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Bad girl prequel to seri.., p.1
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       Bad Girl: Prequel to Serial, p.1

           Blake Crouch
 
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Bad Girl: Prequel to Serial


  BAD GIRL

  by BLAKE CROUCH

  Copyright © 2010 by Blake Crouch

  Cover art copyright © 2010 by Jeroen ten Berge

  All rights reserved.

  BAD GIRL is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.

  For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.

  Indianapolis, 1995

  Lucy sat down at one of the few empty tables on the perimeter of the hotel bar and hoped none of the waitresses would notice her. She was fifteen years old, and even wearing the makeup she’d taken from her mother’s vanity, she knew her chances of getting served a drink were remote. Worse, she was taking up real estate that legal customers willing to pay ten dollars for a mediocre glass of wine could have inhabited. And there were plenty of them about, the bar nearly full and the hotel lobby bustling with well-dressed adults older than her mom.

  The convention didn’t technically begin until tomorrow morning, so none of them wore name badges. But she felt sure her eyes were passing over famous mystery writers, perhaps even people she’d read. The man she’d come to see, Andrew Z. Thomas, the convention’s guest of honor, for whom she’d stolen her mother’s car and driven six hundred miles on a learner’s permit, had yet to make his appearance. Just the thought of him being in the same building made her knees feel weak.

  “Hi there.”

  Lucy turned and met eyes with a waitress now standing at her table, a pretty girl, probably in college, her dirty blond hair drawn back into a ponytail.

  Lucy said, “Could I just get a water, please?”

  “I’m afraid you can’t sit here, sweetie.”

  “Why not?”

  “How old are you?”

  “Twenty-two.”

  The waitress laughed. “I’m twenty-three, sister. You ain’t twenty-two.”

  “Please don’t make me leave. I don’t—”

  “I’ll get in trouble if the manager sees you sitting in my section. I’m sorry.”

  Lucy stared at the waitress, then lifted her handbag off the table and climbed down from the chair. They’d already refused her a room because of her age. Now this. What a mean hotel.

  She was two inches shy of five feet, and she felt even smaller threading her way through the groups of conversing adults in the lobby.

  “—got a two-book deal for mid-six figures, which just strikes me as a crime considering his last didn’t even hit—”

  “—switched agents—”

  “—not sure if my editor’s coming or not. She was supposed to have finished my manuscript by now—”

  “—and every time I turn around, Darling’s right there, like he’s stalking me or—”

  The smell of cologne, perfume, wine breath, and cigarette smoke overpowering.

  She broke out of the crowd and found a cluster of unoccupied chairs and plopped down in one. From this distance, the din of conversations mixed together like the static of a waterfall. She leaned back in the leather chair and stared up the full height of the twenty-one story atrium, the uncomfortable pang in her gut not all that dissimilar to what she experienced every day in the high school cafeteria. Invisibility. The people around her untouchable, unreachable, as characters in a movie while she watched them onscreen from the darkness of an empty theater. This sense, that had been with her for as long as she could remember, even before her father had died, that she wasn’t a participant in any of this. In anything really. Only an observer.

  When Lucy straightened in her chair, she saw that a man now sat across from her. He looked old to her, though he wasn’t even thirty. Sports jacket. Khacki slacks. Sending out big wafts of cologne which she thought smelled pretty. He seemed either angry or nervous, and he kept looking at his watch like he was waiting for someone, but if he was, they never came.

  She watched him, and the third time their eyes met, the man gave a thin smile and nodded.

  He didn’t have a name badge either, but Lucy took a stab anyway. “Are you a writer?”

  “I’m sorry?”

  “Are you a writer?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Cool.” The man looked at his watch again. “Are you here for the convention?” she asked.

  “Yep.”

  “What books have you written?”

  “Well, my first one just came out two months ago.”

  “What’s it called?”

  “A Death in the Family.”

  “I’ve never heard of it. What’s it about?”

  “Um, it’s…well, it’s like, it’s about this big family in Portland who has this reunion and one of the older brothers is killed. Or rather he’s found dead, and the police come and make everyone stay while they investigate. What you’d call a locked-room mystery, I guess.”

  “Is it good?”

  “I like to think so.”

  “Will they have it in the book room?”

  “I don’t know. I hope so.”

  “Do you have a copy with you?”

  “Not on me. Look, it was very nice meeting you, but I have a, um…something to get to.”

  “I’m Lucy.”

  “Mark.”

  Lucy watched Mark wander back toward the hotel bar where he stood on the perimeter of the crowd. He looked around and kept glancing at his watch. After awhile, he turned away and started back through the lobby to the elevators.

  Lucy stood up and grabbed her handbag and followed.

  The middle elevator in a row of three lifted out of the lobby, and through its glass, she could see Mark leaning against the railing inside, looking out across the hotel.

  She watched it climb. Counted the stories until it stopped and then followed Mark’s progress onto the fourteenth floor, counting doors to the room he disappeared inside.

