Authors: John Lutz
Tags: #Mystery fiction, #Police, #Serial murders, #Mystery & Detective, #New York (N.Y.), #General, #Psychological, #Suspense fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Quinn; Frank (Fictitious character), #Detectives - New York (State) - New York
Homicide detective Frank Quinn can’t stay retired when a new breed of murdering madman is on the prowl.
In a city terrorized by bloody brutality, Quinn and his team hunt a psychopath who lures beautiful women into a night of unbridled passion, then wakes them to a vicious, drawn-out death. Stumbling over a trail of horribly defiled bodies, Quinn can’t seem to catch up to the killer—because the killer is about to catch up to him.
The author wishes to acknowledge the invaluable aid of Marilyn Davis and Sharon Huston.
They change their skies above them, But not their hearts that roam.
Why do I often meet your visage here? Your eyes like agate lanterns—on and on Below the toothpaste and the dandruff ads?
(New York Subway)
In the long ago an eagle circled high above a rabbit burrow and would swoop down and lay on the ground a branch of ripe berries, and then climb high again into the sky.
The rabbit would see how high the eagle was and know there was time to leave the safety of the burrow to snatch the berries and return to the burrow before the eagle could reach him from up so high.
Again the next day the eagle would swoop down and leave a branch of berries, but this time a little farther from the burrow. Again the rabbit would see the eagle circling high in the clear sky and seize the berries and return to the burrow before the eagle might reach him.
For seven days this happened, each day the rabbit venturing farther from its burrow, and the eagle simply circled high overhead and looked very small against the pale blue top of the sky. The rabbit decided the berries were a gift, but still the eagle was an eagle and not to be trusted.
On the eighth day the branch of berries was still far from the burrow, but the eagle so small in the sky seemed no threat and like a mote in the rabbit’s wary eye.
But as the rabbit left his burrow the eagle became larger, and it wasn’t an eagle at all this time but a hawk that had seemed so high only because it was smaller than the eagle the rabbit usually saw. Too late the rabbit realized what had happened. There was no time to return to the safety of the burrow.
The weak things in the world have a time to die that is sooner than the strong. That is why the spirit made the weak and the strong. In its heart, the rabbit knew this and was still.
The hawk swooped down, and its wings spread wider and wider and covered the sun and made the sky black. The hawk’s talons cut like blades into the rabbit’s back, and the rabbit screamed as the hawk lifted it higher and higher into a blackness darker than the night. The screams became the wind and the beating of the hawk’s great wings the thunder of the coming storms.
In the long-ago day, these things did happen.
Vera Doaks keyed the lock on her apartment door and told herself she needed to be patient.
She’d been in New York a little more than a month. That wasn’t a long time, and already she’d placed an article in the airline magazine
and sold a short story to a nationally published mystery magazine. Her MFA from Ohio State University was paying off. She told herself it wouldn’t be long before she wouldn’t have to wait tables in order to pay the rent. Some publisher would pay it for her.
She paused by the framed flea-market mirror in the entry hall and tilted her head to the side for a dust jacket publicity shot. The attractive redhead in the mirror smiled out at her, with wide cheekbones like a model’s, intense brown eyes, slightly upturned nose, strong cleft chin, a knowing, confident grin.
Look intelligent now.
Her famous writer look. Vera practiced it frequently.
A career as a novelist was what really interested her. The short story she’d sold was going to be the basis for her first book, a suspense novel set in her new city, New York.
She was from a small town, and she loved the hurricane of activity every day in the city, then the pulsing energy that maintained it through the nights. The theater (which she could barely afford), the delis and street vendors, the wandering transfixed tourists, the underground city of subways and tragic songs and sometimes dangerous people, the rich stepping over the poor, the poor rising up to be rich, the maelstrom of races and religions, of neighborhoods and languages and the uncertainties of life; she thrilled to all of it. Here, Vera knew, was the stuff of inspiration and of great fiction. Vera was positive she was capable of inspiration. She never gave up believing in herself. Nobody had ever explained to her satisfaction why she should.
She hadn’t given up hope on the short story and article she’d submitted, and here she was, able to pay another month’s rent on the Hell’s Kitchen walk-up apartment she’d come to love.
Love, of the romantic sort, that was the one thing missing in her unfolding life of good fortune.
There’s no need to give up hope for that, either.
