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The Hunt by J.M. Dabney, Davidson King (1)

Prologue

Ray

The sickening odor of decomp attacked my senses as soon as I walked through the apartment door. I’d almost ignored the call altogether, thinking it was my captain wanting to chew my ass out for the fourth time. Him ordering me around, while it amused me occasionally, it also pissed me off. I was a cop before the fucker had lost his virginity in the backseat of his daddy’s car.

I stepped out of the way of the chaos, uniforms loitered beside the door as the forensic teams scoured the room for clues. The M.E. gave me a dirty look, and I grunted as I slipped on those damn booties. As I closed the distance, I dug out my old school notebook from the inside pocket of my wrinkled blazer. I wasn’t one that went much for dress codes, but again, I’d already gotten my ass reamed for supposedly messing up.

There was no way I fucked up evidence. I’d done this job way too long for that to happen. I shoved the problems to the back of my brain to focus on the situation at hand.

“What you got for me, Donnelly?” I asked as I squatted next to the dead body.

Young kid, probably in his early twenties and nude.

“In my gut, Ray, we got number three. Same M.O. except this kid has been lying here for few days at least. Our guy doesn’t usually let a body go unnoticed. Doesn’t stroke his ego enough.”

“I saw the press. They get here before us again?”

“Crowd control was a nightmare.”

“So, tell me what you got?” I posed my pen over the lined paper.

Donnelly lifted the thin bloody sheet to show the lower half of the victim’s body, exposing the mutilated genitals. They looked to me as if the assailant had crudely removed them. It was a detail none of us had released to the press, and I had to agree with Donnelly that it looked like we had a serial.

The Brass always turned squirrely when anyone mentioned serial killers. It wasn’t as if I wanted to deal with all that bullshit. Serials always brought the nutcases out of the woodwork and the FBI sticking their noses in. I wasn’t one to work well with others. My Captain hadn’t assigned me a long-term partner in years.

“The genitals were removed, but as with the other two victims that was done post-mortem. The facial injuries were, as far as I can tell, done first. The extent of the rage in these attacks has to prove as least some type of history between—”

As Donnelly went through the play by play, I took notes, and I couldn’t deny this was too like the previous scenes. Same victim profile. Rage at this level always meant the victim knew the assailant.

“Does he have the same club stamp on his wrist?” I asked.

Donnelly ran the light over the kid’s inner wrist to expose the photochromic ink. Club Epiphany was popular with the college party crowd. A pretty mixed crowd of gay and straight, I’d shown the kids’ pictures around and received no information. I could see the lies in their drink-hazed gazes, but I hadn’t pushed too much.

“Call me when you’re ready for the post-mortem.”

“Will do, Ray.”

I straightened and grimaced at the sound of my creaking knees. Maybe I was getting too old for the damn job. I roamed the apartment. I made my notes and jerked my attention toward the door as someone yelled my name. A snarl curled my lips and widened my nostrils as I noticed the Captain waiting in the open apartment door.

Fucker, he was just there to bust my balls. Captain Green was a slick bastard. The suit he wore was more than I made in a month. I couldn’t say Green was dirty. I didn’t have concrete evidence, but I’m sure he wasn’t maxing out his credit cards to pay for his lifestyle. Rumors were rampant that Green had himself a pretty boy on the side.

I raised my hand and waved him off, I wanted to finish the walkthrough before I had to deal with him.

I didn’t fault him for the side piece. I wasn’t in the closet by any means, but I didn’t flaunt it at work. No matter how progressive the modern police force pretended to be, I still had to have my fellow officers watching my back.

The stupid thought caused me to shake my head. I was well past my prime, and I existed on a cop’s salary. I didn’t even want to think about the last time I had a man in my bed. Hell, I didn’t even remember the guy’s name.

I talked with a few cops to procrastinate, yet that wouldn’t save me for long. Getting it over with would be best. I skirted the edges of the room.

“Captain,” I greeted him as I came to a stop.

“You have a meeting with Internal Affairs in thirty minutes. Get a move on.”

The sudden announcement made me momentarily stupid and then my anger took over. I didn’t need this fucking bullshit. I’d never once stepped over the line. I prided myself on being a good cop.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“You’ll do as I say.”

Everything in me wanted to argue, but it was already a shit move for Green to inform me on the crime scene. I wasn’t going to cause a scene.

“I have a post-mortem to attend. I don’t have time for this shit.”

“If you don’t want to deal with it, Detective, you know what you can do.”

The bastard would come in his pants if I ever handed over my badge and gun. I already had over twenty years in and didn’t know how to do anything else. My fists clenched as I slipped out of the door and jogged down the steps to my unmarked car.

Not until I was locked inside did I let out the string of curses and roughly turned the key in the ignition. I didn’t know why Green had it in for me. My file was full of commendations, and I’d made it to this point in my career by good police work.

I jerked the car into reverse and backed up, then shifted into drive to make the half-hour trip downtown. My brain formulated every worst-case scenario. I was a pessimistic son of a bitch and I knew it. You didn’t work sex crimes and homicide as long as I had and not turn hard.

Life didn’t let you travel the easy route, especially how I’d started out. I wasn’t always a cop, hadn’t always walked the straight and narrow, but an old beat cop had straightened me out. Since then I made the law my life, and I.A. starting to fuck me without the courtesy of lube pissed me off.

