Authors: Andrew Klavan
Tags: #Thrillers, #Fiction
A Killer in the Wind
IN THE WIND
The Mysterious Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Copyright © 2013 by Andrew Klavan
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Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America
The Mysterious Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Distributed by Publishers Group West
This book is for Bill Korchinski and Cynthia Withers.
My sincere thanks to Chris Saffran for helping me better understand police procedures and the organization and methodology of the NYPD. And to Toby Bateson for patiently explaining various avenues of criminal investigation. Thanks as well to Cynthia Withers, MD, for her medical expertise.
My thanks as always to my agent Robert Gottlieb of Trident Media and my editor Otto Penzler.
And thanks beyond words to my wife Ellen Treacy, whose worth is far above rubies.
A Killer in the Wind
AYBE IT WAS
he dark house on the edge of town, the murderer waiting for me inside, but I thought about the ghosts that night, that last April night before they all came back to haunt me.
We had gotten a warrant a week before. Out of Tennessee. A killer in the wind. Frank Bagot, his name was. He had beaten a girl to death in Nashville—God knows why. Had outrun the police when they moved in on him, shooting one officer in the leg, shattering his shinbone. He was armed and dangerous, without much to lose. And I had a feeling from the start he’d be heading my way.
He had a sister in my little corner of downstate New York, that’s why—that’s why I was expecting him. Bess MacIntyre. In her thirties. Mother of two. Managed the home department at Wal-Mart. She’d crossed my path a couple of times: a harried bottle-blonde with an edge of tenderness I kind of admired. Losing her looks early—which was probably just as well, since her looks hadn’t helped her much but only drew in a string of men with the sort of personalities that would’ve been much improved by a shovel to the back of the head. The last one—the last man, I mean, two or three in after the MacIntyre who’d left her with his name and the second kid—was a local lowlife, Harvey Salem. Took to cooking up meth in the little toolshed in her backyard. Finally, one day Harvey fireballed the shed and blew himself home to Jesus, assuming Jesus was in one of his forgiving moods. I caught the investigation. Took me about seventeen seconds to find the cash he’d hung up in the septic riser. I glanced down at it, glanced up—and saw Bess watching me from the house window. That was about a year’s pay to her in that plastic bag down there. No way she’d be able to keep the house without it. I just closed that riser right up again. Investigation over.
So I’m not saying she owed me, but she did owe me and she knew it. That’s why I figured when brother Frank came to her looking for a place to hide, I might be the best one to go see her and smoke him out.
And so it came to pass. Because that’s the thing about being a fugitive: You can’t run away from your own life. Oh, it’s easy enough to disappear in this country. You slip your local cops, leave the state, get a fake ID, you’re gone. On television shows, a hunted man has to always be looking over his shoulder wherever he goes. Police are watching for him on every corner, newscasters are putting his picture on TV, helicopters are flying around searching the area, and so on. Maybe it would be like that in real life too, if police had the same budgets as television shows. But, of course, in real life, we haven’t got the manpower or the time. I’ve got enough trouble patrolling my own territory without looking for trouble that escaped from someone else’s. And the newscasters—well, they have too many drunken starlets to talk about for them to waste time helping us catch Frank Bagot. Hell, the girl Frank punched to death never even made a music video. Why should the media waste time covering her?
No, a man like Bagot can easily slip into oblivion. All he has to do is cut the strings that tie him to his existence.
But he can’t do it. Nine times out of ten, those strings bind him. Wait around long enough, keep your eyes open, and one of these days, he’s going to send his mom a birthday card, or drop in on an old girlfriend or borrow money from his brother or hide out with Sis—not because he’s sentimental or horny or broke or has nowhere else to go, but just because his life has a hold on him, his past has a hold on him, the past shaped his desires and so his desires draw him back into the past.
So that’s where I’d be waiting for him.
All I had to do after I saw the warrant was keep tabs on Bess’s bank activity and credit cards. Sure enough, exactly seven days after Bagot went invisible in the South, Bess’s food bill at the A&P skyrocketed and I knew he’d come to see her.
