Cover image for Scavenger
Title:
Scavenger
Author:
Savage, Tom, 1948-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Dutton, 2000.
Physical Description:
275 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780525945383
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

"Tonight Mark Stevenson is on top of the world. Tonight he is celebrating the success of his latest novel at a glittering party with his lovely fiancee at his side. At dawn he will return to his Greenwich Village apartment and find a note taped to his door. It is both an invitation and an ultimatum." "This morning Mark has been given the first clue in a series of increasingly bizarre clues that could lead to the identity of the "Family Man," the real-life serial killer on whom Mark's novel is based, a depraved madman who slaughtered five families in five different cities then arranged their bodies in grotesque tableaux of holiday gaiety. He was never caught. He simply vanished." "Today a bizarre adventure begins; a desperate cross-country odyssey that will pit Mark against a shadowy gamester who calls himself Scavenger - and propel him deeper into the mystery of his own haunted past."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Author Notes

Tom Savage is the author of three previous thrillers, including Precipice, Valentine , and The Inheritance (all available from Signet). He lives in New York City, where he divides his time between writing and working at Murder Ink, the world's oldest mystery bookstore. He is at work on a new novel.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Savage enters the realm of the serial killer with this blood-soaked tale, whose creepy killer goes by the name the Family Man. He's acquired this epithet because he wipes out entire familiesÄpets includedÄthen poses the bodies in scenes of domestic contentment, such as sitting around the fireplace or in front of the Christmas tree. Now, more than a decade after the last of these unsolved murders, mystery writer Mark Stevenson has just published a bestselling novel based on the horrific crimes. Taped to the door of his Greenwich Village apartment, Stevenson discovers a computer diskette that contains a message from a person calling himself Scavenger, who hints that he knows the truth behind the Family Man case. Scavenger says he will tell all, as long as Stevenson is willing to play a game of scavenger hunt. The writer agrees, following a series of clues that lead him to each of the crime scenesÄNew Orleans, Los Angeles, rural Illinois and two in New York. Along the way, he runs across more dead bodies and escapes the deadly clutches of someone who's following his every move. Why would Stevenson agree to play such a macabre and dangerous game? Unbeknownst to almost everyone, he's the lone survivor of one of the families that was slaughtered, and he wants revenge. He finally gets the chance in the inevitable showdown in an abandoned farmhouse outside New York City. Savage (Valentine; Inheritance) keeps his story briskly paced, yet several scenes strain believability and much of the dialogue and descriptions are overly dramatic. The homestretch of the novel is laden with guessable revelations and a disappointingly thin explanation for what's behind the Family Man's monstrous behavior. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

This intricate thriller begins with another. Mark Stevenson's new novel is a thinly disguised recounting of the exploits of "The Family Man," an elusive serial killer who killed entire families (including housekeepers and pets) across the countryÄand then stopped suddenly without being apprehended. The novel attracts the attention of the mysterious "Scavenger," who challenges Mark to a scavenger hunt. If Mark follows the clues and successfully finds all of the prizes, he will eventually be led to the Family Man's identity. How could any writer resist? What follows is an irresistible and deadly contest with a truly surprising and twisted ending. Savage's fourth thriller (after The Inheritance) is a real winner; you'll be tempted to cheat and read the ending half way through. Fans of James Patterson will be delighted. Recommended.ÄRebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One FRIDAY     "Congratulations, Mark!"     "Thank you. Thank you very much."     "Such a wonderful book. Scared the hell out of me!"     "Yes, well--"     " So wonderful!"     "Thanks."     "Excuse me, Mr. Stevenson. Could you look over here a sec?"     "Uh, sure."     "Say cheese!"     Click. Click. Click.     "Oh, there you are, Mark! Mazel tov , darling!"     "Thank you, um, Jackie...."     