Day 5 – 5:19
“Hey, hell, do you think this is a fucking hostel or what?” It was a rough, gruff voice. Being the time it was, it had to be a policeman, a security guard, or maybe some angry owner. Whoever it was, Tray Stouffer didn’t budge from the folds of the stinky quilt. Sometimes
they go, if you stay still enough. They are bored.
The boot again: fast, hard. Direct to the stomach. Tray wanted to scream, to grab his leg.
na and defend itself. But it did not. He stood perfectly still.
“Shit on the … I’m talking to you!”
Another kick, stronger than the last one, right on the ribs.
He groaned. The quilt was tightened more tightly.
“Do you have an idea of the effect you and your friends have on the value of the apartments when you camp out here?” You scare the kids. Older people don’t want to leave the building. They shouldn’t have to walk over a pile of trash like you just to run to the store.
An owner, then.
Tray already knew the cantinela.
“Do you know what I’m doing out here at five o’clock in the morning while you take your little nap so comfortably in our portal?” Well, I just got off a ten-hour shift at Delphine Patisserie. And last night I did another twelve hours in that fucking hole they have for the kitchen. And I have to go back in another ten. And I do it to be able to pay for this house. I do it to contribute with mine. You will not see me living on the street as you do, hanging on shit. Get yourself a fucking job! Do something with your life!
There was no job for someone fourteen. Not the legal ones. Not without some form of parental consent, and that would never happen.
He prepared for another kick.
Instead, the man grabbed the quilt, jerked it up, and tossed it aside. He landed in a puddle of half-melted snow at the foot of the portal steps.
Tray felt a chill and curled up waiting for another kick.
“Hey, but you’re a chick.” You’re just a kid, ”the man said, and the anger faded from his tone. I am so sorry. What is your name?
“Tracy,” she said. People call me Tray.
He regretted those words the instant they came from his lips. I already knew what happened whenever I spoke to one of them. It was better to keep the mouth closed, remain invisible.
The man knelt down with a paper bag hanging from his left hand. He was not very old, in his twenties, perhaps. Thick coat. Brown hair tucked under a navy blue wool cap. What was in the bag smelled delicious.
He surprised her by looking at the bag.
“Tray, my name is Emmitt.” Are you hungry?
She nodded, aware that this was also a mistake, but she was hungry. A lot.
The man reached into the paper bag and pulled out a small loaf of bread. Smoke billowed from the crisp surface and hung in the icy Chicago air; For a moment, Tray forgot about the icy wind blowing in from the lake and howling down the street with each puff.
His stomach rumbled, loud enough for both of them to hear.
Emmitt broke a piece of bread and gave it to him. Tray devoured it in a couple of bites, hardly worrying about chewing it. Perhaps it was the best bread he had ever had.
-Do you want more?
Tray nodded, though he knew he shouldn’t.
Emmitt let out a snort. He reached out and stroked her cheek with the side of his forefinger. The eyes slid from her face to her throat, and her gaze slid below the neck of Tray’s sweater.
“Why don’t you come in with me?” You can take all the bread you want. I have more food, too. A hot shower. A fluffy bed. Me…
Tray slapped both hands on the guy’s shoulders, who, leaning on one knee, had a posture where he was barely balanced and unprepared for impact. He rolled onto his back, dropped the bag from his hand, and hit his head on the metal railing of the building’s staircase.
“You will be a bastard!” -shouted him.
Tray was already on his feet before he could get up. She grabbed the paper bag, grabbed her backpack, and ran down the five steps, grabbed the comforter, and bolted down Mercer Street. Uncle was not going to chase her; they rarely did, but from time to time …
“Don’t let me see you around here again, dammit!” The next time I catch you, I call the police!
When Tray dared to look back, Emmitt had already got up, packed up, and was walking through the door of the building. Even at this distance, the girl imagined herself capable of feeling the heat of that corridor.
He didn’t stop running until he reached the gates of the Rose Hill Cemetery. At that time they were closed, but she was skinny, and a moment later she had already managed to sneak through El Hierro bars and stand on the other side with her backpack and her down comforter.
Chicago had quite a few shelters, but Tray had been through that before. At that time, they would be closed to shit. They all closed the doors sometime between seven in the afternoon and midnight, and they didn’t let you in at any time in the morning. And even if they did, it wouldn’t matter. They would be full. Sometimes queues were set up as early as noon, and there was never enough room.
Also, Tray felt safer on the street. There were “Emmitts” everywhere, and more in the hostels, and the only thing worse than running into an Emmitt in the doorway of a building or in an alley sheltered from the wind was to throw yourself all night locked in a hostel with one. from them. Sometimes with more than one. Emmitts used to get together to hunt in packs.
