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Flight Risk

A Novel

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About The Book

Inconsistent psychic Leda Foley and Seattle detective Grady Merritt return to solve the case of a missing couple in this sequel to the “delightful” (The New York Times Book Review) mystery Grave Reservations.

When psychic travel agent Leda Foley is approached by a man searching for his sister, she quickly agrees to help. The missing woman disappeared with a vintage orange car, a fat sack of her employer’s cash, and a grudge against her philandering husband—a man who never even reported her missing.

Meanwhile, Seattle PD detective Grady Merritt has temporarily misplaced his dog. While he’s passing out bright pink “Lost” flyers at the Mount Rainier visitor’s center, the wayward pooch appears—with a human leg in his mouth.

Thanks to DNA matching, Grady learns that the leg has something to do with Leda’s new client, and soon the two cases are tangled.

Theories abound, but law enforcement is low on leads. Lucky for Grady, Leda has a few ideas that might just be crazy enough to work. They’ll need one yellow dog, a fair share of teamwork, and perhaps a bit of Klairvoyant Karaoke to piece the clues together in this “undeniable treat” (Gwenda Bond, New York Times bestselling author) of a mystery.

Excerpt

Chapter 1: Grady Merritt 1. GRADY MERRITT
WEDNESDAY

The man in the red plaid shirt fought to get away. He ducked, bobbed, and weaved, but Molly Merritt caught him regardless. She thrust herself under his nose and held up a flyer printed on bright pink paper, rattling it for emphasis. “Excuse me, sir,” she said loudly, firmly, with an emphasis on the sir that suggested he had no one to blame but himself—and now he was trapped. Now he was going to answer some freaking questions.

“Um? Hello?”

Sir,” she tried again, pink flyer still six inches from his face. “Have you seen this dog?”

He squinted at the portrait of a smiling Lab mix. “Um. No?”

“He’s yellow in real life. Our printer wasn’t working very well, so I had to do it in black-and-white.” She flipped the flyer around to look at it herself. “Black-and-pink. You know what I mean.”

“Um? Still no?”

Molly showed him the flyer again. “His name is Cairo. I named him after a Beanie Baby, but in my defense I was only, like, twelve years old when we found him in the Target parking lot. Obviously, I’d pick something else if we’d found him today. God, I hope we find him today.”

“Um? Beanie Baby? Do people still collect those, or…?”

“Focus!” she barked, as if she were a champion focuser herself. “The dog’s name is Cairo. Like the city in Egypt. We were out here hiking and he got spooked, and he took off down the trailhead over there.” She cocked her head in the direction of the trailhead at Mount Rainier’s Paradise area visitor center. “Somebody’s car backfired, I guess, and he’s scared to death of loud pops. Big noises. Fireworks, thunder. That kind of thing.”

“We don’t get much thunder around here…?”

“No, we don’t, so he’s usually okay. But he got scared, and he ran. We stayed out here until the park rangers made us leave, and we had to drive all the way back home to Seattle without him, and I have been losing my mind ever since, okay? One more time, take a real good look and tell me: Have you seen this dog?

He hesitated like he expected another outburst. When none occurred, he cleared his throat. “I was just… I didn’t… I haven’t seen any loose dogs, I’m really sorry. Does he have a collar on? Is he wearing tags?”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course he’s wearing a collar and tags.”

“Then maybe someone will call you when they find him.”

“Well, they’ll call my dad.” She looked up, looked around, and spotted her father with his own fistful of pink flyers, talking to a short Black woman with a pug on a blue leash. His was the number on the tags.

An awkward pause ensued. Finally, the guy said, “Hey, I’m sorry about your dog, and I hope you find him, but I’ve gotta go.”

“Sorry. I’m sorry.” She pushed the flyer into his hand. “I didn’t mean to bother you. I just want my dog back.” Her eyes were red as she walked away, and her hands were shaking. She’d hardly slept since Sunday, when the beloved dog had panicked and bolted.

Grady Merritt gave the pug lady a more formal and polite goodbye than his daughter had offered the plaid-shirt man as he watched Molly seeking another person to accost and interrogate. “Molly!” he called her over.

She trudged toward him.

“Any luck?” her father asked.

“No. One guy thought he heard a dog barking somewhere around the southeast edge of the Wonderland Trail, even though you’re not supposed to have dogs down there. A lot of people ignore that rule, so I don’t know.”

Grady gave her half a hug and squeezed her shoulder. “Hang in there, kiddo. We’ll find him.”

“It’s been three days. That’s like three weeks in dog time. He’s probably lost! He’s probably hungry!”

“He probably has indigestion.”

