EVELYN JAMES PARKED THE county's battered station wagon behind a
knot of cars on the side of the road. She pulled her crime scene
kit from the passenger seat and stepped out into a puddle of slush,
slamming a door with the words Medical Examiner's Office stenciled
on the side. Flakes of snow fell at a deliberate pace, the day's
mood darkening by the hour.
A maze of construction signs and sawhorses was spread over the
bridge. Workers in bright orange safety jumpsuits watched the
action as a jackhammer echoed from work at a new plaza on the next
block --- a forlorn attempt at urban renewal barely visible through
the trees. Over their branches, the downtown skyline stretched
toward gray clouds. Two marked Cleveland Police Department cars and
two unmarked ones --- worn Ford Crown Victorias that screamed cop
--- were pulled onto the softened grass. Except for two unlucky
rookies directing traffic, the uniformed guys had long since taken
to the warmth of their patrol cars, leaving the detective work to
the ones who got paid for it. Each person present turned a wary eye
to the riverbank, where the supine form lay as white and still as
The Cleveland Metropark system covered over twenty thousand lush
acres, enjoyed by forty-two million visitors per year, but today
the trees were stripped bare, and Evelyn was not there to have fun.
She uncapped her camera and recorded the scene --- bridge, river,
body, the downtown skyline looming beyond the forest --- as her
socks grew icy wet. Another day in the glamorous life of a forensic
scientist. Her lens caught Bruce Riley as he stood on the bank,
watching four men in scuba suits pack up their equipment. She moved
carefully over the sloping grass to join him. "Afternoon,
Riley grunted in greeting, still the only man in the world who
could wrinkle polyester slacks. "The divers got her out --- two
construction divers and two of ours, but it wasn't easy. You've got
to see this. Ten years in Homicide and this is a first. It makes
our nail-gun murder last year look positively normal. But hey,
what's up with you? Planning a big Thanksgiving?"
She shook her head with a rueful smile. "I can't decide whether to
cook dinner for Angel, or be magnanimous about it and tell her to
spend the day with her father, or just screw the stupid turkey and
go out --- though any restaurant that makes its employees work on
Thanksgiving doesn't deserve my patronage."
"Tell me, Riley --- you've got two ex-wives and four kids. What do
you do on holidays?"
He lit a cigarette, a questionable practice in light of his pallor.
"I go to Flanagan's Pub in Ohio City, buy a round for the house,
and pop in a tape of the last World Series."
"Hey, they have chicken wings. They're like turkey."
Evelyn sighed, flexed her toes, and felt every minute of her
thirty-eight years. "My entire family gathering will be my mom and
a daughter who thinks it's entirely my fault that her father left
Riley frowned. "Why does she --- "
"Because I've never enlightened her. So the three of us might meet
you at Flanagan's." She grinned at him, getting a half smile in
return. The Homicide detectives were older guys, white and black,
married and divorced, who did a sometimes hellish job for always
lousy pay, because somebody had to and it happened to be them. "But
no chicken. Angel's gone vegetarian, unbeknownst to her
No doubt Little Miss Perfect Stepmom would be so
Riley nodded toward the body. Beside it, the river formed a small
valley through the wooded area. It had been deepened by a rainy
fall and melting snow. Although driving a block in either direction
would reveal a tightly fit neighborhood of dilapidated wood houses
and pockmarked streets, the patch of earth by the river was quiet,
isolated. "I don't think they lost any parts. Maybe the cold water
kept her from decomposing. I can't say I envy our divers ---
they've got to be freezing even in wet suits. Ever pee in a wet
"I've heard that's how you stay warm," she said absently, moving
closer. The body lay uncovered on the sparse weeds and mud. The
lack of a covering sheet meant that they had not called EMS, and no
wonder. The woman was very, very dead.
Though she was a Caucasian, the dark marbling of decomposition had
spread through her limbs like a poison under her skin. In a short
period of time she would turn completely black. Dark brown hair lay
plastered against her face and neck. Everything seemed to be
present --- two arms, two legs, nose, eyebrows --- and there were
no signs of violence other than abrasions and skin slippage, made
worse by her rescue from the depths. She wore what had been a pink
long-sleeve shirt and denim shorts. Her feet were encased in a
cement-filled five-gallon plastic bucket with a wire handle. Bright
lettering on the side read Stay-Clear Chlorine tabs, 1 inch.
A tall man about her age stood beside the body. He had a shock of
black hair and the cop look, indescribable but unmistakable. Riley
waved his cigarette back and forth in a gesture of introduction.
"Evelyn, our forensic scientist, is from the Medical Examiner's
Trace Evidence Department. Evie, this is David Milaski. He's
working with me until he gets me killed. He's known to be hard on
Evelyn assumed this was a joke and smiled. Milaski didn't.
