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Authors: Brian Thiem

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Thrill Kill

BOOK: Thrill Kill
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THRILL KILL

ALSO AVAILABLE BY BRIAN THIEM:

Red Line

THRILL KILL
A MATT SINCLAIR MYSTERY

Brian Thiem

N
EW
Y
ORK

This is a work of fiction. All of the names, characters, organizations, places and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to real or actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 by Brian Thiem

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Crooked Lane Books, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.

Crooked Lane Books and its logo are trademarks of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC.

Library of Congress Catalog-in-Publication data available upon request.

ISBN (hardcover): 978-1-62953-766-5

ISBN (paperback): 978-1-62953-781-8

ISBN (ePub): 978-1-62953-782-5

ISBN (Kindle): 978-1-62953-783-2

ISBN (ePDF): 978-1-62953-784-9

Cover design by Andy Ruggirello

www.crookedlanebooks.com

Crooked Lane Books

2 Park Avenue, 10
th
Floor

New York, NY 10016

First Edition: August 2016

For

My brothers and sisters in blue who dedicate their lives to protecting and serving our communities.

And all too often, give their lives in the process.

Chapter 1

Oakland homicide sergeant Matt Sinclair stopped fifty yards from the small stand of trees. Silhouetted against a gray sky, the body of a naked woman hung by a rope from an oak tree. The toes of one foot barely touched the ground, while a second length of rope suspended the other foot level with her head, as if someone had posed her in a modern dance move. A cheap blue tarpaulin had been tied in the branches above the body by the responding officers to prevent the crime scene from getting any more soaked than it already was. Three men wearing black Gore-Tex raincoats and navy-blue baseball caps with the Oakland Police Department patch huddled under the tarp.

Sinclair stood on an asphalt pathway that ran from the parking lot, past a set of bleachers that overlooked a little-league baseball field, to a basketball court at the back of the park. He reached into his raincoat pocket and pulled out a stack of assignment cards, obsolete forms the size of archaic computer punch cards. Although they hadn’t been used in years for their intended purpose, the department continued to stock them for officers to use for taking notes in the field, specifically in rainy weather that would dissolve the paper of a legal pad.

Sinclair snaked his hand under his raincoat and suitcoat and fished a pen out of his shirt pocket. He glanced at his watch and wrote on the top card:
Dec 4, 0658—Arrived at scene (Burckhalter
Park). Cold, dawn, overcast, rain.
He hated murder scenes in the rain. Not only did the rain wash away critical evidence, but it also forced him to be more of an asshole than usual to get the uniformed cops out of their dry cars to scour the area for witnesses and evidence.

He heard a car door slam behind him and turned to see a woman dressed in a tan raincoat open an umbrella and head up the path toward him. Maybe it was a man thing, but Sinclair could not fathom a cop, even when in plainclothes, using an umbrella when doing police work. Cathy Braddock and Sinclair had been partners for just over a year, and although Sinclair had had his doubts about her when she was first assigned to him, she proved herself during their first case together and helped bring down the serial murderer the media had nicknamed the Bus Bench Killer.

“I like the hat,” she said. Braddock was forty years old—three years older than Sinclair. She was five-foot-six and well proportioned, with chestnut-colored hair worn in a fashionable bob. Under her raincoat, she wore a stylish black pantsuit that allowed her to conceal her gun, handcuffs, and other tools of the trade. In the year they’d worked together, she’d transitioned from a mix of Berkeley frumpy and New England preppy to a San Francisco sophistication that conveyed authority and professionalism—she definitely didn’t look like a rookie anymore.

“Keeps my head dry.” Sinclair tapped the brim of his gray fedora, causing water to cascade onto his shoulder.

“You just get here?”

“Two minutes before you. Just taking in the sights.”

Braddock looked past him toward the victim. “Jesus. The desk officer said it was a naked woman hung from a tree, but I was hoping that was just his early-morning sense of humor.” They walked down the path, trying to avoid the puddles. “You okay, Matt? You look beat.”

Sinclair had heard that on every call-out back when he drank. Since he had gotten sober, he seldom looked as if he’d been up all night, even when the frequency of murders cut into his sleep. But sleep was hard to come by these days for Sinclair nevertheless. “I’m fine.”

Although his raincoat covered his uniform and hid the sergeant strips on the sleeve of the shortest man of the three standing under the tarp, Sinclair recognized the area supervisor by the bright smile that seldom left his face.

“Hey, Matt. Hey, Cathy,” said Sergeant Duane Boone. “Great morning for a murder, huh?”

