A compellingly clever wheels-within-wheels thriller. An ingenious plot, skillfully executed" Elliott Swanson, Booklist
"Dark, brutal, captivating -- this is one hell of a book, the kind of book that doesn't let go of you once you start it. Dave Zeltserman is clearly the real deal." Steve Hamilton, Edgar-award winner for The Lock Artist
"This fast-paced, gritty psychological tale balances the fine line between mystery and horror" Library Journal
Bad Thoughts is very different than my other crime novels. It was my second novel, and it's got more than its share of craziness and plot twists, and this is the one that readers tell me has given them nightmares.. The excerpt below can be read as a standalone suspense story.
Linda Cassen turned quickly behind her. She felt stupid as soon as she did. There was no one following her, no one lurking in the shadows. She was standing in broad daylight in the middle of Newbury Street which was probably the safest spot in the city. The only thing she had to worry about was being gouged in the pocketbook by one of the high-priced boutiques lining the street.
Still, she couldn’t help feeling shaken. The fear was irrational but it was there and it was intense. A cold sweat started down her back. She turned and entered a gourmet coffee shop. Once inside she stood by the door and stared out at the street. People walked past, but no one paid any attention to her. No one looked in her direction. No one was following her. There was no bogeyman out there after her.
She felt even stupider. She ordered a large latte from the cashier and took it back to a table by the front window. As she sipped it she watched the pedestrians walk by. It had been a bitter cold winter so far, and February wasn’t turning out to be any better. With the wind swirling off Boston Harbor it was below zero Fahrenheit outside. People were just about running past the store; men holding their overcoats shut tight around their necks, women moving in short, almost frantic strides.
Linda Cassen finished her drink and headed back into the cold. The air whipping across her face numbed her, making her feel as if her cheeks had been shot with Novocain. An uneasiness, though, swallowed her up quicker and more intensely than the cold did. It didn’t make any sense. There was no reason for it. Stubbornly, she decided she wasn’t going to let it affect her.
She came to the end of Newbury Street and cut across to the Public Garden. The desolation there didn’t help her mood. It looked like a wasteland. The pond for the swan boats had been emptied before winter and the trees scattered around the park were bare and lifeless. An old lady sitting alone threw bread crumbs to pigeons. She smiled blandly up at Linda. As she walked past the old woman she tried to smile back. Her heart skipped a beat as she noticed the street kids hanging by one of the benches along the other side of the park. All of them wearing hooded sweatshirts. They noticed her, also. Their sullen stares slowly drifted past her. She quickened her pace and got to the outside of the park and to Charles Street.
Once on Charles Street she darted into a convenience store. Winded, her heart racing, her legs shaky. A young clerk working behind the counter asked if she was okay. She mumbled something and grabbed a candy bar and bought it. Her hands shook as she peeled off the wrapper. She ate it greedily, as if it were the only thing she’d had in weeks. The sugar rush helped a little.
The clerk, a young kid, looked concerned. He asked if he should call her a cab. She thought about it but shook her head. Her apartment was only four blocks away. She’d feel more than stupid to have a cab take her four blocks. She thanked him anyway and walked to the door and peered outside. The street kids weren’t in sight. They were probably still in the park. At least she hoped so.
The fear had quieted temporarily but was still in her. As she walked it seemed to take on a life all to itself. Making her panic about crazy things. That she’d forget how to breathe. That her heart would just stop on her. That she would collapse on the sidewalk. Then he would get her. She’d be defenseless against him. The thought stopped her. Who would she be defenseless against? Who was she so afraid of? There was nothing but a fuzzy image floating in her mind. Nothing she could really make out. Just a sour, rancid smell and the hint of a wispy, singsong voice breathing lightly into her ear. As crazy as it was, it became real. The panic became full-blown terror.
The terror wouldn’t let her move her eyes. It kept them frozen straight ahead. It crept through her body, pressing hard against her chest. It made it difficult to breathe. She started to run. She couldn’t help herself.
She ran two blocks up Beacon Hill before her legs gave out on her and she fell onto one knee. And then she started to cry. She didn’t care anymore about feeling stupid. All she wanted was to get home. To be safe. She started making wild promises about what she’d do if she could only get safely locked behind her apartment door. About how she’d become a better person and start spending her weekends working at homeless shelters and her nights helping the impoverished. Anything, as long as she could be safe.
She got back to her feet. The terror was now crashing down over her, becoming something raw and primal. She could barely breathe against it. She could barely hear over it as it roared through her head and drowned out the noises around her. It made it impossible to tell if there were any footsteps behind her. But there couldn’t be any footsteps behind her. Deep down inside she knew that, didn’t she? She was simply losing her mind, going nuts, that was all. That’s what she told herself. She was in the midst of a mental breakdown.
As she turned the corner, she saw her apartment building and started racing towards it, her legs rubbery as she pushed herself forward. And then she was at the front door.
She fumbled with her keys. They slipped back into her pocketbook. Then they disappeared among the clutter. A common nightmare of hers was where simple actions became impossible. Like running through molasses. Or trying to find her keys when her life depended on it. Oh God, she screamed internally as tears streamed her face, please help me find my keys! And then, miraculously, she had them and the main entrance door was open and she was racing up the three flights to her apartment. Her heart pounding within her, feeling as if it were going to explode out of her chest.
And then . . .
She had the door to her apartment open. The craziness of her fear and terror hit her hard and she started laughing and bawling at the same moment. All the emotion came pouring out of her.
And then something else hit her. Much harder than the emotion. Hard enough to send her sprawling face first across the hardwood floor of her hallway. She felt a dullness as her chin cracked against the floor and then heard a click behind her. Someone was locking her door. Then a knee digging into the small of her back. Her arms were pulled behind her, her hands tied together with some sort of cord, the material biting into her flesh.
It all happened so fast. Before she could utter a sound she was flipped over onto her back. A gloved hand was against her throat. Pressing hard and then releasing the tension. It made her think of the way a cat entertains itself with a mouse before the kill.
And then there was the knife—an eight-inch cutting knife. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at it. It was held inches from her face.
A soft, wispy, singsong voice breathed lightly into her ear. A vaguely familiar voice. “Go ahead,” it said. “Scream. This knife has to go somewhere.”