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Aphrodite
By Russell Andrews

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 Aphrodite

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Aphrodite
By Russell Andrews
ISBN: 0446614963
Genre: Fiction

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Chapter Excerpt from: Aphrodite , by Russell Andrews

Washington, D.C.


February 23

She knew there were no monsters.

And yet, when the lights were out, she also knew that there were.

It’s why she screamed when she heard the footsteps. There was a quick flurry, someone running—no, darting, that’s the way it sounded, definitely darting—and then there was a crash, glass being shattered, a piece of pipe, perhaps, swung against the ugly overhanging fluorescent light. Everything turned shadowy; the whole room was suddenly fifty percent darker than it had been. Then, almost before she could register what was happening, there were more footsteps, on the other side of the garage—how did he get over there so fast? It didn’t seem possible—and another crash, another light smashed, and then it was dark. Not just darker this time, but completely dark. She couldn’t see her hand right in front of her face.

It was absolutely quiet, too. Black and silent.

And suddenly there it was.

The feeling.

Even under normal circumstances, when things were calm, when she was tucked safely in bed, under the down-filled covers with the lights out, Maura Greer was overwhelmed by the dark. Even in her own room there was nothing she could do to stop her imagination from running wild. To stop her heart from beating madly and her throat from drying up and that thing inside her head from saying: Be afraid. Something bad is coming. Something really is there, inside the blackness. . . .

And now something really was there.

Footsteps again.

She could hear someone breathing.

She thought she was going to faint. Her whole body was shaking and, despite the freezing temperature and dankness of the garage, hot, clammy sweat was starting to drip down the back of her neck.

Maura had lived with this fear for so long. Maybe her whole life. As a child she needed a night-light. When she went away to college, got her very first apartment, she used to leave the light on in the hallway outside her bedroom. She told her roommate it was so she could find the bathroom when she woke up in the middle of the night, but that wasn’t true at all. It was because the darkness terrified her. Filled her with numbing, paralyzing dread.

That’s what she was feeling now. She was stuck in the underground garage of her apartment building with some madman who had shattered all the lights and was, she was positive, going to stalk her and catch her and rape her. So the dread was deep in the pit of her stomach. A physical sensation. A pain. As if she’d been injected with a drug that was quickly taking effect, moving upward from her feet, through her legs, clenching her stomach, wrapping around her throat, choking her. It’s not fair, she thought. Not today. Not now. Not when, in less than an hour, her whole life was about to change. And it was going to change. She knew it. Today he was going to tell her he loved her. He was going to tell her they could be together. Finally. And she was going to comfort him and assure him that everything would be all right, and make him understand he’d made the right decision, and . . .

More footsteps!

To her left. He was all the way to her left, maybe thirty feet away. There was a door there, leading up to her apartment building; it was the way she’d come in. But there was another way out. An easier way. The driveway. That was maybe fifty or sixty feet to her right. The metal door, the one that rolled slowly down from the tracks on the ceiling and guarded the ramp the cars came up, was shut. It shouldn’t have been—it was supposed to stay open until 7 P.M. She didn’t have the clicker that opened it, either. She would have, normally, but she hadn’t brought her purse. He didn’t like her to carry any ID when they met. He didn’t want them to be seen together in public, and they always took extra-careful precautions, but he didn’t want her to have any identifying papers in case anything happened, so she just took to leaving her purse and her wallet at home when she saw him. She could picture her bag sitting on the kitchen counter. And in it was the goddamn clicker. She’d thought about taking it, decided it wasn’t important, she wouldn’t need it, not before seven. So she left it. Her ticket to freedom sitting on the goddamn kitchen counter. . . .

But there was still another way out, she realized. Another door that led out to the front of the building. All she had to do was beat him to that door by the driveway and she could make it up to the street. There’d be people there. Someone to help her. There’d be light.

But she didn’t know if she could make it. She wasn’t dressed for running.

