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About the Author

John Broussard was born in Cambridge Mass in 1924. He earned an A.B. Harvard '49; M.A. and Ph.D. University of Washington. He taught colleget for 20 years. He reviewed non-fiction for Bibliophile; mystery/suspense books for I Love a Mystery; and books and videotapes for The American Association for The Advancement of Science. He has sold about 100 short stories. Books: "MANA" ( Pulsar Books. ISBN 1-58697-206-5 (print) and ISBN 1-58697-892-4-2. (electronic). "DEATH OF THE TIN MAN'S WIFE" Publication date to be announced.

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The Shopping Mall Killer

by John Broussard

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Today was going to be a good one, he assured himself. The pressure had built up since the last time, three weeks ago. Tall, clean-shaven, a rather boyish face and an athletic, muscular build obscured by a loose fitting shirt and pants; these made for an unthreatening appearance. The sling for his left arm gave him the exact aura of helplessness, which almost always paid off. And the sling was a handy place to hide the straightedge razor. He had six of the burnished lengths of steel, always treated gently, carefully honed and oiled. His favorite with the carved ivory eagle head for a handle was the one he'd decided to use today. It had splendid memories attached to it, and he'd spent almost an hour stropping it before coming out to the mall. Just a touch with it would break the flesh.

It was difficult for him to contain himself as he slipped back against the wall, in a spot that darkened quickly after the sun went down . . . and waited. Not only was it going to be a good one, it was going to be an early one. She came wending her way through the parked cars almost directly toward him. Small-he preferred them small-but long slender legs. She didn't look right or left. Her mind was somewhere else. Dumb, like all the others. Now if it was only that Toyota Highlander she was heading for. He preferred roomy cars.

No. Damn! She stopped next to an old Beetle, of all things. But, then, his best one had been in a broken-down Fiat. You never know. He moved quickly, but he soon saw there was no need to hurry. She wasn't in any rush to start the car; instead she'd left her door partly open so the roof light would stay on. She was checking out a piece of paper. Probably her shopping list. Probably trying to figure out what she'd forgotten. Now, the crucial step.

Broad smile on his face, walking over to the VW, bending over on the passenger side so she could see his encumbered arm, he gestured ambiguously to the neighboring car with his right hand. Somehow, that seemed to almost always work. Even with manual windows, the woman would lean over, roll it down and ask what was wrong. His frequently rehearsed move was now almost automatic-arm through the window, unlock the door, slip in, razor out, and maybe even a preliminary nick to show he was serious. This one was no different.

But there was a difference! He had just made that final move, razor flashing as it reflected the dome light, when he found himself looking into the front end of an automatic. Icy-cold blue eyes looked at him over the gun she was holding in her left hand. The words didn't reassure him. "Move very carefully. Drop the razor on the floor by your feet." There was a pause. It didn't occur to him to do otherwise. What sounded like a giggle was followed by, "You might as well drop that fake arm sling down on the floor, too. You won't be needing it." A strange smell filled the air. No, it wasn't so strange. It was the smell of fear, the odor he'd so frequently noticed almost subliminally as he'd pressed the razor's edge ever so gently against defenseless throats. But this time it was his own fear.

"Now, close your door . . . carefully." He heaved an inner sigh. She was going to drive away! Piece of cake. No way could she hold a gun on him and drive. Even in the limited space of the VW, he'd be able to chop her in the neck with the side of his hand, maybe kill her before she would even see it coming. But he didn't want to kill her. Not yet. There had to be time yet. Somewhere out in the woods, with that same smell of fear coming up from her. The dome light was still on. He hoped it hadn't revealed his smile.

"Next, move the seat forward as far as it will go."

Dumb bitch. She was afraid he'd kick out at her. Why bother when his hands were free? Reaching down, he found the lever and hunched forward so his knees were up and under the dashboard.

Clearly, there was now amusement in her voice. "You're doing very well."

Hell-an echo of what he'd often said to the women when he ordered them to perform while the razor flashed in the air near their eyes.

"Now, listen very closely. This is going to be a bit more difficult. Open the glove compartment, take out the handcuffs you'll find in there." Another pause as he followed the directions. "Close the compartment. No need to rush. We have plenty of time. In fact, you rather surprised me by showing up so early."

What was she talking about? Handcuffs! She must be a cop. He didn't ask.

She looked more closely at him. "It's a shame. I thought you'd be bigger than you are, but I guess you'll just have to do. The women who figured they spotted you reported someone taller and more muscular. But, then, I imagine the fear of being raped and murdered distorts one's vision. Don't you think?"

