Animal Instinct by David Rosenfelt: Featured Excerpt
By Crime HQMarch 17, 2021
LISA Yates was trying to live normally.
That’s what she was telling herself, although the truth was that she was merely trying to appear as if nothing was wrong. That was not easy to do, because something was very wrong, and there was no longer anything normal about her life.
Lisa Yates was terrified.
She had been living with that fear for a long time. She finally decided that she would face it directly, but doing so was an extraordinarily risky proposition. This was not necessarily an act of courage, because she believed, knew in her soul, that not doing anything was even more dangerous.
The other thing she knew was that success depended on no one suspecting what she was planning. She was afraid to do it alone; something like going to the police or FBI scared her. She had decided she needed a lawyer, but did not know who to approach. And she had to be extraordinarily careful in whatever she did.
They could well be watching.
So this was intended to seem to be a normal evening out. She had no desire to go out; her inclination was to stay at home, obsess about her situation, and go over her plan for the thousandth time. Instead she’d spend a couple of hours making small talk, more for show than to help her forget her dilemma. Nothing could get her to forget.
So she went out to dinner with Una Loge, a former colleague at work who had left when she got married. Lisa had stayed fairly close with Una and her husband, Dave, but Lisa’s own domestic situation by its very nature kept them somewhat apart. Lisa’s domestic situation, at least until a month ago, was a train wreck.
They went to Manero’s, in Teaneck. While pretending to be attentive and in the moment, Lisa let Una do most of the talking. But while Lisa was physically present, her mind was a million miles away.
The dinner took a little over two hours. Lisa revealed nothing about herself, not even sharing stories about the office, though Una still knew most of the people there. Una could tell that something was wrong and inquired about it, but when Lisa said that everything was fine, Una backed off. She wanted to give her friend space but was clearly worried for her.
Lisa quickly grabbed the check when it arrived, more in desperation to end the dinner than to show generosity. She had to get out of there, her mind was exploding, and she couldn’t pretend anymore. She told Una that she could pay next time, though Lisa doubted there would be a next time.
They said good night at the restaurant’s front door and Lisa walked to her car on the street, not more than fifty feet away, while Una stayed behind, having used valet parking.
Lisa had just reached her car when she heard the noise. In that split second, she knew what was happening, but she did not have time to react, and she did not feel the bullet pierce her skull.
She would never be afraid again.
I am staring fear in the face; it is coming at me in waves.
I don’t mean that as a metaphor; the waves are literally coming at me . . . one after another, in varying sizes and strengths.
I am standing at the water’s edge of the Eighth Avenue Dog Beach in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I rarely came to Asbury Park as a kid; in those days it was in decline and disrepair. I never understood how that could happen to a city with such a large and beautiful beach; it would seem to be a prime real estate location and immune to such a fate.
But the municipal decay was an unfortunate fact, so for our vacations, the Douglas family always went a bit farther south, to Long Beach Island. Since then Asbury has made a remarkable comeback and is now a thriving community . . . and the dog beach is cool.
So here I am.
With me at the moment are Dani Kendall, who I can no longer deny is my serious girlfriend, and Simon Garfunkel, my longtime pal and partner. Simon is a German shepherd and functioned as my K-9 comrade on the Paterson police force for almost eight years, before our recent simultaneous retirement.
My earliest fear in life was as a result of my first trip to the beach. I was with my mother and brother, and we were staying in a boarding house on Long Beach Island. We used to go there for a two-week vacation every summer, but my father would come down only on weekends. He was a sergeant in the Paterson PD, and he worked overtime as much as he could. I can never remember him taking a weekday off. Even taking Saturday and Sunday during our vacation was a major concession on his part.
I was probably four years old and excited to be going in the ocean for the first time. Then my mother killed that feeling of anticipation by warning me of the undertow, or riptide, or what-ever she called it. It was an invisible, mysterious force in the water capable of dragging small children off to certain, horrible death. And, according to her, it was relentless and overpowering; once a child was in its grip, it was over.
