Goodbye to the Dead (Jonathan Stride Book 7)

Goodbye to the Dead

Also By Brian Freeman

Also by Brian Freeman

Spilled Blood

THE JONATHAN STRIDE SERIES

The Cold Nowhere

The Burying Place

The Watcher

Stalked

Stripped

Immoral

Turn to Stone
(A Jonathan Stride e-novella)

Spitting Devil
(A Jonathan Stride e-short story)

THE CAB BOLTON SERIES

Season of Fear

The Bone House

Title

Copyright

First published in Great Britain in 2015 by

Quercus Publishing Ltd

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DZ

An Hachette UK company

Copyright © 2015 by Brian Freeman

The moral right of Brian Freeman to be

identified as the author of this work has been

asserted in accordance with the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication

may be reproduced or transmitted in any form

or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

including photocopy, recording, or any

information storage and retrieval system,

without permission in writing from the publisher.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available

fro
m the British Library

HB ISBN 978 1 78206 900 3

TPB ISBN 978 1 78206 901 0

EBOOK ISBN 978 1 78429 985 9

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters,

businesses, organizations, places and events are

either the product of the author’s imagination

or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to

actual persons, living or dead, events or

locales is entirely coincidental.

Dedication

For Marcia

Epigraph

‘We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.’


M
ARCEL
P
ROUST

PROLOGUE

The Present

Serena spotted the Grand Am parked half a block from the Duluth bar. Someone was waiting inside the car.

Mosquitoes clouded in front of the headlights. The trumpets of a Russian symphony – something loud and mournful by Shostakovich – blared through its open windows. Serena smelled acrid, roll-your-own cigarette smoke drifting toward her with the spitting rain. Beyond the car, through the haze, she saw the milky lights of the Superior bridge arching across the harbor.

There were just the two of them in the late-night darkness of the summer street. Herself and the stranger behind the wheel of the Grand Am. She couldn’t see the driver, but it didn’t matter who was inside. Not yet.

She was here for someone else.

This was an industrial area, on the east end of Raleigh Street, not far from the coal docks and the paper mill. Power lines sizzled overhead. The ground under her feet shook with the passage of a southbound train. She made sure her Mustang was locked, with her Glock securely inside the glove compartment, and then she crossed the wet street to the Grizzly Bear Bar. It was a dive with no windows and an apartment overhead for the owner.

Cat was inside.

Serena felt guilty putting tracking software on the teenager’s phone, but she’d learned quickly that Cat’s sweet face didn’t mean she could be trusted.

When she pulled open the door of the bar, a sweaty, beery smell tumbled outside. She heard drunken voices shouting in languages she didn’t understand and the twang of a George Strait song on the jukebox. Big men lined up two-deep at the bar and played poker at wooden tables.

Inside, she scanned the faces, looking for Cat. She spied her near the wall, standing shoulder to shoulder with an older girl, both of them head-down over smartphones. The two made an unlikely pair. Cat was a classic beauty with tumbling chestnut hair and a sculpted Hispanic face. Her skinny companion had dyed orange spikes peeking out under a wool cap, and her ivory face was studded with piercings.

Serena keyed a text into her own phone and sent it.
Look up.

Cat’s face shot upward as she got the message. Her eyes widened, and Serena read the girl’s lips. ‘
Oh, shit.

Cat whispered urgently in her friend’s ear. Serena saw the other girl study her like a scientist peering into the business end of a microscope. The skinny girl wore a low-cut mesh shirt over a black bra and a jean skirt that ended mid-thigh. She picked up a drinks tray – she was a waitress – and gave Serena a smirk as she strolled to the bar, leaving Cat by herself.

Serena joined Cat at the cocktail table where she was standing. The girl’s smile had vanished, and so had all of her adultness. Teenagers drifted so easily between maturity and innocence. She was a child again, but Cat was also a child who was five months pregnant.

‘I’m really sorry

’ Cat began, but Serena cut her off.

‘Save it. I’m not interested in apologies.’

She stopped herself before saying anything more that she’d regret. She was too angry even to look at Cat. Instead, by habit, she surveyed the people in the bar. It was a rough crowd, not a hangout for college kids and middle-class tourists like the bars in Canal Park. Hardened sailors came to the Grizzly Bear off the cargo boats, making up for dry days on the lake with plenty of booze. She heard raspy laughter and arguments that would spill over into fights. The bare, muscled forearms of the men were covered in cuts and scars, and they left greasy fingerprints on dozens of empty beer bottles.

In the opposite corner of the bar, Serena noticed a woman who didn’t fit in with the others. The woman sat by herself, a nervous smile on her round face. Her long blond hair, parted in the middle, hung down like limp spaghetti. She had an all-American look, with blue eyes and young skin, like a cheerleader plucked from a college yearbook. Maybe twenty-two. She kept checking a phone on the table in front of her, and her stare shot to the bar door every time it opened.

