Authors: Jan Burke
Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Fiction
Still recovering from injuries sustained in her last murder investigation, reporter Irene Kelly dutifully hobbles back to work, only to get lured into another case of murder and mayhem. On her very first day back, Irene is “welcomed” by a threatening bit of fan mail from someone who calls himself “Thanatos” — the ancient Greek name for “Death.” Though Irene shrugs it off as a prank, she soon learns to take Thanatos at his word. As Thanatos’ letters keep coming, each cleverly wrapped in mythological puzzles, the bodies mount — as does the tension in southern California’s beach community of Las Piernas. Unwilling to be a pawn in a killer’s deadly game, Irene Kelly knows she must take action. Taunted by phone calls and deadly threats from a killer known only to her as Thanatos, Irene ignores warnings from her worried fiancé, homicide detective Frank Harriman, and embarks on her most dangerous case yet. As Irene unravels the clues to the case — each one embedded in ancient riddles and mythic puzzles — Thanatos watches her every move with a fascination that brings him too close for comfort. Yet Irene will stop at nothing to unveil the true identity of this genius of death, even if it means playing into the hands of a killer who is determined to make her part of his deadly destiny.
For My Husband,
who is one in a gazillion.
All my words are paupers at your door,
begging you to know what they cannot express.
November 28, 1990
Please hand deliver to:
Miss Irene Kelly
Las Piernas News Express
Las Piernas, CA
Dear Miss Kelly,
I am writing to you because those guys who write the Sports Section are a bunch of jerks who won’t take me seriously. My dog, Pigskin, can predict the outcome of the Super Bowl. So far, he has a perfect record. Once the playoff teams have been decided, I simply glue the team emblems to the bottoms of two dishes of dog food, put them on the floor, and whichever one Pigskin goes to, that’s which team will win. I think this is pretty interesting and thought maybe you should do a story on it…
I crumpled that one into a ball and spiked Pigskin right into the round file — and did it all left-handed. But after a moment, I pulled the letter back out of the trash. Setting aside my generally rotten mood that day, I decided Pigskin might be of help with this year’s office football pool.
Going through my mail that Wednesday afternoon in late November, I had already sorted out the flyers on meetings and the invitations to local political wingdings. That left only the pile of the envelopes which were less easily identified. Some were handwritten, some typed, some bore computer-generated labels. Few had return addresses.
Las Piernas News Express
Dear Bleeding Heart Kelly,
The recent media worship of the Premier of the Soviet Union is disgusting. Presenting Mr. Gorbachev as a reformer is the most insidious communist plot yet. Not that you lily-livered leftists of the press are hard to fool, but I think it should be obvious that this is all just a charade to get us to drop our guard…
I was unfazed by these unflattering descriptions of my internal organs. I admit that I was a little distracted, not paying much attention to the occasional crank among my readers’ correspondence. My mail isn’t always as oddball as it was that day, but the approach of certain major holidays seems to make nut cases reach for their stationery.
Most are harmless, lonely people who just need
to listen to them. Every now and again, one of them causes some trouble, like the guy who showed up in the newsroom one day with his parrot, claiming the bird was the reincarnation of Sigmund Freud. I don’t know what women want, but Sigmund wanted a cracker.
Ms. Irene Kelly
Las Piernas News Express
I very much enjoyed the recent commentary column in which you said that the state lottery is a tax on hope. I agree with you one hundred percent. You are the brightest, most insightful writer on the staff of the Express. Your prose is brilliant. I was greatly impressed by your grasp of the complex statistical data on the Eberhardt study of lottery purchasing patterns, as well as your ability to clearly explain the study’s significance to the average reader. I would really like to meet you, but if this is not possible, would you please send me a pair of your panties?
Lydia Ames laughed as she read that one over my shoulder. She works at the paper as an ACE, or Assistant City Editor. “Going to show that one to your fiancé?”
I gave her my best scowl. She’s known me since third grade, so she wasn’t much intimidated. She really delighted in that word “fiancé.” Like a lot of other people I know, she’s spent a number of years wondering if I would ever give her any reason to use it. I had been getting a lot of this “fiancé” stuff lately; given the way Frank Harriman had proposed, I doubt we could have managed a secret engagement.
As if thinking about the very same thing, Lydia looked down at the new cast my orthopedist had just put on my right foot that afternoon. “Did you save the ‘Marry me, Irene’ cast?”
She caught my tone. “I guess you’re really disappointed about having to wear another one.”
“Yeah, I am. I hobbled in there with visions of being free of these damned things and look how I ended up.”
“Well, at least you’re out of the sling, and the doctor did take the cast off your right hand.”
“And replaced it with a splint.”
“A removable splint.”
