It's a beautiful spring day in the little city of Holloman, Connecticut. The year is 1967, and the world teeters on the brink of nuclear holocaust as the Cold War goes relentlessly on. But Holloman has other things to worry about--on April 3, 1967, twelve murders have taken place on one day. Suddenly Captain Carmine Delmonico, chief of detectives, has other, more important matters to occupy him than finding a satisfactory name for his infant son. With his cohorts Abe Goldberg and Corey Marshall giving him unfailing support, Carmine embarks on what looks like an insoluble case.
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Colleen McCullough (1937-2015) enjoyed worldwide renown, and her novels are bestsellers in a multitude of languages. She is the internationally acclaimed author of The Thorn Birds, Tim, An Indecent Obsession, A Creed for the Third Millennium, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, and other novels.
Charles Leggett is based in Seattle where he works onstage at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children's Theatre, ACT, Seattle Shakespeare Company, Portland Center Stage, The Empty Space, and Book-It Repertory Company, among many others. Charles' voice work is also featured in the video games Dungeon Siege I and II, and in Hoyle's Casino Empire.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Mr. Evan Pugh April 3, 1967
Dear Mr. Pugh,
I concede defeat. Your $100,000 has been placed in your room at college, as stipulated in your letter of March 29th. I will ensure that my presence in college seems innocent if I am detected. Please do not attempt to obtain more money from me. My pockets are empty.
Yours sincerely, Motor Mouth
Evan Pugh’s hands were shaking as he read this missive, put in his pigeonhole in a plain white envelope bearing his name and address typed with a carbon ribbon, like the letter. The dark square aperture of his pigeonhole had been empty every time he looked between going downstairs for his breakfast and the end of lunch. Now, at two thirty, he had his answer!
The corridors were empty as he wended his way up one curving set of open stairs at his end of the foyer; Paracelsus was a new college, of gloriously clean and sweeping lines, and had been designed by a world-famous architect who was a Chubb alumnus. It suffered the bleak austerity of his style too: Vermont marble floors and walls, glass-enclosed pebble gardens too small to enter, white lighting, minimal ornamentation. Upstairs, where Evan’s dormitory was located, the white marble was replaced by grey-painted walls and a grey rubber floor—very practical, but airy and spacious. As were the rooms, for which reason Paracelsus’s inmates loved their architect dearly. Of course, he himself had suffered the horrors of sharing a cubicle in a college built in 1788, so he had endowed Paracelsus with big rooms and plenty of bathrooms.
Upstairs was deserted too. Evan sidled along the corridor and let himself into his quarters with a swift glance around to make sure that his roommate, Tom Wilkinson, was in class with the rest of the sophomores in this wing of a pre-med oriented college. You had to be sure: even earnest types like pre-meds sometimes cut class. But he was alone. He was safe.
Amazingly, the room wasn’t cluttered. Both young men owned cars, so no bicycles were in evidence, and the floor was free of the usual heaps of boxes students seemed to accumulate. A floor-to-ceiling bookcase separated their big desks, above which were the windows, and the oversized single beds stood one to either side of the entrance door. In each long wall was another door. Wilkinson, a joyous youth, had stuck posters of sexy movie stars on his walls, but Evan Pugh’s were bare save for a corkboard on which were pinned notes and a few photographs.
He went straight to his desk; its surface was exactly as he had left it all day. None of its drawers was locked. Evan opened each one in turn and went through it, debating how large the bundle of cash might be. That depended upon the denomination of the notes, he concluded as he closed the last drawer. No cash, no bundle of any size. He looked across at his bed, a tangle of sheets and blankets, then went to it and rummaged fiercely from top to bottom—no bundle of cash on it, in it, or under it.
Next he checked the bookshelves with the same result, after which he stood wondering how he had been such a fool. How would his quarry know which side of the room was his? Or even that there were sides? Tom was untidy, but a careful ransacking of every part of his side revealed no bundle.
Remained only the closets. This time Evan went through Tom’s first, without success. Then he opened the door to his own. In these walk-in closets the architect’s true genius showed best, for he was one of those men who never forgot any aspect of his past, nor failed to understand how much junk young men—and women!—could accumulate during the course of a year occupying the same room. The walk-in closets ran the full length of the room and were three feet wide; at one end were racks of drawers, then came open shelves, then, for a full half of the area, vacant space. Only in the matter of lighting were they poorly equipped, as a result of the Dean’s fear of fire in an enclosed area. Twenty-five-watt bulbs, no brighter! On springs, the doors closed after they were opened, yet another crotchet of the Dean’s; he abhorred disorder and deemed open doors and drawers a danger as well as a legal liability.
