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Authors: Gregg Hurwitz

The Kill Clause

BOOK: The Kill Clause
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For Melissa Hurwitz, M.D.

 

My first reader

Ever, and each time out

There is no justice. There is only the law.

 

—Old judicial proverb of obscure origin,

    loosely attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes

Table of Contents:

E-Book Extra

Epigraph

1. When Bear came to tell him that Ginny’s body…

2. They headed Back to Dray in Silence, the bork sliding…

3. Bear Pulled up to the curb, and Tim moved…

4. Tim opened his eyes and felt dread descend on him…

5. Tim Sped Downtown, reaching the cluster of federal and courthouse…

6. When Tim Arrived back at Room 9, two deputies were hauling…

7. All the medical examiner’s rooting through Ginny’s body produced…

8. Reporters Clung to the courthouse steps like pigeons, trailing cords…

9. On Tim’s way home a white Camry emerged from the crush…

10. The Rain had resumed, as if to match Tim’s mood…

11. “I’M not big on Pranksters, well-wishers, or rubberneckers,”…

12. Tim did a drive-by without slowing. A large Tudor…

13. As Tim turned into his cul-de-sac, he sported Dumone leaning…

14. Tim was Waiting in his Car Across the Street…

15. Pulling into the driveway of his his?Dray’s?house felt…

16. The Stork Bobbed in the driver’s seat of the overheated…

17. The Surveillance was continuous over the next fortyeight hours,…

18. “My name is Jed. Using my full name, Jedediah,…

19. Rayner’s conference room was all postsweat chills and high energy

20. Yamashiro, a Japanese restaurant perched atop a hill in East Hollywood,…

21. “…Kcom’s having a field day, with around-the-clock updates…

22. Tim Parked more than a mile away from the graveled…

23. Tim pulled up to Dumone’s apartment a little before 7:00 A.M.

24. The Nextel Chirped annoyingly, pulling Tim from the sweaty daytime…

25. As Tim pulled through Rayner’s front gate behind the van…

26. Tim slept late and showered long. The khakis and button-up shirt…

27. “We’re just finishing up the media recap, Mr. Rackley,” Rayner said…

28. The notes from Kindell’s case burning a hole in his jeans…

29. Bowrick spent a good forty minutes on the 7-Eleven phone…

30. Tim sat atop the playground slide at Warren Elementary

31. Tim Spotted Mitchell behind the wheel of a parked pizza-delivery car…

32. Tim had barely exited into Moorpark when he noticed…

33. Bear’s voice was ragged with sleep, gruffer even than usual.

34. Tim got to Yamashiro a full early and surveilled it…

35. Friday-Afternoon rush hour in L.A.—a preview of purgatory.

36. “The deal’s on.” Tim leaned against the pay-phone interior.

37. He was up at first light, an old Rangers habit that reemerged…

38. Tim changed out of his shirt and took a prolonged…

39. Tim’s attempt at sleep was just that. He drifted off…

40. He bled through his T-shirt high on the right sleeve.

41. Since he figured Bear would have deputies all over Dray’s…

42. When Tim turned off Grimes Canyon Road onto the snaking…

43. Since the stork’s face had been plastered on every TV…

44. Tim eased down the tiled corridor and slid into Room 17,…

45. Tim was grateful the Mastersons had chosen a Lincoln, since…

46. A Three-day stint at the USC Medical Center Jail…

47. The readiness conference went so quickly that Tim barely, kept…

E-Book Extra

Afterword: The Writing Is the Easy Part

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also by Gregg Hurwitz

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

WHEN BEAR CAME
to tell him that Ginny’s body had been found raped and dismembered in a creek six miles from his house, that her remains had required three biohazard bags to depart the scene, that they were currently sprawled on a pathologist’s slab awaiting further probing, Tim’s first reaction was not what he would have expected of himself. He went ice cold. There was no grief—grief, he’d learn, takes perspective, recollection, time to unfurl. There was just the news slapping him, dense and jarring like face pain. And, inexplicably, there was embarrassment, though for whom or what, he was not sure. The heel of his hand lowered, searching out the butt of his Smith & Wesson, which of course he wasn’t wearing at home at 6:37 in the evening.

To his right Dray fell to her knees, one hand clutching the door frame, fingers curling between the jamb and hinges as if seeking pain. Beneath the razor edge of blond hair, sweat sparkled on the band of her neck.

For an instant everything was frozen. Rain-heavy February air. The draft guttering the seven candles on the pink-and-white-frosted birthday cake that Judy Hartley held poised for revelation in the living room. Bear’s boots, distressingly carrying the crime-scene mud, blotting the aggregate porch, the pebbles of which Tim had meticulously smoothed on his hands and knees last fall with a square trowel.

Bear said, “Maybe you want to sit down.” His eyes held the same guilt and attempted empathy Tim himself had used in countless situations, and Tim hated him unjustly for it. The anger dissolved quickly, leaving behind a dizzying emptiness.

