Read In the Blood Online

Authors: Nancy A. Collins

Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Urban, #Horror, #Occult & Supernatural

In the Blood

BOOK: In the Blood

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Where is she?

Palmer looked at his watch for the fifteenth time in as many minutes. She was late.

Again. He wanted to believe that it wasn't deliberate on her part, but the truth was
Loli enjoyed keeping him waiting.

No, not waiting; twisting in the wind on the end of a meat hook.

The woman knew she had him: heart, soul and gonads. Palmer had recognized Loli
as bad news the moment she sashayed into his office, but the knowledge hadn't kept
him from falling hard and messy, like a jumper off the Empire State Building.

She'd hired him to follow her husband, a well-to-do contractor named Samuel
Quine, trying to get some dirt on him for a nice, juicy divorce settlement. It didn't
take long. Quine was seeing someone on the sly, all right.

They met at a motor court at the edge of town twice a week. It was all very discreet
and proper, in a suburban middle-class kind of way. Palmer was all too familiar
with the pattern. He'd spent a good chunk of his professional life taking
incriminating photos of unfaithful husbands and wives sneaking in and out of hot-sheets joints. What he couldn't understand was why Quine needed to get it on the
side when he was married to a woman as sexy as Loli.

Before Palmer could finish that thought, he was dazzled by the high beams from
Loli's candy-apple red Trans Am as it pulled into the deserted parking lot, Bon Jovi
pumping out of the speaker system. Palmer grimaced. Loli's taste was dreadful.

Except for him, of course. She shut off the engine, returning the lot to shadows and
silence. There was still enough illumination from the distant streetlights for him to
see her slide out from behind the wheel of her car.

She was dressed all in red, from the ribbon wrapped around her ash-blond ponytail
to the skintight red leather stiletto-heeled knee boots that matched her miniskirt.

Her fingernails and lips glistened as if she'd painted them with fresh blood.

Palmer's anxiety and aggravation transformed itself into pure lust. It was like being
high on a wondrous drug that made rational thought and common sense not only
irrelevant, but impossible. He wondered if this was how male praying mantises felt
during the mating dance.

"You got it?" Her voice was honey and whisky poured over crystal-clear ice. She
raised her cornflower-blue eyes to his dark brown ones.

He nodded dumbly, his tongue turned into a useless wad of dry cotton. Palmer
handed her a manila envelope full of pictures of Sam Quine and his mistress leaving
their trysting place, information detailing the days and times they kept their
rendezvous, and the name they registered under.

Loli quickly scanned his notes, her mouth set into a predatory smirk. Palmer was
startled by the cruelty he saw in her eyes, then shamed by having felt revulsion. But
he couldn't help feeling he'd been allowed an unintentional glimpse of the woman
Sam Quine was married to.

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"Loli, we need to talk."

"I'd like to stay and chat awhile, Bill. I really would. But there's something I need to
attend to." She opened the carmine designer purse that hung from her shapely,
white shoulder as she spoke.

"Loli, it's about us__"

"Now, where did I put that thing? Oh,
it is!"

"When will I get to see you again?"

Loli turned to face him, pulling a Smith & Wesson .38 out of the tangled mess of
cosmetics and half-read romance novels in her purse. "I guess you'll see me in hell,"

she replied, leveling the gun at his chest.

Palmer stared in mute horror at the piece of blue steel pointed at his heart. He
recognized the weapon as his own, supposedly locked in the desk at the office. He
disliked guns, but his clients expected it of him. Damn Bogart.

"But, Loli... I

Her painted lips pulled back into a grin that seemed to spread until it bisected her
face. "That's sweet of you, Bill. I love you, too."

And then she shot him.

William Palmer woke in a puddle of sweat. Had he screamed? He listened to the
other inmates in the prison, but all he heard were the usual snores and farts. He
uncoiled his rigid shoulder and leg muscles. He'd recently taken to sleeping with his
arms crossed, corpse-style, across his chest. The prison psychologist had made a big
deal out of that.

Palmer sat up, dabbing at the sweat rolling off his brow with the edge of the bed
sheet. His hands trembled and he wanted a smoke
bad. Hell, he'd even settle for
one of those shitty big-house cigarettes, made from Bugler tobacco and a page from
the New Testament. Regular cancer sticks like Camels and Winstons were hard to
get under these circumstances, much less his preferred brand: Sherman's Queen-Size Cigarettellos.

That dream. That goddamned dream.

How long was it going to keep on? He'd been having the same dream-or variations
on the theme-ever since he'd come out of the coma six weeks ago and been informed
of Loli's perfidy. The dreams varied widely, but they were essentially all the same:
they involved him, Loli and his gun. Each dream ended with Loli opening fire.

Sometimes the dreams were nonsensical, the way dreams normally are: he and Loli
riding a merry-go-round in the middle of a forest when Loli pulls out the gun and
shoots him. Others were so realistic he didn't know it was a dream until he was
jerked back into consciousness by the sound of the gun: he and Loli naked in bed,
screwing away, and she pulls the gun out from under the pillow . . .Palmer squeezed
his eyes shut, deliberately blocking the image. That one had been bad. Worse than
the one tonight.

