It was without a reasonable doubt the strangest night of my life. Not unconscious, yet not awake either—I existed in a sort of vacuum or void. Near total darkness, with all of darkness’s attendant fears—demons, devils and shades. I didn’t know what they wanted from me—and they weren’t talking either. The darkness was interrupted from time to time with brilliant flashes of pure white light, along with beautiful settings in woods and glen. From the light came voices, with occasional faces to go along with them, flashing before my eyes. Faces of friends and family long gone. Some entreated me to enter and stay. Others warned to go back.
Thing was—I had no idea how to get back.
Another man might have thought that he was near death. I knew better. Another man might have wondered if he were seriously injured and suspended between Heaven and Hell. I knew I was not injured at all. This was something else. I was in no danger of crossing over to the other side—I was only a visitor in this land of the dead.
I could feel my body, alive and well, laying on a gurney in a hospital hallway. I could feel hands, those of living, breathing beings upon me in the night. Turning me, examining me, placing an oxygen tube over my ears and into my nose. I would briefly awaken, but unable to rise, quickly drift back to sleep to continue my tour of the netherworld. Finally, at last, toward morning I believe, I could feel two strong orderlies helping me off the gurney and into a wheelchair. Flashes of hallway entered under the slits of my eyelids as I was wheeled out of the hospital and into a waiting vehicle.
Then drug induced total blackness.
I didn’t know how many more hours passed before I regained my senses again. This time I was fully awake and aware, the stupor of the night passed. Trouble was, I still couldn’t move—both of my hands shackled behind my back. I was sitting upright in my underwear, in a solid-backed wooden desk chair. One of the old-fashioned heavy oak monsters. My ankles were also bound. There was no blindfold. Shaking my head to clear the last remaining cobwebs from my brain, I looked around at my surroundings. A rather large warehouse or factory of some type—long unused. The dust of the ages lay on the floor. Wreckage of an industry long-since dead and passed. A little light permeated the dirty and grungy windows. The hum of a motor of some kind nearby. My outer clothes lay in a heap a few feet away. Two bearded young men stood grinning before me.
I didn’t think they were hospital staff anymore.
The first spoke. Carter was right. There was no hint of an accent. These were American boys, through and through. Mom, Chevy, and apple pie. The works, plus murder, mayhem, and stone cold-blooded infanticide on a grand scale.
“So this is the great American detective John O’Brien. The man sent to kill us. Doesn’t look that that’s working out so well for you Mr. O’Brien.”
“The day’s not over yet,” I replied.
“The day will be over for you pretty soon, O’Brien. Matter of fact, all of your days will soon be over. Today though, this day—well, that’s apt to be a long one for you. Long, bloody, and painful.”
“So what else is new? Comes with the job. Mom always wanted me to be a dentist. Nice safe job, she always said. She may have had a good point.”
“We have heard about your smart mouth. Want to bet we can close it?
“Oh, what the hell,” I responded. “What the hell do I care? All you can do is kill me. Must not be that big a deal. Like falling off a log. Must be really easy—most all of my friends have done it.”
“Not so easy for you John O’Brien. You die like a dog. But we won’t do it. We won’t hurt a hair on your head. That’s for someone else. Not us.”
Now they had my interest up.
“What’s the problem Sparky?” I taunted. “Ain’t man enough to get your hands a little dirty? Or do you prefer to do your killing long distance? Like a couple of blocks away—setting off car bombs?”
A female voice behind me spoke. “These bozos don’t set off bombs. They’re way too dumb to be trusted with the high-tech stuff. That’s my job.”
She walked around to face me. From the build-up, I was more than a little surprised. The Ice Queen didn’t look very much like I expected.
