The Stalking Man [NOOK Book]


In a twisted trail of blood, he spelled out his name, The Stalking Man, hunting women in cities across the country the way his father had once taught him to hunt deer. He loved the moment of terror frozen on their faces when the all-too-horrifying realization would hit them-they were going to die a death more violent and ghastly than their worst nightmares...

They had caught him once-he did his time and now he was "cured." But he'd been ...
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The Stalking Man

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In a twisted trail of blood, he spelled out his name, The Stalking Man, hunting women in cities across the country the way his father had once taught him to hunt deer. He loved the moment of terror frozen on their faces when the all-too-horrifying realization would hit them-they were going to die a death more violent and ghastly than their worst nightmares...

They had caught him once-he did his time and now he was "cured." But he'd been sloppy then. This time he slithered through the country, striking with cunning and precision, laughing at the law as he outran them again and again. Now two men must piece together his macabre clues and stop a sadistic killer who's about to strike too close to home...

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Horrifying...intense." --Chicago Tribune

"All the pieces come together in a chilling climax to this tightly knit shocker." --Publishers Weekly

"Good storytelling...jackhammer drive...the climax is gripping." --The Detroit News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429926324
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 373,191
  • File size: 291 KB

Meet the Author

William J. Coughlin, a former defense attorney and judge in Detroit for twenty years, was the author of sixteen novels. He lived in Grosse Point Woods, Michigan, with his wife, Ruth, an author and book critic.
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Read an Excerpt

Stalking Man, The
1WINTER CREPT BACK INTO SPRINGTIME TO REMIND THE city that it would come again. The large windows rattled as a strong wind drove sheets of rain against the ancient police headquarters building. It was chilly inside but the old radiators remained silent. The furnace had been turned down in anticipation of summer. The few men inside wore sweaters or raincoats to ward off the early morning cold. In the dying hours of their shift their minds were occupied with completing the unending river of paperwork and the promise of a warm breakfast."Call for you, Lieutenant." The desk man had to raise his voice over the all-night radio station they kept on to insure they remained awake. "Line eight.""This is Russo," he said into the receiver."Y'all might not remember me--my name's Annie Robinson and I lives across from the Winklers. You know, that Dr. Winkler y'all want for killing his wife, that woman he was livin' with down by Pike Street?""I remember you, Mars. Robinson." He remembered her well. He could picture her thin black face with its delicately wrinkled skin and her wide eyes, so alive and alert despite her years. He had left his card with her when they had been investigating the Winkler killing."Now I don't wants to get nobody into no trouble, you understand what I mean." Her voice was low, almost awhisper. "But you asked me to call if I should see anything goin' on 'cross the street, you remember?""I remember.""That Winkler ain't much. I know he's a doctor and all, but he still ain't much. His wife wasn't so bad. Had her nose in the air a little, is all. But that Winkler, he ain't no more than trash. You understand what I'm telling ya?""Yes.""Now you won't tell nobody I called you, will you? I wants to help the law and all that, but I don't want to get myself in no trouble either, you understand what I mean?"."Don't worry, Mrs. Robinson. Anything you tell me will be strictly between the two of us."She amused him, but he choked off a chuckle. "That's a solemn promise," he assured her."I trust you," she said after a short pause. "I been watching out the window a while ago. You know us old folks, we don't need much sleep. I been up for a while just killin' time, watching the rain mostly. Anyway, this old car pulls up in front of the Winklers' and Dr. Winkler gets out and runs up into his house, then the car pulls away.""Is he still inside?""Suppose so. I been watching and he ain't come out the front and the old car ain't come back neither, so I guess he still in the place.""Thanks, Mrs. Robinson. We appreciate your information.""Is there goin' to be shooting?""There might be," he answered. "Maybe it might bea good idea if you stayed down in your basement for a while."She chuckled. "I'm over seventy. No reason