Cut to the Bone
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Hard-charging Naperville Police officer barely escaped with her life in Blown Away. Now she’s a detective, and she’s in love with Martin Benedetti, the county sheriff’s homicide commander. They’re building their dream house in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, where she lives and works. Life is good as she slowly recovers from her jagged wounds, both physical and emotional . . .
Until another serial killer decides it would be fun to crash the party and match wits with a cop he believes should have died in the noose of the first killer’s “Hangman” game. In Cut to the Bone, a stone-cold multiple murderer is scheduled to die in the state electric chair in Naperville. He’d kidnapped an expectant mother, cut the baby out her womb, and gave it to his girlfriend, who’d wanted kids but didn’t want to ruin her figure giving birth. The screams of the dying mother alerted nearby police officers, who gave chase. The killer smashed the infant against a tree trying to escape. The cops caught him anyway. He was tried, and now he’ll fry. But Emily Thompson’s newest foe, who calls himself The Executioner, decides that he, not the cops, jury, state, governor, or any mere detective, is this man’s god of life and death. So he attacks Emily to get inside the death house and free the baby- and mom-killer, even as the electrical generator winds up to deliver its killer punch.
(This fictional crime was inspired by a ghastly real-life crime in the Chicago suburb of Addison. According to murderpedia.com and my own research, Fedell Caffey and girlfriend Jacqueline Williams decided they wanted a baby. But Williams didn’t want to ruin her figure by giving birth. So in November 1995, they stabbed to death a pregnant woman, Debra Evans, and cut her nearly full-term fetus from her body. To eliminate witnesses, they also murdered Evans’ 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, and 8-year-old son, Joshua. Another child, Jordan, was spared because, they thought, children under the age of 2 couldn’t be reliable witnesses. The cut-out boy, named Eli, also survived. Jordan and Eli are being raised by Evans’s grandfather. Caffey and Williams were sentenced to death. That was commuted to life in prison when then-Governor George Ryan emptied Death Row and banned capital punishment in Illinois.)
The blue velvet curtains drew back like it was movie night, allowing Johnny Sanders to stare through the bulletproof window.
Twelve sets of eyes stared back.
The eyes of the people who’d come to watch him die.
Sanders half-smiled in acknowledgement. Some returned it. Others looked away. One skinny guy flinched, like Sanders had snaked through the glass and tickled him. Sanders thought that hilarious. He was strapped to a quarter-ton chair, which was bolted to the floor, which was anchored to reinforced concrete. He wasn’t tickling anyone. He was waiting. For the end.
Which would come in, oh, a minute and a half.
He tried to relax by taking deep breaths. He coughed—the air stank of quicklime and paste wax. The former from the fresh-cured concrete that formed the execution center’s floors, ceilings, walls, and corridors. The latter from the chair itself.More
He traced his fingers along its wide oak arms.
Slippery as drool.
The paste wax, he figured. Humidity. Or the restless fingers of the condemned, rubbing the wood like a rosary . . .
Sanders shivered, suddenly chilled. He wondered why. The execution center’s furnace was pumping heat like the devil opened a hole in the earth.
Maybe I’m getting sick, he thought. Hope I don’t catch my death of a cold.
The little joke made him smile.
He glanced at the official clock over the curtains.
The smile faded.
He wasn’t sick, he knew. He was scared. He shouldn’t be. But he was.
“Think it’ll work this time?” the state executioner asked the electrician.
“Damn well better,” the electrician said.
“I hear ya. Did you replace the power cable?”
The electrician slapped the control panel. “New, just like this. I triple-checked every connection. Polished the electrodes. Replaced the switches. Rebuilt the buzzer box.” He shook his head. “This time she’ll sing like the fat lady.”
“She doesn’t,” the executioner warned, “Covington sticks us both in the thing.”
Sanders worked his teeth into the heavy mouth guard. Like the doctor said, it’d be stupid to crack his molars if clemency came through during the burn.
He chomped till rubber suckled his gums, praying the phone would ring.
“Fifteen seconds,” the executioner said. “Fingers up.”
