Prologue

Someone was following her.

Stalking her.

She’d heard the footsteps. Among the deserted streets and the canyons of tall buildings; the sound seemed to echo from everywhere.

The night was extremely dark, and, Ginger Rockford thought, you would have believed that the streets were lit by centuries-old gas lamps, as they’d supposedly been during the filming that day.

A hot afternoon had turned into a chilly, misty night, and a fog was rolling in from the river.

The area seemed ridiculously quiet—except for that sound she heard now and then, a click-click, like a footfall, and then a shuffling noise, as if her stalker dragged a foot.

Great. Chased through the streets by a gimp.

It was New York City, for God’s sake. Millions lived on this tiny island.

So where the hell were they all now?

Ginger turned around to look back in the direction from which she had come. She could still see the row of trailers on Whitehall Street; she had just left one. Sammy Vintner, fat-old-ex-cop studio guard, was still on duty, but she saw that he was on the phone.

He was the only living soul she saw.

There were markers where the tape had been that had held the crowd back during the day, separating the filmmakers from the plebs hoping to catch a glimpse of megastar Bobby Walden.

She cursed Bobby Walden. While she’d waited, believing that he was really going to call her, Bobby had surely been picked up by a big black limousine.

Bobby was a somebody. She was a nobody.

But at least Bobby had spoken to her. The female lead, Sherry Blanco, had almost knocked her over, and she hadn’t even apologized. Well, maybe Sherry would learn. Ginger had done a lot of studying up on actors and their careers. She estimated that Sherry Blanco had about three years left—she was nearly thirty-five, and it was starting to show. Sherry was pretty, but she couldn’t really act. Nor had she been known for any kindness to the young hopefuls with whom she had worked. Ginger hoped with her whole heart that she might be a rising star when Sherry was a burned-out has-been.

At least Angus Avery, the up-and-coming director, had noticed her. Okay, so his words weren’t every girl’s dream. “Perfect! I mean, damn, do you look the role of the immigrant prostitute, her dreams already vanquished!” That was how she had gotten to be the one on Bobby’s arm, and how she had managed to flirt with him.

And then he had said that they needed to hook up, and taken her phone number.

So she had sat in the trailer well past time to leave; Missy Everett and Jane Deaver—who had played the other two young prostitutes in the scene—had begged her to leave with them. Their day of extra-stardom was over. They should celebrate, and wonder if they’d wind up on the cutting-room floor.

She, like a fool, had refused to leave; she’d been waiting for Bobby. And she should have left. The set was a construction site. The ugly old building that had been there had been razed to the foundations and a few structural walls. There were rumors about the site; bad things had happened there. She didn’t really know what—she wasn’t into history. Maybe it had been an old burial ground. But it had been perfect for the set designers when they had installed their prefabricated backdrops and facades, and it had been right next to Blair House, a truly creepy old place. She hadn’t been spooked during the day. The day had been chaotic with actors and crew, one shot being set up while another was being shot, sometimes over and over again if Avery didn’t like the lighting or the camera angle.

How had she managed to be the very last one on set? Oh, yes, waiting and praying that Bobby would really call her.

Sammy had emerged from his guard post. “Hey!” she called back, hoping that he would pay attention, see her and wait for her to come running back. She’d even take a ride with disgusting fat Sammy at this point.

He wasn’t looking her direction. He was going off duty, heading away from her. She should have accepted a ride from him when he’d offered, but she’d been convinced she’d find a taxi right away.

Who the hell knew that the area dried up like a prune once it got late at night?

The guard disappeared behind one of the trailers; he’d been anxious for her to go, of course, once she’d refused to ride with him. She’d been the last one near the trailers, the only one left who had been working on the on-location day-plus shoot for O’Leary’s, a tale about crime and prostitution in the eighteen hundreds in New York City. One of the pubs in the area had had the right interior, and the buildings—except for the gap where the old Darby Building had so recently stood—were perfect. The gutted area and the work tents set up on the old site were shielded by a blue screen for the moviemaking; New York was not a city to make do without the income a permit for such work would secure for the city. Nor, with the preservationist-supporting liberals to be found in the area, could a recently discovered historic site be disturbed.

Even so, the area around the demolished building was surrounded by cheap wire fencing that any schoolboy could scale, and closed by a gate with a two-bit combination lock. It looked like a war zone in a third world country.

