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Battle Not With Monsters - Overton Scott

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BATTLE NOT WITH MONSTERS

A NOVEL BY OVERTON SCOTT

Copyright  2014 by Overton Scott

Smashwords Edition

All Rights Reserved

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Formatting and interior design by The Eyes for Editing

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author. Reviewers of the book may quote short excerpts in a review.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events or locales is entirely coincidental.

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ONE

Kateryna Krylenko had not expected to die in Dallas.

A year here, or two. Then she’d return to her home in Donetsk with a purse full of U.S. dollars and a suitcase full of stylish American clothes. A year here, or two, working as a nanny for a rich American couple who would treat her like one of the family. Dallas, with its gleaming lights, its energy and drive, its trendy restaurants and shops. Dallas was the ticket to a better life. No, Kateryna hadn’t expected to die here.

Nor had she expected to die at this time, in this way.

Two o’clock on a humid morning in August, with the heat lying over the city like a shroud.

In the parking garage of a high rise office tower just off the interstate, now echoing with her screams.

The first blow from the baseball bat broke the ulna in her left forearm. Instinctively, she had raised her arm to defend herself, and she shrieked in agony when the bone cracked and the muscles and nerves shredded. She staggered backward, her arm dangling uselessly at her side.  The white face of her attacker, contorted in anger, swam into view. The bat descended again, like an ax splitting wood, onto the point of her shoulder. Her clavicle shattered into a half-dozen pieces. The strength of the blow drove her to her knees. She howled in pain, grasping feebly at her wounded left arm, cradling the damaged limb in her right hand.

Her attacker paused, the bat resting on his shoulder, panting heavily. You see, Kat. This is what you get when you run. He spoke Russian in a voice clotted with rage.

Tears spilled down Kateryna’s cheeks. Please, Chert. Don’t hit me again. I’ll come back. I’ll do what you tell me.

The man known as Chert looked down on her without pity. It’s too late for that. You can blame Yara for this. I know you talked to her. You did, didn’t you?

No, no, Kateryna whimpered. I didn’t see her.

Liar, Chert screamed. If I catch her, I’ll do the same to her. You disobeyed me. You made me look stupid. Now you pay the price.

The third blow struck her just above the ear on the right side of her head. She let out an involuntary sound, half moan, half sob, and collapsed to the ground. A thick gout of blood filled the depression the bat had created in her skull and trickled down her cheek, over her upper lip and down her jaw, where it dripped slowly onto the concrete.

The fourth blow was unnecessary but Chert struck it anyway, liking the wet sound of it, the heat and swelling he felt in his groin as the girl’s cranium disintegrated. He raised the bat again.

Jesus, you’re a sick fuck, said Chiquito. She’s dead already. We gotta get out of here. I’ll get the car.

Chert listened to the receding footsteps, head cocked to one side. When they’d faded into silence, he raised the bat again. Chiquito wouldn’t know.

*   *   *

Ray Jernigan noticed. It was his turn on the desk, manning the phone and keeping an eye on the bank of screens that gave him a clear view of the front and back doors of the high-rise, the freight entrance and the glass-enclosed area in the parking garage where the tenants caught the elevators up to the main lobby, where Ray sat behind an imposing slab of granite.

It was the swinging motion of Chert’s first strike that got Ray’s attention.  He’d been half-dozing, paging through a copy of last week’s Time he had taken from a low table in the lobby, when he caught the action from the corner of his eye. He dropped the magazine on the desk and swiveled his chair to get a better look at the screen. There were multiple cameras in the parking garage of the building, and their feeds showed up in split-screen mode on two of the monitors on Ray’s desk. The screen he was watching displayed the elevator lobby and the area directly in front of the lobby’s glass doors.

It took a moment for his mind to process what his eyes were seeing. A man, brandishing a baseball bat. A girl, blonde hair falling over her face, driven to her knees. Both images distorted by the camera’s lens.

Oh, Christ, Ray muttered, groping for the phone. He dialed the extension for the break room. Neen, call the police. And tell them to send an ambulance. There’s a guy in the garage beating the shit out of a girl. I’m going down there. He slammed the phone into the cradle without waiting for a reply and lumbered to his feet.

