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By JOHN LUTZ
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 John Lutz
All rights reserved.
Creighton, Maine, two years ago
Gasping for air, Quinn tried to lengthen his stride but couldn't. He swallowed, accepted the pain. Kept running.
The killer was far enough ahead of him that he couldn't be seen through the trees, but occasionally Quinn could hear him crashing through the brush in his flight for freedom. The noise of the killer's desperate dash seemed to be getting louder.
Quinn was gaining. Some of the others were, too, he was sure. But he had laid out everything he had in the beginning, putting every fiber and muscle he had into the chase. Now he was paying for it, but he was closest.
Quinn was closest, and closing.
It was like a fox hunt, and he was the fox.
The killer, whose grisly calling card read simply D.O.A., pressed on through the rustle and crackle of last year's dead leaves, listening to the barking dogs, the occasional human shouts. His pursuers were gaining on him. It was as if they were actually having fun with him. With him!
He was out of breath, and almost out of options. But almost could be the most important word in the English language.
The ground was gradually falling away. He could see it beginning to slope, and he could feel it in the fronts of his thighs. He knew from the grade that he was approaching water.
The hectic barking of the dogs was getting louder.
More frantic. He wondered what kind of dogs they were. The animals sounded as if they were in a frenzy, as if they wanted to kill him.
And maybe that was the game.
The killer glimpsed a blue-green plane of water through the foliage ahead, and his hope surged. The lake!
The question was, where along the shoreline was he going to emerge from the woods? Where would his sudden appearance not draw attention and bullets?
This can still work! It can still work!
He put on what in his mind was a burst of speed, but was in reality simply a great deal of thrashing around, like an exhausted long distance runner approaching the tape.
Sarasota, Florida, 1992
The house where it happened was at the edge of the water. The green lawn sloped gently away from the house, to an Olympic-sized swimming pool that appeared to merge with the bay. It made for an interesting illusion.
Maude Evans was lying posed on a webbed lounger at the edge of the rectangular pool, looking oddly as if she were floating on an invisible horizon. Every half minute or so she stretched her lithe, tanned body so she could reach her whiskey sour, take a sip, then replace the glass on a small white table. Towels were folded carefully beneath her so the lounger's webbing wouldn't make temporary ugly marks on her sleek body.
"Dwayney, fetch me another drink!" Maude called.
Dwayne's body jerked. He'd been half dozing in the late-morning Florida sun. He peered over at Maude above the dark frames of his sunglasses. Looking back at him, Maude held up her drink and swished around what was left in the bottom of the glass. A clear signal and command.
He obediently went inside to the kitchen and carefully made a whiskey sour the way he'd been taught. Dwayne personally didn't like whiskey sours. For that matter, what limited experience he'd had suggested to him that he'd never like alcoholic drinks. But after building Maude's drink he sipped it to make sure it tasted the way she wanted it to taste.
More like demanded.
When he went back outside and handed the glass to Maude, she seemed to notice him only barely. Dwayne thought she smelled wonderful, of mingled scents of lotion and perspiration that gleamed on her smooth tan skin.
He left poolside and stood on the rear deck of the house, where he could observe his soon-to-be stepmother. He'd just turned fourteen, and he couldn't help but be enthralled by Maude. Not that she minded. She would secretly urge him on, smiling and winking at him behind his father's back.
Well, not so secretly. They were both amused by Dwayne's discomfort, by his inability to conceal the erection he would often get in Maude's presence. This embarrassed Dwayne so that he blushed a vivid pink, provoking their laughter. Sometimes, to tame and reduce the erection, Dwayne would think about his late mother. About how he'd hated her.
She and Dwayne's father had used him in ways he hadn't imagined possible. Ways he despised, and that made him despise them and himself.
When Dwayne's mother died nine months ago, Dwayne hadn't known how to feel. He did know the nighttime visits would stop, the gin breath and the giggling, his pain that his parents so enjoyed. His father had objected to hurting him that way at first, then his mother had convinced him that it didn't matter. That Dwayne actually enjoyed what they were doing. She had figured out various ways to prove it.
When she died from heart failure that was somehow connected with the white powder she and her husband used, Dwayne had to pretend to mourn convincingly enough to fool the phony friends and business associates who came to pay their respects. He got pretty good at it.
What was life but playing a series of roles?
There had never been mention of where his father had obtained Maude Evans. She'd simply shown up a few weeks after his mother's death. His mother's life.
Maude smoothly replaced the life part with her own version.
Dwayne's own life slipped into a routine. He was supposedly being homeschooled. A strict tutor, Mrs.
