Forest Park was pretty in the summer. Portland’s ash sky
was barely visible behind a canopy of aspens, hemlock, cedars, and
maples that filtered the light to a shimmering pale green. A light
breeze tickled the leaves. Morning glories and ivy crept up the
mossy tree trunks and strangled the blackberry bushes and ferns, a
mass of crawling vines that piled up waist-high on either side of
the packed dirt path. The creek hummed and churned, birds chirped.
It was all very lovely, very Walden, except for the corpse.
The woman had been dead awhile. Her skull was exposed; her scalp
had been pulled back, a tangle of red hair separated from the
hairline by several inches. Animals had eaten her face, exposing
her eyes and brain to the forces of putrefaction. Her nose was
gone, revealing the triangular bony notch beneath it; her eye
sockets were concave bowls of greasy, soaplike fat. The flesh of
her neck and ears was blistered and curdled, peeled back in strips
to frame that horrible skull face, mouth open like a Halloween
"Are you there?"
Archie turned his attention back to the cell phone he held
against his ear. "Yeah."
"Want me to wait on dinner?"
He glanced down at the dead woman, his mind already working the
case. Could be an OD. Could be murder. Could be she fell from the
wheel well of a 747. Archie had seen that last one on an episode of
Law & Order. "I’m thinking no," he said into the
He could hear the familiar concern in Debbie’s voice.
He’d been doing well. He’d cut back on the pain pills,
gained a little weight. But he and Debbie both knew it was all too
tenuous. Mostly, he pretended. He pretended to live, to breathe, to
work; he pretended he was going to be okay. It seemed to help the
people he loved. And that was something. He could do that, at
least, for them. "Be sure you eat something," she said with a
"I’ll grab something with Henry." Archie flipped the phone
shut and dropped it into his coat pocket. His fingers touched the
brass pillbox that was also in his pocket, and lingered there for a
moment. It had been more than two and a half years since his
ordeal. He’d only been off medical leave a few months. Long
enough to catch his second serial killer. He was thinking of
getting some business cards made up: SERIAL KILLER APPREHENSION
SPECIALIST. Maybe something embossed. His head hurt and he
reflexively moved to open the lid of the pillbox, then let his
fingers drop and lifted his hand from his pocket and ran it through
his hair. No. Not now.
He squatted next to Lorenzo Robbins, who sat on his heels inches
from the body, his dreadlocks hidden under the hood of his white
Tyvek suit. The smooth stones of the creek bed were slick with
"That your wife?" Robbins asked.
Archie pulled a small notebook and a pen out of his other
pocket. A flashbulb went off as a crime photographer took a picture
behind them. "My ex-wife."
"You guys still close?"
Archie drew an outline of the woman in his notebook. Marked
where the surrounding trees were, the creek below. "We live
The flashbulb went off again. "It’s a long story," Archie
said, rubbing his eyes with one hand.
Robbins used a pair of forceps to lift the woman’s loose
scalp, so he could peer under it. When he did, dozens of black ants
scurried out over her skull and into the decomposing tissue inside
her nasal aperture. "Dogs have been here."
"Wild?" Archie asked, twisting around to look up at the thick
surrounding forest. Forest Park was five thousand acres, the
largest urban wilderness park in the country. Parts of it were
remote; parts of it were crowded. The area where the body had been
found was in the lower part of the park, which was frequented by a
steady stream of joggers, hikers, and mountain bikers. Several
houses were even visible up the hillside.
"Domestic probably," Robbins said. He turned and jabbed a
latex-gloved thumb up the hillside. "Way the body’s down here
behind the scrub, can’t see it from the path. People come
running through with their dogs off leash. Sparky scrambles down
here, tears a hunk of cheek off the corpse." He looked down at the
corpse and shrugged. "They think he’s found a dead bird or
whatever. Owner lets him sniff around a little. Then they run
"You’re saying she was eaten by pugs?"
"Over time. A few weeks."
Archie shook his head. "Nice."
Robbins raised an eyebrow as he glanced back up at the path.
"Funny no one smelled anything."
"There was a sewer leak," Archie said. "One of the houses at the
top of the hill."
The eyebrow shot up another few millimeters. "For two weeks?"
Archie drew the hiking path across the page of his notebook. It was
maybe forty feet above, at its closest point. Then it curved and
headed farther up the hillside, deeper into the woods. "People
"You thinking she was a prostitute?"
"Based on the shoes?" She was still wearing one—an amber
Lucite pump. The other they had found nestled in moss underneath a
fern a few yards away. "Maybe. Maybe she was a stylish thirteen
year-old. Hard to tell." Archie looked at the grinning mouth, the
teeth straight and white against all the surrounding blood and
gristle. "She’s got nice teeth."
"Yeah," Robbins agreed softly. "She’s got nice teeth."
Archie watched as his partner, Henry Sobol, came slowly,
tentatively, down the hillside. He was wearing black jeans, a black
T-shirt, and a black leather jacket, despite the heat. Henry kept
his eyes down, lips pursed in concentration, arms outstretched for
balance. With his arms extended and his shaved head, he looked like
a circus strongman. He walked sideways, trying to step in
Archie’s footprints, but his feet were bigger than
Archie’s and each step sent a spit of dirt and small rocks
rattling down the embankment. Above them, on the hillside, Archie
could see that everyone had stopped to watch, their faces anxious.
