Authors: Karen E. Olson
Tags: #Career Woman Mysteries
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2005 by Karen E. Olson
All rights reserved.
Grand Central Publishing
Hachette Book Group, USA
237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017
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Originally published in hardcover by Mysterious Press
First eBook Edition: August 2005
The Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for a first mystery novel was created to honor Mysterious Press’s longtime editor, who passed away in June 2003. She nurtured many outstanding mystery writers at the beginning of their careers and we could think of no better way to honor her memory. Sara Ann had a flair for discovering new talent and SACRED COWS continues that tradition. We hope you enjoy it.
MYSTERIOUS PRESS SEPTEMBER 2005
To Chris and Julia:
You are my life, and I can’t imagine this ride without you.
IRST AND FOREMOST,
I must thank Kristen Weber, Susan Richman, and Les Pockell at Mysterious Press/Warner Books for choosing
as the winner of the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award. I’m very honored and thrilled by their enthusiasm.
Second, I must thank my agent, Jack Scovil, who’s traveled much of the long road with me and never wavered in his encouragement and belief in my work.
I would never have found Jack if it weren’t for writer Thomas Fleming and a long-ago interview on his front porch in Westbrook, Connecticut. Tom made good on his offhand comment to help me out someday, probably not realizing I’d call him on it.
Where would a writer be without those critiques and kudos from fellow writers and friends: Kerri Pedersen, who told me after seventy-five pages that it wasn’t a piece of crap and I should continue; Eleanor Kohlsaat and Liz Medcalf, my first readers; my writers’ group buddies, Liz Cipollina, Roberta Isleib, Chris Falcone, Cindy Warm, and Angelo Pompano, whose help I couldn’t have done without; Tara York and Maria Garriga, fellow journalists who boosted me during difficult times; and my sister, Sandy Corr, and friend Melanie Stengel, who pointed out things no one had noticed in myriad readings.
Much thanks go to Michael Barbaro, intern extraordinaire who’s made it to the Big Time, for his lengthy and entertaining tour of Yale, and to Webkazoo’s Mike Jones and Barbara Kagan for a super Web site.
Newspapers and the media in general have gone through some tough times in the last few years. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those I’ve worked with throughout my career, especially for their support and senses of humor, which make this business still worth it for me. But no, you won’t recognize yourselves on these pages, so don’t even try.
I have taken some literary license with locations, but most of them are intact and where they should be. New Haven has never had a CowParade; this is merely my vision of what it might be like if it did. Thanks to Harriet Dobin and Ron Fox of CowParade Holdings Corp. for amusing cow puns and assistance.
And finally, my husband, Chris, and daughter, Julia, get big gold stars for their patience, smiles, and hugs when I needed them the most.
My hand closed over the cold steel in that second between hearing the phone ring and before my eyes opened. I squinted at the clock, the red numbers glowed 3:42, and I pushed the drawer shut, my paranoia possibly the result of too many beers. I knocked the phone off the table, and I could hear “Hello? Hello?” as I fumbled for the receiver on the floor.
“Yeah?” was the only sound that I could force through the fog of sleep.
“Get out of bed, Annie. There’s a dead girl in the road in front of University Towers on York Street. She took a dive.”
I heard the click, then the dial tone. Asshole, I thought as I pulled myself up on my elbows in an attempt to do what he said, but the room started to spin and I had to stop for a minute. What had I been thinking? I don’t drink like that anymore. It’s too dangerous, in too many ways.
A dead girl, that’s what Marty said. In the road. I’m not the fucking cops, they’re not going to tell me anything anyway, but I dragged my sorry butt into the bathroom. I almost screamed when I saw my reflection: my hair hanging in tangled clumps, lipstick smeared across one cheek, mascara smudged under my eyes. I was naked, but that wasn’t anything new.
A blast of water was what I needed, even though I’d probably miss something by not leaving the house sooner. But if I didn’t shower, get myself sobered up some, I’d miss more.
I grabbed a pair of leggings out of the laundry basket and pulled on a big sweatshirt. It was almost 4:00
, for Christ’s sake, and she was dead. No one was going to call the fashion police on me. My hair still hung in a clump, but at least it was clean and the alcohol haze had faded.
I stuffed my notebook in my bag and went out into the dark for the second time that night, the rain startling me as it slammed into my forehead. I cursed Marty for the umpteenth time, the dead girl for being dead at such an ungodly hour. I knew nothing, I was going into it cold, I hated this job.
The blue and red lights flashed against the black backdrop of the narrow street. I double-parked next to a cruiser; they’d be pissed, but what did I care, they weren’t leaving before me anyway. The yellow tape stopped just where the cops stood talking to one another, their notebooks getting soaked. I still hadn’t taken mine out of my purse.
I saw her before any of them saw me. She was facedown, the rain beating into her bare back, her body slumped over the sidewalk and into the road, her hair a waterfall into the catch basin. Her arms were at her side, her fingers spread, clawing the pavement. The spotlight accentuated her white skin, the pool of dark liquid under her head. Someone had put a raincoat over her bottom half, but a mangled leg peeked out from underneath.
The rain was washing all the evidence away.
I looked up at the balconies over me, my eyes finally resting on the barbed wire fence between the sidewalk and the building.
I caught bits and pieces of conversation around me, but I ignored them, finally seeing the detective I knew would be there.
“Hi, Tom,” I said, my voice still husky from the booze.
