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Authors: Harrison Drake

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BOOK: The Longest Winter
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Chapter Four

T
he lights blinded him as he opened his eyes. He squinted hard, trying to make out something, trying to figure out where he was. The warmth and brightness of the room comforted him. It was so different from the cold, dark place he had been locked in.

Am I safe?

The last thing he remembered was falling, tumbling down the hillside onto the snow-covered road. It was cold, and he was hurt. He had looked up and seen him, seen the man he’d been running from, standing at the top of the hill looking down. And then there was nothing but black.

Nothing until the light. No, that wasn’t right. There was more, the lights he saw were different, yellower, and it wasn’t warm. The snow was falling on him, each flake that touched his skin chilled him, and with every movement of his body he felt himself giving up.

They wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard he tried to fight, and their hands were like hot irons pressed against his skin. He had cried out for help and they… he struggled to place the memories back in order, to put the pieces back together… they told me it would be okay.

They told me I was safe.

Their car was warm and there was a blanket in the backseat. They laid him across the seats, made a pillow from one of their coats and wrapped him in the blanket. The pain in his body had been excruciating, and with the newfound warmth came the pins and needles and the burning sensation of cold flesh thawing out.

I remember crying, and then someone singing.

His eyes adjusted to the light and he saw where he was: a hospital room, the shades open just enough to let the morning sun in. His mother, Marie, was asleep. Her neck was bent at an unusual angle – an attempt to find some sort of peace in an uncomfortable chair.

He tried to sit up but the pain was too much. There was an unfamiliar weight on his left arm and leg that kept him from moving.

He looked down at the casts and started to cry.

“Claude,” his mother said when she heard her son. “Henri! He’s awake!”

“Mom, are they broken?”

She started to cry as well then nodded. “Yes, but you’re going to be okay.” The broken bones, the bruises, the cuts and stitches - those she could explain to him, those she could talk to him about. But the other things, what had happened to him, she didn’t want to consider the possibilities. She couldn’t bring herself to speak the words.

There was another question, one far more pressing that she needed to know the answer to.

“Where is Jacques? Is he okay?”

Tears streamed down Claude’s face as he thought of his escape, of Jacques helping him through the window and then buying him time. But what cost did it come at? Claude didn’t even know if Jacques was still alive.

“I don’t know, Mommy. He helped me get out, but then the man came in and I heard him yell that Jacques bit him. After that…”

Claude couldn’t speak.

“It’s okay,” his mother said, wiping away new tears and old mascara. “They’ll find him, they’ll bring your brother home.”

She held Claude as tight as she could without hurting him. Henri walked past the two officers guarding Claude’s door and walked into the room to join in the embrace. He looked past Claude’s head into his wife’s eyes and mouthed Jacques’s name.

Marie shook her head, shrugged her shoulders and turned her head away from Claude. He needed strength, he needed hope – neither of which she had in her to give.

Chapter Five

“A
gnes, it’s Lincoln.”

She paused for a moment, just as she always did.

“I haven’t found her yet. But there’s something I need to check out. I need to go back to Lyon for a couple…”

“We can pick the kids up from school. Just call and tell the office.”

Link and Kasia were in school in Poland now, just a few blocks from our apartment in Warsaw, and they were learning the language at an alarming rate. I still lagged behind, but holed up in my tiny office I rarely had the chance to practice.

They seemed to like school. They were doing well, had made a bunch of new friends, and were model students. I hadn’t had a single notice sent home or a phone call to tell me that they weren’t behaving. They seemed to be adjusting well, if only because it took their minds off of Kat.

“Lincoln?”

“Sorry, Agnes. Thanks, I’ll call the school right away. And I can drop their overnight bags off to you before I leave.”

“We can get them, if it’s easier.”

“Don’t worry about it, you’re on the way to the airport anyway.”

“How many days do you think?”

“Two or three at the most. I’ll keep you posted though.”

“Do you really think you’ll find her?”

“All I can do is hope. I’m getting closer… I have to be.”

She took a deep breath. “I know. I will keep praying. God will bring her home to us.”