He said nothing but simply held the cuffs wondering if he could risk slashing out at her with them.

She smiled. "You know, you show every one of your thoughts on your dumb face. Looking at the cuffs and then looking at me is such a tip-off. My finger has to move just three/sixteenths of an inch in the time you swing them at me. Guess who'll lose. And, by the way, I'm a lousy shot. I'll aim at your chest, but I might end up hitting you in the belly or even lower."

Crazy, crazy bitch. Just like that woman psychiatrist at the hospital who thought he was stupid, but she never put it into so many words like this one. She'd pay. She'd pay big. Both of them would pay.

"OK. Now the tough part. Fasten one cuff to your left wrist, then hold it up so I can see it clearly. I want to make sure you did it right. I know it isn't easy, since you're wearing gloves. Seems silly to wear gloves when the weather's warm as this." She shrugged, barely perceptibly, not enough to disturb her gun hand.

The fear smell was becoming more prominent.

"Excellent. Now slip the other cuff over the grab bar above the glove compartment. Handy little gadget isn't it? Story goes that Hitler himself wanted them installed in the first Beetles. I wonder why. Oh, very, very good." She actually sounded pleased.

"My, but you do follow directions nicely. I'll bet you've even guessed what I want you to do next. Right! Now pull back on the cuffs so I can be sure you're securely fastened. Wonderful. All snug and cozy. We might as well be off, then."

Trussed up like a chicken, he thought, and his mind was still awhirl. She was no cop. If she had been, she'd have called in the minute she had the drop on him when he flashed the razor. But what was she? And where were they going? Still holding the gun, she closed the driver's door, the roof light went off, the engine kicked over at the first turn of the key.

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"Care for some music?" she asked. "I hope you like country. Always was my favorite. Way back in high school days." Cindy Carlyle's honey-sweet voice carrying Chet Barne's lyrics filled the air. She turned the music down low. "You're not very talkative, are you? Kind of makes me wonder if you talked much to the other women you rode with. I guess not. I imagine you made them do the talking. Well, I won't bother you. You just go ahead and stay cozy with your own thoughts."

He'd been so caught up in his predicament he hadn't noticed at first where they were going. In the silence, with only the background music to distract him, he could now make out they were traveling north, avoiding the freeway, but definitely leaving town. Within moments they were out in the countryside, wide pastures alternating with new subdivisions, and it was one of these she turned into-an upscale one, with luxury homes on one-acre lots, each one fenced in, shrub-lined and isolated from its neighbors.

The two-story house she approached was dark. She punched an opener on the sun visor. One door of a large two-car garage swung up obediently as the lights came on. She drove in but left the door open.

Getting out of the car, she came around to the passenger side, opened the door, handed him a key and said, "I know it's difficult to unlock cuffs when you're wearing them-especially with gloves on-but we're way early, so take your time."

Early for what, he wondered, as he clicked off one of the cuffs.

"Now, the other one and drop them to the floor. I'd prefer you not get any more ideas about how you might use them."

The gun was still aimed at his chest. "Slide out, and start walking slowly out through the door. Oh yes, keep that three/sixteenths of an inch I told you about in mind. I'm very nervous at the moment, and any sudden move on you part might-well, you know."

The bitch didn't sound a bit nervous. But whatever she was up to, he'd have his chance. He knew he would, and this would be by far, by far the best one. It was almost more than he could bear to think of, having her down on the ground, his hands choking her-gradually, very gradually. The razor was so much better though. He'd get to it somehow. The thought distracted him and made him stumble over a rock along a border where she was prodding him to go. For a moment he thought she was going to shoot. The next moment he was almost certain she'd snickered at him.

"Seems like you're kind of nervous, yourself. Keep moving to the back of the house." Her flashlight lit up a basement window. "Go kick it in." He turned to look at her. "You heard me. Go ahead! Kick it in. If you're worried about the neighbors, forget it. The house on this side is empty. The neighbors on the other side are away on vacation."

Nice to know, he reasoned. They'll never hear the whimperings and the screams. He would, though. He definitely would. Lots of them. For a long time. Until they were just gurgles. Viciously, he kicked out the window.

"Splendid. Splendid. I'm sure you must have done that many times before."

He had. Back in the days when he broke into houses, before he found that cars were a lot safer for what he liked to do. Never an empty one like some of the houses he'd broken into. Never husbands around. Never . . . just what was this crazy bitch up to?

"Fine. Now let's go into the house and get comfortable. You first, of course. Front door."

