Tags: #Adult Trade
ALSO BY J.A. KONRATH
This book is for Mike Konrath, one of the coolest guys on the planet.
I love you like a brother.
1 oz. Scotch
1 oz. Drambuie
Pour ingredients over ice in an old-fashioned glass.
HE SOUND BEGINS.
Alex, eyes clenched shut, pillow pressed to face, can’t escape the repetitive
it penetrates the thin apartment walls and saturates the cotton batting.
The wailing starts, the cry of a sick dog, increasing as the slaps come louder and faster.
Father will call soon.
Alex rolls out of bed and tiptoes through the door, every painful squeak of the floorboards hitting like a blow. Slowly, so very slowly, Alex creeps down the hall.
Beyond Father’s room is the back door. If Alex can make it outside, there’s a chance. Perhaps spending the night in the barn, or at a friend’s house to escape the . . .
Alex jumps at the sound, Father’s voice drilling in and pinning feet to floor.
“Alex, get in here!”
No choice now. Run, and Father will hear and get angry. Alex doesn’t want to be the recipient of God’s penance.
The child heads back to Father’s room.
As always, the sight is ghastly. Father is kneeling on the floor, clad in dirty jeans and bare from the waist up. His back is glistening with sweat and something else; streaks of blood leaking from angry red welts.
“I’m a sinner, Alex. A terrible sinner.”
Alex stares at Father’s hand, sees he’s using the scourge—a multi-tailed whip with tiny metal barbs on the ends. That one isn’t so bad. Father has implements that are worse. The one Alex fears the most is the old brush handle, the bristles replaced with thin nails, rusty from years of use.
“Take the whip, Alex. Show me God’s wrath.”
“Now!” Father’s eyes burn, promising the threat of Redemption.
The eight-year-old holds out a hand and takes the scourge.
“You are the instrument of God’s vengeance, my child. Give me His penance.” Father’s voice trembles, cracks. “Punish me for my terrible sins.”
Alex swings the whip.
Father’s keening grows in volume, and Alex beats him faster and harder, wanting to get it over with, wanting it to end.
Finally, Father cries out for mercy, and then he pulls Alex next to him, both on their knees, and they both pray and pray and pray to the Lord for forgiveness and salvation and deliverance from evil.
Father’s sobbing eventually softens, then stops.
Alex fetches the salve and rubs it into Father’s wounds, coaxing whimpers.
“Reject sin, Alex. Reject Satan’s ways. Don’t end up like me.”
“Good. Now get the hell out of my room. I don’t want to see your ugly face for the rest of the night.”
Alex runs outside, hands pink with blood, brain awash with terrible feelings of guilt . . . and disgust . . .
. . . and something else.
The night is hot, the sticky summer air smelling like garbage, the field behind their house dark and quiet. The tears erupt, and Alex wails, head in hands.
A cat, a stray tabby that hangs around the farm, bumps Alex’s leg and purrs. Alex holds the cat close, wiping tears onto its fur.
Next to the barn is a rain barrel, half filled with foul-smelling water. Four rats, a squirrel, and a possum have all drowned in that barrel.
But never a cat.
A feeling of warmth grows within Alex, extinguishing the fear.
“Let’s go for a swim, kitty.”
Stroking its yellow and orange fur, Alex carries the cat over to the barrel.
USINESS WAS SLOW,
which made me extremely happy.
I sat in my office, the omnipresent paperwork mountain on my desk down to a few small mounds. I could actually see the wood through the files in some places. It was brown, as I’d always guessed it to be.
There hadn’t been a homicide in Chicago for four days, which had to be some kind of record. We consistently ranked as one of the top murder cities in America, often hitting the number one spot. Whenever that happened, cops from my district would get
T-shirts printed up. I had seven, from previous years.
I whittled away the free time with busywork: filing, reviewing cold cases, cleaning out my desk drawers. I even entertained the notion of painting my nails—something I hadn’t done since joining the force over twenty years ago.
All play and no work makes Jack a bit flighty.
My partner, Sergeant Herb Benedict, had been using the free time to catch up on his eating. He wandered into my office, lugging a gallon of chocolate milk. He set the jug on my desk.
“I didn’t have anything to do, so I brought your mail.”
“Someone mailed me dairy products?”
Herb scowled, his walrus mustache drooping. He had a few years on me, which put him past the fifty mark, but his face was plump enough to retard wrinkles.
“This isn’t dairy. It’s GoLYTELY. I’ve got to drink this entire bottle to clear out my digestive tract for my colonoscopy tomorrow.”
“Sounds like fun. Shall I come by, take some pictures?”