The assistant executioners nodded, and black silk touched red push-buttons. It was part of the dress code, the silk. Like the rest of the staff, the executioner and his two assistants dressed business casual—tan Dockers and navy sport coats. But in addition they wore black silk hoods and gloves, to shield their identities from the condemned.
A couple months ago, he’d asked a California counterpart why that mattered. “Dead men tell no tales,” he’d quipped over single-malts at a corrections conference. He received only a shrug and a muttered, “Who the hell knows why we do anything?”
Sanders’ mouth was so dry he couldn’t swallow. Yet sweat poured like broken hydrant.
The chaplain walked in. Told him to stay strong, he was going to a better place, Jesus forgave, and he wanted to pray now, yes?
Sanders didn’t answer.
The chaplain asked more insistently. Sanders kept mum. Let Reverend Al sweat a little himself, wondering if he’d done something wrong.
“Five seconds,” the executioner said, eyes on the stuttering clock. “Four. Three . . .”
When the red hand joined the blacks at twelve, the executioners would take a deep breath and push. One of the buttons—and only one, so each could secretly believe he wasn’t the real executioner—would send several thousand volts of Illinois electricity into the condemned prisoner. Killing him.
Or so everyone hoped.
Last time, the multimillion-dollar death system didn’t kill anything but the lights. Prompting an apoplectic Illinois Governor Wayne Covington to boot the Justice Center’s director. If it didn’t work exactly as promised from here on, the governor warned, “I’ll fire every single damn last one of you.”
Nobody wanted that.
“Two. One. Now,” the executioner said, breathing fast and shallow as the second hand completed its march to the sea.
Their thumbs kicked so symmetrically they could have been Rockettes.
Sanders cringed at a warmth he hadn’t felt since third grade. “Oh, man,” he whispered, flushing with shame.
The Justice Center director swaggered in, grinning so hard his eyes vanished. “You’re one hell of an actor, Johnny!” he boomed. “You looked so scared when that buzzer went off I thought you’d wet your pants.”
Yeah, well, Sanders thought.
He decided not to mention that.
“I’ll tell you what’s really scary,” he said, slurring from the mouth guard. “Those twelve official witnesses.”
“Them?” the director said, pointing to the state employees milling about the other side of the viewing window. In the back, arms folded, was the man playing Martin Benedetti, the sheriff’s commander who’d arrested the scumbag killer and would view the burn for real. “Why?”
“They just sat there, staring. At me. Like vultures and I was roadkill.”
“They were supposed to, Johnny. That’s their job.”
“I know,” Sanders sighed, wriggling against the slats to murder an itch. “I get that they were play-acting. But right at the end, when the buzzer went off? I swear they wanted me dead.”
“Yeah. Creeped the bejeezus out of me.”
“That’s great!” the director barked, clapping his hands in glee. “Means they did a hell of an acting job too. Covington will be pleased.”
“Good,” Sanders said. “That’s good.”
“You got that right, brother,” the director said, crossing himself.
Today was the third in a series of dress rehearsals for the execution of Corrigan “Corey” Trent, whose monstrous crimes rivaled those of John Wayne Gacy and Richard Speck. Covington built the electric chair especially for Trent, and ordered these endless rehearsals to “make sure the bastard roasts to perfection.”
Which is why Sanders found himself in a six-by-twelve cell at Stateville Correctional Center, the maximum-security fortress near Joliet that housed Death Row. Sanders, a state historian, was organizing more than two centuries of official execution documents. He’d volunteered to play Trent in the dress rehearsals to get a better feel for the people he was reading about. “Our very own Method historian,” his boss kidded when Covington gave his blessing.
He was tossed in the one-man cage at noon yesterday, to the jeers, threats, and hurled feces of the real condemned, led by Corey Trent. Correctional officers—”COs” in prison parlance—restored order. Sanders sat in his bunk the rest of the day, heart thumping, chin in hands, wondering what exactly he’d gotten himself into.
