Read The Dead Play On Online

Authors: Heather Graham

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Retail, #Thriller

The Dead Play On

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Play a song for me…

Musicians are being murdered in New Orleans. But Arnie Watson apparently died by his own hand. When Tyler Anderson plays the saxophone he inherited from Arnie, a soldier and musician who died soon after his return, he believes he sees visions of his friend’s life—and death. He becomes convinced Arnie was murdered and that the instrument had something to do with whatever happened, and with whatever’s happening all over the city…

Tyler knows his theory sounds crazy to the police, so he approaches Danni Cafferty, hoping she and Michael Quinn will find out what the cops couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. After all, Cafferty and Quinn have become famous for solving unusual crimes.

They’re partners in their personal lives, too. Quinn’s a private investigator and Danni works with him. When they look into the case, they discover a secret lover of Arnie’s and a history of jealousies and old hatreds that leads them back to the band Arnie once played with—and Tyler plays with now.

They discover that sometimes, for some people, the line between passion and obsession is hard to draw. Only in uncovering the truth can they hope to save others—and themselves—from the deadly hands of a killer.

Also by HEATHER GRAHAM

THE BETRAYED

THE HEXED

THE CURSED

WAKING THE DEAD

THE NIGHT IS FOREVER

THE NIGHT IS ALIVE

THE NIGHT IS WATCHING

LET THE DEAD SLEEP

THE UNINVITED

THE UNSPOKEN

THE UNHOLY

THE UNSEEN

AN ANGEL FOR CHRISTMAS

THE EVIL INSIDE

SACRED EVIL

HEART OF EVIL

PHANTOM EVIL

NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRES

THE KEEPERS

GHOST MOON

GHOST NIGHT

GHOST SHADOW

THE KILLING EDGE

NIGHT OF THE WOLVES

HOME IN TIME FOR CHRISTMAS

UNHALLOWED GROUND

DUST TO DUST

NIGHTWALKER

DEADLY GIFT

DEADLY HARVEST

DEADLY NIGHT

THE DEATH DEALER

THE LAST NOEL

THE SÉANCE

BLOOD RED

THE DEAD ROOM

KISS OF DARKNESS

THE VISION

THE ISLAND

GHOST WALK

KILLING KELLY

THE PRESENCE

DEAD ON THE DANCE FLOOR

PICTURE ME DEAD

HAUNTED

HURRICANE BAY

A SEASON OF MIRACLES

NIGHT OF THE BLACKBIRD

NEVER SLEEP WITH STRANGERS

EYES OF FIRE

SLOW BURN

NIGHT HEAT

* * * * *

Look for Heather Graham’s next novel
THE SILENCED
available soon from MIRA Books

THE
DEAD
PLAY ON

Heather Graham

Dedicated to our men and women in the military, past and present.

And to the USO and International Thriller Writers—especially Sloan D Gibson and John Hanson of the USO, Tom Davin and Chris Schneider of 5.11 Tactical and Kim Howe of ITW.

To those who work at Walter Reed, the hospitals and bases in Kuwait, Ramstadt and Mildenhall.

And to Kathleen Antrim, Harlan Coben, Phil Margulies and F. Paul Wilson—with whom I shared one of the most amazing experiences of my life, a USO tour to visit our servicemen and women.

We can never thank those who serve—who risk everything—enough.

Prologue

TYLER ANDERSON KNEW
the band’s set list; hell, he’d been playing with the B-Street Bombers for years. They could change things up when they wanted, but it was a Wednesday night, and most Wednesday nights they just kept to the list. They played hard, and they played well, but the weekends tended to be way crazier, with bachelor parties, conventions and the crowds—mainly tourists—that thronged the French Quarter. Wednesdays they did their most popular songs, cover songs by Journey, the Beatles, the Killers and other older songs, along with some newer hits that had made the Top 40 list.

And then something happened.

He picked up his sax—his beloved saxophone, his one precious memento from his friend Arnie Watson.

Arnie was dead and buried now. He’d survived three tours in Afghanistan, only to come home and die of a drug overdose. Arnie’s brokenhearted mother had insisted that Tyler take his saxophone. After all, they’d learned to play together on the sometimes mean streets of New Orleans, working their way up over the years from dollars tossed in their instrument cases to playing scheduled dates in real clubs.