By now the light of the flashlight was essential for him to follow the narrow footpath around the garage and to the front of the house. The cold voice behind him said, "Go ahead, open it. It's unlocked." For the briefest of moments he thought this was his chance. Open the door, slam it behind him and catch her with it, gun and all. The thought disappeared even more quickly than it had appeared as he felt the pressure of steel against his spine. The words were softly spoken. "Slowly, slowly. I imagine one shot would take out three vertebrae." She closed the door quietly behind them.

A short entranceway led into a sizeable front room, which she lit up with a blaze of lights by flicking a switch with the hand holding the flashlight. At one end of the room, near the front entrance, a glass coffee table bare of ornaments stood in front of an overstuffed chair. "Let's see," she said, "that seems to be a good place for you to sit. And take off your gloves. It's much too warm in here for them. You can slip off your jacket, too. No need for formalities." He complied, feeling the less burdened he was, the better. While he did so, he glanced at his immediate surroundings for something he could throw.

"You really are doing very well." She sounded as though she were encouraging a small child. "Not very talkative, though. But then I didn't bring you here to talk." Still aiming the automatic at his chest, she carefully sat down in a chair on the other side of the coffee table. "Oh, yes. Press your hands palm down on the coffee table." He hesitated. The voice hardened. "Now!" He did as he was told, a question showing in his eyes.

"There, I guess that's it. Now we wait. It's really a shame you're the silent type. I like good conversation. We could talk about a lot of things. For example, notice how there aren't any books or knickknacks sitting within arm's reach? Oh, I saw you looking. You know, you really are a couple of logs short of a cord. That's just in dime novels where someone can throw anything faster than a trigger can be pulled."

The coffee table! How easy it would be for him to slide his hands under the surface and throw *that* at her. Gradually he moved his hands back off the glass top and began to inch them under it.

A sigh of exasperation greeted his movements. Her voice reflected her annoyance. "I can't believe it. Why, oh why, did I fall heir to a kindergarten dropout? Go ahead. Try it. That coffee table is bolted to the floor."

She was right. He couldn't budge it. At that moment he could feel only all-consuming hate. Again she was conjuring up the memory of the psychiatrist he was going to pay a return visit to someday. Someday, soon, but only after taking care of this bitch. For the first time he got a really good look at her. She was pretty. No question about that. Small tits, but they stuck out nice. Oh . . . oh . . . he kept thinking of how much he wanted to feel that ivory-handled razor in his hand. She even looked a bit like that psychiatrist. Her first, then the doc. He knew he could distract this one. There had to be some way.

He spoke, for the first time, almost without thinking about what he was asking, but it was something he had to have the answer to, something even more important than why they were here. "How did you know I was going to be there tonight?"

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Her face lit up. "He talks. Well, what do you know? For a while there, I thought I'd brought home a gorilla. Gee. Let's talk some more. Glad to answer your questions. It will help to pass the time. The reason I knew was because you're stupid, that's why. There are four malls in town, and you've already hit three of them. Dumb as you are, I knew you'd think it was smart not to go to the same one twice."

He couldn't believe it. It *was* dumb. And here he thought he'd been so smart. He remembered the cons saying, don't go hitting the same place twice. Maybe they were dumb, too.

The next questions came out as almost an incomprehensible growl. The boyish face was no longer so boyish looking. "Why did you bring me here? What's going on?"

She laughed. For a moment her laugh grated on his nerves, then he thought about how he'd make her laugh, loud laughs, laughs filled with utter terror. "I thought you'd never ask. Let's play a game. Want to rehearse the clues? Now, I didn't call the police. That should tell you something. And surely you must be able to figure out why I had you break that window. Come on, boy. Think! I know you haven't got much to work with, but try!"

It wasn't a brilliant light. In fact it was just the barest glimmer. She needed him. That was it. She needed him for something. For him to do something. She was going to hold a gun on him until he did it. But it wasn't just fun and games. She was waiting for someone. He looked at her left hand. She smiled encouragement as she caught the glance. "I should have been a teacher," she said. "It's just amazing what a clever person can do with even the most unpromising material. Yes, you're on the right track. I'm married. OK. Now, the next step."

The words tumbled out. "You want me to kill him. Then you can kill me and claim I broke into the house. A big insurance. A boyfriend. He won't give you a divorce."

"My. If I had both hands free, I'd be clapping. Right on all counts but one. I have no intention of killing you. You're too stupid to see why, but you should have realized that almost from the moment you sat there."

It was difficult for him to think when she called him stupid, or dumb. Red rage and the thoughts of his favorite razor kept coming to his mind. "OK. Why aren't you going to kill me after I've killed your husband?"

