Niceville has an almost unearthly beauty when the sun tops the ancient nearby mountain called Tallulah’s Wall and bathes it in soft Southern light. But there’s a reason Native American tribes avoided the place: An absence that inhabits the air and the depthless “sink” atop Tallulah’s Wall. This “Nothing” has long bent time and the desires of a chosen few to her shadowy ends.
As THE RECKONING begins, Detective Nick Kavanaugh and his wife, family lawyer Kate, have accepted that reality in Niceville is not normal. Seemingly, they’ve fought Nothing to a draw. But now a buzzing emerges in the heads of some perfectly normal folks. Nothing isn’t finished.
Come to Niceville and sink into Carsten Stroud’s inimitable blend of crime and supernatural thriller, as characters you’ll love throw in with bad guys you’ll like way more than you should as they battle evil.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.18(w) x 8.01(h) x 1.08(d)|
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In the fall of 1814, under a harvest moon, the people of Niceville came together on the banks of the Tulip to talk about the evils that had come upon their town and to consider what should be done about them.
Amity Suggs, the minister, said it was God’s Holy Wrath. Dr. Cullen said there was something in the water. The mix-breed John Brass said that a Kalona Ayeliski, a Raven Mocker demon, had always been in this place and the town should be abandoned. The debate went back and forth.
In the end the elders decided. Naming calls. God will shield the righteous. Sinners will be taken. Go about your day’s work as Christians and let the pagan nights go about theirs. For over two hundred years this covenant held up.
Then, on one rainy Friday night in October, it all went straight to Hell.
Friday night, nine-thirty, and everybody in the Morrison family was safely tucked away in their white stucco home at 1329 Palisade Drive in The Glades. The Glades was a prewar Art Deco neighborhood in the northwest corner of Niceville. It had started out as Old Hollywood and gotten a lot older by staying there.
The Glades had shady curving lanes lined with palms and cypress and live oak trees. The rain streaming down put a misty halo around all the streetlamps and hammered on the red tile roofs of the houses. The gutters were choking on leaves and muddy water. A thick fog drifted through the trees. The warm air was heavy with the graveyard scent of wet earth.
Inside the Morrison house everything was serene and cozy, dinner done, the day ending well. Doug, the dad, was a short round man with a friendly streak, a forensic tech with the Niceville PD. Ellen, the mom, was a neonatal nurse at Our Lady of Sorrows down in Cap City. Jared, the eleven-year-old son—skinny, big-eared, with shaggy brown hair—was flat on his stomach in front of the 52-inch Samsung. An immense and overweight Maine Coon cat named Mildred Pierce was stretched out along his spine, the huge cat purring like a well-tuned motor.
And Ava, the fifteen-year-old daughter, was tucked away up in her shell-pink bedroom with the door locked, leaning in to her iMac, Skyping with Julia, her latest OMG-BFF, gleefully slagging the new girl in their class at Sacred Heart High.
Ava, black hair and blue eyes, had a body that a loving God would never have issued to a fifteen-year-old, and she was only dimly aware of the power it radiated. She was on the cheerleading squad at Sacred Heart and loved to taunt the players at the Sunday-afternoon football games. Weekdays, after school, she went out in the town with her friends, strolling the Galleria Mall, riding the Peachtree Line trolleys in their navy blue Sacred Heart tunics and their scarlet blazers with the school crest. They hiked the tunics up too high as soon as they were out of school, showed lots of pale white thigh and knee socks, deliberately careless of how they sat, feeling all the eyes on them, savoring the burn. Well, everybody is doing it, aren’t they, is what Ava would have said if you’d asked her, because she had no clue whatsoever about the risks they were running.
The cops figured Ava probably never heard what was happening downstairs—the doorbell ringing or whatever it was—because she was up in her room with the headphones on, busy with her Skype call.
Not to say that there was no sign of everything that happened that night, beginning with the front hall. The CSI people were pretty sure it started there, in the front hall, when Doug the Dad opened the door.
It went outward from the front hallway. Traces of what happened were all over the place—the walls, the ceilings, the living room carpet, the staircase. Signs were everywhere, but the worst of them were upstairs, in Ava’s room.
Nine-thirty p.m. and up in The Glades, Hell was getting busy with the Morrison family. There were sounds, cries, pleas, but the neighbors weren’t hearing anything over the pounding thunder and the lashing rain. As a result, what went on inside the house went on for two and a half hours. Shortly after midnight the lights flicked off and a kind of stunned silence came down inside 1329 Palisade Drive.
