Night Games - Collin Wilcox - ebook
Opis

Hastings investigates a murder among a set of wealthy adulterers. By the time Haney and the woman get to her apartment, they are so drunk they can hardly get through the door. They undress and begin to fool around, but before they make it to the bedroom, they have an argument. Haney is about to leave when the woman starts to laugh at him. He spins around and slugs her as hard as he can. His head is beginning to clear by the time he makes it home. He's just sober enough to notice the glint of a dagger before it's buried in his gut. Haney's wife finds his body at the foot of the stairs. She calls the police, but cannot tell them the truth about the evening - that she and her husband were both in other people's beds. Lieutenant Frank Hastings has no trouble interrogating criminals, but untangling this web of marital lies will be one of the trickiest cases of his career.

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Contents

Cover

About the Book

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

FRIDAY NIGHT

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

SATURDAY

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-one

Twenty-two

SUNDAY

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

MONDAY

One

Two

Three

Looking for more suspense?

Cover

Begin Reading

About the Book

Hastings investigates a murder among a set of wealthy adulterers.

By the time Haney and the woman get to her apartment, they are so drunk they can hardly get through the door. They undress and begin to fool around, but before they make it to the bedroom, they have an argument. Haney is about to leave when the woman starts to laugh at him. He spins around and slugs her as hard as he can. His head is beginning to clear by the time he makes it home. He’s just sober enough to notice the glint of a dagger before it’s buried in his gut.

Haney’s wife finds his body at the foot of the stairs. She calls the police, but cannot tell them the truth about the evening—that she and her husband were both in other people’s beds. Lieutenant Frank Hastings has no trouble interrogating criminals, but untangling this web of marital lies will be one of the trickiest cases of his career.

About the Author

Collin Wilcox (1924–1996) was an American author of mystery fiction. Born in Detroit, he set most of his work in San Francisco, beginning with 1967’s The Black Door - a noir thriller starring a crime reporter with extrasensory perception. Under the pen name Carter Wick, he published several standalone mysteries including The Faceless Man (1975) and Dark House, Dark Road (1982), but he found his greatest success under his own name, with the celebrated Frank Hastings series.

Night Games

A Lt. Hastings Mystery

Collin Wilcox

 

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Copyright © 2015 by Bastei Lübbe AG, Schanzenstraße 6-20, 51063 Cologne, Germany

 

For the original edition:

Copyright © 2013 by The Mysterious Press, LLC, 58 Warren Street, New York, NY. U.S.A.

 

Copyright © 1986

 

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Cover design by Michel Vrana

 

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All rights reserved, including without limitation the right to reproduce this e-book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the publisher.

 

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

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED

TO THE MEMORY OF MY FATHER,

WHO WAS A GOOD MAN.

FRIDAY NIGHT

One

HANEY WATCHED HER TAKE a key from her purse, watched her fumble, watched her finally slip the key in the lock. But the lock refused to turn. Mumbling, she twisted the key, struggled with the knob, twisted the key again. When they’d come up the stairs, their arms circling each other’s waists, she’d missed a step, giggling as she fell against him.

She’d had—how many drinks had she had? Eight? Ten?

Walking from the bar to his car, thigh to thigh, they’d blundered giddily down the sidewalk, as heedless as two drunken teen-agers, and just as horny.

If she’d had eight drinks, or ten, then he’d had—he frowned, calculating. He’d had two drinks, at least, before they’d started drinking together. Two drinks, or maybe three. Say three. Meaning that, if she’d had eight, then he’d had eleven. And if she’d had ten, he’d had thirteen.

They should’ve taken a cab. He should’ve left the car, insisted they take a cab to her place. But he’d told her about the car. And, predictably, it had excited her: a Ferrari. Also predictably, she’d never ridden in a Ferrari, never known anyone who’d owned a Ferrari.

Did she know, could she comprehend, the magnitude of her own predictability? Did she realize how perfectly she fitted the stereotype of the San Francisco single? Every word, every gesture, every innuendo was a cliché: her body, her clothes, her mannerisms—everything fitted, with no surprises, nothing left to the imagination. She’d been amazed how much he’d been able to tell her about herself, amazed at the accuracy of his guesses: the kind of job she had, the kind of place she lived in, the kind of man she’d married—and then divorced. Estelle Blair, insurance rate clerk. Late twenties. Salary, probably twenty thousand. During the workweek, she toiled at her desk. At night she watched TV, perhaps went to a movie, perhaps took a Spanish class. Then, Thursday night, she tidied up her apartment, laid in some chilled white wine for Friday evening—and some orange juice, perhaps, for Saturday morning. Friday morning she dressed with special care, making sure that her breasts and her buttocks were displayed to maximum advantage. Then, after work on Friday, she made her way to Vanessi’s. She …

The lock clicked; the door swung open. Still giggling, now playing the part of the deliciously naughty schoolgirl, she dropped the key into her purse and stepped inside, striking her shoulder on the doorframe.

