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The Cruelest Cut
By RICK REED
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2011 Rick Reed
All rights reserved.
Dr. Anne Lewis stood in the doorway of her garage and looked toward the back door of her house. The television weatherman had it wrong again. "Partly cloudy with a ten percent chance of rain" had turned into a raging thunderstorm. If I wait it will stop soon. It can't rain this hard for long, can it? she wondered.
Then she heard the phone ringing inside the house.
She muttered an expletive and ran. She was thoroughly soaked when she got inside and, of course, the phone had stopped ringing.
"Probably just a telemarketer," she said out loud, a little put out that her husband, Don, had not answered the phone. Since his retirement last year, all he had done was lie around the house, read the newspapers, watch sports, and make a mess.
She sighed and straightened a picture frame near the back door on her way into the bathroom for a towel. At the sink she dried herself and looked in the mirror. Her hair had turned prematurely gray in college — many years ago — but still had a shine to it that made it remarkable. Not that Don noticed anymore.
But she wasn't really being fair to him. After all, they had been married forty-three years. Both of them had been driven by careers, so they had never found time for children. Also not his fault, but still she wondered sometimes what her life would have been like if they'd had kids.
With Don's retirement last year, and her planned retirement at the end of this year, maybe she was just going through growing pains. Thirty-plus years of working in the psychiatric field had made her too introspective. She leaned close to the mirror and looked into her sky blue eyes.
What do psychiatrists do when they retire? she wondered. Teach? Travel? Slowly go insane?
She pushed the thought away and glanced once more at herself, smoothed her damp hair, and then dabbed a tissue at the eyeliner that streaked her face.
"Not bad for an old dame," she said and smiled. But as she started to leave the bathroom she noticed an odor. "My God, something smells like a wet dog!" she said and sniffed the hand towel. That wasn't it. "Please don't let it be the septic." The last time it had cost them a small fortune to repair the septic system, and then there was the smell and the mess with the whole backyard dug up.
How could he put up with this smell all day? Where is he?
She left the downstairs bathroom and walked through the house.
Surely he isn't still in bed!
She started up the stairs but stopped at the top step; a cold chill ran the length of her spine.
"Hi, Doc. Remember us?" A fist slammed into her sternum, crushing the breath from her and causing an explosion behind her eyes.
* * *
She woke to the most extreme pain she had ever experienced. Wherever she was, it was pitch black and her eyes hurt.
How long have I been unconscious? What happened?
She couldn't see, but she could tell she was propped into a sitting position against something hard. She tried to move but could only turn her head from side to side. She managed to wiggle her fingers and toes but could barely feel them. Something was crammed into her mouth, causing her jaws to ache.
Then she remembered the man. Although she couldn't place him, he had looked familiar. The professional, analytical part of her mind kicked in. Had she seen him in the newspaper or on television recently? No, that wasn't it. Was he a patient?
Whoever he was, it was clear that he was angry and quite capable of hurting her. And where was her husband? She wondered if Don, too, had been tied up somewhere.
Sudden pain. A blindingly bright light shone in her eyes. She tried to close them but couldn't.
"Wakey, wakey," a voice said.
She tried again to shut her eyes.
"Your eyelids are taped open. We don't want you to miss anything, Dr. Lewis."
He knows my name!
She tried to talk, to ask him what he wanted, why he was doing this to her, but was unable to speak because of the gag.
"Yeah — taped your mouth shut, too."
Oh my God, where is Don? What has happened to my husband, you bastard?
As if he had read her mind, the intruder trained the flashlight beam next to her and, with a gloved hand, turned her head in that direction.
Anne Lewis looked into the bloody and empty eye sockets of her husband's face. His body was bound and propped on the bed beside her. Where his mouth should have been was a bloody, cavernous hole. His lips had been crudely cut off, most of his teeth smashed out or broken, tongue cut out. She tried to look away but couldn't. Hot bile rose from her stomach and, finding no other avenue, it erupted from her nose.
"Now look what you've done, Anne," the voice chastised softly, as if correcting an errant child. "And you're supposed to be a professional woman."
The blow to her face came unexpectedly, and she almost choked on the gag. Her vision blurred, and she felt herself blacking out.
"Don't you pass out on us, bitch!"
The intruder yanked her head up by her hair, slamming the back of her skull into the headboard hard enough to make stars swim behind her eyes. Another blow to her chest took her breath, and she felt an explosion inside her skull as the world danced around her.
She heard something ripping and then felt her head being secured to the upright rails of the headboard with something sticky. Tape.
His voice took on a childlike tone. "Punch and Judy fought for a pie. Punch gave Judy a knock in the eye. Says Punch to Judy, will you have any more? Says Judy to Punch, my eyes are too sore." He laughed heartily.
Fear racked her body as she, too late, recognized her assailant. She was quite certain she was going to die.
