Readers > Eden > Excerpts
view cart add to cart
Comments And Reviews | Author Info
"An Act of God."
Adam Templeton and his partner, Joe, stood at the edge of the sinkhole, but not too close. The crust at the rim was unstable. The topsoil was sand--everything from here to Cuba was sand--but beneath the surface decomposed vegetation and a layer of clay could be seen. Lower down was the gutted limestone that brought about the subsidence. Heavy rainfall usually preceded a breach. As the limestone washed away, the ground collapsed into the cavities below.
This sinkhole was thirty feet wide and perfectly round. Nothing else was in sight but slash pines, palmetto, and scrub brush for two hundred yards. That was why the place had been chosen. Not many open lots remained in Pine County. Only an accident could have unearthed the body.
Female. The movement of the earth had shifted her into an upright position. She seemed to be sitting quietly, surrounded by debris.
A man walking his dog found her. She had been stuffed into a plastic bag, but the dog was having none of that. He went for meat and bone and found enough to worry. His owner returned home and called the police, which in this place meant the County Sheriff. The homicide department was twelve strong, plus the captain. Templeton caught the call.
"I make her twenty-four, twenty-six," said Joe.
"You're the expert on young tail."
Joe Davey, a junior college transfer from Mars, took offense at nothing but his vice, which was very young women. His longish, blow-dried brown hair should have put him in a leisure suit, but the rest of the package was well assembled and current: pale green suit, mocha shirt, cafe-au-lait tie, whiskey shades. Joe drew on the plastic gloves, then pulled the fingers down--all but the middle one--which he held up for Templeton.
"I've got the whole department on my ass," he said. "I need this kind of shit from my partner."
They moved down into the sinkhole. The sides were cluttered with roots, shell, and some legitimate stones that had been lifted from the ocean floor when the subcontinent of Florida reared from the sea millions of years ago. Templeton bounced on his heels when they reached the bottom. The ground seemed solid.
"Twenty-six," said Joe. "Or maybe that's because her lips are rotted."
Something had been at her. The bag had been penetrated by vermin before the dog arrived. With her legs bent back, the woman seemed to be kneeling, and with those half-lips, she seemed to be laughing. Or howling. That made her teeth prominent. They were in excellent repair. The body was in good shape.
So the homicide cops were lucky. A scratch grave would have meant a badly damaged corpse. She had been buried deep to prevent discovery. Under any other conditions, that would have been smart.
As Templeton bagged her hands to trap any material under her fingernails, he noticed something about her blouse. It was buttoned wrong. One high. That might mean she had dressed in a hurry. Or someone had done it for her.
He probed with his pencil. No bra. No panties. Her brown hair was long--longer than the day she went under. Slowly, he pried up one eyelid. Blue. The shade was hard to tell. Her skin, too. It had turned deep brown, but even so she was Caucasian.
Five-four. Five-five. The long time underground had shrunk her body, but she did not seem to ever have been fat. She wore the jeans that she had died in--cloth intact--and the badly buttoned blouse. Templeton saw no obvious cause of death, and neither did Joe.
"Hand to hand combat?"
"It's the preferred method for lovers."
Templeton nudged the collar of her blouse open at the back of her neck. Eastern Star, said the label. Suddenly, he pulled his hand back as if he had been bitten.
Joe laughed. "A tattoo," he said. "You don't usually see those until you turn them over in the morning."
At the base of her neck near the top of her back was a thumb-sized image of an insect with a green head. A cockroach?
"A scarab," said Joe. "They think it's good luck."
"Kids of every age."
"Eastern Star's a trendy brand," he said. "Mail order with a Website and free E-mail. You don't wear something like that, you can't pledge Delta Sig, which means you can't get laid by Sigma Chi."
"You think she did?"
"I think she came down for the sun, and ho-ho, the fun," said Joe, who had more than an instinct about these things. "A week. A weekend. Then she got banged by the whole Auburn University football team, and by the time they got to the blocking back and they couldn't wake her up any more, they decided to throw her in the equipment van, bring her out here and put her to rest. The blocking back--he's pissed off because he didn't get any but he's a good boy whose mama brought him up right--he says a prayer over the grave."
