Read an Excerpt
New York City
Becca was watching an afternoon soap opera she’d
seen off and on since she was a kid. She found herself
wondering if she would ever have a child who needed a
heart transplant one month and a new kidney the next, or a
husband who wouldn’t be faithful to her for longer than it
took a new woman to look in his direction.
Then the phone rang.
She jumped to her feet, then stopped dead still and
stared over at the phone. She heard a guy on TV whining
about how life wasn’t fair.
He didn’t know what fair was.
She made no move to answer the phone. She just stood
there and listened, watching it as it rang three more times.
Then, finally, because her mother was lying in a coma in
Lenox Hill Hospital, because she just plain couldn’t stand
the ringing ringing ringing, she watched her hand reach out
and pick up the receiver.
She forced her mouth to form the single word. “Hello?”
“Hi, Rebecca. It’s your boyfriend. I’ve got you so
scared you have to force yourself to pick up the phone.
Isn’t that right?”
She closed her eyes as that hated voice, low and deep,
swept over her, into her, making her so afraid she was
shaking. No hint of an Atlanta drawl, no sharp New York
vowels, no dropped R’s from Boston. A voice that was well
educated, with smooth, clear diction, perhaps even a touch
of the Brit in it. Old? Young? She didn’t know, couldn’t
tell. She had to keep it together. She had to listen carefully,
to remember how he spoke, what he said. You can do it.
Keep it together. Make him talk, make him say something,
you never know what will pop out. That was what the police
psychologist in Albany had told her to do when the
man had first started calling her. Listen carefully. Don’t let
him scare you. Take control. You guide him, not the other
way around. Becca licked her lips, chapped from the hot,
dry air in Manhattan that week, an anomaly, the weather
forecaster had said. And so Becca repeated her litany of
questions, trying to keep her voice calm, cool, in charge,
yes, that was her. “Won’t you tell me who you are? I really
want to know. Maybe we can talk about why you keep calling
me. Can we do that?”
“Can’t you come up with some new questions, Rebecca?
After all, I’ve called you a good dozen times now.
And you always say the same things. Ah, they’re from a
shrink, aren’t they? They told you to ask those questions,
to try to distract me, to get me to spill my guts to you.
Sorry, it won’t work.”
She’d never really thought it would work, that
stratagem. No, this guy knew what he was doing, and he
knew how to do it. She wanted to plead with him to leave
her alone, but she didn’t. Instead, she snapped. She simply
lost it, the long-buried anger cutting through her bonegrinding
fear. She gripped the phone, knuckles white, and
yelled, “Listen to me, you little prick. Stop saying you’re
my boyfriend. You’re nothing but a sick jerk. Now, how
about this for a question? Why don’t you go to hell where
you belong? Why don’t you go kill yourself, you’re sure
not worth anything to the human race. Don’t call me anymore,
you pathetic bastard. The cops are on to you. The
phone is tapped, do you hear me? They’re going to get you
and fry you.”
She’d caught him off guard, she knew it, and an
adrenaline rush sent her sky-high, but only for a moment.
After a slight pause, he recovered. In a calm, reasonable
voice, he said, “Now, Rebecca sweetheart, you know as
well as I do that the cops now don’t believe you’re being
stalked, that some weird guy is calling you at all hours, trying
to scare you. You had the phone tap put in yourself because
you couldn’t get them to do it. And I’ll never talk
long enough for that old, low-tech equipment of yours to
get a trace. Oh yes, Rebecca, because you insulted me,
you’ll have to pay for it, big-time.”
She slammed down the receiver. She held it there, hard,
as if trying to stanch the bleeding of a wound, as if holding
it down would keep him from dialing her again, keep
him away from her. Slowly, finally, she backed away from
the phone. She heard a wife on the TV soap plead with her
husband not to leave her for her younger sister. She
walked out onto her small balcony and looked over Central
Park, then turned a bit to the right to look at the
Metropolitan Museum. Hordes of people, most in shorts,
most of them tourists, sat on the steps, reading, laughing,
talking, eating hot dogs from the vendor Teodolpho, some
of them probably smoking dope, picking pockets, and
there were two cops on horseback nearby, their horses’
heads pumping up and down, nervous for some reason.
The sun blazed down. It was only mid-June, yet the unseasonable
heat wave continued unabated. Inside the apartment
it was twenty-five degrees cooler. Too cold, at least
for her, but she couldn’t get the thermostat to move either
up or down.
The phone rang again. She heard it clearly through the
half-closed glass door.
She jerked around and nearly fell over the railing. Not
that it was unexpected. No, never that, it was just so incongruous
set against the normalcy of the scene outside.
She forced herself to look back into her mother’s lovely
pastel living room, to the glass table beside the sofa, at the
white phone that sat atop that table, ringing, ringing.
She let it ring six more times. Then she knew she had to
answer it. It might be about her mother, her very sick
mother, who might be dying. But of course she knew it was
him. It didn’t matter. Did he know why she even had the
phone turned on in the first place? He seemed to know
everything else, but he hadn’t said anything about her
mother. She knew she had no choice at all. She picked it up
on the tenth ring.
“Rebecca, I want you to go out onto your balcony again.
Look to where those cops are sitting on their horses. Do it
She laid down the receiver and walked back out onto
the balcony, leaving the glass door open behind her. She
looked down at the cops. She kept looking. She knew
something horrible was going to happen, she just knew it,
and there was nothing she could do about it but watch
and wait. She waited for three minutes. Just when she
was beginning to convince herself that the man was trying
new and different ways to terrorize her, there was a
She watched both horses rear up wildly. One of the cops
went flying. He landed in a bush as thick smoke billowed
up, obscuring the scene.
When the smoke cleared a bit, she saw an old bag lady
lying on the sidewalk, her market cart in twisted pieces
beside her, her few belongings strewn around her. Pieces
of paper fluttered down to the sidewalk, now rutted with
deep pockmarks. A large bottle of ginger ale was broken,
liquid flowing over the old woman’s sneakers. Time
seemed to have stopped, then suddenly there was chaos as
everyone in view exploded into action. Some people
who’d been loitering on the steps of the museum ran
toward the old lady.
The cops got there first; the one who’d been thrown
from his horse was limping as he ran. They were yelling,
waving their arms—at the carnage or the onrushing
people, Becca didn’t know. She saw the horses throwing
their heads from side to side, their eyes rolling at the
smoke, the smell of the explosive. Becca stood there
frozen, watching. The old woman didn’t move.
Becca knew she was dead. Her stalker had detonated a
bomb and killed that poor old woman. Why? Just to terrorize
her more? She was already so terrified she could hardly
function. What did he want now? She’d left Albany, left the
governor’s staff with no warning, had not even called to
She walked slowly back inside the living room, firmly
closing the glass door behind her. She looked at the phone,
heard him saying her name, over and over. Rebecca, Rebecca.
Very slowly, she hung up. She fell to her knees and
jerked the connector out of the wall jack. The phone in the
bedroom rang, and kept ringing.
She pressed herself close to the wall, her palms
slammed against her ears. She had to do something. She
had to talk to the cops. Again. Surely now that someone
was dead, they would believe that some maniac was terrorizing
her, stalking her, murdering someone to show her he
This time they had to believe her.