"A riveting tale of love, obsession, dogged determination, and calculated murder" (Miami Herald) from the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edna Buchanan.
"Where the hell is Britt Montero?"
So says Sgt. Craig Burch of Miami's Cold Case Squad at the end of the first chapter of Edna Buchanan's first-rate mystery, Love Kills. So have readers been wondering since reporter Britt Montero vanished after her lover, homicide cop Kendall McDonald, was killed three books ago in Buchanan's The Ice Maiden. When a bulldozer in the Everglades unearths the skull of an infamous kidnapper, the Cold Case Squad is brought in to investigate. Britt was the last person to see him alive, and the detectives have questions only she can answer. On a remote desert island where she has sought solace, Montero finds a camera on an isolated beach. The film inside yields photos of a happy young couple on their honeymoon. Soon after, Britt is shocked to learn the newlyweds were lost at sea. When only the groom is rescued, the connection between the reporter and the new widower astonishes her—and Britt is even more astonished when she finds out the truth. Ultimately, her search for the bridegroom's secrets and the Cold Case Squad's search for the kidnapper's killer collide. Britt finds herself desperate and in danger, and only one person can help—Cold Case Squad Lt. K. C. Riley, McDonald's childhood sweetheart. The two women must confront their differences in order to survive and to protect the life of someone they both care about deeply.
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About the Author
Edna Buchanan worked The Miami Herald police beat for eighteen years, during which she won scores of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award for Career Achievement in Journalism. Edna attracted international acclaim for her classic true-crime memoirs, The Corpse Has a Familiar Face and Never Let Them See You Cry. Her first novel of suspense, Nobody Lives Forever, was nominated for an Edgar Award.
Read an Excerpt
Love KillsA Britt Montero Novel
By Edna Buchanan
Simon & SchusterCopyright © 2007 Edna Buchanan
All right reserved.
Operating the huge machine that groaned and howled like a prehistoric monster as it savaged everything in its path was what he enjoyed most about the job.
But not today.
The driver wiped the sweat from his face and yearned for a cold beer, just one, to settle his stomach. A shame his rig wasn't air-conditioned. He'd lost his sunglasses and his Florida Marlins cap somewhere between last night's happy hour and this morning's painful dawn. His head throbbed, his stomach churned, and he truly regretted how much he'd had to drink.
A flock of snowy white birds with curved pink beaks swooped gracefully overhead, flying low, like a scene in an animated Disney movie. He wondered what sort of birds they were and then sighed. No way to take a quick break and pick up an Alka-Seltzer out here. Not yet. This desolate stretch of real estate had been considered the wilderness fringe of the Everglades until recently. But soon it would be transformed into shopping centers, paved parking lots, and fast-food joints. Miami's relentless creep inched west, despite protests from granola- eating tree huggers hoping to cling to paradise a little bit longer.
Progress. He grinned and gunned the engine, guiding the machine as it snarled and ripped at the sawgrass, a patch of Florida holly, and a small willow grove. He moved ancient shells, broken limestone, and tangled roots mixed with black muck that smelled of age and rot. Engine straining, the big machine's blade rang against stone outcroppings as he labored to clear the site.
Was it his imagination, or did his sweat smell like the beer he drank the night before? He hoped the crew chief wouldn't get too close. He had never worked in humidity so oppressive. Never again on a work night, he swore. What was that girl's name? He could barely remember her face.
Sweat snaked down the small of his back, tickling his spine. He comforted himself with thoughts of his paycheck, the richest he had ever earned.
Bombarded by one killer hurricane after another, in the midst of a huge building-and-rebuilding boom, Miami suffered a critical shortage of construction workers. Even unskilled day laborers were now paid more than they'd ever dreamed of in their wildest fantasies. His own brother-in-law, whom he'd followed down from North Carolina, was making a fortune, rescreening storm-damaged pool and patio enclosures, many for the second or third time. Any man who could swing a hammer or pick up a shovel had more work than he could handle.
Disaster, he thought, is damn good for the economy.
He wiped his face on his dusty work shirt. His eyes stung and his nose ran like an open faucet from a rising cloud of grit, loose soil, and pollen. As he bulldozed the debris, exotic plants, and rocks into what had become the only hill on this vast flat landscape, an object broke loose from the top. It bounced crazily down the side of his man-made mountain, glancing off tree limbs and stones. For an instant, it hurtled straight at him and then deflected off a jagged chunk of oolite.
The driver squinted into the glare until his eyeballs ached. A rock? No. A coconut? No coconut palms grew out here. What is that? He shielded both eyes and stood up, momentarily dizzy. Can it be...? Nah, no way.
"Hey! You all see that?" He waved down to a surveyor wearing an orange hard hat. "What the hell?" Without waiting for an answer he cut off the power. The engine shuddered and died. He jumped down from the cab, his steel-tipped construction boots making sucking sounds as he approached the fallen object.
Huge empty eye sockets stared back at him. Nauseated, he recoiled with a cry. That was no coconut.
Investigators approached the site as if it were an archaeological dig. Old Indian burial mounds are common in and around the great swamp. Too often the occupants are disturbed, their skeletons disinterred by heavy equipment as the city pushes west. Homicide detectives and the medical examiner hoped the remains would be those of a long-dead Indian.
They were disappointed.
This empty skull had never hosted the hopes, dreams, and gray matter of some ancient native Floridian. That much was obvious to the naked eye. The maxilla, the still-intact upper jawbone, bore clear evidence of modern dentistry: porcelain crowns and gold inlays.
To the detectives' further dismay, something else was also obvious: a bullet hole in the right occipital bone at the back of the skull. The small-caliber slug had exited through the hard palate of the mouth.