The small gathering in the living room, mirroring the dread emanating from the hushed doorway conversation, gave off a breath-held tension. One of the little girls resumed recounting Harry Potter Quid-ditch rules and was hushed violently. A mother leaned over and blew out the candles Dray had lit in eager anticipation after the knock on the front door.

“I thought you were her,” Dray said. “I just finished frosting her…” Her voice wavered hard.

Hearing her, Tim registered an aching remorse that he’d pressed
Bear so hard for details right here at the door. His only way to grasp the information had been to try to contain it in questions and facts, to muscle it into pieces small enough for him to digest. Now that he’d taken it in, he had too much of it. But he’d knocked on enough doors himself—as had Dray—to know that it would have been only a matter of time until they’d known it all anyway. Better to wade in fast and steady and brace against the cold, because the chill wasn’t going to leave their bones anytime soon, or maybe ever.

“Andrea,” he said. His trembling hand felt the air, searching for her shoulder and not finding it. He couldn’t move, couldn’t so much as turn his head.

Dray bent her head and started to weep. The sound was one Tim had never heard. Inside, one of Ginny’s schoolmates matched her crying—confused, instinctive mimicry.

Bear crouched, both knees cracking, his form broad but huddled on the porch, his nylon raid jacket sweeping low like a cape. The yellow lettering, pale and faded, announced
U
.
S
.
DEPUTY MARSHAL
in case someone cared. “Darlin’, hold on there,” he said. “Hold on.”

His immense hands encircled her biceps—no small feat—and drew her in so her face pressed against his chest. Her hands clawed the air, as if afraid to set down on something for fear of what they might do.

He raised his head sheepishly. “We’re gonna need you to…”

Tim reached down, stroked his wife’s head. “I’ll go.”

 

•The three-foot tires of Bear’s chipped-silver Dodge Ram hiccupped over seams on the roadway, shifting the broken-glass dread in Tim’s gut.

Composed of twelve square miles of houses and tree-lined streets about fifty miles northwest of downtown L.A., Moorpark was renowned for little more than the fact that it housed the state’s largest concentration of law-enforcement residents. It was a low-rent country club for the straight arrows, a post-shift refuge from the streets of the off-kilter city they probed and fought for most of their waking hours. Moorpark radiated an artificial fifties-TV-show feel—no tattoo parlors, no homeless people, no drive-bys. A Secret Service agent, two FBI families, and a postal inspector lived on Tim and Dray’s cul-de-sac. Burglary, in Moorpark, was a zero-growth industry.

Bear stared dead ahead at the yellow reflectors lining the center of the road, each one materializing, then floating downward in the darkness.
He’d forgone his usual slouch, driving attentively, seeming grateful for something to do.

Tim sifted through the mound of remaining questions and tried to find one to serve as a starting point. “Why did you…why were you there? Not exactly a federal case.”

“Sheriff’s department took prints from her hand….”

From her hand. A separate entity. Not
from her.
Through his sickening horror, Tim wondered which of the three bags had carried away her hand, her arm, her torso. One of Bear’s knuckles was smudged with dried mud.

“…the face was tough, I guess. Jesus, Rack, I’m sorry.” Bear heaved a sigh that bounced off the dash and came back at Tim in the passenger seat. “Anyways, Bill Fowler was in the handling unit. He firmed the ID—” He stopped, catching himself, then reworded. “He recognized Ginny. Put in a call to me, since he knows how I am with you and Dray.”

“Why didn’t
he
do the advise next of kin? He was Dray’s first partner out of the academy. He just ate barbecue at our house last month.” Tim’s voice rose, grew accusatory. In its heightened pitch he recognized his desperate need to lay blame.

“Some people aren’t cut out for telling parents that—” Bear laid off the rest of the sentence, evidently finding it as displeasing as Tim did.

The truck exited and hammered over bumps in the off-ramp, making them bounce in their seats.

Tim exhaled hard, trying to rid himself of the blackness that had filled his body, cruelly and methodically, somewhere between the porch and now. “I’m glad it was you that came.” His voice sounded far away. It betrayed little of the chaos he was fighting to control, to categorize. “Leads?”

“Distinctive tire imprints heading out of the creek’s slope. It was pretty muddy. The deputies are on it. I didn’t really…that’s not really where my head was at.” Bear’s stubble glimmered with dried sweat. His kind, too-wide features looked hopelessly weary.

Tim flashed on him setting Ginny up on his shoulders at Disneyland last June, hoisting her fifty-three pounds like a bag of feathers. Bear was orphaned young, never married. The Rackleys were, for all intents and purposes, his surrogate family.

Tim had investigated warrants with Bear for three years on the Escape Team out of the district office downtown, ever since Tim’s eleven-year stint in the Army Rangers. They also served together on the Arrest Response Team, the Marshals’ SWAT-like tactical strike
force that kicked doors and hooked and hauled as many of the twenty-five hundred federal fugitives hidden in the sprawling L.A. metropolis as they could get cuffs on.

