breath and bone
Darkness dwells within even the best of us.
In the worst of us, darkness not only dwells but reigns.
- Dean Koontz, "Strange Highways"
about the book...
Tess Alexander is a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist from California who becomes involved in the life of Rennie Matlock, a young woman who at the age of fifteen, brutally murdered her mother. Compelled to understand the why? behind that killing, Tess befriends Rennie and learns many of the ugly secrets behind the Matlock's happy family facade--but it is not until years later when Rennie is released that she divulges the ugliest secret of them all.
Just as she is finally ready to break away from her past and start a new life, Rennie herself suffers a gruesome death in a seedy motel in the high Sierra mountains, leading Tess on a quest to discover the truth behind Rennie's death: was it really suicide, as the authorities claimed, or was it murder?
Along the way, Tess runs afoul of Rennie's powerful father, who by then has become a state Senator rumored to be involved in large-scale payoffs and bribes and, Tess suspects, much worse.
excerpt . . .
They were barren. Hollow. Obsidian, murky pools of nothingness, devoid of light and life. In death, her eyes didn't look so very different than they had when she was alive: the eyes of someone whose soul simply wasn't there anymore. The eyes of someone whose soul had been murdered long before she finally gagged on the nightmare that had been her own life, a life that ended with a straight-razor's slash to the throat.
The police photographer's flash blinked again, freezing the scene in a bloody instant of time. Moments later, a pimple-faced ambulance attendant reached down with a quavering hand and closed her eyelids, then stood up and took an involuntary step backwards. It was his first night on the job, his first call of the night. Some initiation.
An older man in white motioned the young recruit to help him lift the lifeless body onto the lowered gurney, then together they covered her with a soot-gray plastic shroud and hoisted the stretcher up onto its wheels. As they began to roll their cargo toward the door, one wheel jammed slightly against a hump in the matted carpet and the young woman's hand dropped outside the covering, dangling there as the gurney bumped its way across the threshold.
Thoughts careened through Tess’s mind as she watched Rennie Matlock’s lifeless hand hideously waving and dancing to the rhythm of the gurney’s wobbling wheels. Rennie finally quit biting her nails. Never noticed that before. As a matter of fact, I never noticed before how pretty her hands were. Small and delicate, like a child's. How incongruous that such hands could be capable of the horror they inflicted so long ago, and then again tonight. So many enigmas.
"Miss Alexander?" A burly police lieutenant touched her lightly on the shoulder. "Could we have a few minutes of your time for a statement?"
The words snapped Tess Alexander out of her reverie, even as the doors of the coroner’s van clanged shut on another life. The leaden weight of sorrow and defeat sat in the middle of Tess’s chest, only amplifying her exhaustion. She'd been awake for over twenty-four hours, the last two in this scruffy, rancid-smelling motel room where she had discovered Rennie's body. What she really wanted was about twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep. And some time alone to think.
She looked up at the khaki-clad officer—“Lt. William Schiffler, Sheriff's Homicide," announced the plastic badge on his shirt pocket—and almost told him it had to wait until morning, before realizing that would only postpone the inevitable.
"Is there somewhere else we can go?" she asked, motioning toward the deathbed, soaked in crimson. "I’d rather not talk here."
"Oh—of course. Sure, ma’am," Lt. Schiffler said with embarrassment. "I get so used to stuff like this that I don't even think about how it might affect other people. 'Course, this one was pretty bad…" His voice trailed off as he stared at the bed and the blood-spattered wall beside it. "The station's only a mile or so away, if that would be better."
"Is there coffee at this time of night?"
"That's anybody's guess," he said ruefully, as they stepped out into the biting midwinter air. His breath hung in front of him like a frozen cloud. "I can put on a new pot when we get there, though."
"Fine. You lead the way." Tess turned toward her car, parked in front of the motel office. The neon sign flickered a garish yellow green, " O VA ANCY." There's one now, she thought.