This is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places, and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2011 by John Verdon
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers,
an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
CROWN and the Crown colophon are
registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Verdon, John.
Shut your eyes tight / by John Verdon.—1st ed.
p. cm.
1. Detectives—New York (State)—New York—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3622.E736S57 2011
813'.6—dc22
2010053589
ISBN 978-0-307-71789-4
eISBN 978-0-307-71791-7
Printed in the United States of America
Book design by Lynne Amft
Jacket design by Superfantastic
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
First Edition

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Prologue

The perfect solution
He stood in front of the mirror and smiled with deep satisfaction at his
own smiling reflection. He could not at that moment have been more
pleased with himself, with his life, with his intelligence—no, it was
more than that, more than mere intelligence. His mental status could
more accurately be described as a profound understanding of everything. That was precisely what it was—a profound understanding of
everything, an understanding that went far beyond the normal range
of human wisdom. He watched the smile on his face in the mirror
stretching wider at the aptness of the phrase, which he had italicized
in his mind as he thought it. Internally he could feel—literally feel—
the power of his insight into all things human. Externally, the course
of events was proof of it.
First of all, to put it in the simplest terms, he had not been caught.
Almost twenty-four hours had passed, almost to the minute now, and
in that nearly complete revolution of the earth he had only grown
safer. But that was predictable; he had taken care to ensure that there
would be no trail to follow, no logic that could lead anyone to him. And
in fact no one had come. No one had found him out. Therefore it was
reasonable to conclude that his elimination of the presumptuous bitch
had been a success in every way.
Everything had gone according to plan, smoothly, conclusively—
yes, conclusively was an excellent word for it. Everything occurred as
anticipated, no stumbles, no surprises . . . except for that sound. Cartilage? Must have been. What else?
Such a minor thing, it made no sense that it would create such a
lasting sensory impression. But perhaps the strength, the durability

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JOHN VERDON

of the impression was simply the natural product of his preternatural
sensitivity. Acuteness had its price.
Surely that snickety little crunch would one day be as faint in his
memory as the image of all that blood, which was already beginning
to fade. It was important to keep things in perspective, to remember
that all things pass. Every ripple in the pond eventually subsides.

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Part One

The Mexican
Gardener

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Chapter 1

Life in the country

T

here was a stillness in the September-morning air that was
like the stillness in the heart of a gliding submarine, engines extinguished to elude the enemy’s listening devices.
The whole landscape was held motionless in the invisible grip of a
vast calm, the calm before a storm, a calm as deep and unpredictable
as the ocean.
It had been a strangely subdued summer, the semi-drought
slowly draining the life out of the grass and trees. Now the leaves
were fading from green to tan and had already begun to drop silently from the branches of the maples and beeches, offering little
prospect of a colorful autumn.
Dave Gurney stood just inside the French doors of his farm-style
kitchen, looking out over the garden and the mowed lawn that separated the big house from the overgrown pasture that sloped down to
the pond and the old red barn. He was vaguely uncomfortable and
unfocused, his attention drifting between the asparagus patch at the
end of the garden and the small yellow bulldozer beside the barn.
He sipped sourly at his morning coffee, which was losing its warmth
in the dry air.
To manure or not to manure—that was the asparagus question.
Or at least it was the first question. If the answer turned out to be
yes, that would raise a second question: bulk or bagged? Fertilizer, he
had been informed by various websites to which he’d been directed
by Madeleine, was the key to success with asparagus, but whether
he needed to supplement last spring’s application with a fresh load
now was not entirely clear.

