Read Thin Line Online

Authors: L.T. Ryan

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Crime, #Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Murder, #Spies & Politics, #Assassinations, #Terrorism, #Thriller, #Thrillers, #Mystery & Thrillers

Thin Line (8 page)

BOOK: Thin Line
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The plastic seal that held the cap to the liquor bottle ruptured with the sound of a mini-thunder clap. The man discarded the cap. It bounced and clattered
across the hardwood floor, leaving a trail through the dust. He took three solid gulps, then inhaled sharply. His face pinched inward like a catcher's mitt
closing. A few seconds passed, and then he let out a strained exhale.

"So, what'd you want to know?"

I held up my hand with my forefinger, pointing toward the ceiling. His gaze followed the trajectory upward. It was impossible to tell if the building was
occupied, but I figured if someone was there, they would react to the man's voice. He cocked his head to the side and lifted his wool cap over his ears,
seemingly understanding my silent message.

The brownstone was like an old man. It creaked and groaned and moaned and bowed and sagged. If I closed my eyes, I could feel it teetering from one side to
the other, trying to maintain its balance in the face of the arctic blasts that pelted its weathered exterior.

Aside from the sounds of the building and the sound of the wind, there was nothing else. That didn't mean we were alone, of course, but I felt better.

"How well do you know this building?" I asked.

The guy shrugged. "Been in here a time or two."

I pulled a small LED flashlight out of my pocket, flicked it on, and shined it toward the east hall. "Know what's down there?"

He nodded.

"Lead the way."

He lifted the bottle to his lips and took a long slow draw. His gaze seared past the light and settled on my eyes. There was a quiet confidence about the
guy.
Don't let my looks deceive you
, I could see him saying.
I still got it.

And I'm sure he did.

In his prime, he would've been the kind of guy who could kill another man with his bare hands a dozen different ways in seven seconds or less. His thumbs
were more dangerous than the average guy holding a Glock. In the old building, dark and dusty and confined, he probably felt he had a fifty-fifty shot
against me. I'd put it closer to twenty-eighty, but that still left a chance. Plus, I didn't know if he was armed. I'd bet money he assumed I was. And he
would've been right.

The first door we came to was a quarter of the way open. He stopped in front of it, reached out with his foot, and kicked it inward. It creaked on old
hinges that sounded as if they were about to pull free from the rotten frame. I panned the light across the room. It was empty, but there was plenty of
evidence that people had occupied it recently. A couple of old sleeping bags on the floor. Paper wrappers that had once surrounded hamburgers. Empty beer
and soda cans.

"I don't like this room," the man said.

"Why not?"

He turned and walked away without replying.

I followed him to the next room. The door was closed. He hesitated in front of it.

"You armed?" he asked.

"Maybe."

"If someone's behind this door, then there's a chance they're armed, too. If we open it, they're gonna start firing without bothering to see who it is
they're shooting at."

"Then knock."

He looked at me like I'd grown horns and a tail. But he reached out anyway and turned the knob. I stepped forward and shined the light into the room. The
move was quick enough that anyone inside would assume it was the police and not some random homeless or petty thief.

"Empty," I said.

"Let's go in," he said.

"You first."

He stepped in, and as he did so, I retrieved my pistol and moved it to my coat pocket. I let the door fall shut. I kept my hand in my pocket, gripping the
sidearm. The guy perched himself on the windowsill. He parted the blinds and stared out at the street, leaning far to the right and then the left to get as
broad a view as possible. Not once since we entered the room did he glance back at me. Either he trusted me, or he figured he was dead no matter what. I
knew when the time came, he'd put up a good fight. Fortunately for him, and maybe for me, that time wouldn't be today.

"Now tell me, what is it you want to know?" He rose from the windowsill and leaned back against the wall next to the window. Thin horizontal lines of
yellow light spread across his body.

"To start, what do you know about the guy that lives in this building?"

"Lots of guys live in this building."

"That may be true, but only one can call this his residence, and that's who I want to know about."

