Spine chilling best-selling series by Willow Rose.
Ben is supposed to be in school. It’s Monday morning but his parents are still asleep after a night of heavy drinking. Ben waits patiently, even though he knows he is missing out on today’s field trip to the zoo. But, when his black Labrador suddenly runs upstairs and comes down with a finger in his mouth, Ben knows he’s not making it to school today at all.
Detective Jack Ryder is chaperoning his kids’ field trip when he gets the call from the head of the Cocoa Beach Police Department. A body has been found and they need his help. Soon, Jack finds himself up against a killer, a predator who ruthlessly chases women and kills them so they can never leave him. The case soon causes serious consequences for him and his family once the truth is revealed.
With her new hero, Jack Ryder, as a loving father and committed detective, a new location in tropical Florida, and a story that moves at an incredible pace, Hit the Road Jack is Willow Rose at the top of her game.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This book takes place in the area where I live with my family. Cocoa Beach, Florida. I love this area and I always thought it could be fun writing a mystery that’s located here. I use real locations, so local readers can recognise the different places. The main character Jack Ryder is also surfing like my family and I. So I enjoyed writing about his passion for surfing and the ocean.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I have always used female main characters in my novels, but this time I wanted to try to write it from a man’s perspective.
H I T T H E R O A D J A C K
Jack Ryder #1
Copyright Willow Rose 2015
Published by Jan Sigetty Boeje
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
This could be Heaven or this could be Hell
Eagles, Hotel California 1977
P r o l o g u e
DON’T COME BACK NO MORE
She has no idea who she is or where she is and cares to know neither. For some time, for what seems like forever, she has been in this daze. This haze, in complete darkness with nothing but the sounds. Sounds coming from outside her body, from outside her head. Sometimes, the sounds fade and there is only the darkness.
As time passes, she becomes aware that there are two realities. The one in her mind, filled with darkness and pain and then the one outside of her, where something or someone else is living, acting, smelling and…singing.
Yes, that’s it. Someone is singing. Does she know the song?
…What you say?
The darkness is soon replaced by light. Still, her eyes are too heavy to open. Her consciousness returns slowly. Enough to start asking questions. Where is she? How did she end up here? A series of pictures of her at home come to her mind. She is waiting. What is she waiting for?
…I guess if you said so.
Him. She is waiting for him. She is checking her hair in the mirror every five minutes or so. Then correcting the make-up, looking at the clock again. Where is he? She looks out through the window and at the street and the many staring neighboring windows. A feeling of guilt hits her. Somehow, it seems wrong for this kind of thing to take place in broad daylight.
A car drives up. The anticipation. The butterflies in her stomach. The sound of the doorbell. She is straightening her dress and taking a last glance in the mirror. The next second, she is in his embrace. He is holding her so tight she closes her eyes and breathes him in until his lips cover hers and she swims away.
…Whoa, Woman, oh woman, don’t treat me so mean.
His breath is pumping against her skin. She feels his hands on her breasts, under her skirt, coming closer, while he presses her up against the wall. She feels him in his hand. He is hard now, moaning in her ear.
“Where’s your husband?” he whispers.
“Work,” she moans back, feeling self-conscious. Why did he have to bring up her husband? The guilt is killing her. “The kids are in school.”
“Good,” he moans. “No one can ever know. Remember that. No one.”
…You’re the meanest old woman that I’ve ever seen.
He pushes himself inside of her and pumps. She lets herself get into the moment, but as soon as it is over, she finds herself regretting it…while he zips up the pants of his suit and kisses her gently on the lips, whispering, same time next week? She regrets having started it all. They are both married with children, and this is only an affair. Could never be anything else, even if she dreamt about it. The sex is great, but she wants more than just seeing him on her lunch break. But she can never tell him. She can never explain to him how much she hates this awkward moment that follows the sex.
“They’re expecting me at the office…I have a meeting,” he says, and puts his tie back on. “I’d better…”
…Hit the road, Jack!
She finally opens her eyes with a loud gasp. The bright light hurts her. Water is being splashed in her face. She can’t breathe. The bathtub is slippery when she tries to get up. Her eyes lock with another set of eyes. The eyes of a man. He is staring at her with a twisted smile. She gasps again, suddenly remembering those dark chili eyes.
