The Fickle Finger of Fate… Elysium Dreams Preview


In Elysium Dreams, I have my heroine crumbling under a migraine.  The fickle fingers of Fate dictating her future for a few hours.  I am laboring under the same problem today.  And it’s a doozy.  So, instead of actually writing a blog post, I’m going to give you a preview.  The first two chapters (UNEDITED) from Elysium Dreams.  I am still waiting on the editor to get the changes back to me, so think of it as a before and after… (Remember it releases in July)

 

Prologue

He pulled the knife from the flame.  The blade was blackened by soot and had a ghastly hellish glow from the heat.  He paused a few seconds to admire it.  He always did.  It was his most prized possession.  He’d earned it.

His other prize lay on the ground.  Her feet were bound at the ankles.  Wrists bound behind her back and a cloth shoved into her mouth with duct tape over her lips.  She was going to scream.  They always did.  He could appreciate the muffled noises she would make.

Slowly, he walked towards her.  The glow of the knife fading with each step he took.  He picked up the rope that bound her ankles.  Her perfect, smooth, manicured feet were in front of him.  This was the starting point.

With the care a mother takes washing a newborn, he slid the knife into her skin.  Her cries, muffled by the cloth and tape, filled him a feeling of euphoria.  It was a high that very few people could understand.

The knife moved easily through her skin.  It seared the vessels, letting almost no blood seep from the wound.  It took only a few minutes to completely remove the skin from the bottom of the first foot.  He took a propane torch and reheated the knife.

When he feared it would start to melt, he turned the torch off.  Just as gently, he slid the knife into the skin of her other foot.  This time the cries were louder, despite the gag.  Tears flowed down her cheeks.

He was an expert at this.  A few gentle, but solid movements and the skin on the bottom of the other foot came off.  He turned the torch back on.

It wasn’t the knife that got the torch this time.  He placed it just inches from the top of her feet, the flame nearly touching them.  The skin around the toes almost instantly began to blister.  Her screams intensified.  He knew from experience she was on the verge of passing out.

He turned the torch off.  He didn’t need the knife for this part.  He took hold of a flap of skin that had crisped up under the heat and pulled.  It peeled easily, revealing muscles, tendon and ligaments.

The peeling did it.  Her cries stopped, her head lolled to the side.  He could take a break now.  He sat down on the ground next to her and lit a cigar.  He waited.  As the ash grew longer, he flicked it at her.

After smoking the cigar, he got back up.  His break was over.  He attached a carabineer’s hook to the rope that held her feet.  The other end lay on the ground at his feet.  It was already looped over the branch of the tree.

With one swift motion, he hoisted her up.  Her hair brushed the ground.  He attached the free end of the rope to a stake in the ground.  The torch was turned back on.

The knife was reinserted into the flame.  This was the part that took the most skill.  He started just below the rope around her feet.  The knife entered the skin at an angle, the side laying against the rope.  He moved it downwards, steady and even in pressure and speed.  If he went too fast or the pressure became uneven, it would mess it up.

Tenderly, he held the skin as it detached from her leg.  He managed to get all the way to the knee before having to take it off.  He put the skin on the ground and began again.  This time on the back of the leg.

For several hours, he worked carefully.  Moving with precision, he meticulously removed her skin.  Sometime during removing it from her torso, she had died.  He had watched the moment; felt he had seen her soul flee from her mangled corpse.

She had been fun.  He left her face and hair unmarred by the blade.  Gently, he picked up the discarded skin.  He went through it like a child carefully unwrapping a Christmas present.

Each piece was laid out on the ground, around her hanging corpse.  Each piece was delicately selected to create a symbol on the ground, his symbol, a bow and arrow.

When it was done, he snapped a quick picture with his iPhone.  The sun was beginning to come up.  He left the torch next to the stake, cleaned his knife with a bottle of peroxide he had brought with him and sheathed it into its holster.  He took a bottle out of his pack and dumped it on the body.  His work for the night was done.  It was time for him to sleep.

