Keeping the .32 on his scrotum, she disengaged herself from him as if she were rising from a bed of nitroglycerin. Her abdominal muscles were painfully tight with tension. Her mouth was dry and sour. Their noisy breathing seemed to fill the bedroom like rushing wind, yet her hearing was so acute that she could detect the soft ticking of her Cartier watch. She slid to one side, got up on her knees, hesitated, finally pushed all the way to her feet and shuffled quickly out of his reach before he could trip her again.
He sat up.
"No!" she said.
"I'm not coming after you."
"Dammit, lie down!"
He would not obey her. He just sat there. "So what happens next?"
Waving the pistol at him, she said, "I told you to lie down. Flat on your back. Do it. Now."
He twisted his lips into one of those ugly smiles that he did so well. "And I asked you what happens next."
He was trying to regain control of the situation, and she did not like that. On the other hand, did it really matter whether he was sitting or lying down? Even sitting up, he could not get to his feet and cross the space between them faster than she could put a couple of bullets into him.
"Okay," she said reluctantly. "Sit up if you insist. But you make one move toward me, and I'll empty the gun on you. I'll spread your guts all over the room. I swear to Christ I will."
He grinned and nodded.
Shivering, she said, "Now, I'm going to the bed. I'll sit down there and phone the police."
She moved sideways and backwards, crablike, one small step at a time, until she got to the bed.
The telephone was on the nightstand. The moment she sat down and lifted the receiver, Frye disobeyed her. He stood up.
She dropped the receiver and clutched the pistol with both hands, trying to keep it steady.
He held his hands out placatingly, palms toward her. "Wait. Just wait a second. I'm not going to touch you."
"I'm not coming anywhere near you."
"Sit down right now."
"I'm going to walk out of here," Frye said.
"Like hell you are."
"Out of this room and out of this house."
"You won't try to shoot me if I just leave."
"Try me and you'll be sorry."
"You won't," he said confidently. "You aren't the type to pull the trigger unless you don't have any other choice. You couldn't kill me in cold blood. You couldn't shoot me in the back. Not in a million years. Not you. You don't have that kind of strength. You're weak. Just too damned weak."
He gave her that ghastly grin again, that wide death's head smile, and he took one step toward the door. "You can call the cops when I'm gone." Another step. "It would be different if I was a stranger. Then I might have a chance to get away scot-free. But after all, you can tell them who I am." Another step. "See, you've already won, and I've lost. All I'm doing is buying a little time.
A very little bit of time."
She knew he was right about her. She could kill him if he attacked, but she was not capable of shooting him while he retreated.
Sensing her unspoken acknowledgment of the truth in what he had said, Frye turned his back on her.
His smug self-confidence infuriated her, but she could not pull the trigger. He had been sidling carefully toward the exit. Now, he strode boldly out of the room, not bothering to glance back. He disappeared through the broken door, and his footsteps echoed along the hallway.
When Hilary heard him thumping down the stairs, she realized that he might not leave the house.
Unobserved, he could slip into one of the downstairs rooms and hide in a closet, wait patiently until the police had come and gone, then slither out of his hole and strike her by surprise. She hurried to the head of the stairs and got there just in time to see him turn right, into the foyer. A moment later, she heard him rattling the locks; then he went out and threw the door shut behind him with a loud wham!
She was three-quarters of the way down the stairs when she realized he might have faked his departure. He might have slammed the door without leaving. He might be waiting for her in the foyer.
Hilary was carrying the pistol at her side, the muzzle directed safely at the floor, but she raised it in dread anticipation. She descended the stairs, and on the bottom step she paused for a long while, listening. At last, she eased forward until she could see into the foyer. It was empty. The closet door stood open. Frye wasn't in there either. He was really gone.
She closed the closet door.
She went to the front door and double-locked it.
Weaving slightly, she walked across the living room, in the study. The room smelled of lemon-scented furniture polish; the two women from the cleaning agency had been in yesterday. Hilary switched on the light and drifted to the big desk. She put the gun in the center of the blotter.
Red and white roses filled the vase on the window table. They added a sweet contrasting fragrance to the lemon air.