“I guess if you said so…I’d have to pack my things and go,” he sings.
“You,” she gasps. Breathing is hard for her. She feels like she is still choking. She is hyperventilating. Panicking.
The man smiles. On his neck crawls a snake. How does that old saying go again? Red, black, yellow kills a fellow? This one is all of that, all those colors. It stares at her while moving its tongue back and forth. The man is holding a washcloth in his hand. She looks down at her naked body. The smell of chlorine is strong and makes her eyes water.
“You tried to kill me,” she says, while panting with anxiety.
I have to get home. Help me. I have to get home to my children! Oh, God. I can hear their voices! Am I going mad? I think I can hear them!
“I guess I didn’t do a very good job, then,” he answers. His chillingly calm voice is piercing through every bone in her body.
“I’ll try again. That’s right!”
She had never been more beautiful than in this exact moment. No woman ever had. So fragile, her skin so pale it almost looked bluish. The man who called himself the Snakecharmer stared at her body. It was still in the bathtub. He was still panting from the exertion, his hands shaking and hurting from strangling the girl. He felt so aroused in this moment, staring at the dead body. It was the most fascinating thing in the world. How the body simply ceased to function. And almost as fascinating was what followed next. The human decaying process. It wasn’t something new. Fascination with death had occurred all throughout human history, characterized by obsessions with death and all things related to death. The Egyptians mummified their dead. He had always wished he could do the same. Keep his dead forever and ever. He remembered as a child how he would sometimes lie down in front of the mirror and try to lie completely still and look at himself, imagining he was looking at a dead body. He would capture cats and kill them and keep them in his room, just to watch what would happen to them. He wanted so badly to stop the decaying process, he wanted them to remain the same always and never leave.
The Snakecharmer stared at the girl with fascination in his eyes. He caught his breath and calmed down again. He still felt the adrenaline rushing through his veins while he finished washing the girl. He washed away all the dirt, all the smells on her body. He reached down and cleaned her thoroughly between her legs. Scrubbed her to make sure he got all the dirt away, all the filth and impurities.
Then, he dried her with a towel before he pulled her onto the bathroom floor. His companions, his two pet Coral snakes, were sliding across her dead body. He grabbed one and let it slide across his arm while petting it. Then he knelt next to the girl and stroked her gently across her hair, making sure it wasn’t in her face. Her blue eyes stared into the ceiling.
“Now, you’ll never leave,” he whispered.
With his cell phone, he took a picture of her naked body. That was his mummification. His way to always cherish the moment. To always remember. He never wanted to forget how beautiful she was.
He dried her with a towel. He brushed her brown hair with gentle strokes. He took yet another picture before he lifted her up and carried her into the bedroom, where he placed her in a chair, then sat in front of her and placed his head in her lap.
They would stay like this until she started to smell.
I GUESS IF YOU SAY SO
He took the dog out in the yard and shut the door carefully behind him, making sure he didn’t make a sound to wake up his sleeping parents. It was Monday, but they had been very loud last night. The kitchen counter was still covered with empty bottles.
At first, Ben had waited patiently in the living room, watching a couple of shows on TV, waiting for his parents to wake up. When the clock passed nine, he knew he wouldn’t make it to school that day either, and that was too bad because they had a field trip to the zoo today and Ben had been looking forward to it. When they still hadn’t shown up at ten o’clock, he decided the dog had to go out. The old Labrador kept sitting by the door and scraping on it. It had to go.
So, Ben took Bobby out in the backyard. He had to go with him. The yard ended at the canal, and Bobby had more than once jumped into the water. Ben had to keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t do it again. It had been such a mess last time, since the dog couldn’t climb back up over the seawall on his own, so Ben’s dad had to jump into the blurry water and carry the dog out.
The dog quickly gave in to nature and did his business. Ben had a plastic bag that he picked it up with and threw it in the trash can behind the house.
It was a beautiful day out. One of those clear days with a blue sky and not a cloud anywhere on the horizon. The wind was blowing out of the north and had been for two days, making the air drier. For once, Ben’s shirt didn’t stick to his body.
