Authors: Anne Frasier
NEW YORK TIMES
BESTSELLING AUTHOR ANNE FRASIER
“Frasier has perfected the art of making a reader’s skin crawl.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Anne Frasier delivers thoroughly engrossing, completely riveting suspense.”
“Frasier’s writing is fast and furious.”
—Jayne Ann Krentz
“This is by far and away the best serial killer story I’ve read in a long time
. . .
strong characters, with a truly twisted bad guy.”
—Jayne Ann Krentz
“I couldn’t put it down. Engrossing
. . .
. . .
I loved it.”
“A deeply engrossing read,
delivers a creepy villain, a chilling plot, and two remarkable investigators whose personal struggles are only equaled by their compelling need to stop a madman before he kills again. Warning: don’t read this book if you are home alone.”
“A wealth of procedural detail, a heart-thumping finale, and two scarred but indelible protagonists make this a first-rate read.”
“Anne Frasier has crafted a taut and suspenseful thriller.”
“Well-realized characters and taut, suspenseful plotting.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Guaranteed to keep you awake at night.”
“They’ll be no sleeping after reading this one. Laced with forensic detail and psychological twists.”
“Gripping and intense
. . .
Along with a fine plot, Frasier delivers her characters as whole people, each trying to cope in the face of violence and jealousies.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Enthralling. There’s a lot more to this clever intrigue than graphic police procedures. Indeed, one of Frasier’s many strengths is her ability to create characters and relationships that are as compelling as the mystery itself. Will linger with the reader after the killer is caught.”
“A nicely constructed combination of mystery and thriller. Frasier is a talented writer whose forte is probing into the psyches of her characters, and she produces a fast-paced novel with a finale containing many surprises.”
I Love a Mystery
“Has all the essentials of an edge-of-your-seat story. There is suspense, believable characters, an interesting setting, and just the right amount of details to keep the reader’s eyes always moving forward
. . .
as a great addition to any mystery library.”
BEFORE I WAKE
“Anne Frasier’s latest novel once again demonstrates her mastery of atmospheric suspense.”
“An original, highly suspenseful, ingeniously crafted tale that dares to question reality
. . .
Frasier has filled this clever plot with daring twists, realistic characters, and a chilling narrative that thrills with each page.”
New Mystery Reader Magazine
“Words like ‘thrilling’ ‘riveting’ and ‘intense’ are often bandied about when describing Anne Frasier’s writing, and for good reason. That is exactly what she delivers.”
Romance Reviews Today
“Frasier’s latest rivets as she masterfully creates a perfect atmosphere for suspicious death and compelling mystery in this nail-biting thrill ride.”
“Frasier delivers twist upon twist. The characters are rich, complex. The story is masterfully spun.”
“Easily the best work I’ve read this year.”
“Magnificently written story and characters.”
is a lovely book in all the ways that really matter, one of those rare and wonderful memoirs in which people you’ve never met become your friends.”
“A hypnotic tale of place, people, and of midwestern family roots that run deep, stubbornly hidden, and equally menacing.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
ALSO BY ANNE FRASIER
Before I Wake
Garden of Darkness
The Elise Sandburg Series
“Made of Stars”
“Max Under the Stars”
Once upon a Crime
From the Indie Side
Writes of Spring
The Lineup: Poems on Crime 3
Nonfiction (as Theresa Weir)
The Orchard: A Memoir
The Man Who Left
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 Theresa Weir
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of
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Cover design by Damon Freeman
Stories linger in the faces of the dead.
ne day she stopped screaming.
It was the same day she quit thinking about the world beyond the windowless cell. That world no longer existed. Not for her. Now there were just the plates of food that came at uneven intervals, eaten in darkness, without visual cues, her taste buds unable to discern what went into her mouth.
Her life was listening for his footsteps on the stairs. Her life was listening to the shuffle of his feet across the cement floor and waiting to hear his voice when he spoke. God help her, she’d come to look forward to his voice, his visits. Anything was better than the quiet in her head.
Then there were the times he pulled her from the room within a room, pulled her from the darkness. She would blink at the blinding brightness of the single bulb hanging from the basement ceiling. When she tried to speak, her voice scratchy and unfamiliar and hollow, he’d smack her across the face.
And that was okay.
Today he led her to a drain in the corner of the basement, cranked open a faucet, and aimed the nozzle at her naked body, blasting her with ice-cold water.
Even then she didn’t scream. She had no scream left in her.
She supposed she was. Maybe that’s why he’d quit touching her. Disgusting was good.
Done giving her a dousing, he turned off the hose while she trembled violently from the cold—her shivering,
a curious thing
, she thought with detachment.
“Go on. Back in the cell.”
