“Lisa Black always delivers.”—Jeff Lindsay, creator of the DEXTER series
When it comes to the dead, forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has seen it all. But detective Jack Renner knows there are always more ways to die . . .
The Cleveland Herald is making headlines for all the wrong reasons. A dead body found hanging above the newspaper’s assembly line is a surefire way to stop the presses. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner rules out suicide. The evidence tells her a murderer is implementing a staff cut—and the killing is far from over.
Homicide detective Jack Renner believes in justice—by any means necessary. If killing is what it takes, he won’t let the law get in his way. It’s just too bad Maggie knows his secrets. As the body count rises, Maggie has no choice but to put her trust in the one person she can never trust.
PRAISE FOR THAT DARKNESS
"Black skillfully portrays the stark realities of homicide cases."—Library Journal
“Intriguing forensic details help drive the plot to its satisfying conclusion.” —Publishers Weekly
“The surprising ending is sure to keep readers coming back for more.” —Booklist
“An absolute must read.”
About the Author
Lisa is a member of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the International Association for Identification, and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts, and she is a Certified Crime Scene Analyst and Certified Latent Print Examiner. She has testified in court as an expert witness more than sixty-five times. Her books have been translated into six languages. She lives near Fort Myers, Florida. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.lisa-black.com.
Read an Excerpt
By Lisa Black
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Lisa Black
All rights reserved.
Jack eyed the kid as his partner continued the questioning, noting how he had perfected the adolescent sprawl, head lolling, face bored nearly to a coma, arms and legs splayed in a show of utter contempt for both his surroundings and the two men present there — or at least as splayed as he could get with one hand cuffed to the table. Jack watched, and waited, and worked to resist the overwhelming desire to smack the kid out of his seat.
"Ronnie —" Jack's partner, Riley, began, loose tie flopping over a wrinkled shirt and red hair askew.
"Reign," the kid corrected him. "They call me Reign."
"My mistake," Riley went on. "Ronald —"
"Reign. 'Cause I'm the king."
Jack straightened his long frame from where he had been standing with his back against the cool concrete wall of the interrogation room — perhaps a mistake, because he needed coolness. "Can you even spell 'reign'?" Ronnie Soltis swiveled his head to take in Jack as if he had only then noticed the man's existence, as if they hadn't been at this for over an hour. "Ain't never had much use for school."
Riley snorted. "That much is obvious. You've been held back twice — and you have to practically get a grade of zero to be flunked in this day and age. Is it your goal to endlessly repeat the ninth grade?"
"It's my goal to eliminate all fat white cops from the planet," the kid said, words now less casual.
Riley pointed out, with elaborate confusion on his face, "But you're white."
"As well as only a doughnut or two short of type two diabetes," Jack added. He moved closer to Ronnie, aka Reign, Soltis, a boy not yet old enough to drive. Because as absurd as this gangsta-glamorizing punk seemed, there was nothing funny about the things he had done. Nothing at all.
Ronnie Soltis had managed to amass a criminal record that would be the envy of most Quincy Avenue gangbangers. It dated back to his eighth birthday, beginning with theft and progressing to burglary, arson, dealing, destruction of private property (the home of a rival marijuana dealer), destruction of public property (the county library, for reasons never fully explained), aggravated menacing (various activities relating to his drug business), assaults, plural, aggravated assault (the stabbing of another young man in the eye; the boy had five years and a hundred pounds on him but lacked the killer instinct), and at least two attempted rapes. Those had been foiled only because Ronnie preferred to choose victims he felt were worthy of him — in this case, pretty, slender girls who happened to be athletic enough to outrun him. Pretty much anyone could outrun Ronnie, who spent all his spare time on video games. And now he had progressed to attempted murder, his failure due only to the restrictions of physics. But he had tried. He would keep trying.
Jack was not the first to feel an itch to knock some sense into the kid. He figured he would not be the last.
Because Ronnie Soltis's true goal was to be the baddest mother in the valley. He wanted to rule the underworld with an iron fist, to be, if not respected, then at least feared by all. And Ronnie Soltis was making good progress for someone who had had been raised in the very un-underworld-like suburb of Solon, about as far from the ghetto as one could get and still be in Cuyahoga County, and despite a standard of living that meant if he had ever had to actually live in a ghetto, he certainly would not feel so enamored. His overwhelmed parents had long since given up, Social Services had thrown up their hands, and the cops were barely holding off a strong feeling of futility.
"I need to know about the bottle," Riley was saying, his fair skin splotching and coloring as he fought back the annoyance. His extra thirty pounds weren't helping the blood flow either. Jack took another step, reached the table.
"Don't know what you're talking about." In Ronnie-speak it came out "dohnowutyertalkinbout."
"The one that had gasoline in it. The one you stuffed your shirt into the top of and lit on fire."
"Not my shirt. I got my shirt on," the kid snorted, plucking at the bright orange fabric to prove his point. Jack hovered around the edge of the table, only two feet from Ronnie's chair.
"And dropped into the open window of D'Andre Junior's Cadillac. You know D'Andre, right?"
