Authors: Susan A Fleet
A Suspense Thriller
Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all.
, William Shakespeare
is a work of fiction. All names, characters, locales, business establishments, incidents and events are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2008 by Susan Fleet
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from the author. For more information, reviews and permissions visit:
My heartfelt thanks to:
Carolyn Wilkins, Helaine Smith, and Susan Gunn for helpful comments on early drafts, and especially to Jaimie Bergeron whose comments on several drafts improved the book tremendously.
Pete Wolbrette, for his photography and cover design, which exceeded my wildest dreams and expectations.
Joe Prentis, who helped guide me through the publishing process.
Christine Ammer, for her advice and encouragement over the years.
Special thanks to NOPD Detective Eric Baehr, who generously gave his time to answer my questions. However, this is a work of fiction, unrelated to actual people and events, and any errors or inaccuracies in the book are mine alone.
This book is dedicated to my father, whose inspiration and belief in my talents led me to take the road less traveled.
Thursday July 9, 2005 Sundown
Humming tunelessly, Dawn Andrews pulled on her low-cut lavender jersey, the one that showed off her cleavage, and aimed a seductive smile at the mirror above her dresser. She was no Britney Spears, that’s for sure, frizzy hair, crooked teeth, and a face guys didn’t look at twice. They liked her boobs though. The last time she’d worn this outfit was six months ago. Her last date. That one hadn’t panned out, but maybe tonight would be different.
Mario. Just thinking about him made her tingle in all the right places. Her job at Hollywood Video paid shit, but she loved watching movies, imagining herself as the fearless heroine. Some of the customers were cute, too. Mario was more than cute. He was a hunk, tall and broad-shouldered, with dark chest hair curling in the V of his shirt. Flirting with her, telling raunchy jokes, eyes fixed on her boobs. He worked at a Shell Service Center and drove a Dodge Ram pickup with twin exhausts.
This afternoon Mario had finally asked her out.
Her gaze drifted to the velvet painting above her bed, a tan cocker spaniel with liquid brown eyes, a gift from Paul when she was fifteen, the night she lost her cherry in the back seat of his car. A week later Paul moved on to another girl. The story of her life.
She checked the digital alarm clock on her bedside table: 6:35.
Damn! The priest was late.
She clumped down the hall to her living room. She hated her orthopedic shoes, but without the two-inch wedge her limp was worse.
What would Mario think? He’d only seen her from the waist up, across the counter. Maybe he’d be sympathetic like the priest, asking if she’d sprained her ankle after she found him a copy of
this morning. When she said it was a birth defect, he told her God had given her a beautiful smile to make up for it.
What a crock. If he liked her smile so much, why was he staring at her boobs? He was nice, though, young and good-looking in his Roman collar. He’d insisted on coming over to give her a pep talk about going to college. She hadn’t dared refuse. The nuns at St. Mary’s had drilled it into them: Disobey a priest and you’d go to straight to hell.
But that was before Mario asked her out.
Gnawing her lip, she went to the window, parted the curtain and looked down at the shadowy parking lot. Where the hell was the priest? She didn’t give a shit about college. She wanted to get married and have babies. Mario was coming over after work, and she couldn’t wait to feel his arms around her. She pictured his eyes, dark and sexy and full of passion.
Mario had promised to call her before he left work. If the priest was still here, that would be the perfect excuse to get rid of him.
Cloaked in the darkness of his car, the sinner gazed at the light in Dawn’s third floor window, rapt with anticipation. Not many people knew he was a sinner. The rest he easily deceived. He had repented his youthful transgressions, but the path to salvation had eluded him until God sent him a sign. God had delivered him unto a city of decadence: New Orleans.
City of temptations you couldn’t resist
, said the annoying voice that intruded on his thoughts far too often these days.
He dislodged a peanut from a back molar—part of the Mr. Goodbar he’d eaten after dinner—and crushed it between his teeth. Through the open car window he heard the distant hum of traffic on the Interstate. Sundown had brought no relief from the July heat wave, and his shirt clung to his back, damp with sweat. But his gaze remained on Dawn’s window, aglow with light, calling him to complete his mission and atone for his sins.
Judging by her low forehead and vapid expression, Dawn wasn’t too bright, and she was a sinner, no doubt about that, teasing him with her seductive smile, flaunting her breasts. That was about to change. Tonight he would make her confess and repent her sins, as he had.
Dawn would be his fourth Absolution in New Orleans. The others had garnered massive publicity, publicity that sent a powerful message to other sinful women. It also made things difficult. United against him, the police and FBI agents had vowed to stop him. But they couldn’t. No one could.
With God on his side, how could he fail?
His plan was brilliant, his mission righteous.
All that remained was the execution.
Blood in the water, out come the sharks,” Frank said to his partner as they pushed through glass double doors into another steam-bath New Orleans night. On the wide staircase below them sweaty-faced officers with nightsticks policed an agitated mob that spilled off the sidewalk into the street: terrified residents, local and national reporters, all of them obsessed with a twisted killer.
