Everything a detective novel should be--gripping, clever, and filled with deep characters.Detective Kacy Lang wasn't surprised when the body of her twin brother washed up from the icy depths of the Chicago River. She'd known since the day she graduated from the academy that one day he'd wind up on her beat, and she'd have to arrest him... or kill him. She could accept the fact he'd been murdered. What she couldn't accept was the massive torture he'd endured before his death. Someone would pay for that.
A multilayered, fast-paced archaeological dig of a mystery.
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“Jesus, Kacy, it’ll be a bugger identifying this one.”
Under normal circumstances, my partner, Dave Capello, would have had a point. The body had washed up from the icy depths of the Chicago River near the fork of Eleanor and Loomis, and the call had come in minutes before quitting time. Dave had wanted to ignore it. For once, I wished I’d listened to him. A blowtorch had been used on the face, and all the fingers were missing. The angles of the arms and legs told me bones had been broken.
I didn’t need the ME to tell me the identity. Nor did I need to see the small skull tattoo above his left ankle to verify it. Kyle and I had never shared the twin bond in life, but as I stared down at his tortured and mutilated body, I realized a part of me was missing. I’d never considered it a vital part—until now.
Police officers, firemen, and two other detectives from Cook County had responded to the call. Dave and I weren’t needed, and I had a lot to do before the commander took me off the case. “Let’s go, Dave.”
“What do you mean? We just got here.”
I strode toward the Ford sedan parked at the edge of the street, with Dave huffing to keep up. “We’re off the case. The victim’s name is Kyle Lang. He’s my twin brother.”
Dave said that a lot, and at times, I wondered if it was a habit or a prayer for insight on bad cases. Perhaps he simply found it preferable to the trash that often came out of my mouth. Solving this case wouldn’t take a lot of insight. Kyle had been working with Chicago’s drug dealers, thieves, and murderers for over ten years. We’d both known since the day I graduated from the academy that one day, he would wind up on my beat, and I would have to arrest him, shoot him, or bury him. I took comfort from the fact it was the latter. Arresting him would have been hard and shooting him even harder.
“I’ll drive.” Dave took the keys I was absently tossing from hand to hand as I stared at the huge snowflakes falling. In a few hours, the roads would be covered, and careless motorists would be slamming into each other. With Christmas three weeks away, the rush to find the perfect present for loved ones had become more important than life itself.
I studied the surrounding area, my thoughts turning back to Kyle. What was he doing here? Did he live here? I tossed aside the idea.
Many of the residents were of Asian descent, living in the small studio apartments and single-family homes that lined the streets. Even the historic homes built before 1939 had been converted into two-bedroom and three-bedroom rental units. The neighborhood was fairly expensive compared to other real estate and was inhabited by those who liked to walk. Kyle had never been a walker.
“How long have we been partners?” Dave interrupted my thoughts, started the car, and turned up the heat.
“How come I didn’t know you had a twin brother?”
A tinge of hurt echoed in his voice. Dave believed I was an orphan with no family in or near Chicago. For the last five years, he’d invited me to dinners and summer barbeques with him, Martha and the girls. He’d taken it upon himself to act as both my partner and big brother. He’d even set me up with a few of his friends on disastrous first and only dates. He deserved a truthful answer.
“When I entered the academy, Kyle was getting a taste of thug life. The last I heard from him, he was running with high-class drug dealers. I didn’t tell you because someday you might have had to kill him, and if you knew he was my brother, you’d hesitate.”
“How about your parents? Are they still alive?”
Dave wouldn’t let me off that easy. My parents were impossible to explain. Some things in life had to be seen to be believed.
“You know the commander will turn this case over to Sims and Gardner.” Dave headed toward town. “They couldn’t find their own shadows on a sunny day. What say we check out your brother’s place? See if we can find any clues pointing to where he was killed and why?”
Good partners anticipated each other’s next move. That Kyle had been murdered wasn’t a huge surprise. The torture they’d put him through before cutting his throat pissed me off. Someone would answer for that. Officially, I couldn’t investigate the case. Unofficially, I wouldn’t stop until I found the bastards responsible. “I don’t know where he was living, but I know someone who might.”
