At no point had he looked into the dim mirror over the basin.
In the kitchen again, Allen frowned at the contents of the refrigerator, glanced over the meager supply of pasta and canned goods in the cupboard, and in the end fried up a pair of thick ham and provolone sandwiches with tomatoes and onions on week-old bread. He carried his plate with the remains of the beer into the cramped living room and propped his feet up on the massive pseudo-wood table in front of the musty sofa, allowing the greasy food and the mindless television to carry him through to the half-hour break.
With a sigh, and another beer, he then sat down to his work.
In the arc of experience that had brought him from a scorching runway in Saigon to this fetid apartment among the winos, Allen had picked up a number of skills. Primary among them, then and now, was the ability to disengage. Going through the pockets of a long-dead enemy soldier, dropping down to check a bunker they'd thought was empty but which a fragmentation grenade had proved was not, watching a brutal interrogation, loading a ville's weeping inhabitants into a Chinook like cattleyou had to stand aside mentally and let your hands and eyes do their job. Like a flak jacket on the emotions, disassociation made it possible to carry on even if you were hit.
Now, it made it possible for Allen to watch his illicit videos of blond, curly-headed, six-year-old AmberLyn McKenzie with the least possible involvement of the mind. If he stopped to let it all in, if he allowed his eyes to dwell on the child's face or let his ears hear her stepfather's clever cajoling, he knew damn well that he'd put down his beer and just go murder the bastard. Which wouldn't help anyone, least of all that little girl whimpering on the television screen. Instead, he fast-forwarded parts of what the bedroom spy camera had recorded, although truth to tell, it was rarely the actual rape that got to him on these sorts of cases. No; the part he found truly unbearable was, he'd long ago decided, the very same part that the pedophile loved the most: the seduction. Most pedophiles weren't interested in merely overpowering a child, but rather found their greatest pleasure in the game of domination, keeping the child just this side of outright panic by first discovering and then manipulating each particular victim's individual needs, fears, and nobilities. The subtle interplay of threat and cajoling, pressure and affection, always hit Allen the hardest: the terrible intimacy involved, a predator's complete understanding of his prey, a knowledge such as, more often than not, no other human being in the child's life came anywhere near to possessing. It was this terrible familiarity with the victim's very soul that made Allen crave the simplicity of murder.
When the bedroom tape was over, he got himself a third beer by way of reward before settling down with a pad of paper to watch the scenes from the three other cameras he'd planted. He made the occasional note and replayed one or two parts before labeling the recordings precisely and sealing them into a padded mailer; only then did he go and take his shower. Afterward, he sat in the dark room for nearly an hour with his feet on the table and his fingers laced together over the front of his fresh T-shirt.
Thank God this time there was a mother. It made life so much easier, having an adult to take charge of the child once he'd gotten the victims freeeven if the mother was a large part of the child's problem, which was usually the case. But at least Allen didn't have to act alone, at least he avoided the soul-withering need to ingratiate himself into the child's life like the molesters he watched. He always felt . . . cleaner, when there was a mother on board.
A few minutes after midnight, Allen got up to fetch a cell phone from his bedside table. He thumbed in the numbers and put it to his ear, standing at the bedroom window and looking through its dirty glass at the deserted street below. As he'd expected, the phone was answered after the first ring. He spoke. Tomorrow, I think. He'll be out of town until late. So plan A looks good. Everything ready at your end? Fine, see you then.
Excerpted from Keeping Watch by Laurie R. King Copyright© 2003 by Laurie R. King. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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