Exclusive Excerpt: Pumpkin Eater: A Dan Sharp Mystery (Book 2) by Jeffrey Round

Excerpt:

Four faces looked up expectantly as Dan entered the room. Seated with the two officers he’d encountered at the morgue were the chief of police and Dan’s former boss, Ed Burch.

     “Hello, Ed. Fancy meeting you here.”

     “Good to see you again, Dan.”

     The chief stood to shake his hand, introducing the two officers as Danes and Pfeiffer.

     “Thanks for coming to meet us. The reason we’ve asked you here today, Dan, as I’m sure you realize, is because of the body you discovered at the old slaughterhouse last night.”

     “The man’s name was Darryl Hillary,” Dan said.

     The chief’s cool blue eyes stayed on him, taking his measure like any good tailor or undertaker.

     “Yes, of course. And I understand you were hired to find him by his sister.”

     “Darlene Hillary. That is correct.”

     “For reasons of discretion, I have to ask you to keep to yourself what I’m about to disclose. Are you good with that?”

     Dan inclined his head. “I’d have to know what it is first, but if it’s above-board and nothing to do with me then I can give you a reasonable assurance I’ll keep my mouth shut.”

     The chief looked to Ed. “You described him pretty well, Ed.”

     “Dan’s a straight shooter,” Ed said.

     The chief gave him another shrewd look, as though trying to decide how much to confide in him. As far as Dan was concerned, they’d invited him to this game of poker, so it was up to them to reveal their hand first.

     “I won’t mince words here, Dan. The reason we’ve asked you to come by today is because Ed suggested you might help us.”

     Dan’s ear picked up. This was the first he’d heard of being asked to help the police. He turned to Ed, who took up the narrative briefly.

     “That’s right, Daniel. I’ve been asked to work as a special consultant on the case, in light of my capacity as a former police officer. When I heard what was being asked, I suggested you might have a part to play in it.”

     The chief’s icy eyes travelled from Ed back to Dan. “We believe yesterday’s murder is related to a larger investigation into a child prostitution ring, which has taken on the proportions of a Canada-wide operation.” He indicated the two officers. “Detective Danes was assigned to lead the operation in the GTA. With Hillary’s murder, Constable Pfeiffer has just taken over as evidence officer. That’s where Ed felt you might help us, Dan.”

     Dan noted how the chief liked to say his name, as though to bring him further into his confidence.

     The chief continued. “With this recent death, we feel we may have the makings of a serial killer on our hands. This past spring, an ex-priest was murdered in Quebec. Like the victim you found earlier this week, he was severely beaten and had his left ear cut off.” The chief paused. “You may recall that part of the National Sex Offenders Registry was dumped on the Internet last year. Both the ex-priest and Hillary were named on it.”

     Dan recalled reports of the incident, the inconclusive findings as to whether it had been deliberate or not. He held up a finger. “Excuse me. Was it proved to be an accident? The names being dumped on the Internet?”

     The chief nodded. “We still don’t know how it got there, but the information was deliberately released by person or persons unknown.”

     The registry was created to compile information, including current addresses, phone numbers and identifying markings such as tattoos that would enable police officers to finger possible suspects in sex-related crimes. Providing up-to-date personal information was mandatory on the part of the offenders. The public was never supposed to have access to the list, however. That the registry had been leaked on the Internet was cause for alarm for any number of reasons, including the possibility that someone might try to harm or kill anybody named in it, as seemed to have been the case here.

     “So you think someone is targeting known sex offenders?”

     The chief nodded. “The only thing linking the two victims is that both names were on the Sex Offenders Registry and they both had their left ear cut off.” He scrutinized Dan’s face. “Are you fine with everything we’ve told you so far?”

     “Sure.” Dan nodded. “But I still don’t know why you’re telling me this.”

     The chief opened a file. Clipped to the dossier was the photograph of a young man in jeans and a sweatshirt. His cherubic face and curly dark hair made him look like the junior member of a boy band.

     “This is the chief suspect in the murder of the ex-priest, Guillaume Thierry. He was an altar boy at the church in Montreal where Thierry worked. Eventually, Thierry went to jail for eight years and was released two months before his murder.” He put a finger on the photograph. “The young man’s name is Gaetan Bélanger.”

     Dan nodded. “Why do you think it was Bélanger instead of one of the other abuse victims?”

     “Speculation, mostly, but he was heard uttering death threats against Thierry when he was released.”

     “Anything connecting him to Hillary?”

     “Nothing yet. What we know of this kid since his molestation is that he’s lived by thievery. He was caught twice over the past few years. The first time he was caught stealing from a church — not the one where he was molested, but I’m sure there was a connection in his mind.”

     “But why kill Hillary?” Dan asked. “Why not murder another priest?”

     “We’re not sure why, but the missing ear tells us it’s Bélanger. It seems to be his signature.”

     Pfeiffer spoke up. “All our data indicates that Bélanger is holed up somewhere in Toronto. He may have been here for several months already.”

     Dan considered this. “Then why not put all your efforts into finding him?”

     Pfeiffer’s expression hardened. “Oh, we’ll find him all right,” he said with the sort of burning zeal Dan distrusted in authority figures. “But we’d prefer to find him before he kills again.”

     “Well, it’s all very intriguing,” Dan said. “But I still don’t understand how I can be of help.”

     The chief smiled. “You are here because of the swiftness and accuracy of your search for Darryl Hillary. We understand you located him in less than three days. That’s impressive.”

     Dan shook his head. “Still, I’m not a police officer and as far as I know the police force doesn’t hire outside. So, again, I ask why I’m here.”

     The chief looked at Burch then at Dan. “Ed said that you have some very good contacts on the street. I’m told they are contacts the police are not always privy to. We would like access to those sources.”

     Dan sat back. At last it was clear. He shook his head.

     “Even if I gave you the names of the people I use, I doubt any of them would help you. Most of them live off the grid and would not willingly have anything to do with the police, if they could help it. You might say that money talks, but I’m sure you realize there are some things even money can’t buy.”

     “They wouldn’t need to know,” the chief said.

     Dan shook his head and stood up. “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I can’t help you.”

Blurb

Dan Sharp searches the seamy underbelly of the city for a brutal killer.

Following an anonymous tip, missing persons investigator Dan Sharp makes a grisly find in a burned-out slaughter­house in Toronto’s west end. Someone is targeting known sex offenders whose names and identities were released on the Internet. When an iconic rock star contacts Dan to keep from becoming the next victim, things take a curious turn. Dan’s search for a killer takes him underground in Toronto’s broken social scene — a secret world of misfits and guerrilla activists living off the grid — where he hopes to find the key to the murders.

About Author Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is the Lambda-winning author of the Dan Sharp mystery series. A native of Toronto, he is currently creating a writers retreat in rural Mississippi.

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