Voyeur

Daniel Judson

Minotaur Books

Voyeur
 
Chapter 1

He knew the equipment well, all the tools of his trade, and had already laid out the items he would need tonight on the empty seat beside him.

Hidden behind the heavily tinted windows of his panel van, he was free to watch without being seen, a simple necessity that, in theory at least, might someday prove to be nothing less than a matter of life and death.

His life and death.

Of course, Remer didn’t care to dwell on that—or any of the potential dangers that came with observing people at their worst; to do so would be inviting fear in, and there was, he knew, no point in doing that.

He had parked on Gansevoort Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s meatpacking district. An old-fashioned street, not paved but cobbled, it ran for several blocks through a neighborhood that was, despite the presence of the processing factories, nonetheless high-rent.

Shabby-chic, the Realtors called it.

Among the factories, dark now, were loft apartments, boutiques, several art galleries, bars, and cafés, one of which was Florent, a French bistro located, somewhat deceptively, in what had been decades ago, and still appeared to be, an old diner.

Small tables crowded close together on one side of the long room, a Formica lunch counter running along the other, lots of chrome fixtures and brightly lit, Florent was a place Remer had gone to only once—on a first date, years ago, with a dark and beautiful woman he had since worked hard to forget—but he remembered the layout well enough, both inside and out.

It was his job to possess a working knowledge of Manhattan—every street, every place of business and residence, all the ways in and all the ways out of every neighborhood, as well as the lines of sight from every corner. More often than not, success depended on this intimacy he maintained with the city—an intimacy that was a never-ending project and had long ago become a big part of who he was and, he believed, always would be.

So when he was told that tonight’s tail would begin at Florent, Remer was instantly able to determine not only the advantages that would work in his favor but the disadvantages he would need to overcome.

At this time of night Gansevoort, despite its bars and cafés, was a desolate enough place, which meant he wouldn’t have to deal with a lot of hectic street traffic. And yet it was busy enough—hipsters and A-listers roaming about, not to mention transsexual prostitutes lingering at the far corners and the trade they attracted—that his van, just a little beat-up, the logo of a nonexistent plumbing company marking its driver and passenger doors, wouldn’t stand out completely as it waited at the curb.

These were the advantages. The chief disadvantage was that the meatpacking district was located on the northern edge of the West Village, which itself was a maze of narrow one-way streets.

Should the tail lead him south and into the Village, he would have his work cut out for him; following someone closely in that cramped place meant to risk being seen. Even with all the modern technology at his disposal, and the tools laid out beside him, success would come down to a mixture of instinct, experience, and, most important, luck.

Still, there were, he knew, worse places a mark could lead him.

There was always the chance that the couple Remer had come to follow could remain inside Florent all night—it was a twenty-four-hour place—but a little over an hour after he had arrived he saw them exiting together.

They were an illicit couple—each married to another, and, according to the man’s distraught wife, who had hired Remer, experienced at deception—so Remer didn’t expect to bear witness to any flagrant displays of affection.

Still, both wore the kind of smile that could never be confused with innocent.

Knowing, familiar, provocative—difficult to misunderstand.

Mounted on the dashboard of the van was a digital camcorder, which Remer had already aimed at the ten-foot area spanning from Florent’s front door to the curb. Having pressed the RECORD button the moment the couple emerged, Remer sat back and watched their faces and body language on the camera’s color display screen.

The woman—tall, wearing a full-length fur coat—strode to the curb and, looking over her shoulder at the man, still smiling an indiscreet smile, raised her hand to flag down an approaching cab.

Starting the van’s engine, Remer pulled the column shifter down and waited, both hands on the wheel and his left foot holding down the brake pedal.

On the passenger seat were two pairs of binoculars, standard and night-vision; a carrying case of impact-resistant plastic containing a state-of-the-art GPS tracking system; and a custom-made leather case containing a directional listening device equipped with its own digital recorder capable of storing over thirty hours of conversation.

