Authors: Taylor Lee
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Idesire Publications, #Thriller
Trial By Fire
The Sequel to
Playing with Fire
Riveting Sequel to Bestselling Sizzling Romantic Suspense
Playing with Fire
Trial by Fire
“A bad-assed cop who flaunts every regulation finds himself the # 1 suspect in a vicious murder.”
“The sexiest, most outrageous hero I’ve read in a long time. Snappy laugh out loud dialogue, a vicious killer who makes Hannibal Lecter seem tame, and a Sizzling HOT romance makes this wildly exciting murder mystery a true page-turner.”
“A riveting mystery thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Pulse pounding action and steamy romance. A cast of unforgettable characters that will capture your heart.”
“He’s dead. Can’t you see that? What more do you want?”
“Then why did he just moan?”
“Delayed reaction. Kinda like those frogs we pinned to the cardboard in biology class. They twitch after they’re dead.”
“Christ. How long you think a guy can live, with his dick stuffed in his mouth?”
“I guess we’re going to find out.”
“Shall I bring out the popcorn?”
“Anyone ever tell you, you have a sick sense of humor?”
“C’mon. What’s wrong with enjoying my work?”
Looking back on the last three hours, it couldn’t have gone more perfectly. That’s what comes from meticulous planning. And the dismemberment was a ten-stroke. A neat addition. Sends a message. Or in this case, a diversion. It’s a tried and true practice of the mob. Recognized by those in the know. Indication that the victim was a stoolie. In a twisted way, that couldn’t be more true. Mike definitely knew too much. Sooner or later he’d have squealed.
I didn’t expect to get off on the torture as much as I did. Which surprised me—it shouldn’t have. Torture, rough sex. Tomato, tomahto. Just more blood. God knows I get off on rough sex. Should have known torture would do it for me. And all that screaming? Again, a turn on. Although after a while, it became annoying. Seems impossible that I could have less respect for Mike than I did. You’d think he’d have a little pride. But hell, what a coward. Begging. Pleading. Offering whatever I wanted. Anything to make it stop. Had to break it to him: The only thing I wanted was him dead.
‘Picture the scene.’ How many times have I heard that old saw? It’s drilled into every rookie cop from day one. ‘Picture the scene.’ What do cops see when they arrive? That first impression is critical. Doesn’t matter how good they are, it’s the way they see the murder from that moment on. Mike, offed by the syndicate? The pillar of the community? Paragon of virtue? Well, that’s stretching it. But, at least part of the ‘old boys club?’ A respected community leader with more money than God? Taken down by the mob?
That’s where the evidence comes in. The evidence has to reinforce the scene. And that takes meticulous planning. Wouldn’t take a forensic auditor long to figure Mike was up to his ass in illegal crap. How else to explain those large undocumented offshore payments? The double, triple set of books? The multiple accounts. All in the space of a year? Ten million bucks unaccounted for? Only logical answer: Mike was either sequestering money illegally, or making payments—illegal ones.
Best part was that Mike, arrogant asshole that he was, Mr. “Smartest Business Man In The World” never missed it. Until it was too late. I’ll admit it. I got a little too comfortable. It was too easy. I got complacent. Taking candy from a baby? Twice as hard as stealing from an insufferable, pompous, know-it-all asshole. The sweetest part was how surprised he was when he learned it was me who was robbing him blind. As though he were the only one who knew how to siphon off money without leaving tracks. Not the person he thought was too stupid, too simple to understand how real business leaders operate. Or else I would have been as rich as he was.
Now I am. Guess this is what’s called the proverbial last laugh. Too bad Mike can’t hear me. I would’ve liked that to be his dying memory.
“What have we got, Jim?”
Seeing the Medical Examiner huddled with a cluster of techs and members of the evidence team, Nate Stryker waited for the verdict. Jim Thompson’s face flooded with relief and something akin to wonder when he saw Nate. Nodding to Dan Coulter, the wizened little man turned his attention to Nate.
“We’re waiting for you, Nate. I’ve kept everyone out. Knew you’d want this one clean until you saw it. Plus, I wanted to get your first impression. Sure as hell, it’s something I never thought I’d see in Chicadia Falls, Minnesota.”
“Point me to it.”
Yanking on the latex gloves and paper booties one of the techs handed him, Nate followed the diminutive medical examiner into what looked like a library. The opulent room screamed money. It could have been the centerpiece of any well-appointed lounge in a Gentleman’s Club; overstuffed leather sofas, matching armchairs, and occasional tables carved out of teak contributed to a sense of masculine comfort. Dark hardwood floors and hand-woven area rugs underscored the expensive taste of the owner. Guests had access to a bar stocked with premium liquors and a cigar cabinet with all necessary accoutrements. Walnut-paneled walls, hundreds of leather-bound books, a native stone fireplace complete with a flickering fire, spoke to a room meant to be enjoyed, and—knowing the owner—envied.
And no doubt, before this evening, that was precisely the reaction this room and every other room in the lumber baron’s ostentatious mansion received from all who were fortunate enough to be invited in. Nate shook his head. So much for first impressions. From this night on, Mike Peterson’s showplace library would be known as his funeral pyre. Humph. He should be so lucky to have been burned to death. Would have been a hell of a lot quicker.
Dan’s muttered expletive said it all.
