Joe was getting nervous, but bound to his wheelchair there was little he could do. Come on, Claire. Knock it off! Let’s get out of here. But Claire had her ESP turned off.
“Aren’t you afraid that people will think you’re capable of murder yourself, when your plots involve so much S&M and are so gruesome in detail?”
Claire could see Blakely’s eyes. For a second they clouded over. It was as if she was looking into evil incarnate. Blakely recovered as if from a reverie. A whimsical smile spread across his face. “I think people, especially women, find me intriguing for that very reason, don’t you?”
Before Claire could answer, Joe blurted out, “Have you decided on the plot for your next book?”
Blakely looked up as if seeing the rest of the audience for the first time since Claire’s first question. “Oh yes, I have it well in mind.”
“Would you mind revealing it?”
A snide smile crossed Blakely’s face. “Now why would I do that? I want you to buy the book.”
“Are your plots ever based on actual police cases?” Joe knew he was treading on thin ice.
“While something in the newspaper may pique my interest, I like to think that I’m quite capable of creating my own plots.”
His tone of voice indicated he had enough of Joe’s questions. He returned his gaze to Claire’s chair, but she wasn't there. He looked up just in time to see Claire disappearing through the door at the back of the room. He seemed startled, and his face turned red.
He coughed and said, “Sorry, that’s all I have time for,” and, without thanking the audience or the Dean of Contemporary Literature, took the steps from the stage in two bounds and hurried up the aisle after Claire.
When he got to the hallway, she wasn’t in sight. He ran toward the front door of the building, pushed it open with his shoulder and started running toward a woman whose figure was just disappearing into the darkness.
Joe wheeled his chair around, frantically pushed himself up the aisle, and activated the automatic door opener. The slowness of the door was frustrating. By the time he got his chair through, neither Claire nor Blakely were in sight.
Joe was almost in panic mode. He’d never felt panic when he was on the force. He’d been in many tense situations, but then he only had himself to worry about. Even when the gangbanger aimed the gun that turned him into a paraplegic, he hadn’t felt fear. How did I let Claire talk me into this? He wasn’t sure what to do. He decided his best bet was to get back to the car, hoping Claire would be there.
Pushing the wheelchair as fast as he could, and forgetting the muscles still sore from the marathon, he returned to the car, only to discover – no Claire. Panic was returning when he remembered his cell phone. Sure hope Claire has hers on! He hit the speed dial. The phone rang five, six, seven times. He let it ring. Come on Claire, answer!
Finally, he heard Claire’s voice. “Joe, is that you?”
“Where are you?”
“In the women’s john. Sorry, my cell phone was in my purse, and it took me awhile to get it out. Is Blakely gone?”
“I think so. When he saw you leaving, he shut off all questions and hurried after you.”
“I know. I could tell by his voice he wasn’t too happy I’d left. I caught a glimpse of him starting up the aisle.”
“What’d you do?”
“There was a women’s restroom just outside the lecture hall, so I went in there. I heard him pass the door, and then he stopped and I could hear him coming back.”
“Did he come in?”
“I knew privacy wasn’t going to deter him so I went into a stall and locked the door.”
“Yeah, but couldn’t he see your feet under the bottom of the cubicle?”
“I stood on the seat, crouched down and leaned against the door. I heard the restroom door open, but just then a woman came in and said, ‘Excuse me!’ Blakely muttered something about looking for his young daughter and left.”
“I’m at the car. Let’s get out of here.”
“Is the coast clear?”
“Let me look.”
Joe was in the shadows next to the car, and had a good view of the entrance to the lecture hall, and the sidewalk in both directions. “Yeah, looks good.”
“Ok, I’m coming.”
Joe saw the door to the lecture hall open and Claire stepped out. As she started down the steps, she felt a hand on her arm.
“Ah, there you are!” It was Blakely. “I thought we might get to know each other a little more intimately.” Blakely’s grip tightened. Claire felt herself being propelled down the walkway. “Don’t make a sound or you’re dead.”
Claire decided resistance was futile, and relaxed.
“That’s better,” Blakely intoned, “now we’re getting somewhere. It’ll be much more fun if you cooperate.”
Claire saw a wisp of movement in the shadows. Suddenly, Joe’s chair shot out into their path causing Blakely’s hold to loosen. Relaxing, she pirouetted, and Blakely completely lost his hold. Joe was right in front of them, aiming his chair at Blakely’s legs. The footrests on the chair hit him sharply in the shins, causing him to lose his balance and fall forward onto his hands and knees.
“Come on!” Claire shouted, as she started pushing Joe towards the car. Quickly opening the front door, she yelled, “Get in!”
Using his arms Joe vaulted into the passenger seat. Claire folded the wheelchair, threw it into the back seat, slammed the door and ran around to the driver’s side.
Joe looked out the window. Blakely had regained his footing and was stumbling clumsily toward the car. Joe locked his door just before Blakely yanked on the handle. Claire jumped into the driver’s seat and slammed down the lock. Blakely pounded on the window, his face in a rictus of rage, as she started the car and quickly pulled into the Newark traffic.
“Well, I think we now know who the murderer is,” Claire said calmly.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, what about you?”
“Physically, yeah, but it sure scared me when he grabbed you. I’ve never worried about myself, but I sure do worry about you.”
Joe watched Claire driving smoothly through the evening traffic. How can she be so calm? She was almost abducted by a serial killer, and here she is driving along as if nothing happened. Ok, macho man, I guess you learned that men may not be the strongest sex, particularly when someone you love is involved.