A Jack Daniels Thriller: Teaser #4
This installment picks up immediately following Teasers, #1, #2, and #3, available here.
A Brand New Free Kindle Nation Short:
A Jack Daniels Thriller: Teaser #4
This installment picks up immediately following Teasers, #1, #2, and #3, available here.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similar ity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright ©2010 J. A. Konrath and published here with permission of the publisher.
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, photo copying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
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P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
2010, August 10
I was having a horrible nightmare where I was tied up and someone was going to torture me to death. So there was no feeling of relief when I woke up and realized I was tied up and someone was going to torture me to death.
The Catherine Wheel, with its horrible Guinea Worm attachment, whirred in my vision, and next to it the digital clock continued its countdown.
It reminded me of a case I had a few years ago. Another countdown, on a digital watch.
I hoped this one would end better than that one had.
My brain was still fuzzy, and I couldn't remember what had led up to this point. I also had no idea how I'd get out of this. If I didn't know where I was, how could anyone else?
I scooted backward, peering behind me, eyeing the concrete block I was tethered to. Then I looked at my burning wrists. There was blood, but not as much as I'd expected, and the pain was far out of proportion with the actual damage. The wounds were no more than bad scrapes, but the glistening salt crystals made every millimeter of exposed flesh scream.
Unfortunately, the damage I'd done to the rope was even less impressive than the damage I'd done to myself. For all of my hard work, the nylon cord was barely frayed.
But seeing the Catherine Wheel had steeled my resolve. If I had to saw off both of my hands to get free, I would.
I closed my eyes and began to rub the rope against the corner of the block, whimpering in my throat, biting the ball gag so hard my jaw trembled.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
I hung up my cell phone and watched the cab pull up. Dalton and his associates climbed in. Good old Herb had slashed the tires of Dalton's Caddy and the Benz, based on my not-so-subtle suggestion, in an effort to keep them on the scene and buy some time while I called Libby Hellmann, the state's attorney.
Our efforts had bought us five minutes, and they were for naught. Hellmann had agreed with my original assessment; we had absolutely no evidence, and no probable cause, which meant we couldn't get paper on Dalton. No search warrant. No arrest.
Deep down, I knew Dalton had a child in a storage locker somewhere. A child who was running out of time. And there wasn't anything I could do. Even if I'd tried the loose-wire/vigilante-cop route and attempted to beat a confession out of Dalton, his lawyers showing up had squelched that plan. Not that it was ever a plan to begin with. I was pragmatic about following rules when confronted by a greater good, but unlike Mr. K I had no stomach for hurting people.
The only minor victory we scored was the look on the lawyer's face when he saw the flat tires. When he went up to Herb, spouting off about suing and calling superiors, my partner told them a story about a roving band of tire-slashing thugs who had a vendetta against luxury cars, which was why my Nova was spared. When asked why he didn't do anything to stop it, Herb replied, "I asked my lawyer, and he advised me not to."
I truly did love the man, in that brotherly/sisterly way.
"Follow the cab?" he asked. "Or break into his car?"
I considered it. On one hand, if we chased Dalton, he surely wouldn't lead us anywhere helpful. On the other, he wouldn't leave his car with us if there was anything important or incriminating in it. But we couldn't afford to miss that chance.
"Both," I decided. "Hurry up. There's a lock pick in my trunk."
I hit the button and Herb gracelessly extracted himself from my vehicle, pulling out my lock pick-a one gallon plastic milk jug filled with concrete-just as the cab was pulling away. I took off after Dalton, then pressed the button on my earpiece to keep in touch with Herb. After two rings, he picked up.
"Ms. Daniels, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think this milk has gone bad."
"It's gone very bad," I said, smirking. "You may have to arrest it for B&E. Call me back if you find anything. I can have a car pick you up."
I heard the CRUNCH of breaking safety glass, and the whine of the car alarm. I killed the phone, then used the radio mic to call Tom Mankowski, the detective on my team.
"Car five-five-niner, this is Lewis."
Roy Lewis was Tom's partner. "Hey, Roy, it's Jack Daniels. Tom keeping you in the loop?"
"He don't tell me shit. Plus the dude's drunk all the time, on the take, and dealing crack to underprivileged schoolchildren. Plus he has erectile dysfunction."
I heard Tom say "asshole" in the background, then, "What's up, Lieut? I haven't confirmed Dalton's property in Cape Verde, but I did find his flight. He's taking United out of O'Hare on August ninth, two fifteen p.m."
I checked the current time, and the digital watch countdown. That coincided exactly with the time running out.
"I need you to arrange for a round-the-clock on John Dalton, sixty-one years of age, residing at 1300 North Lake Shore Drive. Three teams, eight-hour shifts."
"Roger that. Where is the suspect now?"
"In a yellow cab, just turned off of Clybourn, heading west on Diversey. I also need you to assemble a team and start calling every self-storage facility in Chicago, checking to see who's renting unit 515. If it's John Dalton, John Smith, John Doe, or anything cute, get me immediately. I'll be in touch. Out."
I cut off, then called home base. "Dispatch, this is Lieutenant Daniels out of the two-six. I need a car to rendezvous with me en route." I gave them my make, model, and plate number, as well as the upcoming intersection. Less than a minute later, a black-and-white pulled up alongside me. I read their car number off their front fender and got them on the mic.
"Car seven-six-three-seven, I need a photo taken to Scott Hajek at the crime lab. Complete workup, plus run the pic through missing persons. Grab it at the next stop."
We all came to a red light at Western, Dalton's cab right ahead of me, the patrol car on my side. A uniform-a young black woman who couldn't have been older than twenty-one-hopped out of the passenger seat and hurried to my window as I lowered it.
"It's really an honor to meet you, Lieutenant."
I checked her nametag. Graves. "Thanks for the assist, Officer Graves. I need this at the lab ASAP. Hit the lights."
"Roger that, Lieutenant." Graves held out an evidence bag, and I dropped the envelope inside. Before she ran off, Graves hesitated.
"Did you need something, Officer?"
"I just wanted to say I've been following your career since I was a little girl. You're the reason I became a cop, Lieutenant."
I was flattered, of course, but I played the hard-ass like I was supposed to. "Don't blame me for your unhappiness, Officer. Now move it or I'll have you busted down to traffic duty."
Her smile was sudden and dazzling. "Yes, ma'am," she said, then nodded and ran back to her patrol car. I wondered if I was ever that young and eager, anxious to make my mark, and decided I couldn't have been. The light turned green, and I followed the cab up to a club called Spill, which I knew from a case I had a long time ago. It was a known Outfit property, and it reminded me of a man I remembered from my early days in Homicide, a former mob enforcer.
I double-parked and watch the trio exit the cab. Dalton waved at me before going inside. My earpiece rang, and I picked up.
"Car was clean, Jack. Not even an owner's manual in the glove compartment."
"I'm at Spill, Herb. Up for a shot of tequila?"
"I don't think I'm ready for tequila yet. But a beer would work."
"Need a ride?"
"I'll cab it."
"See you in a bit."
I hung up, parked in front of a hydrant, and headed into Chicago's biggest mob bar to see what trouble I could cause.
2010, August 10
Phin's nerves hummed throughout his body, making his extremities tingle and twitch. He was anxious to act, to do something, anything, to find Jack. But he had no idea what to do. Herb had taken the Lemonheads boxes, and the single yellow piece of candy stuck in the bough of the tree, and was trying to find latent prints on them. Harry was on his laptop, using Identi-Kit facial composite software to put together a picture of the creepy looking guy with the black hair who'd been hanging around his office.
Phin had nothing to do other than pace. He kept clenching and unclenching his fists, wanting to hit somebody. He checked on McGlade, half-expecting the uncouth private eye to be surfing porno, but found him working diligently on creating the composite. Then Phin checked on Herb in the kitchen, who was using a ninhydrin spray to stain the prints on the box and candy. It smelled like acetone, and Herb was working on the stove with the vent on.
Harry had checked the two unknown numbers on Jack's cell phone. Both were billing follow-ups for cases they'd recently had.
Phin considered calling Mary, Jack's mother, who was on yet another cruise-she took several a year. But Phin couldn't see any reason to ruin the old woman's trip, when there was nothing she'd be able to do to help.
"Got a bunch," Herb said, stepping away from the stove and fanning the air with his palm. "Some good ones. But they'll need to dry before I can lift them."
"Can you search the CPD database by arresting officer?" Phin asked.
"Sure. But Jack was on the force for more than twenty years. There are going to be over a thousand perps she arrested during that time."
Phin stared at Herb, hard. "Then we'd better get started."
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 16
I looked at Alan, on one knee. Looked at the ring, a nice-size, round diamond. Looked back at Alan. Then at the ring. Then Alan. Then the ring.
"You're supposed to answer yes or no," Alan said. His eyes were bright, his face earnest and hopeful.
