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Dead of Night
Not so pretty in death, are you.
Head twisted, back arched. Contorted mouth, eyes wide in shock, limbs all locked tight.
Now your outside looks like your inside---a black soul, an immoral soul, a horrified and horrifying soul, bound for the black pits, the depths of darkness, for eternity, ever and ever on.
Skin still warm, clothes all askew, bleached blonde hair tangled around your devious head, fragile wisps caught on your evil tongue. Dead, dead, dead and gone, and who will miss you now?
Sit back and look at you, deserving the work of my hands.
Look you up and down, your shoes kicked off in the convulsions,
wrists bent, fingers curled like the limbs of an arthritic tree, one knee drawn up toward your chest.
How hard they fall, the proud and vain and shallow.
Sweep aside the coarse, white-yellow hair. There it is.
Pretty earring. Pretty, pretty bauble, so shiny, with a big blue stone and little white stones around it, playing with the spectrum like shimmery fairies. Put my finger behind your earlobe,
move it this way and that, watch the dancing colors catch the light. My earring now, only mine, to keep and smile at and watch it shine.
How to take it? It is connected to your ear, right through it.
Silly, arrogant woman, piercing holes in your body in the name of beauty. Like her. She was self-absorbed and flirtatious, making eyes at the men, swaying hips and pouting lips, and meanwhile the child saw and was unseen, and no one else knew,
and no one else cared, and who would tend the child?
Pull. Tug. Rip at the earring, and still it will not come. It latches to your ear like a leech. You defy me, even in death, you shout to me in your silence that you will not be dejeweled, not be robbed of the sparkly outward display of your wretched and gaudy heart.
Hurry away,my footsteps scuffing the kitchen floor to grab what I need. I grip the handle, one finger testing the blade. I
will take the prize from you, and your yawning mouth will scream in silence, but no one else knows, and no one else cares, and who will tend to you?
The earring is mine.
Hold it close to my eyes. Feel the hardness of the stone with my finger, tip it, turn it, watch the light play, the fading light of the setting sun. Darkness creeps toward the earth like it has crept over you, and to the ground you will go, ashes to ashes and dust to dust, to be remembered no more, to wither and rot.
In the dead of night you will be taken. As the dead of night,
so shall you ever be.
Tuesday, June 21
The moment before it began, I stood in my bedroom, folding clothes.
In the last year I've developed a kind of sixth sense---a lingering smudge from my brushes with death. A sense that jerks my head up and sets my eyes roving, my ears attentive to the slightest sound. Nerves tingle at the back of my neck,
then pinprickle down my arms and spine. The sensations surge through my body almost before I consciously register what caused them. Sometimes they are right; sometimes they are overreactions to mere surprise.
Experience has taught me to err on the side of caution.
And with five local murders in as many months, I was already on edge.
My arms stopped to hover over my bed, a half-folded shirt dangling from both hands.
The male voice echoed up from our great room one floor below---a voice I didn't recognize. It mixed surliness with a throaty growl, like stirred gravel.
I didn't hear the doorbell.
'Hey!' The voice again, impatient.
My thoughts flashed to Kelly, my fourteen-year-old. She'd fallen asleep down there, on one of the oversize couches near the fireplace. My daughter in a vulnerable position . . . some man I didn't know standing over her?
Kelly gasped---loudly enough for me to hear.With the expansive wooden floor and the wood wainscoting of our great room, sounds echo. The fear in that gasp jolted me into action. Almost before I knew what I was doing, I'd run for my purse on the nightstand. My fingers fumbled, looking,
searching.Within seconds I felt the smooth, frightening comfort of my gun.
I yanked it out.
No time to think. Pure instinct took over. Hadn't Chetterling told me it would? I wrapped my hands around the gun, trigger finger ready, and sneak-sprinted down the hall.
Below me, the great room jerked into view through banister railings. I skidded to a halt at the landing and nearly dropped the gun. My terrified eyes fixed on an unknown man in profile to me, hulking over Kelly. He was in his early twenties.
Big---maybe six two?---with vein-laden, bulging biceps. The wide nose and lips of an African American, but with dustycolored skin. Light brown hair in thick dreadlocks. Kelly had raised up on one elbow, mouth open, her expression a freezeframe of shock.
My legs assumed the stance Chetterling had taught me.
Feet apart and planted firmly. My arms stretched before me over the banister, gun pointed at the man's head.
He jerked toward me, eyes widening. Both arms raised shoulder height, large fingers spread. 'Hello.Wait one minute.
I was just looking for Stephen.'
His cultured tone so surprised me that I almost lowered the gun. From the looks of him, I'd expected more of an urban hip-hop. Annie, keep it together; he's right near Kelly! I
stared at him, breath shuddering. How could this be happening?
I'd drawn a gun on someone. Someone who stood right next to my daughter. 'Back away from her.'
He retreated one step.
What if this was the man who'd killed those five women?
'Would you mind putting the gun away?' He shuffled back two more steps, but he couldn't go far. Another three feet and he'd hit the armchair facing the fireplace.To his left sat a big glass-topped coffee table, to his right the sofa where
Any second he could lunge for her, pull her in front of him as a shield. What would I do? Chetterling, we never practiced anything like this!
'Look.' Sulkiness and an arrogant irritation now coated his voice. 'I was just going to ask her about Stephen; you don't have to threaten my life.'
My insides shook, but my hands did not waver.When I
spoke, my voice carried the cynical disgust of a policeman on patrol. 'I don't recall anyone letting you in the house.'
'The door was unlocked.'
Unlocked. Still, that was hardly an invitation. My jaw clenched. 'You in the habit of just walking into people's homes?'
Anger tromped up my spine. How dare he act so nonchalant?
'Well, let me tell you something---you picked the wrong house to walk in to.'