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The Last Victim
By Kevin O'Brien
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2005 Kevin O'Brien
All rights reserved.
The singer-pianist had just wrapped for the night, and the bartender announced last call. The bar would be closed within the hour. Not good.
Olivia Rankin didn't want to go home alone tonight, and the way things were looking, that was just what would happen.
The cocktail lounge at the top of Seattle's Grand Towers Hotel was all sleek metal and polished mahogany — with a sweeping view of the city and harbor lights. Very ritzy. Eleven-fifty for a cosmopolitan. But at least it came with a fancy little silver bowl of mustard-flavored pretzels.
Sitting at the bar in a sexy wraparound pale green dress, Olivia once again scanned the Crown Room and decided the pickings were pretty slim.
Olivia was thirty-eight, with short-cropped, platinum-blond hair and a perpetual tan — thanks to regular sessions at the tanning booth. Though attractive, she figured there was room for improvement, and planned to lose twenty pounds by December. Once meeting that goal, she'd reward herself with a Botox session. Lately, her face was looking like a road map — especially around the eyes. Years of partying had caught up with her. On her birthday, a friend had sent her a card, which hit a little too close to home. On the front of the card was a cartoon of a woman holding a champagne glass. It said: Happy Birthday! The Years Have Been Good to You ... Inside was the punch line: ... But Those Weekends Have Really Taken a Toll!
Olivia ordered a third cosmopolitan. She'd come to the Crown Room alone, hoping she would meet a better class of guy there. If she was lucky, she would end up with some guest at the hotel, and he'd let her spend the night. She wouldn't turn her nose up at a room service breakfast in the morning either. The Grand Towers was pretty damn swanky. And it beat spending the night at home — alone.
It wasn't so much that she was lonely. She was scared.
During the last week, some strange, disturbing things had happened to her. While undressing for bed Wednesday night, she'd caught a man peeking through her window. Olivia didn't get a good look at his face. By the time she'd thrown on her robe and come to the window, all she saw was a tall, shadowy figure sprinting away from the town house. The next night, Olivia saw someone dart by her kitchen window. It scared the hell out of her. She immediately called the police. Two cops came by, asked a lot of questions, then gave her some tips on home security and how to start up a neighborhood watch. Useless.
Then two nights ago, she woke up from a sound sleep, and immediately knew someone was in the house. She reached for the light on her nightstand, but hesitated. She didn't want him to know she was awake. So she lay there in the darkness, afraid to move. She listened to the floorboards creak and told herself it was the house settling or the wind or something else totally harmless. After a while, her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She focused on the bedroom door, which she'd left open a crack. If she stared at it too long, the shadows played tricks, and the door seemed to move on its own — ever so slightly. Still, she couldn't close her eyes or look away.
Olivia remained paralyzed under the covers until dawn, when she heard the Seattle Times delivery person tossing the newspaper on her front stoop. She crawled out of bed, then checked the living room, kitchen, bathroom — and even the closets. Nothing unusual, nothing out of place.
She desperately needed some coffee, and put some water on to boil. When she wandered back to the living room, she noticed something. Her photo album was in its usual spot on the coffee table, but it was open. She'd had a couple of drinks before going to bed, and couldn't remember whether or not she'd looked at any pictures.
The kettle's shrill whistle sounded, and she hurried back into the kitchen. It wasn't until after she'd had a few sips of coffee that Olivia thought to glance through the album. Three photos were missing, pulled out of their clear plastic sleeves. If someone had actually broken into her home last night, it didn't make sense that he'd steal a few photographs of her and nothing else. She thought about calling the police again, but what good would that do?
Olivia wondered if she might actually know this stalker. Was he someone from the gym, or the supermarket? Maybe he was a customer at the chiropractors' office where she worked. A lot of creeps came through there.
Whoever he was, she had a feeling he'd just gotten started in some kind of weird courtship of her. And it would only get worse.
That afternoon, Olivia bought a package of bullets for an empty gun, which she'd been keeping in the back of her closet for years.
The loaded gun was now in the glove compartment of her car, parked in the underground garage at the Grand Towers Hotel. She liked having it around — for insurance.
Funny, it took this stalker to make her realize how alone she was. She'd lived with several different men over the years, but since she'd moved to Seattle a year ago, there hadn't been anyone who lasted beyond a few dates. It had been pretty lonely. Hell, she couldn't even keep a cat; she was allergic.
If she went home alone tonight, she probably wouldn't sleep a wink. Her prospects didn't look so hot either. The bar would be closing within the hour. Frowning, Olivia planted an elbow on the bar and sipped her cosmopolitan.
"Hey there, honey. Why so glum?"
Olivia stared down at her drink for another moment. Part of her clung to the impossible hope that the smoky-whiskey voice belonged to a tall, handsome hunk. Maybe he'd spend the night with her, and this would be the start of something terrific.