"Alan...I...well, I'm kind of blown away right now."
"I mean, we've only been dating for a few months," I went on. "We haven't even lived together."
"I'm an old-fashioned guy. The time to live together is when we're engaged."
"Shouldn't living together come first? What if we can't stand being around each other all the time?"
Alan lost a bit of his sparkle. He closed the ring box and stood up. "You're going to be thirty next year. If we want to start a family, it has to be soon."
"I don't think I'm ready to have kids, Alan. That can happen later. My career-"
"Your career? A guy was just in your living room, taking pictures of you with your shirt off. That's the career you want?"
"It's not like that," I said. "This is what I've been working for, Alan. You know it's my goal to be a lieutenant-"
"-before you're forty. I know that, Jacqueline. But whenever you talk about your job, all I hear is how little respect you get, how they're holding you back, how no men want to work with you except that shithead Henry-"
"-because it's all a big, sexist old boys' network."
I put my hands on my hips. "This is my dream, Alan."
"And what about kids? Let's say you do get your dream job. Are you going to quit, at the height of your career, and drop everything to have babies?"
"I haven't thought that far ahead. I'm not saying I don't want to have a family. I'm saying I don't think I'm ready for one right now."
Alan shook his head, giving me one of his patented looks of disapproval. "You want to be forty-five and pregnant? By the time the kid is in college, you'll be in a nursing home."
"Of course not. I don't want children when I'm that old."
"Yesterday was your birthday. In three hundred and sixty-four days you'll have another one. You can be married and maybe pregnant by then, or working some other hooker sting for a bunch of chauvinists who don't respect you."
Alan stuck the ring in his pocket and headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"I'm not going to start an argument trying to convince you to marry me. Either you want to, or you don't. I love you, and I respect that you need some time to think. You're a fantastic, wonderful woman, and I know you'll make a terrific wife, and mother. But only if you're ready."
I didn't know if I was ready.
"Stay," I said. What I left unsaid was, convince me this is the right thing to do.
"I can't make this decision for you, Jacqueline. I know I'm ready. Most people our age are ready. Every single one of my friends is married."
"So you want to get married because all of your friends are?"
"I want to get married because I love you. But the clock is ticking. For both of us."
Alan reached the door, paused for a moment, then left. I considered going after him, but he was right. I did need to think about this.
I always assumed I'd get married and have children someday, but never really stopped to think how that would fit with my career. How could I rise up in the ranks if I needed to take a year off for maternity leave? How seriously would I be taken by the brass if I had to interrupt a high-profile murder investigation so I could stay home with my kid who had the chicken pox?
But, by the same token, I was almost thirty. I needed to make this decision, and soon. The fact was, if I didn't take this chance with Alan, I might never have another one.
Alan was right. The clock was ticking.
And boy, did I hate ticking clocks.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
With the clock ticking down on the unknown boy's life, I walked into Spill, wondering what more I could do to find him. My mind was filled with awful scenarios of what would happen when the timer reached zero. Was the boy in a storage locker in some sort of sealed container, with his air running out? Or maybe some terrible machine would turn on automatically, bringing death? Or did he have a rope around his neck, standing on a slowly melting block of ice?
I shook my head, forcing away the images, and stepped into the club. It used to be the nightspot in the city, trendy and hip and A-list. A lot had changed since the last time I'd been in here. Gone were the smoke and the thumping house music and the line around the block. Spill had gone from popular to passé, the dance floor covered with a few lonely pool tables, the once-mighty bar reduced to serving fried pub grub and boilermakers to aging wiseguys. That's where I found Dalton and his lawyer cronies, sitting on stools at the bar. I parked myself at the other end, watching them glance at me and then huddle in private conversation.
Okay, Jack. You're here. Now what?
I ordered an orange juice, playing out various possibilities. As long as Dalton was kept under surveillance, we could arrest him once we had enough evidence to satisfy probable cause.
The term probable cause was misused a lot on TV shows and in books. In U.S. law, it meant a cop could only arrest a suspect if there was information sufficient to convince the cop that a perp had committed a crime, or that evidence of a crime or contraband would be found if a search was conducted. This would justify a search warrant or an arrest warrant, and it had to be able to stand up in court, at a probable cause hearing.
I had a reasonable suspicion that Dalton had abducted a child, and was possibly the enigmatic Mr. K. As a law enforcement officer, that allowed me to detain Dalton for brief periods to question him, and search him if I suspected he had a weapon on him. But it didn't allow me to bring him in. All he'd given me was double-talk and innuendo, and the case would get kicked before even making it to the arraignment. Even if I perjured myself, lying to the judge and testifying that Dalton had said or done things he really hadn't, I'd still be required to prove those things at the hearing. The fact that Dalton had survived this long without a single blemish on his record showed he was unlikely to make mistakes, and having his lawyers meet him at the storage area was smart. I couldn't get to him, either legally or illegally.
Herb walked in, pulling up a stool next to me.
"I left the key under your car," he said, referring to the concrete milk jug. "Anything happening?"
"Nothing so far. The guy is leaving the country tomorrow, and is possibly about to murder a child, and he's sitting there without a care in the world."
Herb picked up the plastic table tent that served as a menu. "Hmm. They have batter-fried bacon."
I frowned at him. "Wouldn't it be faster just to inject the cholesterol directly into your arteries?"
"Probably not. Doesn't matter, though. As of right now, I'm officially on a diet. It was pretty embarrassing not being able to sit up in your car."
"Good for you," I said.
The bartender came back, and Herb ordered some fried zucchini sticks. When I gave him the stink eye, Herb said, "What? They're vegetables."
I turned my attention back to Dalton. If one of the leads panned out, we could grab him. But I couldn't count on that. If he really was Mr. K, I couldn't let him leave the country. It violated everything I stood for.
So how could I make him stay?
"If we saw him committing a crime, we could arrest him," Herb said. My partner often seemed able to read my mind.
"What are you thinking?" I asked.
"We could plant drugs on him."
"I saw that on The Shield."
"Good idea. Give me that bag of cocaine you always carry around with you."
Herb frowned. "Maybe I could get some out of the evidence locker."
"You'd have to sign for it. Internal Affairs would love that."
"Don't you know any dealers we could shake down?" he asked.
"No. We're not very good crooked cops."
Both Herb and I knew this was fantasy talk, not real. While we'd both bent a few rules in our days, planting evidence just wasn't going to happen.
"I could try to provoke him into taking a swing at me," Herb said.
"Dalton wouldn't do it. And if you tried it in front of his lawyers, you'd be facing a harassment lawsuit."
But that got me thinking. I pulled out my cell.
"Who are you calling?" Herb asked.
"We're cops. Our hands are tied. What we need is help from someone who isn't so encumbered by the law."
"Jack, you're not really considering..."
He picked up on the first ring. "Hiya, Jackie. Is this a booty call? I think I can squeeze you in tonight. When you stop by, wear something slutty. And bring a pizza."
I rolled my eyes. "That isn't going to happen. But I do need your help."
"I like needy women."
"I'm at Spill. Get over here as fast as you can, Harry."
2010, August 10
I had to stop rubbing my wrists against the concrete because I was crying again. It was both shocking and disheartening how a little salt on some superficial wounds hurt so much. I blew air out of my nose, clearing my nasal passages, trying once more to get my breathing under control. The countdown clock drew my eyes yet again.
I peered over my shoulder, looking to see the amount of nylon cord I'd managed to cut through, feeling a surge of panic when I saw I hadn't even gotten a third of the way through one of the ropes, and my wrists were wound around several times.
Doing a quick mental calculation, I realized I wasn't going to free myself in time. I had to speed this up, or I would still be tied up when the clock reached zero.
Snorting in a big, wet breath, my eyes blurry with tears, I sawed my burning wrists against the concrete with renewed fervor brought about by raw fear. My salted wounds hurt more than just about anything I'd ever felt.
But I knew the Catherine Wheel would be a lot worse.
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 17
Everyone kept staring at me when I got to the office that morning. No one said anything to my face, or even made direct eye contact. But I kept catching sideways glances and seeing whispered exchanges, to the point where I was feeling sort of paranoid. I wondered if I had my Armani suit on backwards, or toilet paper stuck to my shoe. A quick mirror check in the restroom didn't answer any questions for me; I thought I looked fine.
I'd been to the third floor, Homicide, only a few times. It was a large area, the desks all out in the open. After weaving through a few aisles, I found Detective Herb Benedict pecking away at a keyboard and squinting into a green monochrome monitor. Next to him was a box of a dozen donuts, half of them missing. Like Shell, I had no idea where Herb put those extra calories. But I was more impressed by his computer. That he had his own, rather than had to share it, meant he must have been more important than I'd guessed. Those things cost more than my car.