“Terrific. He walks in and announces, ‘So today we’ll give you a new foot cast! This one will be easier to walk with! It’s made of fiberglass!’ Acting like I’d won a Rolls-Royce in a church raffle.”
She didn’t say anything.
I sighed, looking down at my latest orthopedic fashion accessory. Fiberglass.
I was recovering from a run-in with a group of toughs who wanted to rearrange my bones. I was healing, but my emotions could still surprise me. This was my first week back at work, and I found I had to be on guard against sudden bouts of extreme frustration.
“Sorry, Lydia. I’ll cheer up in a few minutes. Things aren’t going the way I planned. Thought I’d be running around, no casts, no slings, no splints. My day to be wrong. I’m also cranky because I feel useless around here.”
“Just be patient with yourself, okay?”
“I’ll try. But patience and I have been estranged for many years.”
She laughed. “I don’t think you’ve been introduced.”
Mr. Irene Kelly
Las Piernas News Express
Dear Mr. Kelly,
I am writing again to tell you that something must be done to stop the United States Government’s heinous
experiments. I am just one of
of persons who, after being
incarcerated in a government mental hospital under the
of being under observation, was subjected to
in which a computer chip was embedded under my skin. This chip is used by the government to send
MESSAGES TO MY BRAIN
Fortunately, I received an earlier model, so
THEY DON’T KNOW
that I’m writing to you. The newer models can tell them
you are thinking at all times.
PLEASE HELP US
. If you don’t, there will be
for all concerned…
Big trouble. Frank has complained that sometimes I seem to go around looking for trouble. Not a comforting thing to hear a homicide detective say, but maybe he’s right. After all, being a reporter often involves looking for somebody’s trouble. But it’s not supposed to become
trouble. My news editor, John Walters, tries to impress this point on me every so often.
Las Piernas New Express
Dear Irene Kelly,
I was dismayed to learn that Las Piernas does not have a city song. I am a songwriter (still waiting for my big break) and I know I could write a terrific song for our city. However, I would like to be fair about it, so I came up with the idea of a contest. I asked around City Hall and found little interest there until I happened to talk to a Mr. P.J. Jacobsen who said that maybe the newspaper could sponsor a contest. Mr. Jacobsen said you were just the person to contact. He said to be sure to tell you that this was the least he could do for you after that article you wrote about him last August…
Poor P.J. “Sleepy” Jacobsen. What a lousy attempt at revenge. The previous August, I had brought the public’s attention to the slipshod way in which Sleepy ran his office as Assistant City Treasurer. I guess he hadn’t heard that old adage that says you shouldn’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel. The
buys it by the tanker truckload.
at all now, just flipping through the envelopes, bored silly. Among other injuries, my right shoulder had been dislocated and my right thumb had been broken, so I was slow as molasses on the keyboard. Over the last few days, I had managed to peck out a few commentary columns and a couple of obits. Lydia sent some rewriting my way, nothing that was on fire.
Y THOUGHTS DRIFTED
to Frank, and the conversation we had as he drove me back to work.
“You know what you need?” he had said, glancing over at me. “You need a good story to work on. Something that will get your mind off your injuries.”
“I’m not much use as a reporter right now. Besides, the most intriguing stories don’t just knock on the paper’s front door, looking for a reporter. You have to go out and find them. And I’m stuck at a desk.”
Nobody’s right all the time. As I said, it was my day to be wrong. That November afternoon, trouble came looking for me. Trouble got lucky. There was a story waiting for me on my desk. It was over two thousand years old, but it would become big news in no time.
DIDN’T SEE IT
until I made a second pass through my mail. It arrived in a plain blue envelope, addressed to me in care of the paper, the address on a white computer label.
Dear Miss Kelly,
You will always be the first to know, because you will be my Cassandra. Who will believe you? I will.
The time has come for us to begin.
The first Olympian will fall on Thursday. The hammer of Hephaestus will strike her down and the eyes of Argus will be upon her remains.
Clio will be the first to die.
Forgive me my riddles, but it must be so. Soon you will be able to see the truth of it, Cassandra. But who will believe you?
Oh brother. Here was a letter from no less a figure than Thanatos, the ancient Greeks’ name for Death himself. My beloved. And I was going to be his Cassandra, the prophetess who spoke the truth but was never believed. Charming. I looked through the rest of my mail. Little of worth.
Having nothing better to do, I read the Thanatos letter again. It had been years since I had read anything about ancient Greek stories or mythology. I couldn’t remember Hephaestus or Argus. Thursday — tomorrow. My brows furrowed for a moment over that.
Clio would be the first to die. Clio was one of the Greek Muses, the nine daughters of Zeus who presided over the arts. I was trying to remember which one she was when the phone rang.