He threw the ball a few times for the dog to get some exercise. Ben could smell the ocean, even though he lived on the back side of the barrier island. When it was quiet, he could even hear it too. The waves had to be good. If he wasn’t too sick from drinking last night, his dad might take him surfing.
Ben really hoped he would.
It had been months since his dad last took him to the beach. He never seemed to have time anymore. Sometimes, Ben would take his bike and ride down there by himself, but it was never as much fun as when the entire family went. They never seemed to do much together anymore. Ben wondered if it had anything to do with what happened to his baby sister a year ago. He never understood exactly what had happened. He just knew she didn’t wake up one morning when their mother went to pick her up from her crib. Then his parents cried and cried for days and they had held a big funeral. But the crying hadn’t stopped for a long time. Not until it was replaced with a lot of sleeping and his parents staying up all night, and all the empty bottles that Ben often cleaned up from the kitchen and put in the recycling bin.
Bobby brought back the ball and placed it at Ben’s feet. He picked it up and threw it again. It landed close to the seawall. Luckily, it didn’t fall in. Bobby ran to get it, then placed it at Ben’s feet again, looking at him expectantly.
“Really? One more time, then we’re done,” he said, thinking he’d better get back inside and start cleaning up. He picked up the ball and threw it. The dog stormed after it again and disappeared for a second down the hill leading to the canal. Ben couldn’t see him.
“Bobby?” he yelled. “Come on, boy. We need to get back inside.”
He stared in the direction of the canal. He couldn’t see the bottom of the yard. He had no idea if Bobby had jumped in the water again. His heart started to pound. He would have to wake up his dad if he did. He was the only one who could get Bobby out of the water.
Ben stood frozen for a few seconds until he heard the sound of Bobby’s collar, and a second later spotted his black dog running towards him with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.
“Bobby!” Ben said. He bent down and petted his dog and best friend. “You scared me, buddy. You forgot the ball. Well, we’ll have to get that later. Now, let’s go back inside and see if Mom and Dad are awake.”
Ben grabbed the handle and opened the door. He let Bobby go in first.
“Mom?” he called.
But there was no answer. They were probably still asleep. Ben found some dog food in the cabinet and pulled the bag out. He spilled on the floor when he filled Bobby’s tray. He had no idea how much the dog needed, so he made sure to give him enough, and poured till the bowl overflowed. Ben found a garbage bag under the sink and had removed some of the bottles when Bobby suddenly started growling. The dog ran to the bottom of the stairs and barked. Ben found this to be strange. It was very unlike Bobby to act this way.
“What’s the matter, boy? Are Mom and Dad awake?”
The dog kept barking and growling.
“Stop it!” Ben yelled, knowing how much his dad hated it when Bobby barked. “Bad dog.”
But Bobby didn’t stop. He moved closer and closer to the stairs and kept barking until the dog finally ran up the stairs.
“No! Bobby!” Ben yelled. “Come back down here!”
Ben stared up the stairs after the dog, wondering if he dared to go up there. His dad always got so mad if he went upstairs when they were sleeping. He wasn’t allowed up there until they got out of bed. But, if he found Bobby up there, his dad would get really mad. Probably talk about getting rid of him again.
He’s my best friend. Don’t take my friend away.
“Bobby,” he whispered. “Come back down here.”
Ben’s heart was racing in his chest. There wasn’t a sound coming from upstairs. Ben held his breath, not knowing what to do. The last thing he wanted on a day like today was to make his dad angry. He expected his dad to start yelling any second now.
Oh no, what if he jumps into their bed? Dad is going to get so mad. He’s gonna get real mad at Bobby.
“Bobby?” Ben whispered a little louder.
There was movement on the stairs, the black lab peeked his head out, then ran down the stairs.
“There you are,” Ben said with relief. Bobby ran past him and sprang up on the couch.
“What do you have in your mouth? Not one of mom’s shoes again.”
It didn’t look like it was big enough to be a shoe. Ben walked closer, thinking if it was a pair of Mommy’s panties again, then the dog was dead. He reached down and grabbed the dog’s mouth, then opened it and pulled out whatever it was. He looked down with a small shriek at what had come out of the dog’s mouth. He felt nauseated, like the time when he had the stomach bug and spent the entire night in the bathroom. Only this was worse.