At first she’d tried to retain her sense of self. For a while she’d tried to remind herself of who she was. She’d tried to recall the color of her hair and the shape of her face. But eventually she let go of all that. This was her life now, and her hair and face made no difference here. Once you no longer desired anything, surviving became easier. Once you gave up and accepted your fate, existence became tolerable because every day wasn’t a reset of a nightmare that wouldn’t end.
In the cell, she curled into a ball on the floor, knees drawn up to her chest as she continued to shake.
Now he would lock the door.
“Can you stay awhile?” she asked, her voice thin as a thread. “Talk to me?”
He stared. Untrimmed beard. Cruel yet distracted eyes. Tangle of brown hair. He wasn’t thinking about her. She’d become an unpleasant chore—the dog he wished he’d never gotten but now had to feed. When he remembered to feed her.
Behind him, the lightbulb flickered, then went out, the entire house falling silent. He mumbled a curse in the darkness.
Blackest of black, but black was her friend. In a world of no sight, her hearing had become acute. She was used to looking beyond the darkness to mentally visualize her surrounds, imagining the distance to the walls and the height of the ceiling.
Moments after the light went out, she felt something strange, something she hadn’t felt in a long time.
She knew how much space he took up, knew how tall he was and how much he weighed. She knew about the calluses on his hands, and the long, wide scar on his belly. She knew the circumference of his biceps and how his breath smelled of cigarettes and beer.
Odd that she was thinking of escape when she’d given up so long ago. But maybe she’d been hibernating, unconsciously waiting for just the right moment, for the time when the universe tipped the scales in her favor. For the second when she had the advantage.
She could see in the dark.
Not in a mysterious way, but more like a naked mole rat that spent its life living in total darkness. After a while the darkness was no longer a barrier.
The man wore a Taser on his left hip. An unfamiliar model, but the numerous times he’d used it on her had taught her everything she needed to know. In the darkness, in the darkest of darks, her mind calculated the distance and she shot to her feet and lunged. Her hand unsnapped the holster and pulled the Taser free.
She hit the “On” button. The weapon powered up, making a whirring sound. She felt a rush of air against her face as the man made a grab for her.
Like someone thrusting a sword, she aimed for what she hoped was his chest. The Taser connected, and the man’s throat emitted an involuntary gargling noise as he dropped to the floor and convulsed at her feet.
She slipped past him, moving awkwardly forward until she made contact with the railing and the wooden stairs that led to ground level.
She’d spent days and months listening—to the way he walked across the floor above her head as he removed his holster, to the sound of the gun hitting the table.
Arms outstretched, she stumbled blindly up the stairs. In the kitchen, her fingers sought the table and found what she was looking for.
Abandoning the Taser, she unsnapped the holster and pulled out the weapon. From the weight and shape, it felt like a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson—standard police issue.
Behind her, footfalls pounded up the steps.
No time to check the magazine. She steadied the gun with two hands, listened for the sound of movement coming from below, heard his crablike scuffling and his ragged breathing, sensed his rage drawing nearer.
She fired. Three times, each pull of the trigger creating a spark in the darkness as hot, empty cartridges bounced over her bare feet and the smell of gunpowder filled her nostrils.
The man let out a grunt, and his body crashed down the stairs.
Now I can go home.
She turned, felt her way to the back door, and opened it.
She hadn’t expected winter. The cold took her breath away.
Her mind screamed,
Instead, she forced herself to go back to the kitchen. A search of the coatrack next to the door turned up a heavy canvas jacket. She slipped it over her naked body, zipping it knee to throat, then tugged a stocking cap from one of the deep pockets and pulled it down over her wet hair.
Everything smelled like the man, and an unexpected wave of sorrow washed over her. Had she done the right thing? Killing him?
She shoved her feet into a pair of boots that were too big, stuffed the gun into her pocket, and ran from the building, never looking back.
To a different man. One whose name she couldn’t recall. But his face. She remembered his face and his touch and his smile.
The houses she passed were dark, and even the streetlights were out. No stars. No moon.
—an explanation from her old life.
She dragged her feet so the boots would stay on, not caring that her legs were numb from the cold. It felt good.
Headlights illuminated the snowbanked street as a car approached from behind. She hugged the coat tighter and kept walking.
The car stopped at the intersection, and she saw it was a taxi.
She ran, caught up, opened the back door, and slipped inside.
And then her mind stumbled. There were things she still understood from the old life. She knew she should somehow contact the police. She thought about telling the man behind the wheel about her escape, and yet she felt reluctant to engage, to share any of herself. All she could think about was getting home.
The driver let out a choked sound of disgust, looked over his shoulder at her, and said, “Oh, hell no. Out. Get out. I don’t give rides to homeless people.”
The last thing she planned to do was get out of the cab. No way in hell was she getting out.