There wasn’t much more that he’d need tonight—he prided himself on knowing beforehand exactly what each job would require—but should some unseen situation suddenly arise, the appropriate tool was more than likely in one of the half-dozen metal lockboxes bolted to the floor in the back of the van.

Remer watched as the male followed the female into the cab.

A tall man, handsome, well groomed, and impeccably dressed.

A dangerous man, the wife had warned with both pride and contempt.

But who wasn’t, Remer thought.

The cab turned left on Washington Street, heading south.

Remer kept the video recorder running so he could provide a real-time account of the couple’s journey from Florent to their destination. The dashboard camera was connected to a small control panel mounted on the steering wheel that allowed him to easily direct the aim and increase or decrease the zoom.

While the van was in motion, the video was displayed on a screen built into the aftermarket rearview mirror. Remer quickly zoomed in on the license plate, should he need for some reason to track down its driver later, and then quickly zoomed back out again.

After that, he focused on maintaining the proper distance from the mark—too close and he could be detected, too far back and this cab could be easily lost.

A left onto Horatio, a right onto Hudson. So, into the Village, then. Hudson became Bleecker, after which the cab made a right onto Broadway and then a left onto Houston.

A little less than a mile, and then a series of quick turns onto Allen, Broome, and Orchard.

Finally, the cab came to a stop in front the Blue Moon Hotel.

Mindful of the distance he needed to maintain, Remer paused at the corner, midturn. Using the controls on his steering wheel, he panned the camera and followed the couple as they crossed the sidewalk and entered the brightly lit hotel lobby.

There were large windows on either side of the door, which itself was almost all window, so once he coasted forward and came to a stop, Remer was able to document the couple’s behavior as they stood at the front desk.

The more he caught, the better.

It was here, his experience told him, that affection might be displayed. And soon enough it was.

The female was standing beside the male, not shoulder to shoulder with him but facing him. She had already taken hold of his left arm, was almost hanging on it as if it were a rope she eagerly wanted to climb.

As before, they were smiling. Remer thought of his client, how she would feel when he played the video for her.

So happy, these two—deliriously so.

Leave him, make a clean break and move on, Remer would advise his client. Of course, she wouldn’t listen; no one ever did.

Once hurt, few had the sense just to walk away.

When the check-in was complete, the couple headed for the elevator just beyond the front desk. Pausing there, standing more or less in that same manner, their faces close now, they talked quietly. Still no kiss, though. The elevator arrived and they entered it, disappearing from Remer’s line of sight.

Orchard, a quiet side street running north to south between Delancey and Broome, was like a long canyon of brick facades and wrought-iron fire escapes. The buildings here were slightly taller than in the West Village, many of them former tenements. Across from the Blue Moon was, in fact, the Tenement Museum, and surrounding it were several shops and offices, all closed now.

Pulling ahead, Remer parked the van at the eastern curb and killed the motor.

He had been lucky so far—first Gansevoort, now here. Both streets were relatively discreet, and he had found on each a place to park. Most of the time, to achieve a line of sight, he had to double-park with the flashers blinking and hope that he appeared to anyone who might take notice to be a plumber on some emergency job.

A good enough cover, but still, standing out was standing out.

Grabbing both pairs of binoculars and the directional microphone, he moved to the back of the van, sat on one of the bolted-down metal containers, and looked out the rear door window at the Blue Moon.

He took a quick count of the rooms with lighted windows and waited, watching for one of the darkened ones to illuminate.

If his luck held, the couple would have been given a room facing Orchard. Had they been given a rear-facing room, he would then need to abandon the comfort and protection of the van and seek out access to the building’s rear windows.

Failing to find that would require him to return to the van and wait till the lovers exited the hotel, make a record of that, and, should they remain together, follow them again.

Should they part outside the hotel, which was the likely scenario, he would follow the woman to her residence, establish her address, and use it later to identify her. If this information wasn’t sufficient and his client wanted more, then another tail would be planned.

