Authors: Thomas Perry
The Butcher’s Boy
Dance for the Dead
A String of Beads
Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Perry
Jacket design by Daniel Rembert
Author photograph by Jo Perry
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Scanning, uploading, and electronic distribution of this book or the facilitation of such without the permission of the publisher is prohibited. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated. Any member of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or anthology, should send inquiries to Grove Atlantic, 154 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011 or
Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
The Mysterious Press
an imprint of Grove Atlantic
154 West 14th Street
New York, NY 10011
16 17 18 19 20 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For my wife, Jo
Table of Contents
The man floated in darkness, the water buoying him and washing him along the concrete channel, slowly at first, but then steadily increasing his speed as hours passed and the heavy spring rain splashed on the pavement a few feet above and flowed into the storm drains to augment the current. From time to time the growing torrent of water bumped him against the concrete side of the channel, or scraped him along it for a moment. But the force of the tons of water flowing downstream was too strong to let him remain anywhere for long. And then it wasn’t.
It was after midnight when Bill Carmody stopped his white DPW truck two hundred feet from the corner and stared through his rain-streaked windshield at the small lake that was forming in the intersection ahead. The pavements around here were all crowned so the rainwater ran off to the curbside and flowed along the gutters to the storm drains.
It had been raining relentlessly for two days, and now the third was beginning the same way. The quantity of rainwater that was streaming down into the valleys was unusual. Southern California didn’t often get this kind of storm. It had
been a wet winter for once, and this storm was the biggest of the season. He tugged his cap down on his head, put the collar of his yellow slicker up, and stepped out of the truck. He sloshed to the back of the truck bed, opened the built-in tool chest, and took out a rake and a wire basket. This wasn’t, strictly speaking, a supervisor’s job, but if they had wanted a man who would stand around when he saw a problem he could solve, then they wouldn’t have hired Carmody.
He splashed along the street into deeper and deeper water toward the intersection. There was the glare of a set of headlights, and then he saw an SUV barreling along on the cross street. Its tires threw spray fifteen feet to either side like a speedboat, and formed little rooster tails behind them. The water was up to the hubcaps, so he could tell the depth was at least ten inches in the middle of the street. He waved at the driver to make him slow down a little, but either the driver didn’t see him or didn’t care.
It was too late to avoid the splash, so Carmody turned his back and let the water hit the back of his slicker and run off him.
The wind was a steady fifteen miles an hour, and so as he reached the corner the raindrops angled into his face. He tugged the brim of his hat farther down and used his rake to pull the debris from the grating that was set into the side of the curb. He could feel that it wasn’t working. He had expected to feel a current. He felt leaves and twigs, but the water was as still as soup. He walked to the one across the street, and then to the next and the next. He went back to the truck and got his crowbar and flashlight, then returned to the first drain and stepped up on the concrete slab set into the lawn above it. He pried up the manhole cover. The debris trap was full
of water. He dragged his rake along the inner grill, and found nothing blocking it. Instead, the water was welling up out of the manhole cover and running into the street.
He carried his basket, rake, and crowbar back to the truck, got inside, took out his cell phone, and pressed the call button.
“Department of Public Works.”
“This is Carmody. There’s a complete storm sewer blockage at the intersection of Interlaken and Grimes in North Hollywood. The water is only about a foot deep now, but it’s rising. Water is welling out of the upstream drains.”
“How do you want to handle it, Bill?”
“I checked the debris traps, so all we can do is open up the street and see what’s blocking the main sewer. We’ll need a jackhammer and a backhoe to start with.”
“We can either do it now, or we can wait until the water gets high enough to flow into somebody’s house.”
An hour later, the backhoe lifted its latest load of dripping mud and broken chunks of concrete from the narrow trench it had dug, turned, and dumped it on the pile it had built a few feet away. As the operator turned the machine to swing its arm back to sink its scoop again, Carmody gave a shrill whistle and waved both arms over his head.
“Hold it a minute,” he called. “Let us take a look.”
He and two of his men waded close to the spot where the backhoe had opened the pavement, and used their shovels to scrape away a few chunks to expose a mound of weeds, twigs, and leaves. They pried and tugged some of the foliage out of the hole, lifted armloads of it, waded to the truck, and threw it into the bed.
