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The Darkest Place

Chapter One

He didn't mind the cold. He was wearing his heavy Carhartt jacket
and leather gloves and wool hat, the hat he had once seen in that
movie about corruption among longshoremen, the one with Marlon
Brando, the one from the fifties. What was that movie called? He
couldn't remember. But he had liked the look of those hats, the
look of the men who wore them. Tough, self-reliant,
beat-but-still-standing. He liked that, wanted those who looked at
him to see that, see a man still standing. As he drove his van
through the dark he remembered that he had also liked the woman in
the movie, the blonde in the white slip, the one with the sad eyes.
He liked the way she looked, he liked her voice. There was
something about it, something about her. He had been born in
Brooklyn, lived in sight of those very docks, surrounded, he was
certain, by women who talked like she had talked. He hadn't ever
known his father, didn't know what the man had done for a living
back then, if the man had in fact been one of those men who worked
the waterfront or had done something else to earn his money. But
what that something could have been he didn't know.

His father had left before he was born, and his mother had found a
house farther out on the island, in the town of Riverhead. This was
when he was four. He could barely remember that day, his first in
the new house. Men came and went. He remembered that. His mother
never spoke of his old man, but there wasn't a day when he didn't
think about his father, about the things this unknown man might
have done to survive, the places he might have lived in and the
women he might have been with and maybe even loved in the years
that followed his leaving them. He thought about that, gnawed on
that, a hundred times a day --- at work, at home, at night, down in
his basement, and then later on in bed. He was thinking of all that
now, as he steered his van through this cold night, looking calmly
for a place to deposit the body.

He had lifted weights before he left his house, the rusted bench
press set up in the basement, beside the large furnace. The furnace
worked continuously against the cold, against a wintry wind that
pressed like a shoulder again and again against the windows,
bending and rattling the panes. He could see through the small
glass window in the hatch of the furnace the fire that raged
inside. It was the only source of light, and he stared at it as he
briefly rested between sets. He had made a point of doing slow,
forced repetitions with heavy weight, filling his thick muscles
with blood and raising his heart rate to one-twenty. This had
warmed his core up plenty, and the engorged muscles in his torso,
quivering beneath his jacket now, were like an added layer of
living insulation packed around him. Even after the half hour it
took him to reach Hampton Bays, the van's engine had yet to heat
the radiator fluid enough to affect the heater coil. It was that
cold outside, that raw. Arctic. The air rushing through the vents
under the dashboard was still cold, but he didn't mind that. He
liked the feel of it on his face. It was something for him to stand
against, something to prove his resilience. And anyway, his heart
and lungs and gut, the deepest parts of himself, only seemed warmer
by contrast to what was touching his large, unshaven face like a
dead hand.

No, this cold was fine with him.

He was a big man --- six-five, two-ninety. He wasn't yet thirty.
Beneath the heavy jacket he wore dirty coveralls, rarely wore
anything else, even on his days off. This cold snap dropping into
the double-digits-below when the sun went down, was only two days
old. Before that the weather had been mild --- a long Indian summer
in October followed by a mild November. The first day of winter was
just a week away, but until two days ago, it hadn't seemed really
possible to him. Despite this sudden cold, he wasn't worried that
the bay would be frozen over. Even the lakes around town had yet to
freeze. Only the small ponds on the back roads of Bridgehampton had
a thin sheet over them. No, there was nothing for him to worry
about, nothing to stand in his way. This was easy money. Easy

He entered Hampton Bays from the north and headed his van east
along Main Street. He drove slowly, the way he had driven in from
Riverhead, through the desolation of the pine barrens. No need to
attract the cops, though he was ready for what he'd have to do if
one dared to stop him. A few blocks east, in the heart of town, he
turned the van south and headed through a working-class
neighborhood called Ponquogue. It wasn't late, not much past nine
o'clock now. He didn't feel that he needed the protection that a
later hour would afford him. He'd done this before, was getting
good at it, better and better each time. Besides, there was
elegance in this, in what he was doing. There was elegance in his
being daring, being efficient and confident. Elegance was a
sad-eyed blonde in a slip, elegance was Brando in his checkered
jacket, standing up, his face bloodied. This mattered to him,
elegance. As he rode past the houses he knew that those hidden
inside were watching television, just killing time till sleep
called. Without straining he could see through the front windows,
see from the corner of his eye the flickering blue light cast
against the walls, the ever-moving shadows, action without motion.
The people occupying these houses were getting fatter, he knew
this, growing weaker by the day, wasting away as they waited on
soft couches for their precious hours of unconsciousness. What was
the point in living, he thought, if living was only this?

As he steered down the dark street he found himself looking at the
upstairs windows, splitting his attention between them and the
familiar road ahead. Some windows were dark, others lit. He watched
them all as closely as he could, concentrating. One night not too
long ago he had seen a woman crossing a well-lit bedroom, saw her
turn and face the window just as he rode past. She was undressed.
Lean and strong, from what he could see in the second or two that
he had. She had aroused him, not only sexually but deep in his
heart. He imagined her lonely, like he was. He imagined her seeking
perfection in everything she did, defining herself with every
gesture she made, the way he was trying to define himself by what
he did. He thought of her working out every day, unashamed of her
body, tending to it. Neat and clean. He thought of her with him,
naked in his basement, on his bench, the heat from the furnace
touching them, the orange glow from its flames reflecting off the
sweat that covered their skin . . .

