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       Conjugal Rites (Kit Tolliver #7) (The Kit Tolliver Stories), p.1

           Lawrence Block
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Conjugal Rites (Kit Tolliver #7) (The Kit Tolliver Stories)


  CONJUGAL RITES

  LAWRENCE BLOCK

  * * *

  Copyright © 2013, Lawrence Block

  All Rights Reserved

  Cover Design: Jayne E. Smith

  Ebook Design: JW Manus

  When she first laid eyes on him, he’d looked preppy. That was in a bar in Riverdale, within walking distance of the last stop on the Bronx-bound Number One train, and she knew that much because she knew she’d walked there. She was drinking a Cosmopolitan when their eyes met. He bought her the next Cosmo, and the next thing she’d been able to remember was waking up in his bed.

  He had looked a little less generic in the morning. In daylight she’d noted the vivid blue eyes, the once-broken nose, the pouting sensuous mouth. He was a Wall Street guy, she’d learned, and she could see him in that role, aiming to take his place as one of the self-styled masters of the universe.

  That had been a while ago, and the years had taken their toll. Online, she’d learned that he’d come by the preppy look honestly. He’d been at Choate first, then Yale, then the B school at Columbia. Destiny had clearly meant him to wear suits from J. Press, khakis and polos from J. Crew.

  Was it any wonder that he looked a little older and less prepossessing in a burnt-orange jumpsuit?

  That would add years, all right. And it wasn’t a simple matter of costume. Just being incarcerated—that would tend to age a man, wouldn’t it?

  The prison was in an upstate New York town she’d never heard of, a good deal closer to the Canadian border than to the city of New York. You had to take two buses to get there, an express to Albany and a local the rest of the way. She was one of a dozen women who migrated from the express to the local, and she figured they were all on similar errands, visiting their incarcerated mates.

  An interesting word, incarcerated. As far as she could tell, it was used exclusively by persons to whom it applied—and, to be sure, by the women who loved them. The five syllables served to take the sting out; I am presently incarcerated didn’t hit as hard as The fuckers locked me up and swallowed the key.

  She’d noticed one woman in particular on the Albany express, a dishwater blonde with sharp facial features and a feral look to her. Not long ago she’d watched a cable documentary on crystal meth, and every women in it looked like this one. So did half the women on any episode of Cops.

  They’d exchanged glances, and she wasn’t surprised when the blonde took the seat next to her on the local bus. “I’m Barb,” she announced.

  “Audrey.”

  “I guess we’re going to the same place, huh?”

  “I guess.”

  “I’m on this bus every week. You see a lot of the same people, and then you stop seein’ some of ’em and instead you start to see different ones.”

  “Like life itself.”

  Barb had to think about that. Then she nodded. “Got that right,” she said. “I don’t think I seen you before.”

  “First visit.”

  “Yeah? Your man, right?”

  And I’m standing by him. Just like Tammy Wynette wants me to do.

  “Well, sort of,” she said. “But I haven’t seen him in years. We more or less lost track of each other. I’m not sure he’ll remember me.”

  Barb gave her a look. “How’s anybody gonna forget you? Only question’s are you on the list. ’Cause if you’re not an approved visitor, no way they gonna let you in.”

  “His lawyer said I’m approved, I won’t have any trouble.”

  “Well, you’re okay, then. You figure on using the truck?”

  “The truck?”

  “You know, Audrey. The truck.” A sigh. “The fuck truck. Pardon the expression, but that’s what everybody calls it. What it is, it’s a trailer more’n a truck, and you get an hour in there. Like, private time.”

  “I don’t know,” she said. “See, in a way I hardly know him. He’s been, uh, incarcerated for almost three years, and I didn’t even find out about it until a month ago. I’m not even sure why I’m here visiting him. Would I want private time with him? Maybe, but how do I know he’d want to go in the truck with me?”

  Barb gave her a look. She said, “Three years?”

  “Plus a couple of months.”

  “Honey,” Barb said, “that man’d settle for private time with a nanny goat. Will he go in the truck with you? You’re kidding, right?”

  But when they brought her in to see Peter Fuhrmann, it wasn’t in the designated trailer, and you couldn’t call it quiet time. After she’d passed through a scanner and been strip-searched by a matron, she wound up sitting in front of a long window. There were women on either side of her, talking to men in orange jumpsuits on the other side of the window. There was an empty chair across from her, but it didn’t remain empty for long. A man appeared, wearing the orange jumpsuit that seemed to be standard here, walked to the empty chair, and looked at her for a long moment before sitting down.

  Would she have recognized him?

  She knew him right away, saw the man she’d spent a night with in the man who sat across from her now. But she’d been expecting him. If she’d encountered him across the aisle in a subway car, or at adjacent tables in a diner, would any mental bells have rung?

  No way to tell. And what did it matter? He was here now, and so was she.

  He said, “Audrey Willard.”

  “That’s right.”

  “Do I know you? Because the name didn’t register when my lawyer mentioned it.”