When Olivia looked up from her near-empty glass, she couldn't hide her disappointment. He was a short, balding, ape of a man. He wore a red Izod short-sleeve shirt that looked painted on. He was very muscular — with a coat of black hair on his arms. He had hair coming out of his ears, too. In fact, he looked as if he had hair everywhere except on the top of his head.
He leaned against the bar and gave her a smug smile. "Whaddya say, honey? Can I buy you a drink?"
"I'm not your honey," Olivia muttered. "Besides, you're out of luck. It's past last call."
"There's no last call at my place," he said. "I have a bottle of scotch there."
"Well, go home and drink it," she replied, fishing for some cash in her purse. "Try some other woman in the bar, okay?"
He laughed. "Feisty. I like that. Are you feisty in bed too?"
Olivia waved at the bartender, then slapped two twenties on the countertop. She didn't look at the creepy little man. "I'll ask you nicely," she said, staring straight ahead. "Would you do me a big favor and leave me the hell alone?"
"Oh, c'mon, honey," he purred. "You can't mean that."
"I sure do. So go haunt somebody else. Okay?" She continued to avoid eye contact with him.
"Fucking bitch," she heard him growl. She caught his reflection in a mirror behind the bar as he walked away. He had the meanest, most hateful look on that ugly-ape face of his.
The bartender came by and took her money. Then a few moments later, he returned with her change.
Olivia defeatedly slid off the bar stool and started toward the elevator. She saw the creepy little ape of a guy waiting there. Olivia stopped dead.
She didn't want to ride down to the lobby with him — not alone. But she was saved. A handsome, well-dressed black couple stepped out of the bar area right after her. They headed toward the elevators.
Olivia followed them. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the obnoxious man glaring at her. She refused to look in his direction. The elevator door opened and she stepped aboard.
The couple got in after her, and then the ape-faced man followed. He squeezed past the twosome and stood next to her.
Olivia kept ignoring him. She figured he wouldn't say anything rude to her in front of the couple. The handsome black man was a head taller than him and looked as if he could tear him apart.
"Oh God, I left my cell phone in the bar!" the woman exclaimed.
Her boyfriend grabbed the door before it slid shut, and she hurried out of the elevator. He tailed after her. The door began closing right behind him.
Olivia made a run for it.
The little man grabbed her arm. She recoiled, but he had a very strong grip.
The door shut. The elevator started its descent.
He was grinning at her. His eyes had a crazy, intense look. Olivia noticed a squiggly vein on the side of his forehead.
"Let go of me!" she snapped.
He chuckled, then released her. "I just didn't want the door to slam on you, honey."
Olivia backed away — until she bumped against the polished brass wall.
"I was afraid it would smash in that cute, fat little face of yours," he said, touching her cheek.
Olivia shrank into the corner. She eyed the lighted buttons on the panel by the elevator door. They still had another thirty floors to go. She thought about pressing the alarm button.
Just then, he stepped between her and the door. He glanced up and down at her. Grinning, he brushed his fingertips against her blond hair.
"Stop that," Olivia shuddered. "Get the hell away from me. I mean it." She looked up toward the ceiling. Where was the camera? Didn't most hotel elevators have cameras in them?
The little man was still stroking her hair. "Whether you like it or not," he whispered, "I'm going to fuck you."
Just then, the elevator stopped and the door opened.
The man backed away from her. He frowned at the tall, handsome stranger who stepped on from the eighteenth floor. The tall man wore a brown leather aviator jacket. He nodded politely at Olivia.
She felt such utter relief. As the door shut, she cleared her throat. "Excuse me, sir?" she said, her voice a little shaky.
The handsome stranger turned to smile at her.
Olivia shot a look in the direction of the crude little man. "This guy has been bothering me," she said. "Would you mind staying with me until the valet gets my car?"
The tall stranger glared at the creepy runt. He grabbed him by the collar of his Izod shirt and shoved him against the wall. Olivia gasped. The elevator shook a bit at the sudden tussle. "You son of a bitch," the handsome man growled. "Are you harassing this lady?"
The ape-faced man held up his hands, sort of a halfhearted surrender. "Hey, it's cool, buddy. Relax."
Olivia's rescuer turned to her with a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Olivia. He won't bother you anymore."
She caught her breath and smiled back at him. She was so grateful for his intervention, it took her a moment to realize something was terribly wrong.
Olivia stared at the man. "How do you know my name?" she whispered. She looked over at the short, hairy guy and wondered why he was smirking.
"He's not going to hurt you," the tall stranger said. He stepped between her and the elevator door. "No, Olivia. Hurting you is my job."
The door opened at the lobby.
Suddenly, the short man came behind her and slapped his hand over her mouth. Olivia tried to scream. Only a muffled whimper emerged. She struggled desperately, but the ape-faced man was too strong for her. Olivia thought he'd snap her neck.
