Still there. Still staring at her.
Kim, seated on a plastic chair with her back to the wall, felt squirmy. Except for the door frame, the entire front of the laundromat was glass. The florescent lights overhead glared.
To the man in the car outside, it must be like watching her on a drive-in movie screen.
She wished she’d worn more clothes. But it was a hot night and very late, and she’d postponed doing her laundry until nearly every stitch in her apartment needed a wash. So she’d come here in sneakers, her old gym shorts from high school, and a T-shirt.
Probably why the bastard’s staring at me, she thought. Enjoying the free show.
No better than a Peeping Tom, the way he just sits there, gazing in.
When Kim had first noticed him, she’d thought he was the husband of one of the other women. Waiting and bored, choosing to spend his time in the comfort of his car, maybe so he could listen to the radio - and ogle her from a discreet distance.
Soon, however, two of the women left. The only one remaining was a husky middle-aged gal who kept complaining and giving orders to a fellow named Bill. The way Bill listened and obeyed, he had to be her husband.
Kim didn’t think that the stranger in the car was waiting for them.
They finished. They carried their baskets of clean clothes out to a station wagon, and drove off.
Kim was the only woman left.
The stranger stayed.
Every time she glanced his way, she saw him staring back. She couldn’t actually see his eyes. They were masked in shadow. But she felt their steady gaze, felt them studying her.
Though she was unable to see his eyes, enough light reached him from the laundromat to show his thick neck, his shaved head. His head looked like a block of granite. He had a heavy brow, knobby cheekbones, a broad nose, full lips that never moved, a massive jaw.
Wouldn’t be so bad, Kim had thought, if he looked like some kind of wimp. I could handle that. But this guy looked as if he ate bayonets for breakfast.
She’d wanted to move away from her chair near the front. Wait at the rear of the room. Hell, duck down out of sight behind the middle row of machines.
But if she did that, he might come in.
I’m all right as long as he stays in the car.
I’m probably all right as long as Jock’s here.
She didn’t know Jock’s name, but he
one. The big guy might even be a match for the stranger. He appeared to be a couple of years younger than Kim - maybe nineteen or twenty. He had so much muscle that he couldn’t touch his knees together if his life depended on it. Nor would his elbows ever rub against his sides. His sleeveless gray sweatshirt was cut off just below his chest. His red shorts were very much like Kim’s, but a lot larger. He wore them over sweatpants.
She watched him, now, as he hopped down from one of the washers and strutted to a nearby machine. He thumbed a button. The door of the front-loading drier swung open. A white sock and a jockstrap fell to the floor.
Kim’s stomach fluttered.
She forced herself not to glance out the window. She forced herself not to hurry. She tried to look casual as she rose from her chair and strolled toward the crouching athlete.
‘Hi,’ she said, stopping beside him.
He looked up at her and smiled. ‘Hello.’
‘I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you could do me a favor.’
‘Yeah?’ His gaze slipped down Kim’s body. When it returned to her face, she knew he would be willing to help. ‘What sort of favor?’ he asked.
‘It’s nothing much, really. I just don’t want to be left alone in here. I was wondering if you could stick around for a few minutes and keep me company until my clothes are finished. They’re in the driers, now. It’ll just be about ten more minutes.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘That’s it?’
‘Well, if you could walk me out to my car when I’m done.’
‘Thanks. I really appreciate it.’
He stuffed the rest of his laundry into a canvas bag and tied the cord at the top. Standing up, he smiled again. ‘My name’s Bradley.’
‘I’m Kim.’ She offered a hand, and he shook it. ‘I sure appreciate this.’
‘Like I told you, no problem.’
Kim stepped to a washer across the aisle from him. He watched as she braced her hands on its edge and boosted herself up. Watched her breasts.
Maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea asking him for help.
she told herself.
He’s just a normal guy.
She slumped forward slightly and cupped her knees to loosen the pull of the fabric across her chest.
‘You live near here?’ Bradley said.
‘Yeah, a few blocks. Are you a student?’
‘A sophomore. I live off-campus, though. I’ve got my own apartment. Do you come here often?’
‘As un-often as possible.’
He laughed softly. ‘Know what you mean. Chores. I hate them.’
‘Same here. Especially laundry. It gets kind of spooky here.’ Her head turned. She wanted to stop it, couldn’t, kept turning until she saw the parked car and the grim face behind its windshield. She quickly looked back at Bradley.
‘If you get spooked, why do you come here so late?’ he asked. ‘No waiting for machines.' Then she added, ‘Famous last words.’ Bradley frowned. ‘What is it?’ He glanced toward the front, then scowled at her. ‘What’s the matter?’
Kim felt her mouth stretch into a grimace. She shook her head. ‘Nothing.’
‘Is it that guy out there?’
‘No, it’s… He’s been watching me. Ever since I got here. He just sits there, staring at me.’
‘Oh yeah?’ Bradley glared in the man’s direction.
‘Don’t! Jesus! Just pretend he’s not there.’
‘Maybe I ought to go out and…’
He turned to Kim. ‘You don’t know who the guy is?’
‘I’ve never seen him before.’
‘No wonder you’re worried.’
‘I’m sure it’s nothing,’ she said, beginning to tremble again. ‘He probably just likes to look at women.’
like to look at women. That doesn’t mean I hang around laundromats like a goddamn pervert.’
‘He’s probably harmless.’
‘Doesn’t look harmless to me. Who’s to say he isn’t some kind of freak like the Mount Bolton Butcher?’
‘Hey, come on…’
Bradley’s face went pale. His eyes widened. They roamed down Kim, and returned to her face. ‘Christ,’ he muttered. ‘I hate to tell you this, but…’ He hesitated.