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He’d been trying, at least halfheartedly, for their two years in
the Catskills to immerse himself in these house-and-garden issues that Madeleine had taken up with instant enthusiasm, but always nibbling at his efforts were the disturbing termites of buyer’s
remorse—remorse not so much at the purchase of that specific
house on its fifty scenic acres, which he continued to view as a good
investment, but at the underlying life-changing decision to leave
the NYPD and take his pension at the age of forty-six. The nagging
question was, had he traded in his first-class detective’s shield for
the horticultural duties of a would-be country squire too soon?
Certain ominous events suggested that he had. Since relocating
to their pastoral paradise, he had developed a transient tic in his
left eyelid. To his chagrin and Madeleine’s distress, he had started
smoking again sporadically after fifteen years of abstinence. And, of
course, there was the elephant in the room—his decision to involve
himself the previous autumn, a year into his supposed retirement,
in the horrific Mellery murder case.
He’d barely survived that experience, had even endangered
Madeleine in the process, and in the moment of clarity that a close
encounter with death often provides, he had for a while felt motivated to devote himself fully to the simple pleasures of their new
rural life. But there’s a funny thing about a crystal-clear image of
the way you ought to live. If you don’t actively hang on to it every
day, the vision rapidly fades. A moment of grace is only a moment
of grace. Unembraced, it soon becomes a kind of ghost, a pale retinal image receding out of reach like the memory of a dream, receding until it becomes eventually no more than a discordant note in
the undertone of your life.
Understanding this process, Gurney discovered, does not provide a magic key to reversing it—with the result that a kind of
halfheartedness was the best attitude toward the bucolic life that he
could muster. It was an attitude that put him out of sync with his
wife. It also made him wonder whether anyone could ever really
change or, more to the point, whether he could ever change. In his
darker moments, he was disheartened by the arthritic rigidity of his
own way of thinking, his own way of being.

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7

The bulldozer situation was a good example. He’d bought a
small, old, used one six months earlier, describing it to Madeleine
as a practical tool appropriate to their proprietorship of fifty acres
of woods and meadows and a quarter-mile-long dirt driveway. He
saw it as a means of making necessary landscaping repairs and
positive improvements—a good and useful thing. She seemed to
see it from the beginning, however, not as a vehicle promising his
greater involvement in their new life but as a noisy, diesel-stinking
symbol of his discontent—his dissatisfaction with their environment, his unhappiness with their move from the city to the mountains, his control freak’s mania for bulldozing an unacceptable new
world into the shape of his own brain. She’d articulated her objection only once, and briefly at that: “Why can’t you just accept all
this around us as a gift, an incredibly beautiful gift, and stop trying
to fix it?”
As he stood at the glass doors, uncomfortably recalling her comment, hearing its gently exasperated tone in his mind’s ear, her actual voice intruded from somewhere behind him.
“Any chance you’ll get to my bike brakes before tomorrow?”
“I said I would.” He took another sip of his coffee and winced.
It was unpleasantly cold. He glanced at the old regulator clock over
the pine sideboard. He had nearly an hour free before he had to
leave to deliver one of his occasional guest lectures at the state police
academy in Albany.
“You should come with me one of these days,” she said, as
though the idea had just occurred to her.
“I will,” he said—his usual reply to her periodic suggestions
that he join her on one of her bike rides through the rolling farmland and forest that constituted most of the western Catskills. He
turned toward her. She was standing in the doorway of the dining
area in worn tights, a baggy sweatshirt, and a paint-stained baseball
hat. Suddenly he couldn’t help smiling.
“What?” she said, cocking her head.
“Nothing.” Sometimes her presence was so instantly charming
that it emptied his mind of every tangled, negative thought. She
was that rare creature: a very beautiful woman who seemed to care

