“If you like urban grit and slick action, you won’t want to miss this one.” Globe and Mail
The third and final installment of the T.J. Peterson mysteries
Things have gone from bad to worse for T.J. Peterson. The cops have kicked him off the force, his girlfriend called it quits, his best friend and former partner won’t speak to him, and his estranged 20-year-old daughter, Katy, continues to torment him with photos of the hellholes she is living in. Add in a shrink’s diagnosis of PTSD, and Peterson is barely holding it together.
When he receives an anonymous text message with an online link to a video of a young journalist being tortured, Peterson does the only thing he knows how to do he sets out to save her. Using psychological warfare, a maniac of savage cruelty lures Peterson into a brutal labyrinth of hard-core porn and the vicious depravity of the Dark Web, and Peterson finds himself in a race to find the girl before the torment breaks him for good.
About the Author
Bob Kroll has been a professional writer for more than 35 years. His work includes books, stage plays, radio dramas, TV documentaries, and historical docu-dramas for museums. Fire Trap is the final novel in a trilogy featuring T.J. Peterson. Kroll lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Read an Excerpt
He followed. Insecure. Feeling jinxed among the dried cornstalks. Feeling lost in a corn maze in blazing sunlight. A dead end and a wrong turn. Another, and then another, spiralling Peterson and Patty Creaser back to where they had started. She laughed and plunged back into the maze.
Another wrong turn, another dead end, and he trampled into the cornstalks to bushwhack his own path.
"Stop," Patty hollered.
He turned to her, and as he did so, the phone in his brown field coat pocket rang. It rang a second time, and she looked for him to answer it. He shook his head to say he was not going to. He knew who it was, who it always was, and he did not want to hear her silence or see another photo of the hellhole his daughter was living in, not another unmade bed pushed into a corner of a filthy narrow room with brown stained walls, not another side table with a cupped piece of aluminum foil, syringe, and rubber tubing on top.
Patty stiffened and turned away from him.
The phone rang again, and he saw the cords in the back of her neck tighten. She flipped her brown hair then ran her fingers through it, fixing it to hide the surgical scar along the right side of her face.
The phone rang a fourth time, and Peterson looked directly at the sun as though it could burn all the images of all his daughter's filthy rooms from his mind, as though it could purify his daughter's life, purify his own.
His phone stopped ringing, and he saw Patty had already walked away from him and farther into the maze.
* * *
They drove the back roads past lush vineyards with dark purple grapes, past apple orchards heavy with ripening fruit, and past variegated green fields of cabbage, kale, and broccoli. Peterson's attention went between the curving road and the rearview, keeping an eye on a dark blue Ford Explorer that had been following them since the corn maze, probably before that. He pulled over and stopped beside a roadside stand so Patty could buy a pumpkin. The Explorer slowed as it passed. All Peterson noticed about the driver was that he had long hair. The passenger was another man, shaved head, and he was hanging out the window and holding up his phone like a camera. As the SUV drove off, Peterson saw it had British Columbia plates, with the licence number beginning with EDP.
"Your daughter is keeping contact," Patty was saying as she climbed from the car. "She doesn't have to, but she is."
He watched the Explorer drive out of sight. Then he got out too.
The fruit and vegetable stand was a five-by-twelve-foot shed with wooden bins of pumpkins on either side — unattended. There was a hammer and a cream-coloured jug on one of the windowsills, and cobwebs in the corners of the glass. A handwritten sign on a nearby tree informed customers that sales were on the honour system. Large pumpkins were five dollars; everything else was three. The various-sized pumpkins were all mixed together in two bins. It was up to customers to decide how large a pumpkin was and how much they were to pay.
"It's her way of asking for help," Patty insisted.
His ex-cop brain had gone into overdrive about the Explorer. He remembered a similar one parked across from the Homestead Restaurant, where they had lunched.
"You don't think she's asking for help?" she said.
