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First pages

Chapter 1

Lisa Yee was flooring her Audi trying to get to work on time. She wished the slower traffic would make way for her. It was like the other cars were in another time zone, moving in slow motion.

Eyes intent, she thrummed her hands on her steering wheel, trying to push eighty miles an hour on the Santa Monica Freeway but thwarted on account of the traffic ahead of her.

She was a paralegal at a downtown Los Angeles law firm, and she dreaded being late. Everything counted against you when you were new on the job. She was twenty-eight years old and somehow had managed to wangle this plum job at a major law firm. She didn’t want to lose it thanks to tardiness.

She was on her way to becoming a top-flight attorney. Nothing could stop her now. She had everything to live for.

Exhilarated by the speed of her vehicle, she wanted to go even faster.

As fast as she was going she had no idea she had only three and a half minutes left to live.

She loved her white Audi. She had just leased it and couldn’t get enough of it.

She saw an opening in the traffic, hammered the gas pedal, and made to change lanes. She had to make it before the gap closed, and she knew she could make it with her high-performance car, its engine throbbing under the hood.

As she reached an overpass, something dropped off the bridge and slammed through her windshield, shattering it and crashing into the dashboard, causing Lisa to lose control of her car, sending it caroming off the SUV’s tailgate in front of her and colliding full-tilt with the concrete median divider.

Before she breathed her last gasp, her skull impaled on a contorted length of rebar jutting from the divider, Lisa realized it was a woman’s body that had crashed through her windshield and was now sitting in her lap grinning at her with the glassy-eyed face of death between her and the airbag that had inflated from her impact with the reinforced concrete.

Chapter 2

Pink slavering tongue dangling out of its mouth, the black and tan Alsatian was loping down the beach along the shoreline as the waves pounded the sand under a lowering gunmetal sky. Ominous thunderclouds were scudding in from the west over the Will Rogers Beach in Santa Monica, heralding the imminent threat of rain.

The dog had no idea if it was going to rain. He didn’t care. He liked the briny reek of the seawater borne on the wind gusting onshore. Head held high, he sniffed the air greedily. He smelled a rancid fish aroma wafting from the sea. Then, after an abrupt shift in the direction of the wind, he caught a whiff of another scent. A different type of scent. A scent that caused him to slow his gait. A scent that caused his body to become tense. A scent that caused his hackles to rise. A scent that wielded powerful influence over his limbic brain.

This new scent overpowered that of the rank fishy stench in the ocean breeze.

The dog spotted a dark object crumpled on the sand up ahead. He decided the reek was emanating from the object.

A fine drizzle began to fall. Hardly even drizzle, more like heavy mist so thick you could feel it. The Alsatian could feel it on his nose, but it didn’t interest him. The smell up ahead was all that interested him. The smell coming from that dark object lying in the sand under the blackening sky.

He had to find out what that object was. It wasn’t moving.

He sniffed the sand as he came closer to the object, the muscles in his back and legs tense.

Unsure of whether to continue, he halted in his tracks. An apprehensive whimper emerged from his throat, as he bowed his head and nostrils close to the sand, sniffing.

On his left the remnants of a crashing wave crept up the beach fanning outward toward him and thinning out, sinking into the sand, before it could reach his paws.

The dog didn’t care. The crashing waves held no interest for him. The odor no less than two feet away from him consumed him, blinding him to everything else around him.

He wanted to move closer to the object, but not too close. There was something forbidding about the scent, something that warned him to stay away. And yet he wanted to get a good sniff of it. It fascinated him. It wasn’t the scent of the skein of kelp wound around portions of the object that fascinated him. It was the object itself. There was so much seaweed draped around the object it was hard to see what it was.

The scent of the object was almost as powerful as that of food, certainly stronger than that of the seaweed swathing it.

It was the scent of death.

He had found the bedraggled corpse of a person of indeterminate age with a bullet hole in the temple washed up on the beach, part of the head missing.

