In the suburbs of Connecticut, a carpenter embarks on a gruesome killing spree
While she’s preparing dinner for her husband, Mrs. Porter runs out of lemons. Driving to the supermarket through the achingly quaint downtown area of suburban Putnam Wells, she yearns for life in New York City. The Porters moved to Connecticut because it was supposed to be safer, quieter, more predictable—until that afternoon, when she returns home and finds a madman waiting with a butcher knife in his hand. He doesn’t just kill Mrs. Porter—he takes his time, leaving behind a gory scene that would horrify even the hardest New York cop.
The killer is Paul White, a local carpenter whose wife knows nothing about his thirst for blood; Mrs. White is an innocent who lives to make her husband and daughter happy. As she begins to see shadows of Paul’s vicious side, she will learn just how twisted love can be.
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About the Author
Besides his crime fiction, Klavan has distinguished himself as an author of supernatural thrillers, most notably Don’t Say a Word (1991), which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. He has two ongoing series: Weiss and Bishop, a private-eye duo who made their debut in Dynamite Road (2003), and The Homelanders, a young-adult series about teenagers who fight radical Islam. Besides his fiction, Klavan writes regular opinion pieces for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other national publications. He lives in Southern California.
Read an Excerpt
By Andrew Klavan, Laurence Klavan
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1983 Margaret Tracy
All rights reserved.
With both hands Mary pressed the star-shaped cookie cutter into the flattened dough. Her lips tightened until she was the picture of five-year-old determination. Breathless with the effort, she continued her story.
"... so then Tommy said he would hit Clara if she didn't give it to him and Clara said, 'Oh, no, you won't because'"—she lifted the cutter and looked with satisfaction at the star outlined in the dough—"'I'll tell Mrs. Jenkins.'"
"And what did Tommy say to that?" asked Mary's mother.
"He said"—Mary raised her voice to a plaintive scream imitative of Tommy's—"'I hate you, Clara Burns, and you're a boogie.'"
"Well!" was her mother's comment.
"And Clara said," the child went on more reasonably, "'Well, then, I hate you too, and you're a boogie also, and you stink too!'" It was clear from her tone that Mary sided with her own sex.
Her mother, Joan White, only shook her head. She was standing at the kitchen counter before a cookie sheet on which were arrayed not only stars, but bells, seals with balls balanced on their noses, and camels—her daughter's handiwork and her own. Mrs. White had brushed these objects and creatures with egg white and they were gleaming and sticky-looking in the kitchen light.
She was preparing now to cover the cookies with colored sugar, but she paused before doing so to observe her daughter. The little girl was kneeling atop a stool set against the counter. Her tongue was set between her lips and she was laboriously transferring the cutter to a fresh space on the dough.
"Don't fall off the stool," advised Mrs. White.
Without removing her attention from her task, Mary shifted her knees and Mrs. White began sprinkling the sugar.
Mother and daughter worked on together. Beside each other like that, intent on their chores, it was clear that they looked much alike. This probably meant that the child would never be beautiful. But she might—if she was lucky, if she had as contented a life as her mother had had—develop something of the older woman's homey good looks.
Mrs. White was a woman in her late thirties. She had light red hair which she wore up in an old-fashioned bun. It was beginning to show streaks of silver now, but so far these only seemed like glistening lines in the red—as if her hair were being struck by the sun. Her face was round and nondescript: her cheeks were chubby, her lips a little too pale, a little too thin. Her best features were her eyes. They were almond-shaped and a blue so light that it made the pupils appear very black and deep in contrast. Everywhere on her face—there was no question about it—new lines and wrinkles were beginning to form and old ones were beginning to deepen. These, however, turned upward, as if they had been carved by a lifetime of smiling. All in all, they gave her a look of tranquillity and serenity. It was not a deceptive look. She was, in fact, more content than most: content with her lot, her family, her life. Sometimes she could feel it: a deep satisfaction with the things around her welling up inside her, making her feel good and safe. And, yes, she felt depressed sometimes, too, but she tried not to dwell on it. She favored life's bright side and turned away from unhappiness as often and as quickly as she could. All this was in her face, and the comfortable appearance of it was accented by her figure. Always ample, it was even more so now. She was soft and full, and her hips pressed against her dark print dress and spread her apron at the sides.
