Michael J. McCann – Sorrow Lake

sorrow_lakeTitle:  Sorrow Lake

Author: Michael J. McCann

ISBN or ASIN: B00UZBQ6XE

Page count:  316

Genre:  Crime Fiction (police procedural)

Price (Print and Ebook): $6.06 Kindle; $19.99 (Paperback)

 

Author Bio:

Michael J. McCann was born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. He earned a B.A. (Hons.) in English from Trent University and an M.A. in English from Queen’s University. He has worked as an editor and a project and training consultant and manager with the federal government. He is an author of crime fiction and supernatural thrillers. His Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series includes Blood Passage, Marcie’s Murder, The Fregoli Delusion, and The Rainy Day Killer. He is also the author of the supernatural thriller, The Ghost Man.

 

Author_photo_Amazon_profileTell us about your book:

This is the first book in a new crime novel series set in Canada.

Detective Inspector Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police is called in to investigate when a man from the village of Sparrow Lake is found shot to death, execution style, in a farmer’s field in rural eastern Ontario.

Leading an inexperienced team of detectives, she probes beneath the wintry surface of the township to discover the victim had a dark secret–one that may endanger others in the community as well.

For young and enthusiastic Detective Constable Kevin Walker, the chance to work with Ellie March is an honor, until the situation turns ugly and unexpected betrayal threatens to destroy his promising career.

 

Share any thoughts you’d like the readers to know about you and/or your book:

This book will appeal to lovers of police procedurals. It gives the reader the opportunity to learn the ins and outs of Canadian police procedures and to be in on a new series from the very beginning.

 

Where can we go to buy your book?

Buy Links:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

http://www.theplaidraccoonpress.com/apps/webstore/

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?

Michael J. McCann’s Web Site: http://www.mjmccann.com/

Michael J.  McCann’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michael-J-McCann/130617140389341

Michael J.  McCann’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichaelJMcCann1

Michael J.  McCann’s  Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4724806.Michael_J_McCann

Michael J.  McCann’s Mystery Blog: http://michaeljmccannsblog.blogspot.com/

Michael J.  McCann’s Supernatural Blog: http://wallsofnightmare.blogspot.ca/

Michael J.  McCann’s Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/michaeljmccann/

Sorrow Lake  Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25499018-sorrow-lake

 

Video Trailer YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/embed/cz3uySAROcI

 

Excerpt from book:

His breath visible in the early morning air, Detective Constable Kevin Walker made his way down the hill and across the farmer’s field toward the body. There was a crust on the snow from freezing rain that had fallen two days ago, and his boots punched crisp holes as he followed the footprints of the old man who’d spotted something in the middle of his field just after dawn and had come down to investigate.

As he walked, Kevin kept his eyes moving across the snow, alert for anything out of the ordinary. Other than two sets of tracks, one belonging to the farmer and the other to Ontario Provincial Police Constable Bonnie Charles, the first responder to the scene, the surface of the snow was pristine. He reached the little circle of footprints where the farmer had staggered back and retched, he saw the spilled coffee and the cup the old man had dropped in his shock, and then he stopped.

Close enough.

The victim was a man in his fifties. He wore inadequate low-cut boots, grey trousers, and a tweed car coat. No gloves. No hat. The back of his neck was seared where a close-contact gunshot had passed through the base of his skull and out the front of his neck, leaving a frozen bloodstain on the surface of the snow. His face was turned slightly toward Kevin. The eyes were open and lifeless. The mouth was a frozen oval.

Kevin recognized him. He lived in the village, not two blocks from Kevin’s house.

He found it difficult to stop looking at the eyes. They had a disturbing cloudiness to them that made him feel uneasy. Kevin had participated in sudden death call outs before and so it wasn’t his first body, but it was the first that was an obvious and violent homicide. The blood, the stains on the trousers, and the cloudy, lifeless eyes were upsetting. He forced himself to stand there, taking in all the details, until he no longer felt repulsed.

He heard the sound of tires crunching in the farmer’s driveway at the top of the hill and, turning, saw the EMS ambulance arrive. Members of the Sparrow Lake volunteer fire department, they were, like Kevin, residents of Yonge Township, a strip of 128 square kilometres jutting north from the St. Lawrence River between Brockville and Kingston. He watched Constable Charles point the way down the hill, waving her arm to make it clear that they should avoid the farmer’s footprints and follow Kevin’s down the snowy slope.

As they edged their way toward him, he turned his eyes to the distant line of trees rimming the back of the field. A mixture of evergreen and bare-limbed deciduous, they were white with ice that had formed when the temperature had dropped below freezing again, the night before last. It made a picturesque tableau against the blue morning sky. A crow called out somewhere within the forest. Running his eyes along the tree line, Kevin saw nothing unusual. A second, distant crow answered the first. There was no visible disturbance in the snow between the body and the back of the field.

Somewhere in that stretch, however, would be the expended round that had killed the victim when it ripped through his neck.

He turned and looked at the footprints leading from the road to the body and back to the road again. Two sets coming in and one set returning to the road.

A one-way trip for the victim and a return trip for his killer.

“Another cold morning, Kevin,” one of the paramedics called out, by way of greeting. Behind him, his partner cursed as his boot rolled over a frozen clot of soil beneath the snow.

Kevin held up a hand. “Just you, Philip. Come up beside me.”

The paramedic shifted his equipment bag from one hand to the other and edged forward until he stood next to Kevin. He crouched, resting his bag on the snow, and swore. Behind them, his partner made a coughing sound and turned away. Philip studied the victim for a moment, then stood up and looked at the detective.

“Obviously dead,” Kevin said.

“Obviously dead,” Philip agreed. These two words, quoted from the Ministry of Health’s Deceased Patient Standard, obligated him not to touch the body unless directed to do so by the coroner. He turned to his partner. “Let’s get out of here, Dan. We’ll wait for Dalca in the truck.”

As they hurried back up the hill, they passed Constable Charles, who was talking into her shoulder microphone as she walked down. She took a long look at the body for the second time this morning before making eye contact with Kevin. “The road’s blocked off between Ballycanoe Road and Junetown Road. Everyone’s being advised to approach from the north. We’re setting up the inner perimeters now. You said to use Mr. Lackey’s yard as the command post, right?”

“Yeah.” The old man, Jerry Lackey, kept his yard well-plowed between his house and outbuildings, and it was large enough for a staging area that would accommodate all the respondents to the scene.

Kevin watched Charles depart, issuing instructions into her shoulder mike, then pulled off his gloves and used his smart phone to take a few photographs of the body. He brought out his notebook and drew a rough sketch of the scene, made a few notes, then slipped it back into his jacket pocket, put on his gloves, and trudged back up the hill.

He arrived in the yard just as Detective Sergeant Scott Patterson pulled up in a black-and-white OPP Suburban. Kevin’s immediate supervisor, Patterson commanded the Leeds County Crime Unit, and it was his call to Kevin that had brought the young detective out to Lackey’s farm in such a hurry this morning. A short, stubby redhead in his mid-forties, Patterson was carefully dressed in a full-length black wool topcoat, a black Russian-style fur hat, leather gloves, and rubber galoshes over his dress shoes. Kevin suddenly felt self-conscious in his old blue ski jacket, jeans, and snowmobile boots.

“What have we got?” Patterson demanded.

