Read The Longest Winter Online

Authors: Harrison Drake

The Longest Winter (8 page)

Kara felt herself drifting off again, felt her eyes starting to close. Her head began to slump forward and the car moved toward the shoulder. She felt the drift and forced herself back to attention.

It was too late.

The car was about to go into the ditch and Kara reacted too hard, turning the wheel fast toward the center of the road. The rear end of the car lost traction and she began to spin. She cranked the wheel the opposite direction and started to regain control then lost it again when her front tire hit the soft snow on the shoulder.

The car left the road and flipped as it went down a steep incline. The airbag inflated and Kara lost all sense of orientation as the car rolled. Glass shattered and metal crunched as Kara’s head bounced off of the doorframe knocking her unconscious.

Chapter Twelve

ax had waited for the snow to stop, waited for hours for a chance to go out. He knew where he was going. It wasn’t ideal, but it would work. They were a trusting family who rarely locked their doors or windows.

Max knew that because he knew them.

It had gone better than expected. The boy’s veins were quite pronounced for a twelve-year-old which made finding a good injection spot that much easier. He had prepared the syringe before he arrived, estimating the boy’s weight ahead of time and filling the syringe with one hundred milligrams of Propofol.

He held the syringe over the boy’s arm and his other hand over the boy’s mouth, close enough to feel his breath. He waited for a moment, took a deep breath and lowered both hands at the same time. The needle was sharp and it entered the skin without resistance, but it was enough for the boy to wake up. Max pushed down on the plunger, sending the drugs into the bloodstream, and pushed down on the boy’s mouth with his other hand.

He was stronger than Max had expected, but the kicking and flailing didn’t last long. Max looked the boy in the eyes and waited for that glimmer of recognition.

“Shh,” he said. “It’ll be over soon, David.”

David looked back into Max’s eyes with fear and confusion until the sedative took effect and he drifted back to sleep. There wasn’t much time now. The drugs he had given the boy would only last so long, and with the roads the way they were he needed to get back before he woke up. The snow had started again just as Max was putting him into the trunk of his car.

He had taken so many risks, but it had paid off. Max couldn’t stop thinking about what could have happened.

What choice did I have?
He gripped the steering wheel hard, his knuckles turning white from the pressure.
I couldn’t leave him alone any longer. I was never alone.

Chapter Thirteen

ou want another one?”

I nodded and waited while he poured out another two fingers of scotch.

“Thanks,” I said. I put a twenty euro note on the bar.

“Do you want to just run a tab?”

“No, thanks. I may have to run out of here in a hurry.”

“Let me guess,” he said with a smile. “Waiting on a woman?”

“Something like that. You don’t want to know.”

He outstretched his hand, wanting me to shake it. “The name’s Nick. And if you want to talk, I’m good to listen. Probably heard it all.”

“Been at this a while?”

“Six years overall, three here and three back home.”

“Boston, right?”

“That obvious?”

I laughed. “Just a little bit.” I’d always loved the Boston accent. Might have been why I’d watched
Good Will Hunting
so many times. “What brings you here?”

“It was school. Finished my Masters last year. No desire to do a Ph.D. yet, so I’ve just been working and traveling. But I’m supposed to be asking the questions. So, what’s her name?”

“Kat,” I said.

“Your wife?” He looked down at my left hand, at the wedding band I had been fidgeting with earlier. It was a stress response lately, something I did whenever I thought of her. I would spin the ring for hours until the skin beneath it was so smooth and shiny I could almost see my reflection in it.

I nodded.

“You haven’t seen her in a while, have you?”

I shook my head. “Coming up on a year.”

He looked me in the eyes, beseeching me to tell him more.

“I fucked up. The whole thing is my fault.”

“Have you told her that?”

“A thousand times over, but always in my head. It’s complicated.”

“Not answering your calls, huh? I had one like that.”

I shrugged. “Something like that.”

I didn’t want to get into it. I wanted to leave, but I didn’t know where else to go. This bar was just a couple of minutes from my apartment. I’d cancelled on Luc after finding the remains in the storage unit; I needed time alone. He had understood and hadn’t pressed the issue, but there was a part of me that wished I hadn’t cancelled.

At least then I would’ve had someone I could actually talk to about it. Not some kid who would probably pass out if he had all the details.

I finished the drink and set the glass down.


I nodded and pushed some more money his way.

“So what’s the plan?” he asked as he poured my drink. “Going after her?”

I picked up my drink but didn’t get a chance to answer.


I turned and looked toward the door. Luc stood in the opening clearly out of breath.

“I went to your apartment. Your landlord said I’d find you here. I wanted to tell you in person.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I was at the lab, Mathias told me everything about…”

I cut him off. “Not here. Let’s walk.”

