The first victim was found lying "smack dab on home plate" in a neighborhood softball diamond, posed and pinned with a photo of the crime. The second victim, with no obvious connection to the first, was unmistakably connected in death: dressed to play ball, posed, and wearing a picture of his own crime scene.
Despite the help of some high-tech crime busters and a beautiful crime scene photographer, all eager to track down the psycho, Jake senses time is running out before the next victim dies.
About the Author
In her new southwest series, Elizabeth follows Sarah Burke, a homicide detective dealing with cutting-edge problems in an ancient setting. The valley that holds Tucson , Arizona , was occupied by native Americans for thousands of years before the Spanish came questing for gold and glory. Folded into the U.S. by the Gadsden Purchase in 1852, this desert city reflects its border heritage, with a polyglot population constantly growing more diverse. Sarah must deal with a colorful mix of twenty-first century adventurers: big-time builders and small-time gamblers, cotton growers and cattle herders, drug-runners and people smugglers, copper miners digging for old-style wealth and bioscientists in search of some new bonanza. Undocumented immigrants scramble up from the south as retiring boomers bring their wealth and optimism down from the north. Naturally, these people don't all mingle peacefully. Wherever their interests collide, that's an ideal spot for a crime novelist.
Read an Excerpt
"Come on," I said, "let's do it now."
"In the yard, are you crazy?" Nancy laughed and turned away. I reached out for her, but she skittered across the lawn, staying just ahead of me, teasing. I followed her, panting hilariously, stretching out my arms and pushing to gain speed, straining to catch her. Her hair shone glossy in the dappled sunlight, and her laughter rang like bells. Another bell rang somewhere, too; I ran faster, but the noise grew louder and she faded as the telephone pierced my dream. I groped for it through a haze of desire.
"Jake? Ed Gray." The lieutenant's good at waking people; he takes his time. After a couple of seconds he asked, a little firmer, "Jake? You awake?"
"Glah," I said, more or less. I turned on the light and squinted at the clock on my night stand. Five past two. In the morning? Of course, in the morning, ding-dong. I sat up and rejoined the force. "What is it, Ed?"
"Uh, kinda serious business, I guess," Ed said, resuming his usual commanding baritone. "Vince Greeley says he's got a DOA, which according to him it's gotta be a homicide. Seems like the victim is pretty messed up . . . Vince claims he's never seen anything like it." I heard his console rattle, and a loud, angry voice shouting drunkenly in the near distance. "I thought you better have a look before I called the coroner."
"The cor--Ed, are you sure we need the coroner? Where is Vince?"
"In the park. Pioneer Park. Where the softball diamonds are, in the northwest corner behind the pool. Harley Mundt's his partner, he's there too. They were doing routine drive-bys in section thirteen, and they saw the side gate of the parkstanding open. They went in to check and found this dead guy in there. Right smack dab on home plate, Vince says, on playing field two. Hold on a minute."
Two dead little thunks sounded on the line as he shunted his other calls out to the duty sergeant. As soon as the buzzing stopped, he barked a sharp order that got somebody to slam a door on the shouting drunk. He sucked air in the sudden silence, blew it out, and finished, softly, "You better go see this, Jake. You wanna let me know about the coroner after you get over there?"
"I'll call him if I need him," I said. "Where'll I find Greeley and Mundt? At the side gate on Eleventh? Or--"
"No, no, the east side, Jake, on Webster. The gate's between Eighth and Ninth Streets, but you gotta go east on Ninth, remember; Eighth is one way going west out there. Take the Beltway; Broadway's still busy from the bars." I hung up quickly to escape his parking instructions. Lieutenant Gray's normal bossiness gets worse as the night goes along.
Five years in the detective division have not been wasted on me; I can get dressed fast. Chinos and a blazer satisfy the dress code, so that's what I mostly wear. And I'm a slave to habit: shirts in the middle drawer, ties on a hanger, shoes on a rack. The Glock is in its holster, on its own belt, always in the same spot on the closet shelf. In five minutes I was twisting the spring-loaded lock on my front door. I eased it shut till I heard it click and padded quietly down the front steps on rubber soles. People like having a cop living in their neighborhood, as long as his night calls don't wake them up.
Driving toward the Beltway, I punched up KQRS in Minneapolis, got Pearl Jam playing "Alive," adjusted the bass to just where I could see the ashtray vibrate, and drummed on the steering wheel to get my juices flowing. My body seemed to be waking up in sections. My hands and feet were behaving normally, but my nose was still cold, and the pit of my stomach felt as if I'd swallowed a coil of old rope. My brain was handling basic stuff like driving the car and humming off-key, but it was still coming up blank on the day of the week.
