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A Jack Daniels Thriller: Teaser #3
(This installment picks up immediately following Teaser #2, available free here.)
(Teaser #1 is in the Amazon Kindle Store for Direct Load to Your iPad, free and here.)
(Teaser #1 is in the Amazon Kindle Store for Direct Load to Your iPad, free and 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 reprinted here with his permission and the permission of the publisher.
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
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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Las Vegas, NV 89140
2010, August 10
I had to take a break from rubbing the rope against the edge of the concrete. The salt Mr. K had applied had gotten into the raw skin on my wrists, and the pain was otherworldly. I could have worked through the pain, but it was so bad it caused me to cry, and the crying was accompanied by a runny nose.
With the ball gag in my mouth, the only way I could breathe was through my nostrils. A stuffy nose could kill me.
So I rested, keeping still, trying to calm down enough so I could regain control over my emotions. I’d never felt so along before. The only company I had was the unknown machine humming in the background, and my thoughts and memories.
It would have been okay if there were some good memories mixed with the bad.
Unfortunately, my head was filled with bad stuff that refused to fade away.
Most of the bad stuff revolved around my career. I’d chased, and caught, my share of human monsters. But catching them, or even killing them, didn’t bring their victims back. It also didn’t make me sleep any better at night.
Before my recent retirement, I’d almost called it quits several times. I never did, but I had come pretty close. In my never-ending quest to prove myself to my coworkers, I’d endured a lot of sexist and chauvinist attitudes. A lot of male cops didn’t think women had what it took to work Homicide. It was too ugly for their delicate sensibilities.
In my opinion, it was too ugly for anyone’s sensibilities, female or not, delicate or not. But the fact was, women did have a definite disadvantage when working violent crime cases. It didn’t have to do with physical brawn or stronger stomachs. It had to do with empathy.
Women in general had the ability to feel the emotions of others. Pain in particular.
I’d seen a lot of pain in my years on the force. It was tough to handle.
Coming upon some horrific crime scene, seeing what some psycho had done to a fellow human being, was difficult for me to cope with. Because I could put myself in their place.
I could see their last moments. The struggling. The fighting. The final breath. I could hear their pleas for mercy. I could feel their fear, their agony, sense their helplessness, imagine their horror so deeply it had led to a lifetime of nightmares. That is, when I could get to sleep at all.
Thinking back over the victims I’d encountered, two stood out as the absolute worst ways a person could die. Both were at the merciless hands of Mr. K.
One was known as the Guinea Worm.
The other, the Catherine Wheel.
Lying there in the storage locker, eyes closed, I couldn’t help but shudder at the horrible images they induced.
I also couldn’t help but wonder what was making that ominous humming noise next to me.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
W hen backup arrived at Merle’s U-Store-It, there was more vomiting, every time someone new showed up. I got wise and pulled a garbage can over to the scene, but that was about the only wise thing I’d done that day. Even Phil Blasky, who had a stomach made of titanium and could often be seen eating lunch while doing an autopsy, flinched when he saw the body.
“He’s been here at least three days,” Blasky said during his cursory examination. “Maybe longer. He’s wearing an adult diaper. Got two healing IV marks on his arm, where the needle pulled out from the spinning.”
According to Blasky, Mr. K had visited the vic at least three times, to change his IV bag, keeping him hydrated and alive during the terrible agony he’d endured.
“Tripod probably held a camcorder,” Herb said. “Or maybe a camera taking time-lapse photos. Gives some cred to the theory that Mr. K is a hit man.”
I nodded. When the Outfit ordered an execution, they often wanted proof. A picture was a nice memento to keep around to remind you what you did to your enemies. Both Herb and I had worked cases before where videotapes were involved, but those were sex murders. This death didn’t appear to have a sexual element. This was about causing as much pain as possible.
The particular torture Mr. K employed dated back to medieval times, where it was known as the Catherine Wheel. It resembled a circus knife-throwing act, where someone was strapped to a large, round board, spread-eagled, and then spun in circles while knives hit the spaces between their limbs. But in this case, there were no thrown knives. The pain came from broken limbs—the victim’s arms and legs were each fractured in several places.
For seventy-two hours, a small electric motor had spun him slowly around, his compound fractures stretching and rubbing together, until his arms and legs were so swollen they looked like they’d been inflated.
I couldn’t imagine a more horrible way to die.
“Nothing at all. Not a damn thing.” Officer Scott Hajek, from the crime scene team, frowned at me. He couldn’t find a single shred of evidence anywhere, inside or outside the unit. No fingerprints. No footprints. Even the floor had been swept prior to our arrival. Mr. K didn’t leave anything behind.
“Jack, I’d like to talk when you have a sec.”
I glanced at Herb, whose fat jowls were hanging down like a basset hound’s. Then I nodded and walked him down the hallway.
“I left my post,” he said when we were far enough away from the others. “You told me to wait downstairs and watch the exit.”
“I screwed up, Jack. If you want to lodge a formal reprimand—”
“I don’t want to lodge a reprimand. Forget about it, Herb.”
He stared at me, pained. I tried to keep my face neutral. Because it wasn’t Herb’s fault. He’d come to my aid when I didn’t respond. I was the one who should have exercised some control, told my partner the perp was on his way down.
It wasn’t Herb’s fault Mr. K got away.
It was mine.
And I deserved more than a reprimand. For letting that monster escape, I felt I deserved to have my badge taken away.
“Let’s focus on what to do next,” I said, eager to get off the subject of blame. “We’ve got his car, his plates, his address. We can go talk to him.”
“But we didn’t catch him in the act, Jack. Did you see him in the locker, with the vic?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Did we get a good look at his face when he walked into the building? Can we even put him at the scene?”
This was a common problem with law enforcement. Sometimes, we knew who the bad guy was, but couldn’t legally connect him to his crimes. Getting a conviction meant following a specific protocol. If any step along the way wasn’t rock solid, the state’s attorney wouldn’t even attempt to prosecute.
“Dust the elevator,” I said. “And the knob on the security door. Let’s see if we can get that watchman downstairs to ID him.” I had a bad thought. “We should also check to see if our perp has a locker here under his real name.”
My worry turned out to be prophetic. The man we followed here did indeed have a storage unit in his name, also on the third floor. Locker 312. That meant he had a reason to be at this facility, and could easily plead innocence in connection with the murder scene. Even if we did find a fingerprint, it wouldn’t matter.
Smart guy. Smart, careful, and utterly devoid of humanity.
While Herb called judge after judge, trying to find one who would issue a warrant to search unit 312, I considered our next move.
There was only one. We had to talk to the guy.
It was doubtful he’d give us a full confession. It was doubtful he’d even let us into his home. And if he did let us in, I wasn’t sure that was a place I wanted to be.
I’d encountered quite a few psychos in my day. But never one that scared the shit out of me like Mr. K did.
2010, August 10
“Hey, Phin. It’s Harry.”
Phineas Troutt rubbed his bleary eyes, wishing he’d checked the caller ID before picking up. He didn’t really like Harry McGlade. No one really liked Harry McGlade. But the private detective was bearable in small doses, and they had enough of a history that Phin had a grudging respect for the guy.
Plus, Harry was Jack’s new partner, and Jack had told Phin to be nice. While Phin couldn’t see how Jack could have gone into the private sector with someone so fundamentally flawed—especially since Jack hated being Harry’s partner when they’d been rookies on the force twenty years ago—he respected her wishes. Phin was still adjusting to suburban life, being Jack’s live-in boyfriend. It was her house, and she paid all the bills, including paying for his latest round of chemotherapy. If she found some warped sort of satisfaction being McGlade’s partner again, Phin wouldn’t try to talk her out of it. Even though it personally would have driven him nuts.
“What’s up, Harry?”
“Is Jack there?”
“No. She was gone when I woke up this afternoon.” Phin still felt a bit nauseous from his treatment yesterday, along with having a whopper of a headache, and was thinking about climbing back into bed as soon as he got off the phone.