She was not afraid of cemeteries. After two years on the street, Tray had slept in all of them at least once. Rose Hill was one of their favorites, because of the mausoleums: unlike Oakwood or Graceland, they were not locked at Rose Hill at night, and, although there were several security guards, on a night as cold as they would stay playing cards in the office, watching television or even sleeping. Good that she had seen them through the windows.
He walked up Tranquility Lane through the freshly fallen snow. He was not much concerned with the footprints he was leaving, he knew that the wind would take care of them. However, there was no reason to take risks either, so when she reached the top of the hill, instead of turning left onto Bliss Road, she crossed to the other side to get out of Tranquility and ducked down into the small grove that ran parallel to Bliss.
Even if there were no streetlights, the moon was almost full, and, seeing the reflections of the lake, Tray could not help stopping to see it. The icy surface gleamed under the thin layer of freshly fallen snow. The marble statues stood silent along the shore, with stone benches between them. What a quiet place, so quiet.
At first Tracy did not see the girl who was kneeling at the edge of the water and looking in the opposite direction. Long blond hair fell down her back. He looked like another one of so many statues, motionless, looking at the pond that way. Her skin was very pale, almost white, practically as livid as the color of her dress made of a fabric so fine that it was little less than translucent. Her hands were clasped at chest level, as if she were absorbed in prayer, her head on one side.
Tray said nothing, but got close enough to realize that the thin layer of snow that covered everything also covered the girl. And when he circled her to stand beside her, he realized that she was not a girl, far from it, but a woman. His striking pallor, every inch of her, was interrupted by a thin red line that rose from under his hair down the side of his face. Another line from one side of the left eye, in a thread of crimson tears, and a third line that started from the corner of the lips and painted them the brightest pink.
He had something written on his forehead. No, wait, written no.
Before his knees, on the snow, was a silver tray, one of those you can find at an elegant dinner, in an expensive restaurant, in one of those places that Tray already knew, even at fourteen, that I would never see, except on TV or in the cinema.
In that tray were three white boxes, all three closed and tied tightly with a black string.
Behind the boxes, leaning against the woman’s chest, was a cardboard sign not unlike the ones she was holding when she asked for money to eat, only Tray had never used those two words in particular. The sign only said:
Forgive me father
Tray did the only thing he could do right now.
He started to run.
Day 5 – 5:28
I imagine you will be confused. I imagine you will have some questions.
I know I did. I have them. Of course.
Questions are the basis of knowledge, learning, discovery and rediscovery. An inquisitive mind does not build walls to isolate it from the outside. An inquisitive mind is a warehouse with unlimited space, a memory palace with infinite floors, infinite rooms and full of shiny objects. There are times, however, when the mind is damaged, a wall collapses, and the memory palace needs some renovation, the rooms are badly damaged. Your mind, I’m afraid, fits into this second category. The photographs he has around him, the newspapers by his side, are the keys that will help him dig through the rubble, rebuild.
I’m here for what you need, Sam.
Here I will be at your disposal as I always have been.
I’ve forgiven him, Sam. Maybe others will too. You are no longer that man. Now it is much more than that.
“What is this in front of me?” Special Agent Frank Poole growled as he put the printed sheet aside. He closed his eyes and pressed the temples of both hands to his temples. He had the worst headache. He had tried to sleep on the FBI plane back from New
Orleans, but it had been impossible. The satellite phone had not stopped ringing. There was the FBI field office in New Orleans, which was still moving at a brisk pace at Sarah Werner’s law firm and upstairs apartment: just nine hours earlier, Poole had discovered the body of the Lawyer, staring at him from the couch with milky eyes, the rotting remains of dinner on her lap, and a black bullet hole in the center of her forehead. The coroner had confirmed that she had been dead for a few weeks, far longer than Poole had originally thought. Once definitively identified as Sarah Werner, that meant that the woman they’d seen with Sam Porter in the past few days, and who claimed to be Sarah Werner, really was not. It was some kind of impostor, an infiltrator. Together, they had helped an inmate escape from the local jail and taken her to the other side of the country, to Chicago.
Between one call and another from the New Orleans field office, it was Porter’s partner who made the satellite phone line light up. Porter had been found in the Guyon, an abandoned Chicago hotel. The inmate she had helped escape was in the hallway, shot to death. Porter was sitting in an almost catatonic state in a room on the fourth floor, surrounded by photos where he himself came out with the well-known serial killer Anson Bishop, the Monkey Room, with a stack of notebooks next to him and a laptop with the message above on the screen.
