Home > Quarter to Midnight (New Orleans #1)

Quarter to Midnight (New Orleans #1)
Author: Karen Rose




Lafourche Parish, Louisiana

   SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 10:15 P.M.

   Oh no. No, no, no.” Rocky Hebert smelled death, the stench hitting him hard as he approached the doctor’s kitchen door. He was no stranger to the smell of a decaying body, having encountered it multiple times during his career. But this was different.

   This was . . . not more important, because all of the dead were important. Well, not all of them, he allowed. Many of the dead deserved their fate. But the doctor wasn’t one of them.

   He’d needed the doctor alive and well.

   And able to tell him things. Important things.

   Maybe the dead guy isn’t the doctor, he thought. But it was a fool’s hope, he knew. The doctor lived alone, and nobody came out this far into the sticks without good reason.

   Maybe he’d died of natural causes. Maybe it wasn’t anything nefarious. Maybe they were both simply unlucky, he and the doctor.

   Rocky eyed the doorknob with a growing sense of dread. The lock was scratched up, like someone had broken in. He withdrew a disposable glove from his pocket and twisted the doorknob, unsurprised when the door opened easily.

   It’s a trap. Turn around and leave. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. He was so close. He needed to know if this was the doctor or—

   He released the breath he’d been holding, reflexively sucking in another when the stench hit him full force. Fucking hell. His eyes stung, his stomach rebelling. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

   It was the doctor, all right. Or it had been. The man’s throat had been slit and—

   He swallowed hard, taking a step back, away from the grisly sight.

   The man’s throat had been slit, his gut eviscerated. There was blood and intestines and—

   Spinning around, Rocky vomited into the doctor’s rosebushes. Goddammit. He was too late.

   Too late by at least a day, if the flies covering the man’s open wounds were any indication.

   He hovered over the rosebush, frozen in place, hands on his knees as his body continued to shudder. I should call the police. But not here. And definitely not from my own phone.

   Luckily, he had a burner—the same one he’d been using to communicate with the doctor for the past two weeks as he’d nagged and encouraged and begged the man to meet with him.

   He’d stop on his way home and make the call. The guy deserved better than to be left to rot on his own kitchen floor.

   He spat again, wishing for a strong drink. Wishing he hadn’t finally gotten sober.

   Wishing he’d done so many things differently.

   He straightened with a muted groan, looking around to be sure he wasn’t about to meet the same end as the poor doctor. There was no one around, the only sound the croaking of frogs in the small marshy canal behind the doctor’s house.

   There was more than frogs in that water. Gators were more than likely, this close to the bayou.

   Rocky wondered why the man’s killer hadn’t simply dragged him to the water’s edge and tossed him in. And then he froze again because he knew why.

   I was supposed to find him. They knew I was coming.

   Except he didn’t know who “they” were. He’d been searching for “them” for more than fifteen years.

   I was so damn close.

   Or was I?

   At this point, “they” were probably just playing with him. Cats taunting a mouse.

   Rocky drew his gun from his holster. “I ain’t no damn mouse,” he muttered, making his way to the shed in the doctor’s backyard with unsteady steps. He half expected to be gunned down before he reached the rusted-out shed. Half expected to be attacked from behind, to feel the bite of a knife against his throat.

   But nothing happened and he opened the shed door without incident, peering inside and feeling a small wave of relief when he found what he’d been hoping for.

   Bleach, the jug about half full. He took the jug and dumped its contents over the rosebush, rendering any DNA in his vomit useless.

   Then he walked to his old Ford truck, tossed the jug in the bed, closed the tailgate, and slid behind the wheel. He’d seen no one lurking in the shadows. Didn’t mean there was nobody there, but he had a feeling that if someone had been there, he wouldn’t be alive to be wondering about them.

   He drove for a half hour, pulling over when he reached a point halfway to his own home. Taking the burner from the truck’s glove compartment, he dialed 911, reported the man’s death, and hung up, refusing to give his name.

   Driving another five minutes, he slowed the truck on a bridge, rolled the window down, and tossed the burner into the river. Nobody would find it. More than thirty-five years of being a cop had taught him all the best tricks.

   He hesitated, thinking of Gabriel. His son would be working, doing what he loved best. Rocky was glad he’d seen him the weekend before, glad he’d hugged him hard when they’d parted. Glad he’d told Gabe that he loved him. Because he had the awful feeling that it would be the last time he did so.

   As much as he didn’t want to be the mouse, the cat was powerful, its reach long, its claws sharp. At least they wouldn’t go after Gabe. He’d at least done that part right.

   Gabe knew nothing of any of this. He never had. His boy would tell him, “Call the police, Dad!” Because Gabe still thought the cops were the good guys.

   Maybe I should have told him the truth. Maybe I should have warned him.

   Maybe I should warn him now.

   No. He’d done the right thing, keeping Gabe in the dark.

   Rocky continued to drive, his thoughts in turmoil. He was half tempted to bypass his own house, the home into which he’d carried Lili over the threshold when they’d been young and carefree newlyweds, the home in which they’d raised their son to be a good man. He was tempted to keep on going, tempted to run.

   But to where? There wasn’t anywhere he’d be able to hide.

   And what kind of life was that anyway?

   But Gabriel . . .

   Rocky’s chest ached at the thought of never seeing his son again. Of not finishing what he’d begun.

   Of not getting justice for the real victim of this nightmare.

   In the end, he decided to face the inevitable, because running away was not who he was.

Metairie, Louisiana

   SUNDAY, JUNE 12, 11:45 P.M.

   Pulling into his driveway, Rocky sat looking at his house, thinking about the doctor lying dead on his own kitchen floor.

   Don’t let Gabe find me that way. Please.

   Hands trembling, he reached for his cell phone, tapping his camera roll and staring at the last photo. Him and Gabe last weekend, standing shoulder to shoulder for the photo. Both smiling.

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