A cautionary tale for men, the psychological suspense novel Fear Killer is the story of Emily Perrit, a beautiful but timid young woman victimized by an abusive, adulterous husband. Emily is attacked by an intruder in her home and she surprises herself by fighting off and finally killing the man. Seeing the fear in his dying eyes, something snaps inside her. She has never made anybody afraid before. She is no longer willing to be a victim. Her need to see that fear again becomes an obsession, with deadly consequences for men who come in contact with her, especially her husband who is having an affair with their neighbor, Rachel, who has her own agenda.
Police detective Martha Newton, who befriends Emily after the first attack, begins to investigate a series of murders that will eventually lead back to Emily. A new man in her life is an unwanted distraction. As the case becomes more complex, Newton brings in another cop, Stella Morris, to assist. Soon Stella begins to fall under Emily’s seductive influence. Chased deep into the snowy Colorado mountains, Emily must finally choose between escape and saving Martha’s life. Her humanity reluctantly resurfaces, but, her need to cause fear will never completely go away.
The father came home with a bang, slamming the door against the wall, swaying in the opening like an old piece of grass in a fickle breeze. The two children doing homework at the kitchen table recognized the familiar drunken glare of his close-set eyes. The eight year old girl saw a difference this time–the father’s gaze fixed on her.
“What’re you looking at?” the father said, words a slur of meanness. “Damn kids. Go to your rooms.”
He yanked open a cabinet door covered with layers of peeling paint and snatched up a bottle of cheap Scotch. The bottle slipped when he set it down and he fumbled for control of it. He held the bottle firmly with both hands and hung his round head for a few seconds as if offering a prayer. Then he stared over his shoulder at his daughter.
The blood rushing in her ears drowned out all other sound. That look, too, was familiar. She had seen him look at her mother like that and then they would go into their bedroom. The girl didn’t know what to make of the sounds that came through the door.
“Go to your rooms!” the father yelled. He strode to the table and swept the books and papers to the floor. “Get out!” He swatted at the boy who stood protectively by the girl.
The children scrambled out of the kitchen. They had their own tiny rooms, but when their father was drunk they stayed together in the ten-year old boy’s room.
“Your own rooms, God damn it!” the father yelled down the narrow hall.
“Don’t worry,” the boy whispered to his sister, “I’ll protect you.”
Reluctantly the girl let go of her brother’s hand and went into her room. She shut the door. Climbed up on her bed. With her favorite stuffed animal, a yellow bunny with a white face, clutched to her chest, the girl curled in the corner, cried softly, and waited.
The door opened. The father entered the room, shut the door. Shirt sleeves rolled up, tie loosened, he stood by the bed and scowled down at her.
“Stop whimpering,” he ordered. “You’re the woman of the house now.” Then he laughed, a loud laugh with little humor. “Your mother’s a good lookin’ bitch, but she ain’t much of a woman in the sack anymore. A man needs to get some’um regular and there ain’t no use paying for it when he can get it at home, now is there?”
The girl wasn’t sure what he was talking about, except that it would not be pleasant. As his black eyes blazed with the intensity of his need, her bare feet tried to push her through the wall to get away from him and the inevitable pain.
She closed her eyes and wished for her mother. Her mother was beautiful and nice and loved her and never, ever, hurt her. She had been taken to a hospital two weeks before when she started acting funny.
The father wore a wide belt with a large silver buckle that made a loud tink-tink sound when he unbuckled it. The girl’s eyes grew wide with frightened anticipation. She had felt that belt on her back more than once. He pulled down his zipper. She knew what she would see. Once she saw her parents together. Her mother on her hands and knees, the father behind, putting his thing into her. It was so big. She never knew if her mother’s cries were from pleasure or pain. But how could it be anything but pain?
“No Daddy!” the girl screamed.
“Shut up! Come here.” He grasped her hair and slapped her. “You want to be like your mother so much, well now you can be.”
“Leave her alone!”
The brother stood just inside the door, determination etched in his fine features, blue eyes reflecting hate, a baseball bat clutched against his chest.
“Get out of here, you little bastard.”
“Don’t touch her.”
“Get out or you’ll be sorry.”
The boy took a step closer. “She’s too little.”
