Wall Street Journal bestselling authors Scott Pratt and Mark Stout have crafted an “unputdownable” detective novel. Detectives Miller and Stevens are the type of noirish heroes that you want in a procedural—flawed but you love them all the more for it. No wonder Publisher’s Weekly called the characters “richly developed” and “vivid”.
The novel is now available on the Galatea app, which has earned recognition from the BBC, Forbes, and the Guardian for its expertise in publishing only the most engaging stories.
A killer is putting women’s mangled, lifeless bodies on display in sleepy Northeast Tennessee.
The murderous spree is accelerating.
Two detectives, Lukas Miller from Johnson City and Brooke Stevens from Kingsport, have been assigned to hunt the killer down and stop him. Miller and Stevens are considered the best in their respective departments, and although they’ve never met, their superiors order them to work together in a coordinated effort to put an end to the violence as quickly as possible. Their reputations, and perhaps their careers, are on the line. As the body count grows, Lukas and Brooke find themselves growing more and more desperate to catch a cunning psychopath who delights in painting their terrified towns red with blood. Will Lukas and Brooke finally end the nightmare? Or will the hunters become the hunted?
Keep scrolling to read an entire chapter of this unforgettable detective novel or download the app to read the entire series now
Chapter 2 – Different Worlds
POV: Detective Lukas Miller
The red and blue strobes from the police and emergency vehicles gave the limp body the eerie appearance that she was dancing.
She hung in front of the public library, a killer’s work on display among the pillars and the art that adorned the windows.
A crude noose had been fashioned from a length of nylon rope and tossed over a cross beam that ran ten feet above the ground at the library’s entrance.
The scene around the body was controlled chaos.
Five marked police cruisers were stationed at strategic locations on the inner perimeter, blocking likely avenues of approach and doing as much as possible to block the view of the body.
News trucks from three stations were parked at different locations, all jockeying for the best vantage point.
The reporters from the various stations sported their affiliate wind jackets, a thin barrier to the cool, late-autumn night in Northeast Tennessee.
They milled around, awaiting any information, official or unofficial, hoping for a sound bite from someone.
A crowd of onlookers had congregated behind the trucks. Most of them had been drinking in the micro-breweries that had sprung up around downtown Johnson City.
They peered at the grisly scene, talking amongst themselves in quiet contemplation beside the ambulance that would eventually act as a hearse.
Detective Lukas Miller leaned on the hood of his white, unmarked Crown Victoria and watched the paramedics go over the body.
Waiting patiently was never his strong suit, but protocol was protocol.
The preservation of life always trumped the investigation, but Lukas didn’t think there was a chance there was any life left in the poor woman hanging from between the pillars. She was deader than four in the morning.
“Looks like a long weekend,” Patrol Sgt. Don Adams said as he walked up and stood beside Lukas.
Lukas nodded, still staring at the body.
“No rest for the weary, I guess,” Adams said.
“The wicked aren’t resting, either. Who found her?”
“Officer Cragg, I believe. He was on routine patrol and noticed something odd from the parking lot. So, he went to check it out and found her. Coffee?” Adams held up a cup with a red stir stick through the lip.
“Yeah, thanks. Do any of your guys recognize her?”
Lukas eagerly accepted the hot drink and took a sip, glad for the warmth it offered.
“Not that I know of,” Adams said, “but I’ll bet it’s one of our regulars.”
Someone called Lukas’s name from behind him.
A young officer Lukas didn’t recognize walked up quickly. He was nodding as he spoke into his radio. He broke off and addressed Lukas, “Detective Miller, we just got a call from headquarters.”
“Sir, I hate to make the situation worse, but Captain Hunter has ordered that nothing be done to the scene until a detective from Kingsport arrives. The captain is on his way here, too.”
Shoot. Lukas glanced behind him. He’d left his portable radio in the car again, a bad habit he’d gotten into recently.
He cursed under his breath. The old man would be hot about him not having his radio. Hunter had probably attempted to reach Lukas on the Criminal Investigation frequency.
“Okay. Thanks, officer.”
Lukas turned to Adams. “The brass has been on our backs about these murders so I was kind of expecting something, but this? This sucks.”
“You’re dang right it does. I know I wouldn’t like having someone looking over my shoulder while I was trying to work.” Adams crushed the empty coffee cup in his hand and tossed it in a nearby trash can. “Any idea which detective is coming?”
