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Buried (Hush collection)

Jeffery Deaver

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2020 by Gunner Publications, LLC

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Amazon Original Stories, Seattle

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Amazon Original Stories are trademarks of, Inc., or its affiliates.

  eISBN: 9781542021234

  Cover design by Shasti O'Leary Soudant


  JULY 13


  The ancient Radio Shack police scanner uttered its shattering-glass static, then the woman’s voice reported, “Be advised, all units. Report of a possible one-three-four. Hawthorne Road, Seventeenth block.”

  The bulky, wrinkled man in a bulky, wrinkled beige sports coat and brown slacks, also creased, stopped keyboarding. He’d learned the police codes years ago. A 134 was a kidnapping. He now leaned forward over his desk at the Fairview Daily Examiner as if to better hear the transmission. The backs of his fingers brushed a stubbly white goatee, thicker by far than his black-and-gray head hair.

  He hadn’t heard a 134 call in Fairview County for ten years and that had been a false alarm.

  “Central, four-one-two responding.” A male, matter-of-fact voice. These communiqués were among deputies in the County Sheriff’s Office, the biggest law enforcement operation in Fairview County and the one he monitored most frequently.

  “Copy, four-one-two.”

  “Suspect on scene?”

  “Nothing further, four-one-two.”


  A woman’s voice, a different one: “Central, four-three-eight responding. Domestic?”

  The majority of kidnappings were one parent snatching a child from the other. So sad, so common.

  A pause.

  “Central, do you copy? Domestic?”

  “Don’t know at this time, four-three-eight.”


  Edward Fitzhugh pulled from his pocket a four-by-five spiral-bound notebook, swollen from ink and age. He flipped it open, saw that most of the pages were filled and exchanged it for a new one. He gripped a pen.

  Come on, more details . . . I want details.

  “Central, four-one-two on scene. No sign of suspect. No reporting witness. But we have . . . There’s a car with the door open. There’s a . . .” A long pause. “On the windshield there’s a note.”

  “You said ‘note,’ four-one-two?”

  “Affirmative. It’s got some writing and it’s signed the ‘Gravedigger.’”

  “Holy crap,” one deputy muttered.

  Four-three-eight, the woman, said, “Gravedigger? What’s that mean?”

  After a few moments, Dispatch said, “All units, be advised, supervisor en route. FBI too. Secure the scene.”

  “Roger, Central,” came 412’s uncertain voice.

  Well, interesting, Fitz thought.

  What’s that mean?

  Well, for one thing: that there’s a serial killer in town.


  Cold, completely dark.


  The smell of mold and wet stone.


  The middle of summer in hot, humid New York State, yet he was freezing.

  Lying on the concrete floor, Jasper Coyle remembered walking back to his car, then the stunning blow to the head from behind. Then pressure on his neck, an injection. Jesus, me? Really? Why?

  Blackness, as the drugs stole consciousness.

  Now swimming to a kind of waking state, Coyle stood. He sagged to his knees. Controlled the nausea. Don’t puke. He didn’t.

  Then to his feet once again and inching forward through the dark, shuffling so he didn’t trip, his arms before him so he didn’t gig himself in the eye with a piece of wood or metal jutting from the walls.

  He made a circuit, twice. A square room, about twenty by twenty, brick walls. He smelled fuel oil, so it might at one time have held a tank, or possibly the furnace itself. He located a thick wooden door. It was sealed fast and the knob was missing. Pounding did nothing but hurt both hands.

  Save the bones, he thought. He moved on.

  Coyle was light-headed. The air was thin and getting thinner with every breath.

  Another trip around the chamber, hands higher on the walls, probing. He found a garden hose dangling from the ceiling. He snagged it, sniffed. Air. Glorious air. He put his lips on the end and inhaled, his lungs screaming at the effort.

  The reward was a series of staccato, tiny breaths, tasting of rubber.