“Single shot, base of the skull, out through the front of the neck. Bled out. Looks frozen, so he was probably out here all night. Somebody walked him in from the road, shot him, walked back out, and drove away.”

“Sounds like an execution. Did you touch anything?”

“No.” It might be his first homicide, but Kevin believed he understood what he should and shouldn’t do at a crime scene.

“Is it anyone you know?”

Kevin nodded. Patterson was asking him the question not only because Kevin lived ten minutes away from the scene but also because he’d been a member of the now-defunct Sparrow Lake Police Service for seven years before the municipality had contracted out to the OPP. As Kevin himself had emphasized in his application for a transfer to the provincial force two years ago, his personal knowledge of the residents in the area was an asset that had not only served him well in his brief stint as Sparrow Lake’s only detective, but should also continue to do so in his new role as a provincial detective constable.

“His name’s Hansen,” Kevin said. “Bill Hansen. Lives in the village. Runs a car business. Has a wife, Valerie. No, Vivian.”

“Kids?”

“Not that I know of.”

“What does the witness say?”

“Lackey? I was just about to talk to him. He told the responding officer he was in the kitchen, getting a cup of coffee, when he looked out the window and saw something down here. Came down for a look, then ran back up and called 911.”

Patterson turned around as a large white Mercedes cargo van with the OPP logo on the side turned into the driveway. “Ident,” he said.

Two men got out of the van and began unloading equipment. Kevin recognized Identification Sergeant Dave Martin, commander of the East Region Forensic Identification Unit, with one of his identification constables, Serge Landry.

“Talk to the witness,” Patterson said. “I’ll get these guys started. Where the hell’s Dart? I called him right after I called you.”

“Well, he lives in Brockville.”

“Christ, that’s no excuse. So do I. It’s only a fifteen-minute drive.”

Kevin watched Patterson cross the yard and shake hands with Martin. He listened for a moment to the dogs that had been barking non-stop in Lackey’s barn since he’d arrived, then he crossed the yard, knocked on the kitchen door, and let himself into the house.

He exchanged nods with the uniformed officer who stood just inside the door. It was a typical farm house kitchen, large and warm. A fire burned in a box stove in the corner. The appliances were yellow and a long way from being new. A calico cat slept on a side table covered with newspapers, cat food cans, and empty bottles. Jerry Lackey sat at the table with a replacement cup of coffee between his hands. He was a small, wrinkled old fellow dressed in a blue plaid flannel shirt, green work pants, white tube socks, and plaid carpet slippers.

“How are you feeling now, Mr. Lackey?”

“Dunno,” Lackey replied in a monotone, “but I stopped throwing up, so I guess I’m okay.”

“Up to a few more questions?”

“Sure.” Lackey raised his eyes to Kevin. They were red-rimmed and bleak. “Never seen anything like that before in my life. Not a person. Animals, sure. But never a human being.”

Kevin removed his gloves and toque, shoving them into his pockets. He pulled off his snowmobile boots and walked across the kitchen in his stocking feet, unzipping his ski jacket. “It’s a terrible thing, sir. I understand how you feel. Do you live by yourself here?”

Lackey ran a hand through his uncombed white hair. “Just me and the animals. The wife passed away eight years ago, and the kids are all grown and gone.”

Kevin removed his ski jacket, draped it over the back of a chair, and sat down. “Do you keep any livestock?”

“Just a couple of cows and an old pony. Gives me something to do.”

“How many acres?”

“Two hundred. A lot of it’s bush now. Used to have more in hay, but since I retired it’s started to grow back in. Tamarack and birch sprout like weeds. Next thing you know, there’s ash and maple, and it’s all over.”

Kevin took out his notebook and opened it, giving Lackey a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry about all this. I know it’s very upsetting, but would you mind running through with me what happened? Start when you first noticed something in the field.”

“Okay.” Lackey moved the cup of coffee to one side and clasped his hands together. “I seen him through the window, there, over the sink.” He nodded to the far side of the kitchen, where a curtained window looked down the hill and across the open field alongside Church Road.

“What time was this?”

“About seven thirty, I guess. I used to be an early riser, but not any more.”

“Go on. What happened?”

“Well, like I told the lady officer, I seen something down there at first but didn’t pay too much attention. I was getting water for my coffee pot, and I looked through the window while it was running. It wasn’t too light out yet, and I could just see this dark shape lying on the snow. I’m kind of slow waking up in the morning. Thought maybe it was a deer or something.”

“So you made your coffee?”

Lackey grimaced, upset. “I know I should have gone out right away, but you gotta understand, I was still half asleep. It takes me a while to get going in the morning.”

“That’s not what I meant, Mr. Lackey. Nobody’s blaming you for anything. There was nothing you could have done, anyway. It was far too late for anyone to have helped him. I’m just trying to get a clear picture of what happened. Please, go on.”

“Okay, sorry. I’m trying not to be a baby about it.”

“You’re doing fine. So you saw the dark shape down there. Did you see anyone or anything else?”

Lackey rubbed his unshaven cheek. “No, just that.”

“Then what happened?”

“Well, I brewed a pot of coffee and poured a cup. I was going to go out to the road and get the paper from the box because I like to read it with my coffee, so I had my boots and coat on, ready to go. I always take my coffee with me. Just a little stroll to the road and back. I was walking by the window and looked out again, and I could see it was still lying down there, and this time it looked like a man. I didn’t know what to think. So instead of going for the paper I went down across the field and, and, and—”

Kevin let the silence sit between them for several moments while he jotted down a few notes. It gave Lackey time to regain his composure. Then he dotted the last word emphatically, to let the old man know he was ready to move on.

“I appreciate this, Mr. Lackey. Very much. It’s a great help to us, it’ll help us understand what happened. Let’s go back a bit, if you don’t mind. When was the last time you looked at that field and saw nothing down there?”

Lackey frowned a moment. “I dunno. I suppose yesterday afternoon. I went into the village to gas up my truck. When I came back, there wasn’t nothing there.”

“What time was that?”

“About four o’clock. Four thirty.”

“Would that be the last time you looked there until this morning?”

“As far as I know.”

“Okay. Now, last night, did you hear anything unusual on the road? Any vehicles, loud noises, voices, anything at all like that? Maybe your dogs barking at something?”

“Sorry.” The old man shook his head, tapping his ear. “Hearing aid. I take it out after I watch TV. Nine o’clock, every night. Don’t put it back in until I get up in the morning. Can’t hear much of anything without it.”

“Did you get up during the night?”

“Couple of times. To take a leak.” He glanced self-consciously at the uniformed officer, who was listening to him without expression.

“See any lights on the road?” Kevin asked. “Maybe from a vehicle parked down there, or one passing by? Any flashes of light, anything like that at all?”

“Sorry,” Lackey repeated. “I wish I was more help.”

“You’ve been very helpful, Mr. Lackey, and I appreciate it.” While still writing in his notebook, eyes down, Kevin asked, “Do you own a firearm, Mr. Lackey?”

“No, not any more. I used to have a couple of hunting rifles, and a shotgun for vermin, but I sold them a while back. I don’t do as much around here as I used to. I wish I still had that shotgun, though.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“I sold it too cheap. It was a real good one.”

“What about a handgun, Mr. Lackey? Do you own a handgun?”

“Naw, why would I? Wouldn’t have a use for it. A waste of money.”

