So far, so good, Kristi Bentz thought as she tossed her favorite pillow
into the backseat of her ten-year-old Honda, a car that was
new to her but had nearly eighty thousand miles on the odometer.
With a thump, the pillow landed atop her backpack, books, lamp,
iPod, and other essentials she was taking with her to Baton Rouge.
Her father was watching her move out of the house they all shared, a
small cabin that really belonged to her stepmother. All the while he
was glaring at her, Rick Bentz's face was a mask of frustration.
So what else was new?
At least, thank God, her father was still among the living.
She hazarded a quick glimpse in his direction.
His color was good, even robust, his cheeks red from the wind
soughing through the cypress and pine trees, a few drops of rain
slickening his dark hair. Sure, there were a few strands of gray, and
he'd probably put on five or ten pounds in the last year, but at least
he appeared healthy and hale, his shoulders straight, his eyes clear.
Because sometimes, it just wasn't so. At least not to Kristi. Ever
since waking up from a coma over a year and a half earlier, she'd experienced
visions of him, horrifying images that, when she looked at
him, showed he was a ghost of himself, his color gray, his eyes two
dark, impenetrable holes, his touch cold and clammy. And she'd had
many nightmares of a dark night, the sizzle of lightning ripping
through a black sky, an echoing split of a tree as it was struck, then
her father lying dead in a pool of his own blood.
Unfortunately, the visions haunted more than her dreams. During
daylight hours, she would see the color leach from his skin, witness
his body turning pale and gray. She knew he was going to die. And
die soon. She'd seen his death often enough in her recurring nightmare.
Had spent the last year and a half certain he would meet the
bloody and horrifying end she'd witnessed in her dreams.
These past eighteen months she'd been worried sick for him as
she'd recovered from her own injuries, but today, on this day after
Christmas, Rick Bentz was the picture of health. And he was pissed.
Reluctantly he'd helped lug her suitcases out to the car while the
wind chased through this part of the bayou, rattling branches, kicking
up leaves, and carrying the scent of rain and swamp water. She'd
parked her hatchback in the puddle-strewn driveway of the little cottage
home Rick shared with his second wife.
Olivia Benchet Bentz was good for Rick. No doubt about it. But
she and Kristi didn't really get along. And while Kristi loaded the car
amidst her father's disapproval, Olivia stood in the doorway twenty
feet away, her smooth brow wrinkled in concern, her big eyes dark
with worry, though she said nothing.
One thing about her, Olivia knew better than to get between father
and daughter. She was smart enough not to add her unwanted
two cents into any conversation. Yet, this time, she didn't step back
into the house.
"I just don't think this is the best idea," her father said ... for
what? The two-thousandth time since Kristi had dropped the bomb
that she'd registered for winter classes at All Saints College in Baton
Rouge? It wasn't like this was a major surprise. She'd told him about
her decision in September. "You could stay with us and-"
"I heard you the first time and the second, and the seventeenth
and the three hundred and forty-second and-"
"Enough!" He held up a hand, palm out.
She snapped her mouth closed. Why was it they were always at
each other? Even with everything they'd been through? Even though
they'd almost lost each other several times?
"What part of 'I'm moving out and going back to school away
from New Orleans' don't you get, Dad? You're wrong, I can't stay
here. I just ... can't. I'm way too old to be living with my dad. I need
my own life." How could she explain that looking at him day to day,
seeing him healthy one minute, then gray and dying the next, was
impossible to take? She'd been convinced he was going to die and
had stayed with him as she'd recovered from her own injuries, but
watching the color drain from his face killed her and half convinced
her that she was crazy. For the love of God, staying here would only
make things worse. The good news: she hadn't seen the image for a
while, over a month now, so maybe she'd read the signals wrong.
Regardless, it was time to get on with her own life.
She reached into her bag for her keys. No reason to argue any further.
"Okay, okay, you're going. I get it." He scowled as clouds scudded
low across the sky, blotting out any chance of sunlight.
"You get it? Really? After I told you, what? Like a million times?"
Kristi mocked, but flashed him a smile. "See, you are a razor-sharp
investigator. Just like all the papers say: local hero, Detective Rick Bentz."
"The papers don't know crap."
"Another shrewd observation by the New Orleans Police Department's
"Cut it out," he muttered, but one side of his hard-carved mouth
twitched into what might be construed as the barest of smiles. Shoving
one hand through his hair, he glanced back at the house to
Olivia, the woman who had become his rock. "Jesus, Kristi," he said.
"You're a piece of work."
"It's genetic." She found the keys.
His eyes narrowed and his jaw tightened.
They both knew what he was thinking, but neither mentioned the
fact that he wasn't her biological father. "You don't have to run away."
"I'm not running 'away.' Not from anything. But I am running to
something. It's called the rest of my life."
