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Whispers

Whispers

Page 50


"If you know, then you can just let me go."


He laughed. "You changed bodies, didn't you?"


She stared at him. "What?"


"Somehow you got out of the Thomas woman and took control of this girl, didn't you?"


She wasn't crying any more. Her fear was burning so very brightly that it had seared away her tears.


The bitch.


The rotten bitch.


"Did you really think you could fool me?" he asked. He laughed again, delighted. "After everything you've done to me, how could you think I wouldn't recognize you?"


Terror reverberated in her voice. "I haven't done anything to you. You're not making sense. Oh, Jesus. Oh, my God, my God. What do you want from me?"


Bruno leaned toward her, put his face close to hers. He peered into her eyes and said, "You're in there, aren't you? You're in there, deep down in there, hiding from me, aren't you? Aren't you, Mother? I see you, Mother. I see you in there."


***


A few fat droplets of rain splattered on the mullioned window in Joshua Rhinehart's office.


The night wind moaned.


"I still don't understand why Frye chose me," Hilary said. "When I came up here to do research for that screenplay, he was friendly. He answered all my questions about the wine industry. We spent two or three hours together, and I never had a hint that he was anything but an ordinary businessman. Then a few weeks later, he shows up at my house with a knife. And according to that letter in the safe-deposit box, he thinks I'm his mother in a new body. Why me?"


Joshua shifted in his chair. "I've been looking at you and thinking...."


"What?"


"Maybe he chose you because ... well, you look just a bit like Katherine."


"You don't mean we've got another look-alike on our hands," Tony said.


"No," Joshua said. "The resemblance is only slight."


"Good," Tony said. "Another dead ringer would be too much for me to deal with."


Joshua got up, went to Hilary, put one hand under her chin, lifted her face, turned it left, then right. "The hair, the eyes, the dusty complexion," he said thoughtfully. "Yes, all of that's similar. And there are other things about your face that remind me vaguely of Katherine, little things, so minor that I can't really put my finger on them. It's only a passing resemblance. And she wasn't as attractive as you are."


As Joshua took his hand away from her chin, Hilary got up and walked to the attorney's desk.


Mulling over what she had learned in the past hour, she stared down at the neatly arranged items on the desk: blotter, stapler, letter opener, paperweight.


"Is something wrong?" Tony asked.


The wind worked up into a brief squall. Another burst of raindrops snapped against the window.


She turned around, faced the men. "Let me summarize the situation. Let me see if I've got this straight."


"I don't think any of us has it straight," Joshua said, returning to his chair. "The whole damned tale is too twisted to be arranged in a nice straight line."


"That's what I'm leading up to," she said. "I think maybe I just found another twist."


"Go ahead," Tony said.


"So far as we can tell," Hilary said, "shortly after his mother's death, Bruno got the idea that she had come back from the grave. For nearly five years, he has been buying books about the living dead from Latham Hawthorne. For five years, he's been living in fear of Katherine. Finally, when he saw me, he decided I was the new body she was using. But why did it take him so long?"


"I'm not sure I follow," Joshua said.


"Why did he take five years to fixate on someone, five long years to select a flesh and blood target for his fears?"


Joshua shrugged, "He's a madman, We can't expect his reasoning to be logical and decipherable."


But Tony was sensitive to the implications of her question. He slid forward on the couch, frowning. "I think I know what you're going to say," he told her, "My God, it gives me goose pimples."


Joshua looked from one to the other and said, "I must be getting slow-witted in my declining years. Will someone explain things to this old codger?"


"Maybe I'm not the first woman he's thought was his mother," Hilary said. "Maybe he killed the others before he came after me."


Joshua gaped at her, "Impossible!"


"Why?"


"We'd have known if he'd been running around killing women for the past five years. He'd have been caught at it!"


"Not necessarily," Tony said. "Homicidal maniacs are often very careful, very clever people. Some of them make meticulous plans--and yet have an uncanny ability to take the right risks when something unexpected throws the plans off the rails. They aren't always easy to catch."


Joshua pushed one hand through his mane of snow-white hair. "But if Bruno killed other women--


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where are their bodies?"


