Two decades ago, the tiny New York hamlet of Bessemer was horrorstruck when a young Catholic priest was savagely bludgeoned to death in the middle of a blinding winter deluge. No one was ever charged with the crime, so when police beat reporter Ed Sperl listens to an old recording of journalists talking about the sensational case, he’s stunned to notice something: the tiniest of connections that no one has made before. The new evidence compels him to investigate further than he thought possible—and further than some people would like.
The woman who made the recording, Bessemer reporter Marlee West, is still dealing with the shadow that has hung over her small town since that terrible night. And she fears that her colleague’s curiosity has awakened a nightmare from the past. But the killer is already closer than she dares to imagine.
From an author known for both true crime and suspense, including the Edgar Award winner Carolina Skeletons, this is a chilling thriller that “will surprise even the most astute mystery reader” (Publishers Weekly).
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About the Author
Stout began writing his first novel while working at the Times. Based on the true story of a 1940s double-murder for which fourteen-year-old George Stinney was controversially executed, Carolina Skeletons (1988) won Stout an Edgar Award for best first novel. After two more well-received mysteries, Night of the Ice Storm (1991) and The Dog Hermit (1993), Stout turned to writing nonfiction. Night of the Devil (2003) tells the story of famous convict Thomas Trantino, while The Boy in the Box (2008) is an investigation of one of America’s most famous unsolved murders. Since retiring from the Times, Stout has redoubled his work on his next book.
David Stout (b. 1942) is an accomplished reporter who has been writing mysteries and true crime since the 1980s. Born in Erie, Pennsylvania, Stout took a job at the New York Times in 1982. He spent nearly twenty-eight years at the newspaper, as a reporter, editor, and rewrite man covering national news and sports, and retired in 2009. Stout began writing his first novel while working at the Times. Based on the true story of a 1940s double-murder for which fourteen-year-old George Stinney was controversially executed, Carolina Skeletons (1988) won Stout an Edgar Award for best first novel. After two more well-received mysteries, Night of the Ice Storm (1991) and The Dog Hermit (1993), Stout turned to writing nonfiction. Night of the Devil (2003) tells the story of famous convict Thomas Trantino, while The Boy in the Box (2008) is an investigation of one of America’s most famous unsolved murders. Since retiring from the Times, Stout has redoubled his work on his next book.
Read an Excerpt
Night of the Ice Storm
By David Stout
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 David Stout
All rights reserved.
January is a cruel month in Bessemer. The holiday decorations are gone, leaving the streets bleak, and winds off Lake Erie seem to cut right down to the cheekbone. Spring is an eternity away.
January is the month of snow. The snow is a blessing, at least in those brief hours when it lies fresh. It covers the gray ugliness of the factories and steel plants, covers the soot and the drabness of lives. But the blessing carries its own curse, because at some point each January, it seems, there is a brief stretch when the air hovers between freeze and thaw, and the snow that has lain pure and white begins to turn to slush.
At first the slush is a cold, gray pudding, but soon it takes on streaks of pink and orange from the mill and factory ash, so that when the ridges and valleys of slush freeze again, they lie like entrails in the streets.
Then the snow falls again, and the people of Bessemer, many of whom trace their seed back to the fields and villages of Germany, Poland, Italy, and Ireland, shrug and long for the spring that lies over a far horizon.
This night, in January 1971, would be remembered as one of the cruelest of all. During the day, the temperature had shot into the midforties (it had been in the twenties less than twenty-four hours before), but after the early sunset it turned colder. The rain went on, and the drops clung longer to the trees. Anyone who knew winter at all figured that in a few hours the rain would turn to snow.
The temperature teetered between thawing and freezing, and the rain went on. Or was it rain? Those Bessemer people who ventured outside to throw out garbage or walk the dog felt the drops on their faces. Yes, it felt like rain, but when it touched the ground, it turned to a glistening crust. The drops clung longer and longer to the trees, and the limbs sagged as the drops turned to ice. The bent branches glistened and clacked against one another.
"Folks, the weather bureau says we're apt to get hit with a full-fledged ice storm. Now, what that means is that by late tonight, or maybe tomorrow morning, we're looking at downed power lines, loss of telephone service, problems with mass transit—"
"And lots of fender benders, Brad. The police have asked us to tell our listeners to use extreme caution if they have to go out tonight. The streets are getting very, very slippery, and they're going to get worse."
"Indeed they are, Phil."