He was more than what he seemed, much more, and the woman he would
love would know that. He would know that about her, too. He would
have her when he wanted, she would undress for him, without him
having to ask. She would walk before him freely, never doubt him.
She would have him, too, whenever she wanted, and he would walk
before her for her to see.

A few miles later he was pulling over to the side of the road.
There weren't any houses here, just a wooded lot to the right and
the shimmering edge of the bay on his left. He was focused now.
Sharp. He killed the lights but left the motor running. He wouldn't
be long. He got out and stepped around to the back, opening the
rear doors and leaning in. The body wrapped up in the sheet of
clear plastic had begun to stiffen. It was heavy now, in that way
dead things are heavy. But he curled more than that weight every
other day, so his muscles didn't strain a bit as he pulled the body
out and carried it to the water's edge.

He knelt, letting the body down onto the bank. With both hands he
held the jagged edge of the plastic so the body unrolled down the
bank and into the water. At this time of night Shinnecock Canal was
closed, so the current would be a lazy one. Still, the body,
facedown, immediately started to drift away from the bank. Fully
dressed, per his orders. An air pocket was probably caught inside
the nylon jacket, enough to give it buoyancy, or close to it. He
had thought he might have to give the body a shove, and there was a
broom handle in the back of the van for that reason. But he could
see he wouldn't need to do that. The body was twenty feet from
shore and still moving by the time he was back at the van. He
tossed the clear plastic through the rear doors, then looked at the
bay for a moment longer. He watched till he couldn't distinguish
the body from the surface chop that was stirred up by a steady wind
that all but cut his exposed skin.

He closed the doors, walked around to the front, and got in. Heat
was coming finally from the vents, but he didn't want it, nor did
he need it. He felt good just as he was and switched the heater
off. It was to him a sign of his greatness, his strength. Then he
pulled the column shifter down, made a U-turn, and drove back as
slowly as he had come.

He watched the houses as he went past them again, watching windows
for a glimpse of a woman who might think as he thought, know what
he knew. Maybe a blonde, maybe with a quaver in her voice and sad
eyes and the willingness to do what needed to be done. He thought
then of driving past the house where he had seen the naked woman
nights ago. But that was in a town farther east from here, on
Peconic Bay, and anyway, there was a phone call to make and money
to collect.

He left Hampton Bays and started north through the darkness of the
pine barrens, heading back to Riverhead. For the longest time his
van was the only vehicle on the road.


In Southampton, thirst woke Tommy Miller. He got out of bed, the
floorboards cold beneath his bare feet, and walked lightly toward
his bathroom. The windows were frosted, the small room lit tonight
with a ghostly blue wash. He found that he was out of the little
paper cups he used when he brushed his teeth, so he drank from the
tap, filling the palm of his hand and bringing it to his mouth.
Then he dried his hand on a towel and went back to his bed and to
the woman he barely knew lying still and quiet beneath his

It occurred to him, though, as he eased in beside her, that she was
awake, that maybe she had been even before he got up for some
water. Her breathing wasn't low and regular, and he knew enough
about a sleeping woman to know that what he was hearing wasn't the
sound of someone comfortably at rest. By the clock on the nearby
table he saw that it was just past midnight. They had fallen into
bed together around ten, after too many drinks at Barrister's and a
quick ride to his house on Moses Lane, and made love as best they
could, then lay side by side in awkward silence for a while. He
must have dozed off soon after because the next thing he knew he
was awake and in desperate need of some water.

He moved carefully as he settled back into his bed, saying nothing
to her. If he was wrong about the meaning of her breathing pattern
and she was in fact asleep, he didn't want to disturb her. He was
awake now, though --- the beer he'd drunk had worn off in his nap.
He was awake and thinking, not a good thing in this dark hour. He
wondered if she had enjoyed herself, if he had acted properly. He
wasn't very experienced with this kind of encounter. He hadn't been
with a woman in a while, well over a year. He'd needed time, needed
to put distance between himself and a relationship that had ended
quite badly. Before that, before the previous relationship, his
only experience with women had been violent encounters. It was
this, his past, when finally it was revealed, that had ended that
relationship a year ago. As he lay beside this woman, he wondered
how he would tell her, if it ever came to that, if this wasn't just
a one-night thing. What words, if any, would keep her from hating
him, from leaving him, too. He was inclined now, with these
thoughts in his head, these concerns and questions, to remain
silent beside her even if she was awake. He'd spent a year in such
silence, was safe there. Her presence beside him wasn't enough yet
to veer him from this habit.

