Read SWF Seeks Same Online

Authors: John Lutz

SWF Seeks Same


Mystery writer Lutz ( Time Exposure ) here offers a contemporary horror tale that few readers will be able to put down. Things begin to fall apart for computer consultant Allie Jones when she discovers that her live-in lover, investment broker Sam Rawson, has strayed. After throwing him out, she needs a new roommate to help pay the rent. A discreet newspaper advertisement brings in Hedra Carlson, a mousy young woman who quickly begins to idolize and imitate her. A quiet air of menace develops, enhanced by Lutz’s simple, direct prose. Is Hedra literally stealing Allie’s life? Is Sam, who pleads his way back into her affections, really faithful this time? Is the aspiring young playwright who lives upstairs as open and supportive as he seems? And who is behind the spate of obscene telephone calls from men who seem to know her by name — perhaps a sleazy client after her body as well as her computer expertise? The ensuing violence leaves Allie alone, friendless and a fugitive. Although marred by its fairly pat conclusion, this psychological thriller remains an enjoyable diversion.





Copyright © 1990 by John Lutz





Chapter 1


ACROSS West 74th Street the Cody Arms loomed like a medieval castle that had given birth to and formed the foundation of a thirty-story urban building. The lower four floors were constructed of ornate concrete and brownstone, framing a brass and tinted-glass entrance flanked by stone pillars. Spaced about ten feet apart on the first-floor ledge were leering gargoyles with chipped features that only added to their grotesqueness. They’d once been functional drains to divert rainwater from the entrance, but now a dark brown canopy served that purpose. The gargoyles didn’t seem to mind; now they could concentrate full-time on leering at passersby too preoccupied to glance up and notice them. There was iron grillwork over all the windows on the ground floor—for security. It only added to the baroque, lingering elegance of the old apartment building.

In better times the Cody Arms had been the Cody Hotel. But in the Sixties business had fallen off and new owners milked profits without putting money into upkeep. The Cody had declined so far that it was impossible to reestablish its validity as a respectable hotel, so it was sold again to a faceless corporate entity that converted it into apartment units and turned it over to Haller-Davis Properties to manage. Again it was in a state of gradual decline, which was what made the rent there relatively reasonable for this part of town, though still not cheap.

Allie Jones waited for a parade of cabs to growl and rattle past, then hurried across the rain-glistening street and up the old concrete steps to the entrance. She pushed through the door and crossed the tiled lobby to the elevators. There were dark smudges on the yellowed tile floor where cigarette butts had been ground out beneath heels. A faint scent of ammonia hung in the air. Apparently Gray the super, or the janitor service, had made a cursory pass at cleaning and disinfecting something, but not the graffiti on the wall by the mailboxes and intercoms. Boldly scrawled in black marking pen, as it had been for years, was the message LOVE KILS SCREW U. Allie occasionally wondered who had written it and what it meant exactly, though she had no desire to meet the author and ask.

Squeezing her damp bag of groceries tighter, she leaned close to the wall between the elevator doors and pressed the
button with her elbow. The round white button glowed feebly. Above the paneled sliding doors the ancient brass arrow that had been resting on
began its herky-jerky descent to the
that signified Lobby.

There was no point in trying the intercom to make sure Sam would have her door unlocked when she reached the third floor. So often was it not working that tenants seldom used it, even when there was no “Out of order” sign taped beneath it. Though there were security precautions at the Cody Arms, people usually came and went as they pleased. With so many tenants, that was simply how it worked out. The street doors, on which any apartment key would work, were often locked after midnight, but just as often forgotten. The elevators were operable only with a tenant’s key inserted in their panels, but as long as Allie could remember, the same twisted keys had been in the slots. Once, out of curiosity, she’d tried to remove one and found it stuck in the keyhole as if welded there.

The groceries got heavy, and Allie shifted them to her other arm just as the elevator arrived. It squeaked and groaned as it adjusted itself to floor level.

The doors hissed open and an elderly man and a middle-aged redheaded woman stepped out. They didn’t seem to be together and didn’t look at each other or at Allie as they crossed the lobby toward the street door. Allie listened to the beat of their heels on the tile floor as the man moved ahead of the woman. He didn’t bother holding the door open for her. Neighbors. They probably hadn’t so much as glanced at each other in the elevator.

New York was a city of strangers. The Cody was a building of strangers.

That had its advantages.

Such as making possible secret live-in lovers.

was the operative word.

On the third floor, she walked down the narrow, musty-smelling hall to apartment 3H. She balanced the grocery sack on her outthrust hip while she fumbled her key from her purse and unlocked the door. Shifting her weight, she shoved the door open.

“Sam? Me!”

But the answering silence and stale, unmoving air told her she was alone.


Chapter 2


ALLIE lay quietly and listened to the night push through the open window: the low, ocean sound of traffic that never ceased in Manhattan. The irrational and impatient blasting of a car horn. A woman’s high laughter from nearby down in the street. A distant shout demanding an answer. No answering shout. More laughter. The singsong wail of a siren that seemed to be getting nearer, then faded.

Beside her Sam was sleeping, snoring lightly. They’d made love less than an hour ago, and the stale scent of their coupling still permeated the sheets and wafted occasionally into the fresh night air that was cleansing Allie’s bedroom.

