Tim Green

The Letter Of The Law

The first book in the Casey Jordan series, 2000

For Illyssa, my friend, my partner, and my love.










While he knew the Internet opened a doorway to the world, Walt Tanner had no idea that it would also allow evil to slip in through the back… The raw night was typical of the Texas panhandle in late fall. Swirling leaves and grit chafed the curbside. Tanner, a tall, almost handsome salesman in a powder blue suit, sniffed at the smell of the coming weather and wiped a protective tear from his eye. His hotel, a Ramada Inn, was rundown and seedy, but there was a comforting familiarity in the lobby's musty smell. He'd been making calls on a plastics manufacturer in Stratford for the past seven years, and after a marketing dinner at Calvin's Steak House, this was where he always spent the night.

But tonight wasn't going to be the same as every other. The false promises of the plastics man still ringing in his ears didn't make his stomach churn the way they normally did. Tonight he had a date with destiny. For weeks, he had courted over the Internet, hurrying back to his hotel rooms throughout the Southwest to get on-line and link up. After a time, he was able to convince her to send him a picture, and what a picture it was. There were flaws, yes. At the age of fifty-three, Tanner no longer expected perfection. But she was fine, much younger than he was, and she had a nasty way of talking about sex that thrilled him beyond description.

And now, finally, tonight was the night. It had all been so simple, so beautifully simple. It started with posting a picture of himself along with a description that included his height, weight, education, and occupation on a singles bulletin board on the Web. His few friends had scorned his notion of finding love on the Internet. But he hadn't found it any other way, and now this…

His only reservation was with her mysterious idiosyncrasies. She wanted to meet him late at night in a rural location. She didn't want dinner or a movie, or even casual conversation. She wanted sex, raw and hard, or so she said. It stirred him. He had to admit that. But at the same time, something didn't seem quite right about it. It rang false, her insisting that he get a ground-floor room at the end of the building near the exit. He wouldn't have minded as much if his room at the Ramada didn't face a set of Dumpsters that needed emptying. It was as if she were embarrassed about something. But his latent libido had cast caution aside. What did it matter, really? In the worst case, she would turn out to be a man with hopes of committing an illegal act of fellatio, and he would send her, or him, on his pitiful way. But if the whole thing were for real? It would be the beginning of something special.

Tanner unlocked his room and settled in to wait. There was a six-pack of Coors mixed with some melted ice waiting in the sink. With a cold, wet can in hand, he propped himself up against the bedstead with some pillows, picked up the remote, and began channel surfing. Normally he would get on-line, but he felt funny about that with her coming, like he was cheating on her or something.

In the end, it wouldn't have mattered. Tanner awoke to the snow of an empty channel and three empty Silver Bullets on the night table. He loosened his tie and slouched down into the bed. Before drifting off to an even deeper sleep, he thought fleetingly of the unlocked sliding glass door. The effort to get up and lock it, however, would leave him wide-awake, and he wanted nothing more than for the brutally disappointing night to be over, so he shut down his mind and turned on his side.

He still lay there that way, with his mouth open wide, faintly snoring, when the glass door slid open quietly at three-thirty in the morning. A tall, hooded figure in black peered around the edge of the curtain and looked from Tanner to the hissing television, then back to Tanner. With gloves on his hands and dark wool socks stretched over the outside of his shoes, the man silently crossed the room.

He stood beside Tanner's bed, looking him over carefully, making sure that he, too, hadn't lied about his physical description. He was about six feet five, sadly out of shape, but his frame was large and square-shouldered all the same. His hair, dyed a rusty brown, was drastically thin, but that wouldn't matter, either. From the waist of his pants, the man in black extracted an automatic pistol made unusually long by its silencer.

