Fractured: New Excerpt

Fractured by Kate Watterson is the 4th mystery featuring Detective Elle MacIntosh set in Milwaukee where romance and murder collide as a serial killer runs free (available March 10, 2015).

Milwaukee homicide detective Ellie MacIntosh's bizarre case takes gruesome to a new level—and is eerily and frustratingly familiar. She has seen the signature work of the killer before, but cannot connect the victims. There isn't a single suspect in sight, but at least the case gives Ellie something to focus on instead of her chaotic personal life.

Ellie's partner, Jason Santiago, is glad to be back on the job, even on a disturbing case like this one. Working with Ellie has evolved into a tangled relationship that is no longer platonic, at least to him. The trouble is, she has no idea how he feels. Jason's chance to make a move is now, but he's paralyzed by the fear he will ruin both his career and a partnership he values more than any he has ever had.

Therapist Dr. Georgia Lukens is fascinated by the complicated relationship between Ellie and Jason, but she has other, non-detective patients with deeper problems. When a timid woman named Rachel reveals that she suspects her promiscuous and charismatic roommate Lea has been involved in the grisly murders, Georgia is put into the untenable position of deciding if this privileged information is just the ramblings of a delusional patient or something more. And little does she know that Lea has become focused on Jason Santiago.

As Ellie pieces together a macabre puzzle of past and present sins, it becomes clear that madness takes many forms and…it may be too late to stop her partner from becoming the next victim.

Chapter 1

January in the north was bitter cold.

Homicide Detective Ellie MacIntosh stepped off the plane from Florida and walked with a queue of other passengers up a generic ramp and reminded herself that while she loved her mother, it was okay to be glad she was back in Wisconsin.

There was a four-below wind chill outside on the snow-dusted tarmac according to the announcement during their arrival. That was fine with her. She’d just spent ten days in paradise, and apparently, she didn’t appreciate sunshine and white beaches as much as the frozen tundra of her natural environment.

To each his own.

It wasn’t until she’d managed to grab her bag off the carousel and was rolling it through the airport toward the shuttle that would take her to long-term parking that she noticed all the people on their phones and remembered hers was still off.

Not that it was a big deal. She’d connected through Atlanta and checked it during the layover just two and a half hours ago.

Sixteen missed messages.

She stopped walking and stared at the display. Four of them were from Chief Metzger, her boss. People streamed by, talking and laughing, as she rapidly checked the other numbers and decided in what hierarchy to answer the flood.

At the end of it all, she called her partner first.

“Where the hell are you?” he asked instead of offering an actual greeting. Since that was typical of Jason Santiago’s style, she didn’t even blink.

“My trip was nice, thank you for asking,” she replied. “Mind telling me what’s up? I’m still at the airport right now.” The wheels of her bag clattered across the floor and a speaker somewhere announced the arrival of another flight, making it almost impossible to hear.

“We have a second murder a lot like the one that happened a month ago. Male victim, multiple stab wounds, vicious lacerations to the face in particular.”

“Our case?”

“Metzger says yes, since it looks so similar and we still have the first one open. Happy birthday.”

“You pick out the nicest gifts. My birthday, for the record, is in June.” A blast of cold air hit her as the automatic doors swooshed open, the breeze laced with a drift of snow and a hint of jet fuel. The sky was the color of burnished steel.

“I’m still at the crime scene. I’ll text you the address.”

He hung up at that point without saying anything else, and that didn’t surprise her either. In resignation she slipped her phone back into her pocket, thought longingly of the glass of Merlot she’d planned on having in front of a warm fire, and boarded the shuttle. Hopefully Santiago would take the time to call Metzger and tell the chief of the Milwaukee Police Department she was on her way, but her partner was about as predictable as a pop-up thunderstorm. How he managed to be even semi-likable was a mystery, but there was no doubt he was an excellent cop.

In their first big case together, he’d saved her life. The second big case, she’d saved his, or he might right now be resting on the bottom of Lake Michigan. They were even, at least in her mind, in the deadly peril department, but it did prove they worked fairly well together.