He smiled at the slim, dark-haired woman as she pecked his cheek and sailed on through the crowd. He hoped her name was indeed Jackie, but he couldn't really remember. He was beginning to think the party would go on forever. A quick glance at his watch--ten thirty-seven--informed him that he'd been standing in the packed room for nearly an hour now, grinning vacuously around at the people, mostly strangers, who were constantly surging forward to shake his hand and/or kiss him. The cocktail party had begun at six, followed by dinner at seven, followed by the long, long awards ceremony itself, the ostensible reason behind these festivities. And he'd had the good--or, perhaps, bad--luck to win one of the damned things. The big one, in fact: Best Mystery Novel of the Year. Despite his intense discomfort around crowds, to say nothing of strangers, he'd been obliged to come here tonight. So here he was, smiling and thank-you-ing and you're-so-very-kind-ing as he searched the packed room for Tracy.     "Hey, Stevenson! How's my fellow laureate!"     He turned in the direction of the raucous voice. Jared McKinley, his friend--and tonight's winner in the Best True Crime category--was at his elbow, brandishing his award statuette in one hand and a large glass in the other, grinning from ear to ear. He was extremely tall, seeming to take up enough room for two men, and he had a voice to match. Judging from his glazed eyes, it wasn't his first large glass of the evening, Mark decided, and it probably wouldn't be his last.     "Hi, Jared. How are you doing?"     "Fan-fuckin'-tastic!" the big, handsome Scotsman boomed, causing several heads to turn their way. Jared was always the center of attention. He threw back his head and laughed, executed a rather sloppy little timestep, and waved his award statuette in Mark's face. "Where's yours?"     "In Tracy's purse," Mark replied. "You haven't seen her around anywhere, have you?"     "Nope. Don't worry, she can't have gone far in this madhouse. Are we still on for tomorrow?"     "Sure," Mark said. "I'm looking forward to it. I could use it, after tonight."     The two writers lived near each other in Greenwich Village, and they'd joined the local health club together. Twice a week, rain or shine, they rode the stationary bicycles, worked out on the exercise machines, and did serious time in the sauna and steam room. The idea was that each man would spur the other into staying in shape, and so far it was working. Three years now, and Mark felt better than he had when he was twenty, sixteen years ago. Quitting smoking had helped considerably. And he had finally recovered from the divorce. There was something else in his past, of course, something that would never go away, but for once he wasn't thinking about it.     Now, at the party, Mark and his friend were joined by the proprietor of a local mystery bookstore, who congratulated them both and asked them to drop in soon to autograph more first editions of their books. The two men smiled, thanked him, and promised him that they would.     When the bookstore owner was gone, Jared said, "Hey, man, we're celebrities now. About fuckin' time!"     Mark shrugged. "It's no big deal, Jared. You were a good writer before tonight, and so was I. This is all very nice, but--"     "Oh, sure!" Jared McKinley's hearty laugh resounded through the ballroom. "That's easy for you to say. You're the one who's on the New York Times ' bestseller list. Not that I'm envious, you understand. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. Hey, any word from Hollywood?"     "Uh, yeah." Mark glanced around self-consciously. "I'll tell you all about it at the club tomorrow. Three o'clock?"     "Okay. Three o'clock. See ya then, buddy." With that, Jared took off in the direction of the bar.     Mark was again wondering if he'd ever get out of this place when he spotted Tracy at last. She was on the other side of the hotel ballroom chatting with two women, one of whom was Mark's editor. Tracy looked beautiful in her long white dress, her tawny hair cascading down around her bare shoulders. Now that he thought about it, that dress left a great deal of her bare, front and back. Good thing the room was warm. Now, in the first days of April, the weather in New York City was just beginning to be appropriate for spring. If the awards had been one week ago, she would have had to wear something else. Oh, well. The admiring glances of the men at the ceremony were a reflection on him, in a way.     Sexist pig, he reprimanded himself. He didn't own her, nor she him. But he was willing to try another marriage, which is why they'd agreed on it three months ago, on her birthday. He'd popped the question over dinner, and she had surprised him by accepting immediately, after only four months together. But they were comfortable with it--at least, he was. And she seemed pleased by the prospect. They'd both been married before. No big deal.     They'd met at a party not unlike this one, a cocktail party given by Jaffee/Douglas, the literary agency where she worked. His agent, Bill Steiner, also worked there. Mark had seen the tall, lovely blond woman across the reception room and asked Bill to introduce them. He'd wanted her immediately, and she seemed interested in him, so he'd pressed his luck and asked her to dinner. It had been the first of several dates, and soon they were sleeping together. Everything had happened rather fast, he supposed, but it just seemed right to him. To both of them.     