Cover image for The world's finest mystery and crime stories : second annual collection
The world's finest mystery and crime stories : second annual collection
Gorman, Edward.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, [2001]

Physical Description:
684 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Spinning / Kristine Kathryn Rusch -- The summer people / Brendan DuBois -- Afraid of the dark / Nancy Pickard -- For all the saints / Gillian Linscott -- Let's get lost / Lawrence Block -- Under suspicion / Clark Howard -- Childhood / S.J. Rozan -- Art & craft / Donald E. Westlake -- The allotment / Peter Crowther -- Twelve of the little buggers / Mat Coward -- Missing in action / Peter Robinson -- The Haggard Society / Edward D. Hoch -- Scorpion's kiss / Stuart M. Kaminsky -- Noble causes / Bob Mendes -- The sleeping detective / Gary Phillips -- A night in the Manchester store / Stanley Cohen -- What Mr. McGregor saw / Dorothy Cannell -- Delta double-deal / Noreen Ayres -- Three nil / Mat Coward -- The man in the civil suit / Jan Burke -- Black and white memories / Robert J. Randisi -- Nothing to lose / Robert Barnard -- Widower's walk / Joseph Hansen -- Character flaw / Christine Matthews -- Golden Gate Bridge--A view from below / Jürgen Ehlers -- Boo / Richard Laymon -- Veterans / John LUtz -- The abbey ghosts / Jan Burke -- The country of the blind / Doug Allyn -- Happiness / Joyce Carol Oates -- The confession / Ian Rankin -- The perfectionist / Peter Lovesey -- A wall too high / Edward D. Hoch -- The silence / Kristine Kathryn Rusch -- The big bite / Bill Pronzini -- The gathering of the klan / Les Roberts -- When the black shadows die / Clark Howard -- Rebirth (Cain and Abel) / Miguel Agustí -- Helena and the babies / Denise Mina -- Old soldiers / Brendan DuBois -- The victim / Ed McBain -- The poet of pulp / Pete Hamill.
Added Author:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS648.D4 W67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS648.D4 W67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Mystery/Suspense
PS648.D4 W67 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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It's not easy to collect, in a single volume, the finest mystery and suspense fiction the world has to offer, but The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: Second Annual Collection rises to that challenge, inviting you to discover what Kirkus Reviews dubs " . . . the year's anthology of choice."

In his Second Annual collection, Ed Gorman once again brings together the year's most powerful fiction by such outstanding authors as Lawrence Block, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Ed McBain, Joyce Carol Oates, Ian Rankin, and Donald E. Westlake. The volume also abounds with fresh new stories by newer authors, from U. S. publications, and also from sources on other shores, including England, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Ed Gorman set benchmark for great mystery and suspense fiction with the First Annual Collection . Overflowing with award-winning authors and terrific stories, The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: Second Annual Collection also promises to be a treasure for anyone who loves a mystery.

More than 200,000 words of superlative mystery and suspense fiction from around the world, with stories by:

Lawrence Block
Jan Burke
Dorothy Cannell
Clark Howard
Peter Lovesey
Joyce Carol Oates
Nancy Pickard
Bill Pronzini
Ian Rankin
And many others

A Banquet of Mystery and Crime Fiction

For those who love outstanding mystery and crime reading, award-winning author and editor, Ed Gorman, has once again collected the best stories of the year from around the world. Immerse yourself in stories that baffle, tantalize, and delight, by the following authors:

Miguel Agustí
Doug Allyn
Noreen Ayres
Robert Barnard
Lawrence Block
Jan Burke
Dorothy Cannell
Stanley Cohen
Mat Coward
Peter Crowther
Brendan DuBois
Jurgen Ehlers
Pete Hamill
Joseph Hansen
Edward D. Hoch
Clark Howard
Stuart M. Kaminsky
Richard Laymon
Gillian Linscott
Peter Lovesey
John Lutz
Christine Matthews
Ed McBain
Bob Mendes
Denise Mina
Joyce Carol Oates
Gary Phillips
Nancy Pickard
Bill Pronzini
Robert J. Randisi
Ian Rankin
Les Roberts
Peter Robinson
S. J. Rozan
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Donald E. Westlake

Author Notes

Ed Gorman , winner of the Shamus Award, has been writing fiction in many genres for over twenty years. He is the author of more than twenty novels and dozens of short stories, and has been a finalist for the Edgard and Bram Stoker Awards. He lives with his wife, author Carol Gorman, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

For mystery addicts, this anthology of crime stories, critical takes on the crime-writing scene, along with mystery genre lists galore, must serve as both a partial fix and a goad to read more. This is the third annual collection culled by mystery specialists Gorman and Greenberg. It follows much the same format and should enjoy the same plaudits as the first two. The year 2001 was marked by the distinction of having Mark Twain become a serious contender for an Edgar Award for his previously unpublished novel, A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage. The 39 stories presented here, including selections by stars such as Ed McBain, Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Barnard, and Ruth Rendell, show that crime fiction is alive and kicking and offer readers a sampling they would have only if they subscribed to various mystery magazines. Overviews of the mystery writing and publishing scene (this year, focusing on new technologies and new anxieties postterrorism) and World Mystery Reports (from experts in the UK, Australia, Canada, and Germany) enlarge the reader's perspective. And lists--of awards, books, movies, and reference works--abound. There is even a special section, «Mystery Fandom,» advising mystery readers of mystery magazines and conventions. Indispensable for mystery lovers. Connie Fletcher.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Editors Gorman and Greenberg serve up an impressive compendium of 42 short stories culled from magazines, newspapers and anthologies published last year. The 11 non-English entries tend to disappoint, with the notable exception of German writer Stephan Rykena's "Cold-Blooded," a clever tale about a determined refugee. Familiar names among the English contributors include Val McDermid, who spins a wry story of revenge in "The Wagon Mound," and Ralph McInerney, who plumbs human nature in his brilliant "The Devil That Walks at Noonday." Anne Perry, Gillian Linscott and Carole Nelson Douglas employ Shakespearean themes, while Sharyn McCrumb, Jon L. Breen and Daniel Stashower utilize Sherlockian material. Susan Isaac offers practically the only story with a light touch, "My Cousin Rachel's Uncle Murray." Mike Doogan turns Dashiell Hammett into a sleuth in "War Can Be Murder," while Lillian Stewart Carl's "A Mimicry of Mockingbirds" does the same for Thomas Jefferson. Essays assessing the state of the mystery in 2002 in the U.S., Britain, Canada and Germany provide both insights and plenty of suggestions for further reading pleasure. This is an entertaining and valuable guide to a strong and diverse genre. (Sept. 17) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



  The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: 2 Kristine Kathryn Rusch Spinning KRISTINE KATHRYN RUSCH has spent most of her professional life working in the fields of science fiction and fantasy. She has also done significant editing in those fields, most notably as the previous editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. And then she became a crime-fiction writer. Like that. Suddenly, suspense stories bloomed from that contraption on her desk just as science fiction once had. And what stories they've been. Last year, under the name Kris Nelscott, she debuted her first crime series with the novel A Dangerous Road. We're pleased to present two of the several of her stories published this year. First, "Spinning," which appeared in the July issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and may be her best story yet.     