Authors: R.L. Stine
Table of Contents
To Jane, my own eye candy
I don't like the way you're looking at me,” she said.
I lowered my cup of coffee. I kept my eyes on her. “Like how?”
. Sort of . . . intense.”
I smiled. “I'm an intense sort of guy, Alesha.”
She spun her cup between her hands, returning my stare. “What do you do, anyway?”
“This and that. Actually, I'm a Web site developer. You know. The tech side.”
No point in telling her the truth at this point.
She had coffeecake crumbs on her bottom lip. I wanted to lick them off. She had a nice, full mouth. I liked her eyes, too. Gray-green with yellow flecks, like sunshine.
She licked her lips clean. “Did you work on the dating Web site? You know. The one where we met?”
I shook my head. “Not that one. But I worked on some others. Consulting, mostly.”
Consulting sounds like hot shit.
I could see her thinking, “He must be pretty successful. ” She narrowed her eyes, trying to decide how much I make.
She had a pretty face, with those great eyes and that pouty, full mouth. I'd seen her as soon as I walked into Starbucks, and I'd hoped she was Alesha.
Pleaseânot the one with the ring in her nose, I'd thought. I can't stand that. It makes my whole face hurt to think about it. And when I talk to someone with a pierced tongue, it takes all my willpower not to heave my lunch.
When Alesha turned out to be the pretty one, I almost cheered. I've done a lot of these Internet dating hookups, and so far I've been pretty lucky. No Kennel Club members, if you know what I mean.
“What are you thinking about?” Alesha's voice broke into my thoughts.
I pushed my finger through a tiny puddle of water on the table. “How about some dinner?”
She tilted her head, as if she had to consider it. “Well . . . okay. Great.”
It was only supposed to be a coffee date. You know, a meet-and-greet kinda thing. But I could tell she was into me. And I just kept staring at those dark red lips. I pictured them doing all kinds of things to me.
A squirrely-looking guy with long strands of greasy, brown hair leaned over the table next to us, banging away on a laptop. Was that supposed to be impressive or something? Why couldn't he do it at home? He's wireless . . . and he's clueless, I thought, as Alesha and I squeezed past him.
We stepped out onto Broadway. I let her go first so I could check out her ass. Not bad. She was wearing those low-riding black pantsânot too tight but tight enough.
The wind gusted, blowing her chestnut hair back. It was cold for May, no real sign of spring except for the cherry and apple trees in Riverside Park going all pink and white. It had rained earlier, and the sidewalk was still puddled and shiny.
She struggled to pull her hair into place. “Where do you want to go to eat?”
“We're almost to Eighty-eighth Street. Let's try to get into Aix,” I said.
She frowned. “It's always so crowded.”
“It's early. Maybe we'll get lucky.” I flashed her my best smile. “I'm a lucky kinda guy.”
She smiled back with that lovely mouth. Another strong gust flapped my raincoat and blew back the canvas bag she was carrying. She pulled it close to her, and that's when I first noticed her hands, and I felt a little sick inside.
Hands like a truck driver.
I took her to dinner anyway, but now I was a little off my game. I kept glancing at her hands, and I knew the current was going against me.
We sat at a red banquette near the back. She kept her hands below the table, and I made it through dinner. Actually, it was pleasant. I tried hard to revive.
She ordered a glass of some blush wine, and I asked for a Ketel One on the rocks. I could see her expression change when I ordered it.
had it on their ten-most-impress-others list, and I trust them.
The restaurant filled up quickly. It's hard to find good gourmet food on the West Side of New York, so this place caught on fast. I bring women here a lot, and they always like it.
The middle-aged couple in the next banquette were arguing loudly over whether to get their dog clipped. The old guy was so heated about not trimming the dog, I thought he might stroke out or something.
“So I'm a nurse,” Alesha said, after the food arrivedâ lamb chops for me, soft-shelled crabs for her. A little early in the season for soft-shelled crabs, if you ask me. “I'm at Roosevelt. You know. Here on the West Side.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, salting my chops. “From your profile online. You wrote that you're a nurse. Does that mean you can get all the drugs you want?”
She laughed. She thought I was joking.
I hated her laugh. It was Mom's laugh exactly.
Uh-oh. Mom's laugh and those Hulk Hogan hands. I knew where this evening was heading.
She kept putting her big hand on top of mine, squeezing my skin, smiling at me with those beautiful lips, giving me the look. You know. The look that says, “We're going to end up in my apartment.”
Which we did.
It was only a couple of blocks away on Ninetieth and Amsterdam. A pretty big place, airy, with high ceilings, but shabby. The furniture must have come off the street, and nothing interesting hung on the faded walls, just a framed museum print, some Van Gogh thing I've seen a million times.
“How old are you anyway?” Alesha asked, narrowing those eyes at me.
“Twenty-five.” This time I told the truth.