why I should be down in that cold old basement and miss all the excitement. I'll be peeking out the window to see what happens.""If anything starts, you get behind something.""Don't you worry about Annie Robinson, I didn't get this old for nothin'."Lieutenant Anthony Russo hung up and dialed the precinct in which the Winkler home was located. He explained very carefully to the precinct watch-commander exactly what he wanted done. He had the watch-commander repeat his orders so there would be no mistake."Come on, Rosinski," he said to his partner, "we have to pick up Dr. Winkler. He's sneaked back home.""Shouldn't we get a search warrant?" Rosinski had listened to the telephone conversation with Mrs. Robinson. "If you protect that woman we have no excuse to go breaking in over there. We'll need a warrant to protect ourselves.""I don't think so," the older officer replied. "Come on, I don't want him to get away."The rain was diminishing but the streets remained wet and slick and Rosinski drove as fast as he deemed safe for the conditions despite Russo's urgings that he speed up.As he had directed, three scout cars waited at the intersection Russo had indicated. He hopped out of the still moving car and had a few fast words with the uniformed policemen. Detective Joseph Rosinski waited in their unmarked car. He half listened to the intermittent calls on the police radio. The rest of his mind was filled with agrowing apprehension. He wondered about older men, like Russo, who seemed to take danger in stride, without apparent concern for their lives or well-being. Rosinski had been delighted with his assignment to the homicide bureau; it meant less personal danger. He had done his time as a scout car officer and as a precinct detective. He was glad to be off the street, away from the sudden confrontations and the anxiety of the unknown. Now, suddenly, he was back. He took his revolver from its belt holster and made sure it was loaded.Russo returned to the car and climbed in, his raincoat glistening from the mist that continued to fall. The darkness of the night was turning into a dirty gray dawn. "Drive down Riopelle Street to Saginaw," Russo commanded, "hang a right and then take a left into the alley between Pike and Holcomb.""Right." Rosinski slammed the car into gear and pressed down on the accelerator."Goose it," Russo said, despite the increasing speed. "I'm in a hurry."Following Russo's instructions Rosinski found the route and then turned into the narrow passageway of the alley."Hold it right here," Russo said."But the Winkler place is down about the middle of the block," Rosinski protested as he brought the car to a stop."I know it. Just hold your horses." Russo looked at his watch. There was sufficient daylight now that he could see it. He waited a moment and then opened his door. "I'm going down the alley a short ways. Keep the motor running and your eye on me. You may have to move fast.""Hey, Lieutenant--" Rosinski's protest was cut off as Russo climbed out of the car and was gone. He watched the older man walk slowly and casually down the empty alley, staying close to the decaying garages as he moved, using them as a shield between himself and the Winkler house.Rosinski rolled down the car window so he could hear if Russo called.The cold wet mist chilled his cheek. Rosinski was startled to hear the "whoop" of patrol car sirens. They sounded very loud and he knew they were in front of the Winkler house on Pike Street, sounding their sirens. He watched Russo draw his long-barreled revolver. Suddenly the older officer became tense and alert, his casualness gone.A running figure burst into the alley, a flapping coat held in his hand. He skidded on the wet pavement as he turned toward the waiting officer."Hold it!" Russo's sharp words floated back to his partner.The middle-aged black man hesitated, his head turning as if debating his chances of trying his luck in the other direction."I'd hate to shoot you, Doctor," Russo said, almost kindly. "Put your hands in the air."He hesitated for only a moment. Then he dropped the coat and both hands jerked toward the sky in the traditional sign of surrender.Rosinski grinned as he watched his partner. He was a marvel, this veteran detective. He had planned the whole thing, a scheme to flush the man from cover, like a hunter working a dog across an autumn field. Rosinski wonderedif he would ever develop the kind of instincts Russo possessed. He hoped so. 
He was glad he had surrendered to the urges. Attempting to control himself had been exhausting and restricting, producing anxiety and fatigue from the never-ending battle. He had abandoned the contest and now he was relaxed and free. It was an exhilarating freedom. 
As before, he had gone forth to select a suitable victim. 
