© 1984, 2004 by F. Paul Wilson

Kindle edition: 2011

Chapter One




Repairman Jack awoke with light in his eyes, white noise in his ears, and an ache in his back.

He’d fallen asleep on the couch in the spare bedroom where he kept his DVD player and projection TV. He turned his head toward the set. A nervous tweed pattern buzzed around on the six-foot screen while the air conditioner in the right half of the double window beside it worked full blast to keep the room at seventy.

He got to his feet with a groan and shut off the TV. The hiss of white noise stopped. He leaned over and touched his toes, then straightened and rotated his lower spine. His back was killing him. That couch was made for sitting, not sleeping.

He stepped to the player and ejected the disk. He’d fallen asleep during the closing credits of the 1931 Frankenstein, part one of Repairman Jack's unofficial James Whale Festival.

Poor Henry Frankenstein, he thought, slipping the disk into its box. Despite all evidence to the contrary, despite what everyone around him thought, Henry had been sure he was sane.

Jack located the proper slot in the rack on the wall, shoved Frankenstein in, and pulled out its neighbor: Bride of Frankenstein, part two of his private James Whale Festival.

A glance out the window revealed the usual vista of sandy shore, calm blue ocean, and supine sunbathers. He was tired of the view. Especially since some of the bricks had started showing through. Three years since he'd had the scene painted on the blank wall facing the windows of this and the other bedroom. Long enough. The beach scene no longer interested him. Perhaps a rain forest mural would be better. With lots of birds and reptiles and animals hiding in the foliage. Yes... a rain forest. He filed the thought away. He'd have to keep an eye out for someone who could do the job justice.

The phone began ringing in the front room. Who that could be? He'd changed his number a couple of months ago. Only a few people had it. He didn't bother to lift the receiver. The answering machine would take care of that. He heard a click, heard his own voice start his standard salutation:

'Pinocchio Productions...I'm not in right now, but if you'll—'

A woman's voice broke in over his own, her tone impatient. 'Pick up if you're there, Jack. Otherwise I'll call back later.'


Jack nearly tripped over his own feet in his rush to the phone.

'Gia? That you?'

'Yes, it's me.' Her voice sounded flat, almost resentful.

'God! It's been a long time!' Two months. Forever. He had to sit down. 'I'm so glad you called.'

'It's not what you think, Jack.'

'What do you mean?'

'I'm not calling for myself. If it were up to me I wouldn't be calling at all. But Nellie asked me to.'

His jubilation faded, but he kept talking. 'Who's Nellie?' He drew a blank on the name.

'Nellie Paton. You must remember Nellie and Grace, the two English ladies?'

'Oh, yeah. How could I forget? They introduced us.'

'I've managed to forgive them.'

Jack let that go by without comment. 'What's the problem?'

'Grace has disappeared. She hasn't been seen since she went to bed Monday night.'

He remembered Grace Westphalen: a very prim and proper Englishwoman pushing seventy. Not the eloping sort.

'Have the police—?'

'Of course. But Nellie wanted me to call you to see if you'd help. So I'm calling.'

'Does she want me to come over?'

'Yes. If you will.'

'Will you be there?'

She gave an exasperated sigh. 'Yes. Are you coming or not?'

'I'm on my way.'

'Better wait. The patrolmen who were here said a detective from the department would be coming by this morning. '

'Oh.' That wasn't good.

'I thought that might slow you up.'

She didn't have to sound so smug about it.

'I'll be there after lunch.'

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