Free Chapter - Finding AJ

Finding AJThis is the first chapter of the new novel I'm working on -- Finding AJ. It's the story of a former FBI agent, Jules Vandevelde, who continues her search for a serial killer after the apocalypse has struck. Her search leads her to Gideon, Utah, a small town in the southern part of the state. Hope you enjoy it.

Kingman

Jules sat on the gravel in the shade of the Cherokee. She'd parked the car at an angle to give herself shade from the vicious morning sun. The back half of the jeep intruded on the road's southbound lane—not that Jules was worried about it. She knew no one would be traveling on Highway 93 today, any other day for that matter.

She sat with her arms cradled around her legs, her forehead settled into the bare skin between her knees. She shuddered from the crying and took in a ragged breath trying to calm herself. With each crying breath came the hiccup-like whimpering sound she always made when she cried—a sound Jules found embarrassing. She hated crying even if no one were around to hear her. But as much as she wanted to stop, she knew she needed to give her emotions an outlet. She had to get herself straight before she got to Kingman.

After a few minutes, the whimpering subsided and Jules brushed away a lingering tear with the heel of her hand. She sniffled and took in the expanse of the Mojave Desert as it rolled out in front of her. The desert had a pale, shell-colored floor, parched and flat, broken up here and there by saguaro cacti and rickety elephant trees. The mountains to the south were baked a dusty gray and bore little vegetation. Jules thought of the desert as a bleak, alien place—barren and unforgiving. It was a place she wouldn't miss.

A sudden morning breeze chased a lone tumbleweed across the desert floor. Jules watched it skitter and tumble across the landscape as if it were trying in vain to escape some invisible force. She didn't know what a tumbleweed would be trying to escape from, but she understood its innate need to move. She even felt a strange kinship with it.

Jules patted her eyes dry with the inside crook of her arm. She brushed off the seat of her shorts before climbing back into the Cherokee. Once inside, she lowered the visor and took stock of herself in the mirror. Jules eyes were red and swollen, a bit unsightly, but they weren't the catalyst for her angst. She angled her head to get a closer look. She tapped at the bald spot where the clump of hair was missing. The spot was the size and shape of a grape and the skin was still red and sensitive. She ran her hand through her hair a few times trying to cover it up, but it was no use.

Her hair was no more than two inches long now and she thought it gave her a butch appearance. Cutting her hair had been one of those pragmatic decisions she was always making right before she regretted making them. Her rationale had been sound, logical even—she didn't want to have to fuss with her hair when she was out on the road, and she didn't have any idea how long she'd be gone or if she'd ever be coming back. And while there was no point in rueing over a decision she'd already made, she did it anyway, and she cursed her tendency for rational decision making.

Jules flipped the visor back up and started the jeep. Before pulling away, she took the Glock 23 out of its holster and chambered a round, then set it on the passenger seat. She thought it would be better to do it now rather than later. Same for the Remington 870 shotgun. She pumped a round into the chamber. Then she swung the car back onto the road and drove away. Twenty more minutes and she'd be in Kingman.

She glanced at the two files that sat on the passenger seat underneath the Glock and the shotgun. She needed to forget about what had happened. She needed to focus on the task ahead and nothing else. If she blocked the rest of it out, she knew she'd be fine.

The top file belonged to Andrew Glickman. Glickman had spent ten years in prison after being found guilty of aggravated sexual assault. He was suspected of several more rapes but Glickman had been meticulous and hadn't left any evidence at any of the other crime scenes, just the one for which he was convicted. His affinity for using a knife, along with the fact that the killings started a few months after his release, made him a prime suspect in the Calligrapher killings.

Glickman was an organized criminal with a distinctive pattern to his sexual assaults. He would break into homes through windows using a circular glass cutter tool. His victims always lived alone and his attacks always took place in the middle of the night. Glickman would wear a stocking over his head and use a knife to force them to undress, then he'd make them take a bath at knife point. After the bath, he'd pick out a clean dress for them to wear before sexually assaulting them.

Glickman was careful not to leave any evidence behind and always used a condom. He even went as far as to take the bed clothing with him when he left. Just once, he wasn't careful enough. A faulty condom proved to be his undoing, the DNA irrefutable.

Jules didn't believe for a minute Glickman was the unsub they'd been looking for. He lacked the meticulous elegance of the Calligrapher. And, as far as they knew, Glickman had never killed anyone. But Jules would check him out anyway. There had to be a reason Beckerman had Glickman's file.

