Read Choice of Evil Online

Authors: Andrew Vachss

Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Hard-Boiled, #Fiction

Choice of Evil

BOOK: Choice of Evil
5.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

For Richard Soney Allen

uncaged, finally

and for

Leslie Haines

who hauled the weight until she saw the sun, finally

Acclaim for

“Vachss’s reverence for storytelling is evident in the blunt beauty of his language.”

Chicago Sun-Times

“From the unusual opening to the last page, Choice of Evil is absolutely original, strange, and just plain ole creepy. This is the best Burke adventure yet, and not to be missed.”

—Joe R. Lansdale, author of
Rumble Tumble

“Vachss crafted a taut narrative of supernatural suspense. . . . Decompressing from this novel is a complex matter of sorting through issues and reactions. Most readers’ lives will never be quite this gritty. But transporting you to the unfamiliar, to the startling and reorienting, is really what good art’s all about.”


“Andrew Vachss continues to write the most provocative novels around. His sentences fall like arrow-showers. In
Choice of Evil,
he ratchets up the suspense by confronting Burke with perhaps the worst and most complex villain to date.”

—Martha Grimes

“Thrilling. . . . Perhaps because Vachss considers it one of an artist’s duties to show us that which we don’t necessarily want to see, he shines a light unflinchingly into the monster’s heart, unafraid to go on record with his simple, profound thoughts on this world’s horrors.”


“Andrew is one of the best writers, and Burke one of the greatest characters, of late twentieth century fiction.
Choice of Evil
is a tour-de-force in the grimmest sense of the phrase. Andrew’s ability to focus his spot-beams on the bleakest aspects of human nature has never been more intense.”

—Alan Grant, author of
The Bogie Man

“Vachss seems bottomlessly knowledgeable about the depth and variety of human twistedness.”

The New York Times

“Andrew Vachss has become a cult favorite, and for good reason.”


“[Vachss is] able to wring edginess from his portrayal of a society hovering beneath the reader.”

The Village Voice

“[Vachss] does to pimps, pederasts, snuff film makers and porn industry purveyors what you know he’d like to do in real life, but seldom can. In other words, he decimates them.”

The Detroit News

“Burke is the toughest talking first person narrator since Mike Hammer.”

Los Angeles Times

nosed the Plymouth carefully around the corner, checking the street the way I always do when I’m heading home. The garage I use is cut into the closed-off base of an old twine factory, converted into upscale lofts years ago. Above the designer-massaged floor-through apartments is what the yuppie occupants think is crawl space. That’s where I live.

A pal had tapped into their electricity lines and installed a stainless-steel sink-and-toilet combo. A fiberglass stall shower, a two-burner hot plate, a duct to the heating pipes below. . . and it turned into my home.

I’ve lived there for years, thanks to a deal I made with the landlord. His son got himself into a jackpot—an easy enough feat for a punk who thought ratting out his rich dope-dealing friends was a fun hobby—and ended up in the Witness Protection Program. I stumbled across him while I was looking for someone else, and I traded my silence for a special brand of rent control. Didn’t cost the landlord a penny, but it bought his punk kid an anonymous life. And safe harbor for me.

Some of my life is in that building. And when I saw the pack of blue-and-white NYPD squad cars surrounding the back entrance, I knew that part of it was over.

I just sat there and took it. The way I always do—fear and rage dancing inside me, nothing showing on my face. I’ve had a lot of practice, from the hospital where my whore of a mother dropped me—dropped me out of her, I mean—to the orphanage to the foster homes to the juvenile joints to prison to that war in Africa to prison again and. . . all of it.

It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. Somebody had dimed me out. And the cops would find enough felony evidence up there to put me back Inside forever once they connected it up.

I watched the cops carry Pansy out on a litter, straining under the huge beast’s weight. Pansy’s my dog. My partner, not my pet. A Neapolitan mastiff, direct descendant of the original war dogs who crossed the Alps with Hannibal. I had dreamed of having my own dog every night in prison. They’d taken my beloved little terrier from me when I was a kid, that lying swine of a juvenile-court judge promising me there’d be another puppy in the foster home they were sentencing me to. I remember the court officer laughing then, but I didn’t get the joke until they dropped me off. There was no pup there, and I had to do the time alone, without anyone who loved me.

I never saw my dog again, but I did see that court officer. It was more than twenty years later, and he didn’t recognize me. When I was done, nobody would recognize him either. That’s the way I was then. I’m not the same now. But I’ve only changed my ways, not my heart.

I’d raised Pansy from a pup. Weaned her myself. She would die for me. And it looked like she had. Standing up all the way. She’d never let another human being into my place when I wasn’t there.

