Authors: Alton Gansky
Tags: #Christian Suspense
Wounds, Digital Edition
Based on Print Edition
Copyright Â© 2013 by Alton Gansky
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Published by B&H Publishing Group
Dewey Decimal Classification: F
Subject Heading: MYSTERY FICTION \ HOMICIDEâFICTION \ SERIAL KILLERSâFICTION
Publishers Note: The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), Copyright Â© 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009, by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible, Holman CSB and HCSB are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
To Reverend Don Venosdel,
Now in glory and much missed here.
Thanks for the decades of wisdom.
bead of sweat trickled down the preacher's spine, trekking south toward a perspiration-soaked waistband. It wasn't the first bead he had felt since stepping on the platform, and twenty years of experience told him it wouldn't be the last. For two decades he had trod well-worn hardwood floors that clad a thousand stages around the world.
The growing rivulet widened and flowed faster with each minute. A similar outpouring ran from beneath his arms and down his sides, gluing his dress shirt to damp skin. Along the hairline, moisture oozed through pores and wetted his dark hairâhair two shades lighter than coal. The skin of his tanned face felt like an over-saturated sponge on the verge of disgorging its cargo of sweat. A round belly proved that his ever-youthful appearance belied his fifty-five years.
On the stage, dressed in a collarless shirt the color of obsidianâan attempt to look thinner than his 220 poundsâa gray suit coat, and black pants, he moved with the energy of a man two decades younger. On stage he still looked more youthful than he was. Television proved a different matter. The camera had no allegiances to men of the cloth. High-definition digital video remained steeped in truth, conveying every wrinkle, age spot, and other epidermal faults. After reviewing his last television interview, the preacher wished for the days when digital detail mattered less than content.
He moved to the lectern again, a handcrafted pulpit made by a faithful woodworker in Tennessee as a gift to the ministry. More than the composite of hard maple with ebony trim, the pulpit held electronics that preachers of a generation before would never have dreamed. A clock gave the local time; a lapse timer showed that he had been preaching for twenty-one-and-a-half minutes. A small plasma screen connected to the television feed served as a video monitor giving real-time feedback about which of three cameras gazed on him at the moment and what the world would see once the editing and distribution had been done.
Somewhere beyond the glare of the spotlights sat an audience hanging on his every word. Hubris did not plant the thought in his mind. Rather, hundreds of sermons in scores of countries and every state in the union had done so.
He had traveled so much that there were times he couldn't remember which city hosted his crusades. Today, however, he knew citizens of Philadelphia filled the sports arena. He had visited the Liberty Bell earlier that day, a special tour granted by the city and the historical society that managed such things.
He paused his machine-gun delivery. Not because he had lost his place but to heighten his point. All good speakers know the trick, and the world had judged him to be one of the most gifted orators of his or any generation. The platform was his throne and he made use of it.
In exactly three minutes, he would bring his sermon to a climactic close. People would stand and sing. Hundreds would come forward, and shortly after he would exit stage right.
Gone were the days when he could spend time with the people who had come to hear words of hope and promise. Gone, too, were the times of shaking hands and personal prayers, of intimate fellowship. All replaced by drum-tight security. Bodyguards were a requirement these days. The ministry spent thousands of donated dollars just to keep him safe.
What had the world come to when a simple preacher-man couldn't step on a stage without first wondering if it would be his last public appearance?
The death threats hadn't helped. Threats that came every week like clockwork. No matter where he was in the world, word would reach him and always with the same message: “THY MAKER AWAITS.”
The Reverend Dr. Daniel Templeton's gaze drifted to the audience and he wondered . . .
Did his tormentor look back?
He leaned over the sink of the tiny, dirty bathroom, eyes fixed on the steady flow of water that poured from the chipped, rusted faucet. The water drew him, serenaded him with a song only he could hear.
He leaned closer and watched the colorless cascade. The sound of it filled his ears with a rhythm that matched a heart beating at full throttle. The event had occurred over an hour ago, but the thrill of it fueled the pulsing behind his sternum.
A smile tickled the corners of his mouth.
He bent more and moved closer, closer, until the tip of his nose hovered an inch from the stream. Too close now to focus, he closed his eyes, allowing the sound of the water to become his lullaby. Tiny drops splashed from the bottom of the sink, dotting his face.
It had been so easy. It had felt so right. Every step fell in place. Every motion planned. Every detail observed. The act had been completed just as he saw it a hundred times in his mind.
The smile widened.
