Authors: J.A. Konrath
Also by J.A. Konrath
Whiskey So ur
This book is for Jim Coursey, who has been there for me since the beginning. Best friends forever, man!
2 oz vodka
1 tbsp dry vermouth
2 tbsp olive juice
Fill a mixer with all ingredients, including garnish.
Cover and shake hard 3–4 times.
Strain contents into a cocktail glass.
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this time, but he still has to be careful. The smaller the store, the more likely he’ll be remembered.
He’s dressed for the part. The mustache is fake. So is the shoulder-length hair. His facial jewelry is all clip-on, including the nose ring and the lip ring, and his combat boots have lifts in them, adding almost three inches to his height. He’s wearing a Guns N’ Roses T-shirt that he picked up at a thrift shop for a quarter, under a red flannel shirt that cost little more. The long sleeves hide the tube.
When they interview witnesses later, they’ll remember his costume, but not his features.
He picked a good time of day—the store is busy. The woman behind the counter is speaking German with one of the patrons, three people in line behind her. To the left, an old lady is pushing a small cart, scrutinizing some imported canned goods. In the rear of the store, a fat man is picking up a .5-liter bottle of Weihenstephaner beer.
At the deli section, he finds the cooler with the fresh fruit. Pretending as if he’s trying to decide, he eventually picks up a red apple.
He cradles the fruit in his left hand, avoiding the use of his fingertips. Palmed in his right hand, attached to the tube that runs up his sleeve, is the jet injector. It’s four inches long, shaped like a miniature hot glue gun. He touches the orifice to the surface of the apple. Pulls the trigger.
There’s a brief hissing sound, lasting a fraction of a second. He puts the apple back and selects another, repeating the process.
After doing four pieces of fruit, some potatoes, and a plastic container of yogurt, the jet injector needs to be armed again—something that will attract attention. He leaves the deli without buying anything, stepping out onto Irving Park Road and into the pedestrian traffic.
Ethnic stores are easy. He’s already done a supermarket in Chinatown, contaminating some star fruit and dried fish, and a Polish butcher shop on the West Side, injecting almost the entire stock of kielbasa. In Wrigleyville he visited a large chain grocery store and made quick work of some apples, pears, and packages of ground beef, mindful to keep his head lowered so the security cameras didn’t get any good facial shots. Just south of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile he paid for admission to the Art Institute and spent thirty minutes in the cafeteria, using his jet injector on practically everything—cartons of milk, juice boxes, fruit, candy bars—and when the clerk turned her head he sprayed a cloud burst into the nozzles of the soda pop machine.
He has two stops left: an all-you-can-eat buffet on Halsted, and another grocery store on the North Side. Then he’s done.
Tomorrow he has another eight stores picked out, news permitting. The incubation period is anywhere from a few hours to a few days. There’s a chance people will get sick sometime tonight. Paralysis is terrifying, and once it begins, the infected will rush to the hospital. Diagnosis isn’t easy, but the agent will eventually be discovered. Then the alphabets will be notified—the CDC, WHO, FBI, CPD.
If the panic spreads ahead of schedule, he’ll have to move up with the Plan and do the second round in a different way.
It will be interesting to see how things turn out.
He heads down Lincoln, stopping in a fast-food chain. In the bathroom he detaches the injector from the tube, placing it in his pocket. He washes his hands with soap and holds them under the air drier, which is labeled
For Your Sanitary Protection.
This prompts a smile. When he’s finished, he removes a moistened alcohol towelette and goes over his hands again.
At the counter, he orders a burger and fries, and eats while surreptitiously watching the kids frolic in the indoor playland.
Children’s parks are a cesspool of germs. All that openmouthed coughing and sneezing, all those sticky fingers wiping noses and then touching the slides, the ladders, the bin of a thousand plastic balls, each other. It’s practically a hot zone.
When he finishes eating, he returns to the bathroom, attaches the jet injector to the tube running up his sleeve, and lightly shakes the cylinder strapped to his waist under his shirt.
There’s plenty left.
He arms the injector using the key to torque back the spring, and walks out of the washroom over to the cubby where a dozen pairs of brightly colored kids’ shoes lie in wait. Getting down on one knee, he pretends he’s tying a lace.
Instead, he injects the rubber soles of five different shoes.
A small child pokes him from behind.
“That’s my shoe.”
He smiles at the boy. “I know. It fell on the floor. Here you go.”
The child takes the shoe, switches it to his other hand, and wipes his nose with his palm.
“Thanks,” says the boy.
