Authors: Leslie Parrish
already been one for the record books. Not just for the high temps but also for
the crime rate. Because with heat came anger; with anger, violence. And,
more than anybody on the Savannah-Chatham Metro PD would like to admit,
that violence ended in death. Which was why he was here, outside what had
once been Fast Eddie’s Bar and was now one giant hunk of burnt.
Kil ing the engine, Gabe pushed his dark sunglasses firmly over his eyes,
then glanced out the window at a car that had just pul ed in beside him. His
partner, Ty Wal ace, had gotten the cal on his way in to the central precinct,
too, and had detoured to meet him on the scene.
Theirs weren’t the only vehicles present. The fire department had reportedly
gotten the cal at around three a.m., and it had taken crews from two stations
to beat the flames into submission. Now, the smoldering ruins of a once
troublesome hangout were ringed by a handful of trucks, a squad car, a fire
chief vehicle, and a crime scene van that said forensics was already on the
job. From up the block, an early-bird crew from one of the local news stations
ogled everything, hungry for a story to lead off the seven a.m. broadcast.
Fortunately, the few sad, ramshackle houses nearby remained quiet, either
abandoned, or their occupants were sound asleep, tired out after the middle-
of-thenight fire excitement. The only close neighbors likely to be attracted to
the action now would be watching from the afterlife: The North Laurel Grove
Cemetery cast its shadow of eerie-genteel Southern death over the entire
area from directly across the street.
From what he’d heard on dispatch, the initial cal had sounded like just
another random fire, possibly an arson case. The kind where some roughneck
got mad about being cut off, then flicked a match on a tank of propane and
roared away into the night. Then they’d found the body.
Too early to say who it was, how they’d died, or who’d lit the match. But
things had definitely gotten a lot stickier.
Stepping out of the car, he braced himself against an assault of pure heat
against his air-conditioned skin. A sheen of sweat immediately broke out on
his brow. The scorched air was sharp in his nose, the smoky embers leaving a
his brow. The scorched air was sharp in his nose, the smoky embers leaving a
haze that rose to meet the one fal ing from the humid sky. But even that didn’t
quite cover up the smel of old paper and damp cel ar that seemed to
permeate the state in August.
The keening screech of a mil ion cicadas deafened him for a moment.
Oblivious to man’s drama, the insects drowned out the chatter of the on-site
responders and the rumble of a city waking up to another steamy morning.
Summertime in Georgia. You had to love it ’cause you’d just go crazy hating
it. Never having lived anywhere else—he’d been raised on a farm less than a
hundred miles from here and had gone to community col ege, and then the
state university, SSU, right here in Savannah—he didn’t know how he’d react
if a summer day didn’t include sweat and haze and hot air in his lungs. And
bugs . . . Lord knows, you couldn’t forget the bugs.
“Beats some Northern city with ten feet of snow in the winter,” he reminded
himself. Besides, while Savannah might have cockroaches as big as his
hand, he wouldn’t trade them for dog-sized rats in someplace like New York.
Eyeing the smoke stil rising from the charred, blackened remains, he found
himself hoping this was an openand-shut kind of case—arson as revenge,
owner caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn’t know if his
boiling brain was ready for much more than that this early, especial y with no
“Hey there, partner,” said Ty, who’d hopped out of his car with his typical
jaunty air. His freshly shaved head gleamed, and his light-colored suit was
crisp and fresh. As usual, the guy looked like he’d stepped off the cover of
Gabe, on the other hand, could maybe pose for
Field & Stream
on his very
best day. A suit-and-tie kinda guy he wasn’t, though, of course, he’d made the
tie concession since earning his shield three years ago.
“Lucky us—getting to work in the great outdoors this fine morning,” his
partner added. “One of the best parts of the job, isn’t it?”
“Cheery SOB,” Gabe muttered, knowing the man was trying to get a laugh
out of him.
“Broughtcha somethin’,” Ty said, lifting his hand to reveal a large, plastic cup
containing some beige Slurpeelike confection topped with whipped cream
and chocolate syrup that wouldn’t be consumed by any selfrespecting coffee
He grimaced. “No, thank you.”
“That’s mine.” Ty placed the drink on the car roof and bent back inside.
When he stood, he held a foam cup, the steam rising out of the tiny sippy hole
at the top.
Ahh. Perfect. His partner might have peacock genes, but he did know Gabe
wel . Didn’t matter if the heat index was two below molten lava, he needed his
coffee hot and dark to start the day. “Thanks. You’re forgiven for sticking me
with the report on the liquor store holdup so you could go out with that tranny
you met at the racetrack.”
Always good-humored, Ty grinned. “She was al woman, partner. Just big
Gabe knew that; he’d just been giving his partner shit. Ty was purely
straight. The younger man loved women, probably a little too much,
considering how many different ones seemed to drift in and out of his life.
Gabe had been warning him that one day he was either gonna get the Bobbitt
treatment, or else he’d fal crazy in love, for real, with a woman who wouldn’t let
him touch a hair on her head.
Watching him take a sip, Ty gave him a sly look and asked, “So, whaddya
say? Is it strong enough to float an anvil?”
Gabe chuckled. One thing he had to say for his young partner, he sure was
tenacious. Ty had picked up some book of Southern expressions and was
forever trying them out. He had moved here from Florida, which any Georgian
would tel you was about as much a part of the true Deep South as New York
City. Tired of losing the argument that south of the Mason-Dixon Line meant
—which it didn’t—the man was blasted determined to fit in like a
born-and-bred Georgian, one col oquialism at a time.