Neen Ford had been eating her dinner and reading a book when the phone rang. Fatherland, by Robert Harris. Diced chicken breast. Fresh spinach. Sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. She’d already halved a lemon and taken a bottle of flax oil from the refrigerator. She would remember every detail, afterwards. And she’d remember the moment. The last moment before her world shifted on its axis and went spinning crazily off into space.

Ray’s voice was urgent, but not panicked. Neen listened to the words, but they were as hard to understand as a foreign language. The line went dead and Neen sat there, staring dumbly at the phone in her hand. She was aware of the odor of her meal, now cooling on her plate. An electric hum filled her ears. A dozen thoughts skittered wildly through her head.

Then the humming ceased and the thoughts melted away as the adrenaline surged through her body. She felt it, like a jolt of electric current. The blood rush to her muscles. The welling of saliva in her mouth. The way every detail – the weight of the phone in her hand, the greasy film that covered the earpiece – snapped into focus. She was ready to fight, or to run. But she couldn’t do either. Not yet.

She pressed the button for an outside line. She dialed the number automatically. While her fingers raced over the keys, she rehearsed what she needed to say. Her name. Her identity. What Ray had said. The address of the building. The directions to the entrance to the parking garage. That was all she needed to know. She hadn’t tried to ask questions. Ray was an ex-cop, and if he said to call the police then Ray wanted the police.

The dispatcher was efficient, but still the call seemed endless to Neen. She ran through her spiel in a staccato burst, then gritted her teeth as the dispatcher repeated the information to her.

What’s happening now? asked the dispatcher.

I don’t know, said Neen. The other guard has gone to the garage.

He shouldn’t have done that.

Yeah, I know. But he’s an ex-cop and he knows what he’s doing. At least, Neen hoped that he did. Neither Ray nor Neen was armed. They were at the building to make sure nobody stole any computers or broke into any cars. Dealing with bat-wielding lunatics wasn’t in the job description.

Only now it was.

How long before someone gets here?  Neen asked.

I’ll have someone there in ten minutes.

Neen glanced at her watch, calculated the time of arrival.

Ten minutes was an eternity. She couldn’t leave Ray alone for ten minutes. He was ex-LEO, but he’d retired early because his blood pressure was too high and his diabetes was out of control. Neen didn’t have any law enforcement training, but she was young and fit and knew her way around a fight.

I’m going down there. She hung up on the dispatcher, ignoring her protests.

The lobby was cold and silent. Neen sprinted across it, skidding to a halt at the door to the stairs. The heavy metal door opened too slowly, then Neen was belting down the steps, two at a time. She reached the bottom level and yanked open the fire door to the elevator lobby. Through the glass doors that opened into the parking garage, thirty feet away from her, a crumpled figure with a flash of blonde hair lay on the ground. A man in a gray hoodie with a baseball bat in his hands stood over her. Ray was walking slowly toward him, holding up his hands, palms facing the hooded man. Trying to talk him down, trying to occupy him until the police arrived.

The hooded man seemed to hesitate, as if he was seriously considering what Ray had to say.

*   *   *

The glass door from the garage’s elevator lobby swung open.

Put down the bat.

Chert turned slowly, registering the appearance of the security guard advancing toward him. Black, with a grizzled head over a seamed face. Broad hips and paunchy, carrying an extra thirty pounds, at least. Easy meat, thought Chert, especially when his blood was up like this.

The guard stopped and frowned at the sight of Kateryna, pursing his lips as if he’d seen this sort of thing before. He glanced up at Chert, giving him a full appraisal, from head to toe. The guy didn’t fit Chert’s idea of the kind of hapless, overweight cop wanna-be who became a security guard. This guy looked calculating and smart.

The guard held up his hands, palms facing Chert.  Easy does it, now.  You want to put that thing down.

No, thought Chert, I don’t.

The police are on the way.

He was telling the truth. The thin whine of a siren could be heard in the distance. Which was unfortunate, from the guard’s point of view, because now the guard had to die. He’d seen Chert’s face. He knew what Chert had done.

Chert flexed his fingers, rolled his shoulders to loosen them. The guard recognized the signs. His eyes widened. He dropped his hands, looked over his shoulder at the door of the elevator lobby.

You won’t make it, said Chert.

The cops-

Chert sprang forward and slashed downward with the length of wood. The bulbous end of the bat crushed Ray’s temple. His legs collapsed and he sat down on the concrete floor.