It’s a finger. A finger wearing Mommy’s ring!
“Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back no more no more no more.”
The children’s voices were screaming more than singing on the bus. I preferred Wheels on the Bus, but the kids thought it was oh so fun, since my name was Jack and I was actually driving the bus. I had volunteered to drive them to the Brevard Zoo for their field trip today. Two of the children, the pretty blonde twins in the back named Abigail and Austin, were mine. A boy and a girl. Just started Kindergarten six months ago. I could hardly believe how fast time passed. Everybody told me it would, but still. It was hard to believe.
I was thirty-five and a single dad of three children. My wife, Arianna, ran out on us four years ago…when the twins were almost two years old. It was too much, she told me. She couldn’t cope with the children or me. She especially had a hard time taking care of Emily. Emily was my ex-partner’s daughter. My ex-partner, Lisa, was shot on duty ten years ago during a chase in downtown Miami. The shooter was never captured, and it haunted me daily. I took Emily in after her mother died. What else could I have done? I felt guilty for what had happened to her mother. I was supposed to have protected my partner. Plus, the girl didn’t know her father. Lisa never told anyone who he was; she didn’t have any of her parents or siblings left, except for a homeless brother who was in no condition to take care of a child. So, I got custody and decided to give Emily the best life I could. She was six when I took her in, sixteen now, and at an age where it was hard for anyone to love you, besides your mom and dad. I tried hard to be both for her. Not always with much success. The fact was, I had no idea what it was like to be a black teenage girl.
Personally, I believed Arianna had depression after the birth of the twins, but she never let me close enough to talk about it. She cried for months after the twins were born, then one day out of the blue, she told me she had to go. That she couldn’t stay or it would end up killing her. I cried and begged her to stay, but there was nothing I could do. She had made up her mind. She was going back upstate, and that was all I needed to know. I shouldn’t look for her, she said.
“Are you coming back?” I asked, my voice breaking. I couldn’t believe anyone would leave her own children.
“I don’t know, Jack.”
“But…The children? They need you? They need their mother?”
“I can’t be the mother you want me to be, Jack. I’m just not cut out for it. I’m sorry.”
Then she left. Just like that. I had no idea how to explain it to the kids, but somehow I did. As soon as they started asking questions, I told them their mother had left and that I believed she was coming back one day. Some, maybe a lot of people, including my mother, might have told me it was insane to tell them that she might be coming back, but that’s what I did. I couldn’t bear the thought of them growing up with the knowledge that their own mother didn’t want them. I couldn’t bear for Emily to know that she was part of the reason why Arianna had left us, left the twins motherless. I just couldn’t. I had to leave them with some sort of hope. And maybe I needed to believe it too. I needed to believe that she hadn’t just abandoned us…that she had some stuff she needed to work out and soon she would be back. At least for the twins. They needed their mother and asked for her often. It was getting harder and harder for me to believe she was coming back for them. But I still said she would.
And there they were.
On the back seat of the bus, singing along with their classmates, happier than most of them. Mother or no mother, I had provided a good life for them in our little town of Cocoa Beach. As a detective working for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, working their homicide unit, I had lots of spare time and they had their grandparents close by. They received all the love in the world from me and their grandparents, who loved them to death (and let them get away with just about anything).
Some might think they were spoiled brats, but to me they were the love of my life, the light, the…the…
What the heck were they doing in the back?
I hit the brakes a little too hard at the red light. All the kids on the bus fell forwards. The teacher, Mrs. Allen, whined and held on to her purse.
“Abigail and Austin!” I thundered through the bus. “Stop that right now!”
The twins grinned and looked at one another, then continued to smear chocolate on each other’s faces. Chocolate from those small boxes with Nutella and sticks you dipped in it. Boxes their grandmother had given them for snacks, even though I told her it had to be healthy.
“Now!” I yelled.
“Sorry, Dad,” they yelled in unison.
“Well…wipe that off or…”
I never made it any further before the phone in my pocket vibrated. I pulled it out and started driving again as the light turned green.