The dog’s name was Rudy, and his twenty-five-year-old master was walking along the beach some fifty feet behind him, dressed in a black neoprene wetsuit and carrying under his arm a white fiberglass surfboard that had a carmine plastic skeg.

In his hand was a cell phone, and he was punching out 9-1-1 as he broke into a jog toward his dog, which was rapt in sniffing the cadaver and unsure what to do.

Fat, cold raindrops commenced to fall, stippling the battleship grey ocean and cloaking the stench of death that hovered over the corpse clinging to it like a shadow.

Chapter 3

When the forty-year-old novelist Bart Dillinger woke up that morning he knew it was going to be a bad day when he went out into the hallway to get the paper and saw two human eyeballs nailed to his Los Angeles condo’s front door.

Clutching his paper he reeled back into his apartment, stifling an urge to retch.

And it went downhill from there.

He called out to his girlfriend Jackie, a green-eyed actress in her thirties, the actual owner of the condo.

No answer.

He entered her bedroom and saw that her bed hadn’t been slept in. She had never returned home last night.

The sole occupants of the room were the stuffed animals spread helter-skelter everywhere. They stared back at him with blank faces.

Jackie loved her stuffed animals. They were family to her. Rabbits, teddy bears, dogs, cats, Eeyore, Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Mickey Mouse, the whole lot of them were like siblings to her. She had collected them since childhood and never threw any of them away.

Sometimes they gave Dillinger the creeps with their dead eyes staring back at him. Right now their eyes seemed to be accusing him of her absence. He turned away from them.

Where was she? he wondered.

There was something going on.

Dillinger didn’t know what, but it wasn’t like his roommate Jackie to disappear without telling him where she was going.

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to overreact and file a missing person’s report with the police that turned out to be unnecessary. On the other hand, was he overreacting by being upset about her disappearance? He didn’t think he was. Jackie just didn’t do stuff like this. She always let him know her whereabouts.

And what about those eyeballs on the front door? Were they hers? He dreaded to look too close at them to make sure.

What kind of sick maniac would nail human eyeballs to a door?

What was going on?

Were those eyes connected to her disappearance somehow? Outlandish thoughts tumbled through his mind.

He told himself to calm down.

Maybe Jackie just had car trouble and was dealing with it. An issue like that would take precedence over everything else.

Still, she could have phoned to tell him about it. And usually she did call him when she had car trouble. She called him once when she had a flat on the 405 and was worried about getting run over by all the traffic speeding by her. He had told her to stay in her car and wait till the tow truck arrived.

So, if she had a flat, why didn’t she call him this time?

It wasn’t like her.

He paced around their apartment.

Was he or wasn’t he overreacting? he wondered.

As a horror novelist, he had an overactive imagination, which he needed to pursue his craft. But an overactive imagination could get in the way of everyday life by compromising his ability to make decisions. Instead of fretting about this, maybe he should take advantage of it and use it as an idea for a new novel.

Except—if he waited too long to notify the police, Jackie might be dead by the time they found her.

And what about nailing human eyes to a door? That had to be a crime. Shouldn’t he report it?

The question was, was it illegal to file a phony missing person’s report with the cops?

He wrote mysteries, as well as horror novels. He ought to know the law. Maybe if you filed the report knowing it was phony, it would be illegal. But how could it be illegal if you did it believing that the person was missing and in jeopardy? Let the police decide if his concern had merit.

He had to do something.

This doing nothing was driving him up the wall.

He decided he better check on those eyes nailed to the door. After all, they might be Jackie’s. Apprehensively, he cracked the front door and nudged it open, dreading the sight that would greet him.

Nonplussed, he stood there, gaping. He couldn’t believe it.

The eyes weren’t there.

What!

He was sure he had seen them when he had got today’s paper.

Face hectic, he shut the door, leaning back against the door, eyes glowing.

Was he imagining Jackie’s disappearance, too?

No, he wasn’t. He was sure of it.

He resumed pacing around his living room.

Maybe one of Jackie’s friends might know where she was. The trouble was, he barely knew any of her friends. Locked in his room writing all day, he didn’t socialize. He had, however, met her friend Alexandra once. She was a lawyer, if he remembered correctly.

