Authors: J.A. Konrath
Tags: #Thrillers, #Fiction
Available in paperback, hardcover, mp3, audio cd, and text downloads
Available exclusively at JAKonrath.com
55 Proof – Collected Stories
by JA KONRATH
Copyright © 2007 by Joe Konrath
Introduction copyright © 2007 by Joe Konrath Cover copyright © by Joe Konrath
All right reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Joe Konrath.
First Edition: September 2007
The book you’re now reading has never been conventionally published.
Let me backtrack a little.
In 1999 I landed a literary agent with a technothriller novel called
, about the United States government keeping Satan in an underground research facility in New Mexico.
was my seventh novel, and arguably the first I’d written that was any good. The other six never got published, though they did garner me more than 400 rejections. Apparently
wasn’t good enough either, because it was rejected by damn near every editor in New York.
Undaunted, I wrote another technothriller, blending in elements of science, mystery, and humor.
, in my opinion, was better than
Not only was it trendy, tying in closely to the work being done on the Human Genome Project, but it had more heart than its predecessor.
It was also long. Too long.
My agent sent it out as-is, and we got a nibble from a large publisher, who would only consider the book if I cut about 40,000 words.
It hurt, but I did it.
They liked it a little better, but still thought another 10,000 should go.
This hurt even more, but taught me some very valuable lessons about what is necessary and what is superfluous in a narrative.
By the time I was finished,
was lean and mean.
The publisher decided to pass.
Before I burst a blood vessel, my agent wisely encouraged me to put the book away and work on something else. I eventually did wind up selling
the first in the Jack Daniels series, and have been writing those thrillers since 2003.
have always been in the back of my mind.
Every so often I’d take them out and tinker with them, and eventually I put them on my website as free ebook downloads.
The reader response took my by surprise. The books have been downloaded more than a thousand times each in just a few months. I’m humbled and flattered by the attention these two failures have gotten, and have answered quite a bit of email about them. The question people most often ask is, “When will these be published?”
I still don’t have an answer to that. But with modern printing technology being so easy and cheap, and because the majority of the people who read the ebooks printed up their own copies, I decided to offer a choice.
Readers can continue to download these books for free, or they can buy signed copies directly from me.
Origin, The List, Disturb,
and my short story collection
aren’t available in bookstores, or libraries, or anywhere other than JAKonrath.com. They don’t have ISBN numbers or bar codes. They haven’t been catalogued by the Library of Congress. They haven’t been professionally typeset, or edited. But fans, collectors, and completests have asked for them, so here they are.
in its truncated form, rather that the uncut version, because I believe the cuts enforced upon me made the book better. I’ve also gone through it several times since those initial rejections, fixing and rewriting and editing to make it better. This is my final version. Unless, of course, someone decides to publish it for real one day.
I hope you enjoy it, and would love to hear what you think. This book contains some of my favorite scenes and characters of all I’ve written so far. And as science continues to discover more about human physiology, the central theme of
becomes less fictional and more real every day…
The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to
every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been
born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and
spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
“I found the head.”
Tom Mankowski, Chicago Homicide Detective Second Class, pushed the chair aside and squinted into the darkness under the desk.
The two uniforms who were first on the scene flanked him.
The patrolman to his left flicked on his Maglite, letting the beam play across the head’s slack and pale features. Tom righted his lanky frame and turned his attention back to the lounger on the other side of the apartment. The body was bound to the chair with duct tape, torso leaning slightly forward, blood still trickling from the neck stump. All of the fingers on its left hand were severed.
Ugly way to die.
Tom’s hazel eyes tracked the carpet in a line from the lounger to the desk. There was a blood trail, and an odd one at that. He had been expecting a pattern of drops indicating the head had been carried.
Instead there was a repeating arc pattern.
“I want a door-to-door on this entire floor and the one below it,”
Tom told the uniforms. “Then sweep the alley and check all the dumpsters. Wear gloves.”
“Uh, we’re off duty in twenty minutes.”
“Not anymore. Check all Dumpsters in a two block radius. There’s no way the perp left this apartment without getting blood on him.
Maybe he ditched clothes or a weapon. Call the district and get four more guys to help, on my authority. You can put in an overtime request tomorrow morning when you give me the reports.”
They headed for the door, grumbling.
“Hold on. Other than the front door, did you touch anything when you arrived?”
“Naw. The superintendent opened the door, we saw the vic and called it in. Then we stood around until you showed up to send us on Dumpster duty.”
“You didn’t turn off the TV? Or a stereo?”
The first guy adjusted his cap. “Oh yeah. I did. The CD player was cranked up all the way. Some classical crap.”
“Make sure it’s in the report.”
Tom dismissed them and turned his attention back to the body.
Forcing detachment, he examined the wound to the neck. There were no tears or ragged edges in the skin, just a continuous smooth cut. Tom had never seen anything like it before.
“Morning, Tommy. Coffee?”
