<br><h3> Chapter One </h3> <b>Saturday, December 5 — 10:49 P.M.</b> <p> <p> A uniform named Nguyen is on the tape tonight. The flashing lights bounce off the reflective strips on his slicker. He cocks his head at my ID and gives me a sideways smile. <p> "Detective March," he says, adding my name to his log. <p> "I know you, don't I? You worked the Thomson scene last year." <p> "That was me." <p> "Good work, if I remember. You got a line on this one yet?" <p> "I haven't even been inside." He nods at the house over his shoulder. A faux Tuscan villa on Brompton in West University, just a couple of blocks away from the Rice village. "Nice, huh? Not the first place I'd expect to be called out to." <p> "You think death cares where you live?" <p> "I guess not. Answer me one thing: why the monkey suit?" <p> My hand-me-down tux, now speckled with light rain, stretches the definition of plainclothes. "It's a busy night, Nguyen, so they're pulling from off duty. They caught me at the wife's office Christmas gig. That snow yesterday drove the city a little crazy." <p> "Snow in Houston. Who woulda thought? But still—" <p> "I have a feeling the vic's not gonna mind." <p> "It's not the vic I'm thinking of." <p> He lifts the tape and I slip under, traipsing across the wet lawn. <p> The past ten years or so, deluxe mansions like this have proliferated. Stone and stucco. Tile roofing. Driveways of textured concrete. They're cropping up in the Heights, too. My neighborhood. At least they were before the market nosedived. Now the only thing proliferating are the foreclosure signs. <p> I pause inside the wood-and-glass double doors to shake the rain off my jacket, staring out at a sea of travertine newly muddied by a trail of HPD boot prints. All the lights are on. Wrought-iron chandeliers. Antique-looking lamps on side tables tucked in between an island of oversized couches. Through an arched partition I see more furniture and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase packed to the limit. What I don't see are any police. <p> "Hello?" <p> A familiar voice calls: "Come on back, March." <p> Passing through nested living rooms and a modern steel-and-marble kitchen, I find a cluster of patrol officers facing a set of sliding glass doors. One of them is my old mentor, Sergeant Nixon, long in the tooth but canny as ever. <p> "Look who's here," he says, motioning me over. "They must've run out of detectives and sent us the Phantom of the Opera." <p> I glance down at my tux. "That bad?" <p> "What were you shooting for, dressed like that? James Bond?" <p> "Now you're just hurting my feelings, Nix. What's the situation here? Get me up to speed already." <p> He taps the glass door. "Out there's the scene. Body's half in the water. We're still waiting on everything—CSU, ME, you name it—but supposedly they're on the way. I kept my people inside, figuring you'd be happier that way. And it saves us from getting wet." <p> I squint through the rain-streaked pane. A long, narrow swimming pool glows aqua in the darkness, an inky cloud floating near one side, transected by a pair of pale, bare legs. The rest of the body, the part out of the water, is hard to make out. <p> "I'll get the lights," Nix says. <p> He flips a wall switch, activating a hedge of lamps planted around the edge of the yard. Some Christmas lights draped around a pergola start blinking, too. <p> I can see her now, facedown on the gray slate, her arms stretched out like she's reaching for something. Her skin shines bone white apart from the pattern of wounds flaying her back. <p> "I'm gonna take a look." <p> I deposit my battered leather briefcase on the kitchen island, then slide the door open to slip outside. Nixon follows me. <p> "Watch where you step." <p> He sighs. "Will do." <p> From inside, she looked naked, but as we edge closer I make out a pair of white shorts soaked through and tinted pink with blood. The waistband tepees out at the small of her back. Puncture wounds, long and thin, run up and down her spine and across the shoulders, too many to count. The kind a kitchen knife might make. Neat, too. In and out. Inflicted postmortem, probably, or they wouldn't be so uniform. <p> We crouch a few feet away. <p> Her brown hair is still damp, the tangled locks arranged to leave her face clear. One cheek pressed to the slate, the other waxy and pearlescent with rain. Her eyelids gently shut like they might blink open at any time. Like she might notice us suddenly and cover herself in embarrassment. <p> "She's young," I say. <p> "Twenty-four. Her name is Simone Walker. She was sort of a live-in houseguest here, helped out with the rent. The owner called in the body. Says she came home and found the girl like this. I've got her upstairs waiting to talk with you." <p> "Do me a favor, Nix. Cut the Christmas lights." <p> The swimming pool is special, not the square slab of chlorinated blue you see out in the suburbs. This one's long and thin, hedged with gray slate, concealed from the neighbors by the height of the house and a perimeter of tall fences lined with taller vegetation. At the back of the yard, a door leads into a cottage-sized garage. This isn't a crime scene. It's the cover of an architectural magazine. Like Nguyen said, not the kind of place you expect to be called to. Maybe death doesn't care where you live, but murder does. A lot. <p> I bend down, breaking the surface of the water with my fingertips. It's forty degrees outside in Houston, just a day after our unprecedented, seemingly impossible snowfall. But the water is warm to the touch. Of course it is. A heated pool. <p> Something under the water catches my eye. Beneath the ripple of light rain, at the shimmering bottom of the pool, one of the chairs from the set under the pergola lies on its side. An expensive sort of chair, metal framed with hardwood slats, the kind my wife would buy in a heartbeat if her old-money ancestors hadn't also passed down the miserly gene. <p> The Christmas lights cut off and Nix returns. <p> "What do you make of <i>that</i>?" I ask, pointing into the pool. <p> "Got me. Don't they tell people to put the lawn furniture in the pool when a hurricane's coming? To keep it from flying around or something." <p> "You think they were expecting a hurricane?" <p> He shrugs. "You're the detective." <p> The glass doors slide open and a uniform sticks his head out. "Crime scene van just rolled up, Sarge." <p> "I'm coming." <p> "Listen, Nix," I say, touching his arm. "It's bad enough I've got an outdoor scene, and rain on top of that. But people are gonna start showing up, and they'll all want a look at the body—" <p> "Say no more. Necessary personnel only." <p> He goes inside, leaving me alone. The glass door closes and for a moment the world is quiet. I glance around. As far as I can tell, everything looks right. The body's been posed, the scene has been arranged, but even that isn't so unusual. Apart from the chair, it's all what I'd expect to see. But it doesn't feel right and I don't know why. <p> <i>(Continues...)</i> <p> <p> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Pattern of Wounds </b> by <b>J. Mark Bertrand</b> Copyright © 2011 by J. Mark Bertrand. Excerpted by permission of Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.