So the four-year-old Corey Douglas did not go in the ocean that day, or any day since. Literally never; I’ve always considered the downside to be too great.
It’s not a phobia. The dictionary defines phobia as an inexplicable or irrational fear. That doesn’t apply here; it’s very rational to be afraid of being dragged to one’s death by the ocean monster known as riptide.
The irony is that I have spent my life attacking and overcoming fear; as a cop the criticism most often levied at me was that I was not cautious enough. I think that’s fair; I took it as a badge of honor that I didn’t let being afraid stop me from doing something. In fact, it provided an extra impetus.
I’ve also discovered that when you refuse to give in to fear over so many years, then you stop having to make the gesture of refusing, because you stop being fearful. The trick is to remain careful and cautious without that fear as a motivation.
But I’ve never gone into the ocean, and I’m never going to. That has remained a riptide too far.
“You going in?” Dani asks.
“Not in this lifetime.” She knows my feeling about this, but was just checking to see if I’d bite the bullet.
“What about Simon?”
“He and I have discussed it, and he shares my views on the matter.”
She holds up a tennis ball, one of a half dozen that we’ve brought along. “Should I try?”
I nod. “Fine with me. But you’re wasting your time. Simon and I are land animals.”
Dani rears back and throws the ball into the water, getting it maybe thirty yards in. As she does, she yells, “Go get it, Simon.”
And he does.
He plunges in like he’s been doing it all his life; all he’s missing is a surfboard. I have no idea how he does it, but within thirty seconds he’s got the tennis ball in his mouth and is heading back to us. He drops the ball at Dani’s feet, triumphant.
He looks so damn happy, and I’m glad of that. But my dominant feelings are relief that he has conquered the dreaded riptide, and guilt for having deprived him of this joy his whole life. Simon has suffered because of my reaction to something my mother said to me when I was four.
The sins of the father shall be visited upon the son.
“You learn something every day,” Dani says, handing me the ball.
I throw it in, not as far as Dani did because I’m being protective of Simon. Maybe the riptide was backing off the first time, trying to make him overconfident.
He dives back in, repeating the retrieval, and this time dropping the ball at my feet. He looks at me with a combination of eagerness for me to continue the game, and disdain at my personal wimpiness.
At least that’s my impression.
“Come on, let’s take a walk along the water,” Dani says.
“You going to take off your sneakers?”
It hadn’t entered my mind, and I notice for the first time that Dani is barefoot. Simon is bare pawed, per usual.
“Do I have to?” I may not be the most free-spirited soul you could run into.
“Of course not; there are no sneaker police on the beach. But most people do. It feels good.”
“We’re walking in dirt. That feels good? I believe shoes and sneakers were originally in ven ted to prevent people from having to walk in dirt.”
“It’s sand, Corey.”
“That is a distinction without a difference.” I think about it for a few moments, then, “Okay, what the hell.”
So we have a nice barefoot walk, throwing the ball into the water along the way. I can’t remember the last time I saw Simon so happy and exhausted.
“I wish I didn’t have to leave,” Dani says.
Dani works as an event planner, and she’s doing a big corporate gathering in Miami. She’ll be gone for a week. “So do I,” I say. “But we’ll have this dirt walk as a memory to hold on to.”
When we’re finished, we stop for brunch at an outdoor café. We both like to read the newspaper in situations like this; it’s one of the many things I like about Dani. She’s comfortable talking or not talking; it doesn’t seem to matter to her either way.
We buy a Newark Star-Ledger; I take the sports section and she has the rest. We’ll trade off as we go along. We order food; she and I each have pancakes and we get Simon a bagel and some scrambled eggs, along with a dish of water.
After a few minutes, she says, “Oh.” It is not a happy oh.
“What’s the matter?”
“A woman was murdered in Teaneck last night.”
I’m a cop, or at least I was a cop. Now I’m an investigator, and I’m still interested in these things. “Let me see.”
She hands me the paper and I look at the story. The entire newspaper seems to explode in my face; I read for a few moments and then lean back in my chair, trying to catch my breath.
