The Hunted: A Thriller

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9780312370756: The Hunted: A Thriller

A lightning-fast police procedural from an up-and-coming talent, The Hunted introduces a homicide detective who gets the shock of his life while tracking a most ingenious serial killer

From a writer whose previous works Robert B. Parker declared “compelling . . . swiftly told” and James W. Hall called “top-notch” comes this first electrifying thriller featuring New York City homicide detective Frank Russo.

The Hunted begins with a little girl witnessing a horrible crime. Due to the child's testimony, the murderer is convicted. Eighteen years later the killer is released on parole, and his mission is to track down the now grown woman he feels betrayed him. A deranged dance of masked identities ensues, and it is up to newly single homicide detective Frank Russo to unravel the case.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Wayne Barcomb's first two novels, Blood Tide and Undercurrent, were published by a small regional press to excellent reviews. This is his first thriller in the Detective Frank Russo series; he lives in Sarasota, Florida. Visit his Web site at www.waynebarcomb.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1

SHE NEVER TRULY hated her father until that night. It began as the others had. The voices awakened her around midnight. She buried her face under the pillow but the voices found her.

"You stupid cow. You’re so dumb, you still don’t know how to do it right, do ya? Do you?"

A loud slap. "Paul, please."

The light from the kitchen intruded into her room, highlighting her small three- drawer dresser covered with Snow White and Cinderella stickers. She wished her bedroom had a door. She would close it to shut out the sounds. The screams were the worst.

"Paul, please," her father’s voice mocked her mother’s plea. "I’m sick of your whining. Shut up!" More scuffling, another slap. "No? OK, I got a better idea."

The little girl raised her head from under the pillow, sat up and looked out the open window, and wished she could climb out and go

far away. Her eyes closed and she was walking with her mother in the warm night. A shiny car stopped, and a tall, handsome man with a kind voice asked her if she and her mother would like to go away with him. He said her mother was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

He stepped out, took her and her mother’s hands, and helped them into the car, and they drove away with the handsome man. She did not know where they were going, but it would be far away and they would be forever happy.

"Oh, Paul, it hurts so much, please. Please. Oh! God! God, help me. I can’t stand it."

The child slipped out of bed, tiptoed to the doorway, and peered into the kitchen. She saw her mother lying on her back on the linoleum floor she had waxed earlier that day, the room still smelling of the wax. Her father sat on top of her, his hand up her skirt. She knew where her father’s hand was.

She stood staring at her mother and father. Her mother lay between the radiator and the refrigerator, one shoe on, one lying under the small kitchen table. Her blouse was torn, and she could see one of her mother’s nipples. Her left eye was swollen, and the rest of her face was red and wet from tears. Her father’s hand was over her mother’s mouth.

She smelled her father’s sweat and whiskey. He was probably already drunk when he got home. When he was like that she wished he would go away and never come back. But he was her father and she was ashamed of those thoughts.

"You bit me. You bitch!" her father screamed. He pulled his hand away from her mother’s mouth, and blood trickled from the side of his index finger.

She stood in the doorway, watching, as her father pulled his other hand from her mother’s skirt and slapped her hard. A wine bottle rolled out from under her, and her mother’s legs sent it clattering across the floor. It came to rest at her feet, and she stared down at it.

Her mother suddenly came to life, arched her back, and rolled her father off. Her knee shot into his groin, and she started to get up. Bellowing with pain and rage, her father grabbed an ankle.

She watched her father drag her mother until he could get his hands on her throat. He began choking her and banging her head against the floor. She tried to slide away and got as far as the radiator. Again he grabbed her and pounded her head against the edge of the radiator. Blood gushed and formed a small pool on the floor.

She rushed to her mother, who lay still, the color draining slowly from her face.

A blow sent her sprawling. When she focused her eyes, her father stood over her. "You get in your bed now, Tookie! You hear me? Now! You say one thing—one thing and you’ll get the same thing your mother just got. Now get in there!"

Never taking her eyes off her father, she slid across the kitchen floor to her bedroom. When she reached her room, she grabbed two of her dolls and dropped on the bed, sobbing.

Through the doorway she could see her father leaning and swaying over her mother’s body. She watched him feel her wrist with his fingers. He stood over her mother, weaving, sucking on the knuckle of his finger. His eyes seemed to be everywhere, and then she saw him look toward her room. She was afraid and closed her eyes and made believe she was asleep.

"Tookie, wake up, sweetheart. Daddy wants to talk to you."

She moaned and stirred.

"Wake up, Tookie. Talk to Daddy."

She opened her eyes and looked straight into her father’s bloodshot eyes. They always bulged, and they scared her. She squirmed and tried to turn away from him but he held her fast. The hard bristle of his unshaven face scratched her cheek. The mole behind his ear brushed against her neck. The mole was big and hairy, and she hated it. She wanted to be free, to go to her mother. But he held her face next to his.

