Read an Excerpt
By Erin Samiloglu Medallion Press, Inc.
Copyright © 2005
All right reserved.
Chapter One The murderous air thickened into gray mist around Dee Nilsson's underground tomb, but she watched with little thought and even less awareness. Time had suspended her in a mysteriously dark place, and there was no escape, no safety, only a nightmarish world which she could not leave and no one else could enter.
She reached one crippled hand to her forehead. The wound near her hairline had stopped bleeding, but the gash was deep and wide, reminding Dee of her defeat. The siege of her life had begun twelve hours ago, and she knew above all things that her death was fast approaching. The only question was when.
Minutes drowned into hours before Dee finally drew her arms around her knees and leaned back against the mud walls, resigned to her situation. The air smelled of decay and rain. A slither of light hailed from the cracks above, just bright enough to remind her of the daylight that she would never see again.
Amid the misty haze of her surroundings, Dee fought to remember. She knew, as she rubbed her hands together, as she felt the scraped soles of her feet, the light brush of her eyelids as they opened and closed over two swollen eyes, that there had been life once. She had been an energy to be reckoned with. She had been an intact person.
She flattened her hands in front of her face. Memories began to reflect in her palms like slides in a projector. Soft shards of light showed glimpses of the past and present. Her dog Jack appeared, a Maltese whom she had saved from an animal shelter just an hour before his scheduled euthanasia. In her vision, he was asleep on her bed, lying on his back near her pillows.
She saw her house in Oakland, a brick two-story with three bedrooms, one which she used for an office. A kitchen painted purple, a backyard with a screened-in porch.
She saw her parents attending church, and her younger sister stationed in Iraq playing cards with other soldiers. Dee saw her ex-fiancé in Miami, sharing a table at Starbucks with an attractive redhead. She saw herself dancing at her best friend's wedding, and walking on the Santa Monica Promenade. She saw herself graduating from UCLA and falling in love for the first time with her parents' Mexican yard boy. She saw herself happy, relaxed, anxious, laughing, delirious. Most importantly, Dee saw herself alive.
What Dee could not see, what she could not remember, was how she had arrived here, to this place. When she tried to reach back, a black cloud blocked her brain. A barricade of nothingness invaded her mental highway.
Dee closed her eyes, forcing herself to remember. Something, she thought. Something has to trigger something.
And then something closely resembling a male voice spoke inside the darkness:
Can't remember how you got here, sugar pie?
The noise startled Dee. Until now she had been under the impression that she was alone. "Who's there?" she asked as her eyes flew open.
The answer came in silver droplets that fell from the cave's surface and formed one large puddle on the dirt beside Dee.
Do you really want to know, Dee? The voice seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at once, low and deep, barely audible under the pressure of its density.
"Help me," Dee screamed, her head turning from side to side, unsure of which direction the voice was coming from. "Please help me."
You're asking the wrong person, sweetheart.
"Who are you?" Dee asked, her voice becoming even more frantic. "Why am I here?"
To die was what she thought the voice would say, but it surprised her by simply asking, Why do you think you are here, Dee Nilsson?
Dee shook her head frantically. "I don't know. I don't ..."
Don't give me that shit. Of course you do.
"Please," Dee sobbed, tears falling from her eyes. "I can't remember."
Then let me help you, cutie pie. Come and look inside.
As if hypnotized, Dee leaned over the ground where the puddle no longer reflected translucent blue, but now changed into flashes of color, until solid shapes formed, and Dee saw herself on the wet surface.
It was not her as she was now, with a long gash across her forehead and her entire body covered in dirt. The Dee in the image was laughing and taking sips from a drink that looked suspiciously like a whiskey sour. She sat on a barstool in a mahogany room, lavishing in the attention of male company.
"Stuart Reed," Dee said aloud, suddenly remembering.
The voice laughed. Listen, it said. Go ahead and listen. Watch. See why you're here.
So, Dee listened. And watched. And listened.
It was Stuart Reed's voice she heard first. He said, "It's great fun if you kill somethin'. Warm blood all over your hands and the smell of the kill."
The Dee in the image tossed back her whiskey sour before exclaiming, "Vile! It's so vile. I hate hunting. I think it's cruel how those deer suffer. They're just defenseless animals. Haven't you ever thought of that?"
Stuart shook his head as he gulped down his mixed drink. "You don't know what you're sayin'," he mumbled in a thick Southern accent.
Dee watched as her image's back straightened. "Haven't you ever seen Bambi?" she asked the man beside her. "How could anyone shoot an innocent deer after watching Bambi?"