“She was supposed to stop by the office so we could divvy up the latest cases. Got one where this guy wants to find out if his mother is cheating on his father with his brother. You can’t make shit like that up. Ugly as hell, too. Mom looks like a fat, pink gorilla, but with bigger feet. The son has a face like a carp. I swear, I want to throw a hook in it every time he starts talking. I think people below a certain minimum standard of beauty should have to get a license before they reproduce. A minimum standard of intelligence, too.”
He was one to talk on both counts. “I’ll tell Jack you called when she gets in touch.”
Phin raised his thumb to hit the disconnect button, but Harry’s voice continued to drone on.
“I called her four times. Her phone isn’t on. Goes right to voice mail.”
“Maybe it isn’t charged.” Or maybe she just doesn’t want to talk to you.
“You sure she’s not there?”
“I’m sure, Harry. I’m alone in the house.”
“Did you guys buy a second car?”
The only car they had was Jack’s, a new SUV to replace the Chevy Nova she’d owned for almost half her life. Phin hadn’t owned a legitimate car in a while. Before moving in with Jack, the only vehicles he drove were illegally obtained. After being diagnosed with cancer, Phin’s concept of morality had become a bit…skewed for a time. The only people who knew he lived with Jack were Harry, Jack’s mom, and Jack’s old partner, Herb Benedict. There were several warrants out for Phin’s arrest.
Funny he should wind up falling for a cop.
“Well, you know I put a tracker in Jack’s car,” Harry said. “Doesn’t hurt to play it safe, especially with her history. According to my GPS, it’s still parked in your garage.”
Phin felt a jolt of concern course through him. That same sensation he had while on the street, right before trouble started. He walked through the living room, opened the garage door, and stared at the SUV. In three more steps his hand was on the hood. The engine was cold. But that wasn’t what made Phin’s heart rate double. The back security door, the one leading to the yard, was missing a section of glass. A neat circle had been cut through it, carefully avoiding the foiled edges that would have set off the house alarm.
“The car is here,” Phin said. “When was the last time you talked to Jack?”
“Herb? I hate that guy. He’s like a big, mean walrus.”
“Someone broke into the house. I think someone took our girl, Harry. You and Herb meet me here soon as you can. Bring everything you and Jack have been working on lately, and every case going back six months. And tell Herb to bring a list of everyone Jack arrested who just got out of prison.”
“I’m on it.”
Phin hung up, examining the hole in the window. Jack’s home had been invaded before, and she had since beefed up her security. That included foiling the windows—running a paper-thin strip of metal along the perimeter that was hooked up to electricity. If the window was shattered, the alarm went off. The doors also had magnetic sensors, which were supposed to go off if they were opened without a key. A quick look on the outside doorjamb revealed why it hadn’t worked; a larger ceramic magnet was stuck to the frame, preventing the mechanism from springing.
Fighting nausea, Phin hurried back into the house. He grabbed the .45 ACP he kept on top of the fridge, jacked a round into the chamber, and shoved it down the back of his jeans. Then he marched down the hallway to the bedroom. The sheets were still tousled from their night of sleep. Phin remembered popping some Compazine for nausea and codeine for pain, half asleep and groggy when Jack finally came to bed—late as she always did, watching infomercials until three a.m.
“How are you feeling, hon?” she’d asked.
He fell asleep holding her hand.
Staring at the bed now, he tried to imagine someone coming in the room and grabbing Jack while he slept off the effects of the drugs. Why hadn’t she struggled? Screamed? The antiemetic and painkillers he took were strong, but if she’d woken him coming to bed, why hadn’t she roused him while being dragged off?
Phin rubbed his eyes, then extended the motion down his face and chin, trying to imagine how he would abduct a woman with her lover sleeping beside her. Especially a woman who was a former cop and no doubt had guns in the house.
He examined the bed, the blankets, the pillows, then scanned the carpeting, following it out into the hallway.
There. A smudge of dirt. Faint, no more than two inches long. It repeated, a foot later, and a foot after that, the dash-dash-dash pattern continuing into the kitchen. Phin went back into the hallway and saw the smudge had gotten longer, now a continuous, muddy line. He walked out the back door and into the yard, spying the narrow wheel track in the patch of dirt where the grass had been thin. It hadn’t rained last night, but dew collected on the lawn prior to dawn, making it damp.
Phin walked into the tree line, where the grass ended, into a copse of trees. Plenty of places to hide and watch and wait for Jack and her boyfriend to fall asleep.
He folded his arms across his chest, feeling a chill even though it was warm. Then he went back inside and got on Jack’s computer. First he checked her e-mail, including her deleted files and spam folder. Without finding anything out of the ordinary, he logged onto Jack’s cell phone account and printed out a list of all her recent calls, going back a week. Most of the numbers he recognized, but a few he didn’t. Using an online reverse directory, Phin worked his way through several restaurants, cable TV shopping channels, and two unknown numbers that either Herb or Harry could help with.
Then he opened up Firefox and looked at Jack’s browsing history. Netflix. Amazon. Clothing retailers. A planned parenthood site.
Phin accessed that and quickly read the page. It was about pregnancy in women over forty.
He left the computer and went to the bathroom, opening the medicine cabinet. He found Jack’s birth control pills, ten still left in the pack. Then he checked the garbage can next to the toilet.
An empty box that read “EPT,” along with a wrapper for one of the tests.
Phin dug deeper, but the pregnancy test wasn’t in there. He went into the kitchen and checked the garbage can under the sink. Nothing.
Where was it? And where was Jack?
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 16
“S o Armani makes clothes for women, too?” I asked Shell, holding the black pantsuit in front of me and staring into the body-length mirror adjacent to Lord & Taylor’s fitting rooms.
“It’s called a power suit,” Shell said. He stood behind me, close enough for me to feel his breath on the back of my head.
“The shoulder pads are too big. I look like I could play defensive tackle for the Bears.”
“Try it on. You’ll see.”
Skeptical, I took the suit, along with a white silk blouse by someone named Ralph Lauren, and slipped into the closest room. Two minutes later, the Sears suit was in piles on the floor around me, and I stepped back out into the store in bare feet and stood in front of Shell and the mirror.
It was like looking at a stranger.
The pants tapered high at the waist and flared out, clinging to my curves, making it obvious this was designed for women. The blouse hugged my breasts, and the shoulder pads I’d been dubious about made them look bigger than they ever had before.
I was astonished. I actually looked feminine, while still coming across as professional.
More than that, I was hot. Not hot in a slutty way. Hot in a confident, mature, here’s a woman in complete control way. No wonder it was called a power suit.
“Try these on as well.”
Shell knelt down next to me, holding a pair of black heels. “These are Givenchy. You’re a size seven and a half?”
I nodded, wondering how he knew. Shell gently lifted up my left foot, fit on the strappy heel, and then repeated the process with its twin. Somehow, they made the lines of the suit even stronger.
“What do you think?” he asked, staring up at me.
I turned, looking at it from behind. It was as if Armani had made this especially for me. I’d never felt better wearing any outfit.
“It’s amazing,” I said.
Shell stood, putting his hand on my neck, finding my ponytail holder. He freed my long, brown hair, and I shook it loose and watched it cascade over my shoulders. I’d gone from being a professional businesswoman, to ready for a night on the town.
“You’re beautiful,” Shell said.
I’d never been called beautiful before by anyone other than my mother. I was a size six, thanks to the Jane Fonda workout tapes I’d stuck with for the past few years, and my face was okay, but no one would ever put me on the cover of a magazine. Yet when Shell said it, for a brief, magical moment, I believed him. The word made me feel young and girlish and a little bit heady.
“How much is this little ensemble?” I asked. I hadn’t checked the tags because I was afraid.
“It doesn’t matter. I’m paying.”
I turned, facing him. “I make a decent living, Shell. I can buy my own clothes.”
“I must insist,” he said.
“How much is it?”
“With the shoes, just over nine hundred dollars.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. That was more than two months’ rent.
“That’s…a lot of money.”
“I learned something a while ago. People don’t remember the things you say or do. But they do remember how you look. The better you look, the better impression you make. For a woman in a career dominated by men, you need to make the best impression you can.”