“An older man,” she whispered. “I'm twenty-three.” And then she started kissing me, kissing my face, her lips warm and kinda spongey. Kissing me and making these soft, moaning sounds, biting my ear and holding me, those big mitts against my back.
She pulled me into her bedroom. We sat at the foot of her bed. A blue-and-white quilt in a Quaker design spread out on the bed. A tiny TV almost lost in the piles of clutter on her dresser.
She's so hot. Kissing me and whispering my name.
I could overlook the laugh. But the hands just made me sick.
“Yes, yes,” I whispered. “Alesha . . . yes . . .”
I wrapped my hands around her throat. Gently at first, and then I began to squeeze.
I brought my thumbs up and pressed them hard into her larynx. It took her so long to realize what was happening, and then it was too late.
I pressed my thumbs in hard and tightened my hands.
She had no air. Her eyes bulged wide and gazed up at me, as if she was asking me a question. But she had no air. And she couldn't struggle for long. My hands are so strong, and the thumbs do the damage very quickly.
She went limp and stopped breathing.
She was dead but I kept squeezing . . . squeezing. My hands hurt but I kept squeezing. Because I wanted her eyes to pop out. Just like in the cartoons. I love cartoons. I think they're so funny. If I had a little brother, I'd sit and watch cartoons with him, and we'd both laugh till we peed.
But Mom only had me.
I squeezed till I couldn't squeeze anymore, but the eyes didn't pop. I knew Alesha would disappoint me. What a shame.
I let go and her body collapsed onto the quilt. I struggled to catch my breath. My heart was pounding in my chest. I hadn't been to the gym for a few days. Guess I should go more often.
After a minute or so, I began to feel normal. I hoisted myself off the edge of the bed, clenched and unclenched my hands, trying to work the pain out. Then I stepped into the small, windowless kitchen, no bigger than a closet.
She didn't have much of a knife collection. But I found a serrated bread knife I figured would do the job. Rubbing the blade gently against my thumb, I returned to the bedroom, steamy now. I hadn't noticed the ugly flowered wallpaper.
I held the knife in my right hand and grabbed one of her hands in my left. The hand was limp, the arm heavy. I struggled to get a good grip. Then I began sawing off her fingers, one by one.
I finished the right hand, then went to work on the left. She didn't bleed very much, I guess because she was dead. The fingers felt like asparagus. Real easy to cut.
I realized I had a big smile on my face, so wide my cheeks hurt. Now you have nice small hands, I thought.
But what to do with the fingers?
I counted themâeight fingers. I didn't want the thumbs.
I couldn't decide where to put them, so I jammed them into my raincoat pocket. I left a note, explaining why she had to die. I didn't mention her laugh, just the big hands.
Then I hurried out of the building, a light rain starting to fall, the wind still gusting. I made my way home to my apartment and sat down at the computer without even taking off my raincoat.
Back to the personals site where I found Alesha. After all, there are plenty more women looking for a good time. . . .
Is this going to be the most boring date I've ever been on?
Would a cold sore be more fun?
I had a lot of time to think about these questions as I struggled to stay awake. I must have fidgeted a lot because at the intermission Jack said, “Lindy, do you want to leave the theater?”
And of course I wasn't brave enough to say what I really want to do is set my hair on fire and run up the aisle singing “I Enjoy Being a Girl” just to get over my boredom.
So, I said, “No, I'm enjoying it. It's really . . . interesting.” I covered my yawn. I don't think he saw it. “Great idea for a musical,” I added.
It was sort of the U.S. Constitution set to music.
“How did you ever get such good seats?” I asked. The theater was half empty. I was trying to be a good sport here. I really was.
“I got 'em for free,” Jack said. “At my dad's company where I work. We do marketing for the production company.”
After that, I didn't know what to say. So I pretended to read my program. I don't think anyone has ever read a playbill so thoroughly. I could even tell you which Italian restaurant Bernadette Peters recommends.
“I'm working on a really nifty marketing project,” Jack said, when I raised my head from the program for air. “I'll tell you all about it at dinner.”
Oh, right. Dinner.
Why did I pick this guy? I should have guessed he might be a tad boring from his name. I mean, Jack Smith?
When he picked me up at my apartment lobby, I made a joke. I asked, “What's your
He narrowed his eyes at me. I could see he was surprised by the question, as if no one had ever asked that before.
my name, Lindy. Well, actually, I'm Jack Smith the Third, but I don't use that.”
Jack Smiths in his family?
“What's your middle name?”
“I don't have one.”
I guess I picked him because he had a nice smile in his photo. Jack isn't a bad-looking guy, actually. He has crinkly blue eyes (I'm a sucker for eyes that crinkle up at the sides), short, brown hair spiked up a bit just in front, and that winning, reassuring smile. Plus he turned out to be almost as tall as I am.
I'm five-eleven, so believe me, size matters. I just feel so awkward when I can reach down and pat my date on the head.
