Ashley was waiting at the restaurant when her father walked in. Again, she saw the admiring glances of recognition on people's faces. Her father was a famous man. Would he risk everything he had just to--
He was at the table.
"It's good to see you, sweetheart. Sorry about our Christmas dinner."
She forced herself to say, "So am I."
She was staring at the menu, not seeing it, trying to get her thoughts together.
"What would you like?"
"I - I'm not really hungry," she said.
"You have to eat something. You're getting too thin."
"I'll have the chicken."
She watched her father as he ordered, and she wondered if she dared to bring up the subject.
"How was Quebec City?"
"It was very interesting," Ashley said. "It's a beautiful place."
"We must go there together sometime."
She made a decision and tried to keep her voice as casual as possible. "Yes. By the way... last June I went to my ten-year high school reunion in Bedford."
He nodded. "Did you enjoy it?"
"No." She spoke slowly, choosing her words carefully. "I - I found out that the day after you and I left for London, Jim Cleary's body... was found. He had been stabbed... and castrated." She sat there, watching him, waiting for a reaction.
Dr. Patterson frowned. "Cleary? Oh, yes. That boy who was panting after you. I saved you from him, didn't I?"
What did that mean? Was it a confession? Had he saved her from Jim Cleary by killing him?
Ashley took a deep breath and went on. "Dennis Tibble was murdered the same way. He was stabbed and castrated."
She watched her father pick up a roll and carefully butter it. When he spoke, he said, "I'm not surprised, Ashley. Bad people usually come to a bad end."
And this was a doctor, a man dedicated to saving lives. I'll never understand him, Ashley thought. I don't think I want to.
By the time dinner was over, Ashley was no closer to the truth.
Toni said, "I really enjoyed Quebec City, Alette. I'd like to go back someday. Did you have a good time?"
Alette said shyly, "I enjoyed the museums."
"Have you called your boyfriend in San Francisco yet?"
"He's not my boyfriend."
"I'll bet you want him to be, don't you?"
"Why don't you call him?"
"I don't think it would be proper to - "
They arranged to meet at the De Young Museum.
"I really missed you," Richard Melton said. "How was Quebec?"
"I wish I had been there with you."
Maybe one day, Alette thought hopefully. "How is the painting coming along?"
"Not bad. I just sold one of my paintings to a really well-known collector."
"Fantastic!" She was delighted. And she could not help thinking. It's so different when I'm with him. If it were anyone else, I would have thought, Who is tasteless enough to pay money for your paintings? or Don't give up your day job or a hundred other cruel remarks. But I don't do that with Richard.
It gave Alette an incredible feeling of freedom, as though she had found a cure for some debilitating disease.
They had lunch at the museum.
"What would you like?" Richard asked. "They have great roast beef here."
"I'm a vegetarian. I'll just have a salad. Thank you."
A young, attractive waitress came over to the table. "Hello, Richard."
Unexpectedly, Alette felt a pang of jealousy. Her reaction surprised her.
"Are you ready to order?"
"Yes. Miss Peters is going to have a salad, and I'm going to have a roast beef sandwich."
The waitress was studying Alette. Is she jealous of me? Alette wondered. When the waitress left, Alette said, "She's very pretty. Do you know her well?" Immediately she blushed. I wish I hadn't asked that.
Richard smiled. "I come here a lot. When I first came here, I didn't have much money. I'd order a sandwich, and Bernice would bring me a banquet. She's great."
"She seems very nice," Alette said. And she thought, She has fat thighs.
After they had ordered, they talked about artists.
"One day I want to go to Giverny," Alette said, "where Monet painted."
"Did you know Monet started out as a caricaturist?"
"It's true. Then he met Boudin, who became his; teacher and persuaded him to start painting out of doors. There's a great story about that. Monet got so hooked on painting out of doors that when he decided to paint a picture of a woman in the garden, with a canvas over eight feet high, he had a trench dug in the garden so he could raise or lower the canvas by pulleys. The picture is hanging at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris."
The time went by swiftly and happily.
After lunch, Alette and Richard walked around looking at the various exhibits. There were more than forty thousand objects in the collection, everything from ancient Egyptian artifacts to contemporary American paintings.
Alette was filled with the wonderment of being with Richard and her complete lack of negative thoughts. Che cosa significa?
A uniformed guard approached them. "Good afternoon, Richard."
"Afternoon, Brian. This is my friend, Alette Peters. Brian Hill."
Brian said to Alette, "Are you enjoying the museum?"
"Oh, yes. It's wonderful."
"Richard's teaching me to paint," Brian said.
