332 500 произведений, 24 800 авторов.

Электронная библиотека книг » Jeff Shelby » Thread of Suspicion » Текст книги (страница 7)
Thread of Suspicion
  • Текст добавлен: 15 октября 2016, 06:38

Текст книги "Thread of Suspicion"

Автор книги: Jeff Shelby

сообщить о нарушении

Текущая страница: 7 (всего у книги 13 страниц)


We walked outside the diner and the icy wind pierced my ears. I shivered against it and pulled up the collar on my coat. They both stood rock still, inured to the bone-chilling temps.

“Every person you see tonight, you ask them about a girl named Jessica,” I said. “I don’t care if you’ve talked to them before. Ask them again. She’s the key. We need to know who she is and why she needed money.”

Stevie nodded, but Boyd looked skeptical.

“What?” I asked him. “What’s the problem?”

He took a deep breath. “Lot of people don’t like us. Because of what we do.”

“Then figure out a way to make them like you tonight,” I said. “Take food. Take drinks. Blankets. I don’t care. You guys know better than I do what’ll get people to talk.”

They exchanged anxious looks.

“What?” I asked again.

“It’s money,” Boyd said. “Money works better than anything.”

Stevie nodded in agreement. “He’s right.”

I pulled my wallet out of my jeans. I took out a handful of bills and handed them to Stevie. “Don’t overpay until you’re sure you’ve got someone who can tell you something legit. They’ll want more up front. Don’t flash the money. Separate it in your pockets so you don’t pull too much out at once.”

Stevie spread the bills around to the four pockets in his jeans, then handed what was left to Boyd, who did the same.

“If all that money’s gone, you better have something to show for it,” I warned. “Don’t pay unless you think you’ve got something. You can pay for small things. But don’t pay for nothing.”

Stevie nodded. “We got it.”

“You have my cell,” I said. “You call me the second you get anything. I’ll come to you. Otherwise, I want to hear from you every two hours. Just to check in.”

Stevie pushed up the sleeve of his coat, checking his watch. “Two hours. Got it.” Then he looked at me. “What are you gonna do?”

“I’m gonna drink coffee and stay awake and wait for you to call me,” I said, looking at each of them. “If I go out asking, I’ll spook people. Between you guys and Isabel that’s plenty of people asking questions tonight. Throw me into the mix and I’ll just make it worse. So I’m gonna find some coffee, sit in my car, and wait for you to call.”

They both nodded.

“So get going,” I said. “Turn something up.”

I watched them walk off into the snow. Wondered if they’d find anything. Wondered if Marc was alright. Wondered who Jessica was.

And wondered if Elizabeth was out there somewhere, too.


Four hours later, my phone rang for the second time.

“Think we got something,” Stevie said.

I shifted in my car seat, stiff and cold from sitting for so long. They’d called two hours earlier with nothing to tell me and I’d drifted off after that, the coffee not doing its job.

“Tell me,” I said.

“Probably be better if you just come,” he said, the wind whistling through the phone.

“Where are you?”

He gave me directions and told me it was probably fifteen minutes from the diner. I plugged the intersection into the GPS and told him I was on my way.

The wind and snow had picked up while I’d fallen asleep and it blew horizontal across the windshield. The streets were coated with blindingly bright white snow, split in half by fresh tire tracks. I stayed in the lanes created by the other cars, unsure if the road had frozen or not.

I moved from well-lit streets to roads with busted out streetlights, jagged slashes of light across the white streets. Boarded up windows glared at me from the neglected buildings. Groups of people huddled together in heavy, ill-fitting clothes.

I drove slowly on the icy streets, listening as the voice on the GPS guided me. I spotted Boyd on a street corner. He was squinting into the snow, staring at my car, then held up a hand. I pulled to the curb, the tires crunching against the frozen snow.

The wind slapped me in the face as soon as I opened my door, the snow stinging my eyes and cheeks. I ducked into my coat and shut the door behind me.

Boyd motioned for me to follow him and we trudged down the street. He led me up a block and then around a corner. He hopped up the steps of the second house on the block, a narrow home with a high pitched roof and a sagging front porch. He opened the screen door and then a weathered-oak door.

My eyes adjusted to the dark interior. It smelled like smoke and urine. Several mattresses were off in the corner of the otherwise bare room.

