Naked, shivering but not cold, Crystal Haggerty huddled behind bushes.
Sweat streamed through her long, blonde hair, and down her face, stinging her eyes. Her breath came in ragged gasps as she stared back through the darkness, toward the house.
Then she swiftly scanned the woods for any sign of her pursuer.
Shit, she thought, anger at herself spiking through the terror. That usually infallible bullshit detector of hers had failed her big-time, her hunger for a gig, any damn gig, sending her home with a charming indie movie producer...
…who behind closed doors had transformed into a raving psychopath with a butcher knife!
His silhouette appeared on a rise, in the distance, and the lovely blonde saw the outline of that weapon in his right fist—the same blade she'd glimpsed him fondling thanks to the cracked bathroom door, a sight that had sent her on a headlong run through his kitchen, out the back door, and into a sticky California night and moonlit woods.
When they met after that acting class, he'd told her he was a producer --- Louis St. James. She did her research and his story rang true, so she accepted his request for dinner.
After that impressively expensive restaurant, she allowed him to drive her to his place on the pretense of looking at a script, not at all surprised when he began kissing her the instant they got inside. She was a big girl and he was a handsome enough guy. An actress and a producer --- not exactly a new story.
When he led her into the bedroom, the roses on the nightstand struck her as a little over the top, but what the hell? She fawned over them for him, still hoping he'd haul out a script after she had, well, paid for dinner.
She was naked on the bed, and they were kissing, tangling tongues, before she got a hint of anything off-key. He still had on most of his clothes, but then…some guys were shy. They continued to make out, his hands finding her breasts. She didn't mind sharing them with him --- she'd paid enough for them.
Then when his lips wandered farther south, Crystal decided he wasn't shy…
"I want to get inside you," he murmured. "Deep inside you…"
Just when she was ready to let him do that, he backed off --- not something she was used to. Still clothed, he excused himself to use the bathroom, leaving her naked and confused.
Crystal never had a guy walk out on her that close to the moment of truth. Not ever. Guys were guys. He'd proved he wasn't shy, and he sure didn't seem nervous, so what was his problem? He'd hit the men's room back at the restaurant, hadn't he?
Discreetly, Crystal followed him. That was when the cracked door revealed her host standing at the mirror, holding that knife in a troublingly sexual way.
He wanted to get inside her, all right!
The crazy damn thing was: she had played this part before, running through the woods, naked, terrified. Mixed in with her hysteria was the ridiculousness of playing out this cliché, a cliché she had worked so hard to bring reality to as "Naked Female Victim Number Five" in that low-budget embarrassment, Slasher Camp 3: Body Check.
But an actress whose latest performances were chiefly at Hooters in Long Beach took what she could get…like dinner with a producer…
She had almost outwitted the killer in that dumb flick. Hidden behind a tree and leapt out and clouted the clown with a rock. In the movie, though, a rock couldn't hurt the killer, who was a supernatural freak. St. James, though, was a flesh-and-blood freak.
So she had, in a bizarre B-movie way, lived this scene before….only this time she would survive.
When her pursuer's silhouette swung in her direction, Crystal ducked even lower behind the bushes. Finally, she peeked out to see him moving to his left, away from her. Then she was up and on the run again.
The hard ground and underbrush tore at her bare feet as she sprinted blindly between trees. In the movie, she had hard-sole slippers on, except in the long shots, and then they'd cleared the brush for her, but these woods were doing her no favors.
She didn't care.
The pain wasn't devastating, not at all, and it said she was alive, and that was how she wanted to stay.
Her goal was to get far enough away from the bastard that she could set her trap for him and be waiting when he lumbered past. He knew these woods and she didn't. But he would never expect her to go from hunted to hunter.
This, she felt, was her best chance.
Maybe her only chance.
Just past a huge-trunk tree, Crystal saw a low-slung overhang of brush she could hide under and, when her pursuer came past that tree, spring out. She scurried into the nest, brambles nicking her, but she didn't give a damn. Making sure she didn't make too much noise was a larger concern.
Beneath the overhang, nestled in night, Crystal crouched, animal-like. She could hear him moving through the brush, hear the twigs and leaves crunch --- he still had ground to cover. Not close yet. Not yet.
She planned to tackle him, just take him down, maybe make him fall on that knife, or at least get on his back and work her long natural nails over his face and eyes.
Crunching twigs and leaves, louder.
Still not close.
Closer, but not close…
Her mind, like her heart, raced. If she had a weapon, a branch that could be a club, a rock that could be a blunt instrument, like in Slasher Camp, she might do better than just flinging her damn self at him.
