Slaughter: Exclusive Excerpt

Slaughter by John Lutz is the 10th thriller featuring NYPD Detective Frank Quinn where a madman's fatal, bloody puzzle terrorizes New York City (available August 25, 2015).

A beautiful jogger, drained of blood, dismembered, then meticulously reassembled on the grass in Central Park. Subway derailments, plummeting elevators, collapsing construction cranes, apartment explosions—all creating a bloody, senseless puzzle. Detective Frank Quinn knows that even while the slayer is taunting the cops and the public, he’s also screaming to be caught. But Quinn will have to risk everything he holds precious to bring in this killer. . .

1

Rose Darling knew she’d begun jogging too late. Unless she lengthened her stride, she’d be caught in Central Park after dark. Not that she hadn’t been warned, but hadn’t everybody at some time or other been warned not to be in Central Park after dark?

The trouble was, she had a date, and if she turned her daily jog into a track meet with the clock, her long dark hair would become a sweaty, unmanageable mass in the summer heat.

Rose was an attractive woman, tall and athletic, with shapely legs and a graceful way about her. Men would stare at her when she jogged.

Like the guy she was approaching on her left, who had a bicycle upside down so it rested on its seat and handlebars. Was he only pretending to work on his bike, so he could stop and watch her pass? Maybe he’d give her a few seconds, make up his mind, and start after her. He could catch her easily on his bike.

And he did straighten up and give her a direct, leering look from beneath a broad blue sweatband.

She averted her eyes and stared straight ahead as she jogged past. When she was well beyond him, she risked glancing over her shoulder, half expecting to see him pedaling hard and bearing down on her.

But he was bent over his upside-down bicycle again, busy trying to repair whatever was wrong with it.

Big wuss, I am!

She almost smiled.

Breathing more freely, she adjusted her pace so she did a minimum of bouncing, preserving her hairdo. She continued telling herself to calm down, she’d make it to the Central Park West and 81st Street exit before the sky became dark. She’d be out of the jungle then, into the bright lights and ceaseless motion of the city. Safe.

Safer, anyway. A different sort of jungle.

After about five minutes the trail bent and she looked directly ahead and saw the tall buildings along Central Park West. Their windows were beginning to show lights in uneven patterns, reminding her of a crossword puzzle that was all blanks. Behind the jagged skyline the blue sky had become an endless deepening purple.

Rose looked around her. There was no one in sight.

But she could hear the rushing whisper of the traffic now. Ahead of her.

Getting close. I’ll make it out before dark.

That was when she heard the cry. It was sharp and distinct, and quickly over. The cry of a wounded or slain animal? A woman?

It had come from off to the right and slightly ahead of her. There were trees there, and thick foliage. She might have seen some movement, but she couldn’t be sure. She kept her senses tuned for another cry.

Rose didn’t know the source of the cry, but upon reflection she was sure it hadn’t been a bird. There was too much . . . anguish in it.

My imagination again.

She could hear herself breathing hard and fast. Without thinking about it, she’d picked up her pace.

Another movement! Off the trail and near where she’d seen the first.

Someone might be over there hurt. Might need her help.

She’d heard the cry and seen the movement. She could veer off, run over there.

Don’t be an idiot! If you really saw anything it was probably a dog or cat. Maybe a squirrel. There were about a thousand of them in the park.

Her legs felt suddenly heavier as she jogged past the spot where, if there was anything in the bushes, predator, human, or otherwise, it would have begun pursuing her.

She speeded up even more.

Tomorrow. I’ll jog again in the morning and go over there, make sure I saw nothing important. Make sure nothing happened.

She thought she heard something behind her, and she stole a glance over her shoulder.

No one in sight. Almost dark now.

No one in sight.

But plenty of places for them to hide.

Her jog became a dash.

 

2

“They won’t come near me,” Lois Graham said in a puzzled voice. “Not even when I try to feed them popcorn.”