"Look, Dad, I don't want to hear it," Kristi interrupted as she tossed
her purse onto the passenger seat next to three bags of books, DVDs,
and CDs. "You've known I was going back to school for months, so
there's no reason for a big scene now. It's over. I'm an adult and I'm
going to Baton Rouge, to my old alma mater, All Saints College. It's
not at the ends of the earth. We're less than a couple of hours away."
"It's not the distance."
"I need to do this." She glanced toward Olivia, whose wild blond
hair was backlit by the colored lights from the Christmas tree, the
small cottage seeming warm and cozy in the coming storm. But it
wasn't Kristi's home. It never had been. Olivia was her stepmother
and though they got along, there still wasn't a tight family bond between
them. Maybe there never would be. This was her father's life
now and it really didn't have much to do with her.
"There's been trouble up there. Some coeds missing."
"You've already been checking?" she demanded, incensed.
"I just read about some missing girls."
"You mean runaways?"
"I mean missing."
"Don't worry!" she snapped. She, too, had heard that a few girls
had disappeared unexpectedly from the campus, though no foul
play had been established. "Girls leave college and their parents all
"Do they?" he asked.
A blast of cold wind cut across the bayou, pushing around a few
wet leaves and cutting through Kristi's hooded sweatshirt. The rain
had stopped for the moment, but the sky was gray and overcast, puddles
scattered across the cracked concrete.
"It's not that I don't think you should go back to school," Bentz
said, leaning one hip against the wheel well of her Honda and, today,
looking the picture of health-his skin ruddy, his hair dark with only
a few glints of gray. "But this whole idea of being a crime writer?"
She held up a hand, then adjusted some of the items in the back
of the car, mashing them down so that she would be able to see out
her rearview mirror. "I know where you stand. You don't want me to
write about any of the cases you worked on. Don't worry. I won't
tread on any hallowed ground."
"That's not it and you know it," he said. A bit of anger flashed in
his deep-set eyes.
Fine. Let him be mad. She was irritated as well. In the last few
weeks they'd really gotten on each other's nerves.
"I'm worried about your safety."
"Well, don't be, okay?"
"Cut the attitude. It's not like you haven't already been a target."
He met her eyes, and she knew he was reliving every terrifying second
of her kidnapping and attack.
"I'm fine." She softened a bit. Though he was a pain in the ass
often enough, he was a good guy. She knew it. He was just worried
about her. As always. But she didn't need it.
With an effort she tamped down her impatience, as Hairy S., her
stepmother's scrap of a mutt, streaked out the front door and chased
a squirrel into a pine tree. In a flash of red and gray, the squirrel
scrambled up the pine's rough bole to perch high upon a branch
that shook as the squirrel peered down, taunting and scolding the
frustrated terrier mix. Hairy S. dug at the trunk with his paws as he
whined and circled the tree.
"Shh ... you'll get him next time," Kristi said, scooping up the
mutt. Wet paws scrabbled across her sweatshirt and she received a
wet swipe of Hairy's tongue over her cheek. "I'll miss you," she told
the dog, who was wriggling to get back to the ground and his rodent
chasing. She placed him on the grass, wincing a little from some lingering
pain in her neck.
"Hairy! Come here!" Olivia ordered from the porch, but the intent
dog ignored her.
Bentz said, "You're not completely healed."
Kristi sighed loudly. "Look, Dad, all my varied and specialized
docs said I was fine. Better than ever, right? Funny what a little time
in a hospital, some physical therapy, a few sessions with a shrink, and
then nearly a year of intense personal training can do."
He snorted. As if to add credence to his worry, a crow flapped its
way toward them to land upon the bare branches of a magnolia tree.
It let out a lonely, mocking caw.
"You were pretty freaked when you woke up in the hospital," he
"That's ancient history, for God's sake." And it was true. Since her
stay in ICU, the whole world had changed. Hurricane Katrina had
ripped apart New Orleans, then torn through the entire Gulf Coast.
The devastation, despair, and destruction lingered. Though Katrina
had raged across the Gulf over a year earlier, the aftermath of Katrina's
fury was evidenced everywhere and would be for years, probably
decades. There was talk that New Orleans might never be the
same. Kristi didn't want to think about that.
Her father, of course, was overworked. Okay, she got that. The entire
police force had been stretched to the breaking point, as had the
city itself and the beleaguered and scattered citizens, some of whom
had been sent to far points across the country and just weren't returning.
Who could blame them, with the hospitals, city services, and
transportation a mess? Sure there was revitalization, but it was uneven
and slow to come. Luckily the French Quarter, which had survived
virtually unscathed, was still so uniquely Old New Orleans that
tourists were again venturing into that part of the city.
Kristi had spent the past six months volunteering at one of the
local hospitals, helping her father at the station, spending weekends
in city cleanup, but now, she figured-and her shrink insisted-that
she needed to get on with her life. Slowly, but surely, New Orleans
was returning. And it was time for her to start thinking about the rest
of her own life and what she wanted to do.