"Tookie?"

She hated that stupid name he called her. Her mother called her Lucky. Her lucky charm. She liked that.

"I want you to listen to me, sweetheart. Daddy’s gonna call the police and tell them about Mommy. They’ll come over here in a little while and talk with me, and they’ll talk with you, too. Now here’s what happened, and here’s what we’re gonna tell the police. Mommy and Daddy were sitting at the table in the kitchen. We had a little argument, and Mommy got mad and hit Daddy in the face. Then Daddy hit Mommy back, first in the face and then here." He touched her breast.

"Then Daddy hit Mommy once in the eye. You were standing in your doorway and you saw it. Mommy saw you and jumped up to go to you to put you to bed. She slipped on the magazine on the floor and fell. When she fell, she hit her head on the radiator, and it got cut open. That’s what happened, sweetheart, and that’s what we’re goin’ to tell the men when they come over to talk with us."

She wanted to get away from him, wanted to be out the window with her mother and the handsome man. But he held her arms hard, smiling and nodding. Her arms hurt and she hated looking at his ugly gold tooth.

"But, Daddy, that’s not true."

Even before he hit her, she knew it was coming. She closed her eyes and felt the pain as his open hand smacked across her face. Tears filled her eyes, but she was afraid to open them.

"Now you listen to me and you listen good. You’re gonna tell me exactly what I just told you, or you’ll get a lot worse than you just got. You hear me?"

She opened her eyes. He was still holding her by the arms, his eyes bigger than she had ever seen them. Traces of spit trickled down the sides of his mouth. She stared and nodded her head slowly.

"That’s better. Now you tell me what happened."

She slowly, haltingly repeated the story.

His face softened, and the grip on her arms relaxed. "That’s a good girl, sweetheart. Now let’s do it a couple more times just to be sure." Three more times he had her run through the story. Each time she told it more convincingly.

"Oh, that’s my girl, sweetheart. Daddy’s gonna take good care of you."

She closed her eyes again, but the smells of her father were making her sick. She struggled to hold back the vomit in her throat as his hands touched her where they always did.

"Now, Tookie, I’m going to call the police and tell them about the accident, and they’ll be comin’ over soon. You stay in bed. They will probably want to talk with you after they talk to me. You be sure and tell them just what you and me went over together, right?"

She nodded. Her father went back to the kitchen and she lay in bed, hugging her dolls, trying not to cry.

She listened to his movements and sounds and crept out of bed and peeked into the kitchen, watching him. He picked up the wine bottle, washed it off, and smashed it in the trash can. Then he pressed a magazine hard against her mother’s bare foot and placed the magazine near the radiator. He picked up her mother’s shoe from the far side of the room, put it under one of the kitchen chairs, removed the other shoe and set it next to the one under the chair. With a damp paper towel, he washed off traces of blood between her legs and inner thighs. He tore her stained pan ties into shreds and flushed them along with the paper towel down the toilet.

Her father stood hunched in the middle of the kitchen. He poured some more whiskey, drank it, picked up the phone, and called the police.

Tookie heard him tell the policeman there’d been an accident. She wiped her nose and eyes with the sleeve of her nightie and watched her father as he hung up and sat at the kitchen table. She wanted to go to her mother again, but she was afraid.

She went back to bed and was almost asleep when the doorbell rang. Her clock said ten minutes after one.

"Mr. Gale? I’m Detective David McNally, and this is Officer Gamache."

"Yeah. Come in. Come in." Gale fumbled in his shirt pocket for a cigarette and clumsily worked the pack out.

Tookie could see the two policemen standing in the middle of the kitchen looking at her mother’s body sprawled across the floor. The man in the jacket knelt and felt her wrist, at the same time looking at her puffed eye. "I’m afraid she is dead, sir." He rose and faced her father.

When she heard the man say her mother was dead, she buried her head under the pillow. She didn’t want to see or hear any more.

Gale flicked the sweat from his forehead, never taking his eyes off McNally. He’d dealt with cops before, and he knew he would have to be on his guard. McNally appeared to be in his late thirties, good-looking, even seemed kind of gentlemanly. Not like other cops he had known. Nice leather jacket, white turtleneck. But cops could fool you. The guy’s handsome face showed an intelligence that unsettled him.

"Can I use your phone, sir?"

Gale nodded.

"Hello. McNally here. The lady’s dead. Get the medical examiner over here and the state police and the photographer." He hung up and looked over at the body again. "Mr. Gale, could we go sit down in the other room? I’d appreciate it if you could tell us what happened. I’m sorry. I know this is difficult for you."

"Sure, sure. That’s OK. I understand. I . . . I . . ." Gale sobbed and swallowed hard, closing his eyes.

McNally and Gamache glanced at each other and back to Gale. "Thank you, sir," McNally said.

