Read The Longest Winter Online

Authors: Harrison Drake

The Longest Winter (4 page)

Chapter Eight

J
acques fought against his restraints. The ropes were even tighter than before; they dug into his flesh whether he struggled or not. The ropes between his wrists and ankles were tied together, holding him in a bent-over seated position. His back was getting sore. Moving at all had been almost impossible since they’d come to this new place. He would roll onto his side to sleep and found that the new position relieved some of the pressure, but with it came a feeling of even greater helplessness. If the man returned while Jacques was lying down there would be no way to stop an attack.

Jacques bit down on the fabric that had been tightly tied between his teeth and wriggled some more; the ropes didn’t budge. Wherever they were now, the man was worried. Jacques could tell how uneasy he was. He had seen people under stress before, but there was something different. He was afraid; Jacques could see that - afraid that Claude’s escape would lead to him being caught. That was why they had moved. But there was something else he could see in the man, something he wasn’t sure could be real.

He seemed sad.

Jacques pushed the thought away. That couldn’t be it. He was probably just upset that he was going to be caught. The man hadn’t said it, but Jacques knew Claude had gotten away.

“I caught him,” he had said when he returned. “And I killed him for trying to get away.”

Jacques believed him at first and had broken down completely, but when the man grabbed him and took him from the house he thought maybe there was something else going on. Jacques had been dragged through the snow, his mouth gagged and a blindfold placed over his eyes, then he had been thrown into the trunk of a car a distance away. He wasn’t sure how far they had driven, but it seemed like it had taken forever. His one attempt at escape, kicking at the taillights, had been met with the car coming to a sharp stop and the man opening the trunk.

“Do that again and I will kill you.”

He slammed the trunk lid shut and Jacques stayed still for the remainder of the trip. When the man stopped again, he opened the trunk, lifted Jacques out and carried him a short distance. A few doors were opened and closed and some stairs climbed before Jacques was put down.

The sound of footsteps and a door closing and locking told Jacques he was alone. He rubbed his face against his shoulder until he was able to loosen the blindfold. The room was larger than the last one, and it looked more like the inside of an actual house. The floor was wooden, that ugly pattern Jacques couldn’t remember the name of. The room was completely devoid of furniture. He wasn’t sure if this was a temporary thing or where he was going to be staying, but at least it was warmer than the previous place.

Jacques finished looking around the room; there was no chance of escape. The only door was locked and the window behind him was barred. If he were going to escape he’d have to overpower the man, something he knew he couldn’t do without a weapon or some other advantage.

He hadn’t slept well that night. The pain in his wrists and ankles was too much for him to find any comfortable position. He believed his brother was dead and cried whenever he thought of him. As much as it pained him to consider it at all, he hoped that the man had made it quick. Jacques lay there that night, thinking of his brother, tears streaming down his bruised face, wishing it had been him instead. All he wanted was for his brother to have had a chance. But there was a part of him he hated to acknowledge, a part of him that told him Claude was the lucky one. He didn’t have to suffer anymore. They were probably going to die - Jacques had believed that from the beginning - and if he was right, then Claude’s fate had come early and with it he had been saved from untold pain and suffering.

The man spent that night pacing in the halls, muttering to himself. Jacques had listened to him, straining to hear what he was saying as he walked up and down the hallway.

“You idiot,” he finally heard him say. “You let him get away.”

Jacques perked up immediately, his spirits lifted. He was elated; there was almost nothing that could bring him down at that point. Claude was alive, and he was free. That was why the man had moved him. He was worried about being caught now that Claude had gotten away. Claude would get help, he would tell the police everything. Jacques found himself believing, for the first time in what seemed like ages, that he stood a chance of survival. Someone would find him. Claude would make certain of that.

The sound of someone approaching brought Jacques back to the present. He looked at the door and waited. When it opened the man stood there, a plate of food and a glass of water in his hands. He looked at Jacques bindings, made sure they were still tight, then walked into the room and set the food in front of the boy. His hand went behind his back and when it came forward he was holding a large hunting knife.

“Scream and I’ll kill you. Eat quickly.”

