Did she suspect?
Have even an inkling?
He wondered about that as he watched the woman stride along the sidewalk, then shift her purse slightly on her hip as she turned and took the three concrete steps leading to the vestibule of her apartment building. She seemed tied this evening, as if something weighed on her, some of the bounce gone from her step.
No surprise there, he thought. Surely there’s something in us that lets us know within minutes, at least seconds, when the world is about to end.
Up? Down? Stop? Go?
The elevator couldn’t seem to make up its mind.
Janice Queen stood alone in its claustrophobic confines and felt her heart hammer. Not that this vertical indecision was anything new to her. There was only one elevator in her apartment building, and only one way to get to her unit if she didn’t want to trudge up six flights of stairs, so it wasn’t as if she had much choice. But she’d always had a fear of being confined in close places, elevators in particular. She could never escape the grim knowledge that if there were a serious malfunction—nothing that hadn’t happened before to someone—beneath the thin floor under her feet was a black shaft that would lead to a sudden and almost certain death.
At least two times a day, at least five days a week, she rode the elevator up or down the core of the old but recently refurbished apartment building.
Ah! Finally the elevator settled down, having more or less leveled itself at the sixth floor. When the door slid open, it revealed a step up of about four inches, enough to trip over if you didn’t notice, and to provide a glimpse into the black abyss. A kind of warning.
Janice was living her life contentedly, going back and forth to her job at the bookshop, going out on the occasional date, or to hang out with friends at Bocco’s down the block, or to pick up some takeout at the corner deli. Hers was a life like millions of others in the city.
The elevator could end it in an instant.
Ridiculous, she thought, as she stepped up onto the soft carpeting of the sixth-floor hall, nevertheless feeling uneasy while momentarily astride the abyss.
Her apartment door was only a few feet away from the elevator, which meant she could hear, even late at night, the device’s cables strumming soft and somber chords just behind her walls, as well as muffled thumping and bumping as it adjusted itself at each stop. Which meant she thought about the damned elevator too much, even dreamed about it, and had become reasonably convinced that death by elevator was her destiny.
She unlocked her way into her apartment and went inside. Dim. She flipped the light switch, and there she was in the full-length mirror that she paused in front of to check her appearance each time she came or went.
There was the rumpled, wearier version of the Janice she’d said good-bye to this morning on her way to work, not quite forty, still slim, with generous breasts, passable legs, and shoulder-length brown hair framing a face that was sweet rather than classically beautiful. Too much jaw, she thought. And those damned lines. They were only visible if the light was cruel or you looked closely enough. Fine lines like drool extended down from the corners of her lips. Crow’s-feet threatened to appear at the corners of her dark eyes. Intimations of a lonely future. She still attracted men, but of course it was easier to attract than to keep them. Or, sometimes, to get rid of them.
The mirror was mounted on the door to a small closet. She looped her purse’s leather strap over the doorknob, then removed the light grey blazer she’d worn to work over her dark slacks and white blouse, and hung it in the closet between her heavier coat and a blue Windbreaker. She might drop the blazer off at the dry cleaner’s tomorrow morning, wear the Windbreaker if it was cool enough outside and looked like rain. The bookshop’s owner, Dee, was out of town, supposedly on business but actually seeing a married man with whom she was having a hot affair. Janice wasn’t supposed to know about it, so she pretended right along with Dee. So there Dee was, getting her brains screwed scrambled while Janice, who now and then felt a spasm of jealousy, was dutifully opening the shop early every morning this week.
Not enough sleep for Janice, since she was addicted to late-night movies on television. Here lessening love of the moment, Graham, was also traveling, as he often did in his sales job, and wouldn’t be back in town until tomorrow. They’d almost not quite argued when she said goodbye to him at Bocco’s. Janice knew their relationship was winding down and had decided to end it herself rather than wait for Graham. As she grew older, she more and more felt the need to exercise control in her life. Always before, she had waited. Not this time. Maybe the pain would be less severe.
She did know from experience that sooner or later another Graham would enter the bookshop, or use some timeworn pickup line at Bocco’s.
As she closed the closet door, the intercom buzzed, startling her.
She went to it and pressed the button, “Yes?”
“Federal Parcel,” said a male voice, made distant and metallic by the intercom. “For a Janice…Queeler?”
“Queen?” she asked.
Janice pressed the button to buzz in the deliveryman.
A few seconds later the elevator calves began to thrum in the wall. He was on his way up with her package.
She opened the door and stepped out in the hall to meet him.
The elevator did its laborious dance, its door hissed open, and out he stepped, a medium-sized guy, dark hair, kind of handsome, wearing wrinkled khakis and a sweat-stained blue T-shirt, white joggers. He was carrying a long white box that looked like the kind used to deliver long-stemmed flowers, only made of heavier cardboard. He smiled, glancing down at the box to double-check the label.
“Yes.” She saw no pocket in his shirt, no protruding pen or pencil. Other than the box, there was nothing in his hands either.
Should have brought a pen from the desk. There’s one in my purse, just inside the door.
None of this struck her as wrong until a second too late.
