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Twisted, Page 2

Jeffery Deaver


  Joseph in fact wouldn’t have minded a drink. But this wasn’t the place for it. Besides, he was looking forward to a nice glass of spicy Pinot Noir after he finished here. It often surprised people that somebody in his line of work liked—and knew about—wines.

  “I’m Barbara.”

  “Hi, Barbara.”

  She led him through the house to each of the cable boxes, sipping her drink as she went. She was drinking straight bourbon, it seemed.

  “You have kids,” Joseph said, nodding at the picture of two young children on a table in the den. “They’re great, aren’t they?”

  “If you like pests,” she muttered.

  He clicked buttons on the cable box and stood up. “Any others?”

  “Last box’s in the bedroom. Upstairs. I’ll show you. Wait…” She went off and refilled her glass. Then joined him again. Barbara led him up the stairs and paused at the top of the landing. Again, she looked him over.

  “Where are your kids tonight?” he asked.

  “The pests’re at the bastard’s,” she said, laughing sourly at her own joke. “We’re doing the joint custody thing, my ex and me.”

  “So you’re all alone here in this big house?”

  “Yeah. Pity, huh?”

  Joseph didn’t know if it was or not. She definitely didn’t seem pitiful.

  “So,” he said, “which room’s the box in?” They’d stalled in the hallway.

  “Yeah. Sure. Follow me,” she said, her voice low and seductive.

  In the bedroom she sat on the unmade bed and sipped the drink. He found the cable box and pushed the “on” button of the set.

  It crackled to life. CNN was on.

  “Could you try the remote?” he said, looking around the room.

  “Sure,” Barbara said groggily. She turned away and, as soon as she did, Joseph came up behind her with the rope that he’d just taken from his pocket. He slipped it around her neck and twisted it tight, using a pencil for leverage. A brief scream was stifled as her throat closed up and she tried desperately to escape, to turn, to scratch him with her nails. The liquor soaked the bedspread as the glass fell to the carpet and rolled against the wall.

  In a few minutes she was dead.

  Joseph sat beside the body, catching his breath. Barbara had fought surprisingly hard. It had taken all his strength to keep her pinned down and let the garrote do its job.

  He pulled on latex gloves and wiped away whatever prints he’d left in the room. Then he dragged Barbara’s body off the bed and into the center of the room. He pulled her sweater off, undid the button of her jeans.

  But then he paused. Wait. What was his name supposed to be?

  Frowning, he thought back to his conversation last night.

  What’d he call himself?

  Then he nodded. That’s right. He’d told Marissa Cooper his name was Dale O’Banion. A glance at the clock. Not even seven P.M. Plenty of time to finish up here and get to Green Harbor, where she was waiting and the bar had a decent Pinot Noir by the glass.

  He unzipped Barbara’s jeans then started tugging them down to her ankles.

  Marissa Cooper sat on a bench in a small, deserted park, huddled against the cold wind that swept over the Green Harbor wharf. Through the evergreens swaying in the breeze she was watching the couple lounging in the enclosed stern of the large boat tied up to the dock nearby.

  Like so many boat names this one was a pun: Maine Street.

  She’d finished her shopping, buying some fun lingerie (wondering, a little discouraged, if anyone else would ever see her wearing it), and had been on her way to the restaurant when the lights of the harbor—and the gently rocking motion of this elegant boat—caught her attention.

  Through the plastic windows on the rear deck of the Maine Street, she saw the couple sipping champagne and sitting close together, a handsome pair—he was tall and in very good shape, plenty of salt-and-pepper hair, and she, blonde and pretty. They were laughing and talking. Flirting like crazy. Then, finishing their champagne, they disappeared down into the cabin. The teak door slammed shut.

  Thinking about the lingerie in the bag she carried, thinking about resuming dating, Marissa again pictured Dale O’Banion. Wondered how this evening would go. A chill hit her and she rose and went on to the restaurant.

