Night after night the soft cat noises drifted through the isolated A-frame where bestselling author Dee Conner retreated to write her romances. Was it another harmless prank pulled by one of her fans? Or was it something much more sinister . . . and deadly . . . ?
Carl Garrett, the fourth bodyguard hired to protect Dee, recognized the sounds for what they were. Demon sounds. Garrett was one of the few survivors of the hushed-up events in Ruger County. But the Lord of Darkness would not make the same mistake twice. The battle was only just beginning—a battle of nerves as well as strength that would pit one man against the most terrifying evil of all . . .
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By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1989 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
The lightning woke him.
He sat up in bed and rubbed the sleep from his disbelieving eyes.
Strangest storm he had ever witnessed. Lightning, but no thunder. Fierce lightning that lit up the skies and lashed at the earth with hard, sulfurous bolts. Maybe the thunder was hidden behind the terrible barrage of lightning striking the earth, Carl thought. Yeah, that had to be it, 'cause the lightning was pounding the earth like incoming artillery rounds, coming in without a break between the shatteringly bright flashes.
There had to be thunder. Right?
Sure. The thunder was there. Had to be. The sounds of lightning slamming the ground were covering the thunder, that's all. Something was damn sure causing the windows in the house to rattle.
Then the lightning struck so close it crackled the young man's hair as the electricity danced over his flesh.
The lightning ceased as abruptly as it began. But that last hard thrust had knocked out the lights. Carl looked at his radio on the night stand. Where the digital numbers had been there was nothing but black.
Just like the room.
Then a very soft and odd sound reached the young man. A throaty sound. He couldn't place it. He listened. The sound stopped. Probably the wind, and nothing more.
He grinned in the darkness. Quoth the Raven.
Carl stopped grinning and tensed as the loud scratching began in the room next to his bedroom. Cold goose bumps suddenly began spreading all over his flesh as he remembered. ... No! He fought that memory away. And stay away, damnit! he shouted in his mind.
He'd just moved into this house. That room was empty. There was nothing in that room. Absolutely nothing.
The scratching continued. Harder this time. A frantic sound to it.
Carl tossed back the covers and swung his feet to the floor.
He almost cried out as his bare feet touched the floor.
The hardwood floor was like ice.
The bedroom suddenly turned cold. Very cold. Carl sat on the edge of the bed — forgetting momentarily the cold floor beneath his feet — and stared in astonishment as his breath frosted the air when he exhaled.
That strange sound — the first strange sound — began as soon as the scratching stopped.
It was louder now, and Carl knew what it was. He wished he didn't.
It was a slow, steady, ominous purring, the low vibratory sound causing Carl to grind his teeth together.
Steady now, boy, he told himself. Just calm down. All that is over and done with. Several years back.
But the memory of that time had not and would never completely leave his mind.
The purring stopped. No more scratching was heard. The room temperature became normal. The floor was no longer ice cold. The electricity came back on, the digital hands on the clock radio blinking on — blink, blink, blink. He would have to reset the damn thing.
Blink. Purr. Scratch.
It started again.
Carl picked up his watch from the nightstand. Five o'clock. He had a prearranged meeting with a client at ten, and it was a good hour-and-a-half or two-hour drive, so it was about time to get up anyway.
Blink. Purr. Scratch.
He jammed his feet into his house slippers and stalked into the hall, throwing open the door to the empty room and clicking on the lights.
The room was empty. No cats or rats or mice or squirrels or any other little furry critters.
He stepped further into the room, his eyes wandering over the baseboards, searching for scratch marks. There were none that he could see.
The door slammed closed behind him.
The lights went out, plunging the room into darkness.
* * *
Daphne ("For God's sake call me Dee") Conners opened her eyes as her radio clicked on, filling the darkness with music. She lay in bed for a few moments with her eyes closed, enjoying that time between sleep and being fully awake. She vaguely recalled being awakened just before dawn by a strangely silent lightning storm. Or had she dreamed it?
