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SOME DAYS LASTED FOREVER; some were never born. She awoke in a fury of expectation, gone as soon as felt; the world closed about. Once again life became a succession of swan pecks.
Zoe Kohler, blinking, woke holding a saggy breast, soft as a broken bird. The other wrist was clamped between her thighs. She was conscious of the phlegmy light of late winter, leaking through drawn blinds.
Outside, she knew, would be a metal day, no sun, and a sky that pressed. The air would smell of sulfur. She heard traffic drone and, within the apartment house, the dull thumps of morning doors. In the corner of her bedroom a radiator hissed derisively.
She stared at the ceiling and sensed herself anxiously, the auguries of her entrails: plump organs, a living pulse, the whispering course of tainted blood. A full bladder pressed, and deeper yet she felt the heavy ache that would become biting cramps when her menses began.
She pushed the covers aside, swung her feet out of bed. She moved cautiously; something might twist, something might snap. She sat yawning, hugging herself, bending forward.
"Thursday," she said aloud to the empty room. "March thirteenth."
Her voice sounded cracked, unused. She straightened up, cleared her throat, tried again:
"Thursday. March thirteenth."
That sounded better. A huskiness, but strong, definite. Almost masculine.
Naked, she stood up, stretched, knuckled her scalp. For an instant she swayed, and grabbed the headboard of the bed for support. Then the vertigo passed; she was steady again.
"Like a dizzy spell," she had said to Dr. Stark. "I feel like I might fall."
"And how long does this last?" he inquired. He was shuffling papers on his desk, not looking at her. "A few minutes?"
"Less than that. Just a few seconds."
"Uh ... occasionally."
"Just before your period?"
She thought a moment.
"Yes," she said, "that's right. Before the cramps begin."
Then he looked up.
"Nothing to worry about," he assured her.
But she did worry. She did not like that feeling of disorientation, however brief, when she was out of control.
She padded into the kitchen to switch on the electric percolator, prepared the night before. Then into the bathroom to relieve herself. Before she flushed the toilet, she inspected the color of her urine. It appeared to be a pale gold, but perhaps a little cloudy, and she wondered if she should call Dr. Stark.
Back to the bedroom for five minutes of stretching exercises, performed slowly, almost languidly. She bent far over, knees stiff, to put her palms flat on the floor. She reached far overhead, flexing her spine. She twisted her torso side to side, arms extended. She moved her head about on her neck. She thrust pelvis and buttocks forward and back in a copulative movement she had never seen in any exercise manual but which, she was convinced, lessened the severity of her menstrual cramps.
She returned to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, massaged her gums. She stepped on the scale. Still 124. Her weight hadn't varied more than three pounds since the day she was married.
Because her period was approaching, she took a hotter shower than usual. She lathered with a soap advertised to contain a moisturizing cream that would keep her skin soft and supple. She believed this to be true.
She soaped her body thoroughly and carefully, although she had showered before going to bed the previous night. While she was drying herself with one of the blue-striped towels stolen from the hotel where she worked, she looked down and regretted her smooth, hairless legs for reasons she could not comprehend.
And while looking down, inspecting, saw, yes, the glint of two gray pubic hairs, the first she had ever found. She uttered a sound of dismay, took manicure scissors from the medicine cabinet and clipped them away. She stared at the kinked hairs lying in her palm. Silver wires.
In the bedroom, she turned on the bedside radio, tuned to WQXR. The weather report was not encouraging: overcast, chance of showers, temperature in the high thirties. The announcer's voice sounded something like Kenneth's, and she wondered if her alimony check would arrive on time.
She dressed swiftly. White cotton bra and panties. Not-too-sheer pantyhose in a mousy color. Low-heeled brogues. White turtleneck sweater, tweed skirt with wide, crushed leather belt. Her makeup was minimal and palish. She spent as little time as possible before the mirror. Her short brown hair needed only a quick comb.
In the cabinet over the sink in the kitchen, Zoe Kohler kept her medicines and vitamins and minerals, her pills and food supplements, painkillers and tranquilizers: a collection much too large for the bathroom cabinet.
Taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet door was a typed schedule of what items should be taken each day of the month: some daily, some every other day, some semiweekly, some weekly, some biweekly, some monthly. New drugs were occasionally added. None was ever eliminated.
She poured a full glass of cold grapefruit juice, purchased in quart bottles. On this Thursday morning, March 13th, sipping and swallowing, she downed vitamins A, C, E, and B12, iron and zinc tablets, her birth control pill, a Midol tablet, the capsule for her disease, half a choline tablet, two Anacin, an alfalfa pill, a capsule said to be rich in lecithin, and another of kelp, a single Librium, and an antacid tablet which she was supposed to let melt in her mouth but which she chewed up and swallowed.