“Did you know the victim?”

“No.” Lackey pulled over his cup of coffee and stared at it glumly. “Who was he? Nobody’s told me.”

“Bill Hansen. He lived in Sparrow Lake.”

“That so? Oh, wait. That’s the guy deals cars, right?”

“That’s right. Did you ever do business with him?”

Lackey shook his head. “Not me. Heard about him, though.”

“Oh? What did you hear?”

“Just that he’s pretty expensive. If I was going to buy another truck, I wouldn’t go to him because he buys and sells stuff that’s only a year or two old. I heard he wholesales for dealerships and sells other stuff on the side. My kind of new truck is at least fifteen years old and doesn’t cost more than a grand.”

Kevin smiled. “I hear you. Do you know anyone who did business with him?”

“I don’t run with that kind of crowd.”

“What kind of crowd?”

“People with all kinds of money to spend. People not retired and on a piddly little pension like me.”

“I understand.” Kevin made a quick note. “How well do you know your neighbours, Mr. Lackey?”

“Not hardly at all. I used to know all the families that farmed on this road, but they’re pretty much all passed away, and their kids have sold out and moved to the city. Bunch of commuters along here, now. Young people who work in Brockville or Kingston or Smiths Falls. I never talk to them. Only time I see them is when they’re driving by in their cars. Sometimes they wave. Mostly, they don’t. It’s that kind of world now.”

Kevin stood up and pulled his ski jacket off the back of the chair. “I appreciate your help, Mr. Lackey. We’ll have you provide a written statement later.”

Lackey swallowed a mouthful of coffee. “Sure. No problem.” He frowned at the kitchen window that had started all the trouble.

Outside, Kevin walked down to the end of the driveway. The farm was located about seven kilometres southwest of the village of Sparrow Lake, and eight kilometres north of Mallorytown. Church Road itself was about four kilometres long, running south-north between Junetown Road and Ballycanoe Road. Lackey’s farm was situated about a quarter of the way up from Junetown Road. As Charles had said, the entire road was blocked off, and inner perimeters had been set up to prevent local traffic, what there might be of it, from intruding on the crime scene. On Kevin’s right, to the north, there wasn’t another residence for at least a kilometre, so the inner perimeter was set somewhere between there and here. It was far enough away that he couldn’t see it from where he was standing.

On his left, the road sloped downhill and followed a straight line south. The closest residence, a single-family, ranch-style house, was barely visible across the road, within the trees. The inner perimeter had been set up right at the end of Lackey’s field, about thirty metres from the neighbour’s driveway—a wooden barricade, an OPP cruiser, and a bored constable.

The road had recently been plowed, but there wasn’t much of a snowbank along the shoulder. The ditch was shallow and filled with crusted snow. A page-wire fence ran down the hill along the edge of Lackey’s field. The fence posts were grey and weathered, and although a few were canted over at an angle, the rest were in good shape. The entrance to the field, through which the victim and his killer had passed, was about fifty metres from the bottom of the hill. The gate had been missing for a long time.

Crime scene tape fluttered across the road on either side of the entrance, to protect the immediate area in which Martin and Landry needed to work. Constable Charles was in the process of re-tying an end of the tape that had come undone from where it had been secured on the page-wire fence.

Inside the tape, they had set out several series of numbered evidence markers on the road, in the ditch, and through the entrance into the field. Martin was in the process of following the footprints across the field toward the body, placing yellow markers on top of the snow and photographing each print. Landry crouched in the middle of the road, unpacking supplies from a kit box. In their crime scene coveralls and hoods, the identification officers reminded Kevin of animals whose coats turn white in the winter for protective coloration.

Behind him, Kevin heard an approaching vehicle. It was Patterson, coming back from the north perimeter. He stepped out of the way to allow the Suburban room to pull in and park. Detective Constable Craig Dart got out from the passenger side, gave Kevin a look, and started down the hill toward Landry.

Patterson joined Kevin at the end of the driveway. “His car wouldn’t start, so he had to get a ride. I picked him up at the barricade.”

“I thought he looked more pissed than usual.”

Patterson sighed. They watched Landry hold up his hand and motion Dart away from his work area. Dart sidestepped, stopped, crossed his arms, and watched as Landry motioned Charles over to him. He passed the end of a tape measure to her and gingerly backed away. He was measuring the distance between parallel tire tread marks, Kevin realized, to get an idea of the wheelbase of the vehicle that had brought the victim to the scene.

Kevin heard the sound of another car behind him. He turned in time to see a black Lexus approaching at top speed. He skipped aside as the car swerved into the driveway, barely missing him.

“This fucking idiot,” Patterson grumbled.

Dr. Yuri Dalca climbed out of the Lexus, retrieved his bag from the back seat, and slammed the door. “Not even have I had a chance to do my breakfast,” he proclaimed loudly to no one in particular, “but now I have to walk all the way through some snow-covered field to look at a body I already know is dead.”

“Life’s rough,” Patterson said, unimpressed. “If you’ll follow me, Dr. Dalca?”

The detective sergeant led the way up the driveway and down the hill. Dalca followed, complaining with each step in a loud, accented voice that betrayed his Romanian origin. Kevin brought up the rear. As they approached the body, Dalca minced around Patterson and held up his hand. “Enough for you, right there. Have you already disturbed my body?”

“Nobody’s touched it,” Patterson snapped.

“A little respect costs nothing.” Dalca knelt down beside the corpse. “Frozen stiff. Joke intended. He’s been here for a while, probably all night.”

Obviously, Kevin thought. Watching Dalca fuss around the body, he mentally reviewed the five questions a coroner must answer when investigating an unexpected death.

Who is the person?—Bill Hansen.

When did he die?—Sometime between four thirty yesterday afternoon and about two o’clock this morning, judging from the frozen condition of the body.

Where did he die?—Right here, given the amount of blood pumped out across the snow by a heart still beating after the fatal shot was fired.

How did he die?—As a result of the aforementioned gunshot wound.

By what means did he die?—Homicide, without question.

“His wife will be so very upset,” Dalca said.

Patterson shifted. “You know this man?”

“Of course. He’s a patient of mine.” Dalca struggled upright and started to put his gloves back on. “There’s nothing for me to do here. The freezing of the body is already done, so no point in me trying to figure out time since death. It was what, last night, twenty below, Celsius? Being police, you don’t know these things and always expect the impossible, but the progress of rigor mortis, the stiffening of the body, is made slower by cold temperatures, as is the production of insects, gas, and all the other fine things we use to measure time since death. The body fluids freeze when he lies out here like this, in an open field, exposed to the cold winds, and the stiffness we have already is not rigor but simply the freezing of the water in the cells. Look at the blood, there on the snow.” He waved his gloved hand. “Frozen as well. Since the middle of the night, obviously. The body must be thawed, very slowly, then we will see the rigor follow its normal course. It could take a full day just to do this. I don’t know. The pathologist will tell us.”

Having delivered his lecture, he picked up his bag and began to manoeuvre around Patterson and Kevin.

“Hang on a sec.” Patterson put a hand on Dalca’s sleeve. “You said this man’s a patient of yours. Bill Hansen?”

“Yes, of course it’s Hansen.” Dalca stopped, annoyed at being touched.

Kevin asked, “Is there anything in this man’s medical history we need to know about? That might be relevant to the investigation?”