As she reached forward to accept the package, he shoved her violently backward, into the apartment. She bumped hard against the mirror, hoping it wouldn’t break.
He was suddenly inside, the door closed behind him. Now he was reaching into a pocket with his free right hand, drawing out what looked like a partially wadded sock, a sap.
Is this happening? Is it real?
Somewhere in her stunned, panicked mind, she decided to scream, and she’d inhaled to do so when the object from the man’s pocket struck the side of her head.
She was on her hands and knees, sickened by the pain.
Someone else. This is happening to someone else. Please!
There was another starburst of pain, this time at the back of her skull.
The floor opened beneath her, and she was plunging down a dark place toward a deeper darkness.
Janice Queen couldn’t move. Not muscle.
Janice opened her eyes to bright light and a familiar gray tile wall. She knew she was in her bathroom. Uncomfortable. Cramped. She tried to raise her head but couldn’t. She raised only her eyes and saw the chromed showerhead.
Knowing now that she was seated leaning back in her bathtub, she let her eyes explore. She was nude, her body textured with gooseflesh where it showed above the water.
That was why she was so cold. Water was running from the spigot. Only cold water. It was well above her waist.
Her arms were crossed just beneath her breasts and bound so tightly she couldn’t move them, couldn’t feel them. Straining hard, she glanced toward her feet, which she at least could barely feel. Her calves and ankles, even her thighs, were bound tightly with gray duct tape. Janice could wriggle her toes—underwater—but that was it.
Her head was throbbing so that the pain was almost unbearable.
She tried to call out and discovered she couldn’t make sound. She couldn’t move her lips. Her probing tongue found rough surface when she managed to part her lips slightly. The roughness and tackiness of tape. There had to be duct tape across her mouth.
The deliveryman entered the bathroom. He was nude, as she was. He only glanced at her, which frightened her even more because it was as if she no longer mattered much to him. Not alive.
He turned his back on her, stooped, and began searching through the cabinet beneath the washbasin, pulling out liquid soap, a large bottle of shampoo. He placed the containers on the edge of the tub, then left the bathroom. She heard him rummaging around in the kitchen, banging cabinet doors, opening and closing drawers.
The water was almost up to her armpits now. She panicked for a second, then made herself remain calm. What was he going to do with the soap and shampoo?
Is he going to wash me? Is this some crazy sexual thing? Will he do something to me then go away?
It’s possible. It could happen. It must happen!
She was part of the singles world and knew about the kinky things that went on in Manhattan. The hard-earned knowledge was something to cling to for hope. He might satisfy whatever oddball compulsion drove him then simply leave.
When he returned he was carrying boxes of dishwasher soap and laundry detergent from the cabinet beneath the sink. And he had his long white box, which he placed on the toilet seat lid. The dishwasher soap and laundry detergent he put next to the other cleaning agents.
The water was at the base of his neck now. In the lower edge of her vision she could see long strands of her brown hair floating on the surface. It reminded her of seaweed she’d seen fanned and floating like that years ago when she was on a Caribbean vacation.
If only she could scream!
He gave her another glance, then leaned over and turned off the water.
The sudden silence after the brief squeal of the faucet handle seemed to herald her salvation.
She wasn’t going to drown!
He straightened up slowly, then abruptly yanked the clear plastic shower curtain from its rod. He’s had the curtain draped outside the tub so it would remain dry, and he was careful to keep it that way. He crouched down and carefully spread it over the tile floor by the tub.
When he was finished spreading the plastic curtain, down on his knees now, he reached over and lifted the lid of the white cardboard box.
She only caught a glimpse of what was inside: knives, a cleaver, and something bulky gleaming bright orange with an arc of dull, serrated extension. Her mind flashed back to weekend days in her father’s woodworking shop in the garage. A shrill scream of steel violating wood—a cordless power saw.
Even taped tightly as she was, she created tiny ripples as she trembled in the cold water.
The man remained on his knees on the shower curtain. He reached toward her feet—no, toward the chromed handles and faucet. She heard him depress the lever that opened the drain, and water began to gurgle softly as it started to swirl from the tub.
He leaned over her, staring into her eyes in a way that puzzled her.
And she was puzzled in her terror. What? She screamed the simple question silently through the firmly fixed rectangle of tape.
What are you going to do to me?
He bent lower and worked an arm beneath the crook of her bound legs, the backs of her knees. Hope sprang up in her. He was going to work his other arm beneath her back so he could lift her from the tub. Then do what? Carry her into the bedroom? Rape and torture her?
She glanced again toward the white box and felt a thrill of terror.
But instead of reaching beneath her shoulders, he placed his hand at the back of her head and forced it forward so she exhaled noisily through her nose. With his other arm he lifted her legs, causing her upper body to slide down so her head was beneath the water.
Her bound lower legs began pumping up and down, but he held them high enough so they contacted only air. While they flailed frantically, they were the only part of her moving even in the slightest. The way he had her head, she couldn’t breathe out, only in.
Cold water flooded into her lungs. She could do nothing but welcome it.
She watched him watching her on the other side of the calm surface as she drowned.
Excerpted from IN FOR THE KILL © Copyright 2011 by John Lutz. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.