Spinning     Kristine Kathryn Rusch         M idway through that first awful class--when the clock above the mirrors said she had only been on the stationary bike for twenty-two minutes, but her body told her she had been on it for 2.2 days, when she thought her heart was going to burst through her chest like a creature out of the movie Alien, when sweat poured off her in rivers, and her breath came in deep honking gasps--midway through all of that, Patricia bent her head, saw the flab on her thighs go up while her actual legs went down, and heard Tom, her instructor, call over the rock music: "Good. Real good. Excellent. Keep going. Wonderful. Hmmm. You'll get it. Relax. Wait until it feels good. Good. Relax ... ." Something in the rhythm of his voice, in the involuntary nature of the sounds, told her he would sound like this in bed. He would talk, his words meaningless, an accompaniment to the beat his body had established, and the pattern would continue building, building, building, until his voice rose in a cry and everything stopped. She focused on that, held onto that, because it felt like the only thing that made him real somehow, made him, this Greek god of a man, whose muscles were perfectly sculpted, whose eyes were warm and brown and not quite sympathetic enough, slightly less intimidating. And she needed a reason not to be intimidated. Two hundred pounds did not fit on her delicate five-four frame. She didn't know how she had let herself go like this. Excuse after excuse, she supposed, a sense of denial, a willingness to believe, at first, that it was her clothes that were shrinking not her body that was expanding. It had taken two years of failed exercise attempts to bring her to this class, to this moment, and she had been planning to drop out of this one too until he fell into his unconscious personal rhythm and she realized that he too was human. And then she looked up, saw those not-quite-sympathetic eyes fall on her with something like disgust. She knew how she looked. The gym had thoughtfully provided a mirror in its exercise room. She saw the five other women in the spinning class: the darling with her tight, sculpted, twenty-five-year-old body who made it clear that she had never tried this before, and who was so in shape that she managed all the motions with ease; the middle-aged housewives in the middle, looking fine to her, but complaining about that extra ten pounds they always put on in the holidays; the bartender, an older woman who looked strong and solid, who had told Patricia about the class; and the anorexic creature beside Patricia who was having just as much trouble keeping up--apparently her eating habits, like Patricia's, robbed her of the strength to exercise. But none of them looked as disgusting as she did in her sweats, her face red, her new perm damp, her body straining. Why was it that she, a woman who had to struggle to walk across the room, was being treated like the pariah, when she was the one who needed the most courage, the most strength, to be here? It was because the others were all afraid that some day, somehow, through the same careless inattentiveness that she had shown, they would all end up looking like her. But he, he had no right to look at her that way. He was supposed to be the professional, the one who helped people like her become hard bodies like him. He wasn't supposed to let her see that she disgusted him, even though she did. It was that look, in combination with her realization about him, that gave her the determination she had lacked. As her legs went round and round, the stationary bike's resistance on its lowest setting, she realized that she now had a goal. She had been pretty once, eighty pounds and fifteen years ago. She would be pretty again. And when she was, he would want her. She would take him to bed, and she would find out if he really sounded like that. And if he did, she would look at him with the same disgust she had seen in his eyes only moments before. She would look at him, and she would laugh.   Meeting her goal was harder than she thought it would be. After her first spinning class, she had to go immediately to bed, and when she got up the next morning, her legs ached so badly that she could barely climb stairs. Over time, she grew used to the class, and she moved onto weights, treadmills, and aerobics. Within six months, she had lost thirty pounds and her body had definition. The spinning classes were tedious--she had learned the pattern within a few days and knew what he would call out next--and she found herself waiting for a repetition of the moment, the moment that had inspired her. It didn't happen often, and she watched him now. He would catch himself, as if he did know how he sounded, and sometimes, he would catch her looking at him. She always smiled. She tried to be as congenial as she could. Fortunately, she didn't have to be congenial anywhere else. She was having trouble being pleasant. The exercise put her in a good mood for an hour or two afterward, but the exhaustion that came with it angered her. She went back to her family doctor, wondering if the exercise was hurting her (even though he claimed, up front, that it would be the best thing for her) and he had calmly, patiently explained how the human body worked. She got a sense that he gave this explanation a lot. You are carrying the weight of a 12-year-old girl in addition to your own body weight. It is as if you are doing these exercises for two, when everyone else in the room is doing them for one. She wished she could explain it to them. The looks had stopped, after her second month, except when newcomers entered the gym. Then they stared at her as if she were the freak, or the one that would fail, and eventually, they would disappear. She remained, tenacious to the last.   It was at her job, another twenty pounds later, that she realized she was in a revenge cycle. She worked as a Web-site designer for a local Internet provider. Her brother was her boss, and he would interview the customer on tape, and she would listen to the interview, use the material, and design the Web site from there. In the past two weeks, clients who came to the office (and there were so few of them: most of them as lonely as she was) began to compliment her on her looks. She did look better. The loss of fifty pounds had also taken ten years off her face. The exercise and all the water it forced her to drink had cleared up her skin, and the pretty girl she remembered was beginning to make appearances in her mirror. The office was a tiny place--a three-room suite with a door opening onto a strip-mall sidewalk--that became even tinier whenever someone new came inside. The wallpaper-thin walls did not shut out any sound, so she usually heard her brother's interviews with potential Web site clients twice. Those she didn't mind, because she made notes, hearing different things on the first and second listenings. It was the casual conversations, the folks who dropped in just to update their accounts or to gossip with her brother or to see, lately, how different Patricia was looking, that got on her nerves. She had taken to closing her presswood door and opening the window that overlooked the alley, no matter how cold it was. Sometimes, if she did that, she could focus on the whoosh of traffic on the highway, the crunch of wheels on the gravel, the occasional conversations of people entering other businesses. If she was really lucky, it all became white noise, a sort of background to the tap-tap-tap of her fingers on the keys, her mind not in Seavy Village, but inside the computer, in that vast and somewhat mysterious network of computers known as the Internet. There she could float, be someone else, anyone else, and no one seemed to care that she was different except herself. It was in one of those moments when, on a whim, she took the quiz the local psychiatrist had asked her to put on his Web site. His self-help book, Negative Thoughts and How to Cure Them, had been climbing the bestseller list, and he believed he needed a way for his fans to contact him. He thought the quiz was an open door. She hadn't been too sure, but then, she hadn't been too sure about his book either, which seemed to her (when she read it) a '90s ripoff of Napoleon Hill's classic Think and Grow Rich. But she, like the suckers she was designing the page for, took the quiz, and as she read the paragraph summary of her answers, she saw herself in its analysis: You have a tendency to blame others for your problems. Instead of solving those problems, you hope that others suffer worse than you have. Sometimes you fantasize about causing the suffering yourself. This is not healthy behavior. For a solution, see page sixty-two in my book ... And because she had already committed herself that far, she looked up page sixty-two in the complementary copy of the book that the psychiatrist had given the office and saw the chapter heading in bold: The Revenge Cycle: Explanations of Your Obsession and How to Cure It. Surprisingly, the advice made sense to her. She had focused--obsessed--on Tom, on the sound of his voice, on the revenge she would get once she had sex with him and, more important, had laughed at him. Had humiliated him with her voice and her eyes and the body she had sculpted for just that purpose. After reading the chapter, she stood up behind her desk and ran her hands down her arms, feeling the skin beneath her cotton blouse. The skin and the muscle and the bone. She hadn't felt bone in years, the sharpness of her elbows, the two bumps on either side of her wrists. She was beginning to like this new self, beginning to accept that it, and not the woman whose thighs brushed together, was who she was. If she ended her focus on Tom, perhaps the exercise would end too. After all, the book said that all behaviors relating to the revenge cycle had to stop in order for it to be cured. The only behaviors she had were the good ones: the exercise, the healthy food, the grooming that she had only recently started to do again. Clothes looked good once more. Makeup made her seem older and more mysterious rather than a woman denying her encroaching middle age. As revenge fantasies went, this was a fairly harmless one. Perhaps she might dent Tom's rather solid self-esteem. Perhaps she might even make him reconsider casual affairs. But those two things might be good for him. They would certainly be good for her. It felt, when she looked on that moment later, as if for one brief afternoon she surfaced from her own thoughts, had a sense of clarity, and then dove back in, like a whale coming to the surface of water to take a breath. She didn't take another breath for a very long time.   