- Publisher: Simon & Schuster
- Release Date: 2006, 2007, 2018
- ISBN-13: 978-1416523321
- Available Languages: French (2), Japanese (4), German (3), English (UK), Indonesian, Czech, Russian, Polish (83), Portuguese, Slovak, Brazilian (85)
- Available Formats: Audio, e-Book, Print
Homicide detective Duncan Hatcher is called to the home of a superior court judge to investigate a fatal shooting. Enter Elise Laird, the judge’s trophy wife, who’s cool, calm and collected considering even though there’s a dead man in the study.
Elise’s account of the shooting is sketchy at best, and Duncan’sHis investigation into Elise’s murky past convinces him she’s a liar, a manipulator, and more than likely a killer.
And then she throws him for a loop.
Not knowing whom to believe, Duncan is ensnared in a murder case that tests his logic, his gut instinct, and his integrity. He trusts the word of no one except the ruthless crime lord who has pledged to eliminate him.
And he trusts least the woman he wants most.
The perfect setting for Duncan’s moral dilemma is the seductive city of Savannah, where the Spanish moss in the ancient oaks seems to whisper temptations, and the walled gardens of the Historical District provide perfect hiding places for the darkest of secrets.
The gunshot at Elise’s home killed only one, but it had a ricochet effect on Duncan. He’s in a struggle for his life against a murderous enemy, against a by-the-book partner who would almost rather see him dead than compromised, and against the strongest adversary of all — his own conscience.
There hadn’t been a peep out of Savich since the severed tongue incident. The lab at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had confirmed that the tongue belonged to Freddy Morris, but that left them no closer to pinning his murder on Savich.
Savich was free. He was free to continue his lucrative drug trafficking, free to kill anyone who crossed him. And Duncan knew that somewhere on Savich’s agenda, he was an annotation. Probably his name had a large asterisk beside it.
He tried not to dwell on it. He had other cases, other responsibilities, but it gnawed at him constantly that Savich was out there, biding his time, waiting for the right moment to strike. These days Duncan exercised a bit more caution, was a fraction more vigilant, never went anywhere unarmed. But it wasn’t really fear he felt. More like anticipation.
On this night, that super-charged feeling of expectation was keeping him awake. He’d sought refuge from the restlessness by playing his piano. In the darkness of his living room, he was tinkering with a tune of his own composition when his telephone rang.
He glanced at the clock. Work. Nobody called at one thirty-four in the morning to report that there hadn’t been a killing. He answered on the second ring. “Yeah?”
Early in their partnership, he and DeeDee had made a deal. She would be the first one called if they were needed at the scene of a homicide. Between the two of them, he was the one more likely to sleep through a ringing telephone. She was the caffeine junky and a light sleeper by nature.
He expected the caller to be her and it was. “Were you asleep?” she asked cheerfully.
“Playing the piano?”
“I don’t play the piano.”
“Right. Well, stop whatever it is you’re doing. We’re on.”
“Who iced whom?”
“You won’t believe it. Pick me up in ten.”
“Where — ” But he was talking to air. She’d hung up.
He went upstairs, dressed, and slipped on his holster. Within two minutes of his partner’s call, he was in his car.
He lived in a townhouse in the historic district of downtown, only blocks from the police station — the venerable red brick building known to everyone in Savannah as the barracks.
At this hour, the narrow, tree-shrouded streets were deserted. He eased through a couple of red lights on his way out Abercorn Street. DeeDee lived on a side street off that main thoroughfare in a neat duplex with a tidy patch of yard. She was pacing it when he pulled up to the curb.
She got in quickly and buckled her seatbelt. Then she cupped her armpits in turn. “I’m already sweating like a hoss. How can it be this hot and sticky at this time of night?”
“Lots of things are hot and sticky at this time of night.”
“You’ve been hanging around with Worley too much.”
He grinned. “Where to?”
“Get back on Abercorn.”
“What’s on the menu tonight?”
“Brace yourself.” She took a deep breath and expelled it. “The home of Judge Cato Laird.”
Duncan whipped his head toward her, and only then remembered to brake. The car came to an abrupt halt, pitching them both forward before their seat belts restrained them.
“That’s the sum total of what I know,” she said in response to his incredulity. “I swear. Somebody at the Laird house was shot and killed.”
“Did they say — “
“No. I don’t know who.”
Facing forward again, he dragged his hand down his face, then took his foot off the brake and applied it heavily to the accelerator. Tires screeched, rubber burned as he sped along the empty streets.
It had been two weeks since the awards dinner, but in quiet moments, and sometimes even during hectic ones, he would experience a flashback to his encounter with Elise Laird. Brief as it had been, tipsy as he’d been, he recalled it vividly: the features of her face, the scent of her perfume, the catch in her throat when he said what he did. What a jerk. She was a beautiful woman who had done nothing to deserve the insult. To think she might be dead. . .
He cleared his throat. “I don’t know where I’m going.”
“Ardsley Park. Washington Street.” DeeDee gave him the address. “Very ritzy.”
“You okay, Duncan?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I mean, do you feel funny about this?”
“Come on,” she said with asperity. “The judge isn’t one of your favorite people.”
“Doesn’t mean I hope he’s dead.”
“I know that. I’m just saying.”
He shot her a hard look. “Saying what?”
“See? That’s what I’m talking about. You over-react every time his name comes up. He’s a raw nerve with you.”
“He gave Savich a free pass and put me in jail.”
“And you made an ass of yourself with his wife,” she said, matching his tone. “You still haven’t told me what you said to her. Was it that bad?”
“What makes you think I said something bad?”
“Because otherwise you would have told me.”
He took a corner too fast, ran a stop sign.
“Look, Duncan, if you can’t treat this like any other investigation, I need to know.”
