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Fiction Suspense

Tell Me No Secrets

by (author) Joy Fielding

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Mar 2010
Suspense, Women Sleuths, Psychological
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
    List Price

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People are inexplicably disappearing from Chicago prosecutor Jess Koster's life. Eight years ago, her mother vanished without a trace and now a client, the victim of a brutal, sadistic rapist, is also missing. Someone is disrupting Jess's neat, ordered existence with chaos and terror. And from the shadow of her past, a maniac is watching her, stalking her - and there's no one Jess can trust, for she feels with blood-chilling certainty that her mysterious tormentor is perilously close . . . and that the next missing person might be her.

About the author

Contributor Notes

JOY FIELDING is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Charley's Web, Heartstopper, Mad River Road, See Jane Run, and other acclaimed novels. She divides her time between Toronto and Palm Beach, Florida.

Excerpt: Tell Me No Secrets (by (author) Joy Fielding)

He was waiting for her when she got to work. Or so it seemed to Jess, who spotted him immediately, standing motionless at the comer of California Avenue and Twenty-fifth Street. She felt him watching her as she left the parking garage and hurried across the street toward the Administration Building, his dark eyes colder than the late October wind that played with his straggly blond hair, his bare hands clenched into tight fists outside the pockets of his well-worn brown leather jacket. Did she know him?
His body shifted slightly as Jess drew closer, and she saw that his mouth was twisted into an eerie little half grin that pulled at one side of his full lips, as if he knew something that she didn’t. It was a smile devoid of warmth, the smile of one who, as a child, enjoyed pulling the wings off butterflies, she thought with a shudder, ignoring the almost imperceptible nod of his head that greeted her as their eyes connected. A smile full of secrets, she understood, turning away quickly, and running up the front steps, suddenly afraid.
Jess felt the man move into position behind her, knew without looking that he was mounting the stairs after her, the deliberateness of his steps vibrating throughout her body. She reached the landing and pushed her shoulder against the heavy glass revolving door, the stranger stopping at the top of the steps, his face appearing and reappearing with each rotation of the glass, the sly smile never leaving his lips.
I am Death, the smile whispered. I have come for you.
Jess heard a loud gasp escape her lips, understood from the shuffling along the marble floor behind her that she had attracted the attention of one of the security guards. She spun around, watching the guard, whose name was Tony, approach cautiously, his hand gravitating toward the holster of his gun. “Something wrong?” he asked.
“I hope not,” Jess answered. “There’s a man out there who . . .” Who what? she demanded silently, staring deep into the guard’s tired blue eyes. Who wants to come in out of the cold? Who has a creepy grin? Was that a crime now in Cook County? The guard looked past her toward the door, Jess slowly tracking his gaze. There was no one there.
“Looks like I’m seeing ghosts,” Jess said apologetically, wondering if this were true, grateful that whatever the young man was, he was gone.
“Well, it’s the season for it,” the guard said, checking Jess’s identification even though he knew who she was, waving her through the metal detector as he’d been doing routinely every morning for the past four years.
Jess liked routine. Every morning she got up at 6:45, quickly showered and dressed in the clothes she had carefully laid out the night before, gobbled a piece of Pepperidge Farm frozen cake directly from the freezer, and was behind her desk within the hour, her calendar open to the day’s events, her case files ready. If she was prosecuting a case, there would be details to go over with her assistants, strategies to devise, questions to formulate, answers to determine. (A good attorney never asked a question to which she didn’t already know the answer.) If she was preparing for an upcoming trial, there would be information to gather, leads to run down, witnesses waiting upstairs to be interviewed, police officers to talk to, meetings to attend, timetables to coordinate. Everything according to schedule. Jess Koster didn’t like surprises outside the courtroom any better than she liked them inside it.
