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Authors: Medora Sale

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BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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“What are you thinking about?” asked Harriet, when their newfound acquaintance had taken himself off for a final cup of coffee. “You look—I don't know—profound. Or maybe gloomy. Worrying about what's happening at home while you're not there? Or is this the effect of three days alone on an island with me?”

“Why should I worry about what's going on at home?” Sanders grinned at her. “What could possibly be going on that they can't handle without me? No one's indispensable, Harriet, my love. Not even me.”

“I'm indispensable,” said Harriet. “And don't you forget it.” She ducked his mock attack and deftly caught his wrist as it went by. “And that looks very like Woods Hole up there. We should be thinking about getting the car—and then onward. To Boston.”

“Backward, you mean,” said Sanders sourly. “We're on our way back. And my gloom certainly isn't retrospective. It's the thought of next week that doesn't exactly fill me with joy right now.” He released his wrist gently from her grasp and put his arm around her again. “What is there about us? We've never spent more than a week together since we met.”

“But it has been the most gorgeous holiday, hasn't it? And we promised not to wreck it by getting into fights over what happens next,” said Harriet lightly. Then she shook her head. She turned to face the wind, and her green eyes filled with tears. “Damn it. Why in hell am I trying to sound like Pollyanna? You're right. It is going backward. Come on. Let's get out of here.” She twisted away from the solid comfort of his arm around her shoulders and headed for the companionway, following the small crowd down to the hold. Silently they climbed back into Harriet's car, ready to start the return journey.

It took Rob Lucas a lot longer to drive to the motel during the day, fighting his way through a newly sprouted forest of road construction, delivery vans, and pedestrians. The manager was not pleased to see him. He had already dealt with the situation, written off the damage, and wanted no more to do with the police or anyone else on the issue. On the other hand, he didn't want to stand around all day arguing with a policeman in his lobby, and he agreed, finally, to rout the night man out of bed and send him to the conference room.

In ten minutes the door opened and the desk clerk from the night before arrived with a tray. “Hi,” he said. “I'm Bernie. I thought you might like some coffee. You brought that girl in last night, didn't you? I knew you were a cop. I can always tell. Here,” he said, putting a cup and the cream and sugar in front of him. “Have some of this,” he added, setting down a plate. “It's strudel. One of the maids makes it. It's better than the shit we serve in the coffee shop. Now, what can I do for you?”

Lucas tried the strudel. Bernie was right. He mumbled his thanks through a mouthful of crumbling pastry and plunged in. “Okay, what happened last night after I left?”

“To one-sixteen?” Lucas nodded. “Some guy comes to see her—asks for her by name, Jennifer Wilson, and says she's expecting him. Well, that happens, although I wouldn't have thought she was the type.”

“You didn't tag her for a hooker?”

“Naw. Not her. Anyway, there's another guy sort of in the background, too, and that bothers me. Well, I tell him she's in one-sixteen, and he heads off to the corridor. It's the last unit in that wing, and I figure it'll take him a minute or so to get there. So I call the girl. I always do that. When they want to be surprised by some guy in the middle of the night, they give 'em their room numbers. She asks what he looks like, I tell her, she says thanks a lot, and that's it.”

“What did he look like?”

“Kinda short, maybe a little bigger than me. And skinny. He had one of them blue caps like sailors wear, so I couldn't see his hair—but he had a dark mustache and a skinny face. Mean-looking bastard.”

“You notice a lot.”

“It's part of the business,” said Bernie philosophically. “You meet a lot of strange people in hotels, and it's a good idea to recognize 'em when you run into them again. Just so's you know where you're at.”

“What about the other guy?”

“The one in the background? I didn't get a good look at him—just his back when he was going through the door into the corridor where one-sixteen is. But he's probably over six feet and maybe one ninety, two hundred pounds.”

“So what else happened?” he asked impatiently. “Anything?”

Bernie looked at him with bright and cynical eyes and went on. “In a couple of minutes I get a call from one-fourteen, something about a lot of noise next door. I go to look, the door's swinging open, and the lock's splintered; I check if the girl's there and call the cops from the room.” He paused for a second. “Then I look at the door again. Someone's bust through the bolt and the chain. Not surprising—those door frames are pure crap. Anyway, the bathroom window's wide open. The screen's undone and been dropped outside. She must have left right after I called, because the room looked untouched except for the doors and the towels and the spot where she turned the bed down to get out. You know what I mean? She had used the room, but it was neat, and no one was pulled around in it.”

“Did she walk on her bill?”

“Nope. When she asked for a room she pulled a huge wad of cash out of her pocket and peeled off two fifties to pay for it. Room was sixty-five dollars. You figure she stole the money? That why you're here?”

He shook his head. “I don't know. She's just a witness, mostly. Can I use that phone?”

“Sure. Dial nine.”

It took a good five minutes to find someone who had a copy of the victim's possessions near to hand. “You got it there?” said Lucas impatiently. “Now, did Neilson have any cash on him?”

“Jesus, yes. Didn't you know? He had—let's see—$5,637.83 on him in cash. Mostly in fifties and twenties, a few hundreds.”

