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 (7 page)

BOOK: The Reapers: A Thriller-CP-7
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In his company, Willie called him Charlie, and Arno called him Mr. Parker. Once upon a time people had called him Bird, but that was a nickname from his days on the force, and Angel had told Willie that he didn’t care for it. But when he wasn’t around, Willie and Arno always referred to him as “the Detective.” They had never discussed it, never agreed between themselves that that was what he should be called. It had just emerged naturally over time. That was how Willie always thought of him: the Detective, with a capital D. It had the right ring of respect about it. Respect, and maybe just a little fear.

The Detective didn’t look too threatening, not at first glance. There he differed from Louis, who would still have looked threatening to a casual observer even if he’d been surrounded by dancing fairies and dicky birds. The Detective was slightly taller than average, maybe five-ten or so. His hair was dark, almost black, with gray seeping in around the temples. There were scars on his chin and beside his right eye. He looked to be of medium build, but there was muscle under there. His eyes were blue, shading to green depending upon how the light caught them. The pupils were always small and dark. Even when he seemed to be relaxed, as he was now at Willie’s party, there was a part of him that remained guarded and hidden, that was wound so tight his eyes wouldn’t even let the light in. They were the sort of eyes, Willie thought, that made people look away. Some folk, you caught their eyes and maybe you smiled at them instinctively, because if that stuff about the eyes being the windows of the soul was true then what was at the heart of those people was essentially good, and that somehow communicated itself to whomever they met. The Detective was different. Not that he wasn’t a good man: Willie had heard enough about him to understand that he was the kind who didn’t like to turn away from another’s pain, the kind who couldn’t put a pillow over his ears to drown out the cries of strangers. Those scars he had were badges of courage, and Willie knew that there were others hidden beneath his clothes, and still more deep inside, right beneath the skin and down to the soul. No, it was just that whatever goodness was there coexisted with rage and grief and loss. The Detective struggled against the corruption of that goodness by those darker elements, but he did not always succeed, and you could see the evidence of that struggle in his eyes.

“Hey.” It was Arno. “The hell is wrong with you tonight? You look like the IRS just called.”

Willie shrugged. “Guess it’s hitting an age with a zero at the end. Makes you thoughtful.”

“Like you’re gonna start making me coffee in the morning, and asking me how I slept?”

Willie punched him on the arm. “No, you knucklehead. Thoughtful, like when you start thinking about stuff, remembering.”

“Well, stop it. It never helped you before, and you’re too old to start getting good at it now.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” A beer was thrust into his hand, a Brooklyn Lager. He’d begun to drink it only recently. He liked the idea that there was an independent brewery over in Williamsburg once again, and he felt that he should support it. It helped that the stuff they brewed there tasted good, so it wasn’t like he had to make any allowances. He cast a final look at the three men in the corner. Angel returned it and raised his glass in salute. Beside him, Louis did the same, and Willie lifted his bottle in acknowledgment. A feeling of warmth and gratitude washed over him, so strong that it made his cheeks glow and his eyes water. He knew what these men had done in the past, and what they were capable of doing now. Something had shifted in their world, though. Maybe it was the influence of the third man, but they were the good guys, in their way. He tried to remember something someone had said about them once, something about angels.

Ah, that was it. They were on the side of the angels, even if the angels weren’t entirely sure that this was a good thing.

And then he recalled who it was that had said it: it was the third man, Parker. The Detective. As if on cue, the Detective turned around, and Willie felt himself trapped in his regard. The Detective smiled, and Willie smiled back. Even as he did so, he could not shake off the sensation that the Detective knew exactly what Willie had been thinking.