And so Tyler had decided that he could keep his friend close by playing the sax.

But when he picked it up that night, something—he didn’t know what—happened.

They were supposed to go into Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” but he didn’t give anyone a chance to begin. He was suddenly playing—and he didn’t know why. He wasn’t even sure he knew
what
he was playing.

And then he did.

Out of nowhere, he realized, he’d started playing The Call’s “I Still Believe,” which had enjoyed a moment of glory in the vampire film
The Lost Boys
. It was a good song—a
great
song for a sax player, with a challenging arrangement. Arnie had loved to play it.

But he had never played the song himself. Didn’t know it.

But he did now. It was as if the damned sax was playing itself.

And as he played, Tyler felt as if the room was drifting away in a strange fog. And suddenly he was seeing things that Arnie might have seen. Sand and mountains and withered shrubs. He heard explosions and men shouting. There was blood.

But...

Arnie had returned from Afghanistan. He’d gone “down range” from his base in Kuwait three times, but he’d come back.

Then the sounds of the explosions dimmed and he saw a New Orleans street.

Rampart Street.

Where Arnie had died.

They’d estimated his time of death at about 5:00 a.m. There should still have been a few people about. Rampart was the edge of the Quarter; Treme was across the street, and while not the best part of town, it had been all right since the summer of storms and the television series. Yeah, there should have been plenty of people around. While a certain song might claim that New York was the city that never slept, everyone knew that title really belonged to New Orleans.

In the wake of his vision, Tyler felt as if he were being physically assaulted, and he found himself gripping the sax as he played as if it were his lifeline. And as he played, the club began to fade again.

He felt as if he were with his old childhood friend, walking down Rampart. They knew it well, having grown up in the Treme area. Not far from St. Louis #1. And churches! Hell, there were churches everywhere around here.

But Arnie was scared, and Tyler could feel it.

Arnie started to run.

It was the oddest damned thing. Tyler could vaguely see reality—the crowd in the Bourbon Street bar. And he could see somewhere else deep in his mind, where Arnie was. It was almost as if he
were
Arnie.

Beneath the sound of the music he heard a rumble...and a whisper.

“You’re dead, buddy. You’re dead.”

Cold. Cold filled him. Cold like...death.

Then, suddenly, he wasn’t playing anymore. The night was alive with the sound of applause. He blinked—and he was back at La Porte Rouge. His fellow band members were staring at him as if he’d turned pink.

The room was full, and people were pushing one another, trying to get a better look at what was going on. Jessica Tate, one of the waitresses and a good friend, was staring at him as if he’d just changed water into wine, and Eric Lyons, the head bartender, was clapping loudly and—most important—looking pleased, because happy people tended to tip better. His performance had been good for business, Tyler realized.

He lowered his head, lifted the sax and waved to the crowd. And then, with his bandmates Gus, Blake and Shamus looking on, he turned and left the stage—
ran
from the stage. He had to get out. He had to get the hell out of there.

He ran down Bourbon to the first crossroad and headed toward Rampart. He made a right and came to the place where they’d found Arnie.

The needle still in his arm.

He fell against the wall of an appliance store and sank down, tears in his eyes.

Arnie hadn’t been a junkie. Arnie hadn’t even smoked weed. He’d been doing some heavy drinking since he’d come home, but that was all. His kneecap still pained him from the shrapnel he’d taken on his third tour.

Arnie’s death had been hard—so hard—on everyone. The cops had been sorry, but Tyler had seen the look in their eyes when they’d talked to Arnie’s mother. They’d seen it before when vets came home. They survived bullets and bombs and land mines, but then, away from the war zone, they were unable to adjust. Maybe they lived with too many nightmares. Whatever the reason, the result was that their bodies might have returned, but their minds had been permanently damaged and never came home from the war. They had all tried to assure his mother that Arnie had been a good man. That he hadn’t really been a junkie but had only used the heroin to enter a dream world where he could forget his pain—and then the dream had taken him on to eternal peace.

