A Death Before Dying - Collin Wilcox - ebook

A Death Before Dying ebook

Collin Wilcox

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An old friend is murdered, and Hastings will do anything he can to avenge her. When Frank Hastings knew Meredith Powell, she was a gawky ten-year-old without a care in the world. More than two decades later, she has grown into a stunning beauty - but the gleam in her eye is gone. Over lunch, Meredith confesses that she lives in terror of her emotionally abusive boyfriend, a possessive, rage-filled man named Charles. Hastings, a homicide lieutenant with the San Francisco police department, offers to help her escape. She refuses, and they part ways - unaware that Charles has been watching them the whole time. By the next morning, Meredith has been strangled, her body dumped in the park. The realization that he could have helped her, that he may actually have caused her death, tears Hastings to pieces. Obsessed with revenge, he quickly learns why homicide detectives are prevented from investigating the murders of their loved ones. But he will not rest until Charles is brought to justice - even if it costs him his badge.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 3

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 13

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 14

THURSDAY FEBRUARY 15

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 16

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 17

MONDAY FEBRUARY 19

WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

An old friend is murdered, and Hastings will do anything he can to avenge her.

When Frank Hastings knew Meredith Powell, she was a gawky ten-year-old without a care in the world. More than two decades later, she has grown into a stunning beauty - but the gleam in her eye is gone. Over lunch, Meredith confesses that she lives in terror of her emotionally abusive boyfriend, a possessive, rage-filled man named Charles. Hastings, a homicide lieutenant with the San Francisco police department, offers to help her escape. She refuses, and they part ways - unaware that Charles has been watching them the whole time.

By the next morning, Meredith has been strangled, her body dumped in the park. The realization that he could have helped her, that he may actually have caused her death, tears Hastings to pieces. Obsessed with revenge, he quickly learns why homicide detectives are prevented from investigating the murders of their loved ones. But he will not rest until Charles is brought to justice - even if it costs him his badge.

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door - a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.

A Death Before Dying

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

Collin Wilcox

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1990 by Collin Wilcox

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Michel Vrana

 

E-book production: Jouve Germany GmbH & Co. KG

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-588-0

 

www.bastei-entertainment.com

 

All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

This book is dedicated

to Jeff’s Diane … and

to Diane’s Jeff

SATURDAY FEBRUARY 3

10:15 P.M. HER STOMACH was contracting. She was drawing in her breath, about to speak. He raised his hand sharply, to silence her. Fury was a factor now. But manageable, controllable, instantly optimized. Because for now, only for now, this moment and the few moments to come, fury must be sublimated, everything in the balance, so exquisitely calculated, one instant to the next instant, one sensation to the next sensation.

These moments, yes, controlled. Calculated and recalculated. And the other word. Optimized. Yes. Delicious, that word. Deliciously descriptive.

Later, though, she must pay. She knew it, knew she must pay for what she’d almost done, the words she’d almost uttered. Her eyes told him. The illumination was enough, then: six large altar candles, calf high, six smaller candles, guttering on the floor. In their hammered gold receptacles, authentic Mayan, the candles alternated, low and high, all twelve in a semicircle. The light was metered, checked and rechecked, enough light for the camera, enough light to let her pick up her cues, yet not too bright, never intrusive.

Catching the hand signal, she had responded instantly. He would remember that she had reacted so quickly. She would see that he remembered. It would be a plus. Yes. A small plus, but nevertheless significant. Yes.

Yes.

They were both immobilized now, as they must be, he sitting in the carved baroque chair, she kneeling over the stone sculpture. It was an early Crawford, derivative but relevant to tonight’s game, a different game every time they played. The game changed, but the rules remained the same. And she’d startled him when she’d almost spoken.

So she must pay.

She was naked; he was clothed in his silken robe, the fabric so sensual against his skin, the perfect complement to her touch when the time came, and she approached. The silken robe was a constant, yes, the single element that must never change.

Never.

With the forefinger of his right hand he touched the camera’s electronic wand, the only discordant element but nevertheless essential. The videotape was his medium. Therefore, without the camera, there was no purpose, no focus.

He shifted his gaze from the crouched woman to the three-dimensional wooden collage on the wall behind her. It was a Penziner abstract, just completed, still untitled. Was the drapery around the collage correct? Should there be a spotlight? Another touch on another console would tell him. But, with his hand above the console, he hesitated. He could feel his body quickening, the first imperative. He looked from the woman, enslaved, to the low table, fashioned from rough-hewn planks, secured by hand-forged black iron studs. The stone of the sculpture, the inherent complexity of the collage, the drapery, the table, the iron studs—they were all unified. Complexity within complexity, a textural unit.

Yes.

All complemented by the naked flesh of the woman and his own naked flesh, tumid now, caressed by the soft silken folds of the robe falling around his feet as he rose from the baroque chair. Two steps between the candles and, yes, he was standing above her. As, yes, she was holding her supplicant’s pose, both hands pressed to the stone, her face carefully averted. Her breasts, surely, were her premier attribute, almost perfectly proportional, contoured to fulsome perfection by the pose he’d selected, tonight’s variation.