“What cat dragged you in?” He chuckled.
“Got a call. Thought I’d stop by.”
“Didn’t think you’d be up to it.” He winked, and I could still feel his mouth on mine as he said goodbye. He was gone by the time Marty called; I hadn’t heard his pager, but that’s not a surprise, considering.
“I’m always up for it, you know that.”
“I like your outfit.” His Paul Newman-blue eyes caressed my body, and I struggled to bring myself back to the matter at hand.
“She fell or she jumped, who knows?”
“Who is she?”
He shrugged, and I could see him putting on his armor. “Don’t know yet. No ID.”
“Where’d she fall from?”
He smiled patronizingly and put his hand on my shoulder. “Why don’t you go home? I’ll call you when we’re done here.”
Yeah, and then I’d never get any information. We’d been playing this cat-and-mouse game for a year now, and he still didn’t get it. This was my job, I had to be a pain in his ass.
“Where’d she fall from?” I asked again.
He sighed. “We don’t know. We’re checking every apartment.”
A row of balconies loomed over us. She had to have been on one of them.
“She bounced off the fence,” he said wearily.
I didn’t want to think about it. At least she hadn’t gotten impaled. I forced myself to get my train of thought going in a different direction. “What time did she take her leap?”
“Coroner’s guessing she’s been here about an hour.”
“Who found her?”
Tom glanced across the sea of officers at a tall woman teetering on high heels. One of New Haven’s better-known prostitutes, her name is Patricia, but I think it used to be Peter. “Coming home from a late date?” I guessed.
“If you want to hang out, okay, but you have to let us do our job. Can you do that?” Tom began to walk away from me, the story of my life.
“Does it look like she fell or jumped?” I tried to keep him talking, but he just shook his head and kept moving out of my line of fire. He hadn’t done that three hours ago.
“What happened?” I heard the voice behind me. I almost could feel his breath on the back of my neck.
“Who called you?” I demanded.
Dick Whitfield held up his portable scanner. “Heard it on this. Thought I might get a head start.”
“This is my beat, now get the fuck out of here.” I couldn’t blame my attitude on my hangover, I always talked to Dick this way. It was the only way he could hear me, I swear.
“Wow,” he muttered as he stared past me at the girl. “What happened?”
Exactly what I wanted to know, and exactly what I wouldn’t tell him even if I did.
“Seriously, Dick. Go home, I’ve got this covered.”
“Is that your boyfriend over there?”
I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him a few feet away. “Listen, I’m not in the mood for this right now. Marty called me, I’m here, you can go home.”
Dick Whitfield was the newsroom boob, but the editors liked his “enthusiasm.” Even Marty. If he got wind of this confrontation, I’d be dog meat. I wished I hadn’t had so much to drink, it was making me even more cranky than usual. I took a deep breath and tried to compose myself. “There really isn’t anything for you to do. I’ve got it covered.”
A shout from above and my head moved back so fast I saw double for a second and thought I was going to throw up.
Someone was shouting, waving, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tom run into the building. That was it, that was the balcony, now how was I going to get rid of Louis Lane here? But when I looked at him, I saw his eyes were blank.
I glanced back over at Patricia, she was still talking to the cops. It was worth a try. “See that woman over there?”
“She found the body. We need to get some quotes from her, can you do that?”
If he were a dog, his tail would be wagging. It was pathetic. I watched his long, skinny frame lope through the rain, and my wet hair dripped into my eyes.
The night had started out better than this. I had a new dress on; it was black and slinky and sexy. The cold beer slid down my throat as Tom’s hand caressed my knee under the table. We both knew what was going to happen; it always did, at least for the past year. Before that, it was just a lot of fantasizing and cold showers.
He shouldn’t be seeing me, either. It was a conflict of interest for both of us, since I was the cop reporter. But the attraction was too strong. Not enough for more than what it was, neither of us wanted to get tied down, but we were monogamous in a weird sort of way. I didn’t see anyone else, and neither did he. At least I liked to think so.
I wasn’t sure why I got drunk, but I suppose it was just the whole scene, piano player banging out great jazz, candles flickering, the light making me look younger than my almost forty years. Sure, it was a great night. Until now. Wouldn’t you know I’d have an editor who was an insomniac and kept his scanner on all the time.
I slipped in past the cop at the door; he was too busy interrogating some guy with a dog who wanted to go out. I could’ve been anyone who got caught in the rain. One elevator was stuck at 14; it seemed like a good place to start, so I took the other one up, the jolt stirring my stomach. When the doors opened, I was met by a patrolman who wouldn’t let me out. I stuck my hand across the door so it wouldn’t close.
“This is a crime scene, ma’am.”
I could’ve forgiven anything but the “ma’am.” It really pissed me off. “Let me out, goddammit. People live here, you know. You can’t keep me from my home.” I prayed Tom was too far away to hear me. I pushed my way out and moved down the hall, like I really lived there, and when the officer turned around, I made a beeline for the apartment with the open door and sounds of cops inside.
It had been tastefully and inexpensively furnished by IKEA. A plush sofa edged up against a sleek Scandinavian coffee table large enough to seat a family of five; a couple of chairs perched on the corner of a dark blue rug covering the standard beige apartment carpeting. A print of Gauguin’s Tahitian women splashed the room with much-needed color. A big-screen TV stretched across one wall; a glass cabinet housed a sound system.