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If anyone was aware of the man who had watched the moving trucks that first day Carol Bryan had come to Dallas and now was watching the very attractive blonde jogging along the golf course, the person's eyes would pass from his familiar figure to the woman he was watching. North Dallas, Texas, where the golf course was located, was famous for four types of residents. There were those who had made their living in the oil business. There were those who had become successful in banking. There were the individuals at the top of the insurance field. And there were women like the blond whose eyes shone with intelligence, whose steps were vibrant and purposeful, whose figures were trim and whose joyful auras came from being some of God's blessed. After all, why else would they have been able to live in the most prestigious section of one of the most exciting cities in the nation? And if the man was not watching this woman, not desiring to meet her, to know her better, to become as intimate with aspects of her life as her closest friends were, then there must be something seriously wrong with him.
The condominium complex in which Carol lived was a familiar one. The people who lived there—both owners and renters—were upscale, intelligent, usually college educated and drove expensive cars. They had the discretionary income that advertisers coveted, frequented quality restaurants and purchased high end, off-the-rack and tailor-made clothing. Many had accumulated valuable collections—coins, stamps, jewelry and the like. They were not the super-rich with theirmulti-million dollar homes, but when they did buy a house, it was not unusual for them to go to one of the nearby neighborhood and pay $500,000 or more for a suitable place to live.
Despite the costly rent, the complex into which Carol Bryan had just moved was somewhat of a transient community. The owner/residents reflected the greatest stability, rarely moving even though they often could afford larger, more expensive locations. Renters, by contrast, came and went based on their jobs, their degree of wanderlust and the vagaries of Dallas society. Married couples had children and some eventually felt the need for a larger home. Some arrived as entrepreneurs, working high-paying jobs while setting aside as much money as possible without sacrificing personal comfort. Then, when their bank accounts allowed, they quit their jobs and moved into whatever space was needed to both live and maintain a small office. Single tenants, who loved the location and the size of the units and planned to stay in the complex until they died, suddenly discovered Mr. or Ms. "Right" and moved into that person's home. Married couples blissfully planning "forever" found that one or both partners had been committing adultery and suddenly neither wished to continue living in the area.
The result was enough turnover in owners and tenants that no one questioned the presence of a stranger if he or she was well dressed, drove a top-of-the-line car and seemed comfortable walking about the complex.
Not that the man who observed Carol on the golf course was a stranger. He had spent extensive time in and around the community. He had friends and acquaintances in the area. When he was on the complex grounds, regardless of the hour, anyone spotting him just assumed he was there for a party, a date or to enjoy an evening with friends. All such assumptions had been true at one time or another, but the man had another preoccupation with the neighborhood. It was a periodic source of income and an outlet for a violent, occasionally overwhelming anger he acted out in the bedrooms of his unsuspecting victims.
The condominium complex was designed in a way that provided a false sense of security for the residents. There were light poles stationed around the grounds, but the light bulbs were positioned so they would never shine into tenants' windows and disturb the rest of some of the more important movers and shakers in Dallas. This left large, shadowy areas outside bedrooms and by patios. Most people walked on the paths where the light countered the darkness of the night. Few thought about the fact that all a "bad guy" had to do was step away from the paths to become almost invisible.
Numerous windows in the apartments gave a bright, spacious feeling to the rooms and all the windows had screens, again giving the illusion of security. Screens, however, could be easily cut or quietly lifted out by anyone who had even a little skill. The man who watched Carol and the other women was skilled and practiced, having been taught by professional burglars who conducted post-arrest "how to" seminars to pass the time while in the Texas state prison system.
Alarm systems in the condos were few in number, but even these could be easily defeated. He had learned all the tricks of the unsophisticated systems—from bypassing the alarm trigger while still outside to utilizing shaving cream to neutralize an external noisemaker. The placement of both the telephone and electrical lines had been designed for easy repair access within the complex, not for high security.
The most elaborate security systems available for Dallas homes included wireless devices connected to cell phones that alerted monitoring services. Although expensive, they could not be bypassed and, if installed throughout a home, would provide the best possible safety short of living in the midst of armed guards. However, those who rented the units often did not wish to spend that kind of money nor did they think it necessary. The exclusiveness of the area made them feel safe. It was a psychological weakness upon which the man preyed.
The items the man stole were often chosen before he entered the condominiums, houses and apartments he targeted. His approach was to "window shop," peeking inside when there was adequate light to see who had Rolex watches, gold coins, diamond earrings, expensive cameras and the like. When the glass was obscured by curtains or the type of shades made of multiple slats that could be opened or closed, he would look through the cracks between the cloth panels or through the holes that were used for the rope pull that opened and closed the blinds.
What the man stole varied with his desires. He had two fences, a local jeweler who was occasionally in the "recycling" business and a second jeweler in an upscale area of Los Angeles, California. The local jeweler was socially prominent and had a clientele that included some of the instant millionaire football players with the Dallas Cowboys. He allegedly would buy expensive stolen items, then alter them in a manner that would allow him to resell them, perhaps to the same victim seeking to replace what was lost. The distance of the California fence assured that easily recognizable, valuable items that could be spotted by the owners or investigators would disappear in a region where the victims would be unlikely to encounter them.