She'd interviewed Glickman five weeks ago and flashes of the interview came back to her now. Glickman lived in a wood-sided home with badly chipped green paint. The home looked battered from decades of neglect. It was a rundown cookie-cutter affair—a lone bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, along with a basement with boarded up windows.

Inside, the house was filthy and cluttered. Half-eaten fast-food meals lay on the coffee table and dirty clothes were strewn haphazardly across an old scratched up wood floor. But it was the smell Jules couldn't forget. Just thinking about Glickman and the house brought the smell back. The house had a dank, acrid smell as if someone had taken a pile of sweaty gym clothes and set them on fire. The memory of it teased her nostrils. She could remember struggling to breathe the dense, smoldering air.

Glickman was fifty-three, about six-foot two with a wiry build and thinning black hair combed back over his balding pate. He had an unkempt appearance. The day Jules interviewed him, Glickman had a week's worth of coarse salt and pepper stubble covering his face and neck. His cheeks were hollowed out and filled with dime-sized crater-like acne scars. He wore jeans and a grease-stained, short-sleeve tee-shirt that was too small for him and clung to his torso. A pack of cigarettes tucked inside a rolled up sleeve bulged from his tee-shirt. When Glickman greeted them at the door, his mouth twisted into an adversarial sneer. "What the hell do you want?" he spit out.

Jules stood quietly and watched Beckerman go to work. Beckerman made quick work of Glickman's sneer. He spoke to Glickman in a flat monotone voice devoid of emotion. He explained to Glickman that they could interview him at his home or they could take him back to Vegas for an interview. It was up to him. After he'd explained the options to Glickman, Beckerman sighed and waited. Glickman appeared confused and didn't seem to like either option but decided on the lesser of two evils and let them in. What he didn't realize was that they had no evidence to justify dragging him back to Vegas with them for an interview. He simply could have declined. Beckerman had played it just right.

Two standing fans rattled noisily as they rotated back and forth in the living room, cutting shifting swaths through the stagnant, heavy air.

Once inside, Beckerman went stone silent and let Jules do all the talking. Jules glanced at Beckerman as he sat next to her on the couch. He looked distracted and examined his nails as if he were considering whether they needed a trim or not. Jules knew she was being evaluated.

Glickman sat slouched in an arm chair across from them, his back bowed like a turtle. He casually looked Jules up and down, appraising her like a persnickety customer carefully examining a product he knew he'd never buy. Glickman ignored Beckerman altogether.

Years ago, Glickman would have made Jules' skin crawl, but she'd become well-practiced at dissociating herself from suspects during interviews, no matter how repulsive they might be.

"I'm Agent Vandevelde, Jules Vandevelde," she started.

Beckerman never introduced her to Glickman when they were at the door, though it wasn't an oversight on Beckerman's part. Everything Beckerman did was calculated.

"This won't take long, Mr. Glickman," Jules told him. "We just have a few questions for you. We thought you might be able to help us with an investigation we're conducting."

"What?" he asked, looking at Jules doubtfully. "So, you're saying this doesn't have anything to do with me?"

"No. Not really," she reassured him.

She exhaled audibly and began to let herself drift down on the couch, mirroring Glickman's posture.

"You could say we have need of your expertise, Mr. Glickman."

Glickman eyed Jules suspiciously. "What expertise would that be?" he asked.

"Well, you've been known to use a knife in the past, to great effect, and we were wondering what it was that led you to choose a knife. We're trying to understand the reasoning someone might have for choosing a knife as a weapon in a sexually-based crime. We thought you could help us."

"I never used a knife. That was total bullshit they used at that trial. Total bullshit. I'm an innocent man," Glickman said, raising his eyebrows to emphasize his sincerity.

Jules didn't say anything but kept looking at him expectantly.

"But if I had to guess," he shrugged. "I'd imagine someone might use a knife in a situation like that because a knife can be a frightening weapon. Women don't like knives."

Glickman smiled quietly to himself as if he were retrieving a treasured memory. Then he looked up at Jules. "No, ma'am," he drew out slowly. "Ain't a woman out there wants their face all scarred up. They don't like knives. At least, that's what I would suppose."

Jules nodded her head in an "I see" gesture as if Glickman's explanation had suddenly clarified things for her. She still didn't say anything but looked at Glickman attentively and waited for him to continue. She wanted him to keep talking.

Glickman chewed on the inside of his cheek for a moment as if he were contemplating what to say, and then he leaned forward. "A woman's likely to do whatever you ask if you got the tip of a knife touching her pretty little face."

