Chapter One

After ten years on the police force Officer Kent Jacoby figured he had seen it all, though he never said so out loud. Fate might interpret his statement as a challenge and try to one-up him, so he kept the thought to himself. Still, in the past decade, he had witnessed enough of human evil and human error to believe that, whatever grisly scene awaited him at the fashionable home of the apparently now-deceased Winston and Eleanor Fleming, he could handle it. And Officer Jacoby—who, with his commanding height, close-cropped dark hair, and chiseled features looked every bit the Hollywood ideal of the job he performed—would be proven correct today, but by a much narrower margin than he might have liked.

An ambulance was en route to the Fleming residence, but Officer Jacoby had been nearby when word came in and would easily beat them there. The couple's housekeeper, a Mrs. Myrtle Sibley, had placed the 9-1-1 call. She had been near hysteria while talking to the dispatcher, but composed enough to remain adamant on at least two points: first, even though she felt sure the Flemings were dead, she could not begin to speculate as to what had killed them; and, secondly, the first responders would need to bring a ladder to, in her words, "get them down."

That phrase had stuck with Officer Jacoby. "Get them down." The dispatcher had probed for more details. Get them down from where? But Myrtle couldn't say. She had been too upset—or too bewildered—to give a proper answer.

-o-

The Flemings' abode was a handsome Federal-style mansion nestled amid oaks and cherry trees. As Officer Jacoby pulled up to the front entrance he spotted a distraught woman—slim, in her late fifties, grey hair pulled back in a braid—that could only have been Myrtle Sibley sitting on the steps. She leapt to her feet, rushed down to his patrol car to meet him.

"Oh, Officer, thank you for coming," she sobbed. "I didn't know what to do. I just—I can't—I've never seen anything like it."

"Yes, ma'am," Officer Jacoby said. "Where are they?"

"Inside."

She led him into the palatial foyer, and then down a short hallway, at the end of which was a pair of mahogany double-doors; on the other side of those doors, she said, was the mansion's library, where he would find the bodies of the Winston and Eleanor Fleming—but she stopped short of opening them for him.

"They're in there," Myrtle told him. "I can't go in. I can't look at them again."

"I understand. Just wait here." Steeling himself, Officer Jacoby turned the doorknob.

Okay, he thought, let's see what we've got.

Stepping inside the library, he glanced around: oak-paneled walls; elegant furniture; hot sunlight streaming in through a pair of tall windows...but no corpses.

"I don't see anything."

"Look up," Myrtle said from the hall.

Officer Jacoby looked up.

He looked up and thought: It's a joke.

It was a joke, had to be a joke, the vile product of an especially grotesque sense of humor...

Yet his insides, his guts, knew better. His heart fluttered; the juices in his belly turned chill and agitated; his lungs pressed out flat. He backed into the hallway again.

"It's so horrible," he heard Myrtle say from behind him, but her words barely registered. "What's happened to them?"

Officer Jacoby had no idea. But he was a good solid policeman and he kept his bearing as he observed the strange phenomenon overhead. Kept it even though he knew that for as long as he lived he would remember, in perfect detail, the way the bodies of Winston and Eleanor Fleming had looked on that beautiful spring day.

"How do we get them down from there?" Myrtle wailed in despair.

But Officer Jacoby wasn't listening.

Today, he decided.

Today I've finally seen it all.