Authors: James Patterson
“Anna. The old rules still apply. You know. SP.”
She knew Petrović’s rules well.
Obey. If you don’t, we will happily kill you.
SP. Slobodan Petrović had made the rules.
Images flickered, faces of women she’d known from school and the market and from neighboring homes: Dalila and her mother, Amela; her best friend, Uma; and Zuhra, her husband’s younger sister. The girls who had defied the soldiers or had curled into balls and given up—they were killed.
The ones who learned fast, did as they were told, they didn’t even talk to the other women about what they’d endured. What good was it to complain? They had to live another day and hope for an opportunity to get away.
By being smart, she and Dalila and a few others had survived and gotten out at the end of the war. But this was America. There was no war here. And yet here she was in a rape hotel.
Anna washed her face with hot water, and kept washing as
she remembered the hotel in Djoba. One indelible memory looped in her mind. The men berating Uma before they shot her to death. Uma hadn’t cried or even put up a hand. She had wanted to die.
Anna’s own hands shook as she dried off with the towel.
Then she peeled the note from the mirror and looked into her own eyes. She had gotten older since she’d last seen her face.
Her eyelids drooped, and the corners of her mouth sagged from fear and pain. She moved her hair back. The scar was livid, and there was blood behind her ear.
She released the sheaf of hair, and for a moment her younger self was reflected in the glass. Her radiant smile as she dressed for her wedding, patted powder on her unblemished skin.
Tears jumped into her eyes, and she ran the hot water again and cried into the stream, scrubbing hard, trying to wash all of this away, at the same time listening for the boot kicking in the door and the beating.
What kind of God would allow her to be taken again?
She thought about Joe’s many stern warnings and the height of her arrogance.
She’d maneuvered around him, followed Petrović, refused to wait for the men with guns to do their job.
She had brought this down on herself.
Anna was so agonized by her own behavior that she couldn’t stand to look at herself anymore. She opened the medicine cabinet and found a bottle of drugstore painkillers. She spilled tablets into her shaking hand, swallowed down the maximum dose, and put more pills in her pocket.
She turned off the light and quietly opened the bathroom door. There was another door at the end of the short hallway and also an opening, an entrance to another room.
Anna tiptoed on bare feet to that entranceway, and even though she didn’t know what she was walking into, she stepped over the threshold.
Anna was only looking for an exit, but stepping into the living room, she was taken by the size of it, the high ceilings, light coming from a large, muted TV near a fireplace.
A news show was on, an international channel, with the times in major cities displayed in the lower corner of the screen. Anna watched until it read,
San Francisco, 3:15.
She couldn’t be sure, but as best as she could remember, she’d lost herself on Friday night.
She’d been in the Tesla outside Petrović’s house, prepared to follow him to whatever mysterious places he went when he wasn’t at home or at the restaurant. The rear-end collision had entirely shocked her, throwing her into the steering wheel and out of the seat. She’d been furious when she’d gotten out of her smashed loaner, and then stunned to see the Serbian soldier in the blue Escalade.
Anna remembered him clearly now from the hotel in Djoba. He had beaten her with a chair leg and then … she didn’t want to think about it.
He was probably here now.
Anna felt suddenly light-headed and her knees buckled. She grabbed at the wall, slipped down to the floor, and stayed until she felt she could stand.
Where was he? Was he watching her now?
She had to leave this place. She had to get out.
Anna looked around the dimly lit room, past the clumps of furniture, to the shuttered windows, back to the sofa, where she noticed the dark shape of a person sitting there with arms around tucked-up knees.
God, no. Was it him?
No. It was a woman.
Anna spoke in a whisper. “Hello?”
The woman on the couch beckoned her to come over.
“I’m Susan,” she said. “Talking together is against the rules, so we have to speak softly and fast.”
Anna sat down beside Susan, and for the next three hours they barely moved, their bodies touching from shoulder to hip to thigh. They spoke like sisters.
Susan said, “This is important, Anna. We have to play it cool.”
Anna said, “I know. Buy time.”
Susan told her about the routine, the names of the men who watched, cooked, used her, and Anna asked about Petrović—did he live here and how often did he come to this place?
