Read The Longest Winter Online
Authors: Harrison Drake
here you go, Jacques. I brought your brother back.”
Max stared at the boy, his eyes burrowing into him. Jacques didn’t know what to say. The boy had a blindfold on and a bandanna tied between his teeth, but even still Jacques could tell that it wasn’t Claude.
Jacques nodded; the gag in his mouth prevented him from speaking.
“I know you were getting lonely. I don’t blame you. It’s so hard being alone, knowing your brother had left you.” Max removed the gag. “Remember what I said about screaming.”
Jacques nodded and looked at the plate of food Max had set in front of him. His hands were still bound, tied at the wrists. He picked up a piece of baguette and took a bite. Jacques marvelled at the taste and realized Max had buttered it.
He was in a good mood today.
“Is it good?”
Jacques smiled enthusiastically and took another large bite. He finished the bread and picked up the glass in front of him. The smell hit his nose first and he was happy to finally have something other than water. It was fruit punch, and it tasted amazing. He took a sip and savoured it, swished it around in his mouth and enjoyed the flavour and sweetness.
“Yes,” Jacques said, then he stopped. He didn’t want to say it, but if he could keep him happy… “Thank you.”
Max smiled. It took Jacques aback. He hadn’t seen that side of him, not since the first day and even then it wasn’t the same. He had smiled more then, but this one Jacques could tell was different. He could see the happiness in Max’s eyes.
“No one should ever have to be alone,” Max said. He reached down and took David’s gag and blindfold off. “I didn’t want you to be. I know you thought you were helping him when he escaped, and he probably thought he was helping you too. But brothers need to stick together. You need to live together or die together.”
Jacques stopped eating and looked up. There was unmistakeable concern in his eyes.
“Nothing to worry about, kid. Enjoy your meal. Claude should be awake in a few hours. I’m sure you guys will want to catch up. And tell him I’ll kill him if he screams. But I’ll make him watch me kill you first.” Max smiled at the boy. “Enjoy your dinner,” he said cheerfully.
Max left the room and locked the door leaving Jacques to finish his meal of fresh bread, deli meats, cheese and fresh fruit. There was a plate in front of the new boy as well and it took everything Jacques had not to eat the food. He was starving and the presence of something that wasn’t rice or water made his mouth water long after he had finished his own meal.
was lying on the floor of the apartment staring at the ceiling tiles. The dots looked like stars in an endless sky and as I counted them I felt myself relaxing. It was the only good thing about that style of ceiling. Well, there was also the benefit of easy access to electrical and plumbing as well as being a great place to hide things. We had torn them all down when we first found the apartment but there was nothing up there but dust and a few dead flies.
They had still been on the floor when I moved in and it had taken the majority of the day to get them all back in place. The tedium of fighting with the corners to get them all to sit flat had nearly driven me insane; then came the clean-up of all the little fragments that had fallen off. We had developed a bit of a love-hate relationship, but as I lay there on the floor all I could think of was how mesmerizing they were.
I counted imaginary stars until I felt relaxed, then I focused my thoughts on Kat.
“Stop wasting time. You know where to find her.”
I repeated it over and over until I knew I would never forget the words etched onto that piece of metal. Hidden under the body of a murdered prostitute - someone who had been wearing Kat’s rings - it was all I had to go on.
My chest rose and fell with deep cleansing breaths, a butchery of some Eastern mindfulness meditation technique I had been taught during my breakdown a couple of years prior. The exact method was lost on me; I no longer remembered the visualization process, the steps I was to walk through as I felt my body being cleansed. That didn’t matter to me, I never felt like it worked. I just focused on my breathing, knowing that whether I did it the right way or not, it was a soothing process that boosted my oxygen levels and helped me to calm down and think with a clearer head.
It also helped me to fall asleep.
I drift up from the floor, my body parallel. I roll to my side and get to my feet, like getting out of a bed that isn’t even there. The apartment looks different but familiar. I walk around and recognize all of the old furniture, the books and bookshelves, appliances on the counter, clothes in the closet. None of it is mine - it all belongs to him.
I find him outside, standing on the balcony. He doesn’t notice me as I take my place beside him, my hands resting on the railing. It’s summer now - or before, I’m not really sure - and the trees are bright green, verdant leaves blowing in a gentle breeze. There isn’t a cloud in the sky to mar the view that leads north of the city of Lyon to the tree-covered hills.
I look at him as he stares wistfully into the distance, watching the trees sway and the birds fly. There is sadness in his eyes, a look of deep regret. He turns to face me.
