City of Ice, John Farrow's first book in his acclaimed Emile Cinq-Mars series, which has been hailed by Booklist as "one of the best series in crime fiction," has been published in over 17 countries. Now with The Storm Murders, the series continues.
On the day after a massive blizzard, two policemen are called to an isolated farm house sitting all by itself in the middle of a pristine snow-blanketed field. Inside the lonely abode are two dead people. But there are no tracks in the snow leading either to the house or away. What happened here? Is this a murder/suicide case? Or will it turn into something much more sinister?
John Farrow is the pen name of Trevor Ferguson, a Canadian writer who has been named Canada's best novelist in both Books in Canada and the Toronto Star. This is the first of a trilogy he is writing for us called The Storm Murders trilogy. Each book features Emile Cinq-Mars, the Hercule Poirot of Canada, and extreme weather conditions.
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The Storm Murders
By John Farrow
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 John Farrow Mysteries, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Sudden on the windshield, the sunlight was blinding. As the squad car emerged from a canyon formed by towering dense spruce onto a broad plateau of farmland, the officers inside the vehicle snapped down their visors. Wild gusts sculpted fields of fresh powder into rhythmic waves overnight, but as the storm passed the wind ceased. No trace of movement disturbed the distant view to the horizon, a seamless ocean of white lying perfectly still as though arrested at the moment of a tidal shift. Plows made a pass, yet the road remained slick with a glimmer of snow. The two cops fumbled for their sunglasses, neither for effect nor from any sense of police propriety, but the reflection off snow on a clear day under a cold snap in February created a brilliance more luminous than any summer's noon.
The man riding shotgun scanned the horizon. He daydreamed of distant destinations, all south. His driver, silent also, remained intent on the soft shoulders as he slowed for a turn and steered up a long drive last cleared before the storm's advent. Uniformly white, the road proved difficult to distinguish from its ditches. No tire tracks guided them to the farmhouse a half-mile in from the county highway.
A pale green two-story cottage ascended into view, its peaked roof adorned by gables. Nary a cloud in sight. White furnace smoke slipped from the chimney into a cerulean sky. Window frames were outlined in black trim, in contrast to the frilly lace curtains inside. The color of rust, the front door stood out.
A serene, innate peacefulness personified the dwelling.
The car pulled up behind a battered blue pickup that, half-buried by snow, was not readily identifiable. The men experienced the rapt peace of the place and braced themselves to feel a bone-brutal cold the second they bullied the doors open.
"The road to hell," postulated the uniformed officer in the passenger seat, "is paved—well, why don't you tell me with what?"
"Asphalt?" The driver raised his voice above the blast of the car's heater.
"Dude, it's a real serious question."
The rookie sighed, then obliged his partner. "Good intentions." He knew he'd be wrong. Even when he was right his partner would change the premise of the question to make sure that he was wrong. His way of trying to be a useful instructor.
"In the real world," the more senior cop remarked, "maybe. In our world—"
"Our world's not real?" The rookie shut the motor off. Dead silence.
"Hyperreal," the veteran said.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He left the keys in the ignition.
"More real than real. Beyond reality."
"So it's not good intentions, in our world, that buys you a ticket to hell?"
"Good intentions will fuck a cop over, that's true, but it's not the worst thing. Dude, the worst thing is hesitations. In our world, the road to hell is paved with a long series of gee whiz, let-me-think-about-this-for-a-second hesitations."
"So we should get out now," the junior cop concluded. He was a smartass.
Thirty-one, the elder of the two was a five-year vet. The driver was twenty-three and confident, not only a rookie but as keen as a razor and possessed of sharpened ideals to match. The men stood in the frigid air. The car doors remained ajar, as if frozen in place by the shock of the cold.
Nothing moved. Even the smoke seemed still, painted onto this pristine canvas. Usually they worked in the countryside, but both cops were city boys who commuted to the job. The depth of this unrelenting stillness unnerved them.
"Fucking quiet," the older one whispered, his voice scratchy in the dry air.
"Fucking cold," the younger remarked. He could deal with the quiet.
Their breath was visible. Against the side of the barn stood a tractor, the steel blade of its plow gleaming in the sunlight. The reflection blinked on their dark green glasses.
"Yeah," the senior officer concurred, and tacked on a grunt.
They slammed their doors simultaneously, a joint kahjunk! that wandered across the waves of snow and echoed in the distance against a stand of hardwood. The two men glanced around, but really there wasn't much to see. The yard and the small barn's exterior of bare wood appeared well-kempt. A farm without animals in winter. No place at all. Not a place where anything ever happened.
Except, they'd received a call.
The youngest took three steps toward the house.
"Where're you going?" his partner demanded, coming around the car.
"Where do you think? To the house. I'm trying to not hesitate."
Fifteen feet from the first stair the senior officer pressed his hand briefly against his partner's near elbow, stopping him. "Ron," he cautioned.
Swirls lay undisturbed up the stairs and across the windblown porch.
No one had come out that day. No one had gone in.
