Read The Longest Winter Online
Authors: Harrison Drake
Table of Contents
The Longest Winter
Copyright 2014 by Harrison Drake. All rights reserved.
First Kindle Edition: June 2014
All rights reserved. This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of the original purchaser only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this eBook and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your eBook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are a work of fiction or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
To everyone who has helped me so much throughout the years, you know who you are.
I am where I am because of you.
This one’s for you.
he raw skin on his wrists and ankles was as red as the blood that trickled from the torn flesh; the very blood that had made his escape possible. Once he realized the blood was helping, that the ropes being wet made it easier, he had done everything he could to get free. His mouth had gone dry as he spat on his wrists; his bladder he had emptied on his ankles. It had been a brutal task, the pain unbearable.
I can’t end up like him. I just… I hope he isn’t dead.
The boy was not alone; there was another captive beside him on the floor, tied just as tightly. The other boy was the older of the two, and he had fought for their freedom at every chance - a battle for which he had never been the victor. Their captor had beaten him for his efforts.
It seemed like hours before he freed himself from his ropes. He threw the wet bindings to the ground and stood up; his muscles and joints creaked with the unfamiliar movements. He went to check on the older boy, to try to help free him, but heard the man jangling keys as he walked toward the door. He shook the boy, waking him from his exhausted sleep.
“He’s coming, we have to get out of here.”
“I can’t,” the older boy said, pulling at his bindings. “I’ll never get free in time. You have to go.”
The younger boy started to cry. “I’m not leaving you, Jacques.”
“You have to. You have to get help. Now go, Claude, get out of here.”
The sounds of footsteps and the whistling of an eerily happy tune told them they had no time left. Jacques forced himself to his feet, his ankles bound and his wrists tied tightly in front of his body.
There was only one option left – a small window near the ceiling that had been left open. The gap was small, but it was just enough for Claude to squeeze through. Jacques hobbled over below the window and ordered Claude to climb up his back. Jacques winced under the weight of Claude’s feet on his shoulders. As soon as he knew Claude had a grip, he stood up, boosting him through the window.
“I’ll get help,” Claude said, then he dropped onto the cold, hard ground below. He felt no pain; no new pain could rival what he was already experiencing.
He heard the yells before he had even taken his first few steps; he heard the scream of anger and the sound of flesh against flesh. Jacques cried out in pain. The yell that followed made the hair on Claude’s neck stand on end.
I’ll teach you not to bite me,” the man screamed, as two loud cracks rang through the open window. Claude tried not to think of what was happening, there wasn’t much time to get away and if he couldn’t get to safety and find help then they would both be dead.
The stiffness of the grass beneath his feet mirrored the stiffness in his neck and limbs. With every hurried step he took, the grass, coated in a layer of nighttime frost, gave way. He slowed down and did his best to tread lightly, but the loud crunching that echoed off of the distant hills told him it was pointless. He took off again, running as fast as he could; the cold early morning air bit at his face. His lungs and legs burned with the effort but there was no other choice.
Every noise he made was next to silence when compared to the heavy, pounding stomps that came from behind him. He could hear the anger in the other’s steps - the hatred and fear - and it drove him.
The waxing moon cast enough light onto the open fields to guide his way, moonlight glimmered off of the ice-covered branches of the small trees that lined the field. He saw the stars shining through breaks in the heavy clouds that were rolling in. Despite the clouds, more stars than he could ever remember seeing hung above him. He put his head down and ran. The snow began to fall in clumps, heavy snowflakes that stuck to his exposed flesh for a moment before melting into droplets of water. He felt like he was running into the storm, a wall of white that beckoned to him, calling him forward. Maybe he could lose his captor in the blizzard.
He wasn’t sure how far he had run or how much further he still had to go. Nothing looked familiar, not a road or a house. Someone will help me. He turned his head to look back and as he did the ground beneath his feet disappeared and he began to fall, tumbling down a steep embankment. He turned and twisted in an attempt to slow his fall, to grab onto anything he could find that would stop him.
There was nothing, just an endless hill of grass and brambles. The slope became gentler but still he careened downward until it flattened out at a narrow road. His tired, wounded body rolled into the middle of the road where, battered and exhausted, he began to slip out of consciousness. His eyes closed, but the silhouette of a man standing at the top of the hill was an image that would never leave him.
here were no windows in my little room but I still knew the sun would be up soon. I turned my phone on and looked at the display; it was almost six. There wasn’t much time left before alarms went off and kids got out of bed. They’d get themselves dressed but then they would be expecting breakfast.
I had promised them pancakes. For the past three days.
