Authors: Jaden Terrell
THER TITLES BY
A Cup Full of Midnight
Racing the Devil
Copyright © 2014 by Jaden Terrell
All rights reserved. No part of this publication, or parts thereof, may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotes in a review, without the written permission of the publisher.
For information, address:
The Permanent Press
4170 Noyac Road
Sag Harbor, NY 11963
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
River of Glass / Jaden Terrell.
pages cm. — (A Jared McKean mystery)
1. Private investigators—Tennessee—Nashville—Fiction. 2. Mystery fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
or Mike Hicks, whose unfaltering support
blesses my life, heals my heart, and makes me believe
everything is possible.
o name everyone who has offered me support, encouragement, and assistance with this book would take volumes, so let me apologize in advance for the incompleteness of this list.
My thanks go first and foremost to my husband, Mike Hicks, my mother, Ruthanne Terrell, and my brother, David Terrell, for their ceaseless love and support.
Thanks to my agent, Jill Marr of the Sandra Dijkstra agency; my publishers, Martin and Judith Shepard of The Permanent Press; cover artist Lon Kirschner; copy editor Barbara Anderson; and fellow Permanent Press authors Chris Knopf, Len Rosen, David Freed, and Baron Birtcher.
Thanks to Clay Stafford and the whole Killer Nashville Crew for taking up the slack while I finished this book.
Thanks to those who shared their knowledge and expertise with me on everything from law enforcement to HIV. Among them are Dan Royse, Mike Breedlove, and Patrick Looney of the TBI; Sgt. Derek Pacifico of the Writer’s Homicide School; Gene Kleiser for information about Vietnam; Susan Harris for her expertise in all things equine; and Greg Herren for providing information about HIV and AIDS; and Sheila L. Stephens for her insights into private investigation techniques.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also express my gratitude to the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Private Eye Writers of America, the Hardboiled Collective, and the Quill and Dagger Writers’ Group. An extra thank-you to authors Timothy Hallinan, Eyre Price, Rob Pobi, and Stacy Allen.
Thanks to my friends and teachers at World Champion Productions. And as always, thanks to my friends at Measurement Incorporated, with special shout-outs to Christina Wilburn, Jeff Kirchner, Mary Beth Ross, and Steve Jones.
There are so many of you to whom I owe a debt of gratitude. You know who you are. Much love to all of you.
he girl called Worm hugged her knees to her chest and shivered, listening to the storm. Wind shuddered the walls of the shed and whistled through the cracks. Rain hammered on the roof and trickled in through the seams where the steel walls met the concrete floor.
In another life, she had been Tuyet, and she clung to the name now, lips moving in a silent recitation: My name is Tuyet. No matter what they call me, I will always be Tuyet.
She blew on her hands to warm them, then rubbed her upper arms. Her nylon slip shifted, clammy against her skin.
From a window in the ceiling, too high for her or the other women to reach, a wash of sooty light spread downward and was swallowed by shadows. The glass was gray with night and rain, but if she squinted, she could make out the other fourteen women in the dim light. She would have known them even without the light—by their shapes and by their voices, even by their smells. Fear and self-preservation might turn them against each other in time, but for now, this dank shed that smelled of sweat and shit and sex had made them sisters.
The youngest and newest, a Japanese girl known only as Grub pressed her forehead against the shoulder of a young Chinese woman called Maggot. Maggot, who had suffered a beating for sharing that her true name was Hong, wrapped an arm around the younger girl and rocked her as if she were a small child. The gesture made Tuyet think of her mother, and that made her chest tighten and her eyes burn.
She closed her eyes and let herself feel the touch of her mother’s hand on her cheek, let herself remember the smell of her grandmother’s coffee shop and the taste of pho soup—the savory broth, the tang of fish paste. She gave herself a few minutes to remember that other life. Then she pushed the thoughts away. A little memory could give you courage. Too much could make you weak.
A Thai girl with a barbed-wire tattoo around her neck ran her fingers around the rim of her plastic dinner bowl as if an extra grain of rice or a sliver of fish might have appeared there. She was called Weasel, and while she too must have had another name, Tuyet had never heard it.
A crash of thunder rattled the walls. Weasel moaned and pounded her thin mattress. Grub pressed her face to Hong’s shoulder and whimpered like a child. Someone groped in the shadows for the chamber pot, and a few moments later, the air grew sharp with the smell of urine.
Weasel coughed. Hong began to hum. There was a lightness in the room that came, not from the rain, but because of it.
The men would not come out in this weather.