"Well, Anne, Bobby's waiting, and I promised that I'd make this quick." He grabbed her by the throat, and said, "But I lied. I'm gonna make it as painful as I can. Practice makes perfect, you know."CHAPTER 2
Jack wiped the shaving cream from his face and looked in the mirror.
"Why, Detective Jack Murphy, you are one good-looking hunk of manliness," Susan Summers said from behind him.
Murphy looked in the mirror again and then gave her a questioning look. "Are you seeing the same thing I am?"
His face was cleanly shaven, but that only made the thick, white scar — running from below his right ear, across his chest, and ending above the left nipple — stand out from his skin like a thick, white snake. It was hard to believe that he had been put in the hospital twice in as many months
He smiled at Susan. "You're right. I'm a stud muffin," he said in a sarcastic tone.
She laughed and snuggled against him, nuzzling his neck. "Don't be so vain, Jack. The scars make you look dangerous. Women can't resist a dangerous man."
She backed away, and he watched in the mirror as she slipped into one of his long-sleeved shirts. He admired her body and wondered for the umpteenth time how he had ever attracted a beautiful woman almost ten years his junior.
Susan was a runner and had already completed three miles along the river roads before he had gotten out of bed. Her body was tan, her muscles firm, and the curves were all in the right places. Her strawberry-blond hair, which she usually wore down, was pulled back to show the smooth curve of her neck; her eyes were a bluish-green that reminded him of the sea.
She gave him a peck on the cheek and headed toward the kitchen, and as she did he checked out the part of her that never failed to make his heart race.
She said over her shoulder, "If you don't stop checking out my butt and get dressed, you'll be late for your first day back, Romeo."
"Whoops," he said, and looked one more time in the mirror at the scar on his neck. The doctor said the itching was a good thing; it meant his cut was healing. It had finally stopped keeping him awake with its insistent, burning itch, but it looked like hell. The doctor had also said the scar would eventually blend in. He wondered what it would blend in with, and then thought that if his face were a pizza, it would probably blend in. Meanwhile, he looked like shit.
With Susan in the kitchen, the sounds of pots and pans rattling and banging could never be mistaken for cooking, but her skills with a microwave were superb and she had a thorough knowledge of pizza delivery routes.
The thought of Susan naked made him smile. She was an excellent lover and a kind and caring woman. When he was released from the hospital, Susan had taken over as his personal nurse. That was a real step up from the physical therapist who had kept him screaming profanities in the hospital. The nurse's name tag identified her as an R.N. Jack had asked her if that stood for "Retired Nazi," and she had stretched his painful wound even tighter. So much for the "angel of mercy" label, he had thought.
Susan, however, had babied and pampered him, and spent more time at his cabin than at her own home. She had fed and dressed him, treating him like a sick child.
At first he'd enjoyed the attention from Susan, especially the sex. But there was a problem. His ex-wife Katie. She seemed to pop into his mind daily. Everything they did, places they went, and somehow he couldn't help but compare everything in his present life to his past life with Katie.
He and Katie had been married for five years, divorced for almost a year now. He'd hoped they could fix the problems between them, and maybe get on with their life together, but the things that had driven them apart were still there. He was still married to his job. He was still someone who would stupidly run into danger instead of away from it. And when he got on to a case, he couldn't let go. He would work day and night until it was finished.
Katie had wanted a stable, safe relationship. One where her man came home from work at five, ate a meal and chatted about how their days had been, made love, and then didn't have to leave at the drop of a hat. That would never be his life.
"Are you ever coming out of there?" Susan's voice came from the direction of the kitchen.
Jack closed his eyes, willing the thoughts of Katie from his mind, and feeling guilty about having them. He rallied and stepped into the kitchen, naked. "No. I'm not coming back to bed. And you can't make me, woman. By God, you're an animal."
She unbuttoned the shirt she was wearing and walked slowly toward him, and then let it slide to the floor.
"I told you that you couldn't handle me," she whispered in his ear.
Later, he took a quick shower and dressed in the clothes Susan had laid out. He normally wore a suit and tie to work, but today he was going to wear slacks with a soft knit golf shirt. There was no way he could stand a tie around his neck.
"Susan, have I told you how much I appreciate everything you've done?"
"Yeah. Only about ten thousand times," she said and rolled her eyes. "I've never met anyone so reluctant to be taken care of. Before I met you, I thought men only wanted a maid that would sleep with them."
"Well, now that you mention it, I still have about thirty minutes before I have to report in."
"You're a bad man, Jack Murphy."
He wrapped his arms around her small waist and said, "I mean it. I can never repay you for what you've done. All of it." He bent and kissed her on the forehead.
"Oh. I think you can do better than that," she said and gave him a long, deep kiss.