A train rumbled past. Its vibrations rattled the glasses on the bar; the noise of its giant engines blended in with the noise from the blaring jukebox. The train passed and the music from the jukebox reasserted its mastery. The singer's nasal voice rode above the sliding notes of steel guitars, telling of a workman's poverty and family devotion. It was Nashville music, thick with nostalgia for a happy past that existed only in the songwriter's mind.The victim was five foot four.The bartender served him and then retreated to the far end of the bar where he leaned his protruding belly against the support of the beer case, and studied a crossword puzzle book. The bartender was oblivious to the music, to the customers, and even to the train noise outside. Like an oriental mystic he had attained perfect meditation.There were only a few people in the bar. An alcoholic couple sat silently together at the other end of the bar. There was no conversation between them. They sipped their drinks with their eyes fixed on the smoke rising fromtheir cigarettes, as if it might eventually spell out some secret message.She was watching him, he could sense it.Two old men were locked in contest at the battered shuffleboard table. One grinned in victory, exposing a single yellow tooth. The other swore, gulped down his beer, and prepared to even the score.It was like a thousand other workmen's bars nestled in the shadow of railway yards. They all looked alike: dingy, their wood and fabric discolored by the dust and grime of the yards, and their tables and wooden floors worn down by a million passing workers, leaving an everlasting aroma of stale beer and sweat.He signaled the bartender for another whiskey. He paid with a twenty-dollar bill, leaving the change in a stack of small bills sitting before him as bait. 
It was almost midnight but he felt no fatigue. It was as if he were once again hunting with his father, waiting in the early morning mist, waiting for the sleek shape of a deer to drift in from the mist, waiting to kill, all tiredness lost in excited anticipation. Those were the only times of the year he was allowed to spend with his father--those short hunting seasons. During those few magic days he was permitted entry into the rites of manhood. He experienced the pungent smell of whiskey and the racy chatter of cards and gambling, and when he was fifteen, the whores of Hurley, Wisconsin. Those hunting trips had been like dreams. They had been like magic carpets and for a short while he was away from his high-strung mother and her emotional demands. For a short while he had been a man.In the mirror behind the bar he could see her approaching. She was pretty in a tough way. Young, but her cold eyes seemed to cast a pall of crafty age over her features. He waited.There was no sound of any trains now and the record had changed. The old saloon was filled with the pleasant contest between a banjo and mandolin picking out an old bluegrass melody, a good beat, soft and harmonious. 
At the time, he had considered it a personal insult that his father had picked such an untimely season to die. The trees had begun to change, autumn had begun and the deer season would soon open. His mother was working, so they had sent his cousin to tell him the news. His young cousin, embarrassed and knowing that more was required, was not capable of compassionate tact, so the words had just spilled out, so cold and unreal. His father had told him he had an easy desk job, yet somehow a part of his heart muscle had torn away and he had died at his desk, instantly and without warning. He had never quite forgiven his father, although he realized the man had had no choice in the matter. Still, it was the ultimate rejection and abandonment; he was destined to remain trapped with his screaming mother, perhaps forever. 
He pretended he didn't see her come up and sit on the stool next to him. He fixed his eyes on the battered television set above the mirror, but he knew she was there and his pulse quickened. 
His father had taught him how to hunt big game. The animal's keen sense of smell and hearing constituted delicate alarm systems and warned of the approach of thehunter. It was best to find a place where they were known to come and then lie in wait for them there. Let them come to you, that was the trick. Patience, a successful hunter needed patience. His father had taught him to wait until the animal was close, to wait until there was little chance of missing. 
Her cheap perfume seemed to envelop him. He was at once both repelled and excited by the strong scent."You're new around here." Her voice sounded slightly strained as if she were trying to project a tone and quality more splendid than her ordinary speech.He looked over at her without replying. It was a good tactic; they were always a bit unsure if the man made no response. She was even younger than she had looked in the mirror; she wore heavy makeup to cover her youthfulness. Her large young breasts strained against the cheap material of her thin blouse."You with the railroad?" she asked.He shook his head. "I'm working on a construction job." He had selected the worn coveralls and the white plastic hard hat as his hunting costume."Live around here?"He grinned at her. "No, I'm from out of town. I come from St. Paul.""You're a long way from home," she said."Yeah."They sat quietly. She pulled a cigarette from her small purse and waited a moment to see if he would light it for her. When he made no effort to move she lit it herself."We don't see too many construction people around here," she said. "Used to see them all the time, whenthe railroad was buildin' things, but that's a long time ago."He nodded in mute agreement. 
Patience, his father had instructed. He felt agitated, it was hard controlling himself. He wanted to start, to hurry and make the arrangements. She was as good as his now, but still he had to force himself to remain calm and play out the game. 
