The Night Watchman is ready to kill--again. After thirty-five years in prison, he is free to commit the same twisted atrocities that once made him as notorious as the Zodiac Killer and Jack the Ripper. Now, at last, his moment has come. . .
The Nightmare Begins. . .
For renowned psychic Lucinda Sloan, fame is a double-edged sword. Through her television appearances, she helps police capture America's most elusive serial killers. Unfortunately, she also catches the eye of the Night Watchman. Once this madman learns that Lucinda "sees" murders after they're committed, it's time to play. . .
. . .And The Fear Never Ends.
The first victim is someone she knows--a personal shock that brings Lucinda closer to her ex-lover, Detective Randall Barakat. Then a second murder in Chicago, and a third in Denver, makes her realize that the Night Watchman is toying with her. Each victim wears a wristwatch. . .each watch bears a message. . . and each message is a warning for Lucinda that her time is up--and soon she'll be next to die. . .
Praise for Wendy Corsi Staub's Don't Scream
"Staub keeps things taut and unpredictable. . .a surprisingly effective thriller." --Publishers Weekly
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When it's over, he stands back to survey his handiwork.
He reaches out with a gloved hand to adjust the sleeve of her pajama top, pulling it lower on her wrist.
He pushes back a few strands of her hair, the better to assess the frozen grimace on her mouth.
Ah. Very nice, indeed.
He pries open the corpse's clenched right fingers. First, he slides the silver signet ring from the pinkie and puts it aside. Then he unzips the pocket of his down jacket and pulls out a plastic Ziploc bag.
Painstakingly, he deposits the contents of the bag in the palm of her hand. Then he closes her fingers again to form a fist.
Good. This was a last minute idea — a nice little twist to keep them all guessing. To let the almighty Lucinda Sloan know that she no longer has control of her own life.
That he controls her now. He controls everything.
Picking up the pinkie ring, he dredges it through the puddle of blood. He seals it into the Ziploc, dripping red, and puts the bag back into his pocket.
And now, the grand finale.
He takes out a tube of lipstick, uncaps it, gives it a twist, and pauses to admire the slanted, waxy tip.
Then he runs it over the dead woman's lips, staining them a scarlet shade to match the pool of blood in which she lies.
You're perfect, darling.
Her gaping eyes seem to be fixed on his face now in vacant, terrified recognition, belying the fact that she never saw him coming. Not until the last moment.
They never do.
He takes one long, last look; then, satisfied, he leaves her.
Just before closing the door behind him, he snakes a black glove around the doorjamb to turn off the light, leaving her alone in the dark.
She won't mind. Not now.
Maybe she wouldn't have before, either.
For all he knows, she was never afraid of the dark.
But some people are.
Some people are terrified.
Outside, he takes her house key — a duplicate of the one he'd brazenly borrowed from her purse in an unguarded moment — and slides it under the WELCOME mat. Just to make things a little easier, when the time comes.
You really have thought of everything, he congratulates himself.
He pauses momentarily at the foot of the driveway to leave behind another calling card, placing it in a spot where it probably won't be discovered right away — if ever.
But it's there.
He always plays by the rules.
At least, when it comes to his own little game.
He chuckles softly as he slips away into the night beneath the light of a full moon.
Gazing out the passenger's side window at the Federal brick row houses lining the cobblestone street, Lucinda reminds herself that she loves her new neighborhood.
Really, she does.
Philadelphia's Society Hill is safe, convenient, historic, beautiful ... and very few people know to look for her here. That's the important thing.
In the midst of the media attention following the Hastings case, her phone number and address were leaked on the Internet. She was inundated with phone calls and drop-in visitors seeking her help. Families of missing persons from all over the country, private detectives — even a few furtive law enforcement agencies that made it clear she was their last resort.
She moved last month, got an unlisted number and a new e-mail address.
It isn't that she no longer wants to work as a psychic detective — or that people haven't offered exorbitant fees for her services.
On the contrary, she doesn't charge at all. She doesn't have to, thanks to family money. She lives very comfortably off the interest of her trust fund.
But there are only so many people she can help, and she intends to stick with the old routine: Inspector Neal Bullard of the Philadelphia Police Department tells the families of missing persons about her, and brings her on board if they're interested.
They usually are, regardless of whether they believe in this stuff. People whose loved ones have vanished are desperate enough to try anything in order to bring them home.
"Here we are," Jimmy Molinero, at the wheel beside her, announces as they pull up at the curb beneath the exceptionally dim yellow glow of a lamppost.
Some people probably find the district's old-fashioned street lights charming. Lucinda will take the bright white wattage of modern fixtures any day.
"Home, sweet home." Jimmy puts the Mercedes into park and gestures up at the three-story brick townhouse.
Lucinda murmurs in agreement, reluctant to admit that she feels about as at home here as she did on the Dutch Antilles island of Curaçao, where the two of them just spent the long President's Day weekend.
Their rented Caribbean villa was picturesque and upscale. But it wasn't ... comfortable. She wasn't comfortable. She couldn't quite relax, despite day after leisurely day spent in abundant warm sunshine with attentive staff doling out cocktails mixed with the island's namesake liqueur, the same inviting shade as the sparkling Caribbean Sea.