She caught a glimpse of the empty lobby. No one could see her — or save her. The man in the aviator jacket blocked her way out. He jabbed the button for the basement level.
"It'll be easier for you, Olivia, if you just give in," he whispered.
Olivia helplessly watched the elevator door shut.
Preston McBride started out the evening thinking he would get laid.
He'd met Amber (her last name hadn't come up in conversation) at a kegger party at the house of some buddies near the University of Washington campus. Preston was in his junior year, studying business administration.
Amber wasn't in college. She'd dropped out of high school a couple of years back. When she told this to Preston while nuzzled against him in a smoky, sweltering living room full of people, she seemed to be bragging. With a pink streak in her blond hair and her pierced nostril, she struck Preston as a free spirit. At one point, when she squatted down to pump the keg and refill her beer, he noticed a tattoo of a dragon on her lower back. He couldn't help noticing her terrific body too. The front of her black T-shirt was stretched to its fiber limit. After an hour of screaming at each other over the noise, he heard her say: "I think you're cute. Can we get out of here and go some place?"
They made out in his car for nearly two hours. Preston's roommate was away, and he suggested they go back to his apartment. But Amber had another suggestion: "I know it's September and all, but I'm hot. Aren't you? Let's go swimming. I've always wanted to make love on a beach at dawn."
A half hour later, they were lost, driving around, trying to find the Denny-Blaine Beach. Apparently, Kurt Cobain used to meditate in the park there, and Amber wanted to visit the stomping grounds of the late rock legend. They never did find the place.
Birds were chirping and only the first light of dawn appeared on the horizon when Preston parked the car near a deserted Madison Park beach. With apartment buildings on both sides of the shoreline strip, and a quaint row of shops a stone's throw away, the beach wasn't exactly ideal for skinny-dipping and making love — even at this predawn hour. Some bushes camouflaged them at this end of the shore. Farther down, there was a beach house, a couple of lifeguard towers, and park benches staggered along the water's edge, spaced out every few feet. Preston imagined people would be coming here soon for their morning run, or for a cup of coffee on one of the benches, or maybe — like Kurt Cobain — some morning meditation.
Preston felt cold — and terribly self-conscious — as he began to undress. He was still in his white briefs when he tested the water with his foot. Freezing.
He looked over at Amber, squirming out of her panties. For a moment, she stood before him naked, her long blond hair fluttering in the wind. Her lithe body was so white against the dark water. She swiveled around, and let out a shriek as she scurried into the surf. Preston stared at the dragon tattoo above her perfect ass.
He shucked down his briefs, then ran in after her. The water was like ice, but he didn't care.
Amber wrapped her wet, cold, slippery arms around him. She was laughing and shivering. He felt her bare breasts pressing against his chest. Her nipples were so hard. He kissed her deeply.
With a squeal, Amber pulled away and splashed him. Then she swam out toward deeper water. Preston swam after her. But she splashed him again. He got water in his eyes and stopped for a moment. Standing on his tiptoes, he kept his head above water as he rubbed his eyes. He could hear her giggling and catching her breath.
When Preston focused on her again, Amber was dunking under the surface and swimming the length of the beach. He realized that if they were going to have sex, she planned to make him work for it. Once again, he started after her. She was a fast swimmer, with a good lead on him. "Come and get me!" she called, then dove below the surface again.
Preston was in over his head and had to tread water. Suddenly, he felt something brush against his leg. It felt slick. He wasn't sure if it was a fish or a piece of seaweed or what, but it gave him the creeps.
Preston shuddered. He quickly swam toward the shore — until he was standing in shallow water, up to his chest. Then he glanced around to see where Amber had gone. He no longer heard her laughing and splashing. He didn't see anything breaking the water's slightly rippling surface.
He felt a sickly pang in his gut. Preston told himself that Amber was screwing around with him. He glanced over to where they'd undressed. In the distance, he could see the piles of clothes near the shoreline. He turned and looked out at the deep water again. Nothing.
Preston tread closer to the shore. The cold air swept over his wet, naked body, and his teeth started chattering. He gazed over at the opposite side of the beach from where they'd shed their clothes. In the darkness — and the distance — he hadn't noticed anyone there earlier. But now Preston saw someone sitting on one of the park benches.
"Amber?" he yelled. The water was just below his waist.
Suddenly, something squirmed behind him in the water. Before he had a chance to turn around, he felt it grab his ass. Preston let out a howl, then swiveled around.
Amber sprang up from under the water. She was laughing.
Preston felt as if his heart was about to explode in his chest. But he managed to laugh too. He grabbed her and pulled her toward him.
Excerpted from The Last Victim by Kevin O'Brien. Copyright © 2005 Kevin O'Brien. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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