"David's new to Homicide. Real new --- as in, today's his first
"Hell of a way to start." She gave him a sympathetic look, but he
Riley clapped his new partner on the back, pushing him slightly off
balance. "It could be worse, Milaski. On Evelyn's first day, the
boiler at Hanna's in Playhouse Square blew. Took out the whole
Evelyn groaned. "Don't say it."
"Three local actresses lost their parts."
"Didn't anyone ever tell you a pun is the lowest form of
"Yeah, but I don't believe it. Anyway, the construction divers were
working on the base of that middle support, or whatever it is they
call it --- "
"Pylon," Milaski said.
"Whatever. One of them swam right into her. She was upright, like
she was standing on the bottom. Scared the shit out of him."
Evelyn crouched next to the dead girl, nostrils pricked by the
faint but persistent odor of disintegrating flesh, thinking, She
must have been pretty when alive. High cheekbones set off
wide-spaced eyes, now filmy and dull. Her slender frame seemed
firm, almost the same height and weight as Angel, with the same
delicate wrists. Thin chains bound those wrists and snaked around
her waist and neck before plunging into the cement.
Uncharacteristically, Evelyn swore. Then she said, "Someone wanted
to be sure this girl wasn't found."
"Yeah," Milaski breathed, stooping beside her, his coat hanging
open over a stiffly new suit jacket. "But why?"
"You know what I want to know," Riley said. "Why is she wearing
shorts in the middle of November, that's what I want to
The dead woman appeared to be about five-five and in her early
twenties, but Evelyn couldn't be sure. The older she got, the
younger everyone else looked --- and the more any age at all seemed
too young to die.
A shout of laughter echoed from slightly down the street, where
members of the media had congregated behind police barricades.
Milaski glanced in their direction and asked the older detective,
"Can those cameras get a shot of her from there? I'd hate to have
this girl's parents ID her from the six o'clock news."
"Nah, the bank's too steep. As long as they stay behind the tape
Evelyn pulled on gloves and picked up the right hand, restrained by
the chains and rigor mortis, the last touches of which still
remained thanks to the cold water slowing the decomposition process
to a crawl. A veneer of ice had solidified over the prunelike
Milaski interrupted her thoughts. "Aren't you going to wait for the
"You've been watching TV again, haven't you?" Her joking seemed to
confuse him and she relented. "The doctors --- the pathologists ---
never, but almost never, come to the scene. They stay at the office
and do the autopsies. Though I'm not a doctor, out here at the
crime scene I am the ME's office."
He nodded and she turned her attention back to the victim.
A piece of duct tape still clung to one cheek; it had obviously
been over her mouth but the water's current had worked most of it
off. Evelyn noticed a slight indentation from the middle of her
nose to the end of her left cheekbone. Her nails were short and
three were broken. The chains had left angry purple marks on her
wrists and neck, but the ones around her neck would have been
deeper if she had been strangled. She gave the woman's hair a
cursory examination but didn't see any gashes or other damage. A
pathologist would have to determine the exact cause of death, but
because the woman had no obvious signs of fatal injury, it looked
to Evelyn as if she had gone into the water alive.
Who could have done this? Who could have been so unspeakably cruel
as to kill someone this way, to permit her to feel the frenzied
pumping of her own lungs as they filled with water, to let her
flesh be tortured by the icy water? Evelyn had worked through
stabbings, beatings, the ubiquitous shootings, a deliberately
scalded baby, and a teenager whose boyfriend had tossed her off a
fourth-floor balcony. But she wanted nothing to do with this. It
was horrific, wanton.
Bet it was cold, Evelyn thought, and straightened up, her foot
sliding in wet mideastern clay. Milaski caught her arm.
"Yes," she snapped.
"What do you think?" He released her elbow when she found firmer
Evelyn sucked in a deep breath and summoned a friendlier tone. "She
could have drowned. She could have already been dead, drug overdose
or whatever, and someone just wanted to get rid of the body. She
may be from a warmer state and just have been dumped here. That
would explain the shorts. But it must have been a quick trip or
she'd be more decomposed. Her epidermis is getting ready to peel
off, so she was in there a couple days but not much more than that.
If the water had been warm, it would have come off in a few
"So how long do you think she's been dead?"
"As a general rule, two weeks in the water equals one week in the
air, but you'll have to ask the doctors. And with the cold water
slowing things down, it's going to be tough even for them." She
glanced at the river. It moved along with a whispering sound,
taunting her with its secrets.
"What about that bucket?" Riley asked of no one in particular.
"Maybe the perp has a pool," Milaski suggested. "Can we trace the
Evelyn looked at him without seeing him, wondering about the
woman's family, people who would need answers. "We can hit every
Home Warehouse and Lowe's in the area, sure. If we find him, we
might be able to match the chain, the composition, the
"What about the cement?" Milaski asked.