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8

JOHN VERDON

very little about how she looked. She came over and stood next to
him, surveying the outdoors.
“The deer have been at the birdseed,” she said, sounding more
amused than annoyed.
Across the lawn three shepherd’s-crook finch feeders had been
tugged far out of plumb. Gazing at them, he realized that he shared,
at least to some extent, Madeleine’s benign feelings toward the deer
and whatever minor damage they caused—which seemed peculiar,
since his feelings were entirely different from hers concerning the
depredations of the squirrels who even now were consuming the seed
the deer had been unable to extract from the bottoms of the feeders. Twitchy, quick, aggressive in their movements, they seemed motivated by an obsessive rodent hunger, an avariciously concentrated
desire to consume every available speck of food.
His smile evaporating, Gurney watched them with a low-level
edginess that in his more objective moments he suspected was becoming his reflexive reaction to too many things—an edginess that
arose from and highlighted the fault lines in his marriage. Madeleine would describe the squirrels as fascinating, clever, resourceful, awe-inspiring in their energy and determination. She seemed
to love them as she loved most things in life. He, on the other hand,
wanted to shoot them.
Well, not shoot them, exactly, not actually kill or maim them,
but maybe thwack them with an air pistol hard enough to knock
them off the finch feeders and send them fleeing into the woods
where they belonged. Killing was not a solution that ever appealed
to him. In all his years in the NYPD, in all his years as a homicide
detective, in twenty-five years of dealing with violent men in a violent city, he had never drawn his gun, had hardly touched it outside
a firing range, and he had no desire to start now. Whatever it was
that had drawn him to police work, that had wed him to the job for
so many years, it surely wasn’t the appeal of a gun or the deceptively
simple solution it offers.
He became aware that Madeleine was watching him with that
curious, appraising look of hers—probably guessing from the tightness in his jaw his thoughts about the squirrels. In response to her
apparent clairvoyance, he wanted to say something that would

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9

justify his hostility to the fluffy-tailed rats, but the ringing of the
phone intervened—in fact, the ringing of two phones intervened
simultaneously, the wired phone in the den and his own cell phone
on the kitchen sideboard. Madeleine headed for the den. Gurney
picked up the cell.

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Chapter 2

The butchered bride

J

ack Hardwick was a nasty, abrasive, watery-eyed cynic who
drank too much and viewed just about everything in life as
a sour joke. He had few enthusiastic admirers and did not
readily inspire trust. Gurney was convinced that if all of Hardwick’s questionable motives were removed, he wouldn’t have any
motives left.
But Gurney also considered him one of the smartest, most insightful detectives he’d ever worked with. So when he put the phone
to his ear and heard that unmistakable sandpaper voice, it generated
some mixed feelings.
“Davey boy!”
Gurney winced. He was not a Davey-boyish kind of guy, never
would be, which he assumed was the precise reason Hardwick had
chosen that particular sobriquet.
“What can I do for you, Jack?”
The man’s braying laugh was as annoying and irrelevant as
ever. “When we were working on the Mellery case, you used to brag
about getting up with the chickens. Just thought I’d call and see if
it was true.”
There was a certain amount of banter one always had to endure
before Hardwick would deign to get to the issue at hand.
“What do you want, Jack?”
“You got any actual live chickens on that farm of yours, running
around clucking and shitting, or is that ‘up with the chickens’ just
some kind of folksy saying?”
“What do you want, Jack?”

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11

“Why the hell would I want anything? Can’t one old buddy just
call another old buddy for old times’ sake?”
“Shove the ‘old buddy’ crap, Jack, and tell me why you’re
calling.”
Again the braying laugh. “That’s so cold, Gurney, so cold.”
“Look. I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet. You don’t get
to the point in the next five seconds, I hang up. Five . . . four . . .
three . . . two . . . one . . .”
“Debutante bride got whacked at her own wedding. Thought
you might be interested.”
“Why would I be interested in that?”
“Shit, how could an ace homicide detective not be interested?
Did I say she got ‘whacked’? Should’ve said ‘hacked.’ Murder weapon
was a machete.”
“The ace is retired.”
There was a loud, prolonged bray.
“No joke, Jack. I’m really retired.”
“Like you were when you leaped in to solve the Mellery case?”
“That was a temporary detour.”
“Is that a fact?”
“Look, Jack . . .” Gurney was losing patience.
“Okay. You’re retired. I got it. Now give me two minutes to explain the opportunity here.”
“Jack, for the love of Christ . . .”
“Two lousy minutes. Two. You’re so fucking busy massaging your
retirement golf balls you can’t spare your old partner two minutes?”
The image triggered the tiny tic in Gurney’s eyelid. “We were
never partners.”
“How the hell can you say that?”
“We worked on a couple of cases together. We weren’t partners.”
If he were to be completely honest about it, Gurney would have
to admit that he and Hardwick did have, in at least one respect,
a unique relationship. Ten years earlier, working in jurisdictions a
hundred miles apart on different aspects of the same murder case,
they had individually discovered separate halves of the victim’s severed body. That sort of serendipity in detection can forge a strong, if
bizarre, bond.