"You and your pal Scrubs smashed D'Andre's hand last week for skimming the count. Dropped a concrete block on it."
Jack moved, slow, nonthreatening, to stand just behind Ronnie's right shoulder. Ronnie removed his arm from where it had been hanging over the back of the chair and deposited it in his lap.
"With your record, we could have had you tried as an adult. You wouldn't have seen daylight until your thirtieth birthday. So you sent him a message that he might want to drop the charges, right?"
The kid stared at the one-way glass in front of him as if checking out his haircut, supremely unconcerned by the cops on either side of him. But his unnatural stillness told Jack that he was all too aware; his muscles tensed a little more with every inch closer Jack came. The instinctual recognition of one predator for another.
"His girlfriend, Laila, was going to testify against you, wasn't she? Is that why you targeted the Cadillac even though you knew D'Andre Junior wouldn't be riding in it on a Sunday morning? Hell, D'Andre would probably be struck by lightning if he ever crossed the threshold of a church. Just Laila and her two little girls would be in that car. You knew that, didn't you?"
Jack switched to the side of the kid's chair. The kid pulled in his right foot, which had been extended as far as possible under the table in the adolescent sprawl of disrespect. Classic body language of the lost.
"Burned one of the kids pretty badly. The other one got broken glass in her arm. Just two and three years old."
Ronnie said nothing, but the silence didn't have a feel of shame to it. Not the slightest flicker of remorse passed over his expression. He kept any smart comment to himself and darted another look at Jack out of the corner of his eye. Then he pulled in his other foot.
"Tough enough to get a three-year-old to sit still for stitches, but try to treat burns on a baby — she just wouldn't stop screaming, the nurses said."
The kid straightened his spine, sat up with his feet tucked underneath his chair, but this didn't signal any willingness to either face or confess any facts — simply an automatic, involuntary reaction to Jack invading the buffer zone of his personal space. A triumph of sorts, but a useless, meaningless one. Ronnie gazed up at Riley and said, "Ain't you got any sort of coffee in this shithouse?" Jack had a fleeting vision of ending Ronnie Soltis's life right then and there, saving D'Andre's life, sparing Laila and her tiny girls any future malice. It would be so easy — or it would have been had his "murder room" not been dismantled. No, selective and well-justified murder could not be his plan anymore, not since he had the misfortune to meet up with Maggie Gardiner.
Now he had to be — what, the reformed Jack? The kinder and gentler Jack? Given Ronnie's obvious issues with anger and impulse control, his determined and hell-bent path toward self-demolition, the kindest, gentlest thing to do would be to ply young Ronnie with his favorite food and drink and some quiet conversation until the kid felt as comfortable on this planet as he ever would, pump three bullets into the back of his head, and put Ronnie Soltis out of his misery before he could cause any further destruction to everyone and everything in his orbit.
But, alas, that had been last month.
Jack couldn't stand to be in that room another moment. "Let's go, Riley. I'm sure the king's daddy's lawyer is here by now."
Riley said, "It's lunchtime, anyway."
They left without another word. As Jack held the door for his partner, he saw the look of slight disappointment cross the kid's face as his playthings left the room. But no matter. There would be plenty of others.
Ronnie Soltis stretched his legs out again, rubbed the wrist with the cuff, and waited for his attorney.
Jack shut the door and walked away.CHAPTER 2
Maggie Gardiner stepped out of the marked city car, hitched her camera bag over her shoulder, and gazed up at the vast, dark structure in front of her. The offices of the city's newspaper, the Herald, occupied the largest building within city limits, though to judge from recent reports on the demise of the American newspaper, it would probably be shuttered and turned into luxury lakeview condos within the next decade. The thought made her slam the car's door with an unfair amount of force.
Maggie had thrown on her uniform and pulled her dark hair back, but that had been as glamorous as she felt like getting for a late-night call-out. The cool spring air pricked her bare forearms. She approached the entrance, framed by an empty flagpole and a motto engraved in stone over the doors: "Give light and the people will find their own way."
She stopped and thought about that. A wonderful sentiment. She could use a little light these days, because her way didn't seem clear at all.
She tugged at the glass door. Nothing.
A small plaque to the left of the door read: AFTER HOURS PLEASE PRESS BUTTON. She pressed.
A person entered the lobby from a rear door, a slender girl in a starched uniform. She pushed the door's bar from the inside and let Maggie in.
Maggie introduced herself and asked if there were police officers present. The girl's face took on a look of solemn concern. "Oh yes, for Mr. Davis. It's so awful what happened. I'll get someone — you should have come in the rear entrance — it's going to be a long walk from here — hang on a sec and I'll get you Kevin."
The lobby had obviously had a makeover at some point in history. The woman led Maggie to a long desk topped with granite in order to find a phone. Oversized, framed prints of front pages through the years lined the walls on both sides, announcing stories from the Torso killings during the Great Depression to Carl Stokes's election as mayor to the football team defecting to Baltimore. Leather sofas surrounded a glass coffee table, which held only a copy of the previous day's edition.
