A Repairman Jack Novel
By F. Paul Wilson
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2007 F. Paul Wilson
All rights reserved.
It was happening again ...
In the driver's seat, hands on the steering wheel, gunning the panel truck across Second Avenue toward the blond woman and her little girl ...
... gaining speed ...
... seeing their shocked, terrified expressions as he floors the gas ...
... feeling the impacts as he plows into them ...
... watching their limp, broken bodies flying as he races past, never slowing, never hesitating, never even looking back.
Jack awoke with his jaw locked and his fists clenched. He forced himself to relax, to reach out and lay a hand on the reassuring curve of Gia's hip where she slumbered next to him.
The dream again. Easy enough to interpret: He blamed himself for the hit-and-run, so his mind put him behind the wheel. Obvious.
What wasn't obvious was the timing. The dream occurred only under a certain condition: It meant the watcher was back.
Jack slipped from her bed to the window. The blinds were drawn against the glow from the streetlights. He peeked around the edge and ...
There he was.
As usual he stood at the corner, facing Gia's townhouse, wearing his customary homburg and overcoat; his right hand rested on the head of a walking stick. His position silhouetted him against the lights of the traffic passing on Sutton Place and caused the brim of his hat to shadow his face.
A big man and, if the slight stoop of his shoulders was any clue, elderly. Jack had first seen him outside his own apartment back in January ...just days before the hit-and-run. And lately he'd been showing up outside Gia's.
Jack had never been able to catch the guy. Not for lack of trying. He'd gone after him dozens of times, but the old guy seemed to know when Jack was coming.
Somehow the watcher always managed to stay one step ahead. If Jack waited inside the front door, dressed and ready to give chase, or sat in his car or hid in a doorway, watching the corner, the guy didn't show. Last month Jack had waited ten nights in a row — inside and outside, from uptown, downtown, and crosstown vantage points.
On the eleventh night he called it quits and went to bed. That night he had the dream again and, sure enough, a peek through the blinds confirmed the watcher's presence.
Deciding to give it another shot, Jack grabbed his jeans and hopped into them as he headed for the hall. He hurried down to the first floor and jammed his bare feet into his sneakers where they waited in the front foyer. Then out the door in a headlong dash across the street to the corner.
The empty corner.
But Jack didn't break his stride. This had happened every time — in the half minute or less it took him to reach the street the guy in the homburg disappeared. All it took was a few steps to put him around the corner and out of sight, but there was more to it.
Jack reached the corner and kept going, racing along Sutton Place for a full block, peering into every nook and cranny along the way. Tonight's attempt ended the same as all the others: nada.
His breath steaming in the night air, Jack stood on the deserted sidewalk, turning in a slow circle. Where did the son of a bitch go? Maybe a sleek Olympic-class sprinter could race out of sight in that short time. But some big old guy with a cane?
Didn't make sense.
But then, why should it? Nothing else did.
Check that: Events of the past year did make sense, but not in the usual way. Not the sort of sense that the average person could understand — or want to.
Jack rubbed his bare arms. It might be spring — mid-April — but the temperature was in the low forties. A bit cool for just a T-shirt.
He took one last look around, then hurried back to Gia's warm bed.
Someone said you might be able to help me. I need to keep my daughter from making a terrible mistake.
Jack stared at the last of the messages forwarded from his Web site, repairmanjack.com. None would have been of much interest even if he were working now. He'd blow them off later.
He'd looked into starting a site on MySpace because its sheer size provided an anonymity of sorts, but he'd almost bailed when he discovered that domains repairmanjack, repairman-jack, and repairman_jack were already taken. What the hell? He'd finally had to settle for www.myspace.com/fix_its.
But after setting it up he realized only other MySpace members could contact him there, so he'd kept his original as well.
"Jack? Can I bother you for a minute?"
Though he was in the study and Gia upstairs, Jack could hear the distress in her voice. He had a pretty good idea what was wrong.
"Be right there."
He took a quick sip of coffee and glanced at the computer's time display. Vicky was going to miss her bus if they didn't hustle.
He took the stairs two at a time to the second floor.
"Where are you?"
He walked in and found the two loves of his life sitting on the bed, Vicky facing away, Gia behind her, holding on to her long dark hair.
"I can't do it," Gia said, looking up at him with American-flag eyes: blue on white with red rims. "I still can't do it."
Gia looked too thin. Her weight was still down since the accident. She'd lost a lot during the coma and the early recovery period, but wasn't regaining it now that she was almost back to normal. Though not exactly sunken, her cheeks weren't as full, giving her a haggard look. She still cried now and then but, despite her therapist's advice, resisted taking an antidepressant.
She'd let her blond hair grow to the point where it was now longer than he'd ever seen it, covering her ears and the nape of her neck.
