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Serial Blogging: “Copycat” – Part 6

This Friday on Serial Blogging, we’re proud to present the finale of Jeffery Deaver‘s “Copycat,” which was first published in A New Omnibus of Crime. Read from the beginning of the story by clicking here!

         XIII


   His book had saved his life, the author was explaining with a laugh that turned into a wince.  
   It was the next morning, and Quentin Altman and Carter’s wife—a handsome, middle-aged blonde—were standing at his bedside in Greenville Hospital. Fletcher’s bullet had missed vital organs but had snapped a rib and the author was in major pain despite the happy pills he’d been given.  
   Carter told them what had happened last evening: “Fletcher says let’s go to dinner—he knew some good barbecue place in the country. We were driving along this deserted road and I was talking about Two Deaths and said that this was just the sort of road I had in mind when I wrote that scene where the Hunter was stalking the first victim after he sees her at McDonalds. Then, Fletcher said that he pictured that road being in cornfields, not forests.”  
   “But he said he hadn’t read the book,” Altman said.  
   “Exactly….He realized he’d screwed up. He got real quiet for a minute, and I was thinking something’s wrong. I was even going to jump out of the car. But then he pulls his gun out and I grab it but he still shoots me. I reach over with my foot and slam on the brake. We go off the road and he slams his head into the window or something. I grab the gun and roll out of the car. I’m heading for the bushes to hide in but I see him getting the shotgun from the trunk. He starts toward me and I shoot him.” He shook his head. “Man, if it hadn’t been for the book, what he said about it, I never would’ve known what he was going to do.”  
   Since Altman was involved in the incident, the investigation of the shooting went to another detective, who reported that the forensics bore out Carter’s story. There was GSR—gunshot residue—on Fletcher’s hand, which meant he’d fired the pistol, and a bullet with Carter’s blood on it embedded in the cruiser passenger door. Evidence also proved that Fletcher was indeed the Greenville Strangler. The sergeant’s fingerprints were all over the mallet and a search of the sergeant’s house revealed several items—stockings and lingerie— that had been taken from the homes of the victims. Murdering Howard Desmond and trying to murder Andy Carter—well, those had been to cover up his original crimes. But what had been the sergeant’s motive for killing the two women in Greenville? Maybe the anger at being left by his wife had boiled over. Maybe he’d had a secret affair with one of the victims, which had turned sour, and he’d decided to stage her death as a random act of violence. Maybe some day an answer would come to light.  
   Or maybe, Altman reflected, unlike in a mystery novel, they’d never know what had driven the man to step over the edge into the dark world of the killers he’d once hunted.  
   It was then that Wallace Gordon loped into the hospital room “Hot off the presses.” He handed a copy of the Tribune to Carter. On the front page was Wallace’s story about the solving of the Greenville Strangler case.  
   “Keep that,” Wallace said. “A souvenir.”  
   Thanking him, Carter’s wife folded the paper up and set it aside with the stiff gesture of someone who has no interest in memorabilia about a difficult episode in one’s life.  
   Quentin Altman walked to the door and, just as he was about to leave, paused. He turned back. “Oh, one thing, Andy—how’s that book of yours end? Do the police ever find the Hunter?”  
   Carter caught himself as he was about to answer. The author gave a grin. “You know, detective—you want to find that out, I’m afraid you’re just going to have to buy yourself a copy.”  

 


