THE KILLING GAME
Zebra, Genre: Suspense (June 28, 2016)
ISBN-10: 1420134663 ISBN-13: 978-1420134667
Read an Excerpt
I like games. All kinds. Crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, chess, Sudoku, Jumble, crytograms, board games, video games, card games. . . I’m good at them. I’m also good at mind games. Deception, trickery and lying come as naturally to me as breathing. There have been times when my emotions have taken over and nearly tripped me up, but now I have my rage and hate under control, for the most part. Still, emotions are part of the fuel that drives my favorite game: murder. Killing is the best game, by far. There is no comparison. The high that comes afterwards is better than sex.
The first time I killed it was because someone had become dangerous to me. The second time was just to see if I could get away with it, and I did, and it left me miles above the earth, so far out of reach it was like I lived on a distant planet. Untouchable. King of the Universe. I had to return to earth eventually with its banality, a hard landing. So, then I started plotting and planning again, constructing the next game in order to buoy myself into the stratosphere once more. The world is so gray and mundane without puzzles, twists, turns and mysteries, without someone’s life balanced on a razor’s edge.
My latest game has begun. It’s about retribution and acquisition, but no one is to know that. Shhhh. It’s our little secret. There’s some misdirection mixed in to the plot, to keep the cops at bay, and it’s got some moves my quarries will not expect. I’m really, really good. I tell myself to be humble, but I just can’t. The only way to lose is to get caught, but that’ll never happen.
This one’s going to take a while, require a few more steps than usual, but I’m into playing the long game. Makes the winning so much sweeter.
I’ve already made my opening gambit.
And her name’s Belinda. . .
The ferry plowed across surprisingly rough, gray waves, its running lights quivering against the black waters of Puget Sound. Belinda Meadowlark sat with a book at a table inside the upper deck, but though she read the same passage three times it was Rob’s handsome face she kept seeing superimposed on the page. Finally, she closed the hardback with a decided thump. It was a story about love and revenge and she couldn’t see how the ending was going to be anything but disappointing. She wanted happy endings. Always. Maybe because she’d had so few of them.
But that had all changed when she met Rob. He was gorgeous and funny and he struck up a conversation with her at the bar in Friday Harbor the previous April. OMG! When she recalled the way he sought her out it caused a hot thrill to run right from her hoohaw straight up to her breasts. My, my. She damn near had to fan herself. She could feel it even now, just at the thought, and her cheeks reddened and she looked around, almost certain someone would notice.
But there were only a few people on the ferry tonight and the ones that were had stayed on the lower deck.
Rob. . .she could still see the way his lustrous brown eyes had looked her over. “Do I know you?” he’d asked curiously, tilting his head in that way that made her want to grab him and squirm all over him.
Of course he didn’t know her. She was no beauty and she could stand to lose a few pounds, where he was casually handsome and looked totally fit. He’d been wearing short sleeves, even though it had been brisk with a capital BRRR that day that he’d stood outside the hotel, watching the passengers disembark from the last ferry. Belinda lived in Friday Harbor and had immediately tagged him as a tourist.
“I don’t think so.”
He’d slowly shaken his head, wagging it side to side. “No, we’ve met. . .”
“I would have remembered,” she rushed out, suddenly wishing it were so. He looked good enough to eat and he smelled a little like Old Spice and something darker and muskier.
He snapped his fingers. “Belinda,” he said. “And your last name’s. . .some bird name?”
She goggled at him and gasped aloud in shock and delight. “Meadowlark!”
“That’s right.” He grinned. “I remember now. You were pointed out to me at some event around here a year or so ago.”
She’d racked her brain, trying to think where she’d been that he would have seen her. “A year or so ago?”
“Right about then, I think.”
“I don’t know what that would be,” she’d murmured dubiously. “Maybe the clambake?” The owners of one of the restaurants near the harbor came from the east coast and put on an annual clambake, adding salmon to the menu to make it more Pacific Northwest, but it was really kind of a small affair and she’d only been there a minute or two before she had to leave.
“That sounds right,” he agreed after a moment of thought. “Well, what are you doing now? Can you have a drink? I’m buying.”
“I – need to go home. . .first.”
“Come back. I’ll be in the bar here.” He jerked his head in the direction of a small place called the Sand Bar. “I don’t know anybody else around here. My buddies all took off sailing, but I’m not heading home till tomorrow.”
“California. I’m based out of Los Angeles. I sell sports equipment up and down the west coast.”
Belinda had immediately thought about the pounds she needed to lose, and she’d been deeply embarrassed.
“Go on home,” Rob had encouraged, “but come back. “What do you like to drink? I’ll have one waiting for you.”
She didn’t drink, as a rule, but she didn’t want to seem unsophisticated so she said, “A cosmopolitan?”
