Excerpt from The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Coffin Dancer

by Jeffery Deaver

The Coffin Dancer
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  • First Published:
    Jul 1998, 352 pages
    Mar 1999, 255 pages

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"Perkins told us," Banks said. "Pretty weird."

Rhyme rolled his eyes at the unartful phrase. Though he couldn't dispute it. The agent had disappeared from his car across from the Federal Building in downtown Manhattan around 9 p.m. The streets weren't crowded but they weren't deserted either. The engine of the Bureau's Crown Victoria was running, the door open. There was no blood, no gunshot residue, no scuff marks indicating struggle. No witnesses -- at least no witnesses willing to talk.

Pretty weird indeed.

Perkins had a fine crime scene unit at his disposal, including the Bureau's Physical Evidence Response Team. But it had been Rhyme who'd set up PERT and it was Rhyme whom Dellray had asked to work the scene of the disappearance. The crime scene officer who worked as Rhyme's partner had spent hours at Panelli's car and had come away with no unidentified fingerprints, ten bags of meaningless trace evidence, and -- the only possible lead -- a few dozen grains of this very odd sand.

The grains that now glowed on his computer screen, as smooth and huge as heavenly bodies.

Sellitto continued. "Perkins's gonna put other people on the Panelli case, Lincoln, if you'll help us. Anyway, I think you'll want this one."

That verb again -- want. What was this all about?

Rhyme and Sellitto had worked together on major homicide investigations some years ago. Hard cases -- and public cases. He knew Sellitto as well as he knew any cop. Rhyme generally distrusted his own ability to read people (his ex-wife Blaine had said -- often, and heatedly -- that Rhyme could spot a shell casing a mile away and miss a human being standing in front of him) but he could see now that Sellitto was holding back.

"Okay, Lon. What is it? Tell me."

Sellitto nodded toward Banks.

"Phillip Hansen," the young detective said significantly, lifting a puny eyebrow.

Rhyme knew the name only from newspaper articles. Hansen -- a large, hard-living businessman originally from Tampa, Florida -- owned a wholesale company in Armonk, New York. It was remarkably successful and he'd become a multimillionaire thanks to it. Hansen had a good deal for a small-time entrepreneur. He never had to look for customers, never advertised, never had receivables problems. In fact, if there was any downside to PH Distributors, Inc., it was that the federal government and New York State were expending great energy to shut it down and throw its president in jail. Because the product Hansen's company sold was not, as he claimed, secondhand military surplus vehicles but weaponry, more often than not stolen from military bases or imported illegally. Earlier in the year two army privates had been killed when a truckload of small arms was hijacked near the George Washington Bridge on its way to New Jersey. Hansen was behind it -- a fact the U.S. attorney and the New York attorney general knew but couldn't prove.

"Perkins and us're hammering together a case," Sellitto said. "Working with the army CID. But it's been a bitch."

"And nobody ever dimes him," said Banks. "Ever."

Rhyme supposed that, no, no one would dare snitch on a man like Hansen.

The young detective continued. "But finally, last week, we got a break. See, Hansen's a pilot. His company's got warehouses at Mamaroneck Airport -- that one near White Plains? A judge issued paper to check 'em out. Naturally we didn't find anything. But then last week, it's midnight? The airport's closed but there're some people there, working late. They see a guy fitting Hansen's description drive out to this private plane, load some big duffel bags into it, and take off. Unauthorized. No flight plan, just takes off. Comes back forty minutes later, lands, gets back into his car, and burns rubber out of there. No duffel bags. The witnesses give the registration number to the FAA. Turns out it's Hansen's private plane, not his company's."

Copyright © 1998 by Jeffery Deaver.

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