There was so much I wanted to say, so much anger I had stored within me. I wanted to tell her it was God, or at least some psychotic’s belief in God, that was the reason Kat was taken in the first place. I wanted to tell her it had been almost eight months and God still hadn’t brought her home, even if Kris and Agnes prayed ten times daily, even if they’d organized half of Poland into prayer chains. I wanted to tell her that prayers weren’t going to bring Kat home. At this point, it was up to me and me alone.

I wanted to tell her all of these things, but I knew it would only be for my benefit. We all dealt with our pain differently. Agnes had found peace in trusting God, I had found an outlet in hating Him – hating something I didn’t even believe in.

Instead, I thanked her and let her know I’d be by in an hour to drop off the bags. Then I went to pack.

* * *

It was a short flight from Warsaw to Lyon, but with a five and a half hour layover in Zurich, I spent more time sitting in airports than I did in the air. It gave me time to go over my research in hopes of convincing myself that this wasn’t some fool’s errand.

Duncan Crawford, Kat’s abductor, had been a methodical man; insane, but methodical. All of his killings - more than sixty of them all around the world - were planned with the utmost care. The birthdates of the victims corresponded to verse numbers from the Book of Revelation, every victim was buried in a shallow grave with their body lined up toward Jerusalem with their heads pointing to the Holy Land, and every victim had been ritualistically killed with a blade stabbed into the side. Then they were marked with a cross on the forehead and buried in linens.

He had been obsessed with numbers, obsessed with the Bible and convinced that he would be the one, through his killings, to bring about the apocalypse. He had planned his acts to match Revelation, and twelve-hundred-and-sixty days after his first killing, three-and-a-half biblical Hebrew years, he had tried to enact his grand finale by blowing up the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, along with the hundreds of people inside. He had sought to cause maximum damage and hoped to raise his kill count over the Mark of the Beast, over six-hundred-and-sixty-six.

But we had stopped him. I had stopped him. It had taken only one bullet, straight through the throat and severing his spine. It was the only way to keep him from detonating the bomb – instant paralysis.

Saving hundreds of lives came at a cost. Crawford died before I could find out where Kat was, or if she was even alive. I had tried to get it out of him, but even in his final moments he refused to tell me. All he had said was that she was in France and underground. That and his belief that I wouldn’t find her before it was too late.

The thoughts had raged through my head, visions of her buried alive and gasping in her final moments as she suffocated. I had assumed underground to mean buried, but I couldn’t shake the idea that he had her locked away somewhere. Maybe he had given her supplies, maybe he didn’t think I would find her before they ran out.

There hadn’t been much time from when Crawford had abducted Kat after shooting two police officers - one fatally - to when we had arrested him in his apartment. I had done my best to calculate a radius that Kat had to be within. It was still a very large area though, too large to search fully. I had appealed to the Gendarmerie, the French military police force, the National Police, and to INTERPOL, and together we had combed the city in the early days of the investigation. Once Crawford was dead, our focus was on Kat. We searched everywhere we could, knocked on every door in the radius and distributed flyers to anyone who would stop and listen.

The story went international and we had thousands of phone calls to sort through, both from those in the area thinking they had seen her to much further afield. We didn’t discount any tip, even sending our agents in other countries to investigate some of the sightings that had been called in. I knew it was pointless, she wasn’t in Namibia or Belarus, but every lead had to be followed.

Nothing had come of it. It didn’t matter how many homes we searched, how many flyers and press releases we put out, how many so-called witnesses we interviewed; every step took us in the wrong direction. We had crossed off so many places, and yet we still had never been able to circle a single one.

With any luck, we would be able to this time.

Chapter Six

K
ara glanced up at the clock on the wall of the hospital waiting room. It was nearing midnight, the black and red hands ticking their way around the circle bit by bit. Yuri sat beside her, his eyes focused on the sports section of a local newspaper. Kara had passed the time playing Solitaire on her cell phone, at least until the battery died somewhere in the third hour of waiting. Her work phone had sat in her pocket, fully charged and begging to be played.