At sundown, a flying squad of CO’s shoved him in an armored car and sped north. A half hour later he was flung into the condemned cell at the Illinois Justice Center in Naperville. The staff let him call his “lawyer” for updates on his “clemency petition,” then served his last meal—Coke, cheddar fries, and a rare T-bone. Prompting the center’s director to joke as he swallowed the last bite, “Don’t worry, Johnny, we’ll make sure you’re well-done.”
The doctor arrived at nine to make sure Sanders was healthy. “If you weren’t, we’d postpone. We don’t execute sick people,” he’d said, without a hint of sarcasm.
Then it was lights out. Sanders lay wide awake in the heavy concrete gloom, wondering how even monsters like Trent survived the Row without biting out their wrist veins. Best not to think about it, he supposed. He fell asleep.
At sunrise, the chaplain asked if he wanted to pray. Sanders said no, not now, but he’d sure appreciate a visit just before the sentence was carried out.
“That’s when I’ll really need your help, Reverend,” he explained. “You know, in getting square with the Lord.” The young chaplain agreed eagerly, and Sanders grinned to himself. Messing with the clergy was fun. They were so earnest.
Then he was shaved, diapered, dressed, manacled, marched down the hall, strapped into the electric chair, ministered, witnessed, and “executed.”
To ensure Sanders wasn’t accidentally injured, the live power cables weren’t attached to the chair. They plugged instead into a test box in the rear of the chamber, which, unlike the remainder of the cement complex, was tiled for easy cleanup. The box was chockablock with resistors and capacitors that mimicked the human body. If the power spurted out of the generator and ran the circuits properly, the box would buzz, signaling death.
Which it did.
Which is why everyone was smiling.
“What happens now?” Sanders asked as the guards unbuckled the last of the leather straps that pinned him to the oak.
“You take a break,” the director said. “Have a smoke, hit the john if you need. Then we run the whole thing again.” He pinched his chin divot, thinking. “This time, fight the guards all the way to the chair. Hard as you can. Give us a good show.”
“Cool,” Sanders said.
“Yeah, everyone likes that part,” a guard said.
As Sanders headed to the bathroom, the director dictated notes. Then he strode to the telephone—”safety yellow,” per OSHA regulations—bolted to the wall.
The hotline to the governor’s office in Springfield. It was there if Covington changed his mind, or some court somewhere changed it for him.
The latter was always possible, the director knew. The former wasn’t. Covington wouldn’t cancel an execution if his life depended on it. That kind of thinking hadn’t been in the man’s makeup since 1966. But having a hotline was part of the execution protocol, and as such, it needed to connect loud and clear.
He put receiver to ear and waited through the clicks.
“It went perfectly, Mr. Governor,” he said when Covington picked up downstate. “No more circuit problems. The Justice Center is up and running.” He listened a few more seconds, then grinned. “That’s right, sir. We’re ready to burn the trash.”
“Ready for Friday?” Emily Thompson said.
“Let’s talk about that later,” Martin Benedetti said. “I’m enjoying myself too much.”
Emily smiled. “So you’re glad you changed your mind.”
“This is pretty great,” he groaned as the attendant shoveled on more steaming mud. “I feel like the marshmallow in the hot chocolate. Why didn’t you make me do this years ago?”
Her face pats left stripes on both his cheeks.
They were at a “mud spa” on Ogden Avenue, on Naperville’s Far North Side. She’d been asking Marty for months to try the tub for two. He’d kept declining, saying he wanted nothing to do with “exfoliants and lite FM.” Then, on her forty-second birthday, he’d bowed, handed her a gift certificate for two, and said, “Slap my chaps and call me Mary . . .”
She squished deeper.
Their cheerful attendant described the 104-degree mud as a “mystic Zen formula” that “detoxified and cleansed” body and spirit. Emily knew it was the same peat moss, volcanic ash, and tap water she dumped in her flower beds. She didn’t care. Its clinging heat whacked her stress like a hitman. Having Marty cheek to cheek was a bonus—they could make fun of it later as they snuggled up in her bed, all Zenned.
The attendant filled two Waterford flutes with Carrot Infusion Juice. The lead crystal glowed tangerine in the soft mood lighting. She offered to swaddle their eyes with cucumbers dipped in chilled lemon water. “So your inner child stays cool,” she murmured.