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JOHN VERDON

Hardwick lowered his voice into the sincere-pathetic register.
“Do I get two minutes or don’t I?”
Gurney gave up. “Go ahead.”
Hardwick jumped back into his characteristic carnival-barkerwith-throat-cancer oratorical style. “You’re obviously a busy guy, so
let me get right to it. I want to do you a giant favor.” He paused.
“You still there?”
“Talk faster.”
“Ungrateful bastard! All right, here’s what I got for you. Sensational murder committed four months ago. Spoiled little rich girl
marries hotshot celebrity psychiatrist. An hour later at the wedding
reception on the psychiatrist’s fancy estate, his demented gardener
decapitates her with a machete and escapes.”
Gurney had a slight recollection of seeing a couple of tabloid
headlines at that time that were probably related to the affair:
bliss to bloodbath and new bride butchered. He waited for
Hardwick to go on. Instead the man coughed so disgustingly that
Gurney had to hold the phone away from his ear.
Eventually Hardwick asked again, “You still there?”
“Yep.”
“Quiet as a corpse. You ought to make little beeping sounds
every ten seconds, let people know you’re still alive.”
“Jack, why the hell are you calling me?”
“I’m handing you the case of a lifetime.”
“I’m not a cop anymore. You’re not making any sense.”
“Maybe your hearing is failing in your old age. What are you,
forty-eight or eighty-eight? Listen up. Here’s the meat of the story.
The daughter of one of the richest neurosurgeons in the world
marries a controversial hotshot psychiatrist, a psychiatrist who’s appeared on Oprah, for Godsake. An hour later, in the midst of two
hundred guests, she steps into the gardener’s cottage. She’s had a
few drinks, wants the gardener to join in the wedding toast. When
she doesn’t come out, her new husband sends someone to get her,
but the cottage door is locked and she doesn’t answer. Then the husband, the renowned Dr. Scott Ashton, goes and bangs on the door
and calls to her. No response. He gets a key, opens the door, and
finds her sitting there in her wedding dress with her head chopped

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off—back window of the cottage open, no gardener in sight. Pretty
soon every cop in the county is at the scene. In case you didn’t get
the message yet, these are very important people. Case ends up in
our lap at BCI, specifically in my lap. Starts out simple—find the
crazy gardener. Then it starts getting complicated. This was not
your average gardener. The renowned Dr. Ashton had sort of taken
him under his wing. Hector Flores—that’s the gardener—was an
undocumented Mexican laborer. Ashton hires him, soon realizes
that the man is smart, very smart, so he starts testing him, pushing
him, educating him. Over a period of two to three years, Hector
becomes more like the doctor’s protégé than his leaf raker. Almost a
member of the family. Seems that with his new status, he even had
an affair with the wife of one of Ashton’s neighbors. Interesting
character, Señor Flores. After the murder he disappears off the face
of the earth, along with the neighbor’s wife. Last concrete trace of
Hector is the bloody machete he left a hundred and fifty yards away
in the woods.”
“So where did all this end up?”
“Nowhere.”
“What do you mean?”
“My brilliant captain had a certain view of the case—you might
recall Rod Rodriguez?”
Gurney recalled him with a shudder. Ten months earlier—six
months before the murder Hardwick was describing—Gurney had
been involved semiofficially in an investigation controlled by a unit
of the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation that the rigid,
ambitious Rodriguez commanded.
“His view was that we should bring in for questioning every
Mexican within twenty miles of the crime and threaten them with
all kinds of crap until one of them led us to Hector Flores, and if
that didn’t work, we should extend the radius to fifty miles. That’s
where he wanted all the resources—one hundred percent.”
“You didn’t agree with that?”
“There were other avenues worth exploring. It’s possible Hector
was not what he appeared to be. The whole thing had a funny feel
to it.”
“So what happened?”