"Now, the police are also advising our listeners to be sure they have flashlights and candles where they can find them if the lights go out."
"All in all, it's a good night to curl up in front of the fire with someone you like. You'll be a lot safer."
He turned off the radio. Curl up in front of the fire with someone you like. I would, he thought, except that I don't have a fireplace. Don't have anyone to curl up with either.
He did have a flashlight in a kitchen drawer, and he had made sure the batteries were good.
Some nights he did stay in his apartment, reading, watching television, reading the Bessemer Gazette, the newspaper he worked for. Many nights he cooked for himself. Other nights—and this was one of them—he had to get out.
He knew all the taverns in Bessemer. He chose taverns to match his mood: if he felt like shots and beers, and conversation to match, he would head over to the industrial section and the bars frequented by the plant workers. Other times he would feel like a thick cheeseburger or pasta or clams. Bars that served such food were one of the few charms of Bessemer. They dotted the streets of the ethnic neighborhoods, if one knew where to look. He did.
There were other places, in the university area. They offered beer, football songs, and a rich variety of food, for the university drew a lot of students from New York City, and the bars near the campus catered to them.
Sometimes he liked the university bars best. The carefree, iconoclastic attitude of the students was infectious, and some of the women so lovely that he ached just to talk to them. He seldom talked to the women, but fairly often he struck up a conversation with one or two of the young men. They talked about Nixon, Vietnam, football, golf, Kent State, the army.
He felt almost a generation gap with the students. It was not that he was so much older (there was only a few years difference) but that he had lived his own life differently, for reasons mostly beyond his control. Though he didn't like to dwell on it, going to the college bars gave him a chance to feed off the youth of others.
He put on his favorite pair of casual slacks and a comfortable pullover sweater and grabbed a windbreaker, pulling the hood over his head as soon as he stepped outside. The rain felt like cold spit on his face, and the footing was treacherous. A crust of ice glistened on everything he could see.
His car was at the curb, and he reached it without stumbling. He started the engine, turned on the defrost, and scraped the windshield while the car warmed up.
Just as he was getting into the car, he heard it: a piercing crash, followed by a series of smaller splintering sounds. Somewhere, probably within a couple of blocks, a big tree had just died, collapsing with the weight of the ice.
He drove cautiously, feathering his brakes and taking the turns slowly.
"... so let us say it again, folks, if you don't have to go out ..."
He snapped off the radio.
He parked on a dark street and locked his car. His windbreaker soon gleamed with congealing drops as he walked toward the Silver Swine tavern a block away.
He heard another piercing crash, like an ax handle being broken. The sound was to his rear, a few blocks away, and as he turned to look, he saw a blue-green flash of light, then nothing. Power line down, maybe a transformer, he thought.
The tavern's steamy window was decorated with a silver neon pig that winked and smiled. He pushed open the tavern door, instantly feeling the heat on his face. The place was full of the smells of onions, french fries, beef, chili, beer, peanut dust, bodies. The huge room throbbed with the babble of voices and background music and the clink of bottles and glasses from the long oak bar. Faded pennants from dozens of schools hung from the rafters. The wall behind the bar was plastered with political stickers from the previous presidential election: Nixon and Agnew, Humphrey and Muskie, "All the Way With LeMay." But a dart board with a smiling Richard Nixon for a target left no doubt about the politics of the tavern keeper and his clientele.
He took off his windbreaker, shook it so that the drops fell into the peanut shells on the floor, hung the jacket on a peg.
"What'll it be?"
Some of the people he worked with were regulars at the Silver Swine, but he wasn't. It had been several weeks since his last visit and he had let his sideburns grow. He had also started a beard. He rubbed the stubble self-consciously, stopped when he saw himself in the mirror, took a swig of beer.
"What's it doing out?" the bartender said.
"Rain turning to ice. Slippery as hell."
"My girlfriend just called me," the bartender said. "She said trees are coming down right and left around North Park. Dragging electric and phone lines with 'em."
"I believe it."
North Park and the surrounding neighborhood had the oldest and biggest trees in the city. The park was near the lake, and bad weather often hit that area just before it swept the rest of the city.
He sat on a stool, finished his beer fast, ordered another. He felt warm, relaxed. Maybe he would order something to eat.
The television played soundlessly behind the bar. The weatherman stood smiling in front of a map of the city and touched one section after another with a pointer. Then the screen showed downed trees, sagging trees, power lines lying in congealing puddles.