  Sipping a glass of fine Chardonnay (sitting boldly at the bar by herself—way to go, girl!), Marissa let her thoughts shift to what she might do for work. She wasn’t in a huge hurry. There was the insurance money. The savings accounts too. The house was nearly paid for. But it wasn’t that she needed to work. It was that she wanted to. Teaching. Or writing. Maybe she could get a job for one of the local newspapers.

  Or she might even go to medical school. She remembered the times Jonathan would tell her about some of the things he was doing at the hospital and she’d understood them perfectly. Marissa had a very logical mind and had been a brilliant student. If she’d gone on to graduate school years ago, she could’ve gotten a full scholarship for her master’s degree.

  More wine.

  Feeling sad then feeling exhilarated. Her moods bobbed like orange buoys marking the lobster traps sitting on the floor of the gray ocean.

  The deadly ocean.

  She thought again about the man she was waiting for in this romantic, candlelit restaurant.

  A moment of panic. Should she call Dale and tell him that she just wasn’t ready for this yet?

  Go home, have another wine, put on some Mozart, light a fire. Be content with your own company.

  She began to lift her hand to signal the bartender for the check.

  But suddenly a memory came to her. A memory from life before Jonathan. She remembered being a little girl, riding a pony beside her grandfather, who sat on his tall Appaloosa. She recalled watching the lean old man calmly draw a revolver and sight down on a rattlesnake that was coiled to strike at Marissa’s Shetland. The sudden shot blew the snake into a bloody mess on the sand.

  He’d worried that the girl would be upset, having witnessed the death. Up the trail they’d dismounted. He’d crouched beside her and told her not to feel bad—that he’d had to shoot the snake. “But it’s all right, honey. His soul’s on its way to heaven.”

  She’d frowned.

  “What’s the matter?” her grandfather had asked.

  “That’s too bad. I want him to go to hell.”

  Marissa missed that tough little girl. And she knew that if she called Dale to cancel, she would have failed at something important. It would be like letting the snake bite her pony.

  No, Dale was the first step, an absolutely necessary step, to getting on with her life without Jonathan.

  And then there he was—a good-looking, balding man. Great body too, she observed, in a dark suit. Beneath it he wore a black T-shirt, not a white polyester shirt and stodgy tie you saw so often in this area.

  She waved and he responded with a charming smile.

  He walked up to her. “Marissa? I’m Dale.”

  A firm grip. She gave him back one equally firm.

  He sat next to her at the bar and ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Sniffed it with pleasure then clinked his glass to hers.

  They sipped.

  “I wasn’t sure if you’d be late,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get off work when you want to.”

  Another sniff of wine. “I pretty much control my own hours,” he said.

  They chatted for a few minutes and then went to the hostess’s stand. The woman showed them to the table he’d reserved. A moment later they were seated next to the window. Spotlights on the outside of the restaurant shone down into the gray water; the sight troubled her at first, thinking about Jonathan in the deadly ocean, but she forced her thoughts away and concentrated on Dale.

  They made small talk. He was divorced and had no children, though he’d always wanted them. She and Jonathan hadn’t had children either, she explained. Talking about the weather in Maine, about politics.
r />   “Been shopping?” he asked, smiling. Nodding at the pink-and-white-striped bag she’d set beside her chair.

  “Long underwear,” she joked. “It’s supposed to be a cold winter.”

  They talked some more, finishing a bottle of wine, then had one more glass each, though it seemed to her that she drank more than he did.

  She was getting tipsy. Watch out here, girl. Keep your wits about you.

  But then she thought about Jonathan and drank down the glass.

  Near ten P.M. he looked around the emptying restaurant. He fixed her with his eyes and said, “How about we go outside?”

  Marissa hesitated. Okay, this is it, she thought to herself. You can leave, or you can go out there with him.

  She thought of her resolution, she thought of Jonathan.

  She said, “Yes. Let’s go.”

  Outside, they walked side by side back to the deserted park she’d sat in earlier.

  They came to the same bench and she nodded at it and they sat down, Dale close beside her. She felt his presence—the nearness of a strong man, which she hadn’t felt for some time now. It was thrilling, comforting and unsettling all at the same time.