She demonstrated by dipping her fingers into a small white bag and tossing backhand several still-warm kernels of popcorn.     

“See,” she said, as the half dozen or so pigeons gathered around the bench drew back and away from the popcorn and Lois, as if a silent signal had been received. “It’s almost as if they know something I don’t.”

“Maybe they know more than most of us, only in different ways. Too bad they can’t talk, like parrots.”

“I’m not so sure we can’t trust parrots. They have a way of looking at me, as if they know something I should but don’t.”

Corey smiled. He was a small man, wearing carefully faded jeans and a green polo shirt with the collar turned up in back. He had on a Mets cap, tilted so it made him look a little jaunty. “Haven’t you ever noticed pigeons get that way just before sundown?”

“No. But I’ll take your word for it. What do you think? Some protective instinct?”

“Sure.” The pigeons around them fluttered but went nowhere, as if on cue. “They know it’s almost bedtime.”

Actually Corey had no idea how pigeons thought. Especially New York pigeons. You didn’t notice them for a while, then some days they seemed to be everywhere. Dumb birds, skittering around and almost getting stepped on or run over, but never quite. He knew they were prey to the peregrine falcons that roosted on some of the tall buildings along Central Park West, almost directly across from where he and Lois were. Beautiful, deadly creatures. Corey thought it would be great if one of the large falcons swooped in and made off with one of the pigeons. Apropos, though Lois didn’t yet know that.

“What’s in the bag?” she asked, pointing to the large canvas bag at his feet. It was dark blue with black straps and handles and doubled as a backpack.

“Sweaty clothes and exercise equipment,” he lied. “I was working out at the gym before I came here.”

“The one on Amsterdam?”

“Seventy-Second Street,” Corey said, figuring there must be a gym somewhere on Seventy-Second. Not that it mattered, unless Lois happened to go to a gym in that neighborhood. Corey hadn’t been to a gym in years. There were so many much more interesting things to do without breaking a sweat.

He prodded the bag with the toe of his shoe and glanced around. Shadows were longer and more defined. It would be dark soon.

“Why don’t you come with me?” he said, picking up the bag, then slinging it over one shoulder by one padded strap.

“Where?”

“Out of the park. It’s a dangerous place after dark. Full of predators.”

She smiled. “I’m not afraid when I’m with you.”

He returned the smile with his own. Ever wonder why that is? He wished sometimes for a victim whose intellect he could respect.

She stood up from the bench, brushed popcorn from her blouse and jeans, and turned to go. The pigeons that had ventured nearer fluttered, cooed, and closed in on the discarded popcorn. It must seem tastier to them now that Lois was leaving.

“This way,” Corey said, motioning toward a stand of trees and thick foliage.

“This is the way out,” Lois said, starting in another direction.

“I know a better way,” Corey said, and folded her hand gently in his.

He thought about the jogger, wondering if she was back on the crowded streets by now, or even home, if she lived nearby. A woman like that would explore every nuance of her pain. It was part of the instinct to attempt escape, or to find some hoped-for measure of mercy in her predator.

He felt Lois squeeze his hand three times, like some kind of secret signal.

He signaled back. There would be plenty of time later for the jogger, if that was what he decided. It would be up to him.

A soft breeze kicked up, breaking the heat and swaying the upper limbs of the trees they were walking toward. Lois shifted her weight and walked alongside him, and he was glad he didn’t have to tell her yet that for her there was no way out of the park.

Not that it mattered.

She’d soon find out she was going somewhere much more interesting.

 

3

It was dawn when Patti LuPone’s vibrant voice began imploring Argentina not to cry for her. Frank Quinn lay on his stomach, still half asleep, musing that he could never hear enough of the score from Evita.Usually he was awake and out of bed before the DVD player’s timer turned the bedroom of the brownstone on West Seventy-Fifth into Argentina. This morning he clung to sleep, as if for some reason he knew he shouldn’t get out of bed. If only he had a note from his mother for his teacher, he thought with a smile. He realized he’d been dreaming about algebra, and his math teacher in school in Brooklyn. He could hear her voice telling him that once he conquered algebra he would have no trouble with geometry. You can always find an angle, Francis.