He watched the weatherman, knew about what he was saying even with the sound down; he could tell from the silly smile that broadened now and then into a grin: "... so we are in for some really miserable weather. The kind even Bessemer doesn't get every winter, so unless you have to, please don't go out ..."
Screw you, he thought. I had to go out.
To his left, two bearded university students wearing army fatigue jackets decorated with peace signs where there should have been chevrons were arguing about the Kent State shootings of the previous May:
"... fascist, cold-blooded killers, no matter what ..."
"... only victims themselves, products of a sick system ..."
"... motto of the infantry. Follow me, I am the whore of battle ..."
Suddenly, anger shot through him like an electric current; his temples throbbed with it. The students in the army jackets talked like spoiled fools. What had they ever had to do in their lives? He felt like shouting at them to stop their worthless little argument.
He drained his glass, motioned to the bartender to refill it. There, a long gulp to force back the bile. He felt better.
A man squeezed into the space between him and the students in army jackets. Good; the man blocked out the voices.
"Hey, all right!" the man clapped his hands softly.
He looked up at the television, saw Notre Dame's football coach, Ara Parseghian, smiling and shaking hands with several Bessemer Chamber of Commerce leaders.
He remembered: Parseghian had flown into Bessemer for a luncheon honoring his team's New Year's Day victory over Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
"I'm a fan of Notre Dame," the man said to him. "You?"
He was on guard. "Sort of."
"'Sort of,'" the stranger mimicked, though not obnoxiously. "Well, I gotta tell ya, I had a most happy New Year's Day. After the game, that is. During the game I was rattling the rosary beads right and left."
"It worked." He said that in a flat, almost offhand way without turning his head.
"This time it did," the stranger said. "But the Big Guy didn't come through when the Irish played Southern Cal."
"Maybe he had a bet on Southern Cal."
At that, the stranger chuckled. "My name's John Barrow."
"I'm Gary Price," he lied. He often used a false name in taverns, and he seldom mentioned his connection with the Gazette. It was too easy to get into a barroom argument over the war and politics.
"Glad to know you, Gary."
The stranger's handshake was strong. He was tall, broad shouldered, with sweptback, wavy, brown hair. He had straight teeth, a slightly crooked grin, blue eyes that had a touch of irreverence. He wore jeans and a plaid shirt over a white turtleneck.
"Buy you a beer?"
"I forget sometimes that not everybody's a Notre Dame fan," John Barrow said.
"Well, a lot of people are in this town. Lots of Catholics."
"I know. Cheers."
"Cheers." He liked the stranger. "Actually, I wasn't surprised the Irish lost to Southern Cal."
"No. Southern Cal gives the Irish trouble, especially in Los Angeles."
"So you believe in jinxes?"
"Sometimes. At least in football."
"Ah. I'm not supposed to believe in jinxes, but sometimes I think I do."
"Can't be too careful."
"What kind of work do you do, Gary?"
"I'm a newspaperman. With the Gazette." He had surprised himself by letting his guard down; there was something about John Barrow he liked.
"Newspaperman! Do you cover sports?"
"I've done a little of everything. You?"
"I'm a social worker. It doesn't pay very well, but on a good day I get a lot of satisfaction."
"And a constant supply of problems."
"You got that right. Hey, check that out." John Barrow pointed to the TV set. The weatherman was pointing to the map of the city, and the words Storm Update flashed on the screen. Then came pictures of great, ancient trees lying ice-encrusted in the street, pictures of icy power lines hanging low, pictures of broken utility poles lying against cars.
"Jeez, look at that," the bartender said. The TV showed a transformer flashing blue-green, sending a cascade of sparks into a cold puddle below.
"A good night for the spiritual solace of a warm tavern, Gary. Good for the body and soul."
"You're right. Ready for another?"
"Does the Pope say grace?"
The beer felt good. He and John Barrow talked about college football, sharing remembrances of games played a decade or more ago.
"How come you know so much about football, Gary?"
"Frustrated jock." That was the truth.
"Me, too. You play golf?"
"I hack at it. I'm not very consistent, but I like it when I get a chance to play."
"I'm not bad. I can usually play at bogey level. When I practice a lot, that is. I live in an old house with part of the basement an old fruit cellar. Dirt floor, high ceiling. I can practice my golf swing all winter long."
"Damn. You mean you can actually hit a ball down there?"
"Sure. Tee it up and swing away. I got myself a few bales of hay and stacked them against a wall. Hung a thick tarp in front of the bales. Stops the balls nice and easy."