After she had a full grasp of the day that lay ahead, she would sit back with a cup of black coffee and a jelly doughnut and study the morning paper, starting with the obituaries. She always checked the obituaries. Ashcroft, Pauline, died suddenly in her home, in her sixty-seventh year; Barrett, Ronald, passed away after a lengthy illness, age 79; Black, Matthew, beloved husband and father, no age given, donations to be sent to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of America. Jess wasn’t sure when she’d started making the obituaries part of her regular morning routine, and she wasn’t sure why. It was an unusual habit for someone barely thirty years old, even for a prosecutor with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in Chicago. “Find anyone you know?” one of her partners once asked. Jess had shaken her head, no. There was never anyone she knew.
Was she searching for her mother, as her ex-husband had once suggested? Or was it her own name she somehow expected to see?
The stranger with the unruly blond hair and evil grin pushed his way rudely into her mind’s eye. I am Death, he teased, his voice bouncing off the bareness of the office walls. I have come for you.
Jess lowered the morning paper and let her eyes glance around the room. Three desks in varying degrees of scratched walnut sat at random angles against dull white walls. There were no framed pictures, no landscapes, no portraits, nothing but an old poster from Bye Bye Birdie haphazardly tacked onto the wall across from her desk by a few random pieces of yellowed Scotch tape. Law books filled strictly utilitarian metal shelves. Everything looked as if it could be picked up and moved out with only a minute’s notice. Which it could. Which it often was. Assistant state’s attorneys were rotated on a regular basis. It was never a good idea to get too comfortable.
Jess shared the office with Neil Strayhorn and Barbara Cohen, her second and third chair respectively, who would be arriving within the half hour. As first chair, it was up to Jess to make all major decisions as to how her office was run. There were 750 state’s attorneys in Cook County, over 200 of them in this building alone, 18 attorneys to every wing, 3 attorneys to every room, each watched over by a wing supervisor. By eight-thirty, the labyrinth of offices that made up the eleventh and twelfth floors of the Administration Building would be as noisy as Wrigley Field, or so it often seemed to Jess, who usually relished these few moments of peace and quiet before everyone arrived.
Today was different. The young man had unnerved her, thrown her off her usual rhythm. What about him was so familiar? she wondered. In truth, she hadn’t gotten a good look at his face, hadn’t seen much past the eerie grin, would never have been able to describe him for a police sketch artist, could never have picked him out of a lineup. He hadn’t even spoken to her. So why was she obsessing on him?
Jess resumed her scanning of the obituaries: Bederman, Marvin, 74, died peacefully in his sleep after a lengthy illness; Edwards, Sara, taken in her ninety-first year. . . .
“You’re here early.” The male voice traveled to her desk from the open doorway.
“I’m always here early,” Jess answered without looking up. No need to. If the heavy scent of Aramis cologne wasn’t enough to give Greg Oliver away, the confident swagger in his voice would. It was an office cliché that Greg Oliver’s winning record in the courtroom was surpassed only by his record in the bedroom, and for that reason, Jess had always made sure to keep her conversations with the forty-year-old prosecutor from the next office strictly professional. Her divorce from one lawyer had taught her that the last thing she ever wanted to do was get involved with another. “Is there something I can do for you, Greg?”
Greg Oliver traversed the distance to her desk in three quick strides. “Tell me what you’re reading.” He leaned forward to peer over her shoulder. “The obits? Christ, what some people won’t do to get their name in print.”
Jess chuckled in spite of herself. “Greg, I’m really busy. . . .”
“I can see that.”
“No, really,” Jess told him, taking quick note of his conventionally handsome face, made memorable by the liquid chocolate of his eyes. “I have to be in court at nine-thirty.”
He checked his watch. A Rolex. Gold. She’d heard rumors that he’d recently married money. “You’ve got lots of time.”
“Time I need to get my thoughts in order.”
“I bet your thoughts are already in order,” he said, straightening up only to lean back against her desk, openly checking his reflection in the glass of the window behind her, his hand brushing against a stack of carefully organized paperwork. “I bet your mind is as neat as your desk.” He laughed, the motion tugging at one comer of his mouth, reminding Jess instantly of the stranger with the ominous grin. “Look at you,” Greg said, misreading her response. “You’re all uptight because I accidentally moved a couple of your papers.” He made a great show of straightening them, then whisked some imaginary dust from the ragged surface of her desk top. “You don’t like anybody touching your stuff, do you?” His fingers caressed the wood grain in small, increasingly suggestive circles. The effect was almost hypnotic. A snake charmer, Jess thought, wondering momentarily whether he was the charmer or the snake.