"How long have you been away from home?"He looked at her and grinned again. "Too damn long."Her eyes narrowed slightly as she studied him. "Lookin' for a little action?""I've thought about it.""I'll give you a good time."He appraised her slowly. "I don't have any doubt about that, honey." He smiled. "But I don't know if I can afford you.""Fifty bucks for a regular party," she said, "and seventy-five for something you'll never forget." She flashed her best professional smile.He shook his head sadly. "Don't get me wrong, honey. I can see that you'd be worth every penny, but I have to send most of my money back to my family in St. Paul, so I ain't exactly rolling in the stuff. How about a little fun for twenty-five? I can afford that."She paused only for effect. "Well, for a guy who's as cute as you, I'll make an exception. Twenty-five, but you have to pay for the room.""Hey, what room? I've got a camper-trailer parked down at the yards. I live in the thing. I've got a little stove and it's pretty cozy. It should do all right unless you want to go somewhere else.""Hell, trailer or room, it makes no difference to me." She took him by the hand. "Let's go, lover."He gulped down the last of the whiskey as he allowed her to pull him away from the bar. 
His father had trained him to be a good shot, but in the excitement of his first hunt he had only wounded the animal. He had been surprised that he experienced a shivering thrill at the animal's high-pitched scream. He found he enjoyed watching the agony of a dying animal. When his father died, he thought he would never have that kind of opportunity again. 
The other patrons of the bar paid scant notice as they left. It was good, they would have little to remember about him. He gripped the girl around her fleshy waist and led her down the street toward the dark and deserted railroad yards. 
His pulse raced with anticipation. 
The cross-country journey of the refrigerated railroad car had originated in Boston. There its yawning cavern had been packed full of boxes of frozen fish--the product of coastal fisheries--destined for transport to the waiting midwestern markets. From Boston the car had sped to Cleveland where more than a third of its cargo was unloaded. Toledo was the next stop, and again a third ofthe cargo was transferred into waiting refrigerated trucks. Kansas City was the last stop.In Kansas City, the car, together with other refrigerated cars, was shunted off to a siding to wait until the schedule called for the unloading to begin. One of the yard workers noticed a broken seal and called the railroad security police. There had been a nationwide wave of railroad theft and it was expected that all or part of the fish would be gone.Although it was unlikely that any thief would endure the car's frigid interior, nevertheless several railroad policemen assembled just to make sure. One of the officers pulled the hand latch and pushed the sliding door open. A cloud of misty freezing air blossomed from the door. The officer took out his pistol and searched the inside with a flashlight. Finding nothing, he hopped up into the car, his breath fogging in the arctic-like air. He walked to the back of the car and inspected the boxes with the beam of his flashlight.She had been stuffed behind the last row of boxes. Frozen solid, a light frost covered her face and arms; and although the frost helped to disguise the damage, the officer knew at once she had been beaten to death.The Kansas City Medical Examiner later substantiated the officer's on-the-spot appraisal. The body was that of a female, approximately twenty to twenty-five years of age; five feet four inches tall; 135 pounds. Her skull had been fractured in two places, her nose smashed and her lower jawbone nearly wrenched from its joints. One arm had been broken and most of her ribs had been fractured. The examiner said there was evidence that whoever killed the girl had continued to beat her long after she was dead. He described this action as "frenzy."After the corpse had thawed, fingerprints were takenand transmitted to the FBI in Washington. The dead girl was identified as Mildred S. Evans. She was twenty-two years old, had been arrested eight times for prostitution and convicted twice. She had been born in Gary, Indiana, but all her arrests had been in Toledo, Ohio.The Toledo police were notified, but they could add very little to why the girl was killed. She was a known prostitute and reported to be a loner who usually worked in the vicinity of the Toledo railroad yards. She had no pimp and lived in a small apartment by herself.Mildred S. Evans's mother in Gary was notified. She shed tears for her dead daughter but told police she had expected her daughter to come to such an end. The girl, she said, had fallen in with a bad crowd in high school, had become uncontrollable and had left home.Mildred's mother refused to pay for the funeral and the battered remains were buried in a pauper's grave.No one thought of Mildred S. Evans again, at least not for a while. 
