After an overhaul of leadership at the FBI’s New York field office, A. X. L. Pendergast is abruptly forced to accept an unthinkable condition of continued employment: the famously rogue agent must now work with a partner.
Pendergast and his new colleague, junior agent Coldmoon, are assigned to investigate a rash of killings in Miami Beach, where a bloodthirsty psychopath is cutting out the hearts of his victims and leaving them with cryptic handwritten letters at local gravestones. The graves are unconnected save in one bizarre way: all belong to women who committed suicide.
But the seeming lack of connection between the old suicides and the new murders is soon the least of Pendergast’s worries. Because as he digs deeper, he realizes the brutal new crimes may be just the tip of the iceberg: a conspiracy of death that reaches back decades.
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ISABELLA GUERRERO—KNOWN to her friends and fellow bridge club members as Iris—made her way demurely through the palms of Bayside Cemetery. Overhead stretched an infinite sky of pale azure. It was seven thirty in the morning, the temperature hovered at seventy-eight degrees, and the dew that still clung to the broad-bladed St. Augustine grass drenched the leather of her sandals. One plump hand clutched a Fendi bag; the other gripped the leash against which Twinkle, her Pekingese, strained ineffectually. Iris walked gingerly through the graves and coleus plantings—only three weeks ago Grace Manizetti, laden with groceries, had lost her balance while coming back from the local Publix and broken her pelvis.
The cemetery had opened half an hour before, and Iris had the place to herself. She liked it that way—Miami Beach seemed to get more congested with every passing year. Even here in Bal Harbour, at the north end of the island, traffic was worse than she remembered from the congested New York of her childhood, growing up on Queens Boulevard. And that dreadful mall they’d built a few years back north of Ninety-Sixth had only made things worse. Not only that, but an undesirable element had begun to creep up from the south, with their bodegas and casa this and tienda that. Thank goodness Francis had had the foresight to buy the condominium in Grande Palms Atlantic, right on the beach in Surfside and safe from encroachment.
Francis. She could see his grave ahead now, the headstone a trifle bleached by the Florida sun but the plot clean and neat—she had seen to that. Twinkle, aware their destination was approaching, had ceased tugging on the leash.
She had so much to be thankful to Francis for. Since he’d been taken from her three years ago, she’d only grown more aware of her gratitude. It had been Francis who’d had the foresight to move his father’s butcher business from New York City to the Florida coast, back when this section of Collins Avenue was still sleepy and inexpensive. It had been Francis who’d carefully built up the establishment over the years, teaching her how to use the weighing scales and cash register and the names and qualities of the various cuts. And it had been Francis who’d sensed just the right time to sell the business—in 2007, before real estate fell apart. The huge profit they’d made had not only allowed them to buy the Grande Palms condo (at a rock-bottom price a year later) but also ensured they could enjoy many years of comfortable retirement. Who would have guessed he’d be dead of pancreatic cancer so soon?
Iris had reached the grave now, and she paused a moment to look beyond the cemetery and admire the view. Despite the crowding and traffic, it was still a tranquil sight in its own way: the Kane Concourse arching over the Harbor Islands toward the mainland, the white triangles of sailboats tacking up Biscayne Bay. And everything drenched in warm, tropical pastels. The cemetery was an oasis of calm, never more so than early in the morning, when even in March—at the height of the tourist season—Iris knew she could spend some reflective time at the grave of her departed husband.
The little vase of artificial flowers she’d placed by the headstone was somewhat askew—no doubt thanks to the tropical storm that had blown through the day before yesterday. Knees protesting, she knelt on the grave. She righted the vase, plucked a handkerchief from her handbag, wiped off the flowers, and began to tidy them. She felt Twinkle tugging on the leash again, harder than before.
“Twinkle!” she scolded. “No!” Francis had hated the name Twinkle—short for Twinkle Toes—and had always called the dog Tyler, after the street where he’d grown up. But Iris preferred Twinkle, and somehow now that he was gone she didn’t think Francis would mind.
She pressed the vase into the turf to anchor it, patted the grass all around, and leaned back to admire her work. Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement—the groundskeeper maybe, or another mourner come to pay their respects to the dead. It was almost eight now, and after all, Bayside Cemetery was the only graveyard on the whole island: she couldn’t expect to have it all to herself. She’d say a prayer, the one she and Francis had always said together before retiring to bed, and then head back to Grande Palms. There was a board meeting at ten, and she had some very definite things to say about the state of the plantings around the condo’s entrance loop.
