Sacrificial Ground - Thomas H. Cook - ebook

Sacrificial Ground ebook

Thomas H. Cook

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A troubled cop obsessively searches for a young girl's killer. The young girl lies in a ditch without a scratch on her - a white high school student stretched out dead in the black part of Atlanta. She was a rich girl from a cold family, too genteel for the neighborhood where she died, and only the baby in her belly suggests how she might have gotten there. For Detective Frank Clemons, the scene is far too familiar. Too close to how it was when he found his own daughter, dead in the woods by her own hand, her youthful beauty cruelly ravaged by depression. Her suicide ended his marriage and sent him on a downward spiral that has nearly claimed his own life. To hang on to sanity, he must do everything he can to find justice for the dead. Review Quote: "Direct prose, steady focus, and quiet intensity." - Library Journal "The writing and characterizations are flawless, particularly as Cook unobtrusively but surely commands empathy for Frank Clemons, a good cop and a real human being." - Publishers Weekly Biographical note: Thomas H. Cook (b. 1947) is the author of nearly two dozen critically lauded crime novels. Born in Fort Payne, Alabama, Cook published his first novel, Blood Innocents, in 1980 while serving as the book review editor of Atlanta magazine. Two years later, on the release of his second novel, The Orchids, he turned to writing full-time. Cook published steadily through the 1980s, penning such works as the Frank Clemons trilogy, a series of mysteries starring a jaded cop. He found breakout success with The Chatham School Affair (1996), which won an Edgar Award for best novel. His work has been praised by critics for his attention to psychology and the lyrical nature of his prose. Besides mysteries, Cook has written two true-crime books, Early Graves (1992) and the Edgar-nominated Blood Echoes (1993), as well as several literary novels, including Elena (1986). He lives and works in New York City.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Epigraph

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

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Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

A troubled cop obsessively searches for a young girl’s killer.

The young girl lies in a ditch without a scratch on her - a white high school student stretched out dead in the black part of Atlanta. She was a rich girl from a cold family, too genteel for the neighborhood where she died, and only the baby in her belly suggests how she might have gotten there.

For Detective Frank Clemons, the scene is far too familiar. Too close to how it was when he found his own daughter, dead in the woods by her own hand, her youthful beauty cruelly ravaged by depression. Her suicide ended his marriage and sent him on a downward spiral that has nearly claimed his own life. To hang on to sanity, he must do everything he can to find justice for the dead.

Review Quote:

“Direct prose, steady focus, and quiet intensity.” - Library Journal

“The writing and characterizations are flawless, particularly as Cook unobtrusively but surely commands empathy for Frank Clemons, a good cop and a real human being.” - Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Thomas H. Cook (b. 1947) is the author of nearly two dozen critically lauded crime novels. Born in Fort Payne, Alabama, Cook published his first novel, Blood Innocents, in 1980 while serving as the book review editor of Atlanta magazine. Two years later, on the release of his second novel, The Orchids, he turned to writing full-time.

Cook published steadily through the 1980s, penning such works as the Frank Clemons trilogy, a series of mysteries starring a jaded cop. He found breakout success with The Chatham School Affair (1996), which won an Edgar Award for best novel. His work has been praised by critics for his attention to psychology and the lyrical nature of his prose. Besides mysteries, Cook has written two true-crime books, Early Graves (1992) and the Edgar-nominated Blood Echoes (1993), as well as several literary novels, including Elena (1986). He lives and works in New York City.

Sacrificial Ground

Thomas H. Cook

 

BASTEI ENTERTAINMENT

 

Bastei Entertainment is an imprint of Bastei Lübbe AG

 

Copyright © 2014 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2011 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1988 by Thomas H. Cook

 

Project management: Lori Herber

Cover adaptation: Christin Wilhelm, www.grafic4u.de

Cover design by Jason Gabbert

 

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

 

ISBN 978-3-95859-011-3

 

www.luebbe.de

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.

For Roux Sorden-Martin

Still crazy after all these years

After the first death, there is no other.

Dylan Thomas

1

He drained the last of the bourbon from the glass, then glanced over his shoulder toward the dance floor. The music had slowed, and the dancers were swaying languidly to the country drone of Waylon Jennings. Strings of yellow lights hung like a web above them, bathing them in a hard light. At other places, pink and blue coils of neon formed themselves into longhorn steers and cowboy hats.

Frank turned back to the bar and tapped his empty glass.

The bartender stepped up. He was dressed in a bright red western shirt with pearl-handled six-guns embroidered on the shoulders. “Another bourbon?” he asked.