“Lincoln, it’s not her.”

The glass slipped from my hand and hit the bar before bouncing to the floor and shattering.

I looked at Luc but couldn’t speak. Everything I tried to say came out as a mumble.

“It’s not her, Lincoln. Mathias told me you thought something didn’t seem right, that there was something about the skull you couldn’t place. You were bang on. We’ve identified the woman. She was a sex trade worker of African descent.”

I nodded. That made sense. The wider nasal chamber, rectangular eye orbits and prognathic features. I should have noticed it right away, but I was out of practice. They were traits that were consistent with a person of sub-Saharan origin.

“She went missing a few days after coming to Lyon for some escort work. Looks like Crawford must have murdered her and put her there for you to find.”

I looked at the bartender who stood frozen, staring, his mouth agape. He hadn’t expected this part of my story.

No one ever does.

I finally managed to stammer out some words. “So the rings?”

“He must have taken them from Kat and put them on the victim.”

“Motherfucker,” I said. I pointed at the bar. I was going to need another drink, but this one would be in celebration. It didn’t strike me at the time that in a way I was celebrating the death of another; even if it had, I don’t think I would have cared.

There was still a chance Kat was alive.

“There’s more, Lincoln.”

I put the glass down – the bartender had given me a free drink on account of, well, everything – and waited for the rest of it. I couldn’t read Luc very well, so I had no idea what was coming.

“Mathias found this at the bottom of the container, under… you know. He said he would’ve come but his daughter had a dance recital. Anyway, it’s a piece of metal, with a message etched into it.” He held up his phone and showed me a picture. “Sorry it’s a little hard to make out. The flash kept getting in the way and obviously I couldn’t bring the thing to you.”

I squinted my eyes and looked at the object. It was a little difficult to read at first. The lighting was terrible, but once I saw it I knew I’d never forget it.

“Stop wasting time,” I read aloud. “You know where to find her.”

Chapter Fourteen

uri watched as the forensics team dusted the room for fingerprints and searched for any evidence they could find. They had arrived an hour ago, about forty minutes after Yuri made it to the scene.

Where the hell is Kara?

He had tried to call her several times but each time it went to voicemail. Yuri knew how tired she was, how worn out she was getting. Maybe she had fallen back to sleep. He couldn’t shake the idea that something bad had happened; this wasn’t like Kara, even if he factored in everything she had been going through.

He didn’t know her well. They had been working together for less than a month, but he knew her history and had seen some of her employment records. Yuri had never told her, but he had chosen her for the investigation. He needed a partner and he knew of the Crawford case; it wasn’t a difficult decision. The order came from on high, but the decision had been almost entirely his.

And this, this wasn’t like her.

I’ll give her another half hour. Then I’m sending a cruiser to her apartment.

Yuri went back to work. He searched the room and the property, being careful to avoid the areas they knew that the suspect had walked. Yuri knew it was Max again, but they didn’t have any evidence to support the theory. It didn’t matter, in Yuri’s mind there was no doubt. Not unless there were two people in the area currently targeting young boys.

There didn’t seem to be anything of note, nothing of importance left behind. He had followed the path to where the suspect’s vehicle had been parked, but the tire tracks were long gone, filled in by the snowflakes that wouldn’t stop falling.

Yuri looked back toward the house. It was far enough to not appear to be stalking, yet close enough to move to and from the vehicle without being noticed. He saw the mother and father standing in the living room of the home, their arms wrapped around each other as they stared out the window as if at any moment David would walk up the street waving at them.

Yuri returned to the front door of the house, knocked gently to announce himself, then opened the door and walked in. Police were coming and going, the home had been opened to them. It was easier this way, rather than make the terrified and emotional parents have to go to the door every time.

“Mr. and Mrs. Krier?”

“Detective,” the man said. He gave a slight nod of his head in acknowledgement. “Please, call me Hugo. This is my wife, Mia.”

Yuri had seen them when he first arrived but hadn’t spoken with them yet. His first target was the evidence, the family would still be there when his search was over. And sometimes, a little bit of time helped. It allowed them to sort through their thoughts and absorb everything that had happened. They would still be emotional wrecks, but they would be functional ones. He hated to think that way, but it was a part of the job. There was a place for emotion, but most of the time it lost out to rationality.

“My name is Yuri Shevchenko. I’m a detective with INTERPOL.”

“INTERPOL?” Hugo said, looking at his wife. Yuri was used to people being surprised. “So it is the same person? The one who took those other boys, and…”

Yuri shook his head. “We don’t know for certain. Right now we have nothing to link him to this.”

“But it might be?” Mia was pale and looked as though she was about to faint.