He never wore a watch. It was a prejudice instilled in him as a boy by his German father. His stern father was of the opinion that watches were made for lazy people, clock watchers he called them. His father often lectured that a good man was not dominated by time; he dominated it; therefore he did not need a watch. However, there was a small wall clock in the office law library, and as he stretched he noticed that it was midnight. It surprised him that time had flown so quickly, and for the first time he realized he was tired.The Winkler trial had gone fast, at least in comparison to other murder cases he had tried. The proofs--whichconsisted almost exclusively of opposing psychiatric witnesses--had been quickly put in and now all that remained were the closing arguments and the judge's charge to the jury. It would be close. He had built the defense of insanity very carefully. But the prosecutor had also done a skillful job. Dr. Winkler had killed his wife, dismembered her, and sent the various parts to her relatives. He had admitted it. It was bizarre behavior, but otherwise Winkler seemed to be quite sane. It would be touch-and-go and much would depend on the instructions the judge gave to the jury.Thomas Knapp reviewed his handwritten notes. They constituted his proposed jury instructions and if accepted by the judge would play an important part in Winkler's defense. He had carefully briefed each section, citing important legal precedents, building a history of the defense of insanity from the famous M'Naghten case decided in the English House of Lords in 1843 to People v. Teague. The latter was a case he himself had tried which had established the present state rule on insanity, namely that it was a substantial disorder of thought or mood which significantly impaired judgment, behavior, and the capacity to recognize reality. The infamous Edward Teague, the "Stalking Man," had been found guilty by reason of insanity based on that definition, and now Knapp hoped the same would hold true for Dr. Winkler.Knapp had thought of the Teague case more than once during the past few days. The officer in charge of the Winkler case--Lieutenant Anthony Russo--had also been the policeman who had hunted down and caught Edward Teague. Knapp had sensed the policeman's hostility as the Winkler case progressed. Probably Russo had never forgiven him for the Teague outcome.His knack for total concentration had been a lifelong asset; but now that he was through with his work, his mind was released from its task, and he was once again back in the world, the real world, a place he often found distasteful. The empty law office echoed to the sound of his movement. He left his notes on Martha Flowers's desk. She was more than his right hand, she was a jewel and he often called her that. Like himself, she was a craftsman who was interested in turning out the best possible product, and her work reflected it. He knew she would come in early and have his notes typed perfectly and ready for submission to the trial judge.The night guard took him down to the elevator and unlocked the main building door for him.It was chilly and there was a feel of rain in the night air. He was apprehensive as he walked along, the only pedestrian on the street.During the day the city was bursting with busy people. Its giant auto plants throbbed with life; its streets were clogged with rivers of flowing cars and trucks, most of them produced in the city. Four million people made the place go; they made it clang and thump with mind, muscle, and sweat. But that was during the day.At night, life continued in the suburbs. But the central city--the downtown area--was a dangerous place, empty and forbidding.The sight of a slowly cruising scout car reassured him.There were only a few cars in the yawning cavern of the underground parking garage. Climbing into his Cadillac, he felt secure as he flipped on the door locks. He guided the car up the circular ramp and waved to a nodding night watchman as he pulled out of the garage and into the street. Only a few cars moved on the surfacestreets. As he entered the entrance ramp to the expressway he settled down for the drive home. He flipped on the FM radio and found some soft music. Traffic was light and he enjoyed the drive; it would take him twenty minutes to arrive home.His mind kept returning to the Winkler case. He replayed the testimony of each witness mentally, reviewing everything like a chess master reviewing his game moves. Having carefully built a delicate web of evidence to illustrate Winkler's madness, he would argue it in the morning and give it his best. Again, he recalled his father's often repeated rule: if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well. "A typical Kraut," he said to himself aloud.He exited the expressway and drove through the business section of Chippewa Hills, the richest suburb in the area. Downtown Chippewa Hills at midnight looked just as expensive as it did at any other time of the day. It was clean and trim, its shops glittering with diamonds and the trappings of wealth.He drove for another mile and then turned through the giant stone pillars that proclaimed the entrance to "Idaho Springs--an exclusive