But at the moment Vicky's hair was the problem: Gia had started weaving the back into a French braid but had botched it badly. Not as badly as she had in preceding weeks, but still ...she used to be able to do this in thirty seconds — with her eyes closed. Now ...
"Look at this mess."
Jack crouched beside her and kissed her cheek.
"You're getting better every day. Just keep at it. You know what Doctor Kline said."
"'Practice, practice, practice.'" She sighed. "But it's so frustrating sometimes I want to scream."
And sometimes she did. But never when Vicky was around. Jack would hear her in another room, from another floor. He wondered how often she screamed when she was here alone.
Vicky half-turned her head. "Am I going to be late for school, Mommy?"
"You'll be fine, honey."
Some things had improved in the three months since the accident, but by no means had life returned to normal. Jack doubted it ever would. The broken bones had healed, but scars remained, on the body, the brain, the psyche.
Vicky had the best chance of leaving it all behind. The unborn sister she'd been waiting for would not arrive, and she'd accepted that. Emma had been no more than a bulge in her mother's belly and an image on an ultrasound monitor, not a little person she could see and touch.
Not so Gia. Three months ago she'd stepped off a curb as a mother-to-be and awakened days later to learn she'd lost the baby. Emma had been very real to Gia, a little person who'd turned and kicked inside her. More real to Gia than to her father, Jack.
Gia's scars ran deep.
And not being able to care fully for Vicky slowed their healing.
Her motor skills hadn't returned to normal yet, though they were worlds better than when she'd come out of her coma. With physical and occupational therapy she'd recovered about ninety percent of her manual dexterity, but it was the missing ten percent that was killing her.
She couldn't braid Vicky's hair.
And she couldn't draw or paint — at least not like she used to.
Which meant she couldn't make a living. Graphic art paid her bills, but her personal paintings soothed her soul. She worked daily at both in her third-floor studio, but didn't like much of what she produced commercially, and wouldn't show Jack her private paintings. He worried she'd one day explode and he'd find her splattered all over her studio.
"Am I going to be late for school, Mommy?"
Gia said, "You just asked me that, remember?"
Vicky frowned, then nodded. "Oh, right."
Vicky's only deficit was her short-term memory, but that was steadily improving. The neurologist said she'd be back to normal in a few more months. Her teachers were taking that into account and cutting her some major slack.
Jack looked around at the bookshelves lining the wall of her high-ceilinged bedroom. The good news was that Vicky was still a voracious reader. He glanced at her Jets banner — she remained a devoted fan — and at the four too-handsome faces crowded onto her Boyville poster — still her favorite music group, unfortunately.
Gia was unraveling the botched braid.
"You'd better do it or she'll be late."
As she rose to let Jack take her place, he gripped her elbow.
"Okay, but coach me. I still haven't got this down."
Not true. He'd helped so many times he could do it in his sleep.
So she stood over his shoulder and talked him through brushing out the hair, separating a nice fat lock, then poking his index and middle fingers through to divide it into three fat strands. Then the tricky part of keeping the strands in the webs of his fingers as he picked up new strands while braiding.
"Now ...which one do I start with?"
He felt a gentle punch on his back and heard a soft laugh from Gia.
"As if you didn't know."
She kneaded his shoulders as he worked.
"Boy, if the guys at Julio's could see you now."
"Why do you say that?"
"Well, I doubt this is the guy they know."
"Maybe not. But you wouldn't hear a peep out of them."
"No rib nudging? No wisecracks?"
He looked up and winked at her. "Because of the guy they know."
He finished the weave — something very comforting about working with Vicky's hair — and tied it off with a blue elastic band.
"There. Not bad for a guy, ay?"
Gia bent and kissed his cheek. "Actually it's great. And thanks for being so patient."
He looked at her. "Patient? What's patient got to do with it?"
"Everything. It's not one of your strong points. Just ...thanks for putting up with me."
As she hurried Vicky downstairs, Jack remained on the bed, staring out Vicky's window at the still-bare trees and feeling low. Worse than low. Like a rat. And a cowardly one at that.
Patient? Of course he was patient. He would be patient with her under any circumstance. And considering how he was the cause of all the trauma that had befallen her and Vicky, how else could he be?
But she didn't know that. Because he hadn't told her. Yet.
Gia, the accident that killed our baby, that almost killed you and your daughter, that left the two of you with broken bodies and battered brains, was no accident.
When would be a good time to say that? When would it be okay to tell her it had happened because he cared for them, because they mattered to him, because the baby carried his bloodline?
Would there ever be a right time?
"Dollar for your thoughts?"
Jack jumped. "Hey."
Gia looked down at him. "You seemed a million miles away."
Her eyes bore into his. "Didn't look like happy thoughts."