The growling engine of the backhoe stopped, and there was a sudden silence. Carmody turned to look. The equipment operator stood in front of his seat and stared down the cantilever arm of his backhoe into the hole. He pointed. “Jesus, a body! It’s a man!”
Officer Stearns stepped closer to the human form lying on the wet pavement. He was always affected. It was hardly ever a hundred-year-old guy who had been happy and prosperous and had his spirit depart gently, and not unexpectedly. Instead, there was always a story of loss and tragedy waiting to have the actual details filled in later, but clear enough from the start. He looked more closely. This one was an African American male who appeared to be in his early forties, wearing a sport coat and a nice pair of pants. His shoes weren’t with him, but that didn’t mean anything because they often came off dead men who were violently set into motion.
The motion was the odd part. The Department of Public Works had just pulled the man out of a blocked storm sewer in the center of a pile of leaves, branches, and weeds about the size of a bale of hay. According to them there was no telling how he had gotten in there, or how far he might have traveled in the stream of storm runoff before he’d come to this snag.
Stearns stayed just inside the yellow police tape and watched the medical examiner’s people and the crime scene people as dawn approached. The curious pedestrians would not show up until the rain stopped. Stearns thought about the victim. The man’s skin was a medium brown, and smooth. He was a healthy weight and had a good haircut. If there were marks on
him, they weren’t visible to Stearns right now, but that meant nothing either. The medical examiner would be all over him in a few hours, looking at every centimeter of him, including his internal organs. Stearns watched as the coroner’s crew bagged the body and then lifted it onto the gurney and loaded it into the coroner’s ambulance.
It was not easy to tell what had happened to this man, but Stearns was willing to make a couple of guesses. He was not a suicide. Somebody might overdose or take poison, but he wouldn’t then put himself into a storm sewer to float downstream under the street until he became a blockage. But that was all Stearns could guess with any confidence. Unless this turned out to be one of those cases where the guy’s enemy had sworn in front of the crowd at Dodger Stadium that he was going to kill this man, or his wife had taken out a five-million-dollar insurance policy on him last week, the homicide detectives would have to do some work and get lucky to find out how he had ended up here.
When the coroner’s people closed the rear door of their van Stearns was relieved. He didn’t like standing around in the presence of a body. He supposed that what he really hated were the waste and the sadness—the obvious disparity between a living, thinking man and the forlorn remnant in the pile of brush the workmen had dragged out of the drain.
The forensics people worked to untangle the mound of plants and trash that had been trapped with the man. As each piece was freed, they examined it and then set it on a tarp under an awning they’d set up a few feet off. Now and then a technician would produce a plastic bag and put something inside. Stearns saw no moments of excitement, certainly no elation, no signal that anybody thought anything
was worth showing to a colleague. Maybe they were picking up vegetation because they wanted typical examples of the plants along this man’s route. Maybe they were just as lost as he was and it was the only thing they could do.
A year and one day later, Professor Daniel Millikan glanced out the tall window of the lecture hall to verify that the rain still had not stopped, and then looked out over his class of serious-faced first-year graduate students. He was coming to the end of his lecture, and he decided that he was in no hurry to go out there into the wet world.
He had been visiting professor at the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA for three years now—a long visit. The other members of the criminal justice group—there were only five of them in a large department—were academics. Dan Millikan was an old cop. In appearance he wasn’t very different from the other male professors. He was not large, a trim, erect five foot nine and in his fifties with short, graying hair. He habitually wore gray or dark blue sport coats and light blue shirts with a subdued necktie.
He had done his share of research and written enough papers to get him invited to speak at conferences regularly, but his university work was a footnote. His real career had been the twenty-five years he had spent with mean drunks, small-time thieves, drug dealers, and gang shooters. He had learned how quickly a man’s mind could focus when he was forced to wrestle a violent suspect to the ground. He had learned to see a lie coming before his suspect had phrased it—sometimes before the suspect had even seen the need to make something up to fill that part of his story. Millikan
had learned about forensics as each step of the science was invented, perfected, and became police practice. He had spent his final ten years in homicide, where he became expert in the terrible things people did to each other. After twenty-five years he applied for his pension and began his application to graduate school on the same day.