Cairo would eat anything that wasn’t secured, and Grady often privately thought that if push came to shove, his dog could crap out car parts. Or barf them up. Probably in the only carpeted room of the house.

“He’s caught a couple of birds. And the rabbit that one time.”

Grady nodded. “Right. He’s a hunter. He’ll find something to eat, and there’s a lot of water… all those creeks and streams. He’s still out there somewhere. We’ll find him.”

She sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. “I thought you weren’t supposed to make promises in your line of work.”

“This isn’t a murder investigation, and Cairo is only lost. He’s probably having the time of his life out there—chasing squirrels, rolling in the mud, and doing all the stuff we won’t let him do at home.”

“Yeah,” she agreed with a narrowing of her eyes. “I’m gonna bathe the hell out of him when we catch him.”

“There you go, think positive.” Then he redirected the subject. “How’s your flyer stash?”

“I’m almost out. I stuck them on all those car windows, and I stuck one on the trail map—at the corner, not blocking anything, because one of the rangers fussed at me. And I put one on the front door of the visitor center, because the dude inside said it was okay.”

“Okay, I’ve got a few more—let me reload you.” He reached into a messenger bag and pulled out the last of their stack, maybe fifty pink sheets with a smiling dog and a desperate plea. “This is it, though. When we’re done, we need to pack up and head home again. I’ve taken all the time off I can afford, honey—and I have to work tomorrow. It’s a long drive.”

“But it’s only Wednesday,” she whined. “Can’t someone cover for you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of job.”

Grady didn’t want to have this fight again, the one where he tries to break it to her gently that maybe, when all was said and done, they don’t find Cairo. Maybe someone else finds him, and his collar is lost, and they take him home and keep him forever. Maybe he gets eaten by a bear or a mountain lion. Maybe the poor dog had run too fast and wandered too far, and he slowly starves in the wilderness.

Grady didn’t like that last thought, but he couldn’t lie to himself—and he wouldn’t lie to Molly—about the cold, hard fact that sometimes dogs just don’t come home, and you never find out why.

The truth was, they couldn’t keep driving from Seattle to Mount Rainier even if he could talk his bosses into another few days of PTO; it was a two-hour trip each way. He was burning a fortune in gas, and they were getting up at dawn to get ready for the drive, then coming home well after dark. It simply wasn’t sustainable, even in the summer, when Molly was out of school. They were both exhausted, and the odds of a successful dog recovery were dwindling.

“Look over there.” Molly pointed to a thin white woman emerging from the trailhead with a matching pair of grinning pit bulls. “She’s got dogs.”

They’d already discussed prioritizing dog people, since dog people are likely to keep an eye out for other dogs. Grady nodded. “Hang on, I’ll go talk to her.” He readied his flyers and approached with a friendly wave. “Excuse me, ma’am? Those are beautiful dogs….”

“Thank you,” she said, warily assessing this strange man with a handful of pink paper.

“I don’t mean to bother you, but—”

She cut him off. “I know the dogs aren’t allowed on the trails. We’re staying on the paved areas, don’t worry—I’m just walking them down to the picnic area.”

“No, no. I’m sorry, I’m not a ranger.” He stopped a few feet out of licking range, which did not keep the pitties from wagging and wiggling at the prospect of getting petted. “My daughter and I were out here on Sunday, and our dog got away from us. He took off down the trailhead, but he could be… Jesus, I mean. He could be anywhere.” He leaned forward and handed her a flyer.

She checked it out, shook her head, and sighed. “I’m sorry you lost your dog, but I just got here. I haven’t seen him.”

“But if you do,” he pressed. “If you even hear any rumors about a lost yellow Lab mix roaming, please call this number.”

“All right, I’ll do that.”

Suddenly, her dogs froze. They stood side by side, one black and white, one brown and white. Their ears perked up. Their tails stilled. Their eyes pointed past the big A-frame visitor center toward the other end of the parking lot.

Grady followed their look. He didn’t see anything unusual, but at the very edge of his hearing he caught some kind of commotion. He concentrated, trying to sort the signal from the noise.

Molly joined him. “Dad?” Then she looked at the dogs and said, “Aw, babies…” but the dogs weren’t paying attention to the teenage girl. Their focus remained glued to something in the distance, something through the trees. Something screaming.

The screaming was coming closer.

The woman who held the leashes asked no one in particular, “The hell is going on?”

Grady answered her. “Don’t know, but it’s coming from the Skyline Trail.”

Before he could speculate further, two college-aged guys wearing Huskies gear burst out of the trees, down the steps, and into the parking lot, yelling their heads off all the way. “Call the cops!” one commanded. “Get the rangers!” hollered the other. The rest was lost as they talked over each other. Right behind them, a middle-aged Asian woman with a walking stick came charging up to the parking lot. “There’s a body! A dead body!” she added to the discourse.