A homeless man looking for a place to set up camp had found the
body and called the police from a convenience store a few blocks
outside the park. He had met the first officer to respond and taken
him to the site, where the officer had promptly lost his footing in
the loose dirt and slid down the hillside into the creek, polluting
the crime scene and nearly breaking his leg. They would have to
wait for the autopsy results to even know if they had a
Henry reached the bottom, winked at Archie, and then turned and
waved merrily up above. The cops at the top of the hill all turned
back to their work taping the crime scene off, and keeping the
growing group of sportily dressed hikers and joggers at bay.
Henry smoothed his salt-and-pepper mustache thoughtfully with a
thumb and forefinger and rocked forward to examine the body,
allowing himself a reflexive grimace. Then business. "What killed
her?" he asked.
Robbins placed a bag over one of her bloated, mottled hands and
secured it with a twist-tie. He did it gingerly, as if she had
nodded off and he didn’t want to wake her. The fingers
curled, blistered and swollen, and the nail beds were black, but
the hand was still recognizable, though probably not printable. The
other, which lay half buried in the earth and moss, was crawling
with beetles. "Search me," Robbins said.
"She die here?" Henry asked.
"Hard to say until we know what killed her," Robbins answered.
He gazed up at Henry. "Do you wax your head or is it naturally that
Archie smiled. Henry had called Robbins out at the police
softball game that spring. It had been like this ever since.
"I was just asking," Henry said to Robbins.
"Ask me after the autopsy," Robbins muttered. He produced
another bag and gave it a snap in the air, and then gently lifted
her other hand so he could slide it into the bag. The beetles
scattered, and Henry took a small step back.
Archie wrote something in his notebook. It had been thirteen
years since they had stood over another dead girl in that park.
That had set them on the trail of the Beauty Killer. They
didn’t know back then it would become a career. Or that
Archie would become one of her victims.
A voice from up the hillside hollered, "Hey."
Henry looked up at the path, where Claire Masland was waving for
them to come back up the hill. He put his hands on his hips.
"You’ve got to be kidding me," he said to Archie.
Claire motioned again. This time she put her whole arm into
"I’ll go first," Archie said. He glanced back at Henry and
added, "So when you fall you won’t take us both down."
"Ha, ha," said Henry.
"What do you have?" Archie asked Claire when they reached the
path. Claire was small and angular with a very short haircut. She
was wearing a striped T-shirt and jeans. Her gold shield was
clipped to her waistband, along with a phone, a gun in a leather
holster, and a pair of red plastic sunglasses jauntily hooked
through a belt loop. She tilted her head at a young uniformed cop
who was covered in dirt.
"This is Officer Bennett," she said. "The first responder."
Bennett looked like a kid, tall with a baby face and a slight
double chin that pressed fretfully against a skinny neck. He
hunched his shoulders miserably. "I’m so sorry," he said.
"Show them," Claire told Bennett. He sighed glumly and turned
around. He had taken a header down the ravine and his uniform was
stained with muck, and tiny bits of vegetation still clung to his
Both Henry and Archie leaned forward to get a better look.
Clinging to Bennett’s shoulder blade, among the fern seeds,
the moss particulate, and the dirt, was, unmistakably, a clue.
Henry looked at Archie. "That would be a human hair," he
"When you, uh, fell," Archie asked Bennett. "Did you actually
make contact with the body?"
Bennett’s spine stiffened. "Jesus no, sir. I swear."
"Must have picked it up on the way down," said Henry.
Archie pulled a slim black flashlight out of his pocket and
shone it along the length of the red hair. He held it for Henry to
look. There was a tiny clump of tissue at the base of the hair.
"It’s got a scalp fragment on it," Archie said.
Bennett whipped his head around, eyes wide. "Get it off me," he
pleaded. "Get it off me, okay?"
"Easy, son," Henry said.
Claire, who was a good foot shorter than Bennett, reached up and
plucked the hair off and dropped it in an evidence bag.
Archie called a crime scene tech over. "Bag all his clothes.
"But what will I wear?" Bennett asked as the crime scene tech
led him off.
Claire turned to Archie and Henry. The path they were on was
about three feet wide, carved worryingly out of the hillside. The
back foot of it had been taped off to let the fifty-year-old women
by, so they didn’t have to backtrack a mile into the woods
and miss afternoon spa appointments. A chocolate Lab bounded
through the foliage on the hillside as its owner, in cargo shorts,
hiking books, and reflective sunglasses, walked past without even a
second glance at the activity at the bottom of the glen. "So?"
"Head injury," said Archie.
"Yep," said Henry.
"Maybe she fell," Claire theorized. "Like T. J. Hooker, there.
Hit her head on a rock."
"Or maybe the rock hit her," Henry said.
"Or," Archie said, "maybe Sparky scrambled down there and stuck
his snout in our corpse, and the hair dropped off his tongue on his
way back up the embankment."
Claire and Henry both looked at Archie.
"Sparky?" Henry said.
"That is so gross," said Claire.
Excerpted from SWEETHEART © Copyright 2011 by Chelsea Cain.
Reprinted with permission by St. Martin’s Minotaur. All