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LAS VEGAS, NEVADA

LATE JUNE

SATURDAY AFTERNOON

Missy Devereaux, whose real name was Mary Ann Duff, fluffed her hair as she pretended to look in the store window, scanning behind her, wondering if he’d followed her to Las Vegas. And then she saw him, across the street, ducking behind an old gray Volvo in the thick Las Vegas Strip traffic. He looked thin in his baggy jeans and his loose-hanging dark blue shirt. She couldn’t see his face—he wore dark sunglasses and a Giants baseball cap.

It wasn’t fair. She’d just landed a six-month stint here at the Mandalay in a Beatles musical retrospective, hoping for half a year of peace and calm without a stalker to tie her stomach in knots, but here he was, after only four days. She’d been so careful when the taxi picked her up at her cottage in Malibu nearly a week before—had the driver drop her off at LAX, a terminal away from the airline she’d booked—but still he was here, watching her, following her. All she’d wanted was her life to return to normal. She’d done everything she could. She’d gone to the cops to see if they could stop him. Movie star stalkers were old hat to the Calabasas Sheriff’s Department, responsible for handling all the criminal problems in Malibu. They had a protocol in place, a pleasant older cop had told her four months before, they would talk to him if she would point him out. What, she’d asked, would her stalker do when he got tired of following her around? Attack her? The friendly older cop only shook his head, avoided answering that question. That same day, Missy bought a Becker Ka-Bar knife, a fixed blade three and a quarter inches long, with a three-inch handle. It was made of Cro-Van steel, the salesman had told her, and was favored by sailors going back nearly to the ark. She liked the sound of that, carrying something badass enough for the marines. She liked the feel of the Ka-Bar, too, solid, and ready to go in its sheath hooked onto her waistband.

The cops hadn’t caught the stalker, even following their protocol.

She kept fluffing, touched on some lip gloss, and continued to stare into the window. She didn’t see him now, but she knew he was there, watching. She was so used to feeling acid burning her gut, so used to the overwhelming urge to run as fast as she could, that she didn’t at first recognize the bolt of rage that splashed through her. She felt her adrenaline spike, felt her blood pumping hard and fast, the mad mix making her shake. For the first time she let the heat of anger wash over her, and she saw clearly who and what he was—nothing. She wasn’t going to let him destroy her life. Not anymore. She turned on her heel and worked her way through the gridlock traffic on the Strip, not even aware of the horns honking, the tourists jostling her or the wolf whistles. All her focus was on that miserable little man who probably spent his nights licking her publicity photos.

She saw him straighten, stare at her, then draw back when she started running toward him, not away, her Ka-Bar in her hand.

She heard growling, realized it was from her, and yelled, “You miserable little worm! I’m going to carve out your tonsils!” He sprinted away, Missy after him, running fast and strong. She’d been a blimp in high school, but all that had changed when she’d turned twenty. Six years later, she was in top-flight shape, ran three miles every single day, worked out at Sam’s Muscle Bar, in L.A. Catch him? Not a problem. He wove through crowds of tourists on the sidewalk, knocking some out of his way, going around others, and Missy followed in his wake, closing in on him. He ran past the Venetian hotel with its Grand Canal and gondolas floating past, knocking two people aside, leaving them cursing after him. When the crush of tourists became too thick, she ran in the street, close to the sidewalk, and gained on him more. When he turned right, toward the Wynn hotel and looked back over his shoulder, she saw it clear as day—fear. He’s afraid of me! It was heady to see that look after so many months of aggravation and, yes, fear. Now it was his turn. She felt fierce, unstoppable. She amped up her speed.

He was tiring fast as he ran into the huge hotel garage, nearly empty this time of day, Missy on his heels. She lost him for a moment in the shadows, then spotted him running across to the far side of the garage that opened onto the gardens of the Wynn. She was nearly on him now. Without hesitating, Missy took a flying leap and landed on his back, wrapping her arms around his neck. He fell forward under her weight, half on the grass, half on the concrete garage floor.

“You move, and I’ll slice off your ear!” She pricked his neck with her Ka-Bar, enough to draw a drop of blood, to show him she was serious. He became still as a stone. So he wasn’t a complete moron. She jerked off his ball cap, grabbed a tangle of brown hair, and pulled his head back. She elbowed off his sunglasses and looked down into a thin, good-looking face, marred by some acne scars on his forehead, and pale brown eyes filled with fear. Of her. Of her Ka-Bar digging into his neck. He didn’t outweigh her by more than twenty pounds. She felt triumphant; she’d brought him down, and not a cop in sight. Missy leaned close, thought about biting him but didn’t. She whispered in his ear, “You’re the one who’s scared now, aren’t you, you creep? Who are you? Why have you been stalking me?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never saw you before in my life. You started ch-chasing me and I-I saw the knife. I ran.” His voice was high, twitchy, with a bit of a stutter that pleased her immensely.

“You puking little liar!” She jerked up his head by the hair, dug the knife a bit deeper. He groaned, music to her ears.

A man’s deep voice from just above her said quietly, easily, “Please don’t carve him up here, ma’am. Mr. Wynn wouldn’t be pleased. I’m Del Conroy, head of security.”

Missy stilled, craned her neck to look up into a hard face, at odds with that smooth cowboy voice. He was older, with iron-gray hair cut short, a white shirt and slacks. “Please don’t stop me, Mr. Conroy. I’m Missy. Missy Devereaux. I want to carve him up, but I won’t if he tells me why he’s been stalking me.”

“A stalker? And you brought him down. Well done.” He squatted down beside her. “Nice to meet you, Missy. And what’s your name, sir?”

“I didn’t do anything. She attacked me!”

Conroy studied the young man’s face, spotted the midwestern accent, stood. “Up you go, Missy, I’ve got this now, if you don’t mind.” And he scooped her up beneath her armpits and set her on her feet. Both of them stared down at the man, who was rubbing his neck. Missy saw the smear of blood from her Ka-Bar and smiled.

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