“What’s the matter?” Dani asks. “Did you know her?”
“I might have killed her.”
I almost never second-guess myself. I make choices and then live with the consequences, positive or negative.
I always felt that it was part of the job of being a cop. We had to make decisions all the time, sometimes in a split second. So my view is that you do the best you can, in the time you have, and then you move on. That’s been true both in my work and in my personal life.
I don’t think I have looked back with regret on more than a handful of decisions I made in the twenty-five years I was a cop. But there is one that I could never wipe from my mind; one that I feared would come back to haunt me. And it has.
The late Lisa Yates.
Lisa Yates is the reason I’ve called this meeting of the K Team. We call ourselves that because we’re a team, and because among our members is Simon, the former K-9 cop. Okay, we’re not great at team naming, but I rate us as damn good investigators.
We’re meeting at Laurie’s house, which is what we usually do. That way I can bring Simon, and he can play with Laurie and her husband Andy’s dogs. Tara is their golden retriever, and Simon’s best friend. Sebastian is their basset hound, who shows little interest in playing, or, for that matter, moving. Sebastian is into energy conservation.
Besides myself, the human members of the team are Laurie Collins and Marcus Clark. Laurie is also a former cop, a lieutenant in the Paterson police force. At one point she also went back to her hometown of Findlay, Wisconsin, where she spent a year as their police chief.
She came back because she missed the man that would eventually become her husband, Andy Carpenter. Andy is a defense attorney, and Laurie served as his chief investigator, until the K Team took over that role. Andy is a brilliant attorney, and I say that grudgingly, because he is also a major pain in the ass. Laurie’s weakness for him, as far as I can tell, is her only flaw.
Marcus Clark is fairly tough to describe. You know that line about someone being the type you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley? You wouldn’t want to meet Marcus in a dark alley, or a well-lit alley, or a back alley, or a bowling alley, or an alley-oop.
Marcus is an incredibly scary guy, and he’s tougher than he is scary. But he’s on our side, which is quite comforting.
I haven’t told Laurie and Marcus why we’re meeting, but I’m going to do so now. “I don’t know if you guys read about it, but a woman named Lisa Yates was murdered last Saturday night in Teaneck. She had just had dinner with a friend at Manero’s. She was fired on from someone in a moving car, and two other people were also wounded. Their injuries seem not to be life threatening.
“Lisa and her dinner companion had just said good-bye, and Lisa walked to her car. As she reached the door, she was shot twice and died at the scene.”
“I read about it,” Laurie says. Marcus doesn’t say anything, which is no surprise because Marcus almost never says anything. When he does talk, it comes out as grunts that are indecipherable to everyone but Laurie.
“About three months before I left the force, which makes it about a year ago, there was a labor-management dispute within the department over lack of raises.”
Laurie nods; she was long gone from the force at that point, but as an ex-cop I’m sure she remembers it and was supportive. It was a pretty big media story in Paterson, mainly because there was what they called a blue-out, which means that a bunch of cops called in sick in protest.
“Those of us that showed up were given assignments that weren’t typical for us, depending on where the shortages were. I wound up working the streets without Simon; he got some time off. I also worked alone; there just weren’t enough cops to have two in a car.
“One night I got a call for a suspected domestic violence on Derrom Avenue, on the other side of the park. A neighbor heard yelling and what sounded like a woman screaming in pain. He called nine-one-one and reported that it was not the first time this had happened.
“It was a really nice house; whoever lived there was obviously well-off. There were two people in the home, a man and woman. His name was Gerald Kline. Her name, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, was Lisa Yates. The house was owned by her.
“They claimed not to be married, but lived there together. Lisa was clearly upset and had a red welt on the side of her face.
“Both of them swore that no domestic violence had occurred, that Lisa had tripped and fell and that’s how she got the bruise. I didn’t believe it, not even close, so I put them in separate rooms so I could talk to her without the guy present.
“She wouldn’t change her story that nothing happened and that of course therefore she would not press charges. I told her that I didn’t believe her, and that I would protect her if she told me what really happened, but I got nowhere.