Emily tilted her face to accept them. Marty declined, muttering about needing a testosterone patch. The attendant giggled, shoveled on the final steamy layer. “I’ll step out now, let the Zen work its magic. Call if you need me.”
Marty thanked her, waited for the door to latch, cleared his throat.
“You’re not going to tell anyone about this, right?” he said.
“About what, darling?” Emily asked innocently, hearing the skritch-skritch of his fingers worrying the side of the redwood tub. She smiled into the lemon-scented darkness.
“About my parking my hams in a tub of goo.”
“And liking it,” she said.
“Don’t rub it in.”
Emily threaded her fingers into Marty’s. “Don’t worry, tough guy,” she said, squeezing tight. “I won’t tell anyone your precious secret—”
Terrified screams blasted into the spa room.
The cucumber slices flew as Emily’s eyes popped open. Marty was already fighting out of the tub. Emily struggled against the black quicksand. Marty pulled her slender wrists till her top sucked free.
Their attendant raced into the room, slamming the door so hard the glass shattered. “A man just killed Zabrina!” she screeched with plate-sized eyes. “Hide or he’ll kill us all!”
“Get our clothes!” Marty roared, mud flying as he fought to stay upright on the pebbled glass.
“No time!” Emily shouted, shoving her heels against the bottom of the tub. Her hamstrings twanged, and the rest of her popped free.
She swung her rubbery legs over the ledge. Lunged for her black leather purse. Slipped on the glass and fell sideways, banging her head off the cornflower wall tiles as she hit the floor. “Emily! You all right?”
“Go! Go! I’ll catch up!” Emily gasped through the bells clanging in her head.
Marty knotted a bath towel around his waist. Emily reached up, ripped her purse off the peg, and pulled out two Glocks—hers 9-mm. and his .45. The attendant shrank into a corner. “Don’t hurt me,” she begged. “Please, Miss, I’ll do whatever you say.”
“We’re police,” Emily said, thrusting Marty’s gun over her head like the Statue of Liberty’s torch. He snatched it and bolted. A moment later he reappeared, threw Emily a thick white robe, rushed off.
Emily grabbed the pitcher of Infusion Juice and poured it over her head. She gasped as the icy slush melted on her steam-ironed body. The bells fell silent. She scrabbled to her feet, punched her arms through the too-large terrycloth, wrapped her hands around the butt of her gun, and sprinted to the lobby.
“Good lord,” she breathed at the explosion of tomato soup.
Marty was on his knees, blowing air into a young, pretty woman. Her face was white as spun sugar. Blood fizzed from her neck and chest when Marty exhaled. Emily sensed the CPR was form, not substance.
“Naperville Police!” she announced, ready to fire if the shooter popped out of the crowd. “Which way did he go?”
No answer, just a frantic fear-buzz.
“Did he leave?” she demanded. “Come on, somebody talk!”
“He didn’t say a word,” a manicurist blubbered. “Just swung a knife and took off.”
Emily looked around, didn’t see a weapon. Maybe still on him. “Which way?”
The manicurist pointed at the main door.
“Parking lot,” Marty said, not looking up. “Watch yourself. I’ll be right behind.” He surveyed the crowd. “All right, who knows CPR? You need to take over now . . .”
Emily charged across the striped asphalt, robe flapping, eyes everywhere. Nobody fleeing. Nobody sauntering too nonchalant. Nobody jumping into a Dumpster or darting behind a store.
She ran her emerald eyes over the closest group of cars. Nobody hiding. No doors slamming. Ditto the next, the next, the next—
“Look out!” Marty yelled.
Emily whirled to see an Audi streak out of a slot and charge her. Shooting was useless—it’d be on her in a heartbeat. She jumped straight up, desperately clawing air to clear the metallic blue bumper that would mash her to roadkill—
“Aaaah!” she screamed as her body shoveled up and over the hood. She crashed into the windshield, heard a sickening crunch. Glass or shoulder, she didn’t know which.
The driver jammed the gas pedal. The sucker-punch of acceleration flipped her up on the roof. She windsurfed a moment, scrabbling for a hold on the hot, slick metal.