“Dad, you’re a cop….” Molly hinted hard.

The dog lady gave him a squint. “Really? You’re with the police?”

“I… I don’t have any jurisdiction here, and I’m not on duty.” Even so, he wandered away from her, toward the growing crowd that congealed around the college guys and the walking-stick lady.

Another white guy came tearing down the Skyline Trail, red-faced and panting. “There’s a…” He bent forward and wheezed. “There’s a…”

“A body, yeah, we heard,” Grady told him. “Where’s this body? Someone call nine-one-one. Get the local cops out here. Nobody touch anything,” he added, with enough ambient cop authority that people started looking at him like maybe he knew what he was doing. He held up a hand and said, “I’m Detective Grady Merritt from Seattle homicide.”

“Oh my God,” the Asian woman gasped. “How did you get here so quickly?”

“No, it’s not like that. I didn’t… I’m not. Ma’am,” he tried again. “My presence here is strictly a coincidence. Has someone… has anyone called nine-one-one? If there’s a body on the trail, we need to get somebody official out here, pronto.”

Half a dozen people held up phones and started dialing.

The wheezing man stood up straight and caught enough of his breath to say, “It’s not a body.”

Several people looked at him, confused. The pit-bull lady asked from the edge of the crowd, “What do you mean, not a body?”

“Not a whole body,” he coughed. “Part of a body. There’s a… there’s a dog. With part of a body.”

Molly went on high alert. “A dog? A yellow dog? Did you see a yellow dog, sir?” She darted to his side and shoved a flyer against his cheek. “Was it this dog?”

He pulled the flyer off his face, leaving the paper spotted with sweat. “I don’t know. Maybe?”

“Was the dog guarding the body part?” asked Grady, on the off chance the corpse belonged to a lost hiker with a faithful companion.

The college guys shook their heads. “No, not… not guarding it,” one said carefully. “More like… playing with it,” said the other.

Back at the trailhead, fresh screaming rang out, and more people came scrambling frantically into the parking lot. They arrived in clumps of three and four, one and two. They scattered for the visitor center or ran for their cars.

“It’s Cairo,” Molly declared. “It has to be.”

Grady wasn’t so sure. “He doesn’t actually have any precedent for getting lost or playing with body parts, hon.”

“That we know of.” She slapped her remaining flyers against his chest.

By reflex, he grasped them. “What are you—?”

Too late. She was already jogging against the flow of frantic tourists, crossing the parking lot in a few swift seconds—squeezing between parked cars and leaping curbs.

Grady smacked the flyers into the pit-bull lady’s free hand and took off after his daughter. He heard the woman yelp as her dogs lunged in an effort to give chase, but she pulled them back and scolded them, and then the detective couldn’t hear her anymore, and he didn’t care what she did with the pink sheets of lovingly, hopefully printed paper. He pushed past a ranger who was hustling toward the commotion with a sharp “Pardon me!” and reached the trailhead just in time to get plowed into by a heavyset dude who was just trying to get away from something that was still coming through the trees, bounding up the trail.

The dude said, “Sorry!” then bounced off Grady and kept running.

“Molly!” But the nimble teenager had a good twenty-yard lead on him. “Molly! If you find any body parts, don’t touch them!”

She screeched something in response. Was it a happy screech? A frightened screech? He couldn’t tell, and he couldn’t see her, because now she’d gone around a bend and was lost in the trees.

“Molly!”

“Dad!” she called back. “Dad, I found him!”

It should’ve been a happy screech, so why didn’t it sound entirely happy? He heard walkie-talkies beeping somewhere behind him, so someone official was surely on the way. He mustered all his waning energy, forced himself into another hard sprint, and finally caught up to his daughter and, yes… his dog.

Molly was holding out her arms. “Cairo, buddy—you’re okay!” she said with forced brightness. “I’m so happy to see you, but you’ve gotta drop that. Drop it. Drop. It.

It was a command that the trainer had taught him a couple of years ago, after what they’d come to think of as the “Mugging Incident,” when the dog had stolen a woman’s purse off a coffee shop bistro table and then bolted off down the sidewalk. Everyone blamed the adorable robbery on a packet of beef jerky the purse’s owner toted around for post-workout snacks.

Grady joined the command. “Cairo, drop it. Right now.”

But Cairo was a dog with something awesome, stinky, and dead in his mouth, and he didn’t see any good reason to walk away from such a sweet trifecta. He backed up and let out a muffled woof.

Grady changed his tone. “Cairo, buddy. Whatcha got there, huh?” He approached slowly, holding his hands low, palms up. “You wanna give it to me? You wanna give Dad the gross old leg you found?”