Nate nodded to his partner.
“That about sums it up, Dan.”
Exchanging a glance with Dan, who was rooted to a spot by the sofa, Nate moved toward the makeshift cross in the middle of the room. Jim Thompson didn’t exaggerate. Wasn’t only Chicadia Falls that hadn’t seen a scene like this. Nate was damn sure this one would go down in police annals everywhere. Hell, their little township could become famous. Or infamous, Nate snorted. Leave it to Peterson to go out in style. Fucking show-off. Couldn’t even be murdered without drama.
Nate approached the naked man hanging on the cross. Fortunately for Mike, he’d relied on his wealth to attract women. Sure as hell wasn’t his physique. Scrawny, sagging skin liberally sprinkled with age spots, and a pendulant belly about summed up the former ladies man’s body. And granted it wasn’t fair to judge a guy’s dick when it was stuck in his mouth, but c’mon! The best that could be said was at least Mike didn’t choke to death. It was a cinch that little nubbin didn’t reach much past his front teeth.
No, more likely Mike bled out. Inch-deep cuts marked his torso and limbs. Systematically placed, the slashes were made by a pro. Someone well-schooled in the art of slowly whipping a man to death with as much pain as possible. Of course, that open area between his legs that used to anchor his manhood, contributed to the blood clotting on the floor. From the way the blood had dried on his pale skinny thighs, that unkind cut was made early on. Either Mike was unwilling to give up the information his tormentor wanted or the end goal was torture, plain and simple.
Dan’s voice was shaky. Smearing a gob of mentholated ointment under his nose, he offered Nate the slim metal tin.
“You want some of this, Nate?”
Nate shook his head and moved closer to the cross. Over the years he’d become inured to the smells of death. Particularly violent deaths. Mike’s qualified—big time. The acrid smell of blood, piss and evacuated bowels were all common odors at a violent death scene. Mike’s had all three and then some. The stench was enough to deck a rookie officer. Nate barely noticed it.
Staring at the vicious slashes covering Mike’s body, Dan’s expression was as strained as his voice.
“Jesus, Nate. What makes those kinds of cuts? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“My best guess is a steel-tipped flogger, or could be a one-tail. Unlikely just leather could go that deep. But, hell, the guy who wielded it was a master. From the looks of it, he enjoyed it.”
Dan began documenting the scene, his low voice droning into the ‘record’ app on his iPhone. Nate listened for a moment then got lost in his visual examination. Erin always used her phone to capture the images at a fire scene. It was a great technique, but Nate was a visual kind of guy. At least for him, the disadvantage of a verbal recording was that you only recorded what you saw at the time. Once Nate saw a scene, it was imbedded in his memory. And there it lived—forever. Days, even weeks later, he could retrieve it in technicolor. Experts called it eidetic memory. Nate called it a pain in the ass. But as annoying as the unbidden replays were, he’d learned to trust his gut. When the scene kept intruding, he knew he’d missed something. The details were there from the beginning but often got lost in the crush of the crime scene. In the past, they were the minor details that had helped him break a case when no one else could.
“You about done, Nate?”
Nate nodded to his partner.
“I’ve got everything I need for the moment.” He motioned to the door. “Go ahead and let them in.”
As the troop of evidence clerks and uniformed officers flooded the room, Nate sought out the M.E. Taking a deep breath, he asked the question that had been stalking his mind since they got the call.
Jim Thompson gave him a knowing nod.
“They have her upstairs in her bedroom. Dr. James and a couple of the EMT’s are with her. She was pretty beat up.”
Nate’s gut clenched.
“She was hurt?”
Thompson frowned and shook his head. “No, she wasn’t here. She’d been out somewhere.”
Nate quirked a brow and murmured to Dan. “No surprise there.”
Dan’s lip curled in response.
Not hearing Nate’s offhand comment, the M.E. continued.
“Apparently she arrived home about an hour ago. She was the one who found Mike and made the 911 call.”
“Yes. They had to dope her. She made quite a scene. Hysterical when the first responders arrived. But I guess you can’t blame her. I doubt any of us are going to forget this shocking bloodbath any time soon.”
Nate trudged up the circular staircase, running his hand over the opulent hand-carved oak railing. Damn, he knew Mike was a lumber baron, but why include every kind of wood known to man in his home? In the library alone there were four different varieties of wood. By the time Nate made it through the grand foyer he’d counted two more. Given Mike’s penchant for pretention, what should have been beautiful was overkill.
Overkill didn’t begin to describe the bedroom they entered.
If the library was the epitome of masculine opulence, and the foyer was an adventure into a Tuscan grand hallway complete with columns and multicolored tile floors, the bedroom was Barbie’s playhouse. The last time he’d seen this much pink and white was when his little cousin forced him to be Ken in her never-ending nine-year-old’s version of grown-up play. Once again, in the Peterson household, the motto seemed to be, if it worked once, why not use it multiple times? And in this bedroom, just in case you were sight-deficient, two of the walls were floor to ceiling mirrors. Nate stifled a laugh at the incredulous expression on Dan’s face when he glanced up and spotted the huge mirror above the bed. Apparently his straight-laced partner didn’t know the woman dramatically stretched out on the pink velvet chaise lounge. Nate could have told Dan, wherever Laura was, there were mirrors.