The twentysomething guy next door was stomping around his room like a rogue elephant. The thumping on the hardwood floor was echoing throughout Dillinger’s apartment.

Dillinger shook it off. He had to do something.

He strode into the kitchen and rummaged around till he found Jackie’s address book on the Formica counter near the wall-mounted phone. He was surprised she even had a paper address book now that cell phones included digital ones.

He found Alexandra’s phone number and decided to call her. He flicked on the portable TV set on the counter and tuned in the local news channel then punched out Alexandra’s number on the landline wall phone.

Jackie had probably been in a car accident, decided Dillinger, peering out the kitchen window at the gloomy, rain-swept street outside. It had been raining on and off all night.

His eyes cut to the TV screen when he saw a blanket-covered corpse on the beach with cops in ponchos huddled around it in the driving rain.

Was it Jackie? he wondered, his overactive imagination racing out of control. What were the chances he would turn on the TV set and see an image of Jackie’s corpse on the screen? Slim and none. It was ridiculous of him to think it was her.

The newscaster was saying it was an unidentified corpse that had washed up on the beach during the storm.

Alexandra came on the line. “Hello?”

“Hi. This is Bart Dillinger, Jackie’s friend. Have you seen Jackie today?”

“No. Is there a problem?”

“I don’t know. She’s missing, and I haven’t heard from her. I have no idea where she is. Do you?”

“Uh, no. We’re not that close. She doesn’t tell me everywhere she goes.”

“Do you know where she might be?”

“I can’t say that I do.”

“Something’s not right.”

“Is there something I can do?”

“Jackie says you’re a lawyer. Could I ask you for advice?”

“Sure.”

“Do you think I should notify the cops that she’s missing?”

“She may’ve been in an accident on account of the weather.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

“It might be a good idea to call the police if you’re that concerned about her.”

“I don’t want to jump the gun on this.”

“Have you tried phoning her?”

“Yeah. No answer on her cell.”

“There could be a simple explanation for this.”

“Like what?”

There was a pause on the line. “Maybe her cell phone battery’s dead.”

“I suppose. I don’t want to overreact.”

“If you’re really concerned, I don’t think it would be overreacting to call the police.”

“Right. I’m trying to figure my options. Is it illegal to file a phony missing person’s report?”

“It’s not phony, if you honestly don’t know where she is.”

“I mean, if it turns out she’s OK.”

In the apartment on his other side, a loud crash sounded. Somebody moving furniture maybe, decided Dillinger. The eighty-four-year-old retired bookstore owner next door had fallen on his head on the sidewalk last week, and an ambulance had taken him away strapped to a gurney. Now somebody was going through the guy’s apartment. Maybe friends of his, decided Dillinger.

“It’s not a bogus report unless you know where she is and you’re lying that you don’t know,” said Alexandra.

“Well, I don’t know.”

“Then file the report. If nothing else, it might give you peace of mind.”

Dillinger kept imagining dire events happening to Jackie. He attributed it to his hyperactive imagination, which he mined as a writer.

Why would anybody want to be a writer? Millions of people lusted to be writers. Dillinger could never figure out why. Sitting alone in a room spewing out words. Why did such a life turn on millions of people?

Maybe if he was a financially successful writer, he could understand why somebody would want to be a writer. On the other hand, Hemingway was financially successful, had all the glory and the fame, and yet he blew his brains out with a shotgun.

It wasn’t that Dillinger wanted to be a writer. It was just that he had no interest in doing anything else. A lot of the time he didn’t even have interest in being a writer. In the end, he had more interest in it than in anything else.

The idea of sitting alone in a room and vomiting words on a computer for the rest of your life never really turned him on. Still, if you acquired fame, glory, and wealth out of it, it might be worthwhile. But the trappings of success had eluded him. What he had was a bunch of novels he had written that few people bought.

“Hello? Are you there?” said Alexandra.

“Yeah,” he said.