         XIV


   Several days later Andrew Carter slipped out of his bed, where he’d lain, wideawake, for the past three hours. It was two A.M.  
   He glanced at the quiescent form of his sleeping wife and—with the help of his cane—limped to the his closet, where he found and pulled on an old pair of faded jeans, sneakers and a Boston University sweatshirt—his good-luck writing clothes, which he hadn’t donned in well over a year.  
   Still in pain from the gunshot, he walked slowly down the hall to his office and went inside, turning on the light. Sitting at his desk, he clicked on his computer and stared at the screen for a long moment.  
   Then suddenly he began to write. His keyboarding was clumsy at first, his fingers jabbing two keys at once or missing the intended one altogether. Still, as the hours passed, his skill as a typist returned and soon the words were pouring from his mind onto the screen flawlessly and fast.  
   By the time the sky began to glow with pink-gray light and a morning bird’s cell-phone trill sounded from the crisp holly bush outside his window he’d finished the story completely—thirty-nine double-spaced pages.  
   He moved the cursor to the top of the document, thought about an appropriate title and typed: Copycat.  
   Then Andy Carter sat back in his comfortable chair and carefully read his work from start to finish.  
   The story opened with a reporter finding a suspense novel that contained several circled passages, which were strikingly similar to two real-life murders that had occurred earlier. The reporter takes the book to a detective, who concludes that the man who circled the paragraphs is the perpetrator, a copycat inspired by the novel to kill.  
   Reviving the case, the detective enlists the aid of the novel’s author, who reluctantly agrees to help and brings the police some fan letters, one of which leads to the suspected killer.  
   But when the police track the suspect to his summer home they find that he’s been murdered too. He wasn’t the killer at all but had presumably circled the passages only because he, like the reporter, was struck by the similarity between the novel and the real-life crimes.  
   Then the detective gets a big shock: On the fan’s body he finds clues that prove that a local police sergeant is the real killer. The author, who happens to be with this very officer at that moment, is nearly killed but manages to wrestle gun away and shoot the cop in self-defense.  
   Case closed.  
   Or so it seems. . . .  
   But Andy Carter hadn’t ended the story there. He added yet another twist. Readers learn at the very end that the sergeant was innocent. He’d been set up as a fall guy by the real Strangler.  
   Who happened to be the author himself.  
   Racked by writer’s block after his first novel was published, unable to follow it up with another, the author had descended into madness. Desperate and demented, he came to believe that he might jumpstart his writing by actually re-enacting scenes from his novel so he stalked and strangled two women, exactly as his fictional villain had done.  
   The murders hadn’t revived his ability to write, however, and he slumped further into depression. And then, even more troubling, he heard from the fan who’d grown suspicious about the similarities between certain passages in the novel and the real crimes. The author had no choice: he met with the fan at his lakeside cottage and beat him to death, hiding the body in the garage and covering up the disappearance by pretending to be the fan and telling his boss and landlord that he was leaving town unexpectedly.  
   The author believed he was safe. But his contentment didn’t last. Enter the reporter who’d found the underlined passages, and the investigation started anew; the police called, asking him for fan letters. The author knew the only way to be safe was to give the police a scapegoat. So he agreed to meet with the police—but in fact he’d arrived in town a day before his planned meeting with the detective. He broke into the police sergeant’s house, planted some incriminating clothing he’d taken from the dead women’s houses and stole one of the cop’s mallets and a business card. He then went out to the dead fan’s lake house, where he’d hidden the body, and used the tool to crush the skull of the decomposed body and hid the mallet, along with some of the dead man’s hairs, in an oil drum. The card he slipped into the wallet. The next day he showed up at the police station with the fan letter that led to the cottage—and ultimately to the sergeant.  
   The author, who’d asked the unsuspecting sergeant to drive to dinner, grabbed his gun, made him stop the car and get out. Then he shot him, rested the pistol near the dead cop’s hands and fired it into the woods to get gunshot residue on the man’s finger (writers know as much about forensics as most cops). The author had gotten the shotgun from the trunk, left it with the sergeant and then climbed back into the squad car, where he’d taken a deep breath and shot himself in the belly—as superficially as he could.  
   He’d then crawled onto the road to wait for a passing car to come to their aid.  
   The police bought the entire story.  
   In the final scene the author returned home to try to resume his writing, having literally gotten away with murder.  
   Carter now finished rereading the story, his heart thumping hard with pride and excitement. True, it needed polishing but, considering that he hadn’t written a word for more than a year, it was a glorious accomplishment.  
   He was a writer once again.  
   The only problem was that he couldn’t publish the story. He couldn’t even show it to a soul.  
   For the simple reason, of course, that it wasn’t fiction; every word was true. Andy Carter himself was the homicidal author.  
   Still, he thought, as he erased the entire story from his computer, publishing it didn’t matter one bit. The important thing was that by writing it he’d managed to kill his writer’s block as ruthlessly and efficiently as he’d murdered Bob Fletcher and Howard Desmond and the two women in Greenville. And, even better, he knew too how to make sure that he’d never be blocked again: From now on he’d give up fiction and pursue what he’d realized he was destined to write: true crime.  
   What a perfect solution this was! He’d never want for ideas again; TV news, magazines and the papers would provide dozens of story leads he could choose from.  
   And, he reflected, limping downstairs to make a pot of coffee, if it turned out that there were no crimes that particularly interested him …well, Andy Carter knew that he was fully capable of taking matters into his own hands and whipping up a bit of inspiration all by himself.

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