Two more beers had been set on the bar. He was caught up in the babble and music and personal contact. He felt warm and good.
"So," John Barrow said, "Bessemer's a terrific place to live in the winter, doncha think?"
"Couldn't agree more. Which is why I'm flying out of here tomorrow. Couple weeks in Florida'll fix me up."
"Taking your golf clubs?"
"Silly question. I'm taking more golf clothes than street clothes. I really need this vacation, too. The holiday season's always so damn busy."
He was going to ask John Barrow why that was, but he let it go.
"You ever cover golf tournaments?"
"No. But I did meet Jack Nicklaus last summer. Some bullshit civic luncheon. A very nice guy. He even gave me a couple of tips."
By the time their glasses were empty again, he was hungry. He motioned to the bartender. "Can we get two more beers and a menu?"
"Guys, we're gonna close early," the bartender said. "Storm's getting worse. If you want another round ..."
He was disappointed; he was hungry, and he was enjoying the company.
"You got any french fries and onion rings ready?" John Barrow asked the bartender.
"Good. How about putting a big serving of each in a bag. Throw in a six-pack." Then, turning to him, Barrow said, "We'll go to my place and shoot the shit for a while. Show you my new set of golf clubs."
He carried the six-pack and John Barrow took the food. Then he followed Barrow into the icy night.
"You parked nearby, Gary?"
"Around the corner."
"I'm right here." John Barrow pointed to a white compact. "Blink your lights when you're behind me, and I'll lead the way."
The ice-rain stuck to his windbreaker. Once, his feet almost went out from under him. The world was wet, glistening. He had to step around several limbs and branches.
His car looked as if it had been sprayed with a fine mist, then plunged into a deep freeze. He had to bang the door with his fist for the lock to receive the key. He put the six-pack on the front seat, started the engine, took out the scraper. The ice clung to the windshield like skin and came off in strips only with repeated jabbings.
Suddenly, he felt panic: was he taking too long? Would John Barrow get tired of waiting for him?
In the distance, he saw a blue-green flash, like lightning, close to the ground.
Finally, with the defroster and the scraping, he had his windshield good enough to see through.
He turned the corner, feathered his brakes a couple of times, slowed to a stop, and blinked his lights when he spotted the white compact. John Barrow's car pulled out in front of him.
He stayed several car lengths behind the white compact, which made a right turn down Lethridge Avenue and a left onto the Ambrose Parkway. The pavement was slippery, but there were few cars. He decided he was in no danger of a DWI charge.
The white compact was leaving the university district. It stayed on the Ambrose as the parkway curved briefly along the edge of the industrial area, then exited into an old neighborhood whose mansions had gradually been converted to offices and boardinghouses as their grandeur faded.
He stayed close behind the compact. Some blocks were totally dark, and he passed one power-company crew where a huge old tree had fallen onto a utility pole. The repairmen's yellow raincoats glittered with ice in the glare of floodlights. Their chain saws growled as they ripped into tree flesh.
The white compact took one last right turn down a long street, slowed, and stopped at the curb. He pulled in behind it and shut off the engine. He had to urinate and wished he had before leaving the Silver Swine. The thought of asking John Barrow to show him to the bathroom made him feel foolish, childlike.
"Follow me, Gary. Watch your step."
Excerpted from Night of the Ice Storm by David Stout. Copyright © 1991 David Stout. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.
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~ Name ~ Hail <p> ~ Age ~ 15 <p> ~ Gender ~ Female <p> ~ Godly Parent ~ Khione, Goddess of Snow and Ice <p> ~ Appearence ~ She has blonde whitish hair with icy blue eyes. Most of the time, you wouldn't see this because her face is hidden behind a mask <p> ~ Attire ~ Along with the mask, she normally wears a frosty blue cloak. She has a skelton necklace is formed out of unbreakable ice. Her eyes are normally showing though. The rest of her features other then hair are not on her face. <p> ~ Weapons ~ She owns a ice bow, being the child of Khione she can make ice arrows out of thin air. Her weapons can be made out of thin air too. They must be ice so they are meltable except for the bow whih is the oppisite, unmeltable <p> ~ Powers ~ Anything to do with snow and ice really. She heal others and herself with snow but small wounds though. She can kind of shadow travel but, she disapoofs into snow instead. Etc. <p> ~ Magical Items ~ Not really any except for the bow. She always wearing armor that is enchanted. <p> ~ Others ~ Ask. Bai.