Torn Apart

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Detective Emily Thompson trilogy: No. 3

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A finalist for the Thriller Award for Best Novel and named a Book of the Year by Suspense Magazine, Detective Thompson’s third plunge into murderous madness is her most personal and dangerous yet.

A four-pack of spree killers who call themselves the Zodiacs picks up a shipment of narcotics from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, with the intention of hauling it to the Chicago suburbs for distribution. On the way, they shoot cops, murder hitchhikers, and machine-gun deer just for the fun of it. They arrive in Naperville to drop their narco load at a nondescript house on the city’s north side. But their dingy, battered van looks suspicious to Annabelle Bates, a down-the-street neighbor who also commands SWAT for the Naperville Police Department. She and Emily, who’s visiting that morning, walk toward the van. The Zodiacs spot them, grab one of Annie’s daughters as a hostage, and take off. A wild chase through the winding, tree-lined streets of Naperville ensues, but the Zodiacs shake their pursuers. They quickly sell Annie’s daughter to a kiddie porn ring that will drug the girl with a new synthetic narcotic called “Katrina,” video-record her rape by a variety of men, and sell it on the Dark Net, the seedy part of the Internet unreachable by public search engines and where monsters buy and trade drugs, guns, sex, animals, and children. Emily, Annie, Martin Benedetti, Hercules Branch, Chief Kendall Cross, and the rest of the police gang race to save the child of a cop. And even if they pull off that miracle—no sure thing, as nobody knows where the Zodiacs disappeared—they must simultaneously deal with tragic murder of one of their own.

And finally, you’ll meet a magical deer who saves the life of a critically wounded sheriff’s deputy in Wisconsin, despite being machine-gunned itself . . .


Book Excerpt


Chapter 1 

Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Midnight, November 18

Thunderbolts attacked from the rioting sky, slicing Z-for-Zorro scars on the warped-and-puffy faces of the mildew-green clouds, then blasting the earth like electric hail. Houses, barns, and pines burst into flames on each side of Interstate 94. Cyclonic winds punched the dirty white van toward the flooded median.

“Hey, it could be worse!” Cancer shouted cheerfully from the back.

“How’s that?” Gemini said from the wheel.

“Could be snow!”


A gasoline tanker roared by in the fast lane, throwing a hurricane of water. The van’s wipers sputtered like a failing heart trying to keep up. A wolf pack of semitrailers pursued the gas man, throwing their own hurricanes. The van jittered and jigged, skittered and slid. The teenager screamed from the back.

“Could be snow,” Gemini muttered, feeling his nuts tighten as he white-knuckled the van through the exploding water.

“Please,” the girl whimpered. “Let me out. I won’t tell, I swear, just don’t hurt me any more—”

Vicious slaps from Aquarius, Cancer, and Virgo. Cries from the girl. A rat-a-tat of thunder, followed by a fire hose of rain. An earsplitting ka-blam jerked the van, banging Gemini’s triangle-shaped head off the window. He blinked away stars as he wrestled the Econoline straight, muttering every curse he’d learned collecting debts on the shrimp docks in the Easy. He’d give anything to wait out this monster at an off-ramp honky-tonk, with a bartender asking no questions except, “Nuther, brother?”

Wouldn’t happen. They were hours behind schedule, thanks to the dickweed narcotics supplier in Minneapolis who’d rope-a-doped them on the handoff, whining that he needed more money because his “Katrina” was so hot it smoked. Six bloody rips with a can opener convinced the screaming maggot that money really wasn’t the most important thing in his life, was it? But the convincing slowed them down, and Gemini was acutely aware that Maxximus would be, um, displeased if they were late–

 Ah, Christ. She’s blubbering again. Gemini snapped his eyes at the rearview. The crew beat her to mumbles, then went back to splitting her logs.

The booty call started east of Minneapolis, where they’d spotted the teenager thumbing a ride on eastbound I-94. She’d hopped in, putting a wiggle in her hips because there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The crew shared their Pepsi and Fritos, asking her what was up with the midnight run. She said she was hitching to Chicago, gonna find a fancy job to pay for her big dreams. They blew her some smoke about being a video crew for Hustler and did she want to make ten grand then and there.

“A video crew?” she’d said, eyeing the paint cans, brushes, plastic, and drop cloths littering the cargo area of the extended-length van. “You’re, like, kidding, right?”

