A young girl sits on death row, accused of brutally murdering her own parents. She's confessed to the murders, but Maggie isn't buying it, so she sends Juno out to get some answers. Working with Maggie, Juno comes into contact with her new partner, Ian. As dirty as they come, Ian is eager to rise in the police force no matter what the cost. Somehow Ian, a vicious serial killer, and the girl on death row are all connected. It is up to Juno and Maggie to find out how before more people die.
About the Author
WARREN HAMMOND is the author of the books KOP and Ex-KOP, which was hailed byThe Denver Postas "an addictively readable mix of hard-boiled detective and science fiction." Hammond lives with his wife in Denver, Colorado, where he is currently developing a new mystery/noir series.
Read an Excerpt
By Warren Hammond
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2008 Warren Hammond
All rights reserved.
NOVEMBER 29, 2788
I RELISHED the brandy as it burned down my throat. The knot in my stomach was acting especially hateful. I sucked down a few more gulps to dull the cramping in my gut. I didn't feel sufficiently soothed, yet I capped and pocketed the flask.
My knees were hurting so I readjusted, trying to find a comfortable position in the cramped closet. I bumped the door, knocking it slightly out of position. I pulled it back in, just short of closed, perfectly slivered for my camera.
I reached for my flask, but stopped when I heard footsteps in the hall. My heart began to race despite the alcohol's tranquilizing effect. I resisted the urge to hold my breath; I just kept breathing — nice and natural. I heard a key in the door. I pushed my eye up to the crack and saw the two of them enter. Mildew tickled my nose, and I had to hold my breath to keep from sneezing. Clothes fell to the floor — first a halter top, then a mini, and finally panties. She took a seat on the bed, wearing nothing but a strained smile. She moved her hands up her stomach, across her bare breasts, and up into her hair. She looked nervous; her movements came off stilted. What was supposed to look erotic wound up looking clumsy and silly. Her nervousness started to infect me. I was afraid that I'd misjudged her, that she wasn't ready for this. My pits prickled with sweat.
He came into view and stood in front of her. "Lay back," he said. "I want to look at you."
The hooker lay back, putting her hands behind her head. "You like what you see?" She tried to sound playful, but the words came out forced and anxious.
He studied her like a monitor sizing up its prey. He didn't look at her; he looked through her, just a piece of meat. "Spread," he said with a malicious vibe.
She parted her legs for him, but kept her knees nervously angled inward, like she was about to submit to a cold-fingered gyno.
I focused on my task. I used my left hand to pull the black plastic away from the lens and immediately covered the lens back up. A short exposure was all I needed. I used my shaking right hand to turn the metal rod three times then pulled the plastic away again.
He took off his clothes, slowly, methodically, leering at her all the while. As he stripped, he flexed his sculpted offworld body. Pecs and abs rippled under baby-smooth skin. He told her to watch as he pulled out his megamember. She oohed and aahed, her voice cracking uneasily on the ah. I could tell she didn't like the way he was looking at her. She wasn't ready for this, dammit. He, on the other hand, was getting off on her discomfort, the two of them stiffening in very different ways.
I kept up my silent picture-snapping routine — my left hand acting as a shutter, and my shaky right advancing the film three twirls at a time. Uncover-cover-twirl-twirl-twirl. These pics were going to score some serious cash. A high-powered offworld lawyer doing a small-time hooker. I hoped he was married. It would only increase the value.
He crawled on top of her, his offworld-white skin looking pale as he thrusted within the clutches of her Lagartan-brown limbs. I uncover-cover-twirl-twirl-twirled to the rhythm of their sex.
I had spent half a day taking test shots until I got things just right — the lighting, the camera angle, the shutter speed, not atall easy with this improvised camera. The lens was salvaged from a real camera, but I had everything else special-built to my specs — no motors, no flash, no zoom, no power of any kind. Back when I was a cop, my partner and I once surveilled an offworlder with a flycam. We thought the thing was undetectable. We had it flying in the shadows, but the bitch had some shit wired into her brain that detected the thing at fifteen meters. It was only the size of a coin for chrissakes. I wound up in the hospital with a fried hand that healed up nicely except for the fact that two decades later it started shaking like a fucking leaf — some kind of nerve damage.
We should've known better. Trying to match an offworlder's tech was a fool's game. Us Lagartans were so outclassed it was a joke. The only way to beat an offworlder was to go low tech. The arrogant SOBs were so caught up in their souped-up gizmos that they couldn't imagine how they could be hurt by anything that didn't have a power source. I kept uncover-cover-twirl-twirl-twirling.
He was pumping quickly now, and she was rocking her hips, earning her fee. His hands slid up her sides, across her chest, and settled threateningly around her throat. She tensed, her hips stopping their grinding. He began to caress her throat, slow and gentle. She responded with tentative hip undulations. I thought he was going to choke her out, but he didn't. He just kept the threat going as he pistoned harder and faster.