From what they had told him, the Chicago Metropolitan had linked that laptop with a unique series of deaths that occurred in the last days: several young girls drowned and resurrected until their bodies finally fell apart, and several adults killed from A multitude of ways, all of them related to the medical care of a man named Paul Upchurch, who was in a Stroger hospital operating room at that time.
When Poole wasn’t on the phone with the New Orleans field office or Detective Nash, he was
with Detective Clair Norton, who was in the hospital dealing with some kind of epidemic outbreak, something caused by Bishop, Upchurch, and probably someone else.
The only person who hadn’t called him on the satellite phone was his immediate superior, Special Agent-in-command Hurless, and Poole knew that this call would not be long in coming and, dammit, he’d better have some answers before make it sound.
“Let me talk to him,” Detective Nash said from somewhere behind him in the observation room.
Poole was still with his head buried in his hands.
“Nothing about that.”
On the other side of the mirrored window, Porter sat in a metal chair, his body hunched over the matching metal table. He wasn’t handcuffed, and now Poole doubted that would have been a good idea.
“He’ll talk to me,” Nash insisted.
Porter had not spoken to anyone. He had not uttered a single word.
“Sam is not a bad guy.” It is not part of this.
“He’s up to his neck.”
“The woman he helped escape from prison has been found shot dead from the weapon Porter found. You have shooting residue all over your hand. He has made no attempt to hide the weapon or flee. He just sat there waiting for you to stop him.
“We don’t know if he killed her.”
“You are not denying that you have,” replied Poole.
“He wouldn’t have killed her unless it was in self-defense.”
Poole ignored him.
“You called Detective Norton at Stroger Hospital, and she gave you information that you simply couldn’t have unless you were involved. He already knew that Upchurch had a glioblastoma. How did you even know the
Upchurch name? He already knew about the two girls, details that he could not know if he did not have something to hide.
“You heard Clair.” You said Bishop told Porter about it.
“Bishop told him,” Poole repeated with an air of frustration. Bishop told him that he injected the two missing girls with the SARS virus, leaving them in that house with Upchurch as if they were some kind of Trojan horse.
Poole was still trying to make sense of that part. Kati Quigley and Larissa Biel, both missing, both found at Upchurch’s home. Porter claimed that they had been inoculated with some variety of the SARS virus. The entire hospital was in isolation while they analyzed blood samples in order to determine if that statement was true or false. At best, it would be a kind of hoax. At worst…
“Bishop is playing with him,” Nash said. It is what it always does.
“Porter told Clair that he screwed up, that he was so sorry.” An innocent man does not say this kind of thing.
—A guilty man runs away, does not sit in a room and waits for the police to come and catch him. It hides its tracks, it disappears.
“He stole evidence,” said Poole. He has disobeyed orders. He left for New Orleans, helped get a woman out of jail, and left a body in his wake. And another one here. This is exactly why you can’t talk to him: you’re too close to see him. Forget that he is your partner, forget that he is your friend. Look at the evidence, look at it as an unknown subject. As long as you are not able to do it, you cannot be objective. And if you are not objective, then you are part of the problem.
Poole took the printed sheet and studied the text again.
“Where’s the laptop now?”
—Top up, in our IT Department.
“Well call and tell them to put it in a bag.” I don’t want your people to touch it. Your entire team is committed. The FBI laboratory will disassemble and analyze it
the data, ”said Poole. What about the photographs and notebooks you found in the room where he was?
Nash said nothing.
“Don’t make me ask you again.”
“The photos are still in the Guyon Hotel, room 405. I had her photographed and sealed.” I have an agent in uniform guarding the plant, two more outside the building, ”Nash reported. I brought the notebooks here, and I registered them myself in the evidence warehouse.
“Leave everything as is.” Let your people not touch anything from now on.
Nash did not respond.
Poole got up, and the movement made his head throb as if he had a bowling ball rolling from side to side of his skull and hitting the walls. He rubbed his temples again.
“Look, I’m doing you a favor with this.” Whatever happens to Sam, if he gets to court, you and your team have to distance yourself. If you don’t, any self-respecting defense attorney is going to tear you apart. They will start with Sam, then you will go, then Clair, Klozowski and whatever you have touched. From now on you are an observer. You all are. Anything else is professional suicide.
“I don’t abandon my friends.”
“No, but sometimes they are the ones who abandon you.” Poole reached for the door to the interrogation room, pulled it open, and entered. The metallic click of the door closing was one of the biggest bangs he had ever heard.
The sixth trap, J.D. Baker, Destination. Translation by Julio Hermoso. 608 pages. 20.90 euros.