He hiked out of the woods, wondering how long it would take for her to be found.  Two days, maybe three.  The last had been found the afternoon he had finished his masterpiece.  This time, the location was more remote.

It took him close to thirty minutes to follow the path out of the trees.  His truck was parked a little way down the road, hidden behind a large, abandoned pump house.  He found his truck keys and unlocked the doors.

The engine caught and the truck purred to life.  He smiled and took a drink of water.  The sun was now racing up the sky, morning was upon him.  He drove off.

As he exited the park, a car pulled in.  He smiled wider.  He’d been wrong, she’d be found today, probably within the next hour.  Good, he could begin looking for a new one.

 

One

 

Someone was flipping on the light in my bedroom.  I knew this was a bad sign since I lived alone.  However, living in the Federal Guard Neighborhood, it meant that it was someone with a key to my house.

Since we had returned less than two days ago from tracking down the most recent serial killer, I was hoping the intrusion in the middle of the night was because my house was on fire.  We had tracked down twelve serial killers in the time I had been a member of the Serial Crimes Tracking Unit with the US Marshals.

Our last case had taken us almost two weeks.  He had been elusive to say the least, coming out only to kill a few women on random nights of horror.  He’d been bold, starting the first night with four women, all shot in the head.  After that, he had scaled back to only two or three a night.  He had claimed 53 women in all before receiving his own head wound.

Frankly, I had been looking forward to a few weeks of rest and recuperation.  I blearily opened my eyes.  The cool soothing green walls greeted me first.  Lucas McMichaels greeted me second.  I groaned.

“Come on, we’ve got another and it’s a priority.  The press has latched onto him and is calling him ‘The Flesh Hunter’.  He picks a new victim the day his old victim is found.  In three months, he’s claimed 41 victims.  The locals were keeping it quiet until a journalist found the most recent body while taking a hike in a local wooded park.”

“Great,” I got out of bed and looked around the room.

“What?”  Lucas asked.

“I haven’t repacked my travel bag.  Where are we going?”

“Alaska.”

“It’s March.  I don’t want to go to Alaska.”

“Doesn’t matter, we’re going, pack some sweaters and hoodies.”  Lucas left my room.

It took me 15 minutes to pack my bags and toss on some warm clothing.  It wasn’t exactly warm in Missouri.  But Alaska was going to be a hell of a lot colder.

Xavier, Michael and Gabriel were in my living room.  I was glad it was Lucas who had come up and woken me.  Crawling into bed the previous evening, I had grabbed the two cleanest articles of sleep wear I could find; a black lacy baby-doll style top and flannel polar bear pajama pants with feet.  He didn’t care what I was wearing, the others would have made an inappropriate comment or two.

Gabriel was doing a good job as team leader.  He made sure that the right hand always knew what the left hand was doing.  This was in direct contrast to the way Alejandro had run it.

My entire house was still under construction, so to speak.  The men were huddled in my living room, surrounded by blank walls.  Trevor had been my shadow every time I was at home.  So far, he had finished the master bedroom and bathroom, my kitchen, dining room and library.

I had to admit the work he’d done was spectacular.  My bedroom had made me speechless the first time I had seen it.  The soothing green walls were accented by a slightly lighter shade on the ceiling.  The ceiling had a crown jewel, knowing my heritage and pride in being Scottish, it had a Celtic knot that was actually a dragon if you looked close enough.  It had been free painted by hand.

The bed was another piece of hand-crafted artistry.  It turned out Trevor didn’t just do interior design and cook, he was a master woodworker.  The bed had taken him almost a month.  It had a dark rich brown canopy and curtains.  They were double sided with thick lining to keep out the light so I could sleep regardless of the time of day.  Inside the canopied bed, it was always pitch black.

