When a woman vanishes on her way to her father’s farm, even Grace MacBride and her team of analysts are stumped... read an extract from the eighth book in P. J. Tracy's addictive Monkeewrench series
You could almost predict what kind of crime had gone down by the way the emergency vehicles were parked. At active crime scenes they were strewn all over any existing space in a hap- hazard scatter that always reminded Gino of his son’s Lincoln Logs after he’d demolished something he’d just built. God, boys were destructive little people.
In the lot of Minnehaha off-leash dog park, every vehicle with a bubble on it was parked in careful, painful order, each one a door length away from its neighbor, front tires perfectly aligned. There were no urgent fishtail stops at a homicide scene to gain extra seconds, because everyone knew they were too late to help the victim.
Gino parked behind a row of squads and a set of barricades, and they stepped out into the stifling heat that seemed to be getting worse by the minute. But even Gino didn’t complain about it—they were alive and a woman somewhere in this park wasn’t.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s crime-scene unit was already on-site, and Magozzi saw techs walking across a green expanse of lawn toward a tree line. Uniforms were interviewing a few people beneath the shade of a stately old maple tree, and Sergeant Baker out of Third Precinct was crouched in front of a weeping young woman who was on her knees, hugging her panting husky and worrying the dog’s fur like it was a stuffed animal.
Baker caught sight of them and waved, then found another cop to stay with the crying woman before he walked over.
“Detectives. Haven’t seen you two in a while.”
“And I’ll bet you didn’t miss us,” Gino said.
Baker shook his head sadly. “No.”
Magozzi gestured toward the woman the sergeant had just been talking to. “I’m guessing she found the body?”
“Yeah.” He grimaced and looked down at the ground. “Actually, I think the dog found it first. And listen, it’s pretty bad. Well, they’re all pretty bad, but this one is worse than most, just so you know. I’ve got the scene laced up tight, but let’s get you two in there before things get crazy on the fringes and the media starts showing up.”
“Where’s the victim?” Gino asked.
"More like a butcher. Sick bastard spent some time on her. And she’s fresh, and not that far off the path. Had to be a night job, or early morning before sunup..."
Baker pointed to a thick cluster of trees in the near distance that was swallowing up the techs Magozzi had seen earlier. Urban Minnesotans loved their beautiful city parks, with all the lakes and trees and tidy, sheltered paths that carved through all kinds of terrain. They were the city’s greatest resource in Magozzi’s opinion, and gave people a chance to pretend they were out in the woods or on a lake someplace else, where there weren’t a million other people breathing down your neck, vying for space, and possibly plotting your demise. But as Gino had intimated earlier, a park was also a good place for the less well-intended to either hunt their prey or stash their dirty deeds. And maybe that would be the next brilliant government plan to crack down on crime—defoliate all the parks. No place to hide a body, problem solved. They would of course totally ignore the fact that woods weren’t the real problem, human nature was. That would be prejudicial, implying that there were actually homicidal maniacs out there in spite of the tree cover. It might hurt the homicidal maniacs’ feelings.
“Take us on a walk, Sergeant,” Magozzi said, tiring of his own cynical thoughts. “You have a way cleared?”
Baker grunted. “Basically, we have a way trampled. This park is loaded in the morning. Last walk for Fido before his owners split for work and lock him in the house so he can chew the windowsills off. When the husky started howling, a lot of other dogs followed, and then their owners. The place looks like the tail end of a cattle drive.”
“Super,” Gino grumbled. “So, who’s running the show?”
“This is your lucky day. Jimmy Grimm is in the building.”
Magozzi felt at least a couple of the six hundred muscles in his body relax a little, hearing the name. Jimmy Grimm was the head tech of the BCA’s crime-scene unit and the gold standard, and it was indeed a lucky day if he caught your scene. Not that there weren’t a dozen talented, seasoned techs in line for his throne when he finally decided to throw in the towel, something he’d been threatening for a while; but Jimmy was special, more like a third partner.
Magozzi, Gino, and Baker crossed a dew-spangled lawn that was dotted with picnic areas, then mounted a rough jogging trail that led through shady woods that didn’t do much to mitigate the swelling heat that was building as the sun lifted higher in the hazy sky. Gino was huffing and puffing after a few minutes, wiping his brow repeatedly with a handkerchief. “Hot,” he muttered, loosening his tie.