Herb looked up at me, raising an eyebrow. "May I help you, ma'am?"
I set the files I was holding-the prior victims-on his desk. "Reporting for duty, Detective."
He seemed puzzled, and then his eyes went wide.
"Jacqueline? Uh...wow. I actually didn't recognize you. That's some suit."
"Thanks." I didn't mention Shell bought it, having no idea if that violated some sort of ethics code or rule. "Nice computer."
Herb smiled. "Thanks. Can you believe it has twenty megabytes of memory?"
"That's insane," I said, shaking my head. "Who would ever need that much?"
"The world is changing so fast I can't even keep up. Do you know what a cellular radio phone is?"
"Those big, clunky portable things that look like bricks with huge antennas? Like Michael Douglas used in Wall Street?"
Herb nodded. "They sell for a cool four grand. But I heard they're working on making them more affordable. Technology experts predict one out of a thousand people will have a cell phone by the year twenty-ten."
"In just twenty years? No way. I can't even imagine needing one. And it's not like I could fit that giant thing in my purse."
"Maybe they'll get smaller," Herb said. He leaned back, lacing his fingers behind his head. "Did you review the vics' files?"
I nodded. I'd been up late last night, poring over the files. The three victims had all died in similar fashions, of internal bleeding. All had been drugged, and dismembered. All had been found in Dumpsters, without heads. Alongside one of the bodies was a bloody ball gag. That last detail popped out at me. I remembered that lecture from the police academy, about Unknown Subject K.
"Have you ever encountered a victim where a ball gag was used?" I asked.
Herb's eyes twinkled. "You're thinking about Mr. K, aren't you?"
"It's one of his signatures."
"Possible. It's also possible all the unsolveds that involved gags are being incorrectly lumped together and attributed to some imaginary boogeyman."
"Is that what you think?"
"I like keeping an open mind. I find that if I pursue an investigation with a bias, I might miss something important because it doesn't fit with my theory. Ready to visit Shell's office?"
Herb let me drive, which blew my mind. In my time on patrol, and being partners with McGlade, I never drove.
Perhaps Herb was confident enough that it didn't bother him to let a woman take control. Or perhaps he was just lazy.
"A Chevy Nova," Herb said, sliding into the passenger seat. "Nice. Roomy, too."
"I figure I'll keep it another year, then trade up to something nicer. Where we headed?"
"River North. Rush and Ohio."
I pulled out of the police parking lot and melded into traffic. For August, it was cooler than normal. There was still the muggy humidity from being close to Lake Michigan, but it wasn't devastating my hair and makeup like it normally did this time of year.
"So what other thoughts did you have, looking at the files?" Herb said.
"All three of the victims went on dates with two of the same men. Both older. Both rich, without records."
"Would you consider them suspects?"
"No." I smiled at Herb. "But I like to keep an open mind."
"Any link among the women?"
"They were all escorts. Two were white, one was of Asian descent. All three were very pretty. Two were college-educated, and the third was working on her bachelor's degree, part- time. And all three earned more per year than I do. Plus there was something else I found interesting."
I turned onto Michigan, hitting the gas. The car was a bit sluggish-one of the reasons I was going to replace it soon. "The girl who didn't work for Shell worked for a company called Elite Escorts. It's a small operation, just a dozen girls. Like Shell's. I called a few other services last night, and most of them are big. Fifty, a hundred girls. The Dodd Agency-the one Shell said has been aggressively pursuing his girls-is one of the biggies."
"Why would they be involved? They're a big fish. Shell is a small fry."
"Don't you know your Darwin?" I asked. "The big fish eat the small ones. That's how they get big."
Michigan Avenue was stop-and-go, crammed with people in cars and on foot. This area was quintessential Chicago to me. Shops and hotels. Further ahead, the Art Institute, Grant Park, the Buckingham Fountain, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium. Soldier Field, where the Bears played. The Magnificent Mile, with beaches and one of the most memorable city skylines in the world. My kind of town, and the reason I would never ever move to the suburbs.
There wasn't a single place to park on Michigan, even illegally, so we looped up to Grand, turned right, and got onto Rush.
"Turn in the alley, here. Shell said we can park around back."
Herb directed me into a little three-car lot behind the buildings, two spots already taken with a Cadillac and a black Honda.
I pulled in and stepped out into the alley, smoothed my pants, adjusted my shoulder pads, and picked up Shell's box of lights and his backdrop. Herb took the box from me.
"Yuck," he said, making a face. The garbage smell was bad enough to melt my eyeballs. I held a hand over my nose and mouth, and we hurried out onto Rush Street.
Together we walked past Pizzeria Uno-where deep-dish pizza was invented back in the 1950s-up to a small boutique-style building shared by an art gallery and Classy Companions, Shell's agency. After climbing the concrete steps and entering the enclosed porch through a door on spring hinges, we were slapped by a blast of frigid air. The buzzers along the security door had options for the two businesses, and several tenants living above them.
"Other people live in the building," I said to Herb, thinking I hadn't seen anything about tenants in the reports. Statistics showed that over ninety percent of murders were committed by someone who knew the victim.
"Women. All of Shell's ladies," Herb said, pressing the buzzer. "This is where you'll be staying for the duration of the case."
After a moment, the speaker above the buzzers said, "Classy Companions." It was a female voice, deep and husky.
"Detective Herb Benedict, and Officer Jacqueline Streng," Herb answered.
The door buzzed, and we went in. The hallway divided the bottom floor into two halves. On one side was the gallery, on the other, the agency. The door to Classy Companions was heavy wood, the company name stenciled on at eye-level. Herb pointed over our heads and I looked up, seeing the security camera.
"Is that new?" I asked.
"Shell put it in after the first murder."
"You've reviewed all the tapes?"
"Yeah. There will be a VCR in your room for you to review them as well."
Herb knocked, and again we needed to be buzzed in. The lobby was plush, all pastels and soft lighting. The carpet was so thick my heels sank into it. I saw a few sofas and loveseats, a waiting area boasting a coffee table piled with magazines, assorted floor plants, and a stunning fresh flower arrangement on the front desk that reminded me of the flowers Alan had given me last night when he proposed-flowers I'd forgotten to put in a vase.
The woman behind the desk was old, in her forties, graying and plump. Her makeup was expertly applied, and she already had a smile on, anticipating our approach.
"Hello, Detective." When she looked at me, her wattage went down a notch, but most of the smile stayed. "And you must be Jacqueline. That's the same outfit as in your pictures."
I forced a polite grin. "Nice to meet you, Mrs....?"
"Mizz," she corrected, "Elizabeth White. Everyone here calls me Mizz Lizzy." She picked up a pink phone on her desk and hit a button. "Mr. Compton? Detective Benedict and the woman are here."
Mizz Lizzy didn't try to engage us in further conversation, instead burying her nose in a Rolodex. I'd been around enough catty women to apply the adjective to her. She either didn't like cops, or didn't like me.
After a minute of Herb and I staring at each other, Shell entered. He was wearing a different tailored suit than the night before, and he looked terrific, approaching with a big grin, taking the lighting box from Herb and the backdrop from me.
"Good morning, Herb, Jacqueline. Did Mizz Lizzy offer you coffee?"
"I'd love a cup," I said. I really wasn't a big coffee drinker, but I liked the idea of the older woman serving me.
"Cream and sugar?" she asked.
"Anything for you, Detective?"
"Black coffee sounds great," Herb replied.
Mizz Lizzy swiveled out from behind her desk and waddled off into another room. Shell set down the equipment and beamed at me. "You look terrific. I hope you're up for a long day, because we've already booked you twice. You have a lunch date with Felix Sarcotti, and dinner and the theater tonight with Jeroen ten Berge."
I recognized the two names from the victims' files. Both men had dated all three of the deceased.
"That was fast," I said. "They saw my picture already?"
"They're both longtime clients, and insist on seeing any new girl as soon as she comes in. I messengered your photos to them this morning, and they're both eager to meet you. But we have much to do before lunch. We need to get started right away. Mizz Lizzy!" Shell called into the other room. "Bring the coffee up to Sandy's room, if you would!"
Shell put his hands lightly on my arms, his face bright and enthusiastic. "You're going to like Sandy, I think. She's really fascinating. She's also had a...shall we say...checkered past."
"A police record?" I asked.
"No. She was never actually charged with a crime."
I looked at Herb, confused. His eyes bored into mine. "Sandy Sechrest, twenty-five years old. Four years ago she killed a man."
2010, August 10
How about this guy?" Phin called out while squinting at the computer. For the past half hour, he and Herb had been looking at Jack's arrest record, cross-referencing perps' names on the World Wide Web to see if anything recent or interesting came up. They'd gotten as far as the Bs, then Herb waddled off to check if the ninhydrin had dried.
"What's Jack's network password?" Harry asked, walking into the room. "I need to print my guy out."
