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The Stalker watched from the window of Seth's Deli, a copy of the Post open in front of him, a mug of decaf coffee in his hand. He had already paid in cash and left a twenty-percent tip. Once, a long time ago, he had waited tables. It had been a far different setting, but the dishes and cups had been just as dirty, with people leaving used napkins in which they had blown their noses or spat upon or stuffed into quarter-filled coffee cups.
He sat so that he could watch the glass doors of the building across the street. It was the perfect place to wait for her to come out. The problem was that he couldn't come here too often. He didn't want to be remembered, even though, given the morning swirl of waitresses and customers and the clanking of plates and the calling in of orders, it was unlikely he would be noticed. The cliché was that New Yorkers were too self-absorbed and in a hurry to pay much, if any, attention to other people.
But most of the people around him were only New Yorkers because for the moment, for a few weeks, months, or years, they resided here. They were white, brown, black, or yellow, and many had either the hint of an accent or the thick coating of one from another part of the country, or another part of the world.
He, on the other hand, had been born in the city and, with only one long absence, had remained in it. His family had come over from County Cork in Ireland before the Civil War. He had relatives who had died in that war, and some every war since, including his father.
He was at home in the city. Or he had been until the person he was stalking had taken the life of the last person on earth he loved.
The double glass doors of the building across the street opened and she walked out. Another woman, whom he had seen with her before, was at her side, as was a man in a shirt and tie. The women were carrying blue plastic kits that looked vaguely like fishing tackle boxes. The man was empty-handed, but the Stalker knew that tucked into a holster at the back of the man's belt was a pistol.
He got up from the table, folded the newspaper under his right arm and moved toward the door. He would make his notes in the book in his pocket as soon as he had time. He had filled eight identical books with notes. Those books sat in a neat pile in his dresser drawer, lined up chronologically. The first one began three months ago.
As he stepped into the morning heat and looked up at the sun, he felt a hint of satisfaction. The day would be hot, gritty. He would need a long shower and shampoo, but that would come later, much later.
Heat waves, like the one the city was presently going through, probably claimed more lives each year than floods, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. And the greatest human toll was in the cities, where the area of heat-absorbing dark roofs and pavements exceeds the area covered by cooling vegetation. Rural areas got some relief when temperatures dropped at night. The people of a city like New York were under further risk of health damage because of pre-existing stress on the body's respiratory and circulatory systems partly due to air pollution.
People were irritable, just as they had been in 1972 when New York suffered a two-week heat wave that claimed 891 lives. The Stalker had been here in 1972, but he did not remember suffering. Suffering had come twenty years earlier in a land far away, a land about which he cared little. The heat of 1972 had been no more than a minor annoyance. He remembered that the burning heat had kept people inside, cut his income in half for two weeks. Today people were also staying home. The present temperature was a humid 103 degrees. Power was failing as people turned on their air conditioners full blast. Emergency rolling blackouts were in effect.
He knew where the three people across the street were headed: the garage where the Crime Scene Unit cars were parked. His rental car, a dark blue Honda Civic, was parked directly in front of the deli in front of a fire hydrant. He would not be towed. He would get no ticket. He had turned down his sunshade so that the card he had placed there could be seen. The card read: EMERGENCY MEDICAL TREATMENT, CITY OF NEW YORK.
He used his remote button to open the car's doors and climbed into a chamber of searing heat. He removed the card from the sunshade, put it on the seat next to him and left the shade down.
He sat silently, savoring the moment of sudden, intense sauna heat before starting the car and turning on the air conditioner, which blew hot air into his face for a few seconds before starting to cool.
He did not delude himself as he drove slowly into traffic. He knew what he was. He was a stalker. Actually, he took pride in the title. He was good at it, had studied it. But he wouldn't be a stalker much longer. He would become an executioner, and the person whose photograph he now removed from his pocket and placed on the seat next to him would be the executed.
In the photograph -- as in life -- she looked serious, pretty, confident; a woman, not a girl. Stella Bonasera was her name, and she had made an error, a terrible, irreversible error, for which she would pay. Soon. Copyright ©2006 by CBS Broadcasting Inc. and Alliance Atlantis Productions, Inc.