Warren Murphy: Death Sentence

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Warren Murphy Death Sentence
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    Death Sentence
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Destroyer 80: Death Sentence

By Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

Chapter 1

Naomi Vanderkloot knew people.

Hers was not an instinctual knowledge. She possessed no innate ability to read faces, voices, or personalities. In truth, she couldn't tell if a fellow human being were telling the truth three times out of ten, if her personal life was any barometer.

Naomi Vanderkloot knew people. She just didn't understand them. This was because everything Naomi Vanderkloot knew about people came from books.

As she turned in her chair to look out the bunkerlike window of her office, she wondered, for the first time in her thirty-three years on earth, if perhaps that was the problem.

Her thin eyebrows slowly drew together as she stared past the stark black-and-white geometry of the Kennedy Library to Boston harbor, believed by some voters to be radioactive. Today the harbor was slate gray. The sky above was the same uncertain near-blue of Naomi Vanderkloot's sad eyes.

They were the eyes that beheld the secret initiation rites of the Moomba tribe of the Philippines. They were the eyes of the first white person to behold, however briefly in the lightning-illuminated Matto Grosso, a member of the semilegendary Xitlis.

They were also the eyes that had sized up Randy Gunsmith, all six-foot-five and 228 pounds of gorgeous unemployed construction worker, as well as the petite blond on his arm, and not questioned the lack of family resemblance when Randy fumblingly introduced the blond as his sister Candy from Evansville, Indiana.

The occasion had been the previous Friday night. Naomi had left her office in the anthropology department of the University of Massachusetts and taken the Red Line subway to Harvard Square. She had been walking down Church Street when Randy and his "sister" unexpectedly emerged-from Passim's, a popular coffee shop.

At first Randy had appeared flustered. Naomi had been so self-absorbed-her normal state of mind-that it wasn't until three days later, when she returned to her Brattle Street apartment early and found Randy spooning Cool Whip onto the hollow between his "sister's" lush breasts, that she recalled his surprised expression.

"Oh, my God," Naomi said. "You're doing it with your sister."

"Don't be a complete idiot, Naomi," Randy had snapped back as he covered himself with a sheet. "She's no more my sister than you are."

"Oh," Naomi said, getting it at last.

It wasn't the fact that her boyfriend had been cheating on her that bothered Naomi Vanderkloot as much as it was that he covered himself up. As if he were ashamed or unwilling for her to behold him in what Naomi used to playfully call his "tumescent state."

She realized then-one of the few flashes of insight she would show in her life-that she had seen his magnificent male tool for the last time. And that realization brought her to her knees at the side of the bed. Her bed.

"Please, Randy don't leave me!" she wailed.

"Great, now you want me," he muttered. "If you'd paid half as much attention to me as your stupid hypotheses, I wouldn't have had to go looking for a little satisfaction in the first place."

"I know! I know!" Naomi had cried, her voice as abject as a temple votary. More abject. Naomi had met temple votaries. They were much more dignified than she was. She clenched at the blanket in an effort to keep him from leaving.

But Randy Gunsmith had no intention of leaving. He hadn't finished yet.

"Mind waiting outside, Naomi?" he said.

"But ... but this is my apartment!" she had sputtered.

"Ten minutes. That's all. Then we can discuss this. I promise. Okay?"

Her lower lip quivering, Naomi Vanderkloot nodded mutely. She couldn't muster the nerve to speak. She was afraid her voice would crack.

Stiffly she closed the bedroom door behind her and slumped in a director's chair. She fingered the spines of the many volumes that crowded the concreteblock bookcases in her living room, her fingers lingering over The Naked Ape and other books that had inspired her life and career.

When Randy Gunsmith finally emerged, not ten or even fifteen minutes later, but after a full sigh-and-groan-punctuated hour, he was fully dressed and pulled the blond along after him.

Naomi Vanderkloot shot to her feet, her nails digging into the palms of her bony hands. Her mouth parted. But before she could form a single uncertain syllable, Randy shot her a curt "Later" and slammed the front door behind him.

Through the beaded curtains Naomi watched them hurry, hand in hand, past the Victorian homes of her upscale Cambridge neighborhood.

She knew then that she would never see him again.

At first Naomi blamed her preoccupation with her latest researches for the breakup. Hurt, she couldn't look at her papers and clippings for nearly twelve hours.

Then in the middle of the night she threw back the covers that she hadn't bothered to change because they still had Randy's Coors-and-Winston scent on them and plunged back into her work. If her work had caused another romance to fail, then she was determined to make that work the most important of her life.

It was looking now, on the Monday following those unsettling events, as if the months of work she had put into her latest theory was about to slide into the loss column too.

The knock on her office door brought Naomi out of her reverie. She swiveled in her chair. Her hurt expression melted and rehardened into a cool professional mask. She adjusted her owl-round glasses on her straight nose, and automatically her parted mouth sealed primly. She patted at her mouse-brown hair and called, "Yes, come in."

Even before the door yawned open, she knew what kind of an expression the reporter would be wearing. She had seen it a thousand times before. No innate knowledge of the male animal was required. Only endless repetitive experience.

The man was tall and slim. Not terribly distinguished, but Naomi, recalling his journalistic affiliation, suddenly realized that she was lucky to pull a primate above the knuckle-walking stage.

He poked his head around the doorjamb expectedly, his face curious, even hopeful.

The moment his eyes focused on her, the expression dropped away, leaving a vaguely disappointed one. It was a transmutation Naomi Vanderkloot knew well. It marked, to the microsecond, the precise moment the male brain realized that it was seeing, not a nubile Naomi, but a knobby Vanderkloot.

Naomi let out a tiny sigh that collapsed her sunken bosom more severely than normal.

"Hello," she said in her prim, not-quite-cold, but distinctly unwarm voice. She rose awkwardly, all six-foot-two of her. "You must be Mearle." She offered a cool hand in a gesture midway between a handshake and the expectation of a hand kiss.

The man shook it. He did not kiss it.

"That's me," Mearle told her as she smoothed the back of her severe black skirt and resumed her seat. Mearle dropped into a plain chair. He looked about the office, evidently finding it more interesting than its occupant. Or possibly just less hard on the eyes. "I can't believe I'm actually going through with this," Naomi said to break the silence.

Mearle's eyes refocused. He was an ectomorph. Naomi noticed his long tapering fingers, often found on writers and artists. Probably a fast sugar burner, she thought.

"This what?" Mearle asked a little vaguely, and Naomi reconsidered her assessement.

"This interview," she reminded him coolly. "It's the reason you've came, isn't it?"

"Actually, I'm here because my editor told me to come. "

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