Lucas dropped the phone down in amazement. If Jennifer Wilson was a thief, she was a pretty restrained one.

Chapter 4

She sat in her car, shivering uncontrollably in spite of her warm clothes, and told herself she had to leave before someone came to the apartment looking for her. It was only going to be a matter of time—not days but hours or even minutes. After all, it hadn't taken them more than two or three hours to find the motel room. If she got away, she might be safe; there was nothing of hers left in the apartment. She had collected every last scarf and pair of panty hose and stuffed them all into the trunk of the car. And now light from early dawn was oozing its way through the cracks between the buildings. She had to get going. She started the engine, but her foot trembled so wildly on the accelerator that she stalled it again. She could never control the car. Well, stupid, she said to herself, you don't have any other choice. Get out or stay and be killed. She slipped the lever into drive and pulled away from the curb.

She kept chewing over yesterday afternoon, her mind returning to it like a gerbil to its wheel. No, she thought, wrong image. More like a dog to its vomit. Trying to make sense of it. She had been lying in the bed with the sheet pulled up to her chin, dressed in the black bra and the hideous black stockings with the tacky garter belt. He had showered first. He always showered first, as if he suspected that she would befoul the bathroom for him. And he had locked her out, as he always did. What in hell did he do in the shower that could possibly be more embarrassing or disgusting than the things he did in bed? Play with her clothes? They were in the bathroom, as always. That was where he liked her to take them off, allowing her to prance into the bedroom half-undressed. That way he didn't have to look at her squirming out of her panty hose or dragging a sweater over her head. He had come out at last, red-faced, shiny, his little fringe of hair wet, and started to get dressed. She didn't move. He liked her to stay in bed, relaxed and happy-looking, until he left. Which was fine with her. Up until then the afternoon had seemed perfectly ordinary, although there was a tension in him, a kind of triumphant tension, as if he were about to make a killing on a deal.

As he adjusted the knot of his tie, whistling softly, there was knocking on the door, first hesitant, then firmer. He looked at his watch, grinned, reached for his suit jacket, and turned in her direction. He had been expecting someone.

“Come on,” he said brusquely. He ripped off the sheet and grabbed her by the shoulder, digging his hand deep. “Out of bed, you lazy bitch,” he said cheerfully, and yanked her over the side. “Into the bathroom—lose yourself. I don't want him to know there's anyone here, understand? It'll screw up my deal if he thinks someone's listening in. Don't come out until I tell you to, and don't run the goddamn water. Stay dressed like that.” All this time his hand was digging into her shoulder, harder and harder, until, with a shove, he threw her in the direction of the bathroom.

She closed the door, reached automatically for the lock, and then took her hand away in fear. Nausea twisted her stomach; her shoulder throbbed. She knew what was coming. She wrapped an outsize bath towel around her and sat down on the edge of the tub. And thought. Once before, only last week, someone else had turned up. He had dragged her half-naked out of bed and, smiling cheerfully, had grasped her around the waist and thrust her in the direction of his friend. “Nice, isn't she?” he had said. “She'll keep you entertained while I get those papers.”

She had been deeply offended. That had been the worst thing about it, she decided. It still made her squirm to remember that she had honestly believed that he would care how she felt. She told him with as much dignity as she could dredge up that she had no intention of entertaining his friends—that was no part of their deal. She could still see that look of momentary amazement on his face before he punched her. The blow landed on her cheekbone and sent her reeling across the room. His friend sat down, grinning drunkenly, and watched. Carl had picked her up with one hand around her upper arm, clenching it so hard that she thought the bone must break under the pressure, and dragged her over to the phone. He called the desk to send up his chauffeur, and when the man arrived, took the car keys from him and handed her over. “Hang on to her, Cassidy,” he said. “Don't let her move. I'll be back.”

And they had remained like that, except that his grinning friend had helped himself to another drink, staring at her until she thought she would scream from the pain and embarrassment. In twenty minutes or so he had returned with two more men and a bedraggled-looking whore. She would not forget that afternoon in a hurry. Her ideas on the role of a mistress had been drawn from misty, romantic, nineteenth-century portraits. She had seen herself as the lady of the camellias from
La Traviata
: all champagne, diamonds, and beautiful clothes, with a little elegantly passionate sex thrown in. Not a participant in disgusting little orgies with slimy businessmen. She swore she wasn't going to go through that again.

But when the chauffeur had turned up at her apartment that morning to drive her to the hotel, she had been alone. She stared at him, horribly conscious of how strong he was and how little he cared what his boss did. She had been too frightened to tell him she wouldn't come with him.

But this is the last time, she had thought, sitting in Neilson's bathroom, with her feet on the damp bath mat. No more.