She was a bit older than I would have thought. I had imagined thirty-something. She was maybe pushing fifty—hard. Once beautiful, age had dimmed it a bit. But still, I could tell she had once been a looker. Now there were Crow’s-feet at the corners of her eyes, and a few wrinkles at the lips. Her hair was reddish-blond, close cropped, yet still fashionable. She reminded me a bit of the late actress Lynn Redgrave—but without Lynn’s smiling eyes. These were the flat, dead eyes of the Orcs—one of the undead. No Arab dress for this lady. She wore simple jeans, form-fitting. A red shirt and black leather jacket completed the ensemble. From her right hand dangled her only fashion accessory—a cattle-prod. A rather large one from the look of it. One with a lot of amperage.
Like the men, she was American through and through. She was even up on her movie references.
“I hate to sound like Olivier in Marathon Man,” she began. “But still, I feel the need to ask you. Is it safe?”
Unlike Dustin Hoffman in the film, at least I knew to what she was referring. “How the hell do I know?” I said. You’re the one with about half my clothes. You tell me.”
“It wasn’t in your clothes.”
Now this was news to me. When the blast from the car-bomb had plowed me down into the parking lot asphalt, it had been in the inside pocket of my sport-coat. I supposed it might have got rattled out, but still—it was in there pretty damned deep. Seemed unlikely.
I decided to play for time. God only knew where Brick might be. That was if he were alive at all. Still, it was a chance. I didn’t seem to have a hell of a lot going for me otherwise.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Icy—you don’t much seem like a Jihadist zealot. Don’t dress like one either.”
“I’m no Muslim. And not a Muslim-lover either. But they pay damned well. And as for America—I like nothing more than seeing its face rubbed it the dirt. America never did a damned thing for me.”
“Where you from?”
“Chicago. Born and bred . . . is it safe, Mr. O’Brien?”
So we were back to that again. “I dunno,” I answered.
“Mr. O’brien, I am going to be honest with you. No matter what happens here today, you don’t walk away. You’re a dead man, sitting in his underwear in a chair. You only choice is in how you die. A nice clean knife through your throat, or a corpse unrecognizable as a human being.”
“Torturing me to death will take you some time. After all, I can’t tell you what I don’t know. Seems a better deal to me than making a large pool of blood on the floor in the next five minutes.”
“Trust me, Mr. O’Brien. You will not enjoy the extra time.”
“Still though,” I said, “that’s my choice.”
“A bad one. Perhaps you will have second thoughts when I show you what awaits you.” Turning to the two men, she said simply, “Gentlemen.” They grinned again and started toward a large metal door nearby. A door that went into a metal box. A box about the size of a small house. An overhead track ran into it. I hadn’t recognized the hum that I had been hearing for what it was. Now I knew. The large metal box was a working walk-in freezer.
I was soon to learn how the Ice Queen had gotten her nickname.
“You are in the old Packard manufacturing plant, Mr. O’Brien. It opened in the early nineteen hundreds, and closed in 1958. Completely abandoned in the nineties, it fell into ruins—fit only for drug deals and rodents—both the four, and two-legged kind.”
“This particular building was the transmission plant. It’s held up a little better than the rest of the complex. A few years ago an enterprising individual tried opening a meat-packing plant on these premises. Didn’t last any longer than any of the previous businesses though. Just the same, the walk-in freezer still works just fine. All it needed was the addition of a portable generator. I was happy enough to provide one of those.”
“I like ice, Mr. O’Brien. The cold doesn’t affect me at all. The same can’t be said though of mere mortals. Like the unfortunate one you are about to meet. He’s been chilling in there for quite a long time now, while we waited for you to wake up. I really have no idea if he is alive or dead at this moment. Either way, I’m sure you will get the point. Like the Borg say, Mr. O’Brien—resistance is futile.”
The two men swung open the door. There was not a light inside. One of them flipped a switch to get the overhead conveyer moving. It was meant to move sides of beef from the cutting floor into the freezer and vice-versa. A partly frozen carcass was easier by far to cut and slice than one at room temperature. It was never been meant to work for humans though.
But then the Ice Queen had made some modifications.