Mark was essentially monogamous. His divorce had not been his idea, but Carol's. He would have happily stayed with her: it was she who wanted out. Mark rarely found women who truly interested him, and Carol had been one. Tracy was another, definitely . He thought this as he made his way through the crowded ballroom to her.     "Hello, there," he whispered as he arrived beside her.     "Hello, yourself," Tracy murmured, leaning over to brush her warm, moist lips briefly against his cheek. "How are you holding up?"     He grimaced. "Barely. I've had enough of the public relations thing for one night. I'm thinking about bed."     She raised an eyebrow. "Tired?"     "No."     Now she laughed. "I'll just say good night to my two hundred closest friends, and we'll be out of here. But first, you really should ..." She waved her hand surreptitiously, indicating the other two women.     Mark nodded and dutifully embraced Fran Wood, his editor, who introduced him to the other woman, a writer whose name was vaguely familiar to him. She wrote bestselling murder mysteries that were solved by small, furry animals, if he remembered correctly. Cats--or was it dogs? Something.     He chatted with Fran and the domestic-pet-detective woman for several minutes, watching out of the corner of his eye as Tracy made the rounds, saying good night to various colleagues and clients. She seemed to know everybody, whereas he was only acquainted with about five people in the place. One of the intrinsic differences between writers and literary agents, he supposed. As an agent, Tracy was required to remember the names of virtually everyone in the publishing industry. Better her than me, he thought, smiling as she at last made her way back over to him.     "Okay," she said. "We can go now."     "Yes, Mommy."     "I'm not your mommy." She took his hand and led him toward the exit.     "I'm glad to hear it," he said. "Are you my French parlormaid?"     "No."     "My porno movie star?"     "Maybe. Play your cards right ..."     He grinned at her. "How do I do that?"     She grinned right back at him as they arrived at the cloakroom. "You can start by getting my coat."     He got her coat very quickly, almost as quickly as he managed to hail a cab. Chapter Two     Tracy was still awake three hours later. Mark had been asleep for nearly an hour, but she had not been able to relax enough to drift off. Well, she was relaxed enough physically, she supposed, smiling to herself as she remembered the lovemaking that had very nearly begun in the backseat of the taxi. But now she was once again tense, anxious.     She was staring up at the ceiling, watching the shifting shadows caused by the tree outside her window swaying in the light of a nearby streetlamp. Mark was on his side, his chest against her left arm, a well-muscled arm and leg carelessly draped over her. She felt his warm, dry skin against her, and she could feel the rhythmic beating of his heart just above her elbow. His soft, dark hair brushed against her neck every time he inhaled. She turned her head on the pillow to look at him.     His face in repose was somehow even more handsome than it was when he was awake. No lines or creases, and there was the hint of a smile on his lips. She smiled, as she always did when she studied him like this. He rarely moved or made noises when he slept, and she fancied she could set her watch by his breathing. She wondered once again that anyone over the age of five could sleep so soundly. He was the heaviest sleeper she'd ever encountered. But there was something reassuring about that. She liked having him beside her in bed. It felt safe and comfortable. It felt right . And yet ...     He was a big, strong, handsome man; brilliant, talented, financially secure, heterosexual, and available. He drank in moderation and never took drugs. He was well-known, soon to be downright famous. He was tender, ardent, and always polite. She enjoyed sleeping with him--not merely sex, although that was certainly wonderful, but sleeping . He had even passed her mother's ultimate test: perfect teeth and perfect table manners. Her girlfriends would gladly trade places with her. Every other single woman in New York--in the world --would kill for such a specimen.     So what was her problem?     She'd been asking herself that for three months now, ever since they'd decided to make it legal. And now, fingering the beautiful engagement ring on her left ring finger, she still hadn't come up with a decent answer. She wondered for the hundredth time in two weeks if she was crazy. She wondered exactly what it was she wanted, if not Mark Stevenson.     With a little sigh, she carefully extricated herself from him and got out of the bed. She put on her terry robe and moved silently out of the bedroom and across the darkened living room into the kitchen. Only then did she turn on a light. She filled the kettle with water and rummaged in a cabinet for the box of Sleepytime tea. Maybe that would help.     