Chapter 7

November 7, 2011 at 12:02 am (The Truth)

In a warehouse nestled in amongst many others of its kind, the killer and his protégé stood over the still form of a woman. She was alive, but the blow she’d received from his protégé had knocked her cold several hours earlier. She had been dumped into the back seat of their car and driven only a few short blocks from the area where she worked.

The killer stared at the woman in disgust. She walked the streets, allowing men to buy her for a pittance. Whores were easy to snatch. No one questioned when they got into a car with a strange man. Most didn’t notice they were missing. This one would make more of a splash. People would notice her. Her death would signal the beginning.

He could feel a giddy excitement coursing through his blood. Not for the kill, that wouldn’t be his, but for the start of the game. It had been far too long since he’d played cat and mouse with the police. They hadn’t even come close to learning who he was the last time. He’d had twenty years to perfect his skills.

Steven, his protégé, had not been tested in such a way yet. He’d killed, certainly, but he had disposed of the bodies as he had been taught. Now they would be leaving evidence behind for the police to scrutinize. They would eventually determine the woman’s name. The police would send men out onto the streets asking the other whores if they’d seen who the woman had gone away with.

Some of them might remember Steven. And that was fine. If he had been careless enough to let his face be seen, he would eventually pay the consequences. It was all a part of the game. It added a level of risk that was almost as titillating as the kill itself. Steven could point the finger at him, for his past crimes. There was no statute of limitations on murder.

He’d thought that he had found what he’d been missing in Steven, but it was the game that he needed. The fear of getting caught for his crimes had been quite heady at the start of his career, but by the last boy he’d come to realize that the police were inept. It took the risk out of the game, which ended his fun.

Now, with a new adversary to pit his skills against, he felt energized. This detective had more emotional investment in the game. He bore looking into. They couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, especially with their initial volley. The police had had twenty years to improve their technology and their techniques. But he’d had the same time to study those that had come after him. Their very public mistakes would not be repeated by him.

“Steven, you’ll have to watch over the woman for a few days while I finalize the details for our plan.”

Steven continued to stare at the woman. He wanted to cut her, but he wasn’t allowed to. Anything that was off the plan was forbidden. Every time he tried to step away, the tether snapped him back into place. He felt hatred rising inside him. His teacher refused to see that the student was now the master. He would watch over the woman and there wouldn’t be a mark on her that the teacher could see.

“When will we be ready?” he asked.

“Just a few more days and you’ll get to have some fun,” his teacher replied. He walked across the bare concrete floor and reached for the door. “Remember, stick to the plan.” Stepping across the threshold, he closed the door behind him and headed for his car.

Steven ignored his teacher. The man was old, probably too old for this anymore. He didn’t know how to work a little fun into the plan. But Steven did. He just needed a few items and then he’d be set. If he was going to stay with the woman for a few days, he would need a mattress to sleep on. Once she woke up, she wouldn’t be getting much sleep. He was looking forward to putting her talents to good use.

***

Nelle found it difficult to concentrate on work. She kept drawing children with blond hair and blue eyes with a mischievous grin. Her graphic novel followed a group of teenage assassins working in New York City in the year 2151. She had no children in it. The city was dangerous; the characters had grit and the determination to carve out a life among the wealthy landowners who sat like fat kings on their thrones. She should be drawing fat kings or athletic, cagey teenagers. Instead, everyone came out looking cherubic and sincere and sweet.

She had made the mistake of checking the internet for details of the Surrey Slayer’s crimes. One of the sites had gone into such detail about the condition of the victims that she’d nearly vomited thinking about the agony Harris and her brother had endured. Too late, she’d realized that the words would imprint on her brain until her imagination had offered up a detailed visual of Harris, post mortem. As a coping mechanism, she’d started drawing him as she remembered him. Back when he was bright and alive and full of piss and vinegar, as her grandmother used to say.

Her trash can was full of discarded, soggy tissues. In the past three days, she’d eaten maybe two proper meals. She could put the feelings aside for short bits of time and then something would jump to the front of her brain and the tears would fall. She knew she couldn’t go on this way. The emotional stress had carved hollows in her cheeks. She hadn’t gone for her daily runs and she was starting to feel weak.

And the guilt was crushing her. She hadn’t mourned nearly as much for her brother as she was for Harris. She could use the excuse that she’d only been eight and hadn’t understood what her brother had gone through, but it wasn’t helping. She felt Harris’ loss more. She’d spent countless hours as an angst-ridden teenager wondering what he was doing and if he was dating anyone. Would he even remember her if they’d run into one another on the street?

To know that he’d not had any of those moments in his life was destroying her. What if she’d watched him as he’d pushed his bike up the hill, would he still be alive today? What if she’d invited him in for dinner, would the killer have moved on from the area and Harris could have gotten home safely? Her mind was battering her with hundreds of little what-if scenarios that could have changed the way things had turned out.