Tyler sat against the wall, the tears still glistening in his eyes. He slammed his fist against the ground. He cried out loud, sobbing for long minutes. He looked at the sax he was still holding.

And then he knew—somehow, he just knew.

Arnie hadn’t ridden any dream into eternal peace.

He’d been murdered. And whatever the hell it took to prove it, Tyler was going to see that his friend got justice.

Chapter 1

MICHAEL QUINN PARKED
his car on the street in the Irish Channel section of the city of New Orleans.

There were several police cars already parked in front of the 1920s-era duplex to which he’d been summoned.

He headed up a flight of steep steps. The door to “A” stood open; an officer in uniform waited just outside on the porch.

“Quinn?” the man asked.

Quinn nodded. He didn’t know the young officer, but the officer seemed to know him. He had to admit, being recognized was kind of nice.

“He’s been waiting for you, but he wants gloves and booties on everyone who goes in. There’s a set over there.” He pointed.

“Thanks,” Quinn said. He looked in the direction the officer indicated and saw a comfortable-looking but slightly rusted porch chair on the far side of the door. He slid on the protective gloves and paper booties.

“You’re good to go,” the officer said.

Quinn thanked him again then entered a pleasant living area that stretched back to an open kitchen. The duplex had been built along the lines of a “shotgun”-style house. It was essentially a railroad apartment; the right side of the room was a hallway that stretched all the way to the back door, with rooms opening off it on the left. He’d never been inside this particular building, but he’d seen enough similar houses to assume the second half of the duplex would be a mirror image, hallway on the left, rooms opening off to the right.

Crime scene markers already littered the floor, and several members of the crime scene unit were at work, carefully moving around the body.

Quinn noticed that one marker denoted the position of a beer can. Another, the contents of a spilled ashtray.

A third indicated a curious splotch of blood.

In the midst of everything, in a plump armchair with padded wooden arms and a pool of dried blood underneath it, was the reason for Quinn’s presence. Dr. Ron Hubert, the medical examiner, was down on one knee in front of the chair, his black medical bag at his side, performing the preliminary work on the victim.

The remnants of what had once been a man sagged against the cushions. His throat had—at the end of the killer’s torture spree—been slit ear to ear. A gag—created from a belt and what had probably been the man’s own socks—remained strapped around the mouth. A drapery cord bound his left wrist, while the right had been tied to the chair with a lamp cord.

Both of the victim’s arms had been burned—with lit cigarettes, Quinn thought. The man’s face had been so bashed in, it wasn’t possible to determine much about what he had looked like in life.

He had been struck savagely, making it look like a rage killing. But a rage killing was usually personal. The addition of torture suggested that the killer was mentally deranged, someone who reveled in what he was doing—and had probably done it before.

And torture wasn’t carried out in a red haze of fury.

“Come around and stick close to the wall, Quinn,” Detective Jake Larue said. He was standing behind the couch, his ever-present notepad in hand, slowly looking around the room as the crime scene techs carefully went through it and the ME examined the corpse. Quinn was surprised at Larue’s directive; the detective knew damned well that Quinn was aware he needed to avoid contaminating the scene.

But this kind of scene unnerved everyone—even a jaded pro like Larue. Most cops agreed that when crime scenes stopped bothering you, it was time to seek new work.

Quinn looked at the walls as he walked around to Larue’s position. He noted a number of photographs of musicians on display. He thought he recognized some of the people in them, although he would have to take some time to remember just who they were.

“What the hell took you so long?” Larue asked.

Quinn could have told him that he’d made it to the house in less than ten minutes once Larue had called him, but it wouldn’t have meant anything at the moment. Frankly, after quickly scanning just the living area, he was wondering why he’d been called. The place was equipped with a large-screen television and a state-of-the-art sound system, so presumably the dead man had had money. There was drug paraphernalia on the coffee table to the side of the couch. A bag of what he presumed to be weed lay out in the open. Glancing toward the kitchen counter, he saw an impressive array of alcohol.

People didn’t tend to get stoned on grass and suddenly turn violent, but they were known to become killer agitated after enough bourbon or absinthe. Was this the result of escalating tensions between associates in the drug trade?
There was a wad of twenties lying on the table by the bag of weed—which, he saw on closer inspection, looked to have been tossed carelessly on top of a spill of white powder that he didn’t think would prove to be baking soda or talc.