  Lucy rode alone, watching the lobby fall away beneath her as the elevator car soared up the back wall of the atrium.

  She walked the exposed hallway, the noise from the lobby faint up here and no one else about. From the door beside 1428, she grabbed a “Do Not Disturb” sign and hooked it on the door to Mark’s room.

  Then she put her ear to the door, couldn’t hear anything. Knocked.

  In a minute, it swung open, and Mark, now wearing only a white oxford shirt and khaki pants, stood staring down at her, looking both confused and vaguely annoyed.

  He said, “Yes?”

  “It’s Lucy.”

  “I’m sorry, what do you want?”

  “I just wanted to see your book. The one you told me about.”

  “You followed me to my room to see my book?”

  “Yeah. It sounded good.”

  “Look, maybe I’ll see you downstairs tomorrow, and if you buy one of my books, I’ll even sign it for you. How would that be?”

  Lucy furrowed her brow and made what she hoped resembled a wounded expression. “Why don’t you like me, Mark?”

  “I don’t…dislike you, I don’t even…”

  She put her face into her hands and pretended to cry.

  “Jesus.”

  “You’re the first real author I’ve ever met. I don’t know anyone here.”

  “Where are your parents?”

  “My mom’s in our room watching ‘Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.’”

  He sighed. “If I invite you in—and only for a minute—will you stop crying?”

  “Yes.”

  “All right, come on in, Lucy.”

  Lucy wiped her face
and followed Mark into the hotel room. His suitcase lay on the bed, open but not yet unpacked, and Mark was bending over a cardboard box and trying to tear open the top.

  “I brought twenty copies of A Death in the Family.” He pulled a trade paperback out of the box and handed it to her. Lucy thumbed through the pages, skimmed the flap copy on the back.

  The cover was of a gravestone, the book’s title engraved into the stone above the author’s name: Mark Darling.

  “Is anybody else sharing the room with you?” Lucy asked.

  He tilted his head slightly, like he couldn’t comprehend the question. “No, just me.”

  “I need to use the bathroom.”

  “Right through that door.”

  “Would you sign this for me while I pee?”

  “Um, sure.”

  She gave back the book and walked into the bathroom and closed the door.

  “Write something good!” she called out from inside.

  She did have to pee actually, and when she’d finished, she flushed the toilet and washed her hands and took all of her clothes off. She folded them and stacked them on top of her black Chuck Taylors on the toilet basin under a towel, then turned her attention to her handbag.

  The marble of the sink was cold against the soles of her bare feet. She walked down to the end and crouched down beside the door.

  She’d been in the bathroom more than five minutes already, and she crouched there another five, her legs beginning to cramp, before Mark’s voice passed finally through the door.

  “Lucy?” he said.

  She brought her hand to her mouth to suppress the giggle. She’d imagined this a hundred times, and something about the moment finally being here struck her as funny and surreal. It was the strangest thing. Her body felt all tingly, like whenever she had been around Bobby Cockrell, the first boy in high school she’d had a major crush on.

  “You’ve been in there awhile,” Mark said. “Everything okay?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “Lucy, I need to get back down to the lobby.”

  Silence, Lucy smiling.

  “I’m opening the door, all right? Are you um…are you decent?”

  She watched the doorknob turn and the door ease open.

  Mark’s head appeared.

  “Lucy?”

  She was right beside him, well within reach, but he didn’t see her. Kept looking at the toilet, and then the shower, as if trying to piece together how this girl had vanished through the walls.

  Lucy reached out and pulled the blade of her dead father’s Zwilling J.A. Henckels straight razor through his windpipe in a quick, delicate swipe and the blood from his carotid artery sprayed her face and she squealed with delight as Mark clutched his throat and stared wild-eyed at her.

  He staggered over to the sink and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and all of that blood pouring out of his throat down the front of his white Oxford with a kind of disbelief, Lucy giggling as Mark tried to physically squeeze the opening in his neck back together but the blood kept coming and he gave up and started toward Lucy with a madness in his eyes but the floor was slicked with his blood and his feet shot out from under him.

  He slammed flat on his back and his head cracked against the tile.

  Lucy slid off the sink and stepped carefully across the floor, dodging the bigger pools of blood and watching a puddle widen around Mark’s head, his eyes already beginning to glaze and his hands at his side.

  She stood there watching him bleed out and when he finally stopped twitching and blinking, she set the straight razor on the sink. Lucy weighed eighty-three pounds at her last physical, and she figured Mark had at least a hundred on her, but the shower wasn’t far. She only had to drag him over a two-inch lip and the blood on the floor provided decent lubrication for the job.

  When she’d crammed him into the shower, she closed the glass door and looked at the bathroom.

  Blood everywhere. Spots and spatters and streaks on the mirror, the walls, even the ceiling.

  What a mess.

  What a beautiful mess.

  She got down on her knees and flattened herself across the tile and rolled through the pools of blood which were sticky and cool and gave off a dank metallic smell like a thunderstorm coming.

