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Authors: Mary Jane Clark

Tags: #Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller

Dancing in the Dark

BOOK: Dancing in the Dark
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PROLOGUE

Thursday Evening, August 18

Now that she was deprived of sight, her other senses were
intensified. She stood in the darkness, seeing nothing but hearing the
persistent roar of the Atlantic Ocean in the distance and the soft
flapping of wings right above her. Her nostrils flared at the smell of
must and decay. The ground was damp and cold beneath her bare feet, her
toes curling in the wet, sandy dirt. She felt something brush against
her ankle and prayed it was only a mouse and not a rat.

Three days in this dank chamber were enough. If she had to stay any
longer, she would surely lose her mind. Still, when they found her, as
she fantasized they would, the police would want to know everything. To
survive this, she’d have to be able to recount every detail of what had
happened.

She would tell the police how he’d leave her alone for what seemed
like hours at a time. She would tell them how he’d gagged her when he
left so nobody would hear her screams and how he would lower the gag
only to press his mouth against hers when he returned.

The police would want to know what he’d said to her, but she would
have to tell them that she had stopped asking him questions after the
second day of captivity because he never answered. He’d expressed what
he wanted by touch. She’d be sure to tell them how he’d caressed her
and lifted her up, how he’d maneuvered his body against hers, how she
had known she must follow his lead.

As she continued to mentally organize the information the police
would surely need from her, she felt a familiar rumble from her
stomach. She had eaten sparsely of the meager provisions, but that
didn’t really bother her. Hunger was a familiar friend. She knew the
ability to survive with minimal sustenance was one of her most
impressive strengths, though, of course, her parents didn’t see it that
way. Nor did her former friends or teachers or the health care
professionals who had worked so hard to steer her away from the path
she had taken. They didn’t see what to her was only obvious. Not eating
was the ultimate control.

As she listened to a pigeon cooing from the eaves above her, she
thought more about her parents. They must be frantic with worry. She
imagined her mother crying, and her father pacing and cracking his
knuckles, over and over, his annoying habit whenever he was upset. Was
everyone in town out looking for her? She prayed they were. She hoped
that anyone who had ever wronged her, anyone who had ever snubbed her,
anyone who had ever hurt her was worried about her now.

The low rumble of the waves rolled in and out, and she began to rock
to the rhythm, trying to soothe herself. It was all going to work out.
It had to. She would tell the police what had happened, how he’d
silently pulled her to her feet. Without words, he’d shown her what he
wanted her to do by the way he moved his body next to hers. She had
danced in the dark for him. Danced again and again, trying desperately
to please him. Dancing for her life.

Four Hours Later, Ocean Grove, New Jersey

The security guard raised his arm and pointed the flashlight at his
wrist. Still an hour to go before his shift was over. Time for one last
patrol.

Strolling along the empty paths, George Croft pulled his
handkerchief from his uniform pocket, wiping his forehead and the back
of his neck. Except for the excessive heat, it was a night like many
others in the quiet oceanside town. An occasional throaty snore
emanated from the dwellings he passed. The association rules permitted
no loud talking after 10:00, and most lights were off by 11:00 p.m. The
combination of sun, heat, and salt air had left the summer occupants
ready for a good night’s sleep.

Finishing up on Mt. Carmel Way, the guard cut across the grass and
stopped to check the doors of Bishop Jane’s Tabernacle and the Great
Auditorium one last time. The massive Victorian-style wooden structures
were locked up tight as drums. The illuminated cross that shone from
the top of the auditorium, serving as a landmark for passing ships,
beamed into the night, signaling that all was well.

He was satisfied that everything was in order, but he still had
another fifteen minutes before he was officially off duty. God forbid
something happened before 2:00 a.m. and he wasn’t on the grounds. He’d
lose his job over that. And, although she didn’t live in his patrol
area, that young woman was still missing. If some sick nut was intent
on abducting another Ocean Grove girl, the guard wasn’t going to have
it happen on his watch.

Lord, it was hot. Longing for a drink of cool water, George turned
his flashlight in the direction of the wooden gazebo that protected the
Beersheba Well. He knew the first well driven in Ocean Grove had been
named for a well in the Old Testament. Beersheba’s waters had been good
enough for the Israelites back then, and good enough for his town’s
founding fathers, but he preferred the bottled stuff. Still, the gazebo
was as good a place as any to wait it out until his shift was over.

With no breeze blowing in from the ocean, the night air was
especially still. He trained the yellow light on the lawn in front of
him and walked slowly, trying to kill time. Noticing one of his shoes
was undone, he put the flashlight down in the grass and stooped to tie
the lace. It was then that he heard the scratching sound.

The fine hairs tingled on the back of his clammy neck, and George
spun the flashlight in the direction of the noise. He squinted, trying
to identify what he was seeing. A dark mound, motionless, at least as
far as he could see, lay at the base of the gazebo.

George stepped a little closer. Just when he heard the scratching
again, he detected slight movement coming from the form. Slowly,
slowly, he approached until, finally, the glare of the flashlight
reflected off the pale skin of a female face, blindfolded and gagged.

FRIDAY
AUGUST 19

CHAPTER
1

 

Diane could feel the heat from the sidewalk seeping through the
soles of her shoes as she hurried down Columbus Avenue. Beads of
perspiration slipped down her sides, and she wiped the dampness
accumulating at her brow line with one swoop, negating the twenty
minutes she had spent in front of the bathroom mirror with her hair
dryer, round brush, and styling mousse. Her freshly laundered cotton
blouse stuck to her back, and the starched collar was beginning to
droop. The day hadn’t even begun and already she was a wilted mess.

