In the long ago an eagle circled high above a rabbit burrow and
would swoop down and lay on the ground a branch of ripe berries,
and then climb high again into the sky.
The rabbit would see how high the eagle was and know there was
time to leave the safety of the burrow to snatch the berries and
return to the burrow before the eagle could reach him from up so
Again the next day the eagle would swoop down and leave a branch
of berries, but this time a little farther from the burrow. Again
the rabbit would see the eagle circling high in the clear sky and
seize the berries and return to the burrow before the eagle might
For seven days this happened, each day the rabbit venturing
farther from its burrow, and the eagle simply circled high overhead
and looked very small against the pale blue top of the sky. The
rabbit decided the berries were a gift, but still the eagle was an
eagle and not to be trusted.
On the eighth day the branch of berries was still far from the
burrow, but the eagle so small in the sky seemed no threat and like
a mote in the rabbit’s wary eye.
But as the rabbit left his burrow the eagle became larger, and
it wasn’t an eagle at all this time but a hawk that had
seemed so high only because it was smaller than the eagle the
rabbit usually saw. Too late the rabbit realized what had happened.
There was no time to return to the safety of the burrow.
The weak things in the world have a time to die that is sooner
than the strong. That is why the spirit made the weak and the
strong. In its heart, the rabbit knew this and was still.
The hawk swooped down, and its wings spread wider and wider and
covered the sun and made the sky black. The hawk’s talons cut
like blades into the rabbit’s back, and the rabbit screamed
as the hawk lifted it higher and higher into a blackness darker
than the night. The screams became the wind and the beating of the
hawk’s great wings the thunder of the coming storms.
In the long-ago day, these things did happen.
New York, the present
Vera Doaks keyed the lock on her apartment door and told herself
she needed to be patient.
She’d been in New York a little more than a month. That
wasn’t a long time, and already she’d placed an article
in the airline magazine Nation Travels and sold a short story to a
nationally published mystery magazine. Her MFA from Ohio State
University was paying off. She told herself it wouldn’t be
long before she wouldn’t have to wait tables in order to pay
the rent. Some publisher would pay it for her.
She paused by the framed flea-market mirror in the entry hall
and tilted her head to the side for a dust jacket publicity shot.
The attractive redhead in the mirror smiled out at her, with wide
cheekbones like a model’s, intense brown eyes, slightly
upturned nose, strong cleft chin, a knowing, confident grin.
Look intelligent now.
Her famous writer look. Vera practiced it frequently. A career
as a novelist was what really interested her. The short story
she’d sold was going to be the basis for her first book, a
suspense novel set in her new city, New York.
She was from a small town, and she loved the hurricane of
activity every day in the city, then the pulsing energy that
maintained it through the nights. The theater (which she could
barely afford), the delis and street vendors, the wandering
transfixed tourists, the underground city of subways and tragic
songs and sometimes dangerous people, the rich stepping over the
poor, the poor rising up to be rich, the maelstrom of races and
religions, of neighborhoods and languages and the uncertainties of
life; she thrilled to all of it. Here, Vera knew, was the stuff of
inspiration and of great fiction.
Vera was positive she was capable of inspiration. She never gave
up believing in herself. Nobody had ever explained to her
satisfaction why she should.
She hadn’t given up hope on the short story and article
she’d submitted, and here she was, able to pay another
month’s rent on the Hell’s Kitchen walk-up apartment
she’d come to love.
Love, of the romantic sort, that was the one thing missing in
her unfolding life of good fortune.
There’s no need to give up hope for that, either.
She unlaced her joggers, worked her heels out of them, and
kicked off the gray composite and canvas shoes so they bounced off
a wall. Walked over to where her bed and a dresser were located
behind a three-panel Chinese-print folding screen in the cramped
efficiency apartment. From an apportioned space that passed for a
closet, where one of the apartment’s many exposed water pipes
served as a hanger rod, she drew out the foundation of her wardrobe
--- a simple black dress. It seemed that every woman in New York
owned a simple black dress and was in competition with every other
woman over how to wear and accessorize it. She had uncomfortable
but serviceable black high-heeled pumps to wear with the dress
tonight, a white scarf and pearls, a matching knockoff Prada purse
she’d bought from a street vendor. And she could do wonders
with her shoulder-length red hair that was almost dark enough to be
auburn. She wasn’t pale, like a lot of redheads. Her dark
eyes were flecked with green. Not a ravishing beauty, to be sure,
but she and her black dress could compete, and they could damn well
It was just that so far they hadn’t.
She peeled off her faded jeans and Yankees T-shirt, then her
Macy’s panties, and padded barefoot to the sectioned-off
bathroom area with its cramped shower stall.
Tonight might be the night. Tonight, tonight... The words were a
melody in her mind.