Her daughter had the same red hair though she wore hers down long. She had the same plain, round, pleasant face and there seemed every chance that she would look like her mother when she grew up.
Right now, though, in her little blue jumpsuit, her hands and cheeks all but covered with white flour, it was difficult to imagine her as a grown woman at all.
"Carefully," Mrs. White warned Mary. "You'll cut the point off if you get too close."
The girl wiped her nose with her hand, whitening it and her forehead with flour. She set about her task afresh.
Mrs. White watched her with obvious affection. It had taken her a long time to have this second child, and it made her feel warm to have her near. No doubt, though she wouldn't have admitted this, the shared resemblance had something to do with it too.
When Mrs. White finished with the sugar, the stars, bells, seals, and camels were sparkling red, white, yellow, and blue. Mrs. White lifted the cookie sheet, carried it to the open oven door, and slid it inside. She closed the door and stepped to the sink to rinse off her hands.
There was a window over the sink, open on the cool spring day. As the water ran over her fingers, Mrs. White looked out through the gingham curtains. Outside, beyond the driveway and the barn, a small lawn sloped down into dense woods. The woods ran off out of sight ahead and to the right. The branches of the trees, still bare, were red with new growth. Occasional evergreens rose startlingly from the brown. Eventually, from somewhere she couldn't see, the land raised itself into a series of high wooded hills. Beyond the last of these was a sky of the deepest April blue.
In the left-hand corner of the window the road was visible, but this, too, was surrounded by trees and infrequently traveled. It was a quiet, secluded spot.
The Whites were lucky to have such a place. Her husband, Paul, was a carpenter, and if they had bought a house with the money he made, they would really have been able to afford no more than one of the shoddy clapboards typical of Arbordale. By renting, they had found themselves a real country cottage on the border of Arbordale and Putnam Wells. The woods were part of a county conservancy and so were protected against developers. Their nearest neighbor was their landlord, Jonathan Cornell, and though his house was just across the street, it was back far enough in the woods to be hidden during the summer months.
The Whites' cottage was perfect. Over a hundred years old, it stood by the forest so long that it seemed part and parcel of the overall serenity of the place. The simple white two-story frame rested on a stone root cellar that now housed the boiler and water pump. Above this, at ground level, was the dinette and the roomy kitchen. This latter, where she now stood, Mrs. White had done up with her mother's old furnishings, with warm red-checked wallpaper, with samplers bearing pictures of Amish buggies and hex signs, and prayers or slogans such as "No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best."
And, as this was her workshop, so the barn was Paul's. The barn stood just across the short driveway from the cottage. When they had first moved in eight years ago, it had been a rickety structure of rotting brown wood that swayed a little in strong winter winds. Paul had set to work on it and, before long, without altering its quaint exterior, he had transformed it into a sturdy shelter for his tools, machines, and benches. Mrs. White had seen the place when Paul had first remodeled it and given it her blessing. She rarely went in there now. It was—she smiled as she thought it—the bear's private cave.
The whole house—inside and out—was part of Mrs. White's sense of serenity and comfort. As long as it was clean and well-run, she felt she had succeeded for another day. The house was hers, was her, in a way. Her pride in it was personal pride. Nowadays some people laughed at the idea of homes and homemakers, and that, as they say, was all right for some people. But this was what she was, and what she loved. This was where she belonged. This was her sanctuary.
Mrs. White switched off the faucet and turned back to her daughter. The little girl had paused in her exertions. She'd raised her head and her face had lost all expression. Only her eyes were bright and alert. She looked for all the world like a kitten listening for a mouse scrabbling in the walls.