A few minutes later a large shuffling figure carrying a green garbage bag emerged from the door next to the garage, walked slowly down the driveway and off under the trees, moving into and out of the pools of light from the streetlamps, wrapped in a dark gray rain slicker. The figure reached the end of the block, stepped left into darkness, and was gone.
Five minutes passed. Then an old navy blue Cadillac Fleetwood rolled through the intersection of Palisade Drive and Lanai Lane, trailing a veil of rainwater. The Caddy reached the traffic lights at River Road, ran the intersection against a red—got itself duly snapped by a traffic camera—and accelerated south and east, disappearing into the southbound traffic on River Road, a shiny blue tank glittering in the streetlights, windows tinted dark, dashboard dials glowing, lighting up the face of the driver, his chest heaving, his heavy hands at the ten after ten position on the black leather wheel, heading out of The Glades as fast as that Caddy could go.
NEVER GET OUT OF THE CAR
Twelve fifty-five the same night.
Down in Tin Town, a Niceville police cruiser driven by a thirty-year staff sergeant named Frank Barbetta was rolling down the Miracle Mile, Tin Town’s main strip.
Tin Town was Niceville’s version of Compton, California, or Chicago’s South Side. The Miracle Mile was called that because if you tried to walk it after midnight it would be a miracle if you got a mile. Tin Town people just called it the Mile.
Frank Barbetta was an amiable bulldog-type cop who had a reputation on the Mile for being fair-minded and likable, slow to anger; he never needed his gun, hadn’t shot anyone in thirty years, and used his brains and his muscle and occasionally a nearby chair to get bad situations under control. In short, an old-fashioned beat cop who would never kick the living daylights out of anybody who hadn’t been simply begging for it.
In Tin Town he was seen as a Wyatt Earp sort of cop who knew that the hookers and druggies and bikers and mutts and grifters were all part of the passing parade and they were his people to protect and care for.
This was essentially true.
In short, on this rainy Friday evening, Frank Barbetta was the benevolent God in his personal heaven and all was right with the world. Fate is drawn to that kind of attitude, finds it amusing.
The Tulip River had, in a way, created Tin Town. Broad and deep, the Tulip rose up out of the Belfair Range ninety miles north and gathered strength all the way down a wide grassy valley until it curved around a huge limestone cliff that dominated the northeastern part of town and powered through the center of Niceville like an interstate highway.
But the river had to make a sharp bend around a stony shoal south of the Armory Bridge. Here water roiled and rushed across a muddy flat where a cluster of tin-roofed fishing huts sat on pitch-pine stakes driven into the gravel.
Cattails and saw grass drooped down over washed-up garbage, beer cans, every kind of dead thing. At least once a week a stray corpse would get caught up in the weeds, a blue-skinned waxy blob, eyes and lips and ears torn off by the river carp. Smoke rose up from stovepipe chimneys on the roofs and the yellow glow through shuttered windows glimmered on the surface of the water. These tin-roofed shacks gave Tin Town its name, and in the fall, the warm days and cold nights gave Tin Town its mists and fogs.
The Miracle Mile reflected in the rain-slick windows of Barbetta’s cruiser was lined with neon-lit biker bars covered in chicken wire, tattoo shops, Dollar Generals, and six different barred-up bunkers with bulletproof windows where you could get a payday advance at thirty percent interest compounded daily or a cash loan on somebody else’s wedding ring provided there wasn’t a finger still in it.
Halfway down the Mile, between the Piggly Wiggly and a Helpy Selfy Laundromat, there was a ten-floor brownstone hotel with spray-painted gang tags all around its base. A board above the entrance said in bold black letters:
CASH ONLY NO CREDIT !!!
NO DISCOUNTS FOR THE ELDERLY
YOU’VE HAD TWICE AS MUCH TIME
TO GET THE DAMNED MONEY!!!
The crumbling brick facade carried a neon sign shaped like a huge cross made out of the words MountRoyal and Hotel, the words crossing at the letter T.
In Room 304 of the MountRoyal there was a man who had a lot on his mind. A tall, lean, and big-boned guy with long silvery hair and a face that looked like it had been chipped out of sandstone, he was standing at the window and looking out at a Niceville black-and-white as it cruised south toward the riverbed. From the numbers on the roof he figured it had to be Frank Barbetta’s ride. The man standing at the hotel window knew Barbetta from way back, when he himself had been a staff sergeant with the State Troopers.
