MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Sunday, 4 July 2010. 5:00 A.M. Riverport, Massachusetts.
When you’re young, time is something that happens to other people.
Standing on the lip of Bannerman’s Overlook, taking in the view of the city, there should have been all the time in the world. Cold dawn lit eastern-facing windows like bright pixels. Birds lifted skyward from the university campus in a stippled black cloud, thinning as they banked westward toward the river.
Jack Joyce and Paul Serene had known each other all of their lives, a total that would forever remain at twenty-two years if the delicately voiced man behind them lost his temper.
Paul glanced over his shoulder. Orrie “Trigger” Aberfoyle was the calm, kind-eyed murderer responsible for Riverport’s small but thriving crime industry, and had the kind of face you’d expect to surface after throwing bread onto a dead pond. At that moment he seemed to be charmed by the relaxed young lady bantering with him. His three enforcers hung back on the verge, with Aberfoyle’s black town car.
“He’s going to kill us, isn’t he?” Paul said.
Zed—that was the only name she gave—had blown into town a few months back, took up residence in an abandoned home, and lived invisibly: no phone, no e-mail, no social media, no Social Security number. Her hair was a shock of dyed black and swept back like a bend-not-break stack of midnight reeds. A jagged tribal design curved behind her left ear and for fun she spent her afternoons bouncing off public property with the parkour crowd by the river.
Jack had placed their lives in her hands.
“Stop checking behind us. It makes us look nervous.” Jack tried for a reassuring smile. “I trust her. I know her.”
“You should. She’s everyone you’ve ever dated.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“She’s a good-looking disaster who romanticizes your pathologies.” Paul kicked a rock over the edge. The four-second delay to impact knotted his guts.
Last night Jack and Paul had taken a six-pack and the dinghy that belonged to Jack’s departed dad and went fishing, way out on the Mystic River. Good times, had a few brewskis, Paul crashed on Jack’s couch. Then Paul had woken abruptly as he was tossed off Jack’s couch by a side of beef with a handgun. And now they were here.
Jack collected a few flat stones from the platform’s ornamental Zen garden fringe, just before the dew-slick safety rail. “Look,” he said, “those three guys turned up. We got piled into a car. Aberfoyle’s phone rings. It’s Zed. How’d she get his number? How’d she know we were in the car? How did she know what to say to make him turn the car around and drive us here, rather than some piece of waste ground in the dockyard? I trust her with this,” he emphasized. “Five minutes ago she looked me in the eye and told me that all three of us are walking out of here alive. I believe her.”
Jack was utterly smitten by Zed, which was why, Paul knew without a doubt, Jack was letting her do the talking for them—which was why Paul was certain they were about to be kicked three hundred feet off Bannerman’s Overlook into the Great Mystery.
All Paul ever wanted was to go to business school, for fuck’s sake.
“Jack, when you met her she was surfing the roof of a Honda hatchback at one A.M., with the lights off, down the worst road on Mount Greylock. She hangs out with scumbags and her name is a consonant. In two of her four photos the woman is airborne and she looks different in all of them. She has a tattoo on her head. That man literally gets away with murder several times a year and she’s talking to him like he’s her dippy uncle. I’m not sure she knows anything about anything.” Now Aberfoyle was wobbling a finger at Zed’s bemused face, laying down some kind of law. “If you don’t say something to make him happy we are going to die.”
Jack was Frisbeeing rocks from his left palm into the void, watching them arc and disappear into the foggy woodland that reached toward Riverport’s southern border. “Americana.” The leather of his jacket snapped as a flat stone spun and descended. “Family businesses. One school. Everyone knows everyone. Riverport, oh Riverport, such a pretty little town.”
Paul recognized the refrain from their school anthem.
Jack tossed the remaining rocks over the side. “I hate pretty little towns. I hate this pretty little town.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, toward one of the most dangerous men in the state. “Once this is dealt with I’m leaving. I mean it this time. This is the last mess of Will’s I’m cleaning up.”
“You don’t mean that. You mean it now, but you won’t mean it tomorrow. You’d have grown up in foster care if it wasn’t for your brother.”
“‘Care.’ Wouldn’t that have been something?”
“Do you remember how many jobs I worked through high school? Because I sure don’t. What did I trade to spend ten years working so he didn’t have to?”
