Michael Prescott: Mortal Faults

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Michael Prescott Mortal Faults
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Michael Prescott

Mortal Faults


The knife was how he would do it.

Sure, strangling would be better, but she was a wiry little thing, and he was afraid she’d find a way to wriggle out of his grip. If she got loose long enough to scream, one of his neighbors in the apartment building might call the police. That was how it had gone down the last time, and why he’d spent the last twenty-two months in a maximum-security state prison. He wasn’t ready to go back.

Anyhow, the knife would be good enough. Poking her with the long sharp blade was almost as good as sex.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

Leon blinked, glancing at the woman who sat beside him on the couch. Her face was pale in the dim lamplight. “Huh?”

“It means, what are you thinking about?”

“You, baby. How good you look. Like a movie star.”

“You’re sweet.”

“Like candy.” He slid closer to her. Country music played on the AM radio he’d bought at a pawn shop for ten bucks. Tammy Wynette, Stand By Your Man. “Want me to give you some sugar?”

She giggled. She was too old to giggle-thirty, maybe thirty-five-but some women never grew up. They were high school girls their whole lives.

Thinking of her as a high school girl made him stiff. She noticed.

“Somebody’s getting hard.” Her hand brushed his crotch. “You have quite a package there.”

“Baby, you got no idea.” She hadn’t seen his real package yet. She hadn’t seen the knife. “Mind if I, uh, loosen my belt?”

“Well”-another giggle-“I wouldn’t want you to be uncomfortable


His hand moved to his belt buckle, which was the handle of a concealed knife with a three-inch double-edge blade. He could draw it in less than a second, then punch the blade into her abdomen, driving it in up to the hilt, while his other hand covered her mouth to stifle her cry. And all the time he would watch her eyes, her pretty brown eyes, as the light in them faded out.

It was almost too easy. He hadn’t even bought her dinner. Picked her up in a bowling alley-a goddamn bowling alley, for Christ’s sake. He hadn’t even been trying. He’d already set his sights on the schoolteacher in Reseda. Didn’t know her name, but she’d caught his eye while leading a troop of kids on a field trip to the museum where he worked as a janitor. He’d staked out the school and followed her home. She had a hubby and a kid, a nice suburban life. For the past week he’d been watching her come and go, at home and at the school.

Then this bitch fell right into his lap-while he was bowling, if anyone could believe that. He ought to visit the lanes more often.

Of course, he would get to the schoolteacher soon enough. This babe was a warm-up job, a way of getting back into the swim after two years out of action. Then he would be going on to better things, once he got through with… with…

“This might sound stupid,” he said, “but I don’t think I ever caught your name.”

“It’s Abby.”

“Abby. Nice.” He drew the knife. “I’m Leon.”

He lunged, but she wasn’t there. The blade gouged the sofa cushion, ripping out foam.

She’d sprung off the couch the instant before he struck. He saw her smile, and there was something in her face that was all wrong-a coldness and a calmness, and the coiled menace of a snake.

“No need to introduce yourself, Leon,” Abby said, her voice an octave lower, a throaty, slightly scratchy voice, not so girlish anymore. “I know who you are.”

The flat of her hand connected with the bridge of his nose, and something crunched like a snail.

Blood on his face, waves of light pulsing across his field of vision. She’d broken his nose, damn it.

Tammy Wynette was still urging women to stand by their man. It didn’t seem like Abby was listening.

Leon lurched to his feet, swiping the knife at her. She hopped to one side, evading the stroke without effort. Her leg snapped up. A leather boot caught him under the chin. He spat blood. He’d bitten his tongue-bitten part of it clean off.

The taste of blood only made him madder. “Fucking kill you,” he wheezed.

“No, you won’t, Leon.” Her voice had a surreal gentleness that scared him. “You’ve had all the fun you’re going to have.”

Distantly it occurred to him that she wasn’t just some piece of ass he’d picked up at the lanes. She was a pro. A cop or a PI or some damn thing.

He swung out again with the knife, a wild sweep of his arm that crossed nothing but air, and suddenly she was up close, delivering three or four rabbit jabs to his belly, then clapping both hands over his ears.

Pain dazzled him. He was pretty sure his eardrums had ruptured.

And he’d lost the knife. She had it now. She’d taken it from him so deftly he hadn’t even noticed.

He got in a punch to her chest before she spun behind him. Her hand chopped the back of his neck. He fell to his knees, throwing a fist at her thigh in a blind effort at retaliation, and then her hands were on his face, blocking his nostrils, sealing his mouth. He couldn’t breathe. Crazy bitch was smothering him.

He flailed under her, trying to get a grip on her legs or arms. No use. He needed air. His throat burned. All pride left him, and he made a low pleading noise that barely escaped his pursed lips. A mewling whimper, a sound a beaten dog would make. She ignored it.

He fought to raise his head. If he could make eye contact, she would have to let him go. If he showed her how desperate he was, how abjectly helpless…

His eyes rolled in his head. He saw her, leaning close. He saw her face, her eyes.

And he knew it would do no good to ask for mercy.


In the morning, the first thing Abby noticed was the blood. It had spattered her jeans and blouse. Funny she hadn’t seen it last night, but of course she’d been tired as hell. She hadn’t even removed her clothes before collapsing into bed.

Eight hours of dreamless sleep had left her newly energized. She swung out of bed and peeked through the curtains at the traffic flowing on Wilshire Boulevard, ten stories below. At 8:30 a.m., rush hour was in full swing, which was hardly surprising, since rush hour in L.A. lasted roughly twenty-three hours a day.

Her clothes were stiff and tight, like an unwanted layer of skin. She preferred to sleep naked. She’d kicked off her boots, at least. She retrieved them from the floor and found blood on them, too. How did you get bloodstains out of leather? She didn’t have a clue.

The boots could wait. Right now she was feeling dirty, and not just because of the blood. She stripped, ran the shower hot, and spent a long time under the steaming spray. Her hands and forearms had caught some of the splatter, and the water running off her arms was pink at first. She watched it spiral down the drain.

She shampooed, rinsed, and repeated, then toweled herself dry and examined her fingernails. More blood under them-a rich harvest of DNA evidence for anyone who wanted to look. She scrubbed her nails clean, then studied herself in the mirror.

The damage wasn’t too bad. A fist-sized bruise under her left breast. Another contusion on her right thigh. No cuts or scrapes. None of the blood was hers.

That’s how you know if you’ve had a good night, Abby thought. If none of the blood is yours.

Dressed, she decided to go out for breakfast. According to her calendar, on Thursday, August 10, she had nothing on her schedule. She’d been busy lately, too busy. She knew from experience that it wasn’t smart to push herself too hard. Fatigue was her enemy. Fatigue meant slowed reflexes, and in her business even a half-second disadvantage could mean death.

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