High in the hills above Albuquerque, New Mexico, Detective Zachariah Ellison arrives at the scene of a murder, and not just any murder, but one that definitely falls into the “gruesome” category, even for a seasoned cop like Zach.
When another body is found murdered in much the same fashion, Zach knows he’s got a serial killer on his hands, and to top it off, he’s got an assistant district attorney hounding him about the case.
As Zach tries to investigate the crimes while sidestepping nosey Amy Logan, a third body is found and Zach hasn’t a clue who the perpetrator might be.
Amy Logan has worked hard to put herself through school and pay for law school on her own. Now that she’s secured a position as an assistant district attorney in Albuquerque, she’s determined to do everything she can to be the best prosecutor this office has ever seen.
And, as if luck was following her, she’s been assigned to the biggest homicide case the city has ever seen. The only problem she’s having is the homicide detective who’s leading the investigation—Zach Ellison.
Zachariah Ellison ducked under the yellow crime scene tape that surrounded the area where the victim had been found. He shook his head as he saw a rookie cop run behind one of the police vehicles and puke. Zach had puked at a crime scene once or twice as well, but it had been a long time ago, and he thought now that nothing bothered him anymore. He couldn’t afford for it to. He’d always known he’d be a homicide detective, even before he’d become a cop, although he wasn’t sure if he’d chosen it or if it had chosen him. Either way, he didn’t think too much about it anymore. He just did his job.
No attempt had been made to hide the body, even though it had been left in a remote area of the mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The area was sparsely populated. The trees weren’t dense in this particular part of the high desert, but hikers often trekked up this way. Whoever had left the body here obviously wanted it to be found, but they’d been careful about it. The group of hikers that had found the dead man was still shaken by the sight, and a couple of them looked pretty green as officers took their statements.
Zach walked around the body, looking it over with experienced eyes. He’d been a cop for twenty years, fifteen spent in homicide, and he’d seen everything there was to see. Or so he believed most of the time. Though it still never failed to amaze Zach at how depraved human beings truly were. He’d seen some crime scenes that made him shake his head, wondering just how someone had even thought up such ways to commit murder. And this crime scene was one of them.
The cops at the scene gave Zach a wide berth while he continued his slow perusal of the corpse. His hands were clasped behind his back, his head tilted to one side as if the angle would give him an advantage. He was impressed with this murder. He’d seen a lot of messy crime scenes that immediately told him if the murder had been committed in the heat of the moment, a crime of passion, a crime of hate, or a drug deal gone bad. But this scene was almost a pleasure to work as far as Zach was concerned. It was nice and tidy in spite of the hideous method used to kill the man.
This murder had not been committed in the heat of the moment —it had been planned to the tiniest detail. There was no heated rage in this one—no, this was cold rage that had deadly, calculated results. This was personal. The killer had known his victim, had planned the murder, probably for years before actually carrying out the plan. There would be no regret, no remorse on the part of whoever had committed the crime.
No—Zach shook his head and smiled almost imperceptibly—whoever killed this man was proud of their work.
Zach wasn’t a profiler, but he’d been on the job long enough to be able to figure out a few things on his own, without bringing in a psychologist to do it for him. Whoever had killed this man was making a point, and the hatred he felt for the victim was a palpable entity hanging on the air.
The nude body had been hung spread eagle between two small but sturdy pine trees. Nylon ropes had left deep cuts in the wrists and ankles where the victim had struggled against them. The body had been disemboweled, probably while the victim was still alive. The neck was swollen with an ugly purplish-blue tint to it. Embedded in the folds of skin was a narrow leather band, and there were bruises and singed skin over the torso that looked as if a stun gun had been used. But the icing on this cake, the thing that really told Zach what the killer thought of his victim, was the man’s penis protruding from his mouth. The skin had been peeled and was hanging below it, stiffening in the hot desert air.