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John Sedgewick's
Dark House
Psychological thriller of obsession, greed and redemption
 
First Chapter
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First Chapter


"Eleven thirty-eight P.M.," Rollins said quietly into the tiny Panasonic in his palm. "North on 93, just past Exit 32. The Audi's two cars up, holding steady at" -- he glanced down at the speedometer -- "about fifty-seven, fifty-eight miles an hour." The Audi was navy blue, or possibly black, with green-on-white Massachusetts plates. Rollins put the tape recorder down by the newspaper on the passenger seat of his Nissan. As far as he could tell, the Audi was occupied only by the driver, who was thin and fiftyish and had a look of concentration that was unusual for this time of night. Because the man was wearing a suit coat and unfashionable glasses, Rollins at first had guessed banking. Then he spotted an umbrella on the rear dash, and he reconsidered. Insurance? After all, the forecast had said nothing of rain, just the endless steam heat so typical for Boston in late July.

The trees were set well back from the raised highway, opening up a wide night sky. A blurry moon rose through the glass by his left shoulder. Before him, the asphalt gleamed like open water. As Rollins followed along, he knew enough to keep out of the Audi's rearview mirrors, both center and side. He was sensitive that way, almost as if his skin were allergic to another's sight. He stayed well back, and one lane over, to make it clear that he just happened to be traveling this road tonight. His slim hands curled lightly on the wheel, Rollins was ready to move when the Audi moved. It was a kind of dance, Rollins supposed. A dance with a shadow.

On a pursuit, Rollins never flipped on talk radio or whistled, as he might do at other times -- when he was staring at the stock prices floating across the bottom of his computer screen at the office, say, or sitting in the big chair by the phone in his apartment. He didn't want to break the mood of the evening by cutting the white noise that enveloped him. He was comforted by the steady drone of his engine, the wavelike rush of passing cars, the buzz of the tires on the asphalt, the whoosh of humid air from the vents. Inside the Nissan, he felt snug as an astronaut, tidily enclosed in his bubble of glass and steel. But keyed up, too, on the cusp of a new adventure.

Rollins couldn't know where the driver of the Audi had been before their paths first crossed in front of the Mid-Nite Convenient newsstand, with its red awning, in Somerville's Union Square some miles back. The man's past was a blank, and the car bore no SOCCER MOM bumper sticker, no Northeastern University parking pass to help fill out a history. Only his future could be known. So different from the way life generally worked, Rollins mused with a shake of the head. The only thing noteworthy about the Audi's exterior was a slight dent on the housing of the left rear wheel. "The kind of ding you get in a parking lot," he told the recorder. "Nothing major."

In Rollins' experience, people rarely went anywhere just once. Rather, their lives were an endless loop of going, coming back, and going again. Most likely, where the man in the Audi was going was where he had come from. He was returning to his source. By now, Rollins was something of an expert on Boston's greater metropolitan area, its thorough fares, one-way streets and cul-de-sacs. He knew precisely where one town ended and another began; and he grasped the subtle differences between exclusive Wellesley, say, and reclusive Weston, which lay right beside it. And of course, it meant even more to see the exact neighborhood within the town, and still more to see which street.

And what sort of house? A gated estate in Beverly Farms, on Massachusetts's gilded North Shore, where the driveways are a half mile long? Rollins had had a comfortable childhood in a big house on a private road in upper-class Brookline, and he was always on the lookout for one of his own, just to see how that person had managed it. Or would it be a more traditional suburban home -- with a tight yard, neighbors pressing in on either side? Were there kids in the picture? Would a voice call down to him from an upstairs window when Rollins's man came home? If so, would it be accented? With luck, Rollins might spot other revealing details -- some Spanish artwork in the bedroom, or a projection TV in the paneled den, or antique doll furniture arrayed on the living room mantelpiece. Small points, but telling ones to him.

He clicked on the tape recorder again. "Eleven forty-seven. Passing Exit 33, no change in speed." So his subject was not the Exit 33 type after all. That is, not one to take the Fellsway up to Stoneham, with its tract houses, its drab Redstone Shopping Center, its tiny zoo, seventeen baseball fields (Rollins had once passed a slow evening counting them), mediocre schools, three cemeteries, and Empire Bowl-a-drome, so favored by overweight smokers. Likewise exits 34, 35, 36, 37A and B, 38, and 39.

Past Exit 39, however, twenty miles north of Boston, where signs of roadside activity finally started to thin, the Audi signaled for a right turn, its blinker impatient, Germanic. (Rollins could write an interesting monograph on taillights: their flame-colored stripes, circles, dots, and wraparound curves were so much more variable and expressive than those tedious twin orbs of white up front.) After an interval that affirmed his man's deliberate nature, the Audi moved gently to the right lane and slowed to fifty. Rollins, in the far left, eased off the gas and shifted two lanes over. He could feel a film of sweat where his fingers touched the steering wheel. He was closing in.
 
Copyright 2000 by John Sedgewick



Dark House
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