The footsteps were working their way methodically up the stairs, their echo building like an approaching thunderstorm. A throbbing noise was beating in her ears, and she realized her heart was pounding like a great, base drum. It seemed impossible that whoever was there couldn’t hear it. The man stepped into the room and halted. Julie bit her quivering lip to keep from crying out. Sweat gushed from every pore in her body. She closed her eyes and willed herself not to move or make a sound. The silence lasted for an eternity before the feet turned and moved away. She nearly cried with relief when she heard the man inspect the other rooms and return to the floor below. A door closed. Silence filled the house, but she couldn’t find the courage to move from her sanctuary. She wanted to stay there forever.
At last, she slid from under the bed and tiptoed down the stairs in her stocking feet. The city’s lights cast a surreal glow about the living room, creating vague shadows and turning familiar objects into alien monsters. She hurried to the back door, put on her shoes and embraced the chilly, evening air as she hurried to her car.
Julie drove home in a state of shock and despair. Her close encounter with the intruder had wilted her courage. She’d never experienced real fear before. It made her feel vulnerable and foolish. It made her wonder what she’d hoped to accomplish by entering an empty house at night. She wasn’t normally so impulsive, and tonight’s impetuous behavior had exposed her to a frightening encounter. In spite of her shaken confidence, however, she couldn’t stop thinking about Andersen and how much she wanted to continue her discussions with him. The only problem was how to find him, again. The house had obviously been abandoned. Her best bet was the Italian restaurant where they first met. If she didn’t hear from him tomorrow, she would return there. Someone might know how to reach him or get a message to him.
Julie’s mind was still in a haze when she pulled into the carport beneath her apartment. A reserved parking space was a luxury in San Francisco, and she had gladly paid the premium demanded by the owner so she wouldn’t have to circle the streets at night looking for a place to leave her car. She beeped the door locks closed and started to reach in her purse for her electronic key to the building. In that brief moment, a space of time that could be measured in less than a second, she sensed movement behind her. The same panic she had experienced in the empty house streaked through her body like a comet. She frantically searched for the small stun gun she kept in her purse for protection, but it was too late. A powerful arm pinned hers to her sides, and a foul-smelling cloth clamped over her nose and mouth. She squirmed and tried to kick her foot up into her assailant’s groin, but he was standing too close and was too strong.
“Be quiet my little bird,” a harsh voice whispered in her ear, “or I’ll clip your wings.”
Julie’s ear burned from her assailant’s hot breath, and nausea welled up in her throat, making it difficult for her to breathe. Fuzzy images spun wildly through her brain. She could feel her legs buckling beneath her, could feel her body sagging in the man’s grip. The last thing she remembered was a loud grunt and the arm releasing her. She collapsed to the pavement like a pile of unwashed laundry.
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