For two minutes she was dead.
The assailant was vicious, the attack brutal,and it left her lifeless—until her pulse fluttered and she jolted awake. Now, a year later, Detective Nan Vining is still questioning her strength, her safety, even her sanity: Can she ever again be the cop—and mother—she was before? And will her attacker someday return to finish the job—before she can track him down herself?
Shaky but determined, Vining rejoins the Pasadena PD, only to confront a homicide case that strikes too close to home: Slain policewoman Frankie Lynde has been discovered beneath the Colorado Street Bridge, her body bruised, her throat slit. Even as Vining struggles to recover her standing within the department, she can’t help but feel profoundly drawn to the murdered officer—and she is deeply troubled by baffling otherworldly visions that haunt her waking hours. Tracking a killer as ruthless as he is depraved, Vining pushes herself to bold new limits, desperate both to avenge the murder of a fellow police officer—and to reclaim the life she herself lost a year ago.
“Gritty, intense, and hard-edged, The First Cut is first rate.”
— Tess Gerritsen, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Rizzoli and Isles novels
“The First Cut hurtles the reader down a razor’s edge of suspense to the final, shattering end.”
— Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear Nothing
“Should immediately establish Dianne Emley in the front ranks of thriller writers… A great read.”
— Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Gods of Guilt
“Action-packed, with plenty of suspense and enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing long into the night.”
— Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Close to Home
“Expertly plotted… redolent with suspense and action.”
— South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“This gripping page-turner examines the shadier side of humanity while providing readers with a first-rate story.”
— Library Journal
No one knew her there. No one she knew would show up at this joint near LAX where the music was loud enough to muffle the roar of jets. There were no cops there. She could make a cop no matter how good the cover. She was an attractive female alone in a strip club but no one would bother her. Her uniform, gun, and badge repelled that sort of nonsense. A guy she figured for the manager asked if he could be of assistance. She said she was waiting for someone. She would only be there a couple of minutes. Thanks. He retreated to his stool at the bar and was giving her a dirty look. A police officer had a chilling effect on business. A female cop was especially vexing. Frankie Lynde enjoyed the power she had to disturb this tough guy and she kept on her game face, her take-no-prisoners face. It was fun. A prelude to the night of fun ahead.
It was midnight. She had finished her shift, letting the last guy she could have collared for solicitation go home with a warning because the arrest and the paperwork would have made her late. That was okay with her team. One was taking off the next morning for the Colorado River with his family. The others were just plain ready to resume their lives. The john was scared out of his wits anyway. He was a clean-cut family man kind of guy who probably had a job where people looked up to him. Frankie doubted he’d ever again seek action along that stretch of Sunset near Gower.
In the station locker room, she’d taken off the silver wig and leather miniskirt. She’d unzipped and peeled off the over-the-knee boots she’d bought at Frederick’s purple flagship store on Hollywood Boulevard. She didn’t have to go to such effort to costume herself. The other female undercover cops who posed as streetwalkers wore tight jeans and belly shirts, looking as if they could be waiting for their boyfriends to pick them up to go to the movies, like many whores working Sunset’s east end. For the whores, their sexy but regular girl clothing bolstered their innocent excuses when cops questioned them about why they were loitering. “My car broke down over there.” “I had a fight with my boyfriend and he took off and I’m gonna see if he’s at his mom’s house over here. Around the corner. Up there.”
Frankie liked to dress like a hooker. She had a dozen wigs and outfits. She told the other vice detectives that by changing her look, the hookers and johns wouldn’t make her. She told about having picked up the same john three times, wearing three different wigs. There were rumors around the department that Frankie got into her role a little too much. She didn’t deny it. It was pointless, made her look weak, and gave the rumors credibility. Her numbers spoke louder than talk. Any night she was on the street, she made three times as many collars as the other female officers. She knew how to stand with her legs apart, moving her hips back and forth as if she had an itch.
She was tall and good-looking. Too good-looking to be standing on a street corner. If she were a hooker for real, she’d be a highly paid call girl, not a streetwalker. The johns never put that together. They saw. They wanted. They pulled over. When they started talking specific fees for specific favors, she’d lean toward their car to give them a preview of her cleavage and yank the hem of her skirt with both hands, the signal for her backup to move in for the arrest.
Bottom line, she roped them in, that’s all they needed to know at the station. They had no idea how much truth there was to the rumors. That was for Frankie to know and the others never to find out.
At home, she’d peeled off the metallic tube top that she had not removed in the locker room in front of the others. She didn’t want glances and whispers about what she was hiding there. She’d scrubbed off the heavy makeup and shampooed and blow-dried her long, blonde hair. She’d pinned it into a tight bun at the back of her head and applied conservative makeup. She wasn’t conservative in her choice of earrings, selecting the diamond studs. He’d asked her to wear them. The large diamonds seemed to have inner life, radiating when touched by light. Most definitely not regulation.
