I know what you’re thinking… an excerpt from an already-published book? Well, with Bounty having recently been re-launched, with a new cover and a wider digital distribution, now seemed as good a time as any to let readers sample the first chapter. Enjoy!
A storm was brewing.
The Inner Harbor, usually the most peaceful spot in all of Charm City, was in turmoil. Waves violently splashed against the pier, angry winds tearing through the sails of the boats latched to the dock. Seagulls cawed in protest, every attempt to fly thwarted by the gusts. White caps thrashed onto dry land, staining the pier. Tourists and locals alike had made themselves scarce; even the seafood cathedral Phillips, one of Baltimore’s most popular spots, was relatively barren. Clouds roiled and built in the sky, turning the already-dark hue a particularly gnarly mix of black and purple.
Thunder rumbled in the distance. The air was thick with the smell of pending rain. To the trained nose, something else was in the air. Something dank. On the rare occasion the wind dissipated, the stench was unmistakable. A young detective was on his knees, hunched over the edge of the pier, that night’s dinner spilling out of his mouth and into the bay. Everyone else already on-scene ignored the man’s retching as uniformed officers canvassed the area, roping it off and shooing away the occasional passersby. A crane whirred to life, scaring off three seagulls as it lifted something out of the water.
Jill Andersen approached the man still hunched over the edge of the pier, placing a hand on his shoulder as he continued to cough and hack. Her green eyes studied the crane, narrowing upon catching sight of a dead body in the machine’s clutches, mangled and twisted, dried blood mixing with the salt water. She then caught her first whiff of the stench, silently glad for the fact that she’d already put in three years on the force. If nothing else, it had allowed Jill to build a tolerance to the gore. Her partner wasn’t that lucky yet.
“You okay, Ramon?”
The young man named Gutierrez looked up, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his tan overcoat. “Yeah.” He cringed and stood upright, still looking a bit pale. “Still takes some getting used to.”
“You will.” Jill gave Ramon’s shoulder a squeeze before crossing to the other end of the pier, ducking under the yellow crime scene tape and flashing the gold badge on her belt. Letting the uniformed officer see her badge number, Jill stopped to push a strand of brown hair out of her face. She put her hair back into a ponytail to avoid having it blown in her face like this, but the winds were so strong that anything short of shaving herself bald would prove futile.
It was like this every time she got to a crime scene. Everyone going about their jobs, as if this was just another day at the office – because for them, it was. But Jill always made sure to take a moment, no more than a few seconds, to remind herself that the victim was someone. At the end of the day, whoever’s mangled corpse was in that crane was a person. Someone’s family, someone’s loved one. More than anything, that was what mattered. Those left behind didn’t care about procedure or protocol; they wanted answers, and more importantly, they deserved justice. Too many times in this profession, victims were viewed in the abstract; it was easy to forget they were people with loved ones and dreams. Jill swore the day she made Detective that she would never lose sight of that.
“I swear to God, Sorenson, if you make a fishing joke, I’m throwing you overboard.”
The stocky officer’s smile was humorless. “Vic’s name is Trent Roberts. 49 years old.”
Jill frowned, hands stuffed in the pockets of her black leather jacket. She couldn’t tear her eyes from the body being lowered onto a white sheet splayed out on the concrete. The stench was far more pronounced now, and the sheet immediately turned red from the blood still oozing from Trent’s neck. Her eyes focused on his face, eyes wide and mouth agape. It looked as if the attack had taken him by surprise.
She tried her best to keep the dread off of her face, silently thankful for the acting elective she took that one semester her senior year of high school. She knew the victim. More than that, the victim was largely responsible for who she had become. Not that she could mention that, lest the captain remove her from this case. But if Jill was being honest with herself, stealing a glance at the raging waters, she knew it was only a matter of time. Trent Roberts winding up dead in her city wasn’t a coincidence.
“How do we already have ID?” Jill asked.
A black man joined Jill and Sorenson, red tie loose around his neck. The bags under his eyes nearly matched his mustache. “Uniforms found his briefcase in his yacht. ID was in it.”
