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A Killer's Kiss by William Lashner

A Killer's Kiss

Excerpt-Chapter 1


They came in for me in the nighttime, which is usually the way of it. They knocked so loudly the walls shook. Two men in ties and raincoats. I could see them through the peephole in my door. They weren’t wearing fedoras, but they might as well have been.

“It’s late,” I yelled without opening the wooden door. “And I don’t need any magazines.”

“We’re looking for Victor Carl.”

“Who’s looking?”

The shorter one leaned toward the door until a walleye filled the peephole. Then he pulled back and reached into his jacket. The badge glinted like a set of freshly sharpened teeth.

“I’m naked,” I said.

“Then put something on,” said the guy with the badge. “Our stomachs are strong, but not that strong.”

In the bedroom I slipped on a pair of jeans and a shirt. I knew who they were before the badge was flashed. I had seen the two of them prowling the corridors of the Criminal Justice Building, where I plied most of my trade these days. You can always tell the cops in the courthouse, they’re the ones laughing and rubbing their hands, talking about where they are going to eat lunch. While they waited in the hallway, I took the time to put on socks and a pair of heavy black shoes with steel tips. When dealing with the police, if you don’t protect your toes, they are sure to be stepped on.

I closed the bathroom door behind me before I opened the front door. They strolled in like they were strolling into an art gallery, hands behind their backs, leaning forward as they examined the walls.

“Nice place,” said the one who had shown me his badge.

“No it’s not,” I said.

He stopped and looked hard at me. He was slim and sharp-faced, with clever eyes. “You’re right. I was just being polite. But the furniture’s not bad. My wife’s looking for some new pieces. Is that couch leather?”

“Pleather,” I said.

“Well, you certainly can’t tell unless you look. You mind if I sit?”

I shrugged.

“I’m Detective Sims,” he said as he carefully lowered himself onto the couch and lifted one leg over the other. Sims’s suit was freshly pressed, his shoes were shiny and thin-soled. “This is my partner, Hanratty.”

“A pleasure,” I said.

Hanratty grunted.

“He’s big, isn’t he?” I said to Sims

“But a surprisingly nimble dancer for his size,” said Sims. “You alone?”

“Not anymore.”

“Why is your water running?”

“I was about to take a shower when you guys knocked.”

“We’ll wait while you turn it off.”

“It’s all right. You won’t be staying long,”

“I don’t know,” said Sims. “Hanratty might want some tea.”

“Do you want some tea, Hanratty?” I said.

Hanratty stood like a block of cement and glowered. He was the size of a linebacker, with thick knuckles and a closely mowed patch of blond hair. The bridge of his nose was crushed like a beer can. I tried to imagine him dancing nimbly and failed. But he sure could glower. I got the feeling if he smiled, his face would shatter.

“Where were you tonight, smart guy?” said Hanratty. Each syllable was like a punch to the kidneys.

“Home,” I said. “I don’t get out much.”

“Spend your nights on your pleather couch, do you?” said Sims. “Eating cheese steaks, watching that big television set you got there. That’s a lonely kind of existence for a man your age.”

“Not as lonely as you would think. Every once in a while a couple of cops stop by and chat amiably about my taste in furniture. What division within the department did you boys say you were in?”

“We didn’t,” said Sims. “You wear any rings, Victor?”

I lifted my hands up and showed him. They were free of jewelry.

“How’d you get the cut between your forefinger and thumb on your right hand?”

“I was slicing onions.”

“Care if I look at it?” he said.

“That’s not necessary. I’m sure it will heal on its own.”

“Give him the hand,” said Hanratty.

I stared at him for a moment, saw the violence behind his eyes, and then brought my right hand closer to Sims. Sims grabbed it, examined both sides, brought it up to his face as if to kiss it, and then took a sniff.

“That was weird,” I said after I jerked it away.

“Yet strangely thrilling,” said Sims. “I smelled soap. Always lather up your hands before you shower, do you?”

“Cleanliness is a virtue,” I said.

Sims looked around at the disordered mess that was my apartment and shook his head. “Ever been married, Victor?”


“Good for you. Trust me when I tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Ever been engaged?”


“What happened?”

“It didn’t work out.”

“Care to spill the details?”


“Still hurts, is that it?”

“Ancient history.”

“Oh, six or seven years is not that long a time. McDeiss says you were pretty broken up about it.”

A chill shivered up my spine at the name. I tried to work my jaw but it was frozen. McDeiss was a homicide detective. I put a hand to my jaw and rubbed it back to life. “McDeiss?” I managed to say. “You guys work with McDeiss?”

“You’re pretty close with him, from what we hear.”

“Not really.”

“You’ve broken bread together, haven’t you? Worked a couple of cases together.”

“On different sides.”

“He’s the one who suggested we stop by, ask a few questions, see what you—Wait. Did you hear that, Hanratty? The water just turned off. All by itself.”

“The water pressure in the building is erratic,” I said.

“Maybe our friend here is not as lonely as he lets on. Why don’t you invite your guest out so we can have a little party?”

“Maybe you should mind your own damn business.”