"Remember that for your report. Ours are the only footprints visible."
"You're planning to make detective?" Ron chided him.
"It's in the cards, kid. Why not? Bound to happen someday."
"Kid." The younger man repeated that one word as a scoff.
"I don't think you're old enough to call me kid."
Up the steps, the more junior officer rapped on the door.
No buzzer. No doorknocker.
"So you believe in fate, crap like that?" needled the rookie.
"Don't talk your shit to me, Ron."
"It's in the cards, you said. The cards. That means fate."
No answer from inside. Ron the rookie knocked again. That pervasive silence.
"Figures," the veteran officer decided. He crossed the porch to look in the window and put both hands on the glass to shield his eyes from the sunlight's glare. Then he took his sunglasses off and tried again. Still difficult to see inside, to go from brightness into what's dim. He stood there, awhile, searching.
"What do you see?"
"Fuck's sake," the senior cop said quietly, with some urgency. He unsnapped his holster cover and withdrew his pistol. "Call it in."
"And say what?" Ron tapped the transmitter on his collar that relayed through the car's two-way radio and requested a reply.
"We're entering. Let them know. Possible medical. Ask them to stand by."
Ron called it in, unbuckled his holster, and slipped his own weapon into his palm. He adjusted the unfamiliar weight in his hand.
For now, the steel felt warmer than the air. Strange, that.
The door was locked. A dead bolt. Smart, out here alone, and yet unusual for a farmhouse. Most folks never bothered. The older of the two raised his right boot and kicked the door hard. Then again. Nothing much happened. He'd never kicked down a door before. He began ramming it with his body, putting his shoulder into the task until the old wood started to splinter. Then another big kick.
They stumbled inside, weapons raised.
The two officers crept into the living room. Ron removed his sunglasses, wishing he was privy to whatever his partner had seen, so he'd have a clue what to expect. He never imagined that in his first year on the job, in only his third month with this detachment, merely his second career posting, he'd be stepping around a hefty dog-eared brown sofa to view a man lying dead on a farmhouse floor. Relatively fresh-looking blood pooled out from the hefty man's skull. He lay faceup staring at the ceiling, his mouth and eyelids agape. Even as his partner crept closer to the man and knelt down Ron knew that he was dead.
Had to be. All that blood. That vacant stare.
The stillness. The thrum of the furnace came on, the sound a blessing. A little white noise to fill the hollows in his head that felt cavernous now, as if his brain was being stretched wide. Ron consciously tightened his sphincter before the whole of his body loosened and disassembled. Talk about hyperreal, all right.
His partner continued checking around the corpse. He shouldn't be touching it, but he knew that. "Marc?" Speaking quietly. "What're you doing?"
"I can't see his hands."
The dead man looked armless. But he wasn't.
"Don't touch him."
He touched him. "He's tied up. His wrists."
His arms lay behind his back. More blood swam under him.
Marc rose from his crouch. "Tied up and shot. I think he's missing a fucking finger. This is not just a murder. It's a fucking assassination. Call it in."
Ron did so. Glad for the task, and to hear back that help was on the way.
"He must've come and gone by the back door, in and out."
"The killer, Ron. He must've come and gone by the back way. You saw the road, the snow. No footprints. Nobody's moved. Let's check it out. Stay alert."
As an answer, Marc raised his pistol, aimed at the ceiling. Ron caught on and did the same. He'd never drawn his weapon on duty before. All he'd ever pulled out on the job was a booklet of tickets to nail a speeder.
The downstairs level was a warren, a contagion of cramped rooms and closets and a bare-bones, yet charming kitchen, so it took a few seconds to find the route to the rear of the house to manage a clear view outside. They scanned the yard, the field beyond and the gently rolling hills. Not even a coyote track. A few distant fences, but nothing disturbed the beauty of the storm's overnight snowfall.
The furnace cut off, and they were returned to dead silence again.
"Check the side," Marc ordered. The rookie crossed the room and took in the view from the window there. Not so much as a snowshoe print. If Ski-Doo trails existed out there, and they probably did, they lay buried.
"Nothing," Ron reported. "The killer took off during the storm. Or before it."
"The guy's not been dead long enough." Marc was whispering. "He's warm. His blood—"
Without knowing the reason for it, the younger cop also lowered his voice to a hush. "How's that possible?"
Marc's voice was scarcely audible. "The killer's still in the house."
The rookie wanted to say, "What?" but swallowed the word. He got it. Adrenaline jumped through him even as he stood stock-still. He snapped out of it. He moved next to his partner. This time, he didn't have to be told to keep his pistol raised.
"Downstairs rooms first. One at a time."
"We don't wait for backup?" Whispering still.
"With a killer lurking around maybe? You want to sit still, wait to get shot?"
Ron was not sure. Neither choice seemed grand. The options might be equally dangerous, but he didn't think that that was the point. Weren't they supposed to wait for backup?
"Here's the thing," Marc determined. "That guy in the living room? He doesn't live alone. Somebody's life could be in danger here. Where's his wife?"