  The air was something. But it wouldn’t keep him alive. He needed more.

  Then he sensed, more than saw, a slight lightening of the dark at the far end of the room. He made his way to it and ran his palms over the brick. Yes, some faint illumination was trickling through tiny cracks in the mortar.

  On his hands and knees, he searched for something that might make a tool. He found fragments of brick. Okay. That might work. He then shuffled blindly to where he thought the hose was—it took him five frustrating minutes to find it. Another painful suck of air. He returned to the dim glow of illumination and began to dig away at the grout. A chip flew off. Another.

  Could he break through?

  And even if he did, was there a way to escape on the other side?

  Coyle had other questions. But the obvious ones—what had happened to him and who was behind it—he didn’t bother to ask.

  The blow to the head, the drugs, being trapped underground?

  Jasper Coyle knew exactly what was happening to him. He read the papers, he watched the news.


  The scanner transmissions about the Gravedigger had petered out.

  The deputies would be on the scene, where, if they used radios, it was on a walkie-talkie frequency; scanners didn’t pick them up. This always irritated Fitz, who like all good journalists was a voyeur at heart and lived to eavesdrop. As for the feds, they seemed to converse via exotic megahertz inaccessible to the common man and woman.

  He turned the volume down and sat back in the creaky chair, coughed for a moment and dabbed his mouth.

  Fitz’s office was probably a fire hazard. It certainly would have been if he’d been allowed to smoke—a habit he’d given up eight months and four days ago. Paper was everywhere: copies of the Examiner, of other newspapers, a lot of “Times”—New York, LA, the -Picayune, the Financial—also the Journal and the WaPo. Local and regionals too. Other countries were heard from, as well. The Guardian, the Standard, the London Times, Le Monde, though he did not read French. El Pais. His Spanish was passable. Garner had a large Latino community and it was one of his beats.

  These stacks showed an interesting trend. The newspapers from past years were much thicker than those that had hit the stands recently. This was true around the world.

  His credenza was filled with awards from journalist societies, and a real, honest-to-God Pulitzer, shared with several others, for uncovering a massive kickback scheme whose tentacles extended from Massachusetts through northern Virginia. Also on display: pictures of his son and the young man’s wife and their teenage boy. Pictures of Jen too, of course, from their early married days until a year before the end, when she didn’t want photos.

  On a corner table sat a dilapidated Underwood, a decoration only. Fitz was unapolog
etically old-school but he recognized that journalists needed tools that were up to date, just as surgeons and pilots did. After all, the typewriter was state of the art in its day. He wrote on a laptop and he got some preliminary information for his stories from Google and Wikipedia and other sites before he began the real reporting—calling, and often hounding, sources and unearthing official records.

  It was the screen of this Dell that he was now staring at. A decision had to be made. Fitz scrolled through the stories he’d completed and sent to his editor in chief.

  —The county board had approved a downtown renewal project for Bronson Hills. The money would, the county supervisors hoped, bring new life to that economically challenged former mill town. Realistically? The cash would probably be gone in a year and the cosmetic changes would have drawn zero new businesses, residents or customers. Fitz interviewed spokespeople from both views. He was a reporter, not an op-ed writer.

  —The charismatic and progressive New York governor—and presidential hopeful—was in Garner for fundraising rallies. Fitz would vote for John Heller but he hadn’t softballed the profile, asking about some #MeToo incidents and uncomfortable statements he’d made about women’s right to choose and gay marriage. Still, the boyish man fielded all the questions with grace and patience, downplaying pain from recent dental surgery.

  —A coal-company executive died when his car plummeted into Henshaw Falls, an eighty-foot drop. Fitz covered the accident, but expanded the story and interviewed executives at the man’s company: What was he doing in Fairview County? There were some mineral reserves underground, Fitz knew. There’d been mining here in the 1800s. They denied they were thinking of an operation here and Fitz’s research found nothing to suggest that wasn’t true. He did, of course, raise the question of why the inadequate guardrails on Route 29 had yet to be replaced.

