Very Bad Men

by Harry Dolan

Very Bad Men

Paperback, 412 pages, Penguin Group USA, List Price: $15 | purchase

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Book Summary

Mystery magazine editor David Loogan receives a sinister manuscript that begins with a murder confession and names individuals who are being stalked and killed for their involvement in a notorious robbery years earlier.

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Excerpt: Very Bad Men

The sun glowed on the copper spire of Saint Joseph's Church. The bell in the tower struck ten and Anthony Lark listened from his Chevy in the lot across the street. He could see the vestibule standing open, a pair of heavy oaken doors swung wide.

Dozens of mourners had already gone inside, far more than Lark had anticipated. He had thought of Charlie Dawtrey as a man with a single son, but now he supposed there must be other children, a whole extended family. Lark watched them ascend the granite steps of the church.

The woman from the Cozy Inn — Madelyn — arrived late. She had a teenaged boy with her, the one whose photograph hung on the wall of Dawtrey's cottage.

Lark saw them pass inside, and then he watched a sheriff 's cruiser draw up in front of the granite steps. A stocky deputy with curly hair stepped out on the driver's side and walked around the front of the car, looking up and down the street. A second deputy — younger, slimmer — opened the rear passenger door and hauled out Terry Dawtrey.

Dawtrey wore a gray suit that hung loosely on him, no tie. His dark hair was shaved down to stubble. His hands were clasped in front of him. A glint of sunlight caught the circlet of a handcuff on his wrist.

Shackles on his ankles too. He hobbled sideways up the steps, one deputy close at his elbow, the other watching the street. When the three had disappeared into the vestibule, Lark started his car and rolled out of the lot heading west.

Whiteleaf Cemetery lay at the foot of a hill studded with pines. Lark walked among the trees carrying his rifle in a rolled-up blanket. He had left his car a quarter mile back, on the side of a road that bordered the cemetery. He thought it would be all right. He had spotted another car parked nearby, a rusty Camaro half on the gravel and half in the weeds by the roadside.

Lark found the spot he had picked out the day before, a smooth piece of ground in the shade of a white pine that offered a vantage on the cemetery below.

The better part of an hour passed before the first cars arrived. Lark observed them from the ridge of the hill, where he sat with the rifle lying across his knees. As he waited for the sheriff 's cruiser, he had the sudden panicked thought that he had made a mistake. Maybe the deputies wouldn't bring Terry Dawtrey here, maybe the service at the church was all that he would get.

Lark watched the pallbearers gather at the rear of the hearse. A black-suited funeral director arranged them on either side and they drew out the casket. Still no sign of the cruiser, and Lark thought seriously about lighting out for his car. He could find the cruiser on its route back to Kinross Prison and run it off the road. It might not be too late.

The priest from Saint Joseph's stood at the graveside, a small group of mourners around him. Madelyn stood a little apart, in a dark blouse and a long skirt. The boy from the photograph leaned against her.

The pallbearers delivered the casket. The priest opened his Bible. And the sheriff 's cruiser, at last, rumbled slowly over the gravel of the parking lot.

By the time Terry Dawtrey shuffled across the cemetery lawn, flanked by a deputy on either side, Lark had positioned himself under the boughs of the white pine. He lay on his stomach, the butt of the rifle at his shoulder, elbows and toes nestled in soft bowls of pine needles. Through the scope he followed Dawtrey's progress across the lawn, but the stocky deputy obscured his shot.

Lark rested his rifle on the ground. The deputies led Dawtrey to the far side of the grave, away from the other mourners. The priest began to speak, but his words came to Lark only indistinctly. Lark let his gaze wander over the lines of headstones. Only a few looked as if they had been tended. A plastic vase stood before one of them, filled with roses and fern.

Lark's eyes trailed along the lines of stones and then jumped to the cemetery fence: pillars of cast concrete set at intervals with black iron bars running between them.

Part of the fence cut across the slope of the hill beneath him, and someone had tied a strip of yellow cloth to one of the bars. The ends fluttered in a mild wind.

The priest kept things brief, and when Lark focused again on the ceremony the funeral director was working his discreet magic, pressing a button to lower the casket into the grave.

Some of the mourners went forward to reach into a mound of earth and cast handfuls of it onto the casket. Madelyn and the boy were among them. When the crowd began to disperse, the deputies led Terry Dawtrey to the mound so he could repeat the ritual, digging into the earth with his two cuffed hands, letting it drift through his fingers like dark rain.

Afterward, Terry Dawtrey huddled together with the two deputies. A moment later they separated. Lark brought the rifle to his shoulder and watched Dawtrey begin to walk along a path leading away from the remnants of the crowd, with the slim deputy following at a respectful distance. The stocky deputy went to have a word with the priest.

Lark peered through the scope and saw Dawtrey's scuffed black shoes and the chains of the shackles skittering along the path. The scope trailed up and the crosshairs passed over Dawtrey's laced fingers and the silver rings of the handcuffs. It trailed farther until the circle framed his face. Eyes intense, searching.

Lark pulled back from the scope and took in the larger scene: Dawtrey hobbling toward the grave with the vase of roses in front of it, each step bringing him closer to Lark's position. The slim deputy now several yards behind.

He looked again through the scope, at Dawtrey's bowed head, at the weary set of his shoulders. He put the crosshairs on Dawtrey's chest, a patch of white shirt between the lapels of the jacket. His finger tensed on the trigger.

A sharp series of pops broke the quiet — rapid like machine-gun fire. Lark jerked back from the scope and looked to his left to find the source of the sound. Sparks flashed in the distance, shooting up from the gravel of the cemetery parking lot. A pair of boys, laughing, danced back from the sparks. Cutoff jeans and tennis shoes. Open shirts revealing skinny, tanned torsos. Sixteen years old, seventeen at the outside. One of them set the flame of a lighter to a fuse and tossed something onto the gravel, and another series of pops lit up the air.

Lark turned back to the scene on the cemetery lawn in time to see Terry Dawtrey squatting by the vase of roses, plucking something from the grass. Then the fingers of Dawtrey's right hand touched each of his ankles in turn, and the shackles fell away onto the path. He shot up like a sprinter out of the block — no sign of hunched shoulders or weariness now. He touched right hand to left wrist, left hand to right wrist, and the circles of the handcuffs dropped into the grass. His arms pumped and he made straight for the strip of yellow cloth tied to the fence.

Lark put his eye to the scope of the rifle, wobbled the crosshairs to Dawtrey's chest, and squeezed the trigger.

Excerpted from Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan. Copyright 2011 by Harry Dolan. Excerpted by permission of Berkley Trade.

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