Stuart's face grew red as he pointed at her accusingly. "A deer ain't a sweet animal, sugar. Their antlers have tines that are as sharp as razor blades. When the rut is on, you can hear the deer battlin' for the trim for miles. Do the research before you assume that Bambi was based on something other than Walt Disney crap. They are vicious animals that must be eradicated from the planet. One attacked my grandfather while he was bird huntin' and damn near killed him. If Joe the birddog hadn't run the deer off, Grandpop wouldn't have been around to witness my third weddin'."
"I thought you said you had two ex-wives?" Dee asked.
"I do. I married the first one twice," Stuart explained.
"Oh." Dee asked the bartender for another drink.
I remember, Dee thought as she studied her and her companion's surroundings. The mahogany walls belonged to the rotating bar at the Hotel Monteleone. For an entire week, the hotel had hosted the annual BankPartners convention. Mortgage brokers from all over the United States, including Dee and Stuart, had flocked to the convention for the latest mortgage tips-and because the rooms were discounted and the breakfasts were free, and it was a great chance to tour New Orleans.
Dee could see it all. Her company's colors-red, white, and yellow ("We're the McDonald's of the fuckin' mortgage loan industry," Dee remembered Stuart had noted earlier in the week.)-were draped on and around everything in the mahogany room. A banner reading WELCOME TO THE FIFTH ANNUAL BANKPARTNERS CONFERENCE! hung over the entrance.
Dee studied the man beside her own image. Stuart Reed. He wasn't the type of guy she normally went for, so why was she with him?
Because he was the only decent-looking broker at the convention, and you had decided to break your six month stint of abstinence, a voice replied from the back of her mind.
Yes, Dee remembered. Stuart had been an all-too-willing partner in her plans. He was a strapping country boy from the dry heat of the Mississippi delta. Conservative and scarily militant in his right-wing ideas, but who no less could carry a conversation that exceeded mortgage telemarketing scripts and who could hang on to an erection longer than any man she had ever known.
Dee had found him captivating. She had refused to be thwarted by his loyalty to the Bush administration, dismissing it as a regional defect given that he came from a red state, and instead latched on to his wicked sense of humor and hell-bent-on-having-fun ways. In one week she would return to her all-work, no-play existence inside a brick home with a small dog slowly growing deaf from old age and a series of business calls and lunch meetings. But for now she would enjoy herself.
Yes, Dee remembered thinking all of this, justifying her behavior with an it-will-all-be-over-soon attitude.
Keep listening, sweetheart. Keep watching, the voice said.
Dee listened. The exchange between her and her short-term lover stayed at an even and pleasant pace for a little while, until Stuart brought up his DUI charge and the consequences of his arrest. "I've had my cousin pick me up for work for the last three months. And that shithead don't even know how to drive," he said, rolling his eyes heavenward.
Dee shrugged. "You shouldn't have been driving drunk."
Stuart slammed his glass on the counter. "I'm damn tired of that kind of MADD mentality! I registered 0.16, which was just 0.06 more than what it used to be. Bunch of whinin' crybaby mommies, whose kids were super drugged out and killed themselves, fucked everything up for the rest of us. Now you can't go drink a beer without the fear of gettin' a plunger in your ass from some crooked cop trying to make his quota so he can buy a new trollin' motor for his Cajun bass boat, son of a bitch."
Dee shook her head and replied, "I think you're being too harsh. I grew up with a lot of kids who have either died while driving drunk or been a victim of a drunk driver. It's a serious matter."
Stuart grimaced as if he were a frustrated teacher dealing with an insolent child. "I'm just sayin', the blood/alcohol ratio test is a faulty way to judge sobriety, and cops prey on the publicity of gettin' all the arrests." A moment of silence went by before he changed the subject, asking, "So anyway, Miss California, you stayin' until Saturday?"
"No. Until tomorrow. I have a closing to get back to. I'm going to miss the weather here. It's November and it's still boiling. Even California isn't this hot right now."
"It's called humidity," he said. "They have a pool on the roof. Feel like takin' a swim, sugar?"
"You're joking, right? It's November."
"So? You said yourself that it was boilin' hot."
"But wouldn't it be closed?"
"We could reopen it." He winked.
Dee replied, "I don't have a swim suit."
"Neither do I."
"Isn't it too late to swim?"
"Night swimmin' is the best swimmin' of all."
"Is it dangerous?"
Stuart opened his coat just wide enough so that Dee could see the pistol inside the inner pocket. He smirked. "No one's goin' to bother us."
Dee's eyes widened. "You have a gun?"
He nodded proudly. "Dee, baby, I am a rationalist. Law abidin' citizens need guns. Gun control just assumes that criminals are the only people with guns. Another no brainer for a thinkin' person."
She shook her head. "I'm too liberal to own a gun."
He laughed. "Bein' liberal is a great thing as long as you don't vote. So how about that swim?"
No, say no! Dee wanted to scream. She remembered, oh boy, did she remember. If only she could go back in time ...