What was that song from? She searched her memory.
Ah! West Side Story. A great musical, based on Romeo and Juliet.
The ultimate lovers.
Well, she was on the West Side.
Vera adjusted the squeaky porcelain faucet handles and stepped
beneath the water.
She picked up the smooth oblong sliver of soap and began to
sing, knowing that out there in the night the city pulsed like her
heart and waited, and the possibilities were endless.
Total darkness, total pain.
Where am I?
Vera tried to raise her head and look around, and a deep ache
closed on the back of her neck like a claw. She let her head drop
That was when she realized she was hanging from her bound wrists
and ankles. Her mind flashed on photos she’d seen of large
dead animals, their lifeless heads dangling, being carried that way
on horizontal poles by hunters. Only she wasn’t being
carried; she was stationary. The pain was from her cramped neck
muscles, and from her body weight pulling down on her wrists and
ankles. She could see nothing in the blackness. Hear nothing.
Her head, flush with the blood rushing to it, began to throb
with almost unendurable pain behind her ears. She tried to ask if
anyone was there, what was happening, but her mouth wouldn’t
open. Something, tape probably, was over her lips, sealing them
together. She parted them with difficulty but could only make a
soft muffled sound halfway between a moan and a sob. She made the
pitiful sound again. Any sound was better than the darkness and
silence, and the pain.
She tried again to lift her head, but it weighed a thousand
But with the thought of motion, and another stab of pain, came
Last night at Risqué Business, the man she’d had a
couple of drinks with... darkly handsome...well dressed in dark
pants and a gray sport jacket...a red tie... and with a
cosmopolitan air, what used to be called smooth.
She tried to recall his name.
Had he ever told her?
Blinding her. She involuntarily clenched her eyes shut.
When Vera did manage to open her eyes wider than slits she saw
the bottom of a floor, rough wood planks running one direction,
joists another. Her wrists were tied together with thick rope that
had cut off circulation so that her fingers were pale. She strained
to see her ankles, her feet --- are they as pale and bloodless as
my hands? --- but couldn’t pull them into her field of
vision. She did see several long fluorescent fixtures, two glowing
tubes in each. There must be lots of fixtures. That was where all
the light was coming from. And the faint, crackling buzzing.
She realized she’d been able to raise her head slightly,
almost to the horizontal, and with realization came another shot of
pain at the base of her neck. Her head dropped again, dangling at a
sharp angle from the thin stalk of her neck.
But she managed to turn her head slightly, before the pain
stopped her. She saw that she was in what looked like a large
basement. Gray concrete walls, wooden support beams, exposed steam
and water pipes, round ductwork with shreds of insulation hanging
from some of it like grotesque stalactites.
Asbestos? Could be dangerous.
The pain became unbearable, and she tried not to move at all
other than to blink away her tears.
In the glimpse she’d had of herself, confirmed by the lack
of constriction on her upper arms and her legs, she knew she was
Someone --- What’s his name? I need to know it so I can
plead, beg for him to stop whatever’s going to happen! ---
someone had done this to her, put something in her drink, perhaps.
Something had caused her to black out, to awaken here, dangling
from her bound wrists and ankles like a... She didn’t want to
know what. Or didn’t want to think about it.
Tears welled again in her eyes and tracked downward along her
temples, beneath her hairline. Tickling as if in cruel and obscene
Motion caught her gaze, and there he was in her pain-blurred
vision, the man from last night. She wasn’t surprised to see
him. He had to be responsible for this.
He was walking toward her, also nude, like a figure in a dream.
Only it wasn’t a dream. She could only pray that it might be.
That she might wake up a second time, in her apartment, in her bed.
When she saw the knife in the man’s hand her heart leaped.
She did try to struggle then, but couldn’t so much as squirm.
Her hyper extended arms and legs were like lifeless tense cables
preventing her from crashing to the concrete floor.
She saw that the man had an erection, and at that moment he
reached up with the blade and must have sliced through the rope
binding her wrists to the horizontal beam, because her upper body
She flinched as she swung downward. Surely her head was going to
crack open on the hard floor.
But her body swung like a pendulum, swiveling slightly, her hair
brushing the floor with each pass. Though her wrists were bound
together, her arms were free now. She reached over her head ---
which was downward --- and her fingertips scraped the concrete
floor. There was no pain though, only numbness.
As she swung she saw something circular beneath her, a drain
She dragged her numbed fingertips over the rough floor again,
hearing them scrape, feeling her nails bend back and tear, as she
tried to stop her body from swinging. If only she could stop she
might support some of her weight by pressing her fingertips against
the floor, reduce the pain in her ankles. The full burden of her
weight was pulling on her ankles now, and she was swinging in
lessening arcs. The rope must be digging into her flesh. She could
feel something warm trickling down her calves, past her knees,
along the insides of her thighs toward her crotch.