Twinkle was still tugging insistently at the leash, and now he was yapping, too. She scolded him again. This wasn’t like him—normally the Pekingese was relatively well behaved. Except when that awful Russian blue in 7B set him off. As she rose to her feet, mentally preparing the prayer in her mind, Twinkle seized the moment to bolt, the leash slipping off Iris’s wrist. He went flying away across the damp grass, dragging the leash and barking.
“Twinkle!” she said sharply. “Come back here this instant!”
The dog came to a frantic halt at a headstone in the next row. Even at this distance she could tell the stone was older than Francis’s, but not by much. There was a scattering of fresh flowers at the base and what appeared to be a handwritten note. But this was not what caught Iris’s attention; flowers and notes, as well as a variety of cherished mementos, could be found on half the graves in Bayside. No: it was Twinkle himself. He’d apparently found something lying at the base of the headstone—and was making a fuss over it. She couldn’t see what it was, as the object was blocked by his body, but he was hunched over it, busily sniffing and licking.
“Twinkle!” This was unseemly. The last thing Iris wanted was to make a scene in this place of repose. Had he found an old dog toy? A piece of candy, perhaps, dropped by some passing child?
The prayer would have to wait until she’d grabbed the dog’s leash.
Stuffing the handkerchief back into her handbag, she strode toward Twinkle. But as she approached, scolding and tut-tutting, the dog grabbed his newfound prize and scampered off. With a mixture of dismay and embarrassment she saw him disappear into a grove of cabbage palms.
She sighed with vexation. Francis would not have approved; he’d always maintained that dogs should be well disciplined. “Fluffy little cur,” he would have said. Well, Twinkle would get some discipline tonight: no Fig Newton with his Purina.
Muttering to herself, Iris followed in the direction the dog had run, stopping when she reached the stand of palms. She looked around. Twinkle was nowhere to be seen. She opened her mouth to call his name, then thought better of it—she was in a cemetery, after all. Chasing after a dog that had gotten loose was bad enough. Besides, the movement she’d noticed earlier had now resolved itself into a group of three people, two girls and a middle-aged man, standing in a semicircle around a grave to her left. It wouldn’t do to make a scene.
Just then, a flurry of movement caught her eye: it was Twinkle. He was some twenty yards ahead, down near where the graveyard met the water, and he was digging frantically in an amaryllis bed. Dirt was flying everywhere.
This was terrible. Iris hustled forward as quickly as she could, clutching her bag. The dog was so engrossed in his digging that he did not notice as she came up behind, grasped the leash, and gave him a tug. Surprised, Twinkle did a half somersault, but despite being dragged away by the collar he refused to let go of his prize.
“Bad dog!” Iris scolded as loudly as she dared. “Bad dog!” She tried to grab whatever it was that Twinkle had found, intending to yank it away, but he evaded her swipe. It was the size of a miniature toy football, but it was so covered by dirt and dog slobber that she could not tell what it was.
“Drop that, do you hear me?” Twinkle growled as Iris reached for it again, and this time she managed to grab one end. She knew he wouldn’t bite her—it was just a question of pulling the thing out of his jaws. But the dog’s prize was disgustingly slippery, and he was holding on to it with tenacity. The two struggled, Iris dragging the dog toward her, Twinkle resisting, digging his paws in the grass. She glanced over her shoulder apprehensively, but the group at the other grave site had not noticed.
The nasty tug-of-war lasted nearly thirty seconds, but in the end the thing was just too big for the dog’s small jaws to maintain a firm grip, and with one determined tug Iris managed to yank it away. As she straightened up, checking that both her handbag and leash were secure on her wrists, she registered that the thing was a piece of meat. A gluey, reddish ooze had seeped out of it during the struggle, staining her hand and dirtying Twinkle’s muzzle. At the same time, she realized how unusual a piece of meat it was—tough and leathery. Her first instinct was to let go in disgust, but Twinkle would only have seized it again.
With Twinkle yapping and leaping, trying to reclaim his find, Iris reached into her handbag, pulled out the handkerchief, and began wiping the thing off. What on earth was it doing lying on a grave?
She cleaned one side, and a short, thick crimson tube—like the end of a radiator hose—sprang into view. Suddenly she stopped, frozen in horror. She had been a butcher’s wife long enough to know now exactly what was in her hand. It had to be a dream, a nightmare; it could not possibly be real.
The sense of unreality lasted only a split second. With a shriek of revulsion she dropped the thing as if it had burned her. Instantly, the dog grabbed it in his gore-drenched jaws and once again slipped free, running off in triumph, leash flapping. But Iris did not notice. There was a strange roaring in her ears, and she suddenly felt a wave of heat come over her. Black spots danced around the edges of her vision. The roaring grew louder, then louder still, and the last thing she saw before crumpling to the ground in a dead faint was the group around the other grave running in her direction.
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