She smiled, amazed at the way her mind seemed to be working this morning, and stood up, moving purposefully toward the bookshelves, though, in truth, she had no purpose in mind. “I think you better go so I can get some work done. I’m delivering my closing argument this morning in the Erica Barnowski case and . . .”
“Erica Barnowski?” His eyes reflected the path of his thoughts. “Oh yes. The girl who says she was raped . . .”
“The woman who was raped,” Jess corrected.
His laugh invaded the space between them. “Jesus Christ, Jess, she wasn’t wearing panties! You think any jury in the land is going to convict a guy of raping some woman he meets in a bar when she wasn’t wearing panties?” Greg Oliver looked toward the ceiling, then back at Jess, automatically smoothing back several hairs he’d displaced. “I don’t know, but her not wearing panties to a pickup bar smacks of implied consent to me.”
“And a knife at her throat is your idea of foreplay?” Jess shook her head, more in sadness than disgust. Greg Oliver was notoriously accurate in his assessments. If she couldn’t manage to persuade her fellow prosecutors that the man on trial was guilty, how could she hope to convince a jury?
“I don’t see a panty line under that short skirt,” Greg Oliver was saying. “Tell me, Counselor, you wearing panties?”
Jess’s hands moved to the sides of the gray wool skirt that stopped at her knees. “Cut it out, Greg,” she said simply.
The mischief in Greg Oliver’s voice spread to his eyes. “Just what would it take to get into those panties?”
“Sorry, Greg,” Jess told him evenly, “but I’m afraid there’s only room in these panties for one asshole.”
The liquid chocolate of Greg Oliver’s eyes hardened into brown ice, then immediately melted as the sound of his laughter once again filled the room. “That’s what I love about you, Jess. You’re so damn feisty. You’ll take anybody on.” He walked toward the door. “I’ll give you this much—if anybody can win this case, you can.”
“Thanks,” Jess said to the closing door. She walked to the window and stared absently out at the street eleven stories below. Large billboards shouted up at her: Abogado, they announced. “Lawyer,” in Spanish, followed by a name. A different name for every sign. Open twenty-four hours a day.
There were no other high buildings in the area. At fourteen stories tall, the Administration Building stuck out like the sore thumb it represented. The adjoining courthouse was a mere seven stories high. Behind them stood the Cook County Jail, where accused murderers and other alleged criminals who either couldn’t make bail or were being held without bond were kept until their cases came to court. Jess often thought of the area as a dark, evil place for dark, evil people.
I am Death, she heard the streets whisper. I have come for you.
She shook her head, glancing up at the sky, but even it was a dirty shade of gray, heavy with the threat of snow. Snow in October, Jess thought, unable to recall the last time it had snowed before Halloween. Despite the weather forecast, she hadn’t worn boots. They leaked and had unsightly salt rings around the toes, like the age lines of a tree. Maybe she’d go out later and buy herself a new pair.
The phone rang. Barely past eight o’clock and already the phone was ringing. She picked it up before it had a chance to ring again. “Jess Koster,” she said simply.
“Jess Koster, Maureen Peppler,” the voice said with a girlish giggle. “Am I interrupting anything?”
“Never,” Jess told her older sister, picturing Maureen’s crinkly smile and warm green eyes. “I’m glad you called.” Jess had always likened Maureen to one of those delicate sketches of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas, all soft and fuzzy around the edges. Even her voice was soft. People often said the sisters looked alike. But while the two women shared basic variations of the same oval face, and were both tall and slender, there was nothing fuzzy around the edges about Jess. Her brown shoulder-length hair was darker than Maureen’s, her eyes a more disturbing shade of green, her small-boned frame less curvaceous, more angular. It was as if the artist had drawn the same sketch twice, then rendered one in pastels, the other in oil. “What’s doing?” Jess asked. “How are Tyler and the twins?”
“The twins are great. Tyler’s still not thrilled. He keeps asking when we’re sending them back. You didn’t ask about Barry.”
Jess felt her jaw tighten. Maureen’s husband, Barry, was a successful accountant, and the vanity license plates on his late-model Jaguar said EARND IT. Did she really need to know more? “How is he?” she asked anyway.
“He’s fine. Business is terrific despite the economy. Or maybe because of it. Anyway, he’s very happy. We want you to come to dinner tomorrow night, and please don’t tell me you already have a date.”