Truly, there was no reason for her not to feel as though she had landed in paradise.
It wasn't the place, though.
It was the company.
She gazes out the window at her building, bathed in the soft white glow of a waning moon and a luminescent dusting of snow.
She's been anxious to get back here practically from the moment she left. Now that she's arrived, she finds herself inexplicably on edge.
But — like it or not — this is her home now. And it was almost like coming full circle, settling into the second floor apartment of a nineteenth century townhouse in one of the oldest — and probably wealthiest, too — neighborhoods in the Northeast.
Not that Lucinda herself has ever lived in this particular area before. But she's willing to bet that her Sloan ancestors once inhabited these elegant, centuries-old homes, going right back to Philadelphia's Colonial days.
"Your mother will be thrilled when she finds out where you've landed," her friend Bradley commented when he helped her move in.
"That's why I'm not going to mention it."
Bradley knew the deal with her family, having also grown up in — and been expelled from — Main Line society, albeit decades earlier.
He peered at her over the cardboard dish carton he was holding. "Pretty childish of you, don't you think, darling?" "Absolutely. But I can't help it."
Bitsy Sloan has a way of bringing out her daughter's unreasonable, petty side.
"I don't suppose you've got any of that pretty blue liqueur hanging around your kitchen for a nightcap?" Jimmy asks her, obviously interested in prolonging their long weekend.
"Fresh out," Lucinda says quickly — maybe too quickly, judging by the hurt dismay in his eyes.
"I was just kidding. I didn't actually think you had —" "Oh, I know. Listen, I do have coffee," she offers. "If you want to come in for a cup."
After all, Jimmy went all out this weekend: plane tickets to the island, meals at the nicest restaurants, a chartered diving trip to Bonaire. ...
He means well.
He just isn't ...
An image of another man flashes into Lucinda's brain.
She sighs inwardly.
Okay, so Jimmy isn't Randy.
But Randy isn't here; he's a two-hour drive away from Philadelphia, on Long Beach Island. And God knows he isn't available.
Jimmy — a good-looking, twice divorced corporate lawyer with two teenaged daughters — is.
He deserves a chance, remember? That's why you made yourself go out with him in the first place.
She and Jimmy met entirely by chance, literally bumping into each other on the courthouse steps a few days after New Year's. They both had their heads bent against a bracing wind, both happened to be running late, both apologized profusely — and moved on.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," she heard a voice say a few days later in a Starbucks a few blocks from there, as she was waiting for her triple shot mocha with triple whipped cream.
She looked up and — surprise! — there he was again. What a coincidence. They chatted over coffee, and she was pleased when he asked her out. Particularly since he had no idea who she was — heiress to the Sloan fortune, or otherwise.
In the wake of last summer's media splash, she's had her share of attention from guys who wanted to date a Sexy Soothsayer Superhero. All of them had turned out to be opportunists in one way or another, not unlike the gold diggers who pursued her in her privileged youth.
Jimmy was pleasantly clueless. He didn't recognize her from the papers or television, and when she told him her last name, he didn't ask, "Are you one of the Sloans?"
It wasn't until she left Starbucks that she started having second thoughts about accepting Jimmy's invitation to go to dinner. As the date drew nearer, she found countless excuses why she shouldn't date him. She actually called to cancel at the last minute, but lost her nerve when his voice mail picked up.
The first date was fine. It led to an impulsive second — and more retrospective reluctance on Lucinda's part, but she convinced herself she was just out of practice. Dating one of the most eligible bachelors in Philadelphia wasn't such a horrible idea, given the state of her love life.
And now, six weeks later, here they are.
Not necessarily a couple ...but a little too close for Lucinda's comfort.
"Coffee sounds good. Do you have decaf?" Jimmy asks hopefully. "Because I don't drink caffeine after four o'clock. It keeps me up all night, makes me crazy."
We wouldn't want that.
"No decaf, sorry."
It's the truth, she notes, defending herself ... to herself.
Not that she can't offer him some other decaf beverage ... but to his credit, Jimmy gives up more easily than she expected.
"Then I guess I'd better get going. I should call my kids and tell them I'm back in town, and I've got to unpack and repack for a business trip."
Maybe he, too, is aware that there's just no chemistry.
He insists on escorting Lucinda and her luggage inside, leaving the silver Mercedes idling at the curb. Not necessarily a great idea in any urban neighborhood, but if she points that out, he might take it as an invitation to turn off the ignition and stick around after all.
Anyway, she's noticed that he treats all the trappings of his wealth with the same casual disregard. He's got money to burn — that's what Neal Bullard said about Jimmy when Lucinda introduced the two men just last week.
She hadn't necessarily expected the crusty old detective to hit it off with a guy whose idea of dressing down is exchanging black wing tips for black Gucci loafers. In fact, maybe that's why she had impulsively suggested that her longtime colleague — and, okay, father figure — join her and Jimmy for lunch at Morton's that day. Maybe she wanted a good reason to stop seeing a perfectly nice guy.