“You’re early,” he says.
“I didn’t realize we had an appointment.”
“It doesn’t matter, Lincoln. None of it really does.”
I want to hit him. I want to push him over the railing, but even now I know this is only a dream. It won’t change anything.
“Then why Kat? Why do any of this?”
“Everything else, Lincoln, I do it because I have to. I know you don’t get that. Most people never would. You think I’m crazy, they think I’m crazy, sometimes even I think I’m crazy. But it doesn’t change the fact that I have no choice.”
“We always have a choice, Crawford.”
“If only that were true. Leave Lyon, go back to your kids and stop looking for Kat.”
“I can’t do that. I’m doing this for them as much as I am for me.”
“Then you have no choice in what you do.”
I shake my head. “It’s not that simple, Crawford. I could leave, but it would eat at me every day. I would have this constant nagging in my head, the guilt would be overpowering and eventually, I wouldn’t be able to fight it. I’d be right back here, ready to tear a city down to find her.”
“Now you know why I did what I did.”
I scoff at him. “Seriously? You can’t compare the two.”
“Did you notice the gaps, the killings that were spread far apart? There were five times I tried to stop, five times I told myself I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew what I was doing was wrong, even if at the same time I knew I had to do it for the good of the world.”
“Didn’t work out, did it?”
He looks at me, a look of chagrin.
“What?” I say. “Too soon?”
He ignores me and continues. “I tried to stop, Lincoln. And each time I did the feelings became stronger and stronger. I got headaches. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. The only thing that made me feel better was to kill.”
“You could’ve solved it all with one simple kill.”
“I was too weak for that. Can you blame me? No matter what, I chose survival. And I fought to the bitter end.”
“But why Kat? What part does she play in all of this?”
“When this started, I respected you so much. I saw your name in print, saw that you were a man who knew what had to be done, who was willing to get his hands dirty if it came down to it. And I saw you as a challenge. If you could stop me, it was meant to be. I wanted to be stopped, Lincoln. I really did.”
“I grew to hate you. I saw what you had, things I had never known. You have the love of not one woman but two, amazing children and the respect of all around you. Sure, I had some of that as a pilot, but it wasn’t the same. And I hated you for it. I wanted nothing more than to make you realize the wonders you had in your life.”
“So you took it away? I knew, Crawford. I fucking knew how good I had it, you son of a bitch.”
He puts his hand up to calm me. “There’s no point in fighting. You’ll be here in a moment, and then-” he stops talking and looks to the north again, to the distant hills. “It won’t be long until we go up there. You’ll follow me blindly, doing anything I say and I’ll get away because of it. You’ve always been a fool, Lincoln. Maybe you trust too much, maybe you’re blinded too much by emotion. I really don’t know.”
“What do you mean I’ll be here in a moment?”
He doesn’t answer. He takes another long look at the hills and for a moment I think I see a tear welling up in his eye but then he blinks and it’s gone.
I follow him as he walks into the apartment and sits down on the couch.
“You should be going. She’s waiting for you, she’s been waiting all this time.”
I stand to the side of the couch. He stares at the door with unbreakable calmness. I jump back when the door comes crashing in and splinters fly everywhere.
“She’s not here, Lincoln.”
He isn’t talking to me, but to the man standing in the doorway with his gun trained on Crawford.
“Where the fuck is she?” the man says, the gun steady in his hands.
Crawford doesn’t speak. He just looks at him, a smug grin on his face.
“I’m only going to ask you one more time, Crawford. Where is she?”
Crawford smiles and I watch the man pull the trigger. Feathers fly out of the throw pillow beside him.
“You missed,” Crawford says. The calm demeanor cracks slightly and I think I see fear in his eyes, even if just a little.
“I never miss. Where is she?”
“She’s not here. And if you ever hope to find her, you won’t take the next shot.”
The man pulls the trigger again and the bullet rips through Crawford’s chest. I scream and yell for him to stop but he doesn’t hear me.
He fires again and again and with each bullet I feel Kat slipping away, the hopes of finding her vanishing with every round.
I move in front of him to block the shot but he fires anyway. The bullet passes through my ethereal body and Crawford shakes from the impact. I grab hold of the man’s gun and wrest it from his hands. His face is contorted in fear and pain to the point where I can’t even recognize my own face anymore.
“This isn’t how it happened. This isn’t you.”