This was achieved by running the canopy cloth into a custom made slot on the headboard and footboard.  Both had curved edges that slide around the sides of the bed about a foot and a half on each side.  The curtains did the same thing, overlapping the canopy in both front and back and each other by more than seven inches.

On the inside of the bed, carved in the dark wood, you could see fairies, faces of Green Men, dragons, and pixies.  He had even thought to make holsters for my guns and knives in the headboard.  It was a bitch to make the bed, but making my bed only happened when I washed my sheets.  Since this was something I was rarely home to do, Trevor ended up making my bed most of the time.

He had made the bookshelves in my library as well, but with a different theme.  That was part of the reason it was taking so long, every theme required a different thought process.  The library was themed with Medieval Russia.  My bookcases had onion domes on them.  The redeeming point was that they weren’t kaleidoscopically painted like Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

The spare room he had tackled had a dark Gothic theme that reminded me of Notre Dame.  I wasn’t sure what the plans were for the living room.  He just assured me that they were massive and I’d love them.  I was hoping he was right since I had handed over almost a month’s worth of pay for his design necessities.

Of course, I had made more in the last six months as a member of the Marshals than I had in the previous ten years combined.  I had reassigned my trust fund to my nieces and nephews and was adding five percent of my monthly income to them.  I was making well into six figures a year now, Nyleena kept reassuring me that I could splurge a little on the house.

“Well, are you ready?”  Gabriel asked staring at the vacant room.  Not only were the walls bare, but so was the floor and it lacked furniture.  Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in my dining room, bedroom or library when I was home.

“No, I was told we were going to Alaska and I don’t have a parka.”

“You’ll get used to it in a few days or we’ll solve the case before that becomes necessary,” Xavier smiled.  I had learned he was a hopeless optimist.

 

Two

 

On the plane, I discovered the average temperature for Anchorage was 25 degrees in March.  Yet, it was unseasonably warm with an average of 37 degrees this year.  I was still pretty sure that I hadn’t packed enough warm clothes and if it came to it, I would have to do some dreaded shopping when we landed.

The plane touched down and we were met by our usual escorts.  An FBI agent that I had never met and some local police that seemed to think we were intruding.  However, most locals seemed to think we were intruding.  I had come to expect it, even if I still didn’t understand it.

There was snow on the ground.  I instantly felt my feet get cold.  This was psychological, not physical.  I don’t like the cold and my distaste for it seems to make it that much worse.

“I’m US Marshal Gabriel Hendricks and this is my SCT Unit.  Lucas McMichaels, Xavier Reece, Michael Giovanni and Aislinn Cain.”

“I’m Special Agent Fred Aarons and this is the head of the State Police, Commander Brian Neilson.  Where do you want to go first?”

“How fresh is the crime scene?”  Gabriel asked.

“Found her yesterday morning.  The body is at the morgue.  The scene has been roped off.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be deterring the press much.”  Commander Neilson said.

“I’ll deal with them,” Gabriel nodded decisively.  “Take McMichaels and Cain to the crime scene.  Reece can go to the morgue.  Giovanni and I will go set up our command post.”

Lucas and I were ushered into a waiting SUV.  We drove about thirty minutes before we turned off the paved road and onto a well traveled asphalt path.  Another ten minutes and the vehicle stopped.

“Here we are,” one of the State Troopers informed us.

“This park, is it state or national?”  Lucas asked.

“State.”  The trooper told him.

“Have they all been found in state parks?”

“Yes.  We think he’s been operating in the state parks to keep the feds out of it.  We have our own system up here for that.  However, we tried to contact you after the 24th woman was discovered and you all were busy.”

“Sorry,” Lucas managed to make it sound heartfelt.  I wasn’t sure it was genuine, but then Lucas was still full of mysteries and wonder, even after six months.

“The scene is about a mile or so down this path.  You’ll want to dress warmly, but not too warmly.  Mostly cover your feet and legs.  The cold will sink into your shoes pretty quickly.”

