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Penchant for Vengeance

Penchant for Vengeance

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Penchant for Vengeance

290 pages
4 hours
Aug 19, 2017


Charlottesville, Virginia, Police Detective Luke McGinty has a closet filled with demons, along with a few skeletons; a steady job, but no steady partner or girlfriend; and is still married to his wife Sallie, even though she’s been dead for three years. Then his detective work takes a turn for the worse when a body is discovered at the downtown mall. One dead body isn’t enough, though, and another one turns up. When ties to a cold murder case in another county present themselves, Luke realizes that, if he doesn’t tread carefully, he could end up short more than just a few answers…
Aug 19, 2017

About the author

Robert Downs lived and worked along the San Juan River most of his life. He and his wife of over forty years now reside in the mountains east of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Penchant for Vengeance - Robert Downs

Charlottesville, Virginia, Police Detective Luke McGinty has a closet filled with demons, along with a few skeletons; a steady job, but no steady partner or girlfriend; and is still married to his wife Sallie, even though she’s been dead for three years. Then his detective work takes a turn for the worse when a body is discovered at the downtown mall. One dead body isn’t enough, though, and another one turns up. When ties to a cold murder case in another county present themselves, Luke realizes that, if he doesn’t tread carefully, he could end up short more than just a few answers...


In Penchant for Vengeance by Robert Downs, Luke McGinty is a homicide detective with the Charlottesville Police. When a dead body turns up at the mall, Luke thinks it a religious murder and tries to link it to an old case. But the clues are sketchy, and as the bodies begin to pile up, he wonders just how far the killer will go. Answers are hard to come by when everyone seems to be lying, and Luke puts his career on the line as well as his life. The story has a solid plot, wonderful characters, and plenty of surprises to keep you riveted all the way through. If you are looking for a good police procedural mystery, you can’t go wrong with this one. ~ Taylor Jones, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy

Penchant for Vengeance by Robert Downs is the story of a cop who is determine to solve murder cases, even if they aren’t in his jurisdiction. Luke McGinty is a homicide detective who takes his job seriously. When a body is discovered at the mall, Luke ties it to an old case that was never solved. As he investigates his new murder, he discovers the cold case was handled poorly and not properly investigated. But Luke runs into trouble with his own team when he tries to solve the cold case too. Struggling to find the murderer, who kills again soon after, Luke realizes he is also fighting for his job and maybe his life. Penchant for Vengeance is well written, fast paced, and will hook you from the very first page. Downs’s character development is superb, and you can’t help rooting for Luke. A good, solid read. ~ Regan Murphy, The Review Team of Taylor Jones & Regan Murphy


There’s a long cast of characters who made my fifth novel possible: I’d like to thank Black Opal Books for bringing Penchant for Vengeance to fruition and giving it legs to run. Lauri and Faith and the rest of the team have been wonderful, and I can’t sing their praises loud enough. This novel is the best it can be because of you.

I owe my dad a huge debt of gratitude. He has singlehandedly built me a steady stream of readers in Fairmont, and he’s called in so many favors to help me out I know he’s lost count. My brother and his lovely wife as well as my mom made excellent suggestions for my cover. Y’all are my official cover consultants. My entire family who has endlessly promoted my writing and my Facebook page. My readers who ensure I don’t spend all of my time talking to myself, and my fellow writers for providing tips, trade secrets, and countless rounds of encouragement. And I’d like to thank God, who always makes the impossible possible. Any errors in judgment have, and always will be, my own.

Penchant for Vengeance

Robert Downs

A Black Opal Books Publication

Copyright © 2017 by Robert Downs

Cover Design by Jackson Cover Designs

All cover art copyright © 2017

All Rights Reserved

EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-626947-24-5


This time it was a football star with big dreams and a C average, but how was he connected to the other victims?

I didn’t know whether or not I would even get this case, since I had more than enough to deal with already, and, once again, I wasn’t the first one at the crime scene--usually a must in these situations. The only reason I’d gotten the last one was because it was dumped on my desk--the detective that was the first one on the scene was up to his eyeballs in cases, or so he said. Although I wouldn’t put it past him to pawn off work whenever he could, as he spent more time lightening his load than he did working. Had the situation been reversed, I would have pursued a different outcome and shoved the manila folder right back on his desk with a sticky note attached to the cover. As it were, I didn’t have such a luxury.

An unsettled spirit assaulted my senses, and I smelled death, tasted blood. The metallic taste clung to my lips as evil hovered around me. The scene had a messy madness to it. A sofa was overturned, a solid oak end table was upended, a fire poker was in the middle of the living room, and papers were strewn from one end of the room to the other. Multiple conversations emanated from the second floor, and a small trail of spotted blood decorated an otherwise white, glossy wall, the spatter pattern several feet up the wall.

