Michael Prescott: Stealing Faces

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Michael Prescott Stealing Faces
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    Stealing Faces
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    Триллер / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Stealing Faces: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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She even dared to try the fitness trail again, venturing along its entire length. Cray was not there either.

At the trail’s dead end, where she had panicked before, she forced herself to probe the brush. With a pocket flashlight she swept a cone of amber light over cholla cactus and wild purple sage. She found no shoe prints, no sign of human passage.

It was as if Cray had vanished into air. As if he had never existed at all.

She didn’t like that thought.

Briskly she doubled back along the trail. She wasn’t sure quite where she was headed until she found herself approaching the lobby.

Then she knew that she meant to check out the parking lot.

She wanted to see Cray’s SUV, the fancy Lexus he drove, because the vehicle was something real and tangible, and it would prove that Cray was real also.

The Lexus was black, of course, like Cray’s ensemble. Somehow he kept it spotless even in the desert, where dust and rainstorms competed to dull any automobile’s finish. From the first time she’d seen it, she had thought the vehicle suited him. It suggested both civilized refinement and a dangerous addiction to thrills, and it seemed at home in the night.

And now it was gone.

A red Fiat was parked in the space the Lexus had formerly occupied.

Elizabeth looked at the Fiat, turned away, then looked again. A shiver ran through her, and for a dizzy moment she was sure she was losing her mind.

Cray wasn’t here.

He’d never been here.

She had been pursuing a phantom all night long. A delusion, something conjured by her brain, not part of external reality at all, and suddenly she felt it again — the disorienting awareness of a gap between her mind and her environment, between consciousness and reality, and as she stood unmoving, the gap widened and became a chasm, and into it she was falling, falling….

Head lowered, eyes squeezed shut, she forgot everything except the need for calm.

Time was suspended. She was not herself. She was only a stretch of blankness with no body, no mind.

Then finally the panic was gone, and she was all right, not crazy, and the world had not strayed from its orbit.

There was still no Lexus, only the red Fiat, but that was fine. Because, of course, there was an explanation. A very sensible explanation.

Cray had left.

That was all. So simple.

He had been here, she really had seen him and followed him, and he really had disappeared somehow in the dark, but there was nothing supernatural about it, nothing to upset the balance of her mind.

He had simply returned to the parking lot and driven away. He could be anywhere now. She would not find him again tonight.

And although she knew she ought to be sorry she had lost him, she was too tired to feel any regret. She wanted only to go back to her sordid little motel room and lie on the sagging bed and stare at the busted TV until sleep came.

Tomorrow night she would follow Cray again, from his home. Tomorrow, when she had the strength.

Nodding in assent to this plan, Elizabeth crossed the parking lot to the far corner, where she had left her car, a 1981 Chevrolet Chevette with 92,000 miles on an odometer that doubtless had passed the 100,000 mark at least twice. The four-cylinder engine was held together with spit and paper clips. Every part of the car rattled. The seat belts were broken and the ventilation ducts were clogged.

The hatchback had cost $350 when she bought it two years ago in a liquidation sale at a car lot in Flagstaff. The salesman had seemed ashamed to sell it to her, but she could afford nothing better. Remarkably, the Chevette had proven reliable enough.

She unlocked the door on the driver’s side and sank behind the wheel, then jerked upright with the sudden certainty that Cray was in the car with her, in the backseat, waiting to take her by surprise—

He was not in the backseat. He was nowhere.

“Oh, quit it,” she snapped, tired of herself. “Just cut it the hell out.”

She keyed the ignition, and instantly the car began to shake like a washing machine on the spin cycle. With an unsteady hand Elizabeth rolled down the window to get some air.

Pulling out of the lot, she cast another look at the red Fiat, which was still a Fiat, not a Lexus SUV.

Cray really was gone.

She’d done her best, but he had slipped away. There was nothing more she could do. Nothing.

Except, of course, there was.




5


Elizabeth Palmer.

Cray repeated the name silently in the confines of his Lexus, over the low hum of the engine.

Elizabeth Palmer.

A reasonably mellifluous name. One he was likely to remember, if he had ever heard it before.

He tried it aloud: “Elizabeth Palmer.”

The taste of the words in his mouth was sweet and subtle and forbidden. He liked it.

He was driving down Oracle Road, the highway that descended from the outskirts of the Catalina foothills into Tucson’s downtown. Traffic had worsened in the city throughout the past decade, and tonight, at nearly eleven o’clock, his SUV was part of an endless flow of cars and pickup trucks, while the northbound lanes to his left were a thick mass of headlights.

Ordinarily he disliked city traffic. It made him grateful to live far from town, thirty miles to the east, where the roads at night were dark and quiet under the undimmed stars.

But tonight the congested streets were helpful to him. He would have found it difficult to follow Elizabeth Palmer on an empty road. She might have seen his headlights, as he’d seen the glint of her chrome.

She would never notice him now. He could follow her as far along Oracle as he pleased, keeping her red hatchback just within sight.

No doubt she was heading home — wherever home might be. He was curious about that. He would be able to tell a good deal about her simply from her residence. And once he had subdued her, he could search the place, comb through any file cabinets or desk drawers, learn who she was and what she was after.

His desire to see where she lived was one reason he had chosen not to attack her at the resort. The other was simple prudence. Though he might have surprised her on the fitness trail and rendered her unconscious, he would have had difficulty removing her from the hotel grounds without being seen.

And to kill her at the hotel and leave her there would be too great a risk. Someone might remember that she had left the bar soon after he had, that she had walked in the same direction he had taken.

No, it was better to abduct her from her home, interrogate her in solitude, and when the night’s sport was done, leave her body in the desert for the turkey vultures to find.

After losing her on the fitness trail, he had quickly doubled back to the parking lot. Since obviously she had followed him, it seemed safe to surmise that her car was parked near his own.

He’d moved his Lexus to another part of the complex, and from a hill he had watched the lot until the woman returned, hatless now, and wary. She must have spent two hours looking for him. Good. He wanted her tired, frustrated, not thinking clearly.

She got into a Chevrolet Chevette, the oldest and most unprepossessing vehicle in the parking area. Irrationally he was disappointed. He’d expected her to drive something better.

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