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Home > Play Dead

Play Dead
Author: Harlan Coben

Prologue

May 29, 1960

IT would be a mistake to look directly at her when she spoke. Her words, he knew, could not affect him; her face and body could.

Sinclair turned and gazed out the window as she closed the door. It was a warm day, and outside he could see many of the students lazing in the sun. A few played touch football, but most just lay on blankets, couples cuddling close to one another; opened textbooks sprawled near them, ignored, giving the illusion at least that they had actually planned to study.

A flash of golden highlights drew his vision toward a head of blond hair. He turned and recognized the pretty sophomore heartthrob from his two p.m. class. Half a dozen boys surrounded her, all battling for her attention, all hoping to draw her brightest smile. A stereo from one of the rooms blasted Buddy Holly’s final single across the commons. Once again, he looked at the attractive blonde who was not one-tenth as striking as the brunette standing behind him.

“Well?” he asked.

From across the room, the stunning beauty nodded and then realized he was still not facing her. “Yes.”

He sighed heavily. Below his window, a few of the boys moved away from the blonde with dejected faces, as though they had been eliminated from a competition, which, he guessed, they had been.

“You’re sure?”

“Of course, I’m sure.”

Sinclair nodded, though he could not say why he did so. “What are you going to do?”

She stared at him in disbelief. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” she began with blatant annoyance, “but I think you might be involved in this, too.”

Again he nodded for no reason. On the commons, another boy had been thrown from the ring, leaving only two to battle for the blonde’s potential favors. He turned his attention to the touch football game and watched a pass float slowly through the humid air. A bare-chested boy extended his hands. The ball spiraled toward him, bounced off his fingertips, and landed on the ground.

Sinclair concentrated on the game, feeling the boy’s disappointment, trying his best to ignore the power she wielded over his mind. His eyes inadvertently shifted back to the blonde. A winner had been chosen. With down-turned eyes, the runner-up stood and sulked off.

“Will you please turn around and face me?”

A smile played on his lips, but he was not foolish enough to turn around, to expose himself to her devastating weapons, to allow her to cast her sensual spell over him. He looked down at the young man who had captured the blonde. Even from his window on the second floor, he could see the hunger in the boy’s wide eyes as he moved in to claim his hard-sought prey. The boy kissed her. His hands began to wander.

To the victor go the spoils.

He diverted his attention toward the library, feeling as though he were invading the young couple’s privacy now that their relationship was getting somewhat physical. He put a cigarette in his mouth. “Get out.”

“What?”

“Get out. Do whatever you please but I don’t want you here anymore.”

“You can’t mean that.”

“I can.” He lit the cigarette. “I do.”

“But I was going to tell—”

“Don’t tell anybody anything. It’s already gone far enough.”

There was silence for a moment. When she spoke again, her voice was pleading, the tone strumming at his nerves. “But I thought . . .”

He inhaled deeply on the cigarette as though he wanted to finish it in one puff. From the commons, he heard a sharp slap. The blonde had halted the young man’s hormones as he tried to slip past the innocent groping stage. “Obviously, you thought wrong. Now get out.”

Her voice was a whisper. “Bastard.”

He nodded yet again, but this time he was in full agreement with what had been said. “Just get the hell out of my office.”

“Bastard,” she repeated.

He heard her slam the door. Her high heels echoed against the wooden floor as the most beautiful woman he had ever known headed out of the ivy-covered building.

He stared out the window at nothing in particular. His vision unfocused, and his world became a blurry mass of green grass and brick buildings, his mind racing with a series of what-ifs.

Her face swam in front of his eyes. He closed his eyes, but the image did not fade.

I did the right thing. I did the right thing. I did the—

His eyes flew open. Panic filled him. He had to find her, had to tell her he did not mean any of it. He was about to swivel his chair, turn, and run for her when he felt something metallic push against the back of his head.

A coldness rippled through him.

“Bastard.”

The gunshot shattered the still air.

1

June 17, 1989

LAURA opened the window and felt the gentle tropical breeze refresh her naked body. She closed her eyes as the palm trees’ cool wind made her skin tingle. The muscles in her legs still quaked. She turned back toward the bed and smiled at David, the man who had put her legs in this precarious position.

“Good morning, Mr. Baskin.”

“Morning?” David repeated. He glanced at the clock on the night table, the day silent except for the crashing of the waves outside the window. “It’s well into the afternoon, Mrs. Baskin. We’ve spent almost the entire day in bed.”

“Are you complaining?”

“Certainly not, Mrs. B.”

“Then you won’t mind a little more exercise.”

“What have you got in mind?”

“How about a swim?”

“I’m spent,” he said, sprawling back against the pillows. “I couldn’t move if the bed was on fire.”

Laura smiled seductively. “Good.”

David’s eyes widened with awe as she slowly strode back toward the bed, remembering the first time he had seen that body, indeed the first time the world had seen that body. It was almost a decade ago and a full eight years before they met. Laura had debuted as a seventeen- year-old cover girl on Cosmopolitan wearing a—Ah, who the hell saw the dress? He had been a junior at the University of Michigan at the time and he could still recall the way the mouths of every member of the basketball team dropped when they saw the issue on a newsstand in Indiana before their Final Four game.

He feigned panic. “Where are you going?”

Her smile grew. “Back to bed.”

“Please, no.” He held up his hand to ward her off. “You’re going to put me in the hospital.”

She kept walking.

“Vitamin E,” David pleaded. “Please.”

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