On the highway, I spotted the neon glare of an all-night convenience store, pulled in, and bought an enormous Styrofoam cup of black coffee. I slurped it anxiously, burning my lips, as I drove east toward Pioneer Park. Tuesday, I remembered suddenly; it was Monday night when I went to bed, so this has to be Tuesday morning. Thank you, Juan Valdez.
Turning off the highway into the quiet residential neighborhood leading to the park, I doused the radio, rolled my window down, and sucked in a big, delicious noseful of Minnesota in May. Lilacs, fresh-turned earth, sheep manure, and grass cuttings; heaven should only have it so good. Was last winter the longest and coldest on record, or do I ask that every year in May?
Anyway, Minnesota winters do make you really appreciate spring. Everybody in Rutherford says that, to explain to tourists why we live so far north in the temperate zone.
Strangers, meeting me for the first time, often ask me where I'm from. They think I'm an immigrant because my face looks wrong for the Upper Midwest, where most people are of Scandinavian, Irish, and German descent and have pale skin and blue eyes. My skin is cinnamon-colored, and I have, as a tactful teacher once put it, mixed features: straight black hair, almond-shaped dark brown eyes, dimples, and a nose like the late Shah of Iran's. Or Montezuma's, depending on how you look at it.
The jury is still out on who contributed what to my bloodlines, but I'm as native as it's possible to get: besides being born here, I was a ward of the state of Minnesota until I was eighteen years old. I grew up in Waseca. Also in Wabasha, Owatonna, Faribault, Winona, and Albert Lea. The foster home system keeps leftover kids from starving in snowbanks, but stability in caregivers is not one of its features. And to be fair, it's hard to place a kid who doesn't seem to fit any of the choices on the line marked "Race." Most of my caseworkers ended up checking the box after "Other."
I never met my parents, but I know who brought me into the world: the night janitor at the Red Wing Holiday Inn. He stepped outside to smoke a joint, one crisp October evening thirty-two years ago, heard what he thought was a kitten in the Dumpster, and dug me out of a mound of potato peelings. The night clerk called 911. By morning I was warmed up, and my paperwork was started. I was Case File #2975864 before I had my eyes open.
Given my unpromising beginnings, conventional wisdom might have predicted a career on the other side of law enforcement. And in fact, by junior high I was well on my way toward validating statistical probabilities, lightheartedly exploring the joys of truancy, pot smoking, and petty crime. But then a talented teacher in the Winona public school system noticed that math was easy for me and persuaded me to try studying.
"Trust me," he said, "it won't make your balls fall off to learn something. And it's fun."
Learning was not in vogue in my set; I had to smuggle the textbook home under my coat. At first I only did it to get his attention, but before long he'd shown me that information itself was a kick in the pants. By the end of the year he had me signed up for a summer math camp in the north woods, and I never went back to prowling cars. I turned into a math-and-science nerd, with just enough attitude to try for a scholarship at Rutherford Junior College. A thousand tests later, I got a shot at the Rutherford Police Department, and now I carry a badge that says I'm a good guy. Sometimes I have a guilty feeling that I picked up all the marbles when nobody was looking.
Expecting flashing dome lights, I almost missed Vince's unlighted squad car, parked in dense shade under a big oak. The little side gate stood open, a gap in the hedge-lined chain link fence that rings Pioneer Park. Harley Mundt was just visible, waiting in shadow inside the gate. No lights showed in the half-dozen houses that faced the park. Crickets clattered in the thick velvety darkness under the trees. I closed my car door gently and walked to the gate in silence.
"Hey, Jake," Harley growled softly through his big mustache. He pushed the gate closed as we shook hands. A thickset, meaty young guy, he'd only been on the Rutherford force a couple of years, most of the time on the night shift, where I seldom saw him. I remembered Vince told me he was good with tools, that he moonlighted in construction with his father and brothers. Never a big talker, he was definitely subdued right now.
"Vince is over there," Harley pointed through the shadows. Vince Greeley squatted in a pool of light that came in over the trees from the streetlamp outside. The park itself, since the last budget cutback, was unlighted after midnight. I crunched across gravel in the half-light, following a path between the fence and a small set of bleachers. In the gloom beyond Vince, I could dimly see dusty sandbags marking the bases of a softball diamond. Ruts marked the runners' paths between the bags. A scruffy grass outfield was off to the right beyond the bleachers; to the left, a chicken-wire backstop sagged from scarred uprights.
Vince straightened then and turned toward me, gleaming and elegant, looking like the poster cop as always. Meticulous about his appearance, he works out, gets his hair cut every three weeks, and keeps a steam iron and a shoeshine kit in his locker. The chief would like to keep him on days, where he's good for the department's image and keeps everybody else's socks pulled up. He's on nights this year so he can split daytime parenting chores with his wife while she finishes her RN course. If he's short on sleep, he keeps it to himself; Vince is too proud to act any way but cool.