Jess almost laughed. When was the last time she’d had a date? When was the last time she’d been anywhere socially that wasn’t connected, in some way, to the law? Where had she gotten the idea that only doctors were on call twenty-four hours a day? “No, I don’t have a date,” she answered.
“Good, then you’ll come. I don’t get to see nearly enough of you these days. I think I saw more of you when I was working.”
“So go back to work.”
“Not on your life. Anyway, tomorrow at six. Dad’s coming.”
Jess smiled into the phone. “See you tomorrow.” She replaced the receiver to the sound of a baby’s distant cry. She pictured Maureen running toward the sound, cooing over the cribs of her six-month-old twins, changing their diapers, seeing to their needs, while making sure that the three-year-old at her feet was getting the attention he craved. A far cry from the hallowed halls of the Harvard Business School where she’d earned her M.B.A. Jess shrugged. We all make choices, she thought. Her sister had obviously made hers.
She sat back down at her desk, trying to concentrate on the morning that lay ahead, praying she would be able to prove Greg Oliver wrong. She knew that securing a conviction in this case would be next to impossible. She and her partner would have to be very convincing.
The state’s attorney’s office always tried jury cases in pairs. Her second chair, Neil Strayhorn, was set to deliver the initial closing argument, recounting for the jury the straight, unpleasant facts of the case. This would be followed by the defense attorney’s closing remarks, and then Jess would handle the rebuttal, a position that allowed ample room for creative moral indignation. “Every day in the United States, 1,871 women are forcibly raped,” she began, rehearsing the words in the safety of her office. “That translates to 1.3 rapes of adult women every minute and a staggering 683,000 rapes each year.” She took a deep breath, tossing the sentences over in her mind, like errant pieces of lettuce in a large unwieldy salad. She was still tossing them over when Barbara Cohen arrived some twenty minutes later.
“How’s it going?” At five feet eleven inches, and with bright red hair that cascaded halfway down her back in frenzied ripples, Barbara Cohen often seemed the anthropomorphic version of a carrot. She was almost a head taller than Jess, and her long, skinny legs gave the impression that she was standing on stilts. No matter how bad Jess was feeling, just looking at the young woman who was her third chair always made her smile.
“Hanging in there.” Jess checked her watch. Unlike Greg Oliver’s, it was a simple Timex with a plain black leather band. “Listen, I’d like you and Neil to handle the Alvarez drug case when it comes to trial.”
The look on Barbara Cohen’s face reflected a mixture of excitement and apprehension. “I thought you wanted to take that one.”
“I can’t. I’m swamped. Besides, you guys can handle it. I’ll be here if you need any help.”
Barbara Cohen tried, and failed, to keep the smile that was spreading across her face from overtaking her more professional demeanor. “Can I get you some coffee?” she asked.
“If I drink any more coffee, I’ll be excusing myself from the courtroom every five minutes to pee. Think that would win me any sympathy points with the jury?”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
“How could she not wear panties, for God’s sake,” Jess muttered. “At the very least, you’d think she’d worry about discharge.”
“You’re so practical,” Barbara stated, and laughed, readying her cart with files for the judge’s morning call.
Neil Strayhorn arrived a few minutes later with the news that he thought he was coming down with a cold, then went straight to his desk. Jess could see his lips moving, silently mouthing the words to his initial closing statement. All around her, the offices of the state’s attorney for Cook County were coming to life, like a flower opening to the sun.
Jess was aware of each new arrival, of chairs being pushed back, pulled in, computers being activated, fax machines delivering messages, phones ringing. She unconsciously monitored the arrival of each of the four secretaries who served the eighteen lawyers in the wing, was able to distinguish the heavy steps of Tom Olinsky, her trial supervisor, as he walked toward his office at the end of the long hall.
“Every day in the United States, 1,871 women are forcibly raped,” she began again, trying to refocus.
One of the secretaries, a pear-shaped black woman who could have passed for either twenty or forty, stuck her head through the doorway, her long, dangly red earrings falling almost to her shoulders. “Connie DeVuono’s here,” she said, then took a step back, as if she half expected Jess to hurl something at her head.
“What do you mean she’s here?”
“I mean she’s outside the door. Apparently, she walked right past the receptionist. She says she has to talk to you.”
Jess scanned her appointment calendar. “Our meeting isn’t until four o’clock. Did you tell her I have to be in court in a few minutes?”