At the end of eighteen months, she thought of spinning class as hell. But she hit her ideal weight that month, and actually came to the class in spandex that made her look athletic and not like she had squeezed her bulk into someone else's clothes. As she went through her first class at her perfect weight, she listened for the moment when Tom's voice rose, when it punctuated each word with a gasping sexual rhythm, and when it did, she looked at him and found him looking at her. The not-quite-sympathetic expression had left his eyes a long time ago, replaced by a kind of pride. She actually overheard him talking about her to the aerobics instructor, using her as an example of how well spinning worked. She studied him as her legs worked--thighs like steel now, muscles rippling beneath hard skin--and then, slowly, she smiled. She had been saving her smiles. They had been her best feature even when she was heavy, and she had rationed them, at least for him. She wanted to use them when she was in peak condition, knowing that he would be attracted not so much to her face as to her sculpted form. And so, as their eyes met and the smile creased her face, she saw something new. She saw his eyebrows rise briefly and knew that small movement for something she hadn't seen in years. Flirting. She raised her eyebrows in return, and then looked away. First salvo sent and received. Mating dance initiated. Humiliation about to begin. She went home that night happy for the first time since she had started taking spinning classes. In her two-room apartment whose ocean view was the only thing to recommend it, she danced a small jig, and then smiled again. Her plan would actually work.   She didn't know what would happen after she slept with him. That was the problem she was working on as she drove to the gym in her beloved 1974 Volkswagen Bug. It smelled of oil and it vibrated crazily, but she had owned that car since she bought it used in high school and it had been the one thing she had maintained through all the years. Her job at the i.p. had begun to pay her real money and she could buy a good car for the first time in her life, but she didn't. She couldn't give up her faithful Bug. She never would. She did her best thinking in it. And as she drove up the hill to the gym, she needed a goal that would last her past her revenge on Tom. And, if she were going to be truly healthy, it had to be one that did not continue to play out her revenge fantasy. She parked in her usual space, grabbed her gym bag, and got out, startled to see a police car parked beside the bicycle racks. In the two years she had been coming here, she had never seen a police car. But there was that one month when a paramedic tried to fit exercise into his schedule. Sometimes he parked an ambulance outside. That had unnerved her the first time as well. She pushed her car door shut with her hip, walked around the police car, and headed down the flight of stairs to the club itself. There she saw two policemen at the front desk and the aerobics instructor, a petite thing with too much energy for a human being, sitting on a stool looking stricken. No one was on the machines, and even the hardcore gym rats who spent hours on the free weights were huddled near the Nautilus equipment. From there, any conversation at the front desk could be heard loud and clear. Patricia opened the glass door and came inside. She walked to the desk like she always did, to sign in and pay the extra fee for her special class, when a look from one of the policemen stopped her. The aerobics instructor, whose name she had never learned, raised liquid brown eyes filled with tears. "There's no class," she said in a shaky voice. "Tom is dead." The words circled in her head like the wheels on the stationary bike. Tom. Is. Dead. He couldn't be dead. She wasn't finished yet. She hadn't had the answer to her question, she hadn't been able to look at him with not-quite-sympathy in her eyes. The police were watching her reaction. And she looked at them, truly seeing them for the first time. The man closest to her was about her age, fifty pounds overweight and carrying it all in the danger zone around his stomach. The other man was younger, athletic, broad-shouldered. His blue eyes were sharp, his lips thin. He didn't seem to miss anything. Especially the expression that must have crossed her face. What had it looked like? Shock? Disappointment? Fear? For her first response, after that flash of what-about-me?, was guilt. She could have done it. She had done it, a thousand times, in her mind. Not killed him physically, but emotionally. Somehow she thought her contempt would destroy him. Arrogant, of course, but arrogance was what got her through. The younger officer stepped forward. "Did you know Tom Ansara?" Not well enough to know his last name. Maybe not at all. "I saw him three times a week," she said. "But I didn't know him. He instructed my spinning class." But she had a hunch about how he sounded in bed. It felt as if she had been intimate with him. It felt as if she had lost someone close. She wanted to put her hand on the wall, on the chair, to use something for support. Those sharp blue cop eyes watched her, seeing everything. How good an actress was she? She didn't know. Good, she hoped. Good enough. "And you are?" "Patricia," she said, giving her first name only, as she always did at the gym. Only after a moment, she added, "Taylor. Patricia Taylor." With that little pause in there, her last name sounded made up, even to her. She fumbled with her purse. "I have ID." "No need," the cop said. "Just wait with the others." She carried her gym bag and her coat to the nearest table, littered with out-of-date health and fitness magazines. In her eighteen months at the gym, she had never sat here. She had never spent any time sitting on anything that didn't spin or move or have weights attached. The gym seemed excessively silent. The usual loud rock-and-roll music had been turned off. Someone had muted all three television sets. A fan whirred in the corner, set to cool whoever had been on the Precor cross-training machine, but that person had been off the machine for so long that the digitized program was running on the computer screen. In the long mirror lining one wall she could see the racquetball bleachers. The Thursday night wallyball players were seated there, heads bowed, hands threaded and hanging over their knees. No one spoke. It was as if the cops were playing Agatha Christie, waiting until all the suspects arrived before going through the list and coming up with the killer. The other members of the spinning class threaded in: the darling, the middle-aged housewives, and the bartender. One by one they all took seats at the table, as if united in the class that no longer existed. The anorexic had given up long ago and had been replaced by the only man, an accountant with a hairy back and a tendency to take off his shirt at precisely thirty-three minutes into the session. In street clothes, he looked diminished and not at all like a man who wore a white muscle T and baggy gym shorts cut one size too small. The aerobics instructor sobbed her line each time a class member entered, as if she were a model trying out for a play. The shock seemed similar for all of them. Only the darling asked if it was all right if she exercised while she waited. The incredulous silence that greeted her question was her answer, and even she realized that she had said something wrong. The clock above the mirror showed that forty-five minutes had passed since Patricia arrived. On a normal night, she would be sweating through the last fifteen minutes of the routine, wondering if he would forget himself again and provide her with enough ammunition to survive another week. Instead, she was sitting as still as she possibly could in a white plastic chair, wondering if the police meant to hold them all night. Clearly Tom's death was suspicious, and clearly it involved people from the gym. Unless he had no other life but the gym. It surprised her to realize that she knew nothing about him, not really. She hadn't even figured out which car in the parking lot was his. She had been able to tell, from the way he spoke in class, that he rode his bicycle a lot outdoors: He knew the coast highway from a rider's perspective--sometimes using actual examples for his class to imagine: We're going to do an uphill climb. Increase the tension on the bike when I tell you. Pretend this is Cascade Head. Know how good you'll feel when you reach the top. She also knew that he preferred jazz to rock-and-roll, but that the darling had requested peppier music to ride to. Patricia actually missed the Al Jarreau mixed with Branford Marsalis. It had provided a great middle period to the class. When the spinning hour was up, and all the regulars had come in, the heavyset cop told the aerobics instructor to put a Closed sign on the door and lock it. Then they took people one by one into the manager's office