Read an Excerpt
By Lawrence Light, Meredith Anthony
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2007 Lawrence Light and Meredith Anthony
All rights reserved.
"Of course, I know what that is," snapped the whore. "I went to college." She kept walking, irked at having to turn down a trick, but she had an appointment to keep. She left the forlorn john by the stairs with his fat wallet in his fat hand. Every time she was too tired or too sick or — like now — too busy, it was money lost. Money that she needed. She moved through the disinfectant stink of the lobby of the cheap SRO she called home. In fact, single room occupancy hotels were almost exclusively the address of choice for the working girl. She strode into the jiving maelstrom of 42nd Street. The Deuce. 1991. The beginning of a hopeful new decade. Yeah. Right.
She passed a pizza place and realized how hungry she was. Maybe on the way back, she would buy a slice. That was all she could afford since her cash position was on the short side. At the corner was a bank machine in a claustrophobic enclosure behind a door with a busted lock. New York had millions of them. This one was full of garbage and bums. No respectable soul, not even the poor horny bastard she had just turned down, would venture in there to do any banking. Her bank, of course, was a shoe box safely hidden in a locker at the bus station. Direct deposit. That's what she called her job, too. No withholding, no taxes, no FICA, whatever that was. FICA sounded like what she did every night. But not now, darling.
The whore wrapped the coat tighter around her against the cool vapor of the early spring evening. She had borrowed the coat from a much taller hooker, off duty tonight with a hangover. The coat was so long it rode down around her shins. The whore figured that guys wouldn't bother her if she were covered up. Nevertheless, men she passed gave her those hard-dick looks anyway. She wondered how they knew, with her wrapped up like that. Maybe it was the shoes, high heels of Lucite that looked fragile but were actually as tough as bulletproof glass. The shoes, which had come in the box that was her bank, were called fuck-me's. A tall black dude waggled his tongue at her. Not now, darling. The whore had an appointment. And she wouldn't earn any money from it either.
She smiled fleetingly at the dude and turned her head back to the direction she was going. And gave a sudden start. A massive moving presence loomed in front of her. She momentarily wobbled on the heels, then stepped smartly out of the way. It was a heaping shopping cart with extra bundles tied to the sides, wide as a truck.
"Hey, girlfriend," the whore called, delighted. "Hey, Stinky."
The bag lady ignored the greeting and kept pushing her cart forward on the rutted sidewalk to nowhere. She wore a stained, ripped overcoat from some Dumpster and Salvation Army-provided running shoes that had holes in the toes.
The whore playfully jostled one of the bags and heard a muttered curse.
"What you got in there, girl? Ann Kleins? Ralph Laurens? Naaah. I figure you for the Bill Blass type. Clothes make the woman, girlfriend."
The bag lady stopped and faced the whore. "A few more years, you'll be me," she said, her voice an ominous snarl, her mouth full of snaggled, discolored teeth. "If you live that long."
"Hey, now. Jackie Why takes care of his girls," the whore shot back, stung. "Ain't nothing going to hurt his girls." Actually, if Jackie saw her parading around the Deuce covered up like a nun, he would probably do some major hurting himself. Maybe her appointment wasn't such a good idea. She wasn't keeping up her cash flow.
The whore resumed her brisk walk, leaving the bag lady, still muttering, behind. She stepped gingerly around a raw hole in the pavement, badly protected by broken sawhorses. She glanced at the yellow and orange clay in the hole and marveled. In the middle of man-made Manhattan, there was actual dirt so close beneath the surface. The thin veneer of civilization. The phrase popped into her mind. She chuckled. You can never be too rich or have too thin a veneer.
No, she should call off the meeting and go earn some money. She reached the corner of 42nd and Tenth, and spotted a pay phone half a block up Tenth. And what do you know: It still worked. She stuck in a quarter and punched out a number.
The line was ringing when the homeboys lounging outside a nearby bar started up. The usual from that kind of crowd in their stolen leather jackets and boosted Reeboks. Repetitive cries of "puta." Kissing sounds. Assorted gestures.
"You don't have to call me, baby," the biggest one called. "I'm right here." They all laughed and grabbed their crotches but made no moves. She flipped them a weary bird.
A message machine came on. The whore hung up. Shit. She'd have to go.
The homeboys had vanished, probably into the bar. She walked up Tenth. Only a block from the Deuce this time of night, Tenth Avenue was empty and silent as a graveyard. Funny how people thought the Deuce was dangerous. The whore knew that the teeming crowds meant safety. Filled with pimps, punks, winos, homeboys, homeless, and assorted other street vermin though it may be, the Deuce was a damn sight safer that the chilly, lurking emptiness that stretched before her. A parking lot off Tenth Avenue. Great.
