The Killing — Uncommon Denominator: An Exclusive Excerpt

The Killing — Uncommon Denominator by Karen Dionne is an original novel based off the television series of the same name featuring Homicide Detective Sarah Linden (available June 24, 2014).

When firefighters respond to a suspected meth explosion at a trailer park, they discover a man’s body, unburned but with terrible head wounds. Meanwhile, another man is discovered in a shipping container at the Port of Seattle, shot execution-style. For Homicide Detective Sarah Linden, two cases soon become one, and she must unravel a complex web of addiction, greed, and betrayal to reveal the killer.

Chapter 4

5:00 P.M.

“Girlfriend?” one of the recent transfers to Homicide asked, nodding toward the photograph in Detective John Goddard’s open wallet.

Goddard shook his head. He pulled two ones for the vending machine and flipped the wallet shut. The picture of Claire—long dark hair, white skin, wide face, wider smile, sharp cheekbones, kohl eyeliner—his sister—hidden from the uni’s prying eyes once again. Goddard didn’t take issue with the man’s assumption. What with his blond hair and blue eyes, no one had ever mistaken him and Claire for full brother and sister. But genetics did strange things sometimes. Likewise he didn’t hold the uni’s curiosity against him. The kid was, after all, a cop. Even if he was as green as a Seattle spring.

Goddard could have told the uni that he was six years married with two kids. Or that he carried Claire’s picture in place of a family photo as a reminder of the one he couldn’t save—even though the whole cop-with-the-troubled-kid-sister scenario was so clichéd it would have been laughable if it didn’t apply to him. But home life stayed at home. Goddard tried to keep things that way. Neat. Orderly. Compartmentalized. But he didn’t always manage it.

“Goddard. We got a body at the shipyard. You’re up.” Detective Lieutenant Michael Oakes stepped into the hallway just far enough to deliver his pronouncement, then retreated back into his office like a turtle pulling into its shell. Oakes was in countdown mode until his retirement, and it showed; not only in his perfunctory, get-it-done-and-I-don’t-care-how-you-do-it manner, but in his appearance as well: early sixties, thinning light brown hair worn long enough on top to be dangerously close to a comb over, stocky build threatening the seams of his serviceable dark gray suit, shaggy brows, and jowls that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a basset hound. Then again, Oakes had always considered niceties and preambles a waste of time.

He poked out his head again and aimed his finger at the uni. “And take Louis with you.”

“First name, or last?” Goddard asked the uni once he was certain his commander-in-chief was done playing Jack-in-the-box.

“Uh, last name, sir. And it’s Joe. Joe Louis. Like the boxer.”

“Okay then, Louis. Grab your coat and let’s go.”

 

 

The Port of Seattle was a great place to stash a body. Cruise ships, cargo ships, the North Pacific fishing fleet, the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, four public marinas and conference facilities surrounded by a ring of parks around Elliot Bay combined to make it the eighth busiest seaport in the United States. Over two million shipping containers passed through the port every year, making it inevitable, Goddard supposed, that occasionally, a body would be found inside one.

Or in this case, between. He and Louis navigated the rain-soaked maze of shipping containers like drowning moths heading for the lights the techs had set up until they found the two containers in question. The body between them was covered with a tarp. Not that a tarp was going to make much difference. An outdoor crime scene was always dodgy. Add in the fact that it was six o’clock and full dark after a day of steady rain, and they’d be lucky to find any trace. Real life wasn’t like television. Goddard had once spent two hours on the witness stand trying to explain to a group of cop show-indoctrinated jurors why absolutely no physical evidence had been recovered from a particular crime scene. The defense got an acquittal on that one, in large part, Goddard was certain, because the jurors were convinced they were looking at a case of shoddy police work rather than the realities of the job. The CSI effect was definitely alive and well in the city of Seattle.

“What have we got?” he asked.

One of the techs lifted back the tarp. “Male. White guy. Two hundred, maybe six-two. Looks to be somewhere in his mid-thirties. Gunshot to the back of the head.”

Goddard mentally added “blond,” “affluent” (the Burberry raincoat), and “barefoot” to the description. “We know who he is?”

“Not yet. No wallet.”

“Who found him?”

“One of the checkers, a couple of hours ago. Though it looks like a homeless guy got to him first.”