“I went back into the other room and told Gerald Kline that if he ever laid a finger on her again, I would beat the shit out of him, and then beat the shit out of him again, just to show that the first time wasn’t a fluke. He just smiled this annoying smile; he was silently telling me that he wasn’t afraid of me and would do whatever the hell he wanted. In just that brief encounter, I disliked him intensely.
“But I left because I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I filed a report and that was the end of it. I still don’t know what else I could have done that night, but it has bugged me ever since. Police procedure was clear, and I followed it. But I should have checked on her later on, since then, to make sure she was okay.
“So I filed a report and went on my way. And now she’s dead.”
“This is not something you should be blaming yourself for, Corey,” Laurie says. “You did it by the book. What should you have done? Followed her for a year? Served as her bodyguard?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I could have checked up on her once in a while. Maybe I could have demonstrated to her asshole boyfriend that he really had something to be afraid of. Maybe I could have done something so that she wouldn’t be dead.”
Marcus just shakes his head, his way of registering his disagreement with what I’m saying.
“So why are we meeting about this?” Laurie asks.
“Because I’m going to be out of commission for a while. I know we’re in the middle of wrapping up two cases, but you don’t need me to finish them. I need to be working on this case.”
“Where are the police on it?”
“I don’t know; I’m going to find out. I waited almost a week to see if they’d make a quick arrest, but since they haven’t, I’m going to nail Kline myself.”
“You sure it was him?”
“No way I can be sure, but he is a scumbag, and he smacked her around. So I’m guessing it’s him. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. But it will give me a lot of pleasure to hassle him regardless, and I want to catch her killer. I owe her that much.”
“So where do we start?” Laurie asks.
“We don’t start; I start. There’s no client here. This is a freebie.”
She smiles. “That’s okay; money is overrated. Right, Marcus?”
“Yuhhh,” Marcus says, pretty much summing up in one grunt why I like our team.
“Okay, thanks, guys. If you’re sure. For now please just ask Sam Willis to find out what he can about our two main players.” Sam Willis is an accountant who does investigative work for Andy Carpenter. Sam is a genius on a computer; there is virtually nothing he can’t find out.
Andy, when he uses Sam, is unconcerned with whether Sam wanders into websites that are illegal to enter. When we use him, we try to avoid that, though I think he occasionally steps over the line. “Tell him nothing illegal,” I add.
“ Will do,” Laurie says, “but Marcus and I are here and ready to do what we can.”
“I know and I appreciate that,” I say. “Let me nose around first.”
BETWEEN us, I think Laurie and I know every cop in New Jersey.
That can come in handy in a number of ways. For example, we’re unlikely to get a speeding ticket. But more impor tant, especially in our line of work, we have access to information. In our business, information is the coin of the realm.
Today we are taking advantage of one of Laurie’s contacts. We’re waiting in the Suburban Diner on Route 17 in Paramus for Lieutenant Stan Battersby of Teaneck PD. Battersby works homicide, so we’re looking for information on the Lisa Yates murder. He and Laurie worked together on a case back in the day, which she tells me resulted in a conviction.
It’s lunchtime so the place is crowded. We have a table near the back, but we can see the entrance. A guy comes in and I immediately know it’s Battersby; cops just carry themselves differently. Battersby might as well have I’m a cop tattooed on his forehead.
Laurie sees him as well and waves him over. They hug hello and she introduces us. He sits down and Laurie asks if he’s hungry.
“Who’s buying?” he asks.
“We are,” I say.
He smiles and smacks his hands together in anticipation. “Let’s get some menus over here.”
We all order, and then I have to sit through ten minutes of them reminiscing about the case they worked on. Cases that end with an arrest and conviction generally lead to greater reflection. Nostalgia works that way.
“You still living with that asshole?” Battersby asks.
“If you’re by chance referring to Andy, we’re married with an eleven-year-old son.”
He laughs. “You married him even though you knew I was available?”