Turning on the balls of her feet, Jill again brushed strands of hair out of her face. Crap… “Captain.” She cocked her head to the side. “What’re you–?”
Backing away from the crime scene, Daniel Richards — captain of Baltimore’s Seventh Precinct — motioned for Jill to follow him out of Sorenson’s earshot. “High-profile victim.” He nodded in the direction of the body once they had cleared the crime scene tape. “Only a matter of time before the Sun and the TV trucks show up, and you can’t exactly solve a murder if you’re busy swatting at gnats.”
Loathe as Jill was to admit it, the press had good reason to be interested in this case. Trent Roberts had been a high-profile scientist, renowned for his work on human prosthetics. He was also considered a pioneer in the study of cybernetics, using his extensive knowledge in that field to push revolutionary improvements in said prosthetics — many a war veteran had Dr. Roberts to thank for the fact that their lives had returned to normal, even after losing a limb in combat. Trent had worked closely with the United States government and with governments throughout Europe, hoping to push forward and perfect technology that would allow the world’s soldiers — the ones fighting on the front lines — to be stronger, faster, more resilient. He had once called it proactive prosthesis: outfitting soldiers with enhancements and upgrades in the hopes that they would avoid catastrophic injury and return home as intact as they were when they had left.
The Pentagon never admitted it had consulted with Dr. Roberts, and his life’s work — called Project Fusion — was little more than urban legend, but Jill knew better. She had seen all of this firsthand during her time with the Army. Not only did she serve two tours in Iraq before her four years were up, but she had also seen things that, officially, never existed.
Giving Richards a knowing glance, Jill again ducked under the tape and approached the body. Juanita Gutierrez, Baltimore’s chief medical examiner, was crouched to examine Dr. Roberts, the sky blue of her latex gloves contrasting with the drab surroundings. Juanita wore a black ball cap to keep her matching hair out of the way, but the occasional gust of wind threatened to toss the hat into the Chesapeake Bay.
Ramon stood behind Juanita, covering his mouth and nose with a handkerchief. His blue eyes still had that sick look about them. “Guessing we found cause of death.”
“I’d say,” Juanita said and gave her little brother a sympathetic smile. “Slashed across the throat. You name it, it’s been severed. Guessing he got tossed into the water to try and mitigate the mess.”
Jill crouched across from Juanita, her eyes scanning Dr. Roberts’ remains. His face was bloated; were it not for his wire-rim glasses and the unmistakable hint of yellow in his eyes, she might not have recognized him. Her forehead scrunched in concentration as she put on her own pair of latex gloves. Her heart nearly skipped a beat when she finally laid eyes on Roberts’ chest, which had been sliced open, sternum snapped in two, and several ribs broken. Strong as her constitution was, Jill nearly doubled over when she saw Dr. Roberts’ heart was missing.
“Ugh…” She got back to her feet, stumbling back before gathering her bearings and clear her head. “We sure it wasn’t the gaping hole in his chest?”
Juanita shook her head. “Postmortem.” She stood and took a step back, using her pen to point at the body. “Just like the slash on his left arm.”
There it was again: that pang of familiarity, along with its dear friend, the chill of dread. Jill struggled to keep her expression as neutral as possible, so as not to raise the suspicion of anyone else on-scene. She paced around Dr. Roberts’ body before glancing up at her partner; Ramon was still holding the handkerchief over his face, and she could tell by the look in his eyes that he desperately wanted to be elsewhere. Under better circumstances, she would tease him over his weak stomach, but given the condition of the body, and the reality of the case that had fallen into their collective laps, she couldn’t blame him.
“This doesn’t makes any sense.” Jill scratched an imaginary itch on her right temple, shaking her head. “Who would slash his throat, slice open his chest, steal his heart, slash the side of his arm, then toss him into the water?”
Juanita arched a brow. “Especially since there’s not much spatter on the yacht.”