In another moment a blue Ford pickup pulled into the driveway, kicking up the gravel.
Mary began to climb down from the stool.
"Daddy's home!" she cried.CHAPTER 2
Mrs. White looked through the window at her husband of twenty years. Paul was dismounting from his truck, swinging his toolbox in one hand.
He was still, thought Mrs. White, a good-looking man. His black hair had receded some over the years. It still fell forward onto his forehead but not quite as far as it once did. His face was still lean and hard and ruddy, the brown eyes sparkling with energy and life. He still could break into a smile more quickly and easily than any other man she had ever known. It was true that his blue work shirt was beginning to bulge out a bit around the middle, but it was also true that his arms bulged with powerful muscles, and his big hands were steady and sure and strong.
As he stood in the drive a moment, squinting and grinning like a man staring into the sun, Mrs. White was struck by her attraction for him. After all these years, it was odd, she thought. A man becomes so much a part of your life, so much of what you were—flesh of your flesh, as the good book said, bone of your bone—and then, suddenly, in a warm moment like this, he could come to you in a new way. Fresh again. Like a stranger.
Behind him now, bounding from the truck with the same strong heavy step, came their son, Paul Jr. At twelve, he was a big boy, with muscles bursting out of his baby fat. He was carrying a baseball in one hand. Casually, almost insolently, he flipped it to his old man. Paul caught it with his free hand, then, quickly, flipped it back. Suddenly, bending over, he made a run for the door. Toolbox in hand, the older man dodged and weaved past the young boy's pursuit. Finally, Paul made it to the door and pushed through it with his pursuer panting at his back. The two came in laughing noisily.
"Look what I found," Paul said, gesturing to the boy.
"Not in the house." Mrs. White pointed at the ball with a wooden gravy spoon she now held in her hand.
Paul Jr. gave a slight grimace and, opening the door again, tossed the ball back out onto the lawn.
Mrs. White shook her head at him. He was, she thought, in many ways like his father. Besides the physical resemblance, he had inherited Paul's restlessness—a wild spirit that made him fidget in church and skip school now and then. Paul had grown out of it: He had retained the exuberance and—by putting his energy into his work—had made a good life for himself and his family. Mrs. White felt hopeful that Paul Jr. would do the same.
Just as she felt a part of her husband, she felt her children were parts of her. They were the extensions of herself she sent into the world, away from the home to which she clung. The emotion was too complicated for her to express in words. She, Paul, and the children were—this was how she phrased it—one.
But for now she said to Junior, "Wipe your feet, you're making tracks."
"What about Dad's feet."
"I told you to do something."
Raising his eyes to heaven, Paul Jr. wiped his sneakers on the inside mat.
"Now go wash your hands for supper."
Paul Jr. bounded up the stairs, but as he went he ran his hand with malicious tenderness across his sister's head.
"Hello, punk," he said.
Mary pushed her lips together and swung out at him, futilely, with one small fat arm.
"Shut up!" she said.
"You quit teasing your sister," Mrs. White called.
"Punk, punk," Paul Jr. got in before he ran up the stairs to safety.
"You're a punk," Mary managed ineffectually.
But the little girl's pout disappeared when in the next second she was caught up in her father's arms and paraded about the room.
"Mary White, Mary White, wild as a kite and sharp as a bite," Paul sang.
The little girl squealed and laughed and made her father sing the song again. Then her mother told her to wash up too. Paul let her down and her laughter faded to a chuckled, happy "huh-huh" before she followed her brother up the stairs.
There was sudden quiet in the kitchen now. Paul White took his baseball cap off and put it on his wife's small head, then he leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.
"Hey, good lookin'." He peered past her to the stove. "What's cookin'?" Mrs. White smiled. "Roast chicken."
"Mmm, roast chicken, my favorite." Paul held his stomach and made a face.