What the hell? His tech-enhanced skin shifted from offworld white to red — bright red. I watched as his feet shrunk down to hooves. Demonic cackles rang around the room as horns sprouted from his head. He completed the transition in seconds, topping it off with a pair of goat legs and a goatee. She was in a full panic now. Shit! Calm down! He was just getting his kicks, making her think he was the devil.
She sucked in panicky breaths, her chest heaving under histhrusts. She turned her head, her eyes reaching for me. Oh shit! I wrapped my hands around the camera, ready to bolt. Don't say it! She tried to call my name but thankfully couldn't get out more than a fear-strangled grunt. He tickled her throat with black fingernails that were more claw than nail. He wrapped his hands around her throat. She was jerking her body, trying to get out from under him. He wasn't choking her; her squealing proved it. He just got off on the thought of it.
Get a fucking grip! She paid no heed to my unvoiced order, her mind probably freaked on the thought of giving birth to some demonic spawn. She scratched his shoulders and his back, but the wounds self-healed instantly. Her face was so panic-stricken red that it practically matched his hellfire skin. Relax, relax, relax, I told her in my head as I kept uncover-cover-twirl-twirl-twirling. He's not really the devil. He's just another perverted offworlder. Just hang in there a little longer.
He grunted through a final plunge and collapsed onto her. She coughed and wheezed through the tail end of her hyperventilation. She tried to wriggle out from under him.
Then I heard her scream, "Juno! Juno! Get him off me!"
SHIT! He was up in an instant, scanning the room, his face full of satanic fury. She rabbited for the door. I heard the door fly open. Fucking hell! She calls out my name and then she ditches me. My hands were on the camera, my shaky right out-of-control gyrating. He went for the bathroom first — lucky, very lucky. I burst out of the closet and sprinted for the hall; it was only a couple meters. ... Lucifer spun on me; his hand went up, taking aim. Needles came firing out of his fingertips. I heard the snicks as they stuck into the wall behind me. I busted out the door, the tripod hitting the doorjamb and collapsing onto my fingers. I ignored the pain and surged for the elevator across the hall. The damn hooker was already onboard, and she had the doors closing. I paid good money to have that elevator waiting for me. I slammed my body between the closing doors, momentarily sticking, and then falling through, only my foot still outside. I yanked my foot painfully through doors that slapped shut an instant later. I looked back, seeing needles bounce off the glass doors as the elevator began to descend.
Before I got a chance to breathe, she was all over me, slapping and scratching, nails and hair. Staying on the floor, I used the makeshift camera and tripod to fend off the worst of her adrenaline-fueled attack. The thrill of the escape made a smile break across my face. I couldn't help it. Mistaking amusement for mockery, the whore intensified her attack. I covered my face as best I could and succumbed to the beating, my smile continuing to widen.
The elevator finally opened onto the lobby. I peeked through the hooker's blows and saw a tour group gawking at the naked woman beating on the old guy. A couple smacks later, she, too, noticed the onlookers and plastered her naked body against the elevator wall. Security was approaching — must've spotted us on the elevator's cams.
I stood up, grinning from ear to ear on a close-call high. My smile wilted when I spotted a set of needles embedded like darts in the sole of my shoe. No, no, no! Panic struck like lighting. My lungs seized. My stomach went to lead. I frantically checked my legs and ankles to see if any of the filament-sized needles had gotten through. I yanked off my shoes and looked inside them to see if any of the needles had penetrated through the leather — nope. I whirled around, using the mirrored elevator walls to search for the telltale sparkle of a needle. Looks clear ... calm down. I checked again ... And again ... And one more time. Finally satisfied, I forced oxygen into my starving lungs and wiped my sleeve across my brow. Not wanting to touch the needles, I scraped my shoe over the gap between the elevator and the floor until they safely fell free. If one of those things had gotten through, it would've infected me with fast-acting plague that would've brought me a medieval death inside thirty minutes.
Security had the hooker wrapped in a blanket now, and they were hurrying her out of the lobby. I made for the back exit. Security didn't try to stop me. I paid them well.CHAPTER 2
MY pounding heart began to stabilize as I walked out into the driving rain. The nighttime streets were empty except for geckos that scurried through puddles to avoid my footsteps. I tucked the camera under my arm and rubbed my hands together, letting the rain wash the seeping blood off my cat-scratched skin. I pulled out my flask and took a couple long swigs to deaden my fritzing nerves. I couldn't believe that whore almost got me plagued. That'd be the last time I'd use her. No loss. On this planet, hookers were as plentiful as lizards.
I checked the time. It was early. The sun couldn't have been down for long. I still had two hours before I had to meet Maggie. Enough time to get home and drop off the camera? Fuck it; I didn't want to go to that place. I couldn't stand it there since Niki had been gone. I'd just show up early to our meeting.
Couldn't take a cab. Driving was impossible with all the washed-out streets and flooded intersections. Every fall, when the rains started, I'd move my car to high ground and pay some stiff a weekly rate to guard it so it wouldn't get stripped or stolen. If you wanted to get anywhere this time of year, it had to be by boat. I headed for the river, weaving around puddles so big that they just about qualified as ponds. Water seeped through the seams in my shoes. It had been fifty-two days of rain, and there was no end in sight. The Lagartan rainy season had been known to stretch to over a hundred waterlogged days. Noah had nothing on us.