Drug deal gone bad? Someone holding out on someone?

“Were you first on scene?” Quinn asked, reaching Larue’s side. The detective stood still. Quinn knew he was taking in the room—everything about it.

Larue was a good-looking man with short-cropped hair. His face was a character study—the lines drawn into his features clearly portrayed the complexity of his work and the seriousness with which he faced it. He’d been a damned good partner when they’d worked together, and now that Quinn had been out of the force for several years and worked in the private sector as a PI, they got along just as well together when Larue called him in as a consultant. Even when they’d been partners, Larue had never really wanted to know how Quinn came up with his theories and conclusions. What he didn’t know meant he couldn’t question Quinn’s credibility or his methods.

Larue gave him a questioning glance. “First on the scene were two patrol officers. Since it was pretty evident this man was dead and most likely Lawrence Barrett, who’s lived at this address for several years, they steered clear of him and did their best to check the premises for the killer without touching anything. Then I arrived. Damned ugly, right? And no sign of a clear motive. It looks like drugs were involved, but you and I both know looks can be deceiving. It’s about as ugly as anything I’ve ever seen, though.”

It was possible to learn a lot about murder—and murderers. But no amount of profiling killers, studying the human mind—or even learning from those who had committed horrendous crimes and been caught—could fully prepare anyone, even those in law enforcement, for the next killer he or she might encounter.

“Ugly and brutal,” Quinn agreed.

“What do you see?” Larue asked him.

“A dead man and a hell of a lot of liquor and drugs—not to mention a fat wad of money,” Quinn said. “Doesn’t look like the motive was robbery—or not a typical robbery, anyway. You have a tortured dead man. Hard to discern, given the extent of the damage, but he appears to be in his late twenties to early thirties. Caucasian, say six-foot even and two hundred pounds. From the bleeding, looks like death came from a slit throat, with the facial beating coming post-mortem. Not a lot of blood spray—blood soaked into his clothing and pooled at his feet, but there
is
that spot on the floor near the entrance. There’s no sign of forced entry, so it’s my best guess he answered the door and let his killer in—which suggests that he knew his attacker or at least expected him. I doubt it was a drug buy, since so many drugs are still here. He lets whoever in. Whatever social discourse they engage in takes place there—four or five feet in. The attacker most likely disables his victim with a blow to the head, maybe even knocks him out. Dr. Hubert will have to determine what occurred, because the face and head are so swollen, I can’t tell. When the victim is knocked out or too hurt to put up a fight, the killer drags him into the chair and ties him to it. What seems odd to me is that the attacker did all this—but apparently came unprepared. Everything he used on the victim he seems to have found right here, in the house. And what happened wasn’t just violent, it was overkill.”

Dr. Hubert looked up from his work and cleared his throat. “Based on his ID, this gentleman indeed is—was—Lawrence Barrett, thirty-three, and according to his driver’s license, five foot eleven. I’d have to estimate his weight, too, but I’d say you’re right in the ballpark.”

Just as Quinn considered Larue one of the best detectives in the city, in his mind Ron Hubert was the best ME—not just in the city, but one of the finest to be found anywhere. Of course, it was true that Quinn had a history of working with Hubert—even when Hubert had been personally involved in a bizarre case that had centered around a painting done by one of Hubert’s ancestors. The more he worked with the ME, the more he liked and respected him.

Quinn turned to Larue. “How was he found? Anyone see the killer coming or going?”

“Barrett has a girlfriend by the name of Lacey Cavanaugh. She doesn’t have a key, though. She came, couldn’t get in, looked through the window and freaked out. The owner of the building, Liana Ruby, lives in the other half of the building, heard her screaming and called the police,” Larue said. “Mrs. Ruby didn’t hear a thing. But then, she’s eighty-plus and was out at the hairdresser’s part of the day. Not to mention there’s special insulation between the walls, too—the former tenant was a drummer, who put it in to keep his practice sessions from disturbing the neighbors. She gave the responding officers the key, but she didn’t step foot inside the apartment. She says she never does—says Barrett has always been good, paid his rent early, was polite and courteous at all times.”