I had a quick vision of the struggle that might, or might not, have ensued, with the killer either staging the scene, or not, and I stumbled up the remaining three steps, thoughts of the kid, and my wife, not far from my mind.


For my dad,

who helped me find my religious path

Chapter 1

Traffic was light--Charlottesville, Virginia, despite being a college town, had a curfew--the morning was dark, and a light mist filled the air, adding drops of water to my bright yellow 1974 Camaro. I took the back roads, rather than using US 250 to reach the downtown mall, with Regal Cinema located near the center, off Main Street. I reached the scene in less than ten minutes, including parking, without using a siren, or running a single red light. The body, however, wasn’t nearly as successful as I was.

Can’t you guys pick a more reasonable hour? I asked. Crime should wait until at least nine o’clock.

Why don’t you get your butt out of bed like everyone else? a cop said.

The man didn’t look familiar, nor did his crew cut, wide shoulders, and pressed uniform. His face lacked wrinkles, and his scowl provided more menace than a rabbit with a semi-automatic weapon.

I did. I’m here, aren’t I?

I’d flashed my shield to get in, and now I wanted to flash my nine-millimeter. The early hour meant a yawn preceded one hand wrapped around the thick neck of my competition. I preferred reasonable solutions since reasonableness was all I had left. What do we know? I asked.

We know you don’t belong here, Nelson Rivers said.

Like his name implied, he preferred headlocks to handshakes and shaved heads over full-haired ones. He and I had respectfully disagreed on multiple occasions, so often I couldn’t remember the last time we’d ever agreed on anything other than the day of the week. He had hands the size of pencil sharpeners, and he pushed more buttons than he allowed pushed in return. What he needed was a little less mouth and a lot more action.

I ignored his comment. Ignorance was a hard emotion to pin down, but it seemed to rear its ugly head quicker than the other ones. And crime scenes brought out a special kind of ignorance. I had a few emotions left in my system, despite the hour, and I wanted to save them for the victim, who appeared about my age.

The body was bent like a pretzel. Wounds that were possibly from a knife or a whip slathered the body from the neck to the pubic region, deep enough to resemble tattoos. Some were spaced closely enough to disfigure the top half of the body, rendering an exact age nearly impossible. A crime of passion entered the forefront of my mind, and it clung to the roof of my mouth. The victim probably knew his killer intimately, or was, at the very least, an acquaintance.

The wounds stood out for me: a multitude of lacerations that made me unable to look away. When I scanned below the belt, I noticed the mutilated genitalia, rendering the man much less of one. I didn’t like the look of the scene, with the body splayed at an obscene angle, dropped right outside the glass front doors of Regal Cinema to render two of the doors nearly impassable. It resembled something. I just wasn’t sure what. I’d probably blocked it out of my mind, being that I frequented this particular cinema and watched more movies than I cared to admit.

I hoped it never came back, the thought I had blocked. It always did in the end. That was what hurt the most: Movies exacerbated the oddities of life.

Killers were usually born not made, but sometimes, it was the other way around.

The victim’s hands were positioned above his head, forming a triangle, as if he prayed in death to some higher power. Positioned that way by the killer, his hands rubbed up against each other, his head tilted slightly upward. The wounds to the victim’s hands told me he had put up a struggle, knowing that death was inevitable, yet he had wanted to live all the way to the end. But it wasn’t enough. It often never was.

The lack of blood told me the victim wasn’t killed here, and other than a nude body covered in wounds and dried blood, like strokes from a brush, with his hands pointed toward the sky, there were no other obvious signatures. His head was shaved with only a small area of stubble on his chin. His height and weight fell in the average region, his eyes were black, and his lips formed a permanent grimace. He had defensive wounds on both his wrists and the back of his hands, and his skin was as white as a first-floor apartment.

Who’s the victim? I asked.

Victim’s name is unknown, until we run some tests, the ME said. Other than being male, and probably between thirty-five and forty years old, I’m out of guesses.

Addie Ferguson, the ME, had a knack for guessing ages, along with her serious attention to detail. A short woman, with a few extra pounds she could never seem to get rid of, she preferred ankle-length skirts, black boots, and blue blouses.

Have we got a time of death?

Addie stood up, smoothing out her skirt before flipping her hair over her right shoulder. We have a timeframe.

What is it?

Nelson opened his mouth and closed it again. She glared at him, hard enough for him to puff up like a blow fish.

Between twelve and two, she said.

Who discovered the body?