"We'll go all the way with that."
"Unless you have something better."
Joe turned at the sounds from the road. The Medical Examiner's van had shown, rolling across the brush-filled uneven ground. Close behind was the station wagon that ported the lab technicians to crime scenes. Oddly, the corpse seemed to be pointing at the vehicles as they came to a stop. The subsidence that had put her upright in the earth dropped her body but not her left arm. Supported by caked sand and shell, it was raised in a half-salute.
Yonder, she seemed to say.
"We're going to have a hell of a time with this one," said Joe. "She's going down for all time as the Sweetheart of Sigma Chi."
"Is that a bet?"
Joe smiled to himself, as if his interior monologue was the only thing that could amuse him. He was a little on the brute side for a suit-cop, thick-chested with biceps like quadriceps. In his condo on the lake, he kept a treadmill, NordicTrac, lots of dumbbells.
"A hundred," he said. "No, make it two."
Afterward, Templeton was sorry that he made the bet. Two hundred was too much for Joe. His partner was in debt in bar bills, lawyer's fees, and lately, child support. For a man who had never been married, that was remarkable, but it happened when one of those young women turned on him. She brought forth a baby boy whom she had with great spite named Joseph. Paternity tests proved that the father was who she said it was. And no other.
DNA did not lie. One band from the mother and one from the father made up the child's genetic profile. Joe was done from the time they took the sample.
Semen and blood were best, but DNA could be taken from almost any part of the body or its fluids. Templeton hoped it would be done well by the Techs today. Collection was tricky. Any kind of contamination meant the killer might walk.
He wished that the site were not so confused. Normally, the Techs would have the body and surrounding area staked out like an archeological dig, but the debris made that impossible. Probably, the corpse would be all they had to work with.
"When will I see your report?"
Caravaggio was the ME and a competent but deceptive soul. A physician and a classical pianist, he looked like an ax-murderer. His eyes were naturally goggled, his bald head shaven clean, and his chin was thick with black hair. He made a pass at a smile.
"In a day or so. When the autopsy's done."
"The media's going to get on this quick. Maybe we have a day. Or an hour."
"I'll move it along, Adam, but we're backlogged."
"I'll get something for you by tomorrow. You can have the prints from the Techs pretty quick. The hands look OK."
"Too bad you won't get much off that garbage bag."
"We can if they left prints." Caravaggio's smile ran in furrows up his head. "Cyanoacrylate Ester. Super Glue. Very good on non-porous surfaces, like plastic."
"So if the killer was stupid--"
"They're all stupid," said Caravaggio. "Anybody who'd put a body in the ground these days is a moron."
Maybe. But if the earth had not parted in this freakish way, the body would never have been found.
"How long was she here?"
"That's guessing," he said. "But it's good that they bagged her. The lime in the ground could have speeded up decomposition. Off the top of my head, I'd say a month, two months. Possibly less."
That was good news. Templeton had never thought of anything except a very cold case. But what if she had only been buried, say, a couple weeks? Whoever put her down was not counting on a quick resurrection. He was not counting on it in this lifetime.
Templeton turned to the Photo Tech, a near-albino whose name was Waite, as he moved in for close-ups of the body. "I need to know exactly what this woman looked like as soon as possible. Can you make up a facial reconstruction fast?"
Waite did not take his red eye from the camera. "If I was working tonight."
"That's what I asked."
Waite moved the camera onto his shoulder as if it were heavy. "Who is it that OKs overtime?"
"Just pretend you're efficient," said Caravaggio.
Waite blinked in the sun like a night bird. He turned his back on the corpse and moved up the slope toward the van slowly, making sure it would be time and a half.
"Shoot another roll on the site, too," said Templeton. "Long and medium shots."
Waite turned. "Front page?"
"Now you're tracking."
