Authors: Kristine Mason
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Contemporary, #Thrillers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Private Investigators
SHADOW OF VENGEANCE
Copyright © 2013 Kristine Mason
All rights reserved.
For my dad, Ron.
I could get all flowery and wordy. Thank you for teaching me to work hard and never give up on my dreams. Thank you for teaching me the value of family, of right and wrong. I could go on and on about how much you mean to me, and that without you in this world life would never be the same. But because you and I are so much alike, I know you’d prefer if I kept it simple. So…
I love you, Dad. This book is for you.
Special thanks to Jamie Denton, Christy Esau and Mary Ann Chulick for their help with this book. Another big thanks to my cover artist Kim Van Meter, KD Designs.
I also want to thank Nikki Erickson, Jenny Gyurky, Renee Seefeldt and Sunny Thompson. You ladies were an enormous help to me while writing this book. Knowing how important this book was to me and how limited I am with time, you took care of my kids and gave me the chance to write. Your friendship and encouragement means the world to me.
“Who did you piss off?”
Detroit homicide detective Nick Merretti looked at the dead man lying on the bed in a pool of blood. After twenty-eight years on the force, with only two left until retirement, he’d thought he’d seen it all. Until today.
“We got any ID?” he asked no one in particular, but after years of experience knew one of the half dozen cops or CSI techs would give him an answer.
“Nothing,” a tech called from across the shitty, no-tell motel room. “No wallet, jewelry, clothes. No prints either. Whoever did this, cleaned up after themselves.”
“Yeah, well, they still made one hell of a mess.” From the opposite side of the bed, Medical Examiner, Joyce Wilson, leaned over the victim, wrinkling her nose in disgust. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Nick hadn’t either, and he’d seen some fucked up shit. “Time of death?” he asked.
“I’ll have a more concrete time once I do the autopsy, but best guess?” Joyce looked at the dainty watch on her thick wrist as if it had the answer. “Twenty-four to thirty-six hours ago.”
“According to the owner, the cleaning lady found him,” his partner, Leon Smith, said as he entered the motel room. Leon looked at the body and winced. “That’s fucked up.” He looked to Joyce. “Sorry, Ma’am.”
“No worries, Detective.” She tossed Leon a pair of gloves. “You’re right. It’s totally fucked up. And I’m the one who gets to spend all kinds of time with him. Lucky me.”
Leon held up the gloves. “What do you want me to do with these?”
His partner had only been with Homicide for six months and had some growing to do. “Put them on and do whatever Joyce asks.”
“Okay,” the ME began, and gently touched the dead man’s head. “Looks as if he was bludgeoned with…” She glanced at the lamp lying haphazardly on the filthy carpet. “Likely the lamp.”
Nick nodded to the nearest CSI tech, and asked him to check the lamp for any evidence. “What do you think was used on his face?”
She shrugged. “I’m assuming some sort of acid. Look at the way the skin melted.”
Swallowing down the bile that had been burning his throat from the moment he walked into the room, he stared at the dead man’s face—or what was left of it. The acid, or whatever had been used, had practically liquefied the man’s skin, leaving behind only bits of reddish brown flesh and tufts of brown hair over the partially exposed skull. “I’m assuming the acid took care of the eyes.”
After righting the dead man’s head, Joyce checked the eye sockets. “Acid would do that, and probably did. But look.” She pointed a Latex-gloved finger to the cavity. “See these grooves here?” she asked. “Again, I’ll know more during the autopsy, but those grooves are consistent with knife marks.” She pointed to the other eye socket. “They’re here, too.”
“You’re saying he was
in the eyes?” Leon’s caramel face grew ashen to the point where Nick wondered if his partner would lose his lunch. “What about his teeth? Do you think he wore dentures?”
Joyce examined the man’s mouth, dipping a finger inside and along the area where gums and teeth
have been. “Most of his gums were destroyed by the acid, but based on some of the holes I can feel where his back molars were, I’m thinking they were ripped from his head.”
Nick rubbed the back of his hand along his chin, and glanced at the man’s torso, where it looked as if he’d been stabbed dozens of times. “Total overkill,” he said. “In every sense of the word.”
“No doubt he suffered.” Joyce also looked to the deep, jagged slices tattooing the man’s chest and stomach. “Someone thought he deserved it.”
“I don’t know,” Leon said, his voice filled with dread and anguish. “Slicing off a man’s dick, sorry, I mean penis is…is…”
“Personal,” Nick finished.
Joyce met his gaze. “Based on the amount of blood, I’d say it was done while he was still alive.” She moved to the end of the bed. “I have a gut feeling my findings will prove he was alive during most, if not all of this.” She picked up the man’s gnarled, partially skeletonized foot. “Looks like acid was dumped on his feet, too.”
“Let’s roll him,” Nick suggested. “I want to see his hands and back.” They were screwed. No ID, no recognizable facial features, and no teeth meant no dental records. They wouldn’t have been able to run a footprint through AFIS like they could with a fingerprint. But just like fingerprints, a footprint was unique to each individual.
“Put those gloves to work, Leon,” Joyce said. “Help me roll him on his side. Good, now hold him steady.”
Leon stood across the bed, his head turned to the side and his face contorted in a deep grimace as he held the victim’s bloodied shoulder and hip. “Don’t take too long.” His partner’s shoulders lurched and his Adam’s apple bobbed as if he fought to keep from vomiting. “I…I don’t know how long I can do this.”