His house was old and drafty, his bedroom cold. He had lived there
with his mother and father before they died, lived there for all of
his twenty-two years. The only source of heat in the whole place
was a large square grate in the floor of the living room
downstairs, the only access to the rooms above the narrow stairwell
at the far end of the hallway. Miller had left his bedroom door
half-open, but very little warmth had found its way up to them.
Outside was a solemn winter night. He could sense the killing cold
beyond his windows even from his bed. He and Abby had talked about
the cold as they drank at Barrister's. It was all anyone talked
about. They had raced through it to his car when they left,
laughing, just a bit tipsy. She had teased him about his cold feet
when they first got into his bed. Her hands had felt almost like
those of a dead person's in his. But their bodies had warmed up
fast enough, for the most part anyway, and had remained warm for as
long as they both stayed under the protection of his heavy

He heard her sniffle now, once, and then again, and knew for
certain that she was awake. He waited awhile, but the silence,
broken only by their shallow breathing, rang. Eventually he said
the only thing that he could think to say, a rehearsal for the day
he, or someone else, would tell her his secret. Southampton was a
small town, and notorious pasts weren't quickly forgotten.

"Sorry," he said.

"What for?" She spoke in a whisper.

"I woke you."

"No." Her voice, soft, deep for someone so young, was anything but
groggy. He wondered how long it was he had slept beside her as she
stared up at his ceiling. An hour? More? Their lovemaking had
hardly been epic. They were little more than strangers to each
other, and with so much at stake, he had been nervous.

"You okay?"

She answered with a quick nod. Then, after a moment of more
silence, "Is there a TV or something on downstairs? I hear

He tuned into it then. On a bureau he kept in the hallway, just
outside his half-open door, was a police scanner. It had belonged
to his father. Miller kept it turned on with the volume set close
to zero. The voices, unless you really listened, were little more
than murmurs. He had adapted the ability to tune out the low voices
and the occasional squawking, only listening closely when something
important came through. Somehow he knew the difference; it was
something in the tone of the dispatcher's voice that told him when
to listen. It was a skill he had spent a lifetime developing, one
that had also belonged to his father. But while this noise was
little more to Miller than the sound of street traffic to a city
person, to Abby it was something she could not easily ignore.

Miller told her what it was and that he'd turn it off.

"You'll only bring more cold back to bed if you get out again," she
said. "It's okay for now."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Maybe you can talk to me for a while."

"What about?"

"I don't know. You can tell me why you have a police scanner. Why
do you leave it on?"

"For work."

"You run a magazine store," she said. It was how they met. His
small shop, magazines and prepackaged bags of gourmet coffee, was
next door to the gourmet deli where she worked. They had been on
friendly terms since she started working there three months before,
but in that time hadn't exchanged anything more than small talk and
pleasantries. She had mentioned in passing that she was about to
turn twenty-one, and somehow he got the nerve to suggest that they
go for drinks some night after work to celebrate. It all happened
so quickly, really. He had always assumed, up till the point
tonight when she told him otherwise, that she had a boyfriend.
Attractive women were rarely single. He didn't ask her why she
happened to be unattached, and she didn't offer. He was careful not
to ask questions about a person's past. They often led to questions
about his own.

But she wasn't asking about his past now, just his present. Why did
he listen to a scanner? The question was unsafe territory for a
number of reasons, the chief among them being that, whether she
knew it or not, it was connected to his past, and could lead them
places he didn't yet want to go.

"Sometimes I do some work for a guy," he answered. She was looking
at him now. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling above.

"What guy?"

"It's nothing major."

"Tell me."

"I'm not supposed to talk about it."

She smiled, glad that they were at least talking. She wasn't used
to men staying around after sex. Being there in that strange bed,
awake while he had slept, she had started to give in to feelings of
loneliness. But now that was gone. "You brought it up," she said,
teasing him.

"I'm just not supposed to talk about it. It's nothing to worry

"I wasn't worried."

"I'm not a criminal or anything."

"I didn't think you were." She wanted to keep the conversation
going. "So you live here all alone?"


"You own it?"

"My parents left it to me."

"Oh. Lots of space for just you."

He nodded. His attention had drifted. She sensed it.

"What?" she said.

"Wait a second."

At first she thought maybe he had heard something, a noise
downstairs. She could tell that he was straining to listen to

"What is it?" Her voice was a whisper still, but there was an edge
of urgency in it now.

"Did you hear that?"


"On the scanner."


They both listened now. Neither moved or even breathed. His head
was lifted off the pillow, and he was looking in the direction of
the door.

Then came a soft squawk, followed by a burst of murmured words. She
could barely make them out.

"What?" she asked.

"He said something about a body."


"Hang on."

They listened together. After a moment there was another soft
squawk, followed by more chatter she couldn't understand.

"It's a patrol car calling in," he told her.

"What's he saying?"

"They found another body."


Miller nodded. He was sitting up now. She was leaning on one elbow.
They were both naked under his blankets.

"You mean another one of those boys?" she said.

One morning eight weeks ago a fisherman had found a body adrift in
Mecox Bay. A month after that another body was found in Peconic
Bay, this time by an old man as he took his early morning swim.
Both victims were young men, the older of the two only twenty. The
coroner had, in both cases, listed drowning as the cause of death,
and the police had first considered these deaths suicides, finally
ruling them as accidents. Miller, among others, wasn't so convinced
of that.