"Not in St. Helena," Hilary said. "He may have been schizophrenic, but the respectable, Dr. Jekyll-half of his personality was firmly in control when he was around people who knew him. He almost certainly would have gone out of town to kill. Out of the valley."


"San Francisco," Tony said, "He apparently went there regularly."


"Any town in the northern part of the state," Hilary said, "Any place far enough away from the Napa Valley for him to be anonymous."


"Now wait," Joshua said. "Wait a minute. Even if he went somewhere else and found women who bore a vague resemblance to Katherine, even if he killed them in other towns--he'd still have to leave bodies behind. There would have been similarities in the way he murdered them, links that the authorities would have noticed, They'd be looking for a modern-day Jack the Ripper. We'd have heard all about it on the news."


"If the murders were spread over five years and over a lot of towns in several counties, the police probably wouldn't make any connections between them," Tony said. "This is a large state.


Hundreds of thousands of square miles. There are hundreds upon hundreds of police organizations, and there's seldom as much information-sharing among them as there ought to be. In fact, there's only one sure-fire way for them to recognize connections between several random killings--that's if at least two, and preferably three, of the murders take place in a relatively short span of time, within a single police jurisdiction, one county or one city."


Hilary walked away from the desk, returned to the couch. "So it's possible," she said, feeling as cold as the October wind sounded. "It's possible that he's been slaughtering women--two, six, ten, fifteen, maybe more--during the past five years, and I'm the first one who ever gave him any trouble."


"It's not only possible, but probable," Tony said. "I'd say we can count on it." The Xerox of the letter that had been found in the safe-deposit box was on the coffee table in front of him; he picked it up and read the first sentence aloud. "'My mother, Katherine Anne Frye, died five years ago, but she keeps coming back to life in new bodies,'"


"Bodies," Hilary said.


"That's the key word," Tony said. "Not body, singular. Bodies, plural. From that, I think we can infer that he killed her several times and that he thought she came back from the grave more than once."


Joshua's face was ash-gray. "But if you're right ... I've been ... all of us in St. Helena have been living beside the most evil, vicious sort of monster. And we weren't even aware of it!"


Tony looked grim. "'The Beast of Hell walks among us in the clothes of a common man.'"


"What's that from?" Joshua asked.


"I've got a dustbin mind," Tony said. "Very little gets thrown away, whether I want to hold on to it or not. I remember the quotation from my Catholic catechism classes a long time ago. It's from the writings of one of the saints, but I don't recall which one. 'The Beast of Hell walks among us in the clothes of a common man. If the demon should reveal its true face to you at a time when you have turned away from Christ, then you will be without protection, and it will gleefully devour your heart and rend you limb from limb and carry your immortal soul into the yawning pit.'"


"You sound like Latham Hawthorne," Joshua said.


Outside, the wind shrieked.


***


Frye put the knife on the nightstand, well out of Sally's reach. Then he grabbed the lapels of her uniform dress and tore the garment open. Buttons popped.


She was paralyzed by terror. She did not resist him; she could not.


He grinned at her and said, "Now. Now, Mother. Now, I get even."


He ripped the dress all the way down the front and flung it open. She was revealed in bra and panties and pantyhose, a slim, pretty body. He clutched the cups of her bra and jerked them down.


The straps bit into her skin and then broke. Fabric tore. Elastic snapped.


Her br**sts were large for her size and bone structure, round and full, with very dark, pebbly nipples. He squeezed them roughly.


"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!" In his deep, gravelly voice, that one word acquired the eerie quality of a sinister chant, a Satanic litany.


He wrenched off her shoes, first the right, then the left, and threw them aside. One of them struck the mirror above the dresser and shattered it.


The sound of falling glass roused the woman from her shock-induced catatonic trance, and she tried to pull away from him, but fear sapped her strength; she writhed and fluttered ineffectually against him.


He held her without difficulty, slapped her twice with such force that her mouth sagged open and her eyes swam. A fine thread of blood unraveled from the corner of her mouth, ran down her chin.