Her car turned over very slowly after sitting in frigid temps for ten days, but at least it finally stirred to life. While it warmed up she made a call, watching the crystals on the windshield dissolve, her breath gradually no longer sending puffs into the air.

Bryce answered on the third ring. “Hi. Your plane must have been on time. How was the flight?”

He was one of the few who hadn’t left her a message. “Fine. Listen, I know you were going to fix a special dinner, but I’m going to be late tonight. We have another murder that is apparently similar in some ways to the one Santiago and I worked last month. I’m heading straight to the scene.”

There was the briefest of silences, and then he said dryly, “And to think I lingered in the produce aisle for a good fifteen minutes trying to decide on which heirloom tomatoes to buy for the salad. Call me when you are actually on your way home, okay?”

“I will,” she promised, but didn’t apologize. No one knew better than Bryce Grantham what her job entailed, especially as they’d met when she had investigated him in a serial murder case. “See you later.”

Quickly checking the text that had already beeped in, she programmed it into her GPS and twenty-five minutes later pulled up to a row of faded houses that sat like tired old men on a bench, most of them showing the slump of neglect. Not precisely tenements, Ellie thought, pulling on her gloves, but built in the thirties or forties probably, identical, with sagging front porches, and neglected fall leaves scattered over postage stamp-sized front yards. It was a bleak image, not helped by the growing dusk and the light dusting of snow.

The house was easy enough to spot because it was the only one with the crime scene van in front of it, not to mention the bevy of police cars. Jason Santiago, hatless—he had to be freezing—stood talking to one of the techs, his hands thrust into the pockets of his coat, his curly blond hair catching the occasional flakes of snow. He didn’t even acknowledge her presence as she walked up until the tech nodded and said, “Detective.”

Her partner turned. “How come I always make it to a crime scene before you do?”

She shot back, “Because you don’t have a life?”

“Ouch,” the tech said with a grin, his nose a bright red from the cold. “She just got you. I’d better get back at it. We’re wrapping it up.”

Ellie stared at the house. She shivered and not just because of the frigid air. “This is a completely different kind of scene.”

Santiago followed her gaze, his expression neutral. “True enough if you’re talking about the setting. This is hardly the elite faculty parking lot of the University of Wisconsin’s Milwaukee campus. It could still be the killer we’ve failed to catch so far because it is so similar. The body is on the front porch and only the medical examiner can say, but it looks like it has been there for a few days. In these temps, there’s no real way to tell about decomposition, plus people aren’t really enjoying the great outdoors, but a neighbor walks her dog and it seemed interested in that porch the past few days. Finally she went and took a look.”

They walked up the cracked sidewalk together. It was almost too cold to snow, but not quite, since little white wisps floated by like tiny ghosts. Ellie asked, “We have a name?”

“Nope. No wallet, no other ID to pin down our victim. I think you’ll see why using a picture isn’t going to help identify him much.”

There was a partial bloody footprint on the second-to-top step and she stopped to study it, and then glanced at the sad facade. The footprint was too compromised to tell much, but hopefully forensics would come through. “I can’t imagine the person who lived here was also a college professor.”

“Me either. The neighbor that called the body in said she wasn’t sure just what he did. He just moved in a few weeks ago and she didn’t even know the house had been rented. She’s a bit older and all shaken up. Can’t blame her. I’m no piker when it comes to dead bodies, and this is pretty gruesome. Just fair warning from me to you.”

So much for what hadn’t been all that much of a relaxing day anyway. She disliked flying and had been looking forward to a quiet evening. The emotional drain of the past week had left her hollow, like a fall leaf buffeted by a cold winter breeze. This really was not what she needed at the moment.

The screen door to the porch creaked on rusted hinges as Santiago opened it for her. “After you.”

As much as she hated ever admitting he was right about anything, this time her often abrasive partner was absolutely correct. First of all, Ellie had never seen this much blood at any crime scene. The victim wasn’t just white because of the temperature outside. The body was sprawled in a wide congealed pool of it, his coat and jeans were soaked, and his hair matted in a dark coating. The splatter was all over the front door and the wooden wall of the house.