She lay very still, not wanting to break the magic of time and contentment. Loving Sam had opened doors and windows in her mind, showed her depths of herself she’d never suspected existed. With it had come the need, the dependency on him that she’d fought so hard against. That, dammit, was something she hadn’t expected, at least not in its intensity.

Finally she’d realized he needed her as much as she had to have him, and it was all right to be human, to risk—because he was risking too. The past six months of total commitment to Sam had been fantastic, but nothing like the last two months, after he’d given up his apartment and moved in with her. Those two months had been perfect, a confirmation of their love. It was the kind of thing she used to laugh at in lurid romance novels. Until she found romance.

Sam Rawson was a broker’s representative for Elcane-Smith on Wall Street. He’d made a few clients wealthy, and had some of his own money invested and was waiting for it to build. He wanted to be rich; he’d smiled and told Allie it would be for her, however rich he became. She liked to let him talk about options and puts and calls and selling short, and technical graph configurations that foretold the future and seduced its followers with an accuracy and superstition arguably as potent as voodoo. Allie remotely understood what he was saying.

Each day they’d kiss good-bye after breakfast and he’d cab downtown and merge his soul with the markets. Allie, who worked freelance as a computer programmer consultant, would go to her latest job and help to set up systems that would make someone’s business easier and more profitable. It often struck her as ironic that she and Sam were both in occupations that helped to make other people rich, while each of them needed to juggle their finances to pay their bills.

Outside in the night, the woman had stopped laughing. A man yelled, “Hey, c’mon fuckin’ back!” Allie couldn’t be sure, but he sounded drunk.

The woman screamed shrilly (if it was the same woman). Something glass, probably a bottle, shattered. In a softer but vicious voice, the man said, “Teach you, bitch!”

Careful not to disturb Sam, Allie climbed out of bed and padded barefoot across the hard floor to the window. She looked down at the street. A few cars passed, gliding and ghostly. A cab with headlights shimmering and roof light glowing. Other than that, there was no movement on West 74th. No one in sight. Down the long avenue and on receding cross streets, strings of moving car lights traced through the night like low-flying comets in mysterious lazy orbit. Allie stared at the cars, wondering as she often did where they were all going at this lonely hour. What darkside destinations had the people in that beautiful, never-ending procession?

She knew where
was going—back to bed.

She retraced her steps across the cool, hard floor. Stretched out on her back, she laced her fingers behind her head and thought how violence always seemed to lurk near beauty, as if eager to balance the universe with its ugliness, like one of those fairy tales with underlying meanness. That was how it was in New York, anyway. Maybe everywhere, only not so close to the surface and evident, not breathing so deeply and not so bursting with corruption and raw life as in New York.

She left the sheet tangled around her bare feet and lay stretched out nude, her arms at her sides, as if waiting to be sacrificed in some primitive religious ceremony, letting the breeze play over her. The cool pressure seemed to be exploring her as sensually as a lover, softly brushing the mounds of her breasts, caressing the sensitive flesh of her inner thighs. She felt a tension deep inside her, like taut strings vibrating, and for a moment thought about waking Sam.

But it was so timeless and peaceful lying there, and they’d made love violently, leaving her somewhat sore. Sleep was the more sensible course.

She reached down languidly and drew the light sheet up around her, deadening the night breeze’s sexual caresses.

And fell asleep.

When she awoke the next morning she was cold.

Sam was in the shower.

She lay and listened to the roar of pressured, rushing water, then silence when the shower was turned off.

A few minutes later he emerged from the bathroom with a towel around his waist, his dark hair wet and plastered against his forehead. He was average height and lean, with muscle-corded arms and legs. Thick black hair matted his chest and flat stomach. His face was lean, too, with nose and jaw a bit too long. Thin lips. It was an austere New England face except for his kind dark eyes. He carried himself erectly, with an oddly stiff back, and walked lightly as a dancer, as if suspended by a string attached to the top of his head. Allie knew he weighed a hundred and sixty pounds, but he gave the impression that if he stood on a scale, it would register less than twenty.

He smiled and said, “Awake, huh?”

“What time’s it?” Allie asked, not bothering to glance at the clock on the nightstand.

“Ten after eight.”

“Damn! I’ve got a nine o’clock appointment! Why didn’t you wake me?”

“Didn’t ask me.”

True enough; she’d forgotten. Last night hadn’t been conducive to reminding one’s self about morning business appointments. God, last night …

Enough about that.

She swiveled sideways on the mattress to a sitting position, shivered in the column of cold air thrusting in through the window. Sam had removed the towel from around his waist and was using it to rub his tangled hair dry, studying her nakedness with a bemused expression on his dark features. She wondered, if she sat there long enough, would he get an erection?

No time to find out. She stood up, trudged to the window, and forced it shut with a bang that rattled the pane. Someday the glass would fall from the ancient window, shatter on the sidewalk three stories below, and maybe kill someone. She remembered the shouts and the sound of breaking glass last night. No one had died. But even if they had, it probably wouldn’t make the news. Things like that happened all too frequently in New York. All those people. All that desperation. Fun City. Nobody seemed to call it that anymore.

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