Frank nodded.

The bartender filled the glass, and stepped away.

Frank took a drink, then swiveled around on the stool. The place was called The Bottom Rail, and it was not his favorite spot on earth, but the drinks were cheap, the music loud, and the smoke thick and engulfing. Across the dance floor, he could see a large bearded man in bib overalls smoking a Mississippi Crook. It was a zigzag-shaped, whiskey-soaked cigar, and he had not seen one since he’d left the piney woods of the Alabama north country eighteen years ago to come to Atlanta. He remembered a game he’d played with a few friends, something they called “smoke-out,” which was nothing more than six people in a car in the summer and all of them smoking Mississippi Crooks until someone finally broke and ran gasping from the car. Summer had not seemed so terrible then. He’d had the high, cool streams and the shady pine breaks of the mountains. He shook his head slightly, remembering them. But in Atlanta, summer became a nightmare of thick, motionless heat which everything made worse, the steaming pavement and sweltering sidewalks, the glass towers baking in the sun.

They had found her in the summer, three years ago, his daughter, Sarah, just sixteen, her body blackened and bloated after only a few days in the woods. From the distance she had looked almost twice her size, a huge black doll in his daughter’s dress. She’d parked her car by the river and wandered off for miles into the surrounding forest in search of the right place to die. Suicide. “You shouldn’t see her,” Alvin had said as they moved nearer to the spot. “You know what it’s like.” But he’d rushed ahead and found her there, a swollen mass decaying in the heat. Dropping to his knees, he’d noticed that some animal had already made a feast of her hands.

Frank stood up slowly, and felt the room shift around him, grabbed the barstool and steadied himself for a moment, then began to walk toward the tables at the other end of the bar. He could feel the whiskey sloshing onto his hand as he walked. He could almost feel its heavy warmth soaking up his blood. His legs were going. He knew that instantly. They weren’t exactly numb, but they were getting there. Everything was getting there. Even the country-rock on the jukebox was slow and muffled, as if the needle were grinding to a halt.

He sat down and continued his surveillance. He could tell that they were the usual mixed group, everything from country boys washed in from La Grange, to junior stockbrokers who routinely reached for credit cards in places where everybody else reached for a knife. All the faces were familiar. There was a factory worker looking for a night’s entertainment from some old lush who couldn’t make it home alone, a skinny, blond-haired type who’d probably just taken it up the arm in a Cabbagetown flat, and across the room, sunk into a shadowy corner, a silent, sleepless drifter with an edge.

Frank shook his head groggily. “The Animal Kingdom,” he muttered. His three-word phrase for life.

Still, though it wasn’t the top of the world, it wasn’t the bottom either. He still preferred hazy nights and honky-tonk bars to the milky squash of his brother Alvin’s life, its flat, suburban stupor. For a moment he saw Alvin in his mind, balding, overweight, saddled with a dull, imperishable goodness. He had grown up a perfect flower in the garden of his father’s righteousness. He had sat through those endless, screeching Holiness services without so much as a blink of disbelief. Frank could remember how sternly his own dissolution had been compared to Alvin’s flawless rectitude, how all his life he had been made to play Cain to his brother’s Abel. Alvin Jesus-jumped among the pews like a Shawnee brave, whooping and crying out in holy tongues while the congregation reeled in frenzy or slithered about on the church floor. The old man had renamed him Abednego, after one of the prophets who had walked unharmed through fire. Then he had turned to Frank and said, “You are Daniel, who tamed the lions.” Daniel had been able to do that, Frank knew, but as for himself, he had never been able to tame anything, not one hungry lion, not the one in his belly, or the one in his heart.

He felt his head grow suddenly very heavy, and he allowed it to droop forward toward the table. The scrawled writing which had been carved into its scarred wooden surface swam into his view: names and initials, obscenities and crude limericks, the poetry of the pocketknife. Then he closed his eyes.

When he opened them again, he could tell almost instantly that the mood of the bar had changed. Only the rogues were left. People with homes were in them; people with lovers were with them. The rest were all around him, grim and sullen, their moods darkening with each passing second.

He wanted to leave, but he could tell that his legs had not quite returned to life. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them sharply. He did not want to pass out and get dragged out onto the sidewalk like a sack of empty bottles. That was the fate Alvin expected for him, and Sheila, his ex-wife, and countless other righteous souls.

Slowly, groggily, he raised himself to his feet and made his way to the bar. The bartender moved over to him. “We’re closing,” he said. “You want a cab?”