The man stands up, winks, and heads north on Lincoln to catch the bus to the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Three Days Later
S THAT A REAL GUN
The little girl probably wasn’t much older than five, but I’m not good with children’s ages. She pointed at my shoulder holster, visible as I leaned into my shopping cart to hand a bag of apples to the cashier.
“Yes, it is. I’m a cop.”
“You’re a girl.”
“I am. So are you.”
The child frowned. “I know that.”
I looked around for her mother, but didn’t see anyone nearby who fit the profile.
“Where’s Mommy?” I asked her.
She gave me a very serious face. “Over by the coffee.”
“Let’s go find her.”
I told the teenaged cashier I’d be a moment. He shrugged. The little girl held out her hand. I took it, surprised by how small it felt. When was the last time I’d held a child’s hand?
“Did you ever shoot anyone?” she asked.
From the mouths of babes.
“Did they die?”
“No. I’ve been lucky.”
Her eyebrows crunched up, and she pursed her tiny lips.
“Criminals are bad people.”
“Yes, they are.”
“Shouldn’t they die?”
“Every life is important,” I said. “Even the lives of bad people.”
A woman, thirties, rushed out into the main aisle and searched left, then right, locking onto the girl.
“Melinda! What did I tell you about wandering off!”
She was on us in three steps. Melinda released my hand and pointed at me.
“I’m okay, Mommy. She’s got a gun.”
The mother looked at me and turned a shade of white appropriate for snowmen. I dug into my pocket for my badge case.
“Lieutenant Jack Daniels.” I showed her the gold star and my ID. “You’ve got a cute daughter.”
Her face went from fraught to relieved. “Thanks. Sometimes I think she needs a leash. Do you have kids?”
She opened her mouth, then closed it again. I watched her puzzle out what to say next.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” I said in my cop voice. Then I went back to my groceries. An elderly man, who’d gotten into the checkout line behind me, gave me a look I usually received from felons I’d busted.
“It’s about goddamn time,” he said.
“Police business,” I told him, flashing my star again. Then I made a show of looking into his cart. “Sir, this lane is for ten items or less. I’m counting thirteen items in your cart, including that hemorrhoid cream. And while hemorrhoids might give you a reason to be nasty, they don’t give you a reason to be in this lane.”
He scowled, used a five-letter word to express his opinion of people with two X chromosomes, and then wheeled his cart away.
Chicago. My kind of town.
I really missed living here.
Shopping in the suburbs was cheaper, less crowded, closer to home, and no one ever called me names. I tried it once, at a three-hundred-thousand-square-foot supermarket that sold forty-seven different varieties of potatoes and had carts with little video monitors that broadcast commercials and spit out coupons. Never again.
You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl.
I finished paying for my ten items or less and then left the grocery store. The weather hung in the mid-sixties, cloudy, cool for June. My car, an aging Chevy Nova that didn’t befit a woman of my stature or my style, was parked just up the street, next to a fire hydrant. I stuck my bags in the trunk, took a big gulp of wonderfully smoggy city air, and then started the beast and headed for the Eisenhower to battle rush hour traffic.
“Four more dead, bringing the death toll up to nine. Hundreds more botulism cases have been confirmed, and a city-wide panic has . . .”
I switched the radio station to an oldies channel, and let Roger Daltrey serenade me through the stop-and-go.
It took an hour to get to the house. It never took less.
By my rough calculation, I was averaging ten hours a week driving to and from work, so if I retired in ten years, I will have wasted over five thousand hours—two hundred days—in the car.
But, on the bright side, I had a big backyard that demanded to be mowed, trees that needed trimming, a clothes dryer in need of repair, a hole in the driveway, mice in the attic, a loose railing on the stairs, water damage in the basement, and flaking paint in the bedroom.
Lately, my sexual fantasies revolved around once again having a landlord. Looks, age, and hygiene didn’t matter, as long as he had a tool belt and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it.”
Being a homeowner sucked. Though officially, I wasn’t a homeowner. Chicago cops were required to live within the city limits, so the house was in my mother’s name. While far from feeble, Mom had recently had some medical problems, and we decided that it would be best if she moved in with me. She agreed, but insisted we buy a house in the suburbs. “Where it is less hectic,” she’d said.
As far as the city knew, I still had my apartment in Wrigleyville. A dangerous game to play, but I wasn’t the first cop to play it.
I exited the expressway onto Elmhurst Road, drove past several tiny strip malls—or perhaps it was one giant strip mall—and turned down a side street festooned with eighty-year-old oak and elm trees. There weren’t any streetlights, and the cloudy day and abundant foliage made it look like dusk, even though dusk was an hour away. I pulled into the driveway, pressed the garage door opener, pressed it again, pressed it one more time, said some bad words, then got out of the car.