“Getting testy, are we, Victor? Got something to hide? Embarrassed by your partner? Or maybe your visitor is somebody’s wife.”

“Maybe yours,” I said.

Sims laughed. His teeth were small and very white. “You want her number? You’d be doing me a favor. Just be sure to take some pictures for the judge. But you’d enjoy yourself, she’s a looker. Isn’t she a looker Hanratty?”

“She’s a looker all right,” said Hanratty.

“She’s also a whore,” said Sims as he lifted a loose thread from his suit pants. “I think she even slept with Hanratty over there, imagine that.”

“No, thank you,” I said.

“But she is a looker. Oh, listen to us talk, like men blowing steam around the campfire after a day of fishing. You know how it is with us, when we get together by ourselves, we can’t stop complaining about women. Go ahead, Hanratty. Tell Victor who the woman was who broke your heart.”

“My mother,” said Hanratty.

Sims winced dramatically. “I think we’ve heard quite enough about that, don’t you? So now it’s your turn, Victor. Tell us about the girl who left you bare and broken at the altar.”

“I was engaged,” I said. “Her name was Julia. She ran off and married a urologist. End of story. Not much plot there, I’m afraid.”

“What was his name, this evil urologist, or am I being redundant?”

“Denniston. Wren Denniston.”

“And how do you feel about Dr. Wren Denniston? Bitter, angry, resentful, with a murderous thirst for vengeance?”

“I got over it.”

“Oh, I don’t think we ever get over something like that.”

“Is this an official inquiry of the Homicide Division?”

“If that’s what you want it to be,” said Hanratty. “Is that what you want it to be?”

“Why don’t you stop holding it in and tell me what this is all about.”

It was Sims who broke the news. “Dr. Wren Denniston was found murdered in his Chestnut Hill mansion this evening.”

I tried to say something clever, but the words caught in my throat. I caught a whiff of burn coffee in the air.

“Shot in the head,” said Hanratty.

“Imagine that,” said Sims. “Can anyone vouch for your whereabouts at around eight tonight?”


“You sure? We’re talking around eight o’clock. No one saw you at the office, at the store, didn’t happen to stop into the tap on your way home for a beer?”

“None of the above.”

“That’s a shame. Makes things a little tougher on you.”

“You mind if we look around?” said Hanratty.

“Not at all,” I said slowly, “as long as you have a warrant.”

Sims smoothed out the pleat on his pants. “So it’s going to be like that.”

“Yes, it’s going to be like that.”

“Have you seen Wren Denniston’s wife lately?”

“Thank you so much for coming.”

“We’re talking about Julia Denniston. The girl you were engaged to. The girl who broke your little heart. Have you seen her?”

“But I think it’s time for you to go.”

“You’d remember her, I’m sure. No flower has sweeter nectar than the old love who broke your heart. Isn’t that from an Eagles song? No, maybe not.”

“I’m done talking.”

“You hear that, Hanratty? He’s done talking.”

“I heard.”

“Which is funny, actually, because I don’t think he ever started. What should we do?”

“You know what we should do.”

Sims slapped his knee. “Give us a moment, Hanratty, won’t you?”

Hanratty glared some more at me, turned his glare on Sims, and then slipped out of the apartment. Sims stood from the couch and came over to where I was standing. He thumbed at the door, lowered his voice to a conspirator’s whisper.

“Hanratty wants to bust you right now, jerk you downtown, sweat you in the box. He’s that kind of cop. Hands-on, if you know what I mean. But lucky for you I caught lead on this case. You’re pals with McDeiss. McDeiss has attracted the eyes of the brass, he’ll be head of detectives someday. And word is you’re close to Slocum in the D.A.’s office, too. The downtown boys are trying to get him to run against his boss next term. That’s a lot of protection for a small-time lawyer who upholsters his couch in pleather. I don’t see any reason to ruffle your feathers.”

“There’s nothing to ruffle my feathers about,” I said.

“Good. That’s the way we’ll play it. Don’t worry, I’ll find someone to pin this on. I always do.”

“What is it you want, Detective?”

“I just want to retire with a pension and a nest egg and spend my days hunting and fishing, that’s all.” He chucked me on the shoulder. “Remember me at Christmas,” he said before following his partner out.

I locked the door after he left and then loped over to the window. I watched the two men leave my building and step over to their car, parked illegally on the far side of my street. They got in and sat. I was still watching them sit there when the door to my bedroom opened.

“Who was that?”

I turned. She stood there, trim and tawny, long legs falling out of a towel wrapped tightly around her body. Her head was tilted to the side, and she was rubbing a second towel over her long dark hair as she stared at me. To see her standing in my living room was too see a future devoid of want and strife, all my dreams satisfied, all my hopes fulfilled. She was a worker’s paradise in one stunning figure. I stared for a moment, I couldn’t help myself.

“It was the cops,” I said finally.

“Really? What did they want?”

I looked at her for a moment longer and then turned back to the window. The car was still there, Sims and Hanratty were still there.

“They came,” I said without turning around, “to tell me that your husband’s been murdered.”

The foregoing is excerpted from A Killer's Kiss by William Lashner. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022