Read The Longest Winter Online

Authors: Harrison Drake

The Longest Winter (17 page)

Chapter Thirty

ara looked out of her apartment to see Yuri waiting in his car. It was only quarter to seven, there was still plenty of time she could’ve used to sit and relax. She preferred when people were late; too early and it just made things awkward.

I shouldn’t have looked out the window, she thought. Just gone about my morning, sat on the couch a little longer and headed downstairs for seven.

Kara grumbled and poured her coffee into a travel mug. She turned off the radio, strapped her gun to her left side – something that still took some getting used to – and headed out the door, locking it behind her. The elevator was already at her floor and it seemed everything was working toward making her start work even earlier. She stepped into the elevator she almost never used and pressed the button for the main floor.

Her chest felt tight as she breathed, her lungs pushed her ribs against the unforgiving material of her bulletproof vest. The pain was there, although the medication she had been given was enough to dull it. She had refused the heavy medication and settled on something that wouldn’t affect her mental acuity. The pain was worse, but it was bearable.

The elevator reached its destination and she stepped out into the lobby. Kara sipped her coffee then braced herself for the blast of cold as she opened the doors to the outside, a blast that never came. It was quite mild, a welcome reprieve from the weather they had been having. The worst of it had ended a couple of days prior, but the cold temperatures had hung on a little longer. She marveled at the gray and dirty snow piles that stood at the sides of the roads, mountains that towered over her. At least the roads were clear.

Kara opened the door and climbed in to the vehicle. It was silent as usual – Yuri hated having the radio playing while he drove.
Great, another quiet day.

“Sorry, I got here earlier than expected.”

“It’s alright. I was up and ready.”

“At least it is nice out today.”

“Yeah,” Kara said. “I’m glad I’m not on the ground floor. If this keeps up we’re going to have flooding to deal with.”

“It is not going to last, or so they say. When there are piles of snow taller than me, I don’t trust the weather reports.”

Kara laughed. “No kidding. I don’t think anyone saw this winter coming. At least the storm has passed. With a little luck there won’t be much more snow headed our way.”

“Back to Hespérange?”

Kara nodded. “With how much he was seen there, and the fact he was headed through there when they blew his tires, either he’s there or the boys are. We need to keep searching.”

“Alright. We have fifteen cars on the road today, each with two officers. Canine units and a helicopter are on standby.”

Yuri started driving and Kara switched herself into detective mode. The morning coffee was working its way through her system and helping to shake off the effects of another restless sleep. She had always slept on her stomach, but now she had no choice but to be flat on her back. It was taking some getting used to. And then there was the fact that her casted wrist always seemed to end up in an uncomfortable position.

“Where are we headed?”

“I don’t know. I figured we could just drive through the town looking. The other cars are set on a grid. They are following a pattern on the streets and checking the buildings one-by-one. We get to go anywhere and stay at the ready in case something happens.”

“Okay,” Kara said. “Let’s run through this. He’s probably extremely possessive of the boys. That’s pretty standard with this sort of case, right?”

Yuri nodded but didn’t speak. He trusted Kara’s judgment and wanted her to finish her thought process.

“What would you do if you robbed a bank?” She didn’t give him time to answer. “No, not a bank. Something more. Something valuable, almost priceless. Like an art heist or something. What would you do?”

“Hide whatever I took.”

“Right, somewhere safe and secure. Then what?”

Yuri thought for a second. “I would leave it there.”

“Exactly. Probably for a while, long enough for the heat to die down. Maybe even years. Max doesn’t have that luxury. Those boys need food and water and I doubt judging by the marks Claude had on his wrists and ankles that he gives them access to their own food and water. The groceries in the trunk of the car he was driving speaks to that as well.”

“He has to go back though.”

“Yeah, I agree. But I think he’ll wait until he absolutely has to, or at least until he’s completely satisfied that he isn’t under surveillance. But…” Kara paused, her thoughts spiraling in a direction that worried her.


“Did you have a toy or anything growing up that you would never let anyone else play with?”

“A stuffed bear. Misha.”


“It is the Russian word for ‘bear’. My grandmother was Russian and used to read me fairy tales. Every bear in them was named Misha.”


“It was something about not actually saying ‘bear’ or it would call a bear to you… which would be dangerous of course.”

“Of course. Fairy tales really are messed up. And they’re the first things we read to kids?”