She had wanted today to be so perfect. She wore his favorite blouse, a flowery Donna Karan, very flimsy and practically see-through. She had tried on two different pairs of pants in her apartment, then decided that pants weren’t right, she really wanted to go sexy, so she wound up with a short black skirt. Straight, no pleats, linen. It came down to the middle of her thighs, and she knew he really liked her thighs; even in public he could barely keep his hands from brushing up against them at dinner, sometimes being as daring as he could be, squeezing them under the table and lingering.

The bra had been easy. It came from the Bra Store, in Manhattan, on Madison in the East Sixties, practically her favorite place on earth. Today’s choice was very daring. It was flesh colored and revealed a lot of cleavage. Under the Donna Karan it would look, at first glance, as if she was naked, and she knew he’d really, really like that. Leaving her apartment, she’d thought about how he’d look at her in mock disapproval, shake his head, and say something like “That should be illegal.” She’d look concerned and maybe say, “Do you want me to go home and change?” And, of course, he’d grab her then, because he couldn’t help himself, and she’d let him hold her, touch her, for a long time, and she’d kiss him, once or twice, slowly lick the inside of his upper lip, he loved that so much, and when he groaned with pleasure, she’d say, “Did you do it? Did you tell her?” And this time she knew the answer would be yes. Because this time she really had something for him. She had some real information. She would show him once and for all that she was not just a piece of fluff or merely the object of his lust. She had a brain. A good brain. And she was important to him. Useful.

Because this time she could give him what he wanted, something besides the sex.

He’d given her a name.

Aphrodite.

And now she knew what it meant.

She could, even in the darkness of the garage, picture his eyes, the way they’d shine when she told him what she’d discovered. And she imagined his voice when she finally heard the words she’d been dying to hear for so many months now.

Yes, I told her. Yes, we can be together.

Yes. I love you.

Yes . . .

It was going to be exactly how she’d dreamed about it. That’s why she’d had to get the shoes just right, too, of course. He liked spike heels, all men did. God, men were fools sometimes. It was still the middle of the afternoon and she didn’t want to look like a hooker, but what the hell, she’d decided to go for it. She wouldn’t wear them when he took her to the White House—and he was going to take her to the White House, he’d all but promised—but today wasn’t for meeting presidents and senators. Today was supposed to be for something altogether different, so she went for the Jimmy Choo eggshell-colored heels. Why not? They showed her ankles off so perfectly and that was the best part of her body, she knew. She might be ten pounds on the plump side—okay, fifteen—but her ankles were perfect. So that was what she was wearing with her tight skirt, and that was why she was not dressed for running.

Her ankles just might get her killed, she thought. . . .

Where was Hector? Why hadn’t that occurred to her before? He was always in the garage during the day. He complained about it all the time. Sunny outside but I’m underground all day long, that’s what he constantly said to her. He’d leer at her a little bit, especially when she looked like she did today. He’d leer and complain about being inside and underground breathing in car fumes. Where was he now?

She screamed out his name.

Hectorrrrrrrrrrr!

No answer. Was Hector the one doing this? It seemed inconceivable. But still, the way he looked at her sometimes. Had she ever told him she was afraid of the dark? She might have. Everyone said she was too gabby. She might have told him and now here he was, wanting her and knowing she’d be terrified.

There was another noise, a ssssstttt. A match being lit. Then a tiny speck of light. She saw something. A man. Not Hector. Nothing like Hector. A tall man. Tall and thin with short-cropped white-blond hair. Handsome and pale.

Then the match went out and the light was gone. And so was he.

Back in the dark.

That’s when she realized that if she couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see her. So, as terrified as she was, her brain began to work: It told her to crouch down and kick off those eggshell high heels and move quietly, quietly but steadily, toward the door by the driveway. . . .