The killer strode through the New York night, its brisk, crystal air vibrating with electric bloodlust. The killer had a purpose — a purpose that the police and the news media could not begin to fathom. As the killer glided past a newsstand, a tabloid headline whined: LADYKILLER STUMPS POLICE. ASK PUBLIC FOR CLUES. Ladykiller? Beyond stupid.
On impulse, the killer bought a copy of the paper and stood reading it under the fierce buzz of a streetlight. An academic expert with indifferent credentials was quoted on the nature of serial killers: How they often suffered head injuries as children, came from broken homes, lacked social skills, were addicted to killing. Some expert. He probably smoked a pipe and wore a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches. He probably seduced his most impressionable female student each year. "This killer is filled with incredible rage," the expert said. "In everyday life, he may appear sane. But no one who shoots his victims in the head with a .45 caliber pistol at close range is sane."
A strange expression wormed its way across the killer's face. No, professor, this was not a matter of sanity. It was a matter of purpose. A purpose you can't fathom. The shining .45 rode in the killer's pocket like the hard stone of salvation.
Tonight, in the shadowy angles of the concrete night, a woman would die. And another headline about the Ladykiller would tantalize the fearful hearts of the cretins who read the tabloids. And the professor would pull on his pipe. Oh, yes.
The killer folded the paper neatly and dropped it into a trash receptacle. And strode on to mete out another killing. A killing with a purpose.
The pretty young blonde left her large, rundown, pre-war apartment building at a brisk trot. Her long legs fairly loped along the bustling Broadway sidewalk, on fire to get to her job, the night shift that most of her colleagues dreaded. Get there and watch and listen. And maybe, if she was lucky, say or do something to impress the one whose approval she craved. The night held such radiant possibilities.
She glanced at her reflection in a long store window and made a face. She was dissatisfied with her looks although any observer would, did, look twice. She felt barely put together after a two-minute regimen of eye liner to emphasize her blue eyes, mascara to darken her pale lashes, and a swipe of rose lipstick. The person she cared about most liked people who made an effort. "Otherwise, you don't make a difference." She hurried on.
The pavement, flashing beneath her determined stride, sparkled like a thousand diamonds. The sparkle came from quartz in the concrete that caught the city lights, but she had a secret fantasy that the city had actually imbedded diamonds for her to walk upon on Broadway.
She waved a spirited hello to the counterman at the all-night doughnut shop that she frequented. It was a virtual home to a potpourri of interesting humanity. Tonight's group included a jet-fighter pilot, a jazz musician, and a U.S. congressman. They turned to look at her bouncing past with her thick, shiny, reddish-blonde hair. Even though she didn't like her looks, she knew that men liked her. Several of the customers in the doughnut shop had made overtures, but she wasn't interested. Her life right now revolved around one person and she rushed through the night to get there.
The elegant woman's sensible, low-heeled shoes moved briskly over the piss-stained pavement. They skirted a used condom, lying there like a dead snake. At least they had used one, she thought philosophically.
She walked past a bearded man with a pot belly and a paper bag-covered beer can standing in front of a deli. He had the expected impulses throbbing in what was left of his brain.
"Looking good, pretty momma," he said thickly.
She was not one to cringe from some boob's advances. She scowled, letting him know she could not be cowed. That usually worked. Not now, unfortunately.
He fell into step beside her, the beer held in front of him like a communion chalice. "Some brew, pretty lady?"
"No, thank you," she replied with a degree of coldness calculated to freeze the testicles off a saber-tooth tiger.
The oaf persisted. "It'd warm you up."
She said nothing.
"Don't you like beer?"
She stopped and faced him. "Get lost."
Her resistance inspired him. "You seem like a lady who would benefit from male companionship." She assessed him. He was large and possibly dangerous.
"I'm not interested," she said levelly, without the slightest trace of fear. She glanced behind him. The nearest other person was a half-block away. He stepped closer, menacingly.
"Before you say that, check this out." He unzipped his fly.
"Why, that looks remarkably like a male penis," the elegant woman said with a laugh. "Only smaller."
The old joke worked. He snarled but backed up and slunk away with his beer can dribbling.
She resumed her purposeful stride. She briefly considered suggesting that the man seek counseling. But the man had lurched off across the street.
Her smile died abruptly. Footsteps. Behind her, nearly matching her own. Careful not to change her pace, she frowned in concentration. She tightened her grip on her bag and kept walking purposefully into the dark night.
The whore turned into the deserted parking lot. The expanse of asphalt was empty and unlit. A chain stretched across the entrance. No one was on duty at the shack, which sat in the middle of the lot. The dark cold seemed more intense here.
She paused, getting used to the darkness, shivering in the coat that now seemed too lightweight. Then she struck out across the lonely lot. Her heels clattered on the paving. The abandoned guard shack had trash heaped up against one side. There was one discarded Christmas tree, dripping tinsel. She caught a movement around the plastic garbage bags and thought, rats. She hated this.
