Read Hangman Online

Authors: Faye Kellerman

Hangman

Hangman
Faye Kellerman

For Jonathan—the complete man, from A to Z
And for Lila and Oscar—hugs and kisses

Contents

Chapter One

THE PICTURES HAD photographed her swollen, battered, and bruised—a puffy…

Chapter Two

STRAIGHT OUT OF a Diego Rivera painting, he showed up…

Chapter Three

AS LONG AS Decker was in the city—about twenty miles…

Chapter Four

THE CAR WAS quiet on the way home, the boy…

Chapter Five

AT TWO IN the morning, the house was dark and…

Chapter Six

BY THE TIME Decker broke for lunch, he had done…

Chapter Seven

THE BACK PASSENGER door to the cruiser was open, a…

Chapter Eight

POSITIVELY THE WORST part of the job was bringing bad…

Chapter Nine

DECKER GOT THE feeling that Mack Blanc’s language was an…

Chapter Ten

AS THE FRESHIES set up the chairs, Hannah took Gabe…

Chapter Eleven

EVEN THOUGH IT was beyond happy hour, the bar was…

Chapter Twelve

HANNAH KNEW SOMETHING was going on when Cindy didn’t drink…

Chapter Thirteen

ADRIANNA MADE HER home in a block-long complex of three-story…

Chapter Fourteen

OVER THE LINE, Marge said, “Crystal Larabee got us an…

Chapter Fifteen

TRUDGING INTO THE kitchen with a load of clothes under…

Chapter Sixteen

HOPING TO FIND some quiet time to read Adrianna’s diary…

Chapter Seventeen

WITH AROUND HALF the classes being Jewish subjects, Gabe had…

Chapter Eighteen

THE SELF-PARKING LOT sat across from the hotel, elevated and…

Chapter Nineteen

THE ONE GREAT thing about playing was that it was…

Chapter Twenty

THE WOMAN BEHIND the reception desk was named Grace. She…

Chapter Twenty-One

IT WAS AFTER seven by the time Decker made it…

Chapter Twenty-Two

WEDNESDAY MORNING, EIGHT A.M., Decker was in his office, sipping…

Chapter Twenty-Three

MARGE WAS OLD enough to remember when a tattoo meant…

Chapter Twenty-Four

DECKER HAD HIS feet up on his desk. His door…

Chapter Twenty-Five

TULLY’S SCRAP HAD been a fixture in the west hills…

Chapter Twenty-Six

OVER THE PHONE, Marge said to Decker, “She’s not answering…

Chapter Twenty-Seven

IN THE EARLY evening, most restaurant bars tended to be…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

WE’RE ZERO FOR two.” Oliver disconnected the line. “Mandy’s not…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

MANDY STILL WASN’T answering her door, but with her car…

Chapter Thirty

TWO BLACK-JACKETED CORONER’S investigators had gently removed the body from…

Chapter Thirty-One

MARGE PLUNKED A latte in front of Oliver. “Maybe this…

Chapter Thirty-Two

MANDY KOWALSKI DIDN’T decorate with heart.

Chapter Thirty-Three

IT WAS THE first time that Rina had seen the…

Chapter Thirty-Four

EDDIE BOOKER CARRIED a burden. The former security guard should…

Chapter Thirty-Five

IT WAS ONE in the afternoon, but Yvette Jackson was…

Chapter Thirty-Six

OVER THE MONITOR, the detectives saw Chuck Tinsley fidget and…

Chapter Thirty-Seven

WHILE MARGE WAS checking out Tinsley’s phone, Decker went back…

Chapter Thirty-Eight

THE JEWELRY TAKEN from Tinsley’s apartment was neatly laid out…

Chapter Thirty-Nine

THE DECKER HOUSE was much smaller than Gabe’s home in…

Chapter Forty

WITH THE BOYS out of the house and Hannah rarely…

Chapter Forty-One

AS SOON AS Decker walked into the station house, Wanda…

Chapter Forty-Two

TYPING THE PARAMETERS into the computer—“homicide,” “female,” “strangulation”—Decker, Wanda, and…

Chapter Forty-Three

BY NINE IN the evening, Decker’s eyes were buggy from…

Chapter Forty-Four

TWELVE STRETCHED TO one in the morning. At half past,…

Chapter Forty-Five

WHEN DECKER WALKED into the station house at eleven, Wanda…

Chapter Forty-Six

THE GROUP HAD just polished off the chocolate cake—with half…

Chapter Forty-Seven

AS DECKER WAITED to board his flight to Las Vegas,…

Chapter Forty-Eight

AT SEVEN IN the morning, Decker thought he’d have the…

Chapter Forty-Nine

WHEN TRAUMA HIT, Gabe did what he always did.