Hands outstretched, Tuyet made her way to the back corner of the shed. The rain had seeped in, and a puddle of rainwater chilled her bare feet. Where the two walls met the floor, there was a small gap. She knelt on the damp concrete, forehead almost touching the floor, and sucked in the smells of earth and rain, then laid her palm flat against the metal and pressed hard. With a tiny shriek, the gap widened. Moonlight and rainwater poured in.
“You make trouble,” a reedy voice said in fractured English. Tuyet looked up to see a flat-faced Thai girl called Beetle behind her, arms crossed, jaw set. Like Hong and Weasel, Beetle knew even less Vietnamese than she did English, so by default, English was the language they used among each other. “Boss man catch you, he make everybody unhappy.”
A few feet away, a Vietnamese girl called Dung huddled on her filthy mattress, scrawny arms curled around her stomach. Her magenta hair, now black at the roots, hid most of her bruised and swollen face. She was the smallest of them, but she had fought the hardest and the longest. Just this morning, she had raked her nails across the boss man’s neck and, without even flinching, he had caught her hand and snapped two of her fingers. The broken fingers and the bruises were partly punishment and partly an example for the rest of them:
See what happens when you disobey?
Tuyet thought they would kill the girl soon. Or maybe she would kill herself. Surely no one could take so much abuse for so long. The girl’s eyes, fixed on the gap in the wall, shone in the dim light.
Tuyet said, “He make everybody unhappy anyway.” She pushed again, and more water washed through. Did they have monsoon season here in America? If it rained like this for weeks, would the men stay away? How long before, half starved, she and the other women fell on each other? As much as she hated the men, she hated her dependence on them more. “Anyway, I only looking. See what see.”
“See nothing,” Beetle said. “Nobody get through there. Even if can, too sharp glass, too high wall. Too many ghost.”
Tuyet shivered. She had never seen the shallow graves behind the shed, but she knew from the fear in the long-timers’ eyes that they were there. “I know. But maybe . . .”
“You think maybe hope? Is no hope. You go sleep now, forget this foolish.” Beetle stomped back to her own mattress, her lips a thin line in her flat face.
Another flash of lightning lit the room. Then a loud crack, followed by the sounds of breaking wood and the crunch of glass. Tuyet lay down on her stomach, heedless of the water soaking through her slip, chilling her breasts. She pressed the wall outward with her palm and peered out through the gap.
Forget this foolish
Rain pelted her face and chilled her skin, but she didn’t care. She would never get her fill of that smell.
Across the grass, rain sparkled on a river of shattered glass. Beyond that stood a high stone wall, also topped with glass, if the long-timers told the truth. But who would know? Who could cross the river of shards to find out?
Tuyet blinked. Wiped rainwater from her eyes and looked again. A tree, split by lightning, lay across the wall, its trunk and branches stretched like a bridge across the glass. Only four or five feet separated the trunk from the grassy turf. Four or five feet across the shards. It would hurt, it would hurt a lot, but it could be done.
She looked over at Dung. The smallest of them.
Tuyet climbed to her feet and brushed water and grime from the front of her slip. Then she pressed her shoulder against the wall and pushed as hard as she could. The metal squealed. The gap widened.
Beetle looked up and wailed.
Shoulder still pressed to the wall, Tuyet gestured for the other women to help. There was a way out, she said, and told them about the fallen tree.
Beetle moaned. “Boss man come, put you in pit for sure. Maybe me, us, too.”
Dung, who had once spent three days in the pit, whimpered.
“No one come tonight,” Tuyet said. “Too much storm. We hurry, have plenty time.”
Hong looked pointedly away, then buried her face between Grub’s shoulder blades. Beetle covered her face with her arms and keened, while Weasel turned her back and lay down on her mattress. The others were as still as stone.
“I do it myself,” Tuyet said. She pushed, pushed harder. The gap widened to the size of a pumpkin, then held. Was it enough? She had lost weight since she’d been here. If the gap would stay open . . .
She shifted her weight backward, and the metal popped back into place, only that small gap at the bottom.
She pushed again. Pushed until her muscles trembled and sweat popped out on her upper lip. She pushed until her shoulders ached and her eyes stung and her breath came in ragged gasps and whimpers. She pounded a fist against the ungiving metal, then flung herself against it.
Again. And again. Until she had no more strength. Panting, she laid her cheek against the cool metal.
“Please,” she whispered. She turned her face toward her sisters and made her voice louder. “Please.”
No one moved. Fear held them in place, and how could she blame them? There had been so many tricks, so many false hopes offered and then snatched away. But not even the boss man could call lightning from the sky.