Five hours had passed, the two detectives sitting in the cold, hard, plastic hospital chairs. They waited for word that Claude had awoken, waited for their chance to speak to him. Claude had been awake when they had arrived at the hospital, but neither Kara nor Yuri wanted to intrude. His parents had been waiting for news about their sons; to have it come in the form of only one of them being returned would have caused an impossible to handle mix of emotions. The relief and joy of having Claude back would be balanced by the fear of the unknown regarding Jacques. They would have their questions, many that Claude wouldn’t be able to answer, but nothing would fix things.

Nothing short of having Jacques returned as well.

Claude’s return had filled part of the gaping hole in their hearts, but there was still a large hole waiting to be filled. And a hole is a hole, no matter how deep.

The definition of bittersweet, Kara thought. She thought of Lincoln, of Kat, and of their children. Their situation was reversed. The kids had lost their mother and she had been gone far longer than Claude and Jacques were. Every day that went by, the chances of bringing a person home safe and sound diminished. With Kat, the probability was fast approaching zero.

Kara thought back to Claude, to what the nurses had told them when they arrived. Yuri had taken notes while Kara had asked the questions.

“I know the parents asked him some things, I overheard some of it.”

Kara nodded, hoping the nurse would continue. She paused for a moment, looked around, then looked back at Kara.

“Can I say anything though? Isn’t it private?”

“His brother is still missing. We need to find him.”

The nurse nodded. “Right, right. Well, Claude said he didn’t know if Jacques was still alive. Said that Jacques helped him escape and then he heard what sounded like Jacques being beaten. He said the man had a temper, if he got angry, they got beaten. Usually Jacques would try to take the brunt of it, egging the man on if he had to.”

“Anything to protect his little brother.”

“Yeah. Those poor boys. My son and daughter are both older now, out on their own. But it was always my worst fear.”

“I think it is for every parent,” Kara said. “Was he able to say where they were? Or what the man looked like?”

“Evil. He just kept saying he was evil. Dark eyes, like lumps of coal. And he was big, very big. Claude didn’t say much else about him. It was obvious how terrified he was. And I don’t think he knew where they were, in a field somewhere was all he could say.”

“A field?”

“He said he was running through a field before he fell down a hill onto the road.”

“Are there any farms around here?”

The nurse hesitated, then gave a reluctant nod. “A lot.

It’s quite rural around here.”

“Damn. Anything that he said, anything that might help us find Jacques?”

“Nothing that I can think of. He didn’t talk too much before…” She paused and considered the balance between helping the police and protecting the rights of her patients.

“Before what?”

“We had to sedate him. His parents were asking him about Jacques, maybe a little too much. Although I get it, they’re obviously worried and want to know. But I think Claude couldn’t take it. He’s on some pretty powerful painkillers too. Those might have had some effect.”

“What happened?”

“He became extremely angry, just full of hatred and he was swearing like I’ve never heard from a child. Said he was going to kill the man and free Jacques. He almost leapt out of his hospital bed before I could grab him. Would’ve gone right onto his broken leg.”

“Good thing you stopped him.”

“I almost couldn’t. Two more nurses came running in, including…”

She paused and gave a cock of her head in the direction of the desk. Standing at a computer was a woman who must have stood six feet tall and weighed in at close to three hundred pounds.

“She was pretty much lying on him and he was still struggling. The doctor had to give him a shot and put him out.”

“Is that common?”

“Not in children. It’s very rare for them to react to morphine like that. I think it was everything coming to a head, and the drugs just made things worse. He’s been out for about an hour now, shouldn’t be much longer before he wakes up.”

Three and a half hours later

Kara looked back at the clock. “This is insane, Yuri. How long are we going to wait for? Even if he does wake up, do you really want to start asking a ten-year-old boy the hardest questions of his life in the middle of the night?”

Yuri put his paper down and glanced at the clock, then to his watch and then back to the clock.

“It’s not broken, Yuri.”

“I think I read this whole section three times over.”

“We have a few hours before morning comes, we should be out there searching for Jacques. They still haven’t found anything.”

“When did you last check in?”

“About twenty minutes ago. They’ve been driving around as long as we’ve been waiting here and that couple still can’t remember where they picked Claude up.”

“They should have called an ambulance.”

Kara nodded. “Yeah, but would you have?”

“Probably not.”