Which explained the lack of a wallet and the missing socks and shoes. No witnesses, no I.D., most likely no trace. Goddard’s solve rate was already below department average; this case was going to send his stats into the toilet. He shone his flashlight between the containers and over the body, looking for something—anything—then pocketed the light and carefully climbed the rain-slicked, welded-steel rungs of one of the containers to the top. Walked to the edge and shone the light down, trying to imagine the scene as it had played out below. Who the players were, who was standing where, what happened, how it happened, why. There were basically only two possibilities. Either the man was shot where he was found, or he was shot somewhere else and his body brought in and dumped. Goddard favored the first option. If the man was killed elsewhere, bringing his body to the shipyard and stashing it between the containers was a lot of effort to go through to hide a body that would inevitably be discovered. Unless the killer or killers were counting on the elements to remove the evidence first, in which case it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Still, killing the man in the shipyard made more sense. Bring the guy out at gunpoint and end it with a quick bang to the head. That’s how Goddard would’ve done it. Occam’s razor, lex parsimoniae.The simplest explanation was most often the correct one, in police work as well as in science.

He pulled up his shirttail to wipe the rain from his glasses, then put them back on and trailed the flashlight from the body to the end of the container, following the path the killer or killers would have taken to get in and out. His light picked out something in the mud. Plastic-looking. Shiny.

“Down there,” he called to Louis, keeping the light trained on his find. “Go around the other end and see what we got.”

“It’s an I.D.” Louis waved over the tech to take a photograph, then pulled on a glove and picked up what looked to Goddard like a corporate identification card dangling from a broken lanyard. He aimed his flashlight. “Yep. It’s our vic.”

And that was how good police work was done. Goddard was a good detective, despite his current miserable solve rate, even a great detective, the kind of cop who was able to blend equal parts science and imagination to get results. Most of his colleagues thought emotions only clouded the truth. But for Goddard, it was important not only to think a case through, but to feel it. To become his victims as far as he was able; to crawl inside their head and experience their final moments so he could give them a voice and they could tell what happened. Yeah, his method carried a greater emotional toll. But for Goddard, there wasno other way. The day you stopped seeing your vics as individuals from whom the ultimate had been taken was the day you needed to start looking for another job.

 

Chapter 5

According to his I.D. tag, the dead guy worked at GenMod Labs, a name that was instantly recognizable to any Seattle resident over the age of thirty as the city’s oldest and largest biotech firm. The dead guy also really was a “guy”—Dr. Guy Marsee, a fact that Louis seemed to find a great deal funnier than it deserved. Goddard put Louis’s reaction down to new-guy nerves.

Department of Motor Vehicles records showed Marsee lived in one of the new downtown high rises—the penthouse, Louis and Goddard discovered after their search warrant got them past the doorman and the building manager pressed the elevator button for the top floor. Apparently Seattle’s biotech industry wasn’t in as much financial trouble as the papers wanted people to believe.

The building’s manager confirmed that Marsee lived alone. She used her passkey to unlock the apartment at their request and stepped back.

“Did Guy do something wrong?” she asked after they’d cleared the apartment and signaled that she could come in. Her use of the victim’s first name was telling. Goddard would’ve bet a month’s wages the question wasn’t asked out of idle curiosity, but Louis was so inexperienced, the wager would hardly have been fair. Mid-thirties, trendy haircut, short skirt, high heels, tight jacket, plenty of cleavage—everything about her appearance said this was a woman looking to make a permanent move to the top floor.

“How well do you know Mr. Marsee?” he asked. “Do” and not “did.” He hoped Louis picked up on his use of the present tense. This stage of the investigation was about gathering information rather than giving it. Everyone was a suspect, including overly ambitious potentially gold-digging building managers.

She flushed. “Not well. I mean, no better than I do the rest of the tenants. Not enough to help with your investigation. Sorry.”

Bingo. Shakespeare nailed it: The lady doth protest too much.

She leaned forward. “Seriously, what did he do? What are you investigating?”

Goddard didn’t think it wise to tell her that the guy whose apartment she was eying up was on a slab. Best to keep her guessing, and keep her talking. “I’m afraid we’re not at liberty to divulge that information at the moment.”

“How long has Mr. Marsee lived here?” Louis asked, moving the conversation along.

“I don’t know exactly—I’d have to look it up. Maybe three years? And it’s ‘Dr. Marsee.’ He’s a scientist, though, not a medical doctor.”

“Does Dr. Marsee get many visitors?”

“Not that I know of. His brother drops by once in a while, but that’s about all. You really should ask the doorman. I just manage the building. I don’t keep track of who goes in and out. I do know that Guy—Dr. Marsee—is hardly ever here. He spends most of his time at work.”

“At GenMod Labs.”

“That’s right.”

Goddard left Louis to practice his interview technique and walked to the middle of the room. Building superintendents could be a great source of dirt, but if this one had any, she wasn’t dishing. He clasped his hands behind his back and took in every detail, analyzing and categorizing. You could learn a lot about a person from the way they lived. In this case, the warm cherry wood floors, black Italian marble fireplace, white sheepskin throw rugs and white leather pit seating practically screamed that this was a man with absolutely no imagination. The decor was as predictable as a classic spread in Architectural Digest. Even the art objects on the open shelves that divided the room into living and office space were exactly what you’d expect to see in a magazine photo: Egyptian bronze gazelle, Islamic tinned-copper bowl, an intricately carved wooden bust of a Polynesian woman in the style of Gauguin. All eminently passable knockoffs—indiscernible to the average person from the real deal. But when it came to art objects, Goddard was far above average thanks to a degree in fine art from the Rhode Island School of Design and six years working art fraud in L.A. To Goddard, the inconsistencies were so obvious, the artwork may as well have been plastered with “Made in China” stickers.