Jacoby, would arrive at nine o'clock every weekday and stay until one o'clock. She was a broad, middle-aged woman with a perpetual scowl. There was no need for him to know her first name, as long as he learned his prime numbers and Latin roots. She took no crap from Dwayne.
Mrs. Jacoby and Maude seemed barely to notice each other. Or maybe that was just in Dwayne's presence.
At precisely nine o'clock, when Mrs. Jacoby arrived, was when his father would go to work at his property procurement and management office. The company owned prime beach front property all over Florida, and some in the Carolinas. Money was no problem. Money allowed for the regular, sun-drenched routine. It was something taken for granted.
After the conversation Dwayne overheard between Maude and Bill Phoenix, the man who came every other day to service the pool, Dwayne knew that money was all that had attracted Maude to his father. Phoenix was a tall, rangy guy with friendly brown eyes, muscles that rippled, and curly black hair on his head and chest. He looked like he'd make a great James Bond in the movies. Maude and money had attracted Bill Phoenix.
Dwayne knew that Maude and the swimming pool guy had plans.CHAPTER 3
Creighton, two years ago
Quinn kept up a rough but steady pace parallel to the shoreline, casting a sharp eye in all directions as he ran. He knew the dogs were slightly ahead of him and to his left. To his right was the lake. Directly ahead of him was the killer. It was like a steadily narrowing isosceles triangle, gradually bringing killer and pursuers together at its narrow point. The killer could keep going the way he was and stay in the squeeze. Or he could break to his left and try to get out ahead of the dogs and their handlers. Or he could break to his right and start swimming.
Quinn figured the killer would stay on course, and when he ran out of safe ground, he would run out of freedom or life.
Maybe that was the way he planned it.
No way to know that for sure now. No point in worrying about it.
They'd almost had the bastard back at the lodge, where he'd just taken his latest victim, after torturing her with dozens of knife cuts and cigarette burns, and gradual disembowelment. An anonymous phone call, proclaiming that someone was being murdered at the lodge, hadn't come in time to save the victim.
The killer had seen their approach. He'd fled the scene after making the phone call, not realizing how quickly they would respond, how close Quinn was on his heels. Now he found himself in a running gun battle with Quinn and the county sheriff.
Quinn was sure that the sheriff, a slim, gray haired man named Carl Chalmers, had been badly wounded. The last Quinn saw of him, he was sitting on the ground, talking on what Quinn assumed was a cell phone, and waving his free arm at Quinn, urging him to continue the chase. Chalmers had come late to the hunt, joining Quinn after Quinn had followed a trail of dead bodies from New York City to Maine.
There was a lot of blood around the sheriff.
And here Quinn was, in the chase and with unexpected help. He knew now that the sheriff had called in the dogs as well as the state police.
Quinn also suspected that the anonymous phone call had been made by the killer to him alone, to lure him to the scene of the murder, to trick him into a futile chase.
This was the kind of asshole who played that kind of game.
Now, unless the killer had a boat stashed somewhere, the chase might not be futile after all. The dogs, forcing a hard and close pursuit, might be the difference. The killer might not have planned on the dogs.
Suddenly the flat plane of the lake appeared through the trees to Quinn's right, exactly where it was supposed to be. Quinn slowed and veered in that direction, coming out at the edge of the woods, and near a long and dilapidated wooden dock that poked like an accusing finger out toward the opposite shore.
Quinn stopped running and bent forward to catch his breath, leaning his rifle against a nearby tree.
He knew now how the killer planned to escape. He also knew the killer had outsmarted and outmaneuvered him.
But not out-lucked him.
Quinn had the bastard!
The killer could see the level blue-green surface, and knew he was almost on the mud bank. He slowed down and glanced right and left to get his bearings. The trees thinned. There was a subtle but unmistakable scent that rose from flotsam and algae and acres of still water.
He hadn't been running blind. He had some sense of where he was and had to be close to the dock.
He glimpsed movement through the trees and stopped running immediately, standing stock still and trying to quiet his breathing.
Ahead of him, his back to the water, was Quinn!
Regret and anger flashed through the killer's mind: It had all gone as planned, except for the damned sheriff. If he hadn't come along with Quinn, and somehow remained alive long enough to call in a nearby tracker with dogs, this would all be working out very well.
Then he saw that his luck wasn't all bad. Quinn was bent over with his hands on his knees, out of breath. His rifle was leaning against a tree, beyond his immediate reach.
The killer watched Quinn straighten up and stretch, raising his arms high and twisting his body so he momentarily faced the lake. As if he couldn't resist another glance back at the rickety pier, where the last thing he expected was docked.
