Read The Reapers: A Thriller-CP-7 Online

Authors: John Connolly

Tags: #Mystery & Detective - General, #Irish Novel And Short Story, #Assassins, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Espionage, #General, #Suspense, #Murderers, #Thrillers, #Suspense fiction, #Fiction, #thriller

The Reapers: A Thriller-CP-7 (4 page)

BOOK: The Reapers: A Thriller-CP-7
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They ditched the Olds four blocks away in favor of their own Lexus. The car boasted a Sirius satellite radio and, by mutual agreement, each was allowed to choose a station on alternate evenings and the other was not allowed to complain about the selection. Tonight was Angel’s choice, so they listened to First Wave all the way back to Manhattan. And thus the journey home passed in an almost companionable silence.

Farther south, the second link in the chain of killings was about to be forged. There were only a handful of people in the bar when the predator entered, and he spotted his kill almost immediately: a sad, overweight little man with beaten-down shoulders, balding and sweaty, wearing a pair of brown trousers that had seen neither an iron nor a laundry in at least a week, and brown brogues that had probably cost him a lot some years before but that he could now no longer afford to replace. He was nursing a bourbon, the faintest trace of amber liquid coloring the melted ice at the bottom of the glass. At last, resignedly, he drained it. The bartender asked him if he wanted another. The fat man checked his wallet, then nodded. A generous shot was poured for him, but then the bartender could afford to be generous. It came from the cheapest bottle on the shelf.

The predator took in every detail of the fat man: his stubby fingers, the wedding band embedded in the flesh of one; the twin handles of fat at his sides; the belly that flopped over the cheap leather belt; the sweat marks beneath the arms of his shirt; the sheen of perspiration on his face, his forehead, his pate.

Because you’re always sweating, aren’t you? Even in winter, you sweat, the effort of hauling around your soft, gelatinous bulk almost too much for your heart to bear. You sweat when you wear a T-shirt and shorts in summer, and when the snow comes you sweat beneath layers of clothing. What is your wife like, I wonder? Is she fat and repugnant like you or has she tried to keep her figure in the hope that she might attract someone better while you’re out on the road, even if that someone merely uses her for a night? (For she will surely be using him in return.) Do you think about those possibilities as you hustle from town to town, barely eking out a living, always laughing harder than you should, paying for drinks that you can’t afford in order to curry favor, picking up the tab at restaurants that others choose in the hope that an order might follow?

You have spent your life running, little man, always praying that the big break will come, but it never does. Well, your problems are about to come to an end. I am your salvation. The predator ordered a beer, but it was just for show and he barely touched it. He didn’t like his faculties to be dulled when he worked, not even fractionally. He caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror against the wall: tall, hair graying, body lean beneath his leather jacket and dark trousers. His complexion was sallow. He liked to follow the sun, but the demands of his chosen vocation meant that such a luxury was not always possible.

After all, people sometimes had to be killed in places where the sun was not shining, and his bills had to be paid.

Yet pickings had been thin these last few months. In truth, he was mildly concerned. It had not always been thus. Once, he had enjoyed a considerable reputation. He had been a Reaper, and that name had carried a certain weight. Now he still had a reputation, but it was not entirely a good one. He was known as a man with certain appetites who had simply learned to channel them into his work, but who was sometimes overcome by them. He understood that he had overstepped the mark at least once during the past twelve months. The kill was supposed to have been simple and fast, not protracted and painful. It had caused confusion, and had angered those who had hired him. Since then, work had become less plentiful, and without work his appetites needed to find another outlet.

He had been following the kill for two days. It was practice as much as pleasure. He always thought of them as “kills.” They were never targets, and he never used the word “potential.” As far as he was concerned, once he focused upon them they were already dead. He could have chosen a more challenging individual, a more interesting kill, but there was something about the fat man that repelled him, a lingering stench of sadness and failure that suggested the world would be no poorer without him. By his actions, the fat man had drawn the predator to him, like the slowest animal in the herd attracting the attention of a cheetah. And so they stayed that way, predator and prey sharing the same space, listening to the same music, for almost an hour, until the fat man rose to go to the men’s room, and the time came to end the dance that had begun forty-eight hours earlier, a dance in which the fat man did not even know he was a participant. The predator followed him, keeping ten paces back. He allowed the men’s room door to settle in its frame before entering. Only the fat man was inside, standing at a urinal, his face creased with effort and pain.