“How would you know, little fucker? Give me that bat. I’ll show you what to do with it.”
The father threw the girl down and went after the boy. Screams and curses came from her brother’s room. Quaking with fear, propelled by the desire to help her brother, she crawled off the bed and crept down the hall.
She peeked into the room.
Her father swung the bat. The boy crumpled to the floor. “God damn it! God damn it!Ahhh!” He scooped up the small, limp body and rolled it out the window. A small thump came from three stories below. The father stood back from the window, body rocking forward and back with his heavy breathing. He finally stepped to the window and stared into the alley for a minute, running thick fingers through thinning hair while mumbling, “Aw shit. Aw shit. Aw shit.”
Too scared to cry, the girl ran to her room and cowered in the corner with her bunny and her pillow. He burst into the room and grabbed the front of her blouse. The odor of his breath turned her stomach.
“It was an accident,” he hissed in her face. “If you say any different the same thing will happen to you. Understand?” Her head flopped about like a broken doll as he shook her. Then he threw her on the bed. Yanking his belt from his pants, he whipped her scarred feet. “Don’t you go running off and flap your mouth like your mother.” He slapped off the light as he slammed the door.
Miserable with fear and pain, the girl vomited on the floor. Each contraction accompanied by a sob. She gathered her strength and crawled back into her corner.
“Mommy,” she sobbed. But her mother was not there and soon would go away forever.
Lost in the cloak of darkness, she retreated into her fear and grief and loneliness and did not come out for twenty-one years.
“Jamie, are you sure you have to go?” Emily Perrit asked as she stood with her husband at the door to the garage.
“You ask that every month,” he replied with a sigh.
“But you’ve been going for years. Can’t somebody else go?
You should be a vice-president and not have to go. You know I don’t like to be here alone.”
Jamie sighed again and hefted his leather briefcase as he looked at his watch. “Emily,” he said, “we’ve been through this before. I’m the top salesman in the company, but I’m only thirty-nine. There’s no way I can be a vice-president till I’m forty. It’s one of Mr. Teng’s rules, so you’ll have to wait till next year.”
Eyes on the floor, she nodded. It was an old argument which she never won. “When will you be back?”
“You told me Thursday. I got tickets for the symphony Friday night. We never go anymore.”
“Can’t be helped. Get Rachel to go with you.”
“She doesn’t like classical music. You do.”
He backed his BMW out of the garage. She thought he returned her wave then realized he only pushed the button to close the garage door.
Emily wandered into the living room, the thought of being alone in the house at night already gnawing at her, though it was still early afternoon. She stood by the picture window looking out over the town of Ft. Collins, Colorado from her house which stood on the first ridge of the Rocky Mountain Foothills, at the western edge of the Great Plains.
Emily’s arms hugged her lean, athletic body. She had long, strong legs and had run in college. Thick, dark hair to her shoulders framed her oval cover-girl face with its big blue eyes, thin nose and lips. The last big snow had melted away and even the cottonwoods showed a hint of green. Spring fever time in Colorado. Time to think about her garden. Jamie liked to have fresh-cut flowers around the house. They made him happy, and it was important that he be happy.
She wondered what other people were thinking about: kids home from school and underfoot, probably. Summer vacations, camping trips, cook-outs and being outdoors. She couldn’t think of a friend to ask. There was always Rachel, but her concerns were not those of a regular housewife.
Jamie stopped in the middle of the road that ran up to their house from the extension of Overland Trail leading to the new city park. Emily watched her neighbor, Rachel Strickland, bounce down the still unlandscaped slope from her house, lean over and rest her elbows in the open window of the car. Rachel wore red athletic shorts and a tight, low-cut white T-shirt. Emily rarely wore such revealing clothes. They drew uncomfortable attention, and Jamie was so protective.
Rachel and Jamie talked for few minutes, until Emily began to worry he might miss his plane. She waved when Rachel turned to stare at the house, but Rachel turned away. Emily knew they were talking about her, Jamie, as usual, asking Rachel to look after her while he was away. He drove away. Rachel walked up to the house, climbing the path instead of following the road that looped around to the front door.