And that’s what he was doing in life, only looking for other people’s angles.

“Turn shong off,” a voice muttered beside him.

Pearl, lying close with one arm slung over him, her face half buried in her wadded pillow.

“Shong off!”

Quinn worked his way out from beneath her arm, propped himself up on one elbow, and sat on the edge of the bed. With thick fingers he fumbled the digital controls on the combination CD player, clock radio, alarm, phone. Finally he touched the right button and the bedroom was silent except for the background noise of the city outside the brownstone.

“Thanksh,” Pearl said into her pillow.

Wearing only Jockey shorts, Quinn stood up, a tall, muscular man in the autumn of life but still strong. His shoulders were sloping and powerful, his hands large and dangling like grappling hooks at the ends of his long arms.

The CD player, clock, radio, alarm, phone beeped.

A phone call.

“Damn!” Pearl said, quite clearly.

Quinn saw on the glowing ID panel that the caller was Police Commissioner Harley Renz.

Quinn didn’t like talking with Renz any time, much less when he was still half asleep.

He picked up the receiver, with trepidation.

“Quinn?”

“It’s me,” Quinn admitted.

“You still in the sack?”

“Sack. Yes.”

“Had breakfast yet?

“No.”

“Don’t. I got something for you.”

Quinn’s interest quickened. He and his investigating agency, Quinn & Associates (Q&A), sometimes took on cases on a work-for-hire basis for the NYPD. Renz was a purely political animal, stepping on necks and trading in corruption on his way up the bureaucratic path to the top. If a case had political ramifications and was deemed by Renz to be too hot to handle, he passed it down to Quinn and his detectives. Quinn had worked his way, and Renz had bought and extorted his way, to the higher echelons of the NYPD, before Quinn had gone into business for himself.

“You don’t want to get your fingers dirty?” asked Renz. He laughed. “You’re my go-to guy when a case looks like shit that might rub off. I admit it. Our business, you gotta expect some shit.”

“I like to limit it.”

“And I like to roll in it,” Renz said. “I don’t mind admitting I’m ambitious. We both know the score. We got things to trade. You take the risk and the media flack, and the money. I come away clean, move up a notch or two, and there’s more money for me down the line.”

Quinn didn’t know how Renz figured that, and didn’t want to ask. “What is it that you have,” he said, “that you’re so afraid will bite you in the ass?”

“Someone is dead,” Renz said. “A young woman whose purse contents identify her as Lois Graham. Got an address in SoHo.”

“Is that where the body is?” Quinn asked. He heard and felt Pearl stir next to him.

“Nope. Central Park. Near the Eighty-First Street entrance, not far off Central Park West.”

“Sexual assault?”

“Maybe.”

“That why she was killed?” Women were murdered occasionally in Central Park. So why was Renz calling Quinn about this one?

“The why isn’t what bothers me. It’s the how.”

“So what’s the how?”

“You’d have to see it.”

Quinn knew Renz was right. Despite the aggravating word games, Quinn would be curious enough to get up and drive to Central Park, even at this early hour.

“I’ll be there soon as I can,” Quinn said.

“Bring Pearl.”

Quinn glanced toward the other side of the king-sized bed and saw that Pearl was gone. Pipes rattled and squealed and he heard the shower run. Pearl could shower and dress faster than any woman Quinn had known.

“Try to stop her,” he said.

Copyright © 2015 John Lutz.

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A multiple Edgar and Shamus Award winner—including the Shamus Lifetime Achievement Award—John Lutz is the author of over forty books. His novel SWF Seeks Same was made into the hit movie Single White Female, and The Ex was a critically acclaimed HBO feature. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and Sarasota, Florida. Visit him online at www.johnlutzonline.com.

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