The man lurked in the shadows of a building, the brim of an Alpine hat pulled low over his eyes. The upturned collar of a ski parka shielded his ears from the wind-driven snow. The night was bone-chilling cold and he yearned for the warmth of his apartment, one of the current bestsellers and a snifter of his favorite cognac. But all that would come soon enough. Right now, he had an important mission to accomplish. A very important mission.
The man loved New York City. He loved its restaurants, its Broadway shows, its museums and its ethnic diversity. But, most of all, he loved the Big Apple because it was the best killing ground in all the world. He could choose a victim at random, strike when the time was right, and, within seconds, be lost down any number of side streets and back alleys. Ah yes! Los Angeles and Chicago had been good to him, but New York was the ultimate.
This afternoon, the voice had come to him earlier than was usual, even before he had switched off his computer at the stock exchange. Earlier and definitely more urgent. He had tried to shake it out of his head, but he knew he had little other choice but to do its bidding. Kill! it had commanded. Go forth and kill another bitch!
The man counted his victims in his brain and came up with eight. No. That was wrong. There were nine in all, he was sure of that. On the third try, he finally remembered number eight. Elma Rodriguez! How in the world could he have ever forgotten her? Big, chocolate-brown eyes. Long, raven-colored hair that had gleamed in the street light. And so innocent that it was laughable. Even when he had driven his knife into her, she had looked up at him as though he was doing it for her own good. Ah yes! Dear, sweet Elma. He had tacked the front page of the New York Post to the wall at the foot of his bed, so he would be able to dwell on her beautiful innocence before falling to sleep, and, again, upon awakening.
It was time to move on before he attracted any unwanted attention. After all, what sort of idiot would be idling about during a storm of this caliber? Choosing a southerly direction to keep the snow at his back, he remained in the shadows, the fast-mounting snow crunching beneath his boots. Why had the voice come to him on such a foul night? Perhaps it was testing his resolve as it had during that earthquake in San Francisco. But he had come through with flying colors then and he would once again.
He had covered only a block when he saw the woman coming in his direction. He couldnt be certain, but probably a young woman by the way she moved. Her long blonde hair and knee-length coat were sopping wet. What really attracted his attention was the fact that she was hobbling through the snow in a pair of high heels. Obviously she had gotten out of work late and was unprepared for the surprise storm. With her head bent low to ward off the driving snow, she didnt see him approaching. Perfecto! Reaching for the pearl-handled switchblade in his pocket, he looked around for a place to drag her out of sight. But, suddenly, with no more than thirty feet separating them, she turned down a narrow side street.
The little voice in the mans head grew frantic. Hurry, you idiot! Dont let her get away! The time is perfect, theres not a soul in sight! Quick, quick, hurry!
He quickened his pace, nearly running, his gloved fingers tight on the knife in his pocket. Up ahead, the woman leaned against a stoop, snatched off a shoe and emptied out a clod of snow. The mans heart began to race as he closed the distance between them. Then, suddenly, a door swung open, casting a wedge of light onto the stoop.
Karen? Is that you?
Yes, Mom. Better late then never.
You poor dear. This storm was completely unexpected. And just look at you, soaked to the bone. Hurry, dear, get in here, before you catch your death.
Cursing his luck, the man passed by without paying them the least bit of attention. He couldnt help chuckling to himself. Oh yes, dear Momma; she very nearly had caught her death.
The storm was growing in intensity, whipping snow against the mans face like tiny daggers. Even with a parka and heavy sweater, he was chilled clear to the bone. If he didnt make his move soon, he would call it a wash and head home. The throbbing headache would come, but what the hell, he would have to deal with it. Getting his bearings the best he could, he made a number of rights and lefts, heading for a small, out-of the-way park that he knew about. It was a gathering place for transients and runaways, and, perhaps, even on a horrible night as this, there may be one or two in attendance. A long-shot, yes, but there was little other choice.
The wind whistled down the narrow street, clicking snow off window panes. The few cars at the curb were completely buried, reminding him of sheet-draped furniture in some long abandoned house. As he side stepped a lump of white, which he perceived to be a fire hydrant, he bumped into someone who had appeared out of nowhere.
Excuse me, sorry. I didnt see you in all this mess.
His heart skipped a beat as he looked into a broad, ruddy face, a silver badge fixed to the upturned front of a winter hat.
Thats okay, buddy. It was me who bumped into you. The cock of an ice-encrusted brow. Hell of a night to be out and about.
Just got outta work, officer. Only two more blocks an Im home.
You be careful now. A shiver and sniffle. This is a night not fit for man nor beast.
Nodding, the man hurried on his way, taking a quick glance over his shoulder. A night not fit for man nor beast. Now which was he? A little bit of both, he thought with a giggle. Ah, yes, indeed! A little bit of both! He hung a left, onto another snow-entrenched street. If he remembered correctly, the park couldnt be much more than a block away.
The police had invented many imaginative names for serial killers: the Boston Strangler, the Night Stalker, the Green River Killer. Some of the more ambitious had conceived their own names, like Son of Sam and the Zodiac. Feeling a bit left out, the man sighed, kicking up a flurry of snow with his boot. So far, all that he had been called was the killer and the psycho and the madman. All that would have to change and pretty damn quick. He would have to think up some cute, yet diabolical name for himself. And, then, perhaps, a folksy letter to some editor, with his name scrawled in blood. Yes, yes, that would be perfect! But despite everything, there had been one bit of good news: the FBI profiler had referred to him as a loner of above-average intelligence. Right on! But genius would have been a lot closer to the mark.