Rachel, the merry widow Jamie called her, seemed to have nothing but time and money. As extraverted as Rachel was, Emily didn’t understand why she settled in a quiet, conservative university town like Ft. Collins. Aspen or Vail suited her personality better. Though Rachel’s caustic commentaries could be tiresome, Emily was glad to have an acquaintance close by.
“Jesus, it’s fuckin’ hot out,” Rachel said, sliding shut the screen door from the smallest of two redwood decks behind her. Emily cringed inwardly at Rachel’s curse. She didn’t have the nerve to say those words out loud. Rachel shook the front of her shirt, trying to cool off. “I don’t suppose you have a pitcher of mint juleps in the refrigerator, do you, Honey?”
“No, but there’s lemonade.”
“Figures.” While Emily poured a glass, Rachel said, “Well shit, left alone again, huh?”
Resigned, Emily shrugged. “It’s his job. He doesn’t want to go, but he has to.”
“Yeah, I know he’d rather stay here with you.”
“Yes, he would,” Emily said, ignoring Rachel’s sarcasm.
“I see,” Rachel said with one arched eyebrow.
Emily sat at the round, white table by the kitchen’s bay window. Her hands would not lay still in her lap, her strong, nail-bitten fingers tugged and pulled at each other. She looked up at Rachel who stared at her with a sad expression. Nevertheless, Emily asked, “Do you think you could stay over tonight? You know how frightened I get being here alone.” She gazed unseeing at her fingers. “Just for tonight. I . . . feel this isn’t a good night to be alone.”
“I’d love to Em, but I’ve got a hot date tonight that won’t be over till tomorrow morning, if I’m lucky.” She set her glass in the sink. “Look, nothing is going to happen tonight. Just take some sleeping pills and by morning everything will be okay. Trust me.” She went to the door. “I’ve got to go. My aerobics teacher gets a bee up her butt if anybody’s late for her fuckin’ torture treatments. Everything will be fine tomorrow. Trust me.”
Emily watched Rachel make her way down the path, red ponytail stark against the white T-shirt in the harsh afternoon sun. She was not at all convinced that everything would be fine tomorrow.
Jamie preferred to drive the sixty miles to Denver International Airport rather than take the shuttle bus or the shuttle flight from Loveland Airport. The boring drive down I-25 allowed him to think without distractions. And Rachel, with plenty of money and a libido to match, definitely counted as a distraction. Jesus, he wished she wouldn’t wear those low-cut shirts and lean over like that. He knew she did it on purpose just to drive him crazy, and he couldn’t be crazy tonight. He had to be in St. Louis. Although events were largely out of his hands, if things went as planned, everything would be fine tomorrow. If only he didn’t have the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right.
All day the fear grew. It crept into Emily’s chest and wrapped around her heart like a hungry snake. Loneliness aggravated the dread. Her mother would never have left her alone. Throughout the day, Emily talked to her, gaining courage and support from the conversation. After dark, though, her mother’s spirit was little comfort. Now, alone, at night, behind her locked and chained bedroom door, she struggled to handle the fear. She leaned her forehead against the door and tried to convince herself that being locked in her own bedroom would keep her safe. God, I’m so tired of being scared. When will it end? I want it to end.
She sucked in several deep breaths and walked gingerly to the windows, dark squares that promised unfathomable horrors. Keeping to the side, out of reach, she drew the curtains. Darting glances over her shoulder as if a nightmare might materialize behind her, she entered the bathroom. Emily looked at herself in the mirror and questioned, for the thousandth time, how she could still be such a coward. She was a grown woman with years of therapy behind her, but the idea of being alone at night continued to fill her with dread. Be strong, she repeated to herself–over and over and over.
In the bedroom, she checked in the drawer of her nightstand for the chrome-plated Smith & Wesson .38 revolver Jamie insisted she keep there when he was gone. The solid heft of the weapon comforted her, though she knew she could never use it. She still didn’t understand what Jamie meant earlier when he asked why she had unloaded it.
When Jamie left her alone once a month she kept the lights on and tried to read till the sky started to lighten. This night, exhausted from the constant anxiety and bored by a tedious novel, she dozed, intermittently jerking awake at imagined terrors or the gusting wind, then dozing again.
