The knocking came in the middle of night. It took a few minutes for the sound to register - the incessant rhythmic thud of fists on wood the sound of a train rattling along the tracks. Opening his eyes, Samuel Lynch suffered the same teasing sensation he experienced every morning of being somewhere else, of being someone else; and then he saw the mess from last night and reality returned in a wave of nausea. He dragged the back of his hand across his eyes and sat up in bed. The sound of the banging was replaced by a similar noise in his head, accompanied by short, staccato stabs of pain. On the dressing table, five empty beer bottles fought for space amongst piles of unfiled paperwork - he never drank more than five, but still suffered the raging headaches every morning.
‘Mr Lynch?’ The banging on the door continued. Lynch couldn’t remember the last time he’d had visitors and no one, not even his ex-wife, knew his address. Something about that should have made him sad, but he was too piqued by curiosity. His rent, bills included, was paid in cash and he was methodical about entering and leaving the building. No one should know his location.
He jumped from the bed and tiptoed to the closet, avoiding the mounds of paper on the threadbare carpet. He pulled on his robe and from the inside shelf took out his Glock 22. He unclipped the magazine, checked it, and clipped it back in place.
The banging resumed. The same four beats, the rhythm identical as if somehow he was being mocked, matched the exact tempo of his growing migraine. ‘Sir, this is Special Agent Lennox from the FBI. I need to talk to you.’
Gun in hand, Lynch moved to his desk. His laptop was buried under sheets of paper. Throwing them to the ground, he switched on the machine hoping the webcam outside his front door was still active. Clearing a pile of dirty laundry off the chair he sat down, glancing at the giant maps hanging on the wall above his desk.
Bang, bang, bang-bang. Bang, bang, bang-bang.
‘For Christ’s sake, Lynch, open this goddamn door.’
Lynch checked his gun again as he entered the password for the laptop. He was surprised to see the webcam still worked, surprised further to see what it revealed. Three men stood outside his apartment door. Two wore SWAT vests, covered in Kevlar panels. The third was suited, and was about to hit the door again when he noticed the light on the webcam. He looked up and waved at the lens. ‘Mr Lynch, please open up.’
Lynch picked up the laptop and scurried to the side of the room, so he was no longer in line with the front door. ‘I want to see credentials. All three of you, up to the camera.’
The suit sighed, and pulled out his card and held it to the lens. ‘Don’t move,’ shouted Lynch, studying the ID of Special Agent, Bill Lennox.
Agent, William Benson. Agent Ralph Barnes. If they were fakes, they were good fakes.
‘Now will you open the door?’ asked Lennox.
Lynch placed the gun in his robe pocket and unbolted the door, poised for surprise movements.
‘Samuel Lynch. I’m Special Agent Bill Lennox. May I come in?’ The man was in his forties. Medium build, slightly bigger around the gut than was healthy.
Lynch opened the door. ‘Your buddies coming in as well?’
‘If you don’t mind.’
Lynch held the door open for the two SWAT guys. Both men were grotesquely over-sized. At six-two, Lynch was well above average size. He trained daily and had a strong build, but was dwarfed by the two muscle-bound men.
Lynch shut the door as the men acclimatized themselves. Lennox glanced at the maps on Lynch’s wall, the SWAT guys at the mess.
‘You carrying?’ asked Lennox.
Lennox nodded. ‘Quite a piece of work,’ he said, pointing to the larger map.
The map was Lynch’s creation. Five meters wide, it displayed the entire network of railroad lines in the USA. Next to it was a two-meter map of Texas’ active and disused railroad lines. Each map was dotted with hundreds of colored pins.
‘What do you want?’
‘Can we sit, or are we going to do this standing up?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Fair enough. Have you heard of a man who goes by the name of Gregor Razinski?’ The two SWAT guys had stopped looking at the mess and were staring at him.
‘He seems to know you.’
‘Well, good for him, Lennox, is it? But I have no idea who he is, so unless you can tell me what this is about please kindly fuck off.’
Lennox smirked, and Lynch came close to wiping the expression from his face, three armed agents or not. ‘Mr Razinski is currently involved in a situation in Asherton County. He’s taken a family of four hostage in their home. He has killed the father of the family, and has killed one police officer.’
Lynch felt last night’s pizza, and the last of the five beers rise up in his throat.