Dalca rolled his eyes at him. “You mean, like drug addiction or alcoholism or STD from too much screwing around? Something like that? Don’t waste your time, and don’t waste mine, young man. There’s nothing in my files to help you answer who did this to him. Which I hope you will go and find out now without frittering away any more of my time.” He pulled his sleeve free from Patterson’s gloved fingers and moved around Kevin.

“The inspector from CIB is on the way,” Patterson said.

“How nice,” Dalca called over his shoulder. “I’m going up to my warm car, where I will call my pathologist friend in Kingston to let him know Mr. Hansen is coming. I’ll also call the body removal service to pick him up, I’ll fill out all my tedious, bureaucratic forms and give you your copies, and then I’m going to go somewhere more pleasant to have my breakfast.”

“Don’t forget to release the EMS guys,” Patterson called after him. “They could use some breakfast, too.”

Dalca ignored him, trudging stolidly away.

“I swear to God,” Dave Martin said behind them, “that guy’s a walking advertisement for scrapping the coroner system in this province and going with professional medical examiners like the rest of the modern world.”

Kevin turned. Martin had finally worked his way across the field to the victim. He carefully circled the body, photographing it.

“Don’t get me started, Dave.” Patterson looked at Kevin. “Stay here. I’m not finished with that son of a bitch, not by a long shot.” He shouldered past him and stamped away after the departed coroner.

“First thing,” Martin said, slinging his camera over his shoulder and kneeling beside the body, “we need to bag these hands.”

Kevin crouched down beside him. “What’s in his pockets?”

“Hold your horses.” Martin produced two Tyvek hand preservation bags and pointed at the gold ring on the corpse’s finger. “Married. Left-handed smoker, too. Nicotine stains.” He slipped a bag over the hand, tightened the drawstring, then repeated the process with the other hand. Satisfied that the victim’s hands were properly protected, he took out a clear plastic evidence bag and began to search the pockets. He pulled out a wallet and looked at a driver’s licence, health card, and several credit cards. “Hansen, William L., 22 Mill Street, Sparrow Lake, Ontario. DOB October 21, 1957. Visa, American Express, CIBC convenience card. Looks like two hundred and … ten dollars in cash.”

Kevin had his notebook out and was furiously writing it all down.

Martin dropped the wallet into the evidence bag and continued his search, finding a quantity of loose change, a cotton handkerchief, a green after-dinner mint wrapped in cellophane, a small stub of a pencil, several receipts from gas bars and convenience stores—all at least two days old—and a nail clipper.

“No keys?” Kevin asked.

“No keys. And no cellphone, either.”

Kevin looked back toward the road. “He didn’t drop it, did he? A guy like him would never be without his phone.”

“We didn’t see it,” Martin said.

“Maybe the killer took it and threw it away.”

“It’s a thought. It might turn up later.”

“I don’t see a shell casing,” Kevin said.

“No,” Martin agreed. “If it was a semi-automatic, the shooter may have policed his brass.”

“Unless it’s under the body.”

“You mind if I do my job and you do yours, Detective?”

Kevin smiled, glancing at his watch. He was surprised to see that it was already past nine thirty. “What did you find at the road?”

“Good set of tire tracks,” Martin replied, “with a wheelbase that’ll probably match a pickup truck, maybe a Dodge Ram. Three sets of boot prints, one size thirteen, one size eleven, and the other size ten, which,” he pointed at the boots on the victim’s feet, “will match this guy.”

“I’ve always wondered, how do you take print casts like that in the snow when it’s this cold?”

“Good question, kid. The secret is an aerosol can of snow print wax. As you may not know, since you’re police and don’t know jack shit, as Dr. Dickhead nicely pointed out, most casting materials produce heat as they harden, which melts your snow and erodes your details rather distressingly. Snow print wax, on the other hand, does not. In fact, it insulates the print and preserves all those lovely details. Plus, it goes on red, which makes for really good photographs. Then Serge, our resident expert, applies the dental stone for the casting, and he’s good to go. Ain’t forensics fun?”

After completing a surface examination of the victim’s clothing for fibres or trace evidence, Martin carefully turned the body over and took another round of photographs. When he was done with the body, he stood up, motioned Kevin back a few steps, and began to hunt through the crushed snow. After a while he shook his head. “No cartridge case. We’ll keep looking, though.” He stood up and stared off toward the distant tree line. Then he studied the size thirteen footprints for a moment and chose a pair that represented where the killer likely stood when he fired the shot. Straddling them awkwardly, he raised his hand with his thumb up and index finger extended, and pretended to shoot.

“Somewhere out there,” he muttered, and slowly moved off in a circuitous route toward where he hoped to find the expended round.

After a while, Landry arrived from the road, pushing a measuring wheel across the snow. “Eighty-one metres, seven centimetres from the first of the victim’s footprints to the last one,” he told Kevin. “Looks like he got out of the passenger side of the vehicle, by the way, and the shooter got out from the driver’s side.”

Kevin wrote it down in his notebook.

Landry shielded his eyes with his hand as he stared at Martin in the distance. Then he stood in Martin’s footprints, studied the angle at which the body had fallen, raised his hand, and fired his own simulated shot. “He needs to be a lot farther to the left.” He headed off toward Martin.

After a while, Kevin glanced at his watch. It was now 10:24 am. Forty minutes had passed while he’d stood here, watching the Ident officers work, taking notes, refining his sketch of the crime scene. He looked up at the driveway and saw Patterson talking to Dart. It was an animated discussion; Patterson waved his arms about to emphasize whatever point he was making while Dart stared at his boots.

Kevin squinted as crows rose above the farm house, cawing. They swerved and flew off into the distance. Probably the same family group he’d heard before. Above them, a tiny jet pulled a contrail across the blue sky. Martin slowly made his way back across the field to the body while Landry remained behind, bent over, patiently searching for the round in the snow.

Kevin’s attention was drawn once more to the road. A vehicle had apparently been allowed to pass through the blockade at Junetown Road and approach the scene from the south. An unmarked grey Crown Victoria, it stopped at the wooden barricade at the far end of Lackey’s field. Someone got out of the car, spoke to the uniformed officer, walked around the barricade and approached the scene along the road.

“Who the hell is that?” Martin asked, behind Kevin.

They watched a woman in a navy trench coat, fuzzy hat, and clunky men’s winter boots walk up to the entrance of the field. Her hands were shoved into her coat pockets. She stopped to speak to Constable Charles, who nodded and waved her forward. She gave a little wave back and continued across the field.

She looked uncomfortably cold; the trench coat was far too light for a minus 15 degree day. She walked with a slight stoop, her head down, her shoulders hunched. Dark hair protruded from beneath the fuzzy hat. For an instant, Kevin wondered if she was a journalist who’d inadvertently been allowed access. Then he noticed her eyes roving constantly back and forth across the snow in front of her with the trained vigilance of someone experienced in moving through a crime scene.

“Well,” he said, “I guess that’s CIB.”

 

© 2015 Michael J. McCann

mailto:the.sp.guru@gmail.com

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A.J. Sendall – Flank Street – In The Sydney Underworld – Book Two

Flank_Street_Ebookcover-smTitle: Flank Street – In The Sydney Underworld – Book Two

Author: A.J. Sendall

ISBN or ASIN:  9781508495727

Page count: 300

Genre: Thriller/Crime/Noir

Price (Print and Ebook): (14.99USD – 2.99USD)

 

Author Bio:

I’ve always written, well, as far back as I can recall. Until 2011, that writing was just for me, or as rambling letters to friends and travelogues to family. I never thought about why, or if others did similarly, and the thought of publishing never entered my head.