"You rotten bitch!" he said, furious. "No sex, huh? I can't have any sex, you said. No sex ever, you said. Can't risk some woman finding out what I am, you said. Well, you already know what I am, Mother. You already know my secret, I don't have to hide anything from you, Mother. You know I'm different from other men. You know my prick isn't like theirs. You know who my father was. You know. You know that my prick is like his. I don't have to hide it from you, Mother. I'm going to shove it into you, Mother. All the way up into you. You hear me? Do you?"


The woman was crying, tossing her head from side to side. "No, no, no! Oh, God!" But then she got control of herself, locked eyes with him, gazed intently at him (and he could see Katherine in there, beyond the brown eyes, glaring out at him), and she said, "Listen to me. Please, listen to me! You're sick. You're a very sick man. You're all mixed up. You need help."


"Shut up, shut up, shut up!"


He slapped her again, harder than he had done before, swinging his big hand in a long swift arc, into the side of her face.


Each act of violence excited him. He was aroused by the sharp sound of each blow, by her gasps of pain and her birdlike cries, by the way her tender flesh reddened and swelled. The sight of her pain-contorted face and her scared-rabbit eyes stoked his lust to an unbearable white-hot flame.


He was shaking with need, trembling, quivering, quaking. He was breathing like a bull. His eyes were wide. His mouth was watering so excessively that he had to swallow every couple of seconds to avoid drooling on her.


He mauled her lovely breasts, squeezed and stroked them, roughed them up.


She had retreated from the terror, had slipped back into that semi-trance, motionless and rigid.


On the one hand, Bruno hated her and did not care how badly he hurt her. He wanted to cause her pain. He wanted her to suffer for all the things she had done to him--for even bringing him into the world in the first place.


But on the other hand, he was ashamed of touching his mother's br**sts and ashamed of wanting to stick his penis into her. Therefore, as he pawed at her, he tried to explain himself and justify his actions: "You told me that if I ever tried to make love to a woman, she'd know right away that I'm not human. You said she'd see the difference, and she'd know. She'd call the police, and they'd take me away, and they'd burn me at the stake because they'd know who my father was. But you already know. It's no surprise to you, Mother. So I can use my prick on you. I can stick it right up in you, Mother, and no one will burn me alive."


He had never thought of putting it into her while she was alive. He'd been hopelessly cowed by her. But by the time she had come back from the dead in her first new body, Bruno had tasted freedom, and he had been full of daring and new ideas. He realized at once that he must kill her to prevent her from taking over his life again--or dragging him back to the grave with her. But he also realized that he could screw her and be safe, since she already knew his secret. She was the one who had told him the truth about himself; she'd told him ten thousand times. She knew that his father was a demon, a foul and hideous thing, for she had been raped by that inhuman creature, impregnated by it against her will. During her pregnancy, she had worn overlapping girdles to conceal her condition. When her time drew near, she went away to give birth under the care of a close-mouthed midwife in San Francisco. Later, she told people in St. Helena that Bruno was the illegitimate son of an old college friend who had gotten in trouble, that his real mother died shortly after his birth, and that her last wish was for Katherine to raise the boy. She brought the baby home and pretended he had been legally placed in her care and custody. She lived in constant, numbing fear that someone would discover Bruno was hers, and that his father was not human. One of the things that marked him as the progeny of a demon was his penis. He had the penis of a demon, different from that of a man. He must always hide it, she said, or he would be uncovered and burned at the stake. She had told him all about those things, had been telling him about them since he was too young to know what a penis was for. So, in a peculiar way, she had become both his blessing and his curse. She was a curse because she kept returning from the grave to regain control of him or to kill him. But she was also a blessing because, if she didn't keep coming back again and again and again, he wouldn't have anyone into whom he could empty the great, hot quantities of se**n that built up like boiling lava in him. Without her, he was doomed to a life of celibacy. Therefore, while he regarded her resurrections with horror and outrage, a part of him also eagerly looked forward to each new encounter with each new body that she inhabited.


Now, as he knelt on the bed beside her, looking down at her br**sts and at the dark pubic bush that was visible through her pale yellow panties, his erection grew so hard that it hurt. He was aware of the demon-half of his personality asserting itself; he felt the beast surging toward the surface of his mind.

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