September 16, 2005
Friday. 5:30 A.M.
Fog can be a sudden thing on the Maine coast. On even the clearest mornings, swirling gray mists sometimes appear in an instant, covering the earth with an opacity that makes it hard to see even one’s own feet on the ground. On this particular September morning it descended at 5:30, about the time Lucinda Cassidy and her companion Fritz, a small dog of indeterminate pedigree, arrived at the cemetery on Vaughan Street to begin their four-mile run along the streets of Portland’s West End and the path that borders the city’s Western Promenade.
The cemetery was one of Portland’s oldest and was surrounded by a chain- link fence, now falling into disrepair. The gates on the Vaughan Street side were locked to keep out neighborhood dog walkers. The earliest gravestones dated back to the late 1700s. On most of these stones, dates and other specifics had faded to near illegibility. Those that could be read bore the names of early Portland’s most prominent families, Deering, Dana, Brackett, Reed, Preble. These were old Yankee names, many of which had achieved a measure of immortality, having been bestowed upon the streets and parks of a young and growing city. More recent stones marked the graves of Irish, Italian, and French-Canadian immigrants who came to Portland to work in the city’s thriving shipbuilding trades or on the railroads in the last half of the nineteenth century. Today, however, no more of the dead would be buried here, regardless of ancestry or influence. The place was full, the last remains having been interred and the last markers erected in the years immediately following World War II.
When the fog moved in, Lucy considered canceling her run, but only briefly. At age twenty-eight, she was preparing for her first 10K race. She had more than enough self- discipline not to let anything as transitory as a little morning fog interfere with her training schedule. It was tough enough getting the runs in, given the long hours she worked as the newest account executive at Beckman and Hawes, the city’s biggest ad agency. In any case, Lucy knew her route well. The fog wouldn’t be a problem as long as she took care not to trip on one of the sidewalk’s uneven pavers.
The air was cool on her bare legs as Lucy performed her stretches—calves and quads and hamstrings. She pulled off her oversized Bates College sweatshirt, revealing a white sports bra and blue nylon shorts, and tossed it into her car, an aging Toyota Corolla. She saw no other joggers or dog walkers and thought she and Fritz might well have the streets to themselves. She slipped off his collar to let him run free. He was well trained and wouldn’t go far. She pulled a Portland Sea Dogs cap down over her blond hair, stretching the Velcro band down and under her ponytail. She draped the dog’s lead around her shoulders and set off along Vaughan Street at a leisurely pace, with Fritzy first racing ahead and then stopping to leave his mark on a tree or lamppost.
Lucy liked the quiet of the early morning hours in this upscale neighborhood. Passing street after street of graceful nineteenthcentury homes, she glanced in the windows and imagined herself living in one or another of them. The image pleased her. She saw herself holding elegant dinner parties. The food would be simple but perfectly prepared. The wines rare. The men handsome. The conversation witty. All terribly Masterpiece Theatre. Ah well, a pretty picture but not very likely. She was not, she knew, to the manner born. She watched Fritz scamper ahead and then turn and wait for her to follow. Lucy moved through the damp morning air, bringing her heart rate up to an aerobic training level. She thought about the day ahead, reviewing, for at least the twentieth time, details of a TV campaign she was presenting to the marketing group at Mid-Coast Bank. She’d worked her tail off to land this new client, but they were turning out to be both difficult and demanding. After work, she planned a quick trip to Circuit City to pick up a birthday present for her soon to-be twelve-year-old nephew Owen. Her older sister Patti’s boy, Owen told her what he “really really wanted” was an iPod, but he wasn’t optimistic. “We don’t have the money this year,” he added in grown-up, serious tones that had Patti’s imprint all over them. Well, Owen was in for a big surprise.
After that it was back to the Old Port for dinner with David at Tony’s. The prospect of dinner at Tony’s pleased her. The prospect of sharing it with her ex- husband didn’t. He was pushing to get back together, and yes, she admitted, there were times she was briefly tempted. God knows, no one else even remotely interesting was waiting in the wings. Yet after a couple of dates, she was surer than ever that going back to David wasn’t the answer for either of them. She planned to tell him so to night.