“No,” Frank said.

“Okay.” The bartender pulled him forward quickly, then guided him to the back door. “Take care of yourself,” he said. Then he stepped back into the bar and closed the door.

Frank stood motionlessly at the center of the alley. In the distance, a single streetlamp threw a circle of graying light toward him, but its hard glare hurt his eyes, and so he turned in the opposite direction and stumbled forward down the darkening alleyway. He could hear the scuff of his shoes against the gravelly earth, and for what seemed many hours, this was all he heard.

But after that, a voice.

“Where you headed, buddy?”

Suddenly, he saw a face, very near to his own, and then another beside it, dark and bearded.

“I said, where you headed?”

Frank said nothing, and the voice, when he heard it again, seemed harder than before.

“Now, you didn’t spend all your money on whiskey, did you, son?”

“Home,” Frank said softly, answering the first question.

“What?”

He started to repeat it, but then he felt himself thrown backward with tremendous force, his body lifted first with one blow, then another, until he felt his back plunge against a wall. They were hitting him hard in the chest and belly, and he could hear the sounds of their fists as they rocked him left and right.

“Stand him up!”

He felt the grip of two enormous hands on his coat as they wrenched him up and slammed him once again against the wall.

“Check his pockets.”

The fists released him, and his head fell forward as his body began slowly to slide down the wall toward the ground.

Another voice said, “Six fucking bucks.”

“Pull him up.”

He was sliding up the wall, his back scraping against the rough brick.

“Right there.”

He knew that he was standing again, and that the fist was coming toward his face like a hard, white light. Beyond the lights, he could hear the whirr of the fist as it plunged through the air toward him, and the voices around, and the helpless, broken groan that came from inside him. He heard them over and over until something hit the ground as he slumped forward again, a piece of metal which clattered onto the street.

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” someone said.

And instantly, he knew that they had gone, had left him sprawled out in the alley. He opened one eye, then another, and he could see what had frightened them, what had dropped from his pocket, and now shined toward him from the gutterwash. He squinted fiercely to keep it in his view, and realized that he could make out the details, but no longer the design: POLICE ATLANTA.

2

It was four in the morning when the phone rang, and Alvin Clemons did not move to answer it. It rang a second time, then a third, and finally his wife, Mildred, shifted over to the nightstand, flipped on the lamp and answered it herself.

“For you,” she said, tapping the receiver lightly on her husband’s shoulder.

Alvin turned over onto his back and took the phone. “Yeah?”

The voice on the other end belonged to Fred Pitman, a homicide lieutenant who was manning the graveyard shift at the headquarters on Somerset Terrace.

“It’s Frank,” Pitman said. “Again. Only this time somebody gave him a pretty bad beating.”

Alvin sat up quickly. “Beating?”

“That’s right,” Pitman said. “Outside that place over on Glenwood, the Bottom Rail.”

“Dear God,” Alvin whispered. He glanced knowingly at Mildred, who shook her head despairingly.

“Two patrolmen are with him,” Pitman continued, “rookies, more or less, but they know how to keep their mouths shut.”

“Good,” Alvin said, “you make sure they do. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes.”

He hung up and rolled himself out of the bed.

“Somebody beat him up, Alvin?” Mildred asked.

Alvin pulled a shirt from the doorknob of his closet. “Yeah.”

“Sheila did the right thing letting him go,” Mildred said.

“I guess,” Alvin said. He buttoned the first button, then the second, hoping Mildred would just shut up about it.

“Someday you’ll have to, Alvin,” she said. “Let him go, I mean.”

He buttoned the last button, then grabbed for his pants. “He’s my brother, Mildred.”

“And you’ve done everything you can for him,” Mildred said. “Brought him to Atlanta, got him on the force. What else is expected? Huh? What else?”

“His daughter killed herself,” Alvin said, suddenly looking his wife straight in the eye. “Who knows what I might do if Maryann did that.”

“He was on his way already,” Mildred said, almost disgustedly.

Alvin tightened his belt, grabbed his pistol from the top shelf of the closet and fled the room. “Get some sleep,” he said as he closed the door. “I’ll call you when I know the details.”

Mildred waved her hand. “Don’t bother.”

The drive in from Decatur took longer than he expected, but the two patrolmen were still waiting when he got there. They were both standing idly in the alley, one of them smoking a cigarette, the other sipping at a can of Pepsi. They straightened themselves quickly as Alvin got out of the car and began walking toward them.

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!

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!

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!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!

Lesen Sie weiter in der vollständigen Ausgabe!