Vicarious_cover

Jon F. Merz is a writer with over two dozen published novels, a producer for New Ronin Entertainment and a trained black belt ninja with over twenty years of training in authentic Togakure-ryu Ninjutsu. He has taught defensive tactics to civilian crime watch groups, police, military units, and agencies like the US Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Bureau of Prisons. In his past, Jon served with the United States Air Force, worked for the US government, and handled executive protection for Fortune 500 clients. He lives with his wife and two sons in suburban Boston. Visit his Web site at www.jonfmerz.net.

Vicarious by Jon F. Merz

When disgraced ex-FBI agent-turned-Boston-cop Steve Curran finds a corpse with no practical explanation for its death, the nightmares start again. Convinced the serial killer that caused his expulsion from the Bureau is once again haunting him, Curran soon learns his theories are all wrong. When the sister of the latest victim, Lauren Fields, uncovers an old journal detailing the hunt for a creature known only as the Soul Eater, she and Curran must confront the very real prospect that the killer is not of this world at all – and that his motives have little to do with killing, but all to do with something far, far worse.

 

REVIEWS

  • Police detectives, nuns, serial killers and green brains. What more could you ask from a paranormal thriller? Well when author Jon F. Merz writes a story you are guaranteed more. Much more. What starts as a serial killer investigation leads to a battle with the ultimate evil. A cleverly crafted tale that will keep you gripped until the very end. I highly recommend this.

    Amazon Review
  • One of my favorite authors has really done it again this a great read that pits a cop and a nun against a fight for each others lives.

    Amazon Reviewer

  • I am a huge fan of Jon F. Merz. His writing style always is so easy to follow and paints an awesome picture in my mind. I enjoyed this book and his other books very much. I love them all but my favorite still is PARALLAX.

    Update: I just re-bought this book for my Kindle, see that is how much I love it!

    Amazon Reviewer
  • ...a series and talented writer I'll be sticking with all the way."

    Mort Castle, bestselling author
  • Jon F. Merz's novels move at a break-neck pace, twisting through a landscape of thrills and terror."

    New York Times bestseller Douglas Clegg
  • ...a powerful first novel by a man who knows the turf already."

    New York Times bestseller Robert B. Parker
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Chapter One

The city always looked different after someone had been killed.

At least, that’s what Curran thought as he stood on the rain-slicked street enveloped by a cold mist and cigarette smoke. He imagined the water running off the cracked sidewalks could just as easily be the blood of all the victims of every killer he’d ever stalked.

A lot of rain, he thought.

A lot of blood.

Streetlights and multi-colored neon signs cast weird shadows that bounced off of limousines and nightclub fronts. Beat cops corralled drunken clubgoers while thick yellow police tape drew the attention of every news cameraman in town.

Curran took a final drag on his cigarette and tossed it into the gutter. The red cinder died as it touched the water and got swept away into the storm drain.

Where does all the blood go, Curran wondered as he ducked back inside the nightclub. Where does it all stop?

He heard the low growl – a creeping bassline to the dissonance of voices and other ambient crime scene noises. The heavy gauge steel zipper ground its teeth together; the body bag closed over the corpse inside.

Curran shuddered.

The sound always made him feel so hollow inside, a cobwebbed shell of a man so unlike how he’d been years ago.

“You okay, Steve?”

Curran glanced down. Kwon. The ever-efficient medical examiner’s eyes stared at Curran, concern clearly evident.

“You don’t look so good, pal.”

“Sound of that zipper drives me nuts. Means another person’s died and I’ve got the case.”

“Just be glad you’re hearing it from this side of the bag. Probably worse on the other, amigo.” Kwon squatted next to the bag and gave last minute instructions to his assistant. He stood and looked at Curran.

“An awful thing – this happening to the nightclub circuit.”

“Could have happened anywhere.”

Kwon sighed. “Yeah, but I love these joints. I come dancing down here all the time. Before, people used to ask me what I did, I could have lied. Gig’s up now for sure. I spotted a few waitresses who looked horrified to see me hop out of that meat wagon out front.”

“Your poor rep,” said Curran. “How long before you know what killed him?”

“Are you planning on solving this case tonight?”

Curran looked around the club. The music had long since stopped but some of the lights still whirred overhead, casting reds and oranges and yellows onto barstools and the parquet dance floor. Partially emptied glasses still littered the tables, condensation clearly evident in the warm still air. He looked back at Kwon. “I might get lucky.”

Kwon rubbed his expanding bald spot and nudged the bag with his foot. “Tomorrow, I guess. I gotta get some damned sleep. Been working thirty-six hours straight.”

