PROLOGUE

The graffiti-covered doors of the subway jerked open.

She stepped inside quickly, avoiding contact with the tired eyes of the night riders, eyes that had no doubt widened with curiosity the moment she’d entered.

The air inside the car was hot and fetid, stinking of sweating bodies, sodden diapers and a half-dozen other things that couldn’t be named.

No matter, the main thing was just to get inside. To sit down. To hide it from view.

She raised her head and looked around.

At the far end of the car, a lone woman had her hands full with two fidgety kids and a screaming toddler. The kids were restless from the heat, jumping up and down on the seats, but never venturing far from their mother.

Nothing to worry about there.

The kids wouldn’t be wandering up to this end of the car. And even if they did, their mother wouldn’t be chasing after them. Nobody goes that far out of their way to stick their nose into someone else’s business. Not in New York. And not at this time of night.

She took another look around.

Things were a little more interesting closer in.

Across the car from her sat a middle-aged man in a sweat-stained blue shirt and faded denim jeans. His legs were crossed and thick-strapped sandals hung loosely from his bare feet. His nose was buried in a paperback with a colorful and garish cover. He seemed not to notice her, or maybe he didn’t care.

She was happy either way.

The subway started moving. A low whine slowly came to life from somewhere beneath the car, rising in pitch until it faded away at the high end of the scale. A slight breeze blew through the car’s half-open windows, moving the air around, exchanging one kind of stink for another.

The summer air was stiflingly hot and humid, but still felt cool as it blew over her sweat-soaked skin and clothes.

She looked down toward the other end of the car.

Two seats over on her left sat a young couple making love to each other with their eyes. After several moments, they moved to kiss. Lips parted, and in the instant before their mouths touched, the woman’s lips pull back tight. There was a brief flash of pearl-white teeth before her tongue snaked out to meet his. And then their lips were pressed together in a kiss, tongues probing each other’s mouths as if searching for the soul.

They kissed for a long time, their hands moving slowly over each other’s bodies, making momentary stops at points of interest before continuing down toward the most interesting body parts of all. They were obviously in their own (love—or perhaps just lust—swept) world, oblivious to the real one around them.

That was good. The more uninterested they were the better.

The train began to slow. The interior of the subway car suddenly brightened under the lights of the station. Brakes squealed, the car shuddered and the train gradually came to a stop.

The couple to her left continued to French. They wouldn’t be getting off the subway for a while.

The man across from her looked up. His eyebrows arched in recognition as he saw the greasy pale-green tiles lining the station walls. He slipped a torn strip of paper into his book, slid the book into a pants pocket and hurried off the train.

For the moment, the seat across from her was empty and she breathed easier.

Two more stops and she’d be home.

Alone.

Safe …

An elderly woman stepped into the car and sat in the recently vacated seat in front of her. For the moment the old woman busied herself by digging for something at the bottom of her shopping bag.

The old woman was preoccupied for the moment, but her indifference to the world around her seemed too good to last. Sooner or later the old woman would find what she was looking for.

And then …

And then she’d be subjected to the old woman’s microscopic gaze. Sizing her up. Judging her.

She could feel the eyes upon her already, sliding over her body like a cold pair of hands.

She thought about moving to another seat at the other end of the car, but that would only make things worse. The stain she’d leave behind would arouse suspicion. She couldn’t risk it this far from home.

The subway’s doors creaked shut.

The car was still for a moment, then began moving forward in a series of forceful jerks.

Again the movement of air brought some relief from the heat and stink. This time however, there was another scent added to the mix. A familiar yet unpleasant odor wafting up from her own body. Hopefully, the smell would be lost among the others swirling through the car before anyone could connect it with its source.

They entered the tunnel and the car’s interior darkened.

The old woman found what she’d been looking for. A pale white handkerchief, delicately embroidered and edged with lace. She folded it carefully in her hand and then patted it gently across her forehead and down the front of her neck.

She watched the old woman closely, waiting for their eyes to meet. While her skin was as wrinkled as her stockings, the lady still had a kind face. She looked like someone’s aunt or grandmother, the kind of woman who always brought something—candies, toys, clothes—whenever she came to visit. At another time she might befriend the old woman, make a comment about the heat, or maybe just give her a smile.

At another time.

But not now.

Now, the old woman was a danger.

Now, the old woman posed a threat.

Now … the old woman looked up.

Their eyes met almost immediately. The old woman nodded politely. Her lips curled up in a warm, friendly smile.

She did not acknowledge or return the smile. In fact, she made no outward gesture at all.

Inside was another story.

Inside, every one of her muscles tensed. Every nerve-ending tingled. The hair on the back of her neck lifted up on end. Her heart-rate quickened, and her mind wished the old woman would turn the other way.

But the old woman just kept on looking at her.

Staring.

Finally, the old woman broke eye contact.

And she took a deep, deep breath. Relieved.

But then the woman’s eyes slowly began to slide down her body.

The subway suddenly seemed unbearably hot. In the midst of the heat she could feel the chill touch of the woman’s gaze on her neck and shoulders, moving down, lower and lower.

She wanted to get up, get out … run.

But there was nowhere to run to.

And nowhere to hide.

She just had to sit there, in plain sight. Waiting for the old lady’s eyes to bug out of her head.

At last the woman’s eyes came to a stop, widening in surprise at the sight of the big red stain between her legs.

