James Andrus: The Perfect Prey

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James Andrus The Perfect Prey
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    The Perfect Prey
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    Полицейский детектив / на английском языке
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James Andrus

The Perfect Prey


Detective John Stallings had seen plenty of homicide scenes in and around the city of Jacksonville. Each one ate at him, stealing a little of his own life no matter who lay dead behind the tape.

On this cool, spring evening he felt a stab of annoyance when the young patrolman securing the crime scene asked to see his sheriff’s office ID. There was a time when Stallings knew every patrol officer, detective, and administrator employed by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, but now, after years in the detective bureau and the massive hiring pushes, he was reduced to proving his identity just to enter a homicide scene. Fucking great.

His partner, Patty Levine, gave the young uniformed officer a wink as she held up her detective’s badge. The patrolman didn’t even examine it and said, “I recognized you, Detective.”

As they walked toward the herd of crime scene technicians and detectives in the center of the scene, Patty said, “That creeps me out. How is it that you caught The Bag Man, but he recognized me? ”

Stallings stopped and faced the diminutive detective. Her blond hair whipped around her face in the strong March breeze, her bright eyes and white teeth on a pretty, all-American girl’s face. “Gee, I wonder why the horny young cop knew you and not me?” He scratched his head and started to make another comment when he heard the unmistakable bark of the lead homicide detective, Tony Mazzetti.

“What’re you two doing over here? This is my scene.” Twenty years in Florida hadn’t dulled his Brooklyn accent.

Stallings held up a hand. “Relax, Tony. Just swinging by to see if you need any help.”

“Do I horn in on missing persons cases?”

“You’re not assigned to both squads.”

“As I recall the damn LT said if we got busy you’d be a good guy to help, and one suicide in the park isn’t what I call busy.” He turned to yell at a crime scene tech. “Jesus fucking Christ, Kenny, try not to get your chewing tobacco on the corpse.” He shook his head, mumbling, “Bunch of rednecks.”

Stallings said calmly, “It came out on the radio as a body in Brackridge Park. I didn’t know it was a suicide.” He started easing his way toward the scene to get a look for himself, pulling Patty and Mazzetti with him. He didn’t really know why he liked pushing the homicide detective’s buttons so much, but right now it was one of the few bright spots in his life.

Patty had been neutral in his ongoing feud with Mazzetti. She had, unfortunately, started dating the turd and was careful not to pick sides. To Mazzetti’s credit, just because he was seeing Patty, he didn’t treat her any differently at work. He insulted her right along with Stallings and everyone else, but she gave it back like the little fighter she was. Stallings admired that kind of commitment to sarcasm and strife.

Mazzetti said, “Stall, what’re you, deaf? I said we got this shit handled. It’s just a suicide.”

Stallings looked over the shoulder of a crime scene photographer at the body of a very young blond woman with a white cord still looped around her discolored neck. She’d already been pulled down and now lay on a plastic sheet. The cord had worked its way into her skin, and the hours of deterioration had made it appear to be part of her body. She was dressed in jeans and a nice shirt, as if she was going out for the evening. She had that grimace on her distorted face Stallings had seen too many times. An expression that wasn’t peaceful but scared. The look that caused parents to grieve and reporters to salivate. He saw the whole story unfolding now: beautiful girl unable to cope with-any problem could be inserted in the sentence-takes own life. He’d read that some kids think it’s dramatic or even romantic. He’d seen too much to think any of that was true. His Catholic school education leaked from the back of his head about the sin of suicide, and he shuddered.

Patty peeked around him and let out the sigh of relief that he should have. As a cop he could view any scene professionally and start trying to piece together what happened, but as the parent of a missing daughter he tensed whenever he heard about a female body. After three years it had gotten no easier.

He asked Mazzetti, “Any ID?”

“What are you, the new boss? I know the new sergeant is coming soon, but I didn’t see your name on the list.”

Patty stepped up. “It’s a simple question, shithead. Who is she?”

Stallings suppressed a smile. He saw Patty do the same. Mazzetti was the only one who didn’t see the humor in it, but that was normal.

Mazzetti said, “Her purse was on the bench over there. Her DL is from South Carolina. My bet is she was down here on spring break. Her license says she’s Kathleen Harding, and there’s a student ID from the University of South Carolina.”

“How old?”


All Stallings could do was shake his head. What a waste. What a shame.

Mazzetti said, “Aren’t you on spring break patrol?”

Patty said, “I thought you called it the ‘runaway roundup'?”

He smiled, his neatly trimmed mustache spreading with his mouth. “This is a seasonal name. In a few months you’ll be on the ‘summertime student sweep.’ I got a bunch of names to use.”

Patty leveled a stare at him. “You got a nickname for masturbating? Because something tells me that’s what you’ll be doing for a while.”

Mazzetti seemed hurt. “What happened to keeping work and personal lives completely separate?”

Stallings chimed in. “Yeah, I think I like that better too. Keeps things more interesting on the job.”

Patty nodded her head and glared down Mazzetti. “Fine,” she said through clinched teeth. “You better make sure your people do a good job here, because we don’t want to have to clean up one of your messes again.”

Stallings thought, Wow, good one, partner. But when he looked back toward the crime scene techs around the body all good humor drained out of him.


Allie Marsh felt a wave of joy as she gazed out at the dark, choppy Atlantic Ocean from the hotel room crowded with suitcases and sleeping girls. She didn’t care that a misty rain was falling or that it was only sixty-five degrees. She could swim in the Gulf off Biloxi or even a few hours east in Pensacola, but for six days she was free for the first time in her life. Her parents had agreed to fund the trip during the week off from her classes in elementary education at the University of Southern Mississippi. It was her first time away from home without another family member, and she intended to make the most of it. She liked some aspects of living at home and commuting forty-five minutes to Hattiesburg three times a week. It saved money, and she could never have afforded a place half as nice as her parents’ house. The downside was her social life was still centered in the small town of Laurel, where everyone knew everything you did or didn’t do.

She did things she shouldn’t, but it was the things she didn’t do that she wanted to try on this excursion to the big city of Jacksonville, or at least Atlantic Beach. Her friends promised that they’d go to all the hot clubs in Jacksonville every night and that whatever happened wouldn’t ever be spoken of inside the state of Mississippi. Last night the four young women had visited five different clubs. Most were crammed with students from across the Southeast. Allie knew enough students and wanted to meet someone a little older and more mature. Someone totally different. That’s what Allie was looking forward to: meeting guys who didn’t say things like, “I might could do that,” or “You seen my new custom Camaro?” She’d only had one serious boyfriend, Tommy McLaughlin, and he’d moved away to go to LSU, then a week later had pictures of a new girlfriend up on Facebook. She didn’t even bother to call him to find out what had happened. Allie did hook up with one nice boy from Louisville who was in the counseling psychology program at USM. He had a sweet smile and good, tight body and had come all the way to Laurel to meet her parents. They did it in his seven-year-old Volvo in the driveway and in the parking lot of the university admin building. She liked it but never felt as if she could let go when either her mom or some flunky security guard might find her naked with a man.

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