“Didn’t they put enough money in your budget for help?”

“Sure, but she’s out at a conference in San Francisco right now. Be back in a few days.”

“In the meantime - ”

“In the meantime,” said Kwon, “I wouldn’t know a scalpel if you put one in front of me.”

“Any chance I can get you to crack this guy open tonight?”

Kwon yawned. “I don’t suppose you know a pair of nymphomaniac twin sisters?”

Curran lit a fresh cigarette, took a long inhale, and blew out a thin stream of smoke. “If I did, I’m not so sure I’d share that information with you.”

“What’s so special this guy can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“He’s got no wounds for one thing.”

“Maybe he had a myocardial infarction - a heart attack.”

“There’s no blood pooling anywhere.”

“That’s not necessarily unusual.” Kwon zipped up his jacket.

Curran sucked the cigarette. “No powder burns, either.”

“So he wasn’t shot.”

“No broken bones.”

“None I can find on a crude surface examination anyway.”

“There’s nothing,” said Curran. “I don't like corpses with no discernible signs of death.” Curran watched Kwon's assistants roll the gurney outside. “Especially when dying looks like the last thing that should have happened to them.”

Kwon sighed. “Look pal, this is Boston. We’ve got plenty of bodies with no reason to be dying. But they do anyway. That doesn’t mean they get bumped to the top of the line.”

Curran chewed his lower lip. “How about doing me a personal favor, then?”

Kwon laughed. “What kind of bullcrap is that?”

“No bullcrap.”

“Buddy, how long have we known each other?”

“Maybe five years.”

Kwon nodded and slid his hands into his jacket. “We’ve worked a lot of hellish cases together, you and I. I’m the best friend you’ve got in this town. If you know something about this, you’d better not hold out on me.”

Curran looked beyond the maroon velvet curtains. The shadowy entrance of the club seemed to bleed right into the dark of night outside. Kwon’s crew negotiated the corridor and bounced the gurney out. Curran felt his head begin to pound. He closed his eyes. He saw the same images – different cities and different bodies.

But always the same result.

With no answers.

He opened his eyes and looked at Kwon. “Maybe I've seen this before.”

“Maybe’s are for politicians and other scumbag liars.” Kwon fixed one of his hard stares and waited.

Curran stubbed out the cigarette in a silver ashtray and dropped the butt into a glass of something blue. “Before I came to Boston.”

“Back in the Bureau?”

Curran winced again. Hearing those words still made his gut ache. Five years away from the Washington backstabbers – the Old Boy network that had raped him hard - hadn't dulled his wrath. Curran doubted if anything ever could.

“Yeah. And I'm not excited that I'm seeing it again.”

Kwon held up his hand. “Okay, okay. You bring your car?”

“Parked down the street.”

“Meet me back at the office. Bring some damned coffee.”

“Thanks.”

Curran followed Kwon outside. The November night had turned colder, aided by a fierce wind that swept over Fenway Park and stabbed down into the collar of Curran’s coat. He shivered and walked back up the street toward his car. Around him, the uniforms yanked down the yellow crime scene tape and began laughing away any of the remaining tension.

If only it was that easy, thought Curran. He felt a deep gnaw at the pit of his stomach and frowned. His gut was trying to tell him something.

Curran ignored it.

He knew a lot of cops who went out of their way to trust their instincts. Curran preferred hard facts and cold figures. The more he could rely on science and logic, the better he felt.

He lit a fresh cigarette. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. He felt a presence. Curran wheeled around, expecting to see someone.

He saw no one.

Curran stood there, cigarette dangling out of the side of his mouth. His eyes searched the passers-by, looking. For what, he didn’t know. But something felt oddly familiar.

Déjà vu?

He frowned. Please no, he thought. Not here in my town.

My new town.

He slid inside the Toyota and shut the flashing blue strobe off. He tucked it back under his seat and sat there for a second, inhaling hard on the filter. After so many medical warnings, Curran may as well have been suckling at the breast of death.

It didn’t bother him much.

What did bother him was this body.

He gunned the engine and backed the car up the street, u-turning and jumping down into Kenmore Square. He took Commonwealth Avenue until it ended near the Public Gardens, swung around and over the backside of Beacon Hill, dropping into Albany Street and parking in an ‘authorized vehicles’ only slot.

He grabbed two black coffees at the twenty-four hour donut stand by Government Center and then cut back toward the Medical Examiner’s office.

