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Before Cain Strikes (An Esme Stuart Novel) Mass Market Paperback – March 22, 2011
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About the Author
Joshua Corin holds an M.A. in English and an M.A. in theatre from Binghamton University. His first novel, Nuclear Winter Wonderland, was named one of the top ten debut crime novels of 2008. He currently teaches college in Atlanta, Georgia.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Timothy's first pet was a yellow-haired hamster named Dwight. Dwight came with his own glass container and his own wheel and Timothy's parents placed it all on a folding table by a window in Timothy's bedroom. Timothy was six years old. Dwight was his birthday gift. The next morning, after he and his mother fed Dwight his breakfast (a lettuce leaf), Timothy's mother left her son alone in his room with the creature. Timothy sat cross-legged in the center of his mint-green carpet and held Dwight in his hands and ran his fingers along the rodent's spine. The vertebrae reminded Timothy of a pipe cleaner. In nursery school, he built a man and a woman out of pipe cleaners. Timothy bent the hamster's spine this way and that way. Through it all, the animal kicked and kicked, so Timothy held him firm with his left hand and ran the fingertips of his right hand along the thin yellow fur and the ridges of Dwight's spine, which, again like a pipe cleaner, was so bendable, but just how bend-able was it? Timothy grabbed Dwight's hindquarters and twisted. Dwight's feet kicked and kicked and kicked and kicked and then stopped kicking altogether and Timothy had his answer.
He opened the window in his bedroom and tossed the corpse out and told his parents in between sobs that Dwight had fallen. They consoled him. His father, a travel agent, helped Dwight bury the animal and took his son out for ice cream. Three weeks later, his mother, a veterinarian, got him a tabby. Timothy named the cat Boots. Boots, to her credit, lasted many months longer than Dwight, until Timothy was able to finally reach his father's tools, which were kept on a wall in the garage. Dwight chose the claw hammer, which proved doubly useful because he was able to later use it as a shovel to bury Boots in their neighbor's yard.
So his parents bought him another cat.
Then a puppy.
Then a parakeet.
Then a pair of goldfish in a sealed aquarium.
The goldfish he poisoned with Drano. By then he was nine years old. The goldfish were his last pets for a long, long time.
And today was a very special day not only because he had a new pet on a new birthday but because he had acquired her all by himself. No one else knew about her, which was fine by him. Pets were personal. And she was his.
Her name was Lynette. She had yellow hairmuch like Dwight, actuallyand a pair of eyes so blue they reminded Timothy of wrist veins. His were prominent. He used to wonder if he had the same number of skin layers as everyone else, but a simple dissection with a straight razor (from his dad's shaving kit) and a microscope (from his old grammar school) solved that mystery.
Lynette's limbs were meaty. Her whole body was, really. Whoever had owned her before him had fed her well. Catching her had been easy but transporting her had been a challenge. Timothy ended up stuffing her in a heavy-duty duffel bag he bought at an army surplus store and dragging her. No one asked questions. Why would they? By the time he brought her down the wooden steps of the unfinished basement and deposited her in the corner, his heart was pounding a cocaine rhythm and his vision had become misty with exhaustion. He left her zipped in the bag, climbed the stairs to the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of ice water. That did the trick.
Then he returned to the basement and unzipped the bag. Lynette was still unconscious. Her bare chestas amorphously plump as the rest of herlanguidly crested and troughed. He looked to see if there were any scorch marks on her neck where he had Tasered her. That was when he noticed the dime-size mole at the bend of her left clavicle. He fingered its spongy texture. Hmm. He might have to take her to see a doctor. The mole could be cancerous. He filed that thought in the back of his mind and secured the leather collar around her thick throat and gathered the almost-empty duffel bag from under her and brought it with him to the wooden stairs. He had made it halfway up when Lynette made a noise.
Was it a conscious moan? Timothy wasn't sure. He remained fixed on that middle step and watched her. She lay fifteen feet away and, yes, she was beginning to awaken. Good. Good. He gently placed the duffel bag on an upper step, all the while keeping his gaze firmly on her body. Forearms twitched. Legs stretched. Eyes opened. Those eyes as blue as wrist veins. They belonged to him now. She belonged to him now. It was time for introductions.
"Hi," he said. The timbre of his voice quavered. Was he nervous? Of course he was. Lynette was the first pet that was truly his. "I'm Timothy. Today is my birthday. Welcome to your new home."
Her blue eyes widened. She saw him, standing there. Her mouth formed words. Her brow formed confusion. Those eyes flickered from Timothy on the stairs to the cement walls around her, to the eleven feet of heavy chain attached from her collar to a rafter ten feet above her, and then to her own bare thighs and breasts and finally to her arms, which used to conclude with long lovely hands but now ended only with
Well, he'd declawed her.