The rope must have cut deeply into her ankles. She flashed a
vision of her twisted, torn flesh.
There was a sudden burning sensation on the right side of her
neck. Then on the left. She caught a glimpse of a bloody knife
blade and knew the man had slit her throat.
It wasn’t her throat, though. It couldn’t be.
Then she accepted that it was and lifted her arms, probed with
her fingers, felt warm blood and something else.
It was when she heard the trickle of her blood in the drain that
the real horror engulfed her. Her life was draining away, her
remaining time, her remaining everything!
She panicked and tried to suck in air through her nose, and
managed to raise her hands enough to rip the tape from her mouth.
She drew in a breath to scream but inhaled only blood.
The man had waited until the pendulum arc of Vera’s
swinging body narrowed and was almost stopped before he cut the
large carotid arteries of her neck.
He watched her.
After she’d tried to scream, he’d drawn the blade
across her taut throat.
She wasn’t alive when her body slowed to describe a small
elliptical orbit above the drain and finally dangled motionless
from the beam.
Nor was she alive to see the man, showered and neatly dressed,
leave the building’s basement, switching off the lights
She’d been dead for several hours when he returned to make
sure she was completely bled out.
In the feeble light from his car’s outmoded headlights,
retired NYPD homicide detective Frank Quinn didn’t see the
damned thing. Not soon enough, anyway.
His old black Lincoln Town Car jounced and rattled over a
pothole the size of a bomb crater, and he wondered if he’d
chipped a tooth. He lifted what was left of his Cuban cigar from
the ashtray and chomped down on it to use it as a mouthpiece so it
might at least pad another such impact of upper and lower jaws.
He knew cigars were bad for him and had pretty much given them
up, but the Cubans were too much of a temptation. Or maybe part of
the appeal was that they were illegal, and he used to be a cop.
He smiled, knowing a cop was never something you used to be.
He’d always figured small transgressions forestalled larger
ones, so the cigars were okay.
Quinn cursed silently at traffic on Broadway as he jockeyed the
big car north toward West Seventy-fifth Street and his apartment.
The windows were up, and the air conditioner was humming away in
its struggle with the hot summer evening. There was a slight
persistent vibration of metal on metal --- possibly a bearing in
the blower fan motor going out. Quinn made a mental note to have it
looked at. This would be a bad time of year for the car to lose its
A traffic signal changed a block up, and a string of cars near
the curb accelerated and made the sharp right turn onto the cross
street. This created a break in the heavy traffic, and Quinn
gratefully took advantage of all that barren pavement before him
and ran the car up to about forty-five --- a fast clip for most
Feeling pretty good, he puffed on his cigar and almost smiled.
This was his poker night with five other retired or almost retired
NYPD cops, and he’d won over a hundred dollars. It
hadn’t been a high-stakes game, so he was far and away the
big winner. Everybody but Quinn bitched when they stopped playing,
as agreed upon, with the last hand dealt before ten o’clock
sharp. Quinn always felt unreasonably triumphant after coming out
ahead at poker, even though at the level of skill where he was
playing luck had everything to do with the outcome. Still, his life
had left him at a point where he took his victories where he could
Light glinted brightly for a moment in the Lincoln’s left
outside mirror. Headlights behind him. Despite the car’s
brisk speed, the trailing traffic was catching up. Quinn squinted
and checked the rearview mirror, but didn’t see much. The
thick cigar smoke was doing something to the rear window, fogging
it up so he couldn’t see out.
Is it doing that to my lungs?
He could see well enough to know the car behind was too damned
Tailgaters always ticked him off. He ran the Lincoln up over
Almost immediately the big car’s black leather interior
was bathed in alternating flashes of red, making it damned
difficult to see anything outside.
Irritated, Quinn braked down to about ten miles per hour and
peered through the windshield to find a space where he could veer
in and stop at the curb.
There didn’t seem to be a space.
Hell with it, he thought, and was about to double-park when a
cab pulled out into traffic ahead of him, vacating a space. Quinn
steered in close to the curb and saw that there was a fire hydrant
there. That was the only reason there was a parking space in this
part of town, and it was illegal. He braked to a halt anyway.
If there’s a fire, I’ll move.
The reflected flashing lights grew brighter, the headlights
blinding, as the police car wedged in at an angle behind him. He
let the Lincoln roll forward a few feet, giving the driver behind
him as much room as possible.
Quinn knew better than to get out of the car. He sat still, his
hands high on the steering wheel where they could be seen, and
watched in the rearview mirror. In the whirligig haze of reflected
light behind him, he saw doors open on both sides of the police
car. Darkly silhouetted figures climbed out and advanced on the
Lincoln, seeming to move jerkily in the alternating light show.