He moved behind Jacques and untied the gag then bunched it up in his hand and stuffed it into his pocket. Jacques looked at the food. More white rice, but it looked amazing and tasted even better. Hunger could do amazing things to a person. They had never been given utensils – could become weapons, Jacques figured – so he dug into the food with his hands. It wasn’t easy in his new position and he was barely flexible enough to get the food from the bowl to his mouth without straining hard against the ropes.

When he was finished he picked up the glass and drank the water. It was nice and cold, refreshing even. Jacques savoured the feeling of the moisture on his lips.

I hope Claude has been having some better meals, maybe McDonald’s or something.

He spent his time visualizing what Claude might be doing and then he imagined himself there beside him – at the park, at school, playing video games at home, eating dinner and wrestling in the snow. It gave him strength and a little bit of happiness.

“Open your mouth.”

Jacques did as he was told and winced as the gag was tied in place once more. The man picked up the bowl and glass and left Jacques alone, shutting and locking the door behind him.

Chapter Nine

T
he snow stopped just as the sun rose above the fields. The meteorologists had been clear; it was just a break in the storm, but it was enough to make the work easier for Kara and Yuri. The sun climbed through the sky, its rays bursting through small breaks in the clouds, casting its light over the snow-covered field.

Kara stood in the doorway to the building and looked out over the area. If she turned her head just a little to the right, the trenches dug through the snow by heavy boots worn by trudging police officers disappeared and the ground was uniform, pure, pristine. It was the beauty of winter that Kara loved, the simplicity before the monotony of the day-to-day kicked in – the driving, the shoveling, the wading through slushy parking lots, and of course scraping the ice off of the windshield.

“You good?”

“Yeah,” Kara said. “Just needed a breather.”

Yuri nodded. “No doubt. This case is getting really heavy. There is so much I would rather not think about, so much I wish we could imagine never happened. But I guess we wouldn’t be very good at our jobs if we did, right?”

“It’s disgusting what people will do to each other. Before homicide, I was a detective in a unit investigating sex crimes and child abuse. Some days those things were separate. It was the days where they overlapped that were the hardest. I’d really hoped I was done with it. Those cases, those kids… they needed help, that’s for sure, and it felt great to be able to save them from what they were going through. I just never felt strong enough.”

“I am not sure anyone does. Not when it comes to children. If someone can handle these kinds of cases, day in and day out without a problem, they are either completely numb or inhuman.”

Kara kicked the snow beside her. The drift was nearly to her waist and the light snow collapsed inward onto her boots.

“Shit.” She laughed for a moment. “Doesn’t matter, I’m still wet. Probably going to have trench foot after today.”

Yuri smiled. “Sensible footwear tomorrow?”

“I’m coming in Antarctic survival gear.”

“Hopefully we can avoid foot pursuits then.”

“Shall we go back in? Finish this up?”

Yuri nodded and stepped back inside. Kara shut the door behind them; the sound of steel on steel rang through the small building.

“Not designed for acoustics, apparently.”

Once daylight broke, Kara had been better able to inspect the building. They had found the light switches earlier, but there was only one weak bulb in each room. It sufficed, but they still found themselves having to use their flashlights to search through the building.

It was, for all intents, a square. There were four main rooms, five if the bathroom was included. Each room was about the same size. Kara tried to determine what the building had been built for, if it had been made for the sole purpose of what it was most recently used for. The room with the window seemed like an odd place to use to keep the children though. It was the only one they could escape from.

Was it sympathy on their captor’s part? A little bit of light and air coming into the room might have helped to keep them in better spirits. But would he have cared? Kara hated to admit it, but they knew very little about how the suspect operated and what his motives were. All they knew was how it had ended the first time. In between, however, they had almost no information.

They needed to speak to Claude, figure out what the suspect did, how he acted, what he looked like, what he had said to them, anything that might help. They had received word from the hospital that he was awake and able to speak, but they had not had a chance to leave the building yet. If the suspect had left something behind, that was the best chance they had of catching him. Claude’s testimony would help, but Kara knew he wouldn’t be able to identify the man, and there was no way Claude could know where Jacques had been taken.

There was little to go on in the building. Once the initial adrenaline was gone, Kara and Yuri began to search for evidence. There wasn’t much. Kara believed it to be a matter of there never having been much to begin with. She doubted someone careless enough to forget to flush the toilet would remember to remove everything else that could tie him to the scene.