Then he turned back to look around on shore, no doubt to find shelter from which to ambush his prey. Obviously, he assumed he'd won the race to the lake.
Excellent! If the killer's first shot didn't hit home, he had time to pump another bullet into Quinn before the doomed cop could reach his rifle. He moved to the base of a large tree where he'd be difficult to spot, even after firing at Quinn.
The killer couldn't help smiling slightly and thinking, Checkmate.CHAPTER 4
The cabana with the blue-and-white striped sides was off to the east, so it didn't spoil the view from the house.
Dwayne, if he was careful, could make his way through trimmed shrubbery and around to the back of the cabana. The way the bay curved, he could only be seen from the water, and that didn't pose much of a problem. He could crouch unseen there and listen to nearby conversation, and whatever sounds filtered through the cabana's thin wall.
It was almost sunset, and he waited for it to get dark before he went to his spot behind the cabana. Now not even someone out on the bay on a boat, with a telescope or binoculars, was likely to notice him.
His father was in Augusta on business, and Dwayne was supposed to be bent over his homework. Maude and her lover, Bill Phoenix, wouldn't suspect that Dwayne wasn't in his room, but behind the cabana's back wall. Dwayne knew from experience that they would talk to each other inside the cabana, thinking that outside the sound might carry over water. Not to mention that Bill Phoenix had voiced a fear of being observed and eavesdropped on by the neighbors.
Dwayne suspected it wasn't really the neighbors Phoenix worried about. Not them personally, anyway. But they might gossip, and he was doing things with the wife-to-be of one of the richest, most powerful men in Florida. The kind of man who might hire detectives.
Maude was not only rich, she was sizzling hot. Phoenix was a guy who maintained swimming pools for the rich.
Figure it out.
Dwayne, who knew about his father, was sure he didn't suspect Maude of seeing another man, especially at their home. Not many men would be so stupid.
But Maude had a way about her.
Dwayne nestled closer to the cabana wall. Even pressed his ear to it.
"I've talked him into setting a date," Maude was saying, her voice easily understandable on the other side of the thin wall. "When we get back to town, we'll tell people we're married. Maybe we'll even throw a big party."
"Jesus!" Bill Phoenix said. "Next week."
"It's gotta be that way. There's a window of opportunity and we gotta get through it. The old windbag is in a trance that won't last forever. With his wife dead, he's gonna make a new will, and his new wife—that would be me—will be the beneficiary of his fortune."
"What about the kid?"
"The entire fortune."
"I don't follow. He'll still want the kid to have some of it."
"Being dead, he won't have a say in it. He'll trust me to give a fair share to Dwayne. He really thinks I love the little prick. That I'm like his actual mother. Anyway, I've got him convinced the kid is mentally deficient, according to his tutor. Just can't learn. Might never learn how to handle real money. We've already made arrangements for a private school in Kentucky to take him. Big surprise for the kid."
"What about the tutor? She go along with this?"
"She'll get hers."
"But won't she hold it over us?"
"Not when she realizes what we've done, and that she's done it with us. She'll take her reasonable commission and lose herself."
"And the kid?"
"Don't make me laugh."
"He might make trouble, Maude."
"Not to worry. I'll take care of it. I took care of the wife, didn't I? Cokehead bitch got the biggest and last heroin trip of her life."
Dwayne knew what she meant. His mother had been murdered. No doubt about it. His body began to shake so hard he feared they might hear him.
Then a calm came over him, like a cool breeze off the sea. He was in a real predicament. But Mrs. Jacoby herself had taught him how he should keep his head and not be overwhelmed by the facts. He should stay calm and think.
After all, he wasn't sorry his mother was dead. He didn't have to pretend otherwise, even to himself, after the things she'd done to him. Especially he didn't have to pretend to himself. He wasn't sorry she was dead. That her death wasn't an accident didn't make that much difference, did it? Maude was planning on marrying his father and then killing him so Maude could inherit his fortune. Then Maude and Bill Phoenix would be rich and live happily ever after.
That wasn't all bad either, was it?
It didn't have to be.
Not if you turned it this way and that in your mind, like Mrs. Jacoby had preached. Dwayne was grateful to Mrs. Jacoby, even if she was going to take money from Maude and Bill Phoenix to help lie to him and put him in a prison-like distant public school.
Dwayne scooted back away from the cabana. Careful to keep to the shadows of the shrubbery, he made his way back to the house.
Excerpted from FRENZY by JOHN LUTZ. Copyright © 2014 John Lutz. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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