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Public Safety Writers Association's Award for Best Novel


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Where Angels Fear


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PROLOGUE

The sharp click, click, click of her red spiked heels annoyed her, but not enough to slip them off. She paced the ten-foot-square room, careful to step over the loose floor board each time. Think, think, think her mind sang in accompaniment with her shoes. She wandered down a maze of possibilities, each time running into a dead end. There was no other solution. She picked up the cell phone hit speed dial.

"Wass up?" he answered, his usual greeting slurred by sleep.

"I need you."

"Baby, it's 2 a.m. Nobody needs nothing bad enough at this time of night."

"Cut the crap. I have another situation on my hands."

All sleepiness evaporated from his voice. "No, girl, you promised. You said it was an accident before and you'd be more careful."

"Stan, I don't need a lecture. I need a body bag. Get over here." She hit the off button and snapped the phone shut.

This one had actually pleased her. He didn't have a beer gut like most men his age, and she admired his attempts to keep his muscles toned. Not that it mattered in the end.

She walked over to the man and planted a shoe on the floor at either side of his body. His chest was bare and even in the weak light of the flickering candle she could see his skin had a gray-green cast. She'd been rough the last few days, but she wasn't sorry. That was the way the game was played. She leaned over him, straining the leather jumpsuit. Her long, coal-black hair brushed his face as she shook her head slowly from side to side.

"You have to be careful when you love," she crooned to the corpse. With a single, blood-red fingernail, she traced a valentine on the left side of his bare chest. "The heart can only stand so much of a good thing."

 

Detective Jimmy Kerwin, of the Central County Sheriff's Department, got out of his county car and pulled a hard pack of Camels from his breast pocket, a Bic lighter from his pants. The knee-jerk reaction was a result of the administration's latest dictum forbidding smoking in county vehicles. Kerwin wondered if New York enforced anti-smoking rules now. When he left Rochester Police Department, everybody on the force had the habit. Encountering the health-crazed Californians threw him into culture shock and made him crave tobacco even more. Besides, he thought as he lit up, it kills the dead-body stench.

Deputy Coroner Ann Pulido wore a disposable mask covering her nose and mouth as she bent over the body. At Kerwin's approach, she stood and pulled the mask down under her chin. She had a glob of Vick's under her nostrils to help cover the smell. Kerwin nodded to the two deputies on the scene, disposed of the cigarette in a snuff tin. He fished a pair of plastic gloves out of his coat pocket before crossing the yellow crime scene tape.

"Whatcha got, Ann?" Kerwin fished around in his other pocket for a notepad and pen.

"It was radioed in as a possible PC 187, but bottom line? Looks like a common heart attack."

"Picked a pretty uncommon place to have it." Kerwin glanced up the alley where it intersected Hurtado's main street. On the other side of the flimsy plastic tape a small crowd had gathered. Amazing how many people were strolling around at 5 a.m.

"How cold is it?" Kerwin asked.

"About three hours, give or take."

The detective lowered his six-foot-four frame next to the body and assessed the clothes on the corpse. Mohair sweater. Imported shoes, probably Italian. He fingered the wool on the finely tailored trousers, sensing it was a quality he couldn't afford. His finger picked up a splinter of wood. He slipped it into a plasticine evidence bag.

"Dressed a little fancy for this area. Maybe he was out slumming and picked up some bar girl who was more than his ticker could handle. We'll ask around, see if anybody remembers him."

Ann shook her head. "Hookers have the shortest memories in the world. Besides, he didn't die here. This was just a drop off point."

"Does John Doe have a name?"

"Yeah, he still had his wallet on him. Somebody wanted him found and ID'd. Robert Meehan, 2253 Willow Heights. I guess you get the honors of notifying next of kin." Ann stood back and let the Identification Bureau tech snap some photos. "I found this in his pocket."

Kerwin took the evidence bag. Inside was a red matchbook with the words "Knights of Sensani" on the cover.

The same brand of matches were discovered on two other bodies within the last six months.

Kerwin said, "I never got any leads on the name."

"Maybe it's like Knights of Columbus or Shriners." Ann shrugged. "I never heard of it either."

The detective slipped it into his pocket. "Anything else?"

"I found marks on his wrists. Bruises. Could be from handcuffs."

They shot each other a look. There'd been a recent rash of excessive force allegations against deputies patrolling the western sector of Central County. Internal Affairs was handling the rumors.

"Have the coroner check him for internals. I'll snag a patrol roster, see which deputies were in the area." Kerwin headed back to his car. He pulled out a cigarette before he remembered the new rules.

Reluctantly, he dropped it back into the pack.

The early morning homicide left a acrid taste in his mouth.

 

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