Authors: Kate Slayer
First to Die
Sam Kelly 
No one knows the streets better than Detective Samantha Kelly, until a deranged killer turns her life and the City of Riverview upside-down. Buried secrets and twisted lies ripple the surface, but the truth is hidden deep beneath the body count. No one can be trusted and everyone’s a suspect. Time is running out until the next kill, and the next cryptic rhyme carved deep in their flesh. Will she find him in time to save the next victim, or is he coming for her?
FIRST TO DIE
Table of Contents
Copyright © 2014 Kate Slayer
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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“There is a Reaper whose name is Death,
And, with his sickle keen,
He reaps the bearded grain at a breath,
And the flowers that grow between.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Reaper and the Flowers (1839)
orking homicide can twist you around so fast you think you're riding the Tilt-A-Whirl at the carnival. They hand you a ticket, you get on the ride, and then spend the rest of the night trying to get your equilibrium back. It's not something I ever get used to, and I wasn't sure if I had the stomach for it anymore. It should roll off like rain water and wash down the gutters of the filthy streets of Riverview that I call my home. They don't. Maybe I was getting soft?
The traffic pattern weaving through my home was noticeable to anyone that shifted their eyes to the south. Worn-down circles of naked oak, stripped by a steady shuffle of restlessness. I hadn't been sleeping well for the past couple of weeks and it had almost depleted me of the last trace of energy that I needed to function. Dead bodies. They have a creepy way of crawling in, and cuddling up next to me.
Stephanie Mason had been hanging with me for a while. Eighteen days and I still couldn't get her out of my mind. I couldn't shake her. Every time I closed my eyes, she was there, shaking me awake in the middle of the night. Cloudy vacant eyes, forced open with fancy needlework. Pleading with me. Muffled screams coming through her thick, black-threaded mouth, painted with blood red lipstick. Begging for me to help her. I couldn't. I had nothing to work with. Nothing but words carved deep in her flesh with a dull, rusty blade.
Forever is the darkness I create
Blood for blood each life I take
Evil stands without remorse
When shadows form their chartered course
A warning that he'd be back. A guarantee that hell had unleashed a demon and it was lurking deep in the shadows, propelling and transforming me into this obscured existence. I normally don't have a problem with dead bodies, but this one followed me around and demanded my attention. I was doing my best to tolerate it. Everything was in extreme order. Waking at odd hours and walking the hardwood floors was an endless routine. Repeated activities were beginning to tease my sanity and peculiar behavior absorbed my nights.
Images of a padded cell at the Dane County Jail messed with my head and thoughts of bed restraints at the area nut-house were my latest fantasy. Anything, to pull me out of this sleepless funk.
I turned off my radio sitting in the charger on the end table, to silence the beeps and chatter from dispatch for the night. Yelled for Max and we made our way to the couch. Seventy pounds of German shepherd to keep me warm and keep my secrets. I switched on the TV, hoping it would drown out the noises in my head and sing me a lullaby. One good night of sleep was all I needed and I would be good to go. A weather alert was crawling along the bottom of the screen for the entire Metropolitan area. Storms were cropping up west of the city, like the weeds in my yard, and a round of explosive thunder rattled in the distance. With any luck, it would blow over. I inched my legs to the back of the couch, careful not to disturb Max, and closed my eyes.
I woke to the sound of a banshee's wail, yanking me to my feet. "What the hell?" Max didn't flinch. She never got excited unless she was going to get the opportunity to take a fresh chunk of meat out of someone's flesh. One of our units was ripping through the city with full lights and sirens and I could hear the next one trailing behind, howling louder as they raced up Main Street. Another siren. "You've got to be kidding me?" I said out loud, shaking my head at Max.
I stumbled my way to the window, opened the shutter, and saw clusters of lights flashing and spinning in the eastern night sky. Trees dipped and twisted in rhythm to the wind, fatigued and braking as they resisted the force. Long, skinny fingers rapped on my sheltered walls and raised my awareness of an unsettling presence.
The intruder was unexpected and swift. The instant flood of adrenaline spiked my heartbeat and I could feel its force grip my throat. My cell rang again. I knew who was calling before I looked at the display and it would be too familiar to ignore. Two a.m. is not a time to socialize unless I was pondering my next victim to arouse, so I would have company in my sleep deprived state of misery. I grabbed my cell off the coffee table and cleared the rasp from my throat. "Hello."
"Samantha?" Detective Jason Bradford shouted.
"Jason?" My voice echoed back to me from a tunnel.
"Sam, can you hear me? 201 Court." Jason's voice crackled through the distorted connection before I could respond.
"We've got another one." His voice reached out its claws and circled my neck.