She was anxious, as usual, about being late, and she wished she had
not promised herself to walk to work. The twenty-block trek was the
only dependable exercise she got these days, and she needed it. She had
let her gym membership lapse since she found she wasn’t using it on any
routine basis. There just wasn’t time anymore—not if she was going to
spend the time she felt she should with the kids right now.

Sniffing the sickening smell of garbage already baking in the
morning sun as it waited to be picked up from the curb, Diane felt
relief that her two-week vacation was about to begin. It would be great
to get out of the city, away from the oppressive heat, away from the
noise and the hustle and the pressure. These last months had been tough
on all of them, brutal really. Sometimes, it didn’t feel like any of it
could have happened. Yet the reality was all too clear when she spotted
Michelle biting her nails or watched Anthony’s shoulders slump when she
caught him staring at his father’s framed picture on the piano—or when
she reached out in the middle of the night to the empty place in her
queen-size bed.

She cut across the courtyard at Lincoln Center, stopping for just a
moment at the wide fountain, hoping to catch a bit of fine spray. But
there was absolutely no breeze to propel the mist her way.

Adjusting her shoulder bag, Diane continued walking. No matter. Soon
she and the kids would be someplace where the air didn’t stink and the
water flowed cool and clear. Maybe they weren’t going the way they had
originally planned, maybe it wasn’t the way they would have wanted it,
but it was the way things were. They were going on this vacation. They
deserved it. They needed it after all they had been through.

Life, even without Philip, had to go on.

Pushing through the heavy revolving door into the lobby, Diane
welcomed the blast of cool air. She smiled at the uniformed security
guards as she fumbled in her bag for the beaded metal necklace that
threaded through the opening on her identification pass. Finding it,
she swept the card against the
e
lectronic
device that beeped to signal she was cleared to enter the KEY News
Broadcast Center. She knew many of the other correspondents found it
annoying to produce their IDs. They thought their well-known faces
should be enough for entry, but Diane didn’t mind. Security had an
increasingly tough job, and it was easy enough for her to pull out her
card. She did draw the line, however, at wearing the thing around her
neck all day. That wasn’t a fashion statement she cared to make.

She purchased a cup of tea and a banana at the coffee trolley, then
walked up the long, wide ramp to the elevators, passing the large,
lighted pictures of the KEY News anchors and correspondents, grouped
according to their broadcasts. Eliza Blake beamed from the
KEY Evening Headlines
poster.
Constance Young and Harry Granger grinned
beneath the
KEY to America
morning
show logo.
The
Hourglass
photo,
taken over a year before, showed Cassie Sheridan surrounded by the news
magazine’s contributing reporters. Diane didn’t stop to study her own
face, with its blue-gray eyes and nose she wished was just a little bit
straighter, smiling from the wall with her colleagues. She needed no
reminder. The worry and aggravation of the past few months were
showing. The fine lines at the corners of her eyes had deepened, and
new ones had formed around her mouth, vestiges of unconscious frowning.
Lately, Diane noticed she was forced to apply concealer several times a
day to camouflage the dark circles that had developed beneath her eyes.

Another good reason for a vacation, she thought as she pressed the
elevator button. If she could just get away and relax for a bit, her appearance would benefit. All
of the female correspondents were acutely aware that the way they
looked played into their success. It was just a fact of broadcast news
life. The guys paid attention to their appearance too, of course. But
they could let their hair go gray, sport some wrinkles, gain a few
pounds and get away with it. The women couldn’t. They groused about it
with their friends, but it wasn’t going to change and they knew it. For
the on-air journalists, experience counted, but youth and beauty were
idolized.

The elevator bell pinged, and the doors slid open. Walking directly
across the sixth-floor hallway, Diane slipped into the ladies’ room.
She pulled paper towels from the wall dispenser and patted at her face,
trying not to wipe off her makeup as she dabbed at the mascara that had
run at the corners of her eyes. As she worked to re-create some
semblance of a hairstyle, she heard the click of a lock opening in one
of the stalls behind her.

“Hi, Susannah,” Diane said as the young woman limped toward the sink
next to hers and pumped out some liquid soap.

“Hey, Diane. Hot enough for you?” Facing the mirror, Susannah smiled
her crooked smile, which reflected its way back to Diane.

Diane was about to start complaining about her flattened hair and
her sweaty walk to work, but she stopped herself, knowing how
insensitive that would be. Susannah would probably give just about
anything to be able to take the walk that Diane took for granted.

“Thank God for air-conditioning,” Diane answered, pulling strands of
ash-blond hair from her brush before putting it back into her shoulder
bag. She rifled through the satchel and pulled out a small can of hair
spray. “And tomorrow I leave for a vacation with my kids. It may be hot
at the Grand Canyon, but it won’t be as muggy as it is here.”

“That sounds fabulous,” Susannah answered with enthusiasm. “Do you
have all the information you need before you go? I could get a little
research package together for you.”

That was one of the great things about Susannah, thought Diane,
shaking the can and taking the lid off. She was always so upbeat and
eager to help. God knew, Susannah had plenty to be down about. But she
didn’t play the victim. Maybe she knew that a poor-me attitude wore
thin with folks after a while.

“Oh, you’re a doll, Susannah, but I don’t need a thing. I’m going to
just sit back and let the tour guides do their jobs. I’m looking
forward to a vacation where I don’t have to read any maps or make any
decisions or be responsible for anything more than which pair of shorts
to pull on in the morning. I just want to relax with my kids for two
weeks and let someone else worry about what we’re going to do every
day.”

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