Read The Ex Online

Authors: John Lutz

Tags: #Fiction, #Thriller

The Ex

The Ex
Lutz, John
Kensington (1996)

The successful and happy world of David and Molly Jones is thrown into
turmoil by the emergence of Deirdre Grocci, an erotically obsessed woman
from David's past who will stop at nothing to get him back. 

“John Lutz knows how to make you shiver.”

—Harlan Coben

“A major talent.”

—John Lescroart

“I’ve been a fan for years.”

—T. Jefferson Parker

“John Lutz just keeps getting better and better.”

—Tony Hillerman

“For a good scare and a well-paced story, Lutz delivers.”


San Antonio Express News

“Lutz knows how to seize and hold the reader’s imagination.”


Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Lutz’s real gift is to evoke detective work better than anyone else.”


Kirkus Reviews

“Lutz is among the best.”


San Diego Union

“It’s easy to see why he’s won an Edgar and two Shamuses.”


Publishers Weekly

“Some writers just have a flair for imaginative suspense, and we all should be glad that John Lutz is one of them.
The Night Spider
features elegant writing, enveloping, exotic murder, and solid police work…. A truly superb example of the ‘new breed’ of mystery thrillers.”

—Jeremiah Healy

“Lutz juggles multiple storylines with such mastery that it’s easy to see how he won so many mystery awards.
Darker Than Night
is a can’t-put-it-down thriller, beautifully paced and executed, with enough twists and turns to keep if from ever getting too predictable.”


reviewingtheevidence.com

“Readers will believe that they just stepped off a tilt-a-whirl after reading this action-packed police procedural…John Lutz places Serpico in a serial killer venue, with his blue knights still after him.”


The Midwest Book Review
on
Darker Than Night

“John Lutz knows how to ratchet up the terror…. [He] propels the story with effective twists and a fast pace.”


Sun-Sentinel
(Ft. Lauderdale, FL) on
The Night Spider

“Compelling…a gritty psychological thriller…Lutz’s details concerning police procedure, fire-fighting techniques and FDNY policy ring true, and his clever use of flashbacks draws the reader deep into the killer’s troubled psyche.”


Publishers Weekly
on
The Night Watcher

“John Lutz is the new Lawrence Sanders.
The Night Watcher
is a very smooth and civilized novel about a very uncivilized snuff artist, told with passion, wit, carnality, and relentless vigor. I loved it.”

—Ed Gorman in
Mystery Scene

“A gripping thriller…extremely taut scenes, great descriptions, nicely depicted supporting players…Lutz is good with characterization.”

—reviewingtheevidence.com on
The Night Watcher

THE EX
JOHN LUTZ

PINNACLE BOOKS

Kensington Publishing Corp.

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com

This is the very ecstasy of love,

Whose violent property foredoes itself,

And leads the will to desperate undertakings.

—Shakespeare,
Hamlet,
Act II, Scene I

1

The pole-mounted sirens throughout Edwinsville emitted a constant, synchronized wail. There were few people on the rain-slick streets, and the rain driving down from the low, dark clouds discouraged anyone who might have thought about defying the dire warning of the wailing sirens. Lightning fractured the western night sky as wind sheered through the trees and cut along the business loop of State Highway 103 where it became Main Street, knocking over the Alison’s Auto Service sign, scattering sheets of plywood stacked behind Builders Hardware and Home Supply. An empty Budweiser can pinged and clattered along Main, airborne as it skipped over curbs and bounced off building fronts, skittering along the wet pavement as if frantically seeking shelter.

On the hill beyond Edwinsville, a ten-foot-high chain-link fence topped with razor wire ran through the thick woods. Except where it stretched away on each side of the ornate wrought-iron gates that were the entrance to the State Institute for Mental Health, little of the fence could be seen, but it completely encircled the large brick building that was the Institute, wherein those wards of the state determined to be potentially violent were incarcerated and, in most cases, treated for their psychoses.

