The lake, p.1
LEISURE BOOKS NEW YORK CITY
Table of Contents
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Tuesday, April 27
Verna Lavette clapped her hands.
“My favorites!” she squealed.
Almond marzipan, walnut whirls, and those scrummy caramel creams…
“Oh, thank you, she said, her chubby face wreathed in smiles.
“No problem, sugar,” the man said. “My pleasure—as always.”
Verna looked sheepish. “Can I have one, now? Before…”
“Sure. Have one, two, or three. Makes no difference, but…” He glanced at his wristwatch. “Best make it snappy. No time to lose.”
Sucking on a caramel cream, Verna looked at her benefactor. Well, she pondered, he ain’t really my benefactor. I give him plenty, in return for his dough—ooh, yes, and the candy. Don’t forget the candy.
She made a face.
Sure, she did her bit.
Got the scars to prove it, too.
Yessir. All things considered, the Candyman got pretty much what he wanted.
He must like what I do—and how I do it, she told herself. Keeps a-comin’ back for more.
The room was dark except for the anglepoise spotlight by her bed. He was telling her to take off her slip, all slow and sexy, like Marilyn Monroe.
It always began like this.
Then the action moved on to…other things…
Some guys have weird ideas, and her Mr. Candyman was no exception. At times she wondered if it was worth her while. The things he made her do, an’ all.
She sighed. In her job, never mind the way she looked these days, she needed every goddamn cent she got—while she could still get it.
And, no question, the Candyman paid her good.
She watched him adjust the spotlight so it lit up her left side. Feeling around in his holdall, he brought out a Polaroid camera.
He put it to his eye, squinted into the lens, and ran off a couple of shots. Testing for light conditions. Verna knew the score inside out.
He waited a moment. The mechanism whirred and spewed out the Polaroids.
He peeled off a picture and watched it color up.
Frowned, muttered “Shit!” and tossed it on the bed.
The result was not to his liking.
The second one turned out okay.
Mr. Candyman grinned approval. His teeth gleamed briefly in the lamplight.
That’s my baby.
Now. Down to business.
Sweat broke out. Speckling his upper lip.
Placing the Polaroid camera on Verna’s nightstand, he brought up a small silver one from out of his holdall.
Verna smiled. One a’ them classy Japanese jobs—nothin’ cheap about this guy.
Dollar signs danced before her eyes.
The Candyman was naked.
Verna stared at his erection. Tilting slightly, stiff and strong, poking out from all that dark curly hair.
I wish, she thought, hungrily, the familiar tingly rush teasing her center like crazy.
Do things right the first time—and maybe, just maybe, Verna gets to taste some a’ that.
She sighed. The Candyman wasn’t into sex; he was interested only in his goddamn pictures. God knows she’d tried to play it for sex, but he just got angry. He’d slugged her in the kisser a coupla times.
If he weren’t so good-lookin’, he’d be just your average creep, she decided. But a mighty good-lookin’ creep, I’ll say that for him. The quiet type, too; don’t say much.
Bastard sure knows what he’s doin’ with a camera, though.
Verna shivered. A gal could go off the boil, time it takes…She studied the Candyman’s face. It was set. Engrossed. Maybe he’s one a’ them porno guys, she thought, making heaps a’ dough selling dirty pictures. She’d done a few porno flicks in her time, so she knew the score. Hell, there were plenty of big bucks in that game.
On the other hand, maybe the shit jacks off on ’em, all on his lonesome in a dark little room someplace…
Who cares? I do the job ’n’ I gets my fee…
Tossing back her blond hair, Verna swung into action.
Ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille.
She posed. Bunched up her lips. Lifted her shoulder, looked at the camera, and smiled coyly. She crossed an arm over her breasts and slipped off a shoulder strap.
Candyman focused the lens.
“Let it fall, slowly. Hold your breasts, sugar. Play around with them…like you’re making sweet love to yourself…That’s it. Now, for the next shot…”
Verna had done it all before. Many times. She’d lie on the bed, spread out, like one a’ them sacrificial virgins you read about in history books.
She almost laughed out loud.
One thing’s for sure. Verna ain’t no fuckin’ virgin!
Candyman took a few shots. Then he straightened up and replaced his camera on the nightstand. He opened up his holdall. Put the Polaroid job inside it. His pants and T-shirt were already in there.