  Several other pieces were in the works:

  —The gift that keeps on giving journalistically: the opioid, fentanyl and meth crisis, particularly acute in the northern part of Fairview County.

  —A sampler of domestic crimes, drug busts, DUIs, robberies. All fodder for the police blotter—one of the most popular columns among readers around the world since the newspaper was invented.

  These stories were all his. He was virtually the only hard news reporter left on the paper.

  Fitz rose stiffly and walked through the newsroom. I’m getting close to waddling, he reflected. But he didn’t straighten his posture or speed up his gait. At some point you just don’t care.

  The Fairview Daily Examiner’s editorial offices occupied the second floor of an old building in downtown Garner. The windows overlooked Schoharie Park, a pleasant rectangle of hilly grass and gardens from which, on dark nights, you could see the lights of Albany.

  Fitz’s office was in the paper’s original editorial department, all scuffed and musty and filled with dented and scraped oak furniture. If that side of the floor was early twentieth century (one might say nineteenth), the other half was entirely up to date; it was where the sister operation, ExaminerOnline, was produced. Fitz disapproved of making two words into one when there was no earthly reason to do so. This portion of the paper was glitzy, filled with glass and metal and walls with splotchy art in pink and red and purple. The online staff was small and its monitors were big.

  Fitz walked into the EIC’s office, which was, tellingly, smack in the center of the newer—and posher—operation.

  Gerry Bradford was not Examiner born and bred, nor suckled by any traditional paper. A year ago, the descendants of the family that had founded the Examiner in 1907 decided finally to get out of the money-losing operation and sold it to a large chain. National Media Group brought in Bradford, after careers in social media and companies that existed mostly for email but that also reported news.

  Bradford was a handsome, dynamic fellow, sharp as could be. The tall, lean man, who could be a fashion model for athletic gear, was a decent and balanced administrator, even if he was too easily cowed by those up the corporate food chain. Still, Fitz, who’d never been cowed by anything in his life, cut Bradford some slack, given he’d been transported from Silicon Valley to Garner, a town of thirty-two thousand, where cows grazed within fifteen minutes of downtown and one could choose among competing pancake breakfast fundraisers every Saturday.

  Bradford’s office was far less cluttered than Fitz’s. Understandable. He probably had just as many copies of newspapers and magazines, and clippings thereof, but they resided in hard drives the size of small Bibles.

  “Fitz. Liked your pieces. The governor’s always newsworthy. And the guardrails? Need to get those fixed. I sent ’em on to Dave, as is.”

  Theoretically Bradford had the authority to rewrite Fitz’s every word. He never had. Dave, the managing editor, occasionally did polish Fitz’s prose. He was an old newspaper man, and that had bought him the right to fiddle.

  Bradford asked, “What’s up?”

  “Got a story. Want to follow it,” Fitz said. His voice was raspy. “Put the drugs and crime pieces on hold.”

  Bradford was squeezing a pen, though the only things here he could write on were Post-it notes and someone’s résumé. “What?”

  “The Gravedigger. He got somebody here.”

  Bradford ran a hand through his dark, trimmed hair. Frowned. “Sounds familiar.”

  “That kidnapping outside of Baltimore ’bout three weeks ago.”

  “Oh, he left a puzzle for the cops to solve. Jesus. He’s here? Garner?”


  “Who’d he kidnap?”

  “I don’t know yet. Just happened.” Fitz dropped into an orange vinyl chair across from Bradford. He’d once written a piece about a fast-food restaurant in a mixed-race neighborhood, a town nearby; all the furniture and walls were bright orange. That color, it turned out, tended to irritate people and, in a dining establishment, that meant they’d be less likely to stay long. Some restaurants did this to improve turnover of customers; this owner was unwisely vocal to an ex about wielding the hue to keep minorities (not the owner’s actual word) from hanging out. Fitz’s exposé earned him a statewide journalism award.

