Dec 8 2014 11:00am
Five by Ursula Archer: New Excerpt
Five by Ursula Archer introduces Austrian Detective Inspector Beatrice Kaspary who, with her colleague Florin Wenninger, will investigate a corpse tattooed with GPS coordinates to find a killer who's geo-caching more (available December 9, 2014).
A woman’s corpse is discovered in a meadow. A strange combination of letters and numbers has been tattooed on the soles of her feet. Detective inspector Beatrice Kaspary from Salzburg's murder squad quickly identifies the digits as map coordinates. These lead to a series of gruesome discoveries as she and her colleague Florin Wenninger embark on a bloody trail – a modern-day scavenger hunt using GPS navigation devices to locate hidden caches. The “owner” of these unofficial, unpublished geocaches is a highly calculating and elusive fiend who leaves his victims’ body-parts sealed in plastic bags, complete with riddles that culminate in a five-stage plot. Kaspary herself becomes an unwilling pawn in the perpetrator’s game of cat and mouse as she risks all to uncover the motives behind the murderer’s actions.
The place where his left ear used to be was throbbing to the rhythm of his heartbeat. Fast and panicked. His breath came out in short, loud gasps. Nora was just a few steps away from him, leaning over the table where the pistol and knife lay. Her face was contorted, but she was no longer crying.
“Please,” he whispered, his voice hoarse. “Please don’t do it.”
Now she let out a dry, strangled sob. “Be quiet.”
“Why won’t you untie me? We still have a chance . . . please just untie me, okay? Okay?”
She didn’t respond. Her right hand wavered shakily over the weapons, which gave off a dull gleam in the light of the naked bulb.
His whole body convulsed with fear. He writhed around on the chair, twisting as far as the ropes would let him. They cut into his flesh, burning him, as unyielding as steel bands.
But it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not my . . .
He screwed his eyes tightly shut, only to open them again. He had to see what was happening. Nora’s hand was on the knife now.
“No!” he screamed, or at least he thought he did. “Help me! Why won’t anyone help me?” But now, when he most needed it, his voice had abandoned him. It was gone, and soon everything would be gone, for all eternity. His breath, his pulse, his thoughts. Everything.
Tears he was unable to wipe away blurred his sight of Nora, who was still standing there in front of the table. She gave a long, drawn-out wail, softer than a scream, louder than a groan. He blinked.
She had picked up the pistol, her right hand quivering like an old lady’s. “I’m sorry,” she said.
He wrenched his body backward and forward in desperation, almost tipping over the chair. Then he felt the cool metal against his cheek and froze.
“Close your eyes,” she said.
Her hand touched his head gently. He felt her fear, as great as his own. But she would carry on breathing, carry on talking, carry on living.
“No,” he whispered tonelessly, finding his voice again at last. He looked up at Nora, who now stood right in front of him. He wished he had never heard her name.
N47° 46.605 E013° 21.718
The early morning mist enveloped her like a damp shroud. The dead woman was lying on her stomach, the grass beneath her soaked with dew and blood. The cows were taking care not to graze there, which was easy enough; the meadow was large, and the thing lying there in the shadow of the rock face unsettled them. A brown cow had ventured over shortly after sunrise, lowering her heavy head and licking the flaxen strands of hair with her rough tongue. But finding her discovery to be unpalatable, she had soon returned to the rest of the herd.
They kept their distance. Most of them just lay there, chewing their cud and staring out at the river. But even the ones that were still grazing avoided straying too close. The scent of death made them uneasy. They much preferred to stay where the first beams of sunlight were pushing through the mist, etching bright patterns onto the meadow.
The brown cow trotted across to drink from the trough. With every step, the clapper in her bell struck against the metal, producing a tinny sound. The rest of the herd didn’t even swivel their ears. They just stared stoically at the water, their lower jaws grinding constantly, their tails lashing to swat away the first flies of the day.
A gentle gust of wind swept over the meadow, brushing the woman’s hair aside and exposing her face. Her small, upturned nose. The birthmark next to the right-hand corner of her mouth. Her lips, now far too pale. Only her forehead remained covered, where her hair and skin were matted with blood.
The morning mist slowly frayed out to form isolated veils. These eventually wafted away, clearing the view of the meadow, the cattle, and the unwanted gift which had been left there for them. The brown cow’s muffled lowing greeted the new day.
As always, Beatrice took the stairs two steps at a time. She skidded along the corridor, racing past the second door on the left. Just seven steps to go. Six. Reaching her office, she saw that no one was there but Florin. Thank God for that.
