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Authors: Leslie Parrish

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BOOK: Cold Touch
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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

coffee.

“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

GQ
.

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

drinker.

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

and fierce.”

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

Southern
—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

gulped.

“So whadda we got?” Gabe asked after the exhausted firefighter had

sipped deeply.

“Remains were found hidden inside a wal . Looks like they’d been there a

long time.”

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

notebook.

“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.”

“No problem.”

“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

up.

“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,

too.”

“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

much.

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.”

A kid.

“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

BOOK: Cold Touch
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