The couple, Peter and Naomi Flynn, were expat Americans living and working in the south of Belgium at the Université de Liège. They had married prior to leaving Massachusetts to begin their postdoctoral work - Peter in chemistry and Naomi in biophysics - and had delayed their honeymoon at the time. When it finally came, Paris was the destination of choice. They had spent four days among the cafes and museums before heading to the small French town of Verdun to visit friends.

They left late, driving their rental Peugeot back to the university. It wasn’t long after crossing the border into Belgium that they came upon Claude laying battered, broken and unconscious in the middle of the road. A layer of snow had fallen on him, and with his arms tucked beneath his fragile frame, he was almost unrecognizable as a person.

Peter saw him at the last moment and slid to a stop. He and Naomi rushed from the vehicle to Claude’s side expecting the worst.

“He’s breathing!”

Naomi knelt down beside the boy and saw the telltale rise and fall of his chest. “My God, what happened to him?”

“I don’t know. But he’s freezing. Let’s get him in the car and warm him up. I saw a sign for a hospital not far back, we can probably get him there quickly. Faster than waiting for an ambulance.”

Naomi nodded and helped lift Claude off of the ground. They laid him across the backseat of the car and draped a blanket over his body, tucking it with gentle care around him. Naomi got into the backseat and sat beside his head, her hand light against the skin of his cheeks. She brushed the hair away from the wounds on his face and cried when she saw the youthful innocence his face held. The injuries marred it, but they hadn’t taken it away. Not completely, she thought.

Peter shut the door to the backseat and climbed back in behind the wheel, never noticing the figure standing at the top of the hill, eyes fixed upon the small car. He had been ready to chase the boy down the hill but stopped when he saw them approaching. The snow had been falling harder; with a little luck he had hoped that they might not even see the boy who was lying in the other lane.

But they had stopped and got out. The man watched them intently, weighing his options and trying to decide what to do. They were both young, but neither looked like they would pose much of a problem. The young man was thin, not a muscle on him. The woman was petite; she barely stood taller than the car. He took two cautious steps down the snow-covered hill, but they were moving too fast. I won’t get to them in time, not without letting them know I’m coming.

And so he watched, his eyes trailing the car until it disappeared behind the next hill, watching as his property was taken from him.

“I still can’t believe he got lost.”

Yuri didn’t crack a smile. “Typical male, right?”

“All he had to do was turn around and head back the way he came.”

“He said when they stopped the car slid one-eighty. He figures he got confused when they got back in the car, turned it around and ended up going the wrong direction.”

“And then what? Don’t turn around when you realize you screwed up? Start trying random side roads until you get there?”

“They should have called an ambulance,” Yuri said. “They are really lucky he did not have any sort of spinal injury the way they just up and moved him. Although I doubt they have ever dealt with this sort of thing.”

“Starting to think they’re the lucky ones.”

Yuri thought back to the odour on Kara’s breath earlier. Even though he knew she was just taking the edge off, trying to calm the nerves and push away the things she’d been through, he had seen too many cops go down that road. It wasn’t long before one became many and a nightcap became full blown alcoholism. It was something he knew all too well.

“I know you have. They aren’t used to this sort of thing and have never been trained to think critically under stress. We have been through it enough times to be used to it.”

Kara nodded. “We should head out there. See if we can help. We’ll come back later once Claude’s awake.”

Kara and Yuri stepped out of the hospital and into a snowstorm. The fallen snow almost covered her feet as she walked to the car, really hoping Yuri would play the gentleman and brush the vehicle off. At least his boots were built more for function than fashion.

“This might explain why they’ve yet to find the spot. Can you even see the main road from here?”

“Not at all. Worst snowstorm I’ve seen since leaving Canada.”

“Hop in and start the car. And hand me the brush. You stay warm.”

Kara smiled. “Thanks, Yuri.”

“No problem. Maybe tomorrow you should wear different boots?”

Kara shut the door in mid-sentence then gestured as though she couldn’t hear him. Yuri shook his head as he went about removing the snow from the top of the car before scraping away the thin layer of ice that had formed on the glass.

A few minutes later he stepped into the car, snow covering him from head to toe. “You get to do it next time.”