Since I left England in 1979, I’ve been collecting experiences, people, and places. From the blood-soaked streets of Kampala, the polluted dust bowls of the Sahara, or the pristine ice floes of the Antarctic, I’ve gathered and filed them away. Some have recently squeezed through the bars of insecurity and are now at large in the pages of my first three novels. Others await their future fates.

 

Tell us about your book:

Flank Street is told through the distorted reality of career criminal Micky Dewitt, who arrives in Sydney on a rundown sailing yacht, broke and on the lookout for opportunity.

He soon finds his way to Kings Cross and gets a job in a bar run by an abrasive grifter called Lenny. At first he’s met with mild antagonism by the barmaid, Meagan, but they call a truce and become friends. Their friendship grows, as they drink and smoke together after hours.

Micky is approached by Carol, a quiet, high-class escort. She wants Micky to do a job for her, and persuades him to listen. Carol tells him she needs a gun stolen from a lawyer’s safe. Says she killed somebody with it, and that she’s being blackmailed by the lawyer.

Micky scopes the place out. It all seems easy enough and he wants to help her. He steals the gun, Carol pays him. He thinks that’s the end of it.

Ten days after the robbery Micky is visited by two heavyweights from the underworld who tell him that Carol’s using the gun he stole to blackmail the boss of Kings Cross. He has to get the gun back, and kill her.

Nothing is quite what it seems as Micky falls into a honey trap and nudges the edge of sanity.

 

Share any thoughts you’d like the readers to know about you and/or your book:

I took a different approach to writing Flank Street: I wrote the last page, called it a prologue, then set the main character loose to find his way there. It was fun, and the writing went quickly. I didn’t edit or review until the book was complete, I just bashed out 2000+ words a day trying to keep up with the twists and turns.

 

Where can we go to buy your book?

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flank-Street-Underworld-J-Sendall-ebook/dp/B00TN37XYG

https://www.createspace.com/5319431

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?
Visit my website for information about other books in this series. www.ajsendall.com

 

Excerpt from book:

We rolled into Sydney a few minutes before eleven the following morning. It had taken five hours from Coffs, with a breakfast stop on the way. Carol had been quiet, but not hostile or angry, and I’d tried to keep the peace for the duration of the journey. Things would tense up when we got to the bank.

As we drove through the northern suburbs, I asked her where her bank was located.

‘It’s right in the middle of town, in Martin Place. I need to go home and get my keys first.’

‘Bullshit! Why wouldn’t you have your keys with you?’

‘I just didn’t bring them, that’s all. I didn’t expect to need them.’

‘So you’re telling me you were going to return to Sydney, to live here amongst people who want you dead?’

She lit a cigarette and drew heavily. ‘I didn’t know what I was thinking.’

‘Yes, you did. You’re a strategist. Some would say a cunning bitch.’

‘Nice.’

‘What’s the real reason for wanting to go home?’

She faced me, and said, ‘I want us to talk. I want to tell you what a huge mistake you’ll be making if you give that gun back to them. Micky, please listen to me.’

‘You’ve just had a thousand kilometres to tell me any bullshit like that. What’s different at home?’

She went quiet as if in thought, smoking her cigarette and staring out of the side window.

‘We can work something out, Micky, something where we both come out all right.’

‘If you’re so sure, let’s get the gun first, then I’ll listen. I just don’t trust you, Carol. Are the keys at your place or are you just jerking me around?’

She wound the window down, threw out the cigarette, closed it and straightened her windblown hair. ‘They’re in my bag.’

‘I thought so.’

We were approaching Martin Place. She pulled down the sun visor and touched up her lipstick. I parked in an underground about two hundred metres from the bank, then we walked in silence.

It took ten minutes to get access to the safety deposit box. Two minutes later we were back on the street, walking toward the parking lot with the Makarov in my pack. It would have been easy to just walk away, give the gun to Mitchell and tell them she was dead, but I drove to Turnbuckle instead. Not a word was said and she didn’t seem surprised that I knew where to go.

I followed her inside. She looked around, taking in the missing photograph and the glass fragments on the floor, but all she said was, ‘Drink?’

‘Sure.’

She poured Jameson into crystal tumblers and handed me one. It was early for me and I’d no intention of getting pissed and waking up on the wrong side of a .38. When I sat in an armchair, she sat opposite me with an expectant look on her face. I raised my hands palm-up. ‘So speak. I’m out of here after one drink.’

‘What’s the rush? You have the gun. You have me where you want me.’ When I didn’t answer, she asked, ‘Have you killed before?’

‘What do you want to say? What’s your great scheme where we both come out on top and Kurt Reed or Mitchell don’t chop us into little pieces?’

‘There are ways, Micky, and you know it. We could get on your boat and both disappear.’

‘You’re not my type. Anything else?’

‘I know you don’t want to kill me.’

I sipped my drink. ‘What makes you so sure?’

‘I’m not saying you wouldn’t kill; you might, but not a woman in cold blood. You’re not the type.’ She tipped the whiskey back and got up to refill her glass.

‘You don’t know what type I am.’

She gave a short, derisive snort. ‘I know men; that’s one thing I do know. And you, Micky Dewitt, are not a cold-blooded killer.’

When she emptied the tumbler for the second time in five minutes, I guessed it was fear, not thirst. She’d just said she knew men. She also knew men I needed to know about, so I decided to loosen her tongue and see what I could find out. There were three days before I had to face Mitchell. I drained my glass and held it out for a refill. Time to play.

‘Do you know men that are? If you know I’m not, then you must be comparing me with someone else.’ I leaned back, waiting for her to speak. She had to play along. In her mind, keeping me entertained was all that was keeping her alive: a modern day Scheherazade.

‘Hanging around The Cross, you meet all sorts of people. People come and people go: some are good, others scum. Sure, I knew of one guy had the reputation of being a cold-blooded killer. I didn’t know him, but I’d seen him around. You know how the grapevine works with people like that. Must be the same where you’re from, where ever that is.’

‘London.’

‘Is Soho like The Cross?’

‘Not even close. What happened to the guy?’

‘He got whacked. I heard he crossed Brookes over money…’ Her words trailed off as she realised what she’d said, and how she was destined to end up getting whacked for the same reason.

‘He doesn’t like to be duped over money, does he, Carol?’

She hung her head, her arms resting on her thighs. ‘Fuck.’

She sighed, stood wearily and walked into the kitchen, returning a moment later with a bag of chips and a pack of cashew nuts. She poured herself another and held the bottle out, offering me more. I accepted with a shrug. She poured until my tumbler was nearly full and stood the bottle between us. I could feel the alcohol and guessed she could as well, which was why she’d gone for food. She tore open the pack of nuts, put a big handful in her mouth and chewed.

‘Why’d you want to stop Reed from expanding?’

She held up the index finger of her left hand as she finished eating, and then washed it down with a mouthful of whiskey. ‘Like I told you, he’s a complete arsehole. Kurt is the worst of them. There’s lots of bad bastards hanging round The Cross, but Brookes keeps them in line to some degree. If the Reeds ever take over, it’ll be a free for all.’