Their lunches for the day were already made and waiting in the fridge, ready to be placed into a backpack and taken to school. And then I could sleep. Blanks were all I got when I thought about my last full night of sleep. There was too much at stake, but it was wearing me down. The dark circles under my eyes stood out against my dark skin; the redness in my eyes never went away. I saw no other choice.
I had to do it; I had to find her.
The room, as small as it was, held thousands of pages of police reports, hundreds of photographs and a few dozen maps all pinned and taped to the walls, door and ceiling. The desk, if it could be called that, was buried beneath stacks of papers. The answer lay buried somewhere within - the answer to where she was.
I did my best work at night, when the people in the neighbouring apartments were sound asleep, the roads were devoid of the sounds of traffic and not even the chirping of birds could disturb me. During the daytime I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think. My mind would wander and I would lose track of time. Daydreams of Kat would take over my mind and I wouldn’t want to abandon them. They were much better than the nightmares that soaked my sheets with sweat and kept me from sleeping through the night.
The second time I missed picking the kids up from school it was clear I needed a new plan. That night I never slept, I stayed up until they were on the bus and en route to another day of classes, then came home and crashed. It took three alarms but I woke up in time to get them. I had slept well and, for the first time in months, felt refreshed despite still being exhausted. And so, for the last six months, that had become my routine. I would pick the kids up from the bus stop and we would go home, do homework, have dinner, spend the evening together and then, once they were in bed, I’d start all over again.
Kara knew my schedule, and I’d usually get a call from her once or twice a week to let me know what, if anything, she had found. The last couple of months though she had been coming up empty no matter what she tried. I could tell she was faltering, starting to lose hope. I couldn’t blame her; even Kat’s parents seemed to have given up.
Kasia and Link, of course, had never stopped believing I would find Kat. They never gave up hope, they never for a minute thought that I wouldn’t bring her home. I longed for some of their conviction, some of their strength. More often than not, as the anniversary of Kat’s abduction approached, I worried I’d only ever be able to bring home her body.
etective Kara Jameson sat at her desk; the closed door of her office lent her some much-needed silence. Pictures from five missing persons cases – two now declared as murders - lay spread out across the wooden surface, but there was one that caused more pain and grief than the others. Kara wasn’t sure why she even had the picture out, it wasn’t a part of the case she was officially working on and it wasn’t like she needed it. The image was burned into her mind. It was a picture she would never forget: a reprint of a Polaroid that showed Kat Munroe tied up and blindfolded.
It was that image that kept the bottle of vodka hidden at the back of her desk drawer. It was that image that haunted her at night; that image that contained all of her mistakes and all of her failures rolled into one. She was the reason Kat was missing; there was no doubt in her mind about that. It didn’t matter what Lincoln told her or how many times he had said it wasn’t her fault, Kara’s mind would not be changed. In her eyes, it was her love for Lincoln and her inability to tear herself away from him that had been the reason Kat had been abducted.
The four boys in the other pictures, as much as their disappearances weighed on her, they weren’t her fault - four missing boys, two since found dead. The first two boys, brothers, had gone missing from the small village of Marbehan, Belgium.
The boys were ten and thirteen and hadn’t been reported missing right away. They lived in a quiet farming community and no one suspected any sort of wrongdoing. The villagers were all aware that the boys were missing and believed they’d probably just taken a break, gone somewhere to blow off some steam and have some fun. When the second day passed with no word their parents reported them missing.
A month later the bodies of both boys were found dumped at the side of a rural road in the Tiercelet region of north-eastern France. Two days later, two more boys were abducted; this time, however, the report was filed immediately. They had last been seen walking home from school together but never made it to their destination. Their abduction from Luxembourg City, the capital of Luxembourg, had meant that there was a delay in the connection being made. It didn’t take long, but it was enough to hinder the first critical hours of the investigation. Once the connection was made between the two cases, INTERPOL was brought into the fold and Kara found herself assigned to a small office in the heart of Luxembourg, working with a man she knew nothing about.
The search and the case crossed international lines; the abductions had occurred and the bodies had been found all within approximately thirty kilometres of where the borders of France, Belgium and Luxembourg met. There was nothing to suggest where the killer lived, nothing to suggest who he was. The assumption was clear – the killer lived in one of the three countries – but it wasn’t enough to identify anyone.
They had not found any of the expected evidence on the bodies, but the abduction and murder of two young boys spoke for itself. It put them on a path that they hoped would ultimately lead to a suspect. With each sex offender they interviewed, interrogated and put under surveillance they came closer to the killer.
Assuming the bastard is even on the registry.
