From Chapter 3
There hadn't been a peep out of Savich since the severed tongue
incident. The lab at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had
confirmed that it had indeed belonged to Freddy Morris, but that
left them no closer to pinning his murder on Savich.
Savich was free. He was free to continue his lucrative drug
trafficking, free to kill anyone who crossed him. And Duncan knew
that somewhere on Savich's agenda, he was an annotation. Probably
his name had a large asterisk beside it.
He tried not to dwell on it. He had other cases, other
responsibilities, but it gnawed at him constantly that Savich was
out there, biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike.
These days Duncan exercised a bit more caution, was a fraction more
vigilant, never went anywhere unarmed. But it wasn't really fear he
felt. More like anticipation.
On this night, that supercharged feeling of expectation was keeping
him awake. He'd sought refuge from the restlessness by playing his
piano. In the darkness of his living room, he was tinkering with a
tune of his own composition when his telephone rang.
He glanced at the clock. Work. Nobody called at 1:34 in the morning
to report that there hadn't been a killing. He answered on
the second ring. "Yeah?"
Early in their partnership, he and DeeDee had made a deal. She
would be the first one called if they were needed at the scene of a
homicide. Between the two of them, he was the one more likely to
sleep through a ringing telephone. She was the caffeine junkie and
a light sleeper by nature.
He expected the caller to be her and it was. "Were you asleep?" she
"Playing the piano?"
"I don't play the piano."
"Right. Well, stop whatever it is you're doing. We're on."
"Who iced whom?"
"You won't believe it. Pick me up in ten."
"Where -- " But he was talking to air. She'd hung up.
He went upstairs, dressed, and slipped on his holster. Within two
minutes of his partner's call, he was in his car.
He lived in a town house in the historic district of downtown, only
blocks from the police station -- the venerable redbrick building
known to everyone in Savannah as "the Barracks."
At this hour, the narrow, tree-shrouded streets were deserted. He
eased through a couple of red lights on his way out Abercorn
Street. DeeDee lived on a side street off that main thoroughfare in
a neat duplex with a tidy patch of yard. She was pacing it when he
pulled up to the curb.
She got in quickly and buckled her seat belt. Then she cupped her
armpits in turn. "I'm already sweating like a hoss. How can it be
this hot and sticky at this time of night?"
"Lots of things are hot and sticky at this time of night."
"You've been hanging around with Worley too much."
He grinned. "Where to?"
"Get back on Abercorn."
"What's on the menu tonight?"
"Brace yourself." She took a deep breath and expelled it. "The home
of Judge Cato Laird."
Duncan whipped his head toward her, and only then remembered to
brake. The car came to an abrupt halt, pitching them both forward
before their seat belts restrained them.
"That's the sum total of what I know," she said in response to his
incredulity. "I swear. Somebody at the Laird house was shot and
"Did they say -- "
"No. I don't know who."
Facing forward again, he dragged his hand down his face, then took
his foot off the brake and applied it heavily to the accelerator.
Tires screeched, rubber burned as he sped along the empty
It had been two weeks since the awards dinner, but in quiet
moments, and sometimes even during hectic ones, he would experience
a flashback to his encounter with Elise Laird. Brief as it had
been, tipsy as he'd been, he recalled it vividly: the features of
her face, the scent of her perfume, the catch in her throat when
he'd said what he had. What a jerk. She was a beautiful woman who
had done nothing to deserve the insult. To think she might be dead
. . .
He cleared his throat. "I don't know where I'm going."
"Ardsley Park. Washington Street." DeeDee gave him the address.
"You okay, Duncan?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"I mean, do you feel funny about this?"
"Come on," she said with asperity. "The judge isn't one of your
"Doesn't mean I hope he's dead."
"I know that. I'm just saying."
He shot her a hard look. "Saying what?"
"See? That's what I'm talking about. You overreact every time his
name comes up. He's a raw nerve with you."
"He gave Savich a free pass and put me in jail."
"And you made an ass of yourself with his wife," she said, matching
his tone. "You still haven't told me what you said to her. Was it
"What makes you think I said something bad?"
"Because otherwise you would have told me."
He took a corner too fast, ran a stop sign.
"Look, Duncan, if you can't treat this like any other
investigation, I need to know."
"It is any other investigation."
But when he turned onto Washington and saw in the next block the
emergency vehicles, his mouth went dry. The street was divided by a
wide median of sprawling oak trees and camellia and azalea bushes.
On both sides were stately homes built decades earlier by old
He honked his way through the pajama-clad neighbors clustered in
the street, and leaned on the horn to move a video cameraman and a
reporter who were setting up their shot of the immaculately
maintained lawn and the impressive Colonial house with the four
fluted columns supporting the second-story balcony. People out for
a Sunday drive might slow down to admire the home. Now it was the
scene of a fatal shooting.
"How'd the television vans get here so fast? They always beat us,"
Duncan brought his car to a stop beside the ambulance and got out.
Immediately he was assailed with questions from onlookers and
reporters. Turning a deaf ear to them, he started toward the house.
"You got gloves?" he asked DeeDee over his shoulder. "I forgot
"You always do. I've got spares."
DeeDee had to take two steps for every one of his as he strode up
the front walkway, lined on both sides with carefully tended beds
of begonias. Crime scene tape had already been placed around the
house. The beat cop at the door recognized them and lifted the tape
high enough for them to duck under. "Inside to the left," he
"Don't let anyone set foot on the lawn," Duncan instructed the
officer. "In fact, keep everybody on the other side of the
"Another unit is on the way to help contain the area."
"Got here quick."
"Who called the press?"
The cop shrugged in reply.
Duncan entered the massive foyer. The floor was white marble with
tiny black squares placed here and there. A staircase hugged a
curving wall up to the second floor. Overhead was a crystal
chandelier turned up full. There was an enormous arrangement of
fresh flowers on a table with carved gilded legs that matched the
tall mirror above it.
"Niiiiice," DeeDee said under her breath.
Another uniformed policeman greeted them by name, then motioned
with his head toward a wide arched opening to the left. They
entered what appeared to be the formal living room. The fireplace
was pink marble. Above the mantel was an ugly oil still life of a
bowl of fresh vegetables and a dead rabbit. A long sofa with a half
dozen fringed pillows faced a pair of matching chairs. Between them
was another table with gold legs. A pastel carpet covered the
polished hardwood floor, and all of it was lighted by a second
Judge Laird, his back to them, was sitting in one of the
Realizing the logical implication of seeing the judge alive, Duncan
felt his stomach drop.
The judge's elbows were braced on his knees, his head down. He was
speaking softly to a cop named Crofton, who was balanced
tentatively on the edge of the sofa cushion, as though afraid he
might get it dirty.
"Elise went downstairs, but that wasn't unusual," Duncan heard the
judge say in a voice that was ragged with emotion. He glanced up at
the policeman and added, "Chronic insomnia."
Crofton looked sympathetic. "What time was this? That she went
"I woke up, partially, when she left the bed. Out of habit, I
glanced at the clock on the night table. It was twelve
thirty-something. I think." He rubbed his forehead. "I think that's
right. Anyway, I dozed off again. The . . . the shots woke me
He was saying that someone other than he had shot and kil