place to live," according to the small and tasteful sign hung between the pillars. The word "exclusive" really meant "expensive," but it sounded better. He drove along the winding road past the large houses that served as symbols of status and money. If one could afford to live in Idaho Springs, one had it made by any definition.The garage door opened automatically in response to the electronic device he held in his hand. After he parked his car next to his wife's sports car, the garage door silently closed behind him.The kitchen was dark, a condition that annoyed him. She did it purposely, knowing he would have to grope for the wall switch. He found and flipped on the silent mercury switch and walked to the refrigerator. He had forgotten to eat dinner, and now hunger reminded him of that neglect. A plate of cold chicken was covered with clear plastic wrap. He removed the chicken and a half-gallon of milk and placed them on the kitchen table.Even before she spoke he sensed she was there. He could feel the anger."Where the hell have you been?" Her voice was low and the words were spoken from between clenched teeth.He didn't reply immediately, knowing that delay infuriated her. "I was at the office," he said as he bit into a chicken leg. He noticed that it was a bit underdone."I have been calling your office since nine o'clock.""I turn off the bell when I'm working late, you know that." Her cheeks were coloring as he spoke and he could smell the alcohol on her breath. She was especially nasty when she had been drinking. The chicken seemed to turn to cardboard in his mouth."It might interest you to know ..." She paused in midsentence. "Then again, I suppose you wouldn't really be interested anyway. After all, he's only your son.""What happened to Tim?""Really interested, or is this just some sort of act?"He carefully put the chicken down. "Where is Tim?"She snorted. "Oh, he's all right now. I had to take him to St. Joseph's emergency room, as if that mattered to you.""It matters," he said, as evenly as possible. "What happened?""He had a pencil in his mouth and he was running.He fell and the pencil jammed into the roof of his mouth.""Bad?"She shook her head. "Luckily, no. They put in one stitch. He bled quite a bit." Her voice softened for a moment, then her eyes flashed again. "I have been calling ever since it happened. Now I demand to know the truth--where the hell were you?"There was no point in even trying to eat. He folded the plastic over the chicken but poured himself a half glass of milk.Her face was strained with anger. Only thirty-five, she was still a beautiful woman with raven hair and striking features, although the early puffiness around her dark eyes was a promise of what drinking would eventually do to her carefully tended face. She was a small woman and would have had a weight problem except for tennis and swimming, activities that kept her trim."Where were you?" The words were a harsh whisper but the promise of a scream rose within her.He gulped down the milk. "I told you. I was at the office. I have to make the final argument in the Winkler case tomorrow morning. I was working on that." He looked down at her, feeling sudden pity for the anguish she had suffered. "I'm sorry you were upset. When something like that happens, call the building. They have a night guard. He'll come up and give me the message.""Or call you at your girl friend's place.""I was working.""Bullshit!" She spat the words at him. "What the hell do you take me for, a fool?"There could be no reasoning with her, not in her present mood. She was eager for combat, eager to loose thedemons. And he could feel a dark anger rising within himself, but he ignored it. It would do no good to talk now. It could only end in another raging fight, and he could not bear the thought of expending his energy on such a useless activity."I have to be up early for court, Helen. You're all set for a good old knock-down battle, but I can't oblige you. I'm tired now and I have to get some sleep.""I'll bet you're tired," she snarled. "A good one tonight, someone who spurred you on? I'll just bet you're exhausted."He shrugged and walked past her.In her rage she kicked at him, landing a painful blow on the back of his calf. He ignored her and continued climbing the stairs toward their bedroom."I don't want you in the same room with me," she screamed at him from below. "Park your ass in the spare room. For all I know you have VD coming out your damn ears!"He nodded, grateful for the prospect of being away from her. The alcohol always brought this out. When they were first married it had amused him, her proclivity for vulgar language after a few drinks. He thought it was cute then. It was no longer cute.He looked in on his son. The boy's youthful form was hunched up on top of a mound of blankets and his breathing had a peculiar nasal sound. He supposed Tim was breathing with his injured mouth closed. The boy stirred for a moment and then lay still again.Ellen also slept soundly. Like her younger brother, she had grown used to the rages staged by her mother. Perhaps they saw their mother in a different light than hedid. He hoped so. Children sometimes were far more understanding than adults. 