She grinned without mirth. "As far as I know, cement is cement. But
I'm sure there's an expert somewhere in the country who charges
more an hour than I make in a week, and will be happy to take a
look. It tends to be manufactured in large quantities, so it still
wouldn't do you any good unless you have a suspect in mind --- a
suspect with a supply of cement to compare it to."
"Give me time," Milaski said. "I'll find him."
She raised her eyebrows, unsure if she found such optimism
refreshing or foolish.
"I'll be honest with you, Miss James." He leaned forward. "I'm on
my fifth life here, and this alley cat can't afford to screw up his
first big case. So I'll get this guy."
If he thought sharing his vulnerability would warm her, he had
miscalculated. "This woman isn't a big case. She was a person with
a family and a job and a past, who's just been robbed of her
future. And it's Mrs.," Evelyn added, unable to ignore a slight
glow of satisfaction as his ears turned redder than the cold air
would warrant. "Mrs. James. Now how about getting your guys off the
bridge and out of camera range so I can finish photographing the
scene before frostbite sets in, Detective?"
"Shit," Riley said suddenly, "what's he doing here?"
HE ISN'T GOING TO speak to me, she thought. He hasn't spoken to me
in seventeen years.
Cleveland's mayor, Darryl Pierson, crossed the grass with a
skeleton entourage and the county prosecutor in tow. The
African-American mayor's face radiated concern. He stopped on the
other side of the sagging yellow police tape and called to Evelyn
as if he had last seen her around lunchtime. "Tell me where to
stand, Evie. I don't want to mess up your scene."
Evelyn had hoped this reunion, if it had to occur, would have taken
place on a balmy day while she wore a low-cut cocktail dress and
fire-engine-red lipstick. Instead she stood in her worn blue parka
with snow-dampened dull red curls, without a single word for her
chapped lips to form. Best-laid plans. I can't just ignore the man
--- we loved each other once, even if we were barely out of our
teens at the time. She forced her chilly feet to move.
Riley fell into step beside her, then Milaski. They met the mayor
and county prosecutor Harold Rupert at the top of the bank, out of
earshot of cops and reporters alike. The entourage maintained a
For a man of medium height, medium build, medium-dark black skin,
wearing a perfectly fitting but conservative overcoat, Pierson
somehow managed to tower over everyone present. He straightened his
shoulders and took a moment to gaze at each of them. Only his eyes
seemed tired, and in them Evelyn saw flecks of yellow like fragile
spots, vulnerable areas; they were cat's eyes, cautious and a bit
"How have you been?" he asked her soberly, as if a great deal
rested on her answer.
"Good. Fine." Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat. Her
nose started to run from the cold and she fumbled in her pocket for
"I'm sorry to hear about your divorce."
"Last year's news. Really, I'm doing great."
Riley interrupted, to rescue her from a clearly awkward situation
or simply out of impatience. "Have they told you the circumstances
The mayor nodded. "I hate to say it, but cement shoes go with
‘sleeping with the fishes,' don't they?"
"We'll be checking out the mob angle," Riley told him.
Evelyn applied a crumpled Wendy's napkin to her nose. "Do we even
have a mob in Cleveland anymore?"
"You better believe it," Prosecutor Harold Rupert told her,
supporting Pierson's theory with brownnosed enthusiasm. "They keep
a low profile here, but that's why they've lasted. Remember Danny
Green? Libertore? You might want to be careful whose toes you step
"Since when do I step on toes?" she protested. "And whose feet are
we talking about?"
"Well," Rupert hedged, careful to keep his voice down and bending
over the tape as if he were leaning on it, "I've had my eye on two
different men, rival families. There's Armand Garcia, he works the
near west side. Every time we get something on him, the witness
develops amnesia or the evidence mysteriously disappears. Then, on
the east side, we've got Mario Ashworth."
"Uh-huh," Riley said. The mayor nodded, still looking at Evelyn.
Milaski remained silent.
She recognized the name --- anyone in Cleveland would. Ashworth
Property Management. The Ashworth Fund. Ashworth Construction:
Current projects included the new Brook Park High School, the
aquarium remodeling, and the South Fork Mall Annex. Lots of money,
high profile. No wonder the prosecutor and the mayor had abandoned
their warm offices for this. "He's in the mob?"
Rupert chuckled at her naïveté. "The Big M himself. Why
do you think he gets the largest contracts? He's got a piece of
every pie in northern Ohio." He turned to the senior detective.
"Look, Riley, this has to be wrapped up, and quickly. If organized
crime thinks they're going to take the city back, they're wrong. We
have to present a united front and strike back hard." He spoke with
the perfect amount of righteousness, and Evelyn knew he had a
mental picture of the cover of Cleveland Today bearing his image
with the caption Mobbuster!
