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Sidney Sheldon's the Silent Widow, Page 2

Sidney Sheldon

  All the while Charlotte listened, and nodded, holding his hand, acting as if this entire experience were perfectly normal, the sort of thing she did back in San Diego all the time.

  ‘Are you shocked?’ he asked her at the end of the tour. ‘Do you still want me, now you know I’m a criminal?’ He grinned as he said the word, tongue in cheek. But it was true, Charlotte thought. He was a criminal.

  ‘I’ll always want you,’ she told him, gazing up adoringly into his mesmerizing eyes. He took her back to his car then and made love to her, more passionately than ever before. Then he drove slowly back to the city, with Charlotte following.

  Afterwards, she didn’t hear from him for almost a week. She was starting to panic that something had happened, that he’d decided to end things, when she’d finally got his text this morning: I’ve missed you, cara. Meet me here at 7 p.m., he wrote, sending her a link to a map as well as written directions. I have a surprise for you!

  Charlotte’s heart soared. He’d never written anything like this to her before. I’ve missed you. That wasn’t his style at all. Nor were little maps and romantic surprises. Something had shifted between them since she’d learned the truth. He sees me as an equal now. As a partner.

  A feeling of deep happiness surged through her. This, then, was love.

  She was almost at the meeting spot, a place so remote and isolated there couldn’t possibly be anything there. Maybe he’s set up a picnic? Charlotte thought, imagining a soft blanket laid with silver and crystal, and buckets of champagne on ice. It was the sort of thing she could see him doing. Private but luxurious. Different, special, like he was. She felt sure now that her future lay with this man, despite his wife and the age difference and the dangerous things he did for a living. She couldn’t see yet exactly how this future would come to pass. How she would ever reconcile her parents to this new life she’d found. But she trusted, somehow. She was Charlotte Clancy, Charlotte the brave. He’d underestimated her, but only because she’d underestimated herself.

  I can be whatever I want to be.

  Frederique didn’t understand. ‘Don’t go, Charlotte. Or at least don’t go alone,’ her friend had begged her, when Charlotte showed her the ‘secret’ map. Frederique Zidane was an au pair too, and Charlotte’s only close girlfriend in Mexico City. She knew about Charlotte’s older, married boyfriend, but not enough to piece together who he was or what he did. ‘These places aren’t safe in the daytime, never mind at night. Anyone who lives here knows that. He must know it.’

  ‘Stop being such a scaredy-cat,’ Charlotte giggled. ‘I’ll be fine.’

  But Frederique wasn’t laughing. ‘There are bandits out there. I’m serious. People get robbed, kidnapped, murdered. People disappear.’

  ‘Well, I’m not going to disappear,’ Charlotte replied robustly.

  ‘And you know this because …?’

  ‘Because I won’t be alone,’ Charlotte said. ‘He’ll be there, won’t he? He’ll protect me.’

  It was the last conversation Frederique Zidane and Charlotte Clancy ever had.



  ‘So, Lisa. How has your week been?’

  Dr Nikki Roberts leaned back in her faded black leather armchair and smiled warmly at her patient.

  Lisa Flannagan. Twenty-eight years old. Former model and long-term mistress of Willie Baden, septuagenarian billionaire owner of the LA Rams. Recovering Vicodin addict. Narcissist.

  ‘Pretty good actually,’ Lisa smiled back and, pressing her palms together, leaned forward in a little bow of gratitude. ‘Namaste. I’m really feeling at peace about moving on from Willie. Like, I’m in a place of light, you know?’

  ‘That’s great.’ Nikki nodded encouragingly. Raindrops were tap-tapping against the window. This was her last session of the day, thank God. All she wanted was to get home. Switch off. Let the rain lull her to sleep.

  ‘I know, right?’ Lisa beamed. ‘Your advice in our last session helped me soooooo much.’

  Lisa talked like this a lot: in clichés and exclamation points, like a teenage girl who’d swallowed her first self-help book whole, and now considered herself ‘a spiritual person’. As a psychologist, and a highly successful one at that, Nikki didn’t judge. She merely observed, and offered techniques to help her patient modify harmful behaviors and break destructive cycles.

  As a person, however, it was a different story.

  As a person, she judged plenty.