Then she remembered that her father had set up a meeting for her that morning. At ten A.M. Here at her A-frame in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her father worried too much, she thought, pushing back the covers and slipping from the warmth of the bed. She was very capable of taking care of herself. Besides, all writers get crank calls and ugly, nasty letters. Sometimes fans became obsessed with their favorite authors and said and did things they didn't mean. But they really didn't want to hurt anybody.
Or at least that's what she kept telling herself. Over and over. What had been happening was so damned weird she wasn't even sure it was happening. Maybe what she needed was a long rest.
But the very idea of her father hiring a private detective to watch her for a few weeks! He'd probably be some seedy sort with little beady eyes and bad breath, she thought as she walked to the bathroom to shower.
Dee was that rarity in the writing business. At the very young age of twenty-three she had two bestsellers in the historical romance field behind her, and had just signed a very lucrative contract for five more novels.
Dee was headstrong, extremely independent, basically a loner, and very pretty. Not beautiful, but more than cute; "pretty" summed it up. She had grown impatient with college — the University, of course; unthinkable to go anywhere else — and dropped out her sophomore year. Her mother had cried and her father had stomped around and blustered and hollered ... none of it to any avail. Dee had started writing full-time.
She certainly didn't have to work. At anything. She was independently wealthy, having come into her inheritance from her grandfather at age eighteen. But she wanted to write, and by God, nothing was going to keep her from that. She wanted to write about Virginia — warts and all. And Virginia had just as many warts as any other state.
Her first book brought that out. Painfully so. She was immediately dropped from membership in several clubs she belonged to in and around Charlottesville. Which was fine with Dee, since she never attended any of the functions anyway. The stuffy, snooty, insufferable bitches bored the hell out of her. And their yuppie husbands were even worse; they reminded her of lapdogs.
Hell with them all.
She thought briefly of that strange, silent lightning storm she'd witnessed just before dawn. Odd, she thought, as she fixed toast and a poached egg for breakfast. With a fresh cup of coffee at hand, she went into her office and turned on the computer. She could get a couple of hours' work done before Sam Spade showed up.
Then the phone rang.
* * *
Carl leaned against the hall wall, sweat pouring from his body and his chest heaving. He had been forced to kick the door open. Now his foot hurt. The damn knob just would not turn. And that scratching and purring had seemed to intensify in the closed and pitch-black room.
He had panicked. And that was not like Carl. He was too much like his dad to lose control the way he'd done.
He pushed away from the wall and looked at the shattered door. The lights had clicked back on as he had bolted into the hall.
He forced himself to calm down. He walked into the bedroom, made up his bed, and laid out the clothes he would wear that day. His boss had told him he would probably be staying over — maybe for a week, or longer — and to pack accordingly. He packed while the coffee was brewing, then showered and dressed. There had been no more purring or scratching.
He put his suitcase and garment bag in the car and went back into the house, turning off the coffee machine and checking to see that all the lights were off. He stepped out onto the front porch, hearing the door lock as he closed it.
He also heard something else.
"Hell with you," Carl muttered, and stepped off the porch, putting his back to the strangeness.
Or so he thought.
* * *
It was her mother.
Dee had braced herself for another obscene call. Relief flooded her when her mother's voice sprang into her ear. They chatted for a time.
No, the private detective had not yet arrived.
Yes, the guest cottage was ready.
She would be just fine.
She was sure he would be a very nice man.
Pushing her slight irritation aside, Dee returned to her computer and lost herself in work. Two hours passed quickly and she was satisfied with her work. She had found the hook and the manuscript was coming along nicely.
She looked at the clock. Nine-thirty She didn't want to start another chapter only to be interrupted by Charlie Chan, so she shut the computer down and walked out onto the porch of the A-frame and sat down.