Definitely the crime scene. Whatever had happened, it had been violent and occurred right on this spot.

First clue.

She was immobile for a full minute as she took it in, and to his credit, Santiago said nothing. His wisecracks often got on her nerves, but then again, she now understood it was his way of dealing with a very stressful job. That he was quiet now, spoke volumes.

“I’m not the medical examiner but I can say with some certainty he bled out, which meant his heart was still pumping.” Ellie took in a steadying breath. One of her fears when she was promoted to homicide was that she might become immune to the horror of what human beings could inflict upon one another. It hadn’t happened yet apparently.

The victim’s face was a disaster, slashed to pieces, nothing intact, his nose half missing, the eyes covered in blood. She wasn’t even sure they were still there …

Good God.

“This is worse than the university murder,” she observed, glad her voice sounded even and professional because her skin was suddenly clammy and she had to consciously swallow. If there was one thing a homicide detective did not do, it was get sick at the sight of a dead body.

But this … this was the manifestation of a violence she found hard to comprehend.

“Look at his chest.” Santiago, careful to not step in the blood pool, not easy considering the size of it, knelt and pointed. “This is what makes me sure we have a repeat offender. See the pattern?”

The victim’s coat and shirt were ripped open. Unfortunately, she’d seen it before. Santiago was right. Same killer.

A cross. A series of stab wounds in the form of a perfect cross.

Ellie crouched down next to him, stripping off her winter gloves and shoving them into her pocket. She’d put on latex ones underneath in the car. “All the crime scene photos done?”

“Yep.”

“Then let’s take a little closer look.”

*   *   *

Jason Santiago had to admire his partner’s cool composure, but he’d seen the stunned expression on her face when she first realized the sheer viciousness of the attack. Ellie MacIntosh was an excellent detective, but part of that was because she processed a case on both an intellectual level and an emotional one. Truthfully, he’d been on the job longer than she had by a few years and he’d had a moment himself when he’d first seen the body.

This was a bad one.

The poor eighty-year-old lady next door was probably going to have nightmares for the rest of her natural life. While he waited for Ellie to arrive, he’d urged the woman to call her daughter and maybe spend the night somewhere else just until they caught the person who had done this to her neighbor.

Kind of a big promise.

More like if they caught him. They still had nothing on the other case.

Together they eased open the victim’s open coat a little more, which wasn’t all that easy to do since it was stiff with frozen blood. Underneath, his shirt had been unbuttoned and he’d been stabbed six times vertically, and four horizontally.

An exact match to the university murder.

Ellie stood. “Had to be postmortem. It’s a signature of some kind.”

His thoughts exactly. “Just like the last one.” He rose too and inclined his head to the left. “I don’t think there’s much of a chance for a witness.”

There was an abandoned school on the other side of the street. The windows were boarded up and the broken sign out front had once said: FRANKLIN ELEMENTARY. The city maintained the lawn obviously, since it had been neatly clipped at the end of the season, but it still held an unmistakable aura of disuse and desolation. That left the scenario of someone watching from across the street out of the picture.

He added, “Let’s go check it out inside and see if we can get a handle on who and what this guy might be. Crime scene said they didn’t really find much, but maybe we’ll pick up on something. The door was unlocked and partially ajar when the first officer arrived.”

Ellie said crisply, “If there were a witness someone isn’t doing their civic duty because he’s been here for a few days at least from the neighbor’s timeline. By all means, let’s go in.”

She had blond hair that brushed her shoulders, with vivid hazel eyes that were disturbingly direct at times, delicate features, and a slender but athletic figure. When they’d first been assigned together he’d rejected the idea, knowing she didn’t have his experience in homicide, but he’d eventually grudgingly accepted it because he hadn’t been given a choice. Already he’d been skating on thin ice with the department, while she’d just solved a sensational serial murder case in northern Wisconsin.

So he’d taken the high road and not said much about it.

