Locked Doors


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LOCKED DOORS

By Blake Crouch

Copyright © 2005 by Blake Crouch

Cover art copyright © 2010 by Jeroen ten Berge

All rights reserved.

LOCKED DOORS is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.

For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.

“Locked Doors,” from The Awful Rowing Toward God by Anne Sexton. Copyright © 1975 by Loring Conant, Jr., Executor of the Estate of Anne Sexton. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

For Rebecca, LOMFL

Acknowledgments

BEFORE we get started, I need to thank some wonderful people. My wife, Rebecca, has been there for me in every way possible—much love to the Becca. Linda Allen, Marcia Markland, Anna Cottle, and Mary Alice Kier are some of the savviest readers and kindest people I’ve ever known. My writers group—Shannon Richardson, Dinah Leavitt, Suzanne Tyrpak, Doug Walker, and Richard Koch—provided me with invaluable feedback and helped make this book readable for those who haven’t encountered Desert Places. Goddess of website design, Beth Tendall, conjured my internet presence with elegance and humor. Sandi Greene (how many mother-in-laws show up in the acknowledgements?) should be my North Carolina publicist. Andy Smith and Anne Walker gave me wonderful feedback. Bill Smith was kind enough to explain hypnosis to me and in the process damn near put me under. A double nod for the wonderful writer and inventor-extraordinaire, Doug Walker, who showed me how to build a homemade electric chair. My climbing buddy and master photographer, Paul Pennington, took some killer author photos. A standing ovation for the brilliant Detective Art Holland who walked me through the realities of crime scene investigation and inadvertently helped to unravel a crucial plot point. My brother, Jordan, inspired me immensely, particularly through the last hundred pages. And finally, a grateful bow to everyone at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colorado.

L U T H E R

For the angels who inhabit this town,

although their shape constantly changes,

each night we leave some cold potatoes

and a bowl of milk on the windowsill.

Usually they inhabit heaven where,

by the way, no tears are allowed.

They push the moon around like

a boiled yam.

The Milky Way is their hen

with her many children.

When it is night the cows lie down

but the moon, that big bull, stands up.

—Anne Sexton, “Locked Doors”

1

THE headline on the Arts and Leisure page read: “Publisher to Reissue Five Thrillers by Alleged Murderer, Andrew Z. Thomas.”

All it took was seeing his name.

Karen Prescott dropped The New York Times and walked over to the window.

Morning light streamed across the clutter of her cramped office—query letters and sample chapters stacked in two piles on the floor beside the desk, a box of galleys shoved under the credenza. She peered out the window and saw the fog dissolving, the microscopic crawl of traffic now materializing on Broadway through the cloud below.

Leaning against a bookcase that housed many of the hardcovers she’d guided to publication, Karen shivered. The mention of Andrew’s name always unglued her.

For two years she’d been romantically involved with the suspense novelist and had even lived with him during the writing of Blue Murder at the same lake house in North Carolina where many of his victims were found.

She considered it a latent character defect that she’d failed to notice anything sinister in Andy beyond a slight reclusive tendency.

My God, I almost married him.

She pictured Andy reading to the crowd in that Boston bookshop the first time they met. In a bathrobe writing in his office as she brought him fresh coffee (French roast of course). Andy making love to her in a flimsy rowboat in the middle of Lake Norman.

She thought of his dead mother.

The exhumed bodies from his lakefront property.

His face on the FBI website.

They’d used his most recent jacket photo, a black and white of Andy in a sports jacket sitting broodingly at the end of his pier.

During the last few years she’d stopped thinking of him as Andy. He was Andrew Thomas now and embodied all the horrible images the cadence of those four syllables invoked.

There was a knock.

Scott Boylin, publisher of Ice Blink’s literary imprint, stood in the doorway dressed in his best bib and tucker. Karen suspected he was gussied up for the Doubleday party.

He smiled, waved with his fingers.

She crossed her arms, leveled her gaze.

God he looked streamlined today—very tall, fit, crowned by thick black hair with dignified intimations of silver.

He made her feel little. In a good way. Because Karen stood nearly six feet tall, few men towered over her. She loved having to look up at Scott.

They’d been dating clandestinely for the last four months. She’d even given him a key to her apartment where they spent countless Sundays in bed reading manuscripts, the coffeestained pages scattered across the sheets.

But last night she’d seen him at a bar in SoHo with one of the cute interns. Their rendezvous did not look work-related.

“Come to the party with me,” he said. “Then we’ll go to Il Piazza. Talk this out. It’s not what you—”

“I’ve got tons of reading to catch up—”

“Don’t be like that, Karen, come on.”

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to have this conversation here, so…”

He exhaled sharply through his nose and the door closed hard behind him.

Joe Mack was stuffing his pink round face with a gyro when his cell phone started ringing to the tune of “Staying Alive.”

