Table of Contents
ALSO BY HARRY DOLAN
Bad Things Happen
AMY EINHORN BOOKS
Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons
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Copyright Â© 2011 by Harry Dolan
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Very bad men / Harry Dolan.
ISBN : 978-1-101-51700-0
1. Periodical editorsâFiction. 2. MurderâInvestigationâFiction.
3. Ann Arbor (Mich.)âFiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the
author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living
or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet
addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any
responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the
publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any
responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
To my mother and father
here's a necklace in my office, a string of glass beads. It hangs over the arm of my desk lamp, and any little movement can set it swaying. The beads are a middle shade of blue, the color of an evening sky, and when the light plays over them they look cool and bright and alive.
I'll tell you where they came from. Elizabeth was wearing them the first time we kissed. It happened here in the office on a winter night, six stories up over Main Street in Ann Arbor. Elizabeth is a detective, and that night she'd been called out to the scene of a car accident: crushed metal and broken glass, and other crushed and broken things. Three fatalities, one of them a child. The kind of accident you don't want to see, the kind you hope you can forget.
She saw it, and afterward she wanted to get as far away from it as she could. She came to me. I was working late and I heard the hallway door open, heard her footsteps cross the emptiness of the outer office, and then she was standing in my doorway. She's tall, and the long overcoat she wore only emphasized her height. The coat had snowflakes melting on the shoulders. It was open, and the blouse she had on underneath was unbuttoned at the neck. The fingers of her right hand worried over the blue beads at her throat. That was her only movement; the rest of her stood still.
I knew her well enough to know something was wrong. Her face was pale, and her hairâblack and shiny as a raven's wingâfell loose around it. I got up from my desk and went to her, and her stillness as I approached made me leery of touching her. I started to lay a palm on her shoulder, then drew it back.
Snow fell lazily outside my office window. We stood together for a long while, and I didn't ask her anything. I waited for her to tell me, and she did. She told me all of it, everything she had seen. The words poured out of her in a relentless stream. Her fingers on the glass beads counted off each terrible detail.
When she was done, she turned her face away from me. Shyly. Almost awkwardly. And awkwardly I stepped back and, not knowing what else to do, offered to pour her a drink from the bottle of Scotch I keep in the deep drawer of the desk.
She didn't want a drink.
I watched her shed her overcoat and fold it over the back of a chair. Watched her close the distance between us, her eyes steady on mine. She kept them open when she kissed me; they were the same blue as the glass beads. The first kiss was slow and lingering and deliberate. We both knew what it was: an act of defiance. It's human nature. We look on death and we rebel; we want to prove to ourselves that we're alive.
These thoughts passed through my mind, but I didn't have time to dwell on them. The second kiss was harder and more eager. I felt her hands move over my shoulders to the back of my neck, felt her fingers twist into my hair. She pressed herself against me and we held on to each other, and I could feel the heat of her, the vitality, the coiled energy of her body.
THERE'S A LIMIT to how much of this memory I intend to share, and I think we've reached it. The rest is hers and mine and no one else's. But that's where the necklace came from, the one I keep in my office. Elizabeth left it behind that night.
I'm telling you this for a reason. It has to do with motives.
If you took that necklace to a jeweler, he'd say it wasn't worth anything. The beads are only glass, and they're held together by a string. And on some level I know that's true.
But I also know that if a thief tried to take those beads away from me, I'd do everything in my power to stop him. I wouldn't hesitate to kill him, if that's what it took.
THIS STORY I have to tellâit's not about a necklace. But it is about the motives people have for killing one another. That's a subject I know something about, not least because I'm an editor and people send me stories about killers all the time. My name is David Loogan. Most of the manuscripts that come to me are awful, but some of them have promise. I find the best ones and polish them up and publish them in a mystery magazine called
Maybe it's not surprising, then, that my part in this story begins with a manuscript.
The facts are simple enough. I found it on a Wednesday evening in mid-July, in the hallway outside my office. That's not unusual. Local authors leave manuscripts out there more often than you'd think.
This one was different, though. It came in a plain, unmarked envelope and amounted to fewer than ten pages. It was the story of three murders, two already committed, one yet to come. And it wasn't fiction.
There was no signature or byline. The man who wrote the story didn't want to give himself away. He had typed it on a computer and printed it out in a copy shop. Of course, I didn't know that at the time. Elizabeth discovered it later.
When I turned the manuscript over to her, I had an outside hope that it might yield some useful piece of physical evidence. Crime labs can do wonders now with hairs and fibers, with DNA. I thought there might be fingerprints on the pages, other than my own. But when she sent the manuscript to the lab, it was a dead end. It rendered up no secretsânothing to tell her who wrote it or what his motives were.
If you want to know the answers to those questions, we'll have to go back. Back before that day in mid-July. We'll have to put aside the usual rules, because this is a story that doesn't want to follow them. It has its own ideas. Although it's mine, and Elizabeth's too, it doesn't really begin with us. It begins in northern Michigan, in the city of Sault Sainte Marie. It begins in a hotel room.
It begins with a notebook.
he notebook is a simple thing, but elegant. Lined pages bound with thread between soft black covers. Small enough to fit in a pocket. Vincent van Gogh made sketches in a notebook like this. Ernest Hemingway jotted lines of terse dialogue in Parisian cafÃ©s.
Anthony Lark uses his to make a list.