There, you’ve seen it, she thought. Now, fuck off!

The old woman’s mouth fell open in an “O” of surprise as she dabbed her handkerchief over her sweat-dampened forehead and cheeks.

The subway rumbled into the next station and she looked away from the old woman and at the passing station walls, grateful for the momentary distraction.

Maybe the old lady will get off in disgust, she hoped. Yeah, and maybe if I close my eyes and count to three tonight will have never happened.

Fat chance.

She thought of getting off, but decided against it. With just one more stop to go, she was too close to home to run for it. No, she’d sit there on the examination bench and take it.

The train stopped and the doors opened.

No one got on or off.

It’s your own fault, she thought. You were unprepared, too much in a hurry.

The tan pants were proof of that. They didn’t hide a thing. She might as well have put a sign on her forehead that read—

Look at my blood-stained crotch!

The doors closed and the train began moving.

Next time she’d plan ahead, be ready. Make sure there’d be nothing for a nosy old lady to gawk at.

She looked over at the old woman, who was staring again. Her face had changed slightly. She didn’t look shocked anymore. Her expression seemed to be one of compassion now, as if she felt sorry for her.

Save it lady. You don’t know the half of it.

The old woman’s bottom lip began to tremble. She reached up with a wrinkled hand to grab hold of the upright pole by her seat, then slowly pulled herself onto her feet.

The subway car was jostled by the rails.

The old woman stumbled a step before grabbing hold of another bar on the other side of the car.

Still in her seat, she looked up at the old woman, feeling her body prepare itself for fight or flight.

What the hell is she doing?

“Excuse me, dear,” the old woman said when she was close enough to whisper. “But I think it’s …” She paused for a moment as the car’s lights went out and the interior momentarily faded to black. “It’s your time of the month.”

She said nothing.

The old woman remained there, hanging from the pole expectantly, a stupid half-grin on her face.

“Are you sure?” she said at last, her voice dripping with sarcasm. She said nothing more. Her eyes closed into two little slits and her lips pulled back in something that wasn’t a smile.

The old woman’s face went blank for a moment as she thought about what she had said.

There were only so many possibilities.

If she wasn’t having her period, then what could it be?

The old woman’s face slowly twisted into a mask of horror.

Instinctively, she knew what the old woman was thinking.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said softly. “I stepped into a back alley with a coat hanger and a problem.”

The old woman gasped.

“I came out a little bloody, but … No more problem.”

The old woman stumbled back to her seat.

The train slowed.

She looked over at the old woman. Her eyes were darting nervously about the train, desperately trying to look everywhere but straight ahead. Finally, her eyes moved to the floor and stayed there.

The train squeaked and hissed to a stop. The dirty powder blue of the station walls had a calming effect on her. Her heartbeat began to slow.

In minutes she’d be safe at home.

She got up off her seat and looked behind her. There was a dark stain about the size of a dinner plate on the seat. Give the cleaning crew something to talk about tonight. Knife fights, muggings—it’s not like they’ve never had to clean up a little blood before.

The doors opened and the car was filled by a gust of slightly cooler air.

She looked at the old woman one last time. She was almost cowering in her seat now, her hands trembling on her lap. She was still looking down at the floor.

That’s what you get for not minding your own business, lady.

Just don’t get involved.

The less you know the better.

She stepped out of the train onto the platform.

As the train pulled away, she could feel the old woman’s eyes on the back of her neck, but she didn’t bother to turn around. That little episode was behind her now.

She looked down at her legs.

The blood was seeping down her thigh. The stain was getting bigger.

She turned and headed for home.

She lived in an old part of the city. Brooklyn. At one time the people who lived in the homes in this neighborhood had actually owned them.

She’d often tried to imagine what the street must have been like back then. How new and well-maintained the homes must have looked. A street right out of some fifties television show.

People back then wouldn’t have put up with an all-night porn shop at the end of their street. They wouldn’t have allowed prostitutes to cruise their sidewalks, or crack dealers to work every corner. Those people would have done something about it …

Yeah, done something like move to another neighborhood.

To the people who lived here now, the porn shop was a meeting place. And the prostitutes and the crack dealers? They were the people who lived here. Renting from fat cats and slum lords they’d never even met.

A bad neighborhood, but it suited her.

She could walk the streets here unnoticed. Unhindered.

A predator among predators.

She pulled her keyring from her bag, positioning the keys between her fingers like spikes. Then, as she neared the door to her home she separated the house key from the others on the ring and turned her back to the street.

In a single, swift motion, she slid the key into the lock and opened the door. The door was closed and locked behind her a second later and the stairwell light was on.

It was hotter inside than out, but she didn’t care. She was home.

She took the steps slowly, pulling herself up by the handrail. At the top of the stairs she switched off the light and turned on another for the upstairs hall.

She walked down the hall, leaving a trail of clothes behind her.

Shoes …

        Blouse …

                Bra …

She switched on the light in the bathroom. Pulled her stained pants down around her blood-smeared thighs, and then peeled the blood-caked panties from her skin.

When both articles of clothing ringed her ankles, she turned around and sat down on the toilet.

She took a deep breath, and held it. Then with great concentration, she began working her vaginal muscles, squeezing them together in a downward motion.

After each wavelike constriction of her vaginal walls, it moved closer to the opening.

Inch by inch.

Almost there.

She gave one last squeeze …

And the bloody penis fell out of her vagina and into the water below.