Boone had been on the department for ten years, four years fewer than Sinclair, and was promoted to sergeant last summer, which explained his assignment to the midnight shift with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as his days off.

“No place we’d rather be,” said Sinclair.

“Who’s got the honors?” Boone asked.

“I’m up,” said Sinclair. “Braddock had a mom and pop Friday night.” Homicide investigators in Oakland worked in pairs and were assigned what was termed “standby,” where they were the on-call team for every murder that occurred during the week. The two partners took turns assuming the responsibility of being the primary investigator of new cases.

“I heard about it,” said Boone. “Dude was stepping out on his old lady, and she took a butcher knife to him as he slept.”

“She was still holding the bloody knife when the first patrol officer got there,” said Sinclair. “Said she wasn’t a damn bit sorry.”

“I take it you don’t have the suspect on this one waiting for us in the back seat of a patrol car,” said Braddock.

“Let’s get out of the rain,” Boone said, stepping under the tarp alongside two officers, both in their midtwenties and about eye-to-eye with Sinclair’s six-foot frame. “The tech already processed the ground around the body and found nada. We have the caller in a car down in the parking lot. He was walking his dog and saw the vic and called it in.”

Sinclair stepped under the tarp and looked at the corpse. A heavy yellow nylon rope was tied around her neck, looped over a branch fifteen feet above the ground and tied to the trunk of a smaller tree about thirty feet away. Sinclair pictured a very strong man pulling the rope over the branch until the woman was suspended, wrapping it around the other tree trunk, and tying it off. Another length of rope, tied around her right ankle, was looped over the same branch and tied to the trunk of the oak tree. She was naked except for a soggy piece of cloth hanging from her crotch. Sinclair estimated her at around five-foot-eight, slim build, probably about 130 pounds. Her long, blonde hair hung over her face like a stringy mop. He pulled an assignment card from his pocket and jotted down some more notes.

Sinclair looked around the area. Grass covered the ground except under the tree where the sun couldn’t reach. He knew there’d be no footprints in the grass even if it hadn’t rained all night. “Any signs of footprints where the ropes were tied off?”

“Nothing,” said a voice behind him. Sinclair turned to see Joyce Talbert, one of the department’s civilian crime-scene techs. She was in her midforties, short and squat. Her black raincoat extended to her knees, and her bleached-blonde hair was stuffed under a baseball cap with the OPD patch on the front.

“Hey, Joyce,” said Sinclair. “How’d I get so lucky to get you as my tech?”

“You know how much I love working outdoor scenes in the winter, so when I heard the call of a DOA over the sound of rain pounding on the roof of my car, I jumped at the chance to handle it.”

“Everyone says we need the rain,” said Sinclair. California was in its fourth year of drought, but more than three inches of rain had fallen in the last week, and even the Californians who had been forced to let their lawns die because of water rationing last summer were starting to complain.

“It’s those cute little weather girls who don’t have to work in it that say we need it,” Talbert said.

“Have you found anything interesting?” Sinclair asked.

“Only this,” she said, stepping under the tarp and opening a black garbage bag.

Sinclair looked inside as she opened a paper bag containing a can of Aqua Net hairspray and another paper bag containing a green plastic lighter. “And this is connected how?”

“I found them about twenty feet down the path,” Talbert said. “Come around this side and it’ll make sense.”

Sinclair and Braddock walked to the other side of the body. A piece of burned cloth hung from the victim’s crotch. The skin on her upper legs, abdomen, and lower chest was charred and blistered.

Braddock crouched and looked closely. “Oh god, are you telling me some asshole . . .”

“That’s my guess,” said Talbert. “That’s the sleeve of a cotton sweater. I found the rest of it in the parking lot. It looks like someone soaked it in gasoline or lighter fluid—I could smell it when I first got here—stuffed the end of it into her vagina, used the hairspray and lighter as a blow torch, and lit her on fire.”

“That’s one sick motherfucker,” said Sinclair.

“I only hope she was already dead when the asshole did it,” said Braddock.

“I’m sure the coroner will be able to tell us. Speaking of the coroner—” Sinclair turned to Boone.

“I called them as soon as you drove up. They said they’re on their way.”

“What about the canvass?”

“Two officers are still out knocking on doors, but I don’t expect much. The park is pretty isolated, and with the cold and rain, I doubt anyone was outside or had their windows open to hear anything.”