*   *   *

Through the glass doors of the elevator lobby Neen could see Ray’s broad back, the salt and paper hair in the low light of the garage. He had his hands up, talking calmly to a man holding a baseball bat. Neen couldn’t see the man’s face clearly; the light in the garage was dim and despite the heat, he wore a gray sweatshirt with the hood pulled low over his brow. Neen could just make out pale, angular features, a sharp nose and prominent cheekbones. The man said something to Ray and sprang forward. The bat in his hand rose and fell, and Ray was down.

The man stood over Ray and raised the bat again.

No!" The word burst from Neen in a long, guttural moan. She didn’t stop to think. She pushed open the door to the garage. The door swung shut behind her.

The man with the bat looked up. His eyes were obscured by the deep shadows that had settled in his eye sockets, but she knew his gaze had locked on her. She could feel it. He was studying her intently, like an opponent sizing her up in the octagon, right before the round started. He swung the bat to his shoulder and took a step toward her.

The movement arrested Neen’s progress, brought her to a juddering halt, arms flailing at her sides. Brought her, too, a quick stab of fear, replaced a split second later with an overwhelming sense of danger.

Her stomach lurched. Leaving the safety of the building had been a mistake. A dreadful mistake. Not her first mistake, but, potentially, her last.

She glanced over her shoulder. The door to the elevator lobby was only a few steps away, but it had locked behind her. She needed a swipe card to gain access to the building. Neen had a card, but it was attached to the key ring that dangled from her belt. She’d have to detach the ring and separate the card and slide it through the groove on the wall-mounted unit, wait the half-second while the data was processed and the door lock was released. Then she’d have to open the door and pull it shut behind her. She wasn’t sure she had time to do that. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back into the lobby. Even if she could get inside, the guy could batter his way through the glass with a few blows and come after her. Then she’d be trapped in the building with a madman, waiting for the cops. She knew they were coming; the siren’s high-pitched scream was slicing through the humid air, cleaving a channel to the building.

Ray sprawled across the concrete, moaning softly. The man glanced down at Ray, prodded him speculatively with the toe of his running shoe. Dear God, thought Neen. He’s going to hit him again. She hesitated, torn between the urge to flee and helping Ray.

If Neen was going to strike, now was the time. The man in the hoodie was distracted. She took a deep breath, trying to quiet the incessant voice in her head counseling her to run.  She would move quickly, before the man had the chance to register that she was coming toward him, not running away. He had a weapon. Of course he would use it. He would see the beginning of her attack in his peripheral vision and raise the bat. She’d duck inside his reach before he could swing at her. A blow to his throat, right at his Adam’s apple, and he’d be down. She’d put a boot in his kidney as he writhed on the floor.

Time had ground to a stop. Her legs and arms felt stiff and heavy. The air was thick; her breathing was ragged. She could hear the buzz of traffic from I-35. So many cars. So close.

Strike first, she thought. Strike hard. Her coach had taught that. She’d applied the lesson in training, and during her few bouts in the cage. But there had been rules. The fight would end at bell, when the referee called it, if a fighter tapped out. But there’d be no tapping out here. This was not a contest. This was survival.

She was thinking too much. Just do it. Get in there. Her limbs felt heavy. She couldn’t get them to move. She-

The man charged. He came in like a fast bowler in cricket, leaping forward at the last second, the bat descending with alarming speed toward Neen’s head.

But her head wasn’t there anymore. She swiveled her hips and danced out of range. The man’s assault had left him unbalanced. He stumbled forward, bent over at the waist, the bat clattering along the ground. The moment of indecision faded.

Neen circled behind him. Her hands had come up automatically and she bounced on her toes. The momentum of the man’s attack had left him vulnerable; it was time to counterattack.

A siren shrieked and Neen registered throbbing blue and red lights out of the corner of her eye.

A dark sedan slammed to a halt at the entrance of the garage, tires screeching. The passenger door flew open.

Get in here, Chert!

The man had recovered his balance. He whipped round, searching for Neen.

Goddamit, Chert. Now!

The man called Chert hesitated. He located Neen, took a step towards her. The driver of the sedan honked the horn.

Chert shook his head impatiently. He pointed at Neen with the bloody end of the bat. I’ll find you, he said.  He spun on his heel and jogged up the ramp to Chiquito’s BMW.