She unlaced her joggers, worked her heels out of them, and kicked off the gray composite and canvas shoes so they bounced off a wall. Walked over to where her bed and a dresser were located behind a three-panel Chinese-print folding screen in the cramped efficiency apartment. From an apportioned space that passed for a closet, where one of the apartment’s many exposed water pipes served as a hanger rod, she drew out the foundation of her wardrobe—a simple black dress. It seemed that every woman in New York owned a simple black dress and was in competition with every other woman over how to wear and accessorize it. She had uncomfortable but serviceable black high-heeled pumps to wear with the dress tonight, a white scarf and pearls, a matching knockoff Prada purse she’d bought from a street vendor. And she could do wonders with her shoulder-length red hair that was almost dark enough to be auburn. She wasn’t pale, like a lot of redheads. Her dark eyes were flecked with green. Not a ravishing beauty, to be sure, but she and her black dress could compete, and they could damn well win.
It was just that so far they hadn’t.
She peeled off her faded jeans and Yankees T-shirt, then her Macy’s panties, and padded barefoot to the sectioned-off bathroom area with its cramped shower stall.
Tonight might be the night.
…The words were a melody in her mind.
What was that song from? She searched her memory.
West Side Story.
A great musical, based on
Romeo and Juliet.
The ultimate lovers.
Well, she was on the West Side.
Vera adjusted the squeaky porcelain faucet handles and stepped beneath the water.
She picked up the smooth oblong sliver of soap and began to sing, knowing that out there in the night the city pulsed like her heart and waited, and the possibilities were endless.
Total darkness, total pain.
Where am I?
Vera tried to raise her head and look around, and a deep ache closed on the back of her neck like a claw. She let her head drop backward.
That was when she realized she was hanging from her bound wrists and ankles. Her mind flashed on photos she’d seen of large dead animals, their lifeless heads dangling, being carried that way on horizontal poles by hunters. Only she wasn’t being carried; she was stationary. The pain was from her cramped neck muscles, and from her body weight pulling down on her wrists and ankles. She could see nothing in the blackness. Hear nothing.
Her head, flush with the blood rushing to it, began to throb with almost unendurable pain behind her ears. She tried to ask if anyone was there, what was happening, but her mouth wouldn’t open. Something, tape probably, was over her lips, sealing them together. She parted them with difficulty but could only make a soft muffled sound halfway between a moan and a sob. She made the pitiful sound again. Any sound was better than the darkness and silence, and the pain.
She tried again to lift her head, but it weighed a thousand pounds.
But with the thought of motion, and another stab of pain, came memory.
Last night at Risqué Business, the man she’d had a couple of drinks with…darkly handsome…well dressed in dark pants and a gray sport jacket…a red tie…and with a cosmopolitan air, what used to be called smooth.
She tried to recall his name.
Had he ever told her?
Blinding her. She involuntarily clenched her eyes shut.
When Vera did manage to open her eyes wider than slits she saw the bottom of a floor, rough wood planks running one direction, joists another. Her wrists were tied together with thick rope that had cut off circulation so that her fingers were pale. She strained to see her ankles, her feet—
are they as pale and bloodless as my hands?
—but couldn’t pull them into her field of vision. She did see several long fluorescent fixtures, two glowing tubes in each. There must be lots of fixtures. That was where all the light was coming from. And the faint, crackling buzzing.
She realized she’d been able to raise her head slightly, almost to the horizontal, and with realization came another shot of pain at the base of her neck. Her head dropped again, dangling at a sharp angle from the thin stalk of her neck.
But she managed to turn her head slightly, before the pain stopped her. She saw that she was in what looked like a large basement. Gray concrete walls, wooden support beams, exposed steam and water pipes, round ductwork with shreds of insulation hanging from some of it like grotesque stalactites.
Asbestos? Could be dangerous.
The pain became unbearable, and she tried not to move at all other than to blink away her tears.
In the glimpse she’d had of herself, confirmed by the lack of constriction on her upper arms and her legs, she knew she was nude.
What’s his name? I need to know it so I can plead, beg for him to stop whatever’s going to happen!
—someone had done this to her, put something in her drink, perhaps.
had caused her to black out, to awaken here, dangling from her bound wrists and ankles like a…She didn’t want to know what. Or didn’t want to think about it.