Gemini, like, wasn’t, and held up the cash to prove it. Virgo worked the videocam as she enthusiastically expressed her appreciation. Gemini loaded the first three minutes into his cell phone and texted it to Freddie-Boy.

“Are you a moron?” Freddie-Boy yelled. “I said young. This one looks fifteen for chrissakes. Throw her back and grab up baby sister.” Since Freddie-Boy paid a suitcase of Benjamins for every child delivered, Gemini said he’d find what he wanted. “You damn well better,” Freddie-Boy warned. “By close of business today.” Gemini protested the ridiculous deadline, but heard only dead air—the child trafficker had already disconnected. Scowling, he told the boys to have some real fun.

They did.

Sometimes you eat the bear, he thought as the teeny shrieked from the frenzied rape and mauling. Sometimes the bear eats you. Something dear old Dad liked to pound into Gemini growing up, that bit about the bear, not realizing his firstborn would grow mean enough for grizzly-sized payback. After ruining Gemini’s fourteenth birthday with a foul, drunken rant—the old man hated anyone but him getting attention—he chased Gemini into the basement, swinging the orange electrical cord he used to whip his kid’s back into streamers.

The moment the fat bastard hit the last step, though, he was sprawled on the cracked concrete floor, scrabbling like a stepped-on roach. When the pain of his broken legs finally broke through the shock of his son’s blitz attack with the galvanized pipe, he shrieked. It was the same sound the drug maggot made in his can-opener scraping—girly-high, a wheeze almost, hairball strangling a cat, not understanding what just happened, yet there it was, all over the floor. The can opener, with its rusting steel tip and Drink Blatz Beer stamped on the handle, flayed eighty-seven strips off dear old Dad, ending only when Mom said, “Don’t kill him, boy, he’ll haunt us like them Dracula vampires . . .”

Good times.

He checked the rearview, saw nothing but rain and bouncing asses. He pinched out a smile. The runaway, who’d introduced herself as “Kandy, with a K,” was a pleasant way to kill the eight-hour drive from Minneapolis to Naperville, the Chicago suburb where they’d drop their load of drugs and collect their dead presidents. Gemini checked his watch. Even with the storm they were moving all right; Naperville by six, rich by six-fifteen—”

An earshattering wail erupted from the back.

Gemini sighed. The teenager was more appealing than he’d expected from an expressway hitchhiker: polo-shirted, blue-jeaned, and knob-kneed, with loose swingy hair, legs up to her armpits, narrow hips, and grapefruit boobs. She had a smile to give a corpse a woody. Exactly the kind of young’un Freddie-Boy should have wet himself to own, the picky goddamn pervert . . .

“All right, enough,” Gemini said. A moment later he heard the distinctive clack of a forearm breaking a windpipe. It wasn’t loud like in the movies. More like a dry stick across a knee.

“Women,” Cancer said, wagging his finger in mock dismay as she thrashed like a gaffed marlin, trying to suck air. “Can’t live with ’em, can’t leave ’em in the Goodwill box.” Her face turned red, then white, then blue.
Virgo spread her bare dancer’s legs. “Clean yer pipes, babe?” he asked her.
 She gurgled like a clogged drain.
 “Thanks, you’re great too,” he said, working his plumber’s helper. 
Five minutes later he was done.

So was Kandy, with a K.

“Onward and upward,” Gemini said, tapping the GPS map suctioned to the dash.
 Cancer crawled back to the shotgun seat to find a place to dump the body. Aquarius and Virgo bundled her into a paint-spattered drop cloth, tied it neat with clothesline.

The van roared sideways through the rain.


Chapter 2

Naperville, Illinois

Midnight, November 18

The wasp crawled into Emily’s ear.

She grimaced, but couldn’t swat it—the psychos on the other side of the glass might notice the jerky movement. The wasp took a couple of blood bites, then crawled into her hair for dessert. She gasped at the searing pain. Then she forced it out of her mind and inched her eyeballs to the window, peeking through the gap between Budweiser’s neon bowtie and the flashing green bikini of Coors Light.
Two bulky shadows raced up the aisle, waving flashlights and guns. They stopped every few seconds to look toward the back of the store, then resumed shoving liquor into bags.
She eased over to the entry door, the cold bite of adrenaline scouring her arteries. Squatted till her rump smacked her heels, examined the quarter-inch gap between door and frame.