The spare room offered little comfort. He could hear his wife bustling about and cursing in their bedroom. It was an irritation, just loud enough to be annoying. He recognized it as a challenge, but she would get no fight from him tonight. He lay awake, staring at the ceiling.There had to be more to life than this, he thought, knowing that he was indulging in self-pity. Yet it seemed so unfair. He believed in no god, so there was no avenging or punishing deity exacting some penalty or penance from him. It was inadequate, but his work was the only thing he had, his sole reason for living, his only defense against his troubled world. It was well after three o'clock before Thomas Knapp drifted off into a disturbed sleep. 
Lieutenant Anthony Russo sat in his darkened car for a moment. He had already made up his mind that he would go in, but the pause was in the nature of a gesture to himself, a silent protest against his own folly. It was the culmination of a halfhearted conquest; he had not really intended that this woman should take him seriously.She was a strikingly pretty woman, probably in her early thirties. Russo had been attracted to her from the moment he had first seen her. But then, so had the rest of the police department. For a while her presence in the identification bureau had been the talk of the headquarters building, where pretty women were rare. Her soft auburnhair and twinkling eyes had acted as a magnet, but she had made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with policemen after hours. Still, some of the younger officers persisted in their efforts.Russo had worked his way up to an easy acquaintance by the end of the winter. He was good at it, practiced; two former wives and a string of girl friends attested to his way with women. If he had been a race horse he would have been classed as a fast starter who faded at the finish. His relationships were never very permanent. He really liked her and that bothered him. He wanted no serious emotional entanglements, not any more. A quiet evening, maybe dinner and a movie, and then to bed: that had become his modus operandi with the women of his acquaintance. Nothing serious, just pleasant, no ties, no real emotional involvement. For the most part, his female companions resembled him. Like him, they usually had a history of broken marriages, and, like him, they were wary of being hurt. They too were interested only in a few moments of mind-dulling relaxation, like adult children playing house.She was different. To continue was unfair to her, he knew that. Still, unfair or not, he opened the car door and walked to her apartment entrance.He caught a glimpse of himself in the polished full-length glass in the apartment house vestibule. A touch over six feet, he owed his muscular build and classic Roman nose to genetic gifts from his Italian father. His Irish mother was responsible for the light blue eyes and the boyish mouth, soft features in an otherwise hard face. His jet black hair and dark complexion were also marks of his Italian heritage. He felt he was a mismatch of two different physical types, yet women told him he wasgood-looking. Russo had to admit, even to himself, that he aged well; he looked much younger than his forty-seven years.He felt foolish, embarrassed by his age and his intentions. He wondered if he had read her wrong, if she was only interested in him because of his reputation, as though he were an interesting specimen she wanted to study close up. He had seen the others try: the young men, lean and handsome, using all their charms on her, like a million searchlights trying to penetrate the mist that protected her. But she had laughed them off.Slowly, with his practiced ease, Russo had begun to work on her. He courted her in the style of a runner who was jogging just to keep in shape and who really did not intend to race. At first they laughed at little things, stories he would tell her; then they had longer conversations, sometimes on serious subjects. He began to take her out for coffee: a small thing, just a break in the working day. He remembered her concern after he had been hit during an arrest struggle. His jaw had swelled up but without much pain. She had reached across the coffee-shop table and her fingertips had gently touched his bruised skin. He could still remember the touch.He was wryly amused at his own anxiety on the way up in the elevator. He felt like a schoolboy calling on his first date. He was hardly that and the reaction made him feel even more foolish. He decided he would see her, take her to dinner, then drop her off. No more, just that. Reassured at the thought, he mentally excused himself from any entanglement. She would be pleasant to be with, just a longer coffee date, that was all, he thought, and armed with that concept he softly knocked on her apartment door.The door opened quickly. She had been waiting.Without meaning to, he gasped at the sight of her.Her lithe figure was held in a skin-tight black sheath dress which accentuated every soft curve of her body. Her hair had been styled like an auburn sunburst framing her soft oval face, emphasizing her beauty. Her full lips parted in a slow, satisfied smile as her dark eyes sparkled with pleasure at his reaction."Like me?" She spun slowly