The synchronized, urgent wails of the sirens weren’t so ear-splitting on the hill, but the lightning-illuminated black clouds, the steadily increasing wind, and the almost horizontal rain lent the same sense of dread and near-panic that gripped the town below. Patients in identical drab gray uniforms were assembled in the mess hall, where white-coated attendants scurried about trying to calm them. Some of the patients were beyond being calmed and had to be restrained. Others were numbed by what was happening and simply sat hunched over in chairs and on the floor, hugging their knees, keeping their heads lowered, withdrawing into some safe interior space of the mind.

“God’s vengeance!” an old man with a shaved head kept shouting as he eluded two attendants—a big man named Sam and a stocky woman named Dora—who were trying to restrain and reassure him. Dora distracted him with a smile and Sam attempted to grab the old man and pin his arms to his sides, but the man slipped away again and leaped nimbly up on a table. “God’s terrible vengeance! I warned my wife and uncle when they put me in here! Warned that fool of a doctor why they wanted me out of the way! She didn’t sell it cheap—that’s what God knows!”

A terrible hammering sound began, and glass shattered as one of the barred windows gave. Large and irregularly shaped hail was driven with the rain, battering the roof and west side of the building in fusillades with each burst of wind. An assault by a thousand machine guns.

Then, abruptly, the rain and hail stopped, the wind ceased, and all was silent except for the distant sirens.

Even the old messenger from God was struck dumb by the perfect stillness, the thick, charged air that made breathing a chore and caused a prickling sensation on exposed skin.

The patients somehow knew before the attendants. Hands rose to lips and temples in horror. Eyes widened. Mouths opened as if to scream but didn’t. There was no time.

Outside the Institute a dark funnel cloud had dropped from the night sky and roared eastward. Debris that included trees, and a tumbling and hapless van with headlights still glowing, swirled around the base of the tornado. As it bore down on the Institute, the chain-link fence in the woods coiled skyward like a striking snake and disappeared in the blackness.

The roar became deafening, the lights dimmed, then the west wall of the Institute exploded outward. Over the turmoil and howl of the beast from the clouds screams couldn’t be heard. Time and people and stone and earth and sky all whirled together in the dark. There was nothing to do but hold on. There was nothing to hold.

 

In the aftermath, the warning sirens in the town below were silent. The wind had died down and the rain was reduced to a cool, steady downfall that pattered on the wreckage of the Institute. In the moonlight now filtering through the dark clouds lay a field of wreckage, scattered bricks, jutting wood and wallboard, serpentine coils of chain-link. The only sounds were the rain and the moans of those still alive among the debris. A few shadowy figures were visible staggering about in the night, wandering through another dark and tragic dream.

A hand gripped a splintered two-by-four stud and shoved it aside. What was left of a wooden mess hall table was also moved aside, but slower and with more difficulty.

Loose bricks scraped and clattered, and up from the wreckage stood a tall woman with wild hair and wild eyes. Beneath smudges of mud and a dark trail of blood snaking down from her hairline, her face was strong-featured, with wide-set eyes and prominent cheekbones, a determined sweep of jaw. Under other circumstances she might have been beautiful.

She stood still for a moment, gazing about, her dazed expression gradually changing to a look of comprehension. Then she began slowly picking her way through the wreckage, ignoring the moans and occasional raised hand seeking help.

She was almost beyond the ruins of the Institute building when something stopped her. She glanced down and saw a white sleeve, a hand gripping the pants cuff of her gray Institute uniform. She recognized Sam the attendant, pinned beneath a pile of bricks and splintered wood. Only his head and right shoulder and arm were free. He looked up at her with pleading in his dark eyes.

“Deirdre!” he moaned. “Don’t leave this place. Don’t do it. Please!”

The tall woman gazed down at him with cold green eyes. She attempted to walk on, but his grip on her pant leg was iron and unyielding.