“We don’t know. But that is something that we are looking into.”

“But he only kidnaps kids in pairs,” Mia said, more so to Hugo than to Yuri.

“I heard one of the boys escaped though. Maybe now…”

Hugo didn’t want to finish the thought. Yuri could see in Mia’s eyes that she didn’t want to either.

“I would like to ask you a few questions, if you’re able.”

They both seemed to return to themselves, if only for a moment.

“Umm, sure,” Hugo said. “I think we already told the other officers everything though.”

“They filled me in on what you told them. If it is okay, I would like to hear it right from you. Then I may have some extra questions.”

Mia stepped in. “There isn’t much to tell. We don’t really even know what happened. I woke up, it was 4:27 when I looked at the clock. I was cold, and I’m usually never cold at night. Hugo was still asleep. I thought I could feel a draft so I got up and looked for an open window. I thought maybe I’d left the one in the kitchen open… I’ll often open it when I cook. But when I walked past David’s room, it was just so cold.”

Mia stopped for a moment and Yuri could see she was holding back tears.

“I yelled in at him, wondering why he had the window open in the middle of this weather. He didn’t respond so I yelled again. That’s when I looked closer and saw that his bed was empty. I started screaming and Hugo came running. He looked out the window and saw the footprints.”

Hugo nodded. “That’s when I went outside and started following the prints. I didn’t get far though before I saw tire tracks. The snow was barely falling at that point so I got in the car and started following them while Mia called police.”

“Where did the tracks lead?”

“I don’t know. I followed them only for about a block before they hit the main road. After that, there were too many. I couldn’t tell which ones were which.”

“Any idea as to the type of car?”

“Not really. The tracks were only a litter wider than mine, and I drive a Fiat.”

Great, something small. Like every European car.

“Did either of you hear anything in the night?”

They both shook their heads. “Nothing,” Mia said. Yuri could see the guilt in her eyes. Maybe if she had heard something, she could have stopped him.

“He may never have even made a sound,” Yuri said. “And if you had caught him mid-act, who knows what he might have done to you or to David. You have to trust me. If it is the same person, then David is okay right now.”

“For how long?”

Yuri looked at Hugo, his face solemn. “I’m not sure. A couple of weeks, maybe more. I’m going off of his history - it’s not science. But it gives us time to find him.”

Hugo and Mia nodded. It wasn’t good news, but it was better than the alternative. Yuri wasn’t sure what else to say, how else to set their minds even slightly at ease.


A voice from the hallway gave Yuri a chance to take a step back.


“Can you come here for a moment?”

“Excuse me,” Yuri said to the couple. He walked into the hallway and followed the officer into David’s room. One of the forensics detectives looked up at Yuri and held up the orange cap to a syringe.

“Found it under the nightstand,” he said. Yuri looked at the nightstand and saw a small decorative cutout on the base. There wasn’t much space, but it was enough for something that small.

“If it is the same person,” Yuri said, “the first two boys were killed by an overdose of Propofol. We need to send that in and see if they can find any trace on it. Print it first though, may have left one behind when he took the cap off the needle.”

“Will do.”

“Anything else? I am surprised he was that sloppy.”

“Nothing so far,” the forensics detective said. “We’ll keep looking though. But it seems like that’s it. We’ve gone through the entire room, so unless something else is under furniture I think this is it.”

Yuri nodded. “Let me know if you find anything else. I need to ask the parents a few more questions.”

He walked back into the living room and found Hugo and Mia right where they had been when he had left. They didn’t look like they had moved at all, or even spoken. It was the shock, he decided, they were frozen in place with no idea what to do next.

“Sorry for that.”

Hugo looked at Yuri. “That’s okay. Did they find something?”

“Yes, it looks like the suspect may have dropped something. We will be having it fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA to see if we can find out who did this.”

“Okay. Will that take long?”

“Not usually. It depends if his DNA and prints are on file with us.” He could see the fear in their faces. The question of what if lingered in their minds. If he wasn’t on file, would he ever be found? Yuri didn’t want to tell them he wasn’t on file. Printing and swabbing the needle cap was just to give them a profile they could match to the previous one – a way of linking the suspect to both crimes. “I just have a couple more questions to ask you.”

Hugo nodded.

“Does David take any medication? Is there anything he would be in need of?”

They both shook their heads but Mia answered. “Nothing. He’s healthy as can be.” She looked as though she was about to ask another question, one Yuri didn’t want to answer. He knew it would be about what they had found, and he wasn’t prepared to tell them that their son had been drugged.

“Good, very good. I assume you have a recent picture of him? Maybe a school photo? We will need to get it on the news as soon as possible.”

