Read Murder 101 Online

Authors: Faye Kellerman

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Thrillers, #Suspense

Murder 101

BOOK: Murder 101
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DEDICATION

To Jonathan

And to Lila, Oscar, Eva, and Judah

 

CHAPTER 1

A
S HE INSPECTED
the final work, holding it up to a bare bulb, he was blinded by the array of brilliant hues in every color of the rainbow. The opalescent glass was lovely, but it was the handblown clear glass in the emerald greens, the ruby reds, and the sapphire blues that gave the piece its pop, casting tinted rays of spectacular light onto his walls and furniture.

The stained glass was first-rate: the execution of the piece . . . not so much. The caning between the shards was sloppy and the little painting that was on the glass was one step above Art 101. Not that anyone would notice the difference between the genuine and its imposter in its current dark and dank location. Certainly the moronic caretakers weren’t a problem. And in this case, making the switch was a walk in the park because the work could be concealed in a briefcase. His toolbox was bigger and bulkier. But he’d done it before. He could do it again.

Sometimes he didn’t even know why he bothered with the small stuff. Maybe just to keep his brain alive because this little bit of intrigue was nothing compared to his future plans. But to pull off something that big took time and he was fine with that. He’d wait patiently.

The bells were tolling two in the morning: it was time. First, with a makeup sponge, he painted his face brown. Next, he called Angeline on a throwaway cell and told her to wait outside, that he’d be over in five. Carefully, he swathed the piece in bubble wrap and then slid it into his leather briefcase. His tools were already in the car.

He checked his watch again. Then he slipped on his black gloves and covered his head and face with a black ski cap. Next came the black scarf around his neck: good camouflage but also necessary in the cold. A last-minute check in the mirror and what he saw looked perfect. He was nothing more than an inky shadow floating through the night.

Just the way he wanted it.

BE CAREFUL WHAT
you wish for.

After three decades of police work as a detective lieutenant in Los Angeles, Peter Decker had always imagined a quieter existence in his sixties, something in between retirement and an eighty-hour workweek that had been his former life. He knew that with his active mind and his penchant for restlessness that he wasn’t ready to hang up his shield just yet. In his brain, the ideal job was something with a regular schedule with nights and weekends off.

The good news was he now had a manageable desk job, fielding calls that centered on senior citizens with chest pains, missing pets, and controlling drunken teenagers following Saturday night binges. In the last six months, the closest he had come to real crimes were the calls concerning several house break-ins where the burglars pilfered electronics—cell phones, laptops, and tablets. None of the thefts were surprising because Greenbury was a town that swelled with students in September and then cleared them out by June.

The Five Colleges of Upstate New York was a consortium of liberal arts schools, each with its own identity. One specialized in math and science, another in business and econ. A third was a girls’ school and the fourth focused on fine arts, theater, and languages. The fifth college—Duxbury—was ranked as an elite academy founded in 1859 a few years before the Civil War. The sprawling campuses made up of brick and stone buildings sat on hundreds of acres of dense, bucolic landscape: parks, natural springs, and open forest. It was a world unto itself with its own police force. That made Decker’s job as a cop and detective even more limited.

There were very few issues of town and gown because Greenbury’s population consisted of retirees and working-class families. They owned most of the independent stores and restaurants that fueled the town’s economy. The students, by and large, were from swanky homes and were pretty well behaved even if they often partied at all hours of the night.

The Old Town of Greenbury was a typical college burg with streets named Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. There were blocks of franchise stores: Outsider Sportswear, Yogurtville, Rentaday Car Service, Quikburger. It had a triplex movie theater, a half-dozen cheap dress boutiques, several nail salons, bike rentals, a health food store, and lots and lots and lots of bars, grills, and restaurants. Every popular cuisine was represented, including a kosher eat-in or take-out storefront café that Rina frequented almost daily.

Decker thought about his wife.