The mayor grinned at her while responding to the prosecutor. "Don't
criticize too loudly. He just might build the new medical
Evelyn raised an eyebrow. "So we can fight crime from a building
built by a criminal?"
"The idea has a certain flair, doesn't it?"
"I don't know about flair, but to get out of the declared disaster
area we're in now, I'd consider an inferno built by Satan."
"The council will support Jurgens Limited." Rupert carefully
maintained his political correctness. Jurgens happened to be the
largest minority-owned contractor.
"Their costs are out of control," Pierson said. "Reuters Limited
has the best price but the worst reputation, and North Coast can't
handle a project that size. That leaves Ashworth. Mobster or no,
his buildings are energy efficient and free of problems."
Riley lit another cigarette. Evelyn could see the muscles in his
neck tighten to ripcords at every mention of Ashworth's name. "You
can't be serious."
"I'm no more thrilled about the concept than you are, Detective,"
Pierson told him. "But it's not just up to me, and besides, this
isn't the time to discuss it. I can see you are all busy and you're
going to be even busier once the press gets hold of this
"They already have." Riley nodded toward the parkway
"I know." Mayor Pierson waited until Rupert had rushed to the
cameras and boom mikes like an ant to sugar, then turned back to
Evelyn. "How's Angel?"
"Great." She felt Milaski fidget, probably from boredom. Or else he
was getting the lay of the land and sensing a minefield. Despite a
touch of guilt, she continued, letting the murder investigation
languish while she played catch-up with an old friend. "Destiny
must be growing up."
"Seventeen going on thirty-five, yes. She lives at Tower City mall
and covers me with cell phone bills. She won't even let her mother
kiss her good night anymore. In fact she broke her finger yesterday
playing ball with her brothers and we're relishing the opportunity
to baby her again." He shook his head ruefully. "Say, are you and
Riley coming to the fund-raiser tonight? I'm sorry, you're ---
"Milaski. David Milaski. I'm in Homicide," he added, his voice
respectful but not interested. He glanced at the riverbank as if he
just wanted to get back to the investigation. Evelyn felt the same
way, though not exactly for the same reason.
"I need the support of the law enforcement community if we're going
to scare up some funding from the feds. Evelyn? Plenty of champagne
and the best food in the city."
"You know I'd love to see you and Danielle." Had she really managed
to keep the irony out of her tone? "But I'll be busy here for quite
some time. It was nice to see you again." Over the silent snowfall,
reporters' cameras clicked away as the prosecutor droned on. The
jackhammer had stopped. The valley fell quiet, as if cocooned by
snow. "I'm sure the ME will be in touch with you as soon as we have
Pierson remained behind the tape as she fled down the slope to the
body, seeking refuge in the company of a dead girl. There, that
hadn't been so bad. They had only dated for two years in college,
anyway. Get over it, girl.
When she looked back, he was gone.
With relief she squatted next to the body, pulled on a new pair of
gloves, and touched the woman's ice-cold forearm, turning the palm
upward. Her inner arms showed no signs of drug use. A peek under
her outer clothing revealed a bra and panties. Tiny diamond
earrings winked at them. She had a thin gold chain around her neck
and a star sapphire on her right hand; no wedding band.
Milaski joined her, their knees practically touching.
She glared at him through the fading light, inwardly daring him to
say one word about Darryl Pierson.
"You said she had a family and a job. How do you know that?"
She put Pierson out of her mind. "Okay, it's more of an assumption.
She doesn't look homeless, undernourished, or riddled with needle
tracks. Her hair has been trimmed, her unbroken nails are even, and
her clothes aren't stained or full of holes. She isn't poor. She
either has a decent job or a family to notice she's gone, and most
young, healthy people have both. That's why it shouldn't take too
long for an identification --- someone, somewhere, will wonder
where she is."
"That's all it takes, to be young and healthy? What happens when
you're old and you drink too much?"
She gave him a look, half mocking, half compassionate. "Then you
might be unfairly unmissed."
"Story of my life," he grumbled.
Several hours later Evelyn finally felt warm. In jersey pajamas and
thick socks, she watered the limp plants in her living room and
thought about Darryl Pierson as the cat swatted at her ankles. Did
any woman ever make peace with how she felt about an old boyfriend?
A sort of apprehension permeated the memory, a sense that you
either avoided a narrow escape or missed an alternate future that
might perhaps have worked out better. The past didn't make her
anxious, only the future she didn't choose.
They had met in her second year at Cleveland State. She had
introduced herself by spilling coffee on his Honors English
notebook. He said he liked her because she never pretended to
understand what it was like to be black. She liked him because he
could talk to her without staring at her chest. The courtship had
been intense, the breakup swift and unexpected.