He was aware that she’d been assigned as his partner because not everyone wanted to work with him and she had been the new kid on the block. His smartass mouth frequently got him into trouble. On the other hand, they’d solved some pretty high-profile cases together already in less than a year.

There was no foyer, but that wasn’t surprising considering the age of the house. The front door opened into the living room, and it was about as impressive as the outside. Dreary curtains on dreary windows that looked like they’d just been left behind when the last tenant moved out. No couch, nothing but a single plastic outdoor chair facing a small television in the corner.

MacIntosh looked around, her expression thoughtful. “Not a single picture on the walls to give us an idea of his personality.”

He didn’t have any either in his apartment, so Jason muttered, “Doesn’t mean a thing besides that he didn’t have much of an emotional investment in this place.”

Ellie’s red hat stuck out in the center of the room, a bright spot in a sea of ambiguity. As she swept the room with an assessing gaze, he recognized the analytical look on her face. “Three weeks and he really hadn’t moved, that I can tell. Why?”

She was right, but she was frequently right. The house smelled like mildew and maybe old socks, and Jason thought gratefully of his apartment in a complex that might be generic, but was hardly anything like this place. Jason pointed out, “The television is new.”

It was, sitting on what looked like an upended milk carton by the wall. They went to check the kitchen. The refrigerator held a quart of orange juice, three cans of Budweiser, and absolutely nothing else. Ellie mused, “He was staying here, not living here. Treading water, giving himself time.”

It wasn’t like he disagreed, so he didn’t comment. “Upstairs?”

“Let’s go.”

Gloom, more cold … even he was starting to feel depressed, and Jason could have sworn he’d conquered that monster, but these cold, empty walls were a little hard to take as they went up the narrow staircase to the first bedroom.

Square room, unmade bed, small dresser. No curtains even though the house faced east. The occupant would also have to look at that damned abandoned school and for some reason that bothered Jason more than anything.

The thought of those echoing halls … his ex-girlfriend had once told him he had too much imagination for this job, and while he scoffed at it—most of the department thought he was insensitive and irreverent—maybe Kate was right. He took one look out the window and turned his back. “Cozy, huh?”

Ellie prowled around and opened a few drawers—all empty—and didn’t comment at once. The closet was small, and also empty. She frowned, looking perplexed. “Not hardly. What is going on here?”

 

Chapter 2

Home.

She wished it felt a little more that way. It wasn’t that Bryce hadn’t been his usual easygoing self, letting her gradually settle in, and his personality made that simple enough. That didn’t negate her nagging feelings of displacement since moving in with him, but then again, living with another human being always involved some compromise.

Bryce must have heard her open the door. It was already after ten o’clock, pitch dark with a rising wind outside whispering along the eaves. And after that murder scene, she would be shivering anyway. Bryce was in his office, frowning at his computer screen, the house utterly quiet. He turned around in his chair, his gaze inquiring, when she came into the room.

She’d missed him. Ten days was a long time. The real question was, had he missed her?

Their relationship always left her guessing, and it was probably her fault. It wasn’t so much a lack of understanding as that they were navigating the treacherous waters of a relationship built on initial mutual distrust. At one time she had almost arrested him.

Always an interesting way to start a romance.

They’d gotten past it or there would not be a romance at all, but despite what she felt was the first true love affair of her life, Ellie was a very different challenge than his ex-wife. Suzanne Grantham had been selfish and complicated, and Ellie was probably also complicated but instead of selfish, he assured her he thought of her as just very focused.

Diplomatic if nothing else. Tall, dark-haired, good-looking, and diplomatic. What more could a girl ask for?

In an ordinary voice, he said, “Are you hungry? I made you a plate. Just let me save this and I’ll be right there.”

“No, but I could use a glass of water.” The trip had taken its toll, and not just the traveling part, and then to arrive to such a horrific welcome hadn’t improved her inner sense of desolation. She was aware she looked strained, and Bryce caught on quickly because he made no move to kiss her hello or even offer her a hug.