“They’re in the back,” Boyd said, brushing the snow from his arms and shivering.

I followed him through a dingy kitchen and the floor creaked with each step.

Stevie was huddled near a black stovepipe furnace, the flames illuminating his face and the rest of the room. Two girls sat on the other side of the furnace, their arms wrapped around their knees, staring at me, their eyes probing and nervous.

Stevie lifted his chin. “Hey.”

“Hey,” I said, pulling my gloves from my hands and shaking them out.

“That’s Amanda,” he said, pointing to the girl closest to the fire. “That’s Mary.”

I nodded at them both. They stared back at me, their arms locked tightly around their knees.

“They know Jessica,” Stevie said.

Boyd sat down next to Stevie, holding his hands out to the crackling flames. I joined him on the floor, which felt nearly as cold as the air outside.

“But they think you’re a cop,” he said.

I looked at each of the girls. “I’m not a cop. I promise. I used to be. I’m not anymore.”

They exchanged anxious looks, unsure of how to take that.

“All I want to do is find Marc and Jessica,” I said. “That’s it. And I don’t want to hurt them. They aren’t in trouble. If they need help, I’ll help them. But I need to find them first.”

Amanda whispered something to Mary. Mary’s eyes darted toward me, then back to her lap. Her cheeks glowed in the firelight.

Mary nodded and rocked a bit.

Amanda studied me. Her eyes were small beneath a thick, red wool cap. She had an oversized green ski jacket on over jeans and dirty black boots. Strands of greasy blond hair peeked out from the cap.

“Stevie said you had money,” she said, her voice low, raspy.

I looked at him.

“Took all we had to get to them,” he said, shrugging. “But we’re here and they know her.”

“Tell me what you know,” I said to Amanda. “Then I’ll pay you.”

She shook her head. “I need to see the money or we can all sit here and pretend to roast marshmallows.”

Her stony expression told me she was serious. I yanked out my wallet and pulled out all of the cash. “Here it is.”

She held out her hand.

I shook my head. “No way. Talk first.”

She folded her arms across her chest. “Hope you like imaginary marshmallows.”

There was no way I was handing over money until I knew what I was getting. But she didn’t trust me and I didn’t blame her. She had no reason to.

“Let’s meet halfway,” I said, then reached across Boyd and handed the cash to Stevie. “He holds. You tell me what you know about Jessica, then he gives it to you.” I nodded at Stevie. “Give them each twenty now.”

He pulled off two bills and handed them both to Amanda. She quickly handed one to Mary and the money disappeared into their jackets.

“She’s a junkie,” Amanda said. “Heroin.”

I nodded.

“Guy named Laser, he’s her dealer,” she continued. “She was buying on credit. He finally cut her off, told her it was time to start paying. She didn’t have the money. He beat the shit out of her, told her she had two days to get it to him or it was gonna get worse.”

Mary rocked a little quicker.

“She’s new out here,” Amanda explained. “She didn’t know better.”

“What about Marc?”

“Tall guy? Dark hair, that helper guy?”

Sounded close enough, so I nodded.

“Yeah, she’d been hanging out with him,” she said, the fire crackling and popping next to her. “I guess he was her boyfriend or something, but I’m not sure. I know she was hiding the heroin from him, though.”


“Careful about her tracks,” she said, shrugging. “Not doing it when he was around. Like I said. She’s new out here. She still looks new.”

I wondered if Marc really hadn’t known about her drug habit but didn’t say anything.

“He told her he could get the money,” Amanda continued. “And he did.” She nodded at Stevie and Boyd. “From Gino. He gave it to Jessica to pay off Laser. But she didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“I dunno,” she said. “Probably went in her arm or nose.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

“So he said he’d get more and cover her and get her out of here or something like that,” she said, scratching at her jaw. “I don’t know. So he went to go get it from wherever. He comes back and she’s gone.”

“Comes back to where?” I asked. “Where were they staying?”

“About four blocks from here,” she said. “House like this.”

I nodded at Stevie and he handed her two more twenties. She gave one to Mary and they disappeared again.

“Pretty sure Laser took her,” she said, glancing at Mary. Mary nodded. “That’s his thing.”

“His thing?”