A miracle should be known for what it was, eventually.
"You're going to put her face on milk cartons, is that it?"
Templeton kept his eyes on the road, where traffic was fierce, dangerous, normal. He usually drove the Crown Vic because it was better than what his partner did in the name of expedience, and those other things, like the love of speed and domination of a slave machine, that found so many Good Ole Boys an early grave.
"We'll get her image enhanced and hang it all over. Something'll show."
"Do the milk cartons," said Joe. "It's a better bet. This bottle-blonde in Berea, Kentucky, she sits her fat ass down at the breakfast nook, she pours, she spoons in the Honey-Oats so good for her cholesterol, she looks up and says, 'Harriet Lee! Praise the Lord if that ain't you on my two percent'!"
"Can I trust you to run the description through Missing Persons?"
"Female, twenties, brown hair, blue eyes."
"That'll narrow it down to a few thousand," he said. "Now do you want to tell me why you don't trust me at the keyboard?"
"The money," said Templeton.
"Two bills?" he said. "You think I'd fuck you over for two bills?"
"I don't know the pressure you're under."
Joe did not speak until they stopped at a light on Merriwether. This morning, he had entered the captain's office for a meeting with two other detectives and a stenographer. Templeton had not known that much from his partner, who said nothing very well. The information came from the captain's secretary, who told him that was all she knew. The stenographer said that was all she knew. Everyone was lying.
"Internal's looking at me," said Joe as they pulled out from the light.
"Do they like what they see?"
"What's not to like? They know I had trouble with that paternity thing, so they come down on me when this whacked-out teen-queen tells them I did her, too."
"What whacked-out teen-queen?"
"She lives in Port Martha. Allegedly, I met her whilst canvassing on that shotgun thing."
"That's why they didn't call me for a statement."
"Right. You were in Tallahassee. I was with BallBuster."
"He corroborated the girl's statement."
"You must have made an impression."
"He thought so."
"How about her?"
"Beverly Apfel says I spirited her away to my condo. After that, it was one long debauch. It seems I plied her with alcohol. Which she never had in her life."
"You should ask me if I have ever in my life seen anyone take a bottle of Wild Turkey by the neck and chugalug it. And wipe the back of her hand across her mouth like John Wayne."
Templeton took his eyes from the road and looked at Joe, a foolhardy act in this kind of traffic. "So you don't remember."
"What I did, Adam, was clean her up when she stopped puking. The discovery that she was traumatized didn't come until the next day at home. Then there was a lot of non-stop melodrama for a girl who looks five years older than she seems to be."
"What's her birth certificate say?"
"There's a lack of documentation. They say sixteen, but up in Cob Creek, West Virginia nobody keeps records of unnatural births."
"A minor. A felony."
"They're going by her grade in school, Adam. They're not counting the three or four she repeated."
"That should be checked out."
"Nobody's got it on their agenda. They're too busy being self-righteous. Hell, she isn't even in school any more. She quit and went straight to hard-core porn. I just wish I wasn't so broke. I'd hire a PI."
"Have you been charged?"
"Would I be here if I was?"
No, but that could be the system. The investigation. The department would be careful not to violate his rights.
"What about the parents?"
"We're not talking parents. She's in foster care. There's five girls running around that house. And I mean running. These people, it's a business with them. They collect checks from the county, the state. The female head of household's a lush that got thrown out of AA for telling lies. The male plays a hundred sets of numbers every week in the lottery, which is exactly what I am to him. This is a set-up, Adam. They saw me coming."
"And you walked right into it."
"I fell," he said. "She called me at my desk. Said she had information she couldn't give out over the phone. That--and some other things. What she did--or tried to do before she starts heaving--isn't even sex. You don't believe me, leaf through some old Congressional Records. Impeachment Proceedings. I'm telling you, it just doesn't pay to be an alpha male these days."