“I have a home. That’s where I’m going.”
Her voice sounded weird inside the cab. So much different than it had in the basement, in her cell when she’d talked to herself. That voice had been hollow. Here, she could almost see the sound waves bouncing off the interior of the cab, and she could detect an echo that gave her voice, scratchy and hoarse though it was, resonance. The cell had been soundproof, and now, in the cab, it was like there was nothing dampening any of her senses. It was unbearable, really, when she thought about it. How did people stand it? The vibrations of the world. The odors. The way the seat felt on the back of her legs. Clammy, touched by too many people. The deodorizer hanging from the rearview mirror that made her lungs burn and her eyes water.
She pulled the gun from her jacket and pointed it at the man. “Drive.” She gave him the address. It just came to her. Just popped into her head like she’d used it yesterday.
When she saw the duplex, her eyes stung and her throat burned all over again, this time from happiness, from relief. He would be there, and he would wrap his arms around her and hold her close. Maybe he would cry, and she would tell him she was okay. And they would just hold each other for a long time. And then he would cook something for her to eat, all the while looking at her with happiness and love.
She could pull up this dream because she’d had it so many times. Almost every day she’d played it like a movie in her head, often with slight variations, but basically the same.
The driver stopped in the middle of the street. There had never been a cab in her mind movie, so she wasn’t sure what should happen next. She got out, thinking to suggest he send her a bill, but he squealed away. The second he was gone he no longer existed.
She stood in the street, taking in the duplex that loomed in front of her—a dark shape among a row of houses.
So odd to walk up such a familiar sidewalk, such familiar steps to a familiar porch. She tested the knob, then knocked. The door opened, candle flames illuminating the faces of a man and woman.
Now she remembered his name.
She waited for him to recognize her, waited for the scene to play out the way it had always played out in her head. But he didn’t say anything, just stood there with a question on his face.
“It’s me,” she finally said, as if that would explain everything. And it
Her voice sounded even stranger out in the open. Like her words might just drift away on the cold air. This must be what an alien would feel experiencing Earth for the first time.
He stared for what seemed like minutes; then his expression gradually changed, morphing from one emotion to another, finally settling on shock.
In a self-conscious gesture, she touched a long strand of wet hair, wondering for the first time in months what she looked like.
“Jude?” The tone of his voice held disbelief.
Jude, that was what people had called her. She’d forgotten. How silly. To forget.
The letters of her name hung in the air and brought with them a whisper of days she’d clung to, days that had kept her going. Days of sunlight and cafés and lattes shared on Sunday mornings after a tangle of sheets and lovemaking.
“I’m home,” she said by way of explaining something that shouldn’t need explaining. She was gone, and now she was back.
He glanced at the woman standing next to him.
Over the weeks and months, she’d learned to read the man in the basement. When his visits were the only stimulation in her life, it became easy to pick up signals from every blink, every breath, every turn of his head. And now, in this instant, she read the man in front of her—not just his expression, but something more, something in his cells. And she understood that the movie she’d played in her head for so long was not going to happen.
They’re a couple.
This woman was probably sleeping in Jude’s bed and maybe even wearing her clothes.
“It didn’t take you long to find someone new.” That’s what Jude said. If she’d been prepared, she might have come up with better dialogue.
His mouth opened and closed, and he finally choked out the words: “It’s been three years.”
She blinked, and in her mind she traveled back to the cell. She would have said she’d been there months, not years. He was lying. He had a new girlfriend, so he was trying to cover up his betrayal. “No.” She shook her head, the movement broken, the single word trembling in denial, and she knew in her heart of hearts that he was right and she was wrong.
His eyes were sad as they glistened in the candlelight.
He’d been a good man, a sensitive man. She remembered that about him. “How long did you wait for me?”
Now he looked ashamed. He looked like he might break down into full-blown sobs. She didn’t want to see that.
“A year,” he said.
Because she couldn’t handle his sadness, she tried to find words to comfort him. “That’s okay.” Then she added bluntly, “I never want a man to touch me again anyway.”
The meaning behind her words shook him even more. “I’m sorry, Jude.”
Now she saw something more than sadness in his face. A man who’d once looked upon her with love was now looking at her with pity and revulsion.
The pity she might have been able to take, but not the revulsion.
“I killed somebody tonight,” she said. “I killed somebody to get back to you.” Then she turned and ran.
The boyfriend with the name she’d only just remembered called after her, but she kept going. Back into the darkness. And God help her, for a few brief moments she thought about returning to the basement, to the cell, to the dead man she almost wished she hadn’t shot.
There was only one other place to go, only one other place that felt like home. Locking into a pre-established pattern, she turned the corner and headed in the direction of downtown and the Minneapolis Police Department.