The pretty blonde's gaze searched the shadows. What was that sound? A scuttling rat? She looked over her shoulder. No one was behind her. A brief wind off the Hudson sent a shower of grit against her face. Crumpled paper swirled down the street, an unholy, whirling white phantom.
She turned a corner. No one else on this block either. Her heart fluttered like a trapped bird and she walked a little faster. Her destination wasn't far. A hand shot out of the ground and swiped at her ankle.
Dodging awkwardly with an ineffective squeal, she stumbled and almost fell. Then she began to run. When she looked back, panting, she saw the dirt-caked face of a wino, who crouched in a stairway down to a basement entrance. He laughed maliciously but made no move toward her. Too wasted on bad wine.
The footsteps were close. Right behind her. The hair bristled on the back of the elegant woman's neck. Alarm sparked up and down her spine. She tensed for the hand on her shoulder, the knife at her throat, the junk-soaked breath hot on her cheek. If she turned around now ...?
She rounded the corner. Up ahead shone the beacon of a neon beer sign on a deli. It was open, a sanctuary in the forbidding expanse of limestone facades and gated shop fronts. The footsteps seemed to fall back.
She slipped into the deli. The beer cooler exuded a rank smell of unwashed refrigeration. As the front door closed, she turned. There was no one behind her. Without opening the door, she leaned close to the dirty glass and checked out the street in either direction. Nothing. Where had her pursuer gone? Had she imagined it? Was she paranoid? Was she insane?
"What'll it be?"
The guttural growl made her start.
The stooped, bent gnome behind the counter was leering at her with dark malice. "What'll it be, honey?"
"Excuse me?" Another dysfunctional member of society.
"What do you want?"
"Well, get the hell out of my store then."
"I'll go when I'm ready," she snapped. Could her pursuer be hiding outside, waiting for her to emerge? She hated not being in control.
"What are you afraid of?" the gnome asked, laughing unpleasantly. "The Ladykiller?"
"The Ladykiller," he nodded wisely. "He blow your head clean off." The gnome chuckled with obvious relish at the thought.
"Let him try," she said shortly, with more conviction than she felt.
* * *
Turning tricks, you were almost never really alone. Even when some john was heaving into her, back in her room, she wasn't alone. Her SRO hotel had tissue-thin walls she could scream through if a guy went nuts. In an instant, Jackie Why or one of the other girls or somebody would be there with a knife. Even the time when she was blowing a guy on a walkway of the Queensborough Bridge, she had more company than now. Lots of people around, that was real life insurance.
She leaned against the small shack, uncomfortably close to the garbage. This was where she was supposed to wait. Just as well. If some creep passed by on the street, he wouldn't see her as easily. It was cold and she was irritable. She didn't need this. What she did need was a cigarette. She fumbled out a Virginia Slim and flicked her disposable lighter. And saw something.
She didn't scream, but made a high-pitched, involuntary, animal sound. The face hovered nearby, illuminated by the sashaying flame. Even after she registered the face as familiar, she still croaked a little as she lit her cigarette. The flame trembled.
"Shit." The whore pocketed the lighter and dragged deeply on the cigarette to steady her nerves. "Thank God, it's you. I thought I was going to have to wait." Thinking it was funny that she hadn't heard a sound, she exhaled, a little jittery, but better, and glanced up. "Did we really have to meet here? It's creepy."
"Nice gloves," the whore said, trying to make conversation. What was this all about, she yearned to ask. "They leather? Expensive?"
A glint from a far-off streetlight caught the chrome .45 pistol as it emerged from the shadows. Held in the leather-gloved hands.
"What's that for?" the whore asked. Jackie sometimes carried a piece for protection. She wasn't truly alarmed until she saw the gun was pointed at her head.
The familiar face had become twisted into an ugly Kabuki mask. This wasn't like the person the whore knew and trusted. What was going on?
The whore's hysteria built with every word: "Hey, it's me. What the hell are you doing? Quit kidding around. This isn't funny."
The .45 fired, a brief thunderclap that rolled across the parking lot. Its bullet smashed through her right eye, brutalizing the softest, most vulnerable membrane. The bullet tore through her brain and burst out the back of her skull in a spray of bone and blood and tissue. Her soul, startled, fled. Her body, already cooling, slowly slipped, dropped away, and fell back into the welcoming trash.
The killer remained holding the .45 in a two-handed combat grip, held it where its fire had reached out and kissed the whore's eye. The killer's leather-gloved hands relaxed finally; the silver pistol lowered and pointed toward the ground.
Excerpted from Ladykiller by Lawrence Light, Meredith Anthony. Copyright © 2007 Lawrence Light and Meredith Anthony. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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