Porcupine City is a peaceful little town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The residents enjoy a quiet life far removed from the comings and goings of larger cities. The kind of town where everyone knows everyone else and good-natured gossip is a prime source of entertainment. It's certainly the last place anyone would think of using as the backdrop for a high-tech, high-thrill treasure hunt.
Until the first gruesome clue is found: a headless corpse wrapped in plastic.
Deputy Steve Martinez--Lakota Indian by birth, Porcupine City native by association--has investigated many crimes, but none more surprising than the case before him now. When clues at the first crime scene lead to the discovery of a second headless corpse, it becomes clear to Steve that it's someone's twisted idea of a game. And these events couldn't come at worse time: the election for county sheriff is fast approaching and the sudden rash of corpses is just the sort of ammunition Steve's opponent is all too eager to use against him. Luckily Steve's longtime love, beautiful redhead Ginny Fitzgerald, is still by his side, but even that relationship becomes strained as Steve searches for a way to connect with her foster son, Tommy.
This is Steve's toughest investigation yet--one that spreads from secretive internet chatrooms into Chicago's seedy underbelly and even takes to the air above Porcupine City. It will take all of Deputy Martinez's patience and cunning to catch a sociopath who's after the next forbidden rush. It might also force him to face some unpleasant truths about the locals he has sworn to protect.
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HENRY KISOR is the recently retired book editor and literary columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1978 to 2006. He is also the author of Season's Revenge and A Venture into Murder, also featuring Deputy Steve Martinez. Kisor lives in Evanston, Illinois.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1 “It’s in the Dying Room,” Jenny Besonen said, voice strained, ample chest heaving. “And it has no head.”
Billy Ciric, her boyfriend, sat disconsolately next to her on a bench in the Poor Farm courtyard, staring at the breakfast he had splashed on the rusty flank of Amos Hoskinen’s tractor.
“What’s up in the Dying Room?” I asked. I was a bit breathless myself, having been yanked a few minutes earlier out of the Porcupine City Health Center, where I had been pumping a stationary bike for nearly an hour, and dispatched in the sheriff’s department’s Explorer out to the scene on State Highway M-38 three miles southeast of town.
“The body.” Jenny glanced at me almost accusingly, as if I should magically have known the reason for her distress.
“It’s a lady. She’s wrapped in plastic. And she has no head.” Jenny took a deep breath, mending her tattered composure.
“We’d been exploring, and—” Jenny glanced away and hesitated. She wasn’t telling the truth. Seventeen-year-old kids are still too immature and transparent to lie convincingly. But it wasn’t yet time to insist on the facts, young lady, nothing but the facts.
“No. . . . Ah. . . . I don’t know.”
“Wait here, okay? I’ll have a look. Amos, would you keep an eye on Jenny and Billy?”
“Sure,” Amos said. He had not moved from the seat of his tractor, but he had kept his phlegmatic calm ever since Jenny and Billy had scrambled, screaming in terror, out the front door of the Poor Farm and told him what they had stumbled across up in the Dying Room. Immediately Amos had relayed their discovery to the sheriff’s department on his cell phone—luckily, the Poor Farm lay within the spotty cellular coverage of Porcupine County—and I, the nearest deputy within the dispatcher’s grasp, had been hauled to work early and sent to the scene.
A tall, rawboned farmer and stable keeper, Amos was the latest in a succession of owners of the sprawling property once officially known as the Porcupine County Poor Farm and still called that. Looking almost like a brooding red-brick Victorian mansion gingerbreaded with cupolas and turrets—“Hogwarts West,” the local children say—the Poor Farm still catches the eye of motorists speeding by on the highway a hundred yards away.
More than a century ago, Porcupine County built the Poor Farm to shelter two dozen or so indigents who worked the rocky, deforested fields in exchange for their survival. For poorhouses of the age, this one wasn’t so bad. Daily life there, I knew from the lecture the director of the Porcupine County Historical Society had given a year or so ago, was rugged but not cruel. The unfortunates were expected to help work the land if they could and do chores inside if they couldn’t. The Poor Farm had been no Dickensian horror but a lighthouse of modest respite in an unforgiving land where harsh winters arrive early, dig in deeply, and stay long.
From the highway, the place looked sturdy enough to be rehabilitated someday. Closer in, however, a visitor could see that splintered plywood shrouded half the Poor Farm’s windows while the glass in the other half simply had gone missing. Doors dangled askew from sprung hinges. Frayed blue plastic tarps, lashed loosely over holes in the roof, snapped in the wind. The two-foot-thick masonry, however, remained solid and mostly unblemished except for the faded five-foot-tall “eat more beef” sign whitewashed by a shaky hand on the highway side. The notice had doubtless been posted by some desperate long-ago cattle farmer, perhaps the one who had bought and worked the house and its lands when the state took over care of the poor after the Second World War.
Inside, a large warm kitchen and a commodious parlor once had made up most of the now empty and cavernous ground floor. Shreds of straw left by the hay bales stored there in later years now shared the oaken planks with decades of rodent droppings. Upstairs, men had slept in a large dormitory room at one end, women in another across the wide hall, its door guarded by a stern Cerberus of a nurse. Children had occupied bunks on half the third floor, the highway side. A series of small rooms, used mostly for storage, separated them from the Dying Room, whose face was turned to the fields on the other side of the house.
