The story begins with Jack McEvoy's termination by the Los Angeles Times due to the newspaper's financial crisis. He is given two weeks to train his replacement, Angela Cook, on the "cop beat" and decides that he wants to write one more major story before his last day. Jack focuses on the case of 16-year-old drug dealer Alonzo Winslow, who confessed that he brutally raped one of his clients, then stuffed her body in the trunk with a plastic bag over her head, tied shut with a length of rope around her neck. Angela, a beautiful and ambitious young reporter, maneuvers to get herself a part of the story. However, after Jack is given access to the defense files, he learns that Alonzo only confessed to stealing the car containing the body, not to the rape-murder. In researching trunk murders on the Internet, Angela unwittingly finds evidence of a similar crime in Las Vegas. However, Angela's research also took her to a "trap" site set up by the real murderer: Wesley Carver, an MIT graduate who is the chief security officer of a "server farm" (colocation and backup services) near Phoenix, referred to by everyone as the "scarecrow" of the farm. Carver cracks her e-mail password at the Times and learns that Jack is headed to Vegas. He promptly creates a fake data emergency so that his company will send him to L.A.

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