She wondered if they’d realize she was late checking into the hotel. She had told them she’d be there by five. They knew her there by now, at the Marriott in Virginia. The desk clerk no longer bothered to take her credit card imprint when she checked in; he’d just wave her away and say they’d take care of it on her way out. Then she’d pay cash. Her story was that she was from out of town, coming in repeatedly on business. She said she lived in East End Harbor, on Long Island, in New York, and that wasn’t really a lie. More like a fib. She also told him she was a lobbyist for the Nature Conservancy, and that was a lie. She didn’t know why she’d said it, maybe because that’s what she wished she were. That’s what she would be, one of these days. But the clerk certainly remembered their conversations because when he saw her he always called her Ms. Greer, he always asked how her lobbying was going, and then he’d hand her the key to her room, always the same room, 1722. He knew not to bother to call a bellhop; she had made it clear that she preferred to carry her small overnight bag herself. The only question he ever asked was, “Early or late checkout?” and after she told him she’d smile to show she was very satisfied with the service, then head straight for the bank of elevators that went to the seventeenth floor. All she’d have to do after that was wait for the love of her life to arrive. She always arrived on time, she was never late. So maybe they’d realize that something was wrong; maybe they’d come looking for her.

Another ssssstttt. Another flash of light. He was far from her now, the blond man. He was guarding that door all the way to the left, and she’d moved maybe fifteen feet closer to the driveway. She could make it. He was looking around, he didn’t see her, but she could see he was wearing a khaki suit with an open-necked blue shirt, and now she thought: I can do it. I can make it. He’s not even looking in my direction and, okay, I see the clearing, I see the door. As soon as the match goes out, just run like hell. I can make it. . . .

The match went out and she took off.

She banged her knee into the corner of a car—the darkness was disorienting, but that didn’t really slow her down. She was hauling ass and there was no way he was going to get her. She didn’t even hear footsteps; he wasn’t even trying. He knew it was impossible, knew that he’d lost, and she reached the door, grabbed for the doorknob and started to turn it, started to yank the door open and yes, there was the crack of sunlight, she had made it. . . .

And that’s when she felt the hand on her arm.

She looked up and there he was. The light from the crack in the door showed the short blond hair, the khaki suit, and the blue shirt. But it wasn’t possible. She’d seen him, knew he was all the way on the other side of the garage. She hadn’t heard him running. He couldn’t have beaten her to the door. It was not humanly possible. . . .

She felt a pain in her wrist now, realized he was twisting it, pulling her away from the door. She heard it shut with a click and a quiet whoosh. She started to scream—maybe someone on the other side would hear her—but his hand was over her mouth and she couldn’t scream. She couldn’t move and she couldn’t make a sound and she couldn’t even see him anymore. She couldn’t see anything. She was back in the dark.

There was a strange and overwhelming pressure on her throat now and she was having trouble breathing. She felt her head twisting and it hurt, it really hurt, and then she heard a little snap and started to fall to the concrete floor. She was vaguely aware that the man was holding her up, that he was dragging her to the back of a car. She felt herself being lifted up, realized that the trunk of the car was open, and she started to squirm.

And then she felt another tug at her neck and heard another crack and then she didn’t feel anything.

Maura did not hear the trunk of the blond man’s car close on top of her. She did not know that the Donna Karan blouse she was wearing now had a long tear under her right armpit or that the Jimmy Choo spike-heeled shoes were streaked with grease and carelessly tossed inches away from her bare feet. She did not see or feel the body of Hector, the garage attendant, which was already stuffed in the trunk next to her.

As the blond man’s car slowly pulled out of the parking space and moved toward the exit ramp, Maura felt like she was floating, like she was drifting off into space, weightless. She was surrounded by blackness, blacker than she’d ever imagined. She tried to make herself come back, tried to stop herself from fading into the dark, but she couldn’t. And as she floated farther and farther away, she thought: It’s not fair. It’s not fair, it’s not fair, it’s not fair. He has to tell me he loves me. He has to take me to meet all the famous and powerful people. And he has to know about Aphrodite.

I have to tell him about Aphrodite.

And then the terrible feeling that had been with Maura Greer her entire life disappeared. There were no more shadows. No more terrifying shapes. And no more fear.

There was only a new and different kind of darkness.

Excerpted from Aphrodite , by Russell Andrews . Copyright (c) 2004 by Peter Gethers. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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