Black Cradle: Origins: A Warren Bennett Johnson Novel
by Max E. Stone
From a massive yacht’s bow, the ocean’s deep waters call…
Jennifer Warren answers with a thrust of her bruised legs, one by one, over the metal bars to freedom.
The thick hand in her hair yanks her back to hell…
Despite the glowing reputation of the businessman who constantly visits the department, provides his fortune to fundraisers and charities, and displays a loving concern for the well-being of his wife and children, Newport Rhode Island Detective Stephen Bennett trusts his gut
And the word of the man’s new neighbors…
The man is a killer…
*This is the full story of the August to Life (Book 1) prelude*
The blast of cold water wretched the boy awake to his hands bound behind his back. Black and blue eyes stared hard at a carpeted floor, waiting for the man; the last thing—the last face—he remembered during a visit to his grandmother’s grave before everything had gone black.
How long ago?
He kept trying to work it out through the fog of his mind.
He looked up and scanned the rundown, soiled shack of a room and wished for the comforting arms of his grandmother.
But they were nowhere to be found.
Abruptly, booted footfalls bursted through the quiet.
The man was.
Tears filled the swollen slits of the boy’s eyes.
“Quit crying like a pussy,” the man demanded, hefting a gun from his jacket pocket and raising it to the boy’s temple, and fired a single bullet. “Die like a man.”
Teenaged Robert Ellis was a loner by nature.
The fifteen-year-old had a habit of cutting class and running away.
Even in the months he’d spent with Newport Police Department thus far, Detective Stephen Bennett knew it. He’d first gotten to know the kid when Robert, having hot-wired his father’s car, took a joyride with some friends. En route to the beach, the teenager hit the breaks too late and ran straight into the back of navy blue truck.
Car doors flew open and Robert’s friends hightailed it, leaving the young man to deal with the consequences—Bennett talking with his parents and arranging for him to work to pay off the damages to both cars—alone.
At least, Robert thought so until Bennett surprised him with the other half of the money needed to complete the debt. Since then, the two had been inseparable.
This morning though, a concerned call from Robert’s English teacher, an older Cambridge graduate who saw more potential in Robert than he did himself, came in on Bennett’s cell.
“I’m sorry to bother you like this, Detective, but you’re on Robert’s list of contacts,” the teacher, Mr. Donald Ipswich, said, panic lacing his British accent. “He may cut class, but never misses mine. Do you know where he could be?”
It took only a moment for Bennett to figure it out.
Prior to his adoption, Robert was the product of a selfish father and a self-center and dead mother. And, from what he’d found on her, the woman’s excessive drug habits and spoiled lifestyle had gotten her that way. Robert’s late grandmother was the sole biological family member who had truly cared for him.
“I know where he is,” Bennett reassured before thanking the teacher for his call, hanging up, and sprinting out of the department building.
Kicking the engine to life and leaving the lot for the road, he placed a quick call to Robert.
He glanced at his watch. The caretaker of the gravesite was due to arrive by now. He had to have seen him. Driving onward, Bennett called Robert again.
He still didn’t answer. That wasn’t like him.
Miles later, he turned a corner, drove a ways down the street, and parked his rig on the graveyard’s blue gravel path. He got out and slammed the door in search of a tombstone bearing the name Eunice…Eunice…
Try as he might, he couldn’t remember her last name. Hustled through the grass and tombstones, he found the small house on the grounds. Once there, Bennett pounded on the front door. It groaned open. Gun ready, he eased inside; the floor creaking under his weight. Among the noise, a loud squish resonated. He looked down. Blood. Bennett followed the trail across the room.
There, he found Robert; the young man slumped over.
“Damn it,” Bennett called, placing his gun back in his holster, and running toward the body. “Bobby.”
He turned the teenaged boy to his back and spotted the blood-caked hole in his head. Unnecessarily, the detective touched two fingers to the side of the young man’s neck, feeling for a pulse he knew he wouldn’t find.
Tears blurred his eyes. He hated this part of the job. With a heavy breath, he straightened and slid the phone from his pocket, set to call the murder in. The .45 aimed at the back of his head stopped him cold. Slowly, Bennett’s hands went up in surrender.
“Turn…around,” a deep, shaken voice commanded. “Now!”
He obeyed, turning and coming face to face with a heavy, rugged man; sweat pouring down his face and through his gray and brown beard, stress evident in the shaking hand holding the weapon.
“Easy,” Bennett ordered, composed despite the firearm now in his face. “Put the gun down.”
“I really didn’t want to do it, ya know,” the gunman choked out. “He was a good kid…but he wouldn’t…wouldn’t listen. I’m his dad. He should…he should have listened to me.”
“You’re his dad.”
“Kids should listen to their parents,” the gunman muttered in a rehearsed drone. “I told him…I told him to come with me. He wanted to go back to those people. He called them his family…I’m his family!”
Quick as a flash, the assailant bent his arm and held the gun to his own head.
“No!” Bennett cried.
But it was too late.
He watched, horrified, as Robert’s father pulled the trigger.