“If I were a betting man, I would say it’s ‘Supercop.’” Lukas laughed. “Supercop” was being heralded as an epic crime fighter.
The stories were being exaggerated, Lukas knew, but he’d heard of her beating academy records, solving unsolvable cases, extracting confessions from the toughest of men.
If half of what he’d heard was true, she was as good as two detectives. And everybody said she was good looking, too.
“Yeah, the detective working the murders over in Kingsport. She supposedly has more decorations than a war vet. She just won officer of the year over there.”
“Oh, so she’s a hot shot.” Adams spat on the ground. “Like we can’t handle our own cases.”
Lukas didn’t say anything, but Adams was right. What cop wanted someone looking over his shoulder on one of his cases, especially a cop from another jurisdiction?
The only thing that kept him from heading straight for his radio and telling his captain he didn’t want any dang help – even if it was from a so-called supercop – was that these murders had been heck on the department.
Four local women had been brutally killed in the last three months, two in Kingsport and now two in Johnson City, three of whom were hustler.
And from what little he’d seen of the latest victim, she would probably take the hustler tally to four.
The two police agencies still hadn’t officially linked the murders in Kingsport to those in Johnson City, but the local news agencies had started referring to them as serial murders.
They were quickly becoming a public relations nightmare that would have city hall breathing down the department’s collective neck.
“Maybe it’s not such a bad thing,” Lukas said. “Maybe another perspective will shake things loose.”
“Is she as good as they say?” Adams asked.
“I don’t know. Haven’t even met her. But I guess I’m about to.”
Lukas picked up the now empty cup from the hood of his cruiser and walked around to the rear door.
He reached in and fumbled around in the back seat until he found his radio. Still charged. At least there was that.
He looked up and noticed the department Command Center truck pull in among the other vehicles near the outer perimeter. It was followed by an unmarked black Chevrolet Impala and the Forensic Center van.
“Wow, this is really turning into a gala event,” Lukas said, turning back to Sergeant Adams. The multipurpose police Command Center vehicle was only rolled out for major crimes or special events. This one qualified as both.
He made his way over to the Command Center. It was positioned away from the news vans and onlookers for security reasons as well as convenience. There would be a media relations officer on board whose sole job was to handle the requests for information from the various news sources.
This officer was specially selected and had to be equipped with the gift of gab. His or her job was to give the appearance of cooperating with the media without giving away information that would hamper an investigation or allow a potential suspect, victim, or witness to be compromised.
It wasn’t a job Lukas envied or would ever want, but he appreciated them nonetheless.
Lukas got one foot on the Command Center stairs before the front door opened and a woman with a long, blonde ponytail and hazel eyes came out fastening a tactical vest proclaiming her a police officer.
She was followed closely by his Criminal Investigations Commander, Capt. Martin Hunter. Before Lukas could utter a sound, the Captain’s booming voice broke the silence.
“Have you two met?”
“Uh, no, sir.” Lukas looked at the woman as she gave him a once-over. He found himself wondering what she thought. He ran a hand through his short, black hair.
“This is Detective Brooke Stevens from the Kingsport Police Department,” the captain said. He then lowered his voice and told them to follow him.
When they were out of earshot of everyone else, he leaned in toward them and, in as low a voice as he could manage, spoke while looking directly at Lukas.
“Okay, let’s clear the air before we go any further. Stevens is the lead detective on the recent homicides over in Kingsport. She has a working knowledge of the scenes, bodies, the whole thing.
“I just got off the phone with our chief, who just got off the phone with theirs, and he has promised us anything we need, from manpower to money and anything in between. And we are doing the same for them. Miller, if Detective Stevens needs anything, and I mean anything, from a pool boy to a grocery bagger, you better make sure she gets it. Is that understood?”
“Miller, you’re the best investigator I have. You get results. That’s why you got this gig. Now, I need you two to work together and figure out why some psycho decided to start killing hustlers on my watch.”
Stevens watched and listened, saying nothing. Her face was passive, unreadable. She kept her eyes on the captain, who barely slowed to catch his breath.
“I know this is an unusual situation, Miller. I’m sure it is for Detective Stevens, too. But I want this stopped, pronto. I’ve got the chief crawling up my butt, and he’s got city hall up his. I want the chief out of my butt, and I want city hall out of his. That’ll be up to the two of you. Any questions?”