Molly gagged. “Oh my God, it is a leg, isn’t it?”

“Well, there’s a shoe hanging off one end, so it’s probably a leg and a foot,” he said quietly. “Come on, buddy. Drop the leg.”

The walkie-talkie beeps were coming closer. Grady called over his shoulder, “Hey, folks? Stay back, would you? We don’t want to chase him off.”

It didn’t stop two rangers in brown uniforms from appearing, but it did slow them down and make them more cautious. One was a round white woman, and one was a tall Black man. The woman said, “Whoo boy howdy,” and the man said, “Sweet Jesus, what is it this time?”

In a calm, measured, authoritative voice, Grady told them, “This is our dog, his name is Cairo, he got lost Sunday, and now we’ve found him.”

The woman said flatly, “And he brought you a present.”

“In a nutshell, yes. Have you called the police?” he asked.

The other ranger nodded. “They’re on the way. That’s a leg, isn’t it? I’m not crazy, am I? That’s a leg?”

Molly said, “Wait! I have an idea!” and she disappeared along the trail, heading up toward the parking lot.

Instinctively and without discussing it, the remaining humans all fanned out, trying to catch Cairo in a circle. Each one of them made soothing, welcoming noises to the best of their individual ability.

The dog eyed them one at a time, trying to decide if this was the best game ever, or if he’d somehow miscalculated and maybe these monkeys were planning to steal his treasure. The yellow Lab mix of dubious provenance was filthy from head to toe, with burrs clumping up his ear fluff and mud caking his limbs up to his belly. He did not appear harmed; he mostly looked happy as he assessed, retreated, and juked back and forth—trying to keep his distance from anyone who might take away his toy.

Grady was seriously starting to fear that the dog would fly the coop again when Molly came charging back to the scene, waving something in her hands. “Cairo! Ro-ro, baby, I’ve got you a treeeeat.”

Now she had his attention. His ears popped up, and his eyes fixed on her.

Treatos…” she singsonged to the freshly attentive pooch. “Good bacon-flavored treatos from the nice lady with the pretty pit bulls. I will trade you this handful of bacon treatos for that maggoty-looking leg.” They’d learned when he was a puppy that he could sometimes be bartered with. “Treatos,” she told him again. “Right here. In my hot little hand. Come and get ’em.”

He visibly considered his options, eyes darting between Molly and Grady and the rangers while he held the disembodied leg clamped in his mouth. Finally, he came to a decision, dropped the disgusting chew toy, and ran up to Molly to claim his reward.

Grady and the rangers exhaled; Molly squealed and let the dog trample her as he went back and forth between snorfling for treats and licking her face.

“No, no, no! You’ve been chewing on corpse parts!” she shrieked, but that didn’t stop the dog—who hadn’t seen his people in days. Even though he’d had a grand adventure, he was overjoyed to be found. Even if it meant he couldn’t keep his toy.

The stinking, bloody toy in question lay in the dirt, covered in dog drool and speckled with wriggling white maggots. Grady and the rangers came in close, then covered their noses.

“Would you look at that,” marveled the guy.

“Can’t look away, sir,” noted the woman.

Grady began to catalog. “Jeans, socks that look like they were pretty nice. Shoe looks like a Bostonian, brown leather. Size eleven, give or take.” He called back to Molly, “For Christ’s sake, stop that—don’t let him lick you. You’ll need a shower before you get back into the car. Or a sink bath in the visitor center restroom.”

She wailed, “I’m trying,” with an audible smile that suggested even the stinkiest of corpse breath was welcome so long as she had her dog again.

“Dog’ll need a bath, too,” observed the ranger.

“Not yet. He might have evidence on him.”

“You a cop or something?” the woman asked him.

“Not one of yours, but yeah. And I’m definitely getting too old for this shit.”

Back at the parking lot, the familiar woop-woop of a police siren cut through Paradise, and then there was a crime scene, and then a mostly good boy was held at Animal Control for a few hours so he could be combed for clues before being released to his owners. On the final drive home late that evening, Grady did not do any swearing out loud, even though he badly wanted to.

Cairo slept the sleep of a righteous adventurer, mostly in Molly’s lap.

About The Author

Libby Bulloff

Cherie Priest is the author of two dozen books and novellas, including the horror novel The Toll, acclaimed gothic Maplecroft, and the award-winning Clockwork Century series, beginning with Boneshaker. She has been nominated for the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, and she won the Locus Award for best horror novel. Her books have been translated into nine languages in eleven countries. She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and a menagerie of exceedingly photogenic pets.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (August 15, 2023)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982168933

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