He could have killed Tanner without his ever knowing what happened, but that wouldn't be cruel. It was nothing personal against the salesman, but a greater need to show his lethal power, the way a gun trader would show off an exotic weapon. Moving close in order to look him in the eye, the killer jammed the pistol's barrel roughly to the roof of Tanner's mouth. Tanner's eyes shot open, alive with shock, but only for a moment. The heavy metal clank of the gun's action erupted, and feathers from the pillow shot up into the air like the small flurry inside a snow globe. A crimson stain quickly appeared on the white pillow beneath Tanner's head and spread rapidly to the sheets.

The killer unfolded an enormous nylon duffel bag from his pack and folded Tanner's long frame in the bedding so that he could roll it inside. Before zipping the bag, the killer took Tanner's laptop from his briefcase and tossed it in beside the body. With both hands, the dark figure dragged Tanner's lifeless form out through the sliding door and into the night.


The spring rain was light and fresh. The air was warm. A sliver of sun had torn through the hem of the western clouds with the promise of better weather. Bright sprouts of grass had recovered from a chilly Texas winter and blanketed the lawns in a shimmering lime green. The trees lining either side of the busy street were exploding with new buds. But Bob Bolinger didn't notice any of that. The heat was getting to him. The air pumping out of his car vents was tepid at best. He needed Freon, among other things. He also needed a date. He knew that. It was almost five years since he had found his wife in bed with his ex-best friend.

Bolinger looked at his watch. Quitting time. He loosened his tie, slid down in the driver's seat, and relaxed for the first time that day. Like Houdini, he squirmed out of his old gray blazer while keeping one hand on the wheel, noticing for the first time a week-old mustard stain on the jacket's sleeve. Maybe he'd get in a quick nine holes before dark. Then he could shoot on over to the Romper Room, have a couple of scotch and sodas and a burger at the bar, and who knew? He might get lucky. What was the lottery slogan? You gotta be in it to win it.

Then the call came in. Bolinger cursed out loud but gladly took the call. The last thing the Romper Room needed was a mangy old cop on the prowl for some love. Anyway, this call was important. Apparently, a young woman, a law student, needed a body bag. He wondered fleetingly if his ex-wife would ever end up in a body bag. He cast that whimsical notion aside and ran a hand up over the top of his bristly gray crew cut, scratching the back of his leathery neck.

From the tone of the call, it sounded like a messy scene. Bolinger spun the wheel and turned back his unmarked cruiser against the grain of the traffic. He shot up Guadalupe and into the old homes near the university. The University of Texas was as big a part of Austin as the state capitol itself. So when a body turned up anywhere near the campus, all kinds of noses got out of joint. No one liked the idea of anyone dying young.

There were already six squad cars and an unmarked at the scene, as well as an ambulance with its lights still flashing. The patrolmen were well into the process of sealing off the area. Bolinger didn't have to show his badge as he dipped under the yellow tape. They knew who he was. The crime lab techs arrived at the same time, jumping out of their van and invading the scene like paratroopers. They spilled around Bolinger and he let them. He was in no hurry to get inside. He wanted to take in the scene. The house was an old two-story surrounded by towering oaks. The number of mailboxes told him the place had been split up into three apartments. A cracked driveway led to the detached garage in the back of the house. The girl's apartment was back there on the ground floor. Bolinger met his best friend on the force, a detective named Farnhorst, on the back steps. He was the first suit on the scene, and his honey-colored skin had a green cast.

'I heard it's ugly,' Bolinger said.

Farnhorst looked down at his boss. Bolinger was only five feet six. Tears welled in the bigger man's sad-looking eyes, and this puzzled Bolinger.

'Goddamn, Sergeant.' Farnhorst choked. 'Goddamn.'

'Anyone see anything?' Bolinger asked. His square-cut chin was protruding, and his dark brown eyes bore into his friend like deadly weevils. Bob Bolinger did his job without emotion.

'Nothing yet. No one home in either of the other places. The paperboy found her and called nine-one-one, out of his mind. I guess she'd leave the money on the kitchen table, and he'd just walk in to get it if she wasn't home.' Farnhorst let Bolinger pass and said quietly, 'Her name was Marcia Sales…'

Bolinger could smell the gore the second he walked through the door. When he saw the body, he took a deep breath.

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