The Dying Room was where the deathly ill awaited their fate, the thick interior walls insulating their cries and screams from the rest of the house. The arms of two tall men could have spanned the width of the room and almost its length. It had space for just two narrow beds, whose utilitarian steel frames and springs, now broken and rusted, still stood on the floor. Just off the room lay another chamber, little more than a closet, according to legend the coldest enclosure in the house during the winter. There, plain wooden coffins and their contents were stored until the April thaw, when they could be discreetly smuggled down a back stairway and carted to potter’s field, where they were often buried in the presence of just two mourners, the grave digger and a minister hired by the county to speed the souls on their way.
Carefully I mounted the front stairs to the third floor, brushing away decades of cobwebs as splintered oaken treads creaked in annoyance. I stepped over the dusty threshold of the Dying Room.
That was the perfect name, for the place itself looked bound for the boneyard. A jagged fissure gaped between the ruined walls and stained ceiling, sagging like a double bed in a cheap motel. Shattered lath grinned from lightning-shaped cracks in the plaster walls. Most of the elaborately carved oaken frieze molding had been pried out and salvaged decades ago.
On one of the bedsprings lay the sight that had so upset Jenny and Billy. A rectangular shroud of thick plastic sheeting, sealed all around to form a transparent but airtight container, encased a yellowish green corpse. The plastic bulged slightly from gas emitted by slow decomposition. A thick scrim of moisture clouded the inside of the soiled plastic, like a dirty shower curtain in a humid bathroom, blanketing a clear view of the contents. I could see enough of the shape within to tell that it was the nude body of a woman, probably young judging by the firmness of the breasts and tightness of the thighs. It had neither head nor hands. Instead of looking like a once living body, it resembled a mutilated life-size statue toppled off its pedestal in a ruined Greek temple.
I stood, picked my way back through the third floor and down the rickety stairs, and strode out into the courtyard. Deputy Chad Garrow, whose patrol area encompasses the Poor Farm, stood talking to Jenny, Billy, and Amos. Chad had been writing a traffic ticket twenty minutes south on U.S. 45, hence I had been called in early to investigate. I quickly filled him in on what I had seen in the Dying Room.
“Shall I radio Alex?” Chad asked. Detective Sergeant Alex Kolehmainen was the local state police forensics investigator and the authority we almost always called in to investigate suspicious deaths. The state police is better equipped for that than are tight-budgeted sheriff’s departments in rural counties whose population—and tax base—shrinks by 10 percent every decade. And this at first looked like a homicide, although doubts were beginning to seep into my head.
“Do that,” I said. “I’ll talk to the kids.”
Jenny and Billy still sat on the bench in the warm noonday sun outside the manor house, chatting with Chad. They were both high school seniors, and I knew them. Billy was tall, black-haired in a modified Marine crew cut, good-looking, and muscular. A star football player at Porcupine City High School, Billy was a tight end promising enough for a football scholarship to half a dozen universities. His black sleeveless T-shirt set off his well-cut biceps. Only a bent nose, the product of a hard check into the goal on a hockey rink, marred his sculpted features.
Jenny, the oldest daughter of a dairy farmer, was a sturdy and slightly chubby but winsome and pretty blonde whose loose chambray work shirt, denim overalls, and swampers—rubber-bottomed leather boots—couldn’t conceal her abundant womanliness. Her arms and shoulders had been built up by years of farm work, many of them with the heifers that always scored well in the 4-H division at the county fair. Doubtless she had been mucking out stalls that morning, for she smelled cowy, a homey aroma of sweet milk and stale dung whose familiarity comforts rather than repels the country dweller.
Both were nice, hard-working, intelligent kids who applied themselves in school, and both were headed to college, Billy to the University of Michigan and Jenny to Michigan Tech. He wanted to follow his dad into law, and she was hoping to become a veterinarian. I thought both would achieve their dreams—and after graduation probably would leave Porcupine County for good. Jobs are hard to get in a land where the mines have long closed and where most of the tall pines and cedars were cut down more than a century ago, and what jobs there are don’t pay much. I just hoped Billy wouldn’t get Jenny pregnant, as happened so often up here. Young dreams are so easily ruined by careless rolls in the hay.
Jenny and Billy were laughing with Chad, as if the kids had forgotten the unpleasant sight in the Dying Room. I was not surprised. Chad, as amiable as he was large, knew how t...
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Book Description Forge Books. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 076531780X Ships promptly. Bookseller Inventory # HCI1761KWGG050417H0513
Book Description Forge, 2007. Soft cover. Book Condition: New. No Jacket. 1st Edition. Dec. 2007. Advance Uncorrected Proof. First Ed. 1st printing. Another wild mystery in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with Deputy Steve Martinez. In Porcupine City, a peaceful ittle town in Michigan's UP, there's a lot of gossip and little else, until a gruesome clue is found: a headless corpse wrapped in plastic leading to a hightech, high-thrill treasure hunt. Mint in white printed wrappers. Language: eng Language: eng 0.0. Bookseller Inventory # 9538
Book Description Forge Books, 2007. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX076531780X
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Book Description Forge, New York, 2007. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition, First Printing. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. Nice, unsold, unread first edition, first printing of this Upper Penisula mystery featuring Deputy Steve Martinez. Ships in a box, fast service from a real bricks and mortar independent bookstore open since 1998. Bookseller Inventory # 007600
Book Description Forge Books, 2007. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P11076531780X
Book Description Forge Books. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 076531780X New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW6.0961613