Nelle tossed her pen aside and ran down the stairs to her bedroom. Changing into her foul weather running gear, she grabbed her keys, credit card and a piece of identification and headed outside. It was raining sideways and the wind was up. It was perfect weather to accompany the thoughts driving through her brain.

For a warm up, Nelle kept her pace light as she threaded through the groups of pedestrians crowding the streets of Gastown. When the sidewalk widened near Waterfront Station, Nelle poured on a little more steam. By the time she’d reached the start of the seawall on the far side of Canada Place, she had hit her stride. Her leg muscles were nicely warmed and her heart rate was accelerating.

The exertion pushed all thoughts of Harris and the killer from her mind. She could focus only on running with the proper technique. She’d been a runner since soon after she’d learned to walk. She never did it by rote. If she was going to run, she was going to concentrate on where she was, what she was doing and how to improve her fitness level.

She’d missed this, she realized. It felt as though she was waking up from a long sleep. Her body had temporarily forgotten one of its fundamental elements for survival. There weren’t as many people on the seawall as there would be on a dry day. Nelle could maintain her speed and not worry about getting stuck behind a group of slow moving tourists who seemed to always take up the entire path, even if there were only two of them.

Entering Stanley Park, she streaked past the Vancouver Yacht Club and the HMCS Discovery on Deadman’s Island. Continuing on, she passed the nine o’clock gun and rounded Brockton Point. By the time she had run beneath the Lion’s Gate Bridge and passed Siwash Rock, her thighs were starting to feel fatigued. Cutting back on her speed, Nelle estimated that she’d gone twelve kilometers. She had switched to walking by the time she reached Second Beach. She stopped next to the pool and spent ten minutes stretching out her muscles before heading on.

Exiting Stanley Park to head up Denman Street, Nelle grabbed a bottle of water from Starbucks. Her mind felt amazingly clear. The sadness had crept to the back of her brain and she thought that now she could give her novel the attention it deserved. She hailed a cab to save her the half hour walk home. Once she’d showered, eaten and poured herself a small glass of red wine, Nelle sat down in front of her computer once more and turned her brain over to her teenage assassins.

***

Saturday brought a tiny peak of sunshine after nearly two weeks of rain. Mack had called her yesterday to confirm that they were still on for that drive to Surrey. He wanted to get an early start, so they would still have the bulk of the day for other things. Nelle went for a run at seven and was showered and ready to go when Mack arrived at nine. She’d eaten a small breakfast, but warned him she was in dire need of a coffee.

“It’s better for your safety as well as your sanity if you just stop at the nearest Starbucks.” She hoped she didn’t sound like a lunatic, but until she had that first glorious hit of caffeine, she would remain partially incoherent.

“Nelle, I’m a cop. We live on coffee, usually terrible coffee. I understand the need.”

Mack headed up Main Street, parking a block off Terminal Avenue. The lineup inside Starbucks was a little long. It took them nearly ten minutes to get their coffees and get out. Nelle enjoyed the drive. Mack hit the freeway until they neared the New Westminster exits and then he cut over to cross the Patullo Bridge. Their old neighbourhood was close to Surrey Place Mall and the King George Highway.

Nelle couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to Surrey. She had driven through it several times, on her way to White Rock, and each time she’d marveled at how built up the area was. The small mom and pop owned shops had given way to enormous multiplexes full of chain stores. Where before, the Safeway had a large parking lot in front of a medium-sized building, it now had several levels of underground parking below the massive full-city-block wide store.

She couldn’t remember half of what used to be in the area. At ten, she had gone to the mall on her own, but hadn’t ventured much further than that. When Mack turned onto the street next to hers, she didn’t even notice. He’d pulled up a few doors away from her old house before she recognized anything.

“Oh, that was my house there,” she pointed out the two-storey wood house with the dormer windows. She’d always thought that the dormer windows were the eyes of the house and it watched her when she left for school. When she had lived in it, the house had been painted white with dark blue trim. Now it was dark green with white trim. The tree in the front yard was missing. The fence was new. They’d had a chain link fence about four feet high. The new owners had changed it for white pickets. Nelle liked the look of it now. It was better cared for than when her family had lived there.

“My dad kept the house once mom and I moved to West Van. I don’t know if he still lives there or not.” It hadn’t occurred to her to check on that. She didn’t want to run into her father. She had nothing to say to the man.

“He sold it almost as soon as you and your mom left.”

“I heard that he remarried right away. To the woman who had given him the son my mom refused to have,” Nelle whispered. “Mom never mentioned him after that. I never saw him again, either.”

“My parents only lasted about two years after Harris’ death, too. Mom was always an alcoholic, but she’d kept it under control well. At least, to a fifteen year old, that’s how it had looked. Dad tells a different story, but I guess I chose not to remember all of that.” Mack opened his door and walked around to Nelle’s.

