vinson ... you here, man?"
"Been working security here since '03. I got moufs to feed, man," he said, revealing a distinct overbite and dropping into a swagger.
"I see you doin' good." He looked admiringly at Russell's trench coat covering tan creased slacks and dark-brown sport coat with matching dark-brown shirt. Then he turned his attention to Joi.
"Vinson, my partner, Detective Joi Sommers." Russell turned to Joi and laughed lightly as though remembering their antics. "Me and this cat went to Chicago Vocational High School together."
"Nice to meet you, Vinson," replied Joi. She was decidedly unimpressed with grown men who still wore braids, but she gave him credit for having them neatly braided and secured at the nape of his neck and not having the braids weighted down with beads.
"No disrespect, Ms. Lady, uh Detective," he said, correcting himself, "but I've never met a female homicide detective. You must be special."
"That I am." Joi shot Vinson a look that said she was not to be played with.
Russell gave Vinson a warning look.
"Detectives, it's right this way." Vinson was determined to behave as professionally as his high-school friend.
They followed him down the hallway and encountered an elderly man with a slight limp.
"Here's the engineer that found the body," announced Vinson somewhat tensely.
Vinson introduced them to Mr. Elijah Perkins. Although he was lanky and fragile, Joi raised a brow when he responded with a rich baritone voice that seemed suited to a much heavier man.
"Eli to yawl, but I make these young'uns respect me. Yawl, folla me. I know what ya here for. Scared the living shit outta me," he rattled on. "I was Special Forces in Desert Storm, but it's been a long time since I seent anything like this."
Vinson allowed Eli to lead the group of four that headed to the crime scene, but excused himself to go outside to deal with the crowd whose ranks, perhaps bolstered by rumors in the neighborhood, appeared to be swelling. As he turned to leave them, Russell said, "Man, we're going to take a preliminary look around, Crime Scene Techs will be coming and the body will need to be moved. Can you make sure when they come they know where to find us?"
"Whatever you need, bruh." Vinson pulled a long silver flashlight from a belt that also held a holstered weapon. "I'm gonna take a walk down this corridor before I go out front. Just make sure ... You be careful, dude." Vinson lightly touched his weapon, turned and moved through the dim hallway toward the front door.
Joi and Russell followed Eli past rows of lockers that reminded Joi more of high school than college. Soon they stopped and Eli produced a key ring that strained the worn brown leather belt that held it. Joi could see why his faded denim overalls sagged. He leaned into the door and with nimble dark-brown fingers quickly inserted the correct key and jerked upward. The chemistry lab door opened.CHAPTER 3
The smell of fresh blood immediately assaulted Joi's nostrils. When you enter a room and a person is dead, you smell them before you see them. Even if they haven't been dead the two to six hours it takes for rigor to set in, the odor of an extinguished life is unmistakable.
Joi gauged the lab was approximately twenty-by-twenty-five inches in size. Upon entry there was a ten foot wide whiteboard with dry erase markers on the right and several metal wall-hung cabinets with lower ledges to the left and right of the room. A storage closet toward the back of the room, near a bank of closed windows. The lab stations were composed of three islands of heavy gauge steel cabinets with drawers and laminate tops on wheels. Each station had a stainless steel sink with a gooseneck faucet and held an array of instruments and test tubes in plexiglass stands lining each counter. Several stools were arranged around the islands. The victim lay on the floor of the room behind the second of the three islands that were arranged for lab partners to work together. There was a pool of blood congealing on the dark-gray tile floor beside the body.
Joi knelt close to the body of the young female. The victim's head was nearly severed. She caught the glimmer of a thin wire embedded around the victim's neck; her eyes were wide open, a grotesque surprise. Joi turned her head for a moment to draw a clean breath and snapped on a pair of blue latex gloves pulled from her jacket's side pocket. Careful to avoid the blood that pooled near the victim's neck and fanned out a few inches from her corpse, she gently moved the neck. The wires were twisted in such a way that once she was attacked and dealing with almost instantaneous suffocation, she was powerless to remove the choking device. Her torturer had the option of gripping the two handles and twisting them gradually to see and feel the victim's suffering.
Joi glanced over her shoulder at Russell who had just returned from checking the room and closets to ensure they were alone.
"What the hell?" she said, shaking her head. "I had heard of a garrote, but never seen anyone killed with one. Wasn't that Jon Benét Ramsey child garroted?"
Russell holstered his weapon and leaned over Joi, looking down at the carnage beneath them.
"Yeah, but with a silken cord, not a goddamned wire like this. He stood. "Joi, this shit is creepy."
"Goes with the job." She took another deep breath and shook her head, moving it around like a turtle's head jutting out of its shell before standing.
"Creepy, hell, this girl literally had the life wrung outta her. Whoever did this wanted to inflict pain." Joi looked around at Eli, who felt compelled to speak.
"It's damn hard to look at." The old man cleared his throat and leaned against the counter, his gaze stopping to see the large photo of a scruffy-looking Albert Einstein on the wall with the Nobel-prize-winning scientist's famous quote on a silver plate at the base.
"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but those who watch them without doing anything."
He turned to face Joi. "I seent her around a few times. I think her name's Kenya, no ... that's someone else, it's Keisha."
"I take it she was a student."
"Yea, I think so. She weren't no teacher." He hung his head. "Makes me sick to think anyone would do this to such a pretty girl," said the former soldier, with beads of perspiration forming on his forehead. The janitor laid his bat on a ledge just under a low cabinet and took a large white handkerchief from his back pocket to mop his sweaty brow and rub it over his near-balding skull.
"This is a small school. Everybody at South Suburban College knows everybody else."
Joi removed her latex gloves and fumbled in her back pants pocket for a small notepad and pen. "Eli, how did you happen to find her?"
"One of the upstairs teachers called. Said she was hearing noises downstairs and thought it was in the hallway. Said she took a peek downstairs to tell them to shush, but didn't see nobody. We been having a little trouble with kids sneaking around and having sex in the classrooms. That's what she was thinking. She called me because that's what they do; they call me for every little thing."
The murdered girl's handbag lay on the floor nearby, a big, oversized, and heavy Michael Kors brown and ivory canvas. Russell commented, "She had a lot of stuff in this bad boy. Wonder if there are clues to who did this to her?"
He pulled on a pair of gloves and dug down into the unfamiliar territory. Noticing how awkward he looked, Joi signaled for him to move the handbag over to the counter so she could search it. She dumped the old gloves in the trashcan near the front door and pulled on fresh ones.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Iron Collar"
Copyright © 2018 Susan D. Peters.
Excerpted by permission of Sunrise Consulting.
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