“Girls don’t pay, he comes for them,” Amanda said, squinting. “They go to work for him. Dealing, hooking, whatever.”

“What’s he do with the guys?”

“He doesn’t deal to guys,” she said. “Only girls.”

Laser sounded like a real champ.

“He’s one of those guys who pretends to be tougher than he is,” she said, frowning. “Mouths off, pretends to be a bad-ass, but only around people he can handle. Like junkie girls.”

“Where do I find Laser?” I asked.

Amanda started to say something, then looked at Mary.

Mary cleared her throat, kept her eyes on the floor. “Old office building near the grocery store, maybe half a mile from here.” She looked at Stevie. “You know?”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

“There’s a guy there,” Mary said. “Nate. He’s like Laser’s bodyguard. You have to get past him.”

I nodded. “That’s fine.”

“But there’s a bunch of rooms there,” Mary said, her eyes staring into the fire. “Used to be offices and he turned them into rooms. If he has her, she’s probably there. He can lock the rooms from the outside.”

“Would Marc know this place?”

Mary shrugged, but Stevie nodded. “Probably. People don’t know what goes on in there, but they know the building. He probably knows it.”

Which meant there was a good chance he might be there, too.

“How do you know all this, Mary?” I asked.

The fire popped and hissed. Her eyes stared into the middle of it. “I’ve been there.”

We all sat there in silence, the fire the only noise in the room.

I finally turned to Stevie. “You can get us to this place?”

He nodded.

“How much do you have there?” I asked, motioning at the cash.

He counted the bills. “Two forty.”

I nodded and tilted my head toward the girls. Stevie held it out to Amanda. She hesitated, then reached for it. She stared at it for a long moment, then looked at me.

“You’re giving all this to us?” she asked.

“Yeah. Thanks for telling us what you know.”

She glanced at the money. “This is a lot of money.”

I pushed myself off the frozen floor. “Not really. I wish it was more. But it’s yours.”

“What’s the catch?”

“No catch. You helped us and we promised we’d pay for the info. That’s it.”

Amanda glanced at Mary. Mary was still staring into the fire. She looked back to me.

“No catch? At all?”

I shoved my hands into the pockets of my coat. “Stevie. Tell them there’s no catch.”

Stevie stood and so did Boyd. Stevie shrugged. “No catch. He’s for real. He says it’s yours, it’s yours.”

Amanda stared at me for a long moment, then counted out the money and handed half of it to Mary. They shoved it into the same pockets as the other money we’d given them.

“Thank you,” she said.

I nodded. Either of them could’ve been Elizabeth. Alone. Cold. Suspicious of everyone they came into contact with. Hoping to make it to the next day. I hated seeing her face in theirs.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “You hear anything else, let Stevie know. He knows how to find me.”

Both girls nodded and we headed for the door, the cold floor permeating the soles of my shoes. I pushed open the front door and flecks of snow pelted my cheeks.

We stepped down off the porch, the snow billowing around my feet as we hit the walk. I motioned for the two of them to get into my car and we hurried into it, shutting the doors against the cold. I shoved the key in the ignition and cranked the heat all the way up. We sat in silence, waiting for it to warm.

“You trust them?” I finally asked when my fingers started to thaw inside my gloves.

Stevie nodded, his hands pressed to the vent. “Yeah.”

I glanced in the rearview mirror at Boyd. “You?”

He seemed surprised that I was asking him, but he nodded. “Yeah. They’re cool.”

“So, what are we looking at if we go to this Laser’s place?” I asked.

Stevie grimaced. “Nothing good.”

“How so?”

“They’ll be gunned up,” he said. “Him and Nate. Not sure Laser would know how to shoot a gun but Nate does. For sure. And there are probably other guys running interference at the front of the building. Just hired help, but still. We can’t just walk in.”

That presented a problem. I didn’t carry a gun and I wasn’t looking for a firefight.

“Can I say something?” Boyd asked from the backseat.

I glanced in the rearview mirror again. “Yep.”

“She can get us in.”


Boyd nodded. “Isabel. They won’t mess with her and they’ll let us in.”

I looked at Stevie.

“He’s right,” he said. “People know her. Even Laser. At the very least, she can probably get us in to see him without the bullshit.”