It was fall despite the winterish date. On Lagarto, there's no correlation between the seasons and the months. We crawl around the sun every 680 days, making our year almost twice as long as Earth's, yet we still use a slightly modified version of the Earth calendar so our seasons are always out of sync with the date. The best thing to do is just ignore the date. Trying to figure that shit out would give you a headache.
I crossed the street, driving my feet through weeds that grabbed at my ankles. Uprooted plants caught on my feet the way river muck would catch on a branch, and I had to stop every hundred meters to kick off the clumps. This city was always a half step from turning back to jungle, and even closer during the rains when they couldn't keep the streets clean of creeping growth. Koba was the capital of this planet, a planet almost entirely covered by ocean and desert. It was only here, in the jungles near the northern pole, that human life was easily sustained. Picture a blue and brown face with green hair, and you've got Lagarto, the lizard planet.
I reached the docks and dropped into the first manned skiff I found. The pilot handed me a sopping towel that I used to wipe my face. I tossed it on the floor, next to a practically overflowing bucket positioned under a leak. I had to yell my destination to be heard over the roar of the rain hammering the rust-eaten roof.
The pilot eased the boat out into the swollen Koba River. Stilted shanties lined the riverbank, water sheeting off rickety roofs. We skimmed through black water, putt-putting upriver to the Phra Kaew market, only a few blocks from the Koba Office of Police, my former place of employment, where I'd spent three long decades as a cop. I'd spent some of that time investigating crime, but the majority of my thirty was spent serving as the chief's right hand. I was his enforcer, his hammer, the most feared SOB the force ever saw. That was before the chief got killed, before I got bounced out of the job. ... Before I got old.
The boat dropped me on the Phra Kaew docks. I stuck to the covered walkways as I ambled through the crowded warren of fruit stands, spice shops, and bakeries. I paid little attention to the locals who were out for an after-dinner stroll. I needed to eat something, but I wasn't hungry. Since Niki's accident, I'd almost completely lost my appetite. The knots in my stomach always made me feel full, like I'd get sick if I tried to eat anything. I thought I could probably get something sweet down, so I stopped at a street cart that had rounds of fried dough stacked up like a miser's gold coins. The kid in front of me got hers sprinkled with sugar; I got mine drizzled with honey, just the way Niki always liked. I ate as I walked, not worrying about getting my fingers sticky. Soon enough, I exited the market and received a fresh soaking that I took advantage of by rubbing my fingers together until the rain washed them clean. I walked the last couple blocks to The Beat, a cop bar behind KOP station.
A table of fresh towels sat next to the door. I dried off as best I could and dumped the towel into a sodden hamper under the table. I took in the smoke-filled surroundings: a group of vice dicks took up three tables by the window; beat cops crowded the back room, their blue unis spilling into the main; police brass stood in a closed circle by the can. I checked out the bar, thinking a stool at the end would be perfect — no luck. Badge bunnies ran the length of the bar, sitting there in their hiked-up skirts, sipping brandy with lipstick friendly straws.
People started to notice me. I could see them exchanging elbows, a few of them nodding my way. This used to be my turf. My entrance used to shake the place up. I'd walk in, and my enemies would make a rush for the back door, fleeing like roaches when the lights come on. No shakeup tonight. Tonight, they did their best to ignore me.
I found an open table and took a seat on a wobbly chair. Water dripped off my pant legs, pooling at my feet. The tabletop was scarred and creviced, its surface blanketed by mold. A brandy showed up. At least the waiter remembered me. I slammed down half the contents and tuned the place out....
"Juno, how ya doin'?"
I brought my eyes back into focus. My visitor was hommy dick Mark Josephs — thirty years of service, and he was still the force's biggest asshole.
"Fine," I said.
He sat across from me. "What ya doin' here? I ain't seen you in forever."
"I came to meet Maggie."
"You shittin' me? What you want with that bitch?"
I took an annoyed sip of my drink instead of answering.
He sensed my irritation and reworded. "Seriously, Juno, why are you meeting her? Are you pokin' her or what?"
Again, I sipped my drink, silent.
"C'mon, Juno. Why you bein' so sensitive?"
"Don't call her a bitch," I hissed.
Josephs squinted at me, trying to read my expression. I hoped it said, Pissed off.
Josephs slapped the table, a huge grin on his face. "You are doin' her, aren't you? Don't try to deny it, Juno. I can see it on your face."
"I'm not doin' her, Josephs."
"Bullshit. Ha! Who'd a thought an old dog like you could land a hot young ass like hers. Shit, every guy in homicide's been achin' to stick their ice picks into the ice princess, and here you are actin' all cool." He held up his glass for a toast. "Score one for the old men."
I finished off my glass, making a point not to clink glasses. "You got it wrong, Josephs. I'm married."
Excerpted from Ex-Kop by Warren Hammond. Copyright © 2008 Warren Hammond. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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