“Ryder. We need you. I spoke with Ron and he told me you would be assisting us. We desperately need your help.”
It was the head of the Cocoa Beach Police Department. Weasel, we called her. I didn’t know why. Maybe it had to do with the fact that her name was Weslie Seal. Maybe it was just because she kind of looked like a weasel because her body was long and slender, but her legs very short. Ron Harper was the county sheriff and my boss.
“This is big. We need you now.”
“If you say so. I’ll get there as fast as I can,” I said and turned off towards the entrance to the zoo. The kids all screamed with joy when they saw the sign. Mrs. Allen shushed them.
“What, are you running a day-care now? Not that I have the time to care. Everything is upside down around here. We have a dead body. I’ll text you the address. Meet you there.”
Annie was getting ready. She was putting on makeup with her roommate Julia, while listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and singing into their hairbrushes. They were nineteen, in college, and heading for trouble, as Annie’s father always said.
Annie wanted to be a teacher.
“Are you excited?” Julia asked. “You think he’s going to be there?”
“He,” was Tim. He was the talk of the campus and the guy they all desired. He was tall, blond, and a quarterback. He was perfect. And he had his eye on Annie.
“I hope so,” Annie said and put on her jacket with the shoulder pads. “He asked me to come; he’d better be.”
She looked at her friend, wondering why Tim hadn’t chosen Julia instead. She was much prettier.
“Shall we?” Julia asked and opened the door. They were both wearing heavy make-up and acid-washed jeans.
Annie was nervous as they walked to the party. She had never been to a party in a fraternity house before. She had been thrilled when Tim came up to her in the library where she hung out most of the time and told her there was a party at the house and asked if she was going to come.
“Sure,” she had replied while blushing.
“This is it,” Julia said, as they approached the house. Kids a few years older than them were hanging out on the porch while loud music spilled out through the open windows. Annie had butterflies in her stomach as they went up the steps to the front of the house and entered, elbowing themselves through the crowd.
The noise was intense. People were drinking and smoking everywhere. Some were already making out on a couch. And it wasn’t even nine o’clock yet.
“Let’s get something to drink,” Julia yelled through the thick clamor. “Have you loosen up a little.”
Julia came back with two cups, and…Tim. “Look who I found,” she said. “He was asking for you.”
Annie grabbed the plastic cup and didn’t care what it contained; she gulped it down in such a hurry she forgot to breathe. Tim was staring at her with that handsome smile of his. Then, he leaned over, put his hand on her shoulder, and whispered. “Glad you came.”
Annie blushed and felt warmth spread through her entire body from the palm of Tim’s hand on her shoulder. She really liked him. She really, really liked him.
“It’s very loud in here. Do you want to go somewhere?” he asked.
Annie knew she wasn’t the smartest among girls. Her mother had always told her so. She knew Tim, who was pre-med, would never be impressed with her conversational skills or her wits. If she was to dazzle him, it had to be in another way.
“Sure,” she said.
“Let me get us some drinks first,” Tim said and disappeared.
Julia smiled and grabbed Annie’s shoulders. “You got him, girl.” Then she corrected Annie’s hair and wiped a smear of mascara from under her eyes.
“There. Now you’re perfect. Remember. Don’t think. You always overthink everything. Just be you. Just go with the flow, all right? Laugh at his jokes, but not too hard. Don’t tell him too much about yourself; stay mysterious. And, whatever you do…don’t sleep with him. You hear me? He won’t respect you if you jump into bed with him right away. You have to play hard to get.”
Annie stared at Julia. She had never had sex with anyone before, and she certainly wasn’t going to now. Not yet. She had been saving herself for the right guy, and maybe Tim was it, but she wasn’t going to decide that tonight. She didn’t even want to.
“I’d never do that,” she said with a scoff. “I’m not THAT stupid.”
Weasel was standing outside the house as I drove up and parked the school bus on the street. The house on West Bay Drive was blocked by four police cars and lots of police tape. I saw several of my colleagues walking around in the yard. Weasel spotted me and approached. She was wearing tight black jeans, a belt with a big buckle, a white shirt, and black blazer. She looked to be in her thirties, but I knew she had recently turned forty.