Yuri smiled. “Preparation for the real world, told with witches and talking wolves instead of cannibalistic murderers and cross-dressing pedophiles.”

Kara shuddered. “That’s disturbing as hell.” She thought back to the old tales she’d grown up with sending a chill down her spine. “Yeah, that’s messed up. Anyway, back to what we were talking about… which really isn’t much better. So, Misha. Let’s say you knew you were going to lose it, that someone was going to take it away. What would you do?”

“Hide it somewhere no one would ever find it.”

“I had a ceramic unicorn that my mother had bought for me, just before she died. We were in Florida, I don’t even remember where we got it from. It’s actually kind of ugly, but I loved that thing more than anything else in the world. It was sacred to me, hell it still is.”

Kara took a sip of her coffee while Yuri drove on, waiting for the rest.

“Several years later my dad was cleaning up my room and had obviously forgotten where the unicorn had come from. He told me I should give it away or something, that I was too old for silly things like that. I freaked out on him, told him I would smash it before I’d let anyone else touch it.”

“You think he would rather let them die?”

“It might be better to him than losing them to someone else. Then there’s the possibility he doesn’t care about them at all, in which case he’ll leave them there and find a new place and two new boys.”

“Either way, we need to work fast.”

Kara nodded. “Any thoughts?”

“Nothing beyond just driving around and hoping for the best. The sightings of him were spread out through the area. It seems like he went to different places, probably to try to throw us off.”

“You said they were centred around a certain point?”

“There is a center to it, but it did not check out. They knocked on every door in the area. I think he might be smarter than we think. Sometimes, at least.”

They drove the city streets until it was well past noon. Lunch consisted of fast food burgers eaten in the car, washed down with drinks that were more ice than soda. Yuri ate as he drove.

“This is not working,” Yuri said, crumpling the wrapper from his burger into a ball and tossing it into the bag. “They have checked almost every address in the city, knocked on almost every door. If they were in a neighbourhood, I am sure someone would have heard them screaming or something.”

“Time to spread out in to the rural areas then. Pick a direction. I’ll get a couple of cars heading out to start checking the houses out there.”

“South.” Yuri looked at her. “Just a feeling,” she said.

Yuri drove toward the outskirts of the city as Kara watched the houses become further and further apart. They drove alongside a raised berm with railroad tracks at the top. The road went over a small river and the berm was replaced by a train bridge. In the darkness beneath the bridge Kara saw a flickering light.


“What is it?”

“There’s a light under that bridge.”

“Probably just a homeless camp,” Yuri said. It only took a moment before he realized what Kara was thinking. He hit the brakes and turned the car around.

Kara reached down and picked up a pair of binoculars from the floor of the car.

“There are definitely a few people moving about under there. Looks like they’ve got a fire going in a barrel.”

“You think he might be under there?”

Kara nodded. “We’re going to need a lot of cars before we try to take him down.”

“Do we even want to?”

Kara turned and stared at Yuri. “What?”

“Hear me out. We get surveillance on him and we wait for him to show us where the boys are.”

“And if he never does? Maybe he’s already killed them. Or maybe he’s abandoned them. If they’re still alive and he never goes back… we can’t be wasting time.”

“What if nothing we do can get him to talk?”

“Then hopefully the answers are on him somewhere.”

Yuri shook his head. “Either way, we are taking a risk.”

“I know. Best case scenario, they should’ve tailed him when they saw him the other night instead of getting right into a hot pursuit. If they’d stayed back and followed him, he might have led them to the boys.”

“I agree,” Yuri said. “Unfortunately, when you see someone wanted for murder the instinct is to catch them at any cost.”

Kara nodded. “If he never went back, then the boys have been alone for a day. If we wait another day and he doesn’t go back, they might only have one left before dehydration takes them. Everything we know so far, he keeps them tied up and gives them food and water when he decides. There’s nothing left out for them.”

Yuri shrugged then nodded. He was worried that something could go wrong, that for some reason they would never learn where Max was keeping the boys. Following him might have been the best bet, but only if they had more time. Kara was right. Even Claude had been dehydrated when they found him, and he was being given food and water. Without Max there to feed them, Jacques and David were on borrowed time.

“We need better binoculars. Once we know for certain that he is under there, we need to figure out a way to get him out without anyone else dying.” Yuri took the binoculars and looked at the silhouettes moving around the camp fire. “We need him alive.”

