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Authors: Don Aker

Delusion Road

BOOK: Delusion Road
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DON AKER
DELUSION
ROAD

Dedication

For Siyah,
who transformed our lives

Epigraph

THE TRUTH MAY HURT, BUT DELUSION HARMS.

—J
AN
M
ILLER

Table of Contents

Dedication

Epigraph

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER 37

CHAPTER 38

CHAPTER 39

CHAPTER 40

CHAPTER 41

CHAPTER 42

CHAPTER 43

CHAPTER 44

CHAPTER 45

CHAPTER 46

CHAPTER 47

CHAPTER 48

CHAPTER 49

CHAPTER 50

CHAPTER 51

CHAPTER 52

CHAPTER 53

CHAPTER 54

CHAPTER 55

CHAPTER 56

CHAPTER 57

CHAPTER 58

CHAPTER 59

CHAPTER 60

CHAPTER 61

CHAPTER 62

CHAPTER 63

CHAPTER 64

CHAPTER 65

EPILOGUE

AUTHOR’S NOTE

About the Author

PRAISE FOR DON AKER

Also by Don Aker

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

CHAPTER 1

H
e tried to block out the sound of his parents’ voices. Not that ignoring their words made a difference—he’d heard variations of the same argument before:

—I can’t believe you’re actually considering this.


Haven’t I done the safe thing all my life? Look where it got me.

—But you know what these people are capable of.

And so it went until one of them would storm out, doors slamming in the aftermath.

But as much as it remained the same, the argument this morning was different. More intense, as though they’d reached a turning point of some sort. And they hadn’t confined it to their bedroom like they usually did, their voices barely muffled by the thin walls of their dilapidated row house on East 52nd Street. They’d continued quarrelling downstairs in the kitchen.

“You should have talked to me first.”

“There wasn’t time and I might not have gotten another chance.”

“But why take the chance at all?”

“After what we’ve been through? How could I not?”

“Please don’t go back there.”

“I have to. I think I can get even more.”

“If you don’t walk away from this now, I will! And I’ll take the boys with me.”

There was no blocking out that last part.

Sitting on the edge of his bed, his backpack on the floor between his feet, he felt his guts clench. He’d been afraid it would come to this. The last year had been hard on all of them. They’d lost everything, starting with cable, Internet, and cell service, then anything they’d bought on credit, like the home theatre system his dad had spent months researching before finally getting at Best Buy on West Roosevelt. Then the bank had taken both cars and, finally, the house. He heard people were getting great deals on places that banks had foreclosed on, and he thought about the families who’d lost those homes, hoped they’d torn them to shreds before they left. That’s what he wished
he’d
done the day they’d walked away from theirs—wished he’d ripped out light fixtures, smashed windows, kicked holes in every wall. But his mother had told him they were better than that.

“You’re giving me ultimatums now?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

“What happened to till death do us part?”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

“Look, no one suspects a thing. I was careful.”

His mother laughed at that last comment. That’s what it sounded like, anyway. Later, he would wonder if it was something else—a choked sob, maybe—and he would wish that somehow he could be sure. It was the last sound he would ever hear her make.

He listened to the sounds that followed, the closet door in the hall being yanked open, hangers clattering to the floor as his
father grabbed his jacket and shouted upstairs for him to get his brother if he still wanted that drive to school. “We haven’t eaten yet!” he called down, but his father had already stormed outside.

He hated the old Dodge Stratus his dad had picked up at an auction for three hundred bucks, but he hated riding the bus even more. Hoping he had enough money on him for a breakfast burrito, he grabbed his backpack and crossed the hall, collecting his brother and heading downstairs with the child in tow. He stopped at the kitchen door on his way past, poked his head in to see his mother by the sink. She stood with her back toward him, her head down, her arms making triangles on either side of her slim body as she gripped the worn countertop. As if trying hard to hang on to something neither of them could see.

He took a step toward her, but then the Dodge’s horn blared and his brother began to whimper. He turned and tugged him toward the front closet, grabbing coats to put on in the car. Moments later, all three of them were in their seats, his father’s mouth a thin, hard line as he eased the battered sedan into traffic.

He stared out his passenger-side window as if actually seeing the buildings slide by instead of his mother’s knuckles white against the scarred countertop, so different from the gleaming granite in the house the bank had taken. He tried not to think of that house with its state-of-the-art appliances and ensuites off every bedroom, tried to push aside memories of their backyard with the in-ground pool, the manicured lawn and raised flowerbeds, the red maple towering above them all. Despite the cold still clinging to the Midwest, that tree would bud soon, evidence that there really were things that never changed. Unlike everything else in his life. He tried to focus on the laboured whine of
the car’s engine instead of his mother’s voice in his head.
And I’ll take the boys with me.

