Author: L.A. Stockman
Series: The Wild Hunt
Release Date: August 22, 2016
Format: ePub, Mobi, PDF
Cover Artist: Natasha Snow
Word Count: 47,800*
Sex Content: Explicit
Warning: Scenes of graphic violence, off-page abuse/torture of minors, off-page reference to sexual abuse of a minor.
In the Twist
L.A. Stockman © 2016
All Rights Reserved
Hanging in the tree, the boy’s body looked unreal. A forgotten Halloween decoration, the gore so over-the-top there was something almost cartoonish about it. Yes, David Shaughnessy thought, except for the smell. He wrapped his inadequate suit coat more tightly around his tall, lanky frame and stood in what he was already thinking of as “the viewing circle”—a ring of seemingly random detritus that formed a perfect vantage point from which to view the dead child.
His long-fingered, elegant hands were jammed unceremoniously into his pockets, twitching to make the gestures of faith that he was not entitled to perform. Dear God, if You have any love for the lost, take this child in Your arms. Forgive his petty, childish infractions and grant him Your most blessed peace.
That the boy was a runaway was obvious to him: David could see past the fetid, swollen ropes of intestines arranged in elaborate patterns in the branches, the odd way the tree itself seemed to have taken hold of slender arms in a wrap of branch and twist of vine that was not natural, but couldn’t really be man-made. There were needle tracks on those delicate arms, clothing that was tattered and torn, and a sweet, thin face just barely introduced to shaving beneath the rictus of pain and fear.
“How long have you lived here again?” The woman’s voice came from behind him, to the right toward the parked line of emergency vehicles. “And yet here you are, at oh-dark-whatever-the-fuck in the rain without a proper coat and boots. Shaughnessy, you’re fucking hopeless.”
“Ellen,” he responded quietly, without rancor. The older woman was just trying to help him, take him under her wing. She had a son not much younger than David. How to tell this ruthless pragmatist of a crime scene supervisor the truth? That standing in the cold rain, feeling it chill down to bone and marrow, was the most insignificant of penances, his discomfort a tiny drop of what this child must have felt. It was not right, that he was standing here, having avoided the same fate as the boy in the tree. “I was in such a hurry, I forgot again. Oh, please be careful of this ring. I’ll need it carefully documented.”
“Right,” Ellen said, tossing him a glare as she picked through the clearing with her sensibly attired team armed with flashlights until they found places to set up the harsh spotlights.
David stepped out of the ring and blinked. The scene became palpably less clear to him as the light of his pocket flashlight was swallowed by the rain and predawn darkness. The light didn’t quite reach to the boy in the tree, and all the details that were so distinct became dim in the distance. A shiver raced down his spine, and he knew it had little to do with the cold and damp. His hand went to the small intricate silver crucifix beneath what had once been a nicely pressed and starched dress shirt.
In the absence of that clarity, he was forced to move closer to the powerful stench, but he willed himself to put it away, to bear witness without blanching. It was the least he could do for this lost boy. The very, very least. An absent request brought a ladder over, and he leaned it somewhat haphazardly against the tree before clambering up it to look more closely.
The boy was no more than thirteen, perhaps fourteen and excruciatingly small for his age. David shined his light to the boy’s face and almost fell off the ladder. Amidst the filth and rain, the small features were composed: eyes carefully closed; face washed clean; wet, dirty hair raked back and some attempt made to untangle it, probably with fingers. There were flowers woven into his hair, flowers that smelled sweet this close, pure and white in the middle of this late-winter muck of rain.
Someone had tried to help.
David was still staring, processing what this could possibly mean, when a gruff, accented voice cut through the background noise of the crime scene team and coroners. He almost fell off the ladder again, but the owner of the voice steadied it with a foot braced against the bottom rung, driving it deeper into the soft earth. “Lad, you’re gonna end up on your arse if you’re not careful.”
“Um, thank you for that…astute…” There was no point in being rude, especially since the unidentified man was correct. “Yes, thank you.” David peered down at the man but couldn’t make out much thanks to the damnable mist and the man’s very weather-appropriate hat. He summoned his few shreds of dignity and climbed down the ladder to face the newcomer. The stranger was older, perhaps in his late forties, with the sort of face that was kind and predisposed to smiling. David found himself staring into warm, gray-green eyes, rapt, and the cold seemed to seep out of his bones.