“Yeah, but Will made your lunches—even if we did have to wash out those Ziplocs every Friday night. He drove us around when we were kids, right? Summers on the lake? I mean, he did his best. You guys are a team.”
“He told me our folks were broke. Turns out that wasn’t the case.”
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The fight went out of Paul. “Ah shit.”
“He blew it—all of it—in the first couple of years. Then came the loans and now, Paul, my friend, we are here.”
The conversation behind them shifted tone. Gone was the music of pleased-to-meet-you. Smiles faded from Zed and Aberfoyle’s eyes.
Paul’s voice cracked. “Jack. Plan B.” He hated himself for the sound of it. “If there is one, now’s the time.”
Jack took a half-interested look at the scene behind him: Zed and Aberfoyle, standing face-to-face. Aberfoyle’s three wide-bodies propping up his town car, not concerned enough to even draw weapons. One of them looked at his watch. The other one signaled to a third, who sat in the car, listening to the radio. He got out, handed a heavy paper bag to the second, who took out a pre-loved Beretta with a tape-wrapped grip and checked the magazine.
Jack faced the front. To Paul that was an admission: This was now real. This was happening.
Paul swallowed. “They say … they say he shoots people with silver bullets,” he whispered. “When the coroner finds one the case goes away. The cop who returns it to Aberfoyle gets five grand. They say he keeps the used ones in a jelly jar on his desk.”
Jack kept his voice low. “You told me the same story when we were nine. I’ve still never heard anything that—”
Aberfoyle took a snub-nosed .38 out of his pocket, snapped the cylinder open, checked the contents. The ass-ends of six slugs flashed like mirrors.
“I stand corrected.”
The cylinder clicked shut. The wide-bodies sauntered over to Aberfoyle and Zed. Gravity seemed to be charging them double, but they didn’t care.
Zed nodded a hello. “Mario. Luigi. Princess Peach.”
No reaction from the first two. Princess smiled like a prehistoric fish and held eye contact with Zed way too long.
Paul went white. “Fuck me.”
Jack backhanded Paul in the chest. “Take it easy. Wolves dig panic.”
Paul nodded, a little too quickly.
“All right. Worst comes to worst, over the side, aim for the slope. Legs first.”
Aberfoyle’s voice suddenly went up an octave. “The universe responds to clear intentions, girl. Mine is to get what’s mine. What’s yours?”
“Hey, Trouble, c’mere.” Zed beckoned Jack over, introduced him in that New Jersey accent. “This is my friend. His name is Jack Joyce. He is the brother of William Joyce, the scientist. The man who owes you all that money.”
Aberfoyle turned to Jack. “For a smart man your brother is very stupid.”
Aberfoyle tapped Jack sharply on the side of the head with the silver-loaded .38. “Hey. Over here. You and your brother. You close?”
“He’s an idiot and I want this over with. What does he owe you?”
Aberfoyle had a laugh like bad plumbing. “More than he’s got. More than you got. You got a spread. Nice piece a land. Nice house. I’m takin’ that. But so we’re clear: that don’t even cover the vig.”
“The interest,” Zed clarified.
“I watch The Sopranos,” Jack said. “So what do we do? No, wait, fuck that. You’re not getting the house.”
“The fuck you say?”
“Give me a figure, I’ll work something out.”
“The fuck you say?” The .38 was up.
Jack wondered if those kind eyes would be the last thing he ever saw. “I said you’re not getting the house.”
“Mr. Aberfoyle,” Zed interjected, smiling. “You’re a businessman. Let’s business.”
Aberfoyle allowed Zed to lead him a few steps away from Jack. “Boys. Eyes on that one.” Aberfoyle adjusted his jacket, gave Zed what was left of his patience. “Make it good and make it quick.”
“There’s a reason I requested you meet me here,” she said. “It’s the view.”
Paul glanced over the side. His depth perception telescoped hard enough to nudge his balance off-center. “Aim for the slope. Right.” He felt sick, closed his eyes.
“That gun you carry,” Zed was saying. “The one with the shiny bullets. You direct it toward a problem, pull the trigger, and that problem goes away. Click. Bang. Deleted.”
“I like that. I’m takin’ that one.”
“There’s a quote—apocryphal—attributed to Michelangelo. The Pope admired Michelangelo’s sculpture of David. He asked Michelangelo, ‘How did you do that?’ The story goes that Michelangelo replied, ‘I simply cut away everything that doesn’t look like David.’”