  Well, how could it? She’d never used it before. She sort of liked Audrey, it was unusual without being weird, old-fashioned without smelling of lavender sachets. He’d have known her by another name, and she was clueless as to what that name might have been.

  “I may not have given you my real name,” she said.

  “You look familiar, but I can’t—”

  “You pulled me out of a bar in Riverdale,” she said, “or I pulled you, or we pulled each other. And the next thing I remembered was waking up the next morning.”

  “Oh, God. I owe you an apology.”

  “Not really,” she said, “because you gave me a repeat performance that got rid of my hangover faster than any aspirin ever did.”

  “Jennifer.”

  Entirely possible, she thought. She’d been Jennifer often enough back then. It had been a sort of default alias at the time.

  “I knew you looked familiar. I remember you. You gave me your number. But when I called—”

  “I gave you a wrong number.”

  “I tried switching digits, but nothing worked.”

  “So I’m the one who owes you an apology,” she said.

  “Well—”

  “Or maybe it’s a wash,” she said. “A wrong number, a couple of Roofies—”

  “You could have died,” he said.

  “Like that girl.”

  He nodded. “Like Maureen McConnelly,” he said.

  She was in Ohio when she discovered what had become of Peter Fuhrmann. She sat at a computer terminal and went to work, and she’d have found him in a couple of keystrokes if she’d had any idea what to look for.

  His name, for instance. Google Peter Fuhrmann and he’d pop up in a heartbeat, with a flood of articles providing extensive coverage of the case. And it got a ton of ink—a good-looking Wall Street guy, a Choatie, a Yalie, all of that preppy street cred topped off with a Columbia MBA, who wakes up one fine morning with a beautiful girl in his bed. She’s a BIC, which is to say Bronx Irish Catholic, and she’s all of nineteen, in her second year at Marymount Manhattan College. And she’ll never graduate, nor will she ever b
e twenty, because, see, she’s dead.

  If she’d been in New York when it happened, she’d almost certainly have known about it. That’s where it got a big play in the press. The story made the wire services, but it wasn’t that big a story and it didn’t play that well out of town, because Peter Fuhrmann never denied the charges. Yes, he’d picked up Maureen McConnelly in a Riverdale bar. Yes, he’d brought her home to his apartment—his bachelor pad, one tabloid called it. And yes, he’d poured her a drink, and helped his cause by dissolving a pill in it. The pill was Flunitrazepam, more popular under its trade name of Rohypnol. It was indeed the notorious date-rape drug, and date rape was precisely what happened to Maureen.

  One enterprising reporter turned up a couple of young men who characterized feeding Roofies to Maureen as overkill. Reading between the lines, she got the message that you didn’t have to drug Maureen to get in her pants, didn’t have to get her drunk, didn’t have to swear undying love. All you had to do was take out your dick and wave it at her.

  Well, she thought, why not? The girl’s dead, so let’s all tell each other what a whore she was.

  But she didn’t spend too much time thinking about that part of the story, because there were other more important elements to consider. The drug rendered Maureen not altogether comatose but unfocused and acquiescent, a willing if not particularly active participant in what followed. One of its effects would have been retrograde amnesia, so Maureen very likely wouldn’t have remembered what happened to her, but she never got the chance to find out. Peter Fuhrmann had his way with her, and during a lull in the proceedings he paid enough attention to his silent partner to realize that she was no longer breathing.

  If he’d been the least bit resourceful, she thought, he’d have got her back into her clothes, slung her over his shoulder, and left her under a bush in Van Cortlandt Park. Instead, after an unsuccessful stab at CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, he’d picked up the phone and called the police.

  Because it was obvious to him what had happened. He’d dosed the poor girl with a powerful drug, and it had stopped her heart and killed her.

  “You called 911 right away,” she said. “You didn’t even call your lawyer first.”

  “I called a lawyer later on, from the police station. I knew I’d need assistance with the plea bargaining.”

  “You confessed.”

  “I did it,” he said. “How was I going to say I didn’t? It was completely unintentional, I’d never heard of anybody having a bad reaction to Roofies. Maybe a headache and a hangover the next day, but you’d get that from the alcohol, wouldn’t you?”

  “Normally,” she said, “it would just keep a girl from resisting. Or remembering.”

  “If I could go back in time,” he said with feeling. “And wipe it out, the way the drug wipes it from a person’s memory. But you never can, can you?”

  Because he was quick to confess, because he was prepared to enter a plea, the state didn’t have to knock itself out preparing a case. The post-mortem examination went looking for Flunitrazepam, and that’s what they found. They had no reason to look further, and death was accordingly attributed to cardiac and respiratory failure caused by the drug.

  When she read about it, sitting in an Internet café in Ohio, she looked at a photograph of Maureen. She pictured the girl walking home with Peter, pictured her holding a glass of vodka. Pictured her dead.

  I did that, she thought. I killed you.

  Because, if they’d thought to look, they’d have found more than Roofies in Maureen’s system. She couldn’t even remember what she’d used, but she’d emptied the contents of a glassine envelope into a bottle of vodka before leaving Peter’s apartment. She’d hoped it would kill him, but had considered the possibility that someone else might be the first to sample the vodka. A woman, a male friend, even a tippling cleaning woman, raiding the liquor cabinet for a mid-afternoon bracer.

