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Sometime after midnight, on a moonless October night turned harsh by a fine, windswept rain, one of the men I liked least in the world was murdered in a field near Bedford, just south of the city….The detectives went looking for suspects— people whose histories with Jefferson were adversarial and hostile. At the top of that list, they found me.
So begins A Welcome Grave, the third novel by award-winning mystery writer Michael Koryta, featuring private investigator Lincoln Perry. Once a rising star on the Cleveland police force, Perry ended his career when he left one of the city’s prominent attorneys, Alex Jefferson, bleeding in the parking lot of his country club—retribution for his affair with Perry’s fiancée.
Now Jefferson is dead, the victim of a brutal murder, and his widow has called upon Perry for a favor he knows he shouldn’t accept but can’t turn down: to find Jefferson’s estranged son, partial beneficiary of the dead man’s fortune. The case is simple enough, a routine “locate,” and he’ll be paid plenty of money for the work. The encounter should be simple, too: a brief exchange of information and maybe an empty condolence before Perry gets back into his truck and returns home. Instead, he’s loaded into a police car and taken to a rural jail while Jefferson’s son is zipped into a body bag.
Perry soon learns that Jefferson’s millions are the target of a thirst for revenge that hasn’t been satisfied by blood. As a pair of deadly assailants push deep into the investigator’s life, they bring with them police from two states who are determined to see Perry in jail.
Building on the skill that prompted the Toronto Sun to call him “one of America’s best young mystery writers,” Michael Koryta makes A Welcome Grave an intense exploration of the lengths to which a desperate man is forced to go in order to clear his name and solve a crime. This is a thrilling new book that justifies the critical acclaim and solidifies his role as an emerging talent among today’s top writers.
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Will return tonight.
I nodded. “Perfect.”
“I’ll leave it on his door. When you come back, this part of the building will be closed. I’ll show you where his apartment is.”
“Great. Thanks for the help.”
“No problem.” She smiled up at me. “You know, we sell that cider you liked so much.”
“Give me ten gallons and a long straw.”
I bought a quart of the cider and a bag of honey crisp apples. A wise tactical move—always keep the locals happy. Then Kara Ross took me around the side of the building again to leave the note on the door to Jefferson’s apartment, which apparently occupied the loft room of the converted barn and looked out on the pond and woods beyond. Not bad.
“Man from Cleveland here . . . family business,” she read aloud and then laughed. “I bet he’ll be intrigued.”
It was an obvious hint that she wanted to know details, but I wasn’t giving them out to anyone but the junior Jefferson. It wouldn’t hurt him to be intrigued for half an hour or so until I showed up.
“Sure that note won’t blow away?” I said.
Kara Ross carefully applied tape all around the apple-shaped piece of stationery, until the wind could no longer work on a free edge. Then she stepped back and looked at it with satisfaction.
“No way he’ll miss it now.”
“Good,” I said. The wind had picked up, stirring dry leaves around our ankles, and I was glad the note wouldn’t end up in the middle of the pond. I wanted to be sure Jefferson’s son would know I was coming for him.
Will return tonight.
Read on for a preview of Michael Koryta’s novel
“The Prophet is a relentless, heart-in-your-throat thriller about ordinary people caught in the middle of an extraordinary nightmare.” —Dennis Lehane
Available August 2012
The town feels like home immediately, and he credits the leaves. It must be a pickup day. Plastic bags bursting with withered remains of life are stacked on the curbs, a few spilling over onto the sidewalks, flecks of crimson and copper that dot the white concrete like blood splatters on pale flesh. The air is that contrary blend: alive with a smell, but the smell is death.
Those who pass him have their heads down and shoulders hunched, turtles seeking their shells. He stands tall as he walks, embracing the cold wind, which is wonderfully unblocked by concrete walls, unmarred by razor wire fencing. He is grateful for that. There are other people in this town who have similar feelings, memories of days when one could not embrace the wind and longed to, no matter how bitter and chill. He knows some of them, and he knows that those very memories—realities—are in some cases exactly what chased them to this town, a chance to hide from the past.
At first glance, this town feels like a fine place for hiding from reality, too: impossibly quaint, with an actual town square and a brick courthouse. It could be the stage set from some Hollywood version of small-town middle America if not for all the empty buildings. Half the storefronts facing the courthouse have FOR RENT or FOR SALE signs in dusty windows. As he moves away from the square, walking north, toward the lake, stepping carefully around those swollen bags of leaves, he encounters vacant properties, once-tidy yards filled with brown weeds, vinyl siding begging for a hose and some bleach.
Hard times have come to Chambers, Ohio.
