Television critic Hoe McBride's personal life has crumbled overnight into ruin. Now, through the kitchen window of his darkened apartment, he sees a beautiful, enticing stranger in a neighboring apartmentcaught in a provocative pose. And she is watching him back. Hoe is drawn into her world, and becomes a lead player in a deadly ddrama that threatens to devastate his future.
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About the Author
Stephen Collins is an actor, director, and playwright who is currently starring in the popular television series 7th Heaven. He lives in Los Angeles, California.
Read an Excerpt
A striking redhead in a short black skirt and sparkly yellow see-through blouse sat alone at a dark booth in a tiny, almost-empty bar on the corner of Third Avenue and Eighty-ninth Street, her eyes glued to a TV set suspended over rows of bottles. A glass of ice water and a flickering candle sat on her otherwise bare, stained table.
"We're back with our panel of TV experts," announced the news program's silver-haired host, "to talk about the winners and losers of this year's prime-time network season. Let's start with Joe McBride, from the New York Dispatch. Joe, can the networks survive the continuing onslaught of cable, VCRs, and the Internet?"
The redhead took a swig of ice water and pulled the candle closer.
"Yeah, let's talk about onslaughts," she whispered.
With one hand still on the glass, she slowly, deliberately moved her other palm directly over the candle, two inches from the flame, and held it there. A passing waiter slowed his gait as he took this in.
"Jesus," gulped the waiter, horrified. "Is that a trick?"
The woman looked up into the waiter's eyes but didn't answer.
"Please," urged the waiter anxiously, breaking a sweat. "Stop."
"I can take it," the woman said matter-of-factly, leaving her hand above the flame. "I'm used to pain."
The waiter made a quick retreat from the booth, and the woman held fast a few more seconds before pulling away from the candle. After examining the damage, she picked up the glass of ice water, poured it over a blister that was erupting on the flesh of her palm, and rose to leave, glancing over to the bar as the TV switched to a closeup of Joe McBride.
The waiter returned, holding out an ice pack. "This'll help," heoffered.
Deliberately, the redhead reached down and slowly brought her thumb and index finger together to snuff out the candle's flame.
"Sorry," she said to the staring waiter as she opened her purse. "I just couldn't resist."
She tossed a dollar onto the table and walked calmly out the door.
Working her way through the overstuffed walk-in closet of apartment 9B, the dark-haired young woman let her towel drop to the floor as she reached to touch the extra-sheer yellow blouse that hung on the rack. She ran her fingers slowly beneath the sparkly yellow material, which was so transparent she could see her fingerprints beneath it. She was dying to try it on, but stopped herself and pushed the hanger away.
"Thou shalt not covet thy sister's things," she told herself quietly as she reached instead for an oversized navy sweatshirt, black bicycle shorts, and a frayed New York Yankees hat.
There was a sharp sound in the foyer.
"Dean?" she called hesitantly. The sound came again.
After a few seconds, she realized it was only the clanking of a radiator. In early April there was still plenty of wet, chilly New York weather to come, and she resented that the building was apparently cutting off her heat again.
Rising, she caught sight of herself in an oval mirror on the bedroom wall and brightened a little as she glanced down at her breasts. She'd told the doctor to make them look just like Cindy Crawford's, and damned if he hadn't pulled it off. "You're going to hell, Amy Goode," she told herself almost cheerfully, "in the proverbial handbasket."
She finished dressing for her run, grabbed a laundry bag, and headed out her kitchen's service door. As she waited for the freight elevator, she idly fingered a crucifix around her neck. The doors opened and she was greeted by Ramsn, the super, a small, stout, balding man in his late forties who smelled of ammonia.
"Good morning, seqorita," he said respectfully as he taped a notice onto the elevator wall. The sight of her always brightened Ramsn's day. He tried not to smile over-eagerly as he pulled her laundry bag into the elevator.
"Gracias, Ramsn. Buenos dmas," she answered brightly.
"You always speak the Spanish so nice," said Ramsn admiringly. "No sound like American. Is good."
"Shucks," she said, smiling and swatting him playfully. "How's Sammy?"
"Much better, miss," said Ramsn, nodding his head. "He appreciates your card very well. So has my wife."
"Tell Sammy I asked about him."
"I do that, miss," answered Ramsn with a slight bow of his head. "Very kind." He had always managed to keep his crush on her to himself.
She looked over his shoulder and read the sign as he smoothed another piece of tape onto it.
Today (Friday) from 1:30 on, a new resident will be moving in.
Access to the front and service elevators will be limited for a
few hours. Please bear with us.
"You know this TV writer man who move in?" asked Ramsn. "Seqor McBride?"
"I know of him," she said, nodding. "One-thirty, huh?"
"Sm," said Ramsn. "I hope is not inconvenient."
"Of course not. Give Sammy a hug, you hear?" she said as he held the door for her. "And tell Mila I'll bring some soup later this week." Ramsn, his wife, Mila, and their sickly eight-year-old Sammy, lived in the tiny ground-floor superintendent's apartment.
"Gracias. Adiss," said Ramsn, beaming after her.
She started a load of white and one of colored, shoved what seemed like too many quarters into the slots, and, after using the little bathroom off Ramsn's office, threw her laundry bag into a dented locker Ramsn let her use, part of a row of gray lockers left from the days when the building employed a larger staff. Leaving through the basement exit and walking briskly down Madison Avenue, she spotted the morning papers on a rack outside a tiny tobacco shop. She found the tabloid New York Dispatch, picked one up, and flipped to the TV section, stopping at the byline of Joe McBride, who was reviewing two made-for-TV movies. Noticing that the clerk inside the store was facing away from her, she folded the paper, tucked it under her arm, turned, and walked off.
"Sorry," she said under her breath to the unknowing clerk. "I don't pay to read Joe McBride."