Something about the woman set off alarm bells in Serena’s head. This was a bad place for her. She wanted to go over and ask:
Why are you here?

She didn’t, because that was the question she needed to ask Cat.

‘Why are you here, Cat?’

‘I wanted to go somewhere. I’m bored.’

‘That’s not an answer.’

‘Anna works here,’ Cat said. ‘She and I know the owner.’

Cat nodded at the waitress who’d been with her at the table. Anna was playing with her phone as she waited for the bartender at the taps. One of the sailors made a grab for the girl’s ass, and Anna intercepted his hand without so much as a glance at the man’s face.

‘She used to live on the streets, like me,’ Cat told Serena. ‘We’d hang out together. If she found a place to sleep, she let me crash there, too.’

‘I get it, but that’s not your world anymore.’

‘I’m entitled to have friends,’ Cat insisted, her lower lip bulging with defiance.

‘You are, but no one from your old life is a friend.’

Serena knew the struggle the girl faced. Not even three months ago, Cat Mateo had been a runaway. A teenage prostitute. When someone began stalking her in the city’s graffiti graveyard, she’d gone to Duluth police lieutenant Jonathan Stride for help. Serena and Stride had been lovers for four years, and she knew he had a weakness for a woman in trouble. They’d helped capture the man who’d been targeting Cat, and when the girl was safe, Stride made a decision that surprised Serena. He suggested that the teenager live with them, have her baby there, and grow up in a house with adults who cared about her.

Serena said yes, but she’d never believed that it would be easy for any of them. And it wasn’t.

‘You’re a sight for sore eyes in this place,’ a male voice announced.

A man in a rumpled blue dress shirt and loosely knotted tie stopped at their table. His eyes darted between Serena’s face and the full breasts swelling under her rain-damp T-shirt. He wiped his hands on a Budweiser bar towel.

‘This is Fred,’ Cat interjected. ‘He owns the bar.’

The man shot out a hand, which Serena shook. His fingers were sticky from sugar and limes. ‘Fred Sissel,’ he said cheerfully.

Sissel was around fifty years old, with slicked-back graying hair and a trimmed mustache. He wore the over-eager grin of a man who’d tried to smile his way out of everything bad in life. Fights. Debts. Drunk driving. His cuffs were frayed, and his shirt and tie were dotted with old food stains. His face had the mottled brown of too many visits to a tanning salon.

‘So what’s your name, and where have you been all my life?’ Sissel asked. The teeth behind his smile were unnaturally white.

Serena slid her badge out of her jeans pocket. ‘My name’s Serena Dial. I’m with the Itasca County Sheriff’s Office.’

Sissel’s mustache drooped like a worm on a fishing hook. The sailors at the other tables had a radar for the gold glint of a badge, and the tenor in the bar changed immediately.

‘Sorry, officer, is there a problem?’ Sissel asked, losing the fake grin.

‘Do you know this girl?’

‘Sure, she’s a friend of Anna’s.’

‘Do you know she’s seventeen years old?’

Sissel swore under his breath. ‘Hey, I don’t want any trouble,’ he said.

‘You’ve already got trouble, and if I find her in this place again, you’ll have even more.’

‘Yeah. Understood. Whatever you say.’

The bar owner raised his arms in surrender and backed away. Serena saw emotions skipping like beach stones across Cat’s face. Shame. Guilt. Embarrassment. Anger.

‘Fred’s a nice guy,’ the girl said finally. ‘You didn’t have to be mean to him.’

‘Does he serve you alcohol?’

‘No,’ Cat said, but Serena didn’t trust her face. She leaned closer to the girl, and although there was no booze on her breath, she smelled cigarette smoke like stale perfume on her beautiful hair.

‘You’ve been smoking.’

‘Just one.’

Serena wanted to scream at the girl, but she held her voice in check. ‘You’re pregnant. You can’t smoke. You can’t drink.’

‘I told you, it was just one.’

Serena didn’t answer. She couldn’t fight teenage logic. As a cop, she’d seen good girls make bad choices her entire life. She knew how easy it was to cross the line. At Cat’s age, she’d been a runaway herself, living with a girlfriend in Las Vegas after escaping the grip of a Phoenix drug dealer. Not a month had gone by in Vegas where she hadn’t fended off the temptation to gamble, buy drugs, steal, or sell herself for the money she needed. She felt lucky that the only serious vice she carried from those days was being a recovering alcoholic. But luck was all it was. A bad choice on a bad day, and her life would have taken a different turn.

