There’s a woman standing on the rug with her hands bound and a metal noose around her neck, and for a frozen second, I thank God that this time it isn’t Sam’s sister. I think it would break him if it was.
Lustig pauses the video on a close-up of the young woman’s face. She’s a pretty blonde, with big, pleading, terrified eyes. I recognize her. It’s my husband’s fourth victim, Anita Jo Marcher.
“Every once in a while, our teams stumble over some really dark shit,” Lustig is saying to Suffolk. “We all know about the child porn—and yes, Mr. Suffolk, we’ve got your phones, tablets, and computers, work and home. Everything with your digital fingerprints on it is about to get autopsied. That ship has sailed all around the world. Clear?”
Suffolk doesn’t say anything, but he nods. He’s back to looking pallid, lost, and completely helpless. I’d feel pity for him if I hadn’t seen the demon under his skin. If I didn’t still feel the scraping burn of his fingers around my neck.
“So tell me where this particular video came from,” Lustig says. “Doesn’t seem your usual perverted taste.”
“I don’t know,” Suffolk mumbles. But I recognize the way his chin goes down, the way his eyes take on a hard, dark shine.
“Sure you don’t. By the way, your work computers were clean, but funny thing, we found this video on a thumb drive in your desk at work. You watch it on the computer sometimes when you’re on the night shift all by yourself? You just like to keep it on hand for dull moments there, Carl?”
Suffolk’s chin is working up and down now, like behind those closed lips he’s practicing a biting motion, again and again. He doesn’t blink. And he doesn’t answer.
“Maybe you haven’t thought this through, but either you’re going to jail today for federal charges of possession and distribution of child pornography, or you start playing let’s-make-a-deal like your damn life depends on it. That time would be right now, my man. This minute. Who provided this video?”
Suffolk suddenly looks away. Up toward the camera. “Is she watching?”
Lustig doesn’t say anything. Suffolk stares at the camera, and it feels like I’m right in the room, feet away from him.
“You fucking bitch,” he says. “He should have killed you, too. I hope he does now. I hope he films every bit of it because if he does, I’ll pay to watch that shit. You hear me? I’ll pay to watch!” His voice rises to a scream at the end. I have no idea why he hates me so much, but I feel it like acid burning my skin.
Mike Lustig doesn’t move. Doesn’t even so much as raise an eyebrow. His body language continues to be loose, open, relaxed. I don’t know how he does it. Once the screaming stops, the silence stretches for a long moment before Lustig says, “You let me know when you’re done with your tantrum. I can wait. ’Cause guess what? No matter who else is involved, nobody’s sitting here but you. Nobody’s going to be doing hard federal time but you, unless you start answering some questions. So tell me. Where’d you get this video?”
Suffolk has gotten quiet. Staring down at the table. The demon has gone back to its lair, somewhere deep inside. He fidgets, looks uncomfortable, and finally, he mumbles one word. “Absalom.”
“Uh-huh,” Lustig says. “And?”
“Absalom sold me the video. I sold stuff to them, they sold stuff to me. You know. A market exchange.”
Suffolk lifts one shoulder and lets it fall, like a sulky kid. “I paid in Bitcoin. That got me a link.”
“So you’re not part of Absalom. You’re just a customer.”
“And a supplier.” He gives Lustig a sudden, unsettling grin. “I get discounts.”
“What do you supply?”
“You know.” He shrugs again. “Retouched photos. Edited videos. Commission stuff.”
“We’ll have a long talk about that in a bit, but let’s keep moving. So who do you know in Absalom, then?” Another shrug. No answer. “How about the name Merritt Van Der Wal? You know him?”
“Napier Jenkins?” I’ve never heard either of these names, but I can only assume that he’s making them up . . . or he already uncovered more Absalom members without us. That’s probable.
“How about Lancel Graham?”
The hesitation gives Suffolk away. He hadn’t expected that name, and of course he knows it. We all know it. I flinch all over at the name, but I keep my focus on Suffolk. “Don’t know him, either.”
He should. That name, of all of them, absolutely ought to ring a very loud bell for him.
“Carl, I’m disappointed in you. I know you know Lancel Graham, because you didn’t buy that damn video with Bitcoin from Absalom. You got it straight from Lancel Graham, copied right off his hard drive. You know we can track that digital footprint, right? You’re not stupid. So now you’re going down for a federal slam dunk of criminal conspiracy, and possession and distribution of child porn, plus you’ll be enjoying the great state of Kansas’s tour of its legal system for conspiracy to murder.”
“I never murdered anybody!”
“Roll the other one,” Mike says, then looks up at the camera. The tech in the room with me presses buttons, and a new video begins. Same set, but subtly different simply because of the proportions of the room it’s crowded into. This one, I realize, was filmed in the cabin basement up above Stillhouse Lake. Lancel Graham’s place. It’s his re-creation of Melvin’s torture chamber . . . and there’s a girl shown in this one, too.
The girl with the butterfly tattoo, the first one Graham killed and dumped in the lake to implicate me in her murder. I catch my breath, because I remember her from around town in Norton. She sat across the restaurant from me and Lanny as we ate cake, and she’d been a normal, smiling, sweet young lady.
I’m seeing her last, awful minutes on earth in this video.
The tech shuts it down once it’s made an impression, and I realize I’m shaking. I turn away so I don’t have to look at the freeze-frame of her face.
Mike Lustig is saying, in the same calm voice, “That video is Lancel Graham murdering his first victim, and the time stamp tells me you had it on the same thumb drive before the second young woman was killed. So yeah. Conspiracy to murder, Carl. I don’t think you’re going to see a computer screen again before we’re all jacked into the net by our brains. Unless you want to talk to me.”