I’m starting something new this week. Every other Friday will be Freebie Friday. Basically, I’ll post either a small snippit from one of my manuscripts or soon-to-be released book or a short story.
This Friday, I’m posting an excerpt from A Hunter’s Angel, releasing on July 20.
Four dead bodies in four weeks on my watch do not make a good impression. Recently appointed Police Chief Grace Wallace exited her Crown Vic at the edge of the field. Clayton, Pennsylvania, hadn’t seen more than two murders the entire twenty years Grace’s father had been the chief before his death six months ago.
She pulled her Goretex jacket tighter around her to fend off the bitter February wind and freezing rain. Picking her way over the stubble of corn stalks poking up through last week’s melting snow, she reached the officer heading toward her. “How bad is it this time? Gordon didn’t say when he called me.”
Ben Anders, her best friend and lieutenant, shook his head. A shower of water drops dripped from his wide-brimmed, plastic-protected campaign hat. “It’s bad, Gracie. Seventeen-year-old female this time. Gordon actually knows her. The FBI should be here any minute.”
“Dear Lord.” She looked over at Officer Gordon Fagan kneeling by the body in the distance. He worked with other officers collecting evidence. When she resigned from the Philadelphia PD, she thought she’d left the endless crime behind. “Has the family been notified?”
“No, not yet. But she was reported missing this morning before Larry Barkley found her,” he said, referring to the dairy farmer who owned the field. They trudged toward the cordoned area through the semi-frozen muck of the cornfield. “The girl had been out on a date earlier in the evening with Barkley’s oldest son, but according to Barb Barkley, he dropped her off at a friend’s house sometime before the last milking which was before nine p.m.”
She looked over at the farmers standing at the edge of the field under the meager protection of a giant pine tree and winced. Larry and Barbara Barkley were pillars of the community. Barbara, in fact, unwittingly reminded Grace of what she’d missed about her hometown during one of the most difficult times of her life. The day her father died, Barbara, along with Grace’s aunts, organized to help her do everything from planning the wake after the funeral to boxing up his things two months later.
Clearing her throat, she focused on Ben again and curled her shoulders forward, trying to hide within the warmth of her coat. “We’ll have to question the boy.”
“Yeah, I know.” Ben kicked at a plod of half-frozen clay. “The Barkleys are some of the nicest people in the township. Makes me sick to even think about what they’re going through.”
She frowned and looked away. “Me, too.”
“You don’t think the boy did it, do you?”
“Not really, but he could’ve been the last person to see her alive.” She glanced over at the farmers. Larry had his arm around Barbara’s shoulders as the state police detective questioned them. Simple, hardworking, God-fearing people.
No one had expected the Philadelphia recluse, Jeffrey Cavanaugh, of being a cannibalistic serial killer, either. Simple, hardworking, stayed to himself. Those had been the things his neighbors had said about him after Grace, her PD partner, and Ian McHenry’s FBI team arrested him for a ten-year murder spree.
“Do you still think this is similar to the serial killer you investigated in the city?” Ben surprised her by voicing her thoughts.
She pulled her hands from her pockets. The clay soil stuck to her shoes and icy rain stung her face. She angled the brim of her hat over her forehead and wiped at her eyes. “Could be. But now’s not the time to theorize about it. Let’s wait to see what the FBI thinks first.”
Grace remembered when she brought up her theory about Cavanaugh possibly believing he was a vampire to Ian. The FBI agent had disagreed with her until the facts pointed to no other conclusion.
She shook the images out of her head of the mutilated bodies of over thirty young women and men that had accumulated over ten years in several basement freezers. And with the memories, the face of the investigation’s FBI Special Agent in Charge, Ian McHenry, the man who mutilated her heart.
She focused on the current case. The last three Clayton victims were older than the seventeen-year-old girl lying in the mud. “I hate serial killers.”
“Don’t we all.” Ben shoved his hands into his pockets. “Who’d ever thought this could happen here? They’re all so young. And the bodies are ill-concealed, as if the bastard wants them found.”
“We have a psychopath who’s teasing us.” As they came upon the scene, Grace steeled herself. She had never completely gotten over the shock of seeing a murder victim for the first time. Even after six years of detective work in Philadelphia, investigating some of the most gruesome crime scenes, she still couldn’t comprehend the violence that human beings could inflict on others.
Sergeants Sam Benton and Gordon Fagan gathered evidence under the watchfulness of one of the state cops. They put the items into small plastic baggies and paper envelopes—hair, fibers, anything that could give them a clue as to who had done this heinous act. Two other state police officers searched the surrounding area for other evidence. The last person standing over the victim was County Coroner, Jonah Swartz.
