THE headline on the Arts and Leisure page read: “Publisher to Reissue Five Thrillers by Alleged Murderer, Andrew Z. Thomas.”
All it took was seeing his name.
Karen Prescott dropped The New York Times and walked over to the window.
Morning light streamed across the clutter of her cramped office—query letters and sample chapters stacked in two piles on the floor beside the desk, a box of galleys shoved under the credenza. She peered out the window and saw the fog dissolving, the microscopic crawl of traffic now materializing on Broadway through the cloud below.
Leaning against a bookcase that housed many of the hardcovers she’d guided to publication, Karen shivered. The mention of Andrew’s name always unglued her.
For two years she’d been romantically involved with the suspense novelist and had even lived with him during the writing of Blue Murder at the same lake house in North Carolina where many of his victims were found.
She considered it a latent character defect that she’d failed to notice anything sinister in Andy beyond a slight reclusive tendency.
My God, I almost married him.
She pictured Andy reading to the crowd in that Boston bookshop the first time they met. In a bathrobe writing in his office as she brought him fresh coffee (French roast of course). Andy making love to her in a flimsy rowboat in the middle of Lake Norman.
She thought of his dead mother.
The exhumed bodies from his lakefront property.
His face on the FBI website.
They’d used his most recent jacket photo, a black and white of Andy in a sports jacket sitting broodingly at the end of his pier.
During the last few years she’d stopped thinking of him as Andy. He was Andrew Thomas now and embodied all the horrible images the cadence of those four syllables invoked.
There was a knock.
Scott Boylin, publisher of Ice Blink’s literary imprint, stood in the doorway dressed in his best bib and tucker. Karen suspected he was gussied up for the Doubleday party.
He smiled, waved with his fingers.
She crossed her arms, leveled her gaze.
God he looked streamlined today—very tall, fit, crowned by thick black hair with dignified intimations of silver.
He made her feel little. In a good way. Because Karen stood nearly six feet tall, few men towered over her. She loved having to look up at Scott.
They’d been dating clandestinely for the last four months. She’d even given him a key to her apartment where they spent countless Sundays in bed reading manuscripts, the coffeestained pages scattered across the sheets.
But last night she’d seen him at a bar in SoHo with one of the cute interns. Their rendezvous did not look work-related.
“Come to the party with me,” he said. “Then we’ll go to Il Piazza. Talk this out. It’s not what you—”
“I’ve got tons of reading to catch up—”
“Don’t be like that, Karen, come on.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to have this conversation here, so…”
He exhaled sharply through his nose and the door closed hard behind him.
Joe Mack was stuffing his pink round face with a gyro when his cell phone started ringing to the tune of “Staying Alive.”
He answered, cheeks exploding with food, “This Joe.”
“Hi, yes, um, I’ve got a bit of an interesting problem.”
“Well, I’m in my apartment but I can’t get the deadbolt to turn from the inside.”
Joe Mack choked down a huge mouthful, said, “So you’re locked in.”
“Which apartment?” He didn’t even try to mask the annoyance in his voice.
“Um…I’m not the tenet. I’m Karen Prescott’s friend. She’s the—”
“Yeah, I get it. You need to leave any time soon?”
“Well, yeah, I don’t want to—”
Joe Mack sighed, closed the cell phone, and devoured the last of the gyro.
Wiping his hands on his shirt he heaved himself from a debilitated swivel chair and lumbered out of the office, locking the door behind him.
The lobby was quiet for midday and the elevator doors spread as soon as he pressed the button. He rode up wishing he’d bought three gyros for lunch instead of two.
The doors opened again and he walked onto the twenty-second floor, fishing the key ring containing the master from the pocket of his enormous overalls.
It echoed down the empty corridor.
Man was he hungry.
He stopped at 2211, knocked, yelled through the door, “It’s the super!”
No one answered.
Joe Mack inserted the master into the deadbolt. It turned easily enough.
He pushed the door open.
“Hello?” he said, standing in the threshold, admiring the apartment—roomy, flat-screen television, lush deepblue carpet, an antique desk, great view of SoHo, probably loads of food in the fridge.
He turned the deadbolt four times. It worked perfectly.
Another door opened somewhere in the hallway and approaching footsteps reverberated off the hardwood floor. Joe Mack glanced down the corridor at the tall man with black hair in a black overcoat strolling toward him from the stairwell.
“Hey, pal, were you the one who just called me?” Joe Mack asked.
The man with black hair stopped at the open doorway of 2211.
He smelled strange, of Windex and lemons.
“Yes, I was the one.”
“Oh. You get the lock to work?”
“I’ve never been in this apartment.”
“What the f**k did you call me for—”
Glint of a blade. The man held an ivory-hilted bowie. He swept its shimmering point across Joe Mack’s swollen belly, cleaving denim, cotton, several layers of skin.
“No, just wait just a second—”
The man raised his right leg and booted Joe Mack through the threshold.
The super toppled backward as the man followed him into the apartment, slammed the door, and shot the deadbolt home.
Karen left Ice Blink Press at 6:30 p.m. and emerged into a manic Manhattan evening, the sliver of sky between the buildings smoldering with dying sunlight, gilding glass and steel. It was the fourth Friday of October, the terminal brilliance of autumn fullblown upon the city, and as she walked the fifteen blocks to her apartment in SoHo, Karen decided that she wouldn’t start the manuscript in her leather satchel tonight.
Instead she’d slip into satin pajamas, have a glass of that organic chardonnay she’d purchased at Whole Foods Market, and watch wonderful mindless television.