“What the…?” she said with a grin, looking at the bus. She had that raspy rawness to her voice, and I always wondered if she could sing. I pictured her as a country singer. She gave out that tough vibe.
“Don’t ask,” I said. “What have we got?”
“Homicide,” Weasel answered. “Victim is female. Laura Bennett, thirty-two, Mom of Ben, five years old. The husband’s name is Brandon Bennett.”
My heart dropped. I knew the boy. He was in the twins’ class. I couldn’t believe it. I had moved to Cocoa Beach from Miami in 2008 and never been called out to a homicide in my own town. Our biggest problems around here were usually tourists on spring break jumping in people’s pools and Jacuzzis and leaving beer cans, or the youngsters having bonfires on the beach and burning people’s chairs and leaving trash.
But, murder? That was a first for me in Cocoa Beach. I had been called out to drug-related homicides in the beachside area before, but that was mostly further down south in Satellite Beach and Indialantic, but never this far up north.
“It’s bad,” Weasel said. “I have close to no experience with this type of thing, but you do. We need all your Miami-experience now. Show me what you’ve got.”
I nodded and followed her into the house. It was located on a canal leading to the Banana River, like most of the houses on the back side of the island. The house had a big pebble-coated pool area with two waterfalls, a slide, and a spa overlooking the river. The perfect setting for Florida living, the real estate ad would say. With the huge palm trees, it looked like true paradise. Until you stepped inside.
The inside was pure hell.
It was a long time since I had been on a murder scene, but the Weasel was right. I was the only one with lots of experience in this field. I spent eight years in downtown Miami, covering Overtown, the worst neighborhood in the town, as part of the homicide unit. My specialty was the killer’s psychology. I was a big deal back then. But when I met Arianna and she became pregnant with the twins, I was done. It was suddenly too dangerous. We left Miami to get away from it. We moved to Cocoa Beach, where my parents lived, to be closer to my family and to get away from murder.
Now, it had followed me here. It made me feel awful. I hated to see the town’s innocence go like this.
My colleagues from the Cocoa Beach Police Department greeted me with nods as we walked through the living room, overlooking the yard with the pool. I knew all of them. They seemed a little confused. For most of them, it was a first. Officer Joel Hall looked pale.
“Joel was first man here,” Weasel said.
“How are you doing, Joel?” I asked.
“So, tell me what happened.”
Joel sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
“We got a call from the boy. He told us his mother had been killed. He found her finger…well, the dog had it in his mouth. He didn’t dare to go upstairs. He called 911 immediately. I was on patrol close by, so I drove down here.”
“So, what did you find?”
“The boy and the dog were waiting outside the house. He was hysterical, kept telling me his parents were dead. Then, he showed me the finger. I tried to calm him down and tell him I would go look and to stay outside. I walked up and found the mother…” Joel sniffled again. He took in a deep breath.
“Take your time, Joel,” I said, and put my hand on his shoulder. Joel finally caved in and broke down.
“You better see it with your own eyes,” Weasel said. “But brace yourself.”
I followed her up the stairs of the house, where the medical examiners were already taking samples.
“The kid said his parents were dead. What about the dad?” I asked. “You only said one homicide.”
“The dad’s fine. But, hear this,” Weasel said. “He claims he was asleep the entire time. He’s been taken to the hospital to see a doctor. He kept claiming he felt dizzy and had blurred vision. I had to have a doctor look at him before we talk to him. The boy is with him. Didn’t want to leave his side. The dog is there too. Jim and Marty took them there. I don’t want him to run. He’s our main suspect so far.”
We walked down the hallway till we reached the bedroom. “Brace yourself,” Weasel repeated, right before we walked inside.
I sucked in my breath. Then I froze.
“It looks like he was dismembering her,” Weasel said. “He cut off all the fingers on her right hand, one by one, then continued on to the toes on her foot.”
I felt disgusted by the sight. I held a hand to cover my mouth, not because it smelled, but because I always became sick to my stomach when facing a dead body. Especially one that was mutilated. I never got used to it. I kneeled next to the woman lying on the floor. I examined her face and eyes, lifted her eyelids, then looked closely at her body.