Their night’s adventure was about to begin.

In the tiny entryway, Haney closed the door, tested the latch, then turned to the darkened living room. Framed by the outside light of a floor-to-ceiling window, she stood beside a couch. As he moved toward her, he glanced quickly around the room. Was it a studio apartment, so called, with no bedroom? Did the couch, therefore, make into a bed? If it did, and if she chose not to break their rhythm by the effort required to convert the couch into a bed, then they had two choices: screw on the couch, with their legs hanging off, or else screw on the floor.

Behind her now, he drew her close. She responded instantly, fitting her body fiercely to his as he caressed her breasts, her belly, her pubis. Reaching behind, her hands found his buttocks as his tongue explored the corded flesh of her neck below the ear. Breathing harshly, she suddenly twisted her body in his arms, facing him fully. She was on her toes; her body was writhing, incredibly alive, pressed savagely to his, demanding that the raw, wild rhythm of his body match hers.

Then, tearing her mouth from his, she moaned: “Oh, Jesus. Come on. Jesus, come on.” She drew him to the couch, drew him down on top of her as her hands stroked his genitals, then fumbled at his belt buckle.

Two

KATHERINE HANEY LAY ON her back, staring at the ceiling. Beside her, also lying face up, Jeffrey Wade blew a lazy plume of smoke toward the ceiling. In the darkness, Katherine’s lips curved into a small, wry smile. They’d been lovers—extramarital lovers—for only two months. But, already, habit patterns were emerging: small, subtle predictabilities. After he made love, after he’d dutifully held her close for a few minutes, he inevitably rolled away from her and lit a cigarette. He’d asked her once whether she minded his smoking, afterwards. She’d answered that, yes, she sometimes minded. He hadn’t responded—and hadn’t asked the question again.

She glanced at the clock and sighed. Soon, she would get out of bed, get dressed, go home. She looked at the chair where her clothes were neatly hung. Two months ago, she’d thrown her clothes on the floor, her clothes mingled with his, proof of their passion.

“When’s James going east?” He spoke slowly, in a low, rich voice. Like his habits of movement, his speech mannerisms were deliberate. From the very first, she’d realized that Wade was playing a part, acting out a role. But the part he played was engaging: a moderately young, moderately successful “downtown” real estate salesman. In certain circles of with-it San Franciscans, it was a role he could manage with convincing assurance.

“He’s leaving on Tuesday,” she answered. “He’s going to Dallas first, then on to New York.”

“When’ll he be back?”

“Friday, probably. Or maybe Monday.”

“Why don’t we go to Mexico for two or three days? Acapulco.”

“No, thanks.”

“Why not?” A note of petulance underlined the question.

“No reason, particularly. I just don’t want to go.”

“With me, you mean.”

“I didn’t say that.”

In a moody silence, he blew another plume of smoke toward the ceiling. Finally he said, “I don’t really understand what it is you think you’re doing, Katherine. I mean, here we are, in bed. And your husband, you say, is probably in someone else’s bed. It’s a—an arrangement, you say. An understanding. But with us it’s never more than a succession of one-night stands, not really. We get together, we get it on for an hour or two, and then you get dressed and go home. That’s it. That’s all there ever is.”

Aware that irritation was agitating the tensions that sex had just soothed, she chose to say nothing. After only two months, Jeffrey Wade was joining that lengthening procession of querulous men who couldn’t content themselves with the simple act of physical love she offered. Always, they wanted more.

“Why don’t you call your lawyer?” The petulance in his voice was more insistent now, demanding an answer. “Get a divorce, for God’s sake. Give yourself a break.”

“What you really mean is that you want me to give you a break. You. Not me. You.” As she spoke, she pushed herself up in bed. With love’s afterglow fading so fast, she was conscious of her bared breasts, conscious of his eyes on her. She was aware, too, that her voice was cold. How could it happen so fast? One moment they were languorous lovers. A moment later they were talking like strangers. All because he imagined that an orgasm gave him the right to manage her life.

She heard him laugh: one short, sharp, bitter exhalation. “You’re a hard case, Katherine. You really are. Why don’t you lighten up? Smile a little. Just a little.”

She answered in a low, even voice: “You said you wanted to go to Acapulco. I said I didn’t want to go. The reason I don’t want to go is Maxine. She’s eleven, and she’s in the sixth grade. When she comes home from school, I try to be there. I don’t always make it, but I try. Which is why I don’t see myself running off to Mexico. Which is also, incidentally, the reason I’m not going to divorce James. I’ve already been divorced. Twice. Maxine already has one father and one stepfather. That’s enough. At least for now, that’s enough.”

