The snow is gone, the ice is gone -- winter is long forgotten. When the phone wakes Phil Broker at five a.m. on the morning of his forty-eighth birthday -- six months removed from his surviving a January cold snap that (in Absolute Zero) nearly claimed his life -- it's already ninety-two degrees. It's July, and Stillwater, Minnesota, finds itself in the middle of the worst heat wave in local memory.
The news on the phone has nothing to do with birthday wishes, however. A year earlier, an angry citizen served as jury and executioner by pumping twelve bullets into a known pedophile -- and in the process became a folk hero, dubbed "the Saint" by locals. Despite protests to the contrary, everybody in the community (including the police department) felt justice had been served, and the investigation quickly went cold. Ever since, strong rumors have circulated that the real reason the Saint hasn't been apprehended is that he -- or she -- is a cop.
Now a priest has been murdered, and a clue left at the scene suggests it to be the work of a vigilante. Was the priest a sexual predator? Could the Saint be back? For the members of the Stillwater law-enforcement community, it means that a killer could be in their midst.
The caller begs for Broker's help: as an outsider, Broker can be counted on to follow the investigation wherever it leads. But as the temperature mounts and new victims begin surfacing, Broker wonders if he's been set up to catch a bullet for a scandal that threatens to bring down the Stillwater Police Department.
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About the Author
Chuck Logan is the author of eight novels, including After the Rain, Vapor Trail, Absolute Zero, and The Big Law. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War who lives in Stillwater, Minnesota, with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
By Chuck Logan
Chapter OneAngel stepped carefully over a crack in the sidewalk. Like in the kid's game, she chanted under her breath, but changed the words, Step on a crack, you get your body back. Then, reminded of her serious work this evening, she picked up the pace and simplified the chant to an occasional refrain, I'm not here. Not here. Not here ...
She had learned to make herself invisible when she was eleven. To leave her body entirely.
She knew it was a mind trick. She knew that here and now, physically, her body was walking, down the main street, in Stillwater, Minnesota, under a sweltering 104-degree July sky. The 84 percent humidity draped her face like a dishrag. Sweat trickled down her back and her stomach and collected in the crotch of the tights she wore underneath her sweatpants. She knew she was sweating because she was way overdressed for the weather.
She wasn't dumb. She knew she had a problem.
The people out there looking in, with all the big words in their mouths, had names for it. When she heard the term dissociative fugue, she imagined a cannonade of piano keys. She thought of Bach. She had read that other cultures understood the necessity to occasionally escape your life. Eskimos called it pibloktoq. To the Miskito Indians of Honduras and Nicaragua, it was gris siknis. The Navaho had their "frenzy" witchcraft, and the one she really liked the sound of - amok - came from Western Pacific cultures.
Personally, she preferred to keep it simple and was fond of the glass analogy. Of course they never took it far enough; the question was not whether the glass was half full or half empty, but rather what happened when the goddamn glass boiled over and started steaming away.
And all that stuff about identity disorders and multiple personalities reminded her of the old movie The Three Faces of Eve.
But this wasn't about Eve, was it?
No. This was about fuckin' Adam. But even invisible she had dressed with great care for this night's work.
The thick, wraparound praying mantis sunglasses distorted her face, and she intentionally overapplied the lipstick and the makeup. She wore her cheap woolly wig, not her good wig. The cheap wig was the color of dust and complemented her baggy oatmeal-colored sweatsuit and her scuffed tennies.
But the genius touch was under the sweatsuit. A custom-made padding suit called a body pod by the costume designers who'd sewn it together at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, who then had rented it to the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin.
Which was where Angel had stolen it from a prop wardrobe, along with a pair of black tennis shoes with two-inch-lifts.
The tight-fitting body stocking was made of Lycra with generous foam pads expertly sculpted to add the appearance of thirty pounds to her hips, rear end, and stomach. The rig was light but bulky and made walking feel like being swaddled in inflated balloons.
She'd topped off her outfit with a flimsy navy blue nylon jacket stamped on the left chest and across the back with the scripted name of St. Paul's minor league baseball team: Saints.
So Angel rolled when she walked with the round-shouldered gait of a person who'd accepted the extra pounds of cottage cheese slung on her butt and hips and thighs. A full green cloth shopping bag dangled from one hand and bumped behind her on the concrete.
Layered in cheap cloth like a bag lady, she appeared odd moving along main street on the blazing late afternoon. The pedestrian traffic was smartly turned out sleeveless, in shorts, showing bare arms, expensive orthodontics, and tanned legs. Shoppers cruising the boutiques and antique stores did not look twice at Angel. She suggested the animated contents of an overstuffed trash closet that had burst out onto the street. People saw throwaway clothes on a throwaway person whose bottom-heavy body had veered out of control.
They averted their eyes.
Behind her sunglasses Angel studied the fleeting stares. Hi there. So look right through me.
So she tramped unnoticed down the main drag, left the shops behind, on past the historical society, past the patchy whitewashed walls of the old territorial prison and continued on, past Battle Hollow where a Sioux war party annihilated a Chippewa band in 1837.
Up the bluff the real estate took a nosedive where the city sewer stopped, and she arrived at the North End.
Angel took a left and climbed up a steep broken-asphalt street and into a gritty maze of ravines and gravel dead-end lanes. Her Goodwill camouflage blended right in with this little corner of Minnesota Appalachia. The yards had gone to seed, and weeds grew past the hubcaps of rusted cars hoisted on blocks. Paint peeled on the sagging trim and doorjambs of old frame houses. She paused in front of a house that tilted on its sinking foundations.
The broad-shouldered man in the sleeveless Harley T-shirt sat on his slumping porch. Just like he had the last two evenings at this time. An overgrown vacant lot separated his house from the yard of St. Martin's church.
She bent and adjusted the contents of her shopping bag so he could get a good look at her.
He wore tattoos, a red bandanna, and sweat. He was drinking a can of Pig's Eye Ale. He watched Angel straighten up and plod through the listing wrought-iron gate and into the church grounds.
"Big ass," he said as he mashed the empty can in his fist, dropped it, and went inside to avoid the sun.
Pleased, Angel turned her attention to the church. She knew that the North End was also known as Dutch Town and that St. Martins had once served a faithful enclave of German Catholics ...
Excerpted from Vapor Trail by Chuck Logan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.