She caught a glimpse of something moving at the edge of the timberline just as a very foul odor reached her. The movement was probably made by a deer, but that odor was something else. It wasn't from a skunk, she knew that. The smell was ... filthy, obscene. The word evil came into her mind.
A breeze sprang up and the odor was gone.
Dee settled back into her chair to wait for the private eye.
* * *
"She sure likes seclusion," Carl said to himself as he guided the car up the grade, deep timber on both sides of the road.
But it sure was beautiful country.
He had left the Interstate just before reaching the Blue Ridge Mountains and cut south on a state road. Following the directions given him, he turned onto a county road and drove deeper in the mountains. He knew only the name of the person he was to meet with. Nothing else about her.
Daphne, for Christ's sake!
Probably seventy years of age and an old maid, he had speculated. Looks under the bed every night for spooks and things that go bump in the night ... secretly hoping to find a man under there.
Carl Garrett had wanted to be a cop all his life; to be just like his father, Dan Garrett, who had been the sheriff of Ruger County. But his life had been shattered by his father's death. And Carl had yet to pick up all the shattered pieces. He had dropped out of college at the end of his junior year, where his major had been law enforcement, and gone to work for a private investigations firm in Richmond, with offices all over America and in a dozen foreign countries. The firm specialized in criminal investigations. Carl found he had a flair for the work and moved up rapidly within the firm. He had done a little bodyguard work — escorting, as they called it — but not much. The firm had only taken this new job, according to his boss, because Mister Conners was one of the richest men in the world and hadn't even blinked at the fee, inflated by the boss because he didn't like his men acting as babysitters and had hoped to discourage Conners.
"I should have known better," he had told Carl over the phone.
Conners had handed the boss a signed check and told him to assign his best man to it and fill in the numbers.
Carl got the nod.
He turned into the driveway and headed up to the A-frame structure built on the flats. The house and about an acre of land was surrounded by a six-foot-high chain-link fence. He smiled when he spotted the young woman sitting on the long front porch. If that was Daphne Conners, he had a feeling he was going to like this job. As he got out of the car and drew nearer, getting a better look at her, he was sure of it.
"Yes. You're the private eye?"
Carl laughed. "I guess some people still call us that. I'm Carl Garrett."
"You don't look like a keyhole-peeker."
"We don't do much of that, Miss Conners. Ninety-five percent of our work is in the criminal field."
"But money talks, right? Especially my father's money."
"I wouldn't know about that, Miss Conners. I'm a field investigator, not the head of the firm."
"Stop calling me Miss Conners." She narrowed her eyes and cocked her head to one side. "How do I know you're not the man who's been ... bothering me?"
Carl removed his credentials from a back pocket and laid them on the porch floor, then backed away. His I.D., with photo, showed him to be a bonded and licensed private investigator in the state of Virginia. In addition there was his VHP gun permit. Also included, thanks to his dead father's connections in certain government agencies, was a Federal gun permit, allowing him to carry a concealed weapon in any state in the Union.
"Very impressive." Dee brushed back a lock of light brown hair as she waved him on up to the porch and pointed toward a chair. Handing the leather case back to him, she said, "You sure are young to have all those credentials. Nothing from INTERPOL?"
Carl caught the twinkle in her pale blue eyes. "Oh, I'm working on that, Miss ... ah, Daphne."
She grimaced. "For God's sake, call me Dee. Coffee?"
"That would be nice."
"Sugar and cream?"
"Just sugar. One."
"Sit still, I'll get it." She smiled at him. "Enjoy the view."
He did, as she walked into the house, but it wasn't of the Blue Ridge Mountains. About five-five, he guessed; very nicely put together. And he accurately pegged her as a person who would speak her mind whenever she got damn ready to do so.
He wondered why her father had insisted she have a bodyguard. Not that she didn't have a lovely body to guard, mind you.
In the three and a half years that he'd worked for the agency, Carl had acted as escort for perhaps half a dozen or so very rich people. And he had come to the conclusion that with most of them, their elevators didn't go all the way to the top.