She had not been able to hear what was being said, but there were more than two people out there. Something had not worked out; he had been expecting only one. Then the low-pitched voices from the living room changed. Someone was yelling threats—Carl? She heard a high-pitched scream; someone yelled “Shut up.” Then Carl, roaring that they'd never get away with it. There was pain and terror in his voice. It wasn't until that moment that it occurred to her that she, too, was in danger. There were at least two people out there threatening Carl, and she was trapped in this room, unable to yell for help and hope to be heard. These apartments were well built; noise did not travel well from unit to unit. She looked frantically around the bathroom, and finally opened the only door available to her. It was the linen closet, built to fill in the space between the head of the tub and the wall. It had generous, deep shelves that were piled with extra towels and bedding, more than anyone could need. She could just fit between the shelves, she thought, if she were desperate. And she was desperate. She removed some hand towels from the middle shelf and threw them up to the top, along with the extra blankets, and then pulled the bath towels forward, clearing a space behind them. She grabbed her clothes from the counter, knocking over a bottle of the hideous perfume Carl had bought her and splashing it all everywhere. On her, on her clothes, on the shiny fake marble. She hastily mopped it up, slung the clothes on the back of the shelf, pushed aside the piles of towels, and crawled in. As she eased the pile back to its position in front of her, she heard the first shot. Unmistakable, but surprisingly muted. She yanked the door shut as well as she could without a handle on the inside, and discovered that the louvered door gave her a perfect view of the bathroom. A voyeur's dream, she remembered thinking, with fine irrelevancy, as the second gunshot rang out. She began frantically arranging the towels in front of her and waited. If Carl were wounded or dead, she had a chance; they might not find her in here. But if Carl had the gun, and those people were dead, what would he do with her? There was no point in trying to hide from him. She was horrified to find herself praying that he was dead as she listened for his familiar roar.

There was silence, absolute and total.

She cowered behind her wall of towels, trying desperately hard not to make any sound in the stillness. When the noise came at last, her body twitched convulsively, and the towels skidded over an inch closer to the edge of the shelf. It was a voice from the bedroom, probably, an odd voice, hoarse and squeaky. “There's a girl in here somewhere. This room stinks like a whorehouse. Jesus, smell that lousy perfume.”

“Don't be stupid,” said the other voice. “Of course there was a girl—that's what he uses the place for. But she isn't here now. It stinks of that piece of crap on the floor. Sweat and terror—did you ever see anyone so damned scared in all your life? I loved it. Bastard.”

“Shut up and look—there's someone here.” The squeaky voice throbbed with panic. “I know what I can smell.”

“Okay, okay.” She crouched down lower. She heard the creak of the bedroom closet door. “Not here. Nobody. Try under the bed.”

“Don't be stupid. There's no room under the bed.”

At last the bathroom door opened. “This is where the smell comes from,” said the second voice. “Someone's spilled perfume in here.” She heard the rattle of rings as the shower curtain was jerked back and felt a rush of cool air past her ear as the door to the linen closet opened. She held her breath and concentrated on invisibility. “There's no one here.”

“Well—she hasn't been gone long,” said the first voice. The tone was grudging, irritated. “These sheets are still damp and sweaty. Do you think she saw us when we came in?”

“Don't be stupid. If she'd seen us, we'd have seen her, wouldn't we? I don't know about you, but I was looking, and I didn't see any hooker anywhere in this building. I didn't see any female. But I suggest we get the hell out of here anyway. Some of the deaf biddies on this floor might have heard us.”

She heard a door slam. She waited, terrified, feeling her calf muscles seize up while she counted slowly to a hundred. Finally she pushed the towels over to one side again and crawled with difficulty out of the linen closet, landing face-first in a heap on the damp towels Carl had left behind. She was sore; her legs and arms were unwieldy and unwilling to do what she asked of them. She started to massage her leg and then shook her head with impatience. There was no time for anything like that. She hastily pulled on the skimpy leather skirt and tiny sweater she wore for these encounters and walked silently over to the door. She counted to three and turned the doorknob, convinced that two people with guns in their hands would be sitting on the bed, smiling, waiting for her to come out. She pushed the door open. The room was empty.

He was in the living room, lying on the pale blue rug, close to the archway that led to the hall, as if he had been trying to get to the front door when they killed him. She noted dispassionately that there wasn't much left of the back and top of his head, but that it had been enough to block the closet door from opening more than a few inches. Someone had tried. Looking for her, probably. She had always thought the living room was an odd place to have a coat closet in an apartment this expensive. For the briefest instant she contemplated trying to get close enough to the thing on the floor to reach in for her coat. She couldn't. She backed into the bedroom, and with panicky haste bent her mind to essentials. A pair of clean panties. Her boots, by incredible luck sitting in the bedroom closet. On her way through the living room, boots still in one hand, she snatched up the cordless telephone. Caught between the horror inside and the unknown terror that might be waiting for her in the dimly lit hallway, she cowered against the front door and dialed 911. When the impersonal voice asked for her name, she slid the button to “off” and let the instrument drop to the floor. She shoved her feet into her boots, and began doggedly to thread the laces around their metal cleats. Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried to control her trembling fingers. You can't leave with your laces undone, she screamed wordlessly to herself. They'll know where you've been if you do. It took a thousand echoing measures of time before her boots were laced and knotted and she could leave the apartment. She turned toward the elevator, changed her mind, and ran for the relative security of the stairs.

BOOK: Sleep of the Innocent
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