At two-seventeen by the red numbers of the clock radio Emily thought she heard the front door close. At least it sounded like the front door. Petrified, she tried to convince her panicked mind that the noise was a dream, but her subconscious knew the scrape of the weather stripping on the tiled entry and the following thump meant the front door had opened and closed.
With an effort she attempted to open her eyes. The snake in her chest squeezed. A small animal sound escaped from her throat. Her eyes were already open. THE LIGHTS WERE OUT! Heart pounding, unable to breathe, she stared at the bedroom door. A three-quarters moon lit the room with pale light that glinted off the polished brass door lever. She tried to wet dry lips, and once again tasted fear. She pulled the blanket to her chin and clutched her favorite yellow rabbit.
Maybe Jamie’s trip was canceled? It happened once before. But he’d call first. Wouldn’t he? Why didn’t he say something?
Except for the throb of blood in her ears the house was quiet. She imagined a grotesque madman stealthily mounting the stairs, then he stood outside the door, listening to her listening to him; a misshapen hand reached out for the door lever. The glint of moonlight on the handle did move. Only a fraction of an inch, but silently . . . it moved. Didn’t it? Some deep-rooted survival instinct freed her from the paralysis that gripped her. Desperately, gaze locked on the door handle, she fumbled for the phone. She yanked it to her, tried to focus on the buttons for 911. The door handle vibrated, then moved all the way down. The door opened a few inches, stopped by the chain. A flashlight blinked on, revealing a gloved hand on the door handle. Then, slowly, a dark-shadowed eye, appeared and stared at her from under a bushy eyebrow.
The eye did not belong to Jamie.
Emily punched 911–and heard nothing. The flashlight blinded her. She jabbed at the buttons again. Still nothing, only dead silence from the dead line. The eye disappeared, quickly replaced by a black tool that snapped the chain. The door crashed against the wall. Emily yelped and groped frantically for the gun in the drawer. When she turned back, a man stood in the room.
Emily clutched the gun with both hands, without a finger on the trigger. Her hands shook. The gun sparkled dully in the glare from the flashlight. The shadow figure moved slowly, silently, across the room toward the bed, sure of itself. Emily wanted to scream. The fear snake choked her. Feet scrabbling against the sheets, she tried to push herself through the wall.
The light shown in her face. “I didn’t know you were so pretty,” the man said in a flat voice. “I have to kill you but maybe I’ll make you feel good first. Make the last time your best time. What do you think about that?”
Emily whimpered, “Go away. I’ll shoot. Please.”
“No, you won’t shoot me,” he said, taking a step closer. “You don’t want to hurt me. I’m going to make you feel good. Then you won’t feel anything at all. No more troubles. What do you think about that?”
He took another step.
“I’ll shoot. I will,” Emily sobbed, panic beginning to shut down her mind.
“Not without your finger on the trigger, you won’t,” he said. At the side of the bed now, he towered over her. He waved a knife through the flashlight beam. “Now let’s have some fun.”
He began to unbuckle his belt. The belt buckle tink-tinked softly.
Her finger reached for the trigger and squeezed.
Surprise dulled the sting of the bullet along his ribs. The noise barely registered in his ears. He expected the hammer to fall on an empty chamber. The gun was loaded!
The shot scared the woman more than him. On her knees, in the middle of the bed, she still pointed the gun at him, but it shook so much that even at those close quarters she might miss. No time for fun now. Get the job done.
Without a word he launched himself toward her, the words, Show no fear, loud in his brain. He lived his life by those words, but as he stepped on the bed and saw her finger tighten on the trigger, he knew fear. He knew his expression reflected that fear and he hated the woman for making him show it.
In slow motion the gun jumped. He heard the shot as a distant echo at the same time an incredible pressure in his stomach forced him back against the wall. Confronted with the inevitability of his own death, forty-six years of repressed fear welled up. He felt his lips stretch tight against his teeth in a grimace of terror he couldn’t control. He stretched his bloody hands to the woman, palms up. It was his turn to cry, “No. No. Please, no.”
The gun jumped and an instant of excruciating pain happened in his chest, blocking the words. He saw a blaze of red and white light that faded to black. Over the roar in his ears as he slipped into oblivion, he heard the woman on the bed pulling the trigger, pulling the trigger, pulling the trigger, pulling the trigger . . ..