Laurie returns the laugh. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Andy Carpenter is probably New Jersey’s most famous defense attorney. In achieving that prominence, he has pretty much alienated every police officer on the East Coast. That Laurie is his wife doesn’t even matter, and she has to deal with comments like this fairly consistently.
I include myself in that alienation; our history consisted of an unpleasant cross-examination in an otherwise-now-forgotten trial. It did not go well for me, but I only hold grudges until I die, and maybe a couple of years after that.
“We want to talk to you about the Lisa Yates murder,” I say.
He nods. “Tough one.”
“It was likely a professional hit, but there is nothing about her that would seem to warrant that. And the other two that were wounded seem like innocent bystanders as well. Yates was a nine to fiver; she doesn’t fit the profile, but I think she was the target.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Two bullets: one in the head and one in the heart. Perfect placement. The other two people each got it in the leg. My hunch is that they were hit to make it look like a random shooting. Though my captain disagrees.”
“What does he think?”
“That it was just a drive-by. Random violence, anyone could have been the target. My captain is full of shit.”
“What about Gerald Kline?” I ask.
“What about him?”
The waitress comes over to serve the food, so I wait for her to leave before answering. By this time Battersby is deep into his open hot roast beef sandwich, and gravy is dripping from his mouth.
“Gerald Kline is her boyfriend, or at least he was. I was called to her house in Paterson on a DV about a year and a half ago; he had smacked her and drawn blood.”
This gets Battersby to put down his fork. “I know who Kline is. But your DV report wasn’t in the record.”
“I filed it; I’m surprised it didn’t work its way to you. But it never went anywhere. She wouldn’t press charges and they both denied the whole thing. She said she fell.”
He frowns. “ Women seem to fall and walk into doors a lot, especially the ones that hang out with asshole men. I’ve checked out Kline, but he has an alibi for that night. He was giving a seminar on something or other on Long Island.”
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t hire someone,” I say.
“No, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t really fit the domestic violence pattern.”
“Do you mind if we get involved?” Laurie asks.
Battersby immediately looks wary. “Define involved.”
“We investigate the case, but we do it without stepping on your toes. Any actionable information we get, we turn over to you.”
“You have a client somewhere in this?”
“No,” I say, “just a desire to see justice done.”
The light goes on in his eyes. “ You’re blaming yourself for not making an arrest on the DV? Come on, you know that’s bullshit.”
“Kline is a piece of garbage. He was laughing at me that night, as much as telling me that he could do whatever he wanted, and I couldn’t touch him. So right now I want to touch him; in fact, I want to strangle him. There’s no law against that, is there?”
Battersby laughs. “Go for it.”
“So to get back to the original question,” Laurie says. “Do you mind if we get involved?”
“What if I mind?” Battersby asks.
“We’ll get involved anyway. But we’ll be less forthcoming with information.”
He shrugs his acceptance. “All hands on deck. But give me a couple of days to talk to Kline again before you beat the shit out of him.”
“Deal,” I say. “You want dessert?”
Battersby nods. “Damn straight. And I think we should have regular lunch meetings to discuss the case.”
Copyright © 2021 by Tara Productions, Inc.
About Animal Instinct by David Rosenfelt:
Corey Douglas and his K-9 partner, a German shepherd named Simon Garfunkel, are recently retired police officers turned private investigators. Along with fellow former cop Laurie Collins and her investigating partner, Marcus, they call themselves the K Team, in honor of Simon.
The K Team’s latest case – a recent unsolved murder – gives Corey a chance to solve “the one that got away”. Corey knew the murder victim from his time on the force, when he was unable to protect her in a domestic dispute. Now, he is convinced the same abusive boyfriend is responsible for her murder. With some help from Laurie’s lawyer husband, Andy Carpenter, the K Team is determined to prove what the police could not, no matter the cost. What they uncover is much more sinister than they could have imagined.
Known for his dog-loving stories and addictive characters, bestselling mystery author David Rosenfelt presents Animal Instinct, the second installment in this engrossing new series about a dynamite investigative team and their canine partner.