Abby knew of the dead young men --- boys, really. Both deaths had
made the local papers, and for days after each body was discovered,
no one in town seemed to want to talk about anything else. Everyone
who came into the deli had a theory, to believe that something
other than what the cops were saying was actually going on. One of
her regular customers, an old German professor who claimed to have
known Einstein as a youth and smelled always of garlic, was
convinced that this was the work of, as he put it, "dark forces."
Such talk made her uneasy. Though she had a roommate, she was often
alone at night, and the idea of something sinister roaming the
quiet streets of her town disturbed her deeply, kept her from
sleeping, and made her wish for someone, anyone, to be in bed
beside her.

Miller was sitting on the edge of the mattress now. He was a big
guy, had once played football, had once been bound for the
University of Michigan on an athletic scholarship. But his knee
went, or, rather, was taken from him, and that all changed. Abby
sat up, the blanket falling away, exposing her breasts to the cold
air. She could barely see Miller in the outside light filtered deep
blue by the frosted windows. But she could sense that he was
listening now even more intently than before. She waited for
whatever was coming next.

A moment more, and then a final squawk and murmur of words. She
heard some of them this time. Shinnecock Bay. Reservation. The
instant the transmission ended, Miller was standing, searching for
his clothes.

"Where are you going?" she said.

"I have to check something out."

He found his jeans, then his shirt, and finally his boots. He
dressed beside the bed, quickly. She felt threatened by his
abruptness but fought hard not to let this trigger her old

"How long will you be?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry. You can wait here, though. I mean, I'll
be back eventually."

"Do you want me to wait here?"

"Yeah. I'll have my cell phone. You can call me if there's a

"Where are you going?"

"I just need to check this out."


"I won't be long. I promise. An hour, tops. If I'm going to be any
longer than that, I'll call."

She nodded despite her uncertainty about this. Her car was back in
town, parked in the lot behind the deli, a mile or so away. Walking
distance in the summer but not in this weather, not with her
uneasiness about things that lurked, both imagined and real.

"You can watch TV if you want. And I have food downstairs. I'm
sorry about this." The words echoed in his head. He would be saying
this again soon, if things got that far.

"It's okay," she said. "Just hurry back."

He was dressed now, tucking in his shirt, tightening his belt. His
army field jacket and down vest he wore beneath were downstairs, by
her coat. They had begun in his kitchen, kissing as they had walked
through the door. It seemed at the time that throwing themselves at
each other before they sobered up was the thing to do. It had
seemed she needed that as much as he had. For both of them it was
nothing short of a leap into darkness.

He left her in his bed, in the cold room, and, as best as his bad
knee would allow him, hurried down the stairs. He grabbed his vest
and coat and gloves. He was zippering up the field jacket as he
hurried out the back door, his muscles flexing against the harsh,
cold air. He paused to make sure the door was locked, then rushed
to his pickup.

He sat behind the wheel a moment, allowing the engine a few seconds
to warm up, then shifted into gear and pulled out of his driveway.
At the end of Moses Lane he turned right, heading west on Hill
Street. He wondered as he drove down the empty two-lane road if he
had been maybe a little too eager to get out of there. Had he
jumped at the chance to get away? He needed to do this, to find out
what he could. But he was also feeling grateful for the diversion
from conversation. The more things they talked about, the more
small talk they used up, the sooner there would be nothing left for
him to say but to tell her the things he had once done.

His breath was a white mist that burst from his nostrils and mouth.
Steady, long bursts. He could smell her on him, taste her still. He
thought about her, the warmth of her beside him. In the distance
were police sirens. He was moving toward them.


Miller's hope was to arrive before the cops were able to get
organized. Moses Lane wasn't more than a few minutes' drive from
the reservation, even at the posted speed limit, so there was a
good chance of making it before the scene could be secured. Miller
made the sharp left-hand turn from Hill Street onto Little Beach
Road not much more than a minute after leaving his house, but once
he did, he was forced to ease back on the accelerator. The roads
that ran through the reservation were narrow and unlit, not at all
well tended or even marked. His pickup, though one of the smaller
trucks of its line, wasn't designed for high speeds, certainly not
high speeds through this kind of environment. So he forced himself
to drive more cautiously despite the excitement building in his
gut, mounting like a storm inside him. He needed to keep his
emotions in check, to govern himself better; he'd been told that
several times before by the man from whom he wanted to get more
work. Miller wanted to show that he could learn, that he could
change, that in fact he had changed. The last thing he needed was
to roll his truck over on a turn and not even reach the scene. That
would hardly be impressive, he thought, hardly serve to help make
his case for being worthy of full-time employment by the only PI in

Miller made a second left turn onto Church Street and was
approaching Cemetery Road when he caught sight of something up
ahead. Bright lights flickering in the darkness. He continued on
toward the end of Church Street even though he knew by these lights
that he was already too late. It was only a few seconds later that
the first patrol car came into view. Then another, and then a
third. They were parked together in a cluster, their red and blue
bubble lights blinking, each one out of sync with the other and
illuminating with a kind of unrelenting chaos the tops of the bare
trees that lined this back road.

Two of the cars were parked nose to nose across Cemetery Road,
blocking it to traffic. The third car was directly beyond these
two, facing toward the bay, its headlights lighting the way down
the empty road. A uniformed cop with a flashlight standing at the
corner of Cemetery and Church waved Miller off, making it clear
that he wanted Miller to turn left onto Cemetery and not right as
Miller had indicated with his turn signal. But Miller didn't make
the left, just stopped at the end of Church and sat there, waiting.
The cop quickly approached Miller's truck, showing his impatience
in the way he moved.

