The first victim is hung in crucifixion position—a gash in his side and a wreath on his head. Homicide detectives Dylan Black and Vivienne Sheffield are baffled by strange words written in Scrabble tiles, the dead man’s discarded glass eye, and wolf hair left at the scene.
The victim’s neighbor, a college student and mythology buff named Trevor McDaniel, is convinced the victim is not meant to represent Jesus, as the detectives first concluded, but rather an ancient Viking god who was killed by a monstrous, mythical wolf.
Four months later, the second murder is even more bloody and bizarre. The killer has beheaded, speared, and partially mummified a woman. This time he has painted Egyptian hieroglyphs on the bedroom wall and left behind a man’s severed hand and seven scorpions.
Eager for publicity, the killer writes self-aggrandizing letters to reporter Aggie Rhodes and signs them Fenrir, the Wolf—naming himself after the mythical god killer. Soon Aggie realizes the madman is embedding messages about his crimes in the text, and she vows to beat the monster at his own game and end his reign of terror.
With the city’s citizens in a panic and few clues to go on, Black and Sheffield desperately search for answers with the aid of Trevor, Aggie, Chief Medical Examiner Nikolina Petkov, and friend and fellow officer Amadeo Perez. The investigation takes them from the zoo to the university to the morgue and even to a strip club. As the hunt progresses, Detective Black finds himself entangled in a secret relationship with Trevor—a relationship that just might alter the Wolf’s next move.
Can Black and Sheffield solve the Myth Murders before the Wolf kills again? Or has he already chosen one of them?
While classic U2 played on the radio, Detective Dylan Black reviewed what he knew about the crime: white male, 58, lived alone, suspended in crucifixion position, gash in his side, wreath on his head, tortured. Like most U.S. cities, homicide was not uncommon in Normandy, Ohio, but ritualistic murder was a whole other game. This crime was unfamiliar territory for Black, who wasn’t entirely certain he was ready for the challenge.
Looking out from the sanctuary of his Lexus, Black surveyed the melee: three news channels vied for a story, an ambulance and four police cars were parked like flotsam at the end of the circle. Several officers stood talking rather than working, likely caught up in the gruesome details of the crime. Black didn’t see the chief medical examiner’s SUV, and he wondered if she’d even been notified yet. By now, officers should have strung yellow crime tape and started combing the crowd. This was clearly an unusual case, and the last thing the Normandy Police Department needed were accusations of carelessness and incompetence. Black wished his partner was here; but last he’d heard, the station said she couldn’t be reached. With a deep breath, he gathered his strength and stepped from the safety of the sedan into the balmy July air.
“Detective Black,” one reporter yelled, and the swarm of media turned his way. He squinted into the glare of lights. “Can you tell us about the victim?”
“Is it true he was tortured?” another asked.
“Do you have a suspect?” a third called out.
With a dismissive wave, Black continued his insistent stride toward the dead man’s apartment. Leaving reporters in his wake, he muttered, “No comment.” Then he said to Officer Ari Davis, who looked like a Scandinavian model, “Handle them. Give them the basics and no more.” Black patted the man’s chiseled cheek. “They love that face of yours.”
Black crossed the sidewalk and directed the show: He ordered two officers to string crime tape, two officers to interview neighbors, and the rest to search the nearby park. Once everyone was on task, Black entered the apartment building. Inside the entryway, he was surprised to find his partner, Vivienne Sheffield, talking with another officer.
“About time you got here,” she grumbled in jest.
“Was in the middle of washing my hair.” He ran his fingers through his short, black hair. “Thought you couldn’t be reached.”
“Yeah, well they got me, and I beat you here. Listen, this murder sounds like a real mess: bloody, violent, staged, and rife with symbolism.”
“Have you been in there?” Black asked.
She shook her head. “Was just about to enter. Ramsey was filling me in.” Officer Ramsey looked a little green around the edges, like he’d just seen his first brain surgery. “You can go, Ramsey. I’ll fill Detective Black in on the details.”
“Okay,” the officer responded, in an uncharacteristic quaver.
“Oh, and tell the techs to be ready to spend some time in there. And make sure the kid is okay.”
Ramsey nodded and then turned to flee.
“‘The kid’?” Black asked.
“Yeah. College student who found the vic. He’s pretty shaken up.”
“Where is he?”
“In Apartment C.” She gestured toward the door. “Right across from the dead guy’s.”
Sheffield’s blonde hair was styled in curls rather than harnessed into her customary ponytail, and she wore a full complement of makeup instead of her usual hint of eyeliner and lipstick. Vivienne Sheffield was an attractive woman, and tonight she looked a bit like a curvier Charlize Theron. Black animatedly looked his partner up and down, arched a brow and smiled.
“What?” Then she shook her head. “Don’t say it.” She ran her hands self-consciously down her fitted red dress. A self-confident woman in a world still dominated by testosterone, Sheffield suddenly wished her breasts weren’t so prominent and her gown didn’t accentuate her curves.