Darryl's background differed a hundred and eighty degrees from hers
--- not your standard poor-kid-from-the-hood-makes-good kind of
background, but a really hard background about which he told her
only bits and pieces. In the years after the breakup, she privately
celebrated his success. He had gotten what he wanted by working
almost fanatically for it, and he deserved the brass ring. It had
worked out for the best, right? If she hadn't married Rick, she
wouldn't have that special combination of DNA and cellular
organelles that had become Angel. As if in response to the thought,
her daughter breezed into the house.
Evelyn often asked herself what kind of a fantasy world she had
been living in when she named the girl Angel. It had never fit her.
Instead of a sweet-tempered ethereal blonde, she had inherited
Rick's raven hair and penchant for mischief. Now she mumbled a
greeting and pushed aside the mail on the kitchen table in order to
reorganize her purse, a scrap of fabric only slightly larger than
Rick, dark and stout, walked in as if he still owned the place,
with Terrie at his elbow. She took in Evelyn's pajamas with a
complete lack of expression. "We were at Rio Bravo. Rick wanted to
go to the Flats, but I didn't think it was a good idea. No sense
showing a sixteen-year-old everyone hanging out at the bars."
"Of course," Evelyn agreed as she avoided Nefertiti, whose claws
made clear her desire for Evelyn's undivided attention. "We had a
victim stabbed there last week."
Terrie blinked. "How awful. It must be so hard to see things like
No, Evelyn thought, it isn't hard at all, because I'm a coldhearted
bitch. Isn't that what Rick and Angel tell you? That I stole the
house from him and how I make Angel abide by a --- gasp --- ten
Rick made leaving motions. "Okay" --- Terrie laughed --- "we're
going. Take care, Angel. Don't watch too much TV."
As the door closed, Evelyn turned to her pale and sullen daughter,
watching her place each makeup item in its preordained pocket. At
least she's not into Goth, Evelyn thought, thanking her lucky
stars. Angel dressed neatly, in collared shirts and khakis so
perfectly pressed that it never failed to amaze her mother how a
disaster area of a bedroom could produce such an example of
"How was school today?" Evelyn tried. "Did you have your math
"And what did you get?"
"Mmm." Evelyn wanted to say, I saw a dead girl today. Just about
your age. Life is short, so very short. Maybe you should be nicer
to your mother. Maybe your mother should be nicer to you. But that
was the easy way out, using her job to control her daughter.
"It was hard," Angel said defensively. "Can't we turn up the heat
in here? What good is saving on electricity if we freeze to death
before we get to spend what we've saved?"
A spontaneous statement. Encouraged, Evelyn opened her mouth to
respond, but Angel flounced up the stairs, her light frame making
thuds heavier than should have been physically possible.
Evelyn stared at the bottle of nail polish in among the letters on
the heavy kitchen table. Too much TV. And how many children have
you had? Let's see, that would be none, wouldn't it?
How easy was it to be the perfect mother if you had to do it only
every other weekend? Terrie hadn't had to give birth. She hadn't
had to sit through ten years of band concerts or held a bucket next
to the bed when Angel had the flu. She hadn't paced the floor when
Angel was out way past curfew or had nightmares about the SATs.
Just go out to dinner every other weekend, and maybe a museum now
Evelyn shook her head in disgust. Why did she resent Terrie more
for liking her daughter than for sleeping with her husband? She
sighed, patted the cat, turned out the lights, and threw on a coat
to walk to her mother's house next door and say good night. At
least she'd be warm there.
THE GIRL SWAM UPWARD through the currents of her subconscious
without concern or haste. She didn't particularly want to wake up;
comfortable where she sat, she dreamed of a boy in her English
class. But her stomach ached, she felt nauseated, and the peculiar
heaviness on her feet pricked her curiosity.
She tried to open her eyes, but her lids felt too heavy to raise.
Instead she wiggled the toes on her left foot. The wet, sticky
sensation felt almost erotic, but at the same time it was just a
few degrees too warm and she thought she really ought to deal with
this, so she opened her eyes.
What she saw made no sense. She shut her eyes again and let the
images mill about in her brain for a while. Maybe then they would
form some kind of order.
She sat in a basement, or at least a neat room with gray concrete
walls and floor. The view included a tool-scattered workbench and
homemade wooden shelves, which held a myriad of items from
cardboard boxes to a beach ball. It smelled . . . not pleasant,
along the lines of a stale, animal sweat. She knew her scents. She
could tell Opium from Tommy Girl from any kind of Chanel on her
friends even when they'd showered after drill team practice, and
she was never wrong. She was never wrong period.
