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Authors: Thomas Perry

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General

Shadow Woman (2 page)

BOOK: Shadow Woman
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While Miranda took another bow,
Jane studied the audience, trying to detect anyone watching the two
shadows for a signal. After a moment she was satisfied that they had
come alone. A company like Pleasure, Inc. could afford as many as
they wanted, but they wouldn’t put more than two on Pete
Hatcher. Pete wasn’t crazy enough to attack even that many. She
leaned close to him and whispered, “Your time is here. Take one
last look at it, and then never come back. This part of your life is
already over.”

He turned to look at her face,
but it was veiled in darkness again. The music grew loud and frantic,
and the audience murmured and then drew in its breath as Miranda took
a little run and jumped off the eight-foot stage onto the floor. She
danced up the aisle, glanced at a man sitting at one of the tables,
reached into his ear, and extracted a pair of satin and lace panties.
The man grinned appreciatively, but the woman beside him looked, then
bared her teeth in something that wasn’t a smile. Her left hand
moved furtively along her haunch.

The audience gasped its
religious conviction that the hand was quicker than the eye, and as
Miranda danced along the tables, their approval drowned out all but
the beat of Miranda’s music.

As she drew near Pete Hatcher,
he turned his eyes away from her toward Jane. She said, “Good
luck, Pete,” and Miranda’s surprisingly strong, sinuous
fingers wrapped themselves around his forearm. Pete looked up into
Miranda’s face as he rose to his feet, but when she was this
close he saw nothing soft or reassuring there. Her unnaturally
perfect teeth were set in the performer’s clench, so she could
be nervous or winded without showing it, and between the black
eyeliner and the blue-gold eyeshadow, the eyes themselves had that
mad, manic stare that they all had, not seeing him at all because she
was living in her mind a minute or two ahead of everyone else. Her
mask of makeup was not the color of a human being, and it reflected
light in tiny metallic sparkles that were not what mortals were made

Pete let her lead him by the
hand down the aisle to the stage, and he let the polite applause that
acknowledged he was a good sport carry him to the steps until it was
overwhelmed by the audience’s celebration that Miranda had
returned to the stage. While the spotlight had followed Miranda to
Pete’s booth, unseen hands had been busy up here. There was a
couch placed at center stage. Miranda led him like a woman leading
her lover. She spoke to him only in a hard, professional tone as they
went. “I’ll walk you through this. For now, just lie
there. Don’t move, don’t touch. Got it?”

“Yes,” he said. He
lay on the couch and discovered that it was hard, a board with a
layer of cloth over it. The audience roared again, and he could tell
it was because Miranda, facing away from them, had snaked a hand up
behind her back and unsnapped the top of her outfit. Her hands went
to the waist of her tights and made a first, tantalizing tug. She
stepped closer to Hatcher, placed a knee on the couch, and everything
happened at once. At the front of the stage there was a flash and a
big puff of smoke. For a second Hatcher could see streams of smoke
piped upward at the footlights, and then he saw nothing. He felt an
abrupt jerk as the silky material under him separated, yanked toward
both sides of the stage by unseen wires. He felt the dislocation of
air as Miranda flailed around in the dark a few feet from him, but he
saw nothing.

The light came on, and the first
sight was Miranda, this time wearing a Victorian-looking black corset
with garters and black stockings and holding a long silver stiletto.
She said, “Mug for them,” so he looked her over uneasily.
When Miranda had timed the laugh, she stepped closer. “Good.
Now stand up and look at the couch.”

He got up and stared down at it.
The couch was now an ornate lacquer-and-silver box about four feet
long. She opened the top and said, “Climb in. When it’s
closed, bring your knees up to your chest.”

He wasn’t surprised to see
the box. Jane had mentioned the box. Pete took one look out at the
audience. He could see Jane sitting alone in the booth, now
illuminated by the bright houselights, and fifty feet behind her and
to her right, the two shadows. One was the guy he had seen outside
his window after dark on Tuesday. He had the melancholy, tired look
of a cop who had been on his feet too much. The other was short,
stocky, and bullnecked like an Irish middleweight, with a round,
reddish squint-eyed face.

As he stepped into the box he
gazed past them at the ridiculous baroque lounge, its oversized
booths with scrollwork molded from sawdust and glue and painted
purple, then fitted with cushions of foam rubber upholstered with
shiny fabric. He loved all of it, being part of it. He loved to see
the women looking at it: the ones from the Midwest who wore crisp
pastel dresses you could never quite see through and took the long
way out of Caesar’s to look in the windows of the shops at
yellow diamond necklaces and solid silver samovars and sable coats,
not because they wanted them but because they were placed there to be
seen, just like celebrities. He loved the dealers in their little
pressed man-outfits and bow ties and shiny shoes, and the tall
dancers in costumes that made them hard and gleaming like human
jewels, and the women from the dry plains who tiptoed out to the pool
with hotel towels wrapped around their hips because they were having
second thoughts about their new bathing suits – maybe not even
how much skin they showed, so much as what owning a suit like that
might mean about them. Hatcher lay down in the box, let her slam the
lid on him, and waited.

Jane watched Miranda work
through her variation of the ancient conjurer’s tricks. Miranda
whirled the box around on its casters, watched the mechanical feet at
the end of the box kick and wiggle while she sliced the box in half,
then wiggle again when she separated the two boxes. Finally, she
flung open the lids of the two boxes, and there was nobody inside at
all. She closed the boxes, whirled them around a bit, then had two
burly assistants in turbans lift one on top of the other. She opened
the single door, and out stepped Pete Hatcher. He bowed, shyly
received a kiss from Miranda, and walked toward the steps.

As he reached the floor of the
lounge, the lights swept back to Miranda. She was climbing into the
box herself. The two assistants turned the box around a few times,
tapped it with Miranda’s discarded wand, and a big flame shot
upward. All the while, the silhouette of the good sport she had
drafted from the audience could be seen making his way in the
darkened room to Jane’s booth.

He sat down and said in
Miranda’s voice, “He’s on his way, Jane.”

“Thanks, Miranda,”
said Jane. “It’s a great show.”

On stage, the two befuddled
assistants opened the box. Out stepped a man who looked very much
like Pete Hatcher. The spotlights quickly searched the room. When
they found Pete Hatcher’s booth, the figure of Pete Hatcher
leapt to its feet, threw off the coat and wig, stepped out of the
pants, and became Miranda. She milked the applause, curtsying and
throwing kisses, then ran back to the stage. She tore a curtain from
the back of the stage to reveal what looked like Pete Hatcher lying
stiff and seemingly asleep, floating three feet off the ground. She
covered him with the curtain, levitated him a few feet higher, where
he would be out of her way, and went on with her act. Jane looked at
her watch.

Miranda proceeded to keep the
audience confused and agitated with her smoke and mirrors and costume
changes. From time to time she would bring up other members of the
audience to shill for her, and when they had done their parts, she
would cover them with cloths and levitate them too, until after two
hours there were six men and women floating above the stage. As
Miranda was taking her final bow, she suddenly seemed to remember
something. She turned, looked up at the six bodies floating in the
air, and hurried toward them. She stepped to the first, snatched the
cloth away, and revealed that there was nothing at all under it. She
pointed to a table at her feet, and the woman who was supposed to be
floating smiled at the audience and waved happily. One by one,
Miranda snatched the cloths out of the air and revealed each of her
volunteers, sitting in their seats watching the show. When she
pointed at Jane’s booth, the man sitting beside Jane gave a
graceful little bow that ended in an outstretched arm lifted toward
Miranda in a gesture that began in appreciation and ended in

The audience’s eyes shot
to the stage in time to see another flash and puff of smoke, and
Miranda was gone. Only the pile of cloths lay where she had stood a
moment before. The smoke grew in volume and thickness, and slowly,
the pile of rags stirred and began to rise. The hydraulic platform
under the stage pushed Miranda upward, and as she rose through the
cloths, they hung from her like thick draped clothing. She was, once
again, the old, bent crone who had begun the show. She limped to the
edge of the stage where she had left her wand, tapped it once on her
palm, and it grew into the walking stick. She winked slyly at the
audience and slowly walked through the smoke and disappeared.

The doors opened at the rear of
the lounge and the audience filed out with the lights still low,
Miranda’s eerie music still in their ears and wisps of
theatrical smoke still in the air. Jane and her companion made their
way toward the door with the others, deep in the gratified,
chattering crowd. Before they stepped into the light of the casino,
Jane said, “Thanks,” and the man, one of Miranda’s
assistants, stepped to the side and was gone.

Jane walked purposefully across
the casino alone, under the enormous crystal chandeliers, where she
could be certain the two shadows would see her. She went into the
lobby and stopped at the front desk to pick up her room key.

She made her way back across the
casino and up into the bar that overlooked the long rows of green
felt tables. She sat down at a table for two and waited. In the
mirror above the bar she could see Pete’s two shadows. The tall
one was wandering around looking over the heads of the gamblers to
see where Pete Hatcher could have gone. The second man was behind
Jane and to her left, just at the perimeter of the bar, where he
could slip away if he needed to.

She waited a few minutes for the
barmaid to show up, then ordered a martini and a scotch and water,
and watched the barmaid throw down two napkins, one in front of the
empty chair, then head for the bar to get the drinks. The sight of
two drinks on the tray coming back to the table seemed to make all
the difference to Pete Hatcher’s shadows. They were reassured,
almost as though they were watching Pete. They might not know where
Hatcher was right at this moment – the men’s room,
somewhere in the labyrinth of slot machines, where they had not
looked for him – but they knew where he was going to be in a
few minutes. The few minutes accumulated into a half hour, then
forty-five minutes. The small shadow left to see if Pete Hatcher’s
car was still in the lot and came back to report to his friend that
it was, but they weren’t feeling confident anymore. Something
was wrong, and they weren’t yet sure what it was.

She glanced at her watch. Katie…
she corrected herself: Miranda… had promised to transport Pete
Hatcher out the stage door near the start of her act, so the show had
given him a full two hours to make the Utah border. Jane’s
little pantomime of being stood up had bought him the third hour to
get to Cedar City. His plane would be loading passengers just about
now. It was time for Jane to start making herself disappear.

She left a twenty-dollar chip on
the table and stepped out of the bar. The two men hesitated for a
second, then followed. They had to give her plenty of room and try
not to look interested. Jane walked toward the elevators, and she
knew they had no choice but to follow. If they lost her, they had
nothing. She took the elevator to the fifteenth floor, went into her
room, kicked off her shoes, and called the garage. “This is
Miss Seymour in Room 1592. I’d like my car right away, please.”
As she listened to the parking attendant’s answer she was
already stepping out of her gown.

She heard the doorknob rattle a
little. She looked at the door, but it didn’t budge. She could
see the shadows of feet under the door. Jane kicked the dress under
the bed, slipped on her slacks, pulled the sweater over her head,
then heard a sudden thud. She looked at the door. The double-edged
blade of a knife had pierced through the thin oak veneer of the
hollow door beside the lock. She froze. An unseen hand worked the
blade around a little and withdrew it. There was another dull thud,
and the blade punched through again.

She snatched her purse, quickly
slipped out through the curtains to the balcony, and quietly slid the
door shut. She had misjudged them. They should not have been willing
to take a chance like this yet. Maybe she had been too eager to get
Pete out of sight and she had missed some sign, forgotten to ask some
question. There was no way to fix it now, no time to think. She had
to get out.

She had nothing with her. This
was not the hotel where she had been sleeping. It was just the room
she had rented to disappear from. In a few seconds those two would
have the door open. She looked around her at the balconies of the
other rooms. They were narrow and far apart, and even if she somehow
managed to reach one of them without falling, she would only be in
the next room. She leaned out as far as she could and looked down. On
the floor below her there was a balcony just like hers, but it had to
be twelve feet down.

Jane saw a thin wedge of light
fan into her room as they opened the door as far as the chain would
allow. She unclasped the leather strap of her purse, clasped it
around the bottom of the vertical railing support closest to the wall
of the building, tossed her purse to the balcony below, stepped over
the railing, and lowered herself into the empty air. She was
trembling with fear and awe at what she had done as she dangled
there, six feet above the railing of the fourteenth-floor balcony.
She wanted to drop but found her hands would not obey the command to
open. It looked as though she would fall, scrape the outside of the
balcony, and plummet two hundred feet to the pavement.

BOOK: Shadow Woman
12.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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