Read on for an extract from the gripping new thriller by Chris Mooney
Read on for an extract from the gripping new thriller by Chris Mooney
Darby hadn’t seen the inside of the Belham Police Station since her father was a beat cop. She had worked plenty of forensic cases in Belham, back when she was in the crime lab and then later, as a forensic investigator, but the last time she’d actually set foot inside? Had to be at least twenty years.
She parked her rental car in the lot shared by the station and the church. It was Friday, coming up on 7 a.m., the cloudless November sky already a bright, hard blue. Winter had come to New England this year, sending the tempera- ture down to the low twenties and creating the kind of harsh, biting winds that made you question why anyone in their right minds insisted on living in such a climate. Thanksgiving was three weeks away, and the downtown area was already decorated with white Christmas lights strung around small bare trees planted on the sidewalks, the telephone poles holding green plastic wreaths and stringy, weather-beaten tinsel.
Some things from your childhood never changed. Belham Station was one of them. The outside still looked the same: an imposing brick building with tall windows that never seemed clean, no matter what time of season. It gave her the feeling she’d had as a kid, which was that this was the sort of place where you would never find comfort.
The security cameras, she noticed, were dented and banged up from the weather and from having people throwing stones, Belham having the distinction of not only becoming Boston’s most violent neighbourhood but also the leader in attacks against the police.
The station’s interior, amazingly, hadn’t changed – same concrete walls painted in light and dark blues; the same shitty black-and-grey-speckled linoleum floor and the same steam-heated air containing the same odd mix- ture of Lysol, body odour and . . . was that pork?
The desk sergeant sitting behind the dispatch-office window saw her sniffing at the air and said, ‘No, you’re not imagining it. It’s pork. Sausage, as a matter of fact.’
Darby picked up the clipboard. ‘Thought I might be having a stroke.’
‘No, that’s burnt toast, what people smell right before they have one. Look, I’ll tell you the same thing I told the last one, which is “No comment”.’
‘Okay.’ Darby signed her name and said, ‘I’m here to see Detective Chris Kennedy. He’s expecting me.’
‘You’re not a reporter from the Belham Tab?’ ‘Nope.’
‘They send the real pretty ones down here to ask their questions – like that’s gonna work. Your name?’
His face changed, went from mildly pleasant to turn-around-and-get-the-hell-out. It didn’t bother her as much any more. She had grown . . . not used to it but had simply accepted it. There was nothing she could do to change some people’s minds.
‘ID,’ he said gruffly, not looking at her. She handed over her driver’s licence, which was tucked in the same black leather wallet as her investigator’s badge and conceal- and-carry permits. He handed it back to her, along with a visitor’s pass, and then pointed to the bench near a couple of payphones. The bench had been painted, but it was the one where she’d sat as a kid, waiting for her father.
Darby sidled over to the bulletin board, the wall above it adorned with framed pictures of cops who had died in the line of duty. Her father, Thomas ‘Big Red’ McCormick, was in the top row, dressed in his uniform blues, the auburn-coloured hair she’d inherited from him hidden underneath his cap.
He looked down at her with a stern expression, as if to say, What are you doing back here, with these people?
Her gaze slid away, to the bulletin board full of papers advertising needle exchange and gun-buyback program- mes, as well as a list of detox centres. Someone had tacked a torn piece of paper to the board, the handwriting neat and legible: This is the place where hope goes to die.
From somewhere inside the station – probably the holding pen, Darby guessed – she heard a long, drawn- out scream: the raw, painful kind she associated with someone experiencing either a psychotic break or sud- denly realizing the soul-crushing horror of his or her fate. There had been a time when hearing such a sound would have caused her heart to leap in her throat. The skin on her face would have tightened and flexed across the bone; she’d feel cold all over, and have trouble think- ing and concentrating. Now? Now, the sound was as harmless as radio static, and she wondered when this shift had happened. Wondered if she had simply become used to it or maybe had just stopped caring.
‘Should have been here an hour ago,’ Chris Kennedy said to her. ‘Woman came in here, a big ole smile on her face, carrying a pastry box. Guy manning the desk, Mr Personality back there, Charlie, he asked her how he can help her and she says, “I’m here to feed the pigs”.’
Darby walked beside him as they navigated the halls, heading to his office.
‘Then,’ Kennedy said, his eyes bright and mischievous, ‘she opens the box, takes out uncooked sausage and pork chops, starts smearing everything all over the window and counter.’
‘Wow. Clever and original. What a combo.’
Her sarcasm made him smile. He was the only cop who looked at her in a friendly way. Almost everyone else either averted their eyes or deliberately glared at her.
