by Whitley Strieber
John Blaylock checked his watch again. It was exactly three AM. Time to move. The small Long Island town was so quiet he could hear the light change at the end of the tree-lined street. John put his watch back in his pocket and stepped softly from his place of concealment in the shrubs. He paused a moment in the cool, private air of the empty street.
His target lived in the middle of the block. John's well-trained senses fixed on the black bulk of the house, test for any flicker of life. As far as the Wagners were concerned, Kaye would just disappear. Within a month she would become another statistic, one of thousands of teenagers who walk out on their families every year. Kaye had good reason to run away. She was being expelled from Emerson High, and she and her boyfriend, Tommy, were facing a cocaine charge in JD court in a few days. Both would disappear tonight. Miriam was taking care of the boyfriend.
As he walked, silent and invisible in his black jogging outfit, he thought briefly about his partner. He wanted her as he always did at moments of tension. Theirs was an old love, familiar and comfortable.
At two minutes past three the moon set. Now, only the single street light at the end of the block provided illumination. That was as planned. John broke into a trot, passing the target house and pausing at the far end of the grounds. No light appeared from any angle. He went up the driveway.
To John, houses had an ambience, almost an emotional smell. As he drew closer to its looming silence he decided that he didn't much like this house. For all its carefully tended rose bushes, its beds of dahlias and pansies, it was an angry place.
This confirmation of the Wagners' misery strengthened his resolve. His mind focused with even greater clarity on the task at hand. Each phase had been timed to the last second. At this level of concentration he could hear the breathing of Mr. and Mrs. Wagner in their second-floor bedroom. He paused, focusing his attention with fierce effort. Now he could hear the rustle of sheets as a sleeper's arm stirred, the faint scratching of a roach moving up the wall of the bedroom. It was difficult for him to maintain such intense concentration for long. In this he and Miriam were very different She lived often at such a level, John almost never.
He satisfied himself that the household. was asleep, then began his penetration. Despite the dark, he quickly located the basement door. It led into a furnace room. Beyond it was a finished playroom, and Kaye's bedroom. He withdrew a length of piano wire from a pouch concealed under his sweat shirt and picked the lock, then worked back the spring catch with the edge of a credit card.
A rush of warm, musty air came out when the door was opened. The night was only slightly chilly, and the furnace was running on low, its fire casting faint orange light. John crossed the room and went into the hallway beyond.
He froze. Ahead he heard rattling breath, not human. His mind analyzed the sound and concluded that a dog of about sixty pounds was sleeping at the end of the hall, approximately seven feet away.
Nothing could be done about it now He was forced to use his chloroform. He removed a plastic bag from the pouch and took out a cloth. It was cold in his hand, dripping with the liquid. He was not as quick as Miriam, he needed chloroform to subdue his victims. The thought of the danger he would now face made his throat tighten.
His friend the darkness began to work against him; he stepped forward, calculating his distance as best he could. One step. The dog's breathing changed. Two steps. There was a shuffling sound, the beginning of a growl. Three steps. Like an explosion, the dog barked.
Then he had it, his fingers twinning in the fur, his chloroformed rag going over the muzzle.
There was a furious struggle, not quite silent.
Kaye's voice was bell-clear and edged with fear. John was aware of how much his odds were worsening. The girl was wide awake. He could sense her staring into the darkness. Normally, he would have retreated at this point but tonight he could not. Miriam was an absolutely intractable killer; she would not miss the boyfriend. The essence of the deception was that they would disappear together. Both gone and the police would figure it for a runaway and file the case somewhere below lost kittens. Only one gone and there would be much more suspicion.
As soon as the dog stopped struggling, John moved ahead. There would be perhaps ten safe minutes while the dog was unconscious. There must be no further delays; maximum efficiency was essential.
Kaye's bedroom was suddenly flooded with light. She was beautiful, sitting on her bed in a nightshirt, her hand still touching the frilly lamp.
John felt the light like fire. He leaped on her, lunging to stifle the scream he knew was rising. Then his hand was over her lips, his arm pushing her onto the bed.
Kaye smelled faintly of cologne and cigarettes. John fought her, his body shaking above the dismal fury of her struggle. The intensity of her resistance conjured up anger in him. Both his hands covered her mouth and nose, his knees pinned her elbows.
The room was absolutely still, the only sound that of Kaye's legs thudding against the mattress. John looked at the pleading, terrified eyes, trying to gauge how much longer they would remain alive. He felt the girl's tongue darting against the palm of his hand. Careful, don't let her bite.
The five minutes it took to suffocate her stretched on and on. John fought to keep his attention on his work. If she got away. from him...but he wouldn't allow that. He had, after all, years of practice. Just don't let the mind wander, the grip loosen-not for an instant. He was watching for the hemorrhage in the whites of the eyes that would be the sign of death. Kaye responded typically. She pleaded with her expression, looking desperately into his face.
Finally, her eyes screwed closed with the failure of consciousness. There came a series of frantic convulsions-the unconscious trying to escape what the conscious could not. After a moment of motionlessness the eyes opened again. The whites were the correct shade of pink now. The eyes slowly drifted to the right, as if trying to see the way. A deeper stillness fell.
