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«In Silence», Erica Spindler

Иллюстрация к книге

"The crudest lies are often told in silence."

– Robert Louis Stevenson

 

PROLOGUE

Cypress Springs, Louisiana Thursday, October 17, 2002 3:30 a.m.

The one called the Gavel waited patiently. The woman would come soon, he knew. He had been watching her. Learning her schedule, her habits. Those of her neighbors as well.

Tonight she would learn the price of moral corruption.

He moved his gaze over the woman's darkened bedroom. Garments strewn across the matted carpeting. Dresser top littered with an assortment of cosmetic bottles and jars, empty Diet Coke and Miller Lite cans, gum and candy wrappers. Cigarette butts spilled from an overflowing ashtray.

A pig as well as a whore.

Twin feelings of resignation and disgust flowed over him. Had he expected anything different from a woman like her? An alley cat who bedded a new man nearly every night?

He was neither prude nor saint. Nor was he naive. These days few waited for marriage to consummate their relationship. He could live with that; he understood physical urges.

But excesses such as hers would not be tolerated in Cypress Springs. The Seven had voted. It had been unanimous. As their leader, it was his responsibility to make her understand.

The Gavel glanced at the bedside clock. He had been waiting nearly an hour. It wouldn't be long now. Tonight she had gone to CJ's, a bar on the west side of town, one frequented by the hard-partying crowd. She had left with a man named DuBroc. As was her MO, they had gone to his place. To the Gavel's knowledge, this was a first offense for DuBroc. He would be watched as well. And if necessary, warned.

From the front of the apartment came the sound of the door lock turning over. The door opening, then clicking shut. A shudder moved over him. Of distaste for the inevitable. He wasn't a predator, as some might label him. Predators sought the small and weak, either to sustain themselves or for twisted self-gratification.

Nor was he a bloodthirsty monster or sadist.

He was an honorable man. God-fearing, law-abiding. A patriot.

But as were the other members of The Seven, he was a man driven to desperate measures. To protect and defend all he held dear.

Women like this one soiled the community, they contributed to the moral decay running rampant in the world.

They were not alone, of course. Those who drank to excess, those who lied, cheated, stole; those who broke not only the laws of man but those of God as well.

The Seven had formed to combat such corruptions. For the Gavel and his six generals, it wasn't about punishing the sinful but about maintaining a way of life. A way of life Cypress Springs had enjoyed for over a hundred years. A community where people could still walk the streets at night, where neighbor helped neighbor, where family values were more than a phrase tossed about by political candidates.

Honesty. Integrity. The Golden Rule. All were alive and well in Cypress Springs. The Seven had dedicated themselves to ensuring it stayed that way.

The Gavel likened individual immorality to the flesh-eating bacteria that had been in the news so much a few years back. A fisherman had contracted necrotizing fasciitis through a small cut on his hand. Once introduced to the body, it ate its covering until only a putrid, grotesque patchwork remained. So, too, was the effect of individual immorality on a community. His job was to make certain that didn't happen.

The Gavel listened intently. The woman hummed under her breath as she made her way toward the back of the apartment and the bedroom where he waited. The self-satisfied sound sickened him.

He eased to his feet, moved toward the door. She stepped through. He grabbed her from behind, dragged her to his chest and covered her mouth with one gloved hand to stifle her screams. She smelled of cheap perfume, cigarettes. Sex.

"Elaine St. Claire," he said against her ear, voice muffled by the ski mask he wore. "You have been judged and found guilty. Of contributing to the moral decay of this community. Of attempting to cause the ruination of a way of life that has existed for over a century. You must pay the price."


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