The man shrugged and the yellow lines squiggled across his chest and shoulders.

"You've never seen him or heard of him?" I said.

"Didn't say that," he said.

"Then tell me what you know."

"You a cop?"

"No."

"Sure?"

"Mostly."

His head was cocked sideways, a grin splayed across his face. "Don't know much about him. He comes and goes. Gone for weeks at a time, sometimes. When he's
here, no one will enter the building. When he gets back, people scatter like roaches suddenly exposed to light. But he don't mess with no one right away.
He gives them a little time, maybe thirty minutes, to get out. Nobody goes past the second floor or touches his apartment. It's like some unwritten rule,
you know? Word is that a group of four or five guys, young guys, tried to take advantage of him once. They stayed up on the fourth floor and didn't leave
after he got back. After a few hours, they forced their way into his apartment."

"What happened?"

"He let one live, but cut the dude's tongue out and severed his fingers. So no one knows exactly what happened."

"Can you tell me what he looks like?"

"You sure you're not a cop?"

"Would it matter at this point if I was?"

"Not really."

We faced off in silence for close to a minute.

He said, "He's about your height. Close-cut hair. Good shape, physically. Carries himself like a soldier. You can tell when he enters a room, he knows he's
the baddest dude in there. Especially here."

"Even when you're inside?"

"I make it a point to not be inside."

"So you're saying you have inside info on when he comes and goes?"

The man said nothing. He turned toward the window and stared out at the empty street.

"One last question," I said.

"What's that?"

"How many ways are there to leave the building?"

He leaned his head back and looked up toward the ceiling. A band of light turned the whites of his eyes yellow. "I guess the front door plus however many
windows there are."

"So no other way out."

His gaze lingered on the ceiling. "Right."

I didn't believe him. There had to be something I'd missed my first time here. Perhaps down in the basement, a tunnel or hidden door.

"We done now?" he said.

"Getting antsy?"

He shrugged. "Just figure the cops will be by here soon, with the murder and all."

"What do you know about that?"

The man hopped off the window sill and walked past me with the grin still plastered on his face. "You already said last question."

I waited in the dark room until his footsteps faded down the hallway. The smell of the mildew seemed stronger than when we first entered. I crossed the
room, peered through the slits in the blinds at the street. The blinds were coated with dust. The wind blew loose snow into the air and across the road.
The man wasn't anywhere to be seen. Maybe he hadn't left the building.

I stepped into the hallway and went back to the foyer. There, I stopped and listened. The building's bones creaked and popped and groaned. Given the guy's
history, he could have been within ten feet of me and I wouldn't spot him if he didn't want me to.

The wind picked up and tore through the first floor, sounding like a wolf howling. Frigid air knifed through me. Finally, the latch gave way and the door
burst open. A solitary figure stood on the stoop out front.

And it wasn't the ex-SEAL I had just questioned.

 

Chapter 14

"WHAT THE HELL are you doing in here?"

I couldn't make out her face, or the color of her hair, only that it was pulled back, and that didn't matter in the gusts. Tendrils whipped around her head
and danced on her cheeks, jawline, and neck. A dark jacket was zipped up to her collar. She wore tight blue jeans. One hand held a cell phone, the other
gripped the butt of her pistol.

"Answer me," she said.

The tone of her voice. Decisive. Direct. There was no doubt she was a cop. And I knew there was only one reason for her to be there.

"Name's Golston," I said. "I'm a special investigator for the government."

"So the rumors are true?" She left her hand on her pistol and took a step forward. "This wasn't a random murder."

I said nothing.

"How'd you find out about it?" she said. "We haven't put anything out yet. Other than the kid that called the cops, and the few people outside at two in
the morning on a ten-degree night, no one even knows anything happened here."

"We have our ways."

She clicked on her flashlight and aimed it at me. "Identification?"

"I'll ask for the same."

Like gunslingers, we both reached for our credentials. I had used the name that matched the government ID I carried. It said my name was Lawrence Golston,
and revealed little else. I held it out. She shined her light and glanced from the picture to my face and back.