  Lisa Flannagan was a user. A homewrecker. A baby-killer. A slut.

  Sinking back into Dr Roberts’ soft, over-stuffed couch, Lisa Flannagan poured out her heart.

  ‘I moved out of the apartment,’ she announced proudly. ‘I actually did it.’

  God, it felt good! Such a release, to come to a place where she was truly seen and understood and just let it all out.

  ‘Willie was, like, in shock. He was so mad, I thought he was going to hit me. Screaming and yelling and smashing things up.’

  ‘Did he threaten you?’ Nikki asked.

  ‘Oh yeah. Sure he did. “You can’t do this to me. I own you. I’ll destroy you. You’re nothing without me!” All of that. But I was super calm. I was like, “No, baby. You need to understand. This is something I need to do for myself. Like, I’m twenty-eight years old, you know? I’m not a child.”’

  Lisa looked forward to her Wednesday-night therapy sessions at Dr Roberts’ plush Century City offices the way she used to look forward to scoring Vicodin, or getting laid by one of Willie’s big, black NFL players in the Beverly Hills apartment he’d bought for her two years ago. Back then, she hadn’t seen how totally controlling Willie was being. Like he was trying to buy her or something. Dr Roberts had totally opened her eyes on that score.

  She’d also helped Lisa to realize how much inner strength she had. Like, kicking the pills was a big deal. Willie had picked up Lisa’s tab at Promises, but it was Lisa who’d agreed to go to rehab, Lisa who’d changed her own life.

  I’m a good person.

  If left the drugs behind, I can leave Willie Baden behind.

  She would keep the apartment, of course. Or rather, she would sell it and keep the money. Ditto the Cartier sapphire-and-diamond necklace Willie had bought her for her twenty-fifth. New starts were all well and good, but Lisa Flannagan wasn’t about to walk away destitute from an eight-year relationship with a billionaire. That would be plain stupid. Besides, it wasn’t as if Willie needed the money back. Plus she’d done the responsible thing and terminated his baby, not hung around and demanded baby-momma money for the rest of her life, like most girls would have. The way Lisa saw it, once Willie got over the initial blow to his pride, there was no reason why she and her married lover couldn’t part as friends.

  As she talked, sipping cucumber water from the jug on Dr Roberts’ coffee table, Lisa Flannagan stole occasional glances at the woman sitting opposite her, the therapist she had grown to rely on and to think of almost as a friend.

  Dr Nikki Roberts.

  What was her life like, outside these offices?

  Thanks to Google, Lisa already knew the basic facts: Dr Nicola Roberts, née Hammond, thirty-eight years old. Graduated from Columbia before doing a postgrad in psychology at UCLA and an internship at Ronald Reagan Medical Center.

  Lisa wondered whether that was where Dr Roberts had met her husband, Dr Douglas Roberts, a neurosurgeon and specialist in addiction-related brain disorders. Unfortunately, she couldn’t ask. Asking your therapist personal questions was against the rules.

  What Lisa did know was that Dr Roberts’ husband had been killed in a tragic car accident last year, right about the time she first started coming to therapy. The LA Times had reported on his death, because by all accounts Doug Roberts had been an amazing guy and a big deal in the LA charity world, campaigning tirelessly to help the city’s addicts wherever he found them, from downtown’s skid row to the mansions of Bel Air.

  It was bizarre to think that the poised, attr
active, professional woman sitting opposite Lisa, with her sleek brunette bob similar to Lisa’s own hair, her slender figure and intelligent green eyes was actually a grieving widow, whose own inner life was presumably in total turmoil.

  Poor Dr Roberts, Lisa thought. I hope she has someone to talk to.

  She deserves to be happy.

  ‘I’m afraid that’s our time, Lisa.’

  The therapist’s mellow, soothing voice broke Lisa’s reverie. She looked at the clock on the wall.

  ‘Oh my God, you’re right. Time passes so fast in here, it’s crazy. Do you find that, Dr Roberts?’

  Nikki smiled diplomatically. ‘Sometimes.’

  Lisa Flannagan stood up to leave.

  ‘Don’t you have a coat?’ Nikki asked. ‘It’s pouring out there.’

  ‘Is it?’ Lisa hadn’t noticed the pounding on the windows.