“No, sir,” they replied in unison.
“Good. Get to work. And Miller, it’d be nice if you’d keep your radio with you,” he said as he turned to leave.
Dang it. Lukas thought he’d gotten by. He nodded at the captain and glanced over at his new “partner.”
Detective Stevens started toward the scene. A small smile turned up one side of her full lips. “I think your boss likes me.”
“Stevens or Brooke?” Lukas said.
“Beg your pardon?”
“Do you prefer I call you Stevens, Detective Stevens, or Brooke?”
“Brooke is fine.”
“Good. Call me Detective Miller.”
She shot him a dirty look.
“Kidding. Call me Lukas.”
Lukas matched his stride to hers, which wasn’t rushed but purposeful. He had to admit, he already had a good feeling about her.
He liked her confidence, and they’d been right about her being easy to look at. Maybe the grand experiment would work. They just needed to focus on the case.
He started to take mental notes, sweeping his gaze over the scene before going up to the body. He noticed two uniformed officers standing on the top steps a few yards back from the scene, one of whom Lukas recognized as Officer Slater, a fifteen-year veteran.
Slater was holding a clipboard that most likely held the crime scene log. The other officer had that fresh academy smell and looked to be having trouble holding his dinner down. Lukas took the steps two at a time with Brooke now on his heels.
He addressed Slater, “Where are we?”
“EMTs are gone. It’s your scene now, detective. No damage done. Scene’s good.”
Lukas glanced over and pointed to the young officer standing nearest the body whose complexion looked as pale as the pillar he stood beside. Brooke shrugged.
Lukas turned to Slater. “Is he new?”
“Yep, first murder.”
“Is he going to be all right?”
“I think so. He’s coming around.”
“Do you have the crime scene log?” Lukas asked.
“Got it right here.”
“Okay.” Lukas grinned. “Put us down. List me as Superman, and this is Wonder Woman.” He pointed to Brooke.
“I know who you are, Superman, but I’m afraid I don’t recognize Wonder Woman.”
“Detective Brooke Stevens with the Kingsport PD,” she answered.
The officer jotted the names on the log then handed it to Lukas to inspect.
He looked over the names. “So, just the three paramedics, you two, and now us, right?”
“That’s it. Paramedics are back sitting on their thumbs in the wagon. Waiting on you two, I guess.”
“Good, keep that list running.” He handed the log back to the officer.
Brooke broke away from him, going to the opposite side. She appeared to be taking in the scene in its entirety. They both started from the outer edges, gradually making their way to the body of the young woman.
Lukas watched the way Brooke approached the task. Even though they came from different departments and had been trained by different people, they both used basically the same approach.
They looked for anything leading to or from the scene. Footprints, blood, weapons, property, anything out of place.
Many leads had been obtained by picking up clues or evidence on the perimeters of crime scenes. It was too early to know about the supercop stuff, but he liked the way she was handling herself so far.
They met at the body at about the same time. Lukas fully took in the sad, macabre sight for the first time.
The body was hanging approximately six inches off the ground. It was positioned directly in front of the main entrance, right beside the library’s community board.
He glanced at the advertisement for the upcoming book drive and a poster with the dates of a pro-choice rally to be held here later next month. The library was apparently more of a happening place than he realized.
Lukas looked out toward the command and emergency vehicles.
A large crowd had gathered because some psychopath had chosen to display his work here. And it was one hell of a display.
He shook his head and refocused on the victim. The woman was suspended by a cheap nylon rope that looked like it could have been purchased at any home improvement or big box store.
The rope was tied around the victim’s neck haphazardly.
The knot was a crude one, a granny knot or square knot. Nothing fancy there.
Her hands were by her side, not bound in any way. Neither were her feet.
This indicated several possibilities to Lukas. The victim was likely either unconscious or dead when the body was placed and there was little to no resistance from the victim when she was hanged.
There was a slack of about three inches in the loop around her neck, indicating that the hanging was most likely not the cause of death.
He felt sure the autopsy would confirm his suspicions. The crude basic knot? Someone not used to working with their hands maybe, or he could have just been in a hurry. They were all possibilities.
He made mental notes that he would later commit to paper and digital files.
Lukas was jostled out of his trance by the scent of faint perfume. Not one that he recognized, but pleasant, not too strong.
