There are places I'll remember all my life -- Red Square with a hot wind howling across it, my mother's bedroom on the wrong side of 8-Mile, the endless gardens of a fancy foster home, a man waiting to kill me in a group of ruins known as the Theatre of Death.
But nothing is burned deeper in my memory than a walk-up in New York -- threadbare curtains, cheap furniture, a table loaded with tina and other party drugs. Lying next to the bed are a handbag, black panties the size of dental floss and a pair of six-inch Jimmy Choos. Like their owner, they don't belong here. She is naked in the bathroom -- floating face down in a bathtub full of sulfuric acid, the active ingredient in a drain cleaner available at any supermarket.
Dozens of empty bottles of the cleaner -- DrainBomb, it's called -- lie scattered on the floor. Unnoticed, I start picking through them. They've all got their price tags still attached and I see that, in order to avoid suspicion, whoever killed her bought them at twenty different stores. I've always said it's hard not to admire good planning.
The place is in chaos, the noise deafening -- police radios blaring, coroner's assistants yelling for support, an Hispanic woman sobbing. Even if a victim doesn't know anyone in the world, it seems like there's always someone sobbing at a scene like this.
The young woman in the bath is unrecognizable -- the three days she has spent face-down in the acid have destroyed all her features. That was the plan I guess -- whoever killed her had also weighed down her hands with telephone books. The acid has dissolved not only her fingerprints but almost the entire metacarpal structure underneath. Unless the forensic guys at the NYPD get lucky with a dental match, they'll have a helluva time putting a name to this one.
From "I Am Pilgrim" by Terry Hayes. Copyright © 2014 by Leonedo, Ltd. Published by Emily Bestler Books/Atria, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.