“West Englewood. Take a right after you cross the railroad tracks.”
Dave’s hands tightened on the wheel. It wasn’t dark yet, but it would be close by the time we got there. The neighborhood we were about to enter was known for violence, gang warfare, poverty, and despair. Fortunately for us, the real fun didn’t begin until after midnight. I figured if anyone knew where Kyle had been living or what he’d been up to, his childhood friend Simon “Mouse” Wilson would.
The car bounced over the railroad tracks, and Dave took a right. “Which house?”
“Last one on the left.” I jerked my Glock from the shoulder holster and clicked off the safety. “Looks like company is headed his way.”
“And they ain’t carrying a cake.” Dave pressed down on the gas and flipped on the lights and sirens.
The two men who had climbed out of the black Lexus made a beeline for the car doors, and the vehicle screeched off.
“I hoped that would work, but in this neighborhood, you never know.”
“Smart thinking.” I kept my eyes on the back of the house. As I’d suspected, Mouse had been watching and made a run for it. “Dumb shit,” I cursed softly as I leapt from the car before Dave brought it to a full stop. “Stop right there, Mouse, or I swear I’ll put a bullet in your ass.”
He dropped a small suitcase and raised his hands above his head. “Kacy?” He turned slowly, squinting. “Kacy Lang, is that you?”
I motioned to the car. “Grab your suitcase and get in.”
Mouse took a quick look over his shoulder in the direction the Lexus had taken, grabbed his case, and scurried to the car. “I can’t go to jail, Kacy. They have people there. You put me in jail, and I’ll be dead in less than an hour.”
I opened the back door and waited until Simon slid across the seat, then climbed in beside him. “We’re not taking you to jail. I want to know where Kyle was living and what he was up to.”
Mouse swallowed hard and peered out the back windshield.
Dave did a U-turn and headed out of the neighborhood. The element of surprise had scared off the hoodlums, but they would be back, armed with serious firepower.
“Who were those guys?” Dave asked.
Simon’s nose twitched—one of the reasons he’d earned the name Mouse in grade school. His tiny four-foot-two-inch frame and ratty brown hair that no amount of gel kept in place finished the picture. Kyle had taken him under his wing and protected him from most of the bullying. I’d always been proud of Kyle for that—until the drugs. I shook off the memories and turned my attention back to Simon.
“Dave asked you a question, Mouse.” I poked him in the side with the Glock. “Answer it.”
“I don’t know. Goons. They’re looking for Kyle, but I swear I don’t know where he is.” His eyes were tiny pinpoints in the dusky light. His voice was a whine that was already grating on my nerves. “You gotta believe me, Kacy.”
I shook my head. “They’re not looking for Kyle, because they’ve already found him. His body washed up in the river about an hour ago.”
The information sent Simon into a frenzy of panic. “Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.” He sank down in the seat, a small dribble of saliva rolling down his chin. Worse than that, he pissed all over our car.
“It’s a little late for either you or Kyle to be calling on God. Where was he staying? And what are those guys looking for?”
“Kyle wouldn’t tell me. He said it was something big. I don’t know his address, but I can take you there. It’s on Fremont. He was crashing with a hooker.” Simon was talking fast, squeaking out his words. He grabbed my arm. “I do this for you, you gotta protect me.”
I shook off the hand, tempted to shoot him, as a whiff of ammonia filled the car. I met Dave’s gaze in the rearview mirror and nodded.
My hopes of finding the hooker alive or anything of value at Kyle’s residence faded a half block from Fremont. The car radio squawked out, requesting assistance at 107 Fremont, where the body of a woman had been found in an apartment building.
“You want to respond?” Dave asked.
“We’re off duty.”
“They’re moving fast, Kacy. What do you want to do?”
Bury my head in the sand and let everybody that walks by kick my ass. “Where were you headed, Simon?”
He shrugged, slinking lower in the seat. “I was gonna find you. Let you know Kyle was in trouble.”
I poked him with the Glock again. “Do you have a place to go, Simon?”