I agreed with him completely. But nine hundred bucks? My entire wardrobe didn’t cost that much.
“If you prefer, you can pay me back.”
The way he said it was a bit oily and suggestive. Almost as if I could pay him back by sleeping with him.
Staring at myself in the mirror, I was seriously considering it.
“I’ll let you buy this for me on one condition,” I said.
“When we catch the killer, I’m returning it.”
“As you wish, Officer. Now we only have one thing left to do.”
“And that is?”
Shell grinned. “We have to take some pictures.”
Three years ago
2007, August 8
J ohn Dalton lived in a condo on 1300 North Lake Shore Drive, in an area known as the Gold Coast, one of the most exclusive—and expensive—parts of the city. He was sixty-two years old and drove a 2006 black Cadillac DTS. He was once in the military, did a tour in Vietnam during the war, had a firearm owner’s ID, and a Platinum American Express card, where he listed his occupation as “independent contractor.” No criminal record. Not even a parking ticket, which in Chicago was almost unheard of.
Herb and I had been following him earlier that day on a long shot. A week ago, a body had been found in an empty lot on Chicago’s South Side, near Seventy-fifth and Evans. The ball gag and salted wounds, coupled with the bizarre method of death, lead to the inevitable Mr. K rumors, and a black DTS was spotted leaving the scene. The murder wasn’t in our jurisdiction, but we had nothing else going on and decided to lend a hand.
There were over four hundred vehicles registered in Cook County that matched this description, most of them belonging to limo drivers and car services. Discounting those, women, minorities, and men under a certain age—it had long been assumed Mr. K was a single white male who would now be in his fifties or sixties—that left us with eighteen possibles. We chose to follow Dalton simply based on his driver’s license photo. He looked unassuming, but wore a black suit and a black tie that practically screamed I’m a hit man for the mafia. Not a very scientific approach to crime-solving on my part, but I’d seen cases broken on smaller hunches.
Now we were faced with the very real possibility that John Dalton really was Mr. K. We didn’t have enough evidence for an arrest warrant, or to search his premises, and we were still waiting to hear from the judge if we could get a warrant for the storage locker Dalton had rented.
In the meantime, there was nothing illegal about talking to the guy. At the very least, we needed to ask him if he saw anything at the U-Store-It.
I parked the Nova in front of a fire hydrant on Goethe Street as Herb licked the last bit of cucumber sauce off his fingers. He’d polished off two gyros since we’d left the storage facility, demanding to stop for food since he’d thrown up the bran on the scene.
Me? I never wanted to eat again.
We extracted ourselves from my car—I with more grace than Herb—and I grabbed my laptop. Then we walked toward Lake Shore Drive, to the circular driveway of the condo complex. The outside of the high-rise building was white,
balconies facing Lake Michigan, the cheapest of which was worth more than I earned in ten years. The doorman, almost as paunchy as Herb and looking damn uncomfortable in his dark wool uniform, let us in when we showed him our badges. The lobby was plush—carpeting, a sofa, a bank of mailboxes that also boasted a FedEx drop box. Apparently, when the uber-rich wanted something delivered overnight, they didn’t want to have to walk very far to send it.
balconies facing Lake Michigan, the cheapest of which was worth more than I earned in ten years. The doorman, almost as paunchy as Herb and looking damn uncomfortable in his dark wool uniform, let us in when we showed him our badges. The lobby was plush—carpeting, a sofa, a bank of mailboxes that also boasted a FedEx drop box. Apparently, when the uber-rich wanted something delivered overnight, they didn’t want to have to walk very far to send it.
The elevator was fast, and a minute later we were on the twentieth floor knocking on the oak door to unit 20a.
The man who answered was unremarkable. Average height, looks, build. He wore the same black suit we saw him in at the storage facility, but up close I could see it was tailored. His tie was still on, cinched tight on his neck. The bulge in his coat from earlier, the one I thought was a gun, was no longer there. He was clean shaven, the barest hint of gray stubble on his chin. I also noticed his skin was tight—too tight to be natural on a man his age. Mr. Dalton was no stranger to plastic surgery.
He looked at us as a fish might peer out from an aquarium, without interest or expression.
“May I help you, Detectives?”
Herb and I exchanged a glance. Neither of us had told the doorman who we were here to visit, so no doubt Dalton had an arrangement with him, asking to be informed whenever a cop came into the building.
“John Dalton?” I asked.
He didn’t answer, nod, or react in the slightest.
“Lieutenant Daniels, Chicago PD. This is my partner, Detective Benedict. We’d like to ask you some questions about your whereabouts earlier today.”
“Daniels, you said?” For the first time, his face showed an expression—a slight crinkling around the eyes that might have been amusement. “The Homicide lieutenant?”
My fictionalized exploits had been televised as a grade D television series. I hadn’t been portrayed on the show in a positive light.
“May we come in?”
Dalton stepped aside, holding the door for us, then softly closing it. He led us down a short hallway, lined with framed black and white photos. A cornfield. A city skyline. A house on some tropical beach.
The condo was tastefully furnished, cherry wood paneling and floors, Persian rugs, stylish furniture that looked straight from the showroom. Dalton led us into the living room and offered us a sofa facing a bay window with a spectacular lake view. We declined the seat. Then we waited. Waiting is a standard interrogation technique. People find silence uncomfortable and tend to fill it when they can.
Dalton, however, said nothing. He simply stood there, watching us with his slack expression.
“Did you visit Merle’s U-Store-It earlier today?” I asked.
“Might I ask why you were there?”
“To store something.” Again, a tiny, bemused squint.
“And what did you store?”
“Don’t you mean to ask if I stored a dead body there?”
“Why would you say that?” Herb asked, his voice the essence of cool.
“You’re Homicide detectives. Am I wrong to assume you’re investigating a murder?”
I went with it, curious to see where this would lead. “Did you store a dead body there?”
“Did you see me store a dead body there?”
Herb and I exchanged a look. Did Dalton know we’d followed him?
“Please answer the question, Mr. Dalton,” I said.
“Now, that would be quite an accomplishment, wouldn’t it? Hiding a body in a storage locker. One would probably need a container of some sort. Something on wheels. Or perhaps not. The manager there isn’t very attentive, is he? Perhaps a savvy murderer could carry a body in without even being noticed.”
“Mr. Dalton, please answer—”
“I’m tired of this question,” Dalton said. “Ask me a better one.”
I knew Herb felt the same thing I felt. This was our killer. This might even be Mr. K. But we were guests, without a warrant, and although we could probably drag him down to the station to answer questions, no doubt he would lawyer-up and probably sue us and the city. Dalton apparently had money, and he radiated confidence. He wouldn’t confess.
But he might screw up if we kept him talking.
“I’d like to show you some pictures on my laptop, Mr. Dalton. It will take a moment.”
I placed the computer on a coffee table and booted up Windows. Then I took a memory stick out of my purse—one that contained the photos from the storage locker crime scene, and the crime scene from Seventy-fifth Street—and accessed my slide show viewer.
The first was of the man found earlier, at the U-Store-It. He hadn’t been ID’ed yet. I winced, seeing his misshapen body again.
“Do you recognize him?” Herb asked, taking over because he must have sensed my revulsion.
“I don’t. Perhaps I might, if he wasn’t so puffy.”
“He had his arms and legs broken and was tied to a wheel that spun him around.”
“The Catherine Wheel,” Dalton said.
“You’re familiar with it?” I asked, trying to sound casual.
“I confess a fascination with the macabre, and have quite an extensive collection of books about torture and death, and those who commit such atrocities. I also have several that feature you, Lieutenant. I’m sure there are many who have followed your career. A very many, including some very bad people. May I ask you a question about the Kork family? Is Alex still in prison?”
The Korks were one of the many cases I’d had that still gave me nightmares. That is, when I was even able to get to sleep. “No. A maximum security mental health facility.”
“Well, let’s hope all of those despicable people you put away never get out. I bet they’d be most upset with you.”
“How about this man?” I asked, flipping forward a few jpegs. An ugly image splashed across my desktop, of a crime scene lit with kliegs, illuminating a poor bastard whose intestines had been removed from his body an inch at a time by being wound around a stick.