Mrs. White rapped him with her wooden spoon, laughing. "Quit it. It's good." She took off his cap and gave it back to him. "How did it go today?"
The cap came down over Paul's blue eyes. "Okay. Job's just about done. One more leg and we're there."
"This is still the Miller woman?"
"Yeah. She's been pretty good, but her dog won't leave me alone."
Mrs. White nodded. She looked at Paul a moment, as if waiting for him to continue, then, when he said nothing, with much less force than she had the children she told him, "Better wash up."
When they sat down to eat, Paul Jr. said grace and the rest of them mumbled along. Then all three—wife, daughter, and son—looked expectantly over at the only man among them.
Paul grinned in his easy way. He reached out and picked up the large knife on the meat plate. He held it confidently above the bird. Its long blade glistened in the kitchen light.
"I'll carve," he said.CHAPTER 3
After dinner the children were excused, and went to watch TV. Mrs. White and Paul stayed at the table.
Paul leaned back, a cigarette caught in the tight grip of his short, strong fingers. Lately, he had been trying to cut down, but he still allowed himself one after meals. He inhaled the smoke deeply, with real pleasure. A bit abashed, he looked down at his spreading stomach, then as if to conceal it, shifted position a little.
"So," he said, "kids any trouble?"
She shook her head. "Not today."
"I saw Paul Jr. on the road, from the truck. Boy, he looked big. I was surprised."
"He's big," she agreed.
"He was with that Henderson kid, what's his name?"
"Yeah, Kenny. I'm not so sure he's the best one for Paul to be around, you know? I hear he drinks already."
Mrs. White wagged her head. "Sometimes the more you warn, the more they do."
"Yeah." Paul was thoughtful. "But still. That Kenny."
Mrs. White eyed him indulgently. It was just like fathers to make such proclamations. They did not see the details, the whole day, every day. They observed from dinnertime to bedtime and then laid down the laws. Mrs. White usually ignored Paul's and he usually forgot.
"Well," he said, stretching. "I'm beat."
After the dishes were done—Paul, as always, drying—they watched the second half of Merv Griffin and the entire eleven o'clock news. When the news commentator mentioned that there were no leads yet on that murder in Putnam Wells, Mrs. White attended to her knitting, shutting the voice from her mind. After the news the Whites went to bed.
They lay side by side in the dark, the quiet of the woods and the house all around them.
"I'm sure glad the winter's over with," said Paul softly. "Maybe I can lay some money away for a change."
"Do you think so? Do you think we can?" She heard him push out a long breath. "I guess we'll just have to, won't we?"
Joan White rolled over and put her head on her husband's chest. He put a heavy arm around her shoulder and held her fast.
"Don't make it sound so desperate," she said softly.
"Well, it is, kind of," he said.
"Why? What don't we have?"
"I don't know," he said. "It's not what we don't have exactly. It's what we can't even think of having. Sometimes, Joanie, when I see these people with their houses ..."
"Well—" She snuggled closer to him. "We're not them."
"Well, that's what I mean...."
"But then they're not us either," she said.
This stopped him. He grunted once and then she felt him nodding, as if he were thinking about it. But he said nothing more because soon the effort of the day overtook them.
Mrs. White felt the regular push of his breath in her hair and she settled against him and closed her eyes.CHAPTER 4
In bed, the strong, masculine scent of Paul's skin and hair was soothing. It seemed to carry her on its gentle waves. It seemed to carry her back. It made her—as she often did before she slept—remember....
She had grown up in Putnam, the rural county to the north. She was the only child of a postman and his wife. Her father was a loud, ruddy, warmhearted man. He sinned only, people said, in liking his drink too much. He died when his daughter, Joan, was sixteen.
Joan's mother was a more reserved sort of person, though equally kind. The two of them, both given to silence, lived with too much quiet after her father died.
Excerpted from Mrs. White by Andrew Klavan, Laurence Klavan. Copyright © 1983 Margaret Tracy. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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