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“I told Rodriguez he was full of shit.”
“Really?” Gurney smiled for the first time.
“Yeah, really. So I was taken off the case. And it was given to
Blatt.”
“Blatt!?” The name tasted like a mouthful of food gone bad. He
remembered Investigator Arlo Blatt as the only BCI detective more
irritating than Rodriguez. Blatt embodied an attitude Gurney’s favorite college professor long ago had described as “ignorance armed
and ready for battle.”
Hardwick went on. “So Blatt did exactly what Rodriguez told
him to do, and he got nowhere. Four months have passed, and we
know less today than when we started. But I can tell you’re wondering, what’s all this got to do with Dave Gurney?”
“The question did cross my mind.”
“The mother of the bride is not satisfied. She suspects that the
investigation’s been botched. She has no confidence in Rodriguez,
she thinks Blatt’s an idiot. But she thinks you’re a genius.”
“She thinks what?”
“She came to me last week—four months to the day after the
murder, wondering if I could get back on the case or, if I couldn’t
do that, could I work on it without anybody knowing. I told her that
wouldn’t be a practical approach, my hands were tied, I was already
on pretty thin ice with the bureau—however, I did happen to have
personal access to the most highly decorated detective in the history
of the NYPD, recently retired, still full of vim and vigor, a man
who would be more than happy to provide her with an alternative
to the Rodriguez-Blatt approach. To put the icing on the cake, I just
happened to have a copy of that adoring little piece that New York
magazine did on you after you cracked the Satanic Santa case. What
was it they called you—Supercop? She was impressed.”
Gurney grimaced. Several possible responses collided in his
head, all canceling each other out.
Hardwick seemed encouraged by his silence. “She’d love to meet
you. Oh, did I mention? She’s drop-dead gorgeous, early forties but
looks about thirty-two. And she made it clear that money wasn’t
an issue. You could pretty much name your price. Seriously—two

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hundred dollars an hour would not be a problem. Not that you’d be
motivated by anything as common as money.”
“Speaking of motives, what’s in it for you?”
Hardwick’s effort to sound innocent instead sounded comical.
“Seeing justice done? Helping out a family that’s been through
hell? I mean, losing a child’s got to be the worst thing in the world,
right?”
Gurney froze. The mention of losing a child still had the power
to send a tremor through his heart. It was more than fifteen years
since Danny, barely four at the time, had stepped into the street
when Gurney wasn’t looking, but grief, he’d discovered, was not an
experience you went through once and then “moved on” (as the idiotic popular phrase would have it). The truth was that it came over
you in successive waves—waves separated by periods of numbness,
periods of forgetfulness, periods of ordinary living.
“You still there?”
Gurney grunted.
Hardwick went on. “I want to do what I can for these people.
Besides—”
“Besides,” Gurney broke in, speaking fast, forcing his debilitating emotion aside, “if I did get involved, which I have no intention of doing, it would drive Rodriguez batshit, wouldn’t it? And if
I managed to come up with something, something new, something
significant, it would make him and Blatt look really bad, wouldn’t
it? Might that be one of your perfectly good reasons?”
Hardwick cleared his throat again. “That’s a fucked-up way of
looking at it. Fact is, we got a tragically bereaved mother here who
isn’t satisfied with the progress of the police investigation—which I
can understand, since the incompetent Arlo Blatt and his crew have
rousted every Mexican in the county and haven’t come up with so
much as a taco fart. She’s desperate for a real detective. So I’m laying
this golden egg in your lap.”
“That’s great, Jack, but I’m not in the PI business.”
“For the love of God, Davey, just talk to her. That’s all I’m asking
you to do. Just talk to her. She’s lonely, vulnerable, beautiful, with
big bucks to burn. And deep down inside, Davey boy, deep down

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inside there’s something wild in that woman. I guarantee it. Cross
my heart and hope to die!”
“Jack, the last thing I need right now—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re happily married, in love with your
wife, yadda, yadda, yadda. All right. Fine. And maybe you don’t care
about a chance to reveal Rod Rodriguez finally and absolutely as the
total asshole he really is. Okay. But this case is complex.” He gave the
word a depth of meaning, made it sound like the most precious of
all characteristics. “It’s got layers to it, Davey. It’s a fucking onion.”
“So?”
“You’re a natural-born onion peeler—the best that ever was.”

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