Field of Graves: New Excerpt

Field of Graves by J.T. Ellison goes back to where it all began, revealing the origins of some of her most famous creations (Available today!).

All of Nashville is on edge with a serial killer on the loose. A madman is trying to create his own end-of-days apocalypse and the cops trying to catch him are almost as damaged as the killer. Field of Graves reveals the origins of some of J.T. Ellison's most famous creations: the haunted Lieutenant Taylor Jackson; her blunt, exceptional best friend, medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens; and troubled FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin. Together, they race the clock and their own demons to find the killer before he claims yet another victim. This dark, thrilling and utterly compelling novel will have readers on the edge of their seats, and Ellison's fans will be delighted with the revelations about their favorite characters.

1

Three months later
Nashville, Tennessee

Bodies, everywhere bodies, a field of graves, limbs and torsos and heads, all left above ground. The feeling of dirt in her mouth, grimy and thick; the whispers from the dead, long arms reaching for her as she passed through the carnage. Ghostly voices, soft and sibilant. “Help us. Why won’t you help us?

Taylor jerked awake, sweating, eyes wild and blind in the dark­ness. The sheets twisted around her body in a claustrophobic shroud, and she struggled to get them untangled. She squeezed her eyes shut, willed her breathing back to normal, trying to relax, to let the grisly images go. When she opened her eyes, the room was still dark but no longer menacing. Her screams had faded away into the silence. The cat jumped off the bed with a disgruntled meow in response to her thrashing.

She laid her head back on the pillow, swallowed hard, still unable to get a full breath.

Every damn night. She was starting to wonder if she’d ever sleep well again.

She wiped a hand across her face and looked at the clock: 6:10 a.m. The alarm was set for seven, but she wasn’t going to get any more rest. She might as well get up and get ready for work. Go in a little early, see what horrors had captured the city overnight.

She rolled off the bed, trying hard to forget the dream. Show­ered, dressed, dragged on jeans and a black cashmere T-shirt under a black motorcycle jacket, stepped into her favorite boots. Put her creds in her pocket and her gun on her hip. Pulled her wet hair off her face and into a ponytail.

Time to face another day.

She was in her car when the call came. “Morning, Fitz. What’s up?”

“Morning, LT. We have us a body at the Parthenon.”

“I’ll be right there.”

It might have become a perfect late-autumn morning. The sky was busy, turning from white to blue as dawn rudely forced its way into day. Birds were returning from their mysterious nocturnal errands, greeting and chattering about the night’s af­fairs. The air was clear and heavy, still muggy from the over­night heat but holding a hint of coolness, like an ice cube dropped into a steaming mug of coffee. The sky would soon shift to sapphire the way only autumn skies do, as clear and heavy as the precious stone itself.

The beauty of the morning was lost on Lieutenant Taylor Jackson, Criminal Investigation Division, Nashville Metro Po­lice. She snapped her long body under the yellow crime scene tape and looked around for a moment. Sensed the looks from the officers around her. Straightened her shoulders and marched toward them.

Metro officers had been traipsing around the crime scene control area like it was a cocktail party, drinking coffee and chatting each other up as though they’d been apart for weeks, not hours. The grass was already littered with cups, cigarette butts, crumpled notebook paper, and at least one copy of the morning’s sports section from The Tennessean. Taylor cursed silently; they knew better than this. These yahoos were going to inadvertently contaminate a crime scene one of these days, sending her team off on a wild-goose chase. Guess whose ass would be in the proverbial sling then?

She stooped to grab the sports page, surreptitiously glanced at the headline regaling the Tennessee Titans’ latest win, then crumpled it into a firm ball in her hands.

Taylor didn’t know what information about the murder had leaked out over the air, but the curiosity factor had obviously kicked into high gear. An officer she recognized from another sector was cruising by to check things out, not wanting to miss out on all the fun. Media vans lined the street. Joggers pretend­ing not to notice anything was happening nearly tripped try­ing to see what all the fuss was about. Exactly what she needed on no sleep: everyone willing to help, to get in and screw up her crime scene.

Striding toward the melee, she tried to tell herself that it wasn’t their fault she’d been up all night. At least she’d had a shower and downed two Diet Cokes, or she would have ar­rested them all.

She reached the command post and pasted on a smile. “Mornin’, kids. How many of you have dragged this crap through my crime scene?” She tossed the balled-up paper at the closest officer.

She tried to keep her tone light, as if she were amused by their shenanigans, but she didn’t fool anyone, and the levity disappeared from the gathering. The brass was on the scene, so all the fun had come to a screeching halt. Uniforms who didn’t belong started to drift away, one or two giving Taylor a sideways glance. She ignored them, the way she ignored most things these days.

As a patrol officer, she’d kept her head down, worked her cases, and developed a reputation for being a straight shooter. Her dedication and clean work had been rewarded with promo­tion after promotion; she was in plainclothes at twenty-eight. She’d caught a nasty first case in Homicide—the kidnapping and murder of a young girl. She’d nailed the bastard who’d done it; Richard Curtis was on death row now. The case made the national news and sent her career into overdrive. She quickly became known for being a hard-hitting investigator and moved up the ranks from detective to lead to sergeant, until she’d been given the plum job she had now—homicide lieutenant.

If her promotion to lieutenant at the tender age of thirty-four had rankled some of the more traditional officers on the force, the death of David Martin—one of their own—made it ten times worse. There were always going to be cops who tried to make her life difficult; it was part of being a chick on the force, part of having a reputation. Taylor was tough, smart, and liked to do things her own way to get the job done. The majority of the men she worked with had great respect for her abilities. There were always going to be detractors, cops who whispered behind her back, but in Taylor’s mind, success trumped rumor every time.

