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Publisher Lori Gordon
eBook Kindle Edition
Nothing good ever happens on Saturday nights. Not in a city the size of Chicago, and not for the detectives of the 18th precinct. Detective Sam Black and partner, Alec Winters make a grizzly discovery near the lagoon in Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the city’s largest tourist attractions. The Superintendent of police and Mayor are screaming for a quick resolution before the media creates a frenzy.
Sharp twists force the detectives to put personal animosity aside. With the suspect pool quickly eroding, Sam follows a hunch that leads to the killer’s lair and brings her face to face with a mad man.
Sam dashed out from between the trees and ran across the deserted street. Streetlights flickered across the damp pavement, illuminating the road with a slick glow. The rain was coming down so hard the sewers couldn’t handle the overflow. A puddle the size of a small river stood between her and the sidewalk. Gritting her teeth, she leapt to the curb, catching her heel on the concrete slab. She stumbled forward, pain shooting across her ankle, ducking out of the way as a tree branch snapped, crashing inches from her feet.
This wasn’t the way she pictured the evening ending.
Up ahead the flashing blue and red lights of police cars shimmered in the rain. The wailing sirens and frantic lights added to her sense of urgency. She focused on them, twisting thick blonde hair into a damp knot, and quickened her pace.
Officers scattered in all directions, radio’s squawking as they sealed the area off. Sam unsnapped her evening bag, pulled out her badge, and pinned it to her rain splattered dress, slinging the delicate chain over her shoulder.
A silver haired cop waved her through, eyes lingering on her legs. This was why she hated being called to a scene on her night off. She wasn’t dressed for cop work, and she didn’t have her damn umbrella, not that it would have done much good. The high winds would have turned it inside out.
The weather gods must have heard her. The rain stopped as suddenly as it started. She stared down at her ruined dress and muddy shoes before glancing up at the sky. The storm was moving out over the lake, leaving the heat and humidity behind.
“Damn microburst.” Sam fanned herself and leaned against a concrete planter, digging a Hersey’s kiss out of her bag. She popped the candy in her mouth, scanning the area for her partner.
Alec Winters hopped out of a black sedan without a drop of rain on him. He stuck his head through the car window, lingering a moment, and then strolled towards her, wearing a black t-shirt, tight faded jeans and a wide grin. Sucking on the tiny chocolate, she watched as every female officer within spitting distance turned her head to look at him.
“Hey,” he crossed his arms, leaning on the planter next to her. “You got one of those kisses for me?”
“Here you go, Romeo.” She frowned, and tossed him a candy. “Ready?”
“For a dead body in Lincoln Park Zoo? Ready as I’ll ever be,” he said.
She glanced at the sky in time to catch a flash of lightning as the storm hovered over the lake. Sam shuddered, overwhelmed by a feeling of déjà vu. It was a night very much like this one when her sister, Melanie, vanished almost five years ago. Sam felt a stab of pity for the family of tonight’s victim, but at least they’d have closure, something she and her family might never have.
They flashed their badges to the uniform stationed at the gate. Sam paused, taking a minute to get her bearings. Lincoln Park was the city’s largest public park, attracting millions of visitors a year. Containing the scene, once the zoo opened in the morning, was going to be a logistical nightmare. The mayor would be breathing down their necks as soon as he caught wind of the murder — if he didn’t have a coronary first.
“Where the hell is the lagoon?” Alec asked, eyeing the tree-lined paths.
“This way I think,” Sam led the way, glancing over her shoulder. “By the way, you might want to rub the lipstick stains off your cheek.”
He rubbed his face, glancing at his hand. “Yeah, good idea. Pink isn’t really my shade.”
“Very funny.” Fallen twigs crunched beneath her feet, courtesy of the earlier storm.
Sam looked around, leading them down another path. The zoo felt different at night. Without the milling crowds and laughter of children, it possessed an almost savage quality. She pulled a flashlight from her bag, shining it ahead. The beam caught a pair of golden eyes, rousing a tiger. The angry roar sent a shiver down her spine.
“Maybe we should have brought them some food,” Alec joked, glancing at the restless animals prowling in their cages.
Realizing that the flashlight was agitating the animals, Sam lowered it. There was something unnerving about being here after midnight. Up above, a seagull screeched, the sound had a mournful quality to it, as if the bird sensed something wasn’t right.
“Let’s make this quick.” She picked up the pace, hurrying past the zoo attractions without sparing them a glance.
“You’re not afraid are you?” he asked.
Sam sent him a withering stare. “I’m a city girl, okay? Not real crazy about the whole lions and tigers and bears thing.”
“I hope you’re good with ghosts since we’re coming up on the mausoleum.”
“Huh, I forgot that was here.” Shadows from nearby trees danced over the Couch Tomb. It was an eerie reminder that in the 1800s the park had been the city’s cemetery until worried citizens, concerned about disease and decay leaching into Lake Michigan, petitioned to have the bodies removed.
