Authors: Jeff Crook
The only thing that didn't fit was the skull I'd found in the drawer. It pointed to a thirteenth victim, but when I mentioned it, Billet shook his head. “Wiley had it carbon dated. It's about four hundred years old. The teeth indicate archaic Native American. No telling where Endo got it.”
“Alas, poor Yorick, it was probably a stage prop, lifted from a production of Hamlet,” I suggested. “But what I don't get is why he kept it with the trophies of his killings.”
“You know what I don't get?” Billet sucked his teeth and looked thoughtful for a moment, almost like he had a real brain in his head, knocking away. “He killed every one of them on a Monday. What's so special about Mondays?”
“Theaters are usually closed on Mondays. It was his day off.”
“Christ.” He leaned back in the creaking green leatherette booth. “What about the victims?”
“What about them?”
“Why kill them?”
“Does it matter?”
“It matters to me. I know you don't think I'm much of a cop, Jackie, but I'd like to know where I screwed up, so maybe next time I won't.”
I never expected that out of Billet. I always figured him for a politician. “Some people he killed to cover his tracks. He killed one in a fit of rage. The ones he planned to killâKrews, Buntyn, and the Simon Twinsâall betrayed him, or he killed them to send a message to somebody who had betrayed him. Krews was his first real boyfriend, but they broke up. Buntyn abused him as a child. The Simon Twins caught him peeping in the boy's dressing room. With Hendricks, he was sending a message to Dave Straw. Cole was a message to his grandfather, and Michi, I think, was a message to me. Lucky for us he never got around to snuffing all the people he planned to kill. He had a list nearly as long as my leg.”
“Lucky,” Billet agreed.
The box Billet brought with him sat on our table next to the wall. It had been there the whole time we ate and he hadn't said anything about it. It looked like the kind of box that file folders come in.
A waitress came by and cleaned off our table. When she was gone, he leaned back and retightened his belt a notch, then glanced at his gold watch. “I'm not supposed to say this, but I'm glad you capped that boy. I'm glad his sick shit didn't get broadcast all over the news. It was better it ended this way.”
“Better for you, maybe.”
“I hope you don't feel guilty. Not for one God damn minute.”
“I'm not losing any sleep,” I said. “Not anymore. I just wishâ¦” I couldn't finish.
“Wish what?” Billet asked. He wasn't even looking at me, and I doubt he really wanted to know.
I swallowed my pride and told him anyway. “I knew Endo was after me, but I let him walk right up behind me and hit me with aâ¦” I choked my voice down to a whisper to keep from screaming. “He hit me with my own fucking baseball bat. Then I let him kill Adam. Back in the day, he'd never have got that close.”
“You can't blame yourself. Endo took you, but he also took Adamâ¦”
“Because of me,” I interrupted.
He ignored me. “Adam was damned good. Better than either of us. When somebody's got your number, there's only so much you can do, especially when that somebody is a piece of work like our boy Endo.” That sounded like something James would say.
Billet cleared his throat and smiled. “The thing is, Jackie, you did some good work. Damn good work on both of those cases. I'm not the only one saying it. Lots of people in the department have been talking about you.” He reached into his pocket and laid his fist on the table.
“What's that?” I asked.
“It's a time machine. You want to see it?” Slowly, he opened his fingers. I dropped my cigarette on the floor and stubbed it out with my toe. I looked at the disk of shining bronze-colored metal lying on his palm.
“You can have it back, reinstated at your previous level and your original hire date. It'll be like you were out on medical leave.”
“Back in vice?” I didn't think I could work vice again. Too many distractions, too many temptations. I was starting to think I could have a life and didn't want to ruin that fantasy.
Billet said, “Actually, I was thinking about putting you in homicide. But if you come back, you got to keep off the junk. I know you've been clean for a while now, and I commend that, but you skip one NA meeting without my permission and you're out. For good this time. You understand?”
“No, I don't understand.” I hadn't seen this coming. He wasn't just being nice. He wanted something and I wanted to know what before I answered him. I smiled at him. “Explain it to me.”