"Lame," Harry said, leaning over Phin's shoulder. "Who's that fugly bastard?"
"His name is Victor Brotsky."
Brotsky was fifty-eight years old, pudgy, sweaty, unshaven, with a lazy eye that made him look even crazier than his police record proved he was. The reason Phin was interested in him was twofold. First, he'd recently been denied parole, and rightfully so-the guy was a butcher. The second was an article from three months ago that appeared in the Chicago Record written by someone named Alex Chapa, which showed up in a Google search. SERIAL KILLER DONATES $50K TO CHARITY.
"What's up?" Herb said, coming into the room.
"Remember this guy?" Phin asked, zooming in on the article.
Herb squinted at the reporter's picture."Chapa? Yeah, we crossed paths a few times. A bit of a pain in the ass, but he wouldn't do anything to Jack."
"Not him. Victor Brotsky."
"Oh, yeah," Herb nodded, his chins jiggling. "The worst of the worst."
"In May he donated fifty thousand bucks to Children's Memorial Hospital," Phin said. "Apparently, a rich relative of his died in Russia, leaving him a ton of money."
"So he tried to buy himself a parole," Herb said. "And when that didn't work, maybe he hired a hit man to go after the one who arrested him."
"Would he be the type to do that?"
"Brotsky? He was an animal. He had to be in restraints during his trial because he tried to attack Jack while she was on the stand."
Phin scrolled down, scanning the article. "He's in Stateville. About an hour drive. We can keep searching for other possibles on Jack and Harry's laptops while we're driving. Do you have connections at the prison, Herb?"
Herb shook his head.
"I do," McGlade said. "I know the warden. Guy named Miller. He owes me one. We were at a strip club, and he was heading to the champagne room with a hottie until I pointed out her Adam's apple. I'll give him a call." He looked at Herb. "We could use the law on our side to talk to Brotsky and search his cell. You might have to throw your weight around."
Herb folded his arms and frowned.
"What?" Harry said.
"I'm waiting for the insult."
"No insult. If the superintendant is behind this, it'll make it easier."
Herb nodded. "Okay. Let me fax the Lemonheads box to the crime lab."
"I'll give you my Indenti-Kit composite, too," Harry said.
Phin was surprised. He didn't expect the two of them to actually be able to work together. Perhaps they understood the urgency of the situation and were able to put aside their mutual hate society and act like reasonable adults.
Both Harry and Herb took off. A minute later, the printer began to hum, spitting out computer-generated pictures of the man McGlade had seen outside his office, both head-on and profile. Long black hair. Vacant eyes. A pointy chin. Creepy looking guy.
The next pictures were even creepier. Harry had taken Herb's head and Photoshopped it onto a walrus, with an erection. Subsequent pics had the Herb/walrus apparently making love to various famous people, both male and female. The one that had Herb being ridden by Hitler was particularly well done, for what it was.
In the interest of diplomacy, Phin threw them away before Herb returned with the Lemonheads candy box. It took two minutes to make scans of all six cardboard sides, the prints showing up as purple ink. As Herb was e-mailing them, Harry came back in.
"Did my pics print?" he asked.
Phin handed over the two of the long-haired man.
"How about the others?" Harry asked.
"That was it, McGlade."
Harry bent down, studying the printer. "You didn't see one with the Skipper from Gilligan's Island?"
Phin saw it, and wished there was some way he could unsee it. He grabbed the keys to Jack's SUV. "Let's move," he said.
But the small amount of optimism he had was waning. If Brotsky had hired someone to abduct Jack, it was unlikely he'd talk. And how do you threaten or bargain with a guy who was going to spend the rest of his days locked in a maximum security prison?
Three years ago
2007, August 8
McGlade strolled into Spill and spotted us immediately. "Hiya, Jackie." He glanced at Herb. "Jabba. How's the rest of the Hutt? Fat and ugly?"
I put a firm hand on Herb's shoulder, holding him in his seat.
"We need your help, Harry," I said.
"To roll El Chubbo out of here? We'll need a few more guys, and a block and tackle."
"Remember Mr. K?" I asked.
"The breakfast cereal?"
Herb leered at Harry. "Did you get in line for seconds when God was handing out the stupid?" he asked.
"Did you get in line for seconds when God was handing out the sweet potatoes?"
"Enough," I said. "The older guy sitting further down the bar. We think he might have abducted a child, but we've got nothing on him. We want you to provoke him enough so he takes a swing at you, so we can arrest him."
"Shouldn't take you more than a few seconds," Herb said.
Harry glanced over his shoulder. Dalton and his two lawyers were looking at us.
"What's in this for me?" Harry asked.
"You'd be saving a young boy's life," Herb said.
"So that's worth, what, in U.S. dollars?" He winked at me. "Or sexual favors?"
Herb jerked his thumb at Harry. "How about I beat him up, and we say it was Dalton?" he said.
"Settle down there, Humpty. I'm just messing with you. Except for the money part. You'll be getting my invoice in the mail."
Herb and I moved closer as Harry marched over to their part of the bar. "Which one of you assholes is Special K?"
"I know you," Dalton said. "You're that private eye, Harrison Harold McGlade. There's a TV show about you."
"Fatal Autonomy," Harry said, nodding. "You a fan?"
"A big fan. Could I get your autograph?"
Dalton passed over a napkin, and Harry pulled out a pen and began to sign it. Next to me, I heard Herb slap himself in the forehead.
"So what's all this I hear about a child abduction?" Harry asked.
Dalton kept his face neutral. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Don't you threaten me!" Harry yelled.
"Excuse me? I'm not threatening you."
In a quick move, Harry grabbed Dalton by the lapels and yanked him out of his chair. McGlade fell backwards, Dalton landing on top of him.
"Get off of me!" Harry yelled. "Police! I need the police! I'm being assaulted!"
I winced. This hadn't played out as I'd hoped. But then, what could I have honestly been hoping for?
"Are there any fat cops in the bar!" Harry wailed.
"On the bright side," Herb said, "Dalton's lawyers will no doubt press charges, and with any luck McGlade will go to jail for a few years."
I walked over there before it got any worse. "Get up, McGlade," I ordered him.
"A cop! Thank heavens! This man is attempting murder!"
Harry was pulling Dalton's hand toward his own throat. It didn't quite reach, but McGlade still made choking noises and puffed out his cheeks like he was being strangled. I reached down, pulled Dalton free, and then knelt on Harry's stomach.
"Are you high?" I said through clenched teeth.
The lawyers began to shout at me, hurling legal terms like harassment and battery and litigation. Dalton, for his part, looked slightly bemused. I decided to try to turn this lemon into lemonade.
"Mr. Dalton," I said, "I saw the whole thing. I suggest you come down to the station and press charges."
"What?!" McGlade shouted.
Herb bent over next to Harry. "You have the right to remain silent," he said, a terse grin on his face, as he snapped a cuff on McGlade's wrist. "Which I heartily endorse."
Dalton smoothed his hands over his suit. "I won't be pressing charges. I simply don't have the time." He stared over at me. "Time is such a precious thing, isn't it, Jack? We really should savor every minute. Some of us only have so long left."
Herb and I hefted McGlade up to his feet.
"I'll be seeing you," I told Dalton.
"No you won't. But maybe I'll call you later, after I land."
We dragged Harry out of there. Once back on the street, McGlade said, "I think that went well. Can you get these cuffs off?" Neither Herb nor I made any effort to follow his request. "What's up? Why so lugubrious?"
"God, I hate him," Herb muttered to himself.
"Come on. You're not really arresting me. Are you?"
I sighed. "Herb, let him go."
"Do we have to?"
I nodded. My partner made a face, but freed Harry's wrists.
"What were you thinking?" I asked. "Don't you remember what it was like to be a cop? There's a child's life at stake here."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Jeez, Jackie. Gimme a little credit, will you? If that guy is Mr. K, he's as cold as they come. There was no way he'd lose his temper and throw a punch. Especially in front of two cops."
"So instead, you think it's helpful to make an ass out of yourself?" Herb said.
"No, Shamu. That was just a distraction." Harry reached into his pocket and held up something, his face triumphant. "Who wants to see that SOB's wallet?"
2010, August 10
When the countdown timer dropped under sixty minutes, I once again checked out the bindings around my wrists. Through blurry, tear-filled eyes, I saw I hadn't even gotten through half the rope.
It was no use. I wouldn't make it in time. My wrists hurt more than anything I'd ever felt before, like tiny fanged creatures were nibbling away at my raw skin. I let my head rest on the floor, wondering what I was supposed to do next.
Rather than look at the slowly spinning Catherine Wheel, I stared up at the ceiling of the storage locker. I wasn't a spiritual person. Not one bit. Even so, I searched my mind for any prayers I knew.
That's when I saw it. Something above me. Something that glinted as it moved.