Glickman took a measured breath and a smile began to form across his meager, wet lips.

Jules believed Glickman was comfortable enough now to open up, and she was ready to take the interview in another direction when Beckerman suddenly cut in.

"Ever been to Tempe, Andrew?"

Jules looked at Beckerman incredulously. Beckerman's question had caught her off guard. For whatever reason, Beckerman had decided to terminate the interview.

Glickman stood up. "What? You think I'm stupid?" he asked. "I know about that thing in Tempe. I had nothing to do with that. You two peckerwoods are trying to entrap me. I ain't playing your dumb ass games. Get the fuck out of my house."

He walked to the front door and opened it and waited for them to leave.

As Jules passed by, Glickman leaned in close, a sour odor wafting from his body. "Come back anytime, darling," he whispered. "But leave the stuffed shirt behind. He's a drag. And wear a dress. I like dresses."

*****

Highway 93 merged seamlessly into Interstate 40. The freeway was virtually empty, just a few abandoned cars here and there. When the time came, Jules made sure she went the wrong way and headed east in the westbound lane. While it felt strange to be driving the wrong way down the freeway, she knew it would be easier to spot Glickman's house from the westbound lane.

Jules had already decided to avoid the freeway exit. If she used the freeway exit, she'd have to travel a couple miles over surface streets to get to Glickman's, and that would expose her to groups of grays roaming the streets. Glickman lived on the eastern outskirts of Kingman, and Jules estimated she wasn't more than four or five minutes away now. She would go off-road to get to Glickman's.

She drove thirty miles per hour and scanned the area north of the freeway. When the homes became sparse and spread apart, she knew she was getting close. She stopped the jeep and dug out the binoculars from her travel bag. It only took her a minute to spot Glickman's green house. She took a moment and mentally mapped out a course that would get her there, a route that would avoid any grays in the area. A few small groups were scattered here and there in the neighborhoods. Jules thought they looked disoriented, like escaped mental patients wandering the streets, their heads canted at odd angles, trudging along.

Jules had already decided to park a block down from Glickman's and hide the jeep in front of a house that would give her cover.

She drove to where the guardrail ended right before a hill rose up next to the freeway. The incline wasn't too steep and Jules made sure to avoid the large rocks scattered around the slope. It was an easy trek down to the nearest street. Five minutes later, Jules found herself on the block below Glickman's.

She'd passed a few grays on the way, but they posed no real threat. She coasted to a stop in front of a two-story home and killed the engine. She parked at an angle that blocked the view of Glickman's house and blocked any view he might have of the jeep. She turned and dug a nose clip out of the travel bag and slipped it into her pocket. She put the Glock back in its paddle holster and grabbed the shotgun off the seat. For a brief moment, she questioned the wisdom of breaking into Glickman's home and confronting him. She knew it wouldn't be the smartest thing she'd ever done—going up against someone like Glickman alone was foolhardy at best. He could kill her and no one would bat an eye. No one would ever know.

And she had no authority, not that she or anyone else needed it these days. The viral attack had changed all that. There was no more FBI. It died a quick death a month ago along with everything else. Whatever happened at Glickman's, either way, would fade from this world without consequence. There would be no repercussions.

Whether breaking into Glickman's home was a smart idea or not, Jules would go ahead with the plan regardless. She would see this thing through. Second-guessing herself wouldn't help. She had to be fully committed, anything less could get her killed.

Jules cracked the jeep's door open as quietly as she could and slipped out into the sunshine. She opted not to close the door. She didn't want to make any more noise than she had to. Jules checked her watch. It wasn't quite nine o'clock and the Arizona sun was already stiflingly hot. She winced at its brightness. August in the desert was an unforgiving time. Kingman was located on the eastern edge of the Mojave, another one of those small cities inexplicably parked in the desert. She couldn't fathom a reason for its existence in such a barren, hostile landscape.

A moment later Jules was standing by the corner of the two-story leaning against the vinyl siding, spying on Glickman's house. Glickman's house wasn't directly in back of the two-story home, but off to the left at a skewed angle, its windows shuttered up. And that was good news. The shades and curtains were drawn on all the windows in the back and on the side of the house, and the windows to the basement were boarded up just as she'd remembered. There was little chance Glickman would be able to see her as she approached the house.

Three large black garbage bags lay in the backyard about twenty feet from the back door. Two of them were caked with dust but the third looked shiny and fresh as if it had recently been put out. The shiny garbage bag meant Glickman was likely still alive.