The change in him frightened Kim. '
‘You… you’re a dead match for his victim profile.’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘The Mount Bolton Butcher. He’s had eight victims, and they all… they were all eighteen to twenty-five years old, maybe not as pretty as you, but almost. And slim, and they all had long blonde hair parted in the middle just like yours. You look so much like the others that you could all be sisters.’
‘Oh shit,’ Kim muttered.
‘I was going with a girl who kind of fit the profile. Not as much as you do, but it had me worried. I was afraid, you know, she might end up raped and dismembered like… Is there a back way out of here?’
‘Hey, come on. You're really…’
‘I’m not kidding.’
‘I know, but… It probably isn’t him, right? I mean, he hasn’t…’
‘He hasn’t nailed anyone in two months, and the cops think he might’ve left the area, or died, or been jailed for something else. But they don’t
They’re just trying to calm people down, saying stuff like that. Have you ever been up around Mount Bolton?’
Kim shook her head. It felt a little numb inside.
‘I tell you, it’s one big mean wilderness. A guy could hide out for years if he knew what he was doing. So maybe he laid low for a while, and maybe now the urge has gotten the best of him, and… Not much of anyone goes camping up there anymore. If he wanted a new victim, he might have to come down into town for one.’
‘This is really starting to give me the creeps.’
‘Just sit there a minute. I’ll check the back.’
Bradley walked up the aisle between the rows of silent washers and drivers. He stepped past the coin-operated vending machines where patrons could purchase drinks, snacks, detergent or bleach. He tapped out a rhythm as he walked by a long, wooden table where people earlier had separated and folded their laundry. Then he disappeared into a recessed area at the rear of the room. He was out of sight for just a second.
When he stepped into the open again, he met Kim’s eyes and shook his head.
Not once did he glance toward the man in the car as he came back to her. ‘Nothing but a utility room,’ he said. ‘The only way out is the front.’
Kim nodded and tried to smile. She felt a corner of her mouth twitch.
‘You think your stuff is about ready?’
‘Close enough.’ She hopped off the washer. Bradley picked up his laundry bag and stayed at her side as she headed for the pair of driers near the front.
‘Your car’s in the lot?’ he asked.
‘I’ll get in with you. If he thinks we’re really together, maybe he won’t try anything.’
‘Okay,’ Kim said. Both driers were still running. She could see them vibrating, hear their motors and the thumps of the tennis shoes she’d tossed into the nearer of the two.
She swung her laundry basket off the top of that machine, set it at her feet, crouched and opened the front panel. The motor went silent. Reaching inside, she lifted out a handful of warm clothes. They still felt a little damp, but she didn’t care.
‘If he follows us when we leave,’ Bradley said, ‘maybe we can lose him. But at least you won’t be alone. As long as I’m with you, he’ll think twice before he tries anything.’
She dropped more clothes into the basket, and looked up at Bradley. ‘I really appreciate this.’
‘I’m just glad that I’m here to help.’
‘Do you really think he might be the Butcher?’
‘I hope we don’t find out.’
The thought came suddenly, and seemed to turn her stomach cold inside.
No. That’s ridiculous.
Looking away from him, she continued to unload the machine.
What’s so ridiculous about it? Bradley seems to know a lot about the Butcher. And he wants me to take him in my car.
Once we’re alone…
For all I know, he’s been lying from the start.
the other guy. They might be working together.
Don’t let him in the car, she told herself. Walk out with him, but…
‘Oh shit,’ Bradley muttered.
Her head snapped toward him. He was standing rigid, eyes wide as he gazed toward the front.
Kim sprang up and whirled around.
The stranger filled the doorway. Then he was inside, striding toward them.
He wore a dark stocking cap. His face was streaked with black makeup. His black T-shirt looked swollen with mounds and slabs of muscle. The sling of a rifle crossed his chest. So did the straps of a harness that held a sheathed knife, handle down, against the left side of his rib cage. Circling his waist was a web belt loaded down with canvas cases, a canteen and a holster. He wore baggy camouflage pants. Their cuffs were tucked into high-topped boots.
Bradley, fists up, stepped in front of Kim. His voice boomed out, ‘Stop right there, mister.’
A blow to the midsection dropped Bradley to his knees. A knee to the forehead hurled him backward. He hit the floor sliding and lay limp at Kim’s feet.
She whirled away and tried to run. A hand snagged the shoulder of her T-shirt. The fabric tugged at her, stretched and ripped as she was twisted sideways. Her feet tangled. She crashed against the floor.
The man grabbed her ankles, tugged her flat. His weight came down on her back. An arm darted across her throat and squeezed.
Kim woke up in total darkness. She lay curled on her side. Her head ached. At first, she thought she was home in bed. But this didn’t feel like a bed. She felt a blanket under her. The surface beneath the blanket was hard. It vibrated. Sometimes, it pounded against her.
She remembered the man.
Then, she knew where she was.
To confirm her fears, she tried to straighten her legs. Something stopped her feet. She reached out. Her fingers met hard, grooved rubber.
The spare tire.
The car stopped. Kim had no idea how long she had been trapped inside its trunk. Probably for an hour. That’s about how long it should take, she knew, to drive from town to the wilderness surrounding Mount Bolton.
Ever since regaining consciousness and realizing she was in the trunk of the man’s car, she had known where he was taking her. After a period of gasping panic, after prayers for God to save her, a numbness had settled into Kim. She knew she was going to die, and there was nothing she could do about it. She told herself that everyone dies. And this way, she would be spared such agonies as facing her parents’ deaths, the deaths of other loved ones and friends, her own old age and maybe a lingering demise in the grip of cancer or some other horrible disease. Has its advantages.
God, I’m going to die!