Terry almost asked if Pine Deep would have to foot the bill for the overtime the Philly cops would be working, but thought the questions would be both in poor taste and poorly timed. “Of course,” he said, softening his frown to a helpful smile. “Bring in the National Guard if it’ll help. Anything that’ll clean this up and get it off my streets.”
“Thank you, sir. Anyway, we weren’t expecting this to go down…it was pure coincidence that our team had this particular band of Jamaicans under surveillance for the last few months. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the Reader’s Digest version is this—we’ve been tracking a pipeline from the islands to Miami and from there to Philly. Coming up I-95 on what we call Cocaine Alley. They use family cars, you know, station wagons and such, driven by clean-cut regular-looking folks who pony the stuff to Philly, and then use the parking lots of strip malls just off the interstate to offload.”
Detective LaMastra spoke up for the first time. “We were backtracking from the street and thought we could tag a couple of the ponies.” He gave a fatalistic wave of his hands. “But that’s for shit now.”
Ferro nodded. “We had a team, just two guys in a van a block from the site, and another officer outside with a fiber-optic camera and portable recorder. We had audio and video plants in the warehouse where the buy was going down, but we didn’t have a full team there because we weren’t expecting to make any arrests. We just wanted pictures, data, hoping to tail some of the players back to whomever they worked for, going up the food chain. So our team was unprepared for what went down.”
Detective LaMastra snorted. “No shit.” Ferro shot him a brief look, which LaMastra appeared to ignore.
“In any case,” Ferro continued, “the buyers were a car full of local boys. Five South Philly thugs, low-level tough guys. I had a chance to look over the videotape with a couple of other detectives and we managed to ID all five. The odd thing was that these boys are not part of the drug game. They usually do roughhouse stuff, like collections for loan sharks and that sort of thing. The drug buy was a new career venture for them, and they completely screwed it up. The buy started to go down, business as usual, but then the South Philly boys pulled some guns and suddenly everyone was shooting.”
“You should have seen the video,” LaMastra said with a twisted smile. “Looked like a Quentin Tarantino film.”
“Jesus,” breathed one of the law students. Terry glanced at her. At twenty-one and five feet four, she looked like a scared kid dressed up for Halloween in a cop uniform and gun belt. He wondered if she had ever even fired the heavy automatic strapped to her young hip. He wondered if any of Gus’s people ever had.
Ferro pulled a notepad out of his pocket and consulted it. “The suspects were identified as follows. One Nicholas Scilini, thirty, and Lenny DiCavellio, twenty-eight, both dead of multiple gunshot wounds. The three that got away included Kenneth Boyd and Tony Macchio, both relatively small fish and barely worth the effort it would take to yank the switch on them.”
“And the third? You said there were three?”
Gus Bernhardt looked uneasily at Terry and then at Ferro, and the cop’s dour face looked even more mournful and even more like Morgan Freeman’s. The grimmer Morgan Freeman, circa Seven, not the older, jollier Freeman from Bruce Almighty. “The third gunman is the real problem, Mayor Wolfe. He is one of the reasons we are going to be handling this situation very, very carefully.”
Terry grinned. “Who is he? Jack the Ripper?”
No one laughed; no one else so much as smiled.
“We should be so lucky,” said Ferro.
“What does that mean?” Terry asked, losing his grin. He didn’t like the shifty, scared looks everyone was covertly exchanging, and it wasn’t helping his stress level one little bit. The hammering in his chest was turning into an improvisational drum solo. He hoped he wasn’t visibly sweating.
“His name,” continued Ferro, “is Karl Andermann Ruger.” He looked significantly at Terry, but he only shrugged and shook his head.
Gus bent over and said, softly, “Cape May Lighthouse. Last Summer.”
Terry stared at him and slowly, very slowly he felt the room turn as cold as a meat locker.
Everyone in the room looked either stricken, or scared.
“That’s who we think Karl Ruger is,” said Ferro quietly.
“Oh my God,” Terry whispered.
Val left the soup on the stove to simmer and went up to her room to take a nap. For the last two weeks she’d been extremely tired. Not just from managing the farm—she had plenty of help for that—but just plain exhausted. And then there was this morning. After Crow had gone downstairs to have breakfast, Val had thrown up.