No new victim, next best thing be a suspect.” Kenyon Miller ran a hand over the pecan-brown skin on his shaven head and headed for the stairs. “Enjoy the show while I get the wheels.”
Anxiety nibbled Frank’s gut. The Big Easy at dusk could be romantic, but not tonight. Not with racial tensions about to boil over. All the ingredients for violence lay below him: outraged white residents, pissed-off black folks, and pugnacious journalists chasing a fresh angle to the story.
And a full moon always brought out the lunatic fringe, like the oversized man at the rear of the crowd, lumbering along like a grizzly bear, long shaggy hair, dark stubble stark against his pale skin. No one else seemed to notice him, all eyes now focused on the man in the suit and tie emerging from the building that housed the serial killer taskforce.
Reporters rushed up the stairs, bellowing questions at the latest star in the Tongue Killer drama now playing in New Orleans. Standing beside his attorney, he squinted in the glare of flashbulbs and television lights, an ebony-skinned man with a bushy Afro and dark eyes that seemed too large for his narrow face.
In a voice filled with outrage, the lawyer told the reporters his client was a model citizen who’d done nothing wrong, and police had no right to detain him for thirty-six hours and hold him in a cell full of criminals.
Frank tuned out the lawyer and focused on Grizzly, a good four inches taller than his own six-one and built like a refrigerator, probably outweighed him by eighty pounds, shoulders hunched inside an olive-green camo-jacket with dark sweat stains under the arms.
Television lights flared behind the crowd, spotlighting a young reporter in a form-fitting dress, about to do a standup across the street. Grizzly’s face puckered with anger as he edged closer to her, eyes bulging, lips moving.
Oblivious to him, the newswoman, a reporter for a local network affiliate, gazed into the mini-cam balanced on her cameraman’s shoulder and began her report.
Grizzly was too agitated to be harmless.
Frank charged down the thirty-odd steps, hit the sidewalk and plunged through the crowd to the street. He dug his Sig-Sauer out of its ankle holster and made sure the safety was on. No shooting in a crowd like this, too many people in the line of fire.
Closing on the reporter, Grizzly reached inside his jacket.
Dodging a woman pushing a kid in a stroller, Frank broke into a run, ducked around two grim-faced black men in Saints T-shirts, and saw Grizzly’s hand come out of his jacket with an eight-inch combat knife.
Frank ran faster, arms pumping, feet pounding the pavement, heart slamming his chest, knowing he was going to be too late.
Grizzly shoved the cameraman to the ground, grabbed the reporter and locked her against his chest. The woman screamed, a shrill sound that panicked nearby spectators, who fled, uttering shrieks of their own. Eyes bulging, the man set the serrated blade of the knife against the reporter’s milky-white throat. “Don’t ignore me, you bitch!”
Five yards behind them Frank skidded to a stop.
One yank of the blade would sever her carotid artery, launching a gusher of blood. If the blood pouring down her trachea into her lungs didn’t drown her, she’d bleed out before help arrived. He’d seen it happen and wasn’t going to let it happen here. He holstered the Sig, launched himself in a flying leap and locked his hands around Grizzly’s wrist.
The man staggered but kept his footing, kept a strangle-hold on the woman, kept his grip on the knife. “Get off me, dickhead!”
Frank smelled booze on his breath, no surprise in a city with drive-thru daiquiri shops and 24-hour bars. He twisted the man’s wrist, forcing the blade away from the reporter’s throat. She screamed again, her lips drawn back in a grimace of fear. Grizzly jerked his shoulders to and fro, trying to shake Frank loose. With grim determination, he clamped his fingers around the wrist, inhaling the man’s vile body odor. An elbow slammed his cheekbone, and a red haze swam across his vision, but he held onto the wrist. Grizzly glared at him, rage smoldering in his eyes.
Fuck you, cocksucker! This bitch is mine!”
No sanity in those piggish eyes, just pure malevolence. Frank felt his sweaty hands slip on Grizzly’s wrist, felt like he was losing an arm-wrestling contest with a giant. Lose this fight, the woman was dead.
He drew back his leg, aimed for the groin and kicked.
Grizzly howled in pain and his knees buckled.
At that moment Kenyon Miller, six-six and two-forty, barreled into them, and they collapsed in a heap. Miller slammed Grizzly’s head against the pavement. Frank pried the knife loose and gave it to one of the uniforms who descended upon them. Wielding nightsticks, a dozen officers subdued Grizzly, who screamed obscenities as they dragged him away.
Frank struggled to his feet, heart pounding, still on an adrenaline high. His cheek throbbed as he helped the shaken newswoman to her feet. Beneath her makeup her face was ashen. She swayed against him, and he gripped her arm to steady her, heard his partner mutter in his ear: “Lights-camera-action.”
Franklin Sullivan Renzi, 42, banished from Boston by a one-two punch of personal and professional disasters, knew what that meant.
He released her arm and asked if she was okay.
Drawing a shaky breath, she raked slender fingers through her hair. “I think so. That creep’s been bugging me all week, waiting for me outside the station every night after work. If you hadn’t tackled him, I’d probably be dead. I don’t know how to thank you.”