The intensely bright lights blinded her. She couldn’t see anything except the white illumination that obscured everything in her line of vision. She wished he would turn off the car’s headlights.
Judd didn’t like for her to show houses to clients in the evenings and generally she did what Judd wanted her to do. But her career as a realtor was just getting off the ground, and if she could sell this half-million-dollar house to Mr. and Mrs. Farris, her percentage would be enough to furnish the nursery. Not that she was pregnant. Not yet. And not that her husband couldn’t well afford to furnish a nursery with the best of everything. It was just that Jennifer wanted the baby to be her gift to her wonderful husband and the nursery to be a gift from her to their child.
Holding her hand up to shield her eyes from the headlights, she walked down the sidewalk to meet John and Katherine Farris, an up-and-coming entrepreneurial couple planning to start a new business in Chattanooga. She had spoken only to John Farris. From their telephone conversations, she had surmised that John, like her own husband, was the type who liked to think he wore the pants in the family. Odd how considering the fact that she believed herself to be a thoroughly modern woman, Jennifer loved Judd’s old-fashioned sense of protectiveness and possessiveness.
When John Farris parked his black Mercedes and opened the driver’s door, Jennifer met him, her hand outstretched in greeting. He accepted her hand immediately and smiled warmly.
“Good evening, Mr. Farris.” Jennifer glanced around, searching for Mrs. Farris.
“I’m sorry, something came up at the last minute that delayed Katherine. She’ll be joining us soon.”
When John Farris raked his silvery blue eyes over her, Jennifer shuddered inwardly, an odd sense of uneasiness settling in the pit of her stomach. You’re being silly, she old herself. Men found her attractive. It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t do anything to lead them on, nothing except simply being beautiful, which she owed to the fact she’d inherited great genes from her attractive parents.
Jennifer sighed. Sometimes being a former beauty queen was a curse.
“If you’d like to wait for your wife before you look at the house, I can go ahead and answer any questions you might have. I’ve got all the information in my briefcase in my car.”
He shook his head. “No need to wait. I’d like to take a look around now. If I don’t like the place, Katherine won’t be interested.”
“Oh, I see.”
He chuckled. “It’s not that she gives in to me on everything. We each try to please the other. Isn’t that the way to a successful marriage?”
“Yes, I think so. It’s certainly what Judd and I have been trying to do. We’re a couple of newlyweds just trying to make our way through that first year of marriage.” Jennifer nodded toward the front entrance through the sprawling glass and log house. “If you’ll follow me.
“I’d be delighted to follow you.”
“Despite his reply sending a quiver of apprehension along her nerve endings, she kept walking toward the front steps, telling herself that if she had to defend her honor against unwanted advances, it wouldn’t be the first time. She knew how to handle herself in sticky situations. She carried pepper spray in her purse and her cell phone rested securely in her jacket pocket.
After unlocking the front door, she flipped on the light switch, which illuminated the large foyer. “The house was built in nineteen-seventy-five by an architect for his own personal home. “
John Farris paused in the doorway. “How many rooms?”
“Ten,” she motioned to him. “Please, come on in.”
He entered the foyer and glanced around, up into the huge living room and to the right into the open dining room. “It seems perfect for entertaining.”
“Oh, it is. There’s a state-of-the-art kitchen. It was completely gutted and redone only four years ago by the present owner.”
“I’d like to take a look,” he told her. “I’m the chef in the family. Katherine can’t boil water.”
Feeling a little bit more at ease, Jennifer led him from the foyer, through the dining room and into the gallery-style kitchen. “I love this kitchen. I’m not much of a cook myself, but I’ve been taking gourmet cooking lessons as a surprise for my husband.”
“Isn’t he a lucky man.”
Jennifer felt Mr. Farris as he came up behind her. Shuddering nervously, she started to turn and face him, but suddenly and without warning, he grabbed her from behind and covered her face with a foul-smelling rag.
No, no…no, this can’t be happening.
Had she been unconscious for a few minutes or a few hours? She didn’t know. When she came to, she realized she was sitting propped up against the wall in the kitchen, her feet tied together with rope and her hands pulled over her head, each wrist bound with individual pieces of rope that had been tied to the door handles of two open kitchen cabinet doors.