Rarely did he get all that he needed on the first night out. Rarely were the logistics of working in this city anything less than a series of obstacles that he needed—was paid—to overcome.

Maybe, if his luck held, he’d have what he needed in a matter of hours, then actually find himself back in his apartment and asleep by midnight.

As he thought this, he removed the laser-sighted directional microphone from its leather case. Once he determined what room the couple was in, all he would need to do was aim the invisible laser at the window and listen to—and record—what was being said.

Or whatever noise they made.

It was as he pulled this piece of equipment from its case that Remer saw the two vehicles turn onto Orchard Street from Broome.

Moving quickly, a black sedan leading a black SUV, the windows of both vehicles as heavily tinted as the windows of his own.

His gut clenched instantly, seemed to know well before his mind what the presence of these shimmering, rushing vehicles meant.

But as the sedan skidded to a stop beside his van, positioning itself at a slight angle so its nose was just inches from the van’s driver door, Remer’s mind quickly caught up.

The SUV took position directly behind the van, its nose at the rear bumper.

There was no doubt now.

Cornered.

Remer kept a licensed handgun locked in the glove compartment. Dropping the directional microphone, he rushed toward the front of the van, but before he could even reach the passenger seat, its window shattered and a gloved hand reached in, unlocking and opening the door.

A well-practiced move.

He counted four men. Despite the confusion, he saw that two of them had handguns drawn and were holding them expertly.

Not one of these men, though, said a thing.

A third man leaned in through the open passenger door, reached back, and grabbed the handle of the cargo door, releasing it. That door instantly slid open, and before Remer could do anything, the fourth man lunged inside, his arm fully extended.

Something struck Remer in the chest.

He recognized it just before the 25,000 volts bit into his chest.

A stun gun.

It was this fourth man who dragged Remer from the van.

Though he was semiconscious, Remer saw the third man scrambling to get across the passenger seat and behind the wheel of the van. He saw, too, one of the two armed men holster his weapon and join the fourth.

There wasn’t anything Remer could do as these two men lifted him and carried him back to the SUV.

He felt as though he were being rushed along by a swift current.

Once inside the SUV, seated between two men, Remer was hooded and his wrists were bound together with sharp wire.

The vehicle raced north for a few blocks, then turned right onto Delancey, heading east.

It was then that Remer felt a needle pierce his skin and enter his radial vein.

The last thing he knew was trying to breathe the already stale air trapped within the darkness of the canvas hood.

The last thing he heard was the sound of the SUV’s thick tires thumping on the uneven surface of the Williamsburg Bridge.

He opened his eyes to darkness.

It took him a moment to realize that he was no longer hooded but in an unlit room. When his eyes adjusted he could make out the shapes of high windows—whitewashed and honeycombed with security wire. Opaque. These windows were visible on all four walls, but some were nearby while others were a distance from where he sat. So this room took up an entire floor, and he was tucked away in one of its corners.

A factory? Maybe. Unused? Probably. The air was cold and smelled of damp and mildew. He could almost sense the dormancy.

He heard nothing for a long time—nothing from inside the building and nothing from outside it, not even the sound of distant street traffic. It was night still—but was it the same night or another? He could be anywhere—a few blocks into Brooklyn, or in any of the other boroughs.

For that matter, was he even in New York?

He was parched, he knew that much. A side effect of whatever they had injected into him? Or an indication that he’d been unconscious for a long time?

There was no way of telling. The only certain things were the cold and the smells and the pounding of his heart.

Maybe an hour later—a long time, however long it actually was, to be bound to a chair in an empty room—Remer finally heard something: the sound of tires on the debris-covered asphalt below one of the windows.

A vehicle rolling to a stop, then its doors opening and closing.

This was followed by voices, first outside and then inside, far below him. Finally, Remer heard footsteps on stairs. One flight, then another, then another still.

Getting louder.

Then the footsteps were in the large room, moving toward him. He was able to determine that there were three sets. Hard-soled boots worn by big men.