T
HE PICTURES HAD
photographed her swollen, battered, and bruised—a puffy lip, two black eyes, a bloated and bright face. Decker found it nearly impossible to reconcile those snapshots with the remarkable-looking woman who sat before him. Terry had changed in the fifteen years. She had morphed from a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl to an elegant, stunning woman. Age had turned her face softer and rounder with the fragile exquisiteness of a Victorian cameo. His eyes traveled from the picture to her face. He raised an eyebrow.

“Pretty bad, huh?” she said.

“Your husband certainly did a number on you.” If Decker squinted hard enough at her face, he could see remnants of the thrashing—a greenish tinge in certain spots. “And these pictures are around six weeks old?”

“Around.” She shifted her position on the sofa. “The body is a wondrous thing. I used to see miracles all the time.”

Being a doctor, Terry would know that information firsthand. How she managed to go through medical school and raise a kid
while married to that maniac was a testament to her strength of character. It was hard to see her beaten down like this.

“Are you sure you want to go through with this? Meeting him here in L.A.?”

“I put it off about as long as I could,” Terry said. “It really doesn’t make sense to hide. If Chris wants to find me, he will. And it’s not me that I’m worried about. It’s Gabe. If he gets pissed off enough, he may take it out on him. I need to get him to adulthood, Lieutenant, before I make any decisions about myself.”

“How old is Gabe?”

“Chronologically, he’s about four months from fifteen. Psychologically, he’s an old man.”

Decker nodded. They were sitting in an elegantly furnished hotel suite in Bel Air, California. The color scheme was a soothing tone-on-tone beige. There was a stocked wet bar off the entry and a marble countertop for mixing drinks. Terry had curled up on the divan opposite a stone fireplace. He was sitting on her left in a wing chair with a view of the private patio lushly planted with ferns, palms, and flowers—an oasis for the wounded soul. “What makes you think that you’ll last until Gabe turns eighteen?”

Terry gave the question some thought. “You know how cool and calculating my husband is. This was the first time that he ever laid a hand on me.”

“So what happened?”

“A misunderstanding.” She looked at the ceiling, avoiding Decker’s eyes. “He found some medical papers and thought I had an abortion. After I finally got him to stop hitting me and listen, he realized that he had misread the name. The abortion had been for my half sister.”

“He confused the name Melissa with Teresa.”

“We have the same middle name. I’m Teresa Anne. She’s Melissa Anne. It’s stupid but my father is stupid. I still use McLaughlin, like my half sister, because it’s on all my diplomas and licenses. He misread the names and he snapped. Not that he cares about children, but the thought of my destroying his progeny made him unglued. I’m just thankful there wasn’t a gun within reach.” She shrugged.

Decker said, “Why did you marry him, Terry?”

“He wanted it official. I could hardly tell him no since he was supporting us. I could have never finished medical school without his money.” She paused. “Mostly he leaves Gabe and me alone. He buries himself in work or booze or drugs or other women. Gabe and I are adept at maneuvering around him. Our interactions are neutral and sometimes pleasant. He’s generous and knows how to be charming when he wants something. I give him what he wants and all is well.”

“Except when it isn’t.” Decker held up the photographs. “What exactly do you want me to do, Doctor?”

“I’ve agreed to see him, Lieutenant, not to go back to him. At least, not right away. I don’t know how he’ll take the news. Since I can’t escape him, I want him to agree to a temporary separation. Not a marriage separation—that wouldn’t settle well—just for him to agree to give me a little more time to be by myself.”

“How much more time?”

“Thirty years, maybe.” Terry smiled. “Actually, I’d like to move back to L.A. until Gabe finishes high school. I found a house to rent in Beverly Hills. I not only have to get Chris to agree to the separation, but I want him to pay for everything.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Watch me.” She smiled. “He’s trained me, but I’ve also trained him.”

“And yet you feel the need for protection.”

“You deal with a feral animal, anything can happen. It’s good to take precautions.”

“There are a lot of younger, stronger men than me, guys that would probably do a better job at guarding you.”

“Oh please! Chris could take any of them down. He’s more…careful around you. He respects you.”

“He shot me.”

“If he wanted to kill you, he would have.”

“I know that,” Decker said. “He wanted to prove who was boss.” He blew out air. “More important, Chris likes shooting people. In plugging me, he got a two-for-one.”

Terry looked down. “He’s boasted that you’ve asked him for favors. Is that true?”

Decker grinned. “I ask him for information now and then. I’ll use any sources I can to help me get a solve.” He regarded her face—her milky complexion, hazel-gold eyes, and long chestnut-colored hair. There were a few strands of gray peeking through, the only sign that her life had been a pressure cooker. She was wearing a loose, sleeveless maxidress—something silky with geometric patterns in orange, green, and yellow. Her bare feet stuck out of the hemline. “When’s he due in town?”