and asked questions. The heavyset cop remained out front mostly, to deter conversation, Patricia supposed. He watched them all too closely too, and the mirrors didn't help. They allowed him to see everything in that large exercise area, the slightest gesture, the smallest twitch. After people spoke to the blue-eyed cop in the office, they were allowed to leave. Exercisers were interviewed in the order in which they'd arrived. Obviously someone had kept very careful track. What it meant was that by the time Patricia was called, the gym rats were gone, but most of the class remained. The aerobics instructor had called her boss, and he had come down to lock up. Patricia also got a sense that he wanted to speak to the police himself. When the heavyset cop said her name, Patricia got up, legs wobbly. She almost forgot her purse and gym bag, and grabbed them as an afterthought. Then she walked past the mirrors to the office where she had only been one time: the day she had signed up. That day she had been carrying an extra eighty pounds and even though she had dressed to hide it, it had been painfully obvious in the small room. This time, the room's contours seemed more suited to her frame. The blue-eyed cop closed the door, asked her if she minded if the conversation was recorded, and then asked her to sit. "This is just routine," he said. It didn't seem routine, but she didn't say that. She had promised herself out front that she would volunteer nothing, and if he spent more than five minutes asking questions--the average time he had spent with the others--she would call an attorney just on principle. "How well did you know Tom Ansara, Ms. Taylor?" The cop sat behind the messy manager's desk and folded his hands on top of a pile of papers that clearly didn't belong to him. His blue eyes seemed even more intense in the small space. "He was my spinning instructor." "For how long?" "Eighteen months." "You know that number precisely?" She nodded. "I started my exercise program with his class." "Was it effective?" "The program?" "The class." She shrugged. "It motivated me." "I understand you lost a lot of weight due to Mr. Ansara." She almost choked. She felt a flush climb up her neck, her face, and she couldn't stop it. It was as if this man, this cop, had seen into her mind, had read each secret thought, knew how Tom had inspired her. Knew about the revenge. "I don't know if you can blame Tom," she said at last. Blue-eyes raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. The expression gave his face a warmth it hadn't had before. "Blame? I would think you'd be proud of the loss." "I am," she said, and almost repeated " I am." But she didn't. She wasn't going to give anything. "And Tom helped you." "The spinning class helped me." The flush had receded from her cheeks. Now her skin was cold. She wondered if she had turned pale, and how he would read this. "You haven't asked what happened to Tom." "I figured you would tell me." He studied her for a moment. "He's still in the workout room. Would you like to take a look?" "God no!" The response came out of her mouth before she could stop it. What was this man thinking, offering her the chance to look at a dead body? Not just any dead body, but the dead body of a man she had known, and fantasized about, however inappropriately. "How tall are you, Ms. Taylor?" The question so startled her that she had to think before responding. "five-four." How did that relate to Tom's death? How did any of it? She had forgotten to look at the clock, and now she was afraid to, afraid it would seem insensitive, afraid it would make her even more suspicious than she probably already was. "All right," he said. "We're done." She remained sitting for a moment, disoriented, as he probably wanted her to be. She opened her mouth once, then closed it. "Although," he said, "you should probably tell me how to get ahold of you. I'm sure it's here in the gym's records, but it's easier if you tell me." She did. She told him her work phone and her home phone, and even what hours she would be in both places. He gave her a business card with his name on it. She didn't know policemen had business cards, but apparently they did. This one had the city's symbol on it, and then "Detective David Huckleby." It was such a jokey name, a rural cop name, that in any other context, she would have smiled. Instead she pocketed the card and stood. He stood too, came up beside her so that he could open the door. As he reached for the knob, she said, "You still didn't tell me how Tom died." "I didn't?" He let go of the knob. "Careless of me." When it hadn't been at all. He had wanted her to ask. He had confused her, disoriented her, and then wondered if she would remember to ask. She knew that much. It was some kind of game. Maybe she should have called a lawyer after all. "Tom's neck was broken, Ms. Taylor," Detective Huckleby said. "We think someone wrapped an arm around his neck and snapped it." He paused, watching her face. She felt her heart beating hard. She couldn't picture it. She couldn't picture someone grabbing Tom like that. "You know the grip," Huckleby said. "It's the one they teach in the self-defense classes here." She had taken one of those classes just the month before. The instructor had been from out of town, a burly man who taught self-defense all over the country. He had used her as his model victim. She had stood in front of the class, felt his fingers on her neck as he positioned her, then remained very still while his arm encircled her throat. With a sharp movement of the forearm, and a backward pull on the hair, he had said, a neck could be broken, snapped, in a heartbeat. She hadn't known why anyone would want this information. But the class had been in self-defense. And sometimes, she knew from her television-watching experience, self-defense meant only one person got out alive. Huckleby was watching her, waiting for her reaction. He had known she had been in the class. He had obviously seen the sign-up list. He touched her arm, felt her biceps, the muscle clearly developed beneath a thin layer of skin. His touch was gentle and, if she hadn't been in such a state of heightened awareness, she would have thought it accidental. "Will you miss him?" Huckleby asked. Her mouth was dry. The feeling of guilt had grown stronger. "I'll miss his class," she said. It was the only thing she could tell him. It was the only truth she knew. "What a sad epitaph for a man you've known for eighteen months, a man who was proud of helping you lose weight." "I didn't know him," she said, hearing as she spoke how defensive the words sounded. "I just took a class from him." "I hear he had a thing for pretty women." She laughed without mirth. It was an involuntary reaction, one that had become habitual over all the years, all the weight. "That wouldn't have included me." "It does now," Huckleby said softly. She felt the smile, the inappropriate smile, leave her face. "I was obese when I came into his class," she said. "I couldn't even pedal the damn bike with the resistance turned off for more than thirty seconds at a stretch. Then I'd pant for five minutes and try again." "Tenacity can be attractive." "Maybe," she said. "But you don't forget how someone looked when you met them." You don't forget that not-quite-sympathetic look in the eye, the disgust when he thought no one was looking. You don't forget any of that. She thought those last two sentences, but had enough self-control to prevent them from coming out of her mouth. "I don't think you know how far you've come, Ms. Taylor," Huckleby said softly. "Oh, I do," she said. "And Tom knew it too." She glanced at the door. "Can I go now?" His smile was gentle. If she had met him in other circumstances, she might even have thought it kind. "Sure." She let herself out and glanced at the clock. She had been in there twenty minutes. So much for proper resolutions. "Ms. Taylor?" She turned. He was holding her purse and gym bag. She swallowed. "Thanks," she said, taking them from him. She bent her head and walked to the door. The gym's owner, a muscular man who looked as if he spent too much time on the bench press, let her out. She took the stairs slowly, thinking as she did so that she would never hear Tom again, never hear that odd hitch in his voice, the way it caught when he got into the rhythm of the workout, the way it soared above the music. His body was on the floor of the exercise room, his neck tilted at an odd angle. She wondered what he looked like, if he still seemed like a Greek god, even in his death repose. And then she shuddered. She would never be able to go in that room again. She put her bag and purse in the car, and locked it. Then she took off at a run down the parking lot, not because she was frightened but because she needed to burn off the fear she had felt. She needed the exercise, and she had to prove to herself that she could do it without Tom.   