Five blocks farther north, the lake visible now, the smell of water pushed toward him by a steady wind, and he departs to follow the signs for the high school. Turns west, walks a few more blocks, and now he can see it. A two-story main structure with single-story wings sprawling in odd directions, indications that several additions have been made over the years.
Chambers High School, Home of the Cardinals.
A cardinal was the third creature he ever killed. Caught it beneath his grandmother’s birdfeeder. He’d watched the cat’s approach to this task and marveled. The cat didn’t hide; it just waited with incredible, dazzling patience. There was no cover under the birdfeeder, nothing to shield a killer, and still the killer succeeded. As the cat approached, the birds would scatter. The cat was unbothered by that, content in his role and devoted to it, possessed of unusual clarity of purpose. The cat would simply settle down into the grass beside a dusting of fallen sunflower seeds and wait. And without fail, the birds would return. Even though they could see the cat, its lack of motion reassured them, convinced them that they were safe. The cat never reacted to those first birds. The cat would wait, and watch, and eventually they’d become so confident in their safety that one would come just near enough, and then there would be a blinding strike, and those around the victim would scatter.
Give them enough time, though? Then they would return. Always. Because the feeder was there, the feeder was home, and though they might be capable of remembering what had befallen one of their own in the same spot, they did not believe it could happen to them as well.
Unshakable confidence. Unshakable stupidity.
He is fascinated by the confident specimens of the helpless. He finds no fascination in the fearful.
The first bird took him longer than it took the cat, but not as long as he’d expected. The secret was in his stillness. The secret was in their stupidity. It took him only five days to get the cardinal. He killed the cat when that was done. There was nothing more to be learned from it.
He has patience for study, and hunger for it, in the way that only those truly devoted to a craft can ever possess. His craft is killing. His understanding of it is great, but he knows there will always be more to learn, and in that knowledge is his happiness. He has studied the behavior of killers, has spoken with them, has lived behind steel bars with them, and he has learned from them all.
Now, as the wind freshens and the smell of dead leaves fills air that is rapidly chilling with the promise of rain, he stares at the front of the high school long enough to observe the security guard in the parking lot, and then he walks down the block and turns the corner and the football field comes into view. Here the Cardinals make their claim to glory. It’s a terrible name for sporting teams. Why not the Warriors or Titans or Tigers? How does one summon any level of confidence wearing the logo of a bird that can be killed by the squeeze of a child’s palm?
There are half a dozen men sitting in the aluminum bleachers that border the field. He is not the only watcher today. They are undefeated, these Cardinals, they are the most intense pride of a town that once had many more reasons to be proud.
He slips in, leans beside the bleachers with hands in pockets, and waits for the coach to arrive. The coach, of course, is more than a coach. He has won 153 games for this school, this community. He has lost only twenty-two. On this field where his players are now stretching, limbering up against the wind and beneath the gray sky, he has a record of eighty-one wins against four losses. Just four home losses. He’s more than a coach, he is a folk hero. A mythic figure. And not just because of the wins. Oh, no. Coach Kent Austin is about much more than football.
He proves it now, drawing silence as he walks across the field, still a young man and a fit one but always with the trace of a limp, the left knee refusing to match strides with the right, always yielding just a little more, a little too much. It only adds to the coach’s compelling quality. Everyone else recognizes his wounds; the coach pretends not to.
It is not only the young players in uniform who fall silent as the coach makes his way across the field, it is the men in the stands, the watchers. There is a reverence about them now, because what happens on this field matters deeply to people who have not so much as walked across its surface. You take your pride where you can find it, and right now, this is where it can be found. Because hard times have come to Chambers. This much he understands well, reads it as a weather forecaster would read the dark clouds scudding in off Lake Erie. He is a forecaster in his own right.
A prophet of hard times.
The coach is far too focused to look up and see him, because the coach is at work, lost to the game that he insists does not matter, but of course it matters because it is all he really has, in the end. Empty games and empty faith. Hollow words and false promises. A child’s preoccupations and distractions, carefully constructed walls to separate him from the reality of the world that owns him, that carries him in an open palm that could so swiftly turn into a closed fist. He needs to feel the first squeeze of that fist.
The prophet spent three years with a killer named Zane who murdered his wife and both of her parents with a ten-gauge shotgun. Quite a messy weapon, the ten-gauge. Before he pulled the trigger, he gave all three of them the chance to renounce God. To say that Zane was their God. A promising idea, though poorly understood. Zane was not of proper depth for such a task, but he was to be admired for the effort nevertheless. The way Zane told it, two of the victims accepted him as their God and one did not. It made no difference in their fate, of course, but Zane was interested in their answers, and so was the prophet. At one time, he was even impressed. The idea of posing that question to someone facing the final seconds before entering eternity seemed powerful.