“Has he been in yet?” she asked, slinging her rucksack onto the revolving chair and her folder onto the desk.
“Good morning to you too!”
How did Florin always manage to stay so upbeat? She hurled her jacket toward the coatrack, missed, and swore loudly.
“Sit yourself down and catch your breath, I’ll get that.” Florin stood up, picked her jacket up from the floor and hung it carefully on one of the hooks.
“Thank you.” She turned her computer on and hurriedly emptied the contents of the folder onto her desk. “I would have been on time, but Jakob’s teacher caught me.”
Florin went over to the espresso machine and started pressing buttons. She saw him nod. “What was it this time?”
“He had a temper tantrum, and the class mascot caught the brunt of it.”
“Oh. Was it a living thing, dare I ask?”
“No. A stuffed owl called Elvira. But you wouldn’t believe what a huge drama it caused. At least ten children in the class were in floods of tears. I offered to send a crisis intervention team across, but the teacher wasn’t amused. Anyway, now I need to arrange a substitute Elvira before Friday.”
“That sounds like quite a challenge.”
He frothed the milk, pressed the button for double espresso, and then crowned his work with a little dusting of cocoa. Florin’s calm demeanor was gradually starting to work its magic on Beatrice. As he put the steaming cup down in front of her, she realized she was smiling.
He sat down at the opposite side of their desk and surveyed her thoughtfully. “You look as though you didn’t get much sleep.”
You can say that again. “Everything’s fine,” she mumbled, staring intently at her coffee in the hope that Florin would be content with her brief response.
“No nocturnal calls?”
There certainly had been. One at half past eleven, and another at three in the morning. The second had woken Mina, who hadn’t gone back to sleep again for an hour afterward.
Beatrice shrugged. “He’ll give up eventually.”
“You have to change your number, Bea, it’s been going on long enough. Don’t keep giving him the opportunity to wear you down. You are the police, for heaven’s sake! There are steps you can take.”
The coffee was perfect. In the two years they had been working together, Florin had gradually perfected the ideal blend of coffee beans, milk, and sugar. Beatrice leaned back and closed her eyes for a few seconds, longing for just one moment of relaxation, however brief it might be.
“If I change the number, he’ll be on my doorstep before I can count to ten. And he is their father, after all, he has a right to contact his children.”
She heard Florin sigh. “By the way,” he said, “Hoffman’s already been in.”
Shit. “Really? So why isn’t my monitor covered in Post-its?”
“I appeased him by saying you’d phoned and were on an outside call. He pulled a sour face, but didn’t say a word. The good news is that we’ll have some peace from him today because he’s in meetings.”
That was fantastic news. Beatrice put her cup down, tried to relax her tensed shoulder muscles, and started to sort through the files on her desk. She would finally get a chance to work on her report about the stabbing; Hoffmann had been nagging her to do it for ages. She glanced over at Florin, who was staring intently at his monitor with an expression of utter confusion. A strand of his dark hair fell forward, almost into his eyes. Clickclickclick. Beatrice’s gaze was drawn to his hand as it clasped the mouse. Strong, masculine hands: her old vice.
“Problem?” she asked.
“Anything I can help with?”
A thoughtful crease formed between his eyebrows. “I don’t know. The selection of antipasti is a serious matter.”
She laughed. “Ah, I see. So when does Anneke arrive?”
“In three days’ time. I think I’ll make vitello tonnato. Or maybe bruschetta? Damn it, I wish I knew whether she’s eating carbs at the moment.”
Discussing menu planning wasn’t a good idea; Beatrice’s stomach immediately made itself heard. Quickly thinking back over what she had eaten so far today—an inventory that amounted to two biscuits— she decided she was perfectly entitled to feel hungry.
“I’d vote for vitello tonnato,” she said, “and a quick trip downstairs to the cafe?.”
“Already?” He caught her gaze and smiled. “Okay then. I’ll just print this out and then—”
The telephone rang, interrupting him. Once he answered the call, it was only a few seconds before his dark expression told Beatrice to forget about the tuna fish baguette she had been dreaming of.
“We’ll be there right away.” He hung up the phone and looked at her. “We’ve got a body, female, near Abtenau. It seems she fell from the rock face.”
“Oh shit. Sounds like a climbing accident.”
Florin’s eyebrows knitted together, forming a dark beam over his eyes. “Hardly. Not unless she was climbing with her hands tied.”
Copyright ©2014 Ursula Archer
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Ursula Archer is a science journalist and an award-winning author of YA and children's books. Five is her first adult mystery. She lives in Vienna, Austria, with her family.