For her thirty-third birthday, Holly's boss, Doug, took her to Poor Richard's on Northeast Thirty-ninth and Broadway. Katie came along, too, of course, since she was not only Holly's case director but Doug's "significant other."
It was a Tuesday evening so the special was steak and snow crab, which was Holly's favorite, although Doug always swore by the tenderloin, medium rare, with a deep-fried onion blossom on the side.
The restaurant was crowded and noisy, so that they had to shout to make themselves heard. "Who's the Long Island Iced Tea?" yelled the server. Holly raised her hand and he passed it over. "Who's the Fuzzy Navel?"
Doug raised his beer glass and said, "Here's to Holly...the sweetest girl in the Portland child welfare service. May your days be blessed with sunshine and may your nights be filled with thrills."
"Doug -- " Katie protested, but Holly shook her head and laughed.
"Don't worry. Just because I'm thirty-three and unattached, that doesn't mean that I'm going to be living like a nun forever."
"I don't know why you broke it off with Eugene," said Katie. "I know he wasn't exactly Brad Pitt, but he wasn't Quasimodo, either."
"Yes...Eugene...," said Doug. "I liked Eugene. It struck me that he was always so considerate."
Holly kept on smiling -- that tight, determined smile she always put on when other people tried to order her life for her. "I wasn't looking for considerate," she said. "I was looking for impetuous. I was looking for wild. Besides, Eugene wore garters."
"Garters? Oh my God. You never told me that."
The server brought their starters: shrimp sauté for Holly, teriyaki chicken strips for Katie and Doug. "You want dip? Blue cheese? Lemon mayo? Tomato and honey?"
"He had a phobia about showing his legs because they weren't very hairy. He said they looked like a girl's."
"Hey, we can't all be gorillas."
Over in the dark, oak-paneled bar, more than fifty feet away, a bleached-blond woman in a shiny green cocktail dress was leaning toward a man with a short, iron-gray crewcut. "I have champagne in the icebox," she was saying. "Well, not real champagne but sparkling wine. We could kick off our shoes and drink sparkling wine and dance."
Her companion flapped his hand dismissively. "I don't want to kick off my shoes and drink sparkling wine and dance, okay? I'm fine here. I'm totally..." He searched for a word, but all he could come up with was "fine."
The woman leaned even closer and started to play with the man's earlobe. "You don't know what you're missing. I could make all of your wildest dreams come true."
"I don't have any wildest dreams. I don't even have any tamest dreams."
The woman stroked his cheek. The man raised one finger and the bartender poured him another shot of Jack Daniel's.
"Do you know who you remind me of?" the woman purred.
"No, who do I remind you of?"
"Burt Lancaster, when he was younger."
"Burt Lancaster's dead."
"But you remind me of him. Like, all man, you know? Quiet, but all man."
The man tossed back the Jack Daniel's and raised his finger again.
A little farther along the bar, two men in crumpled business suits were talking and laughing. One of them was saying, "So this seventy-year-old guy is sitting in bed reading, okay? And his wife flings open the bathroom door and she's standing there bare-ass naked, okay, and she shouts out, 'Super pussy!' The old guy doesn't even look up. He just turns the page in his book and says, 'I'll take the soup, please.' "
Right in the far corner, sitting at a small table with a hammered-copper top, Holly could see two men drinking beers. One of them had his back to her, and because of the red-shaded table lamp, all she could see of his companion was the lower part of his face. He was talking quickly and quietly, and endlessly feeding himself with smoked and salted almonds.
" -- depends when you want it done. I don't know. It's your decision. Whatever you decide, I'll work around it. But you have to make up your mind, you know? And once you've made up your mind, that's it, there's no going back. Because once I've told the guy, once I've told him, he's not going to be in contact anymore, he's going to vanish, piff, and I can't call him up at the last minute and say, 'Sorry, the client's changed his mind,' you get me?"
The woman in the shiny green dress was trying to stick her tongue in the man's ear and he kept flinching away from her.
"Listen, I washed my ears before I came out, okay?"
"Don't you like being licked? I could lick you in places you didn't even know you had."
"Give me a break, will you?"
"Why don't you take me home and let me find out where you like to be licked the most."