A foul odor drifted past his nose, and he grimaced. "Jesus!" he said. "That cesspool sure needs some work."
Carl did not see the figure standing at the edge of the woods, looking at him through eyes of reddened rage.CHAPTER 2
The coffee was very good, and unlike any that Carl had ever drunk. He guessed that she ground her own beans and they were very expensive.
"The name Garrett is somehow familiar to me," she said, looking at him.
"My father was sheriff of Ruger County. He was killed several years ago."
"Ahhh! Yes. I don't think anybody ever got the full story of that ... incident. Yeah, I was a junior at the university when that happened."
"So was I."
"No kidding! What house?"
Carl grinned. "None. I never went in much for that fraternity stuff. What sorority were you in?"
She returned his grin and her face was suddenly pixyish. "None. Much to the mortification of my mother. One of Virginia's first families and all that," she said, acquiring a pretty good English accent, "don't you know?"
"Oh, quite!" He managed a passable cockney accent.
"I dropped out," she told him.
"So did I."
They shared a laugh on the porch and both of them leaned back in the chairs, enjoying the coffee and each other's company and the quiet of the mountains.
"I hate to bring up business," Carl said, breaking the silence. "But I am on your father's payroll — in a manner of speaking."
"He can afford it."
She took a sip of coffee. "Do you have a gun with you?"
"I have a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun in the car."
"Ever shot anybody?"
"On the job or in self-defense as a civilian?"
More to this young man than meets the eye, she thought. "Either."
"Yes, I have."
One, or more? she thought. "Did they, uh ... ?"
"Die? Yes. One was a rapist who jumped bond and the bonding company hired us to get him. I had him cornered in an old shack down on the Virginia-North Carolina line. He came at me with a knife."
She silently absorbed that for a moment and decided she would not pursue that line of questioning any further. Instead she blurted out, "I've been receiving obscene phone calls now for about three weeks. I've come home, here, and found that someone has been in the house, rummaging through my things. They've taken ... very personal items. Bras, panties, that sort of thing."
"Your father was right to hire us. You're dealing with a nut. What did the police say?"
"Well, living out here, it's the sheriffs department. They were very nice and cooperative. They believed me at first."
"They did something at the phone company's main switcher, or whatever they call it. Whenever my number rang, they could do some sort of electronic search and find out where the call came from. And I was taping everything here. I'd get a call, but nothing would show up at the terminal headquarters. And when I'd play them the tape, I heard everything very clearly, but believe it or not, the police couldn't hear anything. They finally wrote me off as a kook."
Excerpted from Cat's Eye by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1989 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Cat's Eye by William W. Johnstone is another frightening horror story. I gave it five stars. Carl Garrett was a private investigator from Richmond, Virginia who was to meet with Daphne Conners, an author who had received threats. Her pen name was Daphne LaCross. She had received obscene phone calls and had underwear stolen. When they met, she told him to call her Dee. Her father wanted her to have a bodyguard. "He almost cried out as his bare feet touched the floor. The hardwood floor was like ice. The bedroom suddenly turned cold. Very cold. Carl sat on the edge of the bed--forgetting momentarily the cold floor beneath his feet--and stared in astonishment as his breath frosted the air when he exhaled. In June? That strange sound--the first strange sound--began as soon as the scratching stopped." After Carl convinced Dee to have part of the surrounding property cleared, he realized the sub-human creatures would intensify their evil efforts. "They formed a tight circle around a pool of mist and began chanting, faces to the sky. The sky seemed to be made of pitch, so dark that movements did not shadow." "All four of Champ's sons were at least two bricks shy of a full wheelbarrow load, but it was doubtful that this one, Keith, even understood the rudiments of operating a wheelbarrow." I received a complimentary copy from Kensington Books and NetGalley. That did not change my opinion for this review.