We’re speaking with her now, Nelson said.

I’d like to talk with her.

This ain’t your deal, Luke, so why don’t you just take a walk? He made a running motion with his hands before he glanced at Addie. It’d make things easier for all of us. Let the real men do the heavy lifting.

I ignored his comment. How long have you been here?

Long enough to know we won’t get much. Addie tapped a finger in her palm and her right foot on the concrete. The body was transported here, most likely via a vehicle, possibly an SUV. No suspicious vehicles were seen leaving the scene, so I’m inclined to revise my timeframe to the first hour, instead of the second. The victim might have been tortured for hours, but the only way I’ll know for sure is when I examine the body. It’s not the usual death-and-torture act. The defensive wounds, the lacerations. Then there’s the hands above the head, the supplication, the nakedness, the public display--

I shook my head, shoving my sleep deprivation and cobwebs aside. Please inform me after you make positive ID.

She nodded and crouched down, continuing her work on the body, and made a few notations in her notepad.

I started walking, before I tossed Nelson and his smirk through one of the glass doors. I’d spent most of my life walking away--each step a little easier than the last, the distance both comforting and hopeful. The past caught up with me, just not in the manner I had originally planned. If I wasn’t careful, I just might succeed.

I passed dark store windows, heading toward the opposite end of the mall, where The Pavilion awaited me, an outdoor venue where Dave Matthews Band had once performed. The open-air atmosphere provided a sense of quiet from the crowded chaos of reality and red brick. Before I reached my destination, I passed two cops chatting and smoking away from the scene, talking about college basketball and how many teams the ACC would take to the Big Dance.

What struck me about the scene was the immediacy of it. Just a few hours later and the downtown mall would open for business, crawling with pedestrian traffic, since cars weren’t allowed on the main through street. The thought of a six-year-old seeing what had been splayed out before us had me questioning the sanity of our perp. Or maybe he wanted to send us a message. What it entailed, though, I had no idea. But I did know that if I wasn’t careful, our perp would strike again.

Chapter 2

Was the perp a religious man? Or maybe it was the victim? Or was the victim being punished for sins either named or unnamed? Every scene had clues, windows to the past, present, or future: I just had to find them.

Even though the victim’s wallet and ID had gone missing, robbery seemed the less likely motivation, while punishment seemed at the forefront of the killer’s mind. And while I hated to admit it, I probably needed to speak with a priest since I didn’t have a direct route to the man upstairs, having given up on him one too many times before I reached the age of sixteen.

Stepping into a church required faith, and a willingness to be a part of an organization I never possessed, no matter how hard I tried to fit in with the crowd. I’d walked away from the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost without having met any of the three personally. Before my dad died, I’d been Protestant. Now I wasn’t sure what I was.

Cool air tugged at my face, covering me in the cold, dark depths of my imagination, and it left me with the sinking feeling that this was just the beginning of a long, winding road.

I rubbed my hands together and stuffed them in my pockets. The walk and the cold provided me the calmness I had sought. The Pavilion had provided me the solace I needed.

I need to talk with the witness. I already knew there was one, what I didn’t know was what he or she might have to say. Witnesses, however, became less and less reliable as time went on. As with the cases themselves, the first few days were always the most critical, and this case appeared more critical than most. Despite my efforts to speak to the dead, the dead rarely talked back.

Nelson had a smirk on his face to go along with his screw-you attitude and hard eyes. She went to the station to make a statement.

What we need to do is analyze the situation from another perspective, maybe another witness to corroborate her story. Peculiar as it may seem, it’s not entirely uncommon to have activity here at night, although this body brings unusual attention.

You’ll have to wait your turn, Nelson said.

I didn’t like his attitude or insinuations. Nelson had the IQ of a field mouse, with the brainpower to match it. His tone was edgy, a little far from center, and he hadn’t listened to a word I had said, even though I was the senior detective, known for working the improbable and the unusual. I didn’t like being poked with a tuning fork.

With an added edge to my morning, I looked down at my watch, and once more peered at the body, trying to get a sense for how he ended up here. What did that tell us about the perp, since all victims, even the ones who died by happenstance, had a story to tell?

I was a detective, one of only four, a small operation by New York standards, and one of the more experienced members on the force. There were quite a few rookies who lacked skill, but made up for it in initiative. Compared to detectives, cops flooded the halls, their blue uniforms providing color to our drab shirt-and-tie reality. Crimes occurred, mostly of the domestic disturbance, robbery, and assault-and-battery variety.

Even as I focused on the cases no else wanted, religious killings--if that’s what I was indeed facing--resembled the hare in a world filled with turtles.