He straightened and looked at his reflection. The naked man staring back didn't fit the image chiseled in his mind. That man remained eighteen, full of energy and muscled by unrelenting exercise. The man in the mirror still displayed muscles twice the size of any other man in his late forties, but he also showed skin that looked thinner than it should and was dotted with skin tags and undefined dark spotsâthe latter the result of too many years of careless sun exposure. He hadn't cared about such things when he wore a younger man's clothes, and he didn't much care now.
He closed his eyes again and saw the body, saw the markings, and relived the unexpected turn.
That didn't matter now. The result remained the same even if the catalyst had been unanticipated. That was the thing with murder. No matter how well planned an execution might be, things could change.
He turned off the faucet.
He couldn't turn off the visions or the voices.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The buzzing bothered her the most. No matter how many times she heard it, no matter the number of times she had seen what drew the insects, the sound still ate at the lining of her stomach.
“Cover him.” Carmen Rainmondi frowned and turned away, giving no outward indication of the discomfort within. Was she losing her edge?
A uniformed officer stood to her right. Tall and lanky, he looked too young to shave. He also looked a little green around the gills. “You don't want to wait for the rest of the team?” He followed the words with a hard swallow.
Carmen gave the officer a glance, then shook her head. “It's a public place. It won't be long before parents will be walking by with their children. I don't want letters telling the chief how we scarred their kids for life. Now are you going to cover him or do you want to jaw about it some more?”
“Got it. No problem.” He trotted toward one of the black-and-whites, its emergency lights tossing splashes of red and blue in the air. Carmen noticed that he moved with care, following the same path out that they had taken in.
At least the newbie got that right.
She forced herself to face the body again. Face down, arms and legs askew, the victim looked as if he had fallen from a low-flying airplane. She could see he was young. He wore only a pair of brown shortsâno shoes, no shirt, no cap. The same dew that covered the grass dampened the body and clung to his hair. There were no signs of gunshot or knife wounds, but she could see a series of dried blood drops covering his back and the one side of his face she could examine.
Studying the shorts, Carmen saw what she hoped to see: a bulge in the right rear pocket. With a latex-gloved hand she removed the wallet, which felt thin and light.
Right pocket; right-handed.
Nothing earthshaking in that realization, but details mattered. Sometimes the little things turned the whole case.
Like the officer before her, Carmen carefully retraced her steps and ducked beneath the yellow crime-scene tape that cordoned off a quarter-acre of ground. The smell of eucalyptus trees mixed with the perfume of a dozen different flowering plants followed her. The sun crawled up the blue San Diego sky on the same journey it had made millions of times before.
Many considered Balboa Park one of the most beautiful places in the city and Carmen agreed. She spent a summer of her college years working at the historic park. As part of her training, her employers pounded some of the park's history into her brain. She knew more about the fourteen-hundred-acre areaâcomplete with quaint cottages, spectacular Spanish Colonial buildings, museums, and stage theatersâthan those living nearby.
The park was the jewel in the Chamber of Commerce's crown. Having a badly beaten body lying on emerald grass dulled the gem.
“I used to love this place.”
The words snatched Carmen from her thoughts. “Huh?”
“Wool gathering, Detective?” Bud Tock had come up behind her. Tock worked homicide too, and they were often teamed together. He would be the number-two detective on the case.
“Yeah, I guess I was. I used to work here.”
“In the park or at the Botanical Building?” He motioned to the long, wide, wood-lathe structure with a rounded trellis for a roof.
“I worked at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. They have a gift shop. Those were some slow hours.”
“I'll bet.” He paused as he looked beyond the cordoning tape. “Did you take a peek?”
Tock stood tall, lean, and somehow managed to look younger than his fifty-one years. Unlike many men his age, his dark hair had not deserted him, but it yielded to spreading gray. Carmen at forty-six, however, fought a relentless battle against a broadening waist and the appearance of new wrinkles. She did her best to look sharp, professional, and just attractive enough, but she wondered whether a day would come when she just quit caring about such things. Her brown hair showed a tint of red in the sunlight. It always had.
She let her eyes linger on Tock for a moment, like a dieter eyeing a piece of cheesecake, but those thoughts cinched closed. They had history, she and Tock. They had been an item. It began five years ago and ended with brutal honesty thirty days later. Every time she thought of that month she felt the bitterest pleasure and the sweetest regret. Three months later he married another woman. It was his third marriage. She had yet to have one.
“I asked if you took a peek. You okay?”