Thrill Kill (Matt Sinclair #2) - Brian Thiem

Chapter 1

Oakland homicide sergeant Matt Sinclair stopped fifty yards from the small stand of trees. Silhouetted against a gray sky, the body of a naked woman hung by a rope from an oak tree. The toes of one foot barely touched the ground, while a second length of rope suspended the other foot level with her head, as if someone had posed her in a modern dance move. A cheap blue tarpaulin had been tied in the branches above the body by the responding officers to prevent the crime scene from getting any more soaked than it already was. Three men wearing black Gore-Tex raincoats and navy-blue baseball caps with the Oakland Police Department patch huddled under the tarp.

Sinclair stood on an asphalt pathway that ran from the parking lot, past a set of bleachers that overlooked a little-league baseball field, to a basketball court at the back of the park. He reached into his raincoat pocket and pulled out a stack of assignment cards, obsolete forms the size of archaic computer punch cards. Although they hadn’t been used in years for their intended purpose, the department continued to stock them for officers to use for taking notes in the field, specifically in rainy weather that would dissolve the paper of a legal pad.

Sinclair snaked his hand under his raincoat and suitcoat and fished a pen out of his shirt pocket. He glanced at his watch and wrote on the top card: Dec 4, 0658—Arrived at scene (Burckhalter Park). Cold, dawn, overcast, rain. He hated murder scenes in the rain. Not only did the rain wash away critical evidence, but it also forced him to be more of an asshole than usual to get the uniformed cops out of their dry cars to scour the area for witnesses and evidence.

He heard a car door slam behind him and turned to see a woman dressed in a tan raincoat open an umbrella and head up the path toward him. Maybe it was a man thing, but Sinclair could not fathom a cop, even when in plainclothes, using an umbrella when doing police work. Cathy Braddock and Sinclair had been partners for just over a year, and although Sinclair had had his doubts about her when she was first assigned to him, she proved herself during their first case together and helped bring down the serial murderer the media had nicknamed the Bus Bench Killer.

“I like the hat,” she said. Braddock was forty years old—three years older than Sinclair. She was five-foot-six and well proportioned, with chestnut-colored hair worn in a fashionable bob. Under her raincoat, she wore a stylish black pantsuit that allowed her to conceal her gun, handcuffs, and other tools of the trade. In the year they’d worked together, she’d transitioned from a mix of Berkeley frumpy and New England preppy to a San Francisco sophistication that conveyed authority and professionalism—she definitely didn’t look like a rookie anymore.

“Keeps my head dry.” Sinclair tapped the brim of his gray fedora, causing water to cascade onto his shoulder.

“You just get here?”

“Two minutes before you. Just taking in the sights.”

Braddock looked past him toward the victim. “Jesus. The desk officer said it was a naked woman hung from a tree, but I was hoping that was just his early-morning sense of humor.” They walked down the path, trying to avoid the puddles. “You okay, Matt? You look beat.”

Sinclair had heard that on every call-out back when he drank. Since he had gotten sober, he seldom looked as if he’d been up all night, even when the frequency of murders cut into his sleep. But sleep was hard to come by these days for Sinclair nevertheless. “I’m fine.”

Although his raincoat covered his uniform and hid the sergeant strips on the sleeve of the shortest man of the three standing under the tarp, Sinclair recognized the area supervisor by the bright smile that seldom left his face.

“Hey, Matt. Hey, Cathy,” said Sergeant Duane Boone. “Great morning for a murder, huh?”

Boone had been on the department for ten years, four years fewer than Sinclair, and was promoted to sergeant last summer, which explained his assignment to the midnight shift with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as his days off.

“No place we’d rather be,” said Sinclair.

“Who’s got the honors?” Boone asked.

“I’m up,” said Sinclair. “Braddock had a mom and pop Friday night.” Homicide investigators in Oakland worked in pairs and were assigned what was termed “standby,” where they were the on-call team for every murder that occurred during