W. E. B. Griffin

The Vigilantes



1834 Callowhill Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Saturday, October 31, 7:30 P.M.

Will Curtis, a frail fifty-four-year-old, was sitting slumped against the driver’s door of his rusty Chevrolet Malibu when the thoughts suddenly hit again, causing him to wince and grunt. He quickly pulled his right hand from the. 45 GAP Glock Model 37 semiautomatic pistol beside him on the seat, stabbed at the dash to turn off the radio, then smacked at the brim of his grease-smeared red-and-blue FedEx cap, knocking it from his head. With the fingers of both hands, he began rubbing his sweaty temples.

Goddamn these flashbacks! he thought.

The fingertips pressed harder and deeper in a futile attempt to make the mental images vanish.

Damn them all to hell!

Only six months earlier, Curtis had been what he’d thought of as bulky, standing at five-eleven and weighing two-ten. But now he had withered to a sickly one-sixty. His jeans, T-shirt, and denim jacket were ill-fitting, hanging on him so loosely they looked as if they belonged to someone far bigger. His close-cropped silver hair was damn near disappearing, and his formerly warm gray eyes were becoming more and more hollowed and distant in his slight if somewhat hard face.

Curtis felt he was fast becoming a miserable shell of the man he’d been. He had gone from fearing nothing and no one to being scared shitless to, now, just not giving a good goddamn anymore.

He wasn’t sure what was most responsible for that-the constant stress from the mental anguish that caused the flashbacks, or the aftereffects of the intense chemotherapy treatments to slow the aggressive cancer they’d first found in his prostate.

Probably both.

Easily one or the other-especially that fucking chemo that makes me shit my shorts like some sorry bedridden invalid-but probably both.

The flashback scenes torturing Will Curtis were of the brutal sexual assault of his only child, Wendy. After leaving a pub late on the night of Saint Patrick’s Day almost eighteen months ago, his beautiful, bubbly, twenty- four-year-old daughter had been attacked in her apartment.

She was just two years out of college!

Just beginning to enjoy a full life!

Triggered by the slightest of things-for example, hearing a song she liked, which had just happened as he sat listening to the radio in the Malibu, or driving past Geno’s and smelling her favorite cheesesteaks-the flashbacks would suddenly hammer him. They were grotesquely lit and viciously vivid, showing the attack in her bedroom again and again from damn near every possible angle.

And they haunted him all the more because he hadn’t actually witnessed the attack-rather, his imagination ran with possibilities of what had happened to her.

And what had happened to her was what the legal system termed “involuntary deviant sexual intercourse.”

“Involuntary”? he thought, putting his hand back on the pistol.

Fucking-A it was involuntary!

Which of course meant rape. There’d been absolutely no question of that. The exam given by the doctors at Hahnemann University Hospital-not a dozen blocks from where he now sat parked, waiting-had determined unequivocally that that had happened. And not only vaginally, which was without doubt bad enough to have happened to his baby girl, but also what was termed in the legalese as “sexual intercourse per os and per anus.”

The pervert drugged her so she passed out, then abused her body-even gave her the goddamned clap!

The revelation of all that had driven the normally levelheaded Curtis to a point of desperation he’d never believed possible.

And-boom!-his mind hammered with the garish image of the bastard on top of Wendy in her bed.

“Dammit!” Will Curtis said as he sat up in the dark and slammed the pistol against the dashboard.

His left hand rubbed his temples more vigorously. He shook his head.

What kind of miserable fucking animal does that?

Who takes advantage of an innocent girl like that?

He glanced out the window and looked across Callowhill Street at the office with the frosted plate-glass window. More or less centered on the window-which had a crack that ran jagged across its upper-right corner-were faded black vinyl peel-and-stick letters that spelled out


And I’ll never understand why that bastard defends perverts.

Just for a lousy dollar?

But that assistant district attorney had said, “Only a matter of time before Gartner gets busted himself and goes down just like one of his clients.”

So, yeah, some kind of payout, or payoff, that’s for sure, because there’s no shortage of scumbag lawyers like him.

He squeezed the Glock’s grip.

That DA was close to right. Gartner may never have got busted, but he is about to go down…

Before their world went to hell, Will Curtis and his wife, Linda, were more or less comfortably middle class. Will had driven package-delivery trucks all his career, first for the U.S. Postal Service, the last eleven years for FedEx, and Linda was a teller at First National Bank. Their idea of an exciting weekend night usually meant taking a BYOB of cheap California red wine to the $9.99 all-you-can-eat pasta and salad at Luigi’s Little Italy, around the corner from their row house of twenty years on Mount Pleasant Avenue in Philly’s West Mount Airy section.

They had known little about what went on in the nightclubs of Philadelphia, and damn sure absolutely nothing about any illegal activities. That was, until the toxicology tests taken on Wendy Curtis at Hahnemann had come back and Will and his wife had gotten an immediate and in-depth education into what the doctors called club drugs-Rohypnol (known on the street as “roofies” or “Mind Erasers”), Ketamin (“K-Hole,” “Special K”), and GHB.

Wendy’s blood had tested positive for far more than a trace of GHB, which was shorthand for gamma hydroxybutyric, and called the “date-rape drug” and “easy lay,” among other street names. It was a powerful pharmaceutical widely prescribed as a sleep aid and a local anesthetic. The doctors told Will and Linda that when consumed with alcohol, GHB became even more powerful. It came in the form of a quick-dissolving pill, liquid, or powder, and was odorless and colorless, sometimes with a slightly salty taste. Commonly it was slipped into the drink of a young woman at some bar-though the illicit drug was no stranger among males in the homosexual community-or even at her apartment if she made the mistake of letting a date “come up for a drink, just one only.”

And just one was all it took.

Within fifteen minutes of entering the bloodstream, GHB could leave the victim completely powerless for up to four hours, during which time they had no conscious knowledge of what was happening to them. In most cases, for better or worse, it also left them afterward with no memory of what had been done to them.

Almost, the doctors explained, as if they’d had a very vague, very tragic dream.

Which, Will had tried to console himself and his wife, explained why Wendy would not talk about the attack.

She couldn’t remember.

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