She’d strapped on her Kevlar vest. One never knew. The last thing she needed was someone with a cop grudge taking a potshot at her. Finally, she’d put on her uniform, crisp and fresh from the dry cleaners. Flying the colors while not on police business was in violation of department policy. If caught, she’d be formally reprimanded and possibly suspended. It was worth the risk. She wasn’t going to get caught.
Even with the bust-flattening vest, hip-obscuring slacks and waist-eliminating equipment belt, Frankie knew she still looked hot. It was common cop knowledge that if a female managed to look hot in uniform, she’d look three times as hot in street clothes.
“What’ll you have?” The bartender’s surgically enhanced breasts ballooned from her tight, low-cut top.
“Diet Coke.” That was part of the game. There would be plenty of drinks later.
From his seat at the end of the bar, the manager watched the bartender shoot cola into a glass from a nozzle.
Frankie set a $5.00 bill on the bar and turned to watch the stage, an oval set in an arena of chairs and small tables. Three women wearing only G-strings gyrated around poles, spinning, hanging upside down. Their enlarged boobs defied gravity. It was Friday night. The club was crowded with businessmen, guys with buddies, guys alone and a few couples out to spice up their sex life.
Two men wearing dress shirts with the top buttons undone and no ties entered the club. They were loose and loud. They had started drinking somewhere else.
“Hey, hey… Lookie here. A po-leece woman. Howya doin’ lady cop?”
“Fine. How are you?”
“Never better,” reciting the mantra of the party guy.
The other one, unsteady on his feet, pointed at Frankie’s chest, nearly touching her. “You wearing a bullet-proof vest?”
“Please step away, sir.”
“Oooh… Hey. Okay, officer, okay.” He held up his fists, wrists together. “Arrest me.”
That started them guffawing. The goofball closest to Frankie did not comply with her request. He looked like the kind of guy who took crap all week long. On the weekends, he got drunk and dished out some of his own. Some cop, some time, somewhere had done something to piss him off and now Frankie had to deal with the residue.
She gave him her dead-eye gaze.
“You’re kinda cute. I could maybe have a thing for a woman in uniform.”
In the blink of an eye, she pulled her nightstick from its ring on her equipment belt, flipped it by the handle, and shoved it into the idiot’s belly. The polished cherry wood was an old time weapon passed to Frankie from her father. It did the trick.
Party boy gasped as the wood rod took the air out of him.
“Sir, I asked you to step away.”
She kept her eyes on him as he tentatively reached to grab his beer from the bar. Saying, “Let’s beat it,” to his buddy, he moved toward the stage, his hand pressed against his middle. She heard him mutter, “Bitch,” under his breath.
Frankie resisted smiling as she picked up her Diet Coke.
Customers eyed her uncomfortably. The manager dropped a foot from the stool rung and was about to step off when a woman darted into the club.
She stopped short when she saw the nearly nude dancers, even though the club’s giant sign, visible from the 105 freeway said, “XXX Marks the Spot.” She let out a yelp of surprise as she pressed the back of her hand against her mouth and whirled around. She spotted Officer Lynde.
“Oh, officer, officer. Help me, please.”
She ran to Lynde, wringing her hands.
Frankie stepped forward, her feet shoulder distance apart in a ready position. “What’s the problem, ma’am?”
The woman’s demeanor was as oddball as her appearance. She was wearing a masculine pantsuit, a white button-down shirt, a rep tie, polished wingtips and a billed chauffeur’s cap. Underneath the cap, a platinum blonde braid dropped to the middle of her back. White frosted lipstick set off a deep tan. Heart-shaped, red plastic sunglasses obscured her eyes.
“My boss was robbed. He was robbed,” she wailed. “A man, with a gun.”
People turned their attention from the dancers to watch this show.
“Outside. In the parking lot. Please help us. Please.”
“Just now. Come out. I’ll show you.”
“Is the man with the gun still there?” Frankie’s stoic demeanor cracked and she appeared bewildered.
“No, no. Just come out.” The chauffeur didn’t wait but bolted out the door.
Frankie jogged out the door behind her, quickly catching up. “My boss was robbed. What kind of crap is that, Pussycat?”
Still running, one hand holding her hat on her head, the other cradling her large breasts to keep them from bouncing, Pussycat let out a squeal. “Your acting stinks.”
“I thought we were meeting inside.”
“Change of plans.”
A limousine was parked in the furthest corner of the lot. When they reached it, the passenger door dropped open.
Panting from the run, Pussycat remained in character. “He’s in there, Officer. My boss is in there.”