Oh, how she screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
"Poor thing," muttered Timothy. "You're going to need to be housebroken."
She rushed forward. The chain yanked her back. She rushed again. She bared her teeth. She cried out something like "What have you done to me?" but Timothy wasn't paying attention. By then he'd reached the top of the stairs and shut the basement door.
It was lunchtime.
If there was any surefire way to domesticate an animal, it was with food. Wasn't that how his parents had tried to domesticate him? Timothy removed the remaining items from the duffel bag and then tossed it aside. Most of the items were, of course, Lynette's clothes. Those might come in handy later, but for now, they were useless, so he folded them up, just as he'd been taught, and placed them on top of the discarded bag. He had never folded a bra before. That proved the trickiest. He ended up doubling it over, cup onto cup. That seemed to be the thing to do. Then he returned to the kitchen and picked up the other items from the bag and placed them on the counter.
This wasn't his house, so he had to search for a pan and utensils. He finally found what he needed and set the pan on top of the gas stove and almost activated the burner when he realized he was skipping a very important step. His mother would have been very angry with him. Before cooking the meat, he needed to debone it.
That took some time, not because he was inexpert at what he was doing but because there seemed to be so many tiny bones to take away. Gradually, the garbage bin underneath the sink filled up with inches and inches of slender joints and ligaments, and all the while, from below, Lynette screamed. A bread-box-size TV hung below one of the kitchen cabinets and Timothy clicked it on. Lynette's voice, which was quickly hoarsening, was drowned out by a rerun of Law & Order. By the time the court case had begun, he had vegetable oil and soy sauce sizzling in the frying pan. By the time the shocking verdict was reached, he had fried the sliced boneless meat to a handsome brown.
The kitchen smelled like summertime.
Excited, Timothy switched off the burner. He forked several slices onto a green ceramic plate, sprinkled on some herbs he'd found in the cabinet above the TV and carried the meal, along with some eating utensils, to the basement door. Lynette had to be hungry and the fried flesh had a savory aroma that even a vegan couldn't resist. Not that Lynette, by all appearances, was a vegan. Timothy opened the basement door and descended into her home.
She was crouched on the floor in the corner. Her long blond hair was moist with sweat and clung to her face like fresh-spun silk. Through the silky yellow, though, peered those blue eyes. He saw hatred in those eyes. That would change.
"I've brought you lunch," he said. "Doesn't it smell good?"
"Let.me.go," she rasped. All that screaming had really done a number on her vocal cords. Timothy regretted not carrying down a glass of water to accompany the meal. So thoughtless! He promised to reprimand himself later.
"Don't you want some nice steak, Lynette? I made it all for you."
"How do you know my name?"
"Why wouldn't I know your name? You're mine." He smiled at her. "And I also went through your wallet."
Her eyes briefly went to the meat, then back to his face.
"Why are you doing this?"
Timothy's smile turned upside down. Had he chosen poorly? When he first spotted her in the library, those blue eyes so intent on the words in that thick paperback, he'd assumed she was intelligent. The last thing he wanted was a dumb pet.
"Please," he said. "Have something to eat. The food's not poisoned, if that's what you're thinking." He speared a slice with the fork and slid the thin wet flesh into his mouth. It was gamey, but the soy sauce and the herbs really added flavor. He chewed, swallowed, smiled.
Did her throat swell with a bated gulp? With that leather leash bound so tight, it was so difficult to tell. Timothy took a step forward. He speared another slice and held it out to her, mere inches from her nostrils.
She stared at it.
Timothy was certain Lynette had an appetite. It had nothing to do with her size. She had been through an ordeal, and animals dealt with stress via sex and/or food. He was just trying to make her comfortable. He wanted this relationship to work. After Dwight and the puppy and
She reached forward and with her teeth she sucked the meat off the fork. Timothy wanted to clap, but that would have meant putting down the plate. Instead, he took another step forward. Now maybe fourteen inches away from her.
"Thank you," she muttered. Her lips gleamed with steak blood. "What is it?"
"Fou should know, silly. It's your left hand. Silly, silly pet. Want some more?"
With his left hand, he loaded another slice onto the fork and brought it to her mouth. He almost made an airplane noise.
Briefly, their breaths intermingled. This, finally, was intimacy. Timothy felt warm inside. This was true love, an owner to his pet.
And then she forcefully chomped down on his left wrist. Timothy recoiled, but her jaw held fast. Her incisors pierced his paper-thin flesh and dug deep into his plump antebrachial vein. Blood squirted into her throat and almost made her gag but she held fast and squeezed tighter with her jaw. She wanted to hear his bones snap. She heard something shatter but that was just the ceramic plate with the pieces of her hand, her hand, her hand.
