The Naked Face / Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen


SOME DISTANT, remote part of his mind was trying to send him a message, trying to communicate something of cosmic importance, but the hammering deep inside his skull was so agonizing that he was unable to concentrate on anything else. Somewhere nearby, he could hear a high-pitched keening, like a wounded wild animal. Slowly, painfully, Judd opened his eyes. He was lying in a bed in a strange room. In a corner of the room, Bruce Boyd was weeping uncontrollably.

Judd started to sit up. The wracking pain in his body flooded his memory with recollection of what had happened to him, and he was suddenly filled with a wild, savage fury.

Boyd turned as he heard Judd stir. He walked over to the bed. "It's your fault," he whimpered. "If it hadn't been for you, Johnny would still be safe with me."

Without volition, propelled by some long-forgotten, deeply buried instinct for vengeance, Judd reached for Boyd's throat, his fingers closing around his windpipe, squeezing with all their strength. Boyd made no move to protect himself. He stood there, tears streaming down his face. Judd looked into his eyes, and it was like looking into a pool of hell. Slowly his hands dropped away. My God, he thought, I'm a doctor. A sick man attacks me and I want to kill him. He looked at Boyd, and he was looking at a destroyed, bewil dered child.

And suddenly he realized what his subconscious had been trying to tell him: Bruce Boyd was not Don Vinton. If he had been, Judd would not be alive now. Boyd was incapable of committing murder. So he had been right about him not fitting the identi-kit of the killer. There was a certain ironic consolation in that.

"If it weren't for you, Johnny would be alive," Boyd sobbed. "He'd be here with me and I could have protected him."

"I didn't ask John Hanson to leave you," Judd said wearily. "It was his idea."

"You're a liar!"

"Things had been going wrong between you and John before he came to see me."

There was a long silence. Then Boyd nodded. "Yes. We - we were quarreling all the time."

"He was trying to find himself, and his instincts kept telling him that he wanted to go back to his wife and children. Deep down inside, John wanted to be heterosexual."

"Yes," whispered Boyd. "He used to talk about it all the time, and I thought it was just to punish me." He looked up at Judd. "But one day he left me. He just - moved out. He stopped loving me." There was despair in his voice.

"He didn't stop loving you," Judd said. "Not as a friend."

Boyd was looking at him now, his eyes riveted on Judd's face. "Will you help me?" His eyes were filled with desperation. "H-help me. You've got to help me!"

It was a cry of anguish. Judd looked at him a long moment. "Yes," Judd said. "I'll help you."

"Will I be normal?"

"There's no such thing as normal. Each person carries his own normality within him, and no two people are alike."

"Can you make me heterosexual?"

"That depends on how much you really want to be. We can give you psychoanalysis."

"And if it fails?"

"If we find that you're meant to be homosexual, at least you'll be better adjusted to it."

"When can we start?" Boyd asked.

And Judd was jolted back to reality. He was sitting here talking about treating a patient when, for all he knew, he was going to be murdered within the next twenty-four hours. And he was still no closer to finding out who Don Vinton was. He had eliminated Teri and Boyd, the last suspects on his list. He knew no more now than when he had started. If his analysis of the killer was correct, by now he would have worked himself up to a murderous rage. The next attack would come very, very soon.

"Call me Monday," he said.

As the taxi took him toward his apartment building, Judd tried to weigh his chances of survival. They looked bleak. What could he have that Don Vinton wanted so desperately? And who was Don Vinton? How could he have had no police record? Could he be using some other name? No. Moody had clearly said "Don Vinton."

It was difficult to concentrate. Every movement of the taxi sent spasms of excruciating pain through his bruised body. Judd thought about the murders and attempted murders that had been committed so far, looking for some kind of pattern that made sense. A knifing, murder by torture, a hit-and-run "accident," a bomb in his car, strangulation. There was no pattern that he could discern. Only a ruthless, maniacal violence. He had no way of knowing how the next attempt would be made. Or by whom. His greatest vulnerability would be the office and his apartment. He remembered Angeli's advice. He must have stronger locks put on the doors of the apartment. He would tell Mike, the doorman, and Eddie, the elevator operator, to keep their eyes open. He could trust them.

The taxi pulled up in front of his apartment house. The doorman opened the taxi door.

He was a total stranger.

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