‘He refuses to speak to anybody but you,’ continued Lennox.
Lynch didn’t know the name. He had almost faultless recall ability and, although he’d encountered hundreds if not thousands of people in past operations, he was sure he didn’t know Razinski. ‘Never heard of him. I have no connection to that area,’ he said.
‘We know. We have a team in place. They’re ready to go in but we thought it prudent to speak to you first. To see if you could shed some light.’
‘Who does he have hostage?’
‘He has killed a man by the name of Edward Gunn. He’s detained Gunn’s wife, Eleanor, and their two young children.’
Lynch shook his head. ‘Motive?’
‘Not clear. We can’t trace Razinski. We’re yet to secure any photo ID.’
‘When did he mention my name?’
Lennox was clearly holding something back. ‘Two shots were heard from the house, prior to Razinski attempting to leave. Five minutes earlier one of the Gunn children had made a call to the police explaining that a man had broken into the house and taken the rest of the family hostage. Two cops on foot patrol nearby came to the scene and caught Razinski leaving. They opened fire. Razinski retreated to the house, managing to take one of the cops down as he retreated.’
Lynch nodded. ‘And?’
‘Back up arrived, and they eventually made contact. Razinski confessed to killing Mr Gunn and informed the Sherriff’s team he had the rest of the family with him.’
‘This is a great story, Lennox, but when are we going to get to the bit about me?’
Lennox glanced at the two SWAT guys.
‘Just fucking spill it, Lennox.’
‘It seems Mr Razinski was under a miscomprehension. He demanded to speak to Special Agent Samuel Lynch.’
Lynch nodded, now understanding the covert glances between the three men.
‘San Antonio FBI field office team were called in. Obviously, they checked your file. As there was no sign of Razinski on the databases we couldn’t link him to you anyway. Our team talked to him, tried to push him for more. And eventually he gave us something.’
Lennox exchanged glances with the two SWAT guys once more. Seven years ago, Lynch had headed up the San Antonio field office SWAT team. Now the very same type of men he’d once led were treating him like a victim. In his mind’s eye, he pictured himself taking the Glock from the inside pocket of his robe. He was sure, even now, he could get three shots off before they reacted. He had the element of surprise, and they were making the mistake of underestimating him.
Lennox scratched his chin, the sound of his nails dragging through his rough stubble audible in the room, and glanced again at the maps above Lynch’s desk.
Catching him in the movement, and wondering what that might mean, Lynch experienced a surge of adrenaline.
Lennox sighed before speaking. ‘Look, there’s no easy way to say this, Mr Lynch. Razinski said he wanted to speak to you as he had some information which might be of interest.’
Lynch nodded, trying to control his increasing pulse rate.
‘It’s about your son. Razinski claims he’s still alive.’
‘We’ve found him.’
Special Agent Sandra Rose took the phone from her colleague. ‘Lennox? Speak.’
‘We have him.’
‘What does he know?’
‘In my professional opinion, nothing whatsoever. He was asleep when we called. Says he’s never heard of Razinski.’
‘But he’s agreed to assist?’
Lennox paused. ‘Reluctantly, yes.’
Rose handed the phone back to her colleague.
An officer from the Dimmit County office, Captain Iain Haig, sitting next to her in the unmarked van looked at her for information. ‘We’re going in?’ he asked.
‘I’ll speak to him one more time, then my team will enter the house. I’ll need your men to stay back.’
Haig curled his lip. ‘You want to tell them that?’
Haig’s file was impressive. A former marine, he headed up the criminal investigation division in the small county. Rose was confident he could have handled the situation. But Razinski had mentioned a former FBI operative, and Haig had been good enough to call it in. Now she was here, it was her responsibility.
‘Listen, Iain, I understand it’s an awkward situation but we both want the same outcome. Your guys are baying for blood. Let me go in and get this guy. Get some justice for your officer.’
Haig had no option, it was her operation now. The Captain shook his head, suggesting she was making a mistake, and left the van.
‘Get me Razinski,’ said Rose.
It was her fourth hour at the scene. Most of it had been spent in the back of the van, with five other operatives. What little oxygen left in the confined space smelled of cheap cologne, sweat, and nicotine. For a moment, she envied the retreating Haig and the fresh air he was enjoying.