No deadbolt.

She tugged the handle.
The door opened freely. Which would have been fine except the store closed at ten. Vibrating with excitement, she crept backwards, brushing the yellow brick wall with one hand and pulling her pistol with the other. She glanced around every few seconds, made sure she wasn’t a target herself from an outside spotter. She settled in twenty yards west, pulled her iPhone from her Wranglers. Her hands were dewy with August humidity. She pushed nine. Her thumb slipped sideways, mashed the pound sign instead. Scowling, she dried her fingers on her jeans, and pushed more carefully. Connected. She clamped the phone between shoulder and ear, then bashed the wasp with her free hand. Looked at her palm. Grinned. Suck my blood, will you . . .

“Naperville nine-one-one,” a voice said. “What’s your—”

“It’s Detective Emily Thompson,” she interrupted. “Requesting immediate backup at Premium Wine and Spirits, Route Fifty Nine at One Hundred and Eleventh Street.”


“Armed robbery in progress.” Well, technically, they were burglars, not robbers, but then again, given who they might be, she kicked it up a notch. “Two suspects, maybe more.” The adrenaline made her voice squeak. She cleared her throat.

“Backup is rolling. Any chance it’s our bad boys?” the dispatcher said.

“I hope so,” Emily said.
 A stickup crew had terrorized bars and liquor stores throughout the Chicago area since Memorial Day. Sometimes they burgled. Mostly they robbed, brutally and efficiently, whipping out blue-steel guns and beating employees toothless if the cash register was even a penny short of expectation. One such victim was in a coma. Another had undergone a complete facial reconstruction. She hoped these bastards chose to shoot their way out rather than surrender . . .

“Describe the suspects,” the dispatcher said.

Emily shook her head as if he could see. “I saw only silhouettes from their flashlights,” she said. “Them and their handguns. They’re still inside, though. Who’s coming?”

“Six units inbound, running silent,” he said. “I’ve mobilized SWAT. Anything else you need?”

“An armored car,” Emily said, feeling naked without body armor. She’d been heading home from the gym, so exhausted from cardio kickboxing she could sleep for a week. But Chief Kendall Cross had asked everyone to eyeball liquor establishments during their drives around town, on-duty and off. She took his request seriously—the first coma victim had been working the register because Social Security didn’t cover both rent and food. The bandits bounced his head off a refrigerated case, cracking his skull in three places. “Just kidding. I’m fine. I’ve moved west of the store’s front entrance.”

The dispatcher broadcast her new location. “Tell me how you’re dressed,” he said.
“Blue jeans, mango top, running shoes, black jacket. I’m carrying a Glock and a SureFire.” Pistol and flashlight. “My badge is on my belt.”

“Got it. I’ll describe you to all units,” he said.
 So they don’t shoot you by mistake, Emily mentally translated. She appreciated the dispatcher’s heads-up play—friendly fire was a serious risk for armed plainclothes officers, as adrenalized first-responders sometimes mistook them for bad guys and bombs away. She owed him a margarita.

“There’s no imminent danger,” she said. “I’ll stay put and observe till backup arrives.”

“Understood. Let me know when—”

She didn’t hear the rest of the sentence because her face began to spray heat spikes. Her arms trembled, and her thighs tingled into numbness. Disemboweled bodies spun and danced in her brain. No, no, no! she screamed at herself. Not now, dammit! Not now!
 The feeling faded.

“Uh . . . sorry . . . repeat that last, dispatch?” she said, trying to catch her breath.

“Your first backup has arrived,” the dispatcher said.

From the corner of her eye, Emily saw a Naperville black-and-white bump into the sprawling asphalt lot of the strip mall. Per the drill on silent runs, its sirens, flashers and headlights were off. She stood and fanned cool November air under her jacket. The Police Interceptor aimed her way. Twenty seconds later it was angled into the curb, out of the line of vision of the liquor store’s windows. Another on-the-ball colleague, she thought.

The door opened without sound or interior light. The driver eased out and hustled her way. The orange anti-crime lights turned his blue Naperville Police uniform mildew green. She smiled at the driver’s gelled, spiky hair.

“Hey, Hawk,” she whispered, glad for such fearsome backup.