At once John released his grip and leaned across to her chest, pressing his ear between the warm softness of her breasts, listening for the last thutter of the heart.
Perfection. She was just right, hanging at the edge of death.
All obstacles were removed. Steel discipline could give way now to his real feehngs, to the raw truth of his hunger. He lunged at her, unhearing of his own excited cry. She exploded instantly into new life within him. His mind clarified as if he had plunged into deliciously cold water on a stuffy day The achiness that had been threatening swept from his muscles. His hearing, his eyesight flooded him with impressions of almost supernatural intensity.
He soared from height to height. As always at such a moment, a vivid image of Miriam appeared in his mind's eye. He could taste her lips, feel her laughter in his heart. He longed for her cool flesh, the love within him growing rich with desire.
Then it was finished. He barely glanced at the remains of Kaye Wagner, a dark lumpy almost lost in the bedclothes. Time had to be addressed. He forced himself back to sordid necessity, slipping the husk of the girl into a black plastic bag. Briskly, he consulted his watch again. In exactly two minutes he must be at the pickup point.
Into the bag he also tossed the girl's wallet and hairbrush and some of the cosmetics scattered over her dresser. Then panties and bras and a stack of 45rpm records from the floor. He stopped in the bathroom for toothbrush, hair spray, more cosmetics, shampoo and a somewhat clean blouse he found hanging on a shower curtain rod.
In fifty seconds the car would come down the street. Miriam was always on schedule, so John hurried out the way he had come, pausing only to lock the cellar door behind him with his piano wire. He moved swiftly down the driveway and waited in a flowering dogwood.
His body tingled; his awareness seemed to extend into every detail of the world around him. No effort was needed to concentrate now. He could feel the peaceful presence of the dogwood, hear even the smallest sounds, the rustling of a beetle, the ping of a slowly cooling engine block in a car across the street. Above him the stars had resolved into myriad colors: green and yellow and blue and red. The breeze seemed to stir each leaf with a separate touch. John felt a sharp and poignant sense of the beauty around him, Life could not be sweeter.
The appearance of their car made him smile. Miriam drove with the caution of a blind octogenarian. Accident obsessed, she had chosen the Volvo because of its safety record and innocuous appearance. Despite its sturdiness, she had it equipped with a heavy-duty gas tank and truck brakes, as well as a special sun roof' that was actually an extra means of escape.
Dutifully, he trotted over to the slowly moving vehicle, tossed his burdens into the back seat and slipped in beside her. There was no question of his driving, of course. She never relinquished the wheel unless absolutely necessary. It was comfortable to be with her again. Her lips felt cool and familiar on his cheek, her smile was bright with pleasure and success.
Saying nothing, she concentrated on the road. The en to the Long Island Expressway was two blocks away and John knew she would be worrying about the chance of being stopped by the local police before they reached it. They would have to answer embarrassing questions if that happened.
Until they reached the ramp, neither spoke. As they pulled onto the freeway, however, he felt her relax. The last bit of tension broke.
"It was just beautiful," she said. "He was so strong."
John smiled. He husbanded his own exhilaration. Despite his years at it, the kill itself never pleased him. He was not excited by the actual act, as was Miriam.
"Yours went well, I hope." It was a question.
She was staring at him, her eyes twinkling like those of a pretty doll. "I had such a nice time. He thought he was being raped by a girl." She giggled. "I think he died in ecstasy." She stretched, luxurious with postprandial ease. "How did Kaye die?"
He supposed the question was her way of giving him support, to show interest, but he would rather forget the ugly little act and concentrate on the joy that was its reward.
"I had to use the chloroform on a dog."
Miriam reached over and kissed him on the cheek, then took his hand. She was so sensitive; she knew from that one remark all that had occurred, the difficulties he had endured.
"They all end up the same sooner or later. I'm sure you were very humane. She probably never really understood what was happening to her."
"I miscalculated. I should have anticipated the dog. That's all that's bothering me."
But it wasn't, not quite. There was also this feeling, strange and yet remembered. He was tired. It had been a very long time since he had felt so.
"You can never give a perfect death. There will always be suffering."
Yes, that was true And even after all these years he did not like to inflict suffering. But it shouldn't weigh on him like this. Feeding was supposed to make you feel vital and alive.
This could only be a passing phase, the result of his been thrown off-balance by the dog. He decided to dismiss it from his mind. He turned to the window, stared out.
The night was magnificent. He had always seen a great truth in the dark, a kind of joy, something forgiving of such violence as his. Thinking of it brought a welcome sense of justification.
The lights of towns came and went. John felt deeply in love with it all. He allowed himself a little of the pleasure of the kill, reflecting how he was fundamentally happy in his life.
Before he quite realized it, his eyes had closed. The humming of the car began to mingle with the voices of memory, distant memory.
His eyes snapped open. This was not normal. He opened the sun roof to let in some cool air. The pattern of their lives was extremely regular. You slept six out of twenty-four hours, and it came upon you about four hours after you ate.
What, then, was this? ~