The snow gathered on the windshield, wet snow that slapped against the glass. The sky was heavy with more and there was no sign of it letting up.

“Okay,” I said, pulling the phone out of my pocket. “I’ll call her.”


“Why the hell are we here?” Isabel asked, gloved hands on her hips, oblivious to the dropping temperature.

We were on the corner across the street from Laser’s place. I’d called her and told her to meet us there. Now the four of us were standing there, looking at the building, trying not to freeze.

Or, more accurately, I was trying not to freeze. Isabel seemed to be completely comfortable standing there in the wind and snow.

“We think Marc’s girlfriend is in there,” I said and then told her what we’d learned from Amanda and Mary.

The building was a low-slung, brick rectangle. The windows were dimly lit and a single bulb illuminated two glass doors at the front. I could see a guy huddled right inside the front door.

“She’s hooked up with Laser?” Isabel asked when I finished.

“That’s what they told us.”

“Crap,” she said. “Okay. So what are we doing here?”

“Going in,” I said.

“And I’m here because?”

“Because we figured you’d get us in a little easier than if we just barged in.”

I expected some resistance, some sort of false modesty. But to her credit, there was nothing like that.

“I’ve dealt with him before,” she said. “He’s a piece of work. But yeah, I’m sure I can get us in. But then what?”

“Let’s get in first and worry about that later,” I said.

We crossed the street, our feet making fresh tracks in the wet snow. The body I’d seen behind the glass doors stood from his huddled position and stared at us as we approached.

Isabel tapped on the door and waved at the guy, a skinny kid in his teens wearing a yellow knit cap, a black ski jacket and jeans that looked two sizes too big for him.

He came over and cracked the door. “Yeah?”

“Marty, we need to see Laser,” Isabel said.

He scanned all of our faces. “He know you’re coming?”

“No,” she said. “But we’re here and we’re freezing so we’re coming in.”

She eased the door open and Marty stood back, unsure what to do. We followed her into the small lobby, which wasn’t much warmer than outside. I stomped my feet against the ground, shaking the snow off of them.

“You need to call him or something?” she asked. “Or should we just go back?”

Indecision ran through his expression. I didn’t think he’d ever encountered anyone just walking into the building and saying they wanted to see Laser.

“We’re going back, Marty,” Isabel said, starting to walk.

We followed her and Marty stayed behind, not leaving his post. I wondered if there would be any consequences for him.

Isabel led us down a shadowed hallway and around a corner. There were people in sleeping bags in several open-doored rooms, passed out and huddled together for warmth. The building wasn’t as cold as the outdoors, but the fact that I could see my breath as we walked told me the heat wasn’t on, either.

We came to another set of locked off doors. There was an intercom and buzzer next to the door. Isabel stuck her finger on the buzzer.

“Yeah?” A voice asked through it.

“It’s Isabel,” she said. “I need to see Laser.”

“He ain’t seein’ anyone.”

“I need to see Laser. Tell him I’m here,” she said.

Thirty seconds later the door lock clicked and it opened. A tall, lanky guy in a gray hooded sweatshirt and black nylon sweatpants stood in the doorway.

“What do you want?” he asked Isabel, then looked quickly at Boyd and Stevie before letting his eyes settle on me.

“I need to talk to him,” Isabel said. “Won’t take long.”

“He’s asleep,” the guy said, still staring at me.

“Wake him up then,” she said. “And you can tell him I told you to. But I’m talking to him.”

The guy frowned, stuck his hands in the front pocket of the hoodie. “Wait here,” he finally said and closed the doors.

I looked at Stevie and Boyd. “Either of you carrying?”

Stevie shook his head and Boyd’s face colored.

“Okay,” I told Boyd. “You’re our only cover. When we get to him, whatever kind of room we’re in, make sure you move away from the three of us. If things go wrong, we don’t want to be a cluster target. But do not bring it out unless it’s absolutely necessary. Clear?”

Boyd nodded, relieved I wasn’t angry. “Got it.”

“And the guy that answered the door?” I said to him, then looking at the other two. “He had something on his left hip. Assume everyone from here on in is armed. Doesn’t mean we’ll see anything, but be cautious and be prepared.”

Stevie did his usual shrug, while Boyd nodded.

Isabel looked tense.

“You’re doing fine,” I told her. “You’re being pushy. That’s good.”