Willie shivered. He’d been lying when he’d told Arno that it was his birthday that was making him act funny. That was part of it, but it wasn’t the whole story. No, for the last couple of days Willie had been getting the feeling that something was wrong. It wasn’t anything that he could put his finger on. The day before, there had been a blue Chevy Malibu parked across the street from the auto shop, two men sitting in the front seat, and it seemed to Willie like they were watching him, because when he started paying attention to them they moved off. Later, he dismissed it as paranoia, but he was certain that he had seen the car again today, this time parked farther down the street, the same two men once again occupying the front seats. He thought of mentioning the sightings to Louis, then dismissed it. It wasn’t the time or the place. Maybe he was just feeling weird because of the day, because he was now entering his seventh decade. Still, he couldn’t quite shake off the belief that something was bent out of shape slightly. It was like when his wife had filed for divorce, and the shop was about to be taken away from him, the knowledge that a crack had appeared in his existence, that his world was about to be transformed by something from outside, something hostile and dangerous.

And there was nothing that Willie could do to stop it.

CHAPTER FOUR

IT WAS AFTER 1:00 A.M. Most of the revelers had gone home, and only Arno and Willie and a man named Happy Saul remained of the main group. Happy Saul had suffered nerve damage to his face as a child, and it had contorted his mouth into a permanently fixed grin. Nobody ever sat next to Happy Saul at a funeral. It looked bad. Unusually—for it was often the case that men with nicknames like “Happy” or “Smiley” tended to be seriously angry and depressed individuals, the kind who never saw a bell tower without experiencing visions of themselves picking off bystanders with a rifle—Happy Saul was a contented guy, and good company. At that very moment, he was telling Willie and Arno a joke so inconceivably filthy that Willie was sure he was going straight to hell just for listening to it.

Angel and Louis were now alone in the corner. The Detective had gone. He didn’t drink much anymore, and he had an early start back to Maine the next morning. Before he left, Willie opened the gift that the Detective had brought: it was a bill of acceptance for a delivery of old packing crates, signed by Henry Ford himself, framed with a picture of the great man above it.

“I thought you could hang it in the shop,” said the Detective, as Willie gazed at the photograph, his fingertips tracing the signature beneath.

“I’ll do that,” said Willie. “It’ll have pride of place in the office. Nothing else around it. Nothing.” He was touched, and a little guilty. His earlier thoughts about the Detective now seemed un-generous. Even if they were true, there was more to him than his demons. He shook the Detective’s hand. “Thank you,” he said. “For this, and for coming along tonight.”

“Wouldn’t have missed it. Be seeing you, Willie.”

“Yeah, next time.”

Willie had returned to Arno and Happy Saul.

“Nice thing to get,” said Arno, holding the frame in his hands.

“Yeah,” said Willie. He was watching the Detective as he said goodnight to Nate and headed into the night. Even though Willie was at least two sheets to the wind, there was an expression on his face that Arno had never seen before, and it worried him.

“Yeah, it is…”

The two men sat close together, but not too close, Louis’s arm draped casually across the seat behind his partner’s head. Nate didn’t have a problem with their relationship. Neither did Arno, or Willie, or even Happy Saul, although if Happy Saul did have a problem there would have been no way to tell without asking him. But not everyone in Nate’s was so liberal minded, and while Angel and Louis would happily have confronted, and then quietly pummeled, anyone who had the temerity to question their sexuality or any displays of mutual affection that they might have felt inclined to show, they preferred to keep a low profile and avoid such encounters, in part so that they wouldn’t cause trouble for Nate, and in part because other aspects of their lives demanded that they remain inconspicuous whenever possible, inasmuch as a tall, immaculately attired black man who could cause sweat to break out on an iceberg on a cold day and a small, shabby person who, when he walked down the street, made it look like the garbagemen had missed some of the trash could fail to attract attention to themselves. They had moved on to brandy, and Nate had broken out his best snifter glasses for the occasion. The glasses were big enough to house goldfish. There was music playing in the background: Sinatra-Basie from ’62, Frank singing about how love is the tender trap. Nate was polishing down the bar, humming along contentedly to the song. Usually, Nate would have started to close up by now, but he appeared in no hurry to make people leave. It was one of those nights, the kind where it felt like the clocks have been stopped and all those inside were safely insulated from the troubles and demands of the world. Nate was content to let them stay that way for a while. It was his gift to them.

“Looks like Willie had a good time,” said Louis. Willie was swaying slightly on his chair, and his eyes had the dazed look of a man who has recently been hit on the head with a frying pan.