Especially when there were a few very obvious fingerprints left behind.

“Do you see that?” Kara pointed her flashlight at the back of the microwave. There was a visible print on the metal frame. “Another print. How many is that now? Seven?”

“I think so. Wait until forensics gets here. If we can see that many, I’m sure they will find a ton more once they dust.”

“It’s a little worrisome,” Kara said. “If he’s this careless, he’s probably not worried about being caught. Which means we won’t have him in the system. Doesn’t matter if we have his prints and DNA.”

“Maybe he was in a rush once Claude got away. He must have known we would not be far behind.”

“I hope so. If we’ve got him on file…”

“We are going to get Jacques back either way.”

Kara nodded.

“Here, help me pull the fridge and stove out.”

Kara walked over and she and Yuri each took a side of the fridge. They grabbed hold and pulled, the feet scraping across the concrete floor until they reached the middle of the room. Yuri let go and looked behind the fridge.

“Nothing. Let’s do the stove.”

They took hold and pulled once more, the familiar scraping sound like nails on a chalkboard filled the room once more.

Yuri took a look behind the stove. “I have something here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, a couple of papers. Must have slipped behind.” He bent down and picked them up then began to look through them, shuffling through three yellowed pages. “This guy really was careless.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Bills. With a name and address on them.”

Yuri took his radio off of his belt and pressed the button to talk. “Can I get a location on an address?”

“Go ahead.”

“1342 Rue de Rennes. It’s Belgian.”

There was a long period of silence before the operator returned to the radio.

“Is this a joke, Detective?”

Yuri and Kara looked at each other, unsure of what was happening.

“No, not at all. Why?”

“That’s where you are. As close as we can tell anyway. It’s a large property. That address probably refers to the main house.”

“Sorry, main house? How big is this property?”

“Quite large. Did you not see the other building on your GPS?”

“We don’t have imagery of this location. Just the drawn maps.”

“Okay. From what we can tell, based off of the GPS in your radios and aerial imagery, the main house is about a kilometer south of you. Looks like there’s some heavy brush and trees in the way.”

“Between that and the snow, it explains why we never saw it. Thanks.”

“Let’s go check it out,” Kara said.

“I just want to take one more look at the room.”

Yuri walked back to the room where the boys had been held. Kara had climbed in through the open window Claude had escaped from only hours before. It was a barren room, with cinder block walls and a concrete floor. Only two small yoga mats on the floor would have given the boys any warmth. They had been bound with ropes - they knew that from Claude - but they had been able to move around the room. The one corner held a bucket, half-filled with a mix of urine and excrement. Empty food dishes and cups lay on the floor amidst telltale patches of dried blood.

A pair of ropes lay in the middle of the room, their fibers stained red. Yuri didn’t want to look at them, not again. The small pieces of torn flesh that clung to the ropes were a painful reminder of what Claude had gone through in order to escape. They were a painful reminder of the past as well.

You need to toughen up. Push it aside and just focus on the case.

Even without children of his own, cases involving kids were the hardest on Yuri. They were the hardest on just about every officer. To see what people were capable of - the willingness to destroy a child’s innocence, to kill something so pure - was a cross no one should have had to bear.

You need to bear it. For them. And when you find him, you can nail the fucker to it.

A morbid grin crossed his face. There would be no death penalty, Belarus was the only country in Europe that still allowed for capital punishment, but he knew what happened to men like their suspect once they went to jail. It didn’t matter who he was, he’d spend the rest of his life paying in blood for his crimes.

Justice comes in many forms.

* * *

Kara knocked on the front door of a large farmhouse. The home wasn’t far from the building in the field, and it was right where dispatch had told them it would be. It was a kilometre south, hidden behind a narrow but dense strip of forest.

“You sure we shouldn’t have gotten a warrant or kicked the door down?”

“Yuri, look around you. All of this hokey farm décor, it’s just like back home. I bet you twenty euros the person who answers the door is well over sixty.”

“You’re on.” They waited a moment longer before the sound of someone fidgeting with the lock made them stand at the ready. “Here goes.”

The door opened and an elderly lady of at least seventy stood behind the glass storm door.