“Perfect.” He’d smiled at her, a flash of white, then had headed toward the bar. She’d almost followed right after him, but she’d forced herself to go home first, then had looked in the mirror in despair. How could he be interested in her? It didn’t make sense. But then he was just trying to pass the time and he’d seen her and knew her. It couldn’t be from the clambake, though. She wanted it to be, but she’d barely stepped arrived at the beach when her mother had called and demanded she help with Grandpa who was raising hell at the nursing home again.
Who cares? she’d told herself as she squeezed into her best jeans and the purple blouse, real silk, that made her breasts look good and had a sexy shimmer in dim light, which the Sand Bar had in spades. Sometimes it was so dark you felt like you had to raise your hand four inches from your face to see it.
She’d hurried to meet him, slipping a little on the wet concrete walk that led to the Sand Bar’s front door, her new boots kind of pinchy and uncomfortable, but they looked good.
Inside, she followed the dull path of carpet to the darkened main bar where, luckily, a pink neon beer sign in the shape of a crab helped her make out some forms.
“Belinda!” Rob called, standing up at a table at the back of the room.
She threaded her way carefully toward him, decrying her bumpity bump hips as they brushed the tables. When she neared he reached out and grabbed her arm, guiding her the last few steps to a black Naugahyde bench. He sat right down beside her, their thighs touching, then he turned on his phone and used it like a flashlight to show her her drink.
“It’s really dark in here,” she said apologetically.
“I kind of like it.” And his hand had slipped along her forearm, sending her nerve endings into high gear.
She honestly couldn’t remember all that much about the rest of the evening, except that he drove her home and kissed her lightly on the lips at the front door of her crappy apartment. She’d told him she was a teacher’s aide, and had said she was working on her degree; she remembered that much. And she did recall throwing herself into his arms and planting a sloppy kiss back at him.
But he’d laughed, squeezed her, and said that he would keep in touch.
She’d thought that would be it, but he was as good as his word, texting her from every city he visited. Two weeks after that first encounter he was back, and that time she’d let him into her bedroom. Actually, she’d practically dragged him in and he’d made love to her so sweetly she’d fought back tears. Luckily, she hadn’t broken down and cried. How juvenile would that have been? At the door he’d kissed her hard enough to make her toes curl.
“When will you be back?” she’d asked, dying inside at the thought of not seeing him for a while. She would die without him. Just die.
“Next Saturday night. Take the last ferry out of Friday Harbor to Orcas Island,” he told her.
“The last ferry? I could come earlier,” she said eagerly.
“No. The last ferry. Go to the upper deck. I’ll have something special for you.”
So, here she was, cruising along. The sun had sunk into the sea and there was a quiet somnolence to the humming engines and near empty boat. She couldn’t concentrate on her book. She half-expected something amazing to happen, like he might suddenly appear or something, but so far there’d been no surprises.
Bzzz. She jumped when she heard the text.
I see you, little bird.
She looked around wildly, eagerly. He was here! But where?
And then she spied him on the outside deck, peering through the window at her. He lifted a hand in greeting, his teeth a grin of white. Abandoning her book, she ran to the door, sliding it open and was greeted by a slap of cold sea air and a buffeting wind. When she rounded the corner he’d disappeared from where he’d looked at her through the window. “Where are you?” she called, but the wind had risen and it felt like her words were thrown back into her throat.
He was behind her, grabbing her around the waist.
She laughed in delight and tried to turn to face him, but he wouldn’t have it. She realized he was humping her from behind.
“I want you, little bird. Right here. Right now.”
“Are you crazy?” she giggled. “Anybody could come up on us!”
“But they won’t. Come on.”
And then she was sprawled face down on the deck and he was yanking down her jeans and pulling up her hips, jamming himself inside her, pumping hard and fast. It hurt like hell, and she couldn’t help the little yelp of pain, though she tried to stifle it. She acquiesced, her eyes sliding around in fear, hoping against hope no one would discover them.
She was relieved when it was over. “Good, huh,” he breathed in her ear, one hand gripping her breast almost painfully.
“Good,” she murmured, reaching for the jeans that were pooled around her ankles. She was in an ungainly position, on her hands and knees, when he suddenly swooped her to her feet, finally turning her to look at him.
“My pants,” she whispered, trying to grab at them with her right hand.
“You don’t need them where you’re going.”
“Birds need to fly.”
And then he picked her up with furious strength and tossed her over the rail. She was so stunned she didn’t cry out until the black water closed over her head. She gulped in water, flailing, dragged down by the jeans tangled at her ankles, unable to kick with any strength. By the time she could make a sound the ferry had churned away into the blackness, and the wind shrieked louder than her voice. She screamed and screamed but she was no match for the gales that tore across the surface of the water.
The last sight she had on this earth were the ferry lights, growing smaller and smaller, finally winking out.
Then the black water closed over her head.