  What did it matter, really? She’d liked the idea of leaving behind something that would kill someone, without knowing—or caring, really—who she killed, or when. A couple of times she ran scenarios in her mind, imagining what might happen, and it was exciting enough, but she’d never felt the need to find out what really did happen.

  And time passed, and she more or less forgot about it.

  She’d been different then. Well, no, that wasn’t it. She’d been the same person, she’d always been the same person, but her mission had been much less focused in those early days. She liked to pick up men and go home with them and have sex with them—though the sex in and of itself was never really the point. And she liked to end those evenings with more money than she started out, because you could almost always walk away with a few hundred dollars, and sometimes you scored big and left with a couple of thousand, and that made life easier and gave you a sense of accomplishment—but the money in and of itself wasn’t really the point, either.

  And she liked to kill.

  No question, right from the very first time she liked to kill. It really got her motor going. The sex was a whole lot hotter when she knew she was going to kill the guy, and the money was more gratifying when she could think of it as a sort of bounty that was hers for taking her partner off the board. Sometimes she got off on the terror, when they saw it coming, and sometimes she killed them in their sleep and they were dead before they knew it, and either way it worked for her.

  But there was no real purpose to it back then. It just sort of was.

  Consciously, anyhow. Because it seemed to her now that she’d been trying to accomplish something all along, even though she had never spelled it out for herself. And then the day came when she just plain got it: she wanted to so arrange things that there was no man alive who’d been with her, no man who could tell his friends about her, no man left to sit around remembering what he’d done with her.

  Which gave her work to do. First she had to remember them, and then she had to find them, and then, finally, she had to do what she should have done in the first place.

  She had to kill them.

  How?

  There was a cab waiting when she left the prison, and the driver took her to a motel about a mile away. The office smelled of curry, so it was no great surprise when the manager turned out to be Indian, but how Sanjit Patel and his wife had wound up playing host to prison visitors in the middle of nowhere was one of life’s great mysteries.

  The room was clean, if a little shabby, and the shower was hot and the TV got sixty channels, so it would be no hardship to stay there while she worked out a plan. And that might take a while, because she didn’t know where to start.

  She was on the approved visitor list, which meant she was entitled to sit across from him with nothing between them but a thick pane of glass. She couldn’t touch him, couldn’t pass anything to him, and couldn’t even have on her person anything that wouldn’t get through a metal detector, and pass the scrutiny of the prison matron. There was no way she could get a weapon in with her, and even if she could, what possible good would it do her?

  If she had a gun, and if she were proficient with it, and if she could sneak it in there, and if by some chance the glass wasn’t bulletproof, as she rather suspected it was, then she might conceivably be able to put a bullet in him. But she couldn’t possibly get away with it. They’d have her in custody before he fell off his chair.

  So what did that leave?

  The trailer was an Airstream, its sculpted silvery exterior badly pitted by the elements. It was small, designed to be towed behind a car, not moored permanently in a trailer park. Inside, thick dark curtains covered the windows. The maroon carpet was stained, and you could smell the toilet.

  An unpainted plywood box held a mattress a foot off the floor. The sheets were not visibly soiled, and the stack of towels beside the bed were neatly folded, and apparently clean.

  The fuck truck.

  “You don’t have to go through with this,” Peter Fuhrmann said.

  “But I want to.”


  “Really?”

  Did she? Well, it was a pretty sordid space for a romantic encounter. And Peter, dressed in his orange jumpsuit and wearing his hangdog expression, didn’t exactly set her pulse racing. But she was here, wasn’t she? And he was one of only three names left on her list, and, well—

  “Right off the bat,” she said, “I can think of one thing that’s definitely worse than having sex here.”

  “And what would that be?”

  “Being here,” she said, “and not having sex.”

  That at least got a smile from him. “It’s no place for state dinners,” he said. “I’ll grant you that.”

  “Or intimate conversations.”

  “Or curling up with a good book.”

  “Or even a bad one. Peter? Can I ask you a question?”

  “Sure.”

  “When was the last time you were—”

  “With someone?” He avoided her eyes. “I haven’t been with anyone since . . .”

  He couldn’t say the name, so she said it for him. “Since Maureen.”

  “Yes.”

  “You never—”

  “No.” He was silent for a moment. “I couldn’t even think about it. It’s as if that part of my life ended when—”

  “When she died.”

  “Yes.”

  “And in prison—”

  “People find outlets,” he said. “Men hook up with each other. That’s of no interest to me. And there are screws who can smuggle a woman in for the right price. Screws, that’s what they call the guards. What we call the guards, I should say.”

  “But that’s of no interest to you either, is it?”

  “No. I don’t even—”

  “Don’t what?”

  “Masturbate.”

  “That’s what I thought you were going to say. You don’t?”

  “No.”

  “And when the urge comes—”

  “It doesn’t.”

  “Oh.”

  “Audrey, the last time I had sex with a woman, she died.”

 
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