The call was dropped, which was common practice for not having a signal from the cell tower when you needed it. Like trying to find a cop. We found ourselves hanging out windows in distorted positions, waving our phones to the sky and pointing them toward the metal gods standing beyond our limits. I pressed send on my cell and it went to his voicemail. "Jason, call me back." My tone escalated to a demand. I’d heard what he said. I didn't want to believe it. I needed to hear it again.
The harsh tone of his voice startled me. "Shit." I raised my voice above the thunder in protest. I could picture the veins swelling at the top of his head. I started to shuffle around the beaten-down path. "Stop talking to yourself," I said, interrupting my last go around. I felt dizzy and watched as the room spun like a kaleidoscope filled with confetti, moving around in impossible patterns. The next siren played a haunting melody and lured me back to the dogged streets that gnawed on my soul.
Riverview looked nice from the outside. Your typical midwest city, with cracked walls and buckled pavement. An official historical site surrounded by a bustling city that faded into urban sprawl, dotted with mini estates and peppered with the right amount of spice to make your mouth water. Two hours southwest of Chicago, if you were breaking the law. Postcard pretty until you flipped it over and saw what was written on the backside.
Small town charm with big city flare
. It was all wrong. It reminded me of oil and water, constantly swirling around and never forming a solid mix.
It was breathtaking until you accidentally turned down the wrong street or stumbled into the Junkyard. Unless you knew the terrain, the contrast was an instant culture shock. The streets had a way of turning dark when you least expected it and that's when all the problems start. I was homegrown. I knew the streets too well. The streets that I wanted to forget for one night.
I tried to stop the vivid flashbacks from creeping up on me, but I was too tired to fight it. I had no choice but to give in. I wasn't crazy. At least, I thought I wasn't. I had a problem with a few triggers. Oh, yeah, I have them and I am well aware of them. It doesn't take much. Most of the time, I was well-adept at handling the constant replays fluttering in the background, but once in a while they would slip through when I had my guard down like an old grainy black and white film on a movie screen, tossing ghostly faces at me. Frame by frame forcing me to watch. "Embrace them, deal with them, try to replace them with something good and move on." I don't care what anybody says. It doesn't work. At least, not for me.
It normally would only take me a few minutes to be appropriately dressed and at the scene. Not this time. I stumbled in the black haze that crept in with the tone of the Jason's voice thrashing inside my head. My physical movement was barely navigational and I didn't recall the amount of time that had clicked away.
ax was sitting by the door waiting for me. "Not this time, baby." I ran my finger from the tip of her nose to the back of her ear. "Be right back." Her eyes translated my words into a lie. I’d pulled Maxine from a cardboard box on the corner of Brush and Third Street on a suffocating August night four years ago. I was rarely seen without her, but she would have to sit this one out. I opened the side door that led to the garage. My Jeep was backed in for an easy getaway. A rusted heap of metal, but it always got me to where I needed to be.
I reached around and pressed the button on the inside wall and released the paneled, wood door to a slow and grinding rise. I was greeted by a blinding glow of headlights. I froze for a moment and realized that it was Sergeant Mike Neville waiting in the unmarked, waving his arm frantically out the driver's side window like the prick that had cut me off last night on I-80.
Neville was a badass. The kind of guy that nobody messed with. A modern day gunslinger from the Wild West. He worked the night shift, eleven to seven, and if there was any trouble to find, he was always in the middle of it. On my first day at the Riverview Police Department, everyone had warned me about Neville but I had an inside line on the guy. You couldn't grow up in Riverview without hearing a story about Neville. He was my dad's favorite, but I was warned to stay away.
"He's a shit magnet and you don't want to mess with that."
"He's been in shootouts, high speed chases, been shot, and dragged down the highway on several occasions."
"Nothing but trouble."
Scare tactics to keep me safe. Naturally, I gravitated in his direction. What girl in her right mind could resist a ride to the wild side? He passed on every promotion to stay on the road. Said if they put him behind a desk, it would kill him. I believed him.
I had the morning shift when I started, but every chance I had, I was sitting shotgun in the unmarked. We drove for hours. Pouching, he called it. Mainlining pure adrenaline. We’d had plenty of criminals to contend with and they filtered in enough to keep us dancing through the nights. As far as Neville was concerned if the crime and evil was heading our way, it was his job to coordinate and carry out the appropriate retaliation. It was a wonder I was still alive.
I shuffled my way to the car and squeezed in with a cloud of smoldering tobacco.
"Hey." I pushed the black duffel bag filled with convenience store paraphernalia over to the center with my butt. "Pick a girl up for a date, at least clean your damn car," I said, struggling to find a comfortable spot. "What the hell are you doing here?" I kicked away the empty coffee cups scattered on the floor around with my feet.