Weaving through traffic, I made it back to the department in record time, and before I parked, two familiar faces were waiting for me. Sims and Marlowe, two hard-assed cops from Internal Affairs, were standing in front of my car. I got out of the driver’s seat and slammed the door.

“Was this fucking necessary?”

“Don’t want you running, do we, Detective?” Sims sneered.

They made a show of taking positions, Sims in front and Marlowe behind me. The stares were a heavy weight as every cop focused on the spectacle I.A. was making of me. Like I was already guilty.

I was led into an interrogation room. Marlowe played big and bad by posting himself beside the door. His arms crossed over his chest as he glared at me.

“Have a seat,” Sims ordered, then threw a file on the table.

It wasn’t like I had much choice, so I pulled out the chair and took a seat. No way was I going to give these bastards the upper hand. I hadn’t made it this far by being a pushover to kids playing cops and robbers.

Sims took his time opening the folder and reading the contents. It was almost laughable that they were pulling that Interrogation 101 bullshit with me. They weren’t going to make me sweat with their amateur move.

“Let me begin by making it clear this is an official interrogation. You have the right to have your rep here, and I suggest you take advantage of a lawyer. Charges are being filed as we speak.”

I clenched my teeth so hard my jaw hurt as I stared at the smug bastard seated across from me. In my gut I knew this wasn’t going to end well if they were already informing me of my rights. Maybe I should’ve replied or taken the offer of a lawyer, but didn’t that give the impression of my guilt? I hadn’t done anything and I wasn’t going to act as if I had.

“Detective Clancy, can you explain the ten-thousand-dollar deposit made into your account a week ago?”

“What fucking deposit?” I surged forward.

“Two days after evidence on your case was misplaced a deposit was made. Can you explain that?”

“That’s bullshit. I ain’t taken a bribe in my life. Have you seen my file?”

Outrage burned hotter in my gut at the scam Sims was playing. My evidence and confessions were above reproach.

Sims turned a few more pages. “Mixed in with those commendations there’s quite a few reprimands for excessive force. Your clearance rate on your cases is outstanding. Twenty-five percent higher than anyone else in the department.”

I barely restrained the urge to bring my fist down on the table. “Don’t even question my record. Every one of those was a clean collar. Perps love to scream police brutality when they’re going down for life or getting death sentences. I ain’t dirty, Sims.”

“Then how do you explain the money that made it into your personal account?”

“Do you think I would be dumb enough to put that money in? I’ve been a cop long enough—”

Sims slammed his hands down on the table top. When he didn’t get a reaction from me the man’s jaw clenched. I’d spent more time in an interrogation room than on the streets. I knew every trick and if they were idiotic enough to think I’d make a mistake like that then they weren’t as good detectives as I’d thought.

“You’re dirty, Clancy, and we’re going to prove it. We’ve been cleared to ask for your badge and weapon. You’re on leave without pay and if it’s up to us, we’re going to lock you up where you belong.”

“This is bullshit. You’ve got nothing on me, but a bogus deposit. Check the cameras, you’ll see I didn’t make that deposit.”

Sims removed a grainy photo from the file and slid it across the table. The figure I studied was similar in height and build. Dressed as I would be if I was off-duty. That wasn’t me, but with a cursory examination it was a classic case of mistaken identity. Who the fuck had it out for me? Like any cop, I’ve had a few collars threaten payback, but that amount of money, no one I knew had those funds and that amount of animosity. Or did they?

Sims brought his index finger down on the image as if to emphasize the accusation in his cold brown eyes. “The cameras picked up a man looking just like you. If you just confess, you can make it so much easier on yourself.”

“What and put all my cases up for review and possibly have the convictions overturned? You’re stupider than I fucking thought. I’m not dirty. I don’t take bribes. I can say it slower if you can’t comprehend.”

“Turn over your badge and service weapon, Clancy.”

I surged to my feet knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. Arguing wasn’t going to change their mind. They had a sudden hard-on for me and I didn’t know why. I removed my sidearm and placed it on the table, then unclipped my badge from my belt. The table rattled with the force that I slammed it onto the scratched surface.

“Do we have to warn you not to leave town?”

The sneer on Sims’ face made me clench my fists as the urge to beat the arrogance out of the younger man overtook me.

“Marlowe will escort you to your locker.”

One more degrading act to top off my night. As I exited the room, a file box connected with my abdomen and my hands clenched around it so tight the sides caved inward. I wouldn’t show anyone else that I was breaking inside. Everything I’d worked for in almost two decades shattered around me.

Someone had pulled one hell of a frame job, and the problem was I didn’t know why. I knew I wasn’t liked, but I sure as fuck was respected. I ignored the curious looks and the whispers as I made my way to the locker room. My hands shook with rage as I packed the few personal items I kept in the small space into the box. All this was bullshit and it was too easy, how didn’t anyone other than me pick it up?

If they thought I was going to let this stand, they were dead wrong. I’d figure it out and I’d rub their accusation in their faces. I wasn’t dirty. I knew who was and sooner or later I’d get enough evidence to take them down and maybe, just maybe, get my job back.

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