He poked around in one of the bins. "I don't know what Katy is doing." He pulled a large pumpkin from the bin and held it up for Patty to see. Patty shook her head, and he replaced the pumpkin in the bin.
Patty selected a similar-sized pumpkin. "You don't want to talk about it." She put the pumpkin back.
He dug deeper into the bin.
"That's the problem," she said. "You don't want to talk about anything that matters, not about your daughter, not about yourself. You won't even talk about us. You cut it short when it needs talking about."
He dug deeper into the bin and withdrew a larger pumpkin. He held it up. "How about this one?"
Patty grabbed the pumpkin and smashed it at his feet, then walked to the car and got in.
He considered the smashed pumpkin. He looked at her. He looked down the road to where the Ford Explorer had driven out of sight. He reached for his wallet, pulled a ten, and dropped it into an old cigar box with a note taped on top: "Make your own change." He got into the car. "This is not about my daughter, is it?" Patty would not look at him.
They drove back to the city in silence. He parked outside a high-rise and walked her to the door and into the lobby. She offered to make him coffee, but he shook his head. "Why drag it out?"
* * *
He drove the streets of downtown Halifax for a while, and then walked them, the way he had walked them for days and weeks after his daughter had run away, searching the faces of the passersby. He saw three young women exit the ferry terminal. Black stretch pants and coloured shirts reaching to mid-thigh. Two had shoulder-length brown hair. The third wore hers cut short. She had a pouty face and a way of waving her right hand when she spoke, which reminded him of his daughter.
He followed the three women into Stayner's Restaurant, stood near a coat rack, and watched the hostess seat them at a table in the centre of the dining room. The young woman who reminded him of his daughter sat facing him. He wished his daughter would call him just then, so he could hear her silence as he stared at this young woman.
The young woman looked up, and he averted his eyes. After a long moment, he looked back to see her laughing at something one of the other two must have said, laughing happily the way he had seldom seen his daughter laugh.
"Table for one?" the hostess asked.
He looked at her and shook his head.CHAPTER 2
Dave Cotter, a jumbo behind the bar, was closing up, washing beer glasses, drying them, and sliding them into an overhead rack. He owned the place, a blue-collar and no-collar pub in the north end, and worked it 24-7, a retired cop who lived upstairs, alone.
"A peace bond won't do your sister any good," he said to Janice Doyle, who was stacking chairs on tables.
Her ankles were swollen and her legs tired. She was a lifer to waitressing. She wore the job like a crown of thorns, her mouth twisted into a perpetual frown that broke into a half-baked smile only for her favourite customers.
"And of course you know better than her lawyer?" she fired back.
"You don't think I ran into these characters on the job?" he said, rinsing a glass in a sink behind the bar. "Your sister gets a peace bond, and he's loading up a Remington. And right now, you're bunking at her place to keep her company."
Peterson stood in the doorway. Darts to one side, VLTs to the other. In a far corner there was a ceiling-mounted TV for sports nuts.
Doyle saw Peterson, dropped him a half dip, and cocked him a pistol point that went along with her big grin. More than once Peterson had done her a good turn, and her payback to him was treating him like a standout compared to anyone else that walked through the front door. Besides that, she downright liked him.
Cotter was still talking. "You know how many of these guys, their paperwork crossed my desk. They backhand their old lady, then go all whiney after she hits the floor. They're all alike. I'm telling you a peace bond won't stop him. He's off the wall, Janice. Your sister could end up in a box. And you could be right there in another."
"Who you talking about?" Peterson asked as he walked to the bar and sat down.
"Janice's sister has a new boyfriend," Cotter said, pulling a black coffee from an urn behind the bar and setting it in front of Peterson. He looked at Janice. "Walter Barlow. You want to tell him?"
"My sister Ellen caught him doing some things, and kicked him out," she said.
"He got rough with her," Cotter added, polishing a glass and racking it. "A sex nut. The guy said he was an English professor, for Christ's sake. I thought all of them were celibate. He brought home another girl and wanted a threesome. Take pictures. Make a movie. The sister blew up, walked out. She came home an hour later, and this Barlow and the other woman were naked on the couch. What the hell's it coming to? When I was married, you never brought them home."