“It is any other investigation.”
But when he turned onto Washington and saw in the next block the emergency vehicles, his mouth went dry. The street was divided by a wide median of sprawling oak trees, camellia and azalea bushes. On both sides were stately homes built decades ago by old money.
He honked his way through the pajama-clad neighbors clustered in the street, and leaned on the horn to move a video cameraman and reporter who were setting up their shot of the impressive colonial house with the four fluted columns supporting the second story balcony and the immaculately maintained lawn. People out for a Sunday drive might slow down to admire the home. Now it was now the scene of a fatal shooting.
“How’d the television vans get here so fast? They always beat us,” DeeDee complained.
Duncan brought his car to a stop beside the ambulance and got out. Immediately he was assailed with questions from onlookers and reporters. Turning a deaf ear to them, he started toward the house. “You got gloves?” he asked DeeDee over his shoulder. “I forgot gloves.”
“You always do. I’ve got spares.”
DeeDee had to take two steps for every one of his as he strode up the front walkway, lined on both sides with carefully tended beds of begonias. Crime scene tape had already been placed around the house. The beat cop at the door recognized them and lifted the tape high enough for them to duck under. “Inside to the left,” he said.
“Don’t let anyone set foot on the lawn,” Duncan instructed the officer. “In fact, keep everybody on the other side of the median.”
“Another unit is on the way to help contain the area.”
“Got here quick.”
“Who called the press?”
The cop shrugged in reply.
Duncan entered the massive foyer. The floor was white marble with tiny black squares placed here and there. A staircase hugged a curving wall up to the second floor. Overhead was a crystal chandelier turned up full. There was an enormous arrangement of fresh flowers on a table with carved gilded legs that matched the tall mirror above it.
“Niiiiice,” DeeDee said under her breath.
Another uniformed policeman greeted them by name, then motioned with his head toward a wide arched opening to the left. They entered what appeared to be the formal living room. The fireplace was pink marble. Above the mantle was an ugly oil still life of a bowl of fresh vegetables and a dead rabbit. A long sofa with a half dozen fringed pillows faced a pair of matching chairs. Between them was another table with gold legs. A pastel carpet covered the polished hardwood floor, and all of it was lighted by a second chandelier.
Judge Laird, his back to them, was sitting in one of the chairs.
Realizing the logical implication of seeing the judge alive, Duncan’s stomach dropped.
The judge’s elbows were braced on his knees, his head down. He was speaking softly to a cop named Crofton, who was balanced tentatively on the edge of the sofa cushion, as though afraid he might get it dirty.
“Elise went downstairs, but that wasn’t unusual,” Duncan heard the judge say in a voice that was ragged with emotion. He glanced up at the policeman and added. “Chronic insomnia.”
Crofton looked sympathetic. “What time was this? That she went downstairs.”
“I woke up, partially, when she left the bed. Out of habit, I glanced at the clock on the night table. It was twelve thirty-something. I think.” He rubbed his forehead. “I think that’s right. Anyway, I dozed off again. The. . .the shots woke me up.”
He was saying that someone other than he had shot and killed his wife. Who else was in this house tonight? Duncan wondered.
“I raced downstairs,” he continued. “Ran from room to room. I was
. . .frantic, a madman. I called her name. Over and over. When I got to the study. . .” His head dropped forward again. “I saw her there, behind the desk.”
Duncan felt as though a fist had closed around his throat. He was finding it hard to breathe.
DeeDee nudged him. “Dothan’s here.”
Dr. Dothan Brooks, medical examiner for Chatham County, was a fat man and made no apology for it. He knew better than anyone that fatty foods could kill you, but he defiantly ate the worst diet possible. He said that he’d seen far worse ways to die than complications from obesity. Considering the horrific manners of death he’d seen over the course of his career, Duncan thought he might have a point.
As the ME approached them, he removed the latex gloves from his hands and used a large white handkerchief to mop his sweating forehead which had taken on the hue of a raw steak. “Detectives.” He always sounded out of breath and probably was.
“You beat us here,” DeeDee said.
“I don’t live far.” Looking around, he added with a trace of bitterness, “Definitely at the poorer edge of the neighborhood. This is some place, huh?”
“What have we got?”
“A .38 straight through the heart. Frontal entry. Exit wound in the back. Death was instantaneous. Lots of blood, but, as shootings go, it was fairly neat.”
To cover his discomposure, Duncan took the pair of latex gloves DeeDee passed him.
“Can we have a look see?” she asked.
Brooks stepped aside and motioned them toward the end of the long foyer. “In the study.” As they walked, he glanced overhead. “I could send one of my kids to an ivy league college for what that chandelier cost.”
“Who else has been in there?” DeeDee asked.
“The judge. First cops on the scene. Swore they didn’t touch anything. I waited on your crime scene boys, didn’t go in till they gave me the go-ahead. They’re still in there, gathering trace evidence and trying to get a name off the guy.”
“Guy?” Duncan stopped in his tracks. “The shooter is in custody?”
Dothan Brooks turned and looked at the two of them with perplexity. “Hasn’t anybody told y’all what happened here?”
“Obviously not,” DeeDee replied.
“The dead man in the study was an intruder,” he said. “Mrs. Laird shot him. She’s your shooter.”
Movement at the top of the staircase drew their gazes upward. Elise Laird was making her way down the stairs followed by a policewoman in uniform.
A Note From Sandra
I’m a huge fan of movies and have been for as far back as I can remember. Long before cable and satellite TV were even dreamed of, decades before AMC and TCM, I watched old movies on television. Film noir remains a favorite genre. I love the old black-and-whites, where the stalwart hero butts heads not only with the bad guys, but with his conscience, usually over his conflicting feelings for the “shady lady.” Ricochet is just such a story of the battle between duty and desire.