Doug was already looking flushed. He had peppery hair and a freckly complexion and it took only two glasses of Bridgeport ale for his neck to turn crimson. Katie was dark and pale, with iron-gray streaks in her shoulder-length hair, and whenever she drank she pushed her wire-rimmed glasses onto the end of her nose and became very, very meaningful.
"We were thinking, Holly, you know, that maybe you could use some more social interaction."
"You mean I need to get out more?"
"I mean try new people. Broaden your acquaintanceships."
" -- so this Japanese tourist goes to the bank to change his yen into dollars, right?" said the joker at the bar. "And he says, 'What's going on, I got a hundred dollars yesterday, now you've only given me ninety-six. Why's that?' And the bank teller says, 'Fluctuations.' So the Japanese says, 'Yes, and fluck you Americans too.' "
"We're going out to Mirror Lake this weekend. We were wondering if you were interested in coming along. Doug hasn't been salmon fishing in months, and I just feel like getting out of the city."
"Just us three?"
"Well...I was thinking of asking Doug's friend Ned. You know, it's always better when it's a foursome."
"Have I met Ned?"
"I don't think so. No, you haven't. But you'll really like him."
"He's a really terrific guy," Doug put in. "Great sense of humor, you know. Great practical joker."
"You'd really like him. He used to play quarterback for Portland U. He's done pretty well for himself in the wood pulp business. And I can guarantee that he doesn't wear sock suspenders."
The man at the table in the corner said, " -- you just let me know exactly where she's going to be, and when, and we'll take care of the rest. Don't go variegating your routine. Stay in town and have the cat sense not to do anything that's different from what you normally do. That's the mistake that so many clients make. They have a perfect story but for no reason they do something out of character, and that gets the cops asking themselves why did this guy do something out of character -- cops being professionally nosey, which is what they're paid for."
He said something else, and by the way he curled his lip it looked like something of a threat, but Holly couldn't quite catch it.
"Oh, come on," said the woman in the shiny green dress. "We'll have a ball. I promise you won't regret it."
"All right. All right. You win. Shoes off, sparkling wine, licking, whatever you want. No dancing, though. Definitely no dancing."
"But I like to dance."
"Listen, I'll be lucky if I can stand up, forget about dancing."
"Then maybe we should leave it."
"What do you mean? I said yes, didn't I? You've been nagging me all evening and now you want to leave it?"
"I know, but you're drunk. Maybe we should leave it till you sober up."
The man turned and looked at her for the first time. "I don't think it would be a good idea to wait until I'm sober, because you don't turn me on when I'm sober."
Holly laughed. The woman heard her laugh and turned around, frowning, but Holly was obviously too far away to have overheard what she was saying, and she turned back to the man again, looking cross.
"Lipreading again?" said Doug, sucking teriyaki sauce from his fingers.
"Yes. I know I shouldn't."
"Look, how about Mirror Lake?" Katie persisted. "We can swim, we can take the boat out."
"And what else? Matchmaking 'round the old campfire?"
"Holly, it's just that I care about you. You're special."
Holly kept on smiling. "Let me think about it, okay? But just because I happen to be deaf, that doesn't mean that I need you to find lovers for me."
"Did I say anything about lovers? Doug, did I say anything about lovers?"
Holly glanced over to the table in the corner. The man finished his beer and wiped his mouth with a neatly folded paper napkin. " -- there won't be a trace, I guarantee it. You won't even know she ever existed. How? You don't want to know how. In fact, the less you know, the better. But this guy's a pro. You won't be turning on the news to hear that somebody's found her detached head in a bus-station locker."
Copyright © 2005 by Graham Masterton
Holly Summers is deaf, but she "hears" thanks to her immense talent for lip-reading. A child welfare officer, Holly moonlights for the Portland, Oregon, police, using her unique gift to aid in criminal investigations -- including one into the case of a recent string of women who have vanished without a trace.
There is no sound...
Witnessing unimaginable evil in the abuse cases she handles, Holly fights every day to salvage broken young lives. But her good works spark plenty of enemies; someone has targeted this avenging angel with a supernatural vow to harm her. And the terror begins when Holly's young daughter disappears.
There are no dreams as dark as the horrors some men do.
Fending off the shadows of an unearthly predator and the very real threats facing a woman in a man's world, Holly must listen to her deepest instincts for survival -- to save the one person for whom she is living.