Evan flicked the closet light on and stepped inside; the door swung shut behind him, but he was used to that. He saw the bundle at once, hanging from the ceiling on a cord. He rushed to it eagerly, not surprised that his victim had chosen to secrete it inside an inside, nor that it hung in an area where there were no drawers or shelves. He didn’t look up at the ceiling; he looked no higher than the bundle, which even in the dim light he could see was bound tightly in Saran Wrap. The notes showed through clearly: hundred-dollar bills. They seemed new, their edges unswollen by the abuse of many fingers as they sat in a neat, flat brick.
Suddenly, his hands already grabbing at the brick, he stopped a moment to contemplate the magnitude of his coup, the triumph he couldn’t confide to anyone else as long as he wanted to blackmail Motor Mouth. Did he want to continue the blackmail? After all, he didn’t need the money; it was simply his choice of weapon. What he reveled in was the knowledge that he, Evan Pugh, a mere nineteen-year-old Chubb sophomore, had the power to torment another human being to the point of extreme mental torture. Oh, it was sweet! Of course he’d go on blackmailing Motor Mouth!
His movement resumed, he took hold of the plastic-wrapped packet. When it didn’t budge he yanked at it sharply, an impatient jerk that saw it come away, drop downward to his hips. His hands followed, unwilling to give up their prize.
In the same instant there was a loud sound incorporating both a roar and a swish. As the terrible pain invaded his upper arms and chest, Evan genuinely thought he had been bitten by a Tyrannosaurus rex. He dropped the brick of money and clutched at whatever was engulfing him, his fingers closing on cold steel fixed in his flesh—not one, but a whole row of daggers, deep in his flesh, down past the bone.
The shock had been too sudden for a scream, but now he began to scream shrilly, hoarsely, wondering why his mouth was full of foam, but screaming, screaming, screaming...
The noise percolated out of the closet into the room, but there was no one present to hear it. That it didn’t penetrate into the corridor was due to the architect, very much aware of soundproofing, and endowed besides with a bounteous budget. The Parsons wished something really first class if they had to part with a Rodin and some Henry Moores. Those couldn’t possibly be housed in or near rubbish.
It took Evan Pugh two hours to die, his lifeblood leaking away, his legs refusing to work, his breathing one distressed gasp after another. His only consolation as consciousness left him was that the police would find the money and Motor Mouth’s letter, still in his pocket.* * *
“I don’t believe it!” Captain Carmine Delmonico exclaimed. “And the day isn’t even over yet. What time is it, for God’s sake?”
“Getting on for six thirty,” came Patrick O’Donnell’s voice from inside the closet. “As you well know.”
Carmine stepped through the door, with its spring now disconnected, and into a surreal scene that looked as if it had been posed for Major Minor’s waxworks horror museum. Patsy had put two small klieg lights in the closet to replace the gloom of the Dean’s twenty-five-watt bulb, and every part of the interior was ablaze. The body took his eye first, hanging limply from the low ceiling, its upper arms and chest cruelly gripped in the jaws of something akin to a great white shark’s business end, but made of rusting steel.
“Jesus!” he breathed, carefully walking around as much of the body as he could. “Patsy, have you ever seen anything like this! And what the hell is it?”
“A king-sized bear trap, I think,” said Patsy.
“A bear trap? In Connecticut? Except maybe for somewhere up in Canada or hillbilly country, there hasn’t been a bear this side of the Rockies in a hundred years.” He peered closely at the youth’s upper chest, where the teeth had sunk in clear to the metal giving rise to them. “Though I guess,” he added like an afterthought, “there might be a few people with one of these tucked away in a forgotten corner of a barn.”
He stood back while Patrick finished his examination, then the two men looked at each other.
“I’m going to have to take the whole thing,” Patrick said. “I don’t dare pry him loose inside this closet—that thing must have a spring capable of taking a hand clean off if it gets away on us halfway through being forced open. This ceiling is much lower than the room’s, but there’s got to be a beam. What fun!”
“It’s not screwed down, it’s bolted,” Carmine said, “so a beam there must be. Chain saw time? Collapse of building?” He saw the plastic-wrapped packet and bent to inspect it. “Hmm ... Curiouser and curiouser, Patsy. Unless the interior is blank paper, this is a lot of money. Bait for the greedy. The kid saw it, made a grab for it, and literally sprung the trap.”
Having ascertained that, Carmine’s eyes took in the rest of the closet, which would have been a dream come true to a student, he reflected. Fifteen feet long, three feet wide, one end a bank of built-in drawers, next to them a series of open shelves, and the rest of the space given over to the storage of boxes, unwanted junk, the usual student impedimenta. The bear trap had been fixed over clear floor, not hard; the owner of the closet was neat and tidy.
“The guy who put the bear trap up knew his construction,” he said. “The bolts must be fixed in a jo...
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