“Ah, the Guinea Worm,” Dalton said. “Quite a terrible way to die.”
“You’re familiar with it?” Herb asked.
“You know the term drawn and quartered? The drawn part is being disemboweled. Here, let me show you.”
Dalton led me and Herb to a bookcase. He removed a hardcover from the shelf with the title The History of Torture and Punishment, and quickly flipped to a page that showed a graphic drawing of a man in agony, his insides being pulled out. The caption below read “Guinea Worm.”
“There is a parasite known as the guinea worm,” Dalton said, “which gets into the bloodstream and then bursts out of a vein in the leg. The only way to remove the creature is to tie it to a stick and slowly pull it out, bit by bit. Imagine someone doing the same thing with your intestines. Most painful.”
I was stunned. This man was practically telling us he did it. Was he presenting some sort of warped challenge to us? Daring the police to catch him?
Next he turned to a full-page sketch of someone dying on the Catherine Wheel.
“I bet the two could be combined,” Dalton said. “As the victim turned, his intestines could also be wound around a stick. The best of both worlds.”
I looked away, eyeing some of his other books. They were all true crime, except for two novels. One was called Blue Murder. The other, The Passenger.
Dalton noticed my gaze. “Are you familiar with author Andrew Z. Thomas?”
I nodded. “A bestselling thriller writer. He became a serial killer.”
“He allegedly joined forces with another killer named Luther Kite. They were both involved in the Kinnakeet Ferry Massacre of 2003, among other unsavory murders.”
I remembered the crime back when it came over the wires, and I still recalled the pictures of the duo. Thomas was average-looking, not the serial killer type at all. But Luther looked like he stepped out of a horror movie. Gaunt, pale face. Dark eyes. Black, greasy hair.
“How about this one?” Herb asked, pulling a title from the shelf.
The book was a dog-eared paperback entitled Unknown Subject K.
“Yes, I’ve heard of him. Supposedly, he’s killed more than the top ten other famous murderers put together. Some think he’s an urban legend, created by the FBI.” Dalton stared at me, his eyes crinkling. “What do you think, Lieutenant?”
“I think he’s make-believe,” I said carefully. “No one could have committed all of the atrocities that have been attributed to him.”
Now Dalton actually did grin. It was small, no more than a slight upturn of his lips, and seemed oddly out of place on his emotionless face. “Are you sure about that?”
“Did you recognize the man in the last photo I showed you, Mr. Dalton?” I asked, despising his smile.
“The Guinea Worm fellow?”
“The man has been identified as Jimmy ‘The Nose’ Gambucci. He was a member of the Lambini crime family. Do you have any associations with organized crime?”
“Are you asking if I could call up Tony Lambini, have him talk to his powerful friends, and get you fired? Why would I do that, Lieutenant? Do you perceive yourself as a threat to me?”
This conversation had gone from bizarre to downright surreal.
“Mr. Dalton,” I said, figuring I had nothing to lose. “Are you Mr. K?”
Dalton touched his index finger to his chin, then pointed it at his hallway. “Did you see my photographs, when you were coming in? The one on the end is of my chateau in Cape Verde. It’s one of the few hospitable countries in the world that doesn’t have extradition treaties with the United States. Do you know what that means?”
“It means bad guys can go there,” Herb said, “and we’re not allowed to bring them back.”
“A gold star for the chubby sidekick,” Dalton said. Then he turned to me. “I’ve worked hard for my entire life, Ms. Daniels, and am ready for retirement. I’m leaving for Cape Verde tomorrow. After I go, I don’t plan on ever returning. If I am this elusive Mr. K, you have a little over twenty-four hours to come up with enough evidence to arrest me, or else I’m afraid his identity will forever remain a mystery to all but a select few.”
I replayed everything he’d said since we’d walked in. Was it enough to take him down to the station? If so, would it be enough to get a warrant to search his house?
No. Dalton hadn’t actually admitted to anything. And I had no doubt he’d be free an hour after I brought him in.
“Let me tell you what I think of Mr. K,” I said evenly. “He’s a parasite, just like a guinea worm. And like the guinea worm, he needs to be drawn out into the open and exterminated.”
Dalton leaned in close. “I’ve followed your lackluster career, Lieutenant. You aren’t good enough to catch him.”
I picked up my laptop and left the condo with Herb at my heels, swearing to myself I’d put this creep away if it was the last thing I ever did.
2010, August 10
C ontrolling my breathing was the first step. Once I slowed that down, I was able to stop crying, relax my cramping muscles, and think through the panic.
My wrists were ridiculously sore, as if someone had branded them with hot irons. I wiggled my fingers, keeping the circulation going, and then tried to reason out my situation.
Mr. K had me. That was obvious. But I didn’t see how that could be possible. Too much didn’t make sense.
Could it be a copycat? Someone imitating Mr. K?
I wished I could remember how I got into the storage locker. My last memory was watching infomercials in the living room, Phin asleep in bed. He was doing another round of chemo after an ultrasound had found another tumor on his pancreas. How long ago was that? A few hours? A day?
I must have been drugged. That would explain the loss of memory.
Could Mr. K somehow have tracked me down and—
The loud CLICK! was accompanied by an explosion of light. I slammed my eyelids closed, but the glare still burned my corneas, causing an instant headache. After a few seconds, I peeked through the painful brightness, squinting at the spotlight hanging on the wall.
Blinking away motes and halos, I began to look around. I was in a storage locker, as I’d guessed. Metal walls. A metal door. The concrete block I was tethered to was larger than I’d assumed, at few hundred pounds at least. I swiveled my head around, looking for the machine making the whirring noise.
When I saw it, my whole body clenched.
It was a wheel. A large, spinning wheel, with straps for a person’s arms and legs.
The Catherine Wheel.
But this one was unlike any I’d seen before. Attached to it was a metal pole, which looked like the rotating spit from a gas grill.
I immediately knew what it was. I remembered John Dalton’s description of the Guinea Worm, and I could picture someone strapped to the wheel, their broken bones grinding together, while the turning metal bar slowly disemboweled them.
Next to the wheel, on the floor, was a digital clock. It was counting down the seconds.
After a brief, internal battle to squelch panic, panic won out. I screamed into the gag. Screamed until my throat was raw, until the tears came again, until I was hyperventilating so badly that I passed out.
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 16
I didn’t take Shell up on his offer to shoot some pictures of me back at his place. He was cute, smart, and almost predatory with his sexuality. While I liked the confident, lothario vibe he gave off, and the attraction was no doubt mutual, I wasn’t going to screw up my first real case by, well, screwing one of the people involved.
So I took him to my place instead.
He had one of those expensive SLR cameras with an assortment of lenses and filters, portable lights, and even a stand-up backdrop, all in the trunk of his Caddy. While he was setting up in my living room, I went into my bathroom and futzed around with makeup. While I wasn’t Max Factor, I managed to slap enough color on my face to look feminine. Then I ran a brush through my hair and hit it with Aquanet, trying to tease it up as big as possible. By the time I was finished, I looked like I could be in a Whitesnake video.
Then I changed out of my Sears suit and put on the outfit Shell had bought for me. All dolled up, it was hard for me to recognize the person in the mirror. It didn’t look much like me. Rather, it looked more like the person I wanted to be.
I finished off the can of Aquanet, choking on the aerosol, and then walked out of the bathroom. My apartment was small, even by civil servant standards, so the bathroom let out right into the living room, where Shell had erected a makeshift studio, complete with three-point lighting. A white screen, with back splashes of red and blue lights, was set up in front of my television.
“Wow,” he said as I approached.
I thought of my boyfriend, Alan. He never said wow when he saw me.
“Would you like a drink?” I asked. I wasn’t sure why, but I suddenly felt a tiny bit uncomfortable.
“Whiskey, if you’ve got it.”
“Hate the stuff,” I said. “Vodka okay?”