“Back at ya, Em,” said Sergeant Robert Hawkins. He was five-nine and rangy, with wide eyes and a smile that displayed a gap between his top front teeth. He had ginger-colored hair, spatters of reddish freckles on his face and neck, and ropy veins along his muscled arms. He was a computer crimes specialist, cracking felonies committed via Internet. He also kicked down doors for SWAT. Occasionally, he filled in as a night-shift patrol sergeant, to keep his street skills fresh. “Situation?”

She explained.
 “We’re eyes and ears only till the rest of the circus arrives,” she finished.

“Cool. You stay here, I’ll go around back,” he said. “In case they—”

A long, wet shriek erupted from the store.
 Hawk instinctively moved toward the sound. Emily’s heart kicked as fresh adrenaline scoured her body. Her vision sharpened, her muscles tightened. She hardened her grip on her Glock. “So much for waiting,” she said.

“Screams inside the building,” Hawk said into his radio. “We’re going in.”

“Next three backups are a minute out,” the dispatcher objected.

“We don’t have that long,” Hawk said, holding out the mike to the rolling wail.

“Jesus,” the dispatcher said. “Uh, go.”

Hawk hustled back to his cruiser and pulled an MP-5 submachine gun from the trunk. He joined Emily and they sprinted to the unlocked front door. Emily crouched next to it, her breathing fast and shallow. Hawk jammed up behind her, so close she could smell the damp of his skin. They peered through the door, saw no one. She gripped the handle, whispered “three, two, one . . .”

She yanked open the door and exploded through the gap, staying low as she swung her pistol into the left side of the store. Hawk followed high, sweeping his submachine gun right.
 Their SureFires lit the aisles like miniature lightning strikes.
 No bandits.
 No victims. 
Just Chivas and Ketel and Bud.

“They’ve moved,” Emily stage-whispered. “Let’s try—”

Another curdling female scream.
 “Shut up, bitch, or I’ll kill you now,” a male voice warned. Slaps followed. The scream tailed to a whimper.
 Emily pointed to a vertical rectangle in the darkness at the rear of the store.
 Hawk nodded.
 They raced down the tiled hallway, her in front, him trailing, muzzles up and hunting, staying as quiet as possible. The only light came from a doorway next to the rear exit. It was ten times the brightness of the usual office fluorescent. Hard-core rap thumped their spines. “Bitch, ho, Five-O” blended with “slaughter, maim, destroy.” The woman’s howl became so toxic Emily strained to not shoot her tormenters through the wall.

“All right, scream away,” male voices taunted. “It’ll hurt that much more when we drink the blood from your neck.”

Hawk stiffened, and put the gun’s green laser dot on the wall next to the door frame. She snapped her Glock to eye level. She raised her fist and began her finger countdown.

Three, two, one . . .


Chapter 3

Black River Falls, Wisconsin
12:09 a.m. 

Cancer tapped the GPS with a blood-scabbed fingernail. “Found us a dumping ground,” he said.

“Where?” Gemini said, wiping the fogged windshield with the sleeve of his hoodie.

“Millston,” Cancer said. “It’s right off the interstate. So small it won’t have a separate police department. Only the sheriff’s patrol. And those guys are so busy with this storm they don’t know whether to shit or go blind. They’ll never know we were there.”

“How far is it?”

“Thirteen miles,” Cancer said.

“That could take forever in this rain. Anything closer?”

“Nope. It’s the next exit.”

Gemini nodded approval.
 “All right, boys,” he said. “We’ll dump her at the next exit.”

“Can’t hear ya,” Aquarius shouted over the thunderbooms.

“We’re dumping Kandy in Millston!” Gemini repeated. “Next exit, small town, no cops, easy in and out!”

“Cool,” Aquarius approved.

“Think they got a mill?” Virgo said.

“Uh . . . what?” Gemini said as the van plowed into a road pond. The engine sputtered. He cranked the wheel this way and that, looking for high ground—if it died, they were screwed. A moment later the tires bit solid pavement. The engine recovered. His shoulders joined his head pounding with pain.

“A mill,” Virgo repeated. “Millston. I wonder if they got a mill?”

“Who cares?” Gemini said, digging a knuckle between his eyes.