“Deirdre…stay where you belong!”

She stopped trying to escape his grasp, then bent low and attempted to pick up a brick from the debris at her feet. It was actually two bricks and half of another, still firmly bonded by mortar. She used both hands to raise the bricks over her head, then looked down at Sam.

He understood her decision and his fate and merely stared up at her with frightened but resigned eyes. He closed his eyes then, and his face was calm as she hurled the bricks down at his head. Blood black in the night spotted the right leg of Deirdre’s gray uniform, and the hand clutching the material slowly released its grip.

She continued on her way, faster now, more resolute in her movements.

Within minutes she disappeared into the dark woods beyond the twisted and uprooted fence.

2

Moonlight softened the already hazy light of the Terrace Top Restaurant in downtown Saint Louis. Though it had rained almost every day since the violent weather of last week, the forecast for tonight was for only a fifty percent chance of light showers, so several diners were eating outside the framed glass wall of the rooftop restaurant, enjoying one of summer’s uncharacteristically delightful cool nights.

Christine Mathews sat at one of the outdoor white-clothed tables with half a dozen friends from work. They’d finished dinner and were idly chatting and looking out at the lighted skyline of the city. Twenty stories below and to the east, the Mississippi River lay black and glistening in the moonlight. The running lights of tugboats glowed upstream, and on the far side of the river the
Casino Queen
gambling boat, glittering like gaudy jewelry, was gradually pulling away from its dock in East Saint Louis.

“A beautiful city from up here,” Chad Brent, a technical support expert, said from across the table. They had come to the expensive restaurant to celebrate his birthday. Christine knew he had a crush on her. She also knew it was hopeless. Chad was nice enough, and handsome enough, but his timing was off.

Christine, a pretty blond woman in her early twenties, with a somewhat oversized nose she minimized with thick bangs, and with a lush rather than fashionable figure beneath her navy blue dress, looked around the table at Bill and Yolanda and Terry. At Burt and Jennifer. The people at the table weren’t exactly intimate friends, but among them was the easy familiarity that grew from working long hours together. And Davison Tire and Rubber often demanded long hours.

The tuxedoed waiter, a young man with sleek black hair, took their orders for coffee and dessert. Christine was dieting as usual and resisted his sales pitch for the chocolate-raspberry special. She ordered only a cappuccino. Terry began talking about the new low-profile radial tire the company was developing. Christine, who was in Accounting, wasn’t much interested. She excused herself and stood up.

“Time to feed my habit,” she said. She was the only one at the table who hadn’t quit smoking to conform to the new company policy.

“It’d be healthier for you to stay here with us,” Yolanda told her. She sounded serious. “Those things aren’t called cancer sticks for nothing. They’re sure to shorten your life.”

Chad started to stand. “Want some company?”

Yolanda, who rather liked Chad, smiled and gently pushed him back down. “You’d only live a little while longer than her after sucking in that second-hand smoke, honey.”

“She’s right,” Christine said quickly, discouraging Chad from accompanying her. “Anyway, I’ll be back before the coffee comes.”

She walked away from the table, toward a garden area that helped to segment the restaurant from the rest of the roof. Maybe it would have been legal to smoke at the table, but she’d seen no ashtrays anywhere, and she knew how smoke bothered everyone since they’d given up cigarettes. She glanced back once to make sure Chad hadn’t changed his mind and followed her.

Relieved that she was alone, she stepped between two potted ornamental trees, then through an arched wooden trellis that supported vines growing from large ceramic pots. The tar and gravel surface of the roof crunched beneath her soles as she moved back beyond the line of decorative plants and was invisible from the restaurant, a sinner seeking solitude.

Looking out at the city and breathing in the damp but fresh night air, she felt contentment. A cigarette, then a cappuccino, would end her day perfectly. Nicotine and caffeine. Maybe Yolanda was right about a shortened life span. She fished in her purse for her pack of Winstons and her lighter, found the crumpled package, and almost panicked when it felt empty. But when she drew the pack from her purse and tore it all the way open, she discovered one last cigarette.