Out of the way.
He came up with a knife.
Verna shuddered. One false move with that baby, an’ I can kiss my candy good-bye.
He leaned over the bed, blocking the light from the lamp.
Her heart beat faster.
She looked at the blade. Felt a sharp, stinging thrill between her legs. Got her juices going, all right, but it sure was scary.
Too goddamn scary. Not really knowing what the fuck he was gonna do next…
With a forefinger, he traced a line from her throat right down to her pubic bone. For a big man he had a soft touch. Light as a feather.
She wriggled, and shivered.
“Ooh, that tickles…”
“Ssshhh. Not a sound, sugar. Mr. Candyman’s about to create a masterpiece here.”
Verna closed her eyes.
Let him have his kicks.
Any which way he wanted. After all, he was the guy with the dough…
“Heyyyyyyy whadyal…? AAaahhhggg…”
Blood sprayed the Candyman’s face.
He grunted, opened his mouth, and licked his lips.
The knife slicked down Verna’s torso, jerking a little going past her breastbone. The Candyman slowed down, then dug in deep, opening her guts like she was a sheep in a slaughterhouse.
Verna’s red mouth sagged a little in surprise.
Her baby blues snapped wide, then quickly glazed over.
Fascinated, the Candyman stared into them. He liked the way Verna fixed her eyes. All that black eyeliner. And those long black lashes. Way back, she told him she’d been a singer at some club in downtown Frisco. Yeah, it figured. Gals in Verna’s line a’ business knew all about makeup.
He stood back, tilting his head.
An artist surveying his masterpiece.
He liked what he saw. Verna was a work of art.
Picasso’s “red period.”
He stared at his creation.
Opening her up made her breasts flop over, each pointing outward, either side of the bloody ravine down her middle. Her breasts were big and white and splashed with red.
How ’bout that?
Candyman’s “red period.”
His lips curved in a tight smile.
All that blood…
He dug the way it flowered beneath her, like some exotic jungle orchid.
A strand of black hair peeked out from beneath the blond wig. He removed the wig, watching the way her head wagged, all loose like a rag doll. Her lids drooped. She coulda still been alive. Asleep.
He tossed the wig to the floor.
Carefully, he stroked her long black hair, smoothing it into place over her shoulders.
He rearranged her arms so they stretched out from her body. Engrossed in his work, his mouth opened slightly.
Verna’s legs gaped apart; blood oozed from her orifice.
It was still pumping from her belly.
Should be slowing down about now…
Mmmm. She looked like a five-pointed star.
“Doing the bitch a favor,” he murmured, “rearranging her like this. Only way she’ll ever get t’be a ‘star’!”
Grinning, he stabbed the knife deep into Verna’s middle. Her body shook; her breasts wobbled precariously. Spats of blood sprayed up from her guts. Landed on his belly.
Glistening gobs of it clung to his pubic hair.
His head buzzed inside. Like it was full of swarming bees.
He got angry. Couldn’t stop stabbing…
“You fuckin’ bastard, evil bitch!
“Rot in HELL! You hear me?”
Sweat beaded his brow, droplets stung his eyes. His breath came out in harsh, wheezy grunts.
Seconds later, he’d calmed down.
Wiping his hands on Verna’s bedsheet, he picked up his camera and clicked away.
Wednesday, June 30
The footsteps got closer.
He, it, was almost on her now.
Her legs pumped hard. Her lungs gagged for air.
The thing followed with superhuman speed.
Christ. I can’t go fast enough—or far enough!
Heaving, panting, she drew to a halt…
A bony hand clawed her shoulder.
Hooked her throat.
NO. My God. NO…PLEASE!!!
Deana jerked awake, heart pounding, nightgown twisted up above her waist, clinging like a live thing to her sweat-soaked skin.
Her breathing evened out a little.
Puffing out a gusty sigh, she relaxed.
It was only a dream.
Try a fucking nightmare!
She sighed again—in relief this time. Turning her head on the sodden pillow, she saw familiar shapes in the weird half-light. She relaxed some more.
What was that?
Her heart began racing again.
She could hear something.
Soft, scrunching sounds on the gravel outside.
Her eyes darted to the window. The filmy curtains stirred in the breeze…Moonlight filtered pale gray beams across her bed.
