Chapter 1

Tuesday, January 30th, 8:00 PM New York City

Benny was a bully and was happiest when Kerri committed some transgression that permitted him to give her another disciplinary session. So Benny was very happy this day. Kerri had given him some sunshine in the middle of the coldest spell in New York memory. Once again she had broken his rules and now she had to be punished.
     One look at her told Benny that she knew she had done wrong. Trouble was she didn't look scared enough. Over the past year Benny had begun to suspect that Kerri might actually enjoy discipline, and that disturbed him. It took a lot of his fun away. But rules were rules, and whether she enjoyed it or not she still had to get hers.
     He started with the blanket, her only source of comfort and her primary protection against the bitterly cold North wind blowing down Third Avenue. Kerri was sitting on their mattress spread on the ground, wrapped in her blanket, just staring at him with that mournful gaze while she shivered, waiting.
     "Give me the blanket," he ordered. "Stupid people got to be cold."
     Kerri didn't move except to gather the blanket closer around her shoulders.
     Benny was surprised. He had come to expect immediate compliance to his orders. Good thing this happened, he thought. Bitch needs a tune-up. He took a step toward her and was gratified when he heard her whine.
     "Benny, please. Not the blanket. I'm too cold already. I didn't mean nothin' by it."
     Kerri's pleas were music to Benny's ears. He stood over her and savored the moment as she closed her eyes and cringed, waiting and braced for the blow.
     This is one pitiful white woman I got me involved with, Benny thought. Sitting there with her eyes closed, I can do whatever I want. Stupid. Then he bent over and grabbed the two handles stitched into the sides of the mattress and pulled up with all his might. Kerri rolled over backwards and wound up on her back on the pavement, with her head resting just inside the doorway of the closed print shop. She was still clutching her blanket, her eyes still tightly closed, unmoving.
     Benny looked at her contemptuously while he stood over her, holding the mattress by the handles. What to do next? He took a look around him. The street was full of people, but everybody was walking fast with someplace else to go and something else to do. Nobody cared what the homeless were doing.
     Benny wasn't surprised. He had been through this before. He reached a decision. Time to throw a real scare into her. He placed the mattress on top of the hospital laundry cart that held all of their worldly possessions and rolled the cart in front of Kerri so that she was invisible to anyone walking by, lying in the stall he had created like a young calf waiting to be slaughtered. Placing his foot on her gut, he pressed hard, hard enough to force all the air from her lungs and stomach, but she kept her eyes screwed shut.
     Ain't no fun like this, Benny thought, so he reached down, took hold of the blanket, and growled, "I'm leaving and I'm taking what's mine."
     Kerri's eyes popped open. No more blank stare. Only terror. She let go of the blanket and Benny pulled it away. She watched him fold up the blanket and place it under the mattress in their laundry cart. Then he picked up the rest of their things and neatly placed them in the laundry cart, each in its accustomed place. Satisfied with his work, he turned back to Kerri. She was still staring at him, terror-stricken.
     Benny liked the way she looked. But maybe I can make it better, he thought. Let's see. "I'm going over to the Citibank. Come get your shit later once I get unpacked."
     It worked well. Kerri rolled onto her stomach and crawled over to him until she was lying at his feet like a dog. She put her hands over her head and dug her chin into the sidewalk. "Beat me, Benny. But don't leave me. I'll die out here without you. I can't do this by myself."
     "Then why you always breakin' the rules?" Benny asked in a low, threatening voice. "Why can't you learn to live right out here?" His voice was rising. "Why can't you listen and show me some respect?"
     Like a parent scolding a child, he waited for an answer, but got none. Kerri's silence enraged him. "Why do I got to be stuck with the dumbest bitch on the planet?" he yelled as he gave her the first kick. It was short and sharp and caught her in the side of the ribs, but Kerri didn't seem to notice. She had known it was coming and she was ready for it. "Not now, Benny," she wailed. "You gonna have a crowd."
     Her reasoning stopped him. She's right, he thought. No reason to do this now. Who needs a crowd? Later is better, when the streets are clear.
     Benny brought his anger under control and looked around him. None of the people walking by showed any interest in him or her. Not used to the cold like he was, they were bundled into their gloves, overcoats, and scarves as they passed with heads down against the wind, paying no attention to the two souls who sometimes lived in front of the recessed print shop, partially protected from the elements by the ten-foot overhang of the apartment building over the shop.
     But someone was watching and had been watching them for days. The thin, bearded man was sitting at a table next to the window in the Japanese restaurant across the street, oblivious to the other customers. He picked at his second order of sushi and stared out at the street, apparently lost in thought. He didn't hear the waitress approach his table, which made her uncomfortable as she stood there, waiting to be acknowledged. She followed his gaze and saw nothing of interest outside as she wondered what had recently made this strange and silent man into such a regular customer.
     She reached no conclusion. At one time or another during the past week he had tried everything on the menu and, although he ate slowly, it appeared to her he ate without pleasure.
     At first she had thought that he was trying to gain weight. The clothes he wore looked like they belonged to someone a size larger than he was, and she speculated that maybe he was trying to fit into clothes someone else had given him. After all, she thought, they are nice clothes.
     She waited as long as she politely could while he continued staring out the window, but he didn't notice her presence so she picked up his small bottle of sake from the table and shook it.
     Her move startled him and he turned to her quickly.
     "More sake?" she asked, smiling as she looked down to his empty cup.
     "Yes, please. That will be fine."
     She poured the remainder of the bottle and stood waiting for his next request. "Check, please."
     She smiled politely at him, then shuffled to the cash register and watched him while the cashier computed the bill. The customer picked up his last piece of sushi with his chopsticks and placed it in his mouth. He was staring out the window as he chewed, watching a bum push his laundry cart down East 30th Street. A sloppy woman was following abjectly, five steps behind. The waitress lost interest and looked away, but the customer didn't. He knew Benny and Kerri's routine well and knew where they were going.
     He chewed slowly, pleasantly surprised that he could actually taste his food. He washed it down with the last of his sake, savoring every sip.
     Once again, he had murder on his mind.

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