The job was shut down as they launched a search for more bones.
"Where's the bulldozer operator who unearthed it?" asked Cold Case Squad Sergeant Craig Burch. He had been called out to the scene with his team, Detectives Pete Nazario, Sam Stone, and Joe Corso.
"Over there." A middle-aged patrolman gestured toward the shade of a papery-barked melaleuca, the lone tree still standing. "Talking to his wife back in North Carolina. Had to borrow a cell phone. Says he lost his somewhere last night."
The detectives pulled on rubber gloves and, joined by Miami-Dade County's chief medical examiner and Dr. Everett Wyatt, a forensic odontologist, they measured from where the skull was found to a point a hundred feet behind the bulldozer. They photographed the site, set up a perimeter, drew a map, and with small flags blocked out a huge rectangular grid to mine for the mother lode.
Using trowels and hand tools, they painstakingly sifted every bit of soil, sand, or muck. By dusk, they had recovered a femur, a long leg bone, and a human rib cage entangled in the rotted tatters of a work shirt. They also unearthed torn strips from a heavy tarpaulin, the shreds of a leather belt in the loops of a pair of nearly disintegrated men's trousers, and -- the prize package of the day -- a partially intact billfold.
"Somebody took great pains to encase the body in a strong tarpaulin that was nonbiodegradable and made to last, like a roof tarp," the chief medical examiner said, his shiny round face alight with interest. "The joke's on them. Had the body simply been dumped as it was, there would have been nothing left to find."
"And we wouldn't be here," Corso said glumly.
"Correct," the chief said. "Animals would have scattered the bones. Whatever splinters and fragments they left would have deteriorated in the sun and the climate. That billfold and its contents would have shriveled down to a small mass of indecipherable pulp. The remains would never have been found, much less identified. But, instead, whoever left him here wrapped him in a way that preserved enough for us to recover."
"If it was a roof tarp," Burch said thoughtfully, "that might be a hint of how long he's been out here. Andrew hit in August of 'ninety-two."
He removed his sunglasses and studied the billfold, which lay on the hood of an unmarked car. A faint monogram was still visible, the initials s.n.y. etched into the worn leather. Frowning, he repeated the initials aloud, twice, as though he had heard them before. The third time his expression changed.
"Jeez, Doc! Know who this might be?"
"Yes. That occurred to me too." The chief medical examiner wiped the misted lenses of his gold-rimmed glasses with his handkerchief.
"I'm with you," Nazario said quickly, "on the same page, but I always expected that hombre to surface alive somewhere, not like this." He scanned the barren site around them, now eerily quiet. Even the birds had fled. "I would never have expected him to turn up here. I thought he was far from Miami."
"Let's not jump to conclusions," Corso said. "This doesn't have to be a homicide, it doesn't have to be our case. He mighta come out here to commit suicide. It's a head shot. We bring a metal detector out here, maybe we find his gun."
"Pretty difficult to shoot yourself in the back of the head from that angle," the chief said mildly.
"Maybe in the lab it'll turn out to be an exit wound," Corso said hopefully. "Or something else. This place is a suicide magnet. Every wacko with a death wish comes here to disappear; they don't want their families to know."
"Let's see," Burch said. "He shoots himself in the head, tosses the gun, rolls up in a tarp, falls into a shallow grave, and covers himself. Good thinking."
"Stranger things have happened," Corso said defensively. "All I'm saying is -- "
"If he is who we think," Nazario said quietly, "he wasn't the type to put a gun to his head. But a whole lot of other people would've liked to."
The chief took a closer look at the skull. "It appears that the bullet entered the back of his head, went through the brain, and exited the mouth. Here" -- he pointed with a pencil -- "you can see the beveling."
Dr. Wyatt peered over his shoulder. "See the burr marks on that upper right molar? That dental work was done shortly before his death. That may help."
"We'll know more when we piece things together back at the morgue," the chief said. "His dental records should give us a positive ID."
"Who we talking about, Sarge?" Sam Stone, the squad's youngest detective, looked puzzled. He took pride in being well informed. He loved modern forensics and high-tech detecting, was a quick study, and had familiarized himself with most of the department's old cold cases before even joining the squad, but he couldn't place who they were talking about. "You think he's an old homicide suspect?"
"Nope. This all went down before your time, kid. I was still in patrol. There was no homicide involved. Then."
"The case was an A.P.E." Nazario grinned. "The fallout was grande."
"A.P.E.?" Stone looked more puzzled.
The medical examiner chuckled. "Acute Political Emergency." His gloved fingers gingerly opened the billfold. "Good memory, Sergeant. I suspect you're right. Look at this."
Burch bent closer to read an old business card tucked behind a clouded plastic window. The telephone number handwritten across it was faded.
"Hah! I knew it! Has to be him."
"Who?" Stone demanded impatiently. They filled him in.
The man had vanished. But no fearful loved ones ever reported him missing. Their biggest fear was probably that he would come back. He must have been one of the most disliked men of his time.
"When he disappeared," Burch explained, "you couldn't count the people who hoped it was permanent."
"Looks like one of them made sure of it," Nazario said.
The skull blindly returned their stares until the chief placed it in a brown paper bag and sealed it with an evidence sticker. Though it had not yet been scientifically confirmed, they all knew his identity.
And they all knew who had seen him last.
Burch mopped his brow and scowled at the old business card.
Corso examined the Everglades muck on his Guccis and muttered curses under his breath.
"At least we know who we have to talk to first," Nazario said.
"Yeah," Burch said. "Where the hell is Britt Montero?"
Copyright © 2007 by Edna Buchanan
Excerpted from Love Kills by Edna Buchanan Copyright © 2007 by Edna Buchanan. Excerpted by permission.
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