I blinked away the wetness clouding my pupils, squinting at the object, quickly realizing what it was.
A camera. The son of a bitch was watching me.
Despair dropped on me like a cold, wet blanket. Even if I miraculously beat the countdown clock and untied myself, it wouldn't matter. If Mr. K was keeping an eye me, he would know when I was breaking free. No doubt he was close by, ready to come in at any moment.
And when that knowledge sank in, I realized, with chilling certainty, that there truly was no way out.
I was finished. This was the end. The only question remaining was how long it would take me to die.
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 17
"It was deemed self-defense," Herb said. "Charges weren't filed."
We were discussing one of Shell's escorts, Sandy Sechrest, while climbing the carpeted stairs to the apartments where the women lived. As with the front door and the lobby, the stairwell had a locked security door.
"What were the particulars?" I asked.
"Live-in boyfriend," Herb said. "History of violence. Roughed her up, threatening to kill her. She stabbed him in the throat with a steak knife. Witnesses heard the incident through the apartment walls, and she had defensive wounds on her body indicative of abuse."
"This was just after Sandy joined the agency," Shell said. "That's when I decided the girls would be safest if they all lived under one roof. The security here is good. All of the doors are reinforced. The girls have to sign their visitors in. In each room there's also a panic button, directly linked to the building's burglar alarm system. No numbers on the apartments, so even if a stalker managed to get up here, he wouldn't know who lived where. I take the girls' safety very seriously."
The second floor hallway was tastefully furnished, the same as downstairs. The sconces on the stucco walls provided plenty of light, and the doors to the apartments all had deadbolts.
"Why no security cameras up here?" I asked.
"There's a fine line between safety and privacy," Shell said, knocking on the first door on the left. "Cameras would be a bit too intrusive."
The door opened, and a gorgeous brunette answered. Besides her classic Lauren Bacall looks, she also had bigger shoulder pads and hair than I did. I bit back the tinge of envy I was feeling.
"Sandy, you know Detective Benedict. I'd like you to meet our new girl, Jacqueline Streng."
Sandy smiled, but it was without warmth, and she didn't offer her hand. "Nice to meet you Jacqueline. I'm sure you'll fit in perfectly here." Her gaze flitted to Shell. "Shelly, my brunch date is picking me up at eleven, but won't be able to take me home. Can I cab it?"
"I'd prefer you call me for a ride."
She nodded. "I still have to get ready."
"We won't keep you, Sandy."
Sandy closed the door, and I heard the deadbolt snick into place.
"How many girls live here?" I asked.
"Eight. You'll make nine."
"Are they all that beautiful?" I asked.
Shell's eyes twinkled. "They are. That's why you're going to fit in perfectly here."
I was flattered by Shell's compliment, but it made me think of Alan. He hadn't said I was beautiful when he proposed to me last night. But was that a good thing or a bad thing? Did I want to be with a man who valued my looks more than my personality or intelligence? And if so, why did it make me feel so good to have someone comment on my appearance? Was I that shallow and vain?
The stairwell door swung open, and Mizz Lizzy appeared, carrying a silver tray with two cups of coffee. Without a word she handed one to me, and to Herb. I lifted the delicate, bone china cup and took a sip. Delicious.
"Thank you," I said.
Mizz Lizzy ignored me. "Anything else, Shell?"
"We're fine for the moment."
She curtseyed-something I hadn't seen done in person in quite a while-and then walked off. Shell led us to the next apartment. A blonde answered. A blonde with a perfect face and boobs that made Loni Anderson look like a man.
"Gloria, I don't believe you've met Detective Benedict. He's in charge of the investigation."
"I love your mustache, Detective." She batted her eyelashes, which were so long they had to be fake. "I love the feel of a man's facial hair on my thighs."
"You and me both," Herb said.
"And this is our new girl, Jacqueline Streng."
"Do you go by Jack?" Gloria asked. "My sister's name is Jacqueline, and we all call her Jack."
I shook my head. "No. I prefer Jacqueline."
"Too bad." Gloria pouted, as if I'd scolded her. "Are you into girls?"
"You know. Bi?"
"Uh, no. I have a boyfriend."
"I've got plenty of boyfriends," Gloria giggled. And jiggled. "But girls are nice, too."
"Even though I don't have a mustache?" I said.
Gloria gave me a gentle poke in the shoulder. "I like you. You're funny." She stuck out her lower lip at Shell. "Shelly, I thought you were supposed to come by this morning. Where were you?"
Shell turned to us. "Can you excuse me just a second?"
Without waiting for our response, he stepped inside Gloria's apartment.
"She looks like a Playboy model," I said.
Herb leaned back, talking to me softly out of the side of his mouth. "She's cute. But is she the district quick-draw champion?"
I suppressed a smile, but inside I was beaming. Being praised for my shooting skills felt a lot better than being called beautiful.
"Speaking of," Herb said. "Are you carrying right now?"
"Beretta, in my purse."
"Does it ever jam on you?" he asked.
"All semi-autos occasionally jam. But nothing I can't clear in a second or two."
"In the field, a second or two can be an eternity. I've got a .38 Colt, a Detective Special, I can loan you for this job."
"That only holds six rounds," I said. My Beretta held eight.
"But those six are guaranteed to fire."
"Thanks, but I'll stick with the semi."
Herb nodded. Though I had no romantic interest in Herb at all, I found myself glancing at his left hand. As I'd guessed, there was a wedding band. The good men were always already spoken for.
"Can I ask you a personal question, Herb?"
"As long as it doesn't involve my mustache."
"It doesn't. Do you like being married?"
"Absolutely," he said without hesitation. "Best thing I ever did in my life. You thinking about it?"
"My boyfriend proposed to me yesterday night." I wasn't sure why I was telling him this.
"Congratulations. What did you say?"
"I said I needed time. I have career goals, and I don't know if they'll fit with marriage."
"If he loves you," Herb said, "he'll respect your goals."
That's what I'd been thinking. But it was nice to hear it said aloud. "Did your wife, when you proposed, say she needed time?" I asked.
"She said yes before I even finished asking." He winked at me. "I think it was the mustache."
Maybe that's why I didn't say yes to Alan right away. He didn't have a mustache.
Gloria's door opened, and Shell popped out into the hallway. He had some lipstick on his neck that I was pretty sure wasn't there before.
"Ready to meet the rest of the girls?" he asked.
I nodded. But part of me wondered if maybe I was crazy for pursuing this whole cop thing. Maybe I'd be happier getting married and having kids.
And if that were the case, maybe Alan's proposal was my last shot at happiness.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
very time I think my opinion of you couldn't possibly get any lower, you pull a rabbit out of your hat," I told Harry.
"Or a perp's wallet out of his pants." He handed the aforementioned wallet to me. "I'll send you my bill in the mail. I'm saving up to buy a monkey."
Years ago, Harry had a fish tank. Not a single one survived. Hopefully a primate would fare better.
"Good luck with that," I told him.
"I think it would be fun to have a pet that could fetch me beer. Plus I could give him a tin cup, pretend to be blind, and make a few bucks on the L train."
"Quite the plan," Herb said.
"Yeah. But in total honesty, I'll probably just blow the money on malt liquor and lap dances."
"Thanks for your help, McGlade."
He nodded at me, gave Herb the finger, and walked off down the street. Every once in a while, McGlade came through for me. But I was incredibly grateful not to be working with him anymore. I couldn't imagine going down that route ever again.
I tapped Herb and we quickly got into my car, driving away before Dalton figured out Harry had ripped him off. Then I double-parked two streets over and examined our prize.
The wallet looked like any other men's wallet. Brown leather, trifold, worn in. Dalton had a Platinum American Express, a Visa bank card, and a driver's license in the various pockets. In the billfold compartment he had three hundred and forty dollars and a strip of paper with a twelve-digit number on it. There was a familiar logo in the corner.
"Federal Express," I said. "He FedExed something."
"Recently?" Herb said.
The paper was from an express U.S. airbill. Normally, it was attached to a full receipt that listed the sender and the recipient, along with a description of contents, packaging, and services. This had been torn off, so only the tracking number remained. It appeared new-things that were in wallets for a long time tended to have a faded, frayed look. The fold was still crisp. The colors still fine.
"I think so. Let's see."
Using my iPhone, I got online and accessed the FedEx Web site. Personally, I loved the iPhone, but part of me missed the good old days when phones had huge antennas and weighed two pounds.
"I ever tell you about the time a cell phone saved my life?" I asked Herb.
"About a million billion times."
"I think I need a new partner. Someone who appreciates my classic stories."
I used the touch screen to punch in the tracking number. It told me no information was available, indicating the package wasn't in their system yet.
"His condo," Herb said, snapping his fingers and pointing at me. "It had a FedEx box in the lobby."