If anyone would have adjustment problems, he thought it would be Rina. Instead, she had adapted far quicker than he had. Immediately she threw herself into the local Hillel that serviced all five colleges. She offered to host Friday night dinners in her house for any student who was interested. When too many students became interested, the dinners were moved to a catering hall at the Hillel. The meals were prepared by the local students, but Rina was there almost every Thursday and Friday pitching in with the cooking and baking. When that still didn’t fill up her time, she volunteered her services as a Chumash teacher if Hillel would provide a room. She posted a sign-up sheet. She expected five kids if she was lucky.

She got seven.

Word got around and a month later, she had eighteen kids. They asked her if she was willing to teach a class in elementary Hebrew. She agreed. Most of the times, her evenings were busier than his. Decker hated to admit it but he was bored. It was bad enough that his days were stultifying but then the captain, Mike Radar, asked him to pair up with the
kid
and take him into the field, and the days became even longer and even more stultifying.

Tyler McAdams, aged twenty-six and Harvard educated, was five ten, one fifty, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair that was expertly cut. His aquiline features included a Roman nose. He wasn’t slight, but he wasn’t muscular, either. He looked like what he was—an Ivy League kid from a wealthy family. His clothes were expensive, his overcoat was cashmere, and he rotated gold watches on his wrist with the days of the week.

Within a very short period of time, McAdams had managed to alienate everyone in the department with his endless carping that he was smarter, better looking, and better educated than anyone around. There was truth in his complaints—he was smart and good-looking—but his constant whining diminished any of his discernible assets. McAdams claimed that he had originally taken up the job because he was curious about police work even though he had been accepted to Harvard Law. He decided to defer the acceptance for a few years, figuring the job would give him a leg up from any of the other wonks and dorks.

Or so was his story.

Decker didn’t press him; he wasn’t interested.

McAdams’s hiring had been nepotism. His father was a major contributor to Duxbury College. The dean had called in a favor from the mayor, Logan Brettly, who, in turn, called in a favor from Radar. McAdams had no experience in law enforcement, but he didn’t need it because nothing much happened that required extensive know-how.

So Decker agreed to let the kid ride with him, listening to him bitch and moan. This time he was complaining about their next visit on the roster: a senior with chest pains. The fire department was having its monthly drill so the call came into the police. Patrol could have handled it, but Decker volunteered his services. He didn’t mention the call to McAdams, but as he was leaving the kid jumped up and grabbed his fancy schmancy coat to come with. He always did that. Maybe it was because Decker let McAdams bend his ear.

Lucy Jamison was eighty-six, a pale and thin widow. When Decker offered to take her to the hospital, she demurred. She was feeling better. Decker fetched her a glass of water, making sure that she drank it all. Wintertime was deceptive and seniors easily became dehydrated because of the dryness indoors and outdoors.

The old woman talked about her life as a young girl in Michigan. She showed Decker and Tyler pictures of her children, her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren. Decker turned the heat from 80 to 74. When she said she was fine, Decker left his card. She opened the front door and waved good-bye as the two of them walked back to the car, their boots crunching the snow.

Heading back to the station, Decker cranked up the heat as McAdams rubbed his hands under the warm air of the car’s heater. The kid was wearing a coat and gloves, but his head was bare. Not that he needed a hat. It was in the midthirties with a full sun and an iridescent blue sky, the scent of pines and burning wood wafting through the town. White-covered hills undulated in the distance. The Hudson wasn’t too far away but the area was miles from the nearest coastline, something that Decker had yet to get used to.

“How’d you do this for thirty years, Old Man?” Tyler asked him.

Decker hated when the kid called him Old Man. He wasn’t young but he wasn’t ready for the glue factory, either. He still had a head of thick, gray hair, a full mustache with traces of its former red color, and a mind that was quick and perceptive. So instead of answering the rhetorical question, he said, “That was the third chest pain case in a month. You really need to learn CPR.”

“I’m not putting my mouth on that old crone. Her breath was rank.”

“Acetone,” Decker said. “Diabetes that’s not very well controlled.”

“Whatever,” McAdams said. “Anyway, if it was between you and me performing CPR, you’d do it anyway.”

“That’s not the point. It’s a skill you should have. Everyone expects a cop to know CPR just like everyone expects a cop to know how to shoot a gun.”

“We don’t carry guns.”

“We don’t carry them, but we have them if we need them. You do know how to shoot a gun . . . or did they let you slide with that one as well?”