On the table lay the four flays. They were meticulously arranged fanwise, the steel-studded flay to the left, the silken flick on the right, with the knotted rope and the plaited leather between. As he moved his hand toward the table, yes, her body was slightly shifting, so that her eyes could follow his hand.

As always, yes, he first picked up the steel-studded flay, the crudest of the four. Watching her eyes, he gently hefted the flay. Yes, the response was satisfactory, an acceptable pantomime of maidenly fear. Therefore he could replace the flay on the table, consider the plaited leather, then the rope. Finally it came down to the silken flick, as it always did, an ancient emperor’s bauble, exquisitely embroidered and tasseled. Because she’d almost spoken, a transgression, he laid the flick across her shoulders, a wrist-snap, artistry incarnate. Eyes widening, pleading, she gripped the stone of the statue, knuckles white. At the second ministration she flinched, shied, drew a sharp, involuntary breath. But her eyes held steady with his as, ceremoniously now, he replaced the flick on the table. He turned to face her squarely. He stood motionless, hands at his sides. His chin was elevated, a haughty pose, momentarily frozen until, yes, he could lower his gaze, as if to finally notice her, some pathetic waif clinging to this rough stone surrounded by the golden light of the candles.

As they held their tableau, he the lord, she the cast-up wretch on this alien shore, they might be utterly alone.

Except for the camera’s whir, utterly alone …

… as, yes, he stooped, knotted his fingers in the luxuriant strands of her thick hair, drew her to her feet.

In the alcove, draped in black, lit like a sepulcher, the final element of the night’s creation awaited them: the bed.

Step by step, stumbling, he with his hand gripping her hair, roughly dragging her, they moved to the bedchamber. Now they were beside the bed, she on her knees, crouched, he standing erect, still with the fingers of one hand locked in her hair. The hair was done in thick plaits, according to his instructions. And, yes, she’d remembered her mark, for the camera.

And now, desperate entreaty, she raised her eyes to his. Would he forgive her? Would he spare her, just this once?

Scowling, his face as fierce as a headsman’s behind the ceremonial black hood, he sharply shook his head. Entreaty denied.

Her eyes implored him.

He gripped her hair, flexed his knees. As, on cue, she gathered herself. A choreographed heave, and she lay across the bed. She lay on her back, legs drawn up, breasts heaving, a perfect pantomime of terror. As he bent over her, anticipating, she began to writhe: slowly at first, sinuously. Her eyes, wide, were one with his. In the universe, there was nothing else. As the moment lengthened his flesh lost substance, became amorphous, dissolved into pure sensation. On the rich damask of the bedspread, her fingers were widespread; the carmine fingernails, meticulously groomed, gripped the gold brocade of the spread, desperation incarnate.

With his body arched above her, their eyes consuming, flesh transcended, his fingers touched the flesh of her throat.

Sharply she drew in her breath.

Beneath his fingers, her flesh was warm. Beneath his fingertips, the pulsing of her blood was strong.

Slowly, inexorably, his fingers began to tighten.

TUESDAY FEBRUARY 13

10:55 A.M. EVERY PROFESSION, Albert Price reflected, exacted its own particular penalty. For the cabbie, traffic was the trauma. For athletes, it was the aging process.

For him, it was the eternal push-pull of the objective-subjective, the constant necessity to remain aloof, the chronic clinician, never the friend, never the real participant. As actors must project emotion, he must project detachment. As pagan priests codified entrails, he codified his patients’ tics and twitches.

And when the patient was a beautiful woman—Meredith Powell, a tawny blonde, her body radiating an electric sensuality that was all the more provocative because she sought so strenuously to suppress it—then must he be especially conscious of his role: the psychiatrist projecting the priest. Therefore, his voice must be soft and gravely modulated, his manner once removed, judiciously measured.

“We haven’t talked much about your marriage, Meredith. You say he abused you.” As Price paused, he automatically registered her subliminal reaction: a telltale tightening of the mouth, an involuntary wince. These, he knew, were the small, cruel barbs of memory, pain revisited.

“Yes …” As she nodded and looked away, Price allowed himself a moment’s wayward pleasure as he noted the line of her cheek and the particular curve of her jaw. It was a wide, aristocratic jaw, tapering to a decisive chin. Greta Garbo’s jaw had flared like that. And Grace Kelly’s, too. The evocation: Town and Country covers, tweeds, vintage limousines drawn up to pillared porticos.

“But he never actually struck you,” he prompted.

Drawing a deep, unsteady breath, she shook her head. “No. He—” She hesitated, forced herself to look at him directly. Would he help her, release her from the necessity of answering?

No. He would only look at her—and wait.

“He—sometimes when he’d been drinking, and he wanted to—to make love, he’d be rough. But I can’t say he ever actually hit me, not with his hand.”

“So it was more psychological abuse, then.”

She nodded.

“Meredith—” Gently admonishing, Price gestured to the tape recorder that rested on the desk between them. “Words, remember. Not gestures. We’re saving on secretarial fees here.” He smiled. He was a thin, wiry man in his forties. His face, too, was thin and wiry. His pale blue eyes were intense; his mouth was humorless, tightly compressed.

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!