Miller didn't know the man. Half of the force now was made up of
recruits who had been hired after Miller's father had been killed
five years earlier. Those who remained on the force, who had once
been blindly loyal to Miller's father, were too worried about their
jobs these days to ever be of much help to Miller those few times
when he could have used it. The police chief the town had brought
in to replace Miller's father was as against corruption as a man
could get, easily as against it as Miller's father had been for it,
a part of it, at the head of it for most of his career.

This cop was wearing a fur-lined leather jacket and a cap with
earflaps. It wasn't anywhere close to being enough against this
cold. But nothing short of a parka and full-face mask would have
been enough tonight. As the cop approached, Miller rolled down his
window and felt a blast of cold air rush into his truck. It all but
shoved into him with the force of a crowd.

"Road's closed," the cop said. He spoke quickly. It wasn't a
conversation opener. It was the conversation, as far as he was

But not as Miller was concerned. "What's going on?" he said.

"Do you live down this road?"


"Then I'm going to need you to turn around."

"What happened?"

"You're going to need to turn around and leave."

"Was there an accident or something?"

"Please turn your vehicle around. This is a crime scene, closed to
the public."

The cop backed away, giving Miller room to turn. He kept his eyes
focused on Miller. Miller nodded and rolled the window up, then
made a U-turn, heading east along Cemetery. The next street over
was Old Point Road. He turned onto it and pulled over again.
Through the woods that separated these two streets, Miller couldn't
see the cop cars, just their light show in the trees a block over.
Of course this meant they couldn't see him, either. He shut off his
motor and killed his headlights and stepped out into the

It grabbed at him right away, hard. The wind was coming from the
south. He looked into it, his eyes quickly drying. He tilted his
head down, tucking his chin against his chest, and walked into the
wind, cutting through the small woods that stood between him and
the bay. He always carried a small penlight in the pocket of his
jacket. He used it now to find his way. The larger flashlight he
kept under the front seat of his truck would have certainly made
the going easier, but it also would have attracted attention, which
of course he didn't want. After a minute of trudging through the
woods, he lifted his head and could see the bay. He wasn't far from
it now, just a few yards. The dark water shimmered under the black
sky. There was nothing else to see. To his right he could hear
cops, their voices but not what was being said. By the way they
spoke he could tell that they were talking into their radios,
reporting in. He heard the same squawking sounds he had heard back
in the warmth of his bedroom, the same cross-chatter.

The woods gave way and he was in the open finally, standing on the
edge of the bay. The beach was narrow, only a few feet wide. The
sand was filled with rocks and bits of broken shells that crunched
beneath his boots. He looked to his right and saw two cops, or the
shape of two cops, anyway, standing together. They were looking out
over the water, shining their flashlights into it. Miller tried to
follow their line of vision but couldn't make out anything but
chop. The water was black, except for where it was touched by the
flashlights, and then it looked like tarnished silver. So far the
cops hadn't seen Miller. He was a good hundred feet from them. But
he needed to know what they knew. He needed to know something,
anything. He needed specific information to report. And he wasn't
going to get it standing where he was. He turned off his penlight
and started toward the cops. He didn't want to have come out in the
cold for nothing.

Miller closed about half the distance between where he had exited
the woods and where the cops stood. But he still couldn't see what
they were looking at. Another cop joined them, and then another
still. After about a dozen steps along the sand, Miller stopped.
The last cop to arrive had what looked to be a handheld floodlight.
He shook it several times, then whacked it with the heel of his
palm, once, then again. The other cops gathered around him, and it
was then that the light finally came on, casting a clear circle of
bright white at their feet. The other cops stepped back, opening a
clear run to the water, and then the light swung very quickly down
the beach, the wide beam cast finally out over the bay.

Miller could see it then, see what it was they were all looking at.
A body was floating facedown. It was about fifty feet from the
shore, maybe less. The tide was low, and the body wasn't moving.
Miller figured that its feet must have dragged along the bottom as
it drifted into shallow water. He imagined the toes acting as
anchors. The body probably wouldn't be coming closer, or going out
any farther, for that matter, not till the tide shifted and the
water got higher.

Of course who it was floating in the freezing-cold bay Miller
didn't know. Nor did he know if it was a male or a female, and that
mattered, that much he would need to report. He wanted to show
himself to be helpful, someone not to overlook, and the news that
someone had been found floating in the bay wasn't going to do that.
Anyone with a scanner would know that much. Anything more than that
the police would sit on for as long as they could, but not out of
courtesy to the victim's loved ones. There was a bigger agenda in
play here.