“Funny, Jack. Be happy you’re not a man and don’t have to deal with this stuff.”
“I’m thankful for that every day.”
Herb removed the bundle of mail he’d tucked under his armpit and dropped it on my desk.
Among the bills and junk was a small padded envelope. It had
Lt. Jacqueline Daniels, Chicago Police Department, Violent Crimes Division
typed on the label. No postmark, no return address.
“This was in the mail?”
“No. Someone dropped it off downstairs for you.”
I frowned. Times being as they were, unknown packages were scary things. But hand delivery meant it must have gone through the metal detector and X-ray machine downstairs; standard delivery procedure. I teased open the flap and peeked inside.
Something thin and black.
I threw caution to the wind and shook it out onto my desk. A VHS videotape. No labels or markings.
My apprehension went up a notch.
“Did the desk sergeant get a look at the person who left this?”
“I didn’t ask. You weren’t expecting anything?”
I shook my head.
The VCR sat in the corner of my office, on a cart with a TV. I hit a few buttons and put the tape in.
Herb rested his butt against my desk and patted his expansive belly. He’d lost a lot of weight, but had found it again. His stomach growled, perhaps in response to his patting.
“You know what the worst part of a colonoscopy is?”
“You’re going to tell me whether I want to know or not.”
“I can’t eat anything for twenty-four hours.”
I considered it. “That’s worse than having a long probe stuck up your unhappy place?”
“I’m under anesthetic for that.” He took a swig of GoLYTELY and made a Mr. Yuck face.
“I’m guessing GoLYTELY isn’t a taste sensation.”
“They claim it’s chocolate-flavored. More like chalk-flavored. I’d rather drink a gallon of paint.”
I pressed Play. After some snow, the TV screen went black. In the upper right-hand corner the date flashed. Eight days ago.
The scene abruptly changed to a wide shot of a two-story house. Midday, the sun casting shadows straight down. The house was nondescript, a Realtor’s sign stuck in the lawn. It could have been any house in Chicago. But it wasn’t.
I knew this house.
I shushed Herb, nodding.
The cameraperson approached the front door at a brisk pace. A hand, wearing a large black leather glove, came into frame from the left of the screen and turned the doorknob.
The camera sailed through the foyer, the living room, and over to the basement door. The hand flipped on the light switch by the staircase and the descent began.
My heart accelerated, the scene before me playing out just as it had so many times in my memories. I held my breath, hoping this was just a prank, hoping the basement wouldn’t contain what I feared.
The cameraperson reached the lower level and panned to the right. The auto-focus blurred, then sharpened, revealing a naked white female tied to a chair with twine, a burlap bag over her head. Her whimpering hit me like a blow.
“Jesus.” Herb folded his arms across his chest.
I had to fight to keep my eyes open, watching as the camera approached her, watching as the gloved hand picked up a hunting knife from the floor, watching as the knife rose up to her throat . . .
Herb gagged. I turned away.
When I looked back, she was still alive, arterial blood squirting and splashing down her bare chest. There was a wet coughing sound, and it took me a moment to understand what I was hearing; the woman was struggling to scream through the large slash in her neck.
She didn’t die right away. The writhing and twisting and coughing went on for almost a minute. When her body finally stopped moving, the camera faded to black.
I spent a few seconds trying to rally my thoughts.
“I need a Crime Scene Unit ready to go in three minutes, photos, vids, ALS, the works. I’ll contact the EPD and clear it with them.”
Herb headed for the door, his GoLYTELY forgotten. I hit Eject on the VCR and grabbed a latex glove from my desk. The tape went into one evidence bag, its envelope into another.
Then I called the Evanston Police Department and asked them to meet us at the address. It was one they knew well.
The morning was beautiful for April, sixty degrees, crisp and sunny. I wore a beige Anne Klein pantsuit that I paid too much money for because it slimmed my hips, and a new pair of black low-heeled Jimmy Choo boots. Herb had on an ancient gray suit, designed by Montgomery Ward, and a blue tie already stained with GoLYTELY.
As befitting the weather, the streets and sidewalks were packed with people of all races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Panhandlers and executives, students and sightseers, all commingling in a giant diverse human stew. We worked out of the 26th District, in the heart of downtown, our building a speck among the skyscrapers. Parked on the sidewalk was a churros cart, which Benedict eyed. After viewing the video, the cinnamon smell repulsed me. We walked around back to the parking lot and climbed into his new Chrysler Sebring—both of us hated my 1986 Nova. Herb rolled down the windows and slowed as he passed the churros, sniffing the air.