But the darkness hampered any search. Like a blind woman, she moved her hands across the ground around her, trying not to make a sound, or much of one.
Then fingers found it and her hand grasped it: an egg-shaped rock that fit her fist as if God had fashioned it for her.
From what she heard, she judged her attacker to be about fifteen yards away. Wouldn't be long now, and she would have him. Son of a bitch thought he could get her, but she would get him. This time Naked Female Victim Number Five would not die. . . .
She waited, the mushroom of brush protectively over her as she crouched. She held her breath --- not a sound --- and then St. James strode into view, his back to her.
Crystal leapt out and raised that rock high, and he spun and thrust the butcher knife deep into her abdomen.
The pain was immediate and as sharp as the blade itself.
She heard herself gasp.
"I saw that movie," he said.
The rock dropped from her hand and thudded onto the ground.
He yanked the knife free and her body shuddered, and then she, too, thudded down.
He was hunkered over her now, the knife flailing into her chest, burning pain almost instantly replaced by numbing cold as the knife arced down again and again.
She felt the blows, but not any more pain. Breathing came hard, yet she felt peaceful, drifting away as the blows came in a blur, as unreal as celluloid, until finally they were an abstraction and she lay cloaked in silent serenity.
The stars faded. The moon shut its big eye. She gave herself to the night.
Rage drove him.
He'd been cool before, but now anger had him, and he could not control it. The stupid bitch! She had ruined everything, and she was dead for it, he was sure of that, even as again and again he slammed the knife into her.
With each blow, his mind screamed, "Cut! Cut! Cut!"
She had left the bed --- no professional gets off his or her mark in the middle of a damn scene! --- and moved off set, out of camera range, and run the hell out here.
If the action had been captured, that would have been one thing.
But none of the climax was on camera! The whole evening, and all the planning that had gone into it, had been a waste.
The actress had ruined their one and only shot at it, their one and only take. You don't get a second, much less a third take, when an elaborate stunt is involved! What the hell kind of professional was she?
This was to have been his first episode, the introduction to a new breakthrough reality series.
And --- thrust --- she --- thrust --- had --- thrust --- screwed --- thrust --- it --- thrust --- up!
He sagged, the bloody knife slipping from his hand, his face covered in sweat mixed with blood. Hers.
All the conventional methods of making it in this merciless business had been tried and tried again and, talent be damned, had led nowhere.
But now Crime Seen had come along --- thank you, God --- and a new opportunity presented itself. This was his time, his chance, at least till this stupid inexperienced damn day-player actress came along and padded her damn part.
Next time he would use a sedative, Rohypnol, to calm his costar's anxieties, and not just rely on his charm. He would make sure subsequent actresses would be more pliable.
All right --- so this would not work as a first episode. But almost every series shot a pilot episode, right? Often never to be aired, merely to iron out the kinks and get the show up on its feet?
He got on his feet.
Sometimes a series needed to be recast and reshot. This wouldn't be the first time --- hadn't Lisa Kudrow been fired from "Frasier" and replaced by Peri Gilpin? Even William Shatner hadn't been the first choice for captain of the Enterprise.
Of course, the lead in this show would not be recast. He would correct the small errors, bury the day player in the woods, and get himself another actress for the real first episode. Changes, tweaks, that was show biz. But the lead, at least, was perfect.
After all, he was the star.
He was Don Juan.
John Christian Harrow had never much cared for the Iowa State Fair.
He was uncomfortable around throngs of people, and the cacophony of chatter, ballyhoo, and music always put a crease between his eyebrows. The skyline of vast barns, art-deco pavilions, Ferris wheels, and even a mammoth slide held no magic for him; overhead open-air cars of airsick passengers swaying like fruit about to ripen and fall made him question the general sanity of the human race.
The smells, whether the stench of farm animals or the lure of frying batter, did not appeal --- they made him neither want to milk a cow nor risk his arteries on a funnel cake. And now and then an unmistakable upchuck bouquet would waft across his nostrils. At least the day wasn’t sweltering, as August often was here. It was eighty and humid and no picnic, but this wasn’t heaven, this was Iowa.
At six-two, barely winning the battle to stay under two hundred pounds, Harrow might have been just another farmer gussied up to go to town, forty something, short brown hair, penetrating brown eyes, strong chin, high cheekbones, a weathered, slightly pockmarked complexion, tie loosened and collar unbuttoned.
But J.C. --- as anyone who knew him for more than five minutes called him --- was not farmer but a detective. He was in fact a seasoned field agent and criminalist for the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation. And right now he detected a damp stripe down the spine of his dress shirt, and wished to hell that the Kevlar vest underneath came with pockets for ice bags. His sun-soaking, unbuttoned navy suitcoat concealed his holster and nine-mil, clipped to his belt, riding his right hip.