‘Why do you care?’

She drank again, reached for chips. ‘I just do.’

‘Enough to risk getting killed, it would seem. So why did you try to extort him? Surely if you’d recovered the gun and taken it to him, there would have been some gratuity? Yet you spent ten grand on me, plus whatever else, to achieve what?’

‘You could fake my death.’

‘Say what?’

‘You could fake it. How would they know?’

‘How about if they want your head as proof: how am I going to fake that? Anyway, after you screwed me like that, maybe I want to kill you anyway.’

‘If you wanted to, you would have done it already, instead of sitting her drinking whiskey and looking at me like you want to fuck me instead.’

‘You’ve well and truly fucked yourself; nothing I could do would top that.’

‘I have money. I’ll——’

‘Then why did you try to blackmail Brookes? Or is that how you got money in the first place?’

‘I’ll give it to you. You could sail away and never come back. I’d disappear. We could fake a car crash, which is plausible, given how you drive.’

‘So now you want to insult me?’ Despite the seriousness of the situation, the banter was taking on a comic surrealism. I found myself enjoying it. I held out my glass for a refill. She was quick to oblige, refilling her own at the same time, taking another handful of nuts and scooping them into her mouth.

‘Okay.’ She tipped her head back to stop the nuts spilling out as she chewed and spoke at the same time. ‘What will it take?’

There was no pout now, no sign of fear, just a hard and knowing look as she locked eyes with me, like she probably had a hundred other guys.

‘Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, I was prepared to consider one of your hare-brained schemes. I’m not, but let’s just pretend I am. What have you got to offer?’

‘Money. Contacts. Information.’

‘Okay, tell me about the information: information about what?’

‘I hear a lot of things, things that a dishonest person could use.’

‘You mean you used to. You’ve lost your Kings Cross privileges. You’re persona-non-gratis, on your way to becoming the recently departed Carol Todd, and the only thing you’re going to hear is the racking of a 9mm slide.’

‘Not if we play it smart.’

‘We? What the fuck are you talking about? There is no we.’

‘We, you and I, Micky, can both get out of this sweet, if you’ve got the stones for it.’

She was almost cocky as she slopped more whiskey into both glasses. Her speech was slurred and her face carried a loose smile. I sat back and swallowed whiskey and chips. She told me her plan. Just like last time, it sounded simple enough.

All we had to do was find a fall guy who we say was holding Carol and forced her to call Brookes with threats. That she was a square gee all along, and would never cross him.

The more whiskey we drank, the more plausible it sounded.

‘Who’d you have in mind for the fall guy?’ I asked.

She lit a cigarette and handed it to me, the tip stained red from her lips. I could taste it as I placed it between mine, and waited for her to light her own.

‘Hedges; he’s one of the few who knew about it. He’s known as a grasping arsehole with few, if any, ethics. If somebody told me he’d done that, I’d have believed them.’

‘But he’d be afraid of what happened when he got caught, and getting found out would be inevitable in the long run, unless he was going to kill you.’

She thought for a moment, ‘You lifted his gun from the nightstand, didn’t you?’

I smoked and waited for her to continue. She had it all planned out, which made me wonder if she was playing me again.

 

When I woke the next morning, there was an empty bottle on the floor and an arm across my middle. My head was hammering and I could feel her breath against my chest. I turned my head and breathed through her hair. The memories of the previous night came flooding back.

Her plan had sounded simple. Put Hedges in the frame by claiming he was extorting Carol and had forced her to call Brookes. Make up some bullshit about him needing the extra cash to feed a gambling and hooker habit. Maybe we’d throw in something about cocaine as well. I tracked them down, grappled with him, and shot him with his own gun.

All we needed to do was find him, shoot him, and let the cops find the body. I had other choices, but none of them good. I could kill her and hand the gun back to Mitchell, which would square me with them, but really piss off Kurt Reed. I could grab what cash I could from Carol and head out to sea, leaving her in the shit and Meagan at the mercy of Ray.

My gut told me that even if I killed Carol and gave the gun to Mitchell, I would still be a problem they might try to get rid of. Even if they didn’t, I would always have to watch my back for Reed.

I didn’t want to run away to sea leaving Meagan in the shit, plus I wanted to stay in Sydney. I felt at home here.

That left me with killing a scumbag lawyer who worked for the industrial-strength arsehole Kurt Reed, who hated me anyway. Killing the lawyer would also have a beneficial effect on my dealings with Mitchell and Brookes. Meagan would be in the clear, Carol would probably be alright. If she was, and if she did have access to information, then I’d be alright as well. There were a lot of ifs.

I shook her awake. She groaned, pushed herself up on one elbow, looked at me through blood-shot eyes, and vomited. I rolled away just in time.

‘Sorry,’ she said, retched again and bolted naked to the bathroom.

I followed her, turned the shower on full, and guided her under the stream of cold water. She gasped, shuddered, tried to hit me, and hurled again. When her lips were blue and she’d stopped fighting, I turned the water off and wrapped her in a towel.

‘Dry off and get dressed while I make some coffee.’

Looking like death, she hugged the towel to her shaking body and sat on the edge of the spa-bath. I wasn’t feeling much better, but wasn’t going to show it.

There was chaos in the kitchen. I had vague recollections of making fried egg sandwiches halfway down the second bottle, but from the state of the place, we went further than that. There was a bowl of spaghetti with garlic, oil, and cigarette butts, two empty fruit cans that reminded me of a peach-guzzling contest which she won—no surprises there—and an assortment of snack wrappers from Pringles to Rainbow Nerds.

I dressed while the coffee was heating up. When she hadn’t come into the kitchen after five minutes, I went back to the bathroom and found her asleep in the spa. I picked her up and carried her to the bed; I doubt she weighed more than a hundred pounds. Just before laying her on the bed, I remembered that there was still a puddle of cold sick in the middle of it, so I took her into the spare room, dropped her on the bed and threw a sheet over her.

When I was pushing the vomit-laced bedding into the washing machine, after cleaning the kitchen, I knew somehow I’d reached a decision.

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Rebecca Yount – The Erlking: A Mick Chandra Mystery

erlkingfinal_option1Title: THE ERLKING: A Mick Chandra Mystery

Author: Rebecca Yount

ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-4675-3378-2

Page count: 438

Genre: Crime

Price: $.99

 

Author Bio:

REBECCA YOUNT trained from childhood as a concert pianist, is a published poet, and worked in education reform in Washington, D.C., but she always wanted to write. Coming from a family of writers, it wasn’t hard for her to put pen to paper, but it took an actual unsolved murder to give her the idea for her first novel. On a home exchange in England — something she and her husband regularly do — a villager told her about a local murder that remained unsolved, even by Scotland Yard. Sitting under a tree in a fallow field one day, she began to imagine what might have happened. The result was A DEATH IN C MINOR. In 2010 Rebecca underwent open heart surgery, which left her unable to write for two years. When she returned to writing she decided to publish the entire Mick Chandra series herself as e-books. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband, author and columnist David Yount.

