Book Excerpt from The Price of Malice
From The Price of Malice, St. Martin’s/Minotaur, $24.99
Brattleboro is a standard hub town on one hand, and a quirky cultural oasis on the other. Housing some twelve thousand people by night, it swells considerably during the day, inflated by commuters from surrounding villages, including nearby New Hampshire and Massachusetts. But, in part because its three interstate exits are the first in a state famous for independent thinking, social activism is valued as one of the towns dearest assets. In the sixties, when both I-91 was being laid down and the counterculture was escaping the cities for visions of sylvan paradise, the combination of Vermont’s Bing Crosby beauty, its Ethan Allen outspokenness, and its sudden, easy access made it almost irresistible to a legion of urban dropouts.
[Joe Gunther] stood with the closed door to his back, motionless, surveying the single room.
It was an awful place — small, dark, foul, looking like the aftermath of a Kansas twister, minus the missing roof that would have only improved things. Instead, it felt like the den of some creature, custom-made from a child’s nightmare.
Slipping on a pair of latex gloves, Joe reached out and switched on the overhead light. A bare bulb hanging at the end of a wire illuminated the room’s center, casting an angular glare into all four corners. The single window was closed and covered with cardboard, duct-taped in place. The heat and stench made Joe’s nose tingle. He carefully removed his jacket and hung it on the doorknob, already feeling the sweat trickling between his shoulders blades and down the backs of his legs.
“Could you tell if Castine had only been there last night, or if he was using this place as a home away from home? I mean, for example, did you find his prints generally throughout the apartment, or mostly in his own blood?”
Lerner answered him. “I’d say the latter, but as you all know, fingerprints in general are a Hollywood obsession, where they’re the end-all, be-all. In a place like this, especially, where you have a different tenant every few months, and so many people coming and going anyhow, we don’t go crazy trying to catalog them. We collected what we thought made sense.”