I was way ahead of him.  I had already started pulling on snow-boots with good treads that went all the way up to my knees.  I grabbed an extra fleece and put it on.  This gave me six layers of upper-body protection.

We got out of the SUV and the cold which had been starting to creep out of my bones, rushed back into them.  I didn’t let it show that the cold was bothering me.  I kept pace with the taller men, ignoring the protests from my knees and hips.  My lifestyle was conducive to permanent join discomfort.

The walk seemed to take ages.  Barren trees covered in icicles and a crunchy snow covered landscape gave the impression of being in a winter wonderland.  Hard to believe a dead body had been found here the day before, unless you looked at the ground.

The hard, crunchy snow was covered in footprints.  Some of them were dirty, some clean, some buried under others, it looked like hundreds of people had come and gone down this path.  My own snow-boots were leaving impressions as we continued forward, my footsteps falling in the impressions being left by Lucas’s shoes.  There were already enough prints without adding mine.  So I carefully walked in Lucas’s.  His feet were almost twice the size of mine, making it easy.

Finally, the men stopped.  I came up even with them and stared at the scene.  There was a rope hanging from the tree with a hook on it.  The rope looped over a branch and came down to where it was staked into the hardened ground.

There wasn’t nearly as much blood on the ground as I had expected.  A few drops here and a medium sized puddle there were all that showed.  There was another area though.  It was distinctly different from the other.  It looked as if the snow had partial melted and refroze.

“What’s that?”  I pointed to the altered snow.

“His signature,” a trooper said to me.  He walked over to it, I followed him.

“It doesn’t look like much,” I squinted to see if I could find any discernible features.

“We found skin here, laid out on the ground in the shape of a drawn back bow and an arrow ready to be released.  We removed the skin, but the salt melted the snow anyway.”

“That’s really gross,” I knelt down to get a closer look.

“Yes it is, but it is how the press nicknamed him.  Not sure who released that nugget of information, but someone leaked it and now the press knows that he signs his kills with it.”

“What do you see?”  Lucas knelt down next to me.  We had developed a student/teacher relationship, but we seemed to take turns on which role we played.

“I see something that takes a lot of skill.  Skinning a human is much harder than skinning a rabbit or fox or bear.  The hanging implement is crude, nothing fancy there, but aside from the tree, nothing is improvised.  He even brings his own stakes and hammer to drive them in with.  What do you see?”

“I see a man disconnected from reality.  To kill a person is one thing, to skin them is entirely different.  He is obliterating their identity when he removes all their flesh.  He is methodical, skilled and completely lacking in empathy.  He probably works with his hands for a living.  I imagine there is also some military training or martial arts, given his skill with a knife.  People don’t just become good with knives over night.  He may be a hunter who got bored with animal prey, but we aren’t in a Joseph Conrad story,” he shrugged at the last.

My mind instantly got the references, both of them.  The Most Dangerous Game and Heart of Darkness were twisted works about twisted men who devalued human life to the point that it was about nothing more than showing superiority.  I considered that.  Was this a statement of superiority?  Most likely, you didn’t just skin a human because it sounded like fun.  It required effort, dedication and determination.

I stood up and continued to look around.  There was a stained area in the snow, the blood had soaked in there, but how?  Skinning, if done correctly, didn’t bleed.  And where were his footprints?  Why weren’t they marked off?

“Hey, where are the killer’s footprints?”  I shouted to the nearest uniformed officer.

“We didn’t get here in time to save them.  A TV crew found the body first.  Instead of reporting the find, they reported the story, on the news.  We learned about it that way.  By then there had been two dozen people or more and we couldn’t get elimination prints from all of them.  They did a great job of trampling the crime scene.”

“Why would a reporter not report it to the police before showing it on the news?”  I frowned.

“Because she was some upstart local who thought it was her way to get national coverage.”  The officer informed me.