I said goodbye the way we do down here—promising her vengeance. I was using the little monocular I always carry to get a close-up when the screen shifted focus: I saw Pansy stir on the litter. She was still alive. The cops must have waited for the EMS Unit—they carry tranquilizer guns. So I didn’t need the badge numbers of the cops anymore—I needed my dog back. I U-turned the Plymouth slow and smooth and aimed it toward a place where I could make plans.

oney, I called around for hours. We know where she is,” Michelle said, her lustrous eyes shining, reflecting the pain in me. She’s my sister—my pain is hers.


“The new shelter. The one in Hunter’s Point, just across the river? In Long Island City.”

“Yeah, I heard about it. It’s private, right? Part of the fucking Mayor’s giveaway plan.”

“Baby, relax, okay? Crystal Beth ran over there the second I called her. It could get a little stupid. . . Pansy’s got no license, no papers. . . but Crystal knows how to act. Just sit tight, and—”

“When did she leave?”

“Honey, stop. You’re
me. She’s been gone almost. . . three hours now. You don’t expect her to haul that monster on the back of her motorcycle, do you?”

“I don’t care how she—”

Michelle put her hand on my forearm, willing me to centered calmness, reminding me of all the years I’d invested in learning the path to that place.

“Can you get Max for me?” I asked Mama. She’d been hovering nearby since the minute I’d come in.

“Sure. Get Max. Come soon, okay?”

I just nodded.

“Burke, you don’t need
for this,” Michelle told me. “Jesus! It’s not like they’re gonna care, right? So she doesn’t have a license. So Crystal Beth has to pay a fine. . . or what
It won’t take long. . . .”

stayed inside myself, waiting. Felt Crystal Beth’s small hand on my shoulder before I heard her approach. Smelled her orchid-and-dark-tobacco scent. Didn’t move. She came around the table and sat down across from me.


“What happened?” I cut into whatever she was going to say, already knowing it was bad.

“The. . . license thing wasn’t a problem. Just like Michelle said. They were willing to let me take her. But they wouldn’t bring her out—they said I had to go back and get her myself.”

“And. . .?”

“And she was in a cage. A big steel cage. Like a tiger or something. There was a sign on it, in red; it said:
The. . . attendant, he told me she wouldn’t take food. Even when they shoved it into the cage, she wouldn’t eat. He warned me not to come near her, but I did anyway, and she. . .”


“She tried to kill me. She lunged at the bars, snarling and snapping her teeth, and. . .”

“They don’t know the word,” I said, half to myself. I had poison-proofed Pansy when she was still small. Unless you said the right word, she wouldn’t touch food, no matter how hungry she was.

I had a friend who ran a little auto-parts joint. He had a shepherd, a real nice one. He used the dog to guard the place at night, so nobody could help themselves. Some degenerate tossed a strychnine-laced steak over the fence. When the dog helped himself, he died. In pain.

I’d trained Pansy so that would never happen to her. And I should have known she wouldn’t walk out with anyone but me.

They try and get dogs adopted at the shelter. If they can’t, they gas them. Who was going to adopt a sixteen-year-old, hundred-and-fifty-pound monster who could bite the top off a fire hydrant? But Pansy wasn’t going to wait to be gassed—she’d loyal herself to death first.

Not a chance. I owed her at least what I’d always promised myself. That I wouldn’t die caged.

“Michelle, go find the Prof for me,” I told her.

few hours later, I was with a piece of my family, waiting on the rest.

“I can’t scam her out,” I told the women. “I mean, I could go there myself, and she’d come with me. But if I show up. . . the cops know where they got her from, and they might be expecting that. I’m surprised they didn’t try and follow Crystal Beth. . . .”

“I was on my bike, honey,” Crystal Beth said, her face calm with assurance.

I knew what she was telling me. There wasn’t a cop car made that could keep up with Crystal Beth on that motorcycle of hers, especially with the steady rain that had been falling for days. For the first time, I noticed what she was wearing—a full set of racing leathers.

“But how were you gonna get Pansy on—?”

“We had a car standing by. If I got her out, I was just going to load her in there and—”

“Whose car?”

“I don’t know, Burke. The Mole lent it to us. Some big dark thing. He made me a new license plate for my scooter too. Even if the cops saw it, they won’t make anything out of it.”

“The Mole was gonna drive? Jesus, I—”

“Not the Mole,” Michelle interrupted. “Terry.”

“He’s not—”

“Yes, he is,” she said, a trace of sadness in her voice. “My little boy’s almost a man now. He doesn’t have a license, but he can drive.”

Terry. Had it really been that long since I’d pulled him away from a kiddie pimp in Times Square? Since Michelle took him for her own? Since the Mole had raised him in his junkyard? Since. . .?