If he had, there was every chance she might splinter into a thousand pieces and cry on his shoulder, and that was not what she needed right now. Points to him for realizing it. Keeping it together was better. She wasn’t as tough as nails just because she carried a gun and had a badge. She was probably quite the opposite because her empathy for the victims and their families drove her, but she didn’t need to weep, she needed to regroup. Ellie went down the hall, took out a tumbler from the cupboard, filled it from the faucet, and drank half of it down. When was the last time she’d eaten? About twelve hours ago she’d managed to grab a bagel between connecting flights.

They had yet to discuss why she hadn’t invited Bryce to go to Florida with her. She’d merely announced one day she was going, declined his offer to drive her to the airport, and had left. He still didn’t ask why when he came into the kitchen, but merely said, “Can I take your coat and hang it up for you?”

“I don’t know.” She set down her glass on the granite countertop. “I feel like I’ll never be warm again.”

“Let me turn on the fireplace. Are you sure you don’t want some food? I kept it warm.”

She unzipped her coat. “Thanks. Yes to the coat, yes to the fireplace, but I can’t eat right now. Hi, by the way.” She handed him her jacket, briefly pressing her lips to his. Not much of a kiss, but an effort.

“There’s an open bottle of Merlot still breathing on the table.”

“Bryce, tell me you ate without me.” There was reproach in her voice.

“I did. I live with a homicide detective, remember? They tend to have some interesting hours.” Finally he asked, “Want to tell me what’s going on?”

She decisively shook her head. “I can’t right now. Don’t ask why.”

He wouldn’t. If there was one thing she’d learned since she’d moved in with him several months ago, it was that he didn’t push her for what she wasn’t ready to give. It didn’t help open communications that he was much the same way, but it did make for mutual understanding. She was also willing to give him space when he needed it, so that dynamic of their relationship worked very well.

He went into the living room, hit the remote for the gas fireplace, and accepted the glass of wine she’d poured for him before she settled on the leather couch, kicking off her shoes and curling her legs under her. She took a sip and stared at the flames. “Hmm. This I need. I missed it. Don’t be surprised if I’m asleep in about two minutes.”

“Missed Milwaukee in the dead of winter? Bare trees, snow, frozen lakes and ponds. Yeah, I can see the attraction.” He sat next to her but didn’t touch her. “Much better than sunny Florida. Why?”

It was time to talk about it. Ellie stared at the leaping flames. “Much better. My mother has breast cancer. That’s why I went.” There. She’d said the words.

He exhaled quietly. “Oh, I see. I think I understand now why you didn’t invite me along for your tropical vacation.”

“I should have explained.” Ellie shifted a little closer and leaned her head on his shoulder, lowering her lashes. He felt warm and solid. “I needed to deal with facts before I could figure out how I feel about it all.” She still hadn’t figured it out. Well, maybe she had. She was terrified.

He slipped his arm around her waist. “I’ve picked up on that, believe it or not.”

“Jody came too,” she went on, referring to her sister. “We talked to the doctors and it looks pretty good, actually. They removed the tumor and Mom’s going to start chemo, and since she’s healthy and active, the prognosis is very positive. We went to the beach and relaxed … it was a decent trip all in all but you would not have wanted to be there.”

He gave her a gentle squeeze. “That’s good news overall and now I feel like a jerk for wondering why you didn’t want me to come along.”

She glanced up at him. “You didn’t ask.”

“I somehow got the impression you didn’t want me to ask.”

True enough. He had a point. “Her news is much better than the prognosis for the victim tonight. I predict he will enjoy a very prolonged experience on the table of the medical examiner tomorrow being taken to pieces.” Ellie’s voice was subdued. “If she matches the stab wounds to the university murder last month, I think this city might have a big problem.”

The flames flickered convincingly like a real fire and Bryce took a moment before he asked, “How so?”

“It seems like there is a signature to both the murders. I have no idea at this point what it could possibly mean, which translates to not being able to predict what might happen next. We need to connect the two cases in some way other than the pattern of the knife wounds. The first victim was a college professor, and the second one we haven’t identified, which is key in any crime. Maybe it isn’t the same killer … I don’t know.”

“But?”

