A Deal With the Devil
“I knew you'd get in touch,” Annabelle Churchill says as she leans down toward her coffee. She blows some steam away, before trying to take a sip and then letting out a curse-word under her breath. “Fuck, this is still too hot! Fuck!”
“The police let them go,” I tell her, wincing at her strong language but not bothering to say anything. I suspect I'd be on a hiding to nothing, anyway. “They just let them walk away scot-free. They said there's nothing more they can do. Those were the actual words they used.”
“Let me guess.” She tries her coffee again, before leaning back in her chair. “Fernando Royas, a Spanish national, and his French fuck-buddy Agnes Bresson. If that's who you mean, then I can tell you right now that they were released yesterday afternoon, once their police interviews had been concluded.”
“Not even on bail. I managed to snag a copy of the interviews from an obliging source. They didn't say a goddamn thing that's worth listening to. Just forty-three minutes of blather from him, and thirty-five minutes of blather from her. Not even long interviews. Of course, it would've helped if the asshole cops had bothered to bring in some interpreters. Fernando and Agnes suddenly found it much, much harder to converse in English while they were being interviewed. Funny coincidence, huh? They seem pretty fluent the rest of the time.”
“I don't understand any of this,” I stammer. “The police should be helping, they should be out there hunting for Katie, but instead...”
My voice trails off as I think back to the shocking indifference I've encountered at every stage.
“Yeah, well,” Annabelle mutters, before blowing on her coffee again. “I've been around long enough to know that even by their usual standards, they're being particularly unhelpful this time around. Almost suspiciously so.”
“But those two awful -”
“They've been let go,” she continues. “It's very clear to me that they're being treated as witnesses, not suspects. Forget about them for now. They're not our focus.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask, trying not to panic. “They're the only people who can tell us what happened to Katie! They might have been the last people who saw her -”
I catch myself just in time, before I finish the sentence.
I was going to say they were the last people who saw Katie alive, but I know that would have been wrong. Deep down, in my heart of hearts, I know with absolute certainty that my daughter is still out there somewhere. There's still hope.
“The cops don't seem to think they knew anything,” Annabelle continues. “They talked to 'em and then they tossed 'em. I'm sure they asked for an address and a phone number, but that'll be about it.”
“How do you know all this?”
“Like I said.” She taps the side of her nose, before grabbing a bottle of ketchup from the table and holding it up for me to see. “Sources. I've still got a few friends in the department. There are still a few good, honest cops around who don't mind leaking stuff to me.”
A shudder passes through my chest as I realize that she seems to be telling the truth. Apparently, the police really aren't treating Katie's disappearance as a priority.
“Personally,” she continues, “I'm a little surprised. Actually
what happened would be a real step up for those assholes at the police station, but still, they usually at least pretend to give a damn. Right now, while you're the only person who's asking about Katie, I doubt the cops care about anything other than ticking the right boxes. The police here are a little different to your friendly local bobbies on the beat in Shropley.”
I take a deep breath. The breakfast diner is unbearably noisy, but Annabelle insisted that we meet here this morning after I called her a few hours ago. The dregs of London's night-life are all around us, falling asleep or passing out next to greasy breakfasts, and the place smells like a combination of rain-water and stale cigarettes. I hate being in such an awful establishment, especially when I spotted a perfectly nice-looking tearoom on the next street, but Annabelle seems to have her routines, and dragging people to this dump is apparently one of them. I just wish I'd never had to call her at all.
“You said they pulled some half-dude, half-goat thing out of the river,” she mutters, turning to a fresh page in her notebook. “How does that work?”
“I just told you what I saw,” I reply. “Listen, please, I need -”
“I need to get a photo of that,” she says, interrupting me as she makes a note. “Sounds wild. Poor guy. Poor goat too.”
“It was -”
“So where are the other parts?” she continues, interrupting me again. “Is there a dude's head sewn to a goat's body somewhere? That doesn't seem as freaky. It seems more... funny. Am I a bad person for thinking that? Am I going to hell?”
“Nothing about this is amusing!”
“Sure, sure.” She makes some more notes. “I'm still sending out feelers about all of that. It's not the first time something dodgy has been fished out of the river, and it won't be the last. I have a guy, a source who -”
“Of course you do,” I mutter under my breath.
“A guy who knows about stuff like this.” She taps at her phone. “I'm trying to track him down this morning so I can go get his opinion. Most secrets sink in the river, but occasionally you get one that doesn't get stuck in the mud and ends up bobbing back up to the surface. It's usually 'cause of a failed weighting attempt, coupled with gas in the stomach.”
Suddenly she leans back and pushes her belly out.
“Have you ever seen a really bloated corpse?” she asks, running her hands over her stomach. “You wouldn't believe how the gas builds and builds in the -”
“I really don't need to know that,” I tell her through gritted teeth.
“If there's no natural vent,” she continues, “the pressure becomes enormous. Obviously it has to get out some time, and when it does, basically it sounds like the corpse is farting. I know that's an awful thing to say, but whatever. And sometimes the pressure literally forces flesh and meat off the bone, de-gloving the entire -”
“I don't need to know that!” I say firmly. “Please!”
“Sorry.” She sits normally again. “I guess the most important thing is to determine how long the goat guy had been dead.”
“I called you because you told me you can get things done,” I tell her. “You gave a rather theatrical speech yesterday about how ineffective the police are, and about how I need someone like you if I'm going to find my daughter. Well, here I am.”
“Scraping the bottom of the barrel, huh?”