She woke in the middle of the night with an ache in her heart and tears in her eyes. She wanted a piece of chocolate cake so badly that it hurt. Fortunately, she lived in a small town that didn't have an all-night grocery store, and she didn't keep cake mixes in her small apartment. Comfort food. She wanted comfort food because she needed comforting. She heard her own voice, speaking to Huckleby: I didn't know him. I just took a class from him. But if it were that simple, why couldn't she sleep? Her mother hadn't been able to sleep in the first few months after her father died. Neither had she, if the truth be told. The brain was busy trying to process the loss. Too busy to sleep more than a few hours at a time. That had been when she put on the serious weight. Chocolate cake in the middle of the night, topped with vanilla ice cream. Or Cool Whip. Or Hershey's syrup. Her mouth watered. She needed something comforting. Now. Never deny the cravings, she knew that much. But she couldn't afford to fall back into bad habits just because her spinning-class instructor was dead. She wondered what the local best-selling psychiatrist would say about this. Probably recommend therapy. Probably report her to the police. She could hear it now: She had a revenge fantasy about the man. Perhaps she acted it out. Perhaps she stalked him. She sat down at the kitchen table she had bought at a discount furniture store and assembled herself, then put her hands in her short-cropped hair. If she were honest with herself, she knew that she could have killed him. If her revenge fantasy had taken a different, more harmful twist. If she had gotten to the acting-out stage--which she had. She had been planning to come in that night, to continue the seduction. She had heard how willing he was to date women at the club. She had known about his preference for the sleek muscular women, the clear athletes. She had planned to use that to her benefit. And the cop had seen it. He had seen it, and something about her height made him dismiss her. But he shouldn't have. Patricia hadn't seen the body, but she knew the room, and she knew one thing: Tom liked to sit on the floor and talk to people. She could imagine how someone like her could have killed him: He would have been sitting cross-legged on the polished wood floor in the center of the room, holding forth on the value of good nutrition or how so many reps burn so much fat, when someone came up behind him, put him in the stranglehold, and pulled until he couldn't breathe. Then he fell back, sprawling across the floor, his neck bent at the odd angle. Simple. Easy. So simple and easy even a short person could have done it. She wished she could mention that to Huckleby without raising suspicion, but she couldn't. All she could do was listen for the gossip, read the local papers, and pretend that Tom's death had no effect on her life.   Like a woman who had just fallen off a horse, she made herself go to the gym the following night. Getting back in the saddle, she had whispered to herself, and while that wasn't entirely accurate, it was good enough. The owner sat behind the desk, paperwork spread in front of him. A big sign, written in black Magic Marker, announced that all classes had been canceled until further notice. He saw her stare at it, and said, "We can't have the room until the investigation's done." She wasn't sure if that was supposed to make her feel better or worse, so she just nodded and went into the locker room to change. Another woman was standing near the row of sinks, reading a sign newly taped to the wall. The sign was computer generated and it mentioned a trust fund, set up by the gym, for Tom Ansara's daughter. Patricia felt a jolt. "I didn't know he had a daughter." The woman nodded. Patricia had seen her around, but had never bothered to learn her name. "Sixteen. She's being raised by the mother in Seattle. But he was here, trying to earn money for her college. Now she may never go." Patricia almost asked what happened to scholarships, but thought that too crass. Instead she made a sympathetic noise and changed into her sweats. She went into the gym proper and used the newest StairMaster set on high for an hour, until sweat poured off her. While she worked out, she noticed that only the regulars were here. The dilettantes, the ones who showed up every January or once a month or after a particularly big meal, hadn't come at all. And that was unusual. Every night usually had one. As she marched up and down a make-believe flight of stairs, she was conscious of the room behind her, hidden by a row of racquetball courts and bleachers, now cordoned off by the local police. The more she marched and sweated, the more she focused on that room. She wanted to see it, wanted to know, perhaps, if he were really dead. The room had mirrors covering three walls and a row of windows covering the fourth. The windows overlooked the free-weight area. When she got off the StairMaster and grabbed her sweat towel, wrapping it around her neck, she meandered into the free-weight area as if her movement were part of her routine. The windows showed a darkened room, lit only by the lights reflected in the mirrors. There was no chalk outline of a body on the floor--she had read somewhere that Hollywood made that up and the police never used it; she just hadn't believed it to be true--and the special spinning bikes were lined up against the back wall, just like usual, waiting for class members to wheel them toward the middle. Beside them were the pile of step mats, and next to that the boxy audio system that had threatened to ruin her hearing. Nothing was different except the yellow police tape covering the door, and the sign attached: Closed by Order of the Seavy Village Police. She shuddered, wishing, somehow, that she had never heard about his death. That she had stayed away as her weight came down, and when she came back and forgot to ask about Tom, people forgot to tell her about the murder, so that she would assume he had moved away, or lost his job, or found employment that required use of his mind. But she couldn't pretend those things in retrospect, and she couldn't drop the disappointment she felt that, somehow, she had been cheated of something. "Any clues?" A male voice behind her made her jump. She turned. Detective Huckleby was standing so close to her that he almost pressed her against the window. "No," she said. "Strange," he said. "A room is always a room, even after something awful happens in it. Unless you know, the room is no different." She had had that thought before. Apartments and hotel rooms always made her wonder, when she first arrived, if anyone had died in them. She had always thought she would be able to tell by some subtle vibration, something that had altered because of the death. But she felt no such vibration from the gym, none from the exercise room at all, and she was surprised. "I didn't think any of the class members would show up tonight," he said. "I didn't just go to class," she said. "This is my routine." "Routine." He spoke softly, as if he were musing. Her heart had started to pound again. "I lost my weight, Detective, through exercise. I have to continue that, particularly now--" "Now that your instructor is dead?" She nodded. "So he did have an influence on your weight loss." She licked her lips. "He inspired me." That much was true. "Who's going to inspire you now?" She met his gaze. Electric blue. Neon blue. Like she imagined Paul Newman's eyes would be in person. "I guess I have to," she said. "Always tough," he said. "It's always better if the motivation comes from the outside." She wasn't sure if he was speaking of exercise now, or if he was speaking of murder. Would he be happier if the killer came from outside Seavy Village? Or outside the gym? She swallowed. She had been so focused on herself, on Tom's death, that she hadn't thought about the reality of murder. The fact that a murder victim had to have a murderer. "Are you done with your exercise?" he asked. "Do you want to interrogate me again?" To her surprise, he laughed. "If you thought that was an interrogation," he said, "I don't want to put you through a real one." She saw no humor in it. Yesterday had been a bad day, a day she did not want to repeat. He must have seen that on her face, for his smile faded. "Sorry," he said. "You're not a suspect." "At this time," she said. He half shrugged. "I suppose." He looked around at the empty bleachers, the slouching owner poring over the papers behind the reception desk. "I was hoping to buy you coffee and ask a few questions about the gym." "Me?" He faced her, his eyes meeting hers. "Well," he said, "actually, anyone from the class who bothered to show up tonight. You're the only one." "I thought you didn't expect any of us to show up tonight." "I figured it would only be the exercise addicts." It was her turn to smile, ruefully. "It is." He nodded once. "Coffee?" "Water or Gatorade. Coffee's a diuretic." "Hmm," he said. "And that's bad?" She looked at him, uncertain if that was a real joke. She supposed it was. It seemed strange to joke in front of a room where a man had been murdered. "There's a deli and juice bar upstairs," she said, not sure why she'd agreed. "Lead the way," he said. "Let me change," she said. "I'll meet you there." "I suppose you want carrot juice." "Actually," she said, "I want bottled water. And maybe an apple." "Done." She pushed past him and went to the lady's locker room. Her hands were shaking and she was wondering what she was doing. He was a cop investigating a murder and he wanted to talk to her a second time, informally. She felt as if she were doing something wrong, as if she should