It was late evening when I got the word. I was alone in the Sheriff’s Department’s BCI—the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. I went out into Processing and found Deputy Hank Dunn typing up his dailies.
“Deputy Dunn. You want to go catch a mad-dog killer?” I asked him.
Deputy Dunn is about twelve years old, or maybe twenty. He looks like a crew cut and an Adam’s apple pasted to the top of a stalk of corn. But there’s an eager mind and the makings of a noble heart in there somewhere, so he practically leapt to his feet, as I expected he would.
Only later, sitting in the passenger seat of the Beamer 5 heading out to Bess’s house, did it occur to him to have second thoughts. Probably thinking about Sally, the schoolteacher he was engaged to, who was well worth thinking about.
We were on a stretch of Route 52 outside of Tyler. Forest close to the road on either side of us. No houses in sight. No light but the headlights and a three-quarters moon disappearing and reappearing from behind the treetops.
“So who’re we really after?” Deputy Dunn asked me with a nervous laugh. “You find your gas thieves finally?”
“I wouldn’t lie to you, Hank. It’s a lady killer,” I told him. “Fugitive out of Tennessee. This woman we’re going to see, Bess MacIntyre—she’s his sister.”
“Well, that doesn’t mean he’s out there, does it?”
“He’s out there. She’s been buying him groceries.”
Deputy Dunn went quiet. I glanced over at him from behind the wheel. Saw the Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in the cornstalk. Smiled to myself in the dark as I faced forward and guided the blue Beamer round another turn. I was almost twenty years older than he was, nearly forty, but I remembered what it was like to go into action for the first time—real action, violent action. Hard to tell the difference between excitement and fear. Maybe there is no difference.
“Shouldn’t we have some backup?” Deputy Dunn said after a while. “I mean, if you’re not just putting me on. If it really is a killer. We could have the staties send tactical.”
“Seems a lot of taxpayer money to waste on one scumbag.”
“Right,” he said—trying to laugh like he meant it. Then, after another pause: “Guess you got used to this sort of thing down in the city.”
“I won’t let you get killed, Dunn,” I said. “And if you do, I’ll take good care of Sally for you.”
“She’ll never even miss you.”
“Thanks. I feel a
lot better now.”
“That’s what I’m here for, my friend. I’m glad we could have this little talk.”
I turned the Beamer 5 off the highway onto Lawrence Post Road and off the Post Road onto the long dirt drive that bounced down between forest and swampland toward Bess’s place. Middle of nowhere. Had to ease off on the gas to make it over the corrugation without dropping a strut. Over the
of the tires—even with the car windows up and the air on—I could hear the racket of frogs and crickets in the nearby swamp water. I could see the house lights through the trees, then the house itself, the gibbous moon bright in the April sky just above it.
“Vest in the back,” I said to Dunn.
I didn’t have to tell him twice. He popped his seat belt and practically climbed back there to get at the Kevlar.
As he worked the body armor on, the Beamer 5 bounced over a last stretch of road. We came into the open dirt space Bess used for a driveway. Both her cars were there: her rusty, trusty ’94 Accord —and it was somehow just like Bess to own the most stolen car in America—and the old Mazda pickup Harvey the meth man left her when he metamorphosed into a cloud of cold medicine and dust.
I turned the Beamer sideways at the end of the road and shut her down. I unlocked the LTR, the black tactical rifle, from the rack between the two front seats.
“Take that,” I told Dunn. “Stay behind the cars. If anybody kills me, you kill him right back and teach him a lesson, you hear me?”
“Yeah,” he managed to say, taking out the rifle.
“Move as close to the house as you can under cover, but make sure our boy’s not sleeping in the back of the Honda or the truck bed so he doesn’t pop up and blow your brains out. Or, even worse, mine.”
“And hey, there are kids in there, by the way. A six-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl who say their prayers and believe in Santa Claus. So if you decide to shoot someone by accident, try to make it yourself.”