J. A. Konrath
Book two in the Jack Daniels series, 2005
This book is for Laura Konrath, whom I’m honored, blessed, and tickled pink to call Mom.
I love you.
“It would be so easy to kill you while you sleep.”
He rolls onto his side and faces his wife, tangling his fingers in her hair. Her face is shrouded in a dried blue mask; an anti-aging beauty product that has begun to peel. The moonlight peeking through the bedroom curtains makes her look already dead.
He wonders if other people look at their partners at night, peacefully dozing, and imagine killing them.
“I have a knife.” He brushes his fingertips along her hairline. “I keep it under the bed.”
Her lips part and she snores softly.
So ugly, especially for a model. All capped teeth and streaked hair.
He wedges his hand between the mattress and box spring and pulls out the knife. It has a large wooden handle, disproportionate to the thin, finely honed blade. A fillet knife.
He places it against his wife’s neck, gently.
His vision blurs. The pain in his head ignites, a screw twisting into his temple. It tightens with every heartbeat.
Too many headaches in too many days. He should, will, tell the doctor. The six aspirin he took an hour ago haven’t helped.
Only one thing helps when the pain gets this bad.
He caresses her chin with the edge of the knife, shaving off some of the mask. Sweat rolls down his forehead and stings his eyes.
“I can cut your throat, reach in and rip out your voice before you even have a chance to scream.”
She twitches, her head tilting away. Her neck is smooth, flawless. He clenches his jaw hard enough to crush granite, teeth grinding teeth.
“Or maybe I should go through the eye. Just a quick poke, right into the brain.”
He raises the blade up, trying to control the trembling in his hand. The blade wavers over her lid, creeping closer.
“All you have to do is open your eyes, so you can see it coming.”
“Come on, honey.” He nudges her shoulder. “Open your eyes.”
He bites down on his tongue, the inside of his mouth hot and salty. His brain is a tiny clawed demon trying to dig its way out.
“Open your goddamn eyes!”
She shifts toward him, mumbling. Her arm falls over his bare chest.
“Another headache, honey?”
He places the knife behind her head, at the base of her skull. He imagines jabbing it in, the tip poking through the front of her throat.
Wouldn’t she be surprised?
“Poor baby,” she says into his armpit. She rubs his cheek, her fingers cool against his burning ear.
He gives her a little prod with the knife, just under her hairline. Her head jerks away.
“Ow! Honey, cut your nails.”
“It’s not my nails, dear. It’s a knife.”
She snores her response.
He nudges her again. “I said, It’s a knife. You hear me?”
“Did you take some aspirin, baby?”
“They’ll work soon. You should see a doctor.”
She hooks a leg over his stomach. He feels himself become aroused, unsure if it’s her touch that’s causing it, or the thought of peeling off her face.
Or perhaps both.
He smiles in the darkness, knuckles white on the knife handle, ready to finally give in to the nightly temptation. But as he readies the blade, he notes that the pain in his head has begun to subside. Gradually, the sharp throbbing melts away into a dull ache.
“I’ll kill you tomorrow.” He kisses her on the scalp.
The knife goes back under the mattress. He holds her tight and she makes a happy sighing sound.
When he finally falls asleep, it’s to the image of cutting her open and bathing his face with her blood.
My fan had died. It didn’t surprise me. The fan had ten years on me, and I came into the world during the Eisenhower years. It belonged in a museum, not an office.
Today was the first day of July, and hot enough to cook burgers on the sidewalk, though you probably wouldn’t want to eat them afterward. My blouse clung to me, my nylons felt like sweatpants, and I’d developed a fatal case of the frizzies.
The 26th Police District of Chicago, where I slowly roasted, was temporarily without air-conditioning due to a problem with the condensers, whatever the hell they were. We were promised it would be fixed by December.
I hit the base of the fan with my stapler. Though I was the highest ranking female cop in the Violent Crimes Unit, I tended to be useless mechanically. My handyperson skills maxed out at changing a lightbulb. And even then, I had to read the instructions. The fan seemed to sense this, slowly wagging its blades at me like dusty tongues.
My partner, Detective First Class Herb Benedict, walked into my office, sucking on a soda cup the size of a small garbage can. It didn’t seem to be helping him cool off. Herb weighed about two hundred and sixty pounds, and had more pores on his face than I had on my whole body. Benedict’s suit looked like it had been soaked in Lake Michigan and put on wet.
He waddled up and placed a moist palm on my desk, leaving a streak. I noticed droplets in his gray mustache; sweat or diet cola. His basset hound jowls glistened as if greased.
My birth name was Jacqueline, but when I married my ex-husband, Alan Daniels, no one could resist shortening it to Jack.
“Morning, Herb. Here to help me fix my fan?”
“Nope. I’m here to share my breakfast.”
Herb set a brown paper sack on my desk.
“Donuts? Bagels? Cholesterol McMuffins?”
“Not even close.”
Benedict removed a plastic bag containing, of all things, rice cakes.
“That’s it?” I asked. “Where’s the chocolate? Where’s the canned cheese?”
“I’m watching my weight. In fact, I joined a health club.”
“You know the one that advertises on TV all the time?”
“The one where you get to work out with all of those Olympic bodybuilders for only thirty bucks a month?”
“That’s the one. Except I’ve got the Premier Membership, not the normal one.”
“What’s the difference?”
He named a monetary figure, and I whistled at the amount.
“But with it, I get full access to the racquetball and squash courts.”
“You don’t play racquetball or squash.”
“Plus, my membership card is colored gold instead of blue.”
I leaned back in my chair, interlacing my fingers behind my head. “Well, that’s different. I’d pay extra for that. How is the place?”
“I haven’t worked out there yet. Everyone that goes is in such good shape, I thought I should lose a few pounds before I start.”
“I don’t think they’d care, Herb. And if they do, just impress them by flashing your gold card.”
“You’re not being very supportive here, Jack.”
“Sorry.” I picked up a file to fan myself. “It’s the heat.”
“You need to get in shape. I’ve got guest passes. They’ve got Pilates at the club. I’m thinking of taking a class after work.”
Herb smiled, biting into a rice cake. His smile faded as he chewed.
“Damn. These things taste like Styrofoam.”
The phone rang.
“Jack? Phil Blasky. There’s, um, a bit of a situation here at County.”
County meant the Cook County Morgue. Phil was the Chief Medical Examiner.
“I know this is going to sound like a paperwork problem…” He paused, sucking in some air through his teeth. “… but I’ve checked and double-checked.”
“What’s wrong, Phil?”