“I told him to come by the hotel on Sunday at noon. I figured that would be a good time for you.”

“Where will your son be when all this goes down?”

“He’s at UCLA in one of the practice rooms. Gabe has a cell. If he needs me, he’ll call. He’s very independent. He’s had to be.” Her eyes were faraway. “He’s so good…the polar opposite of his father. Given his upbringing, he should have been in rehab at least a couple of times by now. Instead he’s hypermature. It worries me. There’s so much inside of him that’s been left unsaid. He really does deserve better.” She brought her hands to her mouth and blinked back tears. “Thanks so much for helping me out.”

“Make sure I do something before you thank me.” Decker checked his watch. He was due home a half hour ago. “Okay, Terry, I’ll come on Sunday. But you’ve got to do it my way. I’ve got to think of a plan, how I want this meeting to take place. First and foremost, you have to wait in the bedroom until I’ve cleared him. Then you can come out.”

“That’s fine.”

“Also, you have to tell Gabe not to come home until you’ve given him an all-clear signal okay. I don’t want him popping in the middle of a sticky situation.”

“Sounds reasonable.”

The room was silent for a few moments. Then Terry stood up. “Thanks so much, Lieutenant. I hope the payment is okay?”

“It’s more than okay. It’s very generous.”

“One thing about Chris—he’s very expansive. If I offered you anything less, he’d be insulted.”

 

DECKER SAID, “LOOK,
if you don’t want me to do it, I won’t.”

“Of course I don’t want you to do it,” Rina answered. “He shot you, for God’s sake!”

“So I’ll call her up and say no.”

“A little late for that, don’t you think.” Rina got up from the dining-room table and began to clear the brunch dishes—two plates and two glasses. Hannah rarely ate with them anymore. She’d be starting seminary in Israel in the fall. With three months left of high school, she was as good as gone.

Decker followed his wife into the kitchen. “Tell me what you want?” When Rina turned on the faucet, he said, “I’ll wash.”

“No, I’ll wash.”

“Better yet, why don’t you use the dishwasher?”

“For two plates?”

Counting all the glasses, utensils, and pots and pans, it was a lot more than that, but he didn’t argue. “I should have consulted you before I agreed. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not looking for apologies. I’m concerned for your safety. He’s a hit man, Peter.”

“He’s not going to kill me.”

“Don’t you always tell me that domestic are the most dangerous situations because emotions get hot?”

“They do if you’re not prepared.”

“You don’t think your presence will inflame the state of affairs?”

“It could. But if she doesn’t have anyone around, it could be worse.”

“So let her hire some other body. Why does it have to be you?”

“She thinks I have the best chance of defusing Chris’s temper.”

“‘Defusing’ is the right word,” Rina said. “The man’s a bomb!” She shook her head and turned on the tap. Silently, she handed Decker the first dish.

“Thanks for brunch. The salmon Benedict was a real treat.”

“Every man deserves a last meal.”

“That’s not funny.”

Rina gave him another dish. “If anything happens to you, I’ll never forgive you.”

“Understood.”

“I don’t care what happens to her. I’m sure she’s a nice woman, but she got herself into this mess.” Rina felt anger rising. “Why do you have to get her out of it? Her asking you for help is
chutzpadik
.”

“It’s like she’s imprinted on me.” Decker put the dish away and put his hands on her shoulders. The tips of her black hair brushed against her shoulders, giving her face a breezy look. Rina was anything but. Intense, focused, task-oriented…those were the appropriate adjectives. “I’ll call her and tell her no.”

“You can’t do that
now
, Peter. He’s due to show up in a couple of hours. Plus if you backed out, you’d look like a wuss to Chris and that’s the worst thing you can do. You’re stuck.” She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his nose. He was tall and big, but so was Donatti. “I think I should go with you.”

“Not a chance. I’d rather back out.”

“He likes me.”

“Precisely why he’d be tempted to shoot me. He has a crush on you.”

“He doesn’t have a crush on me—”

“That’s where you’re wrong.”

“Well, then at least let me ride over with you into the city. You can drop me off to visit my parents.”

“I can do that.” Decker looked at the kitchen clock. “Leave the mess. I’ll get it when I come back.”

“You’re leaving now?”

“I want to set up the room before he arrives.”

“Fine. I’ll go get my purse. Call me when you’re done and everything’s okay.”

“I will. I promise.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Rina brushed him off. “Isn’t marriage about promising to love, honor, and obey?”

“Something like that,” Decker told her. “And if I must brag, I’d say I’ve been pretty good with my vows.”

“Pretty good at the first two,” Rina admitted. “It’s the third that seems to trip you up.”

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