She then had a slice of unbuttered whole wheat toast with her first cup of black, decaffeinated coffee. She put an ice cube in the coffee to cool it quickly so she could gulp it down. With her second cup of coffee, also with an ice cube, she smoked a filter-tip advertised as having the lowest tar content of any cigarette in the world.
She rinsed the breakfast things in the sink and left them there for washing in the evening. The kitchen was a walkthrough, and she exited into the living room, moving a little faster now, a little more purposefully.
She took a coat from the foyer closet. It was a chesterfield in black wool with a gray velvet collar. She checked the contents of her black leather shoulder bag: keys, wallet, this and that, a small can of Mace, which was illegal in New York City but which had been obtained for her by Everett Pinckney, and her Swiss Army folding pocket knife, a red-handled tool with two blades, a file, an awl, a tiny pair of scissors, and a bottle opener.
She peered through the peephole of the outside door. The corridor appeared empty. She unbolted the door, took off the chain, turned the lock and eased the door open cautiously. The hallway was empty. She double-locked the door behind her, rang for the elevator, and waited nervously.
She rode down to the lobby by herself, moved quickly to the outside doors and the sidewalk. Leo, the doorman, was shining the brass plaque that listed the names of the five doctors and psychiatrists who had offices on the ground floor.
"Morning, Miz Kohler," Leo said.
She gave him a dim smile and started walking west toward Madison Avenue. She strode rapidly, with a jerky step, looking neither to the right nor the left, not meeting the eyes of pedestrians who passed. But they did not give her a second glance. In fact, she knew, not even a first.
The Hotel Granger, a coffin on end, was pressed between two steel and glass skyscrapers on Madison Avenue, between 46th and 47th streets. The entrance to the hotel, framed by stained marble columns, seemed more like the portal to an obsolete gentlemen's club where members dozed behind The Wall Street Journal and liveried servants brought glasses of sherry on silver salvers.
The reality was not too different. The Granger dated from 1912, and although occasionally refurbished, nothing had been "modernized" or "updated." In the gloomy cocktail lounge, one still rang a bell to summon service, plastic and chromium were abjured, and over the entire main floor—lobby, desk, lounge, dining room, and executive offices—lay the somber, sourish smell of old carpeting, musty upholstery, and too-many dead cigars.
For all of that, the Granger was a successful hostelry, with most of its 283 rooms and suites leased on an annual basis to midtown corporations for the use of executives staying overnight in the city, or for the convenience of out-of-town visitors. Those accommodations available to transients were frequently reserved a year in advance, for the rooms were large and comfortable, the service genial, the rates moderate, and the dining room was said to possess the third-best wine cellar in New York.
The Granger also offered the last hotel billiard room in the city, although there was only one table, and the faded, green felt was torn.
In its almost seventy-year history, the Granger, like all hotels, had its share of tragedy and violence. Heart attacks. Strokes. Two murders. Eight suicides, three of which were leaps from upper floors.
In 1932, a guest had choked to death on a fishbone in the dining room.
In 1949, two gentlemen sharing a suite on the 8th floor had taken an overdose of barbiturates and died, naked, in each other's arms.
In 1953, in a particularly messy incident, an enraged husband had smashed open the door of Room 1208 where his wife and her lover were singing "God Bless America" in bed. The husband had not harmed either, but had dived headfirst from the nearest window, hurtling to his death on Madison Avenue, badly damaging the frosted glass marquee.
In 1968, there had been a shoot-out in a large 3rd-floor corporation suite. One man had been killed, one injured, and a room-service waiter present in the suite had suffered the indignity of a bullet wound in his nates.
The management, of course, had immediately canceled the lease, since a morality clause was an important part of all long-term agreements with the Hotel Granger.
But despite these isolated occurrences, the Granger was essentially a quiet, staid, conservative establishment, catering to old, familiar guests, and frequently their children and grandchildren. The Security Section was not large, and most of its efforts were devoted to quietly evicting drunks and derelicts who wandered in from Madison Avenue, politely asking obvious hookers to move from the cocktail lounge, and keeping a record of lost-and-found articles, a task that bedevils every metropolitan hotel.
Zoe Kohler, having walked uptown from her East 39th Street apartment, entered the Hotel Granger at 8:46 A.M. She nodded at the doorman, the bellhops, the day shift coming on duty behind the reservation desk.
She went through a door marked "Employees Only," down a short corridor to a small suite of offices housing the Security Section. As usual, Barney McMillan, who worked the 1:00 to 9:00 A.M. shift, was asleep on the leather couch in Everett Pinckney's office. She shook him awake. He was a fleshy man, not too clean, and she found it distasteful to touch him.
"Wha'?" he said.
"Get up," she said. "You're supposed to be on duty."
"Yeah," he said, sitting up, yawning, tasting his tongue. "How about some coffee, babe?"
She looked at him.