Bladder trouble. Kidney stones, perhaps. I will end it all.

The doors to both stalls were open as the predator approached. There was nobody inside. The knife was already in his hand, and he heard a satisfying click, the sound of a blade locking into position.

And then, a second later, the sound came again, and he realized that the first click had not come from his own blade, but the blade of another. The speed of his every motion increased, even as his throat suddenly grew dry and he heard the pounding of his heart. The fat man was also moving now, his right hand a blur of pink and silver, and then the predator felt a pressure at his chest, followed by a sharp pain that quickly spread through his body, paralyzing him as it grew, so that when he tried to walk his legs would not answer the signals from his brain and instead he collapsed on the cold, damp tiles, his knife falling from the fingers of his right hand as his left clasped the horned handle of the throwing blade now lodged in his heart. Blood pumped from the wound and began to spread upon the floor. A pair of brown brogues carefully stepped aside to avoid the growing stain.

With all of his failing strength, the predator raised his head and stared into the face of the fat man, but the fat man was not as he had once seemed. Fat was now muscle, slumped shoulders were straight, and even the perspiration had disappeared, evaporating into the cool evening air. There was only death and purpose, and for an instant the two had become one. The predator saw scarring at the man’s neck, and knew that he had been burned at some time in the past. Even as the predator lay dying, he began to make associations, to fill in the blanks.

“You should have been more careful, William,” said the fat man. “One should never confuse business with pleasure.”

The predator made a sound in his throat, and his mouth moved. He might have been trying to form words, but no words would come. Still, the fat man knew what he was trying to say.

“Who am I?” he said. “Oh, you knew me once. The years have changed me: age, the actions of others, the surgeon’s knife. My name is Bliss.”

The predator’s eyes rolled in desperation as he began to understand, and his fingers clawed at the tiled floor in a vain effort to reach his knife. Bliss watched for a moment, then leaned down and twisted the blade in the predator’s heart before pulling it free. He wiped the blade upon the dead man’s shirt before taking a small glass bottle from the inside pocket of his jacket and holding it to the wound in the predator’s chest, using a little pressure to increase the flow. When the bottle was full, he screwed a cap on it and left the men’s room, his body changing as he walked, becoming once again the torpid, sweaty carrier of a failure’s soul. Nobody, not even the bartender, looked at him as he left, and by the time the predator’s body was found and the police summoned, Bliss was long gone.

The final killing took place on a patch of bare ground about twenty miles south of the St. Lawrence River in the northern Adirondacks. This was land shaped by fire and drought, by farming and railroads, by blowdowns and mining. For a time, iron brought in more revenue than lumber, and the railroads cut a swath through the forests, the sparks from their smokestacks sometimes starting fires that could take as many as five thousand men to bring under control. One of those old railroads, now abandoned, curved through a forest of hemlock, maple, birch, and small beech before emerging into a patch of clear ground, a relic of the Big Blowdown of 1950 that had never been repaired. Only a single hemlock had survived the storm, and now a man knelt in its shadow upon the damp earth. Beside him was a gravestone. The kneeling man had read the name carved upon it when he was brought to this place. It had been displayed for him in a flashlight’s beam, before the beating had begun. There was a house in the distance, lights burning in one of the upper windows. He thought that he had seen a figure seated at the glass, watching as they tore him apart methodically with their fists. They had taken him in his cabin near Lake Placid. There was a girl with him. He had asked them not to hurt her. They had bound and gagged her and left her weeping in the bathroom. It was a small mercy that they had not killed her, but no such mercy would be shown to him. He could no longer see properly. One eye had closed itself entirely, never to reopen, not in this world. His lips had split, and he had lost teeth. There were ribs broken: he had no idea how many. The punishment had been methodical, but not sadistic. They had wanted information and, after a time, he had provided it. Then the beating had stopped. Since then, he had remained kneeling on the soft earth, his knees slowly sinking into the ground, presaging the final burial that was to come.

A van appeared from the direction of the house. It followed a well-worn track to the grave, then stopped. The back doors opened, and he heard the sound of machinery as a ramp was lowered. The kneeling man turned his head. An elderly, hunched figure was being pushed slowly down the ramp in a wheelchair. He was swaddled in blankets like a withered infant, and his head was protected from the evening chill by a red wool hat. His face was almost totally obscured by the oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, fed by a tank mounted on the back of the chair. Only the eyes, brown and milky, were visible. The chair was being pushed by a man in his early forties, who halted when the chair was feet from where the kneeling man waited. The old man removed his mask with trembling fingers.