Then the door swung open and the Prof walked in, Clarence at his heels.

“What’s the plan, man? I got the word, came soon as I heard.”

“We have to get her out before they—”

“I said the
fool. You know I’m down with the hound. So gimme the four-one-one, son. They gonna be laying in the cut, waiting on you to make your move. We gotta be quick, but we also gotta be slick. Otherwise. . .”

“Let me think,” I told the only father I’d ever had—the one I met behind the Walls.

verybody got it?” I asked. It was almost nine o’clock at night by then, more than sixteen hours since my life had been torn apart.

Everybody nodded. Nobody spoke. I looked over at the big circular table in the corner, now piled high with what we needed.

“You sure they’re open twenty-four hours?” I asked Michelle.

“That’s what they
honey. But I don’t know if they’ll actually open the doors, even if you say it’s an emergency. It’s not a medical place. All they do there is keep the dogs and. . .”

“Kill them,” I finished for her. “It doesn’t matter anyway.” I turned to look at Crystal Beth. “You got the floor plan?”

“Right here,” she said, unrolling it on the table in front of me.

“Mole,” I called, summoning him over. Then I started to explain what I needed.

to be women there,” Crystal Beth said, standing to one side of the table, little hands on her big hips, face tightened against any argument.

“Look, this is—”

“You say ‘man’s work’ and I’m going to—”

“No, girl,” I said soothingly. “I wasn’t saying that. It’s just you don’t have any experience with—”

“With what, hijacking?” Michelle interrupted. “That isn’t the way to do it. You and the Prof, sure. I know you even got Max to go along sometimes on that crazy stuff you used to do, but if you think—”

“I am going too, Little Sister,” Clarence said in his dignified island voice, blue-black West Indian face set and resolute. “You are not to blame Burke for this. Yes, I would follow my father, wherever he walked. But I love that great animal too. She is not going to die,” he said softly, his hand caressing the 9mm semi-auto that was as much a part of his wardrobe as the peacock clothing he draped over his lean body every day.

“That’s not the
I don’t want—”

“Michelle, I am going,” the Mole said. Soft and gentle, like always. But not, like always, deferring to her. “Not Terry. You are right. He is my boy too, not only yours. And he is too young to risk. . . whatever there is.”

“Will you morons fucking
to me?” Michelle yelled, standing up so suddenly she knocked a couple of glasses to the floor. She walked over and stood next to Crystal Beth.

“This isn’t about what you imbeciles
I’m trying to tell you.” Her creamy complexion flushed red with anger. “It is
a hijacking, even with all those. . . guns and things you have. It’s still a scam, right? And they are
going to buy it unless you have a woman doing the talking, understand?”

“Girl’s telling it true,” the Prof said. “We don’t work it right, they ain’t gonna bite.”

The Mole nodded, slowly and reluctantly.

“Yeah,” I said, surrendering.

t was near 3 a.m. by the time we were ready to ride. Michelle and Crystal Beth were both dressed in military camo-fatigues, complete with combat boots. Max and I went for the generic look. Crystal Beth sat in the front seat right next to me, her left hand on my thigh, transmitting. Max and Michelle were in the back, Michelle yammering a nerve-edged blue streak, the mute Mongol warrior probably grateful he couldn’t hear. I had decided the Plymouth wasn’t much of a risk—I always keep the registration on me, and the car got a fresh coat of dull-cream primer last night.

I waved across to where Clarence sat behind the wheel of what would pass for a Con Ed truck if you didn’t look too close. If you did, you’d be looking at the wrong end of the Prof’s double-barreled sawed-off. Somewhere in the back of the truck, the Mole was preparing his potions.

We caravaned along until we got to the pull-off spot on the FDR. I pointed to a white semi-stretch limo with blacked-out glass. “That’s yours,” I told Crystal Beth. “The rollers won’t look twice at a car like that this time of morning. It’ll look like someone’s coming home from clubbing. Besides, it’ll hold everyone.”

“I’m staying with you,” she said.

“No, you are
girl,” I told her. “Max can’t drive worth a damn, and the Mole would crash it for sure. Clarence is the best wheelman we got, but we need him in the truck. We’re
the truck when we’re done, and everyone can’t fit in the Plymouth. You just park it where I told you to, and we’ll all meet up before we hit the place.”

BOOK: Choice of Evil
5.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Death Be Not Proud by John J. Gunther
Jacaranda by Cherie Priest
All The Stars In Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes
The Lost Flying Boat by Alan Silltoe
Rise of the Fae by Rebekah R. Ganiere
Time Ages in a Hurry by Antonio Tabucchi
Dangerous Waters by Jane Jackson
War 1812 by Michael Aye