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Last Known Victim [Secure]
by Erica Spindler

Category: Suspense/Thriller/Suspense/Thriller
Description: August 2005. Amid death and destruction, hurricane-ravaged New Orleans has a new dark force to fear. As the rescue efforts unfold, a grisly discovery is made at one of the massive refrigerator "graveyards": One of these metal hulks contain six human hands--all female, all right hands. The press has dubbed the unknown perpetrator "The Handyman". But with no way to trace the origin of the refrigerator, and with evidence lost to time and the elements, the case dead-ends. Captain Patti O'shay is a straight-arrow, by-the-book cop who is assigned the case. Her tough, unflinching character is fractured when her husband and fellow police captain is found murdered--surprised by looters taking advantage of the post-storm chaos. August 2007. Patti, still grieving and disillusioned, gets a call from homicide: skeletal remains have been unearthed in City Park. The unknown victim--a female--is missing her right hand. But for Patti, this grave holds something even more shocking. Found beside the victim's bones is her husband's police badge. Casting aside the very "rule book" by which she has lived her life, Patti is fearless--but so is the killer. As he stalks her she is forced to question all she believes in, to doubt the code she has lived by ... because if she doesn't find The Handyman first, she will become the Last Known Victim.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/MIRA, 2007
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007

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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [680 KB]

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1

New Orleans, Louisiana
Sunday, August 28, 2005
4:00 p.m.

The gods were watching over New Orleans. Or so it seemed. How else could this historic city built below sea level, this beautiful jewel set in a swamp, have survived?

Survival. Of the species. The fittest. The self. An instinctual response to fight for life. To fight back.

Would she?

Walk to the door. Open it.

There she was. Lying on the bed. Asleep. Bitch! Cheap, faithless whore!

She deserves it. She betrayed you. Broke your heart.

She stirred. Moaned. Her eyelids fluttered.

Quickly! Cross to the bed. Put your hands around her throat and squeeze.

Her eyes snapped open. Pools of blue terror. She bucked and clawed.

Tighter. Tighter. Her fault. Hers. Bitch! Betrayer!

Her creamy skin mottled, then purpled. Her eyes bulged, popping out like those of some freakish cartoon character.

No pity. No second thoughts. She brought this on herself. She deserves it.

Her hands dropped. Her body shuddered, then stilled.

Halfway there. Breathe deeply. Calm yourself. Finish what she forced you to do.

A scream shattered the silence. A loud crack, like a gunshot, shook the house.

Only the wind. Katrina's fury. Move, quickly! Good. Now check your equipment. Make certain you have everything you need.

Industrial-strength trash bags. Rubber gloves and boots. Foul-weather gear. Shiny new bone saw. Pretty, pretty saw.

Zip-closure plastic bag.

No one to hear. No one to come. All gone.

An empty city.

2

New Orleans, Louisiana
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
3:00 p.m.

A ghost town, Captain Patti O'Shay thought. Or a scene from some post-apocalyptic horror flick. No cars or buses. No people on the sidewalks or lounging on porches. Eerily quiet.

She crept along Tchoupitoulas Street, heading uptown, maneuvering past downed power lines, branches and trees, sometimes having to go off road. Struggling to keep her attention on the task of driving. And to keep exhaustion and despair at bay.

Katrina had hit and all the "Doomsday" predictions had come true: the levees had begun to break and the bowl that was the Big Easy had begun to fill with water.

Ninety percent of the metro area—including police headquarters—had flooded. Only the high ground had escaped: the French Quarter, parts of the Central Business District, pockets of the Garden District and Uptown. And this street, which ran along the ridge of the Mississippi River.

The city was without power. Without running water. Without access to supplies. Twenty-five percent of the NOPD's vehicles had flooded.

Citizens who hadn't evacuated were now trapped. On rooftops and in attics. On the interstates and bridges. Dying in the brutal heat, without food, water or medical care.

Now the looters, junkies and thugs had taken to the streets.

The NOPD had established Harrah's Casino, located high and dry at the foot of Canal Street, as their staging area. The Royal Sonesta, one of the French Quarter's swankiest hotels, now served as the temporary police headquarters.

She tightened her fingers on the steering wheel. All communications were down. The police department had been reduced to using a handful of walkie-talkies and one ad hoc, mutual-aid radio channel. A channel they were sharing with all other parish agencies and the state police.

Because of a "talk around" feature, communication between parties more than five miles apart was impossible, rendering unit commanders without a chain of command. To make matters worse, the various agencies kept cutting over one another, creating the cacophony she was listening to now—a stream of disjointed alerts, updates, conversations and requests for assistance.

It was something, at least. Fellow survivors, agencies struggling to restore normalcy. Audible proof that the world had not come to an end.

Though she feared hers had.

Her husband, Captain Sammy O'Shay, was missing.

She had neither seen nor heard from him since the Sunday before the storm. All officers had been required to remain on duty during the hurricane. She and Sammy had attended early mass at St. Louis Cathedral, then prepared to go out separately on patrol.

She remembered stepping outside of the church and being struck by an overwhelming sense of loss. Of dread. It gripped her so tightly, she caught her breath.

Sammy looked at her. "What is it, love?"

She shook her head. "Nothing."

But he had known better and curled his fingers around hers. Always her rock, her shelter in a storm.

"It's going to be fine, Patti. Business as usual by Wednesday."

They had hugged and parted. Then all hell had broken loose.

Today was Wednesday, Patti realized, thoughts returning to the present. And nothing was business as usual.

Where was he?

Patti suddenly felt chilled, despite the oppressively hot, humid air streaming through the cruiser's open windows. She shook her head, against the fear, the sense of dread.

Sammy was fine. He'd gone home to check on the house or look for her and been trapped by floodwaters. Or he had gotten trapped trying to help citizens escape. That's the kind of man Sammy was.

He was resourceful. If he had been injured, he knew to take refuge and await help.

So many were missing. So many were dead.

The walkie-talkie crackled and squawked. A number of buildings burned out of control in the metro area. There were reports of hundreds of displaced citizens converging on the convention center, of gunshots fired at the Superdome, of private militia teams arriving by choppers.

Copyright © 2007 by Erica Spindler.


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