get on the phone and ask for a lawyer or not show up or go upstairs and ask what he was charging her with. But all of that seemed melodramatic and unnecessary and a bit rude. After a quick--very quick--shower, she put on her street clothes--a cheap cotton sweater and a pair of faded jeans. She left her tennies on, and kept her gym bag in the locker. She saw no reason to spend too much time with him. The restaurant upstairs had gone through many formats in the eighteen months she had worked out in the gym. The first and most appalling had been the steak joint that served its meat thick and charbroiled. The next had been a vegetarian restaurant with poorly made, tasteless 1970s cuisine. Three different taverns came in after that, and now, finally, the deli, with its smoothies and juice bars. This new place was the only one that got the regulars from the gym. Sometimes they ran up the stairs, got a small sandwich and a fruit drink, and then went back down to work out some more. She had come up more than once with a novel, usually science fiction, and had eaten alone, most often the taco deli sandwich made with fat-free refried beans. It had flavor, and it was filling, and it didn't have a lot of calories, all of which counted in its favor. The seats were comfortable, and the staff congenial, never asking her to move when she finished her meal. Now she went up to find herself and Huckleby the only customers. The lights were out in the far section of the deli, and a single employee, an older woman whom Patricia had never seen before, cleaned behind the counter. A bottled water and the fruit plate waited for her. Huckleby had a cup of coffee and a shortbread cookie. "That's a lot of food." "You looked like you could use it." How many years had she waited for someone to say that, only to find it was someone she didn't want to impress. She slipped into the chair and opened the bottle of water. "You had questions." He nodded. "Tell me what you can about Tom." "We had this conversation yesterday." "Yesterday I knew less than I do today." "Oh?" She took a long sip. She had been thirsty, which meant she had let herself get dehydrated. Careless of her. "Yeah," he said. "Like what?" He broke the shortbread cookie in half, then broke a half into smaller pieces. "No," he said. "I get to ask the questions first." "I already told you about Tom." "You told me what you know. And that was official. Now I want to know what you suspect." Suspect. Strange word. Was she supposed to tell this man that she thought Tom Ansara was self-involved and rather stupid, that he had an eye for pretty women and no real empathy for anyone who didn't look like a perfect match for him? Or should she tell him about her suspicions of Tom's performance in bed? "I think he biked a lot," she said. Huckleby raised an amused eyebrow. "Gee. We missed that." She felt color rise in her cheeks. "No," she said. "I mean biked all over the city, maybe over the area." "That's not gossip." "You want gossip?" "Yes." "Talk to the aerobics instructor then. She collects it." He leaned back and studied her. "That was harsh. You don't like her?" "I don't know her." "It amazes me that you could come to a gym for eighteen months and not know anyone." "I came to work out." "People usually make friends in places like this." "Not with fat people." "Why? They make friends with fat people everywhere else." She picked up her fork and stabbed an orange slice with it, feeling a momentary victory when some of the juice shot across the table toward him. "I understand it," she said. "At least I do now. Most people who are more than twenty pounds overweight don't stay. It has nothing to do with discipline and everything to do with effort. It takes a lot of effort to move a normal weight, but add extra weight on top of it and a fat person is working twice, sometimes three times as hard as everyone else. Most can't manage it, and they leave." "So you don't make friends with fat people at the gym either?" "I thought we already established that I don't make friends," she said. His gaze seemed a little too sharp for a moment, as if her admission was an admission to something else as well. "I'm sure you do in your personal life." She had a few friends, people she talked to, but no one she confided in. She hadn't confided in anyone for a very long time. Not even her brother. They talked about casual things. She supposed that counted as friendship. And she had a lot of acquaintances on-line. She kept a board running behind her work at all times, and answered her e-mail when it showed up. She closed out her nightly sessions in a chat room, each night a room devoted to a different subject, just to keep her mind active. The silence between them had grown. Finally, she said, "I thought you wanted to hear about Tom." "And I thought you didn't gossip." She ate the orange slice. It was sour. She took a sip of water to cover the taste. "I discovered in the last twenty-four hours how little I knew about him. Like the daughter." "There is no daughter," Huckleby said. She set the bottle of water down very deliberately. "But the sign--" "He told people there was a daughter, and the very kind folks in Seavy Village have started a fund. But I investigated, and I can tell you, there is no daughter. No ex-wife. No acrimonious divorce. There isn't even a Tom Ansara until he came to Seavy Village." So there was more to this than just the gym. That relieved her somehow, made the thought of murder caused by people who frequented her safe place go away. "All of his relationships lasted a few weeks at most," Huckleby said, "so consider yourself lucky he didn't make a pass at you." Such a quaint old-fashioned phrase "make a pass" was. She almost smiled. But a part of her brain, the suspicious part, remained distant. "Why are you telling me all this?" "Because," he said, "I figured if I opened up, you would. And you look like a lady who has something to get off her chest." She felt her eyes widen and wished she could stop them, wished she had more control than she did. Now, when she lied, he would know it. "I've told you everything I can," she said. He stared at her for a moment. "Pity." "I don't hold any keys," she said. "I'd tell you if I did." "Would you?" he asked, then dropped a ten on the table and stood. By the time she got to her feet, he was gone.   All that night and as she ate her solitary bowl of cereal the next morning, she kept telling herself that it was silly to feel like she was failing Huckleby somehow. She didn't even know him, didn't know anything about him. All she knew was that he wanted information on Tom's death, and she had none. In fact, she had even less than she had had before. She had believed the stories about Tom around the gym, had thought him a divorced man with a conventional past. Now, perhaps, he didn't have one, and he, not the murderer, had violated the safety of the gym, of Seavy Village itself. Blaming the victim, they called it. But she knew that things were never as clear-cut as they seemed. Apparently, so did Huckleby. When she got to work, her schedule was light: some routine maintenance of a few sites and monitoring of a few others. She opened the usual chat room where she hung out when things were slow, but couldn't concentrate. Her brother was in his office, talking loudly on the phone. He wanted to expand their service beyond the coast, to move into the valley. It would entail hiring additional staff, getting more lines, working more computers. It would be a nightmare for her, but so far she hadn't tried to talk him out of it. Rather than listen to him argue with another of his friends over his plans, she opened her window. The morning breeze smelled of sea salt and fish. It was cold, but she didn't mind. She needed something else to concentrate on. But her attention kept wandering back to Huckleby's words about Tom, about his secrets, and she finally succumbed. She knew where he lived: She had followed him there once, early on, so that she could have a setting to imagine her revenge. Actually sitting in her car on that cold November night, watching him shaded against his window as he moved through his apartment, made her feel like a voyeur, a stalker, something she didn't want to be. So, even though she'd felt an urge to follow him at other times, she never had. Still, she decided to use his name and address now to access his driver's license. Some schlub had gotten in trouble, in Oregon, for placing all the DMV records on the Internet and, even though he had removed them, Patricia had captured the file, thinking some day it would be useful. It was. With Tom's driver's license number, she was able to get into his credit report, and that, in turn, gave her his Social Security number. It didn't belong to Tom Ansara, but to someone else, an elderly woman in Pittsburgh. Apparently he had stolen the number. But he had used it for a very long time and through it, and his credit report, she saw a life of transience, a man of many names and, as she dug, several petty crimes, mostly involving drugs, theft, and a certain roughness with women. That last made a shudder run through her. Her revenge fantasy had been too subtle for this man. It might have turned on her. No matter how strong she was, she might not have been able to overcome his athlete's quickness. She