The leader of the pack. They had been partners three years. Joe was the best cop on the scent that Templeton, in six years up north and seven here, had ever known. The problem was that the scent could be confused by any woman under the age of thirty. Still, that was not a crime unless it was a crime. Templeton did not think had Joe lied about the facts. Exaggerated, yes. That was his nature, if anything was.
"What's your lawyer say?"
"What do you think? He's confident. Shit, I think he's happy. Wasn't for me, he'd be dipping his hand into some old lady's trust to make his nut."
Lawyers were always confident until the pressure began to mount. Then their fancy turned to the art of the deal. Templeton couldn't decide what he felt about that.
"Did I ever tell you what I think of your hobby?"
"Don't," said Joe. "This has nothing to do with the job."
But it would. Templeton had to think that his partner could be pulled from the case any time. That meant a mess. What he could count on from someone like Hogan was effort. What he got from Joe was more than he would have from anyone else.
"The bet's off."
"The two hundred," said Templeton as he pulled into the back of headquarters building. "You can't afford to lose."
view cart add to cart
From Chapter 15
...He hit the asphalt road at sixty-five and slid to a stop in the parking lot beside Joe's blue Crown Vic.
Nobody home there. Templeton did not see the Taurus until he looked past the twenty-foot high control tower and saw a similar color and shape aslant the flight line. Joe must have parked and followed the wagon on foot. Where was he?
Templeton ran toward the flight line and the Taurus. As he grew closer, he saw that the car was empty. He looked left, looked right, but saw nothing along the line of parked aircraft or on the runway except one old single-engine Cessna that seemed to be moving away. It was taxiing onto the apron and rounding back onto the shimmering asphalt. When it completed the turn and put its nose to the sun, he saw Joe moving behind the aircraft. He was running.
Templeton threw his coat off, jerked his gun from the holster and ran toward the aircraft. In his peripheral vision he saw a woman holding the hand of a girl of about two. They stood at the edge of the line of aircraft in the direction from which Joe had come. The family.
The plane began to taxi faster. Joe was running full out and closing. Templeton knew that he could intersect the plane but did not know how to halt the parade except to fire for the cockpit. He stopped and took aim at sixty yards but did not squeeze.
Joe was in the line-of-fire. He was humping, no weapon, his coat off and his tie flying. Templeton was under control with no feeling of panic. He had a complete assessment of the situation except for the thing that his asshole partner would do next.
And that was leave his feet. You never went into the air unless you knew what you were going to do with the ball, but Joe did it. He grappled the back of the plane, got one hand on the vertical stabilizer, and for a moment rode the aircraft as if he had hold of a mechanical bull. Then his feet hit the ground. He bucked high in the air but did not let go. Swinging down again, he tried to get his left hand on the rudder but could not do it. He hit the ground again, hard this time, released, and tumbled.
Templeton was already moving toward his partner. He fired two shots at the tires, hoping to get lucky on a cripple, but nothing happened. The plane kept going forward, gathering speed down the runway. Modesky was three seconds away from being a successful fugitive.
And Joe was hurt. He tried to get to his feet but fell back, flailing like a drunk. When Templeton reached him, Joe was sitting and having trouble with that, grabbing for the first thing he could find, which was Templeton's belt.
"Gone," he said. "The prick's gone."
The yellow plane had reached the end of the runway and was already pulling up. Templeton could feel the earth release the aircraft like a feather around his heart. It was that bad.
"Stay down. I'll get the medics for you and Flight Sec after him."
Joe had never listened to anyone in his life and did not start now. He tried to pull himself up but could not with one hand. In the other, he held a piece of the stabilizer that was the size of a paperback book. It looked flimsy in cross-section, the spidery spars enclosed in a thin metallic skin, and one popped rivet. Joe offered it up like proof.
"It can't fly," he said. "It can't."
But the aircraft had cleared the runway. It had not gained much altitude but did not need to. The only hills in the state were seventy miles away. Rising slowly but steadily, the yellow plane steadily grew smaller. Approximately five seconds later, it began to bank to the right and went straight down...
----- [Snip] -----
view cart add to cart