“Petrović? I don’t know that name. Tony is the boss. Antonije Branko.”
Tony. It’s a fake name. Susan, he’s a war criminal. I know him from Bosnia. Do you know if he was with me last night?”
Susan said, “No, it was my turn. He went to your room, but you were out cold. He said he likes it better when the
girl has a little fight. You got Junior. He doesn’t care if you’re already dead.”
Tears rolled down Anna’s face, but she talked through them. She told Susan that she had known Tony as Colonel Slobodan Petrović and that he had decimated her town in Bosnia.
Susan grabbed her hand as Anna spoke of her losses and the months she had lived at a rape hotel. “Like this, only with shootings and bombs. I’ve seen a man who works with Petrović at the steak house. He has a short gray beard. He …”Anna stopped to get control of her tears. Then, “He knows me from Djoba.”
“Marko,” Susan said. “He’s a sadist. Well. They all are.”
Susan told Anna about the night two weeks ago when Tony and Marko had abducted her and her friends, how Carly had gone crazy and Tony had killed her.
“An ‘object lesson,’ Tony called it. Oh, it got through to us, all right,” Susan said. “Then Tony said he was letting one of us go on an outing. He flipped a coin and Adele won. I wanted desperately to go, but I couldn’t be mad at Adele.
“Tony brought her new clothes and then, presto, drove her away. They let her leave.”
Anna asked, “Do you mean Adele Saran?”
“How did you know?”
“I’m sorry, Susan. Be glad you didn’t go.”
Anna told Susan what she’d seen on the news, that Adele had been killed and hanged from a tree. Susan clapped her hands over her mouth and cried. Anna put her arms around her new friend, and they clung to each other, grieving without making a sound.
When she could speak again, Susan said, “I don’t know why I believed Tony. I thought if I was sweet to him … I was so stupid.”
“You had hope,” Anna said. “They hadn’t destroyed it.”
Anna wondered if it was safe to have hope now.
In the dark, while the men slept, Susan and Anna discussed what they had to do to escape. Nothing was off-limits—violence, tricks, charm.
Together they checked the front door, as Susan had done before. Maybe this time the bastards had forgotten to lock it. No such luck. The shuttered windows were also locked. Their search in the foyer for cell phones in jacket pockets turned up nothing. Knives were locked in drawers.
At six in the morning Susan and Anna went to their bedrooms and got into bed with their captors.
At just before noon, Conklin and I paid a call on Taqueria del Lobo to let Mr. Martinez know that the lab had impounded his vehicle again.
Conklin opened the door and we walked into a shit-storm in progress.
Martinez was yelling at Lucinda Drucker in the front room, which was packed with customers.
“I told you, Lucy. I warned you. And now you gave my car to that asshole boyfriend of yours and the damned thing is still missing and now you’re fired. I’m calling the police—oh.
Officers. Here they are.”
I handed him the warrant and told him the bad news.
“Mr. Martinez, your vehicle was found at the scene of a crime.”
“Another one? Son of a bitch. You see what I’m saying, Lucy? You are such a dummy.”
Lucinda Drucker was crying now. “Mr. Martinez, please, I need my job.”
Conklin interrupted the shouting and crying to say, “Ah, Ms. Drucker, I have to speak with you for a moment. Outside.”
He led the sobbing woman out of the restaurant, and I took Martinez behind the counter to the kitchen doorway. As I gave the same news to Martinez that Conklin was delivering to Lucy, I was watching the late Denny Lopez’s girlfriend through the plate glass.
I saw Conklin talking to her, saw her jerk away from him, a look of horror on her face. She threw up her hands, like
Get away from me.
My partner reached out to her, and she pushed him off and backed away. Then she turned and lunged off the sidewalk, directly into the stream of traffic.
I shouted “Noooooo” from where I stood behind the counter. She couldn’t hear me, but Conklin was also shouting and moving fast. But Lucy was faster. I ran through the doorway and out onto the sidewalk just as the event unfolded.
Horns blared. Someone screamed, “Watch out!”
Its brakes squealing, a northbound car hit the young woman in stride, flinging her high and onto the hood of a car parked across the street. The sound of the impact was horrifying. But it wasn’t over. Cars were out of control and crashing, piling up.