“If you need my services, I would be glad to help. Good-bye.”

Dillinger cradled the handset in the wall mount.

Here he was thinking about himself when he should be thinking about Jackie, whose life might be in jeopardy.

Was any of this really happening, or was he imagining it? What about those eyeballs nailed to his door? Here one minute, gone the next.

The pounding and smashing in the room next door increased, rousing him from his thoughts. It sounded like the neighbors were tearing their room apart and hurling furniture inside it. Maybe they thought gold was stashed under the floorboards.

Gold was the least of his worries now. A human life was at stake. What had happened to Jackie?

Chapter 4

Dillinger riveted his eyes to the TV set in his kitchen at the newscast of the unidentified corpse found on the beach.

The corpse had been found with a bullet hole in its temple.

Unidentified. Could it be Jackie? he wondered.

His mind was leaping for any wild conclusion it could find, he decided. Just because a corpse washed up on the beach when Jackie disappeared didn’t mean it was her. Why was he imagining the worst possible scenario? It must be his writer’s mind at work. Always dreaming up far-fetched plots to lure readers.

A bullet in its head. It couldn’t be her. She had no enemies.

Why was he watching the stupid news, anyway? He ought to turn it off. He needed to get on with his life.

He went to his workroom and sat in front of his laptop at his desk. He booted up the computer and logged in. He tried to concentrate on writing his next novel.

He clutched his head in frustration. Who was he trying to kid? He couldn’t get anything done in his present state of mind. He was too wired up thinking about Jackie. The only ideas he could come up with were alternate ways in which she could have encountered a tragic fate.

He got up and walked around, pondering his next move.

Why didn’t he just call the cops and get it over with? Then he could get on with his work. He knew the reason he didn’t call them. He didn’t trust them. He had written several crime thrillers, and his cops tended to be crooked. And who would be the first suspect if he called the cops? Bart Dillinger, that was who. He had read enough mysteries to know that the primary suspect was always the spouse or lover. Dillinger knew the way a cop’s mind worked, or fancied he did, having created dozens of cop characters in his thrillers.

By calling the cops would he be implicating himself in whatever had happened to her? Not necessarily, he decided. If anything, it should exonerate him. But they might think he was laying down an alibi by being the one to report her missing.

He decided to call a private investigator to ask his advice. He recalled reading in the papers recently about a PI who had made the headlines by tracking down a murderer who had sent his brainwashed victim to assassinate a US senator.

The PI’s name was Carr.

Dillinger found Carr’s number in the phonebook, took out his cell, and called him.

“Yeah. Carr here.”

“My girlfriend is missing,” said Dillinger. “I’m worried about her. Should I call the cops?”

“Why?”

“To file a missing person’s report.”

“A good idea.”

“You don’t think I would be overreacting?”

“I’d need more details before I could answer that. I can tell you one thing, though.”

“What’s that?”

“If something did happen to her, you’re gonna be the number one suspect.”

“That’s why I’m hesitating about involving them.” Holding his cell phone to his ear, Dillinger watched the screen of grey rain waver in the wind gusting outside his study window.

“If something untoward did happen to her, they’ll be looking for you. You can count on that.”

“She may’ve been involved in an accident, is all, because of the weather.”

“Then no sweat. Call ’em.”

“Except . . .”

“Except what?”

“Except, I think it’s worse than that.”

“Look. Are you hiring me or what? I’m not a public dispenser of free information. I have a job to do, like everybody else.”

“I’m considering hiring you to find my girlfriend, instead of notifying the cops of her disappearance.”

“If she did meet with foul play, they’re gonna have to be notified. Hiring me won’t get you out of that.”

“I know. I don’t want to get them involved for no reason, is all. I have no proof anything bad has happened to her. But she always lets me know where she is—and this time she didn’t. It’s not like her.”

“Does that mean you want to hire me? I’m not cheap. It’s expensive living in LA.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means, this is urgent.”

“I’ll take that for a yes.”

“Do you know anything about this dead body that washed up on the beach today?”

