Home > I Am Death (Robert Hunter #7)

I Am Death (Robert Hunter #7)
Author: Chris Carter



One


‘Oh, thank you so much for coming in at such short notice, Nicole,’ Audrey Bennett said, opening the front door to her white-fronted, two-storey house in Upper Laurel Canyon, a very affluent neighborhood located in the Hollywood Hills region of Los Angeles.

Nicole gave Audrey a bright smile.

‘It’s no problem at all, Ms. Bennett.’

Born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, Nicole Wilson carried a very distinctive Midwestern accent. She wasn’t very tall; about five foot three, and her looks weren’t exactly what fashion magazines would call striking, but she was charming and had a disarming smile.

‘Come in, come in,’ Audrey said, ushering Nicole inside with a hand gesture, seemingly in a hurry.

‘Sorry I’m a little late,’ Nicole said, stepping inside as she consulted her watch. It was just past 8:30 in the evening.

Audrey chuckled. ‘You’ve got to be the only person in the whole of Los Angeles who considers anything under “ten minutes” as being late, Nicole. Everyone else I know calls it “fashionably on time”.’

Nicole smiled, but despite the comment, she still looked a little embarrassed. She prided herself on being a very punctual person.

‘That’s a beautiful dress, Ms. Bennett. Are you going anywhere special tonight?’

Audrey pursed her lips and twisted them to one side. ‘Dinner party at a judge’s house.’ She leaned forward toward Nicole and her next words came out as a whisper. ‘They are sooooo boring.’

Nicole giggled.

‘Hello, Nicole,’ Audrey’s husband said, coming down the arched staircase that led to the house’s second floor. James Bennett wore an elegant dark-blue suit with a silk striped tie and a matching silk handkerchief just peeking out of his jacket pocket. His butterscotch-blond hair was combed back, and as always, not a strand seemed to be out of place.

‘Are you ready, honey?’ he asked his wife before quickly checking his Patek Philippe watch. ‘We’ve got to go.’

‘Yes, I know, I’ll be right there, James,’ Audrey replied before turning to face Nicole again. ‘Josh’s already asleep,’ she explained. ‘He’s been playing and running around all day, which was great, because by eight o’clock he was so exhausted he was dozing off in front of the TV. We took him to bed and he crashed out before his head hit the pillow.’

‘Oh, bless him,’ Nicole commented.

‘From the amount of running the little devil did today,’ James Bennett said, as he approached Audrey and Nicole, ‘he should sleep right through to the morning. You should have an easy night.’ He grabbed Audrey’s coat from the leather armchair to his right and helped his wife into it. ‘We’ve really got to go, honey,’ he whispered into her ear before kissing her neck.

‘I know, I know,’ Audrey said as she nodded toward the door just past the river-rock fireplace on the east wall of their large living room. ‘Help yourself to anything you like from the kitchen. You know where everything is, right?’

Nicole nodded once.

‘If Josh wakes up and asks for any more chocolate cake, do not give it to him. The last thing he needs is another sugar rush in the middle of the night.’

‘OK,’ Nicole replied, renewing her smile.

‘We might be quite late tonight,’ Audrey continued. ‘But I’ll call you later just to check everything is all right.’

‘Enjoy your night,’ Nicole said, accompanying them to the door.

As Audrey took the few steps down from her front porch, she looked back at Nicole and mouthed the word ‘boring’.

After closing the door, Nicole went upstairs and tiptoed up to Josh’s room. The three-year-old boy was sleeping like an angel, his arms wrapped around a stuffed toy creature with huge eyes and ears. From the bedroom door, Nicole stared at him for a long while. He looked so adorable with his blond flock of curly hair and rosy cheeks that she felt like cuddling up to him, but she wouldn’t dare wake him up now. Instead, she blew him a kiss from the door and returned downstairs.

In the TV room, Nicole sat and watched about an hour of some old comedy film before her stomach started making noises. Only then she remembered that Audrey Bennett had said something about a chocolate cake. She looked at her watch. It was definitely time for a snack, and a slice of chocolate cake sounded just perfect. She exited the room and went back upstairs to check on Josh again. He was in such a deep sleep, he hadn’t even moved positions. Returning downstairs, Nicole crossed to the other side of the living room and casually opened the kitchen door, stepping inside.

‘Whoa!’ she yelled in a fright, jumping back.

‘Whoa!’ the man sitting at the breakfast table, having a sandwich, yelled a millisecond after Nicole. Instinctively, and also in a fright, he dropped the sandwich and kicked back from the table, standing up immediately and knocking over his glass of milk. His chair tipped over behind him.

‘Who the hell are you?’ Nicole asked in an anxious voice, taking a defensive step back.

The man gazed at her for a couple of seconds, confused, as if trying to figure out what was happening. ‘I’m Mark,’ he finally responded, using both hands to point at himself.

They stared at each other for a moment longer, and Mark quickly realized that his name meant absolutely nothing to the woman.

‘Mark?’ he repeated, turning every sentence into a question, as if Nicole should’ve known all this. ‘Audrey’s cousin from Texas? I’m here for a couple of days for a job interview? I’m staying in the apartment above the garage in the back?’ He used his thumb to point over his right shoulder.

Nicole’s questioning stare intensified.

‘Audrey and James told you about me, didn’t they?’

‘No.’ She shook her head.

‘Oh!’ Mark looked even more confused now. ‘Umm, as I’ve said, I’m Mark, Audrey’s cousin. You must be Nicole, the babysitter, right? They said you’d be coming. And I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to scare you, though I guess you’ve already paid me back in kind.’ He placed his right hand over his chest, tapping his fingers over his heart a few times. ‘I almost had a heart attack just now.’

Nicole’s stare relaxed a fraction.

‘I flew in this morning for a big job interview downtown this afternoon,’ Mark explained.

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