Today's Featured Sponsor
By Mary Maddox
Average 4.7 STARS Buy now for only $2.99!
Two victims. One sociopath. Lots of terror. Fifteen-year-old Lisa Duncan has attracted the interest of serial killer Conrad (Rad) Sanders. At an isolated resort in Utah, he watches as vivacious Lisa begins an unlikely friendship with another teenager, Lu Jakes, the strange and introverted daughter of employees at the resort. Lu enters Rad’s fantasies as well. He learns Lu is being abused by her stepmother and toys with the notion of freeing her from her sad life and keeping her awhile as his captive. Lu seems like an easy conquest who could be persuaded to act out his fantasy by killing her new friend. But Lu has an ally with powers beyond Rad's imagination.
Hunger brought him to life. Swooping down from the mountains on the black rope of the highway, he awoke as though for the first time to the fierce and brilliant sky, to snow on remote peaks that burned but never melted and pastures that throbbed like green bruises in the crusts of arid foothills. It was like another planet. Around each curve another alien landscape unfolded, undreamt, spectacular, an angular cliff convulsing against the sky.
And in its shadow, his destination.
He pulled into the parking lot of Hidden Creek Lodge, descended from the Dodge Caravan, and locked the doors with the electronic key. The van still smelled new inside. It had belonged to a middle-aged couple camped in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest. He gazed across the highway at the cliff. Near its summit an ancient stain marked the level of a prehistoric lake. At its foot a stream of liquid silver divided a grove of cottonwoods from a meadow of grazing cattle.
Rad walked to the entrance to the lodge, a rustic building with a pinewood exterior and a peaked roof. He caught a whiff of chlorine and gurgling water from a swimming pool shielded by a cedar fence. He knew from the brochure that eighteen guest cabins were scattered among the trees in back.
In the vestibule, oil paintings illustrated various myths of the American West — a trapper facing down a grizzly, Native Americans on horseback, Mormons pulling handcarts. On a table was a reproduction of Remington’s iconic bronze cowboy atop his bucking bronco.
The lodge was vaulted. Air stirred above him, cool and subtle, like water in a pond. He got in line behind an elderly couple who were checking out with arthritic slowness. The girl behind the desk explained various items on their bill with the sweetness and patience of a dutiful grandchild. Finally they tottered off, satisfied they hadn’t been robbed.
“I have a reservation,” Rad said. “Jonathan Myers.”
“One moment.” The girl tapped her computer keyboard.
He imagined tapping her, pinning her plump neck against the graveled parking lot. She had a cowlike quality that angered and attracted him. “A one-bedroom cabin, smoking permitted. That’s one-fifty a night plus tax, and it includes daily continental breakfast in the Down Home Café.”
Rad slid a Visa across the desk.
“How long will you be staying with us, Mr. Myers?”
“Two weeks.” He meant to be out of there sooner, but it was always wise to allow for the unexpected. “Long enough for you to call me Jonathan.”
She glanced up at Rad through lashes heavy with mascara. Her makeup was like the primitive finger painting of a savage, all smudges and daubs. “I’ll have someone show you to your cabin.”
Rad had decided Whistler would be his last victim. Whistler had died in Rad’s foyer. The parquet floor had to be torn out and burned, and blood sanded off the underlayment. The wallpaper had to be steamed and scraped from the wall. Every trace of Whistler had to be erased before Rad could bring in workmen to redo his foyer.
When the cops showed up at his office at the university, Rad told them what they would have found out anyway. Robert Whistler had been his student. Yes, he and Whistler had a few beers together. He described an unhappy, confused young man whose disappearance was sad but hardly surprising. “I don’t know what he’s looking for,” Rad said, easing Whistler into present tense. “I don’t think he knows.”
He could have said anything, but clichés worked best on those idiots. He’d known both of them since third grade. Later they would refer to Rad by his childhood nickname, Radish, and snuffle with laughter.
“To your knowledge was he using drugs?” Dave Reynolds asked. Dave used to call Rad mama’s boy and tit-sucker and taunt him for not fighting back.
“He talked about pot,” Rad said. “I never actually saw him smoking it.”
Facing his old schoolmates, their ugliness stark in the office fluorescence, he relished the paradox of his childhood weakness. It protected his strength. In a town like Richfield, where folks never change and you’re only a stranger once, the cops know who the killers aren’t.