Miller waited, watching. He was shivering, his teeth starting to
chatter, but he wasn't going to leave now. He was close enough
finally to hear not only voices but words. He heard one cop wonder
if they should call the fire department to help retrieve the body.
Another asked if the town had a diver on call, someone with a dry
suit who could just wade out. Then a third cop pointed out that
half the kids enrolled at the college were marine biology majors.
They'd have wet suits, and the college was less than a mile away.
Another cop, the one who had brought the floodlight, said that
Roffman, the chief of police, was on his way, and that policy was
to contact the coast guard, which had already been done. There was
a station just across the bay. Someone would be there in fifteen

A short while went by and nothing much else happened. The cops
waited, stomping their feet against the cold, their hands in the
pockets of their coats, their shoulders held up as far as was
possible. No one said much of anything, and all the radios were now
silent. Miller wondered if the cops had been able to determine from
where they were standing if the dead body was that of a man or a
woman. Young or old? Maybe the clothes, maybe the hair would give
it away, something. After a moment Miller decided that it was
probable that at least one of those cops knew him, had in the past
worked for his father. Certainly if Miller walked up to them and
was recognized, he would be taken away, but not without first
learning more, if he was lucky. He decided that it was worth the
shot, easily a better thing to do than just standing around in the
freezing cold, too far away to see anything but the floating body
and five bored cops.

Miller started walking toward them. They were facing the water,
standing in a cluster, but it didn't take long for one of them to
turn his head. Maybe he had heard Miller, or caught sight of him
from the corner of his eye, or maybe just sensed him out there in
the dark, sensed his motion. For whatever reason, the cop turned

"Hold it," he said. There was anger in his voice. Not authority but
anger. Miller knew then, coming out of the dark as he was, that he
had startled the cop, caught him off guard. The man's anger was a
reaction to the fear that had cut through him like a shot. Miller
had seen that a hundred times in his life, seen cops covering up
their emotions in that exact way.

The other cops turned too. Several flashlights cut into Miller's
eyes at once. Miller just stood there with his hands held out from
his side. He didn't take another step.

"Anything wrong?" he said. He made sure the tone of his voice was
even and calm. He wanted to appear as innocent as possible. It was
necessary despite the fact that he was innocent, more or less. Just
a man out for a stroll, nothing to worry about. What's all the
fuss? No, I love this cold, are you kidding?

But the cops weren't swayed by his act. Miller had snuck up on
them, had strayed into a crime scene, and not just any crime scene.
They acted quickly, three of them moving toward Miller. Without
hesitating they led him away from the water's edge. There wasn't
any woods here to climb through, just an open parking lot, empty
except for patrol cars. Miller turned his head to look over his
shoulder as they escorted him away, trying to see what he could,
but there was no light on the body now. He could barely see the
shape of it in the water. Once they reached the parking lot, the
cops led him to the nearest patrol car. None of these men was
someone Miller knew all that well, certainly not well enough to
expect anything close to favorable treatment. None of these men had
worked for his father, had come to the Miller home for meals, had
been there to congratulate Miller when he won his scholarship to

At the patrol car Miller was questioned. He understood that the
cops' first reaction would be to assume that Miller had something
to do with the body floating in the bay. Maybe he was returning to
the scene of the crime, feigning innocence, just to mock the
police. Their need for a break in this case would lead them to such
a wild hope. The cop who asked the most questions was in his
thirties, not that much older than Miller himself. His name was
Spadaro, and he had been hired three or four years ago. It was hard
for Miller to keep track, though he tried to, tried to keep all the
players and their stats straight in his head. It seemed important
to him, worth the effort required.

Spadaro pressed Miller to explain what he was doing out here, at
this time of the night, in this weather. Did Miller live around
here? Miller calmly replied that he took this walk every night. He
didn't live far, and he liked this beach, liked that it was
secluded. The Shinnecock didn't seem to mind that Miller came here.
As for the cold, he didn't much mind it, and anyway there wasn't
much he could do about it, was there? He needed his walks, they
cleared his head. He thought about mentioning something about
doctor's orders but stopped himself. Keep it simple, don't say too

Of course everything Miller said was a lie. He never took walks on
this beach, or any beach, for that matter. Walking on sand was
particularly hard on his bad knee. And he hated the cold, despised
winter. He spent his evenings thinking of summer nights, the ones
past and the ones to come --- open windows and swelling curtains,
crickets chirping, the sound of cars on Hill Street. He craved all
that. But Miller wasn't really worried about being found out. He
wasn't worried that any of the early suspicions the cops had about
him would lead to anything serious. He had spent all day working at
his tiny shop on Main Street. Regulars had come and gone at the
rate of five or six each hour, had seen him, spoken to him, handed
him their money. After work he had gone for drinks at Barrister's,
and plenty of people had seen him there, seen him leave with Abby.
Then of course there was Abby to back up what he had done with his
time after that, and the cop watching the perimeter who had seen
Miller drive up just moments before. No, he wasn't worried about
this going too far. He was covered. And, besides all that, he was
the son of a cop, had grown up in the presence of cops. He could
read one of them better than he could read anyone. He had already
seen in Spadaro's body language the exact instant when hope of a
lucky break fled from the man.