He picked up what looked like an eighteenth-century Qing porcelain vase and turned it over to confirm that it too was a fake.

“Should you be touching that?” the building manager asked.

Goddard played dumb cop and put the vase down without comment, then headed for the master bedroom, the manager following on his heels as self-appointed museum guard. Clearly, she had no idea that the art items in Marsee’s apartment were worthless. Marsee might have thought his counterfeits were genuine as well, but Goddard didn’t think so. His gut said that everything about the apartment was an act; carefully contrived to convey the impression that Marsee was worth more than he actually was. If that was the case, judging by the building manager’s awestruck reaction as she escorted him past the “valuables,” it was working.

Inside the bedroom, more wannabe over-the-top luxury: white carpet so dense it was like walking on a cloud. Caramel-colored bedding that Goddard was willing to bet came, not from Neiman Marcus, but from Pottery Barn. Recessed lighting. More bogus-art-filled bookshelves surrounding the upholstered headboard of what was easily the biggest bed that Goddard had ever seen. Twenty feet of floor-to-ceiling windows. No window treatments, but this high up, none were needed. Anyone looking in would have to be sitting in an airplane.

He opened the double doors to a walk-in closet. Shoes lined up like they were waiting for the starting gun at a marathon. Hangers so evenly spaced he could have measured the variation between them with a micrometer. Whatever else he had going on, Marsee had some serious obsessive-compulsive issues.

Goddard chewed on his thumbnail as he studied the contents. What struck him more than the scarily precise order was the complete absence of personal objects. Most people kept all sorts of junk in their closets; sports equipment, shoeboxes crammed with old photos and mementos, whatever else they didn’t know what to do with. But aside from the shoes and the clothing, this one was empty.

On a hunch, he retraced his steps and checked all of the wastebaskets, first in the bedroom, then the office area, then the kitchen. Just as he’d guessed, they were spotless, empty. Like they’d been wiped clean. Or like they’d never been used. The manager said Marsee had lived here three years, but the apartment was as cold and impersonal as a hotel. There wasn’t even any mail on the hallway table.

He checked the fridge. Two bottles of Stella, a stick of butter (not margarine), a half-dozen eggs, an open package of low-salt bacon, and a wilted bunch of carrots and a green pepper desiccating in the vegetable drawer. Enough food to sustain someone who dropped by just often enough to make it look as though he lived here. Like the whole apartment was a setup. A very expensive front. For what, Goddard couldn’t begin to guess.

Or maybe the guy just preferred eating out.

“Who lives downstairs?” he asked. Nothing he’d seen so far indicated that this was the murder scene, but if the apartment was the abduction site, and the abduction had been preceded by a struggle, the person in the apartment below might have heard something.

“Esther Cobert,” the building manager said.

Louis gave a low whistle. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“I’m supposed to know who that is?” Goddard asked.

The manager and Louis exchanged the kind of can you believe this guy? looks that teenagers usually reserved for their clueless parents. “Only if you’re into the indie music scene,” Louis, who clearly was, answered.

“Well then, let’s go talk to her.”

The manager shook her head. “She’s on tour. Europe, and after that, Dubai. She won’t be back for months.”

“Is anyone staying in the apartment while she’s gone?”

“No one. Not even the dogs. She always takes them with her.”

Another dead end. Goddard pursed his lips. He’d thought—hoped—naively, perhaps, but hoped all the same—that once they had an I.D. for their victim, the murder would be relatively easily solved. Lord knew he needed an easy case.

He walked to the windows and clasped his hands behind his back while he admired the million-dollar view. The rain had stopped. The city spread out below, watercolor reflections shining back from glossy pavement. To the right, the Space Needle. To the left, Mayor Adams’s waterfront project and the Port of Seattle.

He turned around. “Okay, we’re done here. Louis, grab Marsee’s computer and let’s get back to the station.” Maybe the techs could find out why an art lover living on top of the world ended up in a Seattle shipyard. If Goddard was lucky.

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Karen Dionne is the internationally published author of Boiling Point, an environmental thriller about an erupting volcano, a missing researcher, and a radical scheme to end global warming. Karen's first science thriller, Freezing Point, was nominated by RT Book Reviews as Best First Mystery of 2008. She also serves on the board of directors of the International Thriller Writers association.

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