Then Martin had decided to ruin her life and nearly derailed her career in the process. She was still clawing her way back.

Taylor’s second in command, Detective Pete Fitzgerald, lum­bered toward her, the ever-present unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He’d quit a couple of years before, after a minor heart attack, but kept one around to light in case of an emer­gency. Fitz had an impressive paunch; his belly reached Taylor before the rest of his body.

“Hey, LT. Sorry I had to drag you away from your beauty sleep.” He looked her over, concern dawning in his eyes. “I was just kidding. What’s up with you? You look like shit warmed over.”

Taylor waved a hand in dismissal. “Didn’t sleep. Aren’t we supposed to have some sort of eclipse this morning? I think it’s got me all out of whack.”

Fitz took the hint and backed down. “Yeah, we are.” He looked up quickly, shielding his eyes with his hand. “See, it’s already started.”

He was right. The moon was moving quickly across the sun, the crime scene darkening by the minute. “Eerie,” she said.

He looked back at her, blinking hard. “No kidding. Remind me not to stare into the sun again.”

“Will do. Celestial phenomenon aside, what do we have here?”

“Okay, darlin’, here we go. We have a couple of lovebirds who decided to take an early morning stroll—found themselves a deceased Caucasian female on the Parthenon’s steps. She’s sit­ting up there pretty as you please, just leaning against the gate in front of the Parthenon doors like she sat down for a rest. Naked as a jaybird, and very, very dead.”

Taylor turned her gaze to the Parthenon. One of her fa­vorite sites in Nashville, smack-dab in the middle of Centen­nial Park, the full-size replica was a huge draw for tourists and classicists alike. The statue of Athena inside was awe-inspiring. She couldn’t count how many school field trips she’d been on here over the years. Leaving a body on the steps was one hell of a statement.

“Where are the witnesses?”

“Got the lovebirds separated, but the woman’s having fits—we haven’t been able to get a full statement. The scene’s taped off. Traffic on West End has been blocked off, and we’ve closed all roads into and around Centennial Park. ME and her team have been here about fifteen minutes. Oh, and our killer was here at some point, too.” He grinned at her lopsidedly. “He dumped her sometime overnight, only the duckies and geese in the lake saw him. This is gonna be a bitch to canvass. Do you think we can admit ‘AFLAC’ as a statement in court?”

Taylor gave him a quick look and a perfunctory laugh, more amused at imagining Fitz waddling about like the duck from the insurance ads quacking than at his irreverent attitude. She knew better, but it did seem as if he was having a good time. Taylor understood that sometimes, inappropriate attempts at humor were the only way a cop could make it through the day, so she chastised him gently. “You’ve got a sick sense of humor, Fitz.” She sighed, turning off all personal thoughts, becoming a cop again. All business, all the time. That’s what they needed to see from her.

“We’ll probably have to go public and ask who was here last night and when, but I’m not holding my breath that we’ll get anything helpful, so let’s put it off for now.”

He nodded in agreement. “Do you want to put up the chop­per? Probably useless—whoever dumped her is long gone.”

“I think you’re right.” She jerked her head toward the Par­thenon steps. “What’s he trying to tell us?”

Fitz looked toward the doors of the Parthenon, where the medical examiner was crouched over the naked body. His voice dropped, and he suddenly became serious. “I don’t know, but this is going to get ugly, Taylor. I got a bad feeling.”

Taylor held a hand up to cut him off. “C’mon, man, they’re all ugly. It’s too early to start spinning. Let’s just get through the morning. Keep the frickin’ media out of here—put ’em down in the duck shit if you have to. You can let them know which roads are closed so they can get the word out to their traffic helicopters, but that’s it. Make sure the uniforms keep everyone off the tape. I don’t want another soul in here until I have a chance to be fully briefed by all involved. Has the Park Police captain shown up yet?”

Fitz shook his head. “Nah. They’ve called him, but I haven’t seen him.”

“Well, find him, too. Make sure they know which end is up. Let’s get the perimeter of this park searched, grid by grid, see if we find something. Get K-9 out here, let them do an article search. Since the roads are already shut off, tell them to expand the perimeter one thousand feet outside the borders of the park. I want to see them crawling around like ants at a picnic. I see any of them hanging in McDonald’s before this is done, I’m kicking some butt.”

Fitz gave her a mock salute. “I’m on it. When Sam deter­mined she was dumped, I went ahead and called K-9, and pulled all the officers coming off duty. We may have an overtime situ­ation, but I figured with your, um, finesse…” He snorted out the last word, and Taylor eyed him coolly.

“I’ll handle it.” She pushed her hair back from her face and reestablished her hurried ponytail. “Get them ready for all hell to break loose. I’m gonna go talk to Sam.”

“Glad to serve, love. Now go see Sam, and let the rest of us grunts do our jobs. If you decide you want the whirlybird, give me a thumbs-up.” He blew her a kiss and marched toward the command post, snapping his fingers at the officers to get their attention.

Turning toward the building, she caught a stare from one of the older patrols. His gaze was hostile, lip curled in a sneer. She gave him her most brilliant smile, making his scowl deepen. She broke off the look, shaking her head. She didn’t have time to worry about politics right now.

 

Copyright © 2016 J.T. Ellison.

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J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of 14 critically acclaimed novels and co-writes with #1 NYT bestseller Catherine Coulter. The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original.  Visit http://JTEllison.com

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