Frankie climbed into the back of the limo and the chauffeur, now giggling, closed the door after her.
“Good evening, Officer Lynde.”
He was immaculate in a white tuxedo with tails, a red rose in his lapel.
His wife climbed behind the wheel and pulled the limo into the street. The entrance to the 105 was less than a block away. She got on heading east.
He took Frankie’s breath away. He always did, but tonight… Something was different tonight. Something was special. He had requested that she wear her uniform. The only other time she’d been with them in uniform was when they had first met.
John Lesley had walked into her life at the best and worst time for debauchery. She was in a moribund relationship, each waiting for the other to drive home a stake. She suspected her inamorato was covertly doing just that as she’d gotten wind that he was stepping out with someone else. This hurt and infuriated Frankie in equal measure. The SOB didn’t have the balls to end it like a man. Prick bastard. While at a boring luncheon banquet, she’d received a text message from him canceling their date. CN’T 2DAY. L8TR. She sought solace in a cigarette outside.
John Lesley was at a table on the hotel patio, drinking a glass of beer and smoking. She took note of him, as she did everything. She took in his expensive suit and the way his physique filled it just right, his stylish dark hair flecked with gray, and his profile that looked like a black-and-white movie matinee idol. She kept moving to the garden wall that bordered the pool.
She took out a cigarette and he was beside her, gold lighter in hand. She guided his hand with the flame and their eyes locked. He lit a fresh one for himself and they stood silently, smoking. She saw he was not wearing a wedding ring.
She held out her cigarette and turned it in front of her face. “We’re a couple of outlaws.”
“These days.” He picked up his beer from where he’d set it on the wall and raised it in a way that asked if she wanted one.
He gave her a crooked smile and leisurely looked her over, returning to her eyes. “No drinking on duty, huh?”
“That’s the rule.”
“Do you always follow the rules?”
“When it works for me.”
“You know what they say about rules.”
She dragged on her cigarette. “I think I broke that one too.”
Standing too close, he sipped the beer and watched her, openly and unapologetically, with no attempt to hide his thoughts. She read his thoughts. His gaze alone made her tingle. She had no trouble imagining what his hands, mouth, and body would do.
She took the beer from him and finished it all at once. She handed the empty glass back to him and licked her lips. Walking back inside, she felt his eyes on her.
She took her seat at the banquet table. Shortly, he came in and sat a few tables away next to a pretty woman with long hair dyed an assertive shade of auburn. He and the woman chatted in that casually intimate but disinterested way of old friends or married couples. They both gazed at her across the tables that separated them. The woman twirled a strand of hair and Frankie caught the glint cast by her wedding rings.
After a further exchange of disagreeable text messages with her lover, Frankie pushed aside her dessert plate and excused herself. She was staring at herself in the restroom mirror, lip gloss poised in her hand, when the woman with auburn hair entered. She toured the room, glancing beneath stalls, and returned to stand beside her. She wore a simple black dress and understated, real jewelry but somehow made the ensemble look provocative and a whiff trashy. The two women fussed with their hair, neither speaking.
A toilet flushed. A woman emerged from a stall and washed her hands. Soon Frankie and the wife were alone. She stepped close enough to fill Frankie’s nostrils with an alluring mixture of delicate perfume and money. She came right to the point.
“I’m Pussycat. My husband and I like you. We want you to come with us. We’ll have caviar and champagne or cocaine or whatever the hell you want and we’ll fuck you like you’ve never been fucked before.”
Frankie had heard of vice detectives who had become too close to their work. When she’d first started working vice, the thought was outrageous to her. She’d planned to do her year or so then work on moving into homicide. Three years later, she was still in vice and had no intention of leaving. The Job had worked on her. Made her see things about herself. It was tough, trying to keep people from pursuing their basic urges, restraining their unhealthy impulses when she was having the same struggle herself.
She’d met them later and they’d spent the weekend in the penthouse suite of an exclusive hotel. She’d gone lots of other nights too. Mostly they went to the couple’s home. It was big and private and perfect for their kind of partying. The sex slowly got rougher and the set-up, disguises and rules of the game more complex. John Lesley had a predator’s instinct for luring her in. He stoked her confidence and dependence on him while, ever so slowly, they progressed from the erotic and experimental to the perverted. Once, she’d come home with bruises, nothing visible outside her clothes, and locks of hair yanked out. She refused to meet him again, but he wore her down. A knock on her door had brought a messenger with a robin’s egg blue box from Tiffany’s and a manila envelope crammed with crisp hundred dollar bills, near the first of the month when things were tight and the mortgage on her tiny condo was due. Not having to worry about money for the first time in her life was blissfully freeing. A natural aphrodisiac.