Jules couldn't decide the best strategy to enter Glickman's house. It was critical she get the drop on him. But unless by some miracle Glickman had left the back door open, she didn't see a lot of good options.

The house was about a hundred feet away. The terrain between the homes was hardened earth sprinkled with sage brush and desert-resilient weeds. A waist-high barbed wire fence separated the two properties. The fence looked as if it were a hundred years old. Just to be safe, Jules would take a forty-five degree angle as she approached the back corner of Glickman's house. Even if he happened to peek out a window, he'd still have trouble spotting her.

Jules ran crouched across the hard ground, holding the shotgun close to her chest, keeping her eyes fixed on the windows. At the barbed wire fence, she set the shotgun on the other side of the fence against a post and pushed down on the top line of wire. She meticulously stepped over, careful to avoid the barbs. Once over, she picked up the shotgun and hustled to the back corner of Glickman's house.

She moved to a position underneath what she believed to be the dining room window. From what she could remember, it wasn't much more than a small alcove. A soiled yellowing shade covered the window. Jules stood quietly and listened but couldn't hear a thing.

Watching the ground closely, Jules moved as quietly as she could to the back door. And while she knew it was a long shot, she tested the door knob. It was locked. The back door had a window, and the shade was drawn on it too.

Jules contemplated her next move. The door looked flimsy enough that she thought she could shoulder it open, but the noise would alert Glickman and give him a chance to arm himself if he wasn't already armed. She wondered if Glickman had a gun. There was never any mention of him having or using a gun in any of the reports she'd read on him. Everything she read indicated that Glickman was in love with knives, but Jules would assume he had a gun.

She put her ear against the door's window and strained to hear something, anything. She waited but heard nothing. She thought Glickman might still be sleeping. The back door would be her best chance to get in. A window, if one weren't locked, would take too much time and be too noisy. The front door wasn't an option either. From what she could recall, the front door was solid oak.

Jules decided her best option was to shoulder the door open, check the kitchen and the adjacent dining room, then move to the hallway. From memory, she visualized the home's layout. She remembered seeing the dining room through the living room archway across the hall, and from that, she surmised the bathroom and bedroom had to be down the hallway.

Determining Glickman's whereabouts was key to staying alive and getting the drop on him. The moment she entered the kitchen, she'd do her best to determine his location and proceed from there.

Jules slipped the nose clip from her pocket and fitted it on her nose. She pushed the shotgun's safety into the off position and got herself set. She took a breath and gritted her teeth. Then she leaned down and drove her upper arm and shoulder into the area next to the door knob. She heard wood splinter and the door shuddered in the jamb, but it didn't open. She shouldered the door again with everything she had and the door flew open, smacking into the fridge. Jules stepped into the kitchen and quickly looked around, hyper alert. The room was empty. She listened for footsteps or movement but heard nothing.

She moved cautiously toward the kitchen entryway, holding the shotgun level in a firing position. The portion of the living room she could see across the hallway was empty. Jules didn't know what to think. Was Glickman hiding somewhere waiting for her? She leaned against the entryway jamb and took a quick peek down the hallway. Again, nothing.

Jules decided to check the living room first. She remembered a couch and end table positioned against the wall next to the living room entryway. She stepped across the hallway and ducked down behind the end table, catching a momentary glimpse of the living room. It didn't appear anyone was there. She propped her head up, shotgun ready, and checked out the rest of the living room. Across the room the two standing fans stood like silent sentinels guarding the empty house. It dawned on Jules that the electricity was out which didn't come as much of a surprise. The electricity had gone out in Vegas a week ago. Glickman's house was deadly quiet.

Jules stood up and cleared the rest of the room. The living room was every bit as filthy and cluttered as it had been five weeks ago. The only difference Jules could see were the empty, tipped-over cans that lay scattered on the coffee table in place of the fast food wrappers. A couple of dirty silver spoons encrusted with dried up food lay next to the cans. As before, dirty clothes were randomly strewn about on the wood floor.

The house had a ghost-like feel to it as if Glickman were long gone, yet the home retained remnants of his presence. Jules fought against an inclination to relax and reminded herself of the shiny garbage bag outside. Though she sensed Glickman wasn't in the house, she needed to remain alert and focused. There was still work to do. She still had to check out the bathroom and the bedroom along with the basement.

Jules went back to the hallway entrance. She took two quick steps to the other side of the hallway, keeping the shotgun aimed at the open bedroom doorway at the end of the hall. She sidled close to the wall and made herself as small a target as possible. Being in the hallway made her tense and alert at the same time. She didn't like being in the open with no avenue of escape.