Chapter Thirty-One

woke to screaming. The kids had gone with Agnes and Kris to a hotel half a block from the hospital and I had tried to find a way to sleep in the room with Kat. To call the chair comfortable was a stretch, and that was just for sitting. My sleep had been broken and restless and when the scream came I was on my feet before it finished, my hand reaching for a gun that wasn’t there.

My mind was racing, trying to identify the threat. I searched the room, scanning from one side to the other until I was satisfied it was clear. Kat was sitting bolt upright in her bed, a look of shock on her face.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m right here.”

“Lincoln?” Her face was stark white, her eyes hidden behind puddles of tears.

I sat on the bed beside her and took her in my arms.

“Is this real?”

I looked at her, saw the fear in her eyes and squeezed harder. “Feel that?” I said. “It’s real. I’m not going anywhere. You’re safe now.”

A nurse came into the room, a syringe in her hand. I felt Kat jump in my arms at the intrusion; her nerves were shot and it didn’t take much for her to startle. I waved the nurse away and watched as she left, not taking my eyes off of the door until it had swung closed once more.

I held her close again. “We’re all here with you. You’re not alone anymore.”

Kat wiped her tears away and sniffled. “You have no idea how many times I dreamed, dreamed that you had found me. Almost every time I slept I had that dream. Sometimes we would go home to our house in London, just like it was, like it was before the fire. Other times we’d be at our apartment in Lyon or with my parents in Warsaw. Then there were some where I would be at the hospital.”

“Not as nice a dream.”

“No, I hated those ones. All I wanted was to go back to being with you and the kids. To get on with life like none of this ever happened.”

“We can do that now,” I said.

“I know, but every time I had one of those dreams, Lincoln, I had to wake up. I had dreams where I was in the hospital after you found me and the kids came just like, just like they did. I had dreams where I would think it was real, where I would have dreams within dreams. It was so hard to understand. Sometimes I didn’t know what was real, was real and what wasn’t.”

I put my hand on her head and tucked her against my chest. Her hair was soft and smelled of hospital shampoo. She had cherished that first shower, spending as much time as she could in there until I worried the entire hospital would run out of hot water. She had only come out because the kids had been set to arrive shortly after, but I knew that if they hadn’t come, she would still be in there, the warm water washing her tears away as the crashing droplets drowned out her cries.

“I don’t know how to prove it to you, Kat. But this is real. You aren’t dreaming, I promise.”

Kat laughed uncomfortably. “I know it’s real. Deep down I do, but this isn’t the first, first time you’ve told me that. How do I know I’m not going to open my eyes and be back in there again? I’ve woken up from pretty much those exact words before, Lincoln.”

Of course she had. There had been hundreds of days, hundreds of dreams, almost every one focused on being rescued, on seeing the kids and me again. She had probably gone through every possibility, every scenario, and every time; no matter how real it seemed, she had always woken up.

It was an existential question I was powerless to answer. How can any of us say that this isn’t a dream? The question had perplexed people for centuries before we came along and would continue to do so for centuries more as people spoke of vast simulated realities indistinguishable from ‘true reality’.

So I pinched her.

In hindsight it wasn’t the best idea given her physical state. There was very little to pinch and what remained bruised more easily than I had expected. She was still malnourished and anemic, despite the doctor’s efforts to bring her back to health quickly.

“Ouch,” she said as she pulled away and slapped my shoulder.

I looked at her with a stupid grin on my face and watched as she smiled. It started with just a slight upturning at the corners of her mouth, but it spread through her face until I saw the glimmer in her eyes I had missed so much.

“I’ve been poked and prodded since you got me out. If those didn’t wake me up, a pinch wouldn’t either.”

I shrugged, a sheepish look on my face. “Oh, right. It’s the thought that counts?”

She reached out and pinched me back and for a moment we laughed as though we were at home, lying in our bed together while the kids slept soundly down the hall. The joy was short-lived; her expression changed from happiness to concern.

“I’m still so scared, Lincoln. I know this is real, but I’m terrified I’m going to wake up back in, in that bunker.”

“You won’t. We’re going to finish off here and then we can either move to Warsaw with your parents – we have a nice apartment there just down the street from them – or we can head back to Canada.”

Kat shook her head. “It really doesn’t matter. I’m just happy to be back together as a family again. Where we are isn’t important.”

She rested her head back on my shoulder and I held her in my arms until she fell back to sleep.

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