for his inspection."Yes." He just managed to force the word out.Her smile widened in amazement. "Are you planning on coming in?"He tried to return the smile as he stepped into her apartment. "You look lovely.""Thank you," she said, taking his coat. "Sit down and make yourself comfortable, Tony. Can I get you a drink?"Her apartment was nice, one of the older types with rooms built wide and high, designed for comfort. She had furnished it in a solid comfortable style, too, no collection of feminine bric-a-brac.He noticed both the spicy aroma and that her small dining table had been set for two."Hey," he called, "I thought I was taking you out to dinner?"She came out of the kitchen with two frosted martini glasses in her hands. "I know," she smiled, handing him a drink, "but I don't have much chance to show off my cooking abilities. I thought tonight it might be nice if we had dinner here." She sat opposite him, exposing a slender black-stockinged leg. "Of course, if you mind, I can freeze the dinner and live off it for a week.""I don't mind, although I was looking forward toshowing you off. I don't get much of a chance to squire beautiful young women around.""That's not what I hear." Her eyes seemed to laugh as she looked over the rim of her glass.He felt embarrassed. "The police department invented gossip, Marie. You can't believe even half of what you hear down there." He took a gulp of the drink. It was strong. "What's for dinner?" He hoped to change the subject."Veal scallopini.""Lots of tomato sauce?"She nodded."You know how to please an Italian.""Do I?"Again she seemed amused, and he felt uncomfortable. "Yeah, load us up with spicy sauce and lots of pasta and you have a happy ethnic. Anyway, that's the secret of most Italian restaurants--that, and the bread sticks.""Speaking of sauce ..." She got up quickly and hurried into the kitchen.The meal was good, very good. He managed to restrain himself and ate delicately. At one of his relatives', he would have rolled up his sleeves and dug in, but here, with her, he curbed his natural instincts and observed polite table manners.He helped her clear away the table, and in the refrigerator he discovered a large pitcher of martinis.Russo felt warm and full, and the martinis had produced a nice euphoria.Marie switched on a stereo set that rested among potted plants in a multilevel wall rack. Soft music, sweet and melodious, added to the charm of the moment. She sat next to him on the sofa."Music okay?" she asked."Fine. Everything's just fine, Marie--the food, the wine, the martinis. There's no place in town that could match this. It's perfect.""You're sure?"He was acutely conscious that her shoulder and leg were lightly touching his own. "You can bet on it.""Have you known many women, Tony? I mean, really?" Her large eyes looked up at him. He couldn't detect any taunting this time."I've been married twice, I told you that. I'm an old man, Marie, I've been around a bit." He quickly added, "Of course nothing like those damn department stories. God, you'd think I had my own public relations man, the way those things get around.""You said you're an old man, but forty-seven isn't old.""How did you know that, my exact age, I mean?"She smiled slowly. "Remember, I work in the identification and records department: I looked you up.""Why?""I was interested.""Well, how did I score? Am I older or younger than you thought before you checked the file?"Her eyes never left him. "As a matter of fact, older, not that it matters."He laughed. "Oh, it can matter. In a couple of years I'll retire to some guard job, lose my hair, and grow fat.""What will happen to all those ladies?""What ladies?""The ones who rely on Tony Russo for their love life. If you're right and only half of what I hear is true, thatleaves quite a few lonely women, if you give that up with your job.""Hey, that's a lot of bull. Christ, who have you been talking to?""Something wrong with me, Tony?""No, why?""I just wondered. Here I am, dressed in my sexiest outfit, perfumed and, I hope, alluring. I've just wined and dined the ranking lover in the police department, and nothing is happening. So something must be wrong with me. You haven't even made the slightest advance."Russo felt himself flush. "Look, kid ...""Don't call me kid.""Okay. I'm very attracted to you. God, what man wouldn't be? But there's at least a fifteen-year difference in our ages. I don't want to get serious with anyone, Marie, I've struck out too many times. I really like you, and I respect you. You're a nice young woman, you don't need to get mixed up with any broken cop.""Kiss me, Tony," she said softly."Marie, it's just that--"She reached up and pulled his head down, pressing her velvet lips against his. Her hands gripped him with surprising strength.Whatever reservations he had burst like a rotten dam, and all the desire for her that he had always known was there spilled out.Without even being aware of it, he moaned her name again and again as he eased her down, his mouth tasting hers, his blood pounding within him.Copyright © 1979 by William J. Coughlin.
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2013


    Have read a few of his books and liked them,this one i didnt care for.

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