Eric Wu stepped inside the Sykes house.
The house was dark. Wu had left all the lights out. The intruder-whoever had taken the key out of the rock-had not turned them on. Wu wondered about that.
He had assumed the intruder was the nosey woman in the lingerie. Would she be smart enough to know not to turn the lights on?
He stopped. More than that: If you have the forethought not to turn on the lights, wouldn't you have the foresight not to leave the hide-a-key in plain sight?
Something did not add up.
Wu lowered himself and moved behind the recliner. He stopped and listened. Nothing. If someone was in the house, he would hear them move. He waited some more.
Wu mulled it over. Could the intruder have come and gone?
He doubted it. A person who would take the risk of entering with a hidden key would look around. They would probably find Freddy Sykes in the upstairs bathroom. They would call for help. Or if they left, if they found nothing amiss, they would have put the key back in the rock. None of that had happened.
What then was the most logical conclusion?
The intruder was still in the house. Not moving. Hiding.
Wu treaded gently. There were three exits. He made sure all the doors were locked. Two doors had bolt locks. He carefully slid them into place. He took the dining room chairs and placed them in front of all three exits. He wanted something, anything, to block or at least slow down an easy escape.
Trap his adversary.
The stairway was carpeted. That made it easier to pad up in silence. Wu wanted to check the bathroom, to see if Freddy Sykes was still in the tub. He thought again about the hide-a-key in plain sight. Nothing about this setup made sense. The more he thought about it, the slower his step.
Wu tried to think it through. Start from the beginning: A person who knows where Sykes keeps a hide-a-key opens the door. He or she comes inside. Now what? If he finds Sykes, panic would ensue. He would call the police. If he doesn't find Sykes, well, he leaves. He puts the key back in the rock and puts the rock away.
But neither one of those things had happened.
So again, what could Wu conclude?
The only other possibility that came to mind-unless he was missing something-was that the intruder had indeed found Sykes, just as Wu entered the house. There had been no time to call for help. There had only been time to hide.
But that scenario had problems too. Wouldn't the intruder have turned on a light? Perhaps she had. Perhaps she had turned on the light, but then she saw Wu approach. She might have turned off the lights and hidden where she was.
In the bathroom with Sykes.
Wu was in the master bedroom now. He could see the crack under the bathroom door. The light was still off. Do not underestimate your foe, he reminded himself. He had made mistakes recently. Too many of them. First, Rocky Conwell. Wu had been sloppy enough to allow him to follow. That had been mistake one. Second, Wu had been spotted by the woman next door. Sloppy.
And now this.
It was tough to look at yourself critically, but Wu tried to step away and do just that. He was not infallible. Only fools believe that. Perhaps his time in prison had rusted him somehow. Didn't matter. Wu needed to focus now. He needed to concentrate.
There were more photographs in Sykes's bedroom. This had been Freddy's mother's room for fifty years. Wu knew that from his online encounters. Sykes's father had died during the Korean War. Sykes had been an infant. The mother had never gotten over it. People react differently to the death of a loved one. Mrs. Sykes had decided to dwell with her ghost instead of the living. She spent the rest of her life in this same bedroom-in the same bed even-that she'd shared with her soldier husband. She slept on her side, Freddy said. She never let anyone, not even when young Freddy had a nightmare, touch the side of the bed where her beloved had once lain.
Wu's hand was on the doorknob now.
The bathroom, he knew, was small. He tried to picture an angle someone might use to attack. There really was none. Wu had a gun in his duffel bag. He wondered if he should take it out. If the intruder was armed, then it could be a problem.
Overconfident? Maybe. But Wu didn't think he'd need a weapon.
He turned the knob and pushed hard.
Freddy Sykes was still in the tub. The gag was in his mouth. His eyes were closed. Wu wondered if Freddy was dead. Probably. No one else was here. There was no place to hide. Nobody had come to Freddy's rescue.
Wu moved toward the window. He looked out at the house now, at the house next door.
The woman-the one who'd been in the lingerie-was there.
In her house. Standing by the window.
She stared back at him.
That was when Wu heard the car door slam. There was no siren, but now, as he turned toward the driveway, he could see the red cruiser lights.
The police were here.
Charlaine Swain was not crazy.
She watched movies. She read books. Lots of them. Escapism, she had thought. Entertainment. A way to numb the boredom every day. But maybe these movies and books were oddly educational. How many times had she shouted at the plucky heroine-the oh-so-guileless, witch-skinny, raven-haired beauty-not to go into that damned house?
Too many. So now, when it had been her turn... uh-uh, no way. Charlaine Swain was not about to make that mistake.
She had stood in front of Freddy's back door staring at that hide-a-key. She couldn't go inside per her movie and book training, but she couldn't just leave it alone either. Something was wrong. A man was in trouble. You can't just walk away from that.
So she came up with an idea.
It was simple really. She took the key out of the rock. It was in her pocket now. She left the hide-a-key in plain view, not because she wanted the Asian guy to see it, but because that would be her excuse for calling the police.
The moment the Asian guy entered Freddy's house, she dialed 911. "Someone is in the neighbor's house," she told them. The clincher: The hide-a-key was strewn on the walkway.
Now the police were here.
One cruiser had made the turn onto her block. The siren was silent. The car was not speeding bat-out-of-hell style, just moving at a clip solidly above the speed limit. Charlaine risked a look back at Freddy's house.
The Asian man was watching her.