He felt the explosion before he heard it—absurdly gentle, like a house-sized hand nudging the Dodge forward—and then came the sound, a single boom that was its own endless echo, ragged and rolling. “What the h—?” he began, but fingers gripped his arm like talons. He turned to see his father gaping horror-struck in the rear-view mirror, so he swivelled in his seat, saw through the back window the nightmare behind them. “
Jesus!
” he cried.

Nearly bald tires shrieked against the pavement as his father braked and swung the car in a tight U-turn, narrowly missing an oncoming CTA bus. Heartbeats later, the Dodge swerved around flaming debris and slowed in front of what remained of their house, its roof and front gone, fire licking at what hadn’t been obliterated by the blast.

He groped for the door handle, but his father jammed the gas pedal to the floor, the smooth tires throwing off ribbons of smoke as the car leaped forward.

“What are you
doing
?
Stop
! We have to go
back
!”

His father’s voice was a cracked and ruined version of itself. “It’s too late.”

“But she’s
in
there—”

“It’s too late,” his father repeated as the houses blurred past them. He was sobbing, too. Only the boy in the back seat was silent.

CHAPTER 2

G
riffin Barnett handed the fare to the cabbie and got out, tugging his collar up against the late March wind that whipped off Lake Michigan and funnelled down the Chicago River. Having grown up in and around Little Rock, Arkansas, Griff hated how a gale could blow nonstop in this city for what seemed like weeks at a time. He’d overheard one guy joke that, on the rare occasions when the wind died down here, the dogs fell over. But Griff saw nothing funny in being sandblasted by grit swirled up from the street. Despite having lived in the Windy City for two years, he hated Chicago every bit as much as on the day he’d arrived.

He had to admit, though, that the bridges were cool. Of all eighteen on the Chicago Loop, Griff liked the one he was looking at now best. Sure, the Franklin Street bridge wasn’t the longest or widest or oldest or busiest, but it was special nonetheless. It was where he’d dumped the body of the first person he’d killed in this christly place.

Walking toward the bridge tender house on the northwest corner, Griff saw a passing man glance at him and then scattergun the air with his eyes. There was a time when he’d been bothered by strangers’ reactions to his appearance, that moment of unguarded
revulsion before looking away. Now he just watched as their eyes took in his six-foot-five, muscled frame before they noticed the thick line of ruined flesh snaking diagonally from his chin to his right ear, barely missing his lips. If he tilted his head to the right, the scar looked a little like a wide second mouth, a crooked pink grin. That’s what Morozov’s girl had told him last night, anyway, as she lay sprawled on the bed beside him. She was one of those whores who liked to talk afterwards. He’d just wanted her gone. He’d never liked being around women for long, and the talking was only part of it. Mostly it was how they put him on edge, made him feel like they expected something from him that he could never quite figure out. He preferred cash-and-carry hookers who knew when to shut the fuck up and disappeared when the deed was done.

A short but powerfully built man standing by the tender house reached out to pat him down. “Yo, Barnett,” he said, his mouthful-of-marbles accent betraying his New Jersey roots. “Colder’n a witch’s tit out here.”

Griff shrugged. He wasn’t good at small talk, could never see the point of it.

A black town car idled by the curb, and New Jersey moved toward it. Griff followed, and the bodyguard opened the rear door for him before getting into the front passenger seat. Griff slid into the back, barely getting the door closed before the car pulled out.

It was a good thing Pavel Morozov’s reputation preceded him, because he wasn’t much to look at. People expecting a big, brawny man with swarthy features and a penetrating gaze would have been disappointed by the person sitting beside Griff now. In
his late forties, Morozov was no more than five foot eight, maybe a hundred thirty pounds soaking wet, and his pasty complexion suggested either an allergy to sunlight or albino DNA. He rarely looked people in the face, a habit that might give the impression of shyness, but Griff had never known a man who unnerved him more.

The lack of eye contact had set off warning bells the day Griff met him. Among the many “uncles” who had rotated in and out of the Barnett household when Griff’s mother was alive was a guy named Gil Atkins, who had a similar habit of looking anywhere but at you when he spoke. At first Griff thought the guy had some kind of physical condition, maybe a lazy eye like the kid in his eighth-grade class he’d bullied constantly. But it wasn’t that. There were things going on in Gil Atkins’s head that you could see in his eyes if he forgot himself and let you look long enough. Things you didn’t
want
to see. Things you couldn’t even bring yourself to believe until pets started disappearing from the neighbourhood. And then there was the little girl after that. Pavel Morozov had Gil Atkins’s eyes.

BOOK: Delusion Road
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