Good memories, most of them, and some others best forgotten. Memories were on his mind tonight.
Mainly, where were his?
He could clearly remember the kick-ins, the bar fights, and the highway patrol car chases, the rollovers and the mangled dead and the occasional gunfight. He could recall many wild nights raising hell with Jimmy Candles and Marty Coors and the one and only Coker, and he had a crystal clear memory of the death of his wife, and he could remember all sorts of the scrapes and scandals and escapades of the typical cop life that he had lived, over thirty years of it.
But all that was in the past. He had a strong feeling that a lot had happened recently, important life-altering stuff, but when he tried to remember precisely what that might be, he got nothing. Nothing up to right here and now, standing at the window in Room 304 of the MountRoyal Hotel watching Barbetta’s cruiser slide down the Mile. He wasn’t even all that sure of his name.
He did have a big gold ring on the third finger of his right hand, with the crest of the U.S. Marine Corps on it. And he had a wallet with a whack of cash, maybe a thousand, a blue plastic bank card with the word mondex on it and a logo for some kind of bank, PNG Bank.
It had a microchip embedded in it, but the man had no idea what the hell a Mondex card was or why he had one. He’d have to Google it.
There was also an employee card from Wells Fargo. It had his picture on it—yep, it was him, all right—and the card said his name was Charles Danziger.
Then there was the driver’s license with an address on Rural Route 19 in Cullen County and a picture that looked sort of like him only it was maybe taken after he died because he looked too fucking sick to drive.
It was also telling him his name was Charles Danziger, and that he had to wear corrective lenses while driving at night.
There was a third card that indicated that he was a fully paid-up member of the Retired State Patrol Officers Club with the rank of staff sergeant and a whole bunch of award citations listed on the back.
The man looked at these various pieces of official plastic and figured a reasonable man could draw the conclusion that his name really was Charles Danziger.
Okay, I’m prepared to accept that my name is Charles Danziger, but what the hell happened to me? A blackout?
From booze or drugs?
Never in all his wild years had he ever done drugs—other than OxyContin for injuries acquired in the line of duty, and his only weakness was wine. Now Coker, there was a man who liked his pharmaceuticals, a risky hobby for a guy who was a staff sergeant with the Belfair and Cullen County Sheriff’s Department and the most famous police sniper in the entire state.
But not Charlie Danziger, who favored pinot grigio, and no man with any self-respect blacked out over a couple of bottles of pinot grigio.
The cruiser stopped at the intersection, and the light from the hotel sign lit up the interior of the cruiser and the driver, a big gray-haired Sicilian with deep-set black eyes and a heavy jaw.
Danziger considered opening the window and calling down to him, but for some reason decided not to. The cruiser pulled away into the traffic along the Mile, tires hissing on the slick pavement, trailing a veil of rainwater.
Danziger turned away from the window, feeling dog tired and blue and cut off from real things. Also, right now, his chest hurt like a bitch. It wasn’t a heart attack; he’d had one of those and there was no mistaking them for anything else.
No, this felt more like he’d been kicked in the middle of the chest. Twice. Two distinct sore spots. No bruises, but pain, deep and aching pain. A puzzle, like the rest of it.
Well, he did remember that there was a cold bottle of pinot grigio in an ice bucket on the dresser. He crossed the room, twisted off the top, took the plastic wrap off one of the cheap-ass paper cups the hotel supplied, and poured himself a stiff one.
Sleep now. Maybe the morning would bring wisdom. He was looking at the mirror over the dresser as he drank it down. Noticed something a bit unusual.
He wasn’t in it.
Danziger stood in front of the mirror, stone-still, his breathing suspended. Instead of his reflection, he was looking out at a section of tilled earth that fell away toward a dense stand of pines and willows. From the way the shadows fell on the land, it looked to be nearly sunset. There were dark figures in the distance, working the field, digging in what looked to be trenches, shovels and axes working, the figures bent and somehow beaten-looking.
There was a wheeled cart being drawn by a brace of oxen. The cart was loaded with round white stones, or maybe melons. It struck him that they could be skulls, a dark thought not at all like him.
There was no sound coming from the scene, only this image floating in the mirror, the tilled earth, the bent black figures hacking at the ground. He put out a hand to touch the glass and the image went away.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
.....that combines police work, a suspense novel and the supernatural into a great three book trilogy of escapism.