WHILE MY PRETTY ONE SLEEPS
From Chapter One
It took three hours to get back into the city. The driving became more treacherous and he tried to keep his distance from other cars. He didn't need a fender bender. Months from now no one would have any reason to know that he'd been out of the city today.
It worked according to plan. He stopped for a split second on Ninth Avenue and got rid of the plastic bag.
At eight o'clock he was delivering the car back to the gas station on Tenth Avenue that rented old cars as a sideline. Cash only. He knew they didn't keep records.
At ten o'clock, freshly showered and changed, he was in his place, gulping straight bourbon and trying to shake the sudden chilling attack of nerves. His mind went over every instant of the time that had elapsed since he'd stood in Ethel's apartment yesterday and listened to her sarcasm, her ridicule, her threats.
Then she'd known. The antique dagger from her desk in his hand. Her face filled with fear and she'd started to back away.
The exhilaration of slashing that throat, of watching her stumble backward through the archway to the kitchen and collapse onto the ceramic-tile floor.
He still was amazed at how calm he'd been. He'd bolted the door so that by some crazy trick of fate the superintendent or a friend with a key couldn't walk in. Everyone knew how eccentric Ethel could be. If someone with a key found that the door was bolted, they'd assume she didn't want to be bothered answering.
Then he had stripped his clothes off down to his underwear and put on his gloves. Ethel had been planning to go away to write a book. If he could get her out of here, people would think she'd left on her own. She wouldn't be missed for weeks, even months.
Now, gulping a mouthful of bourbon, he thought about how he had selected clothes from her closet, changing her from the blood-soaked caftan, pulling her pantyhose on, slipping her arms into the blouse and the jacket, buttoning the skirt, taking off her jewelry, forcing her feet into pumps. He winced as he remembered the way he'd held her up so that blood spurted over the blouse and the suit. But it was necessary. When she was found, if she was found, they had to think she'd died in that outfit.
He had remembered to cut out the labels that would have meant immediate identification. He had found the long plastic bag in the closet, probably returned by a cleaner on an evening gown. He had forced her into it, then cleaned the bloodstains that had spattered on the Oriental throw rug, washed the kitchen tile with Clorox, packed the suitcases with clothes and accessories, all the while working frantically against time....
He refilled the glass to the brim with bourbon, remembering when the phone had rung. The answering machine had come on and the sound of Ethel's rapid speech pattern. "Leave a message. I'll get back when and if I feel like it." It had made his nerves scream. The caller broke the connection and he'd turned off the machine. He didn't want a record of people calling, and perhaps remembering broken appointments later.
Ethel had the ground-floor apartment of a four-story brownstone. Her private entrance was to the left of the stoop that led to the main entry. In effect her door was shielded from the view of anyone walking along the street. The only period of vulnerability was the dozen steps from her door to the curb.
In the apartment, he'd felt relatively safe. The hardest part had come when, after he hid Ethel's tightly wrapped body and luggage under her bed, he opened the front door. The air had been raw and damp, the snow obviously about to begin falling. The wind had cut a sharp path into the apartment. He'd closed the door immediately. It was only a few minutes past six. The streets were busy with people coming home from work. He'd waited nearly two hours more, then slipped out, double-locked the door and gone to the cheap car rental. He'd driven back to Ethel's apartment. Luck was with him. He was able to park almost directly in front of the brownstone. It was dark and the street was deserted.
In two trips he had the luggage in the trunk. The third trip was the worst. He'd pulled his coat collar up, put on an old cap he'd found on the floor of the rented car and carried the plastic bag with Ethel's body out of the apartment. The moment when he slammed the trunk down had brought the first sense that he'd surely make it to safety.
It had been hell to go back into the apartment, to make certain that there was no trace of blood, no sign that he'd been there. Every nerve shrieked at him to get to the state park, to dump the body, but he knew that was crazy. The police might notice someone trying to get into the park at night. Instead he left the car on the street six blocks away, followed his normal routine and at 5 A.M. set out with the very early commuters....
It was all right now, he told himself. He was safe!
It was just as he was draining the last warming sip of bourbon that he realized the one ghastly mistake he had made, and knew exactly who would almost inevitably detect it.
Copyright © 1989 by Mary Higgins Clark