  Lucy stood for a long time watching herself in the mirror, kept thinking it looked like she had the most lovely body art imaginable, how she wanted to walk naked through the lobby just like this and soak in the stares. What would Andrew Thomas think to see her like this? She suspected he might love her.

  The blood was growing cold and beginning to congeal on her skin when she slid open the shower door and stepped inside. Bending down, she pushed Mark up against the wall and curled up to him, her spine against his chest. She draped his arm around her and closed her eyes and went to sleep.

  Woke in the middle of the night, cold and shivering. Turned the shower on full blast and let the hot water pound the blood out of her hair and her face. She collected her clothes from under the towel atop the basin—not a drop of blood on them—and grabbed the robe off the back of the door and slipped out of the bathroom.

  Mark’s wallet sat on top of the television, and she went through it and pocketed two key cards and two hundred in cash. She dressed and left the room. Rode down to the lobby which was mostly empty now save for a handful of die-hards who’d persevered beyond last call to sing drunken show tunes on a leather couch.

  Outside, the autumn air was cool and scented with the spice of a city she did not know.

  Wind blew between the skyscrapers.

  The sidewalks were empty.

  The streets were empty.

  It felt strange to be out here alone, no sound but her footsteps on the pavement. Impossible that her father’s funeral had happened today. She wondered if there were people still at her house comforting her mother and brother, or if they had all gone home.

  The glow of a payphone caught her attention on the other side of the street.

  She ran across to it and dug some change out of her wallet, dialed the number.

  Her mother answered on the fifth ring in a tired voice gone hoarse from crying.

  “Hello?”

  Lucy said nothing, just listening, her eyes filling up.

  “Hello? Lucy, is that you?”

  “Hey, Mom.”

  “Oh my God, where are you? Are you okay?”

  “I just wanted to tell you something.” She was beginning to tremble.

  “What, honey? What?”

  Lucy shouted into the phone, “He loved me, you stupid bitch! He loved me! I wish you had died! He’s the only thing I ever fucking loved!”

  She slammed the phone down on the hook and screamed inside the booth until her throat burned.

  She’d left her mother’s car in the only parking space she could find—a three-hour meter four blocks from the hotel that had long since expired. There were five orange envelopes under the windshield wipers, and the right front tire had been booted.

  She unlocked the car and dragged the guitar case out of the backseat, started back to the hotel.

  The keycard worked on the second try, and she slipped into her room and locked the door after her. Stowed Mark’s suitcase, his shoes, his wallet, and his sports jacket in the closet.

  She’d left home in a hurry, jamming her favorite books, clothes, and a few toiletries into the first thing to cross her path—her brother’s guitar case. Now she flipped open the clasps, opened it on the bed, and dumped everything out. Set to work choosing outfits for the convention and smoothing out the wrinkles.

  Before bed, she went back into the bathroom, sat on the toilet seat just watching Mark lying motionless in the shower. She got down on her knees and stroked his hair, caressed her finger through the gash in his throat.

  By four a.m., she was in bed in her nightgown, and already dreaming of what tomorrow might bring.

  The hotel was crawling with people in the morning and Lucy had to wait five minut
es to catch an elevator down to the lobby. She picked up her name badge and book bag from registration, bought a latte, and headed off to the first panel of the morning.

  “Walking on the Dark Side: What Makes a Bad Guy Bad?” featured five mystery writers, only one of whom she’d heard of. But they were all entertaining. After the panel and with Mark’s money, she bought each of their books from a cranky Milwaukee bookseller named Katz.

  Walking through the book room, where vendors had many of the participating writers’ books for sale, she couldn’t get over the thrill of being around so many people who loved to read. She never saw anyone reading in school. At least not for fun. And the few times she’d sat in the common area by herself with a book, she’d been bullied and mocked. The downside was that most of the people here were as old as her grandfather and many of them looked just as mean.

  She took a table in a café downstairs and studied the schedule of events once more, looking for two panels to attend in the afternoon, though nothing caught her interest. Things didn’t really get interesting until the star of the whole show arrived: the thriller/horror writer, Andrew Z. Thomas, was going to be interviewed in the main ballroom tomorrow at 11:00 a.m., with a signing to follow. She’d brought every one of his books with her to be autographed.

  She sat in the lobby all afternoon, her attention divided between Mark’s book, which she was really enjoying, and wanting to be with Mark in the shower again, and watching for Andrew Thomas, figuring if he was here, he’d have to walk past her at some point.

  After the last panel of the day let out, the hotel emptied for an hour, and then slowly refilled again, everyone dressed to the nines now, lots of sports jackets and evening dresses, the book bags exchanged for stylish handbags.

  She’d been sitting in the same chair for almost four hours, and her legs felt wobbly and faint when she finally stood.

  The hotel bar was packed. All the writers seemed to be there.

  She strolled over and wandered through the bar which was becoming more crowded by the minute, searching the faces for Andrew Thomas, but he wasn’t there.

 
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