After a few minutes, they hit a phalanx of police officers standing behind a far-reaching cordon of crime-scene tape that disappeared into the trees where techs were placing markers. Baker lifted it for them before veering into the brush and heading north down a slight incline. “A little tough going, guys,” he warned. “Watch your step.”
Twigs crunched beneath their feet as they negotiated more rugged terrain, and Magozzi felt the sting of sandburs grabbing hold of his pants and sinking their little needles into his flesh. “She was dragged in here,” he said, pointing out a trail of broken plants just to their right. “Dead or alive?”
Gino paused to crouch near a crushed thornbush. “Get a tech over here with a bag and a marker, Baker. This bush took a bite out of someone.”
“Probably a dog. Or maybe the victim.”
“Or maybe whoever was dragging the victim,” Gino replied, and Baker closed his eyes. He was never going to make Homicide.
Magozzi lifted his head toward the tree canopy when a bird issued a sweet, tuneful call; it was far too cheery a soundtrack for the movie they were all in, already spoiled because they knew the ending. But the pretty birdcall wasn’t loud enough to obscure the hissing buzz of flies.
“Jesus,” Gino whispered, pausing at the perimeter of some sick asshole’s idea of a good time.
Magozzi moved up to stand next to him and stared down at the pretty face of a young woman. He always started with the face. Person first, murder victim second. Late twenties, maybe early thirties, brown hair, brown eyes he wished he could close.
She was splayed on her back, arms outstretched above her head as if she were about to do a backward dive into the shallow, lime- stone ravine just a few steps beyond. There was a dark necklace of bruising around her neck, and when his eyes moved down her torso, he felt his stomach coil tight and his throat close: her Nike-emblazoned sports tank was crisscrossed with deep slashes where flies were feasting. They’d seen this before. “We’ve got a cutter, Gino.”
Gino’s breathing was fast and shallow, and the collar of his blue shirt was already dark with sweat. “More like a butcher. Sick bastard spent some time on her. And she’s fresh, and not that far off the path. Had to be a night job, or early morning before sunup. Even if he’d disabled her before he dragged her here, you can’t do this kind of carving in broad daylight with people walking on a trail a couple hundred yards away.”
“And what does that remind you of?”
“Christ, yeah, I know. Megan Lynn, McLaren’s unsolved from last May.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” Jimmy Grimm said solemnly as his head suddenly popped into view just below them.
“Hey, Jimmy. See anything down there, like a bloody knife?”
“At first glance, no, nothing but a lot of dog crap. I’ll have the team comb through it when they finish with the primary scene.” He lost his footing and slid down the slope a few feet. “Dammit, I can’t get back up. Give me a hand.”
Gino made a daring and treacherous move, balanced on the incline, and offered his hand to pull him up.
Jimmy dusted himself off, put on a new pair of gloves, and regarded them with steady eyes once he was back on solid ground.
“Different park, same scene as Megan Lynn’s last year. Strangulation. Cutting on the torso. No outward signs of sexual assault.”
Magozzi nodded. “Did you check her for a card?”
Gino was the first to see what they’d all been fearing—the out-line of a small rectangle beneath the fabric of the girl’s tank. “Oh, shit,” he murmured.
Jimmy crouched down, delicately reached beneath the fabric, and pulled out a bloody playing card. “Four of spades,” he said quietly.
Gino looked down at his dusty shoes, trying to ignore the unsettling sensation of stepping into a patch of quicksand. “Megan Lynn had the ace of spades.”
“So where’s the two and three?”
More about the author
It's a hot June morning when homicide detectives Magozzi and Rolseth discover the body in the woods. And the playing card left with the victims points to something even more disturbing - the trademark of a serial killer, intent on playing out the deck.
Meanwhile Grace MacBride and her team have been working on a private missing person's investigation. But when Magozzi and Gino turn to Grace for help, they realize the evidence is bafflingly entangled. And to find the connection between a missing woman, a serial killer, and a decades-old stabbing they must confront the worst kind of evil.
PRAISE FOR P. J. TRACY:
'Outrageously suspenseful' Harlan Coben
'A fast-paced gripping read with thrills and devilish twists' Guardian
'A powerful thriller and an ingenious plot' Observer Review
'Some of the best new blood work in the genre . . . Scary funny, witty, and genuinely perplexing right to the end' Glasgow Herald