“I took the liberty of checking your mail for evidence. There was a card from the post office saying you had a package.”
“From Michi?” He nodded and pushed the box across the table. This was the package Endo had been looking for in my apartment. It was also the reason Adam and James were dead. If I had never sold Michi those photos, they would still be alive.
But then again, so would Endo.
I pointed at the box. “I see you also took the liberty of opening it.”
He shrugged and looked away. I lifted the top and set it aside. There was a letter, handwritten in Michi's tiny, precise, womanly cursive, about eight pages long, on blue-lined paper torn out of a spiral notebook. The first line said
Endo is the Playhouse Killer
When the police search my house, they will find these pictures, so I'm sending them to you so you don't get into trouble.
I stopped reading.
, I thought. Michi had tried to save me, too.
Beneath the letter were the photos of the Simon Twins. I looked up quickly, but Billet was smiling at a pair of good-looking black women in the booth across the way. They were smiling back at him, sucking their teeth and their fingers and rolling their eyes at each other. He held his hand to his ear like a phone. I shuffled through the other pictures, all the photos I'd sold to Michi over the years. Then I came across my pictures of the Buntyn murder, then the Krews murder, and dozens of other murders I'd never even shown the old pervert.
The only other person in the world who had copies of these pictures was Chief Billet.
“Why are you showing me this?” I asked.
He returned his attention to our table, still wearing his player smile. He picked up the box lid and laid it over the photos, just in case anybody walked by with a pitcher of tea. “Both of us were profiting off that old man's death fetish. You know how hard it is to get by on a cop's salary, even at my level. Why do you think I let Adam talk me into hiring you? I'd been selling crime scene pictures to Michi for years when Wiley got wind of it and cut off my access. I needed a new source.”
“That's why Wiley hated me working his scenes.” I had always thought it was because I was a woman, but it had nothing to do with me. It had always been about Billet.
“Pretty much. He couldn't prove anything, but he knew.”
If this were true, then Michi had been paying me all along for copies of photos he already owned, the old liar. He'd done it for no other reason than to help me out. What a sad, sorry old man. Despite his perversions, I'd liked Michi, but he never gave anybody a chance to be honest with him.
Billet went on, “When I found this package addressed to you, I couldn't take a chance you already knew about me. I figured Michi had told you.”
“He didn't tell me anything,” I said bitterly.
“Well, now we both know something.”
“So that's why you're giving me my badge. That way I'll have something to lose if I tell Wiley.”
“That's one way of looking at it. Another is that you're a damn fine cop, even if you are a junkie. You proved that. I could use you, Jackie. We're a man down. A damn good one. Adam was my friend.”
“He was my friend, too. What you're looking for is a new friend. Is that what you're telling me, Chief Billet?”
“Something like that,” he said. Now I knew how he met Michi in the first place. Billet's door swung both ways.
“I'm not that kind of friend,” I said.
“Honey, I'm a married man.” He smiled like the politician he was.
“You and about a billion other guys.”
I got up and took my box, but I left his badge sitting on the table. I was through with men. Every last one of them.
About the Author
JEFF CROOK is a technical writer/editor for the U.S. Postal Service, and is also the author of several fantasy books in the Dragonlance series, including
The Thieves' Guild
. He lives in Mississippi with his wife and two sons. This is his first mystery.
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE SLEEPING AND THE DEAD.
Copyright Â© 2012 by Jeff Crook. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Cover design by David Baldeosingh Rotstein
Cover artwork by Mark Yankus
The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover as follows:
The sleeping and the dead : a mystery / Jeff Crook.â1st ed.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â p. cm.
ISBN 978-1-250-00028-6 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-250-01481-8 (e-book)
Â 1.Â Â MurderâInvestigationâFiction.Â Â 2.Â Â Memphis (Tenn.)âFiction.Â Â 3.Â Â Paranormal fiction.Â Â I.Â Â Title.
First Edition: July 2012