Chapter 45


    Lucy sat on the fire escape, wrapped in her dark blue afghan, one of the few things that had survived her childhood, one of the few things that she could stuff into a nylon duffel bag and take with her when she moved on, which she had done so many times in the past two years that she had nearly lost count.

    She looked in the window. She had rented this room, a third-floor room in a trinity on Fourth Street, about two months earlier. The family was very nice. An elderly couple with no children, they had welcomed her like a granddaughter, and for the first two weeks had invited her to dinner every night.

    Lucy, having had no experience with real family life, had begged off with a variety of excuses until the couple - Tilly and Oscar Walters - had gotten the hint.

    The night was calm, the sky was clear, and for the first time in a long while she could see a few stars. Maybe they had been there all the time and she had forgotten to look. Perhaps the darkness was inside her, had made its nest in her soul, and refused to leave, refused to let up.

    She wrapped the afghan more tightly around her, but she wasn't really all that cold. Maybe it was all those years in drafty apartments, all those years when the heat was turned off, all those years huddling around an electric stove in winter until the electricity too was turned off.


    Since the day the plane came out of the sky, she had tried everything to make the feeling go away. Drugs, alcohol, men, religion, yoga, all manner of self-destruction and abuse. Men. Quite often the men she chose - boys, really - filled in any small gaps in the abuse, making her hell complete.

    And now she was in trouble. She always knew she would eventually get caught shoplifting, even though she was good at it. Her mother had sent her into stores from the time she was only three years old. In the first few years she was only the diversion, doing the little-cutie bit to distract store owners while her mother boosted cigarettes or alcohol or, once in a great while, a treat for Lucy.

    But today she had gotten caught, and she was going to go to jail. Even though Detective Byrne said that wasn't going to happen, she wasn't so sure. She had wanted to tell him about the man in 1208, but for some reason she couldn't bring herself to do it.

    And now, sitting on this rusting fire escape, she began to cry. It was the first time for years. She tasted the salt on her lips. She felt pathetic.

    It was worse for the little girl who'd been killed. Little Stacy Pennell. Sergio had told her the story.

    In 1999 a ten-year-old girl, whose family had lived in Le Jardin when it had been an apartment building, had been down in the laundry room with her older sister Cyndy. Cyndy, whose job it was to watch her runt of a sister, couldn't be bothered, it seemed. When Cyndy wasn't looking, Stacy had grabbed the keys from on top of the dryer and snuck out of the laundry room.

    Sergio said that when Stacy got off the elevator she probably did not notice the man standing in the stairwell at the end of the hall, just a few feet from the entrance to the Pennell apartment.

    When they found Stacy later she had been brutally murdered, her throat cut from ear to ear. Sergio said her body had bite marks on it.

    It had happened in Room 1208.

    It couldn't have been coincidence, Lucy thought. It just couldn't. The man in 1208 had been there for a reason. Some other little girl was going to be hurt.

    Was the man who killed Stacy Pennell the same man who had kidnapped her?

    Lucy was suddenly cold. She slipped back inside, shut the window. She walked over to the closet, opened the door, sat down, and waited for the night to embrace her.

    Fifteen feet below, in the gloom of the stairwell beneath the fire escape, a man stepped into the shadows and joined Lucinda Doucette in darkness.

The Echo Man
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