I got on the radio and told Dispatch to send a car to Spill and keep an eye on John Dalton, filling in the particulars. Then Herb and I headed back to 1300 North Lake Shore Drive. Traffic seemed excruciatingly slow. I thought about calling the nearest squad car and having them check it out before we got there, but that involved all sorts of potential legal trouble. If Dalton had put something dangerous in the FedEx box, we'd need a warrant to take it. In order to get a warrant, we'd have to prove he put something in the box, and the only way we could prove that was with a receipt that we'd stolen. Better to just handle it ourselves.
I parked in front of Dalton's condo, hopped out of my Nova, and hurried up to the doorman.
"Has FedEx come yet?"
"About an hour ago."
Shit. "Do you know the driver? Know his name?"
"Naw. Different guy every time."
Double shit. I hurried back to the car just as Herb was pulling himself out. "Get in. We need to call FedEx, find out what truck the package is on."
After three minutes of navigating the plethora of phone tree options, I got a human being and explained that I was a cop in need of finding a package. After another ten minutes on hold, I was redirected to someone in authority. Rather than giving me a run-around, FedEx was surprisingly helpful. As soon as the tracking number was uploaded into the system-which should be within the next half hour-the local station would locate the package and wait for me to pick it up and take a look. No warrant, no judge, no hassle. Apparently, when you sent something FedEx, they could view the contents at their discretion if it was suspicious. A call from a police officer was enough to induce suspicion.
So Herb and I sat there, engine running, me refreshing the FedEx Web site every few minutes, waiting for the tracking number to be updated. When it finally was recognized by their system, I called the number they gave me, and they contacted the driver. I was able to speak to him directly.
"Got it right here, Officer." He had a nasally Chicago accent, pure South Side. "It's a small box, about two pounds. It dangerous?"
"I don't know," I said honestly. According to the Web, the package was set to be delivered tomorrow to a Chicago zip code. If it were a bomb, it probably wouldn't go off until it reached its destination. "Does it have an odor? Is it leaking?"
"Ask if it's ticking," Herb said. I shushed him.
"Seems like a normal package. If you want to come take a look, I'm on Division, in the Dominick's parking lot."
"We'll be there in five minutes," I said. "You might want to, uh, wait outside the truck. Maybe a few yards away. Who is the package addressed to?"
"Gotta be a fake," the driver said. "Is there any real person in the world actually named Jack Daniels?"
2010, August 10
"What is it, Harry?" Phin checked the rearview and stared at Harry, who was on the phone with the warden of Stateville Correctional Center. At Harry's prodding, and with a few calls from Herb's superiors, they'd placed Victor Brotsky in the isolation unit and had searched his cell.
"Brotsky had an iPhone hidden in his mattress," Harry said. He looked ashen. "There's some kind of live webcam video image on it. A woman tied up in a small room."
Phin squeezed the SUV's steering wheel hard enough for his forearms to shake. "Is it Jack?"
"Brunette, forties, hogtied with a gag in her mouth. Could be Jack."
"Is she...alive?" Phin asked, fighting to keep his voice steady.
Harry's face was slack. "Yeah. But there's a digital clock next to her. It's...counting down."
"How long?" whispered Herb.
"Less than thirty minutes."
Phin hit the gas. They were on Joliet Road, about eight miles away from the prison.
"Maybe it isn't her," Harry said.
Phin hoped that was the case. But he knew better. It wouldn't be the first time one of Jack's old cases had come back to haunt her. Imagining Jack tied up, in front of a camera, to be killed for some psycho's amusement, made Phin's stomach hurt worse than a year's worth of chemotherapy. In a way, though, it was better to know where Jack was than to not have a clue. When you know your enemy, you can fight your enemy.
"This Victor Brotsky," Phin said to Herb. "How bad was he?"
"The worst of the worst. If he's got Jack..." Herb's voice cracked.
But Victor Brotsky couldn't have Jack. He was locked up.
However, he might know who did have Jack.
And if he did, nothing on this planet could save Victor Brotsky from Phineas Troutt.
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 17
After meeting the rest of the girls, then washing my hands in an attempt to wipe off some of the rampant neuroses that seemed to pervade Shell's escort agency like smoke damage, I went on my first official date with Felix Sarcotti.
Mr. Sarcotti was a wee bit older than God. His back was bent like a question mark, he walked with a black, silver-tipped cane, and his facial expression was a permanent leer.
He was also a perfect gentleman, and I had a great time accompanying him to lunch at the Signature Room, on the ninety-fifth floor of the John Hancock Building. We had crab cakes and Waldorf salads, and he told me about the old days in the meatpacking industry, up until the closure of Union Stockyard in 1970.
I'd received instructions from both Shell and Herb prior to the date. From Shell, I was told to be polite, attentive, and complimentary. I was to ask questions, laugh at jokes, and seem interested without getting too personal. From Herb, I was told to check in with him every five minutes by using the code word fascinating, which signaled him to respond in my earpiece. If something was going wrong, I was to use the word disaster, which meant he'd come running. Also, if Mr. Sarcotti got too frisky, Herb advised me to go for the balls.
After lunch, and a polite kiss on the cheek from Mr. Sarcotti (no ball-kicking necessary), I was debriefed by Shell, who informed me that Mr. Sarcotti had spoken to him and I was his new favorite, and that the fee Mr. Sarcotti and others were paying to take me out was going toward my Armani outfit. Then I got ready for my theater and dinner date with Jeroen ten Berge.
A few minutes before my scheduled pick-up time-Shell had insisted all clients pick up their dates at the agency rather than meet them elsewhere because of the recent murders-there was a knock on my apartment door. My new apartment, by the way, was fabulous. Tidy, luxurious, well-furnished, and it came with maid service. It sure beat the hell out of dressing up like a hooker and arresting perverts.
I checked the peephole, saw it was Herb, and let him in.
Herb whistled when he walked in. "Nice threads."
I was wearing a little black cocktail dress that Amy Peterson, one of Shell's escorts, had lent me. "It's a Versace," I said. "Is that good?"
"It looks good."
"Shell bought it for her. He apparently buys clothes for all of his escorts."
Herb raised an eyebrow. "What do you think of that?"
"What I think is that I've never met a group of this many suspects outside of an Agatha Christie book. Seriously, Herb. Every one of them is nuts. Gloria thinks she's Marilyn Monroe. Sandy's already killed someone. Mizz Lizzy popped out of Grimm's Fairy Tales and looks like she's searching for children to cook and eat. Amy has her closet arranged so it's color-coded like a Roy G. Biv rainbow-"
"Roy G. Biv?"
I shook my head, laughing. "You know...red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet."
"Where does black fit in?"
"Black, white, and shades of gray have to go into another closet."
"What about prints? Or plaid?"
"I didn't ask. She started talking about astrological signs and palm reading, so I faked a headache and got out of there. Is it possible a woman is the murderer?"
"We can't rule it out. I've never heard of any female serial killers, but I agree the ladies here are a bit...odd. Shell vouches for this Jeroen guy, says he's a harmless old man, but I'll be tagging along just the same. Can you help me with
Half an hour later, a limo picked me up at the agency. Jeroen ten Berge was a distinguished older gentleman, silver haired, well-dressed, quick to share the champagne he had chilling. I restricted myself to one glass, then played Miss Attentive through the car ride to Ninety-fifth and Kedzie, and on into dinner at the Martinique, the restaurant attached to the Drury Lane Theater.
Jeroen-pronounced yer-oh-in-was a delightful man. A retired investment banker who still dabbled in the stock market, he was a treasure trove of stories and jokes, and the perfect dining companion. Halfway into our chicken vesuvio, he asked me the same thing Mr. Sarcotti had asked.
"How can a vivacious, delightful woman such as yourself still be single?"
I played coy. "I could ask you the same thing, Jeroen. An interesting man like you could probably take your pick of grateful brides. Why aren't you married?"
His face sank. "I was, for thirty-eight wonderful years. My wife passed in '86. Breast cancer."
I regretted the question. Especially since Shell warned me not to get too personal.
"I'm not. Maria was the best thing that ever happened to me. My best friend. My lover. My soul mate. I was so lucky to have so many good years with her, even if the last few were hard." He leaned closer, put his hand on mine. "Life isn't worth living unless you have someone to share it with, Jacqueline. The good times, and the bad times. In sickness and in health. Even toward the end, she could still make my heart flutter when I looked at her."
"She sounds lovely," I said, meaning it.
"I'm a rich, successful man, Jacqueline. But I would trade it all-the money, the houses, the entire stock portfolio-for just one more day with Maria. Success means nothing unless you have someone to share it with."
Jeroen's eyes glassed over. I gave his hand a squeeze, and we finished our meal in silence. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and checked in with Herb.
"I made my date cry," I said into my bra-concealed microphone.