Stepping out onto the sidewalk, Nelle approached her old house. It seemed cheerier than it had when she had lived there. Death hadn’t come to this family. Two bikes lay forgotten on the path leading up to the house. By their size, Nelle estimated the kids to be around kindergarten age.

“I stood right here that last day, when Harris saw me home.” Nelle stood in front of the picket gate, imagining a shabby metal gate in its place. “My dad was at the door and he’d looked much happier than he had for the last few weeks. I thought maybe my mom had worked things out with him, but then the moving truck pulled up in front of the house. He didn’t even help the movers carry our stuff out. He went downstairs to his office and shut the door.”

Mack glanced up the street, toward the ball courts. He suggested they get back into the car and head up there. He found a spot on the street directly in front of the courts. They hadn’t changed. The chain link fencing that had surrounded it when he’d been a kid was still there. He gestured to a spot near the left side corner of the court.

“A friend of mine found my bike right here. He brought it to me and then spent several hours with the cops pointing out exactly where he’d found it.” Walking down the path beside the courts, he pointed to the house next door. “There used to be bushes here. The cops think that someone lured Harris into them and then grabbed him.”

“Do you know who lived here at the time?” Nelle asked, staring at the side of the blue house. The bushes had been replaced with a short hedgerow.

“It was an older couple, in their seventies. They didn’t hear anything and hadn’t seen anything either.” Mack plucked a leaf from the hedge and twirled it between his fingers. “I came here after the police had left and poked around in the bushes. I thought that maybe I would find something that would tell me who had taken my brother.”

Nelle didn’t have to ask if he’d found anything. The killer had been very careful. Each of the crime scenes had given the investigators precious little to work with. Mack led her back to the car and asked where she had been when Harris had called out to her. Nelle directed him through the streets until they reached the one she had walked along that day. He parked the car at the corner and Nelle pointed out where Harris had been.

“He must have come from the forest path,” she said. The forest was long gone. In its place was a condominium complex. The dirt path had been excavated and the side street now ran through the complex. “He didn’t say where he was when he busted the chain, but the forest makes the most sense.”

Mack nodded, his thoughts running in a different direction. Back then, the forest path had cut through the side yards of two houses. One had been rented to Brent Ennis. The houses were gone, along with the path, but Mack remembered them well. The owner of the house opposite Ennis’ had chased them down with a rake several times for using the path. He could remember Ennis warning them if the old man was coming.

Nelle touched his hand, startling him. Turning to her, he saw she was holding out a tissue for him. He’d not noticed the tears. He’d been buried inside his memories. Wiping them away, he couldn’t decide if the trip had been a waste of time or not. He had learned a little more about Nelle. When he was with her, he felt closer to his brother, which made little sense. Or, perhaps he felt closer to her, because of their shared loss. Either way, he realized that he enjoyed her company.

Once they were back downtown, Mack parked his car outside Nelle’s building and walked with her down to Chill Winston for lunch. A few brave souls had taken tables outside in the sun. The heat lamps were barely keeping the cold at bay. Seated at an inside table near the windows, Mack asked Nelle what she did for a living. She knew so much about his career and he’d realized that he had no idea about hers.

“I write and illustrate graphic novels. I’m working on the first that I wrote myself. Up until now, I’d only taken illustration jobs.”

“Why until now?” he asked. Their burgers arrived and he watched as Nelle cut hers in half before picking it up. He grabbed the whole thing and tucked into it.

“I did the illustration jobs to pay the bills until I could afford to work on my own stuff. I tried to get deals for several of my earlier pieces, but no one was interested.” She’d flogged her stories to every publishing house she could find, but they’d all said the same thing. The story idea had been done before. We like your art style. Write something new. It took some time for her to realize that she wasn’t writing what interested her. She had been writing what was popular at the time. There were too many vampire books for hers to seem original.

Nelle told him about her teenage assassin’s concept. She said how the idea had woken her out of a dead sleep. She’d had to get up and get writing before she’d lost the thread of the idea. The more she’d written, the fuller the idea became. By morning, she had the basic concept down.

“I had to imagine a world where the idea of teenage assassins wasn’t morally reprehensible. I figured the future would be best for that. It’s vague and distant and no one can tell you your idea would never happen, because they can’t know for sure.”

“So, bedtime reading for the kids, I see,” Mack said, enjoying the laugh he got. Their excursion that morning had had such a serious tone to it that he found he needed the lighter note now.

Mack saw her home after lunch. He thanked her for spending the day rehashing old memories with him. Nelle hugged him and said she was sorry that her information had brought the pain back to the surface. Mack wrapped his arms around her and held on tight. When she stepped inside her apartment and closed the door, Mack got in his car and drove home. He thought he might spend the rest of the day pounding nails into his back patio.

 

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