  She was dressed in a tiny denim miniskirt that barely skimmed the top of her thighs, and a tank top with the words ‘ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE’ emblazoned on the front, a garment so tiny it would have struggled to adequately cover a child’s chest, never mind Lisa’s ample bosom.

  ‘You’ll be soaked to the bone out there,’ said Nikki. Standing up, she reached for her own trench coat, hanging on the back of the door. ‘Here. Take mine.’

  Lisa hesitated. ‘Don’t you need it?’

  Nikki shook her head. ‘I’m parked downstairs. I can take the elevator right to my car. You can return it at our next session.’

  ‘Well, if you’re sure …’ Lisa took the coat, smiling broadly. ‘That is so kind of you, Dr Roberts. Really.’

  She took the therapist’s hand and squeezed it. It was little gestures like that, going the extra mile, that really set Dr Roberts apart from other therapists. She wasn’t in this for the money. She actually cared about her patients. She cares about me.

  Outside in the alley behind the Century Plaza Medical Building it was cold, wet and dark. His legs ached from crouching for so long. His skin burned and so did his throat. Every breath felt like he was gargling razor blades, and every drop of rain felt like acid, a tiny burning dagger slicing into his frayed nerves. When it was over, he would get what he needed. Pain, unimaginable pain, would be replaced with exquisite ecstasy. It wouldn’t last long, but that didn’t matter. Nothing lasted long.

  The streets of Century City were full of cars, but the slick sidewalks were deserted. No one walked in LA, especially not in the rain.

  She did, though. Usually.


  Would she come out tonight?

  Come out, come out, wherever you are!

  There she was. Suddenly. Too suddenly. He wasn’t ready.

  His heart began to pound.

  She belted her coat and put her head down against the rain. No umbrella. She was walking fast, crossing the opening to the alley.

  ‘Help!’ He tried to shout, but his voice was so raspy. Would she hear him? She had to hear him! ‘Help me!’

  Lisa Flannagan turned. There was a figure, a man, or maybe a boy – he was tiny – slumped beside some trash cans.

  ‘Please!’ he called again. ‘Call 911. I’ve been stabbed.’

  ‘Oh my God!’ Pulling out her phone, Lisa moved towards him, already punching out the numbers. ‘What happened? Are you OK?’

  He was bent double, clutching his stomach. That must be where the knife had gone in. She squatted down beside him. He was wearing a hoodie that was soaking wet, covering his face and hair.

  ‘Emergency, what service do you require?’

  ‘Police,’ Lisa blurted into her phone. ‘And ambulance.’ She touched the boy lightly on the top of his lolling head. ‘Don’t panic. Help’s on the way. Where are you hurt?’

  He looked up and grinned. Lisa felt the vomit rise up inside her. The face beneath the hood wasn’t human. It was the face of a monster, green and rotted, strips of flesh literally curling off the bones and hanging down, like the skin of some rancid fruit. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out.

  ‘Ma’am, can you give me your location?’

  He recognized the terror in her eyes as she crouched over him, open-mouthed. Still grinning, he plunged the blade deep into her abdomen and twisted. Oh, the scream came then all right! Loud and piercing and horrified. He pulled out the knife and plunged again, so hard that his fist followed the blade somewhere deep inside her, somewhere warm and wet and enticing.

  ‘Ma’am, can you hear me? Ma’am? What’s happening? Can you tell me where you are?’

  Dr Nikki Roberts leaned back against the soft leather of her Mercedes X-Class seats and waited for the garage doors to open.

  Traffic permitting, she’d be back home in Brentwood in twenty minutes. Another long, empty evening stretched ahead, but she would fill it with mindless television and a bottle of Newton unfiltered Merlot and Ambien and sleep, and it would pass. Everything would pass.

  Nikki felt guilty. She’d only been half-present during today’s session with Lisa. Maybe even less than half. That wasn’t fair, whether she liked the patient or not.

  The garage doors inched open, agonizingly slowly.

  Nikki edged the car forwards, towards the alley.

  Doors. Garage doors!