 

Tell us about your book:

Detective Inspector, Mick Chandra of New Scotland Yard, struggles to link the murder of the young wife of a popular British Member of Parliament to the seemingly random death by drowning in a north London canal of 8-year-old Josie Stephens. The forensic pathologist discovers that Josie was abused before she was murdered. Mick is informed by a Quaker Friend who knew Phoebe that she, too, may have been physically abused. Mick realizes he is getting close to the fire when his live-in love, American expatriate and renowned England-based concert pianist, Jessica Beaumont, is suddenly harrassed. During a concert, someone even takes a shot at her. Seconded to the Yard’s Pedophile Unit, Mick and his partner, Sergeant Elizabeth Chang, receive help in breaking the case. The Unit’s chief informs Mick that a notorious pedophile ring is working out of north London, headed by someone who calls himself The Erlking. Day by day, more children are reported missing in north London. How is this linked to Phoebe’s death? What is the connection between Phoebe and Josie? As Mick struggles to expose the identity of The Erlking, help arrives from a most unexpected source.

 

How long did it take to write the book?

Approx.  a year to write.  The research took several months.

 

What inspired you to write the book?

I write about those issues that outrage me, and child abuse is one such issue.

 

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?

First, I have no systematic writing process.  I just tap into my word processor.  Before I begin writing, I have already constructed the first and last sentences of the story.  Insomnia helps – all those sleepless hours that I use to spin the story in my head.  I do vast amounts of research.  For The Erlking, I conducted a great deal of it through New Scotland Yard, and interviewed police officers who are “on the ground.”  I also relied on current press reports, plus current stats that are available through Google.  There are some very helpful books on the topic of child abuse as well, many of which I used as references.

 

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

I want readers to know that child abuse is epidemic, both in the US and UK.  I want to let readers know that pedophiles are “the nicest men in the world,” as one police officer put it to me.  I want to let readers know that pedophiles are relentlessly patient, sometimes waiting years to pounce on a chosen victim.  That pedophiles are probably not “curable,” that they are very much in our midst, acting like perfectly normal, congenial people. That pedophiles often enter activities or professions that attract children, or can present themselves as people who “care deeply” about children.

 

Where can we go to buy your book?

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Erlking-Mick-Chandra-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B00AKHVIRM/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1357307381&sr=8-6&keywords=the+erlking

 

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-erlking-rebecca-yount/1113934468?ean=9781467533782

 

Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/The-Erlking/book-oHnIdep3vEuUEWYN3ezBRw/page1.html?s=QzKkMvq09kuGnY256Ya7xA&r=1

 

Any other links or info you’d like to share?

www.rebeccayount.com

 

“I am in love with Rebecca Yount’s writing….I can’t wait to read the third installment in this series and I urge you all to get the first two books as soon as possible. I envision a series of movies on these books and can’t wait to say I knew Mike Chandra from the beginning.”—TheBookTree.blogspot.com

 

“With a chilling opening, Yount’s mystery packs a punch and keeps delivering….The author has handled a difficult and often disturbing subject matter with sensitivity without losing any of the dramatic impact to the story….Another brilliant, well thought out and intelligent mystery. The handsome Anglo-Indian detective is just as charming and even more likable as his is stunning partner, Jessica. Old friends are met again and despite it being the second book in the series, this is still a stand alone mystery….Overall, this story is a real page tuner and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. With the inclusion of the first chapter from the next installment of the series, I am very much looking forward to meeting up with the charismatic Mick Chandra once again. A highly recommended read.”—Shalini Ayre Book Reviews

 

Excerpt from book:

 

Excerpt from Chapter One

On the October morning that the semi-nude corpse of eight-year-old Josie Stephens was discovered floating in a north London canal, Detective Inspector Michael ‘Mick’ Chandra had no idea that the next several weeks of his life would be dedicated to tracking down her murderer.

As far as Mick was concerned, he was on his way from his Stoke Newington home to spend the morning putting the final touches on a sting operation with his team at New Scotland Yard. A call from the Yard’s Commissioner changed all of that. Sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Albion Road, Mick was informed over his cell phone that he had just been seconded to the Yard’s Pedophile Unit. Given only the sketchiest of details, he was instructed to make his way to the Grand Union Canal in Islington to meet with Detective Chief Inspector Kip Brodie, head of the Unit.

After another maddening thirty-five minutes of snailing through the rush hour traffic on upper Essex Road, Mick was standing next to Brodie, watching divers retrieve the child’s body from the murky, trash-infested waters of the canal.

Fifty-five-year-old Kip Brodie was a twenty-three year veteran of the Criminal Investigation Department, better known as the CID. Revered by his staff, he had a reputation as a dogged investigator into crimes of child abuse and pedophilia. Of middling height, stocky build, with piercing pale blue eyes and a full head of light brown hair just beginning to turn grey at the temples, Brodie’s high-flushed coloring betrayed his Scottish heritage.

He stood in conspicuous contrast to the thirty-five-year-old Chandra, himself a fourteen-year veteran, seven of them with the Metropolitan Police, and another seven and counting specifically with the CID. Mick’s Anglo-Indian heritage was obvious from his dusky good looks, onyx-black eyes, straight patrician nose, and black-brown short cropped hair, gifts from his Kerala Indian father. His 6’1″ height and muscular build were attributes from his Welsh mother’s side of the family. What both men did share in common were stellar reputations within the CID.

“How many scenes like this have you witnessed, Kip?”

Brodie grimly shook his head. “In my nine years with the Unit, more than I care to remember.” He trained his intense blue eyes on Mick. “‘Hope you don’t mind that I pulled rank to have you seconded to the Pedophile Unit, Mick. I’m desperate for additional help, especially the kind you can offer. You have the best record of anyone in the CID for breaking the cases that have gone cold. Just when we’re up against a vicious pedophile ring, the Home Office cut my budget to ribbons.”

“Happy to be of service,” Mick assured the Chief. “However, I would like to have Detective Sergeant Chang seconded to the Unit as well,” he added, referring to his partner, Elizabeth Chang.

Brodie smiled, causing the lines around his eyes to deepen into crevasses. “I’ve already requested her. The Commissioner agreed, after Elizabeth conducts this morning’s orientation for the sting you’ve been planning.”

“Brilliant. What can you tell me about this pedophile ring?”

“Not much. What we do know is that it probably operates somewhere out of north London, because all of the children who have gone missing are from the Hackney Borough.”

“How many children are missing so far?”

“Before this morning, four.” Kip nodded toward Josie’s corpse. “Now three.”

“Sweet Jesus,” Mick muttered. “Anything else?”

“One thing. From persistent rumors we’re getting on the street, one of the participants in this ring — perhaps even its leader — may be a member of Parliament. According to the little information we’ve been able to gather, the head of the group refers to himself as ‘The Erlking.’”

“That’s curious. I vaguely recall a poem entitled The Erlking about a troll who snatches children.”

“Well, I don’t know much about poetry,” Brodie said, “but I do know we’ve got a serious problem on our hands, and no child in north London will be safe until we can break up this group.”

The two men lapsed into silence as they watched the police forensics team comb the area around the canal while the divers, protected from the cold in heavy-rubber wet suits, struggled through the numbing water to bring Josie’s corpse to shore, depositing it on the bank near them.

“She’s wearing nothing but a pair of knickers,” Kip noted. “The bastards obviously disposed of Josie like a piece of rubbish once they finished with her. God, look how pretty she is. What a bloody waste!”

It pained Mick to see the nearly-nude child lying on the wet grassy bank exposed to the early morning cold. He resisted the impulse to take off his storm coat and drape it over the child’s pitiful blue corpse.