She was beyond it, though, and she hurried; the gaping hole in the landscape seemed alive, mocking her for her fear of darkness and shadows.Now she cursed Bobby Walden. Megastar—jerk!So, maybe, she had been too easy, too wide-eyed and too hopeful. But he’d really been into her during the shoot; he’d whispered such cool stuff to her between takes that day. She was ready; she knew how to get her name in the paper, and how to move ahead. In film, in the real world, perception was everything. She wasn’t a fool; she didn’t expect a happy-ever-after with Bobby Walden. Just a date—or a night in his hotel room, a place she could pretend to slip out of while being sure that she was spotted by the media. That was all she needed. Her picture on Page Six, maybe. People would start talking about her, and it would make it worthwhile that she’d slept with the pimple-faced assistant at the casting agency to get the job as an extra—a down-and-out historical hooker—for the movie. And, she should still be glad, because she’d wound up with a few lines, enough to quality for her SAG card.B movie. That was okay. Many a star had gotten his or her start as an extra-suddenly-given-lines. It took something like being singled out by Bobby Walden to get noticed.“Hey! Hey, Sammy!” she called, walking back toward the site and Sammy. But Sammy didn’t appear from behind the trailer that was just about two blocks away now. He had to have heard her, but even if she ran, she’d never catch him. “Sammy! You fat ass!” she muttered.Sammy was gone. Probably down in the useless-to-her Whitehall subway station already.She thought she saw a man; a different man standing by the trailers. He must have been an actor; he seemed to be wearing a stovepipe hat and a long black all-encompassing coat. Whoever it was would be in big trouble with the costume department.The moon shifted; there was no man standing there. She was making herself bizarrely nervous; it was simply because she’d never imagined that anywhere in New York could become so devoid of people.She turned and retraced her steps. If she reached Broadway and started running…She was almost at the corner when she heard the noise again. Click-click-drag.Was it coming from behind her? Or before her?She turned the corner and screamed; there was a man standing there. He looked dazed. He was in dirty jeans, a dirtier denim jacket. He hadn’t shaved in days, and his hair was tangled and greasy.“Hey, lady, you got a dollar? Just a dollar—or some change? Anything—a quarter?” He took a step toward her with his hand outstretched, and she suddenly knew the direction from which the click-click-drag had come. She could smell him; he was absolutely repulsive.“No!” she cried. “Get away!”“Lady, I’m just a vet—”“You’re just an alcoholic or a junkie—and you’re disgusting! Take a bath!” she said. She didn’t even want to touch him to shove him in the chest, but she did so. She was desperate to get past him.He fell against the wall of the building she was passing. She didn’t look to see what type of office it was; she hurried on for a block, turned around. The ratty old homeless man was gone.She leaned against a railing where she had stopped, panting, to stare back hard. She wanted to make sure that he was gone—really gone. She needed to get a hold of her fear. As soon as she got a little bit farther up Broadway, she’d start to see people. Ha! Stalked by a derelict who would fall down in a breeze. Well, the louse-ridden bastard was gone now. She kept looking down the street, making sure.It was amazing; she could hear the traffic on West Street, albeit in the distance. Battery City was no more than a few blocks away. Wall Street was mobbed with cutthroat brokers during the day, and tourists thronged Trinity and St. Paul’s. But now the streets were dead, as dead as those rotting in the old graves and tombs of the city’s churches.Yes, the derelict was gone, too.She turned to hurry on up Broadway.She hadn’t heard a thing; she hadn’t suspected anyone might be in front of her—she had been looking behind, back to the dark abyss of the site.Her turn brought her directly into his arms. Before she could open her mouth, his hand clamped over it, and he twisted her viciously around until she was flat against his body.She tried to scream, but the sound was muffled by the gloved hand. She strained to see, to kick to fight…She barely even felt the knife across her throat; the blade was that sharp and the slice he made was swift and hard and sure. She was aware that, as the blood began to flow, he dragged her. She saw the lights of the street.Seeming as pale as old gas lamps.As she died, the world growing dark and cold, she was dimly aware once again that it was all a matter of perception. Blood was rushing from her throat, and she was dying. She was even aware of the irony—that she might become really famous at last.Somewhere, not far, car horns blared, neon illuminated the city and millions of souls worked, played and slept.