“I don’t get it.”
“Look at Riverport. You control so much of it. You didn’t build that control; you used your magic gun to cut away anything that didn’t look like control. Businesses. Careers. People.” Zed held up one finger. “I have a magic gun, too.” Cocked her thumb. “Click click.” She stretched her arm toward the horizon, pointed her magic finger at a lone warehouse close to the waterside. “A year ago your son was DJ’ing at a house party. A girl needed to charge her phone. He let her plug it into his laptop. He synched that phone, downloaded her photos, shared a few choice ones with his friends. One of the photos showed the girl and her boyfriend inside an industrial-grade hydroponic setup. Your boys followed her boyfriend, found the warehouse—the same warehouse my magic gun is pointing at right now.” She looked Aberfoyle in the eye. “Those two kids are dead. No one knows who did it, never will, and you have two more silver slugs in a jelly jar on your desk.”
Aberfoyle’s bottom lip devoured his top, blood vessels reddening around his nose. “Do you believe in God?”
Aberfoyle took a threatening step toward her.
The warehouse went up in flames. Aberfoyle went from red to white.
“Calm down, Orrie, it meant nothing to you. You’re a child of the fifties. You like cars.” Zed’s magic gun shifted target. “Click.”
“I will fucking end you.”
The windows of a downtown chop shop blew out, the corrugated roof spewing blackest smoke. Aberfoyle’s phone started ringing. He fumbled it out, stabbed it open, shouted, “I know! Handle it!” He disconnected, raised the .38. Zed kept her eye on Aberfoyle while her gun-finger moved to its third target.
“Don’t you dare.”
Princess snatched the tape-wrapped Beretta from the backup goon and checked in. “Boss?”
“You like boats?” Zed asked.
“Don’t you fucking dare.”
Aberfoyle’s gun was shaking. “Don’t…!”
On the river a yacht exploded.
And another one.
Zed looked him in the eye. “To answer your question, Orrie: No. I don’t believe in God. I believe in cause and effect.” And then, “Bang.”
Aberfoyle shrieked as a million dollars turned into a waterborne mushroom cloud. Zed slapped the .38 out of his grip before he could pull the trigger. It hit the deck and went skidding.
“Good-bye, Orrie.” She quickly stepped aside.
Princess got ahead of himself, racked the slide, and fired. Sideways, like he had seen in a movie. Princess was no Michelangelo.
The life of Orrie “Trigger” Aberfoyle was taken in hand by a 9mm slug and together they leaped out a ragged window just above his right ear.
Aberfoyle’s second-in-command, whose job security had just turned to shit, now profoundly miserable, dumped half a mag into Princess.
In a flash of animal panic the third guy, who now thought he was caught in the middle of an elaborate house-cleaning operation, blew away Aberfoyle’s second-in-command.
This last-goon-standing backed away, hyperventilating and wide-eyed, realizing the depth of shit he was in. He waved the gun across Zed, Jack, and Paul, feeling behind him for the car. Zed picked up Aberfoyle’s .38 and blatted off three shots in the goon’s general direction, making sure at least two silver slugs landed in the town car’s bodywork. The goon turned the key, hit the gas, and their immediate problems vanished in a slamming driver-side door and a long shriek of rubber as the town car fishtailed once and tore out of there. The three of them watched it disappear down the road.
Paul’s legs lost their muscle, betrayed him, and he pitched back toward the waist-high rail.
Jack was there, seizing him hard by the arms, keeping him from toppling. Paul wanted to say something funny in that moment, something Jack would have said, but all that came out was “Go Team Outland.”
Zed appeared, calm hand on Paul’s shoulder as she waited for him to get his breathing under control. “Here.” She pressed a single silver bullet into Paul’s trembling hand. She gave one to Jack and kept one for herself. “That’s the future we stole back.”
That .38 slug flashed brightly. “Business school,” Paul said, and closed his hand. “I’m going to business school.”
Jack pocketed his. “I’m starting over. Somewhere else.” To Zed, “Come with me.”
Zed looked at her own, softly smiled, and sent that .38 slug sailing into the sky and out over Bannerman’s Overlook.
Into the Great Mystery.
Copyright © 2016 by Microsoft Corporation