Her legs, from midcalf to toes, were immersed in a five-gallon
plastic bucket filled with heavy cool gray stuff. Her new Italian
pumps were in the bucket with her feet and almost certainly ruined,
which irritated her. Her hands were pulled way to the back of the
cheap folding chair and this made her shoulders hurt. She tried to
pull them forward but something wouldn't let them move. Now that
was ridiculous. No one told her when she could or could not move
She opened her eyes again.
Same scene. For the first time it occurred to her to be afraid, and
the sensation nauseated her further.
She was in trouble. She was in big trouble.
Her muddled brain tried to regain some sense, some control. She had
been at a party . . . Crosscut images of people and drinks and
music came back to her, but she could not be sure if that had been
tonight, last night, or some night forever ago.
Screw that, it didn't matter. She was here now, immobile, with one
hand tied to the other by something hard and cold and rattling ---
She wasn't only tied but chained? Somebody was going to get their
ass whupped big-time when she got out of there.
If she got out of there.
Worry grew to panic. She began to wriggle like a worm on a hook,
searching for a weakness in the links, a gap that would allow her
to slip her bonds. The chains snaked up and over her, lying on her
shoulders, but only the ones around her wrists were tight and her
fingers were tingly and going numb. The rest of the chains were not
as tight, but still prevented her from moving in any significant
Her attention swung to her feet. She tried to pull them out of the
cement --- for that's what it had to be, she wasn't so sheltered
that she had never been exposed to wet cement --- but one chain
kept her knees primly glued to the chair seat. She kept her toes
active while she thought, flexing the Italian leather up and down,
and moved her knees as if she were doing a sort of aerobic
exercise. Hey, everybody, want to lose weight and look great? Try
cementecize! Works off those extra inches in no time! A chuckle
that came too close to hysteria escaped her throat and she tried to
call it back.
Above her, she heard an abrupt thunk and a series of thuds, exactly
as if someone upstairs had dropped a chair onto all four feet and
was now crossing the floor. Toward the basement door. Toward
She tried to remember exactly what position she had been in when
she regained consciousness, couldn't, and decided it didn't matter
because her options were few. She couldn't move anything but her
head, which she now let loll forward like a forgotten rag doll. It
hurt her neck, but she willed herself to be absolutely still. She
really did want to throw up, but she refused to think about it. She
left her eyelids slightly ajar, just enough for a hazy view of the
Whoever it was came from the steps and paused right in front of
her, but still she couldn't see his --- its --- feet. Then he moved
two shuddering steps closer.
Blue workpants stained with traces of light gray ended above
scuffed brown shoes. They weren't Timberlands or Rockports. Some
loser in generic shoes --- now what?
Maybe playing dead wasn't the way to go. Maybe she should try to
talk to him, ask what the hell he thought he was doing and by the
way, would you let me go? I promise I won't tell anyone if you just
let me go. Yeah, right.
On the other hand, maybe he was just waiting for her to wake up
before he started in with the torture, standard serial killer stuff
like Drano under the skin or cutting off her fingers. In which case
it would behoove her to be a heavy sleeper. She tried to keep her
breathing steady and found it impossible to breathe normally while
her heart pounded furiously.
Maybe he wasn't a serial killer. Please, please let this whole
thing be the revenge of some bimbo who didn't make Homecoming
Court, just trying to scare her.
Maybe she'd just keep quiet until she knew for sure.
In the two seconds it took for these thoughts to flit in a panicked
rush across her brain, he moved again, walking around behind her.
The sight of his shoes frightened her enough, but not to see them
felt infinitely worse. What if he didn't care if she woke up or
not? What if he intended to kill her right now?
There was a clinking sound, which had to mean a chain was about to
be lowered around her neck and tightened until ---
He grabbed her arm. She couldn't help an involuntary jerk at his
touch, as clammy cold as the cement itself, but kept her head down.
He simply wiggled her arm a bit, not to hurt her but to check the
chains and fasteners, pulling on each one. Her eyelids were
squeezed together like a little child's, something she would be
embarrassed about later but not right now.
The steps went away.
She heard him clumping up the stairs and waited for the door to
shut before she drew a normal breath, and even that she did with
the utmost caution, scared that one link of her chains might bang
against another and alert him again.
Him? Who was he? Where was she? And what did he intend to do with
Then she saw the mark. The grainy surface of the cement in the
bucket had been marred. He must have stuck a finger in it to test
Again, she willed her heart to calm. When the pressure is on, her
father always said, focus on the priorities. Forget about the
problems you can't solve for the moment and concentrate on those
you can. What do you need to do right now?
Get the hell out of here.
She started moving her legs again, wiggling her toes, moving her
knees, trying to straighten her foot to a Barbie-like point. She
did this for several minutes without knowing why, and then figured
out what her body had known automatically: If she created a hole in
the cement larger than her legs, then her legs would slip out of
Except that at least two of the chains ended in the cement. He had
not only encased her legs but had literally chained her to this
And then she knew.