Finally, these men were close enough for Remer to see them.

Two of them were dressed in army field jackets and jeans; the third, standing between them, was wearing a leather peacoat, dark knit sweater, and black slacks and shoes.

Hanging from his left shoulder was a leather bag.

By the way the others flanked this man, and remained always a step behind him, Remer knew he was the one in charge.

They stopped a few feet away. The man in the leather peacoat watched Remer for a moment, then said to the man to his right, “Get the light.” His accent was French.

The man to his right disappeared back into the surrounding darkness. The echoes of his receding footsteps were the only sounds to be heard. The man in the peacoat continued to watch Remer in silence. Then the receding footsteps stopped, only to begin again a few seconds later.

The man reemerged from the darkness, holding now a six-foot standing lamp and an orange extension cord.

He placed the lamp beside Remer, then headed toward the nearest wall, uncoiling the cord as he went. Inserting the plug into an outlet, he returned to the lamp and switched it on.

The bright light cut into Remer’s eyes. He blinked against it.

“I would imagine that you are at this moment very scared,” the man in the peacoat said. His accent was heavy, muddy. He handed the leather bag to the man to his left.

This man knelt, placing the case on the floor and zipping it open.

Remer said nothing.

“It is wise to be scared,” the man continued. “You should be. We want you to be. It is natural. Fear is hardwired into all of us, put there by nature to protect and save us. Things can become very focused when we are scared. Only what truly matters gets our attention.”

The kneeling man removed something from the bag.

Remer didn’t recognize it at first. It was less than a foot long and had an electrical cord attached. The cord was rolled up.

Unrolling it, this man tossed the plug end to the man standing by the lamp, who connected it to the orange extension cord.

“Look at me,” the man in the peacoat said.

Remer did, though the exact nature of the piece of equipment that had been removed from the bag was still very much on his mind.

“We all have jobs we must do,” the man said. “Mine is to break people of bad habits. Do you know what your bad habit is?”

Remer said nothing.

“You pry into the business of others. That is your bad habit. No one makes you do this, you have chosen to do it—to make it your profession. Private matters, intimate matters—it does not matter to you. You follow, peek through windows like a voyeur, hide in shadows. This is the habit I have been asked to break you of.”

The man holding the item stood.

Remer’s eyes strayed toward his hand.

The handle of the item he held was clear plastic, and within it glowed a red light.

The other end of the item was a six-inch-long metal rod from the tip of which rose a thin, curling line of dark smoke.

Remer quickly looked back at the man in the peacoat.

“For all any of us know, I might just be doing you a favor,” he said to Remer. “If you were to continue your habit of peeking, you might one day see something you will wish you hadn’t. Of course, once a thing is seen, it cannot be unseen, can it?”

The man in the peacoat held out his hand.

The grip of the soldering iron was placed into it.

The man by the lamp stepped to Remer and tore open his shirt, exposing Remer’s broad chest.

“I find it is best to leave a little reminder,” the Frenchman said. “This way you will be unlikely to forget the lesson you are about to learn. Think of it as a note from your teacher.”

Remer struggled to get free of his restraints, couldn’t help himself; it was reflex, a result of the adrenaline streaming into his blood.

He felt the bare wire cutting into his wrists but didn’t care; all that mattered was getting free, somehow, and escaping the agony that awaited him.

The two men moved to either side of Remer and placed their hands on his shoulders, holding him steady.

The man in the peacoat took a step toward him.

Again, Remer flailed, fighting against the wires.

He felt them cutting into his wrists, zipping open his skin. He knew he was bleeding, but he also knew that this was the very least of his problems.

The man in the peacoat took another step, then leaned down. “Lucky for you, my pride is my penmanship.”

Remer said the only thing he could.

“Jesus.”

The Frenchman pressed the red-hot metal tip into Remer’s flesh and began to carve.

All Remer could hear then was his own screams.

 

 

VOYEUR. Copyright © 2010 by Daniel Judson. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.