“Do you know who I am?” he asked.

The kneeling man nodded, but the other continued as though he had not given an answer. He pointed a finger at the gravestone.

“My firstborn, my son,” he said. “You had him killed. Why?”

“What does it matter?” He struggled to enunciate.

“It matters to me.”

“Go to hell.” The effort made him lips begin to bleed again. “I’ve told them all that I know.”

The old man held the mask to his face and drew a rasping breath before he spoke again.

“It took me a long time to find you,” he said. “You hid yourself well, you and the others responsible. Cowards, all of you. You thought I’d lose myself in grief, but I did not. I never forgot, never stopped searching. I swore that their blood would be spilt upon his grave.”

The kneeling man looked away and spat on the ground beneath the stone. “Finish it,” he said. “I don’t care about your grief.”

The old man raised an emaciated hand. A shadow passed over the kneeling man and two shots were fired into his back. He fell forward onto the grave, and his blood began to seep into the ground. The old man nodded contentedly to himself.

“It has begun.”

CHAPTER TWO

WILLIE BREW STOOD IN the men’s room of Nate’s Tap Joint and stared at himself in the battered mirror above the similarly battered sink. He decided that he didn’t look sixty. In the right light, he could pass for fifty-five. Okay, fifty-six. Unfortunately, he had yet to find that particular light. It certainly wasn’t in Nate’s men’s room, where the light was so bright that taking a leak felt like it was being performed under interrogation. Willie was bald. He had lost most of his hair by the time he was thirty. After that, he’d experimented with various ways of disguising his baldness: combovers, hats, even a wig. He’d gone for an expensive one, the kind made from realistic-looking fibers. He figured he’d picked the wrong color or something, because even little kids used to laugh at him, and the guys who hung around the auto shop when they had nothing better to do, which was most of the time, had opened a book on the various shades of red his head assumed as he passed through the light and shade of the garage. Willie had enough troubles without becoming an object of amusement for the seldom gainfully employed, like some Coney Island freak: “Come see the Wig Guy: A Modern Marvel. All the Colors of the Rainbow…” He’d thrown away the wig after six months. Now he was just happy if his head didn’t shine too brightly in public. He tugged at the skin below his cheekbones. There were deep-set wrinkles around his mouth and eyes that might have passed for laughter lines if Willie Brew was the kind of guy who did a whole lot of laughing, which he wasn’t. Willie did a brief count of the lines and wondered just how funny someone would have to find the world to build up that many wrinkles. Anyone who found the world that amusing was insane. There were broken veins on his nose, relics of his troubled middle years, and a few of his teeth felt loose. Somewhere along the path of life, he had also picked up a couple of extra chins.

Perhaps he did look sixty after all.

His eyesight remained good, although this merely enabled him to see more clearly the effects of the aging process upon him. He wondered if people with bad eyesight ever saw themselves as they truly were. Bad eyesight was the equivalent of those soft filters they used to take pictures of movie stars. You could have a third eye in the center of your forehead and, as long as it didn’t see any better than the other two, you could fool yourself into believing that you looked like Cary Grant.

He stepped back and examined his paunch, supporting it with his hands like an expectant mother showing off her bump, an image that made him quickly release his grip and wipe his hands instinctively on his pants, as though he’d been caught doing something dirty. He’d always had a paunch. He was just one of those guys. From the time he came out of the womb, he’d looked like his diet consisted entirely of pizza and beer, which wasn’t true. Willie actually ate pretty well for a single man. The problem was that he led what Arno, his assistant, described as a “classic indolent lifestyle,” which Willie took to mean that he didn’t run around in Spandex like a moron. Willie tried to picture himself in Spandex, and decided that he’d already had too much to drink if that was the kind of thing he was imagining alone in a men’s room on his birthday night. He had changed out of his bib overalls for the occasion, which had been traumatic in itself. Willie was a guy born for overalls. They were loose fitting, which was important for a man of his age and girth. They gave him useful pockets in which to keep things, and a place to store his hands when he wasn’t using them without looking like a slob. Out of overalls, everything felt too tight, and he had too much stuff and too few holes in which to keep it. Tonight, he bulged in places where a man shouldn’t bulge.

BOOK: The Reapers: A Thriller-CP-7
12.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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