At one-thirty in the morning, most security guards would have been fighting sleep, but the old fellow manning the checkpoint at the entrance to the City Morgue looked chipper enough.

“Dr. Kwon says you should go straight on in there,” he said after checking Curran’s identification.

Curran walked down the linoleum floor toward the heavy blue swinging doors. He sighed. The air around him felt cold. Like the death that hung over this entire section of the building. He hated coming here. Hated being surrounded by the dead.

But he knew the answers lay beyond the swing doors. He pushed through.

The outer office consisted of a few small desks, file cabinets and computer terminals. Curran noticed a set of coveralls, an apron, face shield, two pairs of gloves and shoe covers laid out for him. He glanced through the window separating the examination room from the outer office and saw Kwon looking up. His voice spilled out of a metal speaker by Curran’s right side.

“Hurry up. I’d like to get at least two hours sleep tonight.”

“You want the coffee?”

“Leave it for right now.”

Curran slid off his jacket and stepped into the coveralls. “Aren’t these gloves supposed to kept in a sanitary dispenser?”

Kwon smirked behind his plastic shield. “You aren’t going to make this guy any sicker, Steve. Get in here already.”

“You got any of that…stuff?”

Kwon sighed. “Second drawer in my desk.”

Curran opened it and found the small vial of eucalyptus oil. He dabbed it under each nostril, slid on his shield and gloves and then walked through the door.

Kwon waved him over. “You made good time.”

“You made better. I wouldn’t have thought you’d have him unloaded already.”

“I have help,” said Kwon. “Couple of heavies who can haul bags like nothing make all the difference in the world.”

Curran glanced around and saw they were alone. “Where’s the diener?”

“Gone for the night. I don’t need to remind you we normally perform our autopsies between 8 in the morning and four in the afternoon. This is a bit unorthodox.”

“The death could well be as well.”

“Well, since you insisted on this, you’ll be my assistant tonight.”

“Me?”

Kwon smiled. “No one else is here, pal.”

“You know I don’t do well at these things.”

“Then tonight’s your lucky night.” He smiled. “Are you ready?”

Curran noticed his breathing had increased. Keep it together, Steve. He clenched and unclenched his hands.

“Yeah.”

Kwon switched on the recorder with his other hand. Curran heard him clear his voice and begin speaking the particulars into the tape.

Curran looked down at the corpse. Nude. Limp. Completely devoid of life. But how had he died?

Kwon measured the body and called out the numbers to the recorder. He looked at Curran. “Help me with the body block, would you?”

“The what?”

Kwon held up a small rectangle of plastic. “Got to slide this under his back so I can get to the chest cavity better. You lift and I’ll slide it under.”

Curran frowned. “Wonderful.” He slid his arms under the small of the back and the neck and lifted. Kwon slid the block under and Curran let it down. The corpse’s arms dangled back slightly, making the chest protrude upwards more.

“Good,” said Kwon. “Preparation for the initial cut. Begin making a Y incision from the pubic bone up and branching off toward each deltoid…”

Curran listened to the running commentary. He saw Kwon’s scalpel cut deep into the skin. A red line broke in the scalpel’s wake, but not as much blood appeared as Curran would have thought.

“It’s pooled,” said Kwon. “Only a bit presents at the initial cut if the corpse has been this way for a while.” He glanced at Curran. “Ready to pull the flaps back?”

Curran took a deep breath. “Guess so.”

Kwon nodded. “Let me cut the muscles and soft tissue off the chest wall.” He stooped lower and Curran heard him make some quick cuts. He leaned back, bloody blade in one hand. “Okay. Pull the chest flap up and over his face.”

Curran grasped the angled sides of the initial cut and felt the skin give easily. It flopped up over the face. The underside reminded him of a pizza without the cheese on it. The smell hit him a second later. “Christ.”

Kwon frowned. “You know, to me this smells like raw lamb meat.”

“Wonderful.”

“What – you never had a gyro before?”

“Only one I ever ate gave me food poisoning back in high school.”

“You never had another one ever again?”

“Do we need to discuss food right now?”

“Sorry.” He hefted a small electric saw. “Let’s open the rib cage.” The saw switched on with a high-pitched whine that sounded a bit lower in octave than the drill at the dentist. Kwon leaned over the chest cavity and Curran heard the blade bite into bone. A small amount of smoke crept out. Small bits of white bone leapt out of the cavity. Curran thanked God he hadn’t eaten in a while. Most of the autopsies he’d seen before were after all the dissection had occurred. Going through the process bit by bit was something new to him.