“If we’re playing one-upmanship, you’re going to lose.”

“You have youth and education on your side. I have real experience. That must be worth a few brownie points.”

“No one uses the term brownie points anymore and no need to be snide, especially because I’m out here in the trenches with you.”

“Trenches?”

“Stop pulling rank. I have seniority.” McAdams looked out the side window. “I’m not putting you down, Decker, but if I were actually insane enough to want to do this as a
career,
I’d probably be upper brass in NYPD within . . . say, four to six years?”

“You think so?”

“I know so. It’s not about experience or passing tests or paying your dues. It’s all about how to work the system, which is something I excel at. I learn exactly what I need to get the job done. Stuffing my brain with useless knowledge is inefficient. Like learning CPR. We get called out, I know you’re going to handle it. You or Roiters or Mann or Milkweed—”

“Nickweed.”

“Whatever. We get called out and CPR needs to be done, I’m not the go-to guy. Why should I waste my time learning something that I’ll never do?”

“Because it is possible that we won’t be around and then you’ll look like a jackass. If I were your superior, I’d insist on it.”

“But you’re not. And since I’m not asking for your opinion or advice, I suggest you stop wasting your breath. Need I remind you that a guy your age doesn’t have that much left.”

Decker stifled a smile. He was riling up the kid on purpose and enjoying it. “You have a short fuse. You should work on that as well.”

“Remind me why I volunteered to ride with you.”

“Let me guess,” Decker said. “I think you’re one of those dudes hoping to glean something from my vast repertoire of police work. I think you’re figuring that just maybe I’ll tell you something truly original and fascinating and then you can write a novel about it. Or better yet, a screenplay. I can see you living in Hollywood. You’d fit in nicely.”

“You’re being condescending. That’s fine. It must be hard to be the junior partner and intellectually inferior to someone as young as I am.”

“Nah, I’m used to that. You’ve never met my kids.”

“But you don’t work with your kids, do you.”

“Nope. I don’t. And I really don’t work with you, McAdams. We just kind of ride around together. Not much in the way of meaningful conversation going on.”

“You want to talk Proust, I’m in.”

“Sure, talk to me about Proust. I like madeleines. My wife bakes them sometimes.”

“He was boring and I hate philosophy. It’s very mathematical and that’s never been my strong suit. I mean I got a 720 on the SAT but that’s about average for Harvard.” When Decker said nothing, the kid squirmed and said, “So what was your favorite case as a detective?”

“No go, Harvard. You’re just going to have to use your own experience for movie material, although God help us both if we ever caught a real case. Not a plain homicide . . . a whodunit.”

“A whodunit? That’s what you call homicides?”

“Not all homicides, just whodunits. Do you have even the slightest idea how to begin an investigation?”

“Just from TV . . . is it that different?”

“You are joking, right?” When McAdams went quiet, Decker felt a little bad. Why was he even bothering? The kid remained blissfully silent for the rest of the ride back, sulking and moping around until he clocked out at five.

If he wasn’t such a twit, Decker might have felt sorry for him. The kid didn’t fit in at work: he really didn’t fit in anywhere. He wasn’t a student anymore and he was too young for the average resident living in Greenbury. So where did that leave his social life? Had he shown any genuine curiosity about police work, Decker would have invited him over for dinner. But Decker wasn’t in the charity business. You reap what you sow and that’s a fact.

LIVING IN A
small town had its perks, particularly when selling real estate in L.A. and buying in Greenbury. He and Rina had walked away with a nice nest egg in their pockets. Their new house on Minnow Lane was built at the turn of the twentieth century, bungalow style with three bedrooms, two and a half baths, and a wood-burning fireplace with erratic radiator heating. The selling point was the previous owner’s remodel. He had opened up the ceiling and exposed the beams. It was not only aesthetically pleasing, it allowed Decker and his six-four frame to move about the house without bumping into door headers. The yard was now brown and lifeless but they had bought the house in the fall when autumn leaves were ablaze with color and the weather had been brisk and beautiful. Spring was going to be a true spring, not an L.A. spring with fog and smog.

BOOK: Murder 101
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