Ignoring Leon, Nick viewed the dead man’s backside. His hands had been tied behind him, the flesh around the fingers melted away, leaving behind nothing but bone. Small puncture wounds, likely from the force of a knife as it had been gouged into the victim’s torso over and over, lined his lower back. He glanced to the man’s shoulder blade, where a large chunk of skin had been removed. Swearing, he stepped away and ran a hand over his bald spot.
Two more years
. That’s all he had left. Two more years of dead bodies.
When he glanced back toward the bed, Leon had just stepped away from the victim. “Get some air,” Nick told his partner. Once Leon left the room, he turned to Joyce. “They took his tattoo.”
“That was my first thought.” She sent him a wry smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Glad you waited until Leon set the vic back down before you brought it up. I really didn’t want a mutilated corpse on my head.”
“Right.” He propped a hand on his hip, and stared at the dead man. “She made sure nothing was left to ID this guy.”
?” Joyce removed her gloves. “How can you be so sure? You’re obviously the detective here, but based on this motel, based on some of the prostitutes I saw when I was coming in, I figured this was a pimp putting a john in his place.”
“I’ve had my share of run ins with plenty of pimps.” He shook his head. “They might beat the hell out of a john who did one of their girls wrong.” He shrugged. “They might even stab him. But acid? Ripping teeth from his head? This wasn’t a pimp.” He glanced at the mutilated genitalia and the gouged eyes. “This was a woman. This was personal. It was also premeditated.”
“Maybe. But, and I’m guessing here, the vic is about six foot two and probably one ninety to two hundred pounds. Unless he was drugged or highly intoxicated, I can’t see a woman capable of subduing him, then mutilating him while he was still alive.”
“She didn’t drug him.” With a tired sigh, he moved toward the door, then glanced over his shoulder at the disfigured corpse. “She wanted him coherent…for every single slice.”
Eighteen months later…
Rachel Davis stared at the ringing cell phone, at the Michigan area code. Panic clamped her heart and tightened her chest. Her brother, Sean, lived in Michigan, but only called her from his cell phone, which used a Chicago area code. She glanced at the alarm clock beside her bed. He also never called her at six in the morning. Hoping something had happened to Sean’s phone and he was calling from the dormitory landline, she quickly answered.
Panic morphed into utter dread. “Yes, who is this?”
“Sheriff Jake Tyler. Dixon County, Michigan.”
Mouth dry, mind racing, she reached into the nightstand drawer and grabbed a pencil. “Why are you calling, Sheriff?”
Please let Sean be okay.
“It’s about your brother.”
She closed her eyes. Not caring that she’d just finished her hair and make-up, or that she was dressed for work in a freshly laundered suit, she slumped onto the bed and curled into the fetal position. Sean was her only family. Whatever news the sheriff was about to give her, she’d take it lying down. Fainting onto the hardwood floor would hurt like a bitch.
“Is Sean…?” She couldn’t say the words. Hurt. Missing. Dead.
“Your brother is at Dixon Medical Center. He’s been beaten, but the doc working on him says he’ll recover without issue.”
Anger suddenly surged through her veins. She shot off the bed. “Beaten? When did this happen? Where? At the university?”
Although she’d tried to encourage Sean to remain in Chicago and attend Northwestern, he’d chosen Wexman University, in northwest Michigan, instead. He’d liked the idea of going to a small school, loved the campus, the engineering program and the fat scholarship the school had awarded him for his academics. While she’d respected his wishes, and the scholarship had definitely been a Godsend considering she was paying for his education, she still wished he’d stayed closer to home. She loved his company and missed seeing his face on a daily basis.
Now he was lying in a hospital bed.
“Actually, we’re not sure where the beating took place. The doc thinks, based on the way Sean’s wounds have healed, that your brother was hurt sometime Saturday.”
“Saturday?” Pinching the pencil between her fingers, she paced the bedroom. “In case you’re not aware, Sheriff, it’s Monday.”
“I’m fully aware of the day,” he replied, his tone holding a hint of irritation. “But your brother wasn’t found until last night around midnight. He had no ID and was considered a John Doe until a couple of hours ago.”
Rachel stopped pacing and snatched the picture frame off the dresser. Staring at the photograph of her and Sean at a Chicago Cubs game last summer, memories of the cheering crowd, the mouthwatering aroma of hot dogs and popcorn, filled her mind and made her want to cry. They’d had a great time at the game, then later pigged out on pizza and wings. He wasn’t just her brother, he was her best friend. And she could have lost him.
Tears filled her eyes as she set the photograph back on the dresser. Swiping a stray tear from her cheek, she drew in a deep breath.
She needed to maintain control. Think. Obtain the facts. Analyze the situation. Leave emotion out of the picture—for now—and use every resource she had available to find out who had hurt Sean. She worked for CORE (Criminal Observance Resolution Evidence), and had helped the agency investigate and solve hundreds of cases. She’d solve this one, too. And when Sean was well enough to travel, she’d haul his ass home. Maybe even force him to be the next bubble boy. Anything to ensure he remained safe.
“Miss Davis? You still there?” the sheriff asked.
She tucked the pencil behind her ear, then rubbed her temple where a deep throb began to build. “Sorry, Sheriff, I’m still here and didn’t mean to snap at you. My brother…” He was the only family she had left. After their mother had run off with a musician six years ago, she’d become Sean’s legal guardian. Had she been old enough, the courts should have given her that right when he was born. Even at twelve she’d been a better parent than their mom. The woman had spent more time trying to land her next husband than paying attention to her children. Rachel loved Sean. Without him in her life…