Alette looked at Richard. "You are?"
Richard said modestly, "Oh, I'm just guiding him little bit."
"He's doing more than that, miss. I've always wanted to be a painter. That's why I took this job at the museum because I love art. Anyway, Richard comes here and paints. When I saw his work, I thought, I want to be like him. So I asked him if he'd teach me, and he's been great. Have you seen any of his paintings?"
"I have," Alette said. "They're wonderful."
When they left him, Alette said, "It's lovely of you to do that, Richard."
"I like to do things for people," and he was looking at Alette.
When they were walking out of the museum, Richard said, "My roommate is at a party tonight. Why don't we stop up at my place?" He smiled. "I have some paintings I'd like to show you."
Alette squeezed his hand. "Not yet, Richard."
"Whatever you say. I'll see you next weekend?"
And he had no idea how much she was looking forward to it.
Richard walked Alette to the parking lot where she had parked her car. He waved good-bye as she drove off.
As Alette was going to sleep that night, she thought. It's like a miracle. Richard has freed me. She fell asleep, earning of him.
At two o'clock in the morning, Richard Melton's roommate, Gary, returned from a birthday party. The apartment was dark. He switched on the lights in the living room. "Richard?"
He started toward the bedroom. At the door he looked inside and was sick to his stomach.
"Calm down, son." Detective Whittier looked at the shivering figure in the chair. "Now, let's go over it again. Did he have any enemies, someone mad enough at him to do this?"
Gary swallowed. "No. Everyone... everyone liked Richard."
"Someone didn't. How long have you and Richard lived together?"
"Were you lovers?"
"For God's sake," Gary said indignantly. "No. We were friends. We lived together for financial reasons."
Detective Whittier looked around the small apartment. "Sure as hell wasn't a burglary," he said. "There's nothing here to steal. Was your roommate seeing anyone romantically?"
"No - Well, yes. There was a girl he was interested in. I think he was really starting to like her."
"Do you know her name?"
"Yes. Alette. Alette Peters. She works in Cupertino."
Detective Whittier and Detective Reynolds looked at each other.
"Jesus," Reynolds said.
Thirty minutes later, Detective Whittier was on the phone with Sheriff Dowling. "Sheriff, I thought you might be interested to know that we have a murder here that's the same M.O. as the case you had in Cupertino - multiple stab wounds and castration."
"I just had a talk with the FBI. Their computer shows that there have been three previous castration killings very similar to this one. The first one happened in Bedford, Pennsylvania, about ten years ago, the next one was a man named Dennis Tibble - that was your case - then there was the same M.O. in Quebec City, and now this one."
"It doesn't make sense. Pennsylvania... Cupertino... Quebec City... San Francisco... Is there any link?"
"We're trying to find one. Quebec requires passports. The FBI is doing a cross-check to see if anyone who was in Quebec City around Christmas was in any of the other cities at the times of the murders...."
When the media got wind of what was happening, their stories were splashed across the front pages across the world:
SERIAL KILLER LOOSE...
QUATRES HOMMES BRUTALEMENT TUES ET CASTRES...
SUCHT WIRD EIN MANN DER SEINE OFFER KAS-TRIERT...
QUATTRO UOMINI SONO STATI CASTRATI E UCCISI.
On the networks, self-important psychologists analyzed the killings.
"... and all the victims were men. Because of the way they were stabbed and castrated, it is undoubtedly the work of a homosexual who..."
"...so if the police can find a connection between the victims, they will probably discover that it was the work of a lover the men had all scorned...."
"... but I would say they were random killings committed by someone who had a dominating mother...."
Saturday morning, Detective Whittier called deputy Blake from San Francisco.
"Deputy, I have an update for you."
"I just got a call from the FBI. Cupertino is listed as the residence of an American who was in Quebec on the date of the Parent murder."
"That's interesting. What's his name?"
"Her. Patterson. Ashley Patterson."
At six o'clock that evening, deputy Sam Blake rang the bell at Ashley Patterson's apartment.
About the book:
Computer whiz Ashley Patterson is convinced she is being stalked. Coworker Toni Prescott has a penchant for Internet dating and little time for anyone else. And Alette Peters prefers quiet weekends in the arms of a beefcake artist. They know virtually nothing about each other--until the three women are linked by a murder investigation that will lead to one of the most bizarre trials of the century.
Spellbinding and inexorably engaging, Sheldon's masterpiece is perhaps the best thriller ever penned down by a writer.
Excerpt from Dark Places
- Gillian Flynn
Excerpt from The Master and Margarita
- Mikhail Bulgakov