Today’s Sunday Snippet is A Killer’s Grace by Ronald Chapman. This book was inspired by actual events and the author’s correspondence with a serial killer. Lee Gooden of Foreword Reviews calls A Killer’s Grace “A rare work of art.”
Excerpt from A Killer’s Grace
Pitcairn snapped awake with a loud grunt, the damp bedsheet clutched in his hand. Maria Elena threw her arm protectively across his chest and pulled herself tightly to him. The sound of panting announced the arrival of the dogs. Lucy nuzzled his forearm.
He took a deep breath and exhaled swiftly in several short bursts to force the terrible picture from his mind. It was part of the regimen he’d learned to help cope with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Goddamnit,” he muttered.
Her grip tightened.
The nightmare had begun in 1988. He was on assignment for the Indianapolis Star in the town of Mount Vernon a few miles down the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana. A plastics manufacturing plant had accidentally released a mustard gas-like chemical that terrified local residents. After a day’s reporting, he had visited Hawk’s, a tiny bar and grill. When he mentioned how long since he’d had a good woman, the barman suggested he meander down the hill to the riverfront strip bar, where he proceeded to get very drunk.
After fruitless efforts to get laid, he had somehow driven back to downtown Evansville. Rather than heading for his hotel, he had found another bar. After that, his memory was just fragments.
But the nightmare brought back the horror: the seedy hotel, the lurid wallpaper, the stench, his hands clenching an ugly little man by the throat and squeezing. Pitcairn’s whitened knuckles stood out in vivid contrast to the man’s face—its torrid complexion, the bulging blue eyes, the froth of little bubbles on his lips. In the periphery of Pitcairn’s vision, the little man’s arms and legs flailed. A terrible, focused fury pinned the man against the wall until his struggles ceased. The little man’s eyes dimmed. He dropped with a dull, lifeless thud when Pitcairn eased his grip.
Pitcairn awoke at dawn, slouched sideways in the seat of his car. The dirt parking lot sat atop a wooded bluff above the river. At first, he had no recollection of the night, but when the image of the man he had strangled burst on him through the drug and alcohol-induced fog, he bolted for Indianapolis.
There was no way to know what had really happened. Pitcairn guessed that he’d left the bar to find drugs. There’d been a bad deal, or maybe the drugs just blew him into a rage—not uncommon for him in those days.
News reports said a man was found murdered at the Old River Inn. Police had no leads, but there’d be little effort to find a drug felon’s killer. Pitcairn had escaped the law but not the guilt. And with it had come the nightmare. New Mexico had seemed like it might be a haven, but the powerful fear followed him. There was no freedom from the demons of his past. But over time, some change did come, an energy that propelled him toward a transformation of his life.
“Emmy,” Pitcairn said as he leaned his head against hers, “the eyes in the dream were Daniel Davidson’s.”
He flashed back to the exact moment he had first told Maria Elena about the murder.
His memory replayed perfectly how her eyes had narrowed into a focused intensity as he dragged the words out of himself. Even the cottonwoods branching overhead in Albuquerque’s Old Town had seemed to groan with his disclosure.
“Maria Elena … I’m …. ” He looked away, shook his head, then took a breath and continued.
“No one knows the truth about me.” He studied her eyes as she waited wordlessly. “Well, that’s not exactly right since my A.A. sponsor has heard everything that matters.” His voice trailed into a lengthy silence.
“Emmy … I killed a man a while back …” he whispered with a downward gaze.
“And …” she prodded with a soft voice.
He looked at her and saw guarded curiosity. He closed his eyes, drew a sharp breath that pulled him slightly upright with resolve. “And I was never caught, but I’ve been paying for it almost every day with nightmares.” He paused again. “And somehow I will make it right. I have to if I’m going to stay sober.”
“And …” she offered again.
He laughed as the tears welled up. “And I have to tell you the truth, ’cause I can’t hide it from you.”
She kept some emotional distance between them as they talked it through in the weeks that followed. Somehow she managed to reconcile the past with the present. More importantly, somehow it led to empathy rather than condemnation.
I found this snippet most entertaining. How about you? Please leave a comment below. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon.