There is no terror so consistent, so elusive to describe, as that which haunts a spy in a strange country.
John le Carré, The Looking Glass War
Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.
Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder
THERE ARE PLACES I'LL REMEMBER ALL MY LIFE RED SQUARE WITH A hot wind howling across it, my mother's bedroom on the wrong side of 8-Mile, the endless gardens of a fancy foster home, a man waiting to kill me in a group of ruins known as the Theatre of Death.
But nothing is burnt deeper in my memory than a walk-up in New York threadbare curtains, cheap furniture, a table loaded with tina and other party drugs. Lying next to the bed are a handbag, black panties the size of dental floss and a pair of six-inch Jimmy Choo's. Like their owner, they don't belong here. She is naked in the bathroom her throat cut, floating face down in a bathtub full of sulphuric acid, the active ingredient in a drain cleaner available at any supermarket.
Dozens of empty bottles of the cleaner DrainBomb, it's called lie scattered on the floor. Unnoticed, I start picking through them. They've all got their price tags still attached and I see that, in order to avoid suspicion, whoever killed her bought them at twenty different stores. I've always said it's hard not to admire good planning.
The place is in chaos, the noise deafening police radios blaring, coroner's assistants yelling for support, a Hispanic woman sobbing. Even if a victim doesn't know anyone in the world, it seems like there's always someone sobbing at a scene like this.
The young woman in the bath is unrecognizable the three days she has spent in the acid have destroyed all her features. That was the plan, I guess whoever killed her had also weighed down her hands with telephone books. The acid has dissolved not only her fingerprints but almost the entire metacarpal structure underneath.
Unless the forensic guys at the NYPD get lucky with a dental match, they'll have a helluva time putting a name to this one.
In places like this, where you get a feeling evil still clings to the walls, your mind can veer into strange territory. The idea of a young woman without a face made me think of a Lennon/McCartney groove from long ago it's about Eleanor Rigby, a woman who wore a face that she kept in a jar by the door. In my head I start calling the victim Eleanor. The crime scene team still has work to do, but there isn't a person in the place who doesn't think Eleanor was killed during sex: the mattress half off the base, the tangled sheets, a brown spray of decaying arterial blood on a bedside table. The really sick ones figure he cut her throat while he was still inside her. The bad thing is they may be right. However she died, those who look for blessings may find one here: she wouldn't have realized what was happening not until the last moment, anyway.
Tina crystal meth would have taken care of that. It makes you so damn horny, so euphoric as it hits your brain that any sense of foreboding would have been impossible. Under its influence, the only coherent thought most people can marshal is to find a partner and bang their back out.
Next to the two empty foils of tina is what looks like one of those tiny shampoo bottles you get in hotel bathrooms. Unmarked, it contains a clear liquid GHB, I figure. It's getting a lot of play now in the dark corners of the Web: in large doses it is replacing rohypnol as the date-rape drug of choice. Most music venues are flooded with it: clubbers slug a tiny cap to cut tina, taking the edge off its paranoia. But GHB also comes with its own side effects a loss of inhibitions and a more intense sexual experience. On the street one of its names is Easy Lay. Kicking off her Jimmy's, stepping out of her tiny black skirt, Eleanor must have been a rocket on the Fourth of July.
Copyright © Terry Pilgrim 2013. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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