I looked away from the body and to my left, where Everett Urlander stood--a skinny speck of a man who favored silver spectacles and Sudoku puzzles over college basketball and football. He wore button-down shirts of the purple, red, orange, and silver variety.

What do you think? I asked, managing to harness my scattered thoughts.

I think we got ourselves a serrrious situation, dude, Everett said, dragging out the Rs a little too long for my liking. Besides the obvious.

I don’t like the use of the hands, Everett said. Both the hands and eyes are pointed toward the sky, the body is as naked as a pen without ink. It was dumped here in the middddle of the night, either out of convenience, or because the perp wanted it to be found. Or maybe he was crazy enough to call it in himself for the attttention and media frenzy, and to provide the eyewitness tip-off.

All of that bothers me, too, I said. Even if religion wasn’t the perp’s intended motivation, it was almost surely an underlying factor. What do the wounds mean? Is it a form of punishment? And if it is, is the perp punishing this man, himself, or someone else? If it’s either himself or someone else, our perp isn’t finished yet.

The wounds appeared fresh, tearing into the soft tissue below the layers of skin, and were several inches long, up and down the victim’s back, chest, and stomach, with several on his thighs.

The wounds are pr’bably courtesy of a nightly rendezvous gone haywire. This is pure speculation without the evidence to back it up--and judging by what we have to work with, evidence will turn out to be a luxury--but since the wounds are recent, I’d say the perp wanted to torture our victim. In fact, our perp might have gotten off on it. Or maybe he wanted to scare the bejesus out of him. If the wounds hadn’t clotted, I’d say they could have been done post mortem. As it were, that’s nearly impossible.

You speak so eloquently.

Don’t give me a hard time, Everett said. Everyone has an accent, and while you may think you’re high and mighttty, you can’t put both socks on at the same time.

Make sure you double check that scene, I said. I want every hair, cigarette butt, and gum wrapper bagged.

The presence of physical evidence remained unlikely, the red brick relatively clean, but that would give the men with flashlights, who had their own cigarettes taped to their mouths, a way to stay out of trouble.

And don’t leak a word of this to the press until we know where we stand. A slight breeze caressed my face. I want to talk to that girl. I don’t care if she’s given a two-hour statement with pictographs. She might be our only link.

She’s only a teenager. Everett straightened his shoulders. She says she came here for a walk after she and her boyfriend had a fight.

In the middle of the night? Must have been some fight. I took a moment to redirect my thoughts. Everyone has a story to tell, and I want to hear hers. She might have more to say than she realizes. Or then again, maybe not. Eyewitnesses were notoriously unreliable.

Or she might not. So t’would be pointless for me to repeat what she said, or give you a summary. I could even type up a report, should you be so inclined.

I nodded. Firsthand accounts are always better than secondhand interpretations, which brings in the bias of the storyteller, and I’d rather do some of the dirty work myself, especially since Nelson handed over the case to me, even though he doesn’t know it yet. I want to stay in the loop, not out of it.

What I would have preferred was to run the entire operation myself, even if it severely restricted my workload. I’d seen firsthand the way some detectives interviewed witnesses, even ones like Everett. Processing a scene and logging evidence required a certain meticulousness that wasn’t always shown. When done improperly, it only spelled disaster in bright red letters.


Three hours later--after a stop at Muffin Madness for a cranberry orange muffin and a two percent milk--I returned to my wooden desk with its chipped paint and a faded, stained finish. I sat there staring at concrete block walls before I booted up my computer, and in the process gained newfound knowledge, as I downed the rest of my milk: Academy, a small hamlet less than a half-hour from Charlottesville, had a religious-themed murder nearly two years ago. The man, Donald Manar, had a cross burned into his chest, the size of a dollar bill, before he received two bullets to the brain from a .22 revolver.

As if one cross wasn’t enough, a small silver one on a chain, that was once probably a necklace, was found at the scene, and was most likely left by the killer. The case remained unsolved, with the ideal killer being a religious fanatic who, unfortunately, was still at large and might have killed again, just not in Virginia, according to my search of the open crimes database. Initially, Donald’s wife Susan had been a suspect, although she was later cleared, and the file remained in inactive, but open, status. Despite the early hour, I decided it might be worth the trip to pay her a visit.

She lived at the end of a small, tree-lined cul-de-sac in a house with blue vinyl siding and a wraparound front porch. She had neighbors on either side of her, in the next-to-the-last house on the street just before the turnaround. A stout woman with short, dark, curly hair, a gap in her front teeth, and a no-nonsense grin answered the door. She had one hand on the door, the other wrapped around her mug of coffee.

I offered

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