I went into the kitchen, opening the cabinet and hoping I had two matching rocks glasses. I didn’t. The only matching glasses I owned had Ronald McDonald on them. I gave Shell my single rocks glass, then poured my vodka up, in a martini glass, making sure he wasn’t looking at the bargain basement brand I was serving. I dropped two ice cubes in his and then went into the living room. After handing him his drink, I realized why I was nervous. Having a cute guy in my apartment felt like a date. We’d gotten very comfortable with each other very quickly. Too quickly.
I took a very small sip of vodka, set it on a bookcase, and put my hands on my hips.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s do this.”
Shell finished his drink in one gulp, and if he noticed it was sub-par vodka he didn’t show it. “Stand in front of the backdrop,” he told me.
Immediately, I felt like I was back in high school, getting a class photo. I always hated those, standing in front of some disinterested, impatient photographer who didn’t want to be there, nervous that I’d look goofy.
“Have you been shot before?” Shell asked.
“Shot at, but they missed,” I said, before realizing what he was asking. A moment later we both laughed, and the camera went click, click, click.
“The secret to getting terrific shots is to pretend the camera is a person you like. You want to show this person how much you like him, how interested you are in him. How you want him to see you. So right now, tell the camera hello with your eyes.”
It sounded like utter bullshit, but I gave it a try. Shell snapped a few pics, then told me to pout, like the camera broke a date with me. I tried it, jutting out my lower lip a bit, trying to channel my inner spoiled brat.
From pouty we went to flirty, then to serious, then to curious. Soon we were in a comfortable rhythm and I no longer flinched at the shutter sounds. Shortly after that, I no longer paid any attention to Shell. The world had been reduced to me and the camera. The camera told me what it wanted, and I tried to please the camera.
“Let’s take off the jacket…
“Show me coy…
“Let’s untuck one shirttail…
“Show me thoughtful…
“Let’s open the blouse a button or two…
“Show me daring…
“Let’s open it one more button…
“Show me turned on.”
At that last suggestion, I lost all momentum. “Excuse me?” I asked.
“Turned on,” Shell said. “Aroused. You know. Your sex face.”
The inner vamp I was channeling was now confused and embarrassed. “My portfolio will have a picture of my sex face?”
Shell released the camera, letting it hang by its strap. “I’m not talking mouth-open eyes-shut When Harry Met Sally. I mean that look you give your boyfriend when you’re really aroused. Your take me now look.”
I didn’t think I had a take me now look.
“Don’t you have enough shots?” I asked. “You went through three rolls.”
“I’ve got some good ones. Some great ones. But I don’t have the knock a man on his ass shot yet. Do you trust me?”
“I don’t know.” I tried for a laugh, but it came out more like a nervous squeak.
“Just keep your eyes on the camera and listen to my words.” Shell raised it to his face. “We’ve just had a terrific dinner and are eating dessert. Strawberries and fresh cream. I dip a strawberry in the cream and feed it to you. But I don’t give it to you right away. I just dab the berry on your bottom lip, teasing you. I run it along your teeth, gently, before pushing the tip of it inside. Then you feel my hand caress your thigh under the table.”
Rather than sounding creepy, Shell’s voice was oddly hypnotic. I could see the scene. Feel the cold cream in my mouth. The tart sweetness of the fruit. A warm hand on my leg.
“You reach out to bite the strawberry, but I pull it away.”
My lips parted, just a bit.
“Imagine you want the berry in your mouth. How would you tell me that with your eyes?”
I felt my eyes smolder a bit. He snapped some pictures.
“Now my fingers are moving slowly up your thigh. I touch the edge of your panties. I keep them there, rubbing them back and forth, back and forth, waiting for your signal to put them inside. Show me you want me to.”
It was easier than I thought it would be, because I was getting turned on. I tried to remember the last time I’d had sex. It had been a few weeks. Alan and I were having a dry spell, worsened by him traveling a lot and my long hours. I’d also been too busy to take care of myself lately, and having a man—an attractive man with a camera—talk in deep, dulcet tones about rubbing my thigh was more than enough to get me going.
“That’s it,” Shell said. “That’s the look.” He set down the camera and stared at me.
“But I haven’t knocked you on your ass,” I breathed.
I walked up to him, taking my time, liking the way his eyes were on my body. Then I touched his camera lens, running my finger along it, feeling deliciously wicked.
Shell grabbed me abruptly, cupping my ass in his hand, pulling me close, so close I could feel he was just as turned on as I was.
I realized it was wrong, but I tilted up my head to be kissed anyway. He lowered his lips to mine but stopped short, only a few millimeters away. Shell gently kissed one side of my mouth, and the other. Then he softly chewed on my lower lip, tasting like vodka and heat.
Shell’s tongue sought mine, met it, and I moaned in my throat.
That’s when my front door opened and my boyfriend, Alan, walked in.
2010, August 10
P hin showed Herb Benedict and Harry McGlade the mud lines on the carpeting in the hallway.
“He must have wheeled in a gas canister on a hand truck,” Phin said. “Stuck the tube under the door and filled the bedroom. That’s why he didn’t wake us up when he took Jack.”
“So he’s a doctor?” Herb asked. He was jotting things down in his notebook. “He has access to anesthetics?”
“Not necessarily,” Phin said. “You can get nitrous oxide—laughing gas—at any welding supply store. When I woke up, I had a metallic taste in my mouth that could have been nitrous.”
Herb blinked at McGlade, who was staring at him. “What?”
“Every time I see you, you have another chin,” Harry said.
Herb scowled. “Have you taken your pill today?” he asked.
“Your shut the fuck up pill.”
Harry’s brow crinkled. “Where did I hear that before?”
“Guys, stay focused,” Phin said.
Herb gave McGlade a lingering glare, then turned back to Phin. “How did he know when you went to sleep?”
“He was watching the house. Or maybe a listening device.”
“I’ll check for bugs,” McGlade said. “I brought my spy gear.”
He set a metal suitcase on the floor and opened it up, spilling contents all over the carpet. One of the items that rolled away was a sex toy.
“That’s spy gear?” Herb said, pointing at the pink dildo.
“It’s got a listening device in it. I swapped it with a woman’s vibrator and put it in her desk drawer, trying to catch her cheating on her husband.”
“Did it work?” Phin asked.
McGlade frowned. “I got the switches mixed up. All I recorded was three hours of bzzzz-zzzz…oh God…bzzzz…oh my God…bzzzz. I should have put a camera in it, too.”
“You’re an idiot,” Herb said.
“And you’re a miracle of evolution,” Harry replied. “Somehow a sea cow grew limbs and learned how to talk.”
Phin stepped between them. “Harry, put away the dildo microphone. Herb, unclench your fists. Do either of you have any idea who could have Jack?”
Herb let out a slow breath, then shook his head. “Not so far. We normally get alerts when someone we put away gets out. All the major ones are still in there. Got a few baddies who were up for parole recently, but they were all denied.”
“Were there any cases Jack was working on before she quit? Any open cases?”
Herb’s brow crinkled. “Only one. But it couldn’t be him.”
“Harry? Were you and Jack working on anything?”
“Nothing big.” McGlade picked up a slim black case with an antenna sticking out of it. “Bug detector,” he said. Then he held it next to Herb and said, “Beep, beep, beep! Crab lice alert!”
Herb shoved the device away, then got behind Harry and roughly pressed him up against the wall. “You keep it up, and the next thing your magic dildo is going to record is you going pbbthhhh when I shove it up your—”
“Enough,” Phin said, pulling Herb off of McGlade. “I will personally kick both your asses if you don’t cut this shit out and focus. Harry, have you noticed anything weird lately? Strange phone calls? E-mails?”
“There is the one guy, keeps e-mailing me, telling me I won the Nigerian lottery. I’m thirty percent sure it isn’t legit.”
Phin forced himself to unclench his own fists. The best way to deal with Harry was excruciating patience. “Seen anyone hanging around the office? Anyone following you or Jack?”
McGlade’s eyes lit up. “Actually, there was this one guy. A few days ago. Spooky looking mother. Black, greasy hair. Pale as the sickly, white underbelly of a morbidly obese sea cow.”
“Where did you see him?”
“Outside the office. Just standing on the corner, staring up at our window.”