This shouldn’t take long. Quinn might even know one or
both of the uniforms. And the cops might know him. He could easily
talk his way out of a ticket. Quinn was much respected in the NYPD.
He even occasionally heard the word “legend.” He
prepared himself to exchange some friendly words and be on his
In the mirror he saw one of the silhouetted cops turn back
toward the police car. Quinn figured the uniform was going to run a
check on the Lincoln’s plates.
Odd, Quinn thought. They could have both waited in the car while
the plates were run. It was also odd that the cop on the
driver’s side had returned to the police car. It would make
more sense for that cop to approach the Lincoln and talk to Quinn
through the lowered window.
The one on the right side of the Lincoln, who should have been
doing the license check, kept coming, then passed briefly from view
at the edge of the mirror.
Quinn felt a prickly sensation on the back of his neck.
Something was wrong here.
Brightness slid to the side, out of the mirrors, and the radio
car that had pulled Quinn over whooshed past him and continued down
the street, its roof bar lights no longer flashing.
The passenger-side door of the Lincoln swung open, and the cop
who’d approached on that side slid into the seat.
He wasn’t wearing a uniform. Instead he had on an
unbuttoned light raincoat, though it wasn’t raining, and
beneath it a suit and tie. A big man, in his late forties,
overweight and with dark bags beneath his eyes. His jowls and the
flesh beneath his chin sagged, making him look like nothing so much
as a pensive bloodhound.
Quinn recognized him immediately, but the prickly sensation
didn’t go away.
The man who’d slid out of the night and into his car was
New York City Police Commissioner Harley Renz.
Renz smiled, not doing a thing for the bloodhound look, and
glanced around. “Smells like hell in here.”
Quinn knew Renz was right. The cigar smoke odor had seeped into
the upholstery and every cranny of the car. Even Quinn sometimes
found it offensive, and he was used to it.
“You can get out as easy as you got in,” he said. He
and Renz had always gotten along, but not in the friendliest
manner, each knowing the other perhaps too well.
“You smoking one of those illegal Cuban cigars you like so
“Venezuelan,” Quinn said.
“If you insist.” Renz settled back in his plush
seat, still looking over at Quinn. “You got an
“No,” Quinn said. “You can finish this
“It’ll finish you first.” Renz upped the
amperage on his smile. His effort at charm. Still a bloodhound. His
eyes had gotten droopier since Quinn had last seen him, slanting
downward more at the outer corners as if weights were attached to
the sagging flesh. He held his insincere smile as he stared at
Quinn. “How’d you do?”
“At the poker game.”
“Ah. Really, all that means is you quit soon enough not to
“That why you stopped me? You riding in one of the traffic
cars so you can collect graft from poker winners?”
“Seeing as I’ve become police commissioner, you
should speak more respectfully to me.”
Quinn didn’t bother answering. He was wondering why Harley
Renz would be interested enough in his poker night to follow him
when he left the game.
“So what’s this about?” Quinn asked.
“You want in?”
“I know some of those guys you’re playing cards
with, Quinn. They cheat.”
“Your kind of game.”
Quinn waited, tired of word games. He actually did have a sliver
of respect for Renz, even though Renz represented authority and
bureaucracy. Renz had at one time been a tough and effective
homicide detective, and now and then it showed. And both men knew
Renz was commissioner because of Quinn’s work on the Torso
murders, for which Renz had skillfully garnered most of the credit.
Quinn didn’t care about that. In fact, it had been part of
the arrangement. The enthusiastically devious and ambitious Renz
had used his newfound fame to become the most popular police
commissioner in the city’s history. A media darling of
monstrous proportions, his high standing in the polls translated
into leverage he didn’t hesitate to use.
“I want to tell you a story,” Renz said.
Renz waved a hand dismissively. “You were going way too
fast, but we can forget about that.”
Quinn pressed a button, and the window on his side of the
Lincoln glided down. Sultry night air mingled with exhaust fumes
tumbled into the car. He took a final pull on the cigar and tossed
the glowing butt out into the street, watching it bounce and spark
like a miniature fireworks display.
“Littering,” Renz said. “Illicit cigars,
gambling, speeding, and now this. Jesus, Quinn! You’re a
one-man crime wave.”
“It gives me something to do in retirement.” Quinn
sighed and brushed cigar ash off his shirt. “It’s still
hot out there.”
“Hotter than you know.”
Quinn left the window down to let in plenty of heat so maybe
Renz would leave sooner and the car would air out. He leaned
forward so he could reach the ignition key and killed the
“This story of yours,” Quinn said. “Go ahead
and tell it. And try not to be so cryptic.”
Excerpted from URGE TO KILL © Copyright 2011 by John Lutz.
Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.