“Hey, Ramon,” Jill decided to give her partner an out, “go canvass the yacht, see if there’s anything uniforms missed.”
Jill allowed herself an amused smile and a knowing glance at Juanita as Ramon hurriedly made his way to the yacht. He tried to play it cool, but it was obvious how glad he was for the reprieve. Between his constitution and the fact that he insisted on wearing those overcoats at crime scenes, sometimes teasing him was too easy.
The detective knelt beside the body again. Juanita, after making a note on her clipboard, regarded Jill and cocked her head. “What?”
“Nothing,” Jill lied. “Just… I think I met this guy when I was in the service.”
Clearing her throat, Jill stood upright again, deciding it was best to change the subject before Juanita had the chance to pry any further. Logically, Jill figured the truth was going to come out eventually, but she didn’t feel like taking a trip down Memory Lane while Dr. Roberts’ body was staring up into the sky — and definitely not with dozens of cops swarming around him. Maybe Jill would get lucky, though; maybe Dr. Roberts’ death was unrelated to his ties or his work.
Come on… when have I ever been that lucky?
“We need to find the heart.”
Even as she said it, Jill knew how unlikely that was. If the killer went through the effort of cutting Dr. Roberts open, of snapping his sternum in half and making a mess of his ribs, then that meant whoever it was wanted the heart for something. Which meant the heart wouldn’t be at the crime scene. Familiarity tugged at the detective again — not just because of who the victim was, but even the manner in which he died felt familiar.
Jill made a mental inventory of every case she had worked since Captain Richards handed her the badge, but nothing sprung to mind. Baltimore had seen some gruesome homicides in her time on the force, but nothing like this. Even the occasional mob hit had nothing on this; as gruesome as the Lincoln riddled with bullet holes had been two months back, with blood staining the windows and a mob enforcer’s brain splattered all over the back seat, even that paled in comparison to this.
Jill glanced over her shoulder, making sure none of the other officers were looking in her direction. Content in that knowledge, she reached up to her left temple before grabbing and peeling off a skin graft to reveal a metal eyeplate that spanned from her hairline to her cheek.
With a blink and a tap of her finger against her temple, Jill activated the infrared sensor embedded in her left eye, scanning the crime scene — careful to make sure she was in a dimly-lit area in case any officers or detectives looked her way. The last thing Jill wanted was for a street light to glimmer off her eyeplate.
Jill took her time looking over the area. The pavement was clear of anything the naked eye wouldn’t pick up, and her infrared vision didn’t do much for the water. Jill needed to examine the yacht, but Ramon and three uniformed officers were still on the vessel.
With a sigh, Jill turned her back to the crime scene and placed the skin graft back over the eyeplate. Without a mirror handy, she took a few extra seconds to make sure everything was in order; she couldn’t eyeball this one. She eventually returned to the scene, stopping once Richards approached again. “Don’t look now,” Jill saw news vans approaching over Richards’ shoulder, “but here come the vultures.”
Jill shrugged. “Just as well. I’ve got some phone calls to make back at the precinct.”
Jill tried not to laugh; the thunderstorm began just as the media arrived. Juanita and two uniformed officers scrambled to cover Roberts’ body so the rain wouldn’t compromise any potential evidence, and the TV crews struggled to get the rain gear on their equipment — which was all the opening Jill needed to avoid dealing with them. Talking to the press was not her job; the department had a spokesperson to handle that.
Pushing her way past Richards, and ignoring the portly reporter cursing under his breath at how the rain had already ruined his notepad, Jill dialed a number into her smartphone before pressing it to her ear. Crossing Pratt Street, she ducked into an alley to get away from the commotion and the heavy raindrops dotting the pavement. She pulled the band off her hair, undoing her ponytail and straightening out the locks. She cursed under her breath when the phone rang for the fifth time, and she was ready to hang up when the sixth ring cut off and a male voice answered.
“We have a problem.” Jill’s voice was steady, and her fingers again removed the skin graft. “Meet me at our usual spot.”