Across the bar, Serena saw the young blond woman – the school cheerleader type – grab her phone suddenly and get to her feet. She was nervous and excited and couldn’t control her smile. She smoothed her long straight hair and moistened her lips. If there was a mirror, she would have checked her reflection in it. She took a breath, and her chest swelled. She headed for the bar door, but backtracked to retrieve a baby-blue suitcase from behind her table.

To Serena, it felt wrong. Visitors didn’t come to Duluth and wind up in this bar on their first night. Her instincts told her to stop the woman and ask questions. To intervene. To protect her.

‘Are you going to tell Stride?’ Cat asked.

Serena focused on the teenager again. She knew that Cat was afraid of Stride’s disapproval more than anything else in her life. He was like a father to her, and she was terrified of disappointing him.

‘Yes,’ Serena said. ‘You know I have to tell him.’

Cat’s eyes filled with tears. She was a typical teenage girl, using tears to get her way, and Serena worked hard to keep her own face as stern as stone. Meanwhile, the bar door opened and closed, letting in the patter of rain from outside.

The blond woman was gone.

‘It doesn’t matter what you tell him,’ Cat said, rubbing her nose on her sleeve. ‘He’s going to kick me out sooner or later.’

Her voice was choked with self-pity. She was smart and beautiful and eager to believe the worst about herself. She looked for any reason to believe that her life wasn’t worth saving. To sabotage the second chance she’d been given. That was part of her guilt over who she’d been.

‘It has nothing to do with that,’ Serena told her calmly, ‘and you know it.’

‘When he was married to Cindy, Stride didn’t want kids,’ Cat protested. ‘So why would he want me now?’

‘You’re wrong about that, but even if it were true, it doesn’t matter. He took you in, Cat. He wants you there. We both do. What happened in the past, what happened with Cindy, has nothing to do with who he is today.’

‘You wish,’ the girl snapped.

The words shot out of her like a poisoned arrow. Funny how teenagers could always find your weak spot and apply pressure. If there was anything in Serena’s life that made her feel like an insecure child, it was the thought of Cindy Stride. It was the suspicion that Jonny was still in love with his wife.

Still in love with the wife who died of cancer eight years ago.

Cat knew what she’d done. She looked upset now. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.’

But she did. And she was right.

‘Come on,’ Serena said, shoving down her own emotions. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

She took Cat’s arm in a tight grip, but then something made her freeze. A woman screamed. It came from the street, muffled by the clamor of the bar. She almost missed it. The cry stopped as quickly as it started, cutting off like the slamming of a window, but Serena knew exactly who it was. She cursed herself for not listening to her instincts when she had the chance.

Serena told Cat to stay where she was. She shoved through the crowd and broke out into the street. Outside, the drizzle had become a downpour, blown sideways by the wind. The Grand Am she’d spotted earlier was still parked half a block away, its headlights white and bright, steaming in the rain. Immediately in front of the sedan was the woman from the bar, her body flailing as she fought to free herself from a man who held her in a headlock.

Serena shouted, and the woman saw her. Soundlessly, in panic, she pleaded for rescue. Serena marched toward them to break up the assault, but she’d barely taken a step when a gun blew up the night. One shot. Loud and lethal. The blond woman’s pretty face, twisted in panic, became a spray of bone, brain, blood, and skin. Her knees buckled; her body slumped to the wet pavement. In shock, Serena threw herself sideways toward the outer wall of the bar.

The bar door opened, and Cat called out curiously, ‘What was that? What’s going on?’

Serena yelled with the protective fury of a mother. ‘
Cat, get back inside right now!

Then she was running. She saw a tall man in a hooded sweatshirt, his back to her as he escaped. The killer. She didn’t stop for the woman lying in the street. There was nothing she could do to help her. She charged after the man, struggling to match his steps, but the pain of the effort weighed on her chest. Rain soaked her black hair and blurred her eyes. The asphalt was slick. The man sped into the darkness of a side street that ended in dense trees, with Serena ten feet behind in pursuit. Matchbox houses on both sides bloomed with light as people crept to their windows.

Serena closed on the man when he slipped and lost a step. The woods loomed directly ahead of them. She knew where she was; the street ended in sharp steps that led down over a creek into the grassy fields of Irving Park. She took a chance, and she jumped. Her body hit the man in the square of the back, kicking him forward, bringing both of them down. He slid onto the moss-slick concrete steps. She scrambled to her feet and dove for him, but he was ready for her. He spun around in the blackness and hammered a fist into her stomach. He grabbed her head. His fingers drove her chin into the rusty railing bordering the steps, where bone struck metal. Her teeth rattled as if driven upward into her mouth. She collapsed to her knees.

He skidded on his heels and jumped down the rest of the steps. She heard his footsteps splashing into the creek below them. He was gone, breaking free into the wide-open land of the park. She hadn’t seen his face.

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