“Yeah, I had the news on. You think that’s your girlfriend?”

“I have no idea what to think. But Jackie goes missing without any explanation, and then this corpse with a bullet in its head washes up on the beach at the same time.”

“Want me to check it out?”

“Yeah. Find out if it’s Jacquelyn Merced.”

“That the name of your girlfriend?”

“Yep.”

“You want me to do that before I do anything else?”

“Yeah.”

“And what’s your name?”

“Dillinger.”

“Like the gangster?”

“Yeah. Except my name’s Bart, not John.”

“And where can I reach you?”

Dillinger gave him his phone number.

“I’ll get on it now and get back to you,” said Carr. “I’m now on the clock.”

Dillinger terminated the call. He still wondered if he was overreacting.

The phone in the kitchen rang. He dashed out of his study to answer it, thinking it might be Jackie. He snapped up the handset.

“Jackie?”

It was the recorded voice of a telemarketer.

Dillinger slammed the handset down in disgust.

Chapter 5

Carr didn’t like driving in the rain in LA. People drove like maniacs whenever it rained in SoCal. Angelenos rarely saw rain and didn’t realize it made the roads slippery. Either that, or they didn’t care how slick the roads were. They didn’t want to take the trouble to adjust their driving habits to the rain. Their need for speed didn’t die easy.

As he drove his Mini, he wore a green Padres’ baseball cap and a yellow slicker that he had ordered from L. L. Bean and never wore. When it did rain in LA, it normally didn’t rain very much or very long. He didn’t need a raincoat for such rain. But today was different. The rain was heavy.

And so was the traffic.

When he eventually reached the beach where the corpse had washed up, he saw LAPD cops milling in a circle on the shoreline. They were blocking Carr’s view of the corpse.

He parked his car, got out, and slogged through the wet sand and rain toward the cops. He realized he should have worn boots. His shoes were going to be a soggy, muddy mess when he got back to the office.

Before he did anything, Carr had to find out if the cops knew the corpse’s identity.

He trudged up to the knot of them. Half of them were LAPD, the other half were Santa Monica PD. It was officially the territory of the Santa Monica cops, but LAPD was always interested in victims of gunplay and, besides, Santa Monica was in LA County.

Turning around and spotting Carr, a cop hollered at him to stop.

The screen of rain wasn’t enough to obscure Lt. Barrera’s face. Barrera and Carr had a history. They had known each other when Carr was an active member of the force.

“Don’t you recognize me, Lieutenant?” said Carr.

“Unfortunately,” said Barrera. “So?”

“Then you know I’m a private detective.”

“So?”

“My client wants me to ID the corpse for him.”

“This is a crime scene. You have no right to be here. You know that as well as I.”

Though he wore a poncho, Barrera wasn’t wearing a covering on his head, and the rain was striking his cropped head and pouring into his face, forcing him to squint as he watched Carr.

“I used to work on the force,” said Carr.

“You quit the force and have no right to be here at a crime scene.”

“Do you know who the victim of the gunshot is?” said Carr, peering at the corpse that had a sodden blanket draped over it as it lay motionless in the sand.

The tide was going out, so the cops didn’t have to worry about the body being dragged back to the ocean by a waxing tide.

“How do you know the corpse was shot?” said Barrera.

“I heard it on the news.”

Barrera sighed audibly. “If there was only some way to keep the media away from a crime scene—and PIs, too,” he added as an afterthought fixing his gaze on Carr.

“We gotta do our jobs like everybody else.”

“Not if you interfere with a criminal investigation.”

“I just want to know who got shot here. How’s that interfering with a criminal investigation?”

“I have better things to do than talk to you.”

“After you tell me who died here, I’ll leave.”

“We haven’t been able to ID the corpse yet.”

“Mind if I take a look?” said Carr, taking a step toward the corpse.

Barrera snagged Carr’s arm. “Yeah, I do. This is an active investigation, and we don’t need any more footprints near the stiff.”