A sharp swerve bucked her off.
She slammed into the rear gate of an ancient pickup truck. She and rust rained to the pavement. She rolled the moment her body touched, to avoid breaking her neck. The Glock skittered out of her hands. She quick-crawled after it, vision jangled, skin on fire.
Marty triggered a pair of bullets. She saw the flames but didn’t hear the blasts. The rear passenger window shattered.
She reached her gun and fired at the driver’s head. Three sheet-metal craters opened in the door. Too low. She adjusted, re-aimed.
The Audi careened onto Ogden. She couldn’t shoot now. Too much traffic.
She grunted to her feet and broke into a sprint, triangulating the lot, gulping and blowing, trying to cut the gap with the fleeing—
She toppled, clutching her leg.
“Officer down!” Marty bellowed. “You in the office, tell nine-one-one!”
“I’m not hit,” Emily said.
“What is it, then?” he said, flopping down next to her.
“The scar.” She’d taken a bullet in her left calf two years ago during a nightmare encounter with a serial killer. The knotty wound healed enough to pass the department’s medical exam, but when pushed to extreme physical limits—like now—it could squeal like a ripped pig.
“Dig into it, Marty,” she begged. “Make it stop. Oh God it hurts.” She prayed the sirens were paramedics bearing needles of painkiller.
“I’ve got you, Em,” Marty reassured, his big knuckles drilling for oil. “I’ve got you . . .”
The first Naperville Police cruiser skidded into the lot.
She clutched Marty’s waist and pulled herself sitting, fighting the sudden blizzard of panic. Her killer from two years earlier was back, choking her life away. She made herself breathe deep and slow, four seconds in, four seconds out. In. Out. In. Out.
Woman . . . dead?” she wheezed, massaging both sides of her neck.
“Who knifes . . . receptionist . . . at a spa?”
“Dunno,” Marty said, hugging Emily close. “But we’re sure as hell gonna find out.”
The Executioner whipped into an empty slot, his blue eyes pulsing radar.
No cops. Not even a curious civilian.
He turned off the engine. As he’d learned from his numerous practice runs, this medical-office parking lot on Sherman Avenue—thirty seconds from the spa, screened by trees and buildings—made an ideal place to switch cars.
Though the advantage wouldn’t last if he dawdled.
He peeled the fake red beard from his jaw. Wiped the rubber-cement boogers into a white supermarket bag, added the beard, bloody knife, sunglasses, and Bulls cap he’d worn for the hit. He crumpled it tight, looked around once more, ready to escape . . .
An olive-green minivan was pulling up to the curb.
Get out of here, he warned silently, each tick of the cooling engine loud as an artillery blast. Thirty more seconds and you die too. Not that he minded, but the kill would take time he didn’t have. Leave. Now.
He gripped the Sig-Sauer snugged in his waistband.
Five seconds . . .
His left hand squeezed the chromed door handle.
Three seconds . . ..
Exit, walk, shoot till dead, walk back, drive away. Easy.
Two seconds . . . one second . . .
A skinny girl in pigtails hopped out of the van and dashed through a door with a sign shaped like a molar. The woman made a three-point turn and exited the lot.
The Executioner slid out, tossed the keys down the storm drain. Hopped into the Subaru with the bag, started the engine with a gasoline-heavy vroom. Nosed out on Sherman then onto Ogden Avenue. Quickly scooted to the middle divider to let a police cruiser scream past. The cop hunched over the wheel made a little wave, “Thanks.”
He waved back, amused.
He drove the speed limit to Wisconsin Avenue, cranked the wheel in a quick hard right, and began his side-street escape from the killing field.
“Shane Gericke is the real deal.” Author Lee Child
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“Cross James Patterson with Joseph Wambaugh and you get Shane Gericke. This is one helluva terrific book.” Roy Huntington, American Cop magazine
“Gericke’s writing is a blistering rush of sheer artistry.” Author Ken Bruen
“A deadly game of cat and mouse.” Author Alex Kava
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Copyright, Shane Gericke. Published by New Word City and Mandevilla Press