Ten minutes later, he spotted his objective in the distance, barely visible through the swirling snow.
Wait! Wait a second! Perhaps he could call himself the Iceman or... or the Snow Stalker. No, that wouldnt work. His first three victims had been in the spring, four during the summer and two in the fall. Hhhmmm. How about the Killer for all Seasons? Nope, no go. Sounded like some damn novel.
The park appeared to be empty, but as he drew closer, he thought he spotted someone hunched on one of the benches. Circling around, he came upon the person from the rear, the howling wind silencing his approach. Yes, yes, and a woman to boot! A woman wearing one of those frumpy velour hats with a fake flower attached, her red hair spiraling out like the coils of some broken box spring. A soiled fatigue jacket, an ankle-length, floral-print dress and a pair of combat boots completed one of the weirdest ensembles he had ever seen. At her feet, was a tattered knapsack and a Raggedy Ann doll, with hair as red and wild as her own.
The man feigned surprise, walking past and doing a double take. Well, hello there. What are you doing, sitting there in such terrible weather as this?
Ya know, miss; you can be an ice sculpture in the next hour.
Another shrug. So? Whats it to you?
I didnt mean to intrude or anything, but you just took me by surprise, sitting here during the worst storm of the winter.
Aaahhh. It aint nutin but a dusting.
Look. What about if you come home with me and Ill give you a nice warm place to spend the night. A home-cooked meal and a hot shower. Maybe some quality TV time. Hows that? Whatta ya say?
Hazel eyes flared. Now why would you wanna do somethin like that? Ya need a bed partner for the night? Huh? Thats it, aint it?
The man noticed that she was sort of cute, especially when she got her hackles up. A little pug nose, spattered with freckles. Pert lips. Milk white skin. Her body was completely hidden, but he imagined it as being firm and supple. If the Post was able to supply a picture, he would mount it on his wall right next to that of Elma Rodriguez.
A bed partner? Heavens no, that hadnt even crossed my mind.
I jus bet.
Im a Good Samaritan, is all. I feel that its my calling to help those less fortunate than myself.
The woman bristled. Less fortunate, huh? Is that what you think?
Look! The man thought of slashing her throat right then and there, but held himself back. Quit nitpicking over words and come home with me before we both freeze to death. If you feel uncomfortable when you get there, you can leave at any time.
Well, I dunno. The woman bit her lip in thought and stared down at her folded hands for a few moments. Okay. I guess itll be all right. I hope you got some chocolate chip cookies at home.
Ya know; I just might be able to accommodate you.
Great! Lead the way, Samaritan.
They walked two blocks, pellets of snow slashing at their faces, before the man halted at an alleyway, motioning for her to follow.
Why ya goin down there? It looks awful dark to me.
Its a short cut. Trust me. The man grabbed hold of her arm, surprised at how spindly it felt. I use this route all the time. Itll bring us out only a few feet from my door.
For crying-out-loud; if you dont trust me, the hell with it.
Okay, okay. You first.
The man didnt know where the alley led to, but it didnt make any difference. It was precisely what the doctor had ordered. Dark. Secluded. Not a soul in sight. He moved cautiously along, trying to look as though he was familiar with the place, hearing the deep breathing of the woman as she followed behind. His own breathing was becoming more rapid, as it always did when the moment was close at hand. Pretty soon now. Only a few more steps. He felt for the knife in his pocket.
What? What in the hell had she shouted? It sounded like... like...
He was in the process of turning around when he felt the woman jump onto his back. Before he was able to utter a word, something hard and sharp and very cold was drawn across his throat. He tried to cry out, but there was only a gurgle. Taking a few faltering steps, with the woman still on his back, he wobbled for a moment and dropped to his knees. It didnt seem possible, but the alley was getting even darker.
Detective Antonelli knelt down beside the body and took a pen from his pocket, carefully pushing aside the corpses blood-stained collar. The neck wound was deep, stretching nearly from ear-to-ear. A chill, not attributed to the weather, coursed down the length of his spine, coming to rest in that little hollow just above his butt.
Quite a piece of work, huh, Lou?
His partner leaned in closer, blowing out a gust of frosty breath. Nasty. Real nasty.
Did you go through his pockets?
Nada. No wallet. No keys. No jewelry. No nothing. The killer musta taken everything.
Antonelli traced the pen along the shredded shirt until he reached a patch of bloodstained snow. Whatta we got here? Carefully brushing the snow aside, he stared at the letters P.J. that had been crudely carved into John Does chest. Oh, sweet Jesus. Recognize the handiwork, Lou?
Boy, do I ever! Polly Jorgenson strikes again.
Antonelli thought about the woman who had escaped an upstate asylum some four months earlier. Crazy Polly. This is what ----- number ten for her?
Yup. Ten even.
Where in the hell is she hiding out?
Despite the circumstances, Antonelli couldnt help a chuckle. Thats one woman I wouldnt wanna meet in a dark alley. Hates men. Hates em with a passion.
And make that a capital P.
Copyright © 2003 by Gerald E. Sheagren