One of the techs, a quiet, almost monosyllabic man by the name of Charles McCarthy, handed her a pair of earphones. Rose’s heart rate spiked as she heard the ringing tone.
She’d spoken to Razinski twice since arriving. During their brief conversations, she’d been unable to detect any sense of fear. He’d remained calm and considered, despite having just murdered a policeman and being surrounded by practically the entire County police force and two field teams from the FBI. He’d admitted to killing Edward Gunn, and told her that he had Gunn’s wife and their two young children, one boy, one girl, as hostage.
The ringing stopped. McCarthy’s eyes drooped like a lost schoolboy, confused and alone. It took her a second to remember he was looking to her for support, that she was in charge.
‘Yes?’ Razinski drew out the word with an almost comical intonation.
‘Mr Razinski, this is Special Agent Sandra Rose, again. ‘
‘That is disappointing.’
Rose’s neck flushed. ‘I have some good news for you. We have located Special Agent Samuel Lynch.’ She’d decided now was not the time to tell Razinski that Lynch no longer worked for the FBI, though she suspected he already knew.
‘He’s agreed to meet with you.’
‘I look forward to his appearance.’
‘I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that, Mr Razinski.’ Rose hated pandering. If Haig had his way, the house would have been stormed hours ago. ‘It will take Lynch four to five hours to get here, and I’m afraid we can’t wait that long.’
‘That’s too bad, Agent Rose. Do remember I have very little to lose. I gutted that little piggy friend of yours, and Mr Gunn here is, how should we say, beside himself at the moment. I don’t imagine I’ll be experiencing a sense of freedom anytime soon.’
The insinuation was clear. ‘Let’s not be rash, Mr Razinski. Let us come in, get the family, and I’ll personally take you to see Agent Lynch when he arrives.’
Razinski went silent. ‘I’m sorry, Miss Rose. It is Miss, I presume, but no.’
The faint sound of Razinski’s breathing faded. ‘Listen, Razinski, we’re reaching critical point here. I found Lynch for you, I upheld my side of the bargain, now uphold yours. I have an entire department here who would gladly come for you en masse. Would risk a random bullet for the opportunity to get at you. This is your last chance. Let my team come in and take you to safety, and I’ll give you my word you’ll be unharmed.’
The line went silent. McCarthy nodded, confirming Razinski was still on the call. She couldn’t speak again until Razinski spoke.
‘Okay, Agent Rose, I’ll take you at your word,’ he said, an eternity later. ‘I’m getting a bit bored cooped up here anyway.’
Rose pointed to Agent Glen Phelan, who headed up the SWAT team. Phelan rushed from the van and began barking orders at his team. ‘Mr Razinski, my team will be entering the house now. For your safety, lie down on the floor. Link your hands together above your head. Can you do that for me?’
‘For you, Rose, dear, anything.’
‘If you move from that position, my team will terminate you.’
‘Understood,’ said Razinski, laughter in his voice.
Phelan returned to the van, joined by Haig. ‘Ready,’ said Phelan.
Rose gave Haig an earpiece so he could hear the rescue operation. ‘Iain, we’re not going to have any trouble from your guys?’
‘Get that fucker away from here immediately, and there’ll be no trouble.’
Rose nodded and Phelan left the van.
The mission was one of the simpler ones Rose had overseen. Phelan sent in four of the SWAT team. They smashed down the Gunn’s front door on the first attempt and secured the lower floor with no resistance. Moving upstairs, Rose heard a brief commotion as the team found Razinski. Thirty seconds later she heard, ‘subject and area secure.’ A short period of silence followed as Phelan entered the area.
‘Jesus fucking Christ,’ he muttered into his headset. ‘Ma’am, we’re going to need you up here.’
Rose couldn’t equate the quiet, drawn out voice on the other end with Phelan. She’d always admired the man’s strength, especially under duress. His last sentence didn’t sound like him. Like Rose, Phelan had seen unimaginable things in his time as a field agent. What had he seen to affect him so?
Pandemonium struck as she left the van. Cuffed, and secured by two of the SWAT team, Razinski was being led into a waiting van when one of Haig’s team attacked. An obese figure in a check shirt, one of Haig’s deputies, surprised Rose with a burst of speed which resulted in his fist connecting square with Razinski’s jaw. The agents let the blow go. Razinski had murdered the man’s colleague, and a free punch was the least they could offer. Then, as Razinski began laughing, they were forced to intervene.