This was no day off to take in the state’s most celebrated festivities. And it wasn’t the normal workday where he found himself either at a crime scene or in a lab or even in the field interviewing witnesses and suspects.
Today Harrow had drawn a special assignment as part of the extended protection team working on the President of the United States’s visit to the nation’s most famous state fair.
Usually cops augmented the President’s Secret Service detail, but the events of September 11 had changed that. Ever since that tragic day, security weighed heavily on the minds of most Americans, and the government had become more creative in ways to protect those in their charge. They kept cops on the streets when they could and when necessary, used qualified others, like DCI Field Agent Harrow, to fill in.
The rule was, you had to have a badge to work protection detail.
Today, his DCI badge --- probably aided by the fact that he had a background in local politics --- seemed to make him the perfect candidate for this particular task. Which sounded far more exciting in practice than it really was. He’d done very little in the morning other than walk around the fair and assess threats.
He had deemed the cow sculpted from butter as non-menacing unless the President decided to ingest it, in which case it would be death by cholesterol overdose. In the afternoon, before the President was introduced, Harrow stood on the stage, eyes processing possible troublemakers in the crowd, then maintained his vigil from stage left throughout the Commander in Chief’s address.
A thin man with too heavy a jacket for an August day, another who seemed jittery, a woman with a purse big enough to hold a gun or a bomb or God knew what...
Harrow saw them all and reported them up the food chain to Secret Service. A certain amount of stress came along with searching for a potential assassin, but on the whole this was a vacation day with pay for Harrow. Despite his general disregard for politicians, and his lack of love for the fair itself, the DCI agent felt honored to be entrusted with a small part of his President’s welfare.
After a well-received speech, the President was led down the stairs by the Secret Service contingent at stage right. Secret Service eyes quickly scanned left, ahead, right, and back again. Several more agents eyeballed the crowd on the other side of the wire fence between the audience and the backstage area. Trailing this group, still on stage, Harrow looked out over the still-cheering crowd.
Despite the chest-high wire fence, the throng pressed forward, each citizen wanting to shake hands with the leader of the free world, some wearing sunglasses, some not, some wearing hats, farmers, businessmen, housewives, women in power suits, young, old, middle-aged, an ocean of faces and bodies surging for a chance to press the famous flesh, or to get at least a closer-up glimpse of the President. Most were smiling, some looked confused, and some even afraid as the crush of people pushed toward the fence.
Then Harrow picked out a face --- really, an expression --- of anger. But all that watching had sent Harrow’s eyes sliding past before what he’d seen registered, and the DCI agent’s eyes darted back, scouring the crowd for the unhappy man.
Seconds crawled like minutes until he again located the face in the crowd. The man was dressed like a farmer --- bib overalls, T-shirt, sunglasses, and a cap with CONTINENTAL PEANUTS stitched across the front.
Several things about the farmer made simultaneous blips on Harrow’s cop radar: The hat was for a peanut-seed company, one of the biggest in the country, but peanuts were a crop not grown in Iowa; the man was Caucasian and about forty; the sunglasses were not typical --- the generation of farmers younger than Harrow’s father had learned the value of UV protection, but many farmers Harrow knew never wore sunglasses.
The loudest, biggest blip came from the soft, white skin of the man’s bare arms --- not even a hint of tan, and a farmer who had not been outside by August was not a farmer at all. A glance at hands soft enough to belong to a perfume-counter clerk told Harrow this “farmer” had not done a real day’s work in his life. . . .
Harrow’s processing of all this took a second or two, and then the fake farmer’s hand slipped into a pocket and came out with something that glinted in the sunlight. Harrow didn’t even have time to use the little communicator that ran down his arm inside his suit.
He yelled, “Gun!” as the angry face in the crowd lurched forward, right arm coming up. Harrow knew at once that the man’s hand held a small- caliber automatic pistol.
Harrow leapt from the stage, arms in front, feet splayed wide behind him, the faces of the people below etched in expressions of surprise, fear, and confusion as he flew over them, his only thought to get to the weapon.
Everything seemed to stop for a second or two, Harrow feeling he was hanging in air, watching as the would-be assassin slowly squeezed the trigger. The agent seemed able to see each fraction of an inch the trigger moved in its inevitable journey.
Just as Harrow grabbed onto the man’s arm, flinging it upward, the gun fired, the shot flying harmlessly over the barns of 4-H animals, creating a muffled but immediate symphony of whinnies and grunts. . . .