McNally nodded to Gamache, and Gale led them into the small living room off the kitchen, sparsely furnished with a floral- print couch and a worn armchair facing a TV set. He snapped on the overhead

light. Still holding his crumpled pack of cigarettes, he pulled one out and held the pack out to the two cops. "Cigarette?"

They declined.

McNally made Gale uneasy, but there was something about Gamache that he just didn’t like. He looked like all cops: cocky, big-shot attitude. Blue uniform stretched across his fat belly, gun and nightstick hanging off him.

"Mr. Gale, can you tell me what happened here to night?" McNally asked, a gentle friendliness in his voice.

Gale was careful. He knew cops too well. They were just like those pricks in the Merchant Marine. You get in a little trouble and they suck you in by making you think they care about you, being nice to you. Then just when you start to trust them, they grab you by the balls.

He had told the investigating officer in the Merchants why he had beaten the woman in Madrid. He trusted him and thought he would understand. Before he knew it, they had kicked him out, telling him he was lucky he wasn’t going to jail. Now he had to deal with these two fucks.

"I came home from work about midnight, Officer. I worked late, and then I stopped for a few beers. My wife likes to wait up for me if I’m late. She was sittin’ at the kitchen table, sleepin’. When I come in she woke up in a bad mood. She was pissed at me for comin’ home so late without callin’, you know?" He nodded at the officers but got no response.

"Anyway, I tried to ignore her. I poured myself a little nightcap and suggested we go to bed. But she kept at me, gettin’ herself all worked up. So, we had some words, and she throws a magazine at me. Then, all of a sudden, she sucker punches me in the face. I’m caught by surprise, and I hit her back, first in the chest and then the face. I mean, hey, she really belted me.

"Then I look up and I see my little girl standin’ in the doorway. Sarah, my wife, saw her too and jumped up from the table to put her

back to bed. She slipped on the magazine on the floor and fell backwards and hit her head on the radiator. That was it. It all happened so fast. Her head hit that radiator and she started bleeding like a pig." He ground the cigarette out and looked back at the officers.

Both men stared at Gale. He squirmed, crossed and uncrossed his legs. For Christ sake, say something, you assholes.

Finally McNally spoke. "Mr. Gale, how long had your daughter been standing in the doorway?"

"Quite a while, I guess. I noticed her right after I hit her mother the second time. She sort of whimpered, and when my wife saw her, she jumped up to go to her, to put her back to bed. That’s when she slipped on the magazine."

McNally glanced at Gamache. "What happened then?" asked McNally.

"Well, I run over to her, and so did my daughter. Sarah was moaning and bleeding from her head where she hit the radiator. I could tell from the gash in her head and from the blood that she was hurt bad. A few seconds after I got to her, she stopped moaning and passed out."

"Passed out?"

"Yeah. Her eyes kinda rolled back and her head slipped to the side, and she was gone."

"What do you mean, gone?"

"I mean she was dead."

"Didn’t you think she was maybe just knocked out or something?"

"No, I seen dead people before, when I was in the Merchant Marine. I knew she was dead."

"What did your daughter do?"

"She ran to her mother. When she saw the blood she started screaming."

"And then?"

"Well, I didn’t know what to deal with first. My wife is layin’ dead on the floor, and my kid’s hysterical. I picked my daughter up and

carried her into bed, calmed her down, and told her I’d take care of Mommy. Then I went back to Sarah and felt her pulse. I couldn’t feel none, and that’s when I called you."

McNally nodded. His eyes never left Gale.

Gale wanted a drink.

"Mr. Gale, can we go back into the kitchen?"

Gale was tired. He wanted Sarah out of here. He wanted the cops out. He wanted to go to bed. "Sure."

The investigative unit arrived and went to work. The photographers began taking pictures while the medical examiner worked with the body, and a technician videotaped the death scene. A paramedic sat at the kitchen table filling out forms.

Gamache sat next to the paramedic. McNally and Paul Gale stood in the middle of the room. Gale watched the crowd of people taking over his kitchen like they owned it and wanted them the fuck out of his house. He started to say something but McNally interrupted him. "Mr. Gale, can you describe for me just how your wife stepped on the magazine and how she fell? Could you show me how it happened? Walk me through it?"

"Look, Officer, what do you want from me? I mean, my wife is layin’ dead in front of me. It’s one- thirty in the morning. My eight-year- old daughter’s in there, maybe asleep, maybe not. I got seven strangers in my kitchen, and I’m dead tired. I been through a lot to -night. I just don’t want to talk no more." His voice broke, and he closed his eyes.

McNally covered his face with his hands and rubbed his eyes.

"Uh, Dave."

When McNally looked up, Gamache was standing by the little girl’s bedroom. She stood in the doorway, her eyes red, tears trickling down her cheeks.

McNally looked at Gale. "Your call, Mr. Gale. Do we talk to her now?"

Gale looked at his daughter. Their eyes locked. He nodded his ...

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