“Y’al just about got that ’un right,” Gabe said with a grin, letting his own
Deep South accent, which he usual y kept under control, slip out. “But
remember, it’s pronounced ‘tuh’ not ‘to.’”
The younger man saluted. “Got it.”
Leaving their cars, the two of them approached the scene and were
greeted by a sweating firefighter wearing about forty pounds of gear. The red-
faced man eyed Ty’s froufrou drink, and without a second’s hesitation his
partner wordlessly handed it over. “For you.”
Pain-in-the-ass clothes-and-women hound or not, Ty was one hel of a nice
guy. In the year that they’d been partnered up, Gabe had come not only to
respect him but also to like him more than just about anybody else he knew.
Of course, that didn’t stop him from giving the rookie detective shit just as
often as he felt like it.
“Thanks,” the firefighter said, sounding truly grateful. His soot-smeared hand
shook a little with visible exhaustion as he lifted the icy drink to his mouth and
“So whadda we got?” Gabe asked after the exhausted firefighter had
“Remains were found hidden inside a wal . Looks like they’d been there a
Taken by surprise, since he’d expected an arson victim who’d gotten
trapped by the flames or smoke mere hours ago, Gabe frowned. “How long?”
“Skeleton long,” the main replied with a shrug.
Meaning years. Talk about a cold case turned very hot.
“The body musta been wrapped up in plastic or something, which pretty
much melted under the flames. But there wasn’t much corpse left to melt from
what I could see. Just bones.”
“You found the remains yourself?” Ty asked, jotting a few notes in a smal
“Uh-huh,” the firefighter said. Offering his name and badge number, he
added, “We were walking down the site, just to check for any hot spots. Didn’t
think there were any victims—the owner lives nearby and came in right away.
Said the bar had been closed for an hour and nobody shoulda been here.”
Gabe glanced around the parking lot and spied a dejected-looking older
man with long, graying hair. His loose shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops said he’d
dressed and gotten here in a hurry. “He the owner?”
“Yeah, that’s him, Fast Eddie himself. He’s been wailing’bout some cracker
who was hassling a waitress the other night.”
Gabe couldn’t prevent a tiny, reflexive stiffening of his spine at the casual,
derogatory slang. Pure product of his upbringing, he knew. He was long past
being bothered about the fact that he’d been labeled a cracker, a redneck, or
just a white-trash bastard as a kid, having grown up on a dirt-poor farm with
his racist asshole of a grandfather.
Huh. He couldn’t even imagine what the old man would say if he knew
Gabe’s new partner was a black man. If Gabe had actual y spoken to his only
living relative once in the past seven years, he might be tempted now to cal
him up, just to tel him that.
“Fast Eddie suspects the guy came back tonight and set the blaze for
revenge,” the firefighter added.
Maybe. But judging by what they’d heard so far, this “cracker” probably
hadn’t been the one who’d left a plastic-wrapped skeleton on-site, unless he
had a twisted sense of humor and a liking for dramatic cal ing cards. “Okay,
we’l talk to him, get a description of the guy.”
The firefighter finished the drink Ty had given him and mumbled, “Thanks,
man. I owe you one.”
“Next one’s on me, I swear,” he said with a grin. But it quickly faded. “Hel of
a thing, finding something like that. Never seen anything like it. Who’d expect
to stumble over a bunch of old bones stuffed inside a wal ?”
The big man looked shaken. Working homicide, dealing with bodies had
become an unpleasant habit for Gabe, but this guy might never have seen
human remains before. Firefighters went into their field to save lives, while
cops like Gabe eventual y got used to the fact that they spent more time
helping victims after crimes were committed than before.
The old adage said an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. But
in this day and age, with budgets stretched so thin that states were sending
IOUs instead of tax refunds, cops were badly outmanned and often
outequipped. Playing solve instead of prevent seemed to be the name of the
game everywhere, including Savannah.
“Where exactly did you find ’em?” Gabe asked.
“The masonry was stil intact in the corner of what was once a storage
room, but, fortunately, not the liquor storage room, or we might not’a found
anything at al . We got this wicked bitch under control right before she made
contact with about fifty cases of beer and dozens of bottles of Jack, Johnnie
and Wild Turkey.”
That would have been bad. Real bad. The dead over at Laurel Grove
Cemetery might have been rattled out of their graves if that room had gone
“Looks like the body had been wedged up against the wal between two
studs, then closed in with drywal . Once the wal came down, the bones did,
“You’d think they’d have noticed the smel ,” Ty muttered.
Maybe. But in a bar fil ed with the smel of beer and sweaty bodies, maybe
a nasty odor coming from a packed storage room wouldn’t have stood out too
Thanking the firefighter, Gabe nodded to a man who’d just exited the ruin
—Wright, one of the crime scene investigators. Good. In fact, he was probably
the best. Wright wasn’t a grandstander or a typical science geek. He was
friendly, though methodical and thorough, never missing a thing. Every cop in
homicide hoped he’d be the one they drew on a case.
“Mornin’, detectives,” he said, heading straight to his van and talking over
his shoulder. “I don’t have anything yet.”
“You’re losing your touch then; figured you’d have the vic’s name and
driver’s license number by now,” Ty said with a grin.
Wright, usual y good-natured, didn’t laugh in response. Instead, he shook
his head in disgust. “This poor kid was too young to have one.”
“Damn,” Ty mumbled, rubbing a hand against his jaw.
Wright reached into the van and hauled out a sizable equipment case—he’d
apparently gotten here just ahead of them and hadn’t done much more than
walk into the building and take a look. “He’s been there a long time—years