Hello, StrangerBook - 2006
Sally felt the cold gale, heard the scream of police sirens, the honking of fire engine Klaxons. Every detail of the scene sharpened in surreal focus: the weathered plank fences that lined the alley; the bare branches of cottonwoods peaking above the fence tops, flapping in the keening wind; the garbage cans, chained down to board boxes to keep them from blowing away; the clattering sound of dust and gravel flung against hard surfaces.
And the body on the ground. Now she looked at him. Blue pinstripe suit, black wingtip shoes. Not, Sally thought with an unbelievably inappropriate giggle, a Laramie look.
College professor Sally Alder returns to her office one cold, blustery afternoon to find Charlie Preston, a student in her women's history class, slumped in a chair outside her door. The girl has suffered a very recent, brutal battering, but she refuses to call the cops or her family, or go to the hospital. With little other recourse, Sally gives Charlie the cash in her wallet and the coat off her back, and the girl leaves.
Charlie's been gone for two weeks when a body turns up, a man beaten to death in an alley. It's Brad Preston, and his estranged daughter heads the list of suspects. The police immediately start to look for the girl, and so does Sally. The more Sally discovers, the less convinced she is that Charlie is guilty. She has to find the real killer before there's another victim and an innocent young woman must pay the price.
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[Stopping in stores throughout mall, looking for Charlie] They braved a trendy jeans-and-shirts store, dark, crowded, and deafeningly soundscaped with grating pop music. Aggie obviously knew and loved the place. Sally wondered whether the experts who developed marketing strategies for youth stores had cut their professional teeth in the military, prying Manuel Noriega from his palace by blasting Metallica at brain-splintering volume until the Panamanian dictator came out whimpering. Were the geniuses counting on the fact that parents would simply hand over their credit cards to kids piling up purchases, and then run screaming back into the mall, desperate for an Orange Julius? No Charlie there either. They stopped for a lifesaving Orange Julius.
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