  Lisa heard the grinding of mechanical gears and the close, familiar rev of an engine. Blood was pouring from her stomach and chest. Not oozing but pouring, like milk from a jug. She couldn’t move. Couldn’t stand or run. She could only scream, and she did, again and again and again, each time the monster sliced into her arms and breasts and thighs. He wasn’t even trying to kill her any more. At least, not quickly. He was playing with her, like a cat with a mouse, delighting in the agony he was causing, in shredding her perfect body, piece by tiny piece.

  The engine grew louder. Hope soared in Lisa’s heart.

  Someone’s coming. Maybe it’s Dr Roberts? Please God, let her see me!

  She drew in her breath and screamed, surely the loudest scream anyone had ever made in their lives. She could hear her own blood bubbling in the back of her throat and feel her eyes bulge as if they might burst from their sockets. Headlamps swept over her and the monster, lit them up like a stage spotlight.

  The stabbing stopped.

  So did the engine.

  Lisa sobbed with relief. She’s seen me! She heard the monster’s knife clatter to the floor. She could feel her pulse slowing, and waited for her attacker to run, or for the car door to open.

  Seconds passed. Two. Five. Ten …

  Nothing happened.

  Wait … what’s going on?

  The car’s engine started up again.


  Headlights lit up the alley.

  NO! Please! I’m here! PLEASE!

  Nikki’s silver Mercedes glided past them along the alley, then turned slowly into the street.

  Rotted, scaly hands coiled themselves around Lisa’s neck from behind. In front of her eyes, the shiny blade glinted, already slick with her blood.

  ‘Where were we?’

  The last noise Lisa Flannagan heard was the monster laughing.


  Carter Berkeley III looked down at his expensively manicured nails and resisted the urge to bite them. What the hell was he doing here? He should be talking to the police, not a damn therapist.

  Then he reminded himself that the police wouldn’t help him. The police didn’t believe him. No one did.

  Carter thought about the two armed bodyguards he had waiting downstairs in the lobby, and tried to feel better. It didn’t work. Then he tried imagining his therapist naked. That did work, at least a little. Dr Nikki Roberts was a deeply sensual woman. Carter pictured her gray, pencil skirt pushed up roughly around her hips, and her prissy white blouse ripped open. He imagined her …

  ‘Carter? Are you with me?’

  Her voice made him startle, then blush, then scowl. A highly successful investment banker, handsome, educated and rich, Carter was used to having people jump to his comm
and and scuttle to gratify his every desire. Especially women. He did not appreciate being called out like a naughty schoolboy.

  ‘Tell me again what you think you saw last night,’ Dr Roberts said.

  ‘I don’t “think” I saw anything,’ Carter snapped. ‘I know what I saw, OK? I am not crazy.’ He ran a harassed hand through his thick blond hair.

  ‘I never suggested you were.’ The therapist’s voice was calm. ‘But even sane people can be mistaken some of the time, can’t they? I know I often am.’

  ‘Yeah, well I’m not,’ Carter growled.

  Jesus. They’d all be sorry when he was dead. When these bastards finally got him and strung him up with electrical cord and beat him to death in some godforsaken dungeon. They’d all wish they’d listened then: the police, Dr Roberts, all of them.

  Nikki leaned forward earnestly while her patient rambled on, expounding the same conspiracy theory he’d been peddling since he first started seeing her, more than a year ago. Carter Berkeley believed he was being stalked by unnamed assassins. He never offered any reason for this, still less any evidence, other than the elaborate imaginings of his brilliant but tortured mind. And yet, no matter how many logical paths Nikki led him down, Carter’s paranoid fears persisted. In fact, if anything, they were getting worse. Only last week he had informed Nikki solemnly that Trey Raymond, the sweet boy who ran her office and manned the front desk at Century Plaza, was a spy ‘working for the Mexicans’.

  ‘You can’t trust him. What do you really know about Trey, Dr Roberts?’

  ‘What do you know about him, Carter?’ Nikki countered.

  ‘Enough. I know enough,’ Carter pronounced, cryptically. Although, again, he offered no evidence to back this up.

  I’m not making him better, Nikki thought sadly. I might actually be making him worse. Why am I even here?

  She knew the answer to that, deep down. She was here – at work, in her office, seeing patients – because she had nowhere else to be. Nowhere else except home, alone, with no Doug, and no answers. That prospect was quite unbearable.