Fully Loaded Thrillers
The Complete Collected Short Fiction of Blake Crouch
Copyright © 2011 by Blake Crouch
Cover art copyright © 2011 by Jeroen ten Berge
All rights reserved.
The stories in this book are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.
For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.
Some of the stories contained in this volume appeared previously in the following magazines and anthologies: Uncage Me, edited by Jen Jordan and published by Bleak House Books: “*69”; Thriller 2, edited by Clive Cussler and published by Mira Books: “Remaking”; Brilliance Audio edition of Abandon by Blake Crouch: “On the Good, Red Road”; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “Shining Rock.”Shivers VI, edited by Richard Chizmar and published by Cemetery Dance Publications: “Serial”; Hint Fiction, edited by Robert Swartwood and published by W.W. Norton: “The Newton Boys’ Last Photograph”; Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine: “The Pain of Others.”
TABLE OF CONTENTS
On the Good, Red Road
Perfect Little Town
The Newton Boys’ Last Photograph
The Pain of Others
An introduction to “*69”
Have you ever received an accidental phone call from someone who kept your number in their address book? I blame my old high-school buddy, Ryan McDaniels, for this story. A few years ago, over the course of several weeks, he inadvertently joggled his cell phone and called me several times. He didn’t know he had done it, and I received a handful of strange, muffled messages. Later, it occurred to me—what if my friend had accidentally called me when he was doing something terrible, and only realized after the fact that he’d unintentionally made me a witness to his brutal crime? From these questions emerged “*69.”
At nine-thirty on a Thursday evening, as he lounged in bed grading the pop quizzes he’d sprung on his 11th grade honors English class, Tim West heard footsteps ascend the staircase and pad down the hallway toward the bedroom.
His wife, Laura, appeared in the open doorway.
“Tim, come here.”
He set the papers aside and climbed out of bed.
Following her down the squeaky stairs into the living room, he found immense pleasure in the architecture of her long legs and the grace with which she carried herself. Coupled with that yellow satin teddy he loved and the floral tang of skin lotion, Tim foresaw a night of marital bliss. Historically, Thursdays were their night.
Laura sat him down in the oversize leather chair across from the fireplace, and as she took a seat on its matching ottoman, it struck him—this fleeting premonition that she was on the verge of revealing she was pregnant with their first child, a project they’d been working on since last Christmas. Instead, she reached over to the end table beside the chair and pressed the blinking play button on the answering machine:
Ten seconds of the static hiss of wind.
A woman’s voice breaks through, severely muffled, and mostly unintelligible except for, “…didn’t mean anything!”
A man’s voice, louder and distorted by static: “…making me do this.”
“I can explain!”
“…late for that.”
A thud, a sucking sound.
“…in my eyes.” The man’s voice. “Look in them! …you can’t speak….but…listen the last minute…whore-life…be disrespected. You lie there and think about that while…”
Thirty seconds of that horrible sucking sound, occasionally cut by the wind.
The man weeps deeply and from his core.
An electronic voice ended the message with, “Thursday, nine-sixteen, p.m.”
Tim looked at his wife. Laura shrugged. He reached over, played it again.
When it finished, Laura said, “There’s no way that’s what it sounds like, right?”
“There any way to know for certain?”
“Let’s just call nine-one—”
“And tell them what? What information do we have?”
Laura rubbed her bare arms. Tim went to the hearth and turned up the gas logs. She came over, sat beside him on the cool brick.
“Maybe it’s just some stupid joke,” she said.
“What? You don’t think so?”
“Remember Gene Malack? Phys ed teacher?”
“Tall, geeky-looking guy. Sure.”
“We hung out some last year while he was going through his divorce. Grabbed beers, went bowling. Nice guy, but a little quirky. There was this one time when our phone rang, and I picked it up, said, ‘Hello?’, but no one answered. The strange thing was that I could hear someone talking, only it was muffled, just like that message. But I recognized Gene’s voice. I should’ve hung up, but human nature, I stayed on, listened to him order a meal from the Wendy’s drive-through. Apparently, he’d had our number on speed-dial in his cell. It had gotten joggled, accidentally called our house.”
One of the straps had fallen down on Laura’s teddy.
As Tim fixed it, she said, “You just trying to scare me? Let’s call your brother—”
“No, not yet—”
“No, you’re saying that a man, who we know well enough to be on his speed-dial list, was killing some poor woman tonight, and he accidentally…what was the word?”
“Thank you. Joggled his phone, inadvertently calling us during the murder. That where you’re going with this?”
“Look, maybe we’re getting a little overly—”
“Overly, shit. I’m getting freaked out here, Tim.”
“All right. Let’s listen once more, see if we recognize the voice.”
Tim went over to the end table, played the message a third time.
“There’s just too much wind and static,” he said as it ended.
Laura got up and walked into the kitchen, came back a moment later with a small notepad she used for grocery lists.
She returned to her spot on the hearth, pen poised over the paper, said, “Okay, who are we close enough friends with to be on their speed-dial?”
“Anyone we know.”
“My parents, your parents, my brother, your brother and sister.”
“Jen.” She scribbled on the pad.
“Shanna and David.”
“Jan and Walter.”
“Dave and Anne.”
“Paul and Mo.”
“Hans and Lanette.”
“Kyle and Jason.”
“Corey and Sarah.”
This progressed for several minutes until Laura finally looked up from the pad, said, “There’s thirty names here.”
“So, I’ve got an unpleasant question.”