“I think there is a connection we haven’t grasped yet. So does Santiago. There are different kinds of killers. Some are impulsive, some are methodical, some are opportunists, and some are … just insane. This seems like the latter, but to be trite, there’s a method to the madness. We just don’t see it.”

“It seems to me they are all insane.”

Ellie knew he meant it. Gaining satisfaction from the death of another human being was beyond his comprehension—almost. Bryce hadn’t shed a tear when she fatally shot a serial killer in northern Wisconsin and saved his life.

“I don’t know.” She relaxed against him more. “I’m not a psychologist, but I think there are degrees to everything. The victim tonight … it was savage. Over the top. I’m not sure just what we are dealing with.”

She shivered and the room was warm, not cold. Bryce tightened his arm. “That bad?”

She confirmed with another shiver. “That bad. If I scream in my sleep, don’t be surprised.”

*   *   *

Jason slid onto a bar stool and ordered a beer.

He needed it.

While he handled crime scenes as well as anyone, and better than most if he had to call it, this evening hadn’t been stellar.

The imprint of that man’s hacked-up face would haunt him. There was no doubt he didn’t like it, but his ghosts were what they were, and Jason couldn’t banish them at will. Most of his life, he’d done his best, but they lingered like shadows in the corners.

Besides that, something had happened with Ellie. He sensed it and maybe it was the detective in him, but if he had to call it, she had not just gone off on a relaxing vacation. While she’d handled herself as professionally as usual, she’d been a little wired, and not just by the murder.

He picked up his beer and took a long drink. Right now she was probably in Grantham’s bed. After all, that’s the first place he’d take her if it was an option.

Then again, that had been one ballistic murder scene. Maybe not. He doubted she was in the mood for anything but a long, deep sleep.

The piped-in music started playing Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil.” Seemed appropriate somehow.

Jason propped his booted foot on the bar stool and sang along in his head. The place smelled like stale beer and there were two biker guys in the back playing pool, but it was close to his apartment and he could walk over and grab a drink and not have to worry about crashing his career for a DUI. Besides, he might be sitting alone, musing over his half-empty glass, but at least he wasn’t staring at empty walls, thinking about what he didn’t have.

It was an enlightening discovery to realize he really hated being jealous. A counterproductive emotion and a waste of time.

He finished his beer, put several bills on the counter, and walked out just in time to see the accident.

Crosswalk. Impatient man with a cell phone to his ear ignoring the image of a pedestrian with a line through him, angrily arguing with whoever he was talking to and stepping out into traffic … it was a blur and happened very fast. The squeal of tires was like a human scream. The driver of the car coming south swerved, clipped another vehicle coming from the opposite direction, and both careened to a stop as the pedestrian, unscathed, hastily put away his phone and started to rapidly walk away.

No way.

Jason sprinted forward and caught sight of the driver of the southbound car climbing out. She seemed okay as she struggled to escape the airbag. Jason knew the other driver was fine because he had the door open to his vehicle and was cursing loudly.

Jason gained the opposite side of the street, ran around the escaping culprit with one hand on his shoulder, and flashed his badge. “Police officer, bud. You are so busted.”

“Hey.” The guy jerked back. He was well-dressed and well-groomed, his perfect hair just a little disheveled because it was a breezy evening.

“You aren’t going anywhere,” Jason informed him through his teeth, yanking him closer. “It’s called leaving the scene of an accident, and I can tell you, judges really frown on that sort of thing. You’d better hope no one was hurt.”

Expensive wool dress coat and a resentful face, though the guilty party didn’t have much of a right to have that expression. Jason was hard-pressed to keep from throwing a punch, but he’d already identified himself as a police officer. The man sputtered, “I didn’t … didn’t…”

“Think about anyone else?” Jason supplied, his voice icy. “I noticed. Then you tried to just walk away. Nice of you. Let’s go.”

The shove he gave was probably a little harsh, but he was pissed off. Apparently people had been reporting the accident because he already saw a cruiser pulling up. He dragged the offender off the curb and onto the street, where traffic had started to back up because of the crash.