“Stupid woman,” I sighed.

“Ambition and greed are amazing things,” Lucas reminded me.

“They lower the intelligence of all involved,” I responded.

“Yes indeed,” he looked at the rope.  “Get it down, preserve it the best way possible, we might be able to get skin, hair, or fibers off of it.”

“Yeah, the reporter’s,” I muttered.

“Don’t be a pessimist,” Lucas whispered to me.

“I don’t be such an optimist,” I shot back.  “It should be very hard to be an optimist when stupid people are trampling crime scenes and airing the grisly material on the news instead of reporting it to the police.”

“Remind me not to leave you alone with her,” Lucas gave me a quick grin.

“Probably a good plan,” I turned a slow circle.

It was white.  There were brown patches that belonged to trees, but that was the only break-up in the view.  The rest was snow, snow, and more snow.  It was all pristine and perfect.  No animal tracks, no human tracks, aside from the path, nothing to indicate that anything had been touched outside of this small area.

On the flip side, it looked like everything had been touched on the inside.  There were dozens of shoe prints around the stake in the ground.  They circled the base of the tree.  There was even an indication that at least two people had scampered up the tree or that the same person had gone up twice.

I moved in closer to the bloody snow.  There was something else in it.  It was yellowish and had caused a good deal of snow melt.  It also smelled like Pinesol.  I backed up and put a hand over my noise.  Pinesol was like poison to people with migraines, the smell was strong, overpowering and I hadn’t met another person with migraines that could stand to be around it for very long.  My stomach flopped, so I moved back another step.

The blood seemed to be frozen.  Most likely it had been cold when it hit the ground.  There seemed to be a large pool of it considering the victim was skinned.  The hook from the rope was directly over the spot where the blood had frozen.  If I had to guess, I’d say the Pinesol came before the blood.  Lucas came up to me.

“See anything?”  He asked.

“Blood, Pinesol; not sure why there is Pinesol, but that’s what it smells like.  Maybe he urinated on the ground here and used the Pinesol to covered it up?”  I suggested.

“We’ll have someone check it out,” Lucas knelt down closer to the spot than I could get.  He seemed to inspecting it, memorizing its measurements.  Of course, that was probably exactly what he was doing, he had a photographic memory.

“How far off the ground was she?”  I asked.

“About 10 feet or so,” Commander Nielsen answered.

“Who went up the tree?”

“The coroner went up once.  We don’t know who the other was.  We swabbed the tree.”

“I can’t think of a reason for our killer to climb the tree,” Lucas said.

“Maybe the rope got hung,” I offered.

“Maybe,” he agreed doubtfully.  “More likely, it was the reporter.”

“She’d have wished she’d reacted differently if it was her hanging from that tree,” I growled.

“Yes, she would have, but it wasn’t her and human nature is what it is,” Lucas tempered me.

“Because I need more proof that people suck,” I gave him a small smile.

“That’s better,” he turned away from me again.

Someone was now carefully using a ladder to dislodge the rope from the tree.  The hook was handed down and placed in an evidence bag.  The rope was carefully being coiled up by a guy dressed in what appeared to be a HAZMAT suit.  Someone else was prying the stake out of the ground.  When it was up, it too got put into a bag and sealed.

“Let’s go find Xavier,” Lucas said to me.  He looked over the scene one more time.  I knew he was committing it to memory.  He wouldn’t forget a single detail.  It was part of what he did.

I, on the other hand, wouldn’t remember much of it.  The blood stained snow, the weird melted spot where the skin had been laid out, the pristine condition of the snow all around the kill zone, those were what I would remember.  After we finished the case, I would remember the bow and arrow in the melted snow.  The rest would get lost as we started another case.  I was not Lucas, I would not be haunted by it for eternity.  Sometimes it made me wonder how he carried on, knowing that every crime scene would be indelibly etched in his memory forever.

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  1. can.not.wait

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