“There’s hardly any blood. No bruises either,” I said. “I say she was strangled first, then he did the dismembering. My guess is he was disturbed. He was about to cut her into bits and pieces, but he stopped. “I sniffed the body and looked at the Weasel, who seemed disgusted by my motion. “The kill might have happened in the shower. She has been washed recently. Maybe he drowned her.”
I walked into the bathroom and approached the tub. I ran a finger along the sides. “Look.” I showed her my finger. “There’s still water on the sides. It’s been used recently.”
“So, you think she was killed in the bathtub? Strangulation, you say? But there are no marks on her neck or throat?”
“Look at her eyes. Petechiae. Tiny red spots due to ruptured capillaries. They are a signature injury of strangulation. She has them under the eyelids. He didn’t use his hands. He was being gentle.”
Weasel looked appalled. “Gentle? How can you say he was gentle? He cut off her fingers?”
“Yes, but look how methodical he was. All the parts are intact. Not a bruise on any of them. Not a drop of blood. They are all placed neatly next to one another. It’s a declaration of love.”
Weasel looked confused. She grumbled. “I don’t see much love in any of all this, that’s for sure. All I see is a dead woman, who someone tried to chop up. And now I want you to find out who did it.”
I chuckled. “So, the dad tells us he was sleeping?” I asked.
Weasel shrugged. “Apparently, he was drunk last night. They had friends over. It got a little heavy, according to the neighbors. Loud music and loud voices. But that isn’t new with these people.”
“On a Sunday night in a nice neighborhood like this?” I asked, surprised.
“It’s a big house. Right on the river. Snug Harbor is one of the most expensive neighborhoods around here. What do the parents do for a living?”
“Nothing, I’ve been told. They live off the family’s money. The deceased’s father was a very famous writer. He died ten years ago. The kids have been living off of the inheritance and the royalties for years since.”
“Anyone I know, the writer?”
“Probably,” she said. “A local hero around here. John Platt.”
“John Platt?” I said. “I’ve certainly heard of him. I didn’t know he used to live around here. Wasn’t he the guy who wrote all those thriller novels that were made into movies later on?”
“Yes, that was him. He has sold more than 100 million books worldwide. His books are still topping the bestseller lists.”
“Didn’t he recently publish a new book or something?”
Weasel nodded. “They found an old unpublished manuscript of his on his computer, which they published. I never understood how those things work, but I figure they think, if he wrote it, then it’s worth a lot of money even if he trashed it.”
I stared at the dead halfway-dismembered body on the floor, then back at the Weasel.
I sighed. “I guess we better talk to this heavily sleeping dad first.”
“Who was that guy you talked to last night?”
Joe walked into the kitchen. Shannon was cutting up oranges to make juice. She sensed he was right behind her, but she didn’t turn to look at him. Last night was still in her head. The humming noise of the voices, the music, the laughter. Her head was hurting from a little too much alcohol. His question made everything inside of her freeze.
“Who do you mean?” she asked. “I talked to a lot of people. That was kind of the idea with the party after my concert. For me to meet with the press and important people in the business. That’s the way it always is. You know how it goes. It’s a big part of my job.”
He put his hand on her shoulder. A shiver ran up her spine. She closed her eyes.
Not now. Please not now.
“Look at me when you’re talking to me,” he said.
She took in a deep breath, then put on a smile; the same smile she used when the press asked her to pose for pictures, the same smile she put on for her manager, her record label, and her friends when they asked her about the bruises on her back, followed by the sentence:
“Just me being clumsy again.”
Shannon turned and looked at Joe. His eyes were black with fury. Her body shrunk and her smile froze.
“I saw the way you were looking at that guy. Don’t you think I saw that?” Joe asked. “You know what I think? I think you like going to these parties they throw in your honor. I think you enjoy all the men staring at you, wishing you were theirs, wanting to fuck your brains out. I see it in their eyes and I see it in yours as well. You like it.”
It was always the same. Joe couldn’t stand the fact that Shannon was the famous one…that she was the one everyone wanted to talk to, and after a party like the one yesterday, he always lost his temper with her. Because he felt left out, because there was no one looking at him, talking to him, asking him questions with interest. He hated the fact that Shannon was the one with a career, when all he had ever dreamt of was to be singing in sold out stadiums like she did.