“Good response time, Officer.”

“We do our best.” The cop eyed the way he was hanging onto the other man. There was already another officer talking to the young woman.

It was his pleasure to explain. “I’m Detective Santiago, homicide, and this asshole walked into traffic on his cell phone and caused the accident. I am a witness, and I will testify in court.”

The beat cop nodded and smiled broadly. “That’s sweet. Makes my job easy, that’s for sure. What are the odds … I’ll call it in, Detective, and get someone to direct traffic.” He pointed at the offending pedestrian. “You, come with me.”

The young woman stood by the shattered remains of a headlight, looking just as broken as the plastic on the pavement. She wore a short coat in a soft blue color and heavy mittens but no hat, long chestnut hair loose around her shoulders.

Her shell-shocked expression was something Jason had seen before when he’d been on the street. The other driver was a beefy man in a parka, currently out inspecting the damage to his pickup truck. He gestured angrily as he talked to the cop who evidently was done taking the woman’s initial statement. Jason walked over to her side. It hadn’t been her fault. If he wasn’t there, he imagined there might be a confrontation with the big guy, which she was not at the moment ready to handle. Jason asked her, “You hurt?”

“No … no, I don’t think so. I almost hit him. I could have killed him.” Her voice was barely a whisper, her lips trembling. She was pretty, and probably would be very pretty except she was pale as a ghost.

Damn, the wind was cold enough to slice right through a person. Jason hunched his shoulders and put his ungloved hands in his pockets. “Yeah, well, it would have served him right. Why don’t you go get back in your car and get out your registration and driver’s license. You’ll freeze half to death out here in this wind and they are going to want to see both of those things.” He eyed the vehicle. The hood was buckled pretty badly and there was an ever-growing pool of liquid that looked like antifreeze on the street. “Anyone you can call to come pick you up after all the questions are answered? I think they are going to have to tow your car.”

She shrugged helplessly, looking distraught. “My roommate, I guess, but it’s kind of late. Sometimes she takes something so she can sleep … God, this is awful.”

“I’ll get you a cab,” he assured her. “Public servants. That’s our job description.”

“You don’t look like a police officer.”

He’d heard that one before. He probably would be more convincing with a surfboard under his arm and beach sand between his toes. Maybe it was the curly blond hair that somehow managed to look sun-streaked even in the dead of winter in fucking Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jason’s smile was thin as he thought about the horrific murder scene earlier. “This particular night, I kind of wish I wasn’t. If you think your accident was awful, let me tell you, things could be worse.”

“You’d better have insurance.” The big guy came over, his expression holding the ugly fury of someone who’d had something unpleasant happen they didn’t expect, his eyes fixed on the young woman. “Whatever happened, you hit me.”

“Yeah, that avoiding killing someone, that’s a real crime. Lay off.” Jason shook his head and the look he gave the other driver was lethal. “I mean it, lay off. She’s driving a BMW, sir. A pretty new one. Do you really think she doesn’t have insurance? Feel free to be unhappy about your damaged vehicle, but don’t be unhappy with her, get it?”

Considering the man outweighed him by about seventy pounds at a guess, it was a gamble, but he was kind of in the mood for a good fight. It had been an interesting—and frustrating—day.

Maybe it was something in his eyes, but the other driver raised his gloved hands, palms upward. “Look, I don’t want trouble, but I was just driving down the street when she swerved into my lane. I need to know who is going to pay for this.”

“I think you’re going to have to let your insurance companies decide this question. I assume they’ll sue the pedestrian. He’ll get a ticket for crossing against the light and probably charged with contributory negligence.”

“You a cop?”

“Homicide detective.”

The man eyed him. “You don’t look like a cop.”

Jason replied sardonically, “Yeah, I know. Jesus, it’s cold out here.”

Copyright © 2015 Kate Watterson.

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Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. She is the author of Frozen, Buried and Charred. Kate also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes. She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, three children, and a temperamental cat named Poot.

Comments

  1. Sally

    Good psychological thriller, finished it at three AM. She gets better with each book.

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