Sam shivered. Tonight the park held one more body, joining the Couch family in death.
They reached the lagoon a few minutes later taking the route past the concrete steps. The water churned dark and murky beneath a thin layer of clouds, a layer of steam rising above it. A far cry from how it looked during the day when it was filled with canoes, and happy families, enjoying an idle summer day.
Sam wiped the sweat from her forehead as they trudged past the boathouse. Since the rain passed, it was feeling downright tropical. She swatted a mosquito and sucked in a lungful of hot, humid air wishing she were at home with her fiancé, enjoying a cold glass of crisp white wine on the patio before heading up to bed.
“Up ahead,” Alec pointed, breaking into a jog.
“Really, Alec?” she shouted after him. “You expect me to jog in these heels?”
“That’s why I wear flats on all my dates,” he winked, taking off.
Sam sighed, trying to keep up with him, but it was impossible. Her heels sank into the wet grass, forcing her to yank them out with every step. She was tempted to slip her shoes off, but quickly changed her mind, not relishing the thought of mosquitoes feasting on her bare toes.
The responding officers already secured the area with yellow tape, crime scene techs snapped pictures, and were combing for hairs and fibers, looking for any clues the UNSUB may have left behind. Alec, Mark Matsuda, the Medical Examiner, and one of the first responders formed a semicircle near the end of the lagoon.
Their backs were to her. Sam joined the group, nodding to Matsuda.
“Detective Black.” He smiled. “Glad you made it.”
Her eyes flitted to the ground. A shoe protruded from a dirt patch, the high heel pointing straight up. Frowning, she turned her gaze on the officer. “What have we got?”
The uniform glanced at Matsuda, and dropped his eyes, shifting uncomfortably as if he wasn’t sure what to say.
“What we got is a problem,” Alec said.
Sam’s eyes slid between the men. “No body?”
“Too many bodies,” Matsuda quipped in a wry tone.
“Too many bodies?” She looked around. “There’s more than one?”
“Never mind, bad joke.” Matsuda shook his head, reaching into his pocket for a pair of latex gloves. Snapping them on, he turned to Sam. “Let’s get to it. With any luck, we can all get back to bed before dawn.”
“All right.” Hands on her hips, Sam scanned the area, shooting Matsuda a curious look. “I see the shoe, but where’s the victim?”
Matsuda placed his hand on the small of her back, urging her forward. “Keep looking.”
Shaking her head, she held out her hand for a pair of latex gloves. She pulled them on and settled into a crouch, examining the ground. Sam glanced up at Matsuda with a frown. “This is it? An upside shoe jammed into the dirt? Are you kidding me? Did anybody even bother to check it out before calling us?”
Matsuda hunkered down beside her. “We were waiting for you before we dug any further.” His shoulders shook as he tried to hold back a laugh. Alec chuckled in the background.
Sam gave him a look. “Dug any further? Really? That’s lame Matsuda even for you.”
He shrugged. “I thought it was kind of funny.”
“You’re warped, both of you.” Sam suppressed a grin, and got to work, reaching out to touch the elegant high heel. It was an odd choice of footwear for a day at the zoo unless someone was attending a charity benefit. Her eyes drifted to the nearby café. Or a party, she corrected herself, making the shoe suddenly a whole lot more interesting. A few too many drinks, a heated argument, a jealous rage… any number of things could add up to a dead body.
She poked it again, this time with more force. The shoe didn’t budge. “I don’t suppose either of you Sir Galahad’s want to help me out here?”
Matsuda turned his head, gazing up at the sky. Alec smothered a laugh. “Hey, the loot put you in charge of this one.”
“Remind me to send her a thank you note.” Sam took a deep breath and dug into the ground with gloved fingers, gently brushing dirt and grass away to reveal a bloated foot. Maggots spilled out onto either side of the shoe, dropping to the ground near her bare legs.
“Jesus.” She pulled her hand away and stood, covering her nose with the back of her arm. Shaken, she turned her head, but not before Alec caught the flicker of pain in her eyes.
He laid a hand on her shoulder, dark brown eyes filling with concern. “You okay?”
“Sure.” Hugging her arms across her chest, she looked at him and nodded. “I’m good. Really.”
They both knew she was lying. It happened like that sometimes. The sharp, swift stab of anxiety she felt before seeing a victim’s face. The fear that one day, she’d look down and see Melanie’s cold dead eyes, forever resolving the question of what happened to her sister.
Sam took a deep breath to quiet her nerves. She knew better. Her sister wasn’t buried in the shallow grave, but she drew no comfort from that fact. Someone had been murdered today, planted in a cold and lonely grave, like trash, as if her life hadn’t mattered.
Exhaling, she squared her shoulders, and stared down at the grizzly sight. “We need to start digging.”
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Lori Gordon was born and raised in the brilliant, beautiful windy city, also known as Chicago, where I live with former stray, Livvie Rose, cat extraordinaire.