Their questions turned to Whistler’s friends. It became apparent they suspected those losers of operating a drug cartel and believed Whistler had met his end in a dispute over methamphetamine. Rad helped them along by implying Whistler had been afraid of their prime suspect. That got them going. Dave pumped his hand and thanked him for his cooperation.
Rad still wondered how Whistler found the article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He couldn’t have been a subscriber. And unless he was looking, he easily could have missed the generic homicide story or failed to recognize the girl he’d seen only once in a bar on Laclede’s Landing. The blurry black-and-white photo negated her most striking feature, her cinnamon hair. It was a disappointment to Rad, who hadn’t been able to take Polaroids of their encounter. All he had were yellowed newspaper clippings and a lock of that hair.
Whistler hadn’t seemed suspicious before he showed up that night in late January. “Yo,” he said when Rad opened the door.
“Robert. It’s been awhile.”
Whistler shuffled in without waiting for an invitation. He reeked of beer. He stopped in the middle of the living room and thrust the folded newspaper at Rad. “Recognize her?”
Rad thought of her raw whisper, her lips reduced to meat, begging him. Please kill me, please just kill me. She still turned him on. “It’s late, Robert. What’s this about?”
“The girl in St. Louis, she disappeared that night you hooked up with her.”
Rad glanced at the photo. “It’s not the same girl.”
“It’s her,” Whistler said. “Could be you’re the last one to see her. You better talk to the cops.”
Rad scanned the article. Before their St. Louis excursion, he’d dreamed of making Whistler his protégée, but the moment for revealing himself had never come. Now he saw how dangerous the dream had been. “The body was found in Illinois, Robert.”
“She must have gone out again after our — encounter.”
“I went to your room at four in the morning” Whistler said. “Guess what, you weren’t there.”
“I was sleeping, Robert.”
He had no one to blame but himself. Sometimes he savored the loneliness of his life, but when the darkness was more than he could endure, he yearned for another pair of predator’s eyes to confirm its harsh and absolute reality. His friendship with Robert had grown from his own weakness. Now he was paying. The dumb redneck would go to the cops sooner or later.
“I’ve still got her number,” Rad said. “Let’s call and ask her if she’s dead.”
Whistler looked at him with dull suspicion.
“Come up to my office. The number’s in my Rolodex.”
Leading the way upstairs, Rad considered the situation. Whistler was fifteen years younger, two inches taller, and outweighed him by twenty pounds. He might be drunk, but he wasn’t afraid to fight. If he got the chance.
Halfway up the stairs, Rad spun and slammed his forearm into Whistler’s face, then delivered a sharp kick to the knee. Whistler tumbled down the stairs and sprawled in the foyer, motionless. Then he stirred and raised himself onto his elbows.
A jackknife open and ready, Rad straddled him, leaned one knee hard into his spine and yanked a fistful of hair to expose the scrawny throat. Whistler’s ponytail made it easy. Rad wore his hair like a Roman soldier, cropped, so it wouldn’t give the enemy a handle.
He ditched the jackknife afterward. For years he’d carried it around to cut rope or trim an occasional branch, never dreaming his life would depend on it someday. The four-inch blade was long enough for slitting throats, but it could have been sharper. Its edge seemed to bounce off Whistler’s resilient flesh. Rad was forced to keep pressing and sawing deeper until the skin gave way to sinew underneath. Then came a mess of blood, the dark smell.
Whistler thrashed convulsively. Clawing and plucking at the knife. Lunging with his heels, pummeling Rad’s thighs, swiping at his groin. Several times the blade was knocked from its track or lost traction and slipped. Rad wrenched Whistler’s head further back and twisted until the tortured neck groaned. The dying body has a thousand voices.
Rad kept sawing at the carotid artery. He wasn’t enjoying himself. It wasn’t like doing a girl — slow, elegant recreation. It was work, like chain-sawing tree stumps or hacking holes in rocky ground. Afterward he needed ibuprofen for the bruises and abrasions. His left wrist, wrenched during the struggle, had to be wrapped in an elastic bandage.
Then the cleanup, all night and the next day without sleep.
BUY THE BOOK
Have your book featured! Click HERE