It's a little late for that, the voice said, hearing her thoughts.
Dee watched with growing dread as the scene faded from the Monteleone bar to the top of the hotel. The darkness of the night sky camouflaged the roof, only the surrounding skyscrapers and the light from the inside hallways gave shape to the concrete surface where the pool's oval orifice waited with its liquid turquoise inner core.
Dee and Stuart entered from two glass doors. Dee stepped close to the pool and peered over the edge. "It's not covered," she acknowledged. She took off one Ann Taylor black stiletto and placed her stocking-clad foot in the water. "It's warm, too."
Stuart shrugged. "They must have known we were comin'." He took off his shirt.
Dee began taking off her clothes one at a time-the other shoe, the gray skirt she had bought a week ago at Macy's during their Great Autumn Sale, the silk blouse her best friend had given her last Christmas, the cheap stockings she had picked up at Walgreen's that morning-until everything was off but her bra and panties. She jumped into the water.
When she resurfaced, Stuart was sitting naked at the edge of the pool. "How was it, baby?" he asked.
Dee rubbed her eyes. "A lot of chlorine," she said. "But otherwise, fine."
He dropped into the water and wrapped his arms around her waist. "You're fine, sugar," he said before leaning down to kiss her.
He relieved Dee of the rest of her clothes. She caught her breath as Stuart drew the skin of her breasts between his teeth. He moved his palm down, over her belly and then lower and lower until his fingers trailed in the soft curls between her thighs. He slid into her body with one hard, long thrust, and together the twosome enjoyed a frantic path into ecstasy.
Dee closed her eyes. She couldn't watch her and Stuart anymore; she felt as if she were watching a porn video of herself. At least it beats what happens next, she thought. Dear God, please, please, please, don't let me see what happens next.
I doubt God is listening, the voice said mockingly.
Minutes later Dee opened her eyes just in time to see herself arise from the pavement where she and her lover had been resting. "I'm going to the ladies' room," she said. "Be back." Stuart did not answer; his shallow breath suggested that he had fallen asleep.
"No!" Dee screamed as she watched her image walk inside the glass doors. "Don't go inside! You'll never come back!"
You can't hear you, the voice laughed. You can't hear a thing. Remember, sweet Dee, this is all in the past. Let's change the scenery, shall we?
And the pool distorted as frames shifted, and suddenly there was a hallway, and a bathroom door, and a hurriedly dressed Dee walking through the swinging doors. "I know!" the captive Dee screamed in the darkness. "I know why I'm here, how I got here. Please, please."
She looked away from the image.
Listen, listen, the voice said.
She could shield her sight, but not her hearing. She could not stop the sound of her footsteps entering the bathroom stall, or the creaking of the outside bathroom door opening. And the silence that followed. Dee remembered. Boy, did she remember. Feeling strange all of a sudden. Wondering who else could be in the roof's bathroom this time of night. Thinking it was Stuart. Calling his name-yes, she could hear herself, calling his name ...
"Stuart? Is that you?"
Receiving no answer. The fear heightening.
Yes, oh yes, it was all clear. Crystal clear. Like a pool of water.
All that silence. Nothing but silence. Dee remembered. She could hear herself, the heavy breathing, the wheels in her brain turning, wondering what was happening, knowing, feeling that something was not right. She could hear herself flush the toilet. She knew the Dee inside the stall was scared to leave, scared of what was waiting for her. As she should be. She knew because she was her, because twelve hours ago, the Dee staring into the image had been the same Dee that now stood behind the door, knowing that someone was waiting for her on the other side, waiting to kill her.
Oh boy, did it make sense now. Crystal fucking clear.
Here we go, Dee thought, shutting her eyes even tighter. I can't watch, I can't listen.
You have no choice, the voice said, laughing. No choice in the matter.
She heard herself finally open the stall. She heard herself take a few steps. She heard herself ask, "Stuart? Are you trying to frighten the sh ..." and then there was a gasp, which Dee realized was probably the moment when she had seen the Fishhook sign for the first time.
The Fishhook sign. His calling card. People in California warned her to be careful in New Orleans, there was a serial killer on the loose. Dee had laughed because she, like most other people, secretly believed that she was immortal in her youth, and that her death would come from the slow decay of time, from cancer or heart failure, something natural, murder being only what happened to everyone else.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Everything that she had thought before-wrong.
The Fishhook sign had been drawn in red blood on the mirror over the sink. What it was-what it looked like-was the standard Christian fish symbol with an upside down cross stuck through it. Dee had seen an illustration of it in one of the local newspapers, and mimics of the design that were scattered all over the city's walls in white chalk or spray paint, jokish scribbles from kids who found the serial killings titillating.
Excerpted from Disconnection by Erin Samiloglu Copyright © 2005 by Erin Samiloglu. Excerpted by permission.
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