She sat down at the desk and pulled the telephone in front of her. She looked up the number for the police.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, her vision blurred with hot tears. She tried to hold them back. She was Hilary Thomas, and Hilary Thomas did not cry. Not ever. Hilary Thomas was tough. Hilary Thomas could take all the crap the world wanted to throw at her and keep on taking it and never break down. Hilary Thomas could handle herself perfectly well, thank you. Even though she squeezed her eyes shut, the flood would not be contained. Fat tears tracked down her cheeks and settled saltily in the corners of her mouth, then dribbled over her chin. At first she wept in eerie silence, emitting not even the shallowest whimper. But after a minute or so, she began to twitch and shiver, and her voice was shaken loose. In the back of her throat, she made a wet choking sound which swiftly grew into a sharp little cry of despair. She broke. She let out a terrible quaverous wail and hugged herself. She sobbed and sputtered and gasped for breath. She pulled Kleenex from a decorator dispenser on one corner of the desk, blew her nose, got hold of herself--then shuddered and began to sob again.
She was not crying because he had hurt her. He hadn't caused her any lasting or unbearable pain--
at least not physically. She was weeping because, in some way she found difficult to define, he had violated her. She boiled with outrage and shame. Although he had not raped her, although he had not even managed to tear off her clothes, he had demolished her crystal bubble of privacy, a barrier that she had constructed with great care and upon which she had placed a great value. He had smashed into her snug world and had pawed everything in it with his dirty hands.
Tonight, at the best table in the Polo Lounge, Wally Topelis had begun to convince her that she could let down her guard at least a fraction of an inch. For the first time in her twenty-nine years, she seriously had considered the possibility of living much less defensively than she had been accustomed to living. With all the good news and Wally's urging, she had been willing to look at the idea of a life with less fear, and she had been attracted to it. A life with more friends.
More relaxation. More fun. It was a shining dream, this new life, not easily attained but worth the struggle to achieve it. But Bruno Frye had taken that fragile dream by the throat and had throttled it. He had reminded her that the world was a dangerous place, a shadowy cellar with nightmare creatures crouching in the dark corners. Just as she was struggling out of her pit, before she had a chance to enjoy the world above ground, he kicked her in the face and sent her tumbling back where she came from, down into doubt and fear and suspicion, down into the awful safety of loneliness.
She wept because she felt violated. And because she was humiliated. And because he had taken her hope and stomped on it the way a schoolyard bully crushes the favorite toy of a weaker child.
They fascinated Anthony Clemenza.
At sundown, before Hilary Thomas had even gone home, while she was still driving through the hills and canyons for relaxation, Anthony Clemenza and his partner, Lieutenant Frank Howard, were questioning a bartender in Santa Monica. Beyond the enormous windows in the room's west wall, the sinking sun created constantly changing purple and orange and silver-fleck patterns on the darkening sea.
The place was a singles' bar called Paradise, meeting ground for the chronically lonely and terminally horny of both sexes in an age when all the traditional meeting grounds--church suppers, neighborhood dances, community picnics, social clubs--had been leveled with real (and sociological) bulldozers, the ground where they once stood now covered with highrise offices, towering cement and glass condominiums, pizza parlors, and five-story parking garages. The singles' bar was where space-age boy met space-age girl, where the macho stud connected with the nymphomaniac, where the shy little secretary from Chatsworth met the socially inept computer programmer from Burbank, and, where, sometimes, the rap**t met the rapee.
To Anthony Clemenza's eye, the people in Paradise made patterns that identified the place. The most beautiful women and the handsomest men sat very erect on barstools and at minuscule cocktail tables, legs crossed in geometric perfection, elbows bent just so, posing to display the clean lines of their faces and their strong limbs; they made elegantly angular patterns as they watched and courted one another. Those who were less physically attractive than the crème de la crème, but who were nonetheless undeniably appealing and desirable, tended to sit and stand with less than ideal posture, choosing to make up in attitude and image what they lacked in form. Their posture made a statement: I am at ease here, relaxed, unimpressed with those gorgeous straight-backed girls and guys, confident, my own person. This group slouched and slumped gracefully, using the eye-pleasing rounded lines of a body at rest to conceal slight imperfections of bone and muscle.