She scanned the window. Saw a tall, hunched shape move across it. Shaggy hair sticking out from beneath a long floppy hat.
This is for real.
I’m not dreaming now.
The shadow paused, stiffened, and turned, looking over its shoulder like it was scared of being followed.
Then the big hook nose pointed forward again.
Like a giant bird of prey…
It carried a hatchet on its shoulder.
Oh my God!
Can this really be happening?
It’s my nightmare come true!
Deana clamped a hand over her mouth, stifling the scream rising in her throat. Her breath huffed out in ragged, hurting gasps.
“Ah’m a-comin’ to getcha, baby…”
A harsh, breathy voice. She couldn’t believe it!
If this really IS a nightmare, I gotta wake up fast.
Sliding a hand under the bedsheet, she found her thigh. She pinched it, hard.
Ouch! Shit! Okay, so I’m not dreaming. I’m awake.
Jesus. If I am awake…who is that outside my window?
Carrying a hatchet?
Killers carry hatchets…
Mad ax murderers!
But why pick on me?
Who’d want to kill me?
Nobody I can think of would want me dead.
Except maybe that bitch Nancy Guildenschwarz—she hates me like hell after Allan ditched her and dated me instead…Even so, Deana reminded herself, Nancy’s short, plumpish—and she’s a girl.
Not a tall, thin man.
Unless Nancy’s people put out a contract on me.
There’s a thought.
Wouldn’t put anything past that bitch. Always boasting her dad had connections…
Name like Guildenschwarz, he sure needed connections.
Like a mouse in a maze, Deana’s mind scurried through her past, searching for a tall scarecrow man who hated her enough to sneak around her house in the dead of night.
With a hatchet for company…
Nah. Nobody hates me that much. Do they?
Jeez, I hope not.
If she yelled for Mom, he might smash through the window and hack her to death before Mom could get to her.
Best stay quiet, she thought. Pretend I’m not here.
Deana shut her eyes tight, held her breath, slid down under the bedsheet, pulled it over her head, and lay there, heart racing, till she almost suffocated.
Then, peeking from under the bedsheet, she scanned the window again.
Nobody there. Only the moon, casting ghostly rays onto her bed.
Perhaps the thing with the hatchet never happened?
Deana wiped her face with a corner of the sheet.
Hot, shitty, oppressive, and muggy.
Another summer night in Marin County.
’Cept it wasn’t just “another summer night.”
A mad axman’s out there, sneaking past my window.
Looking for me. Wanting to hack me to death.
Deana listened, willing her heart to slow down.
A warm mistral rose up from nowhere, whispering into the night, tossing the leaves of the citrus outside her window. The rustling sounds should have been familiar and friendly.
Tonight, they didn’t seem that way.
In the past, she’d loved that big old tree.
At age ten, when she and Mom first came to live in this house, she’d imagined small furry creatures hiding away up there; birds, nesting in its branches. Mornings, she’d lie in bed watching it. At night, she went to sleep listening to its quiet, scurrying sounds.
Now it shivered and rustled like something in a horror movie.
It was so scary.
Her gaze switched to where she’d last seen the intruder.
Hoping she wouldn’t see him again.
Trying to convince herself the shadowy shape didn’t exist. Hadn’t really happened at all.
But there was no Mr. Hatchet Man. Just her tree. Its leaves stirring softly in the night breeze…
Making long black shadows on her ceiling.
Raising her head off the pillow, she squinted at the clock on the nightstand.
A good time for nightmares.
And weird dreams.
She stretched, letting her tense, coiled-up limbs ease out, running her tongue over bone-dry lips.
Her eyes darted nervously to the window.
Fearful the same spooky sequence would start over again.
Wide-eyed, waiting, she counted to thirty…forty…fifty…sixty.
No sign of the Hatchet Man.
Swinging out of bed, she peeled off her nightgown. It was soaked with sweat. She spread it over the bedrail, grabbed her robe, and shrugged into it.
It felt soft and comforting to her damp, chilled skin.
She tied the sash tight.
Wouldn’t do for Mr. Hatchet Man to catch her naked.
That was a nightmare, dummy, and don’t you forget it.
Still her breath came hard and fast.
Calm down, she told herself.
The doors are locked.
Mom’s in the next room…