“Good until someone gets shot,” she muttered.

The door lock unlatched from the other side and the guy in the sweatshirt was back. “Okay, he says come in.”

The four of us stepped through the door. The hallway here was better lit and as we walked, I counted twelve doors, six on either side of the hall, all of them closed. We turned a corner at the end of the hall and the doors at the end of this last hall were open. It would’ve been the boss’s office if it was still an office building.

Instead, it was Laser’s home.

Indirect lighting in the corners gave the entire room a shadowy feel. A bed was pushed over into one corner, a large desk on the other. A flat screen was attached to the back wall in front of a couple of leather recliners. Two space heaters sat on opposite walls, heat emanating from them.

A small guy in his twenties with thick glasses and short brown hair was in one of the recliners, his feet propped up, a Diet Coke in one of his hands.

Another guy sat on the edge of the desk. About the same age, but heavier, a baseball cap on backwards above large eyes and a flat nose. He had on a long sleeve Vikings T-shirt and shiny white sweatpants.

“A little late for you, Isabel,” the guy in the chair said. “I’m kinda irritated.”

“Looks like you were awake, Laser,” she said. “So, I don’t feel too bad.”

Laser chuckled, then did a slow take on the rest of us. “Stevie. Boyd. I know you two. But I’m not familiar with your friend.”

I didn’t say anything.

“He’s my friend,” Isabel said.

“Check him, Nate,” Laser said.

The guy on the desk slid off the edge and walked over to me. Which was good because it gave Boyd the opportunity to drift over to the wall, away from us.

“Arms up,” Nate said.

I held my arms out and he did an incredibly lazy pat down. He missed at least three places I could’ve hidden a weapon and I knew that one day his arrogance would probably get him killed.

“Clean,” Nate said, then retook his post on the desk.

“Who are you, dude?” Laser asked, adjusting his glasses.

“Isabel’s friend,” I said. “Just giving her a hand.”

“And maybe giving her a little something else?” he said, then chuckled at his own joke.

Isabel’s face reddened.

“I heard you were kind of an asshole,” I said. “Good to know people don’t lie.”

His chuckled died and he pushed the recliner forward, standing up. He was a good five inches shorter than me and at least fifty pounds lighter. “Excuse me?”

I stepped toward him and kept an eye on Nate. “I said I heard you were kind of an asshole and you proved that right. Are you deaf, too?”

He was taken aback by my coming forward and he took a step back toward his chair before he realized he’d done it. He stopped and sort of wobbled, trying to catch his balance.

Nate stayed in place.

“We’re looking for a girl named Jessica,” I said. “I’m told she’s here.”

“Yo, man,” he said, sticking out his chest, trying to recover. “You better chill.”


“Or?” he asked confused.

“Or what?” I asked, stepping even closer, crowding him. “If I don’t chill. What’s gonna happen? Let me know what I’m up against here.” I nodded at Nate. “I’m aware of him. But is that it? Because if you’re gonna threaten me, you’re gonna need a little more than him.”

Confusion ran through Laser’s eyes and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Nate start to move.

“Hold it,” Boyd said.

I turned my head. Nate’s hand was at the back of his waistband, but Boyd already had his gun out, locked in on Nate.

Boyd was turning out to be alright after all.

“I got him,” Stevie said and moved behind Boyd and over to Nate. Nate’s hands were up and clear and Stevie pulled the handgun from Nate’s waist and stepped over near Boyd.

I turned back to Laser. “So. Or what?”

Laser swallowed hard and backed up until he stumbled against his recliner. There was nowhere for him to go. “Yo, man. There’s a lot of people here.”

“No,” I said. “There’s a lot of girls here. Not people. Girls.”

“Man, you don’t know…”

I shoved him hard and he fell back into the recliner. “Don’t tell me what I don’t know. Tell me where I can find Jessica.”

Laser adjusted his glasses. “Take it easy.”

“No, I’m done taking it easy,” I said. I motioned at Stevie. “Gimme that.”

Stevie hesitated then handed me the gun.

I held the gun and looked at Laser. “Open your mouth.”

“What?” he said.

“Open your mouth.”

“Look, man, I…”

I pressed the barrel to his lips. “Open.”