It was a list with inherent limitations: the only ones who made it on to the list were the ones who had been convicted of sex offences. Those who were never caught didn’t make the list.
There was a knock on the door followed by a voice.
“Jameson,” it said. “Are you in there?”
“Yeah. Come in.”
“Nothing yet, Yuri. Can’t stop looking at these photos. We need to get out there again, keep harassing the perverts until we find the right one.”
Yuri walked over and sat in the empty chair on the other side of the desk from Kara. He shifted away from the desk for a little extra legroom. Detective Yuri Shevchenko was born in the Ukraine but raised in England from the time he was thirteen years old. Only a hint of an accent remained, and it was most evident when he was speaking in French. Except for a heavy aspiration on words beginning with ‘h’ and a lack of contractions, he sounded British. He was a tall man, well past the six foot mark, and had to duck his head when entering the offices. His long, slender frame looked out of place in a chair that had clearly not been designed with someone of his stature in mind.
Yuri had worked with INTERPOL since early in his career. He had been hired at a young age by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in England and stationed primarily within Bristol. This had just been a launching point for a career he saw as more adventurous. The urge to travel was strong in him and it led him to apply to INTERPOL where he found himself working on missing persons cases, often involving human trafficking of minors. At the age of forty-five, he had traveled extensively, worked in many countries around the world and seen more than most people ever even knew existed.
Kara knew that much. She could see it when she looked at him; but she knew there was more. There were instances, brief and fleeting moments, where he looked lost in thought. She could see that his eyes were windows to a lifetime of horrors, and every so often he couldn’t keep the blinds drawn tight enough. She felt for him; he’d never married or had children of his own and she couldn’t help but assume she knew the reason – the fear of what could happen to them was too great.
Yuri’s eyes met Kara’s briefly before he turned his face away. Even when he wasn’t lost in the past, Kara found it unnerving to look into his eyes. They were pale grey, a colour she had never seen before, but there was also depth in them - a wisdom she’d yet to comprehend.
He leaned in closer, his eyes gazing toward the photographs. Kara watched him as he moved. His ash blonde hair that he kept parted on the left wasn’t long enough to cover the small patch on the crown where it was starting to thin. A few more years was all he had, she figured. She shook her head. None of it mattered.
“Is that… what is this?” Yuri pointed at one of the pictures, at a small detail in the upper corner.
Kara leaned forward and looked at the image. “Nothing,” she said, blowing on the picture. The detail disappeared. “Just dust.”
She knew that she had made a mistake. Yuri looked her in the eyes then turned away. Kara tried to breathe slowly, carefully, deliberately in such a way that she would be able to, without making it obvious, smell her own breath. It took a moment, but then she noticed it. The evidence was there, and there was no way he had missed it.
“I have the full autopsy reports now,” Yuri said, setting the papers down on the desk in front of Kara. “Nothing unexpected. All of the injuries we knew about are in there, but they did get the toxicology information back. Page four.”
Kara flipped through, past a summary of the bruises and cuts the boys had sustained, to the cause of death: a lethal amount of the sedative Propofol. “That’s a heavy-duty drug, isn’t it?”
“One of the strongest ones out there.”
“Where the hell did he get it from?”
Yuri shook his head. “I have no idea.”
“So…” Kara thought for a moment. “Are we looking for a doctor or someone in medicine?”
“It is possible. Or he found some other way to get it.”
“Yeah, but you can’t buy this stuff on the street.”
“No. This raises more questions than it answers.”
“It does. It says here they couldn’t find an injection point on either of the boys?”
“The coroner thinks it was given orally, probably mixed in with food or a drink.”
“So they probably didn’t even know what was coming.”
“Not likely. It would have been better that way though.”
Kara looked back at the pictures of the two boys, classroom photos from a happier time. Their innocence stared back at her.
“It’s past quitting time,” Yuri said. “I can drive you home.”
“It’s not far,” Kara said, “and it’s a nice night. I think I’ll walk. Just leave the car here.”
I could drive, Kara told herself. It was just one, just enough to take the edge off, just enough to dull the image of Kat she held in her mind. That’s all he smelled.
Her hand started to shake, an almost imperceptible tremble.
“I need to clean some of this stuff up anyway, put some of this away.”
“Are you sure? You can leave it for tomorrow.”
“Nah, I’ll deal with it tonight.”
“Suit yourself,” Yuri said, turning to leave. Before he could reach it the door flew open, hitting hard against the file cabinet behind it.
“Sorry,” the young woman said. “Come with me, quickly. French police have one of the boys. It’s Claude, and he’s alive.”
Kara and Yuri didn’t hesitate. They took off at a run following the young woman out of the office and down the hall.