He no longer believes this, though. Consideration has shown him its weaknesses and ultimate insignificance. The question and its answer mean little. What matters, what Zane was unable to see—he was an impulsive man was Zane—is in the removing of the question from the mind entirely, and replacing it with certainty.
There is no God.
You walk alone in the darkness.
To prove this, to imprint it in the mind so deeply that no alternative can so much as flicker, is the goal. This is power, pure as it comes.
Bring him the hopeful and he will leave them hopeless. Bring him the strong and he will leave them broken. Bring him the full and he will leave them empty.
The prophet’s goal is simple. When the final scream in the night comes, whoever issues it will be certain of one thing:
No one hears.
What he has been promised in Chambers, Ohio, is strength and resiliency. He has looked into a confident man’s eyes and heard his assurance that there is no fear that will not bow to his faith.
The prophet of hard times, who has looked into many a confident gaze in his day, has his doubts about that.
Adam had his shirt lifted, studying the lead-colored bruise along his ribcage, when the girl opened the door. She turned her head in swift horror, as if she’d caught him crouched on his desk in the nude. He gave the bruise one more look, frowning, and then lowered his shirt.
“Want a lesson for the day?”
The girl, a brunette with very tan skin—too tan for this time of the year in this part of the world—turned back hesitantly and didn’t speak.
“If you’re going to tell a drunk man that it’s time to go back to jail, you ought to see that the pool cue is out of his hand first,” Adam told her.
She parted her lips, then closed them again.
“Not your concern,” Adam said. “Sorry. Come on in.”
She stepped forward and let the door swing shut. When the latch clicked, she glanced backward, as if worried about being trapped in here with him.
Husband is a good decade older than her, Adam thought. He hasn’t hit her, at least not yet or at least not recently, but he’s the kind who might. The charges probably aren’t domestic. Let’s say, oh, drunk and disorderly. It won’t be costly to get him out. Not in dollars, at least.
He walked behind the desk, then extended a hand and said, “Adam Austin.”
Another hesitation, and then she reached forward and took his hand. Her eyes dropped to his knuckles, which were swollen and scabbed. When she removed her hand, he saw that she was wearing bright red nail polish with some sort of silver glitter worked into it.
“My name’s April.”
“All right.” He dropped into the leather swivel chair behind the desk, trying not to wince at the pain in his side. “Somebody you care about in a little trouble, April?”
She tilted her head. “What?”
“I assume you’re looking to post a bond.”
She shook her head. “No. That’s not it.” She was holding a folder in her free hand, and now she lifted it and held it against her chest while she sat in one of the two chairs in front of the desk. It was a bright blue folder, plastic and shiny.
“No?” The sign said AA Bail Bonds. People who came to see him came for a reason.
“Look, um, you’re the detective, right?”
The detective. He did indeed hold a PI license. He did not recall ever being referred to as “the detective” before.
“I’m…yeah. I do that kind of work.”
He didn’t think he was even listed in the phone book as a private investigator. He was just AA Bail Bonds, which covered both his initials and gave him pole position in the Yellow Pages as people with shaking hands turned pages seeking help.
The girl didn’t say anything, but looked down at that shiny folder as if it held the secrets of her life. Adam, touching his left side gingerly with his fingertips, still trying to assess whether the ribs were bruised or cracked, said, “What exactly brought you here, April?”
“I’d heard…I was given a referral.”
“A referral,” he echoed. “Can I ask the source?”
She pushed her hair back over her left ear and sat forward in the chair, meeting his eyes for the first time, as if she’d summoned some confidence. “My boyfriend. Your brother was his football coach. We heard from him that you were a detective.”
Adam said, “My brother?” in an empty voice.
“Yes. Coach Austin.”
“Kent,” he said. “We’re not on his squad, April. We can call him Kent.”
She didn’t seem to like that idea, but she nodded.
“My brother gave you a referral,” he said, and found himself amused somehow, despite the aching ribs and bruised hand and the sandpaper eyelids that a full week of uneven hours and too much drinking provided. Until she walked in, he’d been two minutes from locking the office and going in pursuit of black coffee. The tallest cup and strongest blend they had. A savage headache had been building, and he needed something beyond Advil to take its knees out.
“That’s right.” She seemed unsatisfied with his response, as if she’d expected the mention of his brother would establish a personal connection. “I’m in school at Baldwin-Wallace College. A senior.”
- On Sale
- Jun 26, 2007
- Page Count
- 304 pages
- Hachette Book Group