Waiting for the water to boil, she went over it again in her mind. He was thirty-six, two years her senior, and he was originally from the Chicago area. He'd moved to New York twelve years ago. When she'd asked him about his parents, he'd told her they were both dead. He didn't have any siblings, either. He'd worked for the New York Post , first as a city reporter and later progressing to his own column on books. New books, new authors, what was happening in the publishing industry. She remembered reading the column occasionally, because those were the days when she'd been trying to establish herself as an authors' representative. He'd quit journalism when his first novel was accepted for publication. He was married for three years, to a magazine editor. The divorce was five years ago, and he and his ex-wife were still on speaking terms, so it had apparently been amicable. He didn't want to talk about it, he'd told her, and he didn't want to talk about his life before New York.     She poured the water into her favorite mug, thinking, He's very secretive. Very quiet. In seven months with him, she'd met exactly one friend of his, Jared McKinley. He didn't seem to have any other friends. He had his agent, Bill Steiner, with whom she worked, and Fran Wood, his editor, of course, but his relationships with the two of them seemed to be limited to their professional dealings. He did not see either of them socially.     She turned off the light and went over to stand at the front window in the living room, gazing down at Gramercy Park as she sipped the tea. They were to be married in the first week of June, two months from now, and she really knew very little about him. Less than she'd known about any other man with whom she'd been involved.     Well, almost. She thought, inevitably, of Alan, her first husband, remembering with a grimace how very little she'd known about him . For six years she'd tried to make the marriage work, finally concluding that she was the only one trying. But Alan had been an immature runaround whose late nights at the office had involved secretaries and chorus girls and at least one airline hostess. As little as she knew of Mark, she knew instinctively that he didn't have that problem.     Enough of this, she decided. She would go ahead with it, wedding plans and all. Mark was a good man, she was certain, and he obviously cared about her. The questions she still had about his past would be answered in due time. After they were married, he would have her circle of friends, to make up for his apparent lack of them. Everything was going to be all right, for one simple reason: she was in love with him.     She thought back over her marriage to Alan, wondering whether she'd ever felt this way about him, and finally deciding in the negative. She had even decided early in her first marriage not to have a child with Alan, although she wanted children. She and Mark had already talked about that, and he seemed to like the idea. She could now have children with Mark, and the thought of it was comforting. No, she realized, Alan wasn't Mark, not by a long shot.     Go to bed, she told herself, moving back into the kitchen and washing the empty mug. She glanced at the clock on the microwave oven: two-fifteen. It was Saturday now, and a good thing, too. She didn't have to go in to the office today. But she did have work to do, two manuscripts from clients to read over the weekend. One of them, the medical thriller, was part of a seven-figure, multiple-book deal with Doubleday. Her percentage of it would help to finance the summer house in the Hamptons she'd always wanted. Mark seemed to like that idea, too. There were other things, big things, to think about. She'd worry about it all later.     With this resolve, she went back into the bedroom and joined him, finally, in sleep. Chapter Three SATURDAY     Mark wasn't prepared for it when it happened. That, he later decided, was the main problem with it. One minute his life was under control, and the next minute--well, it wasn't. It didn't take him long to realize that his life would never be the same again.     If there was anything Mark hated, it was surprise. He always planned things, down to the smallest detail. His day, his week, his writing schedule. He'd done it ever since he'd reached adulthood after a reckless adolescence. Anal retentive; that was what an analyst would have called it, but Mark simply regarded it as being in control. And he now insisted on being in control of things. He was no longer any good at being spontaneous.     He was about to get a lesson in spontaneity.     It happened the evening after the awards ceremony. He'd met Jared at the club at three o'clock, and they'd worked out until about five-thirty. At six, he'd arrived at an Italian restaurant in Chelsea just minutes before Tracy. It was her favorite place, and it was geographically desirable, being equidistant from his Village home and her Gramercy Park apartment. They weren't staying together tonight because she had some manuscripts to tackle and he was supposed to be completing his new novel, already overdue at the publisher. Fran Wood was waiting for it. So after dinner he had come straight home.     