“Did Jack see him?” Phin asked.
Harry scrunched his eyes closed. “No. She was on the phone with a client. I was playing FarmVille—I just earned enough from my turnip patch to buy a tractor—and I noticed him down there. Checked again a few minutes later, and he was still there.”
“What did you do then?”
“I plowed my field in like one-tenth of the time. That tractor is epic.”
Herb began searching the floor, and Phin guessed he was going to make good on his threat.
“Did you go down and talk to him?” Phin asked Harry.
“Naw. When I checked again, he was gone. Hey, how come we aren’t Facebook friends?”
“Because I’m not on Facebook,” Phin said. “I actually have a life.”
“You should get on there, and friend me, and then send me fuel for my new tractor.”
Now Phin got in McGlade’s personal space, backing him up against the same wall Herb had shoved him against.
McGlade’s eyes went wide. “Hey, easy buddy.”
“If you kill him,” Herb said, “I’ll call it suicide in the police report.”
“You’re not taking this seriously, McGlade.” Phin spoke softly. “Someone has Jack. We need to stop screwing around.”
“Relax, Phin. How many times have we been in this situation? So many times, we already know how it’s going to end. It’ll be a close call, but me, or you, or Tubby the Talking Manatee here will save her at the last possible second. That’s what always happens.”
“Strangle him,” Herb said. “We’ll make it look like autoerotic asphyxiation.”
“Check the house for bugs, Harry,” Phin ordered. “And don’t say another goddamn word.”
Phin released him. Harry smoothed out his rumpled suit and said, “When I win the Nigerian lottery, I’m not giving either of you a penny.” Then he turned on his bug detector and walked into the bedroom.
“We might need help on this one,” Phin said to Herb.
“Way ahead of you. Every cop on the force who ever met Jack Daniels is on the lookout for her. They’re not going to let one of their own slip away.”
Phin nodded. He knew how hard Jack worked, all of those years on the street, trying to earn the respect of her peers. Having them rally behind her would have made her feel good.
“The media?” Phin asked.
“We’re keeping it on the down low for now. If some psycho does have her, we don’t want to egg him on with press. Have you considered this might be someone new?”
“You mean, like a ransom thing?”
“Maybe. Or maybe some unknown whack-job read about her and wanted to get his name in the true crime books.”
Phin didn’t like that scenario at all. If it was someone from Jack’s past, at least they had a chance at finding her. How could they find someone completely new?
“The bedroom is clean,” Harry said, returning to the hall. “Except for those sheets. I saw several stains of dubious origin.”
“Check the rest of the house,” Phin said.
“Kidnaper might have also been watching from outside,” Harry said. “In one of those Hannibal Lector movies, the killer watched the house from the backyard and left all sorts of easy-to-follow clues behind.”
“Finish in here,” Phin said, “and Herb and I will check outside.”
Phin led the portly cop through the garage, out the back door. He located the tire track in the mud, then followed the direction of the treads back into the tree line.
“Take the left side,” Phin said. “I’ll take the right.”
Phin waded into the bushes. After four steps, he had to hold up his bare arms so they didn’t brush the nettles. Turning around, he saw there was no good view of the house—it was too obscured by foliage. He looked up, scanning the trees, finding one nearby.
At the base of the tree, half-hidden by the nettles, were two empty boxes of candy. Lemonheads. They appeared relatively new. No sun bleaching, and they were dry even though it had rained two days ago.
Phin let his eyes wander up the tree, and found a low-hanging limb. Though he wasn’t feeling his best, he managed to get up onto the bough. From there, he could see over the bushes, a direct line of sight to the bedroom window. Jack insisted on always keeping the shades closed, but it would be easy to tell if the lights were on or off.
Phin looked over at Herb, who was thirty yards away, in the bushes near the garage. As he was getting down he found a Lemonhead candy stuck in the tree bark. He left it there and walked over to Herb.
“Footprints, right here.” Herb pointed at the ground. “Also some twigs broken off the bush so it was easier to see the house.
“Back there, someone was in a tree. You thinking two vantage points?”
“Either two vantage points,” Herb said, “or two abductors.”
They walked the perimeter of the property, trying to see if anyone else could have been watching. All they found were old, spent shell casings—the reason Jack now insisted on keeping the shades drawn, and why she’d installed the new burglar alarm. But there was no evidence of recent surveillance, except in those two spots.
Herb and Phin went back into the house. Harry was in the kitchen. He’d made himself a submarine sandwich and was finishing a bite. “No bugs in the refrigerator,” he said, mouth full.
“How about the rest of the house, jackass?” Herb said.
McGlade stared at Herb and protectively hid the sandwich behind his back. “Whole house is clean. At least, it was.”
Harry pointed his chin to the floor, which was dotted with nettles Phin had dragged in. Phin pondered that for a moment, wondering if it meant something. Wondering what they were supposed to do next.
Three years ago
2007, August 8
“W hat are we supposed to do next?” Herb asked.
We were exiting Dalton’s building and walking back to my Nova.
“The only thing we can do,” I answered. “We watch him. Follow him. Hope he makes a move.”
“You think he’ll make a move?” We waited for a cab to pass, then crossed the street. “He’s leaving the country tomorrow. You think he’ll do something to screw that up?”
“I think he’s a disturbed old guy who wants to play some kind of game. And if he does screw up, I want to be there.”
I unlocked my car, started the engine, and cranked on the air-conditioning. The chassis rocked when Herb sat down. After checking for traffic, I pulled out onto the street, turned onto Lake Shore Drive, and parked next to the 1300 building, near the underground garage. It didn’t matter if Dalton saw us—he practically challenged us to follow him, and no doubt knew we would.
I called a detective in my district, Tom Mankowski, and asked him to check the passenger lists on all flights to Cape Verde over the next three days, looking for Dalton’s name. I also asked him if he could confirm Dalton had a residence there.
Then we waited.
“So how’s Latham doing?” Herb asked. “Fully recovered yet?”
Latham, my fiancé, was still recuperating from a bout with botulism. He was almost back to normal, and we were going on vacation later in the month, renting a cabin on Rice Lake in Wisconsin. I had to testify at a murder trial next week, but that wouldn’t take more than a day or two. Then I was free of police work for seven glorious days. Though, knowing my luck, I’d probably run into some psychopath during the trip.
“How’s the wife?” I asked Herb.
We kept waiting.
“Think we’ve run out of things to talk about?” Herb asked.
“No, not at all,” I answered.
Neither of us spoke for fifteen minutes. We watched a bike courier ride up to Dalton’s building. He unhooked a bag attached to his rear bumper with bungee cords, and walked past the doorman.
“Remember when we first met?” Herb asked.
“Sure you do. It was with that guy…the escort murder guy. Shell.”
“Can we talk about something else?” I didn’t like thinking about Shell.
“Sorry. Didn’t know it was still a soft spot.”
“It’s not,” I lied. “What about it?”
“That was eighteen years ago. We’ve been working together for a long time.”
“I’ve probably spent more time with you than I have with my wife.”
My eyes wandered away from the building and over to Herb. “You’re not going to tell me you’re in love with me, are you Herb?”
Herb smirked. “I wouldn’t want to ruin what you’ve got going on with Latham.”
“That’s kind of you, because I’d hate to break up your marriage.”
“Also, and I don’t mean this to be an insult—”
“Translation: here comes the insult.”
“—but you’re a little too much like one of the guys. It would be like sleeping with my brother.”
“You have a brother? And he has boobs?”
“We’re getting off tangent here. What I wanted to say was—”
“I want to hear about your D-cup brother.”
“—we’ve been partners for a long time—”
“Is he my size? Maybe we could swap designer clothes.”
“—and you’re my best friend.”
His words sunk right through my skin, into my bone marrow, where they nestled warmly.
“Really?” I said. “Best friend?”
“Really. I just wanted to say that. And it’s okay if you don’t say it back.”
“Herb, I don’t want to burst your bubble, here—”
“Please don’t hurt my feelings, Jack. I break easily.”
“—but this isn’t the first time you’ve said this to me.”