Hugo left the room and came back with a large photo.

“This was taken in October. His hair is a little longer but that’s the only difference.”

Yuri looked at the picture, at the young blonde-haired boy with the deep brown eyes. It wasn’t an easy picture to look at, but Yuri needed to see it. He needed to know the face, he needed to know the person he was fighting for.

“Dad’s hair and mom’s eyes,” Yuri said.

A slight smile creeped up on both of their faces. Hugo looked at Mia and saw the tears in her eyes. He grabbed hold of her and held her close as she wept.

“I am very sorry. I don’t mean to make this more difficult. I just have one more question, if I may.”

Hugo nodded.

“Is there anyone you can think of who might have done this?”

Hugo shook his head. Yuri could tell by the look of astonishment on his face that the thought hadn’t even crossed his mind.

“Someone we know? Why would someone we know want to do this to David?”

Mia nodded in agreement. “There’s no one. There couldn’t be anyone.”

Yuri wished that were true, but he knew enough to realize that all too often predators were wolves in sheep’s clothing, hiding in plain sight. He knew that once they caught Max there would be those who would come out of the woodwork, they would talk about how well they knew him and how they never would’ve assumed he could have done anything like that. There would be those – mostly family – who would never believe it, who would hold fast to the idea that he had been framed. And then there would be those who would say they always felt there was something off, even if they had never actually felt that way. It was a way of convincing oneself that the wool hadn’t been pulled over their eyes as well.

“Do you know anyone named Maxime, possibly goes by Max? He may be Flemish.”

Mia shook her head, but Yuri could see Hugo thinking. If he knew him, it wasn’t well.

“The only person, and I don’t know if he’s Flemish or not, was a guy I worked with on a farm in southern Belgium. But that was years ago. Max… umm, Max Peeters.”

Yuri perked up, more than he should have.

“Is that him?” Hugo said. “Why would he target us? Why would he take David?”

“I do not know,” Yuri said. “But that is something we are going to find out.”

“So it’s him?” Mia said. “It’s the same guy?”

“The fact that Hugo knew our suspect at some point, it would be very coincidental otherwise.”

“But… but he kills them, doesn’t he?”

Yuri nodded, his eyes lowered. “Unfortunately, the first two boys did not survive. But we do not know if that was part of his plan or not. I can’t say for certain what will happen, we just need to hope for the best. We will find him. I promise I will do everything I can to make that happen.”

Hugo and Mia nodded, but Yuri knew they weren’t actually processing the information. Not fully. It would come; in time it would come crashing down on them. At that moment, standing there before him, Yuri could see the numbness in their faces. Just as the body has defenses against physical pain, the mind has its own defenses against mental anguish. From Yuri’s experience, it seemed to just shut down, blocking almost all but the most banal of input.

“When did you last speak to Max?”

Hugo racked his brain. “Probably three years ago. He added me on Facebook. We chatted for a bit, talked about where we were living and what we were doing for work. He came for dinner one night a few months later when he was passing through town. We talked a couple of times after that on Facebook. He would ask about Mia and David… Christ, was he planning this then?”

Yuri shook his head. “Probably not. It seems more spontaneous to me.” Yuri didn’t want to say too much, but he knew why Max had gone after David. With Claude’s escape, Max had lost one of his captives. For whatever reason, he wanted them in pairs. He needed another boy and he needed him fast, so he went for someone that he knew had a boy the right age. He didn’t have time to stalk anyone or find the perfect prey.

“Is there anything you can tell me about Max? Anything that stands out as odd or unusual?”

“He was a quiet guy, never spoke much, but I remember thinking there was something up with him. He just always had this intensity about him. I’d see him sitting at a break or something and there was just this look he had, like there was more going on in his head than anyone could understand.”

“Did he talk about his family or home life?”

“I remember him saying he had a rough childhood, and that he was pretty much on his own. I had lent him some money because he was short for something. I asked him if there was anyone else who could help him. We were all young, in school and that, so a lot of us were getting money from our parents. He said there was no one who wanted to help him. I used to worry about him, you know? Always wondered what happened to him. Now I don’t care. I hope you guys catch him and he rots in prison.”

Yuri nodded. “I am very sorry to bring all of this up, but thank you. If you have any questions or any further information, please call me at any time of day.” Yuri took out a business card and handed it to Mia. “My cell number is on there. Any time, day or night.”

They both nodded. “Thank you,” Mia said.

“I should be going, I need to be out there looking for your son.”

Hugo and Mia both thanked Yuri for his time. Grateful handshakes and hopeful words were exchanged before Yuri left the house.

He took out his phone and dialed Kara once more. The phone rang several times before reaching her voicemail.

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