The man considered himself a professional. His polished skills had earned him few arrests and minimum jail time. He also prided himself on being a self-taught connoisseur of quality goods. He delighted in entering someone's home, walking through, looking at various items and imagining what it would be like to be the person who legitimately possessed such things.
No one is certain when the man went from collecting the luxuries purchased by others to claiming the most precious possession a female resident owned—her psychological peace of mind. Certainly, it was well before the time he targeted Victim 23.
It was a warm Dallas night when Carol Bryan locked the doors of her apartment, checked the windows and began getting ready for bed. She had been living in Dallas only a matter of weeks, but as strange as the city still was for her, the rented condominium in which she lived had a familiarity to it that brought her a degree of peace. She was a former military wife Who had mastered the secrets of those people who must relocate often; "setting down roots" meant spending more than a year or two in the same location. Instead of viewing her life in terms of the neighborhood in which she lived, the art consulting business she had been developing, the stores where she shopped and the church she attended, she focused inward. Each time she moved, she carefully unpacked the accumulated personal treasures of a lifetime and arranged them on shelves in a familiar manner throughout her home. Here she would keep the Waterford, Baccarat and Lalique crystal, there the Wedgewood and Limoges china. Over in this area would be the photographs of family members and her daughters, the girls' images running the gamut from birth to the present, all of them now grown into lovely womanhood. Each small section of a room was a living memory, a present inexorably linked to the past.
In Carol's mind, the inside of her home meant peace, safety and freedom from fear. It was her sanctuary. Not that she was a stranger to grief. She had lived on and around military bases in war and peace. She knew of men and women killed in training missions and other actions taken by the United States military. She had lost friends in both. And she had seen some return from action alive, healed of all physical wounds, then slowly destroyed by memories they tried to drown in alcohol or promiscuous sex, ultimately losing those whose love had once sustained them.
Carol was not inexperienced in life. She was both a successful art broker and artist who dealt well with the realities of business. She just had never imagined how easily evil could penetrate the protected environment that had sustained her from the time she was first married and which she now created in this new city.
Now she was living in Dallas, where two of her three daughters had come, one to attend school, the other to work. She wanted to open a business and had brought substantial savings with her to accomplish that end. In other cities where she had lived, the business community embraced the small budget entrepreneur. Dallas was proving far less hospitable, business advisers more likely to criticize what she lacked than to want to help her work with what she had. The pressure had become great enough that she was restless as she prepared for bed, her mind re-evaluating her decision to relocate to Dallas. However, as usual, sleep came easily in the comfortable, protected environment that was her carefully decorated home.
The digital clock in the bedroom registered 3:30 A.M. when Carol was jolted awake. In that brief instant between deep sleep and sudden wakefulness, she sensed an abnormal darkness. Carol thought she was dreaming, for she felt so heavy she could not move. She tried to rise, but her body was too heavy and her head hurt. She no longer could see anything, though there was always enough light coming through the curtains so the bedroom was never too dark to make out objects. Then she heard a man's voice and felt something or someone shaking her. That was when she felt certain she must be dreaming.
"Wake up. Can you hear me? Wake up."
She wasn't heavy. There was a weight on top of her. Her eyes were open, she realized, but there was something covering them, covering her face.
Then she realized the pain in her head was caused by something cold and hard pressed firmly against her temple.
"Can you hear me? Wake up," an angry voice hissed in her ear. It was a few inches from her ear. The breath was so foul it smelled to her like a rotting animal. Then she felt the bile rise up to her throat.
"Can you hear me? Do you understand me?" the angry voice said again.
Carol wasn't dreaming. There was-a form, a body, on top of her, holding a gun to her temple. The person shook her, telling her repeatedly to wake up. She was awake, her eyes now wide open, but she could not see. The cloth or whatever it was covering her face was still in place. Yet her mind was still groggy with sleep and she wasn't quite sure what was happening.
Am I dreaming? No, I'm awake. I left the television on. It's a movie.
For a moment, she felt relieved. Yet as she adjusted to the darkness, she realized she could see the form over her. Either the cloth had moved from her eyes or it was a loose enough weave to allow a glimmer of light through. The reality of what was happening suddenly hit her.
This is not a movie. A man. A black mask. He's holding a gun!
"Don't make a sound or I'll blow your head off. Do you hear me?"
Carol nodded yes.
"Don't move or I will kill you."
Carol did not move. She could no longer see. She could no longer speak.
What seemed like hours later, the man in the black mask finally spoke his last words to which Carol barely reacted: "I will keep watching you and I will kill you if you go to the police. You may be sure of that."
Excerpted from WHISPERS OF ROMANCE, THREATS OF DEATH by Carol Cook and Ted Schwarz. Copyright © 2002 by Carol Cook and Ted Schwarz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.