He checked his mailbox in the vestibule of the apartment house on Bedford Street before unlocking the interior door and pressing the button for the elevator. His one-bedroom co-op was on the top floor of the five-story brick building that shared an intersection with the narrowest house in the city, once the residence of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the storefront, now a restaurant, that had previously been a recording studio for the Beatles, among others. Directly behind his building, in the cul-de-sac at the intersection of Barrow and Commerce, were the identical two-story townhouses known as the Twin Sisters, and across the street from them was the apartment building where Jillian Talbot, the suspense novelist, had lived before her famous run-in with the violent stalker who'd called himself Valentine.     Jillian Talbot, oddly enough, was the reason he lived here. When he and Carol had split up five years ago, he'd left her in their West End Avenue condo and taken a temporary sublet, an ancient railroad apartment in Hell's Kitchen that he shared with a recently divorced sportswriter from the Post . The only good thing about that place had been its proximity to work. He was there about one year, writing his book column by day and secretly working on his first novel at night, when he'd gone to Talbot's apartment one afternoon to interview her. It had been a good story, one of his better ones, but the best thing about the experience was her neighborhood. He'd never really noticed Greenwich Village before. After the interview he wandered the streets near Jillian Talbot's building, staring delightedly around at everything. When he saw the sign reading CO-OPS AVAILABLE on the handsome red brick apartment house on Bedford Street, he took it as a personal message.     One month later, he left Hell's Kitchen for good. He always looked back on the move to Greenwich Village as the turning point in his new, post-divorce life. After that, only good things happened to him. He completed his first book and showed it to Bill Steiner, who immediately got him a two-book deal with Random House. The books did very well, critically and commercially, and another contract followed, this one for more money. Now his fourth work, Dark Desire , had made the bestseller lists and brought the award and the movie offers. And, of course, he now had Tracy Morgan.     Mark was smiling as he stepped out of the elevator and approached his apartment. One of Mrs. Liebman's identical black cats--Tevye or Golde, he could never tell the male from the female--stood mewing uncertainly in the hallway in front of his door. The two cats were always in the hall. A glance over at the open hall window confirmed the usual modus operandi: the fire escape. He scooped up the animal, looking around for its partner in crime as he headed for his next-door neighbor's door, which opened before he reached it.     "Oh, there's my little Golde!" the elderly widow cried. "How on earth did you get out here ?" She took the cat in her arms. "Sorry to trouble you, Mark."     "No trouble," he replied, smiling at his neighbor and turning to insert his key in his lock.     He stopped, arrested by the sight of something taped to his door. It was a manila envelope, five inches by seven. His name was printed across it in capital letters with a thick black marker. There was nothing else, he noted; no return address, no postmark, no stamp.     "Hector put that there a few hours ago," Mrs. Liebman offered as she disappeared into her apartment.     Mark grimaced, wondering for the hundredth time if anything could possibly happen in the building that Mrs. Liebman missed. He doubted it: the only thing she didn't seem to know was the whereabouts of her pets. He detached the envelope from the door and carried it inside.     The computer stood waiting for him on the desk in front of the living room window, the animated fishes blowing bubbles among the strands of seaweed as they swam about the screen. He dropped the envelope on the desk and went into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Only after he had returned with his mug and ensconced himself in the executive chair before the electronic aquarium did he bother to open the envelope and remove its contents.     It was a single, plain diskette with no label, merely the manufacturer's stamp informing him that it was from AT&T, formatted for Macintosh. Intrigued, he slid the disk into the floppy drive and touched his keyboard, banishing the fish to cyber-limbo. He opened the only file on the disk, noting that it was untitled, the only official logotype being that of Hackers, a chain of computer-nerd coffee bars with branches all over New York. For the price of a cappuccino and a nominal fee, anyone could use the keyboards and screens that were the chain's principal decor. That was apparently where the file had been created. The usual flashing and whirring gave way to an image on the screen: a letter.     