The third and largest group of people in the bar was composed of the plain ones, neither pretty nor ugly, who made jagged anxious patterns as they huddled in corners and darted from table to table to exchange gaping smiles and nervous gossip, worried that no one would love them.
The overall pattern of Paradise is sadness, Tony Clemenza thought. Dark strips of unfulfilled need. A checkered field of loneliness. Quiet desperation in a colorful herringbone.
But he and Frank Howard were not there to study the patterns in the sunset and the customers. What they were there to do was get a lead on Bobby "Angel" Valdez.
Last April, Bobby Valdez had been released from prison after serving seven years and a few months of a fifteen-year sentence for rape and manslaughter. It looked like letting him go had been a big mistake.
Eight years ago, Bobby had raped as few as three and as many as sixteen Los Angeles women. The police could prove three; they suspected the others. One night, Bobby accosted a woman in a parking lot, forced her into his car at gunpoint, drove her to a little-traveled dirt connecting road high in the Hollywood Hills, tore off her clothes, raped her repeatedly, then pushed her out of the car and drove off. He had been parked on the verge of the lane, and the narrow shoulder had opened on a long nasty drop. The woman, thrust na*ed from the car, lost her balance and went over the edge. She landed on a broken-down fence. Splintery wooden fence posts. With rusted wire.
Barbed wire. The wire lacerated her badly, and a jagged four-inch-wide section of weathered pine railing slammed through her belly and out her back, impaling her. Incredibly, while submitting to Bobby in the car, she had put her hand upon a flimsy copy of a Union 76 credit card purchase slip, had realized what it was, and had held on to it all the way down to the fence, all the way down into death. Furthermore, police learned that the deceased wore only one kind of panties, a gift from her boyfriend. Every pair she owned bore this embroidered legend on the silky crotch: HARRY'S
PROPERTY. A pair of those panties, torn and soiled, were found in a collection of underthings in Bobby's apartment. Those and the scrap of paper in the victim's hand led to the suspect's arrest.
Unfortunately for the people of California, circumstances conspired to get Bobby off lightly. The arresting officers made a minor procedural error when they took him into custody, just the sort of thing to stir some judges to passionate rhetoric about constitutional guarantees. The district attorney at that time, a man named Kooperhausen, had been busy responding to charges of political corruption in his own office. Aware that the improper handling of the accused at the time of arrest might have jeopardized the state's case, preoccupied with saving his own ass from the muckrakers, the D.A. had been receptive to the defense attorney's offer to plead Bobby guilty to three counts of rape and one of manslaughter in return for the dropping of all other and more serious charges. Most homicide detectives, like Tony Clemenza, felt that Kooperhausen should have tried to get convictions for second-degree murder, kidnapping, assault, rape, and sodomy. The evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the state's position. The deck was stacked against Bobby--
and then fate dealt him an unexpected ace.
Today, Bobby was a free man.
But maybe not for long, Tony thought.
In May, one month after his release from prison, Bobby "Angel" Valdez failed to keep an appointment with his parole officer. He moved out of his apartment without filing the required change of address form with the proper authorities. He vanished.
In June, he started raping again. Just as easy as that. As casually as some men start smoking again after shaking the habit for a few years. Like renewed interest in an old hobby. He molested two women in June. Two in July. Three in August. Two more in the first ten days of September.
After eighty-eight months behind bars, Bobby had a craving for woman-flesh, an insatiable need.
The police were convinced that those nine crimes--and perhaps a few others that had gone unreported--were the work of one man, and they were equally certain the man was Bobby Valdez. For one thing each of victims had been approached in the same way. A man walked up to her as she got out of her car alone, at night, in a parking lot. He put a gun in her ribs or back or belly, and he said, "I'm a fun guy. Come to the party with me, and you won't get hurt. Turn me down, and I'll blow you away right now. Play along, and you've got no worries. I'm really a fun guy." He said pretty much the same thing every time, and the victims remembered it because the "fun guy" part sounded so weird, especially when spoken in Bobby's soft, high-pitched, almost girlish voice. It was identical to the approach Bobby had used more than eight years ago, during his first career as a rapist.
In addition to that, the nine victims gave strikingly similar descriptions of the man who had abused them. Slender. Five-foot-ten. A hundred and forty pounds. Dusky complexion. Dimpled chin.