The woman dialed the phone. From the notations on her uniform she served as the nighttime security guard. She didn't look strong enough to take on a half-drowned kitten, but Maggie knew appearances could deceive. "Can you come up and escort the, um —"
"Forensic tech," Maggie supplied for her. Actually her title was forensic scientist, but she opted for something shorter and more descriptive.
"The CSI," the girl finished, and hung up. "He'll be right here. So ... you're forensics? What are you going to do? I heard it was a suicide. It's so awful!"
"Yes, awful," Maggie agreed, debating whether to move her car wherever the girl suggested in case she had to make a number of trips back to it, or get the gist of the situation down first. The Medical Examiner's personnel handled the body, so often in cases of suicide she would take some photographs and collect a few relevant items and that was that. But she had a vague premonition that this one might get more complicated.
A door to her right opened and a tall black man in a white shirt and loosened tie interrupted the girl's questions. He gave Maggie an enthusiastic welcome, which told her he either didn't know the recently deceased Mr. Davis or didn't like him very much.
He ushered her through a long corridor with what appeared to be conference rooms lining either side, and emerged into a cavernous oval with the length and height of an indoor stadium. The ceiling soared at least one hundred feet above them, and half its fluorescent lights had been turned off. The floor area had been filled with desks, clustered in haphazard rows. Large windows lined the north side. Somewhere beyond their inky blackness roiled Lake Erie, in what must be a great view during the daylight hours. The south walls faced the less picturesque visitors' parking lot and Superior Avenue. No one was present at that hour, what was essentially the middle of the night.
Maggie hustled to keep up with Kevin as she took all this in, winding through the churning sea of reporters' desks. Their surfaces were piled with papers, books, all sorts of odds and ends from journalism awards to troll dolls to a miniature slot machine. Maggie liked this space much better than the slick lobby.
Many desks, however, were blank and abandoned.
"We're dying," Kevin noted, matter-of-factly. "We all know it. Print journalism will gasp its last breath within a few years. At least that's what we hear every single day, but there are still die-hard fans who want to read their news, not listen to some wildly biased talking head or have to balance a delicate and breakable piece of electronics just to find out what the weather's going to be. You read the Herald?"
She answered truthfully. "Every day."
"Bless you. I'd kiss you on the mouth right here and now, except we had some kind of sensitivity training last year and apparently I'm not supposed to do that."
"You should have come in by the rear entrance. It's a long walk from here."
"So I heard."
"That's okay, I can give you the tour. I'm Kevin Harding, by the way, Printing Supervisor. I used to be Entertainment Editor, got to do the hard-charging stories like what Princess Kate wore to the Bahamas and the new season at Playhouse Square, but now I have a real job."
"Too bad. Keeping up with the Kardashians sounds like fun."
"Yeah." But his face didn't look as if it had been.
The arena area had a second level — a ring of offices along the outer wall, more than one floor above, nearly two. Only a few were lit, including a large space at the easternmost tip of the oval. The hallway outside these offices had a clear glass railing, giving the illusion that anyone on that walkway had nothing to keep them from falling the considerable distance to the floor below.
It was a very impressive-looking interior, for a staff who functioned within the written word. Maggie loved space and thought it a perfect setting for a newspaper, and wondered if the dramatic surroundings reminded the reporters every day to respect the dramas, large and small, that affected their readers' lives.
Kevin Harding kept walking. "The body is in the offset room. Do you know how a paper is printed?"
"Vaguely. But that's probably changed in the digital age."
"As far as the actual printing is concerned, yes and no." They reached the east wall. He used his key card to exit the lofty atrium, into a space that was equally impressive in a totally different way. Overhead lights burst into illumination as they entered, as if by magic, to reveal a maze of huge and inexplicable machinery. If the atrium represented pure creativity, then this place embodied pure function. The floors were concrete, clean but stained, and so were the walls.
"The master sheet is made on a piece of flexible aluminum, using the reaction of oil and water and ultraviolet light. The point is that the ink sticks to the printed areas and the rest washes away. That's done in here." Her nose wrinkled from the smell, not offensive but definitely chemical as they passed a roomful of paper rolls, most standing on their ends but some on their sides, ready to be rotated into the printing process, and huge drums of liquid ink. The rolls only came up to her chest but were enormously round, and she guessed that they could easily kill someone. Kevin told her they weighed nearly 1900 pounds each.
They entered the next section. "Wow," Maggie said.
Kevin let her take it in. "Yeah, it's pretty impressive."
Though they had been on the ground floor, it became the second level in this room and they took a metal staircase down. The three-story-high ceiling allowed for four towers of steel machinery to function, squeezing an unbroken stream of moving newspaper between huge, horizontal rollers. The rollers were stacked vertically inside the steel-framed towers, and not all the towers were the same size. The tallest had four sets of rollers, others two or one. The paper ribbon stretched from the top of one to the bottom of the next like a spiderweb. The noise drowned out everything else and Kevin had to shout as he led her along.
Excerpted from Unpunished by Lisa Black. Copyright © 2017 Lisa Black. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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