Groggy, slightly disoriented, Jennifer blinked several times, then took a deep breath and glanced around the room, searching for her attacker. John Farris loomed over her, an odd smile on his face.
“Well, hello, beautiful,” he said. “I was wondering how long you’d sleep. I’ve been waiting patiently for you to wake up. You’ve been out nearly fifteen minutes.”
“Why?” she asked, her voice a ragged whisper.
“Why are you doing this?”
“What do you think I intend to do?”
“Rape me.” Her voice trembled.
Please, God, don’t let him kill me.
He laughed. “What sort of man do you think I am? I’d never force myself on an unwilling woman.”
“Please, let me go.” She gasped, her mouth sucking in air as she noticed that he held something shiny in his right hand.
A meat cleaver!
Sheer terror claimed her at that moment, body and soul. Her stomach churned. Sweat dampened her face. The loud rat-a-tat-tat of her accelerated heartbeat thundered in her ears.
He reached down with his left hand and fingered her long, dark hair. “If only you were a blonde or a redhead.”
Jennifer swallowed hard. He’s going to kill me. He’s going to kill me with that meat cleaver. He’ll chop me up in little pieces…
She whimpered. Oh, Judd, why didn’t I listen to you? Why did I come here alone tonight?
“Are you afraid?” John Farris asked.
“You should be,” he told her.
“You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?”
He laughed again. Softly.
“Please…please…” She cried. Tears filled her eyes and trickled down her cheeks.
He came closer. And closer. He raised the meat cleaver high over her head, then swung it across her right wrist.
Blood splattered on the cabinet, over her head, and across her upper body as her severed right hand tumbled downward and hit the floor.
Pain! Excruciating pain.
And then he lifted the cleaver and swung down and across again, cutting off her left hand with one swift, accurate blow.
Jennifer passed out.
Shortly after three in the morning, Pinkie removed his tuxedo jacket and hung it in the closet, then removed the diamond cuff links from his white shirt and placed them in the jewelry case. He’d left the party rather early because he’d been bored.
Pinkie hated being bored.
But a man in his position had to attend a certain number of these mundane affairs. It was expected.
After removing his shoes and stripping out of his other clothing, he retrieved a pair of silk pajamas from the wardrobe drawer. He stroked the luxurious fabric. Pinkie bought only the best.
Once attired in his pajamas, leather house slippers, and quilted satin robe, Pinkie went downstairs and entered his study. After pouring himself a small nightcap, he walked straight to the wall of bookshelves on the right, removed a specific book, pressed the button on the wall, and waited for the secret compartment to open. That’s what he loved about this old house—the secret chambers. Like something out of a 1930s movie. How utterly delicious. There was one chamber between the study and the front parlor and another in the basement. Since he seldom went down to the basement, except when he personally retrieved a bottle of wine, he preferred the small, private, upstairs chamber.
Entering this room transported Pinkie into another world, a realm of pleasure and satisfaction that he had created for himself four and half years ago. He flipped on the light switch. Soft, mellow illumination filled the eight-by-fourteen-foot room. He moved slowly along the back wall, studying the photographs mounted side by side. Thirty-two enlarged photos of sixteen different women, each one a true beauty. Pinkie paused in front of the most recent addition to his collection: Gale Ann Cain—before and after. The before photograph had been taken years ago when she’d won the Miss USA contest and gone on to compete in the Miss Universe Pageant. The after snapshot had been taken with Pinkie’s tiny digital camera moments after he had killed her, less than forty-eight hours ago.
“Thank you, my pretty flower,” Pinkie said. “You were worth twenty points.”
After months of searching, he had specifically chosen Gale Ann because of her fabulous red hair. Redheads were the most rare and therefore worth more than a blonde or brunette.
His fingertips traced his handiwork, gliding smoothly across the snapshot, pausing on her slender ankles.
The sound of her screams echoed inside Pinkie’s head.
The first kill had been the most difficult. He had hated the woman’s screams. But with each kill, the act itself had become easier, and eventually, he had begun to enjoy hearing their screams.
Excerpted from THE DYING GAME © Copyright 2011 by Beverly Barton. Reprinted with permission by Zebra. All rights reserved.
The Dying Game