He answered, cheeks exploding with food, “This Joe.”

“Hi, yes, um, I’ve got a bit of an interesting problem.”

“Whath?”

“Well, I’m in my apartment but I can’t get the deadbolt to turn from the inside.”

Joe Mack choked down a huge mouthful, said, “So you’re locked in.”

“Exactly.”

“Which apartment?” He didn’t even try to mask the annoyance in his voice.

“Twenty-two eleven.”

“Name?”

“Um…I’m not the tenet. I’m Karen Prescott’s friend. She’s the—”

“Yeah, I get it. You need to leave any time soon?”

“Well, yeah, I don’t want to—”

Joe Mack sighed, closed the cell phone, and devoured the last of the gyro.

Wiping his hands on his shirt he heaved himself from a debilitated swivel chair and lumbered out of the office, locking the door behind him.

The lobby was quiet for midday and the elevator doors spread as soon as he pressed the button. He rode up wishing he’d bought three gyros for lunch instead of two.

The doors opened again and he walked onto the twenty-second floor, fishing the key ring containing the master from the pocket of his enormous overalls.

He belched.

It echoed down the empty corridor.

Man was he hungry.

He stopped at 2211, knocked, yelled through the door, “It’s the super!”

No one answered.

Joe Mack inserted the master into the deadbolt. It turned easily enough.

He pushed the door open.

“Hello?” he said, standing in the threshold, admiring the apartment—roomy, flat-screen television, lush deepblue carpet, an antique desk, great view of SoHo, probably loads of food in the fridge.

“Anybody home?”

He turned the deadbolt four times. It worked perfectly.

Another door opened somewhere in the hallway and approaching footsteps reverberated off the hardwood floor. Joe Mack glanced down the corridor at the tall man with black hair in a black overcoat strolling toward him from the stairwell.

“Hey, pal, were you the one who just called me?” Joe Mack asked.

The man with black hair stopped at the open doorway of 2211.

He smelled strange, of Windex and lemons.

“Yes, I was the one.”

“Oh. You get the lock to work?”

“I’ve never been in this apartment.”

“What the fuck did you call me for—”

Glint of a blade. The man held an ivory-hilted bowie. He swept its shimmering point across Joe Mack’s swollen belly, cleaving denim, cotton, several layers of skin.

“No, just wait just a second—”

The man raised his right leg and booted Joe Mack through the threshold.

The super toppled backward as the man followed him into the apartment, slammed the door, and shot the deadbolt home.

Karen left Ice Blink Press at 6:30 p.m. and emerged into a manic Manhattan evening, the sliver of sky between the buildings smoldering with dying sunlight, gilding glass and steel. It was the fourth Friday of October, the terminal brilliance of autumn fullblown upon the city, and as she walked the fifteen blocks to her apartment in SoHo, Karen decided that she wouldn’t start the manuscript in her leather satchel tonight.

Instead she’d slip into satin pajamas, have a glass of that organic chardonnay she’d purchased at Whole Foods Market, and watch wonderful mindless television.

It had been a bad week.

Pampering was in order.

At 7:55 she walked out of her bedroom in black satin pajamas that rubbed coolly against her skin. Her chaotic blond hair was twisted into a bun and held up by chopsticks from the Chinese food she’d ordered. Two unopened food cartons and a bottle of wine sat on the glass coffee table between the couch and the flat-screen television. Her apartment smelled of spicysweet sesame beef.

She plopped down and uncorked the wine.

Ashley Chambliss’s CD Nakedsongs had ended and in the perfect stillness of her apartment Karen conceded how alone she was.

Thirty-seven.

Single again.

Childless.

But I’m not lonely, she thought, turning on the television and pouring a healthy glass of chardonnay.

I’m just alone.

There is a difference.

After watching Dirty Dancing, Karen treated herself to a soak. She’d closed the bathroom door and a Yankee candle that smelled of cookie dough sat burning in a glass jar on the sink, the projection of its restless flame flickering on the sweaty plaster walls.

Karen rubbed her long muscular legs together, slippery with bath oil. Imagining another pair of legs sliding between her own, she shut her eyes, moved her hands over her breasts, nipples swelling, then up and down her thighs.

The phone was ringing in the living room.

She wondered if Scott Boylin were calling to apologize. Wine encouraged irrational forgiveness in Karen. She even wished Scott were in the bathtub with her. She could feel the memory of his water-softened feet gliding up her smooth shinbones. Maybe she’d call and invite him over. Give him that chance to explain. He’d be back from the Doubleday party.

Now someone was knocking at the front door.

Karen sat up, blew back the bubbles that had amassed around her head.

Lifting her wineglass by the stem she finished it off. Then she rose out of the water, took her white terrycloth bathrobe that lay draped across the toilet seat, and stepped unsteadily from the tub onto the mosaic tile. She’d nearly polished off the entire bottle of chardonnay and a warm and pleasant gale was raging in her head.