There was only one reason to put someone's feet in cement. She had
seen Billy Bathgate. She had heard the slang. They drowned people
with cement shoes.
It was ridiculous, too fantastic to contemplate. If you wanted to
kill someone you blew them away from the window of a moving car,
you didn't mess with stupid shit like this. No, they were going to
leave her naked in Public Square or handcuffed to the men's room at
Jacob's Field. She wiggled for all she was worth.
While she did that, she checked out the rest of the basement. She
could see two glass block windows, no door. No way out except for
The cement thickened, getting harder and harder to stir. It was
like a nightmare where she was trying to run away from something
awful but couldn't make her legs move. If she got through this, no
lame-ass nightmare would ever bother her again.
Why only one guy? If this was a revenge deal, there should be a
couple of people. Teenagers did everything in groups. There should
be two or three girls giggling upstairs about how she was going to
"get hers." A boy or man alone made no sense. Boys never got mad at
her --- frustrated maybe, but not mad.
The thought of her acquaintances calmed her; she felt comfortable
in their world of intrigue and betrayal. This temporary composure
evaporated when the upstairs door opened and the man
She strained her neck again, letting her head hang until her long
dark hair obscured her face. He moved past her to the workbench,
where she heard a series of small movements. This is unbearable,
she thought. I'd rather be jumped in an alley, beaten up, anything
so long as I could see my attacker and know what he wanted. What
the hell did he want?
Abruptly he grabbed the back of her hair and she struggled,
twisting her head and trying to jerk away, but with his other hand
he clamped something plastic over her nose and mouth and she was
trapped. Still she struggled, her entire body writhing at his
"I thought so," she heard him say. His voice was low, calm, utterly
ordinary, and vaguely familiar.
When she finally inhaled, there was an overwhelming chemical smell
that made her gag. She coughed and tried not to breathe, but her
terrorized body couldn't hold out for long. She breathed in.
Then there was nothing.
Later. She was in a different place now, outside, and cold. She
could hear the night birds chirping, then falling silent as they
heard the sounds of metal and rubber wheels. Then a sensation of
movement. Her feet were being pulled out of a car trunk and the
open edge of it scraped her body. She protested at the painful
burning along her hip, but the shout came out as a murmur. She had
tape over her mouth.
He held her up, his body pressed against hers as he loaded the
cement bucket onto a two-wheel dolly. Then he pulled on the chains
down her back to keep her upright while he tilted the dolly back.
Her knees could not support her. The chain around her neck bit into
her larynx and her head ached as it bounced against the bar. The
smell of vomit snaked through the air, and her throat burned. He
wheeled her over the rough road as if she were a crate of oranges.
This is starting to suck big-time.
The birds became a backdrop to the main noise, one that reached her
ears just as the fishy smell reached her nose. They were near
moving water. He was taking her to the water.
Why was he doing this? Why?
They were not by the lake, but on some kind of a bridge. There were
no lights, not even streetlights, and she could just barely see the
surrounding trees. She could not get her bearings. Nothing about
the area seemed familiar, but she had never been much for the
outdoors. No walks in the park for her.
A giggle escaped. She was losing it.
Her feet, however, felt loose in their cement holes. The chains
hung on. Her hands hurt terribly. She tried to push the tape away
with her tongue, but it extended all the way across her cheeks and
They stopped in the middle of the bridge and he pitched her body
sideways onto the low, wide wall, not caring that the rough brick
scraped the bare skin on her arms and face. Hell, he was throwing
her away, why would he care about keeping her in good shape?
Her hands hurt, she realized, because circulation had been
restored. Without the folding chair, the system of chains around
her body and wrist had loosened.
With a terrific grunt he hefted the cement onto the wall, using the
handle of the bucket. He straightened her legs, the bucket
balancing on its side along the wall's top, the handle resting on
her shins. He paused.
He was going to throw her into the water.
She was going to die.
She was going to die horribly in that frigid water.
Insane with panic, she began to scream, her voice coming out as a
muffled series of pathetic grunts to which he paid no mind.
He pushed her shoulder back, turning her faceup. In the weak light
of a quarter moon, a shadow formed his face, a grotesque empty hole
where a face should have been.
"Please." Her words escaped the duct tape, loosened slightly by her
tears. "Please don't."
Without warning, he pushed her over.
The shock of the water terrified her more than she could have
imagined. It encased her in a tomb of ice, cut off all sound other
than her frenzied heartbeat, and stabbed through her flesh straight
to the bone. Not to inhale in response to the stunning cold took
every ounce of strength she had.
She sank to the bottom as the chains over her shoulders pulled her
down with the block. The pressure mounted in her ears and sinuses.