His eyes grew wide and he managed to get his mouth open wide enough for me to push the end of the barrel in.

“Was it like this, Boyd?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said, his voice tight, not enjoying the memory.

“Joe,” Isabel said. “Come on.”

I ignored her and looked at Nate. “Your gun, right?”

Nate nodded.

“So, when I blow his head off, it’s gonna look like you did it,” I said. “So, not only am I gonna kill your buddy here, but you’ll get the blame. You see where I’m going with this, Nate?”

Nate swallowed hard. “Yeah.”

“Joe,” Isabel said, her voice louder. “Stop.”

Laser squirmed in the recliner, sucking on the gun.

“Doesn’t feel good, does it?” I asked him. “Probably about as comfortable as being locked in a room in this dump.”

He couldn’t take his eyes from the barrel.

I looked back at Nate. “I’m going to ask one more time. Where will we find Jessica?”

Nate didn’t even hesitate. “Third door. Middle of the hallway.”


He nodded at Laser. “He’s got ‘em.”

I looked at Laser, who was already pointing to the desk. Stevie walked over and pulled up a ring of keys. He brought them over to me and I handed them to Laser. He flipped through them, then held one out to me.

I took it from him. “I’m going to go check the room. Stevie is going to keep this gun in your mouth. If you move, he’s going to shoot you. If Jessica isn’t in the room, I’m going to come back and shoot you. Do you understand?”

He nodded, breathing heavily through his nose.

I motioned at Stevie, who came over and took the gun from me, careful to keep it inside of his mouth. “He twitches, shoot him.”

Stevie nodded.

“Joe,” Isabel said. “This is ridiculous.”

“I agree,” I said, staring at her, my voice rising. “It is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous that some piece of crap is locking up girls and forcing them to do who knows what. It’s ridiculous that he’s dealing to them. It’s ridiculous that anyone has to live here and live under his thumb. It’s ridiculous that anyone would get to the point that this is their best option. It’s utterly ridiculous.”

I’m not sure if Isabel recognized it or not as she looked away from me, but I was talking just as much about Elizabeth as I was Jessica and any other girl that was there. When I walked in, all I could think about was Elizabeth ending up in some place like this. Having to listen to some jackass like Laser just in order to survive. So, was putting a gun in his mouth over the top?


But I didn’t care.

I glanced at Stevie and Boyd. “We’ll be back.”

They both nodded.

Isabel followed me down the hall, past two doors and we stopped at the third.

“If she’s here,” Isabel said, “that’s great, but we can’t just leave the others…”

“We’re going to clear this entire building, Isabel,” I said. “Trust me. No one is staying here another second if they don’t want to.”

She bit her top lip, then nodded.

I stuck the key in the lock and twisted the knob. The door swung open to a dark room. We both squinted as our eyes adjusted.

A twin mattress was against the far wall amidst a pile of clothes and shoes. I didn’t see anything on the walls. The room smelled like a weird mixture of perfume and sweat.

On the mattress, two bodies stirred beneath a wool blanket. One propped themselves up. A girl. Long, stringy blond hair, her eyes barely open.

“Who is it?” she asked, her eyes still adjusting.

We both stepped into the room.

“Is there a light in here?” I asked.

She jerked to a sitting position. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“Relax,” I said. “We’re friends.”

I could see her face more clearly now. Caked mascara. Small nose. Thin mouth. Tiny gold earrings. A long sleeve T-shirt.

“Who are you?” she asked again.

“I’m Isabel,” Isabel said. “This is Joe. Are you Jessica?”

She stared at her, trying to place her. “Yeah. I’m Jessica. How do you know my name?”

The body behind her stirred and shifted under the blankets.

“We’re looking for Marc,” Isabel said. “Do you know where he is?”

She sat up straighter on the bed, more nervous now than when we’d entered the room.

The body behind her shook free from the blankets.

His eyes were swollen shut, purple and silver balls. A red jagged cut ran across the bridge of his nose and there were similar cuts at the corners of his mouth. I could see some bruising on his cheeks, too.

“Who is it?” he rasped, clearly unable to see us.

Isabel brought her hands to her mouth and sucked in her breath.

“It’s me, Marc,” she whispered. “It’s Isabel.”

    Ваша оценка произведения:

Популярные книги за неделю