  “And you want to cover it.”

  Of course “I want to cover it.” He coughed once, then again. “Hate this pollen.”

  “It’s bad this year. This is the third victim?”

  Fitz said, “The second. Wasn’t a serial kidnapper until today. If it’s the same guy. There’re lots of copycat crimes.”

  Bradford looked at his computer, typed. “Already on CNN, MSNBC, Fox.” He squinted. “Nobody’s saying what clue he left this time. You have any idea?”

  Fitz shrugged. “There was a note at the scene. Don’t know the details.”

  The pen got mauled a bit more. “That meth piece . . . It’s an important one.”

  “The drugs aren’t going anywhere. It can wait.” Fitz sounded impatient because he was. The broadcasters were already on top of the Gravedigger story. Their antenna trucks would have landed on the beaches of the crime scene. Fitz wanted to get the hell there himself.

  “Hm. You know, Fitz . . .”

  Here it comes.

  “They don’t really like independent coverage on stories that’ll run national.” The “they” being the Examiner’s new owners. “We can pick it up from the feeds.”

  In Fitz’s day, when newspapers ran stories that somebody else had written they came from the wire.

  It had been a cheat then, it was a cheat now.

  “The big boys and gals’ll be all over it,” the editor continued.

  “There’ll be local angles, Gerry,” Fitz pointed out. “The victim’s local. The turf is local. Witnesses’ll be local.” Fitz stifled a cough and mouthed a lozenge. Cherry. He liked cherry best.

  “I don’t know.”

  “Gerry, make it my swan song. Who doesn’t love those? What drama, what pathos, hardly a dry eye in the house. My retirement present. Look at the money you’ll save not buy
ing me that gold Rolex.”

  The editor tapped his pen on a Post-it. Fitz said nothing. He stared at his boss the way he gazed at reluctant interviewees. Ask a question and look at ’em until they squirm and talk. A technique as old as journalism itself.

  Finally: “I can’t pay mileage. And the photographer’s with the governor all day.”

  Which, to Fitz, was as good as his saying “Go get the story. I’m behind you a hundred percent.”


  Swan song . . .

  National Media Group had looked at bottom lines, as companies named National Media Group will do, and decided that the print edition of the Examiner had to go—dwindling circulation and ad revenues, high overhead.

  The noble newspaper was shutting down in less than a month—this, the paper that had not only reported in depth about local matters and New York State politics, but had had its own reporters covering D-Day, the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s assassination, Nixon’s resignation, the Iranian hostages, the Iraq War, the elections of Obama and of Trump.

  Soon to be no more.

  And with the paper and ink edition gone, all original hard news reporting would end too. Of the paper’s two full-time reporters, one would be going to online and Fitz would be retiring.

  The ExaminerOnline would still run news but—as Bradford had just mentioned—only from the national feeds and in limited amounts. Most of the website’s stories would be what National Media was known for: OOMC, vocalized as “Oomec.” It stood for “Original Online Media Content”: bastard quasi-journalistic/quasi-entertainment web stories and blogs and, for listeners, podcasts and internet radio talk shows (like reality TV, obscenely cheap, wildly popular and extremely profitable).

  To Fitz, OOMC articles were mostly time wasters, junk food. Oh, some blogs and podcasts featured solid investigative reporting, but to read or listen to them steadily, you’d think the world was populated with stabbed spouses, missing children and wrongfully convicted felons whom the bloggers were on hell-bent missions to free.

  Most OOMC run by ExaminerOnline and its sister outlets was about influencers (whatever they were), TV personalities, actors, famous chefs, stand-up comics, outlandish artists, fashion designers, athletes, musicians, the rich . . . basically any manner of celebrity, provided they were hugely popular or sexy or had either spoken up for a good cause (LGBTQ and animals were winners) or misbehaved in a tasty, but misdemeanorly way.