“The loving mother.” Now he was mocking her. “I had no idea.”

“Just a mother,” she answered, measuring the words with icy precision. “That’s enough. Just a mother.”

Three

SITTING ON THE COUCH with his back to her, Haney groped in the darkness for his undershorts. He felt her naked body moving against the bare flesh of his buttocks. With his head down, still groping, he couldn’t keep the room steady, couldn’t keep the floor from tilting, couldn’t keep the walls aligned. In his throat he felt the bitterness of bile. Would he be sick? Having already humiliated him once, would his body shame him a second time?

Who was she, this woman named Estelle Blair, this floozy he’d found on a bar stool who had witnessed his disgrace, his impotency? A few hours ago, she’d been unknown to him. Yet now she was the single person, the only person on earth, with whom he shared this shameful secret.

He’d told her the truth, told her that never before had it happened to him. No matter how much he drank, he could always get it up.

Did she believe him?

No.

Even in the dim light cast by the single window, he’d seen the disbelief in her eyes, heard the derision in her voice.

If she laughed at him, if she snickered, he’d hit her with his fist. He’d leave her bloody on her cheap, cold-to-the-skin Naugahyde couch.

He found his undershorts, drew them up over his knees, over his buttocks. His trousers were next, a mound of shapeless cloth on the floor.

“It’s the booze,” she was saying. “Let’s try it again, sometime. Any time.”

With his trousers up to his mid-thighs he rose, steadied himself with one hand on the arm of the couch, drew up the pants. As he buckled his belt and checked to see that his wallet was safe, he heard her speak again:

“What you did—you know—with your hand, that was fine. I feel fine. Really fine.” But, as she spoke, he could hear amusement in her voice. Amusement—derision—he could hear it all, searing his consciousness.

“I’m glad you feel fine.” He turned away, toward the line of light on the floor that marked the hallway door. He had taken just one step when he heard it: a giggle, then a laugh. He whirled, raised his arm, swung his clenched fist, felt the fist strike flesh.

Four

HANEY SWITCHED OFF THE Ferrari’s engine, took the key from the ignition, checked the switches. He sat for a moment with his forehead resting on the walnut-rimmed steering wheel, breathing deeply. From Estelle Blair’s apartment building to his house in Pacific Heights, the distance was less than two miles. In those two miles, twice, he’d only narrowly avoided collisions. Once he’d pulled sharply to the curb, swung open the door, vomited in the street.

But the nausea was gone now; the last mile with the window open had cleared his head. The world was steadier; the concrete floor of the garage wasn’t tilting, wasn’t undulating.

Concentrating, he walked a straight line to the service door that led into the house. Katherine had hung a small mirror on the wall beside the door. With one hand braced against the garage wall, he stood staring at his reflection. It was a gratifying reflection, he decided, even an arresting one. The face was strong, decisive. Even the dark, thick hair conveyed a vitality, a kind of static energy. Beneath heavy brows, the brown eyes were hard, uncompromising, undimmed by the liquor he’d drunk. The mouth, too, was decisive. It was a face accustomed to command, a face that expressed a restless, combative energy.

Gravely self-satisfied, he nodded to himself in the mirror. Then he twisted his key in the alarm socket, opened the door, switched off the garage light and entered the house through a small rear hallway. At eleven-thirty, the house was completely quiet. From the street, he’d seen only the downstairs lights lit. Maxine, then, was asleep, upstairs. Amy was in the study, probably also sleeping.

Still concentrating, he walked through a large central hallway to the living room, dimly lit by a single lamp. He crossed to the bar, took a glass, poured it half full of bourbon. He was home now. Safe. Secure, and safe. Already the burn of the bourbon was excising the memory of Estelle Blair, naked on her Naugahyde couch.

With the drink in his hand, he switched off the lamp and sank into a large wing chair. He would finish the drink, go upstairs, undress, get into his pajamas. The time was not yet midnight. The night was far from finished. Not for him. Not for countless others. San Francisco on Friday night was a cacophony of desire, a symphony of sex, rising to crescendo. At that moment, that very moment, countless orgasms were being consummated.

One of them doubtless Katherine’s.

At the thought, he smiled.

Katherine, naked, coupled with her lover …

This was the time, now, to let the image come freely to the surface of his consciousness, like some irresistible scum that he must minutely examine, must carefully commit to memory.

Because, later, the accuracy of the image would be essential to the intricacies of the night’s game, yet to be concluded.