He leaned in toward the body, thinking it was too expensive to be a working girl’s.
Nope. Not coming from the body.
He glanced behind him and saw Brooke writing in a worn leather pocket size notebook. Must be hers.
Her long, blonde ponytail had fallen forward over her shoulder and was now cascading over her right breast.
She caught his stare and stopped writing.
“Uh, no,” he said. “I was just wondering why you still used that old academy-issued antique.”
“I guess you can say I’ve got a few old-school habits.” She shrugged. “My dad was a cop for decades. I like some of the old school ways.”
“I let those guys do the writing.” He motioned toward the scene entry point where the Crime Scene Unit technicians were being logged in by the new officer, who had apparently recovered from the shock of his first murder.
The CSU team quickly started setting up equipment. Lukas and Brooke needed to finish and head back to the command center.
Lukas stood and turned toward Brooke. “Guess we better move it along.”
Only one last thing to do. The morbid task of examining the wounds of the deceased woman.
Lukas catalogued the details in his head.
White female, mid-twenties to early-thirties, with short dark hair and green eyes.
No ID, no keys or personal belongings of any kind.
There was nothing that gave any clues to her identity. The woman wore a pink halter top and a pair of black tights.
She wasn’t wearing a bra, shoes or socks.
There were obvious ligature marks around her neck and stab wounds and cuts to her lower body. Lukas couldn’t tell how many wounds there were without removing the tights, but it looked to be several.
Blood at the scene was minimal considering the wounds, another indication the hanging was post-mortem.
He noticed Brooke jotting down a note and closing her notebook just as they were joined by the Forensic Death Investigator, Odessa McCabe.
McCabe was considered the “go-to” forensic death investigator in Johnson City, and, in some cases, for the surrounding agencies as well.
She was working with Lukas on another hustler who had been murdered two weeks earlier in Johnson City. There had been two in Kingsport, so tonight made a total of four. After a short but thorough look at the body, McCabe offered Lukas her assessment.
“Based on the lividity, state of rigor, and the amount of blood drying, I would say she died between three and four hours ago and was not killed here.”
“Look at the marks on her neck under the rope,” Lukas said, pointing at the bruises. “Do you think that was from the rope or ante-mortem?”
“I don’t believe the bruising was caused by the rope. See the width of the bruise pattern? It’s wide and somewhat dim compared to the pressure that would be exerted by a small rope. It was caused by a different device. Could have even been hands for that matter.”
Lukas nodded and Brooke flipped her leather notebook open and continued with her notes.
Odessa frowned. “Obviously, I can’t give a cause of death yet and won’t be able to until the autopsy is complete. And the mutilated lower body? That’s your department, Lukas, but this is one sick individual you have on your hands here.”
She paused and looked over at Brooke. “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Detective Brooke Stevens. I’m working similar murders over in Kingsport. Just here to consult.”
“Odessa McCabe, pleased to meet you.” She offered a gloved hand.
“Detective Stevens, would you excuse us for a moment please?” Odessa asked politely.
“Sure, I’ll just wait over at the Command Post.”
When she was sufficiently out of earshot, Odessa continued, “Consultation? Really?”
“Really. Kind of. I mean, I guess we’re working together now.”
“This is strictly business.” He hesitated, wondering where the conversation was heading. “Like she said, she’s lead on the murders over in Kingsport, and somebody up the chain of command decided it would be a good idea to bring her over to look at the scene here to see if they may be related.”
“And how are you taking this?”
“I don’t know yet. How would you feel if someone came in from another forensics office and was ordered to double-check your work?”
“I wouldn’t like it, but I know what kind of press this is getting. And I can see the pressure you’re under. We’re dealing with a sick, twisted waste of skin. But he’s obviously smart, and he’s careful. We’ve worked a bunch of cases together, Lukas. It’ll take all of us to solve this one, probably including her. This is the first serial killer we’ve ever had around here.”
Lukas considered her remarks, wondering what direction the investigation would take moving forward. He nodded and walked toward the Command Center without a reply.
Lukas found himself hoping they could find the sick bastard before the feds found a reason to get involved.
There was exactly one fed he liked in the area; an agent named Danny Smart. The rest of them were arrogant and treated the locals like peons.
For now, at least, all the murders were state crimes and fell under state and local jurisdictions. The feds were shut out. He hoped it would stay that way.
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