Soon enough Spadaro ran out of questions. Or maybe it had become
clear to him that Miller wasn't going to run out of answers. He
left Miller at the car, under the watch of another cop, and went to
confer with his colleagues standing near the water's edge. Miller
waited, listening to the conversations around him, to the squawk of
the radio. He listened for anything that would tell him more than
what he had seen. But he heard nothing. His face was numb now, and
he knew that the inside of the car by which he was standing would
be warm, that relief from this brutal cold was so close. But he
tried not to think too much about that. He imagined instead the
nights he craved, those bouts of humidity that come and stay around
for a few days in August, hanging heavy over the town, unaffected
even by the ocean breezes. He wondered if Abby would be around next
summer, if she would still be in his life, coming to see him after
work and lying beside him, her skin silky and cool. He imagined
beads of sweat collected on the bridge of her small nose, and how
her hair, after a late night shower she had taken to cool off,
would smell spread across his clean pillowcase.

Another car pulled into the lot then, its headlights swinging
toward Miller. He turned his head so he could not be recognized.
When the light passed, he looked and saw that this car was an
unmarked sedan, the same make and year as the patrol cars. Roffman,
the new chief of police, was arriving on the scene. Miller watched
as the car came to a stop and Roffman climbed out from the
passenger seat. A man of average build, Roffman was in his
midforties. At first glance, there was nothing very distinctive
about him, nothing threatening or, for that matter, inviting.
Miller's father would have summed Roffman up in one word:
administrator. But Miller knew better, knew the man to be more than
he appeared to be. Roffman was a politician first, good and getting
better every year, and a cop second. Compassionate human being was
somewhere much farther down that list.

Another cop climbed out of the sedan. A woman, from behind the
wheel. Miller knew her. Her name was Barton, and she had been the
last cop hired by Miller's father, back when the man was under
investigation by the FBI and trying to give his department at least
the appearance of being something less than corrupt. But her
appearance here now was too little, too late. Miller's chances of
learning anything more had disappeared the moment Roffman

Spadaro hurried up from the beach to meet Roffman. He must have
seen the headlights. At first it looked like Spadaro was going to
be successful in leading the chief past Miller, which was clearly
his intention. It wouldn't be good --- for anyone --- for the chief
to see Miller. But Roffman spotted him just as he reached the end
of the parking lot. He stopped short, fifteen feet from Miller,
regarding him the way he might regard a stray dog that had wandered
into his yard with the intention of digging a hole.

"Christ. What is he doing here?" Roffman said.

Spadaro answered that Miller had walked into the crime scene from
somewhere down the beach --- or at least Spadaro started to say
that. Roffman cut him off mid-sentence.

"Get him out of here. If he shows his face again, arrest

"Yes, sir."

"This isn't amateur night." This wasn't said to Spadaro but to
Miller. Roffman waited a moment more, staring at Miller, then
finally turned, sharply, and continued toward the shore. To say
anything else would have been to give Miller more attention than he
deserved, the exact kind of attention the kid desired. He was just
a wannabe, a busybody, and Roffman wasn't worried about him. There
were plenty of ways to handle him if he got out of hand. His past
could revisit him. All it would take was an accusation, or the
threat of one. The kid would crumble, run. But that fuck the kid
worked for sometimes, he was a different story. He was a problem,
something to worry about, especially now that a family had hired
him. If it came to it, Roffman would send him a message by locking
up his little scout, kill two birds with one stone. If it came to
it, which it looked now like it had.

Roffman reached the beach and started down it. Barton was following
behind, but Spadaro stopped her.

"Take Miller to his car and make sure he leaves the area," he said.
"If he doesn't go or tries to come back, cuff him and take him in.

Spadaro hurried after Roffman then. He didn't look back at Miller.
Together, the two men headed down the beach. The cops waiting at
the water's edge all turned to face them. The floodlight came on
again, aimed at the sand, a circle of light as white as a summer

Barton led Miller to the unmarked sedan. He didn't make her say
anything to him. He'd pushed his luck as far as it would go. They
reached the car and got in, Miller in the back seat, like a
criminal. But he didn't care. The warmth. Barton sat behind the
wheel. Miller told her where his truck was, and she started toward
it, passing a few hundred feet later the cop's standing point on
Cemetery Road. She made the turn onto Old Point Road and parked at
the curb, bumper-to-bumper with Miller's pickup. She yanked the
column shifter up and turned her head to look at Miller through the
cage that separated the back seat from the front. She spoke over
her shoulder to him.

"You working?" she said. "Or has this just become a habit of

"I was just out for a walk."

Barton smiled. She was twenty-seven, maybe twenty-eight, Miller
wasn't sure. She certainly wasn't over thirty. She was tall,
fair-skinned, slight even in her cold-weather jacket. Miller
couldn't recall ever seeing her outside the company of Roffman. She
was his driver whenever he left Village Hall on business, and at
the end of the day, when it was time to go home. During the day,
while in the office, she was his assistant, rarely pulling any
other duty. There were rumors about the exact nature of their
relationship, but Miller wrote most of those off as nothing more
than the griping that usually occurs whenever a woman is brought
into what has for too long been a boys' club. Still, Barton was
attractive, had a natural beauty, didn't wear a lot of makeup,
didn't try to call attention to herself, not that she needed to.
Her hair was brown and straight, done up in a bun when she was in
uniform but down the one time Miller had seen her in civilian
clothes. If there was anything more to Barton's relationship with
the chief, Miller knew he couldn't really blame the man, though
maybe she had some explaining to do. Barton had a smile that was
quick and warm, even when she was using it to let you know that she
knew full well that you were lying, like now. Few men could resist
a killer smile.