"And you wonder why your wives all left," Janice said. She went behind the bar for her brown shoulder bag and pink sweater. She looked at Peterson. "My sister's no angel, but she didn't deserve getting beat up." Cotter leaned toward Peterson. "It's all the sex people see on the Internet, magazines in the grocery stores. Instructions on how many ways to turn him on."
Doyle looked at the ceiling and shook her head. She set her bag on the bar and pulled on her sweater.
"Tell him what else the boyfriend's into," Cotter said.
"You're the one with the dirty mouth," she said.
"What dirty mouth? I'm talking to Peterson, for God's sake. He was on the job, working the street half his life. He seen things I don't even know about." He turned to Peterson. "He forced Ellen to watch this sicko shit on his laptop. Whips and chains. He wanted her to join a club he's in."
"She wouldn't join," Doyle insisted.
"He left behind the laptop with all his dirty pictures," Cotter said.
"He called a few times, asked if she gave it to anyone," Doyle said. "She has it, but she's afraid he'll come to get it."
"What do you think?" Peterson asked.
"I think he won't come around with me staying there."
"I said the two of them should stay here," Cotter piped. "I got a spare room, double bed. No, better yet, the two of you should bunk at Peterson's." He looked at Peterson. "What's with the eyes? You don't go home, not to sleep. Half the time you're driving the streets all night."
"You can't live with your sister forever," Peterson said to her.
"When she gets the peace bond, I'll go home," she said.
"Sure, that'll hold him back," Cotter scoffed.
"Are you worried?" Peterson asked.
"A little," Doyle said, and pointed at Cotter. "And he makes it worse."
Cotter made a face and dried a glass. "Anybody who teaches English all day is bound to have something loose upstairs."
"I'm leaving," Doyle called. She waved and left the place.
Cotter turned to Peterson. "Another nutcase. The world is full of them. And that reminds me, Ziggy was looking for you."
"Did he say why?" Peterson sipped the coffee.
"Between the lines. He comes in spouting that religious crap about Hell and damnation. Then he does that cross-eyed thing and says you're good at solving people's problems. And I said to him, yeah, but sometimes not everyone involved comes out in one piece."
Peterson looked at him. "Was that meant to be a compliment?"
"It was meant to be what it is," Cotter said. "You're out there almost every night. It's like you're trying to be a cop again."
Peterson looked at his hands, clawlike around the coffee mug.
"I'm not criticizing," Cotter said, back to washing and rinsing. "I'm just worried about Ziggy saying you now got a problem of your own. What was he talking about? I don't want you going to pieces again, so that nothing, not even those head-shrink sessions can stick you back together. For Christ's sake, you're a man with a past, Peterson, and when it gets loose, it tears you apart."
Peterson eased his grip on the mug. He lifted his head and looked at Cotter. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Cotter stopped washing and rinsing. "Maybe I know too much."
Peterson shifted his gaze and saw himself in the mirror behind the bar. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them.
"Ziggy still living in his tin can?" he asked.
Cotter folded the washcloth and set it on a shelf beneath the bar. "I don't know how he can live like that. I'll tell you something else. I don't know how you can live the way you do."
Peterson pulled his three-by-six black notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket and wrote the make and model of the SUV that had been following him, along with the three letters of the licence plate. He tore the page from the notebook and slid it across the bar.
Cotter read it and said, "Is this a problem I should worry about?"
Peterson shook his head. "I'm just curious, and these days my curiosity is using up favours downtown." He again looked at himself in the mirror.
Cotter folded the paper and set it beside the old-fashioned cash register behind the bar. He faced Peterson and leaned in close.