Curran wasn’t sure he wanted to repeat the experience any time soon.

Kwon lifted off the plate of ribs and handed it to Curran. “Put it down there in that tray.” Curran did so and looked back to see Kwon examining what he thought looked like the heart.

“What are you doing now?”

Kwon began probing with his finger and then made a cut. “Opening the pericardial sac. I need to find the pulmonary artery – where the blood leaves the heart – and check it out.”

“For what?”

“Thromboembolus. Ever hear of it?”

“No.”

“It’s a blood clot that’s broken off somewhere else in the body. It travels into the heart, gets lodged there – usually by the pulmonary artery, and causes sudden death.” He glanced up. “I know you’ve got some theory of how this happened, but I’d like to be able to rule out any possibles.”

“I’d rather it was something like that what you just described,” said Curran.

Kwon grimaced and prodded for another few seconds. “So much for that.”

“Nothing?”

“Nada. We’ll cut the abdominal walls next so we can get to the organs inside.” Kwon made some more cuts with the scalpel and Curran saw the sides of the stomach fall apart.

Kwon leaned back. “Okay, pal. Here’s where we play hand-off. I’ll remove the organs and you place them down there in those trays for dissection later on, okay?”

Curran winced. “Great.”

“It’s in one big block. Be cool.” He pointed at the counter. “Hand me that string would you?”

“What’s this for?”

Kwon felt around the neck. “Cut me off two lengths about six inches long. I’ve got to cut the subclavian and carotid arteries. I’ll tie ‘em off and that way the mortician will see the string and know where to inject the embalming fluids.”

“Nice of you to make it convenient for them.”

Kwon leaned back. “Okay. Now I’ll make some cuts, give you the organ block and then we’ll move on to the brain.”

Curran watched Kwon make a few quick slashes with his scalpel. He heard the squishy and springy sounds of tendons and ligaments snapping after being cut. He saw the precision with which Kwon operated.

And still he didn’t feel comfortable.

Kwon looked at him. “You ready?”

“Yeah.”

Kwon scooped out the organ block, which ran from just under the neck to down into the intestines and slid the gooey mass into Curran’s cradled arms.

Curran saw his arms instantly slick over with bright red. His fingers closed around the organs and he hurriedly dumped the block into the stainless steel tray over the corpse’s feet.

Kwon yanked the body block out and positioned it under the corpse’s head. To Curran, it looked like the corpse was reaching up for a kiss. Kwon’s scalpel bit into the corpse’s head behind his right ear. Kwon cut all the way up and over the top of the head, down to behind the other ear. He took the scalpel out and smiled at Curran.

“Ever scalped someone before?”

“Excuse me?”

“There are now two sections of the head. The front flap and the rear flap. We need them both pulled back to expose the skull. Which end do you want?”

Curran wanted a cigarette. Badly. “Front, I guess.”

“Don’t be afraid to use a little strength. That can be tough sometimes.” He motioned for Curran to position his hands. “Okay, give it a good yank.”

Curran felt his fingertips slide under the lip of skin on either side. He pulled and it suddenly came loose in his hands. The skin came down just over the forehead. It looked like the corpse had a mask halfway off his face.

Kwon repeated the procedure for the rear flap. Curran saw the skull exposed and tried to keep from remembering what the image looked like.

“Hand me that Stryker saw, would you?”

Curran picked it up and handed it to Kwon. Another high-pitch whine filled the air. Kwon bent low and began cutting around the equator of the skull. Curran stood back.

Please, he prayed, please don’t let it be.

Kwon finished cutting and looked up. “You okay, Steve?”

Curran opened his eyes. “Yeah.”

“You sure?”

“Are we almost done?”

“I’m ready to remove the calvarium – what we call the top of the skull. Don’t get freaked out by the sound.”

“Is it bad?”

Kwon grinned and grasped the top of the skull. Curran heard a wet sucking sound and then the top came off in Kwon’s hands.

No!

“Jesus H. Christ.”

Curran exhaled. It couldn’t be. Not here. Not now!

Kwon leaned back against the counter, skullcap still in his hand. He pointed at the exposed brain. “Is thatyour theory, Mr. Homicide Detective?”

Curran nodded slowly. “Yeah.”

“You’ve seen this crap before?”

“Yeah.”

“That brain is green, Steve.”

Curran sighed. “Yeah. It is.”

“That’s not normal. Not one goddamn bit.”

Curran shut his eyes, but the images already filled his mind. After all this time. After the peace. The quiet.

Shattered.

God help me, thought Curran. God help us all.