She opened her mouth briefly for airshe needed to breathe, she needed to throw up!and that's when Timothy stabbed the fork into one of those blue eyes that had attracted him so, stabbed her all the way into the soft tissue of her frontal lobe. Blue ran red. Blue ran red.
Timothy took a step back. He held his gnawed wrist to his chest. He would need a tourniquet. But first he took one last, long, disappointed look at Lynette. What a bad, bad pet she had turned out to be.
He found a first aid kit upstairs, in a bathroom attached to the master bedroom, and after dousing his wrist in fiery iodine, wrapped it tightly in toilet paper and then Ace bandages. It was a temporary solution, but it would have to suffice. While upstairs, Timothy wandered the halls. This wasn't his house, but he knew the occupants wouldn't be back for another twelve days (according to the information he'd gleaned at his father's travel agency). He tested each of the three beds. The king-size in the master bedroom was the most comfortablefirm but not too stiff. Timothy wanted to take a nap. His left hand felt.well, felt nothing at all, and he knew that was not a good sign. Begrudgingly, he roused himself from the king-size bed and made his way back downstairs to the kitchen. It was time to go.
But first, the photographs.
He slid out an iPhone from his jeans pocket. Taking pictures was not his cup of tea, but Cain42 had posted strict requirements, and Timothy intended to meet them all. Of course, he hadn't intended to meet them todayhe'd hoped to have a lot more time with his petbut c'est la vie. He ambled down the wooden stairs into the basement and aimed his smartphone's camera at his ex-pet. She lay crumpled in the corner. Her head lolled to the side like an infant's. Timothy quickly snapped off a series of pictures and reviewed them on the camera's LCD screen. They weren't the most original photographs in the worldfor one, the sixty-watt lighting in the basement dispersed in uneven patches and cast some unfortunate shadows across Lynette's corpsebut they would have to do. Timothy slid his iPhone back into his jeans pocket, waved goodbye with his good hand to the one-eyed blonde in the corner and returned to the kitchen. Now it was time to go.
He dialed the gas stove. It activated with a hiss. He then opened the nearby microwave door, snagged six cans of Campbell's soup from the pantry shelves and hefted them one by one onto the microwave's glass plate. The microwave door closed with an agreeable click. Hiss, click. Such pleasant sounds a kitchen made. He set the timer for thirty minutes and hightailed it for the back door. He had no idea how long the metal cans would take to spark and ignite, and he didn't want to take any chances.
As it turned out, he was able to make it all the way to the end of the residential block before the kitchen exploded. One of Cain42's cardinal rules: the cleanest crime scene is a destroyed crime scene. Glass splattered onto the front lawn. Flames licked through the open windows at the house's placid green exterior. Green became black. Soon everything on that plot of landthe master bedroom, the grass, the remains of Timothy's petwould be black.
Fire always painted in monochrome.
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There were a lot of things to like about this story....there is the strained relationship between Esme and Rafe; the bittersweet relationship between Tom and Penelope; some humor and an intricate plot that combines a ruthless killer with a modern communication tool (the internet). I have never read a Corbin novel and was unfamiliar with the series, but the potential in story line as well as the irony woven throughout the story would compel me to read another. My only criticism would be that there were certain times that the story became choppy either because of the abrupt change in the storyline or the action. I wished these areas would have had smoother transitions or flowed better so that I would know how to react.
Once again we have a serial killer, but this one works with a twist. He has begun a website to instruct his devotees in how to kill people, and get away with it. Esme and her former partner Tom Piper get on the case, even though Esme's marriage seems to be falling apart over the reaction of her husband to the Galileo killer from the first book. He can't understand why her working with the FBI appears to put he and their daughter in danger, and he wants her to quit. That poses a big problem for Esme, because she feels that she is doing worthwhile work, and her husband just doesn't understand.
Bodies begin to pile up, as usual in this series, and Esme and Tom search diligently for Cain42, the mastermind of the internet murder website. There is plenty of action in various places, and the pages get turned with rapidity by the reader anxious to know what comes next.
There is an ending, of sorts, but it just seems to point the way to the next book in the series, which Mr. Corin is in the process of writing. Gory as they are, I enjoy them, and look forward to more cases with Esme Stuart.
I supposed I'm just surprised that people who don't like gore bothered to read it when the description stats something about a killing spree. Of course its going to be gory.
Anyhow, I did not read the first book - didn't know there was one until 50 or so pages in. But it doesn't seem like it was really that big of a deal. Before Cain Strikes sorta rehashes whats happened from the first book to cause the issues between Esme and her husband.
I was very interested in the Internet crime aspect of the book as well. I think anyone with interest in that and the FBI or horror movies and novels will probably get a kick out of this book.
For a more in-depth review visit my horror movie/book review blog listed in my profile.
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