“Yeah,” said Angel. “I think some of those women wanted to give him a special gift all of their own. He’s lucky to be wearing his clothes.”

“We’re all lucky that he’s wearing his clothes.”

“There is that. He seems kind of, I don’t know, not himself tonight?”

“It’s the occasion. Makes a man philosophical. Makes him dwell on his mortality.”

“That’s a cheerful thought. Maybe we could start a line of greeting cards, put that on them. Happy Mortality Day.”

“You been pretty quiet tonight as well.”

“You complain when I talk too much.”

“Only when you got nothing to say.”

“I always have something to say.”

“That’s your problem right there. There’s a balance. Maybe Willie could install a filter on you.”

His fingers gently brushed the back of his partner’s neck. “You gonna tell me what’s up?”

Although there was nobody within earshot, Angel still glanced casually around before he spoke. It never hurt to be careful.

“I heard something. You remember William Wilson, better known as Billy Boy?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah, I know who he is.”

“Was.”

Louis was silent for a moment. “What happened to him?”

“Died in a men’s room down in Sweetwater, Texas.”

“Natural causes?”

“Heart failure. Brought on by someone sticking a blade through it.”

“That don’t sound right. He was good. He was an animal, and a freak, but he was good. Hard to get close enough to take him with a knife.”

“I hear there were rumors that he’d been overstepping the mark, adding flourishes to simple jobs.”

“I heard that, too.” There had always been something wrong with Billy Boy. Louis had seen it from the start, which was why he had decided not to work with him, once he was in a position to pick and choose. “He always did like inflicting pain.”

“Seems like someone decided that he’d done it once too often.”

“Could have been one of those things: a bar, booze, someone decides to pull a knife, gets his friends to help,” said Louis, but he didn’t sound like he believed what he was saying. He was just thinking aloud, ruling out possibilities by releasing them into the air, like canaries in the coal mine of his mind.

“Could have been, except the place was near empty when it happened, and we’re talking about Billy Boy. I remember what you told me about him, from the old days. Whoever took him must have been a whole lot better than good.”

“Billy was getting old.”

“He was younger than you.”

“Not much, and I know I’m getting old.”

“I know it, too.”

“That you’re getting old?”

“No, that you’re getting old.”

Louis’s eyes briefly turned to slits.

“I ever tell you how funny I find you?” he asked.

“No, come to mention it, you don’t.”

“It’s cause you ain’t. At least now you know why. The blade enter from the front, or the back?”

“Front.”

“There a paper out on him?”

“Someone would have heard.”

“Could be that someone did. Where’d you get this from?”

“Saw it on the internet. I made a call or two.”

Louis rolled the glass in his hands, warming the brandy and smelling the aromas that arose. He was annoyed. He should have been told about Billy Boy, even as a courtesy. That was the way things were done. There were too many markers in his past to allow such matters to go unmentioned.

“You always keep tabs on the people I used to work with?” he said.

“It’s not a full-time job. There aren’t many of them left.”

“There aren’t any of them left now, not with Billy Boy gone.”

“That’s not true.”

Louis thought for a moment. “No, I guess not.”

“Which brings me to the next thing,” said Angel.

“Go on.”

“The cops interviewed everyone who was in the bar when they found him. Only one person had left: a little fat guy in a cheap suit, sat at the bar and drank no-name whiskey from the well, didn’t look like he could afford to change his drawers more than once every second day.”

Louis sipped his brandy, letting it rest in his mouth before releasing it to warm his throat.

“Anything else?”

“Bartender said he thought he saw some scarring just above the collar of the guy’s shirt, like he’d been in a fire once. Thought he saw some at his right wrist as well.”

“Lot of people get burned.” Louis said the words with a strangeness to his tone. It might almost have been called dispassionate, had there not been the sense that behind it a great depth of feeling lay hidden.

“But not all of them go on to take someone like Billy Boy with a knife. You think it’s him?”

BOOK: The Reapers: A Thriller-CP-7
7.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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