  They looked at the boat, the Maine Street, just visible through the trees.

  They sat in silence for a few minutes, huddling against the cold.

  Dale stretched. His arm went along the back of the bench, not quite around her shoulders, but she felt his muscles.

  How strong he was, she reflected.

  It was then that she glanced down and saw a twisted length of white rope protruding from his pocket, about to fall out.

  She nodded at it. “You’re going to lose something.”

  He glanced down. Picked it up, flexed the rope in his fingers. Unwound it. “Tool of the trade,” he said, looking at her querying frown.

  Then he slipped it back into his pocket.

  Dale looked back to the Maine Street, just visible through the trees, at the couple now out of the bedroom and sipping champagne again on the rear deck.

  “That’s him in there, the handsome guy?” he asked.

  “Yes,” Marissa said, “that’s my husband. That’s Jonathan.” She shivered again from the cold—and the disgust—as she watched him kiss the petite blonde.

  She started to ask Dale if he was going to do it tonight—to murder her husband—but then decided that he, probably like most professional killers, would prefer to speak in euphemisms. She asked simply, “When’s it going to happen?”

  They were now walking slowly away from the wharf; he’d seen what he needed to.

  “When?” Dale asked. “Depends. That woman in there with him? Who’s she?”

  “One of his little slut nurses. I don’t know. Karen, maybe.”

  “She’s spending the night?”

  “No. I’ve been spying on him for a month. He’ll kick her out about midnight. He can’t stand clinging mistresses. There’ll be another one tomorrow. But not before noon.”

  Dale nodded. “Then I’ll do it tonight. After she leaves.” He glanced at Marissa. “I’ll handle it like I was telling you—after he’s asleep I’ll get on board, tie him up and take the boat out a few miles. Then I’ll make it look like he got tangled in the anchor line and went overboard. Has he been drinking much?”

  “Is there water in the ocean?” she asked wryly.

  “Good, that’ll help. Then I’ll drive the boat close to Huntington and take a raft back in. Just let her drift.” Nodding at the Maine Street.

  “You always make it look like an accident?” Marissa asked, wondering if a question like this was breaking some kind of hitman protocol.

  “As often as I can. That job I did tonight I mentioned? It was taking care of a woman in Yarmouth. She’d been abusing her own kids. I mean, beating them. ‘Pests,’ she called them. Disgusting. She wouldn’t stop but the husband couldn’t get the children to say anything to the police. They didn’t want to get her in trouble.”

  “God, how terrible.”

  Dale nodded. “I’ll say. So the husband hired me. I made it look like that rapist from Upper Falls broke in and killed her.”

  Marissa considered this. Then she asked, “Did you…? I mean, you were pretending to be a rapist….”

  “Oh, God, no,” Dale said, frowning. “I’d never do that. I just made it look like I did. Believe me, it was pretty gross finding a used condom from behind that massage parlor on Knightsbridge Street.”

  So hit men have standards, she reflected. At least some of them do.

  She looked him over. “Aren’t you worried I’m a policewoman or anything? Trying to set you up? I mean, I just got your name out of that magazine, Worldwide Soldier.”

  “You do this long enough, you get a feel for who’re real customers and who aren’t. Anyway, I spent the last week checking you out. You’re legitimate.”

  If a woman paying someone twenty-five thousand dollars to kill her husband can be called legitimate.

  Speaking of which…

  She took a thick envelope out of her pocket. Handed it to Dale. It disappeared into the pocket with the white rope.

  “Dale…wait, your name’s not really Dale, is it?”

  “No, but it’s the one I’m using for this job.”

  “Okay, well, Dale, he won’t feel anything?” she asked. “No pain?”

  “Not a thing. Even if he were conscious that water’s so cold he’ll probably pass out and die of shock before he drowns.”

  They’d reached the end of the park. Dale asked, “You’re sure about doing this?”

  And Marissa asked herself, Am I sure about wanting Jonathan dead?