He shook his head and whimpered. I wanted to tell Dave to pull to the side of the road, kick him out, and let him fend for himself. I wanted to… but knew in my heart, I couldn’t live with myself if I did. “You still have a key for that safe house on Trent, Dave?”
“Yeah. Was getting ready to turn it over. They’ll ask for it tomorrow or the next day, at the latest. He should be okay at least for tonight. Give us time to figure something else out.”
I punched Simon on the arm—hard. “You’ve got twenty-four hours to think of a place to go. After that, you’re on your own.”
“You gotta get me some money. Can’t go nowhere without money. You owe me that.”
Rage flowed through my blood, hot and volatile. “I don’t owe you a damn thing, Simon. If I’d let Kyle be killed the last time he got in trouble, he wouldn’t have been tortured for hours before they finally slit his throat.”
Dave turned in to the driveway of a small frame house and drove the car around to the rear. “I’ll unlock the door.” He leveled a glare at Simon. “I’m not giving you the key. If you’re smart, you’ll stay inside and keep the noise down. Anybody finds you here, we don’t know you.” He opened the back door. “Get out.”
Simon sent me a pleading look before exiting.
Pity was the only emotion I could drum up for him as he scampered after Dave. “I’ll check on you in the morning.”
Simon didn’t answer, and I stepped out of the car to wait for Dave, breathing in the cold night air. It felt good against my face, cooling off my rage.
“Did you call that guy Mouse?” Dave walked up to stand beside me.
“Yeah.” I opened the passenger door, climbed in, and fastened my seat belt. “Appropriate, don’t you think?”
He slammed my door and headed for the driver’s side. He was still muttering as he climbed in. “Little bastard pissed in my car. I ought to go back in there and wring his neck.” He rolled down his window, finding the freezing wind preferable to the stench of urine. “Where to?”
As much as I hated the idea, my parents had to be told. Sims and Gardner might be jokes, but the ME was the best in the state, and she would have an identity soon. Kyle’s DNA was in the system. “Drop me off at my house. You need to head in and let the commander know what’s going on. He’ll be pissed that we didn’t call it in immediately.” I gave him a sheepish grin and lifted one shoulder. “You can tell him you had to console me.”
Dave chuckled. “Be a cold day when he buys that crap.”
I didn’t have to point out the absurdity of Dave’s statement but did anyway. “It is a cold day.”
“You should have been a comedian. You know what I mean. We need to go tell your parents. You want to give me the address, or do I have to look it up?”
Imagining Dave inside my parents’ house was the first glimmer of humor in an otherwise bleak day. “Glencoe on the North Side. They’ve got a small lakefront mansion.”
He shot me a quizzical glance. “You got rich family and never told me?”
“You won’t like them. They’re ASBB.”
Dave frowned, tsked, then frowned again as he tried to figure out what kind of disease I was talking about. I could put him out of his misery or let him suffer a little longer. I smiled, deciding to let him suffer.
He traveled another block before the curiosity was too much. “What the hell is ASBB?”
“A selfish bitch and bastard. Or a selfish bastard and bitch. I’ll let you decide.”
Dave remained quiet. He had a great family, and I was sure he thought I was joking. So close to Christmas, Kyle’s death would be an inconvenience. I’d received my yearly invitation to their annual Christmas celebration, along with strict instructions to have my hair done and dress appropriately. They didn’t want me to embarrass them again this year.
I closed my eyes. An image flashed through my mind of my father’s jaw setting and my mother’s face screwing up in disgust when I told them the news about Kyle. Having to plan and attend a funeral for their only son at this time of year would infuriate them. Kyle had never done anything right, and now he couldn’t even find a convenient time to get himself killed.
Expelling a deep breath, I opened my eyes and stared at the lights twinkling along our route. Odds were they would have the body frozen until after the New Year’s festivities then hold a small ceremony with no one but the three of us present. If they bothered to come at all. At least if I had died they could have pretended to grieve as their friends would have seen my job as respectable, even if it was below the social standing of the Lange family.
Dave broke the silence. “Your family really that bad?”
“Trust me, Dave. You’ll have to see it to believe it.”