Oh, he thought. Someone--someone who knows me, and knows I have a Mac--has used this distinctly modern way to communicate with me. But why? Why not e-mail, or a phone call, or a plain, old-fashioned letter? He glanced at the opening paragraph: fan mail. Terrific. Someone was delivering electronic fan mail by hand to his home. Annoyed, he began to read the words on the screen, bracing himself for fulsome, meaningless praise.     But it was not a fan letter. Not at all, as it turned out. His first reaction was confusion, followed almost immediately by a cold, growing sense of dread. Dear Mr. Stevenson, I am writing to you regarding your excellent novel, Dark Desire. It is truly extraordinary, and I understand you have just received an award for it. Congratulations! My purpose in writing, however, is somewhat more provocative. You see, it is obvious to me--and, I presume, everyone else--that the novel is based on the "Family Man" case of a few years ago. You never stated that; in fact, you went to great lengths to stay in the realm of fiction. But your final chapters, in which the serial killer is tracked and apprehended, were entirely your own contribution. As we all know, the real-life prototype of your character was never brought to justice. And that is what I want to address. I have always been a lover of games, Mr. Stevenson, and I would like to propose that you play one with me now. I could never find anyone who was willing to play chess or Scrabble with me, as I always seemed to win, and yes, I am one of those annoying people who do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle in ink. But the game I propose is one of my own devising. You are obviously as fascinated by The Family Man as I am, and I think you may find my game amusing, not to mention enlightening. You see, I know a great deal about The Family Man, more than anyone else. And I am willing to share my knowledge with you. You are a wonderful writer, and I think it is time The Family Man--well, went public. I realize that he has long been presumed dead. For purposes of our game, let us both agree right now that this is true. But his story should be written down, and there is no one more suitable for the job than you. Are you interested? I hope so. But, for reasons that should be obvious to you, I can't simply approach you directly with the information I wish to impart. That is why I have come up with my game, which I have designed along the lines of a scavenger hunt. I will provide you with a series of instructions that will lead you to certain locations, where you will be responsible for finding certain articles. Each instruction will have a time limit for completion. They will eventually lead you to--well, to what you may want to know. Total playing time, if all goes well, will be one week. Today (as you read this) is Saturday: the game will begin at midnight tonight and end next Saturday at midnight. There will be some expense involved, but I am willing to provide for that. As I cannot approach you, and as you do not know who I am, I realize that there is no way for you to answer me. So here is what I propose we do: I will give you your first clue now. If you wish to play--if you are interested in the "prize" to which I have obliquely referred--simply begin. This will indicate that you are willing, and I will contrive further communication. How does that sound? Before you begin, I must point out to you that there are three rules in my game that must be followed at all times. Failure to do so will mean you automatically forfeit, and the game will end then and there. And you will never, ever hear from me again. I trust I make myself clear. These are the rules: 1) You must follow my scenario strictly, as it is presented to you. You may not at any time deviate from the order in which the clues arrive and the articles are retrieved. 2) No one else may know about the game. No one. Of course I mean the authorities, but I mean everyone else as well. Your friends, your associates--everyone. This is strictly between you and me. 3) Once you have begun to play, you cannot stop for any reason until the game is over. So, now you know the rules. I hope I have piqued your interest with this. It will be a most entertaining game, I promise. And your prize for successfully completing it is certainly all that a former journalist such as yourself could want. Without boasting, I can safely say it is one of the truly big "scoops" of the century. If you choose not to play, I thank you for your time and attention regarding this missive, and I wish you all the best in your future writing career. But I will be presumptuous and assume that you want to continue. If so, your first instruction is quite easy: YOU ARE LOOKING FOR A NEWSPAPER, AT A PLACE IN NEW YORK CITY THAT WAS DEAR TO THE FAMILY MAN. You have twenty-four hours, beginning at midnight tonight. Happy hunting! You may call me: SCAVENGER     He sat there, stunned, staring at the screen before him. He couldn't grasp it, couldn't take it all in. He couldn't breathe. Nearly ten minutes passed before he snapped out of his trance and summoned the motor skills necessary to scroll the electronic letter back to its beginning and read it again, this time more slowly. No, there was no mistake: it was exactly what he thought it was.     