knew that much. It could have ended badly. For her. At that, she rested her head on her arms and made herself breathe. How foolish she had become. How obsessed with a man she hadn't even known. She had even mourned him, in her own way, this man she had made up. The door to her office opened, and her brother came in. She recognized him by his footsteps. "You okay?" She raised her head. Her brother still carried all the weight he had put on as he aged. Sometimes he eyed her new form as if it were a reproach to him. But she liked him at this weight. It gave him a cuddly warmth that he hadn't had when he was thinner. "Yeah," she said. "Just tired." He nodded. All he knew about Tom was what the rest of the town knew: that he had been murdered in the gym. The next day, her brother had asked her if it was safe for her to return. When she assured him it was, he had said, "I hope so," and she knew, with that terse phrase, that the conversation was closed. He pulled up the only other chair, a folding chair she kept unfolded in the corner. It squeaked as he sat on it. "Look," he said. "If I manage to get more business, we might have to leave Seavy Village. This just isn't a good place to do business, not if we start focusing on the valley." Her heart was pounding. She didn't want to leave. She loved it here. "I won't go," she said. "I know. I was thinking, maybe you could be in charge of our coastal lines." That meant customer relations. It meant working alone. "Let's wait," she said. "Talk about this when the changes become real." "It's getting closer every day, Patty," he said. Her brother was the only person who could call her Patty and get away with it. "I know," she said. "I just don't want to think about it now."   And she didn't, not until she was on the silly StairMaster for the second night in a row. Sweat was dripping between her breasts, and the back of her neck was damp. The club's televisions were all tuned to a football game, and their sound was on, as well as the latest Rod Stewart CD at full blast. She was surprised she could hear herself think. But the noise blurred, and she found her mind wandering, going over her brother's words, trying to see if there was any reality in the changes he was discussing for his business. Then it hit her, what he had said. Seavy Village isn't a good place to do business. And it wasn't. The town was small, many of its residents unskilled workers with low-paying jobs or retirees who lived on a fixed income. The tourists were seasonal: summers, mostly, with a few spikes around the holidays. Yet Tom had been here for eighteen months, maybe more. He hadn't had a single arrest, which, considering his record before he arrived, was spectacular, and she remembered nothing that made him seem as if he had been on drugs. What had he found that kept him here? It certainly hadn't been the spinning class. And whatever it had been, someone had considered it worth killing for. Pretend this is Cascade Head, he would say. Know how good you'll feel when you reach the top. And all the other sites on the coast route. He would mention them, use them in his class. But he always came back to Cascade Head, as if it were important, to them, and to him. For one long stretch of her workout, she considered buying a bike and exploring the places he had mentioned, searching. But for what, she didn't know. And she had never searched for anything. She had no idea how to go about it. She had to talk to Huckleby. She wondered if he would think she was crazy, all the work she had done on this. He was going to want to know why and the answer she had was really no answer at all, just a truth she was beginning to discover: That obsession, once begun, did not end easily. That losing it felt a lot like losing love.   The police station, tucked in a back road behind the post office, was a 1960s building, all metal and sand-colored brick. Its gray tile floors were spotless, and the walls had recently been painted white. She felt oddly betrayed by its cleanliness. Somehow she had expected the grit she had seen portrayed on TV. When she asked for Huckleby, the woman at the desk--statuesque, her uniform accenting rather than hiding her figure--nodded toward the only man sitting in a sea of desks. Patricia wasn't sure how she missed him, except that she hadn't expected this place to be this way, and somehow hadn't expected him to look so lost and all alone, bathed in the fog-gray light filtering in from the crosshatched windows. The smell, she noted as she walked toward him, was strong: burned coffee and stale sweat, the kind of smell that a person never got used to. It wasn't until she was standing over him that he looked up, and from the movement of his lips, she guessed he had been planning to make a comment to someone else when he edited himself for her. "I didn't expect to see you again," he said, and kicked a green metal desk chair in her direction. She sat gingerly on it, half expecting it to squeal as her folding chair did when her brother sat on it. His comment was strange given the size of the town they lived in. They would see each other from time to time, probably had already and just hadn't known it, until now. She licked her lips. "I did some digging." "Oh?" He was giving her his full attention. The file before him was closed and pushed aside, his hands threaded on the desk like a man patiently waiting to hear something he didn't already know. "The name Ansara is unusual," she said, knowing that this was an inane way to start. "There was a movie star in the late sixties and early seventies named Michael Ansara. He looked something like Tom." "Yeah," Huckleby said, his tone dry. "I can't decide if Tom's favorite movie was Sometimes a Great Notion or that awful television remake of Dracula." In spite of herself, she smiled. She ducked her head so that he wouldn't see how amused she was. This was serious, after all. "But I did even more digging. I found out about his record." His eyebrows went up. "You're good," he said. "Care to share with me how you did that?" She had thought this through before she came, and now she told him the story she had planned: It was the entire truth minus the driver's license records. Even though anyone could get DMV records simply by writing to the division, she felt almost criminal using them, even more criminal for storing them. Still, if he asked, she would tell him. She only hoped he wouldn't ask. He didn't, but he was leaning forward now, looking at her with a mixture of puzzlement and respect. "I would have left it at that," she said, "except I got to wondering, what would a man like that be doing in Seavy Village for so long?" "Staying clean?" Huckleby said. Clearly he'd thought of that too. "Maybe," she said. "But when he did spinning class, he outlined bike routes, something we could imagine while our feet were hopelessly circling." She took a piece of paper out of her battered purse. "Here are the places he mentioned, and the way he mentioned them. Cascade Head was the one he focused on, but I always thought that was because it was so high. But he could have used the Van Duzer Corridor for the same thing, or maybe something in the Cascades, and he didn't. He just kept coming back to this one, over and over, like his mind was stuck." Huckleby glanced at the paper. "You're quite specific. How do you remember what he said?" She flushed. "I was in his class for a long time. It got boring after a while. You did anything you could to concentrate. I focused on his words. He repeated himself a lot." He tapped the paper against his hand. "Nice work," he said. "I knew you'd remember something if you tried hard enough." "Is it important?" she asked. "Important?" He kept a grip on the paper while he reached for the phone. "It's the missing piece."   She didn't hear anything for three days. Every time she thought of calling the station, she made herself do something else. The danger with obsession, the Web site told her, was that once one went away, another sometimes arose in its place. Too many, and a person needed therapy. A single one, and perhaps the person needed more to do with her life. More than computers, exercise, and solitary meals. More than ducking her head to avoid conversations every time she went to the gym. She joined the aerobics class and made a point, that night, of learning everyone's name. She told her brother that she thought his expansion a bad idea at this stage in their business, and he was so pleased that she used the word "their" that he didn't even try to argue with her. He asked her what she thought the business needed, and she told him all the things she had never said. To her surprise, he made a list and walked out of her office, studying it, ready, he said, to make changes. On the third day, the local 5:15 newscast announced that a suspect was being held in the murder of Tom Ansara. A man, with a name Patricia didn't recognize, an out-of-towner, as the announcer called him with obvious relief, who had business with Ansara that predated his arrival in Seavy Village. She was surprised she hadn't heard from Huckleby. She would have thought that, as a courtesy, he would have told her first. And then she wondered where that assumption came from. She had provided a small bit of information in an ongoing investigation. He owed her nothing. She owed him nothing. And that's where things would always stand.   