“I told her. She says she has to see you now. She’s very upset.”
“That’s not too surprising,” Jess said, picturing the middle-aged widow who’d been brutally beaten and raped by a man who’d subsequently threatened to kill her if she testified against him, an event that was scheduled for ten days from today. “Take her to the conference room, will you, Sally? I’ll be right there.”
“Do you want me to talk to her?” Barbara Cohen volunteered.
“No, I’ll do it.”
“Think it could be trouble?” Neil Strayhorn asked as Jess stepped into the hall.
“What else?”
The conference room was a small, windowless office, taken up almost entirely by an old walnut table and eight low-backed, mismatched brown chairs. The walls were the same dull white as the rest of the rooms, the carpet a well-worn beige.
Connie DeVuono stood just inside the doorway. She seemed to have shrunk since the last time Jess saw her, and her black coat hung on her body as if on a coatrack. Her complexion was so white it appeared tinged with green, and the bags under her eyes lay in soft, unflattering folds, sad testament to the fact that she probably hadn’t slept in weeks. Only the dark eyes themselves radiated an angry energy, hinting at the beautiful woman Connie DeVuono had once been. “I’m sorry to be disturbing you,” she began.
“It’s just that we don’t have a lot of time,” Jess said softly, afraid that if she spoke above a whisper, the woman might shatter, like glass. “I have to be in court in about half an hour.” Jess pulled out one of the small chairs for Connie to sit in. The woman needed no further encouragement. She collapsed like an accordion inside it. “Are you all right? Would you like some coffee? Some water? Here, let me take your coat.”
Connie DeVuono waved away each suggestion with shaking hands. Jess noticed that her nails were bitten to the quick and her cuticles had been picked raw. “I can’t testify,” she said, looking away, her voice so low as to be almost inaudible.
Still, the words had the force of a shout. “What?” Jess asked, though she’d heard every word.
“I said I can’t testify.”
Jess lowered herself into one of the other chairs and leaned toward Connie DeVuono so that their knees were touching. She reached for the woman’s hands and cupped them inside her own. They were freezing. “Connie,” she began slowly, trying to warm them, “you’re our whole case. If you don’t testify, the man who attacked you goes free.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“You’re sorry?”
“I can’t go through with it. I can’t. I can’t.” She started crying.
Jess quickly drew a tissue from the pocket of her gray jacket and handed it to Connie, who ignored it. Her cries grew louder. Jess thought of her sister, the effortless way she seemed able to comfort her crying babies. Jess had no such talents. She could only sit by helplessly and watch.
“I know I’m letting you down,” Connie DeVuono continued, her shoulders shaking. “I know I’m letting everybody down. . . .”
“Don’t worry about us,” Jess told her. “Worry about you. Think about what that monster did to you.”
The woman’s angry eyes bore deeply into Jess’s. “Do you think I could ever forget it?”
“Then you have to make sure he isn’t in a position to do it again.”
“I can’t testify. I just can’t. I can’t. I can’t.”
“Okay, okay, calm down. It’s okay. Try to stop crying.” Jess leaned back in her chair and tried to crawl inside Connie’s mind. Something had obviously happened since the last time they had spoken. At each of their previous meetings, Connie, though frightened, had been adamant about testifying. The daughter of Italian immigrants, she had grown up in a household that believed fiercely in the American system of justice. Jess had been very impressed with that belief. After four years with the state’s attorney’s office, Jess thought it probably stronger than her own. “Has something happened?” she asked, watching Connie’s racking shoulders shudder to a halt.
“I have to think about my son,” Connie said forcefully. “He’s only eight years old. His father died of cancer two years ago. If something happens to me, then he has no one.”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
“My mother is too old to look after him. Her English is very poor. What will happen to Steffan if I die? Who will take care of him? Will you?”
Jess understood the question was rhetorical, but answered anyway. “I’m afraid I’m not very good with men,” she said softly, hoping to elicit a smile, watching Connie DeVuono struggle to oblige. “But, Connie, nothing is going to happen to you once we put Rick Ferguson behind bars.”
The very mention of the man’s name caused Connie’s body to visibly tremble. “It was hard enough for Steffan to lose his father at so young an age. What could be worse than losing his mother too?”
Jess felt her eyes instantly well up with tears. She nodded. There could be nothing worse.