When their lips parted, he looked at her and felt himself becoming aroused again. She must have felt it too because she pulled away, saying, "I've made coffee."
"Be right there," he said as she left the room. He took his department-issued pistol out of the dresser drawer, released the clip, dropped it onto the bed, and worked the action several times. He deftly disassembled the pistol, blew lint from anyplace it had accumulated during the month he had been home, reassembled it, then slammed the loaded clip into the butt and jacked a round into the chamber.
The Model 36 Glock .45 is a work of art. Weighing seven ounces less than its big brother, the Model 21, it is more compact and carries an awesome ten rounds of .45-caliber firepower. Unloaded, the pistol weighs about the same as the ammunition. Each round of .45-caliber, brass-jacketed, hollow-point ammunition is capable of striking the human body with the force of a sledgehammer.
Jack slipped the gun into its holster and slipped it onto his belt. He'd forgotten how heavy the gun was and was surprised to see that he'd lost a bit of weight. He tightened his belt to the last notch.
Going into the kitchen he poured a cup of coffee and saw that Susan had gone out to the front porch.
* * *
Eddie's normally close-cropped dark hair had gotten long in prison. He liked it that way. And his almost waiflike physique had turned into a sculpted mass of muscle. Lifting weights several hours a day, eating regularly, and the desire to stay alive tended to do that to a convict. The only thing he'd changed after he got out of the pen six weeks ago was his tan. The constant fluorescent lighting had a way of making a man's skin look like roadkill, but there was no way he was going in the outside exercise yard without a shirt and denim jacket. Denim didn't stop a shiv — a homemade knife — but it was better protection than nothing.
Eddie picked up the binoculars when he saw a light come on inside the cabin. Someone was moving around, but his angle of view didn't allow him to see inside. He had first spotted some movement over an hour ago. Murphy must be putting on his makeup, Eddie thought and smiled at his own humor. But then he thought maybe Murphy had gone back to bed because it had been so damn quiet for the last hour. His ass was hurting, and his legs were getting stiff from sitting on the wet ground along the river bank.
He twisted the focus knob and grumbled at his brother, "Dammit! I told you we shoulda got the good ones!"
"We ain't got no money, Eddie," Bobby said.
Eddie couldn't help but notice how bad Bobby was looking. His skin was sallow, and his muscle tone was that of a man thirty years older. Bobby had always been the leader. The strong one. The one that all the girls wanted. But being on the run for the better part of a month was taking its toll on them both.
Bobby stretched out on the ground, hands tucked behind his head, and stared up into the empty October sky. Eddie didn't understand how Bobby could be so calm. It was all Eddie could do to keep from kicking in the cabin door and finishing this business.
"We could find a cabin like Murphy's to stay in. I'm sick of livin' in roach-infested motels, Bobby. Worse yet, I'm fucking tired of sleeping on the ground out here. That damn river stinks worse than you do." He hoped that would get a rise out of Bobby, but Bobby just looked at him and shook his head.
"And if we take over one a these cabins out here, what do we do with whoever's living in the cabin, Eddie?"
Eddie thought about it. "We kill 'em. Sink their bodies in the river."
Bobby sat up and looked at his brother.
"Well," Eddie demanded. "Why not?"
"Because someone might come around looking for them, ya think? And then what? Kill everyone that comes to the door?"
"Well, shit!" Eddie spat on the rocks. "That's bullshit." But he knew his brother was right. Bobby was always right.
Motion from the cabin caught Eddie's eye. He raised the binoculars again just in time to see the cabin door open and a very shapely strawberry-blond woman walk onto the porch. She was carrying a coffee mug and wearing only a long-sleeved shirt, unbuttoned most of the way down. When she lifted the cup to drink he could see her panties. He'd never seen her almost naked before.
"Well, I'll be damned," he said to his brother, and as much as he hated Jack Murphy, he had to give him credit for his taste in women. Of course, that meant that he was disappointed in Susan Summers for exactly the same reason. What would she see in a piece of shit like Murphy?
"Looks like Murphy's shacked up regular-like with our lady parole officer," Eddie said.
The look on Bobby's face said it all. He couldn't believe Murphy's luck either. Murphy didn't deserve any luck. He was a bastard.
Eddie sat down next to his brother and said, "This is what kills me, bro. Here we are, almost homeless, and that murdering asshole is living it up." He jabbed a finger at the cabin. "Look at that place. He's got a nice boat and even got a goddamn private dock!"
Bobby just shrugged.
"Fuck him, man!" he said and spit in the water. "Why him? Why not us?"
"Let it go, Eddie," Bobby warned. "Murphy's only got one thing we want. We don't need his cabin, or his boat, or even that slut of a parole officer. When we're through with him, he won't have nothin' — not even his life."
Excerpted from The Cruelest Cut by RICK REED. Copyright © 2011 Rick Reed. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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