At last, she looked at the body. The halo of golden curls framing the gray face of the dead girl struck her first. Before she was murdered, she’d been rather pretty. Grace imagined her eyes were a vibrant blue or possibly green. The girl didn’t look peaceful in death. Grace wasn’t sure if she’d ever seen a corpse look peaceful. Most of them mirrored the horror that ended their lives, shattering their dreams, stealing their futures.
“What do you make of it, Jonah?” She looked up at the coroner.
His troubled gaze met hers. “I don’t know, Grace. You’re supposed to be the hotshot, big city detective.”
She ignored the sting in his voice. Jonah Swartz believed her completely wrong for the job of police chief, even despite her experience as a top-notch Philadelphia homicide detective. Most of her father’s colleagues had wanted Ben appointed police chief after her father’s death last summer.
Jonah looked down at the girl and shuddered. “She’s the same age as my Katie.” He shook his head, as if ridding himself of the correlation to his daughter. “Have you come up with a motive?”
She wasn’t about to discuss her ideas yet. “No, other than he’s a sick son-of-a-bitch.” Every possible generic motive—rape, robbery, revenge—had been discredited. None of the victims had been sexually assaulted or robbed, and there were no connections between them to conclude revenge. It appeared the only thing he wanted was to slit the victims’ throats and drain them of their blood.
Which only managed to convince her more they were dealing with another vampire-wannabe, like Cavanaugh.
She pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and tugged the edge of the girl’s rain-soaked sweater away from the jagged slit. Nothing. No bruising, no signs of struggle, and most disturbing— no blood. Not a drop. Even Cavanaugh’s victims had fought him before he’d killed them. The more recent bodies had been covered with bruises from their struggles with the serial killer.
When her team raided his home, not only had they found the frozen body parts in the basement freezers, but also the bloody clothes from his last three murders stashed away in a garbage bag.
“I don’t get it. It’s almost like the bodies were drained before he slit the throats,” the coroner said.
Grace let go of the sweater. She sat back on her haunches and stared at the body. “How does he do it?”
Nothing explained the lack of blood or signs of struggle. The use of a drug to subdue the victims was discredited when none was found in their systems. Of course, there was hardly enough blood left in any of them to test. Had this creep simply walked up behind them, drained their blood with some method of phlebotomy, and then slit their throats to mislead the investigation?
She tucked those thoughts away to think on them later and looked across the body to her oldest officer. “I’m sorry, Gordon. Ben said you knew her.”
Grace had never known any of the murdered victims she investigated in the city, which she considered a blessing. It was bad enough that, by the time she was done with a case, she often felt attached, especially to the victim’s family.
With the four murders within her jurisdiction over the past month, she’d either known them personally or their families and friends. Each murder chipped a little more away from her as she shared the town’s collective grief.
With a flash of obvious grief in his blue eyes, Gordon paused with a pair of tweezers and a small baggie poised in his gloved hands. “Sadly I do. She went to school with my eldest boy. Her name is Christina Murphy. Good student, track star.”
After a moment, Gordon cleared his throat and jutted his chin toward one of the larger plastic bags next to him. “Those are the contents of her pockets. Like the others, nothing seems to be stolen. She was carrying a Visa card and about twenty-five dollars on her.”
“Well, it’s obvious she wasn’t killed here.” Sam finished zipping a bag with what looked like three strands of short dark hair in it and labeled it with a thin black marker. “Where the heck is the FBI? We’ll be done before they get here.”
“I’m glad the Feds are finally on the case.” Jonah stood back with his arms crossed over his wool coat, waiting for the police to finish their jobs.
As a typical big city cop, she always resented when the Feds came breezing in and took over a case, usually after she and her department did all the dirty work. However, she wasn’t in the big city anymore. She didn’t have an expert medical examiner on the case who had years of experience in forensic science. Jonah had held the elected office of coroner for ten years. He was good at determining if a person died of natural causes, but with the grisly side of unnatural death, he was somewhat at a loss.
In a strange way, her quaint little town was perfect for a serial killer. Everyone, including the police, thought it was safe. Grace was fast realizing there were no safe places.
She heaved in a sigh and removed her gloves. “I don’t know anyone from Pittsburgh.”
With a creak in his knees, Gordon stood and stretched his back. “I’d rather have that team you worked with in Philly. According to some of the state cops, they’re the best at catching sickos like this creep.”
No, she wanted to scream. She could never work with Ian McHenry again. Instead, she distractedly muttered, “I’m sure Pittsburgh has good agents, too.”
“But we are the best of the best, Chief Wallace.”