Well, I made it through the second act of
hoping I didn't snore too loudly. When it ended, Jack jumped to his feet, applauding wildly, shaking his head in awe. . . . I guess. Everyone else stood up to put their jackets on and leave. The reaction wasn't terribly enthusiastic, but Jack didn't seem to notice.
We stepped out into a chilly night. The wind blew pages of a newspaper down the sidewalk. I was wearing a red linen vest jacket, open over a sleeveless white T-shirt, and matching red linen pants, and I wished I'd picked out something warmer.
We were halfway through May and, so far, the city hadn't any spring at all. Depressing weather, especially when you don't have a guy you really care about to snuggle up to.
I took Jack's arm, mainly for warmth. He led me past a group of people, middle-aged and older, huddled at the stage door. The door swung open, and a shaggy-looking bear of a man in a gray sweatshirt and black overalls stepped out. Was he Ben Franklin or Cotton Mather? I didn't recognize him. But the small crowd of fans cheered and surged forward to greet him.
“I love New York!” I gushed.
“It's too crowded,” was Jack's reply.
Leaning into the wind, we walked up Eighth Avenue, past small groups of people, all desperately trying to wave down taxis.
“Where are we going for dinner?” I asked.
“My dad's company does some work for this great Italian place on Forty-sixth. I think you'll like it.”
I'm not exactly the Material Girl. But you'd think Jack might have spent at least a dollar or two on our first date.
But hey, the restaurant turned out to be the very one that Bernadette Peters recommended!
Momma Mangia's was long and narrow, the red walls covered with framed paintings of Italian villages. Two rows of tables, each with a red-and-white checkered tablecloth, stretched to the back wall. At a front table, people were toasting one another loudly, clinking glasses and laughing uproariously.
The hostess had trouble finding Jack's reservation. Finally, she led us to a table next to the kitchen door. Two men stopped talking to their wives and watched me as I lowered myself into my seat.
I'm used to it. When you're tall and blond, you notice men watching you. You can feel their eyes on you without even looking. I guess I'm lucky. I mean, would I like it better if they didn't look? I doubt it.
As soon as we sat down, a white-aproned waiter leaned over the table and, in a very heavy Italian accent, asked if we'd like a drink. A totally phony accent. He had to be an out-of-work actor. I ordered a glass of red wine, to warm up, and Jack ordered a Diet Coke.
Jack clasped his hands on the tabletop and leaned closer. He grinned at me. “That play got me all psyched. I mean, I'm not the most patriotic guy. But those songs . . . they really made me feel something.”
Was he for real?
“Tell me about your exciting project,” I said. Clever change of subject?
He unclasped his hands, then clasped them again. He had very smooth, large hands, I noticed. Very well-groomed. “It's the biggest assignment I've had since I joined Dad's firm.”
“How old are you anyway, Jack?” I interrupted.
“I'll be twenty-six in July.”
“So I'm out with an older man. That could be dangerous,” I teased, squeezing his hand.
He didn't pick up on it at all. “Why? How old are you, Lindy?”
And going on 110 tonight!
He nodded. “My sister is twenty-three.”
“It's for Cat Chow,” he said.
I had lost the thread for a moment. “What is?”
“My marketing project.”
My hair fell over my face. I swept it back with a shake of my head. I glanced to the next table and saw the two men still staring at me. They looked away when I stared back.
“It's the biggest Cat Chow promotion we've ever done, see. And Dad tossed it in my lap.”
I pictured Dad tossing a cat into his lap. My face started to itch. I'm allergic to cats.
“And here's my great idea,” Jack said, his eyes going bright, his whole face suddenly alive. “I thought of it while I was watching cartoons. You know. Sylvester the Cat and his little cat son.”
“You watch cartoons, Jack?”
He nodded excitedly. Eager to tell me his big Cat Chow idea. “I call it The Whisker Walk.”
He raised two fingers on each hand to the sides of his face, like little cat whiskers, and he began moving the “whiskers” up and down in a little dance while he me-owed a little song.
That's when I faded out. Or rather, that's when Jack faded out.
I didn't hear another word he said. I just kept picturing him meowing and doing his little Whisker Walk with his fingers. Would I ever be able to forget it? Where is a rewind button when you need it?
O, America! O, America!
I had no idea the play would be the best part of the evening.
How did I get into this? Why am I going out with guys I meet on the Internet? After all, Jack isn't the first. Last week was Brad. And next week will be Colin. And here's what I
know as I sit here pretending to listen to Jack . . . here's a little detail I haven't learned yet . . .
One of the three guys is a murderer. One of them plans to murder
I'll find this out really soon. And then, here's the punch line: The only way I'll stay alive is to keep going out with all three of them.
A nightmare? Yes, and it's only beginning. How did I get myself into this mess? I'll tell you. I guess it started the night Ben was killed.