Didn’t she deserve nice things? She’d busted her hump her whole life and was still on the outside looking in. She had also missed the sexy excitement of the tightrope walk he represented. Worse yet, she missed him. She’d fallen in love with him a little. That made her feel crazier than she wanted to accept.
What she was doing was questionable morally, but it wasn’t illegal. She’d checked. She’d also checked them out. Knew everything about them. Knowledge was power and she made sure she was always in control. She told herself the moment she stopped feeling in control, she’d walk away, keeping his gifts and money. She had told no one and made sure there were no traces between them. She had taken pains to avoid an ugly confrontation between her two lives. As for the Lesleys, they also held her at arm’s length. Frankie flirted with worst case scenarios but the style suited her personal agenda. Their liaison would eventually end and no one wanted repercussions.
It was beyond dangerous. Every cop instinct in her body told her so. And it was thrilling.
Frankie said to him, “Sir, I understand you’ve been robbed.”
At a stoplight, the smoked glass partition rolled down and Pussycat grinned back at them, her teeth unnaturally white and her lips too full.
“I haven’t been robbed yet, Officer Lynde, but I’m ready.”
He pulled away his tuxedo jacket, exposing himself through his unzipped pants.
Pussycat let out a throaty laugh.
“I’ll take your report now, sir.”
Frankie lowered her head to his lap.
He stretched his arms across the seat back. “That’s right, baby. That’s it.”
She felt his excitement building.
Grabbing her tightly pinned hair, he followed her up and down motion. Suddenly, he forced her head down and held it there. She began to choke and struggled to push away. He let go. She didn’t like his smug expression.
She reached for the pepper spray on her equipment belt. “You prick. I warned you about that rough stuff.”
She could tell he relished her distress.
There was a flicker of that look in his eyes. The look that betrayed his soul. It quickly passed, making Frankie wondered if she’d misjudged. He smiled and caressed her face between his hands. The smile of a charming man. She was still a sucker for it. She couldn’t get past it. Had to do with not receiving enough attention from her father growing up and blah, blah, blah. She slid the pepper spray back into it sleeve.
“Aw, Officer Lynde, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“I have something for you.”
“You already gave me something I didn’t like.” Lately she’d wondered if the party was coming to an end.
He took a small box from his inside jacket pocket and ceremoniously opened the hinged lid.
She drew in a sharp breath as he slipped the watch around her wrist. She caught the look in Pussycat’s eyes in the rearview mirror and took pleasure in the hint of shock and hurt there. Maybe the wife was the one who was on the way out.
“Patek Philippe,” he said. “Twenty-five grand.”
“It’s beautiful.” The watch was gold and paper thin, lying nearly flush against her wrist. A circle of diamonds around the face sparkled.
Pussycat kept driving, her shoulders stiff.
“I have something for you too, my love,” he told his wife.
“Yes, really. Something you want.” He rolled his eyes. “Women.”
They had left the freeway and were heading up Mulholland Drive. Pussycat pulled off onto a lookout point. Twinkling lights blanketed the landscape to land’s end. A classic L.A. postcard. No other cars were parked there. Pussycat got out and climbed into the back with them.
Frankie gulped the flute of Crystal that John Lesley gave her and closed her eyes as Pussycat massaged her shoulders, the watch issue forgotten.
“Poor Frankie. She works so hard.” She began unbuttoning Frankie’s shirt.
He refilled Frankie’s glass, stuck his finger in the champagne, and painted her lips. She sucked his finger. She threw the brimming glass to the floor and began kissing him and madly ripping at his clothes as Pussycat did the same to her. She felt her equipment belt fall away and raised her hips to allow Pussycat to pull off her slacks.
He gently guided her head to where he wanted her. Relaxed now and aroused, she started again. She couldn’t wait.
This was her addiction, this feeling of wild abandon, of doing and having, wasting money and indulging every fantasy. They sometimes drove past McArthur Park near downtown L.A. and let fistfuls of $20.00 bills flutter from the limo’s moon roof just to laugh as the drug addicts and dealers chased and fought over the money. They rolled in sex for days on end. Later, at work or at home, the guilt would come and Frankie would ask herself why. But not now. The moment had taken hold. Why had no meaning here. Why was the lament of the weak and sleeping.
He was close. He was there.
He slid his hands around Frankie’s throat and squeezed.
Frankie tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her. This was too soon for the rough stuff. She flailed her arms and reached for her gun. This was over right now. Where was her gun?
She heard Pussycat screaming and felt her trying to pry off his fingers.
Frankie reached up and jabbed her thumbs into his eyes. She bit down on him as hard as she could. He cried out, but it wasn’t a cry of true, sustained pain and it sounded far away. Her thumbs and jaw had no force. There were spots in front of her eyes and a metallic taste in her mouth.
The last thing she saw before going out was his face. It was pure evil.