A message from someone who was "obliquely"--to use the person's own word--hinting that they knew the identity of The Family Man. Someone who was, perhaps, obliquely hinting that they--he? she?--that it was The Family Man.     What else could the letter possibly mean?     He wouldn't think about that right now, he decided. There was a more immediate mystery, and that, at least, was something he could solve. Ejecting the disk and dropping it on the desk, he stood up and went out to the elevator.     Hector Ramos was not in his apartment. Mrs. Ramos directed Mark to another part of the basement, where he found the superintendent tying stacks of newspapers and flattened cardboard boxes with twine, the usual unlit, half-smoked cigar clenched between his teeth. He was a small, burly man of indeterminate middle age, and he panted with the exertion of his chore. He barely looked up when Mark spoke.     "Hector, that envelope you taped to my door--where did you get it?"     " Que? ... oh, yes. Envelope. Man come, `bout four o'clock."     "What man?"     A shrug. The super flicked a sharp box cutter across the twine and tied off another bundle. He spoke around the stogie. "Man come. Ring my buzzer. Marisa go up to lobby and he gib her mail for you, ast her to tape it to your door. `Urgent,' he say. She bring it to me and tell me do it. I always do what Marisa say." Another shrug, accompanied by a man-to-man grin. He reached for another pile of cardboard.     Mark restrained himself from yanking the boxes from the man's hands. Patiently but firmly, he said, "Please, Hector, this is very important. I have to know who the man was."     His distress was noted. Hector straightened up, dropped the twine and the box cutter, and removed the wet cigar butt from his mouth. He regarded Mark a moment, then led the way down the ill-lit basement hallway to his apartment door. He opened it and called, "Marisa!"     Mrs. Ramos appeared in the doorway almost immediately, wiping her wet hands on her apron. Her husband spoke to her in Spanish. She listened, watching Mark all the while, a look of concern on her pretty face. When her husband paused, she said something to him, also in Spanish.     "She say he not the postman or UPS," Hector translated. "He speak Spanish, but he not Spanish. He offer her money, but she refuse."     "What did he look like?" Mark asked.     More Spanish.     "Tall," Hector said. " Very tall."     Mark looked at the woman. She pointed at Mark, then measured a length of about six inches with her hands. He understood the pantomime: the man was that much taller than he, making him about six feet eight inches in height. Mark searched his mind. No, he didn't know any basketball players, and Mrs. Ramos knew Jared McKinley, who was nearly that tall.     "What else?" Mark asked.     She thought a moment, then spoke. " Blanco ." She pointed at her own hair. " Negro ." She mimed a mustache, then pointed at her own face and made a very stern expression. She narrated this, and Hector chuckled and said, "She say he scary-looking, like Frankenstein."     Mark blinked, thinking that this was no time to correct them. Frankenstein was a handsome scientist; she obviously meant his creation. "Boris Karloff?"     " Si! " Marisa Ramos cried. "Borees Karloff!" She fingered the gold cross that rested on her bosom, as if her staunch Catholicism were all that would protect her from such a person. Then she pointed at her eyes and said something Hector translated as, "Very pale gray, almost clear."     "How old was he?"     She pointed at her husband, then wiggled her right hand in the international sign for "more-or-less." Mid-fifties.     Mark smiled, thanked her, and turned to go. He was almost to the elevator when she stopped him.     "Meester Stevenson!"     He turned around.     "He hab--" she began. Then she turned to her husband and unleashed a torrent of Spanish, lifting her right index finger to the outside corner of her right eye and drawing it slowly down past her mouth, all the way to her chin.     Hector raised his bushy eyebrows in obvious surprise. "She say he hab a scar. An old scar, very long, thin, whiter than his skin, down the side of his face. Like from a knife."     Mark stared at them a moment, then smiled again, nodded, and got in the elevator. As he rose to the top floor, he put all the details of the man who had delivered the envelope together in his mind. He went back into his apartment, carefully locking the deadbolt behind him, and inserted the disk in his computer again.     He read and reread the letter long into the night, trying to imagine the scarred face of the tall stranger who had obviously terrified Marisa Ramos. And all the while, he repeated the same three words aloud, over and over.     "Who are you?" Copyright (c) 2000 Tom Savage. All rights reserved.