I don’t know what comes over me but I bring the gun up to chest level and fire. He puts his hand over his heart and then takes it away, his hand red with blood. Sadness rises in his eyes, a sadness I know all too well, but it isn’t enough to hide the hatred and anger.
I can’t stop myself, I fire again and again and again, the sound of the bullets replaced by the rhythmic sound of someone knocking on the door.
The life fades from his face and he slumps to the floor. I look down upon myself. The gun drops from my hand and I close my eyes.
The knocking sounded again and when I opened my eyes I found myself in the present laying on my back on the floor, my gaze fixed on the ceiling.
Three louder knocks.
“Link? Are you in there?”
That voice. It couldn’t be.
I got up from the floor and ran to the door, my hands scrambling at the locks. He greeted me with a hug when I let him in.
“Chen, what the hell are you doing here?”
“I left as soon as you hung up. I didn’t want to wait for you to call with the results. I figured you could use some support.”
“That would be why you didn’t answer your phone. You got my message.”
Chen nodded. “I did. That’s amazing news, Link. But it still raises the question of where she is.”
“I think I might know,” I said, hoping that I was right.
avid started to stir. He fought to open his eyes against the dizziness and saw blinding lights like starbursts in the sky. The drugs were wearing off, but some after effects lingered. He felt an upwelling in his stomach and leaned to the side to vomit. Little came out and what did burned his throat and left a foul taste in his mouth.
“It’s okay, you’re going to be fine. Just don’t scream, he’ll kill us if you do.”
He heard the voice but couldn’t place it. Someone was with him, someone he didn’t know. The other boy spoke in French as David did, and seemed to be around the same age.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“My name is Jacques. And I don’t know where we are.”
David tried to open his eyes again but it was too much. He closed them until just a slit remained. Through the light he could see a silhouette of someone sitting on the floor not far from him.
“Where are my parents?”
“Not here. I’m sorry, I don’t really know how to tell you this, but you were kidnapped.”
David stopped breathing. He could hear his heart pounding in his chest.
“No, there’s no way.”
“What do you remember?”
“I… I don’t remember anything.”
Jacques started to move toward David. He shuffled along the floor, his hands and ankles bound.
“Don’t come any closer.” David tried to get up, but couldn’t. “What is this? Why are my wrists and ankles tied?”
“I told you. Just stay calm. You don’t want him to hear you.”
Jacques watched as David struggled with the ropes. He pulled hard against the bindings on his wrists until he began to cry in pain and frustration. He fought to stand up but fell to the ground and began to retch again, a dry heaving that produced nothing but sound.
“You have to take it easy. You still have the drugs in you. You’re weak right now, okay? What’s your name?”
“Look, it’s going to be okay, David. My brother, Claude, was here before but he escaped. I know he’s going to get help. He’ll tell them who this guy is and hopefully the police will find us soon.”
“I don’t know. Claude has been gone a couple of days now. This is going to sound weird, but the man tried to tell me that you were Claude. He told me he got him back for me. So if he calls you Claude, I’d say go with it. You don’t want to make him angry, okay?”
David nodded. There was so much to try to understand, so much to remember. Images were coming to him like puzzle pieces; he strained to put the memories back together.
“I think I remember him. I was asleep and then I felt something on my mouth. I woke up and saw a man standing over my bed. Did he stab me with something? My arm hurt.” David squinted and looked at his left arm. There was a small bruise on the inside of his forearm.
“That’s how he got the drugs into you. He used a needle.”
“I don’t remember anything else before being here.”
“He got you while you were sleeping? He took my brother and me on our way home from school. I think I’d rather not remember.”
David started crying again. Jacques could see that the drugs were wearing off and David was becoming more aware of what was going on. The emotions he went through were written on his face.
“Wait, I remember him. His teeth, is the one broken?” Jacques nodded. “I thought I saw that. It’s such a blur though. He’s an old friend of my dad’s. I think his name is Max.”
“Don’t call him that,” Jacques said. “It might make him angry. It’s probably better if he thinks you don’t remember him.”
David started to cry. “I always lock my window. Always. And I check it before I go to bed. How did I forget?”
Jacques shrugged. “Maybe you didn’t. Maybe he figured out how to get it open anyway.”
David wiped his tears and his nose with his shirtsleeve. “I hope so. Then it wouldn’t be my fault.”
Jacques moved across the floor and sat beside David, his bound hands resting on the younger boy’s knee. “I’ll be here with you, okay? I promise that we’re going to get through this.”
David sniffled and dried his eyes again. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m glad I don’t have to be alone.”