He shrugged. "They weren't. Can you think of much to be happy about?"
She smiled. "I'm alive, Vicky's alive, and it's been great having you stay with us. So look on the bright side."
Yeah. The bright side: moving in here to take care of them after they were released from rehab. Not easy, but maybe the most rewarding thing he'd ever done.
She kissed the top of his head. "Okay, we're heading for the bus stop, then I'm off to OT."
"Want me to drive you?"
She shook her head. "A cab'll have me there by the time you degarage the car. See you for lunch?"
"It's a date."
"Got anything planned for the morning?"
"Probably hang with Abe."
She looked down at him. "No business?"
"What about that lady who wants help for her daughter?"
"I just saw it on the screen downstairs. She sounds worried."
Jack shrugged. "I'm on hiatus."
"You're bored is what you are. You've made our troubles your troubles, but we're coming out of those troubles. You need a break."
Couldn't argue with that. The less and less Gia and Vicky needed him, the more restless he'd become.
Gia squeezed his shoulder. "Why don't you see what she wants."
He looked up at her. "I believe I'm having an out-of-Gia experience."
She laughed — a sound he didn't hear nearly enough these days.
"Seriously," he said. "This doesn't sound like you."
"Maybe it's a new me. I know spending all your time hanging around here or at Abe's isn't you. I know who you are. I thought I could change you but I realize I can't. I'm no longer sure I want to. You are who you are and I love who you are, so why don't you go out and be who you are?"
Jack stared at her. She meant it — she really meant it. A crack about the lingering effects of brain trauma leaped to mind but he quashed it. Not funny.
"Maybe I'm not so sure who I am anymore."
"You know. It's in your blood. See what the lady wants."
"Doesn't sound like my kind of thing."
"Maybe not, but it's her daughter."
The last word hung in the air.
Daughter ... like Vicky was to him, emotionally if not legally ... like Emma would have been if not for ...
He remembered the message: I need to keep my daughter from making a terrible mistake.
Like what? Getting involved with a guy like me?
No ... he wasn't going there again. He'd been there too many times.
"Maybe I'm not on hiatus. Maybe I'm retired."
A wry smile: "Then why are you checking the Web site? As a matter of fact, if you're retired, why keep it up and running at all?"
"Maybe I just haven't got around to shutting it down."
"And maybe you need a diversion, Jack. Go on, give her a call. If it's not in your ballpark, simply beg off." She kissed him and headed for the door. "Gotta run. Think about it."
He sat a moment longer. When he heard the front door close he forced himself to his feet. Lots of inertia lately. Too long since he'd awakened with his own agenda for the day.
He ambled downstairs and into the study where he stood and stared at the screen.
Someone said you might be able to help me ...
She'd included her phone number.
What mistake do you think your daughter's going to make, lady? And why do you think a stranger will be able to do anything about it?
Okay. He'd bite. Couldn't see any down side to giving her a call.
"Nu?" Abe said as Jack approached his perch at the back of the store carrying a paper bag. "Two days in a row — what's the occasion?"
A lot had changed in Jack's life since January, but not Abe's place. The Isher Sports Shop — with its high shelves precariously jammed with dusty sporting goods that no one ever saw, let alone bought, the scarred counter at the rear, the four-legged stool where the proprietor perched in his food-stained white half-sleeve shirt and shiny black pants — remained a constant star in his firmament.
"Nowhere else to go."
"And on me you chose to bestow your presence."
"I figured you'd be lonely."
"So this is charity?"
"It is." He emptied the bag onto the counter. "And so's this."
Abe picked up the package of bagels and stared. His raised eyebrows furrowed his largely naked scalp — his hairline had started retreating with the glaciers.
"What's this? Low-cal bagels you bring me? What's a low-cal bagel? And whipped low-fat cream cheese? Why do you torture me?"
Jack ignored the question because Abe already knew the answer: His ever-expanding waistline concerned Jack. Not for aesthetic reasons — a skinny Abe would be a frightening sight — but he worried it would shorten his best friend's life.
"Have you weighed yourself recently?"
"I was on the scale just yesterday."
"And? What did it say?"
"I couldn't see it. My belly was in the way. They should design these things so people like me can read them."
"Come on, Abe. If it could speak it would have screamed in pain."
Abe sighed. "I did see the number. Very high."
"As much as one of the moons of Jupiter, I'll bet."
"When I read it, I had to face an inescapable fact."
"That you need to diet, right?"
"No. That I need a new scale. My old one is obviously broken."
Jack closed his eyes and shook his head. "You sucked me right into that one, didn't you."
"What can I say? I'm shameless."
"Why do I even try? Next time I'll stop at Muller's on the way." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Bloodline by F. Paul Wilson. Copyright © 2007 F. Paul Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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