Carr had no idea what Jackie Merced looked like. Dillinger hadn’t told him. It wouldn’t do Carr much good inspecting the corpse.

“Can you at least tell me the color of her eyes?” said Carr. “It might go a long way in calming my client.”

“No, I can’t.”

“Look—”

“It’s not a she. It’s a he. That much we do know.”

Then it wasn’t Jackie Merced, decided Carr, meaning he could leave. He wasn’t very happy about standing in the downpour anyway.

Carr noticed Barrera was standing in the sand in his bare feet, which were wet and smeared with sand.

“Government issue,” said Carr, staring at Barrera’s naked feet.

“I can’t stand wearing wet shoes. Do you have a problem with that?”

Carr knew what Barrera meant, shifting his feet in the sand and feeling them squelch in his now-sodden shoes.

“I should have thought of it myself,” said Carr, grimacing at the soggy feel of his wet socks and soaked shoes.

“Good-bye.”

Carr schlepped through the damp sand back to his Mini. Dillinger would be relieved the corpse on the beach wasn’t Jacquelyn Merced.

Carr shivered in the cold rain. He experienced that feeling he got when the kid he had killed accidentally as a cop came to haunt him, that lonely dead feeling like somebody had walked over his grave. That hollow feeling.

Seeing that kid now was the last thing he wanted to see.

He hastened his pace as best he could considering the rain-drenched sand he was plodding through. If he got out of here fast enough, maybe he wouldn’t have to set eyes on that kid, the kid that wouldn’t stay dead, the kid that made him want to destroy himself one agonizing piece at a time. Excoriate his flesh. Flay himself alive. Any kind of physical pain to exorcise that kid.

Chapter 6

Bedraggled, Carr climbed into his Mini, dug his cell phone out of his trouser pocket with difficulty on account of his slicker getting in the way, and called Dillinger.

“Hello?”

“This is Carr. The corpse on the beach isn’t your girlfriend.”

The windows in the Mini were fogging up as Carr exhaled warm air in the dank car.

But Dillinger wasn’t relieved. “Then where is she?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Is she OK?”

“Look, I don’t know anymore about her whereabouts than I did when we first talked.”

Carr’s fingers felt raw and cold as he clutched the cell phone to his ear.

“I have to know where she is,” said Dillinger. “Something’s wrong, I’m sure.”

“I’ll do what I can to help.”

“What’s the next move?”

“Do you know who the last person was to see her?”

“Maybe me. I don’t know.”

“None of your friends saw her after you?”

“I don’t have any friends.”

“What about her? She must have friends.”

“I talked to a couple of them. They don’t remember seeing her last night.”

“She disappeared last night?”

“Yeah. Around eight.”

“She didn’t tell you where she was going?”

“No. I was busy writing at the computer.”

“Why didn’t you ask her?”

“She was already out the door by the time I realized she was leaving.”

“She hasn’t been back since then?”

“Nope.”

“I need to find out what she looked like. I’m gonna drop by your place to take a look at a photo of her.”

“OK.”

Carr couldn’t see a thing outside the Mini’s windows. They were all misted over. Everything looked grey.

He got the bone-chilling impression the dead kid was hanging around the beach. The guilt was roaring back to Carr like a ten-foot wave, overwhelming him. He wanted to sear his flesh with a burning cigarette, punish himself for snuffing out a human life so young.

Starting, he all but dropped his cell phone as somebody outside hammered on the driver’s-side window.

He fixed his wide eyes on the steamed glass, unable to discern what was out there.

“I know you’re in there,” said the guy outside. “I can see your breath.”

Seething, Carr powered down his window, letting rain stream into the car. His heart was still jackhammering thanks to the shock to his system from the unexpected knocking on his window.

Face ruddy from the cold rain, hunched over, a middle-aged bearded man wearing a saturated navy blue wool knit watch cap confronted him. He held out his hand.

“I need money,” he said, blinking as raindrops impinged on his face.

Still angry, Carr shoved open his door, sending the panhandler stumbling backward a few steps. The guy muttered a string of curses.