"Remember you're a cop, not an escort," Herb said in my ear piece. He hadn't been able to secure tickets to the show, or afford the restaurant, so he was in the parking lot eating a sandwich his wife had packed for him. "Besides, it sounds like he was a very lucky guy to have a woman he cared so much for."
"Would you do that, Herb? Give up your career for your wife?"
"I'd give up anything for my wife."
After dinner, we watched the musical comedy They're Playing Our Song. Jeroen had seen it in New York, and cheerily mouthed the song lyrics along with the performers. By the end of the play he was no longer maudlin, and during the limo ride back, he convinced me to have another glass of champagne. When he dropped me off and said goodnight, I got a chaste kiss on the cheek.
I was left wanting more. Not from Jeroen. From life. I wanted someone who would give up everything for me.
But would I be willing to do the same for someone else?
2010, August 10
Fifteen minutes to live.
As I watched the clock, I was oddly philosophical. Once I realized death was inevitable, a cold sort of calm came over me. I was sure there would be fear and panic later, but for the moment, I was retaining some objectivity.
I kind of felt like I was still in college, waiting to get the results of a test. I'd lived for forty-nine years. I'd done things, both good and not so good. I'd tried my best, worked my ass off, pursued and reached my goals.
Now I wanted my final grade.
Did I lead an A+ life?
At least a B+?
I'd taken some very bad people off the streets. I'd helped a lot of innocent folks. I'd saved some lives. I was a pretty good cop.
On a more personal level, I had loved and been loved. Made friends. Had some fun. Saw some interesting things. Learned a lot.
Was that enough for a B?
My marriage had failed. I'd lost people close to me. Made some big mistakes. Had some big regrets.
Does that get me at least a B-?
Of all my regrets, the one that hurt the most, especially now, was never having children. I'd always been so busy. So dedicated to my job. So intent on saving the world. It would have been nice to have a kid, to pass on some of this wisdom I'd learned, to...
The memory came stampeding back, making me catch my breath. The memory of last night, clear and focused and full-blown. Standing in the bedroom, looking at Phin in bed, drowsy from his chemotherapy and medication, wanting so badly to tell him about the pregnancy test I just took.
The positive pregnancy test.
I was going to be a mother.
Phin was going to be a father.
I hadn't expected to see the double line on the little test stick. In truth, I thought the reason for my missed period was the onset of menopause.
But it wasn't menopause. It was a baby.
A tiny human being, growing inside me.
A miniature version of me. A child. A legacy.
The weight of this realization came crashing down on me, hard. With thirteen minutes left on the countdown clock, I quit being melancholy and reflective, and began to saw the rope with renewed vigor, ignoring the pain in my tortured wrists.
I had to get out of there. For the two of us.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
Afew seconds after we pulled into the Dominick's parking lot, the Special Response Team showed up. The FedEx guy, a scruffy redhead named Gordy, had placed Dalton's package in an empty parking spot, then stood a safe distance away, alongside me and Herb, to watch the bomb squad have at it.
"I hope it's not a big box of anthrax," Gordy said. "I sniffed that sucker. Sniffed it good. Do you think it could be anthrax?"
"Botulism? We just had a botulism epidemic in the city."
"It's not botulism," I said, pretty sure of myself.
I gave the guy a WTF look. "Ebola?"
"I saw it on the Science Channel. You start bleeding blood from your pores. Then your skin comes off. I hope it isn't Ebola."
I hoped it wasn't Ebola, too. But I didn't think it was any sort of disease. Or explosive. Mr. K didn't operate like that. He was hands-on.
The SRT, in full bomb suits, performed a battery of tests on the box, using various pieces of expensive-looking equipment. I recognized a portable X-ray unit and a boroscope-a flexible camera usually used by doctors giving rectal exams. After ten minutes of poking and prodding, the SRT sergeant tugged off his helmet and chest plate and approached us.
"Is it Ebola?" Gordy asked.
"It's a bottle, Lieutenant." He gave Gordy a sideways glance and then handed me the boroscope, showing me the color screen. "Looks like the seal is intact."
I instantly recognized the familiar shape. I'd seen it many times before. "Thanks for your help, Sergeant. I think I can take it from here."
"Do you want us to open it?"
"I think I can handle it."
I approached the box, feeling no fear, pretty sure of what this package was. Dalton wouldn't have sent me anything incriminating, because there was the possibility I would have gotten it before he left the country, and subsequently arrested him.
No, he didn't send this to threaten me or harm me physically. This had a different purpose.
"What is it, Jack?" Herb was walking alongside me.
"Mr. K has two signatures. One is ball gags. What's the other?"
"Rubbing salt in his victims' wounds."
"That's what this is," I said, tearing off the box top.
As expected, there was a full bottle of Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. Dalton's way of telling me he had won. And rubbing it in. There was also a handwritten note:
By now, I'm on my way to Cape Verde, and there's nothing you can do about it. I'll likely never set foot in the U.S. again. I want you to know that I gave you a fair chance to catch me. The clues were there. You simply weren't good enough. Don't be too hard on yourself. You can't win them all.
I knew I couldn't win them all. It went with the Job.
But I really really wanted to win this one.
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 17
"Want to take a little walk?" Herb asked in my ear.
I'd just stepped out of Jeroen's limo and was staring at Shell's building, about to go inside.
"Where to?" I said into my bra microphone.
"Around the block. Like you've decided to have a drink after dinner. Find a spot and park yourself at the bar."
"Where are you?"
"Across the street."
I resisted the urge to look for him, and instead headed east down Ohio, toward Michigan Avenue. It was close to midnight, but there were still a few folks wandering the streets. Not as many as if it were a weekend, but enough that snatching me would be risky.
Then again, the killer had snatched three other women without drawing any attention.
It was dark, hot, and humid. The city smelled like garbage. A car cruised up, slowing down as it neared me. I wobbled a little, swaying left and right, forcing myself to giggle.
"How much did you have to drink?" Herb asked.
"Just a glass of wine. I'm playing the part, making myself an easy target. You see this car?"
The car was a Cadillac. Black. The windows were slightly tinted, so I couldn't see inside. It pulled into the alley ahead of me. I stopped, forcing myself not to reach for the gun in my purse, feeling my arteries throb with adrenaline as the passenger-side window lowered.
"Need a ride, pretty lady?"
"Shell," I said, blowing out the breath I'd been holding.
He was wearing yet another tailored suit, this one tan corduroy with patches on the elbows, and his hair was slicked back with gel. "What are you doing out here, all by yourself?"
"My job," I said.
He winced. "Sorry. Forgot you were a cop for a second there. Saw one of my girls walking by herself and my overly protective nature kicked in. Will you be trolling killers for a while? Or are you free for a drink?"
"This guy is starting to bug me," Herb said.
"Yeah," I replied.
"Great," said Shell, who thought I was talking to him. "Hop in."
Oops. "How about we grab something nearby?" I wanted to stay in the area. All three women had disappeared within a few blocks of the agency.
"There's this classy bar on Wabash. Miller's Pub."
"Miller's Pub?" I repeated, for Herb's benefit.
"I know it," Herb said. "I can meet you there."
"You're on," I said, to both Herb and Shell.
I walked around the car, climbing into the passenger seat. Shell smelled like cologne. Somehow, that made me think of Alan, who never wore cologne. I hadn't called Alan all day. Partly because I'd been busy. Partly because I still wasn't sure what to say to him.
"You know what I feel like?" Shell drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he pulled onto the street. "Dancing. Want to go dancing?"
"I'm not really in a dancing mood, Shell."
"Do you like music?"
"How about Buddy Guy's?"
Buddy Guy was a Chicago blues legend. He owned a club on Wabash, not too far from Miller's.
"Buddy Guy's," I said. Herb didn't respond. I wondered if he was out of radio range.
"I saw Clapton play there once. Just came in, unannounced, jammed with Buddy's band. Amazing show."
"Okay," I said, raising my voice to near yelling, "let's go to Buddy Guy's Legends. Buddy Guy's Legends, on Wabash."
Shell gave me a look like I'd grown an extra head. Still no reply from Herb. I could only hope he'd heard.
A few minutes later, Shell was pulling into a multilevel parking garage on Balbo, where he found a spot on the third floor. We took the brightly lit stairwell down to street level, and walked a block to the bar.
There was a small line. We queued up behind a couple of blue-collar black guys.
A lonely-looking fat man got in line behind us. Shell paid my five-dollar cover, and once inside we took everything in, looking for a place to sit.
Everything about Buddy Guy's screamed the blues. The dim lighting, the smell of cigarette smoke and whiskey, the plaintive whine of a single electric guitar, the bartender building drinks and sticking them on damp, empty trays, the sad-faced patrons, many of them sitting alone, nursing something strong. Shell and I found a corner table, so dark I had to lean close to see him. A waitress-who looked like she'd gone three hard rounds with disappointment before it knocked her down for the count-stood next to us without uttering a word, her order pad in hand. Shell got a martini. I got red wine, then excused myself to go to the ladies' room, having to shout to be heard over the amplifier feedback.