“Dammit,” Yuri said under his breath.


Bonjour, Madame,
” Kara said. “Do you speak English?”

The lady shook her head then turned around and yelled for someone. An elderly man came out from another room and walked toward the door, shuffling with each step.

“Hello,” he said. “How can I help you?”

“My name is Kara Jameson, and this is Yuri Shevchenko. We’re detectives with INTERPOL.”

“Really? What brings you here?”

“Do you mind if we come in, sir? It’s quite cold.”

He opened the door and ushered them in. “My apologies, in my shock I forgot my manners. I’m Heinrich Schmidt.” He turned and gestured to his wife. “My wife, Virginie.”

Yuri and Kara shook hands with the couple.

“Thank you.”

“Please, come in and sit.”

Kara smiled. “Thanks, but we’re both quite wet from all this snow. We can stand here, I don’t want to get water all over your house.”

He nodded, but seemed uncertain about it.
A proper gentleman
. She envisioned that they would have sat down on a plastic-covered couch and had snacks and tea brought in minutes later by the lady of the house.

“So, you’re from Germany?” Kara had noticed the accent the moment Heinrich spoke; hearing his name confirmed it.

“Yes, born and raised in West Germany.”

“Your English is very good.”

Heinrich smiled. “Thank you. I was in the military and was stationed around the world several times, mostly working in American bases. Virginie and I met only recently, after my first wife passed away from cancer. She and her first husband had lived here and worked the fields until he passed ten years ago.”

“How did you meet?” Virginie was still standing with Heinrich at the front door, listening intently but Kara could tell she wasn’t understanding the conversation.

“Online, believe it or not.”

Kara smiled. “My grandfather can’t even send an e-mail. I think online dating would be too much for him to figure out. How long have you been married?”

“Almost two years now.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you. So, I hate to pry, but might I ask why you’re here?”

“Have you heard the news stories about the missing boys from Luxembourg?”

Heinrich nodded, a look of sadness crossed his face. “They think they were taken by the same person who killed the other two, am I right?”

“Yes.”

“Do you think they’re somewhere nearby? I’m not sure what this has to do with us.”

“The building you have out in the fields, when was it last used?”

“Not since Virginie’s husband passed away. He used to hire people to work on the farm. He built it for them to use. It was a place where they could relax, have lunch, maybe take a nap. But no one has worked the fields since he passed.”

“Do you ever go out there?”

“I did once, shortly after I moved in. I had gone for a walk and was exploring the property. Virginie had told me about it so I brought the key along and took a look. There was an old couch in there, and a fridge and stove, but other than that it was empty. The power had been shut off a while ago. There’s a panel on the one wall outside that was locked. Wait, do you think someone has been using it?”

“They have. One of the missing boys was found last night on the road west of here. He had escaped from the building and run, then fell down the hill to the road. We found the place a few hours ago, it’s clear that it had been used by the suspect.”

Heinrich took a step back and sat down on the stairs leading to the second floor. “
Mein Gott
. We had no idea. Did you catch the killer?”

“No, he was gone by the time we got there. And he took the other boy with him.”

Heinrich shook his head. “If only I’d known. It’s so far removed from the house, we never go out there and you can’t even see it from here.”

“We found these inside,” Kara said, holding up the bills. “Do you know a Sergio Salvatore?”

“Virginie?” Heinrich looked at his wife. She leaned in to take a closer look at the name on the papers.


Oui,
” she said. “
Il a travaillé pour nous. Il
était
un homme bon.

“Did you get that?”

“Yes, thank you. How long ago did he work for you?”


Combien d’années il ya?

Virgine thought for a moment. “
Douze ou treize ans.

Kara looked at Yuri. “It’s worth looking into, but I doubt it would be him. Not unless he came back to use the place again after all these years.”

Yuri nodded. “Do you know of anyone who might have used the building?”

Heinrich turned and asked his wife. He spoke for a while, and Kara could only catch parts of the conversation. It seemed like he was explaining the situation to her. When he was finished she began to cry.

She spoke through her tears, but her pace was too fast for Kara to understand.

“She says she’s very sorry. She didn’t know. A man came looking for her husband; he had worked for them many years ago. Not Sergio, though.” He looked at Virginie.

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