Authors: PJ Parrish
|The Little Death|
|Louis Kincaid |
|USA : (2009)|
Most people would kill to live in glamorous Palm Beach, with its
beautiful women, five-star resorts, and dazzling coast. But most people
don't know what
goes on in the bedrooms of the rich and
famous.... Mark Durand did -- and now the handsome high-class "walker,"
who escorted the wealthiest women to posh affairs, is dead, his beheaded
corpse found in an abandoned cattle pen.
South Florida detective
Louis Kincaid feels out of his elementin Palm Beach, especially after
receiving a ticket for driving an ugly car. But plunged into the
gruesome homicide case, he's agreed to help prime suspect Reggie Kent,
an aging male walker who may or may not have been the victim's lover.
And as his investigation snakes through the privileged class, Kincaid
uncovers shocking truths about a powerful lady senator whose husband
collects dangerous weaponry... a silver tongued dowager with a taste for
gossip... and a seductive socialite who tries to make Kincaid forget
about his girlfriend Joe Frye -- by whispering three little words: "
Die with me.
BOOKS BY P. J. PARRISH
The Little Death
South of Hell
A Thousand Bones
An Unquiet Grave
A Killing Rain
Island of Bones
Thicker Than Water
Paint It Black
Dead of Winter
Dark of the Moon
Published by POCKET BOOKS
P. J. PARRISH
POCKET STAR BOOKS
New York London Toronto Sydney
The sale of this book without its cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”
Pocket Star Books
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by P. J. Parrish
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, address Pocket Books Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
First Pocket Star Books paperback edition March 2010
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Cover design and illustration: Jae Song
Photograph of ghost orchid: Mick Fournier
Manufactured in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ISBN 978-1-4391-6923-0 (ebook)
For Barbara Parker,
writer, teacher, mentor, friend.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence—ripen, fall, and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.
The Lotus Eaters
Something wasn’t right. He could tell from the baying of the dog.
It wasn’t the normal barking that came when the dogs had come across a cow mired in a mud hole. It wasn’t the frenzied yelps that signaled the dogs had cornered a boar in the brush.
This was like screaming.
Burke Aubry shifted in his saddle and peered into the darkness. A heavy fog had rolled in before dawn, and it distorted everything—shapes, smells, but especially sound. The barking seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once, rising and falling with every shift of the cold morning wind.
A rustling to his left. He turned, ears pricked.
Just a cabbage palm. Its thick trunk, hidden by the fog, seemed to float above the ground. The wind sent the heavy fronds scraping against each other. It sounded like the rasp of a dying man.
Movement in the corner of his eye. The dark mass took shape as it came toward him, the blur hardening slowly into horse and rider.
It was Dwayne. Aubry could tell from the red kerchief he always wore around his neck. A second later, another, smaller shape emerged, a large yellow dog following close behind the horse.
Dwayne drew his horse up next to Aubry’s. “You hear that?”
“You think one of the curs got into it with a boar?”
Aubry didn’t answer. He was listening to the baying. It sounded like it was coming from the south. But none of the men or their dogs were supposed to be down there.
He jerked the radio from his saddle. “Mike?”
A cackle of static. “Yeah, boss?”
“You working the east ten pasture?”
“That’s where you told us to go.”
“Are all of you there?”
A pause. “Yes, sir.”
“What about the dogs?”
“Are all your dogs with you?”
“Count ’em, Mike.”
Seconds later, he came back. “Ted says his dog has gone missing.”
A high-pitched yelping rose on the wind. It was coming from the south, Aubry was sure this time. He keyed the radio. “Mike, get the men down to Devil’s Garden.”
“Devil’s Garden? But—”
“Just do it, Mike.”
Aubry stowed the radio and turned to Dwayne. “Let’s go.”
Even in the fog, he knew where he was going. He had been working the ranch for nearly four decades now, and he knew every foot of the four thousand acres, knew every tree, every swamp, every fence. He knew, too, that
no living thing, not even a dog, had any reason to be in Devil’s Garden.
They headed south. They crossed a stream and entered a thick grove of old live oaks. The gray fog shroud wrapped the trees, softening their black, twisting branches and webs of Spanish moss.
The baying was loud now. It was coming from the direction of the old cow pen. The pen was one of the largest on the ranch but had been abandoned twenty years ago. Aubry urged his horse on. Suddenly, the yellow dog darted ahead of them through the tall, wet ferns.
Dwayne whistled, but the dog was lost in the fog.
The men prodded their horses to a fast trot. The dark wood of the pen’s fence emerged from the mist. Two dogs now, barking and growling.
Aubry got off his horse, pulling out his rifle. He scaled the fence, and the barking drew him deeper into the maze of holding pens.
He reached the large central pen and stopped, rifle poised to shoot if the dogs were confronting an animal. But the mass that the dogs were hunched over wasn’t moving. Aubry heard Dwayne come in behind him and then Dwayne’s sharp command to the dogs to heel. Ears flat, fur raised, the dogs backed off.
Aubry approached the mass slowly, rifle ready.
The pale flesh stood out against the black dirt. At first, he thought it was a skinned boar carcass. Then he saw the arm. A step closer, and the rest of the mass took shape. A leg, and then a second one bent at a horrid angle under the hump of a bare back.
It was a man, naked.
Aubry stopped. There was no head.
“Hey, boss, what we got—”
Aubry heard Dwayne’s sharp intake of breath as he saw the corpse.
“Jesus,” Dwayne said.
Aubry pulled out his radio.
“Ah, sweet Jesus, where’s his head?” Dwayne whispered.
Aubry keyed the radio. “Mike? Get back to the house and call the sheriff.”
“Just do what I say, Mike. Tell them there’s a dead man. Give them directions to the old cow pen in Devil’s Garden.”
“Dead man? Who?”
“I don’t know.”
Aubry clicked off and pocketed the radio. He heard a retching sound and turned. Dwayne was leaning on a fence, wiping his face.
Aubry looked back at the body. He felt the rise of bile in his throat and swallowed hard. Shifting the rifle to his back, he squatted next to the body.
He could see now that there were deep slashes across the back, like the man had been cut badly. And it looked like the head had been cut off cleanly, almost like it had been sawed off. He scanned the pen as far as the fog would allow but didn’t see the head.
He looked down. He realized suddenly that what he thought was black dirt was sand saturated with blood. The black pool spread out a good four feet from the body. He stood up and took two long strides back. The toes of his boots were black.