TWO

The black BMW tracked north up the Tollway at a steady sixty-five miles per hour. Chiquito had both hands on the wheel. He drove cautiously, staying in the right hand lane unless he had to pass a slower vehicle. When he pulled out to go around, he used his turn signal. The Mexican seemed calm, but Chert could see the tension in his shoulder, in his expression, where a nerve twitched at the corner of his eye.

Only once did he glance over at Chert. He frowned. You have blood on your face.

Chert shed the hoodie and used it to scrub his face. He dropped it on the floorboard and leaned over and cranked the air conditioning. A stream of frigid air made his eyes water.

Chiquito’s hand snaked out and turned down the A/C. Hitting that guard was stupid.

Chert inhaled deeply and rolled his neck to relieve the tautness in his muscles. The adrenaline was draining from his body. He had begun to relax, his body slipping into a delicious state of release. Two people, as different as they could be. Yet the sounds of the bat against their heads had been exactly the same. A rich, satisfying sound. So thick and ripe. It made him happy to think of it.

He yawned and leaned his head against the window. The guard saw me. I had to kill him.

You should have grabbed the girl and got out of there.

He looks like a monkey, thought Chert. A little brown monkey with a monkey’s worried eyes and pinched face. A Mexican monkey. He started to laugh, clamped his mouth shut when Chiquito turned his head.

We’ll see what Mrs. Lavrov has to say.

Chert stared out the window. His urge to laugh disappeared.

*   *   *

The house was a yellow-brick ranch located on a quiet street off Preston Road in north Dallas. The houses on the block were identical, mid-60’s construction.  Single story, pale or red brick, side-entry garages, a concrete walk from the curb to the front door.

Chiquito pulled into the drive of the only house on the block with a light shining through the window. Chert led the way to the front door, opening it with a key. The foyer was small. The floor was tiled. An icon depicting Saint Anna of Kashin hung on one wall. An open doorway on the right led into a formal living room. At the rear of the foyer, a second doorway opened onto a paneled den with a brick fireplace.

Mrs. Lavrov sat in a recliner, sipping tea from a fragile china cup and watching television. She could have been fifty, or seventy. Tall and gaunt. Coarse skin reddened from years of drinking. Thinning gray hair, through which a dead white scalp shone. Flakes of yellow dandruff at the roots. She had a peculiar habit of turning her head to one side when she looked at anyone, as if she saw better from one eye than with both. She did it now, casting one baleful eye in Chert’s direction.

Did you get her back? What did she say about Yara?

Chert rammed his hands in his pockets and propped himself up against the wall. The woman made him more nervous than any policeman or security officer could.

We don’t have her, said Chiquito.

What? Mrs. Lavrov’s head swiveled and she fixed her monocular gaze on the Mexican. What happened?

It was Chert who answered. She got out somehow. The words might have been prized from his mouth with a chisel.

I know that, Chert. You called to tell me that. Remember?

Chert was supposed to be outside the door, said Chiquito.

Where were you?

Chert took his hands from his pockets and hooked his thumbs into the waistband of his jeans. His fingers drummed soundlessly against the front of his pants.

One of the waitresses offered him some blow. He went to her car with her. Chiquito was remorseless.

You went off to get high? Mrs. Lavrov’s voice was very quiet. In Chert’s experience, that was not a good sign.

It was just for a minute, he said, like a sullen teenager.

Surely to God you’re smarter than that, Chert. After Yara got away, you should have been glued to that door. Kat’s probably out there now, on her way to Yara.

No, said Chiquito. We chased her down. Chert killed her.

With exaggerated care, Mrs. Lavrov set her tea cup in the saucer, put the saucer on the table, put both hands on the arms of her chair. She raised her chin at Chert, questioning the truth of Chiquito’s statement.

She ran into a parking garage and Chert caught up to her there. He killed her. And it gets worse. There was a security guard who came to the garage. Chert hit him with the bat.

Mrs. Lavrov closed her eyes and tipped back her head until it came to rest against the recliner. She remained stationery for a few minutes, breathing deeply, her fingers flexing, flaring. Chert looked at the floor. Her silence always made him apprehensive.

Her head snapped forward. The coarse skin of her face looked like pitted concrete.