“At least you won’t be able to tell if you get blood on your dress,” he said. “You can go right back to your date.”
She socked him playfully on the arm. “Shut up.”
“I hope your date appreciates that dress. I’m jealous.”
Sheffield knew the latter statement wasn’t true, because Black had fumbled his opportunity. One night while working on a case, after long hours, some Szechuan chicken, a couple of drinks, and an unexpected touch of their hands, she had kissed her partner on the lips in the hope he would reciprocate. The kiss had felt wrong from the moment their lips touched. She apologized, he apologized, and then they talked it over briefly in clipped sentences. The discussion had ended with no closure, and the infamous kiss became their unspoken secret.
Dates were a rare commodity for Sheffield these days, but tonight’s lucky man was a manager named Bill something, who worked for the electric company, drove a Porsche, and filled out a suit nicely. Regrettably, she wanted to be here with Black more than she wanted to be at the opera with Bill something.
“Let’s go inside.” She handed Black latex gloves and paper booties.
As her partner entered the residence, Sheffield stealthily eyed him from the back. Medium height, stocky, with black hair and blue eyes, Dylan Black filled out his Levi jeans in a way that made her pulse race.
Everything in the dead man’s apartment had its place. Every line was sharp, crisp and even. Maybe a little OCD, Black thought. One wall of shelves was filled with books. Once he was close enough to read titles, whole categories were discernable: WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Civil War. A vase of dying flowers served as the centerpiece on a heavy oak dining-room table. A bundle of mail was strewn across one end of the table like it had fallen from the sky. Magazines like National Geographic and Newsweek lay haphazardly amid white envelopes. The air was frigid, a stark contrast to the oppressive summer heat outside. No signs of struggle were apparent in the large, open living space. However, the master bedroom told a much more disturbing and macabre story. Moving in slow motion, the detectives stepped into the room, allowing the horror to hit them gradually. The only sound was their paper booties on the hardwood floor.
“Jesus!” Sheffield gasped.
“Literally,” Black replied.
Lawrence Adams was suspended in crucifix position with one arm tied to each side of the bed’s wooden canopy. His head hung forward, and a wreath adorned his white, thinning hair. The bed’s gauze canopy had been removed and wrapped around the old man like a crude diaper. Bite marks covered his bruised and battered body, and a large gash in his side exposed tissue and bones. Staring at a bloody knife at the end of the bed, Sheffield bit her lower lip and wondered how long Adams had suffered before finally succumbing to his injuries.
“The perpetrator had control,” she stated. “This wasn’t an act of unrestrained rage. He toyed with him—maybe for hours.”
“He pierced his side and suspended him like Jesus,” Black said. “Is this supposed to look like a crucifixion?”
“There’s no wooden cross.”
“Maybe the psycho couldn’t make a cross, so he opted for the closest alternative, suspending him from the wooden canopy.”
“The killer must be a religious zealot.” Sheffield leaned her head back and shook her curls away from her face.
Black groaned. “Damn, I hate when religion is involved.”
“Isn’t this guy a bit old for Jesus?”
“But an older man is easier to control than a young guy. It’s probably more about the symbolism of the act than the physical similarities.”
“Is that supposed to be a crown of thorns?” She pointed to the victim’s head.
“Looks like shrubbery to me.”
The detectives moved about the room with investigative intent—opening drawers, checking under the bed, and looking in closets. Black found a King James Bible in the top dresser drawer and wondered if Adams had been targeted because of his faith. On the nightstand lay a bloody tooth that didn’t look human. Sheffield glanced at her partner and shook her head. Both surmised the killer had left the tooth as some kind of symbol, but neither had any idea what it meant. Next to the tooth was a Scrabble board with nonsense words written in game tiles: yggdrasil, sleipnir, vegtam, mimir, and fenrir. Black jotted the words on his notepad.
“Make sure they get a photo of this,” he said, to no one in particular. “I’m not too up on my Bible trivia. Maybe they’re anagrams. I bet our guy likes to play games.”
“He has feathers in his back!”
“What?” Black looked up to see two large, ebony feathers protruding from the victim’s shoulders. “Holy hell.” Neither detective knew what to make of this. They moved closer and peered up at Adams’s face.
“I think he’s missing an eye,” Sheffield proclaimed.
“Did Jesus lose an eye, or am I missing something here?”
Sheffield gently raised the dead man’s eyelid, and bloody ooze dripped onto her latex glove.
“Let’s bring the techs in.” Black looked in the mirror and caught his own somber expression.
“Does he have a cat?” Sheffield asked, pointing. “Is that cat hair on the bed?”
The two detectives leaned over and almost bumped heads. Black poked the hairs with a gloved finger.
“Looks like pet hair,” he observed.
“I’ll tell the techs about this.”
“This one’s gonna be ugly.”
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