Although it was a relatively low-crime neighborhood, Sinclair had handled a few calls in this area when he worked patrol years ago. Burckhalter Park was a small community park between the 580 Freeway to the north and Edwards Avenue
to the west. A chain-link fence and heavy vegetation separated the park from homes with spacious backyards on the other two sides. Edwards Avenue was a busy thoroughfare during commute hours when drivers exited the freeway and took the winding two-lane road down the hill to MacArthur Boulevard and into the heart of east Oakland, but it was a quiet road at night. It was a perfect place to dump a body—easy access to a freeway for a fast escape, yet dark and isolated once the sun went down.

Sinclair pulled up the collar of his black London Fog and trudged through the rain to the parking lot with Braddock. The engine of one patrol car was running, its wipers flicking back and forth intermittently. Sinclair tapped at the window. The officer behind the wheel lowered it a few inches and said, “Morning, Sarge.”

“You took the statement from the man who found the body?”

The officer handed two sheets of paper to Sinclair, which he tucked under his raincoat to keep dry. “Sir,” Sinclair said to the man sitting in the passenger seat, “why don’t you join me in my car.”

A gray-haired black man got out of the patrol vehicle and followed Sinclair. Sinclair opened the passenger door for him, and Braddock climbed in the back. Sinclair grabbed a handful of paper towels from the glove box and dried his hands and the sleeves of his raincoat to prevent water from dripping on the statement. “Beautiful weather, huh?”

“I’ve seen worse,” the man said.

“I’m Sergeant Sinclair and behind you is my partner, Sergeant Braddock. We work homicide.”

“Bobbie Hines.” He held out a calloused hand. A firm grip.

“Give me a minute to read your statement, Mr. Hines.”

“Take your time.”

The statement contained the basics: Hines left his house on Sunkist Drive at 5:10
AM
and walked his dog to the park. He saw the woman hanging from the tree and called 9-1-1. He checked for a pulse and determined she was dead. He waited in the
parking lot until a fire truck, ambulance, and police cars arrived. He escorted them to the woman. They checked the woman and confirmed she was dead. The officer asked him to wait, so he called his wife, who came and took their dog home.

“I see here that you’re retired,” said Sinclair, looking at the information on the statement form.

“I do some volunteer work, but no longer have to work for a paycheck.”

“Isn’t it a little unusual to be walking a dog at five in the morning in the rain?”

“The Navy taught me to be an early riser. I’m awake by five every morning. Never need an alarm clock. Buster’s bouncing up and down and spinning in circles the moment I put my feet on the floor. I get dressed, start the coffee, and out the door we go, rain or shine. We walk straight to the park, where I let him off leash. I know it’s against the law, but we’re alone this time of the morning, and I always carry some poop bags just in case Buster decides to do his business in the park.”

“So, you were walking through the park and saw the woman?”

“Not exactly. We walked through the parking lot and Buster stopped to sniff that wet sweater I pointed out to your CSI lady. Then we walked down the path going toward the basketball court. Buster was off in the trees, sniffing and peeing on bushes like he always does. He picked up something, maybe some sweatpants or something. There’s always abandoned stuff lying in the park. I told him to drop it, which he did.”

“Where was that?” asked Sinclair.

“To the right of the path, maybe ten or twenty feet. It was dark, so I don’t exactly know.”

“What happened then?”

“We continued up the path. We normally walk through the old basketball court, then loop around the rest of the park back to the parking lot, where I put him on the leash for the walk home, but he started barking up ahead of me. That’s not like him. I ran up to him and shined my flashlight. I saw the
woman hanging there. I checked her pulse. She was cold and I knew she’d been dead a while.”

“You seem pretty sure,” Sinclair said.

“It might’ve been years ago, but the Navy taught me real well.”

“Have you ever seen her before?”

“I didn’t get a look at her face.”

“Fair enough. What about any suspicious people or activities around here recently?”

“This is Oakland. There’s plenty of that going on, but we’re far enough from the flatlands that it’s not as common up here. This morning, I didn’t see anyone.”

Sinclair plucked a business card from the case he carried in his shirt pocket. “Here’s my card. Call me if you think of anything else.”

Sinclair walked Hines back to the patrol car and asked the officer to take him home just as the coroner’s van drove up. The rain had slowed to a drizzle. Boone and two of his officers exited their cars, while Coroner Investigator Charlie Dawson and his partner unloaded the gurney. Dawson had been working for a mortuary transporting bodies when he was hired by the coroner’s office nearly four decades ago, back in the days when coroner investigators did little more than pick up bodies and transport them to the morgue. The three uniforms led the procession up the path, and Sinclair and Braddock brought up the rear.

“Any ID on her?” Dawson asked.

BOOK: Thrill Kill
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