"How do I know that's legit?"

"Have to trust me, I guess."

"Maybe I should bring you to the precinct, and we can make a call and get it sorted."

"Officer …?"

"Detective," she said, extending her ID toward me. "Detective McSweeney."

It looked to be a recent picture, at least as much as I could tell in the dim lighting. She hadn't prepped for it - it was as though she'd taken a moment
between interrogations to have the photo snapped. Her hair was pulled back, like it was now. Her blue shirt was buttoned two from the top. She failed to
smile.

"Detective, if you follow through with that plan, you'll be directing traffic in Harlem for the next five years."

She smiled briefly, then stepped forward. "So, are you here for the man that lives in this building, or the dead guy?"

"I can't get into that, detective."

"Come with me."

She pushed past me and took the stairs, two steps at a time. The muted smell of her perfume replaced the musty odor that had been present since I entered
the building. I caught up to her at the first landing. We climbed the stairs side by side to the third floor.

Police tape crossed like an x in front of Brett Taylor's apartment door. It seemed the cops were also OK with vagrants squatting in the building, so long
as they stayed out of Taylor's apartment.

"We didn't want to draw unnecessary attention to the building," she said, as though she had read my thoughts. She reached into her coat pocket and pulled
out a set of keys. Fingering them, she settled on one and went to the door. After pulling down the tape, she stuck the key into deadbolt.

"How'd you get those?" I asked.

"Didn't," she said. "We changed the locks in case someone had made a set while he was away."

I wondered how much she knew about the man that lived in the building. Had Taylor been on the NYPD's radar? If so, they likely would have had the
brownstone under surveillance, in which case, they might have seen Bear and me enter. I had to find out.

"What do you know of the events on the day the man died?" I said.

"Little to nothing. We got an anonymous tip."

"That said what?"

"That there was a dead guy in an apartment in this building." She pushed the door open and gestured for me to follow her inside.

Once again, I stepped into her perfume trail. My fingers grazed the rough exterior of the door, which belied the apartment it protected.

Nothing had been disturbed; not that Taylor had left anything of importance behind. I doubted he'd kept much in the apartment to begin with. Like me, he
worked in a manner that made it possible for him to move at a moment's notice. Any systems he had were no doubt easily transportable so that he could
disappear before anyone would go looking for him.

Finding a dead guy in his bed, or putting the man there, would qualify as a reason to go to ground.

We continued into the bedroom. The sheets had been stripped from the bed. A dark crimson pool of dried blood stained a quarter of the mattress.

"We found him in here," she said. "Cause of death was a bullet in the head. We don't have an identity yet, and it's too early for DNA results."

All along, I had feared they knew the identity of the man. If they did, she wasn't letting on. I operated under the assumption McSweeney was trying to play
me, however.

"I'm hoping you can help with the ID," she said, looking up from the remnants on the mattress. "The morgue is only a few blocks away."

I nodded. Refusing to help would only draw unwanted attention, and that would make finding Brett Taylor and finishing the job impossible even if he
remained in or anywhere near New York. I doubted he did, but this wasn't the time to make that kind of assumption.

We exited the brownstone together. The arctic air continued to blow, whipping directly in our faces. I blinked several times to clear the tears from my
eyes. I glanced around for familiar faces. Saw none. The man I had questioned earlier had left the block or was hiding in one of the alleys. The perfect
place for a predator on a dark night. There was no one else outside. Chances were they all knew McSweeney, or made her as a cop on sight. A life on the
street made them adept at spotting the law.

"I'm parked over there." She pointed to her unmarked cruiser.

"I prefer to walk."

"It's freezing."

I shrugged. "Doesn't bother me."

"Don't be stupid. Let's take my car."

"I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I'm not inclined to get in the car with a detective I just met."

She shook her head. "Suit yourself then. I'll drive slow. Make sure you keep up, or I'll find some reason to bring you in."

BOOK: Thin Line
6.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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