“Will do. At least it’s nice and warm in here now. I called in when you were outside. They aren’t far from here. And they think they may have found where they picked up Claude.”

Yuri put the car into drive and pulled out into the snow. “Just tell me where to go.”

* * *

“You’re sure this is it?”

Peter looked around the area; then he looked at Naomi. “Yeah, I’m sure. I mean, it looks a lot different with the snow and everything, but this is it.”

“Where was he when you found him?”

“Over here, I think.” Peter walked out into the middle of the road. There was little to no traffic given the hour, but to be safe and protect the possible scene, a cruiser was parked at either end to block the road. Their flashing lights reflected off of the large snowflakes that fell heavy to the ground.

“Around here?”

Kara shone her flashlight on the road, hoping to see something that had been left behind. The snow was up to her ankles now; anything that would’ve been there was well obscured.

“He was in this lane. Wait,” Peter said, running a few paces down the road. “I remember this rock. We parked right near it.”

There was a large stone jutting out from the side of the hill, only an arms length from the shoulder of the road.

“So…” Peter started. He was lost in thought, retracing the position of the vehicle and the way he had walked. “It’s such a blur. As soon as we saw him, well, I don’t remember much from there. But we got out of the car right over there and then, it was about fifteen steps or so to get to him.”

He ran a short distance and stopped.

“That seems right,” Naomi said. “If not, it’s really close.”

“Stay there,” Kara said. She walked to the nearest vehicle and took out the snowbrush then returned to the spot where Peter and Naomi stood. Kara handed Peter her flashlight.

The road revealed itself as she brushed the deep snow aside, pushing it left and right until the asphalt was fully visible. She kept brushing, creating a larger and larger hole in the freshly fallen snow until…

“There.” Kara pointed at the road. “Bloodstains. Peter? The light.”

He moved his arm and the cone of light passed across the disturbed snow, twinkling as it went, until it fell on the crimson patches of blood that stood deep red against the dark grey road.

“Why is it so red?”

“It froze before it could dry,” Kara said. She looked over to the hill beside the road and looked up to its crest. “That’s a long way to fall, could account for his injuries.”

Yuri had come up behind Kara, watching as she looked through the snow.

“Especially if he was running when he fell,” he said. “Shall we?”

“Think we can make it up there?”

“I don’t see why not. Stay low, and ladies first.”

“So you can catch me if I fall, right?”

“No, so you will not see me fall. You would hold that over me for ages.”

“If you’re really going up there, just wait a second.” Kara looked behind her to see one of the local officers walking away from them and toward his cruiser. He returned with four road flares, long cylinders that always made Kara think of sticks of dynamite. Each one had a two-inch spike at the bottom, solid enough to drive into the road to stand the flare up. “Use these. Should make the climb a little easier.”

Kara and Yuri both nodded. “Good idea,” Yuri said. “Get a couple of officers to the top of the hill from the other side, there has to be a road or something that will take them there.”

The officer nodded then began speaking French into his radio.

The climb was slow going, even with help from a pair of substitute pickaxes. Both Kara and Yuri slipped on a few occasions, but the flares held. They were winded when they reached the top; their clothes were soaked from the snow and sweat and the cold wind bit to the bone. Kara looked back, her gaze reaching down to the road below.

“Shit, Yuri. He’s lucky to be alive.”

Yuri turned and looked as well, then took two stumbling steps backwards.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, just never been good with heights. Gives me vertigo.”

“If he was running from someone, he was probably going in a straight line.” Kara looked back down to the road to see where she had brushed the snow away. It had already begun to fill in, the road barely visible through the new snow. Only the difference in height gave it away. She turned around and pointed. “This way.”

Kara took the lead, any concerns regarding the depth of the snow long gone. Guess there was no point in having Yuri brush the car off, she thought. The snow clung to her clothing, cold and damp, which in turn clung to her skin. They hadn’t prepared for this weather, although it appeared neither had the majority of North-Western Europe. Record snowfall, it had said on the radio; police were urging people to stay off the roads, stay indoors and to be prepared for power outages. The storm had stalled above the area and just sat there, unleashing its beautiful fury on the world below.

BOOK: The Longest Winter
13.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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