They had started out together. Each with just a guitar under their arm, working small clubs and bars in Texas, then later they moved on to Nashville, where country musicians were made. They played the streets together, and then got small gigs in bars, and later small concert venues around town. But when a record label contacted them one day after a concert, they were only interested in her. They only wanted Shannon King. Since then, Joe had been living in the shadow of his wife, and that didn’t become him well. For years, she had made excuses for him, telling herself he was going through a rough time; he was just hurting because he wasn’t going anywhere with his music. The only thing Joe had going for him right now was the fact that he was stronger than Shannon.
But as the years had passed, it was getting harder and harder for her to come up with new excuses, new explanations. Especially now that they had a child together. A little girl who was beginning to ask questions.
“Joe…I…I don’t know what you’re talking about. I talked to a lot of people last night. I’m tired and now I really want to get some breakfast.”
“Did you just take a tone with me. Did ya’? Am I so insignificant in your life that you don’t even talk to me with respect, huh? You don’t even look at me when we’re at your precious after party. Nobody cares about me. Everyone just wants to talk to the biiig star, Shannon King,” he said, mocking her.
“You’re being ridiculous.”
“Am I? Did you even think about me once last night? Did you? I left at eleven-thirty. You never even noticed. You never even texted me and asked where I was.”
Shannon blushed. He was right. She hadn’t thought about him even once. She had been busy answering questions from the press and talking about her tour. Everyone had been pulling at her; there simply was no time to think about him. Why couldn’t he understand that?
“I thought so,” Joe said. Then, he slapped her.
Shannon went stumbling backward against the massive granite counter. She hurt her back in the fall. Shannon whimpered, then got up on her feet again with much effort. Her cheek burned like hell. A little blood ran from the corner of her mouth. She wiped it off.
Careful what you say, Shannon. Careful not to upset him further. Remember what happened last time. He’s not well. He is hurting. Careful not to hurt him any more.
But she knew it was too late. She knew once he crossed that line into that area where all thinking ceased to exist, it was too late. She could appeal to his sensitivity as much as she wanted to. She could try and explain herself and tell him she was sorry, but it didn’t help. If anything, it only made everything worse.
His eyes were bulging and his jaws clenched. His right eye had that tick in it that only showed when he was angry.
You got to get out of here.
“Joe, please, I…”
A fist throbbed through the air and smashed into her face.
Quick. Run for the phone.
She could see it. It was on the breakfast bar. She would have to spring for it. Shannon jumped to the side and managed to avoid his next fist, then slipped on the small rug on the kitchen floor, got back up in a hurry, and rushed to reach out for the phone.
Call 911. Call the police.
Her legs were in the air and she wasn’t running anymore. He had grabbed her by the hair, and now he was pulling her backward. He yanked her towards him, and she screamed in pain, cursing her long blonde hair that she used to love so much…that the world loved and put on magazine covers.
“You cheating lying bitch!” he screamed, while pulling her across the floor.
He lifted her up, then threw her against the kitchen counter. It blew out the air from her lungs. She couldn’t scream anymore. She was panting for air and wheezing for him to stop. She was bleeding from her nose. Joe came closer, then leaned over her and, with his hand, he corrected his hair. His precious hair that had always meant so much to him, that he was always fixing and touching to make sure it was perfect, which it ironically never was.
“No one disrespects me. Do you hear me? Especially not you. You’re a nobody. Do you understand? You would be nothing if it wasn’t for me,” he yelled, then lifted his clenched fist one more time. When it smashed into Shannon’s face again and again, she finally let herself drift into a darkness so deep she couldn’t feel anything anymore. End of excerpt! Get the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Hit-road-Jack-Ryder-Book-ebook/dp/B00V9525BC
The Queen of scream novels Willow Rose is an Amazon ALL-star Best-selling author. She writes Mystery/Suspense/Horror, Paranormal Romance and Fantasy. She is inspired by authors like James Patterson, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Isabel Allende. She lives on Florida’s Space Coast with her husband and two daughters. When she is not writing or reading, you’ll find her surfing and watching the dolphins play in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. She has sold more than a million books.
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