“Yeah, it is.”
“Herb, you say this whenever we go out and you have more than five drinks.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Seriously?”
“Not the part about your brother with the rack, but the best friend bit.”
“Do too. Has to be over a dozen times now.” I looked at him. “Have you been hitting the sauce today?”
“Not yet. But I may step out and get a bottle of something to kill my embarrassment.”
“Counterproductive. Halfway into the bottle, you’ll be pouring your heart out to me again, wanting to get matching T-shirts and friendship bracelets.”
We waited some more.
“Jack?” Herb said after a few minutes.
“So when I’ve had too many drinks, and I say this to you…”
“How do you respond?”
I looked him straight in the eyes. “That you’re my best friend too, and I love you like a sister.”
“You have a sister? And she has a penis?”
“We should set her up with your brother,” I said. “They’d be perfect for each other.”
“They’d probably just wind up being friends. Hey, there’s the Caddy.”
Herb pointed, and sure enough Dalton’s DTS was on the move. He squealed tires, swinging onto the road, fishtailing before rocketing forward.
I threw the car into drive and gunned the engine. Hitting the gas in my Nova was akin to yelling at a mouse on a treadmill in an attempt to make it run faster. There were no squealing tires when I pulled out after him, and the engine made a sound somewhere between a whine of pain and a resigned sigh of defeat. I turned onto Division Street, hoping for a tailwind.
“Remind me again why we take your car,” Herb said.
“Just keep your eye on him.”
“He’s too far ahead. I think he just crossed the border into Pennsylvania.”
My Nova moved noticeably faster when Herb wasn’t in the car, but I didn’t say anything and risk insulting my bestest friend.
“I think he turned,” Herb said.
“Up there, at the Washington Monument.”
“You’re funny, like oral thrush is funny.”
We drove another block.
“Try pressing the accelerator,” Herb suggested.
“I am pressing the accelerator.”
“Do you need me to open the hood, wind the rubber band?”
“It’s not a rubber band,” I said, passing a minivan. “It’s a mouse on a treadmill.”
“I think your mouse is sleeping. Or dead.”
I tapped the brakes and hit the horn to tell a cabbie what I thought of his driving, but the horn didn’t want to respond. “Where’d he turn?”
“Do you think he’s—?”
“Yeah. I do.”
We were heading straight for Merle’s U-Store-It. Was Dalton trying to clear out his storage locker? What if he did it before we got there?
“Put the cherry on the roof,” I said. A little while back, my antique stick-on police siren had fallen off, and I’d been given a slightly less-antique siren. Instead of a suction cup, this new one had a magnet to keep it attached.
“Where is it?” Herb asked.
“On the floor, behind my seat.”
Herb took a glance at his expansive waistline, then at me. “You’re kidding, right? I can’t reach that.”
“Pretend it’s a big box of cupcakes.”
“What kind of cupcakes?”
The light ahead of me turned red, but I blew through it anyway, narrowly missing a sideswipe by an overeager bus driver.
“Recline your seat,” I told him, swerving around the bus. The Cadillac was long out of sight, but I knew where the storage place was. Worst case, we’d get there two, maybe three minutes behind him.
Herb pulled the lever and his seat immediately snapped backward. “I can see the siren,” he said. “I think I can reach it.”
He made a strange grunting sound, sort of like an elephant trumpeting, as he stretched behind me for the light. I turned into oncoming traffic to pass some idiot driving the speed limit and following the rules of the road.
“Got it.” Herb blew out a big breath. “Whew. Got any Gatorade?”
“Now sit up and attach it to my roof,” I said, inching the Nova up to forty-five.
“Sit what now?”
“Up, Herb. Haven’t you ever watched those shows about those morbidly obese people who haven’t gotten out of bed in five years?”
“Those shows make me hungry.”
Herb had the siren cradled in his prodigious lap. I had ten white knuckles on the steering wheel and couldn’t pull them off to help him.
“Come on, partner,” I urged. “Crank down the window—”
“You have manual windows? When was this car made, during the Depression?”
“—and stick the cherry on my roof. You can do it.”
There was heaving. Grunting. Swearing. And labored, strangled breathing which—if witnessed by a doctor—would have resulted in the crash cart being wheeled over, stat. But somehow Herb managed to get that window open.
“Good work. Now sit up and stick it on the roof.”
“You’re driving too fast. I can’t get the seat up.”
“Come on, Herb. You can do this. Say it. Believe it.”
“You can do this.”
“I can do this.”
“You got it.”
“I got it.”
“You’re the man.”
“I. Am. The man.”
Herb held the cherry out the window, then immediately dropped it outside. I checked my rearview and watched it bounce off the street, where it splintered into a million little red and blue pieces.
“I owe you a siren,” Herb said.
I frowned. “I never even got to try it.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll call Starsky and Hutch and get you a new one.”
I turned onto Fullerton, seeing that Dalton’s Cadillac was already parked across from the storage place. I hit the brakes right next to the building.
“Put in your earpiece,” I told Herb, screwing my Bluetooth into my ear. “Guard the exit unless I call for help.”
Herb managed to sit up and he nodded, reaching for his pocket. I exited the car and ran into the storage building. The same watchman was there, feet up on his small desk, eyeballs sewn onto the TV screen. I banged on his bulletproof glass.
“Police. Buzz me in.”
“Got a warrant?” he asked, not bothering to look at me.
“Open the goddamn door, pinhead!”
He buzzed me in. I hurried to the elevator, saw it was on the third floor. Once again I trudged up the stairs, tugging out my Colt, feeling a weird sort of déjà vu that wasn’t déjà vu at all because I had actually done this before, earlier today.
“Where are you?” Herb, in my ear.
“Coming up on the third floor,” I said, taking the stairs two at a time. “Check out his car. See if there’s anything in it. Be discreet.”
By discreet I meant don’t get caught inside without a warrant.
I stopped at the doorway, crouched, and went through low. First I looked left, and saw John Dalton standing four yards away, hands at his sides, looking at me. His expression was neutral, his stance relaxed. I kept my gun aimed at the floor.
“Hello, Lieutenant,” he said. “I’ve been expecting you.”
I straightened up to my full height, then walked slowly to him. “Open your jacket, Mr. Dalton. Slowly.”
“I just came to clear out my storage locker before leaving the country,” he said, unbuttoning his suit coat and opening it up. Then he turned in a full circle. “I’m unarmed.”
“Coat pocket,” I said. “A bulge. Reach in and take it out with two fingers.”
“As you wish.” He stuck his thumb and index finger into his jacket and slowly removed a microcassette recorder. I could see the tiny wheel turning. “I thought we should record our conversation, for posterity.”
I glanced quickly at Dalton’s right, saw his storage locker, 312, was open. I approached, my weapon still out, my senses all on high alert. As I got nearer, I was able to peer inside his rental unit.
“His car is locked,” Herb said. “Don’t see anything inside. Also, two men just pulled up in a Mercedes.”
“You look a bit high-strung, Lieutenant,” Dalton said. “I assure you, there’s nothing to fear. At least, not at the moment.”
Looking into the storage unit, it appeared empty. No…not empty. There was something small resting in the middle of the bare floor.
“You have my permission to go in and take whatever you want,” Dalton said. “It’s for you anyway. A parting gift, of a sort.”
I took him up on his invitation, walking into the locker. On the floor was a cheap digital watch, the kind with a black plastic band sold in drugstores, and a white envelope. I holstered my gun and dug two latex gloves out of my jacket pocket. Keeping an eye on Dalton, I pulled on the gloves and reached for the watch.
“The men are going into the building, Jack,” Herb said. “Want me to follow?”
“Run their plates,” I said, squinting at the watch display.
Instead of showing the time, the gray LCD was counting down from twenty-four hours and thirty-six minutes.
“What happens when this reaches zero?” I asked.
“Don’t ticking clocks just make everything more dramatic?”
“Answer the question, John.”
“Open the envelope, Jack.”
Inside was a color photograph. It showed a boy, Caucasian, perhaps twelve years old. A close-up, his whole face filling the shot. He had brown hair, brown eyes, and looked like a million other kids. His lips were curled up in a small, private smile, as if he had a joke he wanted to tell.