None of the dream-shootings were the real one, though. He guessed he should be
grateful for small favors. It was bad enough remembering what had happened in the
motel room without being condemned to relive it every night. His right hand
absently massaged the scar on his chest that marked Loli's parting gift.

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She'd called late, babbling that she needed his help and protection. She'd decided to
confront Quine at the motel but things had gone wrong. They got into a fight and
she was locked in the bathroom-although she'd somehow succeeded in dragging the
phone in after her. Quine had gone crazy, threatening to kill her. She was scared;
Palmer didn't realize what a violent temper Quine had, how brutal he could be.

She'd pushed the right buttons. Palmer was in his car and on his way to the motor
court before the receiver hit the cradle.

The door was unlocked when he got there. He wasn't too worried about Loli's
husband. Quine was in his late fifties and heavier than Palmer, and not in the best
of shape. Palmer knew how to handle himself in a fight. But he was unprepared for
the sight of Sam Quine sprawled naked across the motel room's double bed, his
brains splashed across the headboard and nightstand.

Palmer heard the bathroom door click open behind him. He turned in time to see
Loli at the threshold, stark naked and holding a recently fired .38.

"Loli, what the fu-"

And she'd fired.

Three weeks passed before he was able to stay conscious long enough to understand
what was being said to and about him. Sometimes he wished he could return to the
painless gray of twilight sleep and never come out. Anything would be better than
the truth.

Loli was dead.

The whole thing was like a bad Mickey Spillane novel. It was typical of Loli, though.

The cops kept commencing on the half-baked nature of the scheme.

Did she really think no one would question her version of what happened? Didn't
she know that forensics could read the splatter pattern left by her husband's
exploding head and triangulate the trajectory of the fatal bullet? Did she really
think the police were that stupid? There was no way she could have pulled it off. It
didn't make any sense unless you knew her. Or thought you did.

Loli had never been one to concern herself with consensual reality. If she said her
husband was a brute, a cheat and a liar, then it was true. That she refused to have
sex with him for two years was unrelated to his infidelity. He was the one in the
wrong, the one to be punished.

If she told the police that she and her husband had gone to a certain motel to
celebrate their reconciliation, and while they were there, her jilted lover broke in on
them, blowing her husband's gray matter all over the wallpaper, then that's what
happened. It never occurred to her that she would be suspected as well.

When the police began asking her questions, suggesting that she and Palmer had
conspired to murder Quine, it proved too much for her. That Palmer had survived
the bullet she'd pumped into him was another contingency she had been unprepared
for. She kept insisting that she'd wrested the gun from Palmer and shot him in self-defense, but the police suspected Palmer's wounding had more to do with a falling-out between illicit lovers.

Frightened and confused upon finding herself, possibly for the first time in her life,
in a situation where her sex appeal could not free her from the consequences of her
actions, Loli panicked.

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A fifth of Everclear and a bottle of sleeping pills provided an escape route from
justice, but not before she penned a venomous farewell note, implicating Palmer in
Quine's death, and mailed it to the district attorney: "It was all his idea. I didn't
want to go along with it."

What she really meant was that it was all his fault for not dying. If he'd died like
she'd planned, everything would have gone off the way it was supposed to. Funny
how he was finally becoming adept at understanding Loli, now that it was too late to
do him any good.

As soon as the doctors proclaimed him fit, he would be brought before the judge for
bail designation. As far as the district attorney's office was concerned, it was a clear-cut case of conspiracy to commit murder; it didn't matter who actually pulled the
trigger. His public defense attorney told him there wasn't much hope of making bail.

Palmer craned his head so he could catch a glimpse of the sky through the heavily
secured window over his bed. It was still dark out. He remembered his mother
insisting, during the periodic hard times the family roller-coasted through, how "it's
always darkest before the dawn." His mother was a good woman, bless her, but
incapable of making a statement that wasn't cobbled together from cliches.

His father had been a great one for cliches as well. His one real effort at handing
paternal wisdom to his only son had come in the form of a nose-to-nose yelling
match when he'd told the fifteen-year-old Palmer:
"Boy, if you don't get your head

outta your ass, you're gonna find yourself up shit creek without a paddle!"

Thanks, Dad.

"Palmer? Somebody here to see you."

Word had come through that morning that the doctors had okayed his transferal to
the prison. He was to be placed with the rest of the prisoners the next day. This had
not come as welcome news.

"Is it my lawyer?"

"Beats me. The guy says he wants to talk to you." The orderly jerked his head
toward the single door leading to the recovery ward. A man Palmer had never seen
before was standing at the check-in desk, an expensive attache case in one hand.

"You wanna see him?" There was no privacy in the prison infirmary, but the
patient-inmates had the freedom to turn away visitors if they chose.

Palmer looked at the stranger for a moment. "Yeah, send him over."

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