Carr bolted out of his Mini, charged the guy, and slammed his fist into the guy’s face. The guy fell on his back on the parking lot.

Carr sprang back into his Mini and drove off. He didn’t know if any of the cops had been watching. He didn’t care if they had. He would tell them the vagrant had tried to mug him.

He doubted they had seen him. The rain was heavy and creating a thick pall of obscurity. In any case, their minds were preoccupied with the corpse that had washed up on the beach.

Carr drove to the other end of the parking lot, trying to chill out.

He was annoyed at himself for clobbering the vagrant. He was reverting to his old ways of getting into fights with bums when he had nothing else to do.

Still, the guy had provoked him by hammering on the car window, giving Carr a turn. Carr thought it was that dead kid coming back from the grave to hound him.

The hell with it, decided Carr. The bum ought to get a job anyway. He had no business accosting people for money.

Carr wondered why vagrants annoyed him so much. Maybe it was because he saw himself in them, if he had given up in life and drunk himself into the gutter. If the bum had minded his own business, he wouldn’t be laid out flat on the asphalt now. He had scared the bejesus out of Carr by knocking on the window like that.

Who was he trying to kid? He always got into fights with derelicts when he had nothing to do. But the bum had been asking for it.

Carr didn’t want to think about it anymore. He needed to think about something else. His job. He needed to find Jacquelyn Merced. He needed to focus his mind on his new assignment.

Chapter 7

Carr drove to Dillinger’s condo in Brentwood.

Dillinger told him he could park in a guest parking space under the condo.

Carr parked his Mini, rode the elevator up to the third floor, got out, strode to Dillinger’s door, and rang the bell. Dripping wet, Carr stood at the doorway.

Dillinger opened the door and, after seeing how wet Carr was, grudgingly let him in. Dillinger was wearing black Ralph Lauren track pants with white piping running down the length of the legs and a grey sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders.

“Were you working out?” said Carr.

“Writing is working out.”

“I need a few things from you.”

“I’ll take your raincoat,” said Dillinger.

“That’s OK.”

“No, it’s not. It’s dripping all over everything.”

Carr shrugged out of his slicker and handed it to him.

Dillinger hung it in the bathroom and returned to the living room.

“I need to see a photo of Jacquelyn,” said Carr. “Nice place,” he added, taking in the well-appointed living room. “You must do all right in the writing business.”

“Jacquelyn’s the one with the money. I’m a cult writer.”

“What’s that?”

“A writer nobody’s ever heard of.”

“What kind of books do you write?”

“Horror novels, mostly. Crime thrillers, too.”

“That sounds interesting.”

“It’s what I do.”

“OK. Moving on, before Jacquelyn disappeared, was she involved in anything different?”

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”

“Had she started doing anything out of her normal routine?”

“I can’t think of anything off hand.”

“Was she acting different in any way? Depressed or something?”

“No. She wasn’t depressed. If anything, she was the opposite.”

Carr took note. “She was happier than usual?”

“I don’t know if you would call it ‘happier.’ More like sort of excited.”

“About what?”

“She joined some club last week that she was interested in.”

“What kind of club?”

Dillinger scratched his head. “I can’t recall the name. Oh, yeah. The Russian Club, I think it was.”

“Was she interested in Russia?”

“Not particularly.”

“All of a sudden she’s interested in Russia, for no reason at all?”

“Yeah.”


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Bryan Cassiday writes thrillers and horror fiction. His story "Boxed" appeared in the anthology "Shadows and Teeth Volume Two," which won the International Book Award for best adult horror anthology 2017. He wrote the horror boxed set "Zombie Apocalypse: The Chad Halverson Series." He lives in Southern California.

Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I am reading Lee Child's "Night School." I recently finished reading James Patterson's "Black Book."
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
Readers can find out more about me on my Web site at www.BryanCassiday.com and on my Amazon Author Page. I also have almost 5,000 friends on Facebook and over 3,000 followers on Twitter.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
For me, starting a book is always the hardest part of writing a book.

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