PART I - Caterpillar
A gunshot shocked NYPD Detective Damien Drake from his slumber. His hand immediately slid between his jacket and shirt, his fingers searching for the gun buried in the holster beneath his armpit.
He blinked once, twice, then moved his hand away from the butt of his gun. Breathing heavily, he worked his fingers into the pocket of his worn sport coat, and squeezed the small, glass bottle between thumb and forefinger.
As he teased the miniature bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label out, he tried to stretch his legs, pushing his feet into the floor of the car between the gas and brake. He groaned, then closed his eyes for a moment.
He had heard a gunshot, but it hadn’t come from outside.
It had been in his head.
As had been the face of his partner, Clay Cuthbert, his eyes wide, moist.
His pale cheeks hollow with the tangible wrench of terror.
Drake heard another sound now, but unlike the gunshot, this one was real: the unmistakable clink of metal tabs breaking as he unscrewed the cap on the miniature.
When he opened his eyes again, he was surprised that the sun had decided that today it would finally shake free of its frosty shroud. For March in New York City, this was no less than a formidable feat.
As Drake brought the bottle to his lips and took a sizable gulp, he observed the squat brick building with the circular drive outside his window, his eyes skipping along the fence that cordoned off a small park.
I must have been out for three hours, he thought, unwilling to confirm or deny this by expending the effort to look at his worn Timex.
He supposed he could have looked at the digital clock embedded in the dashboard, but he had never bothered to set the damn thing. For twelve years he had owned the creme-colored Crown Victoria, and yet in none of that time had he bothered to fiddle with the damn thing. Unlike the sun, some things just weren’t worth the effort or frustration.
He grunted, and took another sip. Aware that the interior of his car reeked of stale sweat and staler alcohol, he cracked the window an inch, relishing the familiarity of smog-tinged air.
The sound of a bell ringing cut through the miasma that filled the Crown Vic. This time, Drake stopped his hand before it made it to the butt of his gun.
Cut it out. Get control of yourself.
As if to prove to himself that he was indeed in control, he finished the miniature, screwed the cap back on, and tossed it to the floor of the passenger seat. When it clanged against several other bottles, he cringed, expecting to hear the sound of glass breaking. But after several more clinks, it eventually settled, and he relaxed his shoulders.
The damn things were usually made of plastic, anyway.
The muscles in his upper back had tightened, and the fact that he had slept in his car more nights than a bed since his suspension had started had done nothing in terms of making him more accustomed to the conditions.
Isn’t the body supposed to adapt? Get used to shitty thoughts, shittier accommodations?
A gaggle of children, ranging by Drake’s estimation to be anywhere between five and fifteen years of age, flooded out of the side door of the school as if the building itself was regurgitating them. Their high-pitched squeals of glee, jubilant cries, and amorphous grunts filtered up to him through the crack in his window, and he instantly regretted opening it. And yet he made no move to close it.
Instead, he watched their smooth faces, most lineless even in smile, his gaze following them across a paved area with basketball hoops that hadn’t seen an actual net for longer than most had been alive.
The younger kids—Drake only identified them as such as they seemed to have not yet gained the insight of self-awareness, their eyes locking in on a play structure without first darting to their friends for approval—went mostly to the swings and slides, while the older kids moved toward the giant field at the back of the school. The field was bordered by chipped white soccer goalposts, but during all the days Drake had parked outside Hockley Middle and High School, he had never actually seen anyone playing soccer.
Or basketball, for that matter.
As the kids spread out and their incessant drone became more diffuse, Drake found himself staring at three boys with spiked hair and backpacks adorned with chrome spikes and patches from bands that he didn’t recognize. They shuffled instead of walked, their heavy boots barely rising off first the paved basketball area then the newly shorn grass field. The teenager on the left, who was two or three inches taller than the others and sported long blond hair that nearly reached his shoulders, leered at a much younger girl in a miniskirt.
The boy said something, and while Drake was too far to pick out the exact words, and an experienced lip reader he was not, the toothy expression on the kid’s face said enough.
The girl responded sharply, and her grimace allowed an exchange to play out in Drake’s mind.
The boy stopped smiling and the trio tucked behind the school, their backs pressing up against the wall.
What are they doing?
But when the blond boy, eyes darting again, reached into his backpack, Drake felt a sudden pang in his chest.
Columbine was a long time removed, and now most everyone in NYC expected the next attack to come from a dark-skinned man speaking Arabic, Drake still felt on edge.
Without thinking, his hand snaked over to the door handle, and he gripped the warm metal tightly, ready to pounce.
He let go when the boy pulled out a worn pack of Marlboro’s and furtively held it out to his friends.
What the hell is wrong with you? Get a grip!
Drake took a deep breath and looked away from the wannabe punk rockers smoking cigarettes, his eyes drifting back to the front of the school.
And that’s when he saw her. At first, he tried not to overreact—it’s not her, just like the cigarettes weren’t miniature pipe bombs—but as he stared more intently, he realized that it could be her. Her back was to him, a pink backpack slung over one shoulder, her long, straight, brown hair descending halfway down her back. She was wearing tight dark jeans, and a pair of worn converse sneakers. A white blouse clung to her thin shoulders.
Drake swallowed hard and grabbed the door handle again, although this time he wasn’t trying to strangle the metal. Instead, he pulled gently and the door opened. Warm air rushing against his face, which he only now realized was covered in a thin layer of sweat.
As Drake stepped out of his Crown Vic, another car pulled up beside the girl and the window slowly lowered. She turned and must have recognized the person inside, as she walked over to the car and leaned on the half open window.
Now in profile, Drake knew it was her. He recognized that nose, straight but thin, and the long eyelashes, full lips.
Drake closed his car door and started toward her, wondering who this person in the car was.
The girl suddenly threw her head back and laughed, her long hair quivering like a cape.
Squinting hard, knowing that he shouldn’t be here, that he was overreacting, he peered through the rearview window of the Mercedes.
It was a man, he concluded. And judging by the way the shadow of his hair was thinning, it was an older man at that.
No, this isn’t right.
Drake realized that his hands were balled into fists, and he slowly forced them open.
It’s nothing. A teacher, maybe. A friend’s father. Don’t overreact, Drake. Don’t lose it again.
But when the girl reached for the door and started to open it, all rational thought fled him.
She’s going to get in the car and never be seen again!
He broke into a jog.
“Suze!” he yelled. “Suze, don’t get in the car!”
But either the shouts from the kids playing in the playground or the music that he could now hear coming from the car window were too loud and the girl didn’t hear him.
He picked up his pace as she started to lower herself into the car seat.
You’re never going to see her again. Never. Kidnapped. Raped. Murdered. And it will all be your fault.
“Suze!” he yelled. “Suzan, don’t get in the car!”
The girl turned, and when their eyes met, the smile slid off her pretty face.
Hatred burned in those dark hazel eyes.
Even before she raised her hand and flipped him the bird, he realized what was going to happen. She started to close the door, and he could see her lips moving.
Go, let’s go, she was saying to the driver, who had turned his head around in response to his shouts.
Drake could see what was happening, and there was only one way he figured he could stop it.
If Suzan left in that car, she would be gone forever. For some reason, he was sure of this.
Damien Drake reached into the holster under his left armpit and pulled out his pistol.
“Get out of the car, Suze! Get out, now!”
Hope you enjoyed Chapter 1 of BUTTERFLY KISSES. Remember, you can still pre-order your copy now for less than a buck (on all retailers!). Just click HERE.