Read An Excerpt

by Jonathan Kellerman

Genre: Procedural, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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The woman had haunted eyes.

Pale, drooping at the outer edges, they stared into the unseen camera with an odd combination of defiance and defeat.

She didn't move. Neither did the camera. The wall behind her was brown-blue, the color of an old bruise. The couch on which she perched was gray. She was a pretty woman, made less so by fear. Her shoulders were bunched high, her neck tendons taut as bridge cables. A black, sleeveless dress showcased soft white arms. Too-blond hair fell limply to her shoulders.

Moments passed. Nothing happened. In another situation I might've cracked wise about it being one of Andy Warhol's old anti-films: interminable, static studies of the Empire State Building, a man sleeping.

When a homicide lieutenant brings you something to watch, you keep your mouth shut.

Milo stood behind me. His black hair and raincoat were rumpled. The coat was cheap, green, wrinkled past the point of salvation. It gave off a not unpleasant vegetative odor. He'd placed a massive breakfast burrito in a take-out box on my desk, hadn't touched it.

When he drops in, he usually beelines for the fridge, empties a quart of something, raids the shelves for bad carbs. This morning, he'd marched to my office, loaded the DVD with a flourish.

"For your consideration."

Blanche, my little French bulldog, sat next to me, uncharacteristically serious. She'd tried her usual smile, had figured out something was different when Milo didn't stoop to pet her.

I rubbed her knobby head. She looked up at me, returned her attention to the monitor.

The woman's lips moved.

Milo said, "Here we go."

More silence on the screen.

"So I lied."

The woman said, "My name is Elise Freeman. I'm a teacher and tutor at Windsor Preparatory Academy in Brentwood." Her voice was throaty. She knotted her fingers, flopped them onto her lap. "I'm making this recording to document sustained abuse I have received at the hands of faculty members at Windsor Preparatory Academy in Brentwood. Which I will here on refer to as Prep."

Deep breath. "For the past two years at Prep, I have been subjected to repeated, unwarranted, aggressive, and distressing sexual harassment from three individuals. Their names are." Her right hand rose. A finger pointed upward. "Enrico Hauer. H-A-U-E-R." Two fingers: "James Winterthorn." More slow, enunciated spelling, then a trio of digits. "Pat Skaggs."

The hand dropped. "For the past two years Enrico Hauer, James Winterthorn, and Pat Skaggs have made my life a living hell by engaging in brutal, unsolicited, and threatening sexual behavior. I am making this recording so that in the event something violent happens to me, the authorities will know where to look. I do not know what else to do as I feel trapped and frightened and have nowhere to turn. I hope this recording never needs to come to light but if it does, I am glad that I made it."

Her eyes clenched shut. Her lips moved soundlessly and she slumped. Suddenly her jaw jutted and she was sitting up straight. More defiance than defeat.

Staring hard at the camera. "Thanks for listening."

The screen went blue. Milo said, "Talk about a D-movie plot device."

I said, "But you're here. She was murdered?"

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