“I do,” Virgo said. “Lots of these towns have mills from the old days. Just wondering if this one does, that’s all. I like history.”

“They do or they don’t,” Gemini growled, “or they did and it burned to the ground and the smoke killed all the fuckin’ cows. It makes no difference to me.”

“Grain,” Virgo said.


“You said cows. Mills are for grain. Not cows.”

Gemini glared in the rearview. “What part of ‘I don’t give a fuck’ don’t you understand?”

Virgo rolled his eyes. “Jesus Christ what a grouch,” he grumbled. “Get yourself laid when we cash in this load, willya?”

“Why you being so nice to him, lettin’ him get laid?” Cancer said. “I’m the one found your little mill town.”

“You mean they got a mill?” Virgo said, hopeful.

Gemini groaned. Everyone laughed, tension broken.
 Gemini honked at a Range Rover drifting into his lane. Instead of snapping back into place, the driver flipped him the bird, then hit the gas, spraying more water. Gemini shook his head. He’d love to catch up, pull his piece, and turn her face to tomato soup. But rolling down the window would let in the monsoon, and this was a brand-new shirt . . .

“What are we looking for in Millston?” he said instead. “Swamp? Junkyard?”

“River. A mile from the off-ramp,” Cancer said. The neon colors from the GPS reflected off his rectangular glasses. “It’ll be running heavy with all this rain. We toss her in the drink, get back to the interstate. No way cops will see us in this slop.” He patted the Uzi in the nylon gym bag between his feet.

“If they do . . .”

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” Aquarius quipped.

Gemini peered at the interstate signs. Couldn’t make out the words through the blur of rain. He rubbed his eyes, which were sandpapery from road-stare. “Where exactly are we now?”

Cancer quipped.

Gemini’s thin lips pressed flat. “Lotta fuckin’ comedians in this clown car.”

Cancer looked at him, concerned. “You all right, boss? I can drive if you wanna take a break. Fuck Kandy if you want, she’s probably still warm.”

“Nah,” Gemini said, forcing himself to lighten up. Wasn’t their fault the weather stunk. “I’m good.” He bumped fists with each of his crewmen.

“How far?” Virgo said.

“We’re south of Black River Falls,” Cancer said. “Thirteen miles to the Millston exit.”

“That’s forever in this slop,” Aquarius complained, climbing into the rear seat from the back cargo area and kicking off his shoes. “Girly be stink-meat by then.”

“No worse than your feet,” Virgo said, waving the air in front of his flattish nose.

Aquarius punched him. Virgo smacked him back. “That’s the best you got?” he gibed. “My grandma hits harder’n that and she’s dead ten years . . .”

Cancer punched the radio buttons for weather updates. Gemini stared south toward payday, the taillights ahead blurring pink from eyestrain and rain. Kandy chilled in her canvas coffin . . .



Praise for TORN APART


“This is an A-grade thriller.” Author Lee Child

“A high-rev, page-turning thriller that offers a searing look at the very thin blue line separating good and evil. Set in a sharply observed Midwest, Torn Apart features one of the best heroines to come along in years, whose dedication to her job throws her into a deadly cat-and-mouse game against complex, fleshed-out villains, some driven by good, some by evil, but all intent on leaving plenty of carnage in their wake.” Author Jeffery Deaver

“Beautifully drawn characters, sharply observed detail, and exceptional writing. Has the impact of a large-caliber handgun fired at point-blank range.” Author Douglas Preston

“Torn Apart will keep you turning the pages so fast, you won’t even notice that half the night’s already gone. Shane Gericke knows how to tighten the screws and keep the fear and tension building.” Author Tess Gerritsen

“One of those scary rides through criminality that can melt away a fifteen-hour flight. The scenarios (trust me on this!) will haunt you for weeks.” Author John J. Nance

“A no-nonsense thriller, action-packed and explosive. A real page-turner!” Author Erica Spindler

“A roller coaster ride , and not for the faint of heart. There is a dark underlying humor in the book, and of course, plenty of bloody mayhem. The characters are well defined, the dialogue is dead-on realistic, and the action is nonstop. The intertwining of subplots is expertly orchestrated, and the action scenes are so well-choreographed that you’re right there in the middle of the violence, dodging bullets and body parts.” Suspense Magazine


Copyright, Shane Gericke. Published by New Word City and Mandevilla Press