“Connie,” she began, surprised by the trembling in her voice, “believe me, I hear what you’re saying. I understand what you’re going through. But what makes you think that if you don’t testify, you’ll be safe? Rick Ferguson already broke into your apartment once and raped you. He beat you so badly you could barely open your eyes for a month. He didn’t know that your son wasn’t home. He didn’t care. What makes you think he won’t try it again? Especially once he knows that he can get away with it, because you’re too frightened to stop him. What makes you think that the next time he won’t hurt your son too?”
“Not if I refuse to testify.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I only know he said I’d never live to testify against him.”
“He made that threat months ago and it didn’t stop you.”
There was a moment’s silence. “What happened, Connie? What’s frightening you? Has he contacted you in any way? Because if he has, we can have his bail revoked. . . .”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“There’s plenty we can do.”
Connie DeVuono reached inside her floppy black leather purse and pulled out a small white box.
“What’s that?”
Connie DeVuono said nothing as she handed the box to Jess.
Jess opened it, gingerly working her way through layers of tissues, feeling something small and hard beneath her fingers.
“The box was in front of my door when I opened it this morning,” Connie said, watching as Jess pulled away the final tissue.
Jess felt her stomach lurch. The turtle that lay lifeless and exposed in her hands was missing its head and two of its feet.
“It was Steffan’s,” Connie said, her voice flat. “We came home a few nights ago and it wasn’t in its tank. We couldn’t understand how it could have gotten out. We looked everywhere.”
lnstantly Jess understood Connie’s terror. Three months ago, Rick Ferguson had broken into her apartment, raped her, sodomized her, beaten her, then threatened her life. Now, he was showing her how easy it would be to make good on his threats. He’d broken into her apartment again, as effortlessly as if he’d been handed the key. He’d killed and mutilated her child’s pet. No one had seen him. No one had stopped him.
Jess rewrapped the dead turtle in its shroud of tissues and placed it back in its cardboard casket. “Not that I think it’ll do any good, but I’d like to show this to forensics.” She walked to the door and quickly signaled for Sally. “Get this over to forensics for me, will you?”
Sally took the box from Jess’s hands as carefully as if she were handling a poisonous snake.
Suddenly Connie was on her feet. “You know as well as I do you’ll never be able to connect this to Rick Ferguson. He’ll get away with it. He’ll get away with everything.”
“Only if you let him.” Jess returned to Connie’s side.
“What choice do I have?”
“A clear choice,” Jess told her, knowing she had only a few minutes left to change Connie’s mind. “You can refuse to testify, that way ensuring that Rick Ferguson walks away scot free, that he never has to be held accountable for what he did to you, for what he’s still doing to you.” She paused, giving her words time to register. “Or you can go to court and make sure that that bastard gets what he deserves, that he gets put behind bars where he can’t hurt you or anyone else for a very long time.” She waited, watching Connie’s eyes flicker with indecision. “Face it, Connie. If you don’t testify against Rick Ferguson, you’re not helping anyone, least of all yourself. You’re only giving him permission to do it again.”
The words hung suspended in the space between them, like laundry someone had forgotten to take off the line. Jess held her breath, sensing Connie was on the verge of capitulating, afraid to do anything that might tip the delicate balance in the other direction. Another speech was already working its way to the tip of her tongue. There’s an easy way to do this, it began, and there’s a hard way. The easy way is that you agree to testify as planned. The hard way is that I’ll have to force you to testify. I’ll get the judge to issue a bench warrant for your arrest, force you to come to court, force you to take the stand. And if you still refuse to testify, the judge can, and will, hold you in contempt, send you to jail. Wouldn’t that be a tragedy—you in jail and not the man who attacked you?
Jess waited, fully prepared to use these words if she had to, silently praying they wouldn’t be necessary. “Come on, Connie,” she said, giving it one last try. “You’ve fought back before. After your husband died, you didn’t give up, you went to night school, you got a job so that you could provide for your son. You’re a fighter, Connie. You’ve always been a fighter. Don’t let Rick Ferguson take that away from you. Fight back, Connie. Fight back.”
Connie said nothing, but there was a slight stiffening of her back. Her shoulders lifted. Finally, she nodded.
Jess reached for Connie’s hands. “You’ll testify?”
Connie’s voice was a whisper. “God help me.”