She located the lighter in her purse, then moved over to stand at the low iron guard rail to take in the view while she lit the cigarette. The
Casino Queen
had moved well upriver.

A slight sound made her turn, unlit cigarette in one hand, lighter in the other.

From the shadows beneath the trellis, a tall woman emerged. When she moved into the light, Christine saw that she was quite pretty, wearing dark slacks and a light sweater with a bright scarf at her throat. Her shoulder-length red hair hung over one side of her face, reminding Christine, who was a movie buff, of an old-time film star whose name she couldn’t recall.

The tall woman smiled at her.

“The places we smokers have to go just to have a cigarette these days!” Christine said. She flicked the lighter and raised it to her cigarette, sensing that the woman was studying her on the other side of the flame.

As she inhaled, exhaled, and dropped the lighter back into her purse, she noticed that the woman wasn’t holding a cigarette. She seemed friendly enough, smiling as she moved toward Christine.

“You’re Christine Mathews, aren’t you?” she asked. “Chrissy?”

Christine was surprised. And curious. She tried to place the woman in memory but couldn’t.

“Yes, I am,” she said. “Though not many people call me Chrissy.”

“So young,” the woman said. “I just knew you’d be young.” She was still smiling.

“Do we know each other?” Christine asked, beginning to feel an edge of fear.

“I know you,” the woman said. “I’m Deirdre.”

And suddenly Christine understood. But the tornado, the mental institution, were over a hundred miles out of town…It wasn’t possible!

But of course it was possible. Merely unlikely.

“You can’t—” she said, trying hard not to believe what was happening.

She was cut off as Deirdre leaped toward her with the agility and power of a feral cat and drove an elbow into her stomach, then shoved her backward.

Christine felt the horizontal iron guard rail hard against her thighs, just beneath her buttocks. Deirdre grinned and pushed her again, driving her fist between her breasts, and Christine toppled backward over the railing, trailing a hand just in time to catch the bottom of the rail. Her heart and her horror tried to climb the tunnel of her throat as she lost her hold on the rail but managed to twist her body and grip the tile ledge with one hand, then the other, and hang suspended twenty stories above Sixth Street. She tried to scream but found only enough breath to make a soft whining sound. Her fingers began to slip on the smooth tile.

Then Deirdre was bending over her, smiling down from within the soft frame of her long red hair.
Veronica Lake,
Christine thought inanely. That was who Deirdre reminded her of, though except for the hair, she didn’t look like Veronica Lake at all.

“Please!” Christine managed to plead hoarsely. She tried to find a foothold, frantically scraping her toes against the building, but found only rough stone. One of her shoes fell off, and her heart fell with it.

Deirdre reached down with both hands, and for a second Christine thought she was going to grip her wrists and pull her to safety. This was all a joke! A horrible joke!

Instead Deirdre pressed the palms of her hands against Christine’s knuckles, pinning her fingers to the unyielding ledge, leaning her weight down hard, pushing, swiveling the heels of her hands to grind Christine’s fingers into the tile. Christine couldn’t be sure if she was still gripping the ledge or if she remained clinging there only because of the pressure of Deirdre’s hands.

Then Deirdre suddenly released the pressure and stood up straight, grinning down at Christine and holding her own hands out as if she were about to soar like Superman.

The abrupt release of Christine’s numbed fingers caused them to slip immediately. Christine tried desperately to regain her grip but no longer had any feeling in her fingertips.

It was when she knew for sure she couldn’t possibly maintain her hold that she found her voice and screamed.

She screamed all the way to the street.

After a few seconds of paralyzing shock, everyone from the outdoor restaurant came running to see what had happened. Led by the tuxedoed waiter, they burst dramatically through the potted foliage.

By then Deirdre was gone.

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