Karen crossed the living room heading toward the front door.

She failed to notice that the cartons of steamed rice and sesame beef were gone, or that a large gray trashcan now stood between the television and the antique desk she’d inherited from her grandmother.

She peeked through the peephole.

A young man stood in the hallway holding an enormous bouquet of rubyred roses.

She smiled, turned the deadbolt, opened the door.

“I have a delivery for Karen Prescott.”

“That’s me.”

The delivery man handed over the gigantic vase.

“Wait here, I’ll get you your tip.” She slurred her words a little.

“No ma’am, it’s been taken care of.” He gave her a small salute and left.

She relocked the door and carried the roses over to the kitchen counter. They were magnificent and they burgeoned from the cut-glass vase. She plucked the small card taped to the glass and opened it. The note read simply:

Look in the coat closet

Karen giggled. Scott was one hundred percent forgiven. Maybe she’d even do that thing he always asked for tonight.

She buried her nose in a rose, inhaled the dampsweet perfume. Then she cinched the belt of her bathrobe and walked over to the closet behind the couch, pulling open the door with a big smile that instantly died.

A naked man with black hair and a pale face peered down at her. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and swallowed.

The cartons of leftover Chinese food stood between his feet.

She stared into his black eyes, a strange coldness spreading through her.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she said.

The man grinned, his member rising.

Karen bolted for the front door but as she reached to unhook the chain he snatched a handful of her wet hair and swung her back into a mirror that shattered on the adjacent wall.

“Please,” she whimpered.

He punched her in the face.

Karen sank down onto the floor in bits of glass, anesthetized by wine and fear. Watching his bare feet, she wondered where her body would be found and by whom and in what condition.

He grabbed her hair into a ball with one hand and lifted her face out of the glass, the tiniest shards having already embedded themselves in her cheek.

He swung down.

She felt the dull thud of his knuckles crack her jaw, decided to feign unconsciousness.

He hit her again.

She didn’t have to.

2

ON the same Friday evening, Elizabeth Lancing lay in the grass at her home in Davidson, North Carolina, watching her children roughhouse in the autumn-cooled waters of Lake Norman.

Her husband Walter was on her mind.

Tomorrow would have been their seventeenth anniversary.

Pushing against her thighs, she rose and strolled barefoot down to the shore.

Jenna had wrangled John David in a headlock and was trying to dunk her younger stronger brother as their mother walked the length of the pier.

Beth sat down at the end where steps descended into the water.

She moved her fingers through wavy carbonblack hair just long enough to graze her shoulders. Her fingertips traced the lines these last brutal years had channeled into her face.

Beth knew she was plain. That was fine. She’d been plain her whole life.

What wasn’t fine was having the hard countenance of a fifty-year-old when she’d just turned thirty-eight. Lately she’d noticed how lived-in she looked. If Walter were still here maybe what few looks she had wouldn’t be deserting her.

She rolled her jeans up to her knees.

A rogue jet ski skimmed across the middle of the lake, invisible save for its brief intersection with a streak of moonlit water.

Beth’s feet slid into the liquid steel, touching the algae-slimed wood of the first submerged step.

It was a chilly night and she rubbed her bare arms, thinking, October is the cruelest month. Darling, has it been seven years?

In one week Beth would have to contend with another anniversary—this coming Halloween night would mark seven years since Walter’s disappearance.

The writer and murderer Andrew Thomas had been a close friend of her husband. Andrew’s old house still stood in the trees on the opposite side of the cove. Someone had taken up residence there in the last year and it was strange to see those lights across the lake again.

The circumstances attending Walter’s disappearance had grown no less bizarre or mystifying through the passage of seven years.

On a cold and wet Halloween night in 1996, he’d sat Beth down at the kitchen table and informed her that their family was in terrible danger.

He’d told her to take the kids away.

Refused to explain what was wrong.

Said all that mattered was getting Jenna and John David out of the house immediately.

She could still remember her husband’s eyes that night, carrying a component she’d not seen in them before—real fear.

Out beyond the steps, bubbles broke the surface and the water-slicked head of Jenna blossomed out of the lake.

My last image of my love—I see Walter in the rearview mirror as I drive away with our children into the rainy Halloween darkness. He is standing on the front porch signing “I love you,” his hands held high in the orange porchlight.

She never saw Walter again.

His white Cadillac was found two weeks later in Woodside, Vermont, parked near a dumpster, the driver seat slathered in his blood.

Beth knew in her heart that Andrew Thomas had killed her husband.

She could not begin to fathom why.

“Come in, Mom!”

Beth descended two more steps, the water now at her knees.

“It’s too cold, sweetie.”

“You’re such a wimp,” Jenna taunted, treading toward the steps. “I might just pull you in.”