Long Lost Page 39

When I heard the faint chime of Mario\'s cell phone through the door the landline had been loud;this was not dread flooded my chest. True, it may be nothing, but most people nowadays do not travel even the shortest of distances, including bathroom visits, without the ubiquitous cell phone clipped or carried upon their person. You can bemoan this fact, but the chances that a guy working in television news would leave his cell phone behind while heading to his office seemed remote.

’’Mario?’’ I shouted.

I started pounding on the door.

’’Mario?’’

I didn\'t expect him to answer, of course. I pressed my ear against the door again, listening for I\'m not sure what a groan maybe. A grunt. Calling out. Something.

No sound.

I wondered about my options. Not many. I reared back, lifted my heel, and kicked the door. It didn\'t budge.

’’Steel-enforced, mate. You\'ll never kick it down.’’

I turned toward the voice. The man wore a black leather vest without any sort of shirt underneath, and sadly, he didn\'t have the build to pull it off. His physique, on too clear a display, managed to be both scrawny and soft. He had a cattle-ring piercing in his nose. He was balding but the little hair he had left was done up in what might be called a comb-over Mohawk. I placed his age at early fifties. It looked like he had gone out to a gay bar in 1979 and had just gotten home.

’’Do you know the Contuzzis?’’ I asked.

The man smiled. I expected another dental nightmare, but while the rest of him might be in various stages of decay, his teeth were gleaming. ’’Ah,’’ he said. ’’You\'re an American.’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Friends with Mario, are we?’’

No reason to go into a long answer here: ’’Yes.’’

’’Well, what can I tell you, mate? Normally they\'re a quiet couple, but you know what they say when the wife\'s away, the mouse will play.’’

’’What do you mean?’’

’’Had a girl in there, he did. Must have hired her out, you know what I\'m saying? The music was loud too. And bloody awful. The Eagles. God, you Americans should be ashamed.’’

’’Tell me about the girl.’’

’’Why?’’

I didn\'t have time for this. I took out my gun. I didn\'t point it at him. I just took it out. ’’I\'m with the American police,’’ I said. ’’I\'m worried Mario may be in serious danger.’’

If my gun or pleas ruffled the Billy Idol wannabe, I couldn\'t see it. He shrugged his bony shoulders. ’’What can I tell you? Young, blond, I didn\'t get a good look. Came around last night as I was heading out.’’

Young, blond. My heart started thumping. ’’I need to get into that apartment.’’

’’You can\'t kick it in, mate. You\'ll break your foot.’’

I aimed my gun at the lock.

’’Whoa, hold up. You really think he\'s in danger?’’

’’I do.’’

He sighed. ’’There\'s a spare key above the door. On the ledge there.’’

I reached up and felt along the small edge of the door frame. Sure enough, a key. I put it in the lock. Billy Idol moved next to me. The stench of cigarette smoke came off him as though he\'d been used as an ashtray. I opened the door and started inside. Billy Idol was right behind me. We both took two steps in and froze.

’’Oh, sweet Jesus . . .’’

I said nothing. I stood and stared, unable to move. The first thing I saw was Mario\'s feet. They were strapped to the coffee table with duct tape. The baby booster and plush tot toys I had seen yesterday had been strewn to the side. I wonder if Mario had looked at them in his last moments.

His feet were bare. Next to them lay a power drill. There were small neat holes, perfect tiny circles of maroon red, through his toes and deep into his heel. The holes had come, I knew, from the drill. I found my legs and managed to move closer. There were other drill marks. Through the kneecaps. The rib cage. My eyes slowly traveled up toward his face. There were drill marks beneath the nose, through the cheekbone and into the mouth, another in the chin. Mario\'s thin face stared up at me, his eyes twisted. He had died in horrible pain.

Billy Idol again whispered: ’’Oh, sweet Jesus . . .’’

’’What time did you hear the loud music?’’

’’Huh?’’

I didn\'t have the strength to say it again, but he caught on. ’’Five in the morning.’’

Tortured. The music had been used to cover the screams. I didn\'t want to touch anything, but the blood looked fresh enough. Off-white bone dust littered the floor. I looked back at the drill. The whirring screech, the sound of that, and the screams as it pierced through flesh and cartilage and penetrated bone.

Then I thought about Terese, just a few blocks away with Karen.

I started running for the door. ’’Call the police!’’ I shouted.

’’Wait, where are you going?’’

No time to respond. I pocketed the gun and took out my cell phone, still running. I dialed Terese\'s cell. One ring. Two rings. Three. My heart thumped in my chest. I pressed the button for the elevator repeatedly. I glanced at a window during the fourth ring and then I saw her, looking up at me.

The young blond girl from the van.

She saw me, turned, and ran. I didn\'t get a good look at her face. It could be any blond girl, really. Except it wasn\'t. It was the same girl. I was sure.

What the hell was going on?

My head started twirling. I started looking for the stairway, but the elevator opened. I got in and pressed for the lobby.

The call to Terese went into her voice mail.

That shouldn\'t happen. She should be at Karen\'s. Karen\'s house got service wasn\'t out of range. Even if they were in the middle of a serious conversation, Terese would pick up. She\'d know that I would only call if it was an emergency.

Damn, now what?

I thought about the power drill. I thought about Terese. I thought about Mario Contuzzi\'s face. I thought about the blonde. Those images all swirled in my head as the elevator dinged and the door opened.

How far was I from Karen\'s?

Two blocks.

I sprinted outside, hitting the speed dial for Win. He answered on the first ring and before he even had a chance to utter ’’Articulate,’’ I said, ’’Get to Karen\'s. Mario is dead;Terese is not answering her phone.’’

’’Ten minutes away,’’ Win said.

I hung up and immediately felt my phone vibrate. Still running, I put the phone up so I could see the caller ID. I stopped.

It was Terese.

I hit the Answer button and put it up to my ear. ’’Terese?’’


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