As Harrow and the man crashed to the ground, the world went from slow motion to fast-forward as Harrow found himself suddenly aware of several things happening at once: People broke their fall, and the crowd separated like a welcoming gate only to dump them on the gravel-packed ground; panicked bystanders tried to escape the wrestling bodies and the sight of the gun that Harrow and the shooter still fought over even as several Secret Service agents crashed down.
A knee dug into Harrow’s back and fingers clawed not only at the shooter’s hands, but at Harrow’s, trying to pry the pistol free. Even under the pile of writhing bodies, Harrow managed to twist the arm back, the shooter screaming in pain and releasing the pistol into Harrow’s grip.
A Secret Service agent said, “I’ll take that,” and Harrow handed it over, as another agent asked, “You all right, buddy?”
“Yup,” was all Harrow could manage.
Final tally: one wild shot, and no injuries to the President.
Who was whisked away so swiftly that Harrow almost missed the moment where the most powerful man in the free world locked eyes with him and mouthed: Thank you!
Several Secret Service agents had received a few scrapes, and a handful of fairgoers did suffer injuries, the most serious a young woman who broke an arm in the panicked trampling that followed the gunshot. Harrow himself was unscathed but for a bruise on his back from that overzealous Secret Service agent leaping on him.
The would-be assassin, like the young woman, had a broken arm, thanks to Harrow, not that the perp received any sympathy from the crowd watching him get hauled away.
That was when Harrow found himself the center of attention, questioned first by the Secret Service, then by the national media, and, finally, by the Des Moines Register and local news crews before he was able to extricate himself for the drive home.
Though the outside temperature was only about seventy, the Ford F-150’s air conditioner ran full-tilt. In the pickup, Harrow relished the blast of cold as he sailed north on I-35, the night swallowing the lights of Des Moines in the rearview.
Although he’d always thought of himself as a cop first, until five years ago Harrow had made his living in politics, twice winning election to the office of sheriff of Story County. But he still considered himself basically apolitical.
Deciding not to run for a third term, Harrow had hooked up with the DCI in 1997 and had been much happier ever since. The job change had saved his marriage too --- otherwise, his wife of twenty years might have wound up divorcing him and taking their son, David, with her.
Ellen had never asked Harrow to quit, not in so many words, but had wholeheartedly supported his decision when he finally smartened up. His petite brunette wife had been the prettiest girl at Ames High and then Iowa State University, and one of the smartest too, smart enough anyway to see long before Harrow the strain the sheriff’s job had inflicted on him.
Only after he’d taken the DCI job did his wife finally confess how close she’d come to leaving him. Being married to a cop was hard enough --- being married to one who spent half his time running for reelection had become unbearable.
Now they were happy as newlyweds. The family hadn’t moved to Des Moines when he took the DCI gig --- fifteen-year-old David was thriving in the tiny Nevada (Nuh-vay-duh) school district, just thirty miles north of the capital, and Harrow wasn’t about to pull his popular, athletic son out just as high school was kicking in.
They’d moved from the county seat to a secluded farmhouse that cut fifteen minutes from his commute, and, anyway, plans were afoot for the crime lab to move to Ankeny, in a couple of years, which would shorten the ride even more.
Harrow knew he should be hurrying home --- Ellen would be breathless to find out whether or not he’d shaken hands with the President (he had) and if the man was as handsome in person as she thought he was on TV (actually, more). Certainly, she would grill him about that even harder than the Secret Service and the media had.
He’d been trying to call ever since the so-called “State Fair Incident” had gone down, but the answer machine was full and Ellen didn’t carry a cellular. He was a little surprised she hadn’t called him on his cell --- maybe she hadn’t been near a radio or TV.
The home addresses of DCI agents were a closely guarded secret, especially from the media, and Harrow hoped the national news hadn’t pulled strings or done computer hacking that would mean he’d arrive home to a surprise party of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox news trucks.
That possibility aside, pulling off the interstate, heading east on Highway 30, he found himself not surprisingly anxious to get home. And, as usual, though he enjoyed the unwind time of the commute, the closer he got to home, the more eager he became.
He exited 30 onto Six-hundred-twentieth Avenue, turning back south on the two-lane blacktop with just a couple farms on either side, the last few miles of his drive. He killed the air, rolled down the window, and let warmth rush over him.
He yearned for a smoke, but if he lit up, even just a precious few drags, Ellen might smell it on him. Then she’d be pissed even if he had saved the President, and he didn’t need that tonight. He glanced wistfully at the glove compartment, where half a pack and a cheap lighter kept a low profile under a map of Iowa.
Excerpted from NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU © Copyright 2011 by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens. Reprinted with permission by Pinnacle. All rights reserved.