"You're out here for that friend of yours, aren't you?" Barton

Miller didn't answer. Instead, he asked, "Is it a man or a woman
out there floating in the bay?" It was what he had come out into
the cold to learn.

"Tommy," she half-scolded. She had always treated Miller in a
sisterly kind of way. She had stood beside him at his father's
funeral five years ago. She'd only been on the force for a few
months then but had already become like family. Two years after
that she'd stood beside him again, when his mother was buried. In
the years that followed there really hadn't been a day when Miller
didn't think of her. And there hadn't been a week when she didn't
call to check up on him.

"Just tell me, Kay."

"Why do you care?"

"It's a man, isn't it?"

"You should go home. I mean it."

"I just need to know."

"So you can impress your friend?"

Miller nodded.

"Then he isn't really your friend, is he?"

"You shouldn't believe everything you've heard about him. He's not
what a lot of people think."

Barton waited a moment, watching him. "So what is it with you two
anyway? I mean, the real story."

Miller ignored the question. "It's a young guy back there. Isn't

She nodded. "Yeah, that's what they say."

"How do you know?"

"They called the chief on the phone and told him. They didn't want
it going out over the radio."

"No, I meant how do they know. The body is a pretty good distance
from the shore. Facedown, from what I can tell."

"There was a phone tip. An anonymous woman. She said there was the
body of a young man floating in Shinnecock Bay. Units went looking
and spotted it."

"That's weird. I mean, how did she know it was a young man if it's

"That's what I was wondering, too."

"Were there phone tips before? For the other two?"

Barton shook her head, but he knew she was refusing his question,
not answering it.

"That's all I can do for you, Tommy. Anyway, you're going to want
to stay out of this. Roffman is under a lot of pressure. The mayor,
too. There are people who don't want this to get out, who are
afraid tourists will think twice about coming out here if they're
worried about ending up facedown in a bay. Do yourself a favor,
okay? Stay out of this."

Miller reached for the door handle. He needed to call this in,
needed to do that now. "Thanks for the tip. And for the advice." He
yanked at the handle but the door was locked. There was no way to
unlock it from the back seat. He looked at Barton through the metal
screen. She was still looking over her shoulder at him. He looked
at the side of her face.

"I mean it, Tom. Stay clear of this. Tell your friend, too. This is
serious business."

"We've always thought so. Let me out now, Kay."

"Don't like being locked up?"

"Not really."

She nodded and pressed a button in the console in her door. The
back door unlocked.

"See you, Tommy."

"I'll see you, Kay."

Miller swung the door open and got out, hurrying to his truck. He
climbed behind the wheel and started the engine for the heat.
Barton made a U-turn, then stopped, the sedan standing alongside
Miller's truck. Miller waved to her. She nodded, then drove

He dug his cell phone from the pocket of his field jacket and
punched in a number, then waited. It was late, but there was
nothing he could do about that. Three rings, and then a female
voice, low and breathy, the accent French. It was hard for him to
tell if he had awakened her; she always sounded a little dreamy, a
little far away.


"It's Miller. Is he there?"

The female voice said, "One moment," then disappeared. A few
seconds later Miller was listening to a male voice.


"They found another body," Miller said.

"We heard."

"It's the same as before, pretty much. Except this one didn't just
wash up. They found it because some woman called in an anonymous

There was a pause, then: "You're certain about this?"

"Yeah. What do you want me to do from here?"


"I can help."

"Don't need it."

"I know the family has hired you to find their kid. I'm trying to
be a good citizen here. I didn't have to tell you any of

"Call Reggie tomorrow. He'll give you the usual hundred

"I don't want snitch money. I want to help you guys."

"If you want to help, do what you can to lose my number.

The line went dead. Miller closed his cell phone and looked out his
window. Through the bare trees he could see the bay, a dark void in
the expanse of dark night. The Long Island horizon was low, just so
much sky over so much water. Beyond the bay was a narrow strip of
land. Dune Road. It separated the bay from the Atlantic. Fantastic
homes were found there, and secluded beaches. Why not toss the body
into the sea? Miller thought. At the right time, it would be
carried far away, wash up somewhere else, if at all. The two bodies
before this one were also found in bays. Why?

Miller stared at the string of greenish lights that ran the length
of Dune Road. Streetlights, but from where he sat, a long bracelet
of pale emeralds spread out unevenly against a soulless black. A
thing of beauty, thin, frail, not much really against so much dark.
The only sign of life, aside from the cops back at the shore's
edge, and Miller's own breathing.

Now he thought of the girl waiting for him in his bed. Her warmth,
her smells, her breath. There was nothing more he could do here,
nothing more that could be done tonight. So he started back toward
home, vents blowing heat against his legs, as he drove rehearsing
in his head what he would say and what he would not say.

A late moon was rising in the northeast, in the sky over town,
cresting the long line of trees. It added very little light to the

Excerpted from THE DARKEST PLACE © Copyright 2011 by
Daniel Judson. Reprinted with permission by St. Martin's Minotaur,
an imprint of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved.

The Darkest Place
by by Daniel Judson

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0312355157
  • ISBN-13: 9780312355159