She ran along Vaughan for a mile or so, climbing the gentle rise of Bramhall Hill, before turning west across the old section of the hospital toward the path that lined the western edge of the Prom. The fog was thicker now, and she could see even less, but her body felt good. The training was paying off, and she felt certain she’d be ready for the race, now ten days away.
Suddenly Fritz darted past and disappeared into the mist, barking furiously at what Lucy figured was either an animal or another runner coming up the path in her direction. Then she saw Fritz run out of the fog, turn, and stand his ground, angry barks lifting his small body in an uncharacteristic rage. Instantly alert, Lucy wondered who or what could be getting him so agitated. Usually he just wagged his stub of a tail at strangers.
Seconds later a runner emerged from the fog about fifteen feet in front of her. He was a tall man with a lean, well-muscled body. Had she seen him jogging here before? She didn’t think so. He was unusually good- looking with dark, deep- set eyes that would be hard to forget. Late thirties or early forties, she thought. Fritz backed away but kept barking.
“Quiet down,” Lucy commanded. “It’s okay.” She smiled at the man. “He isn’t usually so noisy.”
The tall man stopped and knelt down. He extended his left hand for Fritz to sniff, then scratched him behind the ears. He smiled up at Lucy. “What’s his name?”
Lucy registered the absence of a wedding band. “Fritz,” she said.
“Hey, Fritz, are you a good boy? Sure you are.” He scratched Fritz again. The dog’s stubby tail offered a tentative wag or two. He looked up. “I’ve seen you running here before. I’m sure I have.”
“You may have,” she said, though she was sure she would have noticed him. “I’m here most mornings. I’m training for a 10K.”
“Good for you. Mind if I run along? I’d enjoy the company.” She hesitated, surprised at the man’s directness. Finally she said, “I guess not. Not as long as you can keep up. I’m Lucy.”
“Harry,” he said, extending a hand. “Harry Potter.”
“No, I was christened long before the first book came out, and I wasn’t about to change my name.”
They took off, chatting easily, laughing about the name. Fritz, no longer barking, kept pace.
“You live in Portland?” she asked.
“No, I’m here on business. Medical equipment. The hospital’s one of my biggest clients.” “So you’re here quite often?”
“At least once a month.”
They picked up the pace and turned south down the western edge of the Prom. “Normally there’s a great view from up here. Can’t see a damned thing today.” A dark green SUV sat parked at the curb just ahead of them.
“Could you excuse me for a minute?” Harry pointed and clicked a key ring. The car’s lights blinked; its doors unlocked. “I need to get something.”
He leaned in, rummaged in a small canvas bag, and then emerged from the car holding a hypodermic and a small bottle. “I’m a diabetic,” he explained. “I have to take my insulin on schedule.” Harry carefully inserted the needle into the bottle and extracted a clear liquid. “Only take a second.” Lucy smiled. Feeling it was rude to watch, she turned away and looked out toward over the Prom. The fog wasn’t dissipating. If anything it seemed to be getting thicker. She performed a few stretches to keep her muscles warm while they waited. She sensed more than saw the sudden movement behind her. Before she could react, Harry Potter’s left arm was around her neck, pulling her sharply back and up in a classic choke hold. Her windpipe constricted in the crook of his elbow. She couldn’t move. She wanted to scream but could draw only enough breath to emit a thin, strangled cry. Frantic and confused, Lucy dug her nails into the man’s flesh, wishing she’d let them grow longer and more lethal. She felt a sharp prick. She looked down and saw the man’s free hand squeezing whatever was in the hypodermic into her arm. He continued holding her, immobile. She tried to struggle, but he was too strong, his grip too tight. Within seconds wooziness began to overtake her. She felt his hands on the back of her head and her butt, pushing her, head-first, facedown, into the backseat of the car.
Turning her head, Lucy could still see out through the open door, but everything had taken on a hazy, distant quality, like a slow-motion film growing darker frame by frame and seeming to make no sense. She saw an enraged Fritz growling and digging his teeth into the man’s leg. She heard a shout, “Shit!” Two large hands picked the small dog up. She tried to rise but couldn’t. The last thing Lucinda Cassidy saw was the good- looking man with the dark eyes. He smiled at her. The slow-motion film faded to black.
Book excerpt of The Cutting (St. Martin’s) by James Hayman. Visit James’ website at www.jameshaymanthrillers.com. Buy his book at Amazon by clicking here.