“Who is this?” I asked, staring over at Dalton.
“What would you do, Lieutenant, if you knew how much time you had left? If you knew, to the very second? What would your final thoughts be before saying goodbye?”
I felt myself going from jittery to cold. “What are you telling me?”
“I’m saying that we can only be here for so long. For some, it could be years before we leave. For others, it could be just over twenty-four and a half hours.”
I turned the photo over. On the back, in black marker, was written:
“What have you done here, John?”
“I’m leaving the country tomorrow. There are over one thousand storage facilities in Chicago, and another thousand in the surrounding suburbs. Good hunting, Jack.”
The elevator dinged behind me. Two men in suits got out. I put my hand on my holster.
“Who are these guys, Herb?”
“Still checking their plates,” he answered.
I watched the men spot us and begin to walk over. Their suits were tailored, expensive. They didn’t seem to be carrying.
“Are you saying, John, that this child only has twenty-four hours left to live?” I asked, watching the new arrivals.
“My client is saying no such thing,” one of the men said.
“Car belongs to a lawyer, Jack,” Herb buzzed in my ear. “Name is Simon Bradstreet.”
I knew of Simon Bradstreet. He defended all the big mobsters in Chicago.
“I invited Mr. Bradstreet here to make sure my rights and personal freedoms weren’t violated,” Dalton said. “The Chicago Police Department has a nasty reputation for coercion. I know you aren’t the type to beat a confession out of a suspect, Lieutenant, but one never knows how do-gooders will react when children are involved.”
“Want me to come up, Jack?” Herb said.
I thought it through. Dalton hadn’t actually said he’d abducted a child, or that the child was in danger. He’d carefully chosen his words, and he’d recorded our entire exchange. I had no evidence to arrest him, and I couldn’t question him without his consent.
But at the same time, I couldn’t let this bastard leave if he had a child locked in a storage facility somewhere. What I needed was to stall.
“It’s great of you coming out to this part of town at the request of a client,” I said. “But this isn’t the best neighborhood. Both of you are driving such nice cars. I’d hate to see them vandalized. Tires slashed. That sort of thing.”
“Are you threatening to slash our tires?” Bradstreet said. He barked a fake laugh, his chubby face jiggling.
“I’m doing no such thing,” I said, speaking slowly. “And how could I, since I’m here talking to you? All I’m saying is it would be unfortunate if it happened.”
“Are we done here?” Bradstreet said.
“I have a question for your client, before you go.”
“Mr. Dalton isn’t answering any questions.”
“I think he’ll want to answer this one.” I turned to Dalton. “Do you believe in evil, John?”
“I said, Mr. Dalton is not—”
Dalton held up his hand, shushing his lawyer. “Evil, Jack? In what sense do you mean?”
“I had this question posed to me years ago, when I was a cadet. Which is true evil? Someone who enjoys committing evil acts? Or someone who commits evil acts for monetary gain?”
Dalton made a steeple out of his fingers. “Let me tell you a story. About two men. They both worked for…let’s call it a company. One of these men enjoyed committing evil acts. He enjoyed it a great deal. So much so that the only way to ever stop him from doing it was to put him away forever, or kill him. The other man, he learned early in life that killing was something he was good at. But he never had any passion for it. In fact, he never had much passion for anything. This lack of emotion, however, made him very good at what he did. Smart. Careful. Deliberate. Because he knew that once emotion got involved, mistakes could be made.”
“What happened to these two men?” I asked.
“You know what happened to the first one. As for the second one, we won’t truly know what happens for at least twenty-four more hours.”
He turned to leave. “But which one is more evil, John?”
Dalton glanced at me over his shoulder. “There’s no good or evil, Jack. Each of us is the hero in the movie of our life. The only difference is that some of us are better at justifying our actions to ourselves, while others beat themselves up for every mistake they make.”
The trio walked away. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
2010, August 10
H e stares at the iPhone screen. It’s much easier to see Jack Daniels now that the lights are on. That green night vision was blurry and didn’t allow for much detail.
But now, the details are perfect. Crystal clear. He even has controls to zoom in. To pan. To tilt. It’s amazing how far technology has come, and it’s thrilling for him to see this woman, his nemesis, bound and gagged and waiting for the pain to begin.
She’s sleeping. Or pretending to.
Rest now, he thinks. Enjoy unconsciousness while you can, whore.
Then he slips his hand inside his underwear and watches, a line of drool dripping down his chin, waiting for Jack to wake up.
Twenty-one years ago
1989, August 16
“Alan!” I quickly pulled away from Shell, wondering if my boyfriend had seen us kissing. “Hi!”
Alan’s face screwed up in confusion. He wore the standard Alan outfit: acid-washed jeans, a blue iZod shirt, the pennies in his loafers nice and coppery bright. His thick, wavy blond hair was long in the back, the bangs short and hugging his tan forehead. In his hand he had a dozen roses, which made me feel positively awful.
“Did I…come at…a bad time?” Alan said, sizing up Shell.
“Is this your boyfriend?” Shell asked.
Shell put on a big smile and stuck out his hand, walking over to Alan. “Pleased to meet you, Alan. Shell Compton. Officer Streng is going to be working undercover in my business.”
Alan shook Shell’s hand, but he looked somewhere between wary and angry. “And by undercover, you mean she has to have her shirt off?”
I looked down at my blouse. I’d undone the first three buttons, and somehow Shell had managed to remove the last few. I buttoned up, wondering how in the hell I was going to explain this.
“I run an escort service,” Shell said. “Someone is murdering my girls. Officer Streng is going to pretend to work for me, to try to find the killer. I needed to take some sexy pics of her for her portfolio. That’s how my clients pick their dates.”
“Three women have died so far,” I quickly added. “The files are on the kitchen counter.”
“I see,” Alan said, though he didn’t sound very convinced.
“Are we done?” I asked Shell, though it was more a statement than a question.
“Yeah. Let me pack up my lights and—”
“I can do it and bring them tomorrow morning.”
Shell nodded. “Sure thing. See you later. Good meeting you, Alan.” Shell stepped around him, then let himself out.
“That was weird,” Alan said. “Nothing like walking in on your girlfriend with another guy and her shirt off.”
“My shirt was on,” I said. “It was just open. Are those for me?”
Alan held out the flowers. I took the bouquet, gave it the perfunctory sniff, and engaged in an awkward hug with my boyfriend. I still was jittery from the shock of him showing up and surprising me, and wasn’t sure what I was actually feeling. After all, Alan had never said I love you, and he’d completely forgotten my birthday.
“Happy birthday,” Alan said. “I love you.”
Whoa. He loved me? How was I supposed to respond to that? Say it back? Did I even want to?
Instead of responding in kind, I held Alan at an arm’s length and searched his eyes. “My, uh, birthday was yesterday.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Alan said. “I wrote it down. It was this Tuesday.”
“Today is Wednesday.”
His face pinched. “Oh, geez, Jacqueline. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay,” I said, even though it really wasn’t. “At least now I know why you didn’t call.”
“Did you do anything special at least?”
“I did a prostitution sting and found a dismembered woman in a Dumpster.”
“Fun. Was there birthday cake?”
I smiled, relaxing a notch. “No, there wasn’t.”
“I missed you.”
“Missed you, too.”
But did I? If I really did miss Alan, why was I playing tonsil tennis with some other guy?
“I know I’ve been kind of…distant…lately,” he said, hooding his eyes. “The fact is, I’ve been thinking a lot. About us.”
“And what have you been thinking about?”
Alan crouched down, like he was tying his shoe.
But he wasn’t tying his shoe.
He was kneeling.
And he had a small, black box in his hand.
“I’ve been looking a long time for a woman like you, Jacqueline. I love being with you, and when we’re apart, I think about you.”
Oh my God. Oh my God oh my God oh my God. He was—
“Jacqueline Streng.” Alan opened up the tiny box and took out the gold ring with the diamond in it. “Would you make me the happiest guy in the world and marry me?”
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