The details came out bit by bit, not in the local paper, which saw itself as a promoter of tourism on the coast and as such tried to cover up the seamier stuff, but in the Oregonian, which followed the entire case with an interest unusual in their non-Portland coverage. Tom Ansara's real name was Andrew Thomas. He had arrests in several states for drug crimes, most of which were minor possession violations. But two states had more serious charges against him, one in an unlikely connection with a group of art thieves operating in Los Angeles. Ansara fled the area after some Mirós, Picassos, a Jackson Pollack, and an original Dali were stolen from a house in Brentwood. He came to Oregon, took a new name, and hid, careful to stay away from Seavy Village's minor drug trade, and managing, somehow, to break off his relations with women before things became too serious. He hadn't had anything to do with the art heists, had merely stumbled on them in the course of his other shady dealings, and knew, somehow, who was involved. Police assumed he dated one of the thieves, hearing the plans for the Brentwood theft from her. But the heat on that was high, and someone threatened him. When he came to Oregon, he made notes of all he knew and buried them on Cascade Head. He had mailed a letter to himself the day he died--obviously he had been worried; perhaps he had seen his killer, a man named Will Garetson. In the letter, Tom explained that he had hidden a box, and how far it was from Highway 101, and he gave a detailed description of the unusual tree and rock formation near the burial site. Unfortunately, he had left out what part of 101 he was talking about. When Patricia--"a private citizen" as the papers called her--had come forward, she had provided the missing piece of information: where exactly the box was. The police looked on Cascade Head at the correct distance from 101, found the distinctive tree and rock formation, and proceeded to dig. They found the box, and in it, the names of the people involved in the heist, a tape recording with their voices on it planning that heist, and a list of the items that they had hoped to take. Also in the box was a note about the reasons Tom had hidden in Oregon: It wasn't because his conscience had finally gotten to him about the heist or because he had been discovered by the thieves. It was because, on the two jobs the thieves performed before his disappearance, they had killed security guards, and Tom was beginning to fear that killing for sport was becoming the reason behind the heists, not the theft itself. So he vanished, and it took them a long time to trace him. He made two mistakes: He took a regular job, and he kept the old Social Security number. Eventually Garetson found him. In fact, the article said, the man who killed Tom had been the self-defense instructor at the gym a few weeks before Tom's death. Because instructors were rarely in the building at the same time, Tom hadn't seen him. Garetson had discovered Tom's routine, where he lived, and who he had offended in SeavyVillage, and had apparently decided the best way to kill the man was to do it at the gym, where all the women he slept with would then become suspects. It would have worked if it weren't for that letter, and Detective Huckleby, who felt there was something wrong with this case from the beginning. Patricia read the articles with avid interest, worried when she learned how easy it had been for a killer to infiltrate her small town and target a man, calmer when she realized one of the reasons the man had been targeted was because of his own behavior. It took a week for the Oregonian to print all the articles, but when it was done, and Garetson was in jail awaiting trial, she felt as if it was over. Or at least part of it. She could still remember the touch of Garetson's hands on her neck as he held her in place, using her to demonstrate to the rest of the self-defense class how to do the chokehold. When his arm had wrapped around her throat, she had thought how easy it would be for him to squeeze and how easy it would be for her to die. Apparently, he had killed Tom with no struggle. She had been right. It had been easy, after all.   So she went back to her life, changed as it was. Her brother gave her more responsibility at the i.p. and she found a jogging partner, a woman whom she had spoken to a few times at the gym and felt an affinity for. They were developing a friendship composed of short conversations followed by a mile or more of gasping silence. She found that she liked talking with someone. She actually looked forward to it. By the end of the second week, she made it through two days without thinking of Tom. Then Huckleby walked into her office. He leaned against the door, smiled at her, and let his blue eyes draw her in. "Do you do lunch?" he asked. "Only on every other Thursday," she said, and was surprised at the tartness of her own reply. His smile widened into a grin. "I'm buying." She went with him to the health-food restaurant next door. He ordered the only meal with beef in it--a shredded beef taco concoction made with cream cheese instead of sour cream--and she had their homemade tomato soup and fresh sourdough bread. "You never followed up on the case," he said after the food was served. "You didn't keep me informed." He took a bite from the taco and half the cream cheese fell out. He set the food down. "I was a little busy." "But you got him," she said. "We got him. It's up to the L.A. cops to get the rest." He sounded relieved at that. "More excitement than SeavyVillage is used to," she said. "More than we want," he replied. Then he put an elbow on the table and watched her. She had never had anyone watch her eat before. "You know," he said, "in all the times we talked, you never did tell me how you felt about him." "About Tom?" she asked, stalling. She put her soup spoon down and picked up the bread, shredding it. "Yes." She shrugged. "He was my spinning instructor." "And?" There was no harm in telling him now. No harm in saying anything. She felt herself flush. She had to look away. "And I hated him." He let out a slow whistle, as if he hadn't expected it. "Because he was a drill sergeant?" She shook her head. The soup was nearly gone. She had made a mess of the bread. There were crumbs on her side of the table. She stared at them instead of looking Huckleby in the eye. "Because of how he looked at me, in the beginning. Like I offended him just by being in his presence." To her surprise, Huckleby took her hand. She raised her head, saw him looking at her with empathy, not disgust. She wanted to look away, but couldn't. "Do you know how many times you told me that fat people get treated differently?" "They do," she said. "You're no longer fat," he said. "I always will be." With her free hand she tapped her chest. "Inside. I'll always remember how it feels. Like an alcoholic. I'll always be a fat person crammed into a skinny shell." "If you want to be," he said. "No one sees you that way anymore. No one treats you that way. The loathing I hear when I'm around you comes from you." He said the words softly, gently, to lessen their sting. But they still hurt. She blinked, startled. No one had ever talked that way to her before. But then, she hadn't let anyone talk to her, really talk to her, for years. "I don't want to treat anyone else that way," she said. "But you do," he said. "You assume all the rest of us will look at you with that same disgust that Ansara had, and you hate us in advance." "I don't hate you," she said. He smiled and squeezed her hand. "It's a start, at least." "Of what?" she asked. He shrugged. "I don't know. Friendship, maybe something more. If you're willing." She had never fantasized about him, not in this way, never imagined what he would sound like in bed, never allowed herself to think a man like this one would even be interested. He was a person to her, not a Greek god who looked down on the less-than-perfect with complete disdain, like Tom had been. Only Tom hadn't been. He had been as imperfect as she was. It just hadn't been apparent from the way he looked, the way he dressed, the way he spoke. Only his eyes had showed it, and only if someone paid attention. She felt a little floaty hit of adrenaline, like she used to get in her early spinning classes after she had been on the bike awhile. Just when she thought she would be ready to quit, something in her body would adjust and she would feel slightly dizzy, slightly high. A little afraid and a bit proud of herself at the same time. Friendship. Something more. If she was willing. "All right," she said, and squeezed Huckleby's hand. There was no longer a need for fantasy. The fantasy had made her blind to the realities around her. Some of those realities could have harmed her--the arm around her neck, the same arm that had crushed Tom's throat--and others could have helped her, allowed her to see that things were different now, that she was different and, perhaps, always would be. She was no longer spinning her wheels on a stationary bike. She had been moving forward for a long time; and she had finally noticed. Copyright (c) 2001 by Tekno Books and Ed Gorman Excerpted from The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.