I ran out to our cruiser, got my hands on the radio, and shouted the address to dispatch.
“I need paramedics now at my location. And send backup.”
By then Conklin had reached Lucy, and as I tried to cross the street to join him, I heard him saying her name, comforting her. I was relieved when I saw her try to sit up.
But the chaos continued. The driver of the car that hit Lucy was frantic, and her children were screaming.
The bus arrived and paramedics climbed out. Cruisers rolled up and blocked off the street. I filled in the patrol officers on the three-car collision, then retrieved Lucy’s handbag from Martinez and handed it to one of the paramedics.
Conklin and I were standing together in front of the taqueria when Lucy’s stretcher was loaded into the ambulance.
“You know what she told me?” said Conklin.
“‘I know Denny. He was a good man and he took care of me. Living without him isn’t worth it.’”
Jake Tuohy was in Interview 2 under protest.
We’d brought him in so he could give us a statement as to what he knew about the death of Dennis L. Lopez and the discovery of his body. He let us know that he’d pretty much had enough of all of us, civic duty be damned.
“We’re not going to extract your fingernails, Jake. We just need a statement for the record,” Conklin told him. “Tell us what you saw, did, and said. You’re being recorded. This is as good as being under oath.”
“I wasn’t planning on lying to you, Officer Con Job.”
“Inspector,” said Conklin, “not Officer.” He smiled. Unruffled as always.
Tuohy ran his fingers through his horseshoe-shaped fringe of hair and stared up at the ceiling.
“I’m asleep in the recliner in my office,” he said. “The bell rings. I say, ‘Aww, shit.’ I say it to myself, for the record. I was alone.”
“Then what?” I asked.
Tuohy had a way of making everything around him feel dirty. Even this plain, no-frills little interview room that got scrubbed every night felt greasy and covered in germs.
“Then,” he said, “because no one said, ‘Go back to sleep. I’ll get it,’ I got up and went out to the office. This whore was outside ringing the bell. I’ve seen her around with Denny. She goes by the name of Daisy Cakes or something. I don’t ask women of her persuasion for ID.”
“Go on,” Conklin said. “The bell rings. Daisy’s at the door.”
“She looks worse than usual,” Tuohy said. “She’s been crying. She tells me that Denny is dead. She insists I come with her to see, and I go and there’s his body.
“I figure, if she killed him, she’s not bringing me to see the evidence, okay? So I tell her I’m calling the police and go wait in my office. She says okay. I go look at the loser pimp’s body and call 911 and tell the operator to call you. Officer Boxer. And don’t bother to ask me did I kill the guy. I had no reason to, and besides, I was asleep.”
“Did Daisy offer any explanation for what happened to Lopez?” I asked him.
“Just what I already told 911 and what I told you. She was finished with her date. She calls Denny’s cell. He’s supposed to be waiting for her in the taco truck. He doesn’t answer. She gets dressed, waits near the van. Then she calls him again and hears his phone ringing. Goes to the vending area, finds his body. She runs to the office and there’s your full circle. She tells me all of that. I call and ask for you. And now here I am.”
Conklin said, “Any idea who might have wanted to kill Lopez?”
“Did you see anyone suspicious-looking hanging around?”
“All of them. Everyone in or around the place. But nobody’s going to have Jake Tuohy to kick around anymore. I quit my job. I’m moving to Ireland. I got people there. Letting you know
so you don’t get bent out of shape. I can’t stand this job, never liked it, but it’s getting to be too many bodies and trips to this place.”
Conklin asked for Tuohy’s forwarding address.
“Somewhere in Dublin. I’ll send you an email.” With that, he stood up from the aluminum chair, said “Good-bye and good luck,” and made for the door.
Conklin said, “Just one thing, Tuohy. And this is important. You’re not going to Ireland. Not until we say so.”
“Oh, I’m a suspect now? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m saying don’t quit your day job. Night job, either.”
Tuohy snorted and walked out.
I said, “Good one, Richie. Love to hear you explain that to his lawyer. Or anyone.”
My partner laughed. “I liked the way it sounded.”
I liked it, too.