Neal, who has lived all his life over in Two Street, and for a good part of it raised a large, tight-knit family on a police detective's shoestring budget, wasn't thrilled to see Jimmy leave most of his Porterhouse entree on the plate.
"Erma could turn that hunk of beef into cheese steak sandwiches to feed all my kids and grandkids for a coupl'a days," he later grumbled to Lucinda, who is well-acquainted with — and impressed by — Mrs. Bullard's domestic thrift.
Naturally, she welcomed the criticism with a quick, "You're right, I should stop seeing him."
"I didn't say that." Neal raised a bushy white eyebrow at her.
He knows her too well. Knows Randy, too. The three of them worked dozens of missing persons cases together back in the old days, before Randy moved away to Long Beach Island.
She told Neal all about what happened out there last summer, of course. All except the part about sparking old feelings for Randy.
But she didn't have to elaborate.
Neal is a wise old guy.
And Jimmy is a nice, not-quite-as-old — though nearly a generation older than Lucinda — guy, and in the end, she couldn't come up with a good enough reason not to go away with him. He's well-traveled, well-mannered, well-spoken. A natural athlete, he skis, plays tennis and golf, and owns a sailboat he keeps moored — coincidentally — on Long Beach Island.
"You'll have to come sailing with me when the weather gets nice," he said, and she imagined herself there with him, running into Randy.
Then she wondered whether she's going to spend the rest of her life doing this — comparing every man she meets to the one who got away.
Lucinda flips a light switch and picks up her mail in the lobby, then she and Jimmy climb the steep, narrow staircase. At the top, she pulls her keys from her pocket, juggles the mail under her arm, and reaches for her bag.
"I can take that from here, thanks."
"Oh, I've got it."
"But your car is running."
"That's good for the engine, after sitting idle in the cold parking lot for days. And what kind of jerk would I be if I made you carry your own bag?" "It's not that heavy," she reminds him — echoing his own words when he lifted it from her bed before they left for the airport on Friday night.
"I've never seen a woman pack so little for an entire weekend," he comments now, with admiration — still carrying the bag.
She shouldn't be irritated that he didn't hand it over. He's just being polite.
But Lucinda likes to do things for herself.
She gets the impression that Jimmy's two ex-wives and teenaged daughters do not. And that they travel with suitcases full of resort wear in tow, unlike Lucinda, who figured a weekend in the Caribbean required nothing more than a couple of pairs of shorts, flip flops, and a bathing suit. Which was true. Although, when she found herself wearing the same T-shirt to the pool a few days in a row, she figured she might have underdone it, just a little.
Jimmy didn't seem to mind that Lucinda hadn't been entirely outfitted by Tommy Bahama before the trip. In fact, he kept complimenting her on whatever she was wearing. He also complimented her on being so low-maintenance. And, one night when she'd had too much rum, he actually complimented her on her dancing — which, in retrospect, casts serious doubt on his overall sincerity.
Too many compliments.
There are worse problems, she reminds herself.
As a rule, she doesn't do guilt. Yet somehow, Jimmy manages to bring it out in her.
"What does your week look like?"
"Crazy, as usual." Not really. She sticks the key into the deadbolt. "How about yours?"
"Crazy, as usual. I've got to fly away again tomorrow."
Right. His business trip. He's mentioned it a few times over the weekend. She should probably ask him where he's going, but that would prolong the conversation and she's tired.
And I don't really care.
Why, oh why, can't she make herself care? Life would be so much easier if she fell in love with Jimmy. He's the kind of guy she could even bring home to her mother.
And that, in a nutshell, is probably why you'll never let yourself fall in love with Jimmy. Nice, Lucinda.
"Let's get together for dinner next weekend," he says.
It's more a suggestion than an outright invitation, so she can't exactly say no. You can't answer a question nobody's asked.
Whatever. She should probably see him at least once more. Let him down easy.
And, hey, you never know. Maybe he'll start to grow on you.
He leans in and kisses her on the lips.
"Thanks for everything, Jimmy." She reaches around the doorjamb and turns on an interior light. "I had a really nice time."
"So did I. I'll call you."
Something snaps inside of Lucinda. Before she can stop herself, she hears herself saying, "I don't think we should see each other anymore."
Jimmy's dark eyebrows shoot toward his equally dark hairline — both expertly salon dyed, she suspects.
"I'm so sorry," she says helplessly. "It just doesn't feel right."
She debates adding a cliché line to soften the blow. Like "It's not you, it's me"— or maybe something about wanting to stay friends.
But that's not true. She doesn't want to stay friends. It would be awkward. And it is him. He's not her type. She can't change that.
"I'm surprised you feel that way, Lucinda. I thought things were going well, and you just said you had a nice time...."
I'm an idiot.
"I'm sorry," she says again. "You're a great guy, and I'm really glad we met. I just ... can't. Do this."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dead Before Dark"
Copyright © 2009 Wendy Corsi Staub.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I: 5:40,
Part II: 7:05,
Part III: 7:44,
Part IV: 8:26,
Part V: 10:24,