  Jonathan—the man who tells me he goes fishing with the boys every weekend but in truth takes his nurses out on the boat for his little trysts. Who spends our savings on them. Who announced a few years after getting married that he’d had a vasectomy and didn’t want the children he’d promised we’d have. Who speaks to me like a ten-year-old about his job or current events, never even hearing me say, “I understand, honey. I’m a smart woman.” Who nagged me into quitting a job I loved. Who flies into a rage every time I want to go back to work. Who complains whenever I wear sexy clothes in public but who stopped sleeping with me years ago. Who gets violent whenever I bring up divorce because a doctor at a teaching hospital needs a wife to get ahead…and because he’s a sick control freak.

  Marissa Cooper suddenly pictured the shattered corpse of a rattlesnake lying bloody on a hot patch of yellow Texas sand so many years ago.

  That’s too bad. I want him to go to hell….

  “I’m sure,” she said.

  Dale shook her hand and said, “I’ll take care of things from here. Go home. You should practice playing the grieving widow.”

  “I can handle that,” Marissa said. “I’ve been a grieving wife for years.”

  Pulling her coat collar up high, she returned to the parking lot, not looking back at either her husband or at the man who was about to kill him. She climbed into her Toyota and fired up the engine, found some rock and roll on the radio, turned the volume up high and left Green Harbor.

  Marissa cranked the windows down, filling the car with sharp autumn air, rich with the scent of wood smoke and old leaves, and drove fast through the night, thinking about her future, about her life without Jonathan.

  The Weekender

  T he night went bad fast.

  I looked in the rearview mirror and didn’t see any lights but I knew they were after us and it was only a matter of time till I’d see the flashers.

  Toth started to talk but I told him to shut up and got the Buick up to eighty. The road was empty, nothing but pine trees for miles around.

  “Oh, brother,” Toth muttered. I felt his eyes on me but I didn’t even want to look at him, I was so mad.

  They were never easy, drugstores.

  Because, just watch sometime, when cops make their rounds they cruise drugstores more often than anyplace else. Because of the perco and Vali
um and the other drugs. You know.

  You’d think they’d stake out convenience stores. But those’re a joke and with the closed-circuit TV you’re going to get your picture took, you just are. So nobody who knows the business, I mean really knows it, hits them. And banks, forget banks. Even ATMs. I mean, how much can you clear? Three, four hundred tops? And around here the “Fast Cash” button gives you twenty only. Which tells you something. So why even bother?

  No. We wanted cash and that meant a drugstore, even though they can be tricky. Ardmore Drugs. Which is a big store in a little town. Liggett Falls. Sixty miles from Albany and a hundred or so from where Toth and me lived, farther west into the mountains. Liggett Falls’s a poor place. You’d think it wouldn’t make sense to hit a store there. But that’s exactly why—because like everywhere else, people there need medicine and hair spray and makeup, only they don’t have credit cards. Except maybe a Sears or Penney’s. So they pay cash.

  “Oh, brother,” Toth whispered again. “Look.”

  And he made me even madder, him saying that. I wanted to shout look at what, you son of a bitch? But then I could see what he was talking about and I didn’t say anything. Up ahead. It was like just before dawn, light on the horizon. Only this was red and the light wasn’t steady. It was like it was pulsing and I knew that they’d got the roadblock up already. This was the only road to the interstate from Liggett Falls. So I should’ve guessed.

  “I got an idea,” Toth said. Which I didn’t want to hear but I also wasn’t going to go through another shootout. Surely not at a roadblock, where they was ready for us.

  “What?” I snapped.

  “There’s a town over there. See those lights? I know a road’ll take us there.”

  Toth’s a big guy and he looks calm. Only he isn’t really. He gets shook easy and he now kept turning around, skittish, looking in the backseat. I wanted to slap him and tell him to chill.

  “Where’s it?” I asked. “This town?”

  “About four, five miles. The turnoff, it ain’t marked. But I know it.”

  This was that lousy upstate area where everything’s green. But dirty green, you know. And all the buildings’re gray. These gross little shacks, pickups on blocks. Little towns without even a 7-Eleven. And full of hills they call mountains but aren’t.