Five

HE MOVED BACK FROM the wall, looked to the left, looked to the right, crouched low, flexed his knees. Because the top of the wall was spike-studded, he wore heavy gloves. He tugged at the gloves, looked again to the left, down the length of the dark alley, where a dog was fitfully barking. Now he turned again to the wall, eyes on the top, concentrating. He set himself—sprang forward. Two steps, three steps—a leap. His gloved hands gripped the top. He swung his right leg up, heaved with both arms. His toe found purchase on the top. His arms straightened, locked, supporting his body. Now he was kneeling on top of the wall, straddling the studs with his knees and hands. Quickly, he dropped to the ground inside the garden, landing on the balls of both feet. He remained motionless for a moment. Holding his breath, he listened to the night sounds: the dog still barking, a distant siren sounding. From the street came the muted mechanical muttering of a car, driving slowly. He turned to look at the house. Upstairs, the windows were dark. Downstairs, only one room was lit. It was a room with floor-to-ceiling windowpanes. Draperies covered the panes. The light came through the draperies, a muted golden glow.

Slowly, cautiously, he began moving toward the glow of the light.

Six

BAREFOOTED, DRESSED IN SILK pajamas, Haney stood perfectly still, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. Already, he could feel it beginning: the slight shortness of breath, the small, palpable knot of excitement at the center of himself, the tumescent tightening of his genitals.

But the time hadn’t come. Not yet. Not quite yet. First it was necessary to—

The darkness close beside him had thickened. Startled, he turned to face a figure with one arm upraised. The figure was human, but the sound it made was animal. The hand held a slim silvery shape. Instinctively, he knew it was a knife, meant for him.

Seven

KATHERINE LOOKED INTO THE rear-view mirror as she drove beneath the automatic garage door. Only last week, less than two blocks away, a family had been robbed when two men entered their garage while the overhead door was lowering behind their car.

She parked her silver Mercedes beside the red Ferrari. James, then, was home. Amy Miller had probably gone. And, since the house was dark, James was obviously in bed. His bed. Not hers.

She locked the car, checked herself in the mirror beside the service door. After keying the burglar alarm off, she slipped another key in the door. The key turned freely; the service door was unlocked. Frowning, she returned the key to her purse. Always, James locked the door when he came home. And he always left a light burning in his study, downstairs. But tonight, from the street, she hadn’t seen the light

She stepped through the door into a darkened hallway. She closed the door, set the lock, tested the latch. Yes, the door was secure. She flipped the burglar-alarm switch, saw the tiny red light come on above the door. The system was operating.

Why had James failed to lock the door? Since they’d been robbed, two months ago, he’d been almost fanatical about security. Immediately after the robbery he’d ordered the alarm people to upgrade the whole system. The bill, she remembered, had come to almost ten thousand dollars.

And why hadn’t he left a light burning in the study? What had happened, to change his habits?

She was standing motionless in the narrow service hallway, listening. Close by she heard a soft, furtive rustling. Had it come from the living room? From the study? Was someone on the broad staircase that led up to the second floor from the central hallway, just ahead?

James had two pistols. One was in his study, in a desk drawer. The other was upstairs, in a closet.

Should she call out? Should she try to wake James, try to warn him? What would she risk, calling out?

Should she go outside, through the garage? Could she find a phone, call the police?

No. Not within walking distance could she find someone willing to let her inside during the wee hours of Saturday morning. Not in Pacific Heights.

And while she was trying to find a phone, Maxine could be in danger. James could be drunk, sleeping it off, unable to help.

At the thought she realized that she was moving forward toward the intersection of the rear passageway and the central hall. It was as if she were responding to a will independent of her own, as if she were helpless to resist her own slow, inexorable progress down the darkened passageway.

As she came to the front hall, light from the small windows above the front door fell across the oak parquet floor. Now she could see the door of the living room. Another step, and she could see the study.

As she took the final step that gave her a full view of the central staircase, she realized that she was standing motionless, sniffing the air. It was as if she were an animal, existing at some primitive level of alertness.

As if, suddenly, all her senses were drawn so taut that the sensation caused her pain.

Eight

MAXINE BRETT WAS SHIVERING uncontrollably as she sat in the darkness at the top of the stairs. But the night, she knew, was warm. When she’d gone to sleep, she’d only covered herself with one light blanket. Now, with a heavy quilt thrown over her nightgown, she was numbed by a cold she’d never before experienced, had never before imagined. Her teeth were chattering. Her hands, clutching the blanket, were shaking. Her legs were trembling. If she hadn’t sat down on the top step, she would certainly have fallen.

Above the quilt bundled closely beneath her chin, the pale oval of her face was twisted into a mask of frozen terror. The muscles of her neck were cruelly corded. Her lips were drawn back from her teeth, as if she were screaming. She’d been perspiring heavily; her ash-blond hair was damp, clinging in lank curls to the pallid flesh of her forehead and cheeks. Her eyes were wide, inexorably fixed, focused by some force beyond her. Just as she was unable to will her body to move, so was she unable to wrench her gaze from the two figures at the bottom of the central staircase: her mother, bending over the blood-smeared figure of her stepfather’s body.

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