“So where is Mrs. Ruby now?” Quinn asked.

“Lying down next door. I told you, she’s over eighty.”

“What about the girlfriend?” Quinn asked.

“She’s at the hospital. She was with the officers when they opened the door, and when she got a good look at...she went hysterical and tripped down the steps,” Larue told him. “She was still here when I arrived, though, and I interviewed her. She said he didn’t have any enemies as far as he knew. He might have been a coke freak and a pothead—and even an alcoholic—but he was a nice guy who was great to her and tended to be overly generous with everyone.” Larue held his notepad, but he didn’t so much as glance at his notes. He could just about recite word for word anything he’d heard in the first hour or so after responding to a case.

“Okay, so. A nice guy with no known enemies—and a street fortune of drugs still in front of him—was tortured and killed. Do we know what he did for a living?” Quinn asked.

“Musician,” Larue told him. “Apparently he did so much studio work that money wasn’t an issue.”

Quinn looked over at the body again, shaking his head. “No defensive wounds, right?” he asked Dr. Hubert.

“No. I don’t think he even saw the first blow coming,” Hubert said. “Of course, I don’t like answering too many questions until I’ve completed the autopsy.”

“For now, your best guesstimates are entirely appreciated,” Quinn said.

“So?” Larue asked Quinn as the ME went back to examining the body.

“Hmm,” Quinn murmured. “Even if he made a good living, a drug habit is expensive. I don’t know how far you’ve gotten with this. Do we know if he’d borrowed any money from the wrong people? Or, following a different track, did Lacey Cavanaugh have a jealous ex?”

“She’s in surgery for a badly smashed kneecap at the moment. Those are steep steps, you might have noticed,” Larue said. “The hospital has informed me that we’ll be able to talk to her in a few hours.”

“Good. That could be important information,” Quinn said.

This murder was, beyond a doubt, brutal to the extreme. And while Quinn, like most of the world, wanted to believe that every human life was equal to every other human life, in the workings of any law-enforcement department there were always those that demanded different attention. Larue was usually brought in on high-profile cases, cases that involved multiple victims, and those that involved something...unusual.

This murder, Quinn decided, was bizarre enough to warrant Larue’s interest.

It struck Quinn then that he had missed something he should have seen straight off. He realized that the photos on the walls were all of the same man—undoubtedly the dead man—with different musicians and producers of note.

What he didn’t see anywhere in the photos or the room was a musical instrument. Of course, it was possible Barrett kept his instrument in another room, but...

“What did he play?” Quinn asked. “Do we know that?”

“Half a dozen instruments. The man was multitalented.”

Quinn was surprised to get his answer from above—the top of a narrow stairway on the left side of the room.

He saw Grace Leon up there and knew he shouldn’t have been surprised. Jake Larue liked Ron Hubert’s work as an ME, and he liked Grace Leon’s unit of crime scene technicians. Grace was small, about forty, with hair that resembled a steel-wool pad. She was, however, energy in motion, and while detectives liked to do the questioning and theorizing, Grace had a knack for pointing out the piece of evidence that could cement a case—or put cracks the size of the Grand Canyon into a faulty theory. She was swift, thorough and efficient, and her people loved her. Larue had a knack for surrounding himself with the crews he wanted.

“Hey, Grace,” he said. “Thanks. I take it you found a lot of instruments?”

“There’s a room up here filled with them. But more than that—I’ve seen this guy play. He grew up in Houma. I’ve seen him at Jazz Fest—and I’ve seen him a few times on Frenchman Street. He played a mean harmonica, and I’ve seen him play keyboard, guitar, bass—even the drums.”

“This is a competitive town, and he was obviously in demand, but why the hell kill a musician—and so violently?” Larue said thoughtfully.

“Did anything appear to be missing up there?” Quinn asked Grace.

“Not that I can tell,” she said. “But you’re welcome to come up here and look for yourself.”

Quinn intended to.

“He definitely played guitar,” Hubert noted. “I can see the calluses on his fingers.”

“A musician. Tortured, brutally killed,” Quinn said. “Drugs everywhere. And nothing appears to be missing.”

“It’s not the first such murder, either,” Larue said.

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