At first I thought it must be a corpse hanging so grotesquely from the meat-hook. The rusted hook was meant to take the weight of half a cow. Even at that, it was slightly bent under the weight of the poor unfortunate soul that was hanging at the end of it. He had been either been lifted up and unto the hook or it had been rammed cruelly into his back while he lay on the floor. It protruded from out the front of his chest, but far enough into the shoulder area to not cause death.
No, that would have been far too quick and merciful for the mistress of the ice.
He was a young man, maybe thirty or so. My worst fears—that this was my partner Brick, were quickly put to rest when I saw the full beard covering the lower half of his face. He was probably a poor homeless guy, lured with the promise of a meal or booze. I thought the beard might be red at first, but as he approached closer on the conveyor, I was able to see that it was simply drenched in blood. The source of all that blood was readily apparent when I saw his eyes. All that was left were two empty sockets. Both of his eyes had been gouged out. His mouth was taped over.
His body was deep blue at this point. Fingers and toes were turning black as they began to freeze solid. The rivers of blood running down his naked body were partly frozen. They had almost ceased to drip—but not completely. It looked like my two friends had been busy—slicing long strips of flesh from his body. Several long jagged slices opened and closed in rhythm with his breaths.
The poor bastard was still very much alive.
The conveyor stopped in front of my chair.
“So what do you think of my little exhibition, Mr. O’Brien?”
“Very impressive, Icy. For a psychopathic monster, that is.”
She nodded and smiled slightly. “High praise.”
“Why don’t you put that poor bastard out of his misery, Icy? Then we’ll talk business,” I said.
“Maybe,” she replied. “Maybe that’s just exactly what I’ll do, Mr. O’Brien. A shame to let him go to his grave all cold like that though. Maybe he needs to be warmed up a little first.”
She smiled again as she nodded her head again toward the two men. One of them picked an object up off the floor and walked toward the impaled man. As he approached, he struck a match to it and the propane torch sprang to life. Opening up the value to its full force, it produced a jagged blue flame that sprang out about twelve inches.
He thrust it into the groin of the helpless hanging man, concentrating it on his genitals. And he left it there. The poor miserable hanging slob began to jerk and convulse as his reproductive organs turned black and began to crackle and pop. A long high-pitched and choking wail escaped his lips despite the duct tape. His legs sawmilled even though they were bound together at the ankles. A clear liquid ran from his nose as the partial incineration continued. The liquid slowly turned crimson. The stench of burning pubic hair joined that of the roasting flesh.
It was not a pleasant odor.
I had never seen such a horrible death in all my years as a cop. It seemed to go on forever, but in truth was probably a minute or a minute and a half as the poor slob slowly went into hemorrhagic shock, his system simply overwhelmed by the amount, severity and savagery of the lacerations and burns he had received. Finally his jerking and flopping stopped and he hung still—smoldering.
“You are one sick bitch,” I said simply. “Guess it’s my turn next.”
“Guess so, big-boy,” she said with a savage smile. “And no time like the present.”
With that she pressed the on button on the cattle-prod, and jammed it into my chest. My world exploded into pain and white light as the electrical current ran through my body. She held it to me for several seconds, and then switched it off. I fought for consciousness and tried not to pee myself.
“Untie him boys,” Icy said. “And cut that down. We’re going to need the hook again.”
I tried to fight back. Honestly I did. The thing was though, I just didn’t have any strength after that blast to my chest. And my legs were useless. No point anyhow, I figured. I only wondered how badly that rusty giant hook was going to hurt as it was rammed into my back. A man on each side of me, they dragged me toward my impending doom.
Only vaguely was I aware from out of the corner of my eye, of the door on the other side of the room opening. I was heartened. Perhaps the Calvary had arrived at last. Perhaps help was here. Perhaps I was saved. And then he walked in. A little old chubby man. All by himself. Alone. Dressed in an old-fashioned three-piece suit, and fedora hat.
I was about to meet the oddest human being I had ever known in my life.
Or ever would.
Thanks so much for reading. Back in a few days with another installment of DEATH AT THE SUPERMARKET. Until then . . . have a great day.
Dumb joke of the day: