Authors: David Handler
For my dear friend David Thompson, who has taken up permanent residence in Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale
HE WOKE UP WITH
a gasp, her heart pounding. Sweat poured from her as she lay there in bed under a single sheet. It was that awful nightmare—again. The one where he came for her in the night, hungry for her. The one where he did those horrible things to her. And she couldn’t stop him no matter how hard she fought him or—
Scritch … Scritch …
Except this was no nightmare. It was real. He was out there in the hallway turning the knob on her locked door, first one way, then the other.
Scritch … Scritch …
She scrambled up to a seated position, knees hugged to her chest, her breath quick and shallow, eyes wide with terror. It was 3:13
according to her bedside clock. Moonlight streamed in the open window.
Scritch … Scritch …
Such a tiny noise. But her senses were so alive that it had yanked her awake. Because she was expecting it, fearing it. That was why she’d locked her bedroom door.
Scritch … Scritch …
He was being real quiet so he wouldn’t awaken anyone else. The bastard. She stared at the door in the moonlight, defenseless and alone. She couldn’t cry out for help. If she did, then it would no longer be a secret. And it had to stay a secret. Just had to. That was the only thing that was saving her right now. That no one knew. Although they would soon enough, because there was no way she could hide the awful truth that was growing inside her right at this very—
Plink … Plink …
A different sound. Now he was, what, inserting a key in the lock?
He had a key to her door
. How? No point in wondering how. He always figured out how to get in when he wanted her. Had there ever been such a vile man on the face of this earth? No, never. She had to get out of here. Just had to.
Plink … Plink …
Desperately, her eyes searched for a way out. There was the door. There was the window—a second-floor window with its priceless waterfront view of Long Island Sound smack dab at the mouth of the Connecticut River. It was, what, a fifteen-foot drop out the window to the stone terrace below? She’d break both legs for sure. She
try to climb out the window and up onto the roof. Except she wasn’t Catwoman. She was a flesh and blood girl. A flesh and blood girl who was about to be brutalized yet again.
He’d done it now. Unlocked the door.
Hurriedly, she lay back down, stiff as a board in her sleeveless T-shirt and panties. Pretended she was asleep as, oh-so slowly, he swung the door open. Every cell in her body screamed at her to run. Yet she forced herself to remain motionless, breathing slowly and evenly. She couldn’t overpower him. He was too strong for her. Unbelievably strong. She had to outfox him. He was incredibly wily. But she had to try.
He tiptoed toward her bed, silent like the predatory night creature that he was. She could smell his sweaty animal scent. He
an animal, not a person who had any genuine feelings or sense of decency. He tiptoed closer and closer, her heart hammering inside of her chest as she lay there motionless. He came around to one side of the bed. Now he was right there next to her nightstand, reaching for her.…
She bolted out of the other side of the bed and made a dash for the open door. She caught him by surprise. He dove for her but missed her. She ran out the door and down the hallway to the stairs, silent on her bare feet. She had no idea where she was going. Just away. Down the stairs she ran, hearing him coming after her. Toward the kitchen, then out the kitchen door onto the fieldstone terrace, where she tripped over a garden hose and went down hard, scraping both knees. But she sprang right back up and kept on running as he barreled out the door after her. She ran across the lawn toward the water, hearing her own frightened gasps. She was not a fast runner. And he was so shockingly quick that within seconds he’d caught her from behind, ripping her T-shirt as he tackled her to the damp grass.
“Why do you make me chase you?” he whispered, pinning her body to the grass with his knees. His hands gripped her tightly by both wrists. “You know you want me.”
“Why can’t you leave me
?” she moaned, squirming in his grasp.
“Because you’re mine.” One of his hands went to her throat, squeezing it so hard she couldn’t breathe. “You’ll always be mine.” He let go of her throat and fell on her like an oak tree, nuzzling her neck, his breath reeking of alcohol.
She writhed beneath him, shuddering with revulsion as he rubbed himself against her, making her feel how aroused he was. He ran a hand up and down her bare leg, his fingers finding her panties. When she started to scream he clamped his other hand over her mouth.
“So beautiful,” he whispered, rising up onto one knee to unzip his pants.
That was when she took her best and only shot—kneed him in the groin as hard as she could. He let out a groan of pure pain, releasing his grip on her. She scrambled out from under him and started running again. There was only one means of escape. She took it. Dashed across the narrow ribbon of sand and dove headfirst into the water, shocked by how cold it was. She started to swim, the salt water stinging her scraped knees. Her stroke had never been smooth. It wasn’t much more than a frantic dog paddle, her arms and legs working hard, nose up out of the water. But it got her where she was going,
, as she watched him over her shoulder.
He stood at the water’s edge, fully clothed. “Come back, girl,” he called to her softly. Didn’t raise his voice. That would wake people up. He always remembered to keep quiet. He was pure evil that way. “Come on, stop this foolishness.” He watched her for another moment before he took off his shirt and yanked off his shoes. But by now she was at least a hundred feet out and he wasn’t much of a swimmer. He changed his mind and didn’t come in after her. Just stood there and waited, knowing she’d eventually get tired and cold and would have to come back.
Except she wasn’t coming back. He wasn’t going to have her. Never again. She swam farther and farther out,
, until she could no longer see him standing there. All she saw were a few porch lights twinkling here and there at neighboring houses. All she heard was her own breathing, hard but steady, as the river’s current sent her farther out into the Sound. Free of him.
She turned over onto her back and floated, gazing up at the half-moon and stars that were poking through the hazy sky. The water didn’t seem as cold to her now. She just felt numb. Also terribly aware. It was all so clear to her now. How she could never be truly free of that evil bastard. Never escape the awful reality of what he’d done to her. It would never, ever be good between her and the man she loved once he found out the truth. And he would soon enough. Everyone would. She wouldn’t be able to hide it much longer. And then she’d lose him and that smile of his that made her melt. He would never smile at her again. Never love her. No man would.
. That’s what she should do. Move to a place far, far away where nobody knew her and the evil bastard couldn’t find her. She could take a new name and start all over again, truly free. Who was she fooling? She’d never be free again. Never be able to forget what he’d done to her. She’d had so many beautiful dreams for her future. Now they seemed like nothing more than stupid schoolgirl fantasies.
was all there was.
evil bastard who would not leave her alone. There was no getting away and she knew it as she floated there, letting the current take her farther out to sea—so far out that she could barely see the twinkle of lights on shore.
Except, wait, she did have control. The absolute truth of this smacked her with a sudden sureness that was unlike anything she’d ever felt before. She had a choice. Sure she did. She could choose to let the sea take her away. Then he’d never be able to touch her again. And she’d never have to confess her terrible secret. No one would ever have to know. She
get away. Yes, she could. All she had to do was keep swimming. It seemed so perfectly clear to her. She wasn’t wigging out or anything. She was being completely rational and mature.
I am taking control of my own life.
And so she started swimming again, farther and farther out into Long Island Sound. She swam and she swam, the current helping her along. Swam until her arms and legs felt heavy. Swam until every breath came hard. But she wasn’t scared. She was calm and at peace. Safe. There was no fear. Just this water and that sky up there. It felt good. It felt right.
I am taking control of my own life.
She was many miles out now. Her arms and legs were lead weights. She could barely move them. Kept sinking below the surface, salt water streaming into her open mouth. Briefly, she fought to stay afloat, sputtering and gasping, flailing her exhausted limbs. But not for long. Because she was ready—and she wasn’t afraid.
I never have to be afraid again.
And so she let the water have her. Sank below the surface for the very last time thinking, just for a fleeting instant, that her foot had scraped against the jagged edge of a rock. But by then she’d already surrendered.
She was gone.
HEN SHE HEARD THE
floorboard creak outside her bedroom door, Des dove for the loaded SIG under her pillow, instantly awake. A prowler. A prowler had broken into the house. It was 4:02
according to her digital bedside clock.
“Coffee’s ready, Desiree,” a voice called to her through the door.
It wasn’t any prowler. It was the ghost of Buck Mitry.
Des stashed her weapon back under the pillow, breathing in and out. She’d slept with it there for years. Felt safe with it there. Happiness was a warm gun. But she’d have to lock it away from now on because she did not, repeat not, wish to blow his fool head off. It merely felt that way sometimes.
“Desiree, are you up?”
“I am now, Daddy.” She flicked on her bedside light and fumbled for her heavy horn-rimmed glasses. Reached for the covers that she’d thrown off in the night and pulled them over her. Her room was warm even with the windows wide open. It was freakishly balmy for late October. An official Indian summer, the weathermen were calling it. “Come on in.”
Buck Mitry came on in. He wore a fleece-lined jacket over a V-neck wool sweater, plaid shirt and wool slacks. He was always cold these days, no matter the temperature. He’d lost weight since the surgery. The lines in his face were deeper and made him look ten years older to her.
“Daddy, it’s four o’clock in the morning.”
“You said you wanted to get up early. But if you’d rather sleep…”
“No, this is great. We’ll have a chance to sit and chat for three hours until the sun comes up.”
His lower lip began to quiver. “I-I’m sorry.”
sorry. It’s fine, really. I’ll be up in a sec, Daddy.”
Not that this meek stranger was her daddy. Her daddy was deputy superintendent of the Connecticut State Police—the highest-ranking black man in the history of the state. A fierce, six-foot-four-inch hard-ass known as the Deacon. The Deacon was feared by everyone. Including his only child, who was the resident trooper of bucolic Dorset, the historic jewel of Connecticut’s Gold Coast. He was staying with her while he recuperated from quadruple bypass surgery. Doing real well physically. Getting his appetite and stamina back. His cardiologist felt he’d be ready to resume a light office schedule in another ten days. There was only one problem: He’d undergone such a radical personality transplant that Des hardly knew him. The Deacon she knew was strong-willed and demanding, a tower of strength. This Deacon was hesitant, emotionally fragile and listless. He didn’t do a thing all day long. Didn’t sleep at night. Mostly, he just stared at the television. He’d lost his edge. And if he went back to work in this condition his enemies inside of the Waterbury Mafia would kick his butt around the block.