Kennedy’s face turned serious. ‘Stuff like that’s happening more and more these days in Bedlam.’
Back when Darby was growing up, people called the city ‘The Ham’. The downtown area where she had spent most of her youth had been replaced by cheque-cashing stores and pawnshops, and the vacant buildings had been taken over by the rampant homeless population, which was made up primarily of heroin addicts that came from all walks of life. Now kids were snorting, smoking, ingesting and injecting heroin and bath salts. They had abundant access to handguns, shotguns, semi-automatic rifles and hollow- point ammo, and now almost every kid had ‘active-shooter’ drills at schools. The crime rate here had surged so much everyone referred to the city as ‘Bedlam’.
‘And you can forget eating anywhere in town if you’re a cop,’ Kennedy said. ‘People spit in your food, rub it on their genitals, sometimes even stick shit in it. And by “shit” I mean actual shit. We’re here to help them, keep everyone as safe as possible, and everywhere we go we’re treated like the Gestapo. Not a good time to be in law enforcement. What’s with the jacket?’
Darby wore a stylish black motorcycle jacket made of thick black leather. ‘You don’t think it makes me look like a badass?’
‘You are a badass. I just thought women with fancy Harvard doctorates got dressed up all fancy – you know, shirts, skirts and heels.’
‘You’ve got the wrong girl.’
‘No, I’ve got the right one.’ He smiled knowingly. ‘This is me, right here.’
His office had the look and feel of an underground war bunker – no external windows, the small space feeling even more claustrophobic on account of the boxes stacked high against the walls, full of case files and forensic reports. Kennedy, she knew, had recently been placed in charge of Belham’s cold-case squad.
He picked up a stack of files from one of the two chairs in the corner of the room. Darby looked out through the window, into the bullpen, where a handful of cops were openly staring at her in disgust and contempt.
Years ago, back when she was working an investigation for Boston’s Criminal Investigative Unit, she had uncovered a decades-long string of police corruption that extended up to the commissioner and the FBI’s Boston office. These same people who had sworn to protect and serve had also orches- trated the murder of her father, Big Red McCormick, who had discovered the seeds of a criminal enterprise operating within the Boston PD. He had been shot while on duty. Her father was strong. He had lasted a month before her mother decided to take him off life support. Darby insisted on being at the hospital. She was thirteen.
The reason for the vitriol she was witnessing right now was a result of her committing the cardinal sin of law enforcement: going public with the truth instead of play- ing the role of the good soldier and keeping the matter confined within Boston PD, where the bureaucrats and spin doctors would work tirelessly to bury the matter. She was branded a rat, ostracized for not following their rules. Then she’d lost her job.
Kennedy saw where she was looking. ‘Ignore them.’
Don’t worry, I am. She said, ‘You must’ve made a helluva lot of friends, asking me to come here.’
‘You’re the best at what you do. Granted, you have the subtlety and grace of a wrecking ball, but you do get results.’ He chuckled. ‘Have a seat.’
Kennedy was well into his early fifties but except for his hair, which had gone from black to a steel-grey, and maybe an extra ten or so pounds, he still looked like the same beat cop she remembered from her days in Boston – the tough and crafty baseball catcher who’d earned a free ride to Boston College. He would’ve gone pro if he hadn’t suffered a devastating knee injury, one that tore both his ACL and MCL, during his junior year.
‘Who’d you piss off?’ Darby asked, looking around his office.
‘That’s a mighty long list. Could you be more specific?’ ‘You worked homicide; now you’re stuck in Bedlam working cold cases.’
‘I needed a change of pace.’
‘What’s the real reason?’
‘High blood pressure?’ Every homicide detective she knew suffered from it. That or alcoholism. Depression. The list went on and on.
‘That and the two heart attacks that followed,’ Kennedy said.
‘Why didn’t you retire? You put your time in.’
‘And do what? Take up golf? Besides, my wife would kill me, having me around all day. Can I get you coffee? Water?’
‘I’m all set.’ Darby took a seat.
‘So,’ he said, hiking up his trousers as he lowered him- self into the chair. ‘Claire Flynn.’
Two days ago, Darby had been in Long Island, New York, winding up her consulting gig on a possible serial killer who, over a three-year period, had dumped the bod- ies of six women, all prostitutes or runaways, in the dunes. Kennedy called her out of the blue, asked if she’d take a look at a case Darby had worked more than a decade ago, and one that still haunted her: Claire Flynn, a six-year-old Belham girl, who, on a snowy night eleven years ago, went up a hill with her slightly older friend and never came down. It had been Darby’s first case. She’d flown in yester- day morning and spent the next twenty-four hours poring over the evidence, the police reports, everything.
‘What’s your verdict?’ he asked.