Check Shirt’s face reddened, deepening into a dangerous looking shade of purple as he lunged for Razinski again. Two of his colleagues had reached the scene and were trying to tear Razinski from the SWAT team.
Rose withdrew her firearm. ‘What the hell is going on?’ she shouted.
The police officers stopped their attack. Check Shirt glared at her as if she was somehow to blame. ‘You know what he did,’ he said.
‘Let us handle it now. He’ll get what’s coming to him.’ Rose softened her voice but left an edge to it so the officers were under no illusion about who was in charge. Captain Haig left the van. One look and his team dispersed.
Razinski smirked as the officers retreated.
Rose didn’t speak as Razinski was cuffed and bundled into the back of the secure van, accompanied by one of her team. She turned to see the ashen face of Phelan staring at her from the front door of the house. She walked over, and nodded to him to check he was ok. ‘Seal this entrance,’ she instructed one of Haig’s deputies. ‘No one is to enter until they have my clearance.’
‘Prepare yourself,’ warned Phelan, accompanying her into the house.
She sensed it immediately. She’d visited hundreds of crime scenes in her time, and it was always the same. Stillness seeped through the house, a sense that something had changed irrevocably. Her stomach muscles clenched, a tight feeling spreading across her chest.
‘The master bedroom,’ said Phelan.
She tried to ignore the photographs adorning the walls next to the staircase. She caught glimpses of stylized photos, individual portraits of each family member, and one larger picture of the family together. Her eyes betrayed her and she lingered on the picture of the young daughter, smiling at the camera as if nothing could ever hurt her.
The smell guided her to the bedroom. One of the SWAT team guarded the door. He stood aside, failing to look her in the eye. Rose held her breath and entered the crime scene.
She’d already known by Phelan’s reaction that the whole family had been slaughtered but she wasn’t prepared for what she saw.
She took in the whole scene in one glance. The mother and children were tied to chairs in a line. Each was gagged, a tear across their necks. They faced a fourth chair where the decapitated body of their father sat, his head stuck between his legs like a sick Halloween doll.
Rose didn’t need ERTU, the Bureau’s evidence response team, to check the bodies. She knew the family had witnessed the decapitation before being killed. ‘Ok, get ERTU in,’ she told the guard.
She followed Phelan downstairs trying not to rush. The fresh air hit her like a slap. She took a couple of seconds to compose herself and continued working.
‘All of them?’ asked Haig, resigned to the fact.
Rose nodded. ‘I think he killed them before he tried to leave last time.’ She’d requested that Razinski allow the mother to speak to them but he’d refused. Rose couldn’t suppress a shudder as she thought about the family being forced to witness the decapitation of the father. What it must have done to them, how long they must have sat in terror with that image ingrained in their visions, waiting for their fate.
ERTU had arrived and were being briefed by Phelan. ‘I want to be present for all questioning with Razinski,’ demanded Haig. He had a towering presence, and Rose sensed the man’s natural authority. He’d been nothing but reasonable considering the events and she understood how his team would follow him unwaveringly.
‘You can accompany me to the offices. I’ll do as much as I can.’
One of the SWAT team, Trevor Khatri, joined them. ‘Excuse me, Ma’am, we’ve discovered something you might want to see.
Haig accompanied her to the van. Khatri opened the back doors. Razinski sat on the right hand side. His arms and legs were chained to a steel bar running the length of the van. A second SWAT member sat opposite him. ‘Lean forward,’ ordered Khatri.
Razinski smirked but didn’t move. Khatri looked at Rose and she nodded. Khatri placed his forearm on the back of Razinski’s neck and shoved him forward. Razinski didn’t fight, his smirk a constant on his face.
Khatri pulled the man’s shirt up revealing a crude marking on Razinski’s back. It was half tattoo, half scar tissue. The image looked like a ladder or a train track. Two parallel vertical lines had been carved on Razinski’s back from his neck to his waist. Rose counted the horizontal lines joining the two lines. The lines were welt-like, colored blue. Rose numbered them as eighteen.
‘What am I looking at?’ asked Haig.
‘A myth,’ said Rose.