Detective Roy Lewis entered the apartment and handed his partner a Styrofoam cup with a gas station logo on it. At six foot two, Roy was the same height as Tom, but that was their only shared trait. Roy was black, bald, with broad shoulders and a round face sporting a thick mustache. Tom was white to the point of pale, thin and angular, with sandy hair that was a touch too short for a ponytail.
Roy’s jacket was dotted with droplets, some of them still snowflakes. It was the first week of April, but winter didn’t seem to know that.
“Why is it when I buy coffee, it’s
, and when you do it’s
“Because I’m a cheap bastard. What do we got here?”
“Vic is a male Caucasian, name of Thomas Jessup. Woman in the apartment below called 911 because blood was dripping from her ceiling.”
Roy grimaced at the body, then took a sip from his cup. “Where’s the head?”
“It rolled under the desk. I think the perp used some kind of sword. One cut. Clean.”
“Not that clean.”
Tom’s stomach did a slow roll. Though he’d been in Homicide for six years, he still wasn’t comfortable around bodies, especially the messy ones. Bad coffee made the nausea even worse. Tom stuck out his tongue and fingered off a line of coffee grounds. Not wanting to contaminate the scene, he wiped the dregs in his shirt pocket.
“This is like drinking sand.”
“Yeah. It looked awful. That’s why I got me a Coke. So what’s up with the fingers?”
“Tortured. Perp took them off one at a time, then used twist ties to stop the bleeding. Music was up loud so no one heard the screams.”
“Who was this poor guy, make someone want to cut off his fingers and lop off his head?”
“Let’s find out.”
Tom choked down the rest of his coffee and put the cup in his jacket pocket. Then he snapped on a pair of latex gloves. His partner did the same.
While they tossed the place, several techies showed up and began to take pictures and collect samples. The ME arrived shortly thereafter, formality making him take the corpse’s pulse.
“Should we start CPR?” Roy asked.
The Medical Examiner ignored him.
Tom took the bedroom, and after a few minutes of poking though drawers found out that Thomas Jessup worked at the main branch of the Chicago Public Library. Check stubs put his standard of living at slightly more than average. A bank statement revealed only a few hundred in savings, but bills were paid in full and on time. The heat kicked on automatically, blowing around the strong smell of violent death. Tom checked out the bathroom, and after a thorough search he bent over the sink and splashed some water onto his face. The coffee felt like acid in his gut.
Afterward he joined Roy in the kitchen. “Anything?”
“This guy was a boy scout. No booze, no smokes, no drugs, no fatty foods in the fridge. A ton of books, not one of them with dirty pictures. What’d he do?”
“Figures. You find any girl stuff?”
“Nope. If he had a girlfriend, they weren’t intimate. At least not here. No women’s clothing, no extra toothbrush.”
“Found his wallet. On the computer. Sixty bucks inside. Poor guy just turned thirty. Hey, ain’t your big three-oh coming up this week?”
Tom frowned. “Thanks for the reminder.”
He looked in the cabinet under the sink and found half a box of garbage bags. They were the more expensive brand with the built-in handle—no twist tie needed. The perp must have brought his own to the scene. An earlier check of the front door didn’t show any signs of a break-in. Someone Jessup knew and let inside?
Tom went back into the living room. The asses-and-elbows atmosphere of a murder investigation was in full swing, with almost a dozen professionals stepping over each other to do their jobs. A guy with a portable vacuum picked up hairs and fibers. A woman dusted for prints. A team armed with a spray bottle and an alternative light source illuminated blood droplets on the ceiling. All while a crime scene photographer snapped away and another techie videotaped everything.
In the center of the action, the Medical Examiner—a pale, thin, cadaverous looking man named Phil Blasky—was orchestrating the removal of the body. The duct tape was carefully unwound, cut into one foot strips, and bagged. It would be examined back at the lab. A stretcher, complete with body bag, was wheeled in. Once the body was freed from the chair, two cops donning plastic ponchos lifted it onto the cart.
“Now this is interesting.”
The ME was bent over the legs, examining a bare foot. Tom got a closer look.
“I thought it was something he stepped on, but apparently it’s a tattoo. It looks old.”
“A tattoo? Where?” Tom’s voice came out higher-pitched than he would have preferred.
“It’s on the pad of the left heel. A blue number, about an inch long. The number 7.”
Tom looked at the foot and paled. A lump in his throat made him unable to speak.
“I wonder what that means.”
He’d seen a similar tattoo. Also blue, about an inch long. The number 5.
He’d been seeing it on a daily basis for almost thirty years.
It was on the bottom of his own left foot.
Phillip Stang stared at the ceiling. His frail body desperately needed sleep, but he refused to give in. He was waiting for news.
The widescreen plasma TV played an old black and white war movie. Stang had muted it some time ago. The only sound in the room was the faint beeping and whirring of the machines that kept him alive.
He lifted a pale hand to scratch his nose, then shifted on the bed from his one bad side to his other bad side. The pain moved in unison.
The voice startled him, even though the volume on the intercom was set to low.
“Your son is on the phone.”
Stang picked up the receiver. It was cold and heavy. When he spoke, his voice didn’t betray the weakness or exhaustion he felt.
“It's two in the morning. You couldn't call sooner?”