Though still fifteen years from the mandatory retirement age of fifty-seven, Bear had recently begun referring to the date grudgingly, as if it were imminent. To ensure he’d have some conflict in his life after retirement, Bear had completed night law school at the South West Los Angeles Legal Training Academy and, after failing the bar twice, had finally wrung a pass out of it last July. He’d had Chance Andrews—a judge he used to work court duty for regularly—swear him in at Federal downtown, and he, Dray, and Tim had celebrated in the lobby afterward, drinking Cook’s out of Dixie cups. Bear’s license sat in the bottom drawer of his office file cabinet, gathering dust, preventive medicine for future tedium. He had nine years on Tim, currently apparent in the lines etching his face. Tim, who’d gone enlisted at the age of nineteen, had had the benefit of opposing stress with youthfulness when learning to operate; he’d emerged from the Rangers seasoned but not weathered.

“Tire tracks,” Tim said. “If the guy’s that disorganized, something’ll break.”

“Yeah,” Bear said. “Yeah, it will.”

He slowed and pulled into a parking lot, easing past the squat sign reading
VENTURA COUNTY MORGUE
. He parked in a handicap spot up front, threw his marshal’s placard on the dash. They sat in silence. Tim pressed his hands together, flat-palmed, and crushed them between his knees.

Bear reached across to the glove box and tugged out a pint of Wild Turkey. He took two gulps, sending air gurgling up through the bottle, then offered it to Tim. Tim took a half mouthful, feeling it wash smoky and burning down his throat before losing itself in the morass of his stomach. He screwed on the lid, then untwisted it and took another pull. He set it down on the dash, kicked open his door a little harder than necessary, and faced Bear across the uninterrupted stretch of the vinyl front seat.

Now—just now—grief was beginning to set in. Bear’s eyelids were puffy and red-rimmed, and it occurred to Tim that he may have pulled over on his way to their house, sat in his rig, and cried a bit.

For a moment Tim thought he might come apart altogether, start screaming and never stop. He thought of the task before him—what awaited him behind the double glass doors—and wrestled a piece of strength from a place he didn’t know he had inside him. His stomach roiled audibly, and he fought his lips still.

“You ready?” Bear asked.

“No.”

Tim got out and Bear followed.

 

•The fluorescent lighting was otherworldly harsh, shining off the polished floor tile and the stainless-steel cadaver drawers set into the walls. A broken lump lay inert beneath a hospital-blue sheet on the center embalming table, awaiting them.

The coroner, a short man with a horseshoe of hair and a stereotype-reinforcing pair of round spectacles, fussed nervously with the mask that dangled around his neck. Tim swayed on his feet, his eyes on the blue sheet. The draped form was distressingly small and unnaturally proportioned. The smell reached him quickly, something rank and earthy beneath the sharp tang of metal and disinfectant. The whiskey leapt and jumped in his stomach, as if trying to get out.

The coroner rubbed his hands like a solicitous and slightly apprehensive waiter. “Timothy Rackley, father of Virginia Rackley?”

“That’s right.”

“If you’d like, ah, you could go into the adjoining room and I could roll the table over before the window so you could, ah, ID her.”

“I’d like to be alone with the body.”

“Well, there’s still, ah, forensic considerations, so I can’t really—”

Tim flipped open his wallet and let his five-point marshal’s star dangle. The coroner nodded weightily and left the room. Mourning, like most things, gets more deference with a little authority behind it.

Tim turned to Bear. “Okay, pal.”

Bear studied Tim a few moments, eyes darting back and forth across his face. He must have trusted something he saw, because he backed up and exited, easing the door closed discreetly so the latch bolt made only the slightest click.

Tim studied the form on the embalming table before drawing near. He wasn’t sure which end of the sheet to peel back; he was accustomed to body bags. He didn’t want to turn aside the wrong edge and see more than he absolutely had to. In his line of work he’d learned that some memories were impossible to purge.

He ventured that the coroner would have left Ginny with her head facing the door, and he pressed gently on the edge of the lump, discerning the bump of her nose, the sockets of her eyes. He wasn’t sure if they’d cleaned up her face, nor was he sure he would prefer that, or whether he’d rather see it as it was left so he could feel closer to the horror she’d lived in her final moments.

He flipped back the sheet. His breath left him in a gut-punch gasp,
but he didn’t bend over, didn’t flinch, didn’t turn away. Anguish raged inside him, sharp-edged and bent on destruction; he watched her bloodless, broken face until it died down.

With a trembling hand he removed a pen from his pocket and used it to pull a wisp of Ginny’s hair—the same straight blond as Dray’s—from the corner of her mouth. This one thing he wanted to set straight, despite all the damage and violation stamped on her face. Even if he’d wanted to, he wouldn’t have touched her. She was evidence now.

He found a single ray of thankfulness, that Dray wouldn’t have to carry the memory of this sight with her.

He pulled the sheet tenderly back over Ginny’s face and walked out. Bear sprang up from the row of cheap, puke-green waiting chairs, and the coroner scurried over, sipping from a paper cone filled with water from the cooler.

Tim started to speak but had to stop. When he found his voice, he said, “That’s her.”

BOOK: The Kill Clause
10.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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