Jules came to the bathroom door. She counted to three before turning into the doorway, exposing part of her head and shoulder and pointing the shotgun inside the bathroom. It was empty.

Like the living room, the bathroom had a grimy feel to it, everything except for the bath tub. The tub was spotless and even had a well scrubbed shine to it. Jules had a tough time wrapping her mind around it. Everything else was filthy. The medicine cabinet mirror was greasy and foggy enough to obscure anyone's reflection. A shirt languished in the sink in gray water. The floor had small, alternating black and white square tiles, some of which were streaked with rust. A pair of dirty jeans lay in a heap on the floor.

Jules left the bathroom and moved toward the bedroom, less than six feet away now. She moved stealthily, her senses sharpening with each step. She was as intensely alert as she'd ever been. Her breathing was quiet and shallow and she could feel her heart beating in her chest.

At the doorway, she crouched next to the door jamb and peeked into the room, the barrel of the shotgun mimicking the path her eyes took. She didn't see Glickman, but part of the room was obscured from her by the door. She leaned over and looked into the crack of the door next to the jamb. Glickman wasn't hiding behind the door either. She couldn't see him anywhere.

Jules was taken aback by the what she saw in the bedroom. She stood up and tried to make sense of what she saw. The bedroom was immaculate, clean and tidy, everything neatly organized. Even the bed was made. Jules had trouble reconciling the clean bedroom with what she knew about Glickman. Glickman was essentially a slob. The only time he displayed any meticulousness was when it came to his crimes.

Jules stepped inside the bedroom and used the barrel of the shotgun to close the door behind her, keeping her head on a swivel and sweeping the room with her eyes. Glickman was nowhere to be found. Unless he was hiding in the closet, he simply wasn't in the house.

She checked the closet. Glickman wasn't there, but something else was. Five colorful dresses hung in Glickman's closet. They looked fresh and clean. Jules felt a chill spirit up her spine. Glickman was active again, and he was bringing his victims to his home. He no longer had any need to be careful.

Jules still had to check out the basement but she doubted Glickman would be down there. With the electricity gone and the windows boarded up, the basement would be drenched in darkness. It made no sense that he'd be down there.

There was no dust on the dresser or the night stand which meant Glickman was still around even if he wasn't in the house. He could have been out looking for food or a victim or both. Jules would stay till Glickman returned. In the meantime, she'd search his bedroom.

A single austere chest of drawers sat against one wall. It had nothing on top of it. Jules checked it first. The top drawer had a wallet in it along with a host of odds and ends. She didn't see any car keys and that gave her an idea. She walked back to the living room and looked out the picture window. Glickman's truck, an old '90s Dodge Ram, sat parked in the front yard. Wherever Glickman was, he was on foot.

Jules headed back to the kitchen and closed the back door. She tacked together the splintered wood as best she could. She didn't want Glickman to notice anything out of place. After she finished, she thought the door looked passable. Jules didn't believe Glickman would notice anything amiss unless his attention was drawn directly to the door.

Jules headed back to the bedroom to resume her search. As she passed the basement door, she heard a faint metallic rustling sound. She was sure the sound had come from the basement. A moment later she heard it again. Was it Glickman? If he was down there, he would have heard her break open the back door. He'd know she was upstairs.

The only way Jules would know if Glickman were down there is if she went down herself. She cracked open the basement door, her back flattened against the wall next to it. "Mr. Glickman, is that you down there? This is Jules Vandevelde with the FBI."

Her question was greeted with silence. After a few moments, she heard the metallic scraping again, another sound too.

Jules pushed the door open further. A shivered whimpering sound drifted up the stairwell. The sound was pitiful. Jules glanced down the stairs. The basement was engulfed in darkness. The dim light in the hallway threw a paltry wedge of light onto the wooden stairs. Jules could only see halfway down the stairs.

"Who's down there?" she asked.

The soft whimpering continued, then a stammering, pleading voice, barely audible, cut through the crying. "Can you help me?"

It sounded like a young girl's voice, maybe a teenager. Jules wondered if Glickman was in the basement using the girl as bait. She wanted to help the girl, but she needed to remain detached. She couldn't let her emotions distract her from doing things the right way. She needed to determine if Glickman was in the basement. Going down there without knowing whether he was there or not was foolhardy.

"Where's Glickman?" Jules asked.