Detective Bentz, as usual, disagreed. After the hurricane Rick
Bentz had fallen back into his overly protective parental role in a big
way. Kristi was way over it. It wasn't as if she was a child, or even a
teenager any longer. She was an adult, for crying out loud!
She slammed the back of her hatchback shut. It didn't catch, so
she readjusted her favorite pillow, reading lamp, and the hand-pieced
quilt her great-aunt had left her, then tried again. This time the latch
clicked into place. "I gotta go." She checked her watch. "I told the
landlady that I'd take possession today. I'll call when I get there and
give you a complete report. Love ya."
He seemed about to argue, then said gruffly, "Me, too, kiddo."
She hugged him, felt the crush of his embrace, and was surprised
to find she was fighting sudden tears as she pulled away from him.
How ridiculous! She blew Olivia a kiss, then climbed behind the
wheel. With a snap of her wrist the little car's engine sparked to life
and Kristi, her throat thick, backed out of the long, narrow driveway
through the trees.
At the country road, she reversed onto the wet pavement. She
caught another glimpse of her father, arm raised as he waved goodbye.
Letting out a long breath, she felt suddenly free. She was finally
leaving. At long last, on her own again. But as she rammed her car
into drive, the sky darkened, and in the side view mirror she captured
a glimpse of Rick Bentz's image.
Once more all the color had drained from him and he appeared a
ghost, in tones of black, white, and gray. Her breath caught. She
could run as far away as possible, but she'd never escape the specter
of her father's death.
In her heart she knew.
It was certain.
And, it would be soon.
Listening to an old Johnny Cash ballad, Jay McKnight stared
through the windshield of his pickup as the wipers slapped the drizzling
rain from the glass. Cruising at fifty-five miles an hour through
the storm with his half-blind hound dog seated in the passenger seat,
he wondered if he was losing his mind.
Why else would he agree to take over a night class for a friend of a
friend who was on sabbatical? What did he owe Dr. Althea Monroe?
Nothing. He'd barely met the woman.
Maybe you're doing it for your sanity. You damned sure needed
a change. And anyway, how bad could one term of teaching eager
young minds about forensics and criminology be?
Shifting down, he guided his truck off the main drag and angled
along the familiar side streets, where rain fell through the naked
branches of the trees and the streetlights were just beginning to
glow. Water hissed beneath his tires and few pedestrians braved the
storm. Jay had cracked the window and Bruno, a pitbull-labbloodhound
mix, kept his big nose pressed to that thin sliver of fresh
Cash's voice reverberated through the Toyota's cab as Jay slowed
for the city limits of Baton Rouge.
"My momma told me, son ..."
Jay angled his Toyota onto the crumbling driveway of the house
on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, a tiny two-bedroom bungalow that
had belonged to his aunt.
"... don't ever play with guns...."
He clicked off the radio and cut the engine. The cottage was now
in the process of being sold by his ever-battling cousins, Janice and
Leah, as part of Aunt Colleen's estate. The sisters, who rarely saw
eye-to-eye on anything, had agreed to let him stay at the property
while it was being marketed, as long as he did some minor repairs
that Janice's do-nothing wanna-be rock star husband couldn't get
around to making.
Frowning, Jay grabbed his duffel bag and notebook computer as
he hopped to the ground. He let the dog outside, waited as Bruno
sniffed, then lifted his leg on one of the live oaks in the front yard,
before locking the Toyota. Turning his collar against the rain, he hurried
up the weed-strewn brick path to the front porch, where a light
glowed against the coming night. The dog was right on his heels, as
he had been for the six years that Jay had owned him, the only pup in
a litter of six who hadn't been adopted. His brother had owned the
bitch, a purebred bloodhound who, after going into heat, hadn't
waited for the purebred of choice. She'd dug out of her kennel and
taken up with the friendly mutt a quarter of a mile away whose
owner hadn't seen fit to have him neutered. The result was a litter of
pups not worth a whole helluva lot, but who'd turned out to be
pretty damned good dogs.
Especially Bruno of the keen nose and bad eyes. Jay bent down,
petted his dog, and was rewarded with a friendly head butt against
his hand. "Come on, let's go look at the damage."
"Folsom Prison Blues" replayed through his mind as he unlocked
the door and shouldered it open.
The house smelled musty. Unused. The air inside dead. He cracked
two windows despite the rain. He'd spent the last three weekends
here, repainting the bedrooms, regrouting tile in the kitchen and single
bath, and scraping off what appeared to be years of dirt on the
back porch where an ancient washing machine had become the
home to a nest of hornets. The rusted washer along with its legion of
dead wasps was now gone, terra cotta pots of trailing plants in its
stead on the newly painted floorboards.
Excerpted from "Lost Souls" by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2008 by Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.