“What’s her full name?”

“Jocelyn Ann Stephens,” Kip answered, still looking at her.

“Are her parents here?”

“Parent.”

“Single mother?”

“Isn’t that usually the case?”

“Where’s the father?”

Brodie shrugged. “Who knows?”

“So another deadbeat dad goes missing. Mind if I speak with the mother?”

“Go ahead. She’s sitting in my car,” Kip said, jerking his head in the direction of the Yard car parked on the grass near the lip of the canal.

As Mick approached the vehicle, he could see Josie’s distraught mother sitting in the back seat with her head between her knees. He rapped gently on the window.

“Mrs. Stephens, Inspector Michael Chandra,” he announced through the glass, displaying his badge and ID. “May I have a few words with you?”

Slowly lifting her head, the woman nodded, wearing the expression of a somnambulist. Mick opened the door, sliding in next to her.

“I realize this is a terrible time for you, Mrs. Stephens, but the more information we can get now, the sooner we’ll be able to apprehend whoever did this to your daughter.”

“Josie was only eight,” the woman muttered to no one in particular.

“I know,” Mick responded gently. “When did you last see her?”

She blinked back her tears, trying to remember. “A week ago this past Tuesday — in the morning, when she left for school. I couldn’t walk with her that day.”

“Why?”

“I…couldn’t because….” The words stuck in her throat like a bone. “I work as a server in a cafe at one of the Marks and Spencers. That morning — the morning Josie went missing — I was on breakfast duty… you know, for the commuters. So I had to leave home earlier than usual.”

“Josie was home alone?”

Mick’s question prompted an avalanche of convulsive sobs.

“Yes…yes. God, I hate myself!”

Considering the circumstances, Mick wasn’t about to lecture a grieving mother on the illegalities of leaving a child of eight at home without proper supervision. Since many working single mothers could not afford child care, Mick knew it was common practice for them to risk leaving an underage child alone.

“Did Josie walk to school by herself that day?”

Wiping her eyes with a much-used tissue, the woman nodded. “Usually she went with a friend from the neighborhood, but she was sick that morning, so Josie had to walk to school by herself.” Giving in to despair, Mrs. Stephens covered her face with her hands. “I know what you’re thinking, Inspector. I’m a bad mother.”

Mick peeled the despondent woman’s fingers from her face. “No. You’re a good mother who was trying to earn a paycheck so you could clothe and feed your daughter.”

Observing Mrs. Stephens more closely, he saw a woman who embodied hardship and disappointment. She may have been pretty at one time, but life had turned Josie’s mother into an overweight plain entity who lacked the time, money, and will to invest in her appearance. Everything about this woman resonated her sense of futility in life.

“Can you think of anybody — a stranger — who may have approached Josie on the street while she was playing, or tried to engage her in conversation before she went missing, Mrs. Stephens?”

“Well, there was that social worker,” she answered, blowing into the shredded tissue, prompting Mick to give over his handkerchief to her.

“What social worker?”

“The one I reported to Social Services.”

“Fill me in, please.”

“A woman who claimed to be a social worker came to my door about…oh…three weeks or so ago. She told me the agency had received a complaint from a neighbor about my occasionally leaving Josie alone in the morning. She threatened to take my daughter away from me.”

“Did she show you an ID?”

“I demanded one, but she refused. She also refused to show me the agency’s paperwork on Josie’s case, saying it was none of my concern.”

“What did you do?”

“I grabbed something that was on the table next to the front door — I can’t remember what — and told the bitch that I was going to bash her face in if she didn’t leave immediately.”

“And did she?”

“Yes. But she was very shirty about it. She said, ‘If that’s the way you want it, fine,’ or words to that effect.”

“Did you see her car?”

“Umm…yes, but I don’t remember much about it. It was white, is all I know.”

“Sedan? Hatchback?”

“Sedan, I think.”

“Two doors? Four?”

“I…I can’t remember, Inspector.”

“Did you get the license plate number?”

Mrs. Stephens lower lip began to quiver again. “Sorry, no.”

“Don’t be sorry. You’re giving me a lot of helpful information.”

“I did report the incident to Social Services, though,” she added, brightening a little.

“Excellent. What did they tell you?”

“That they would look into it.”

“Right, but not before hell freezes over,” Mick offered cynically. “Can you describe this woman?”

Wearily closing her eyes, Mrs. Stephens leaned her head back. “Middle aged, heavy set.”

“Hair color?”

“Dark brown. But it looked phony.”

“A wig?”

“No, dyed.”

“Long hair? Short?”

“Jaw length.”

“How was she dressed?”

“Mm…professionally.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Blazer, skirt, blouse, sensible pumps — that sort of thing.”

“Did she carry a briefcase?”

She thought for a moment before answering. “Yes, she did. And a matching purse.”

“What color?”

“Black, I think. Maybe dark brown.”

“Had you ever seen this woman before in your neighborhood?”

With her eyes still closed, Mrs. Stephens shook her head slowly. “No…no. I’m certain I hadn’t. I would have remembered her.” Opening her eyes, she looked directly at Mick.

“Did she take my baby, Inspector?”

“It’s a possibility.”

“Why?”

Still a novice on child abuse, Mick decided to leave the responsibility of explaining the details of the Erlking’s ring to Kip.

“I’m not entirely certain, Mrs. Stephens. We’re looking into possible motives,” he hedged.

“But why? If she was a woman who wanted a child, why would she kill Josie?”

“We don’t know yet if she’s the one who killed your daughter. If you like, I can…”

Mick was rescued by Kip, who opened the door and stuck his head in.

“Mrs. Stephens, do you want to accompany your daughter to the pathology lab?” he asked as solicitously as one could under the circumstances.

“Yes,” she answered firmly. “I’ll be along in a moment. I just need to ask the Inspector one more question.”

“Take your time,” Kip said, leaving the two of them alone, much to Mick’s considerable discomfort.

Struggling to compose herself, the woman twisted around in the seat, facing Mick head on.

“Inspector Chandler…”

“Chandra,” Mick corrected her.

“Very well. Inspector Chandra, I know you’re not telling me everything. It’s a mother’s instinct. Whatever it is, I’ll find out sooner or later, so you might as well tell me now. Why was my daughter kidnapped, then murdered?”

“Please, Mrs. Stephens. Chief Inspector Brodie will tell you everything you need to know.”

“No, I want to hear it from you! What did they do to my baby?”

Sighing heavily, Mick gave in to his inquisitor. “They — whoever they are — may have kidnapped your daughter in order to…to sexually abuse her. We won’t know for certain until the forensic pathologist examines her body. Josie may have been a victim of a pedophile ring that’s operating somewhere out of north London.”

The mother’s hand involuntarily jerked to her mouth. “They used my baby girl for sex? For sex? My God, she was only eight years old! What kind of monsters would do such a thing?”

“Very sick monsters.”

Under the weight of truth, Mrs. Stephens again dropped her face into her hands and sobbed inconsolably. Mick could do nothing but leave her to the dignity of her grief. Then, abruptly, she stopped and plaintively turned her tear-stained face to him.

“Are you going to catch them, Inspector?”

“Yes.”

“For sure?”

“Yes.”

“For Josie’s sake,” she pleaded, taking his hand.

Mick nodded. “For Josie’s sake.”

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