"I don't know," the voice answered, sounding flustered and peevish. "He … he left earlier before you came. Are you going to help me or what? I don't like it here."

Jules knew she would have to go down. "Okay, okay. I'm coming down."

She pointed the shotgun into the empty darkness below and mulled over a strategy. She moved down to the first step and closed her eyes. Then she let at least twenty seconds pass before closing the door behind her. She wanted the light to shine into the basement for a while. If Glickman were in the basement, she wanted him to be as disadvantaged as she was by the darkness.

She took the stairs slowly, keeping both hands on the shotgun, ready to fire if need be. Jules felt disoriented and unsteady and her sense of depth perception was gone. It was as if she had suddenly gone blind. She couldn't see a thing. She'd set herself adrift in a world of inky blackness. The only thing she could rely on was her auditory sense. She heard the girl's whimpering and the occasional tingling of what she now believed were chains being dragged across concrete.

Jules had no idea where she was in relationship to the basement floor. When she thought she was getting close, she carefully toed the surface of each step with her hiking shoes trying to find each step's edge.

"Why did you close the door?" the girl whined. "It's too dark down here. I don't like it when it's this dark."

Jules didn't answer. If Glickman was in the basement, she didn't want to give him a target. She sensed she was close to the floor. She tested the surface one more time, and this time she couldn't find a drop-off edge. She pushed her shoe further away from her but still found nothing, just smooth cement. Being on the floor made Jules feel more confident. She knew if she had to, she could move laterally, even if she couldn't see where she was going. The girl continued to whimper and Jules followed the sound.

"Can't you hurry?" the girl pleaded. "Why are you going so slow?" She paused briefly, then said, as if exasperated, "You do know I can see you, right? Don't you get it? He could come back any time. What are you waiting for?"

Jules remained silent. She knew the girl was close.

"No more baths!" the girl yelled hysterically.

The girl had to be right in front of her. Jules lowered the gun. If Glickman had been in the basement, he would already have made his move. "What's your name?" Jules asked.

"Addy," the girl said, crying. "My name is Addy. Thank you for coming for me."

Jules eyes were beginning to adjust to the darkness. She could see the outline of a silhouette in front of her. The silhouette was the same height as Jules. Jules reached her hand out toward the silhouette and found an arm. It was bare. She ran her hand up the girl's arm to her shoulder. It didn't appear the girl had any clothes on. Jules ran her hand back down the arm and found a wrist shackle with a chain attached to it. She followed the chain down to the floor to where it was secured by a steel ring. Jules gave the ring a tug, but it didn't give at all, not that she expected it to.

"You're going to be fine," she told the girl. "Is there a key?"

"What? Oh. Uh huh. He keeps the key in his pocket." The girl shivered with fear. "What are you going to do?" she asked haltingly.

"Don't worry. I'm going to take the key from him when he gets back. It's going to be fine," Jules reassured her. "I'm going to get you out of here. But I'm going to have to go upstairs first and wait for him to get back."

"Don't leave me here," the girl cried.

Before Jules could respond, a loud creaking moan echoed through the house. It was the front door.

"He's back. I told you he'd be back," she cried. "Please, no more baths."

Jules leaned forward and whispered in the girl's ear, "I won't let him hurt you. No more baths. I promise. But you have to stay quiet. He can't know I'm here. I'm going over there behind the stairs. It's going to be all right."

Jules heard Glickman's footsteps as he made his way across the wood floor above them. The old floor groaned under his weight. She heard him head into the kitchen and then she heard an abrupt clanging sound, sharp and final, as if a bag of cans had been dropped onto a kitchen counter.

Jules eyes had begun to adjust to the darkness, but the basement was still shrouded in indistinguishable black hues. Obscure shapes filled her vision, but Jules wasn't sure if she was actually seeing them. They didn't seem stable, and she thought they might be a kind of darkness-induced mirage. She strained to see and thought she could make out the dark outline of the stairs. She walked quickly toward them. When she got close, she felt around with her hand and found the side of the stairs. Then she got into position underneath them. She listened to the sounds of Glickman's footsteps as he tramped down the hallway. A moment later, she could hear water rushing through the pipes above them just under the ceiling. Glickman was filling the bathtub. He made his way to the bedroom for a minute before coming back down the hallway.

The door to the basement opened and a jittery beam of light streamed down the stairwell.

Glickman started down the stairs. "Good news, darling," Glickman announced, his voice filled with buoyant energy. "I found you a pretty new dress. I think you're going to like this one."

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