“I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt, but so far you don't seem to know anything at all. You're just asking me questions and making occasional vague, non-specific statements. You barely seem more engaged than the officers at the police station.”
She stares at her notes, before glancing at me. “Huh? Sorry, I zoned out. Your voice has that kinda bedtime-story quality. What did you say?”
“Forget it,” I mutter, getting to my feet. “This was a mistake.”
“Hold your horses!” she replies, pointing at the chair as if she wants me to sit down again. “I'm already onto Royas and Bresson, don't worry about that! I've dug up more dirt on those two assholes than the cops could gather in a month of Sundays. Believe me, Fernando Royas and Agnes Bresson ain't saints! They're into some dark shit, and if you wanna know what I know and what I find out later, then you're gonna have to sit down and listen! 'Cause even if the cops ever catch up to where I am right now, by then I'll be even further ahead. I know what I'm doing!”
I hesitate for a moment, wanting nothing more than to get out of here, but finally I sit back down.
“It's that fucking river every time,” she continues.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, it's that fucking -”
“I heard you, but -”
“Then why'd you interrupt?”
“Can you moderate your language a little?”
“The swearing and cursing are a little unnecessary,” I point out. “I'd greatly appreciate it if you could limit them to the absolute minimum.”
“You don't like how I talk?”
“I think it's lazy to use such words.”
I can't help sighing. “Fine. Whatever. Can you please tell me what's wrong with the river, and what any of this has to do with my daughter? And try not to use the f-word in the process. Thank you!”
She stares at me. “You're weird.”
I sigh again. There's really no point arguing with her. “Can you -”
“Fine, fine.” She flips back to a previous page in her notebook. “Fernando Royas has a long history of getting mixed up in dark sh -” She catches herself just in time. “In dark
,” she continues with a smile. “Is that better?”
“What kind of dark
“He hung with a couple of satanic groups in Spain and Portugal,” she replies, checking her notes again. “That was back in 2004, 2005. Nothing super-serious, but he definitely ran with the wrong crowd for a good chunk of time and got himself noticed by the local rozzers. After that, I think he was involved with some freaks and weirdos in Paris in 2008, but I'm not totally sure about the details. Could be something, could be nothing. Then he disappeared for a while, probably up to no good somewhere, before he washed up in London four years ago.”
“Satanic groups?” I reply, feeling a knot of fear in my chest. “As in...”
“Oh yeah,” she continues. “Serious, serious doo-doo. And he seems to have a habit of picking up impressionable girls every few years, girls who are easily impressed by his brooding garbage. I guess Agnes Bresson is the latest little bitch he's leading around. I don't have much on her so far, other than that she was expelled from a couple of private schools in the Marseilles area back in the late 2000s. She just seems like a stray rat, the kinda girl who follows junkies and idiots around, hoping for scraps from their tables. Now, none of that means she isn't dangerous, but Fernando definitely seems to be the more proactive of the pair. If one of them's leading the way, it'll be him.”
“And what does this have to do with Katie?” I ask.
“That's something I'm still working on. From what I can tell, Katie's a nice girl, not the kind to get involved with a pair of idiots, which begs the question of why she struck up a friendship with two of the biggest losers in the whole of London.”
“My daughter is no fool!” I point out.
“Sure she's not.” She flicks back earlier in her notebook and takes a moment to read something. “I just think maybe Fernando and Agnes got involved with her for some specific reason. Like they sought her out.” She pauses, reading one of the pages for a moment. “Did you know your daughter was a virgin?”
“I beg your -”
“She'd never indulged in the pleasures of the flesh,” she continues. “Pleasures of the battery, maybe, but not the flesh. I checked.”
“And how did you do that?”
“I got into her messages. Social media, email, all that guff.”
“I never gave you permission to do such an awful thing!” I tell her.
She rolls her eyes. “You never gave me
to go into yours, either. I did anyway.”
“I beg your -”
“You order from that online wine store a lot, Winnie. Can I call you Winnie?”
“And yet according to Google Maps, you live three doors down from a wine shop. What's wrong, are you embarrassed to be seen buying so much wine? Figure it's more socially acceptable to schedule late-night deliveries, so the neighbors won't notice? You must be on a bottle and a half, even two bottles a night.”
“This is an outrage!” I splutter. “How did you get into my email?”
She smiles. “Not all dark arts are satanic in nature.”
“I consider this to be a gross violation of my privacy!”
“Of course it is. I checked Katie's phone, too. She hasn't accessed it or even turned it on since Monday evening, just before midnight.”
I pause for a moment. “So does that mean you can't track its location?”
“Not until she turns it on again.
she turns it on. I have a tracker set up, so I'll know within thirty seconds if that happens.”
“Maybe she ran out of battery.”
“Maybe. Is her charger still in her apartment?”
Suddenly I remember seeing a phone charger plugged into the wall next to Katie's bed.
“I also managed to see her search history,” Annabelle continues, “and she was
a virgin. Turns out, she was one of those girls who wanna wait for the perfect guy to sweep them off their feet. She wanted her first time to be special, with a guy who loves her, on a bed of roses, nowhere near an alley outside a nightclub in Finchley when she's sixteen and just tried Jager-bombs for the first time.” She rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Anyway, according to some messages she exchanged with a friend named Anna last year, Katie was starting to have doubts. She was thinking that maybe she should just jump into bed with some guy, any guy, and get it over with. Better late than never, if you ask me. Virginity's like a band-aid, you wanna rip it right off!”