It was the second time this week she’d done that and she was starting to worry. There was an EPT kit in her purse, but she hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to use it. She was on the pill, and she and Crow even used condoms. Surely she couldn’t be pregnant with that much birth control running interference.
She took off her jeans and shirt and slid into bed in bra, panties, and socks, pulling the big comforter up to her chin. Val lay there and listened to the wind stir the corn. A storm was coming and the wind had freshened and the illusion of sea surf that the blowing corn made was even more pronounced. The steady rhythm of it lulled her to sleep within minutes.
Her sleep was filled with dreams.
The first dream was sweet and did nothing more than replay what had happened last night when Crow came by. Every delicious detail was there, starting with the long walk they’d taken down the winding lanes of cornstalks, hand in hand, stopping now and then to kiss. About a mile from the house, deep in the fields, they’d stopped at their favorite spot, a small clearing by the rail fence where Val and her brother, Mark, had erected a scarecrow when they were kids. The clearing was the spot where Val and Crow had first kissed, and the spot where they’d first touched each other with trembling and uninitiated hands. Crow had brought a blanket, draping it over one shoulder, and last night, as he had on so many nights over the years, he’d spread it on the ground. Above them the stars painted them with pale silver light as they kissed and undressed each other and then lay down on the blanket. Some nights were slow and tender and patient, and some nights were all about urgency. Last night it was a hammering need in their blood and they dropped their clothes rather than hang them on the fence rails. Crow lay down and pulled her down onto him. She stretched out on him, nearly his match in height and certainly his match in heat and need. Their kisses were hot and breathless and there was no time for words. She reached down to find him hard and familiar and she took him and guided him into her body and they both gasped as he entered and found her very wet and ready.
A few minutes later she cried out as she came—a sound echoed strangely by a startled crow deep in the field—and then a few minutes after her he cried out as he rose to that crest where there is nowhere to go but over, and over he went, sailing into the golden intensity of his orgasm, and Val caught up and she came again.
After that it had been time for tenderness and softness and slow kisses and the dream faded out like a love scene in a movie, dimming to black and then silence, and for a while she just floated in the darkness of sleep.
Then she had the dream again.
The other one, the one she had been having for weeks now. In her dreams the pale man was always there. Val had dreamed about him for years, but now he was always there, waiting at the edge of sleep. Sometimes this dream was just a collection of quick flash images like unexpected lightning between longer and less frightening dreams; sometimes the dream was longer and complex, and when it was one of those kinds of dreams she felt panic because she didn’t think she would ever find her way out. On nights like that, waking up was like a reprieve from the electric chair.
Now, as evening settled over the farm, she had one of those darker and more complex dreams and its intensity washed away the happiness and tenderness of the previous dream.
First she dreamed of the tall man with black hair and pale skin and no features at all that she could make out, as if his face were a blur, as if someone had tried to take his picture and he’d turned away too fast, but as he moved through her dreams his face remained smeared like that. The only part of his face that she could see clearly was his mouth.
He had a red, smiling mouth and lots of jagged white teeth.
In that first dream she walked through the darkened rooms and hallways of her family’s big, rambling farmhouse. She was not fleeing through the rooms—not at first—but there was some indefinable sense of urgency. Every once in a while she’d look behind her and she’d see the tall pale man step back out of sight.
Then suddenly the dream changed and she was running through the cornfields as cold rain hammered down on her. She was naked and streaked with blood and mud and icy rainwater. In one hand she held a sodden fistful of twenty-dollar bills wrapped in bank tape. In her other hand she held a gun. The gun stank of cordite, the barrel still smoking.
She ran through the fields, vulnerable, helpless, and afraid. And the tall pale man followed her.
It was like one of those chase scenes in the old horror movies: she ran fast and ran well and the pale man walked with slow deliberate steps as if in time with a metronome, but somehow he still managed to keep up with her…and whenever she cast a terrified look over her shoulder he seemed to be catching up.
She ran and ran.
Once she stopped, spun around, and fired the gun at the man, squeezing the trigger and feeling the shock as the bullet exploded from the gun and her gun hand was jerked into the air. The bullets all hit the pale man.
She might as well have been throwing stones at a statue for all the good they did. The pale smiling man never slowed and he never stopped, and each time a bullet struck him—and passed straight through—his smile grew. It grew and grew until it was an alligator’s smile, huge and full of sharp teeth. The smiling mouth was absurd and too big for the rest of the face.