"No," she said stiffly.
He looked at her.
"How about some coffee, Zoe?"
"That's better," she said. "A Danish?"
"Why not? Prune—or whatever they've got."
"Any excitement?" she asked.
"Nah," he said. "A couple of drunks singing on the ninth floor. That was about it. Quiet night. Just the way I like it."
She hung her coat away in an open closet. She put her purse in the bottom drawer of her desk, and extracted a japanned tray from the wide top drawer. She went out the way she had come, through the lobby and cocktail lounge, into a side corridor that led to the kitchen.
They were busy with breakfast in there, serving in the dining room and making up room orders, and no one spoke to her. No one looked at her. Sometimes she had a fantasy that she was an invisible woman.
She poured two black coffees for Mr. Pinckney and herself. Barney McMillan liked his with two sugars and two creams. The Danish and strudel didn't look especially appetizing, so she selected a jelly doughnut for Barney. He'd eat anything.
She carried her loaded tray back to the Security Section offices. Everett Pinckney had arrived; he and McMillan were sitting on opposite sides of Pinckney's desk, their feet up. They were laughing loudly, but cut it short and took their feet down when Zoe entered. Mr. Pinckney said good morning and both thanked her politely for their morning coffee.
When she went back to her own office, she heard their laughter start up again. She suspected they might be laughing at her, and looked down to make certain her sweater and skirt were not stained, her belt was properly buckled, her pantyhose without runs. She could see nothing amiss, but still ...
She sat primly at her desk in the windowless office, sipping her coffee. She listened to the drone of talk of the two men and the bustling sounds of the hotel about her. She wondered if she was invisible. She wondered if she did exist.
Zoe Kohler was neither this nor that: not short, not tall; not fair, not dark; not thin, not plump. She lacked the saving grace of a single extreme.
In their final argument, just before Kenneth had stormed out of the house, he had shouted in fury and frustration: "You're not definite! You're just not there!"
Her lusterless hair was cut in a short bob: a straight line of bangs across her brow, a center part with thick wings falling just below her ears. She had not changed that style since college. Her hair fitted as precisely as a good wig and was all of a piece, no tendrils or curls, as if it could be lifted off, revealing the pale scalp of a nun or collaborator.
Her face was triangular, dwindling to a pointed chin. The eyes were the same shade of brown as her hair, and without fire or depth. The eyeballs were slightly distended, the lashes a lighter brown and wispy.
Her lips were not pinched. Clever makeup could have softened them—but for what?
At work, in public, her features seemed immobile, set. She rarely smiled—and then it was gone, a flicker. Some thought her serious, solemn, dull. All were wrong. No one knew.
She would soon be thirty-seven, and though she exercised infrequently, her body remained young, with good muscle tone. Her stomach was reasonably flat, buttocks taut. Her thighs were not slack, and there was a sweet indentation between ribcage and hips.
Dr. Stark assured her that, other than the controllable disorder and menstrual cramps, she was in excellent health.
She knew better. She was unloved and incapable of inspiring respect. Was that not an illness?
Dim she may have been, even blank, for there was nothing robust, vital, or assertive in the role she played. The dowdy clothes. The sensible shoes. The subdued eyes, the quick, tremulous smile.
That was the lark, you see. It was all a grand hustle. Now, after so many years, she was swindling the world. She was making her mark.
Barney McMillan left, giving her a wave as he passed her office.
"Ta-ta," he said.
She planned her work for the day: drawing up the Security Section's employment schedule for the following week, writing letters to departed guests who had left personal property in their rooms, filing petty cash vouchers with the bookkeeping department.
It was, she acknowledged, hardly enough to keep her busy for eight hours. But she had learned to pace herself, to appear constantly busy, to maintain a low profile so that no executive might become curious enough to question her value to the Hotel Granger.
She felt no guilt in taking advantage of this sinecure; her take-home pay was less than $200 a week. She was able to live comfortably only because of her alimony and the yearly checks of $3000 each from her mother and father. She had a modest savings account, a checking account, and a small portfolio of tax-exempt municipal bonds.
She did not waste money, but neither did she deny herself. Anyone who might glimpse the gowns concealed in the back of her closet, or the lingerie hidden in the bottom drawer of her dresser, would agree to that: she did not deny herself—what she wanted and what she needed.
Everett Pinckney stopped by. Because there was no extra chair in her tiny office, he put one thin haunch on the edge of her desk and perched there, looking down at her.
Excerpted from The Third Deadly Sin by Lawrence Sanders. Copyright © 1981 Lawrence Sanders. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted December 2, 2013
One gruesome lady, this ! Among the best female killers ever imagined ! Loved this one, as I enjoy all in the series ! Happily clicking away to have all 4 books tucked into my Nook !
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Posted March 2, 2015
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Posted April 6, 2014
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