Her lungs ached. She felt soft things around her --- seaweed, fish,
or her own hair. She knew she would die, but also discovered that
her hands were free.
Insensible with fear, she felt her body function on its own: She
slipped each wrist through the links, worked her feet out of the
rigid holes one at a time, and pulled the chains off her shoulders
as if shedding a negligee.
The loop around her waist held fast.
She pushed off the cement block and strained against the bounds,
but the chains held on to her hips.
With pained fingers she undid her belt buckle and yanked her
miniskirt down to her knees, managing to hang on to her panties.
Then she lost a few more precious seconds working the chain down
over her hips before finally kicking free. She didn't waste time
with the tape over her mouth and swam upward, giddy with success.
Except that she couldn't hold her breath any longer.
She tried to let it out, just a little, just to relieve the
pressure, and swam harder. How deep could she be? Which way was up?
She opened her eyes and saw nothing, freezing limbo.
Her lungs had held out as long as they could. She sucked in icy
water through her nose, freezing her sinuses; she tried to cough
through the tape, thinking, I'm not going to make it.
One hand reached air, only a few degrees warmer, and she burst
through the surface trying to gulp air through her water-filled
head. One hand scraped the slimy surface of a bridge pylon and she
broke two nails grabbing for it. With the other she pulled the tape
off her numb skin and coughed spasmodically, spitting out the water
and sucking in lungfuls of the sweet, clear air.
The river moved along, but not fast enough to rip her from the
pylon. She clung to the stone, trying to comprehend what had just
happened. She had done it. She had escaped an icy tomb but still
had to swim to the shore, visible only as a darker black against
the charcoal gray of the water, and get to some shelter or a person
who could help. And she had to do all that with no pants and no
shoes and without freezing first, a feat that seemed less possible
with every passing moment. She could no longer feel any of her
limbs, yet they were still moving at her command. Maybe she could
make it. The damn polar bear club did it, didn't they?
She struck out for the bank. It occurred to her that the man might
not have left, he might have heard her furious breathing and
splashing, but that was a chance she'd have to take. Anything to
get out of the damn water.
The downstream current carried her away from the bridge --- she had
only to make her way toward the bank. But it was so cold. Her head
slipped under the freezing water.
Then her foot struck bottom; the water had grown shallower. She
stood. The current pushed her down and she crawled over the smooth
rocks on her hands and knees. When the water faded to a foot deep
she stood again and moved carefully over the stones in her bare
For a moment the air felt good, warmer than the water by several
degrees. But then a breeze came through and turned her flesh to
ice. She couldn't survive out here for long, maybe not at all. She
grabbed the branches of a bush and pulled herself up the incline,
slipping a bit on the muddy bank.
She moved blindly, unable to hear anything over her own ragged
breathing. She kept her head down to keep her eyes safe as she
plowed through the undergrowth. Branches and thorns tore her skin
but she barely felt it --- the advantage of being numb, although
the movement began to thaw out her hands. A monotonous droning
sound turned out to be the chattering of her teeth.
Then the ground leveled out a little, became more horizontal. With
another few steps she felt gravel, then hardness under her frozen
toes. She had found a road. She stopped, unable to decide which way
When she became still, she could hear them.
Steps with a slight crunch, as if someone were walking along the
side of the road, partly in the gravel.
He moved toward her, the feeble moonlight picking up a white shirt
under a long jacket. But his face was hidden beneath a hood.
She turned in the other direction and started to run, as fast as
her frozen, barefoot body would allow, scarcely more than a limping
trot. She had covered perhaps five feet when he grabbed her by the
back of her sodden T-shirt and tripped her. She hit the ground
heavily and felt the biting sting of a scraped knee.
"What?" she shrieked at him with lips only half thawed, and he
hesitated just for a moment as if startled by her voice. "What do
you want? Who are you?"
"How did you get out of there?" he demanded, his voice full and
loud and terrible.
"Leave me alone!" She struggled to her knees, her mind beyond
reason. All she wanted to do was go home and be warm and safe. All
she wanted to do was live. "Go away!"
He kicked her in the stomach as she started to stand, dropping her
to her knees once more. "How did you get out of there?"
"Go away," she sobbed.
He straddled her back. She heard an almost gentle clinking sound
and then the chain passed around her neck. He pulled the ends taut
but not yet tight.
The touch of the unyielding metal shocked her mind into a new
direction. "You can't do this." She fought one last time to get to
her feet, tearing at the skin of her own neck as she tried to pull
the chains away with her right hand. "Do you know what will happen
He said nothing.
"Don't you know who I am, you son of a bitch? I'm Destiny Pierson.
I'm the goddamn mayor's daughter!"
The chain tightened.
Excerpted from TRACE EVIDENCE © Copyright 2005 by
Elizabeth Becka. Reprinted with permission by Hyperion. All rights