Read Mortal Lock Online

Authors: Andrew Vachss

Tags: #Collections & Anthologies, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #General

Mortal Lock


“Many writers try to cover the same ground as Vachss. A handful are as good. None are better.”


“Vachss’s stories … burn with righteous rage and transfer a degree of that rage to the reader.”

—The Washington Post Book World

“Writing in a style so sleekly engineered that it purrs when you pop the hood, Vachss gives us such a smooth ride that it’s easy to forget someone is driving this thing.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Vachss is red-hot and as serious as a punctured lung.”



Andrew Vachss is a lawyer who represents children and youths exclusively. His many books include the Burke series and two previous collections of short stories. His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his work has appeared in
, and the
The New York Times
, among other publications. He divides his time between his native New York City and the Pacific Northwest.

The dedicated website for Vachss and his work is



Blue Belle
Hard Candy
Down in the Zero
Footsteps of the Hawk
False Allegations
Safe House
Choice of Evil
Dead and Gone
Pain Management
Only Child
Down Here
Mask Market
Another Life


The Getaway Man
Two Trains Running
The Weight
That’s How I Roll
A Bomb Built in Hell


Born Bad
Everybody Pays
Mortal Lock


Copyright © 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Andrew Vachss

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

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

Some of the stories in this collection originally appeared in
Another Chance to Get It Right
Dark Horse Presents
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
Hard Looks
(Dark Horse);
L.A. Noire
The Strand
Veil’s Visit
Year of the Lizard

The Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress.

eISBN: 978-0-307-95084-0

Cover photograph © Jewgeni Roppell/Trigger Image


for Sonny …

You left too quick for us to say goodbye, brother. Hell, you left too quick,
. But you also left a stunning legacy. I’m still listening and learning. And always will be. Next time we meet, we’ll
be able to smoke. And maybe even roll down 104, in that Police Auction Special.



I was born a gifted child. By the time I started school, everyone was telling me I could be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted to do. At home, too—I had very supportive, encouraging parents. But there was only one thing I ever wanted to be: a writer. Just a writer.

That’s the wrong word, “just.” It trivializes something sacred. Writing is my connection to the universe. My only connection. If some magical surgery could scalpel it out of my soul, there would be nothing left. Without my writing, that’s what I’d be: Nothing.

I knew this years before teachers started telling my parents about my “talent.” I felt it inside me, growing. It suffused every cell in my body, surging with such power that I couldn’t have suppressed it even if I had wanted to.

That force crushed everything in its path. By the time I was in grade school, it was so potent that it took over my world. It wasn’t just that writing was the only thing I cared about; writing
me. Every sense was always tuned to that same signal. If I wrote something great, that’s how I’d feel. And if I wrote something lousy, that’s how I’d feel, too.

I don’t know the exact time it happened, but, after a while, writing was the only thing that could make me feel anything at all.

The topic didn’t matter. Even if it was supposed to be writing
writing—like when you do a book report—it was always about
writing. It didn’t make any difference if I liked the book or I hated it, the only thing that counted was
I said whatever I thought—that was the power-source.

I knew the grade didn’t matter. Of course I’d get an A, but so would other kids. There was no grade that could measure my writing. I was the only judge.

But I was never smug, never satisfied. I’d spend hours deciding on just the right phrase, always trying to get it … perfect. I didn’t care about being the best writer in class. What did that mean? I always knew there was more than that. Much more. Some place where I rightfully belonged. Don’t mistake me for some petty narcissist—I was always my harshest critic, even when I was my


It wasn’t until tenth grade that I saw my name in print. I could actually feel my synapses flame with this confirmation of my destiny.

The editor told me it was very unusual for a sophomore to get a bylined story. Even though I knew I could have written the whole school paper by myself, every single word, I told her how grateful I was to have gotten the chance.

I wasn’t even lying. Not then.

The staff of the school paper always picked the editor. Every member got to vote, but it wasn’t like the other elections at school. It wasn’t the most popular kid who won—it was the one who was willing to do the most work. Some of the kids just wanted to do their own thing: take photos, or write poems, or do a gossip column, silly garbage like that. But putting the whole thing together, that wasn’t a job most people wanted.

They always said the editor should be someone who had
the job. Worked their way up from the bottom, paid their dues. So, naturally, they always picked a senior for the position.

High school has all kinds of rules—the kind they put on posters,
and the kind you learn by watching how things work. It doesn’t take long before you realize that the rules don’t apply to everyone. Certain kids get to do certain things; other kids don’t. Nobody had to spell that out. It was just the way things were—and so blatantly obvious that even the dullest kids picked it up quickly.

I saw this as an operational system, a weird blend of objectivity and favoritism. Like with the jocks: the best players got to be first string, no matter what year they were in. So the stars actually
their positions. But once they got to
stars, they got their own set of rules as well.

I thought writing would work the same way. So whatever the editor told me to cover, I jumped on it. I was never late with an assignment. And I always nailed it, too: If they wanted three hundred words; they got three hundred words. Who, What, Where, When, and Why, just like the faculty advisor said had to be in every story.

The faculty advisor was Mr. David. The school hired him because he had a master’s from the Columbia School of Journalism, and he had a lot of pieces published, in magazines with big names. He won some prizes for writing, too.

Mr. David had been what they called an “investigative journalist” before he retired. I guess they had to pay him a lot of money to get him to teach at a high school. But that wouldn’t be a problem. In the town I lived in, the parents always demanded the best teachers. They paid a lot of taxes to keep their public school as good as any private one. Better, even. That was very important if you wanted to get into the best colleges.

I remember hearing my father tell my mother that was why we moved there from the city. It made the commute worthwhile, he said.

Besides the school paper and the journalism class, Mr. David taught creative writing. He even worked with the Debate Club.
Maybe he was one of those men you read about—the ones who can’t stand being retired. He was busy all the time. I don’t think he needed the money, so I guess that teaching was what he really wanted to do.

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