Something lay on the ground in the gloom behind him. It was right on top of home plate, a pile of light-colored cushions and a big red--I felt a sudden surge of heat through my face and chest. My throat felt congested. The blood smell reached me, exotic and clinging. I made myself walk steadily forward to where Vince stood, balanced easily with his feet apart, the shadow of his peaked cap across his handsome face. Softly, so as not to wake the neighbors, I said, "Vince. What we got here?"
"Something goddamn odd, is what we got here, Jake." Vince's voice sounded dry. "Harley saw the gate open as we went by. I was driving. Game nights, you know, like last night, there's a park staffer detailed to stay late and lock up. They're pretty reliable, too. But tonight Harley said, 'Was that gate open like that when we went by at midnight?' and I said, 'Couldn't have been, we'da noticed it' . . ." He paused, thought a minute, and went on. "So we parked under the tree like that so's not to bother anybody, lotta older ladies live in this neighborhood alone, and they get pretty excited if they see a marked squad car here at night.
"We came in through the gate, everything just completely quiet, nothing going on. Harley said, 'Aah, let's just padlock the gate and put it on the report for the city manager,' and then I smelled it--" He paused, shook his head, muttered, "Shit," cleared his throat, and continued. "We started shining our lights around, following the fence line, and the smell kept getting stronger and then we saw . . . Christ, Jake, I'm afraid . . . he's not just dead, he's mutilated."
"You tried for a pulse?"
"Oh, sure. No pulse, no respiration. His pupils are dilated and his eyes are fixed, and . . . well, look at him."
Kneeling, I switched on my big Streamlight, squinting against the sudden glare. A young man's body sprawled, partially propped against a pile of plastic-covered cushions on the sandbag marking home plate. He looked young, boyish even, with full lips and round cheeks. A little too round, I thought--puffy--and the skin was taut and deeply flushed. I touched his face; it was cool and hard. His fingers were blue.
He wore a softball player's uniform, white with a thin gray stripe, tall red socks, a red cap with a bill. He smelled like blood, sweat, fried onions, and something else, musty or dusty, that I couldn't identify.
The upper body looked flung down, in a loose, jointless rag-doll way, arms trailing disordered across the dirt. The legs, in contrast, had been neatly arranged, carefully spread wide to show the gaping open fly of his uniform pants, where gore had clotted and turned dark. Blood oozing from the wound there had soaked the whole front of his suit, to the waist and above, and down almost to the knees; blood had seeped into the dirt under him, too, and a small colony of ants was already busy there. A softball bat had been inserted in the open front of his pants, the handle tucked inside the soaked fly, the larger end extending along the ground between his knees, in obscene outsize caricature of a penis.
"Jesus," I said softly. I pulled on surgical gloves. "Have you looked--?"
"Well as I could," Vince said, "without moving anything--"
I lifted the handle of the bat gingerly, tugged the open fly wider, shone the light carefully. Above me, Vince Greeley's breathing sounded ragged. I replaced the bat carefully.
"Are they gone?" Vince asked.
"Yup." I stood up, repressing an impulse to clutch my crotch, retrieved my briefcase, unzipped it, and got out my phone.
"You calling Pokey?" Vince asked. Adrian Pokornoskovic is the county coroner. He's not slow; he owes his nickname to the hapless inability of Rutherford law enforcement personnel to pronounce his last name. I can do it if I stop to think: "Po-kor-no-SKO-vich."
"BCA first. Hold my light, will you?" I punched one of my automatic-dial numbers and the pound sign and listened to the purr at the switchboard of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul. A night recording offered me an interminable menu of choices. Squinting painfully in the flashlight beam, I punched a number, listened to some more choices, punched another number, and was finally rewarded by a live female voice saying, "Anderson."
"Jake Hines. Detective division, Rutherford. How are you?"
"Well, for somebody who's working a night shift on two hours' sleep I'm not bad, thank you. What can I do for you?"
"I've got a truly nasty homicide here. We're going to need your help with this. Victim's unidentified so far, and the thing is he's been mutilated pretty badly--"
"Mutilated? Did you say mu--?"
"Uh, yes. His genitals are missing. Also the body's been posed--and there is a bat--"
"A softball bat. Carefully arranged in place of the missing penis. You understand what I'm saying? We're dealing with something really out of the ordinary here, Ms.--is it Dr. Anderson?"
"Grace will do fine, Jake." She sounded imperturbable. Was that her soothing technique from Psych Lab I? It wasn't working for me. Something about her seamless calm made me unreasonably irritated.
I counted five-four-three-two-one and said, "Grace. Okay. This is a request for your mobile crime lab, Grace. Quickly, please. Just as fast as you possibly can. It's imperative that your people see the crime scene just as we found it, and keeping it intact for very long is going to be close to impossible, because it's in a public park. I'm trying to express a sense of urgency here, Grace."
"I hear you, Jake. Both my vans are out right now, but I expect on