Excerpt from THE TRADE
By - May 9, 2013
“I’m moving as fast as I can, Morton,” McKenzie McClendon huffed as she jostled through people toward the subway tunnel. A few months ago, she’d have been demoted to the police blotter if she’d called her boss at The Herald by his first name. Amazing how uncovering an assassination plot could boost you overnight from glorified slave to corner office with a view. It had turned out to be a lot lonelier up there than she’d imagined it would be.
Her high-heeled boots clacked against the sidewalk as she strode faster. She caught a glimpse of herself in the reflection of a store window. Her auburn hair blew in the wind, split ends screaming for a trim. One day she’d have time. Maybe.
“I’m on my way into the subway station now, so I’m about to lose the signal. Be there soon,” McKenzie said. She clicked the “end” button on her phone. That’s for all the times you sent me to cover ribbon-cuttings at Whole Foods.
She didn’t bother to take off her sunglasses once she reached the platform. Better to go unrecognized these days. She hopped on an R train and took a seat. Before, all she’d wanted was the front page by-line. By the time the initial hearings were over, all she wanted was her anonymity back.
The doors closed and the subway rocked towards Manhattan. She grabbed the pencil tucked behind her ear, opened her notebook to a fresh page, and tapped the eraser in a slow drum roll against the paper. Next to her, two women chattered about the very same thing for which McKenzie’s editor had called: another body had been found.
“The police should really release details about where they found her,” one said.
The other woman clicked her tongue. “They’re doing it on purpose. Don’t want people scared to go out. They did say she was like the others. Sliced like deli meat.”
“I don’t even like to run errands anymore,” the first woman whispered. “I can’t imagine how scared they must’ve been. I won’t even chop onions with a paring knife. I’m that afraid of cutting myself. I use a mini-processor.”
“I doubt you have anything to worry about,” Tongue Clicker responded. “You’re not pregnant.”
McKenzie jotted the word on her page.
“What kind of person gets off on killing pregnant women?” Mini-Processor girl wondered.
Tongue Clicker grunted. “The same kind who can leave a girl on the edge of the roof of the Edison Hotel butchered to a pulp. Even if she hadn’t bled to death first, if she’d rolled over another inch, the fall would’ve killed her. It’s sick.”
McKenzie scribbled: He doesn’t kill them outright.
This murder marked the fourth body in two months. All of them in their third trimester, all of them gutted at the womb. McKenzie scratched another couple of notes: Mommy issues? Desperate for a child?
The subway squealed to a stop, the doors opened, and the gossipers exited the train. Good thing having a baby was about as far down her to-do list as burning off her own fingerprints with battery acid.
The prescribed ten seconds passed, and yet, the doors stayed open. What now?
A moment later, the robotic voice of the Metropolitan Transport Authority crackled through the speakers. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are being delayed because of an earlier incident. Please be patient.”
Whoever said patience was a virtue had never worked as a journalist. Patience meant waiting, and waiting meant she might miss an important story. She hopped off the seat, left the train, and trotted up the stairs to higher ground.
The second she reached street level, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” bleated from her phone. She ripped it from her pocketbook.
“Morton, the damned subway is delayed. I’m coming as fast as my Stuart Weitzmans will allow me. I’d be faster if I didn’t have to answer my cell every two seconds.” She ended the call. Dang, she’d grown some balls.
As she scrambled into a cab, the Rolling Stones taunted her again. Maybe she hadpushed her boss too far, but unless he had hired Inspector Gadget to drive this cab, the constant phone calls weren’t helpful.
“620 Eighth Avenue, please,” McKenzie told the cab driver before she jammed her finger into the green button. “What?”
“McKenzie? McKenzie McClendon?”
McKenzie pressed the phone harder against her ear. The caller was obviously notMorton Gaines. “This is she,” she said.
The man replied, but his voice was muffled by static and his own slurring.
“Could you repeat that?” she asked.
“Do you remember me? I’m Jonas Cleary. We went to school together.”
McKenzie held back a gasp. Remember him? She’d ended up in the back of a Cherokee Blazer with him after their junior prom.
“Rings a bell. It’s, um, nice to hear from you?” She was unable to stifle the way her voice hitched up at the end, a question.
What the hell?
“You’re reporting now, right? For the New York Herald?”
“That’s right.” It was the same answer she gave anyone who asked her about the Herald. It was no secret dozens of other papers had been trying to steal her out from under the Herald, so it was only natural for people to be curious. No way she would tell them she wasn’t about to go anywhere, that even she wasn’t confident she wasn’t a one-trick pony.
A one-trick pony who gets everyone around me in trouble.
Plus , on her previous career-making story, she’d had help.
“I need you to do something for me,” Jonas said, his voice jolting her back to the moment.
Oh, perfect. That’s all I need. Not only was she running late, but she didn’t have an angle for this new story. Now, her high school sweetheart called in between tequila shots for a favor. People sure had come out of the plumbing systems these past few months.
“Look, Jonas, I don’t know how you got my number, but I’m in a rush today. Maybe you can tell me how to reach you, and we can catch up sometime when things are less hectic. Maybe when your blood alcohol level is less than ninety percent. I have a deadline, and I—”
“I know. That’s why I’m calling you,” he slurred.
Though his words teetered on the slope of incoherence, the next statement jolted McKenzie from annoyance to rapt attention. “You’re writing about the serial killer, right? The guy who kills the pregnant women? I think…I think he killed my wife.”