"Ask yourself. Why should I? Why mess up the house with blood and any more corpses than necessary? And the police will know I killed you and might just possibly get suspicious. After all, persons have been known to hire burglars to kill spouses only to kill the burglar to cover their own tracks. No. No. It's much better for you to go running off. Distraught wife comes down the stairs, finds her husband strangled and calls 911. With your fingerprints on that table and your finger marks on my husband's neck, you'll disappear from this area and move your business elsewhere-raping and murdering women who are dumb enough to park in dark sections of malls. Since they're as stupid as you are, they deserve what they get.

"Meantime, the only thing I'll be questioned about is the appearance of the burglar, which-incidentally-I won't know since I will never have seen him." She broke into a laugh that was becoming increasingly irritating. "Now, I'll bet you've been having bad thoughts about me, but I'm really not so bad, after all. You're going to do me a favor, so I'll do you one. Fair's fair. You'll have plenty of lead time to go elsewhere."

That was it! The ideal time to take over. There really was no reason for her to kill him, but damn good reason for him to kill her. The husband was going to come in, and . . .

She interrupted his thoughts. "Now that you're feeling cooperative, let's get the scenario straight. After all the trouble we've been through, we don't want anything to go wrong at this stage, now, do we?" He assumed she wasn't expecting an answer. She didn't wait for one.

"He'll be coming in the way he usually does, probably carrying the evening paper. He'll say, 'Hello, dear," without even looking around, but I'll get his attention, with this." She moved the gun slightly, but not away from its current target. Then you get up. Don't rush. No need for it. He won't be going anywhere. Then you'll get behind him, and just be absolutely sure to use your hands. That's important and that's why I didn't want you wearing gloves. Not that the police could imagine someone my size doing him in that way. He's a little guy, by the way, scrawny neck. It'll be a little different than usual for you, but not much."

Even now, the bitch knew how to provoke him. He had choked women, but never a man. It *would* be different. Not particularly exciting, but a means to an end. He had no intention of just going off and leaving fingerprints behind. Besides, there was absolutely no guarantee she wouldn't give a complete description of him to the police. Well, the scene she described was going to contain a big surprise for her.

Sure, he'd strangle her husband, and that would be the ideal time to throw that knickknack-her husband's body-at her. He was no expert when it came to guns, but he knew she was holding a low-velocity, small-caliber pistol. The bullet would never penetrate the shield of her husband's dead body. And now, all he could think about was butcher knives. The kitchen would have some, for sure. Not the same as a straight edge, but he'd have to make do. No! He had to have that razor. It was sitting out there in the car, and there would be plenty of time to get it after he'd tied her up.

Even more, he kept thinking of the psychiatrist. Definitely, he'd move on to her next. Soon. Real soon. It would have to be a house thing, but he'd make do. He knew where she lived. He'd driven by many times. Yes, definitely, she would be next. Deliciously next. This one would be a dress rehearsal.

Her voice broke into his fantasies. "OK. Time for twenty questions. I've given you all sorts of answers, and there's still more time to kill. At least an hour. And speaking of killing, just what did you do with all those women? I read in the paper that so far they've found only one."

Why in hell not? Why not tell her? In an hour she'd be dead. Besides, there was something about her expression, something that made him want to tell. Like that damn psychiatrist. Only he hadn't told her. But he would. He would-at a time and place and under conditions of his choosing.

"The first one . . ." Once he'd started, he found he couldn't stop. It was really a great feeling to be able to describe what he'd done, to relive it all-minutely. Besides, the incentive to go on was her face. There was something about it that was now becoming just like the faces of the women when he brought the razor near, just before the final cut. The whiteness around the lips. Small, hardly visible beads of sweat along the line of her hair. She was leaning forward. He was describing the scenes in detail. "The next one . . ."

That look! It struck him suddenly that she was getting off on what he was telling her. He remembered and repeated every whisper, every scream, every bit of begging not to be hurt, of finally begging to be killed. "The last one was the best one. I hadn't noticed her kid in the back seat. That slowed things down, but made it even better. You should have heard her pleading with me not to kill him . . ."

Footsteps sounded on the porch. She was transfixed. He knew this would be easy, easy. When the man came in, he *was* a little guy, but something wasn't right. No newspaper. No surprise at the gun in her hand or at his presence. No, "Hello, dear." Instead, "Good work, Sergeant Fletcher. We got every one of his words on the remote, loud and clear."

The two armed, uniformed policemen who had also entered the room encountered no resistance.

The Sergeant's strained voice broke in, "You came in just in time, Lieutenant."

"Why do you say that? You obviously had everything under control."

"No I didn't. I was just about to kill him."

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