"The trouble with curiosity," he said, "is that it's always trying to live up to its reputation."CHAPTER 3
Peterson parked along a paved road overlooking the Fairview Container Terminal and grabbed a Maglite from a duffle in the back seat. A dirt path ran beneath a highway exit ramp, through a jungle of knotweed, nettles, spiny burdocks, and high bushes. It skirted a disembowelled building and ran alongside piles of rubble and broken furniture and appliances. Then it opened to a small clearing that overlooked the harbour. He shut the Maglite and listened to the tortured squeal of metal on metal from the container terminal. From across the harbour came the sound of a railway switcher shunting cars in a nearby freight yard.
At the far end of the clearing was an abandoned ten-foot shipping container that was badly damaged on both ends. A brown canvas tarp hung from where the double doors had been sheared off.
He hammered on the side of the rusted steel container, and Ziggy Glover threw back the canvas. He held a Coleman lantern above his head. In his other hand was a .22 Colt automatic.
"You expecting someone else?" Peterson asked the parking lot preacher.
"I'm always expecting someone else. Sometimes I'm expecting the Incomprehensible One." Ziggy raised the .22 and the lantern above his shaggy head. "The established truth is immutable. You have to find it."
He swung the lantern and .22 to show the way into a cramped space decked out with a multi-coloured braided rug that had the centre burned out, and a wall that was plastered with mind-messing crayon drawings. He set the lantern on a twelve-inch-wide cable spool, and settled his black-robed body into an overstuffed blue armchair with its guts leaking out. On the floor beside the chair was a red bong. Ziggy pointed for Peterson to sit on a milk crate, then said, "Woe to you because you dwell in darkness and in death."
"From an ex-con, scripture sounds like sacrilege," Peterson said, lowering himself to the milk crate, knees up around his ears.
Ziggy flinched, a look that was small and cold. "One mistake, and I can't live it down."
"Two counts of embezzlement," Peterson corrected. He shifted uncomfortably on the crate.
Ziggy reached behind to a brick-and-board bookcase. His blousy sleeve rode up his arm, showing off a colour tattoo of a serpent swallowing its tail. He held up a thick book.
"I'm preaching truth," Ziggy said. "Words like poetry, and I light them up with fire from the Old Testament. No meaning, but it sounds good, and that's what people want. They want to feel the words, and I lay it on thick. Hallelujah this. Amen that. Cut through the noise with the hand of God touching their hearts. I got over fifty the other night. I passed the hat and got a big score from drunks and head whackers, and some of those Pentecostals who think I'm speaking in tongues. This book has me preaching like I'm snorting, blowing, or sucking six chemicals at once."
Peterson took the book from Ziggy, read the spine — The Nag Hammadi Library — and opened it just anywhere. The Gospel of Seth. He read a sentence and threw Ziggy Glover a sceptical look.
"They think I'm a prophet," Ziggy said. "I got it down so tight it comes off like conversation." He threw back his head and raised his arms. "The anguish and the terror fills you for all the wickedness you have done."
Ziggy flashed a mischievous smile. "They think I'm Moses, and they're lining up to tell me their sins. I got a pipeline to the street like I never had."
"That means you're still selling information."
"A man's got to eat, only these days nobody with a badge is listening."
Peterson turned to another page in the book, The Gospel of Thomas. He leaned into the low-angled light, which deepened the lines in his fifty-two-year-old face. He scowled at what he read.
"The pipeline goes nowhere," Ziggy was saying. "Deaf ears. You hear what I'm saying? Drug squad, Vice, they're all looking for headlines." "Always did."
"After the easy score."
"Uh huh." Peterson had heard it all before — snitches complaining that command and investigating officers weren't listening.
"And your former partner? Not the same anymore," Ziggy said, wagging an index finger.
"Eyes on the brass ring," Peterson explained.
"Picking low hanging fruit is what Danny Little's doing," Ziggy said. "You and him together broke rules to get it done right. Now he's puppy-dogging to get ahead."
Peterson leaned forward on the milk crate. "Cotter said you wanted to see me."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Fire Trap"
Copyright © 2019 Bob Kroll.
Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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