“We’ll take all the help we can get.” Jess checked her watch, rose quickly to her feet. “Come on, I’ll walk you out.”
Neil and Barbara had already left for court, and Jess ushered Connie along the corridor of the state’s attorney’s offices, past the display of cut-off ties that lined one wall, symbolizing each prosecutor’s first win before a jury. The halls were decorated in preparation for Halloween, large orange paper pumpkins and witches on broomsticks taped across the walls, like in a kindergarten class, Jess thought, accepting Greg Oliver’s “good luck” salutations, and proceeding through the reception area to the bank of elevators outside the glass doors. From the large window at the far end of the six elevators, the whole west side and northwest side of the city was visible. On a nice day, O’Hare Airport could be easily discerned. Even faraway Du Page County seemed within reach.
The women said nothing on the ride down to the main floor, knowing everything important had already been said. They exited the elevator and rounded the corner, pointedly ignoring the Victim-Witness Services Office with its large picture-laden poster proclaiming we remember you . . . in loving memory of . . . and proceeded to the glassed-in rectangular hallway that connected the Administration Building to the courthouse next door. “Where are you parked?” Jess asked, about to guide Connie through the airport-like security to the outside.
“I took the bus,” Connie DeVuono began, then stopped abruptly, her hand lifting to her mouth. “Oh my God!”
“What? What’s the matter?” Jess followed the woman’s frightened gaze.
The man was standing at the opposite end of the corridor, leaning against the cold expanse of glass wall, his lean frame heavy with menace, his blunt features partially obscured by the thick mass of long, uncombed, dark blond hair that fell over the collar of his brown leather jacket. As his body swiveled slowly around to greet them, Jess watched the side of his lips twist into the same chilling grin that had greeted her arrival at work that morning.
I am Death, the grin said.
Jess shuddered, then tried to pretend it was from a gust of cold air that had sneaked into the lobby through the revolving doors.
Rick Ferguson, she realized.
“I want you to take a taxi,” Jess told Connie, seeing one pull up to drop somebody off, guiding Connie through the doors onto California Avenue, and thrusting ten dollars into her hand. “I’ll take care of Rick Ferguson.”
Connie said nothing. It was as if she had expended all her energy in Jess’s office, and she simply had no more strength to argue. Tightly clutching the ten-dollar bill, she allowed Jess to put her in the cab, not bothering to look back as the car pulled away. Jess remained for a moment on the sidewalk, trying to still the loud thumping in her chest, then turned around and pushed her way back through the revolving doors.
He hadn’t moved.
Jess strode toward him across the long corridor, the heels of her black pumps clicking on the hard granite floor, watching as Rick Ferguson’s features snapped into sharper focus with each step. The vague generic menace he projected—white male, early twenties, five feet ten inches tall, 170 pounds, blond hair, brown eyes—became more concrete, individualized: shoulders that stooped slightly, unkempt hair pulled into a loose ponytail, deeply hooded cobralike eyes, a nose that had been broken several times and never properly reset, and always that same unnerving grin.
“I’m warning you to stay away from my client,” Jess announced when she reached him, not giving him the chance to interrupt. “If you show up within fifty yards of her again, even accidentally, if you try to speak to her or contact her in any way, if you leave any more gruesome little presents outside her door, I’ll have your bail revoked and your ass in jail. Am I making myself clear?”
“You know,” he said, speaking very deliberately, as if he were in the middle of an entirely different conversation, “it’s not such a great idea to get on my bad side.”
Jess almost laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Rick Ferguson shifted his body weight from one foot to the other, then shrugged, managing to appear almost bored. He looked around, scratched at the side of his nose. “It’s just that people who annoy me have a way of . . . disappearing.”
Jess found herself taking an involuntary step back. A cold shiver, like a drill, snaked its way through her chest to her gut. She had to fight the sudden urge to throw up. When she spoke, her voice was hollow, lacking resonance. “Are you threatening me?”
Rick Ferguson pushed his body away from the wall. His smile widened. I am Death, the smile said. I have come for you.
Then he walked away without a backward glance.

Editorial Reviews

"Heady, original, and hard to put down."
- San Francisco Chronicle
"Engrossing . . . with a remarkable final twist."
- Sunday Times (UK)

"[Fielding] rises to terrifying new heights."
- Ottawa Citizen

Other titles by Joy Fielding