"Maybe she killed him."
"Maybe. Probably. Who else? Or—she's a victim, too. We don't know."
Photographs of her smiled up at them from the coffee table. A middle-aged, matronly sort. Not your average assassin. Not one to tie up her husband before she shot him. Ron nodded. Yes. This is why he became a cop. He was onside with this. They proceeded to the nearest room, a kind of home office, small, where he waited at the doorway as Marc went in and checked the large closet. Empty.
Marc returned to the doorway. Tall. An angular face. If he was an actor, he'd more likely be cast as an academic, or as an accountant, than as a cop. He'd never find work as an actor trying to play a cop. "Clear," he whispered.
"Do we announce?" Ron asked. The more powerful of the two, a solidness was reflected in his squared-off cheekbones and chin. "We should announce."
Marc didn't like to be corrected by a protégé. "Okay. Whatever. Whoever's here already knows we're here." To maintain his status, he said, "You announce."
Scared, Ron shouted out, "Police! Sûreté du Québec! This is the police! Identify yourself!" In French only. He repeated, "Police!" which worked in either language.
"Happy now?" Marc asked him. Ron considered it an unwarranted comment and didn't forgive his partner's sarcasm. He felt that he didn't really like this guy anymore but that was no big concern. They were bound together. In fear, and, as it happened, in mutual trust.
Next was a sewing room, which doubled perhaps as a guest bedroom. Ron slipped in, his heart thumping through his brains. He came back out and muttered, "Clear." The word caught in his throat. He hoped his high anxiety wasn't showing.
But it was okay. Marc looked frightened, too. Fear, Ron reminded himself, was never the point. What counts is not how scared you are or how brave you claim to be or even how calm you are. All that matters is what you do.
More small rooms. Definitely, a woman lived there with a man. The furnace came on again, giving them a start. With the front door smashed, the inrush of cold air was causing it to frequently cycle on. They glanced at one another. The furnace. So there's a basement. Of course. And an upstairs. They were caught between the two. The door down was in the kitchen. Marc made the decision and Ron went down the stairs partway and swept his eyes around. Washing machine and dryer. A work bench. A radial-arm saw. Tools. Various ladders. Farm and garden implements, shovels, rakes, and a pitchfork. The furnace. The oil tank. A hot-water heater. Storage boxes on a rack. Kitty litter. Everything was up off the floor as if the space flooded on occasion. A sump pump. A tidy basement. But no one with a gun, and no dead people with their blood on the floor. No hiding places. He went back up.
They checked more small rooms.
A powder room. A TV room. A large hall closet. What looked like a music room. Now that was a luxury.
Time to go upstairs.
On the balls of their feet they moved slowly, but the old wood underfoot announced their trespass. Creaking.
A heating pipe banged and Ron shouted back, "Police! SQ! Identify yourself!"
"Shut up, for Christ's sake," hissed Marc.
Ron really didn't like the guy. Why did he ever tell his girlfriend that his partner was okay, a tad full of himself maybe? He was a whole lot more than full of himself. He let him go first. He'd rather not take a bullet for him if he could help it.
"Fucking procedure," attested Ron, mumbling really. "You got to identify yourself before you go shooting anybody. That's so basic."
Marc decided that he might as well bellow, too. "Missus? Are you here? Lady?"
Furnace thrum, a clanging radiator, and under all that a gawking silence.
They made it to the top of the stairs and their legs and breathing felt as though they'd just climbed Everest. Marc signaled his partner to check the room on their left. Ron preferred not to do so but he was given no choice. The door stood open. He flashed his head in the doorway, pulled it back instantly, then processed what he saw in that moment. Nothing. He looked in again and held his gaze. He entered as he'd been taught to do, weight and pistol forward. Recruits were taught to do it that way. If shot, the officer falls forward, which might allow him to get off a few rounds of his own. Maybe save his life that way, at least in theory. Yeah, right. Ron figured it really meant that he'd hit the floor face-first. Bust his nose. Mess up his corpse for the coffin. No one in the room, no one in the closet, no sign of any disturbance. The ceilings were low and the slope of the roofline evident. The room occupied half the upper floor, a bedroom, yet without the look of a master suite. It appeared to be infrequently used. Pillowcases did not adorn the pillows.
He held his breath and checked under the bed. No one. No shooter, no second vic.
Ron came back out.
Marc led the way down the hall. A bathroom was nearly opposite the top of the stairs. He crossed to the far side of the door. Ron glanced in. On his second look, he could see more of the room by checking the mirror on the face of the medicine cabinet. Then he went in and confirmed that the space was empty. He mouthed the word, "Secure," and followed Marc farther along. The door to the last room on the floor was also open. Marc's turn. He glanced in and jerked his head back. He looked at Ron, which was not procedure. He took a breath. Whispered, "Woman on the floor. We got another one."
"How the fuck do I know? Looks like it anyway."
Excerpted from The Storm Murders by John Farrow. Copyright © 2015 John Farrow Mysteries, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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