Table of Contents
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Margaret Coel
THE PERFECT SUSPECT
Wind River Mysteries
THE EAGLE CATCHER
THE GHOST WALKER
THE DREAM STALKER
THE STORY TELLER
THE LOST BIRD
THE SPIRIT WOMAN
THE THUNDER KEEPER
THE SHADOW DANCER
WIFE OF MOON
EYE OF THE WOLF
THE DROWNING MAN
THE GIRL WITH BRAIDED HAIR
THE SILENT SPIRIT
THE SPIDER'S WEB
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright Â© 2011 by Margaret Coel.
The prayer on page 283 is based on an Arapaho prayer found on the monument to fallen Arapaho warriors at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
ISBN : 978-1-101-54382-5
1. Women journalistsâFiction. 2. MurderâInvestigationâFiction.
3. Denver (Colo.)âFiction. I. Title.
I want to thank the following persons for taking the time to read this manuscript and suggest the changes and corrections that would allow my fictional world to reflect the real world more accurately: Mike Fiori, retired detective, Denver Police Department; Sheila Carrigan, former judge and deputy district attorney; Karen Cotton, features/entertainment reporter. I also want to thank my good friends and astute readers for their excellent, as always, comments: Karen Gilleland, Bev Carrigan, Carl Schneider, and of course, my husband, George Coel.
She never meant to kill him.
Shooting David was not a premeditated act. There were no plans, no blueprints, like the detailed drawings of a grand building. Nothing like that. It had happened in an instant, the loud retort of the gun that had shattered the quiet and shocked her as much as it shocked him. She had seen the shock and disbelief in his eyes before they went glassy and he started stumbling backward, grasping at the cord of a table lamp. The lamp had crashed on top of him.
Ryan Beckman pulled herself over the steering wheel and flexed her fingers. Her hands had gone numb, she had been gripping the wheel so hard, staring at the oncoming headlights on I-70, taking the curves around the mountains too fast. She needed to put as much distance between herself and David Mathews's house as possible. Still she forced herself to let up on the gas pedal. It would never do to be stopped by the state patrol when everyone at headquarters thought she was in Breckenridge. She could see the lights of Denver glowing in the rearview mirror.
Not premeditated? Then why did you bring the 9mm Sig 226 Tactical?
That would be the first question the detectives would ask. She knew exactly how the questioning would go. She had been a detective almost fourteen years, the last three years with the Denver Police Department, and before that, eleven years in Minneapolis. She was inured to surprises in investigations, hardened and experienced. She knew how to anticipate questions and turn them away from her. But her colleagues were the type to pound and push, refuse to give up. How could she make them understand? She had carried the gun to get David's attention, that was all. Make him look at her and see what he had done. Destroyed her life, her peace of mind, her future. All of it disappearing like smoke out of a burned house that once had been beautiful and filled with promise. David was her life. They were perfect for each other, he had said so himself. Destined to go on together, be old together, sit on the porch and hold hands and laugh about how close they had come to losing everything. But David was likely to brush aside anything she said, just as he had done two weeks ago when she had pretended to bump into him in the hotel lobby downtown. Telling her not to make a scene, telling her to get over it. Shrugging and smirking, with that ugly way he had of dismissing unimportant things. The valet had brought his SUV around, and he had left her standing in the lobby, the upholstered sofas and chairs, the thick wood tables, the Oriental rugs and chandeliers blurring around her. The SUV had peeled away, the engine roaring in her ears.
So she had brought the gun to force him to listen.
There won't be any questions. The sound of her own voice over the noise of the tires and the hum of the engine made her feel calmer. The tension began to drain away, her fingers relaxed around the wheel. She had to remain logical and in control, not let the situation get away from her. She had signed out for a long weekend. Three days in Breckenridge she'd told Sergeant Crowley. Hiking, a little fishing. “You fish?” he'd said, barely swallowing the amusement and incredulity in his voice. “It's very relaxing,” she'd told him. He knew she deserved a little relaxation, time off from the madness. The last case had shaken herâthe bludgeoning death of a seventy-six-year-old woman by her beloved grandson. Crowley had called in the department therapist to talk her and Martin Martinez, her partner, through the images and nightmares. When she told the sergeant she needed a few days off, he had balked only enough to remind her that she had used most of her vacation time, which she knew. All those weekends and stolen hours with David.
You left town. Booked a condo in Breckenridge to give yourself an alibi, drove back to Denver and killed David Mathews.
“Stop it!” She heard herself shouting, felt her fingers squeezing the wheel again.
Stay calm! Stay calm!
There was no reason to suspect her, and there would be no intimidating interviews. In any case, it was an accident, a horrific, unanticipated event. She had never planned to kill anyone. She had discharged her pistol before, it was true, but only in the line of duty. Only to save herself or another officer. She had been exonerated, even commended for her quick-thinking actions. There had been other tense standoffs, once with an Indian at the end of an alley, standing up practically comatose, gripping a knife, ignoring her orders, poised to rush her. “Drop the knife!” she had shouted. She was close to pulling the trigger before the knife clattered onto the concrete. That had brought another commendationâfor restraint under stress.
Something had changed. It was as if she were driving underwater, and she realized she was in the Eisenhower Tunnel beneath long tubes of fluorescent lights. Red taillights blurred ahead. She realized something else: she was crying. David had been as quiet as that Indian, comatose on his feet, looking straight at her and not seeing her.
“This isn't a good time,” he'd said when he opened the door. He blinked hard as if an unwanted apparition had appeared on his porch.
“Why is that?” She could see herself standing under the light on his porch, her straw bag hung off one shoulder, the black night folded around her. “Are you expecting someone?” She had brushed past him into the marble-floored entry with the staircase that curved upward and wound overhead, then into the warm, soft lighting in the living room beyond.
She had walked straight into the living room, sensing the exasperation and barely controlled anger that rolled off David like perspiration. “Can I have a drink?” she'd said.
“You have to leave.” His voice had been hard and cold.
“One drink, David? Surely you have time.”
He had stepped over to a cabinet and poured two fingers of bourbon into a crystal glass that danced and sparkled in the light. An ice cube tinkled against the crystal, and hope had washed over her. He remembered her drink: bourbon, neat, a little ice. She smiled at him as she took the glass. “We have to talk,” she said.
“Look, Ryan.” He held out both hands, as if he wanted to pull her toward him, even hug her. Her heart had pounded with anticipation. “What we had was very good, but it's over. It no longer works.” She had tried to interrupt because it wasn't true, but he had kept on, always the politician, as handsome and charming as JFK, cajoling and soothing different factions, searching for common ground. “Let us go forward together” was his campaign slogan. He was sure to be the next governor of Colorado.
“The timing's all wrong, for starters,” he said. “Sydney has agreed to work things out. Polls have me thirty points ahead, but the election is two months away. Any scandal, rumors of an extramarital dalliance could destroy everything. I can't take the chance.”
He had gone on, saying other things, but she hadn't heard. Her mind had stuck on the word dalliance. A year of her life, and that's all she was? A dalliance? “You don't know what you're saying!” She had heard herself shout over whatever political platitudes he was still spouting and struggled to sound calm, rational. “We can work it out,” she said. “All you and Sydney have to do is put up a front until the election. Then you settle into office, get a divorce, and we'll be together. Until then, I'll stay in the background. No one knows about us. No one will suspect . . .”