It was quieter in there, but not by much. I fussed with my mic and earpiece, trying to reach Herb, but didn't get any indication he heard me. Either he was still looking for parking, or he'd gone to Miller's. The smart thing to do was have a quick drink, then head back to the agency. I really didn't think Shell was the killer, especially since he was the one who sought out police help. Besides, I had my Beretta in my purse.
I met Shell back at our table. Our drinks still hadn't come. I spotted them, sitting lonely on the bar, our waitress nowhere to be seen. Shell bent close and said something, but I couldn't hear anything because we were too close to the speakers. The drinks eventually came. The gravelly-voiced singer bemoaned his cheating woman, his lost job, his dead dog, and his worsening bursitis. I just closed my eyes and let the music take me where it wanted. The wine was cheap and bitter. After two sips, I didn't want any more.
Shell slammed his martini, smiled, and then pointed at my glass with a raised eyebrow. I shook my head. He raised his hand to signal our waitress, and I leaned over to stop him, to tell him I was tired and wanted to go.
As I leaned forward, the whole bar seemed to rock, like we were on a boat during a storm. I felt as if I was falling. I reached out, trying to stop the world from moving, knocking over my wine glass. My head hit Shell's shoulder, and he grinned at me, and as he grinned his face got darker and darker until all I saw was a rolling, swirling blackness that swallowed me up.
2010, August 10
"Got a match," Herb said, hanging up the phone. "The prints, and McGlade's picture, belong to a man named Luther Kite."
They were still five minutes from the prison, even with Phin blowing through red lights and stop signs and crushing the accelerator.
"Why does that name sound familiar?" Harry asked.
"Remember the Kinnakeet Ferry Massacre? It made the national headlines seven years ago. Involved that horror author, Andrew Z. Thomas, who went nuts and started killing people back in the nineties. Kite has an outstanding warrant for his connection to the murders, and he's the prime suspect for a killing spree across North Carolina right before the ferry slaughter. Hung a woman off a lighthouse."
"Record?" Phin asked, eyes stuck to the road.
"Not much. Arrested for animal cruelty. Resulted in a fine. Seems he skinned some cats."
Phin waited for Harry to say something flippant, but McGlade remained eerily silent.
"Kite and Thomas have been on the lam for seven years," Herb continued. "We know there were two people watching the house, and gassing you and Jack while you sleep sounds like something a writer would dream up. Now that we've got a solid connection, we should get the media involved."
Phin nodded. Herb got on the phone again, began making calls. By the time he was finished, everyone in Chicago, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin would be looking for Jack, Andrew Z. Thomas, and Luther Kite.
Phin hoped it would be enough.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
Herb and I sat in my car, parked outside Dalton's building. It was going on ten p.m., and he hadn't come home yet. A team followed him from Spill to Bradstreet's palatial estate in the neighboring suburb of Evanston.
"I tell you," Herb said, "that bottle of Jack Daniels is looking better and better."
I agreed. I could use a drink. Herb and I were both tired, depressed, and discouraged. Nothing was panning out. The boy hadn't matched any recent missing person reports, and hadn't been identified yet. We'd even given the picture to the TV stations to air, but so far, no hits.
Tom and a rotating crew of ten cops were continuing to call storage facilities within a thirty-mile radius, asking about locker 515, with not a single promising lead. Hajek, from the crime lab, had done a full workup of the photo, and the only thing he could tell us was it appeared to have been altered somehow. Hajek believed the color and contrast had been enhanced. He had passed it on to a colleague who knew more about photographic manipulation, and we were waiting to hear back.
Still no ID on the John Doe who died on the Catherine Wheel. And after calling four different judges and pleading our case, none would sign an arrest warrant for Dalton or a search warrant for his condo.
Things weren't looking good for our heroes. Which is why I brightened up when Herb said, "Let's break in."
"You serious?" I asked.
"He's probably playing it safe, spending the night at the lawyer's. Maybe we'll find something in his home."
"Wouldn't stand up," I said. Any evidence we found would be inadmissible in court.
"I care about the kid, not a conviction. Besides, the wallet gave me an idea. What if his passport is in his house?"
I nodded, getting it. If we swiped Dalton's passport, he wouldn't be able to leave the country. Those things took weeks to renew. That would give us more time to hang something on him.
"First we break into his car, then we try to frame him, then we steal his wallet, now we're going to burgle his residence. Not our finest day, Herb."
"While we're inside, I may also piss on his sofa."
I had a gym bag in the trunk. I took out my sweats and put the cement-filled milk jug and some yellow tape inside. Then walked across the street to 1300 North Lake Shore. It was a new doorman, and we flashed our badges and took the elevator to Dalton's condo. As far as disciplinary action went, I doubted we'd get into any trouble for this little action. Dalton wouldn't be able to press charges from Cape Verde. That is, if he even knew we were the ones
who broke in.
who broke in.
We stood outside his door, and I gave it a gentle knock. When no one answered, I asked Herb, "Did you hear a scream coming from inside, prompting us to enter without a warrant?"
"I heard a scream, and also smelled smoke," Herb said. "It's our duty as police officers to break in and try to save lives. Plus, the door was already broken when we got here."
I hefted the milk jug. "Did you notice a burglar alarm when we were here earlier?"
I reared back and swung the makeshift battering ram with everything I had, just to the right of the doorknob. There was a loud CRACK and the door burst inward, the jamb throwing splinters. I went in low and fast, drawing my Colt from my shoulder holster, quickly scanning the hallway. Then I made my way through the rest of the condo, Herb at my heels. When we deemed it empty, Herb got started putting some yellow CRIME SCENE tape over the doorway. If anyone walked by and noticed the door, the tape would prevent them from calling the cops, because the cops obviously already knew about it.
Though Dalton's condo was massive-far bigger than my house in Bensenville-it was pretty easy to search because there wasn't anything there. Even though it was fully furnished, there were no personal items of any kind, other than books. No letters, or bills, or photo albums. No computer. No clothing. No passport.
"Fridge is empty," Herb said.
I went back to the hallway, staring at the pictures on the walls. Dalton had said he'd taken those photos. I didn't have much of an artistic eye, but they seemed a bit drab and lifeless to me. Even the shot of his house on the beach made a tropical paradise seem rather bland.
There were six pictures total, three on each side. Besides the house, there was a shot of an empty cornfield, a shot of the Chicago skyline, one of some trees in the winter, and one of a sunset over a lake. The only one with a human figure was of a house, with a woman sitting on the porch. The picture was taken far enough away that the woman's features were tough to make out, beyond the fact that she had long, dark hair and was Caucasian. She could have been anywhere from eighteen to fifty, and the clothing she wore-a blouse and shorts-didn't lend itself to being dated.
On a hunch, I took the picture from the wall and then spent a minute removing it from the frame. The back of the photo had something written on it.
"What do you think?" I asked Herb, who was peering over my shoulder.
"No idea. Maybe it's one of his victims?"
"If Dalton is Mr. K, he's too careful for that. He wouldn't ever let anything lead back to him."
"A girlfriend? Relative?"
"Not a very personal photo. Normally, if you take a picture of someone you care about, don't you move in for a closer shot?"
Herb shrugged. "Maybe the woman doesn't matter. He's got the whole house in the frame. Maybe the house is what's important. Or maybe it doesn't mean anything, and is no more personal than the cornfield or the sunset."
I frowned. My subconscious was nagging at me, trying to tell me something, but I couldn't get it to come forward. While I was thinking, I began to liberate the other photos from their frames. Herb joined in. We didn't discover any more writing, or anything else that would have been useful, like a signed confession, or a map showing where bodies were buried.
My cell rang. I slapped it to my face.
"Lieut, it's Tom Mankowski. We may have a hit on the storage locker."
"What did you find, Tom?"
"National Storage. They've got a unit rented out to John Smith. Unit 515."
Smith was the name Dalton had used for his victim at the U-Store-It on Fullerton.
"We'll meet you there," I said.
Then Herb and I hurried for the elevator.
2010, August 10
I had no idea how long the digital countdown clock had been blinking 00:00:00. It may have only been for a few seconds. It may have been several minutes. I was so totally absorbed in trying to get free that I'd blocked out all other fears, thoughts, and senses.
So it was quite a shock when I saw Mr. K standing there, staring down at me.
"Hello, Jack. It's been a while."
My wrists-bleeding profusely now-still weren't free.
I didn't make it. I was too late.
Then Mr. K pulled something out of his pocket. Small and white, and possibly the most horrifying thing I'd ever been shown.
My pregnancy test.
"Isn't this delightful," he said. "Now I get to kill two for the price of one."