Stacey Oberman made the worst mistake of her life when she followed the garage mechanic’s advice and turned off the main highway. When her car breaks down in a rainstorm, she and her five-year-old daughter seek refuge in a nearby farmhouse—only to become “playmates” in a violent whirlpool of unrelenting terror.
“Neiderman’s forte has always been his intricate, suspenseful stories.” —Booklist on Duplicates
Originally published under the name Playmates.
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About the Author
Andrew Neiderman was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New York’s scenic Catskill Mountains region. A graduate of the University at Albany, State University of New York, from which he also received his master’s in English, Neiderman taught at Fallsburg Junior-Senior High School for twenty-three years before pursuing a career as a novelist and screenwriter. He has written more than forty thriller novels under his own name, including The Devil’s Advocate, which was made into a major motion picture for Warner Bros., starring Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, and Charlize Theron, and is in development as a stage musical in London. Neiderman has also written seventy New York Times–bestselling novels for the V. C. Andrews franchise. He lives with his family in Palm Springs, California. Visit him on Facebook and at www.neiderman.com.
Read an Excerpt
David Oberman spread the plans for the sewer plant storage room onto the wide counter table in the forty-by-twelve-foot administration trailer to study the problem Bill Cullen, the project foreman, had presented. Cullen, a tall, stout man whose nondescript face was framed by curly black hair, showed his impatience by taking hold of the document and unrolling it faster than David had intended. But David remained unirked. Perhaps his most outstanding personality trait, marking him for an executive position, was his remarkable ability to remain cool and even-tempered under fire. Rarely was he panicked or pressured into a decision about anything.
David was aware of this characteristic of his. Sometimes he wondered if it wasn't really a fault. How many times had Stacey been frustrated because he wasn't as excited or as intense about something as she was? She would call him at work, nearly hysterical because the washing machine wouldn't change cycle and rinse, or she would get frightened by a fever Tami had developed and he would act so coolly and nonchalant her anger was only fanned.
Afterward, when calm was restored, he would say, "What's the point in getting emotional, Stace? You only add to the confusion." She would admit he was right, but he could still sense her dissatisfaction. A show of emotion indicated a commitment in the eyes of most people; it demonstrated a seriousness and purposefulness they otherwise didn't believe you had.
But he couldn't help possessing such a high toleration point. The people who respected him for it, like Mr. Messant, the president of the firm, complimented him for being made of "sterner stuff." They liked the fact that nothing seemed to rattle his good sense, that he could be relied upon in a crisis. It was certainly a major reason why he had soared through the firm's ranks and had been assigned so much authority and responsibility. If only he could switch it on and off, he thought. He'd do what he had to do to please Stacey and apply himself correctly at work.
"Why can't we just add two more inches of cement in this wall?" Cullen asked. David had said nothing for a couple of minutes and his reflective, relaxed manner spotlighted the difference between the two men.
David had a slim build with gentle, almost pretty-boy features. At five ten, he weighed only one hundred and sixty pounds. Cullen, standing beside him, appeared even bigger because of his broad shoulders and thick forearms. He had the sleeves of his bleached red t-shirt rolled up over his shoulders. The forty-five-year-old man who had already worked on nearly three times as many projects as David had difficulty paying respect and obedience to a man fifteen years his junior who looked like he had just gotten out of college.
David's light complexion, baby blue eyes, and straw brown, short-styled hair belied his age. And when his physical appearance was coupled with his slow, careful manner of thought and speech, he struck those who didn't know him well as inexperienced.
"No," David said finally, "that would damage the integrity of the structure. We're going to have a lot of weight on this side, too."
"So what are we gonna do? I got twenty men sittin' around out there."
David didn't say anything. He looked up at the clock and then at Judy Davis, the project secretary. She stopped typing in anticipation. After working with David for a few months, the twenty-eight-year-old woman had learned how to read his inscrutable face. She knew he was about to ask for something in the files.
"Get me the pump specs," he said. Then he turned back to Cullen. "If the weight's what I think it is," he said, pointing to the plans, "we can justify the two inches all around without having to go through city hall for revisions."
Cullen nodded. He was impressed with David's lack of hesitation when it came to spending more on the project. He knew he was highly regarded at the firm, and yet he didn't look to cut corners to impress the higher-ups with budgeting expertise. Cullen took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. The refreshing air-conditioned trailer made him all the more aware of the heat outside.
"It's a bitch today," he said.
David nodded, yet though he had been in and out all day, he still looked as though he had just showered and dressed. He had rolled his sleeves to his elbows, but in neat, almost perfect folds. The knot in his tie was still tight and he had yet to open his collar button.
Judy handed him the sheets detailing the specs he required. He pored over them carefully before going to the table and tapping out some numbers on his calculator. He studied the results and then nodded to himself.
"Okay," he said. "Two more inches all around." Cullen nodded and looked at his watch.
"We'll get the frames widened before we break for the day."
"Good. I'll be out in a few minutes."
After Cullen left and Judy went back to her typing, David glanced at the clock and then crossed to the phone. He dialed the hotel and waited until the front desk answered.
"This is Mr. Oberman," he said. "Has my wife arrived?" Judy Davis looked up from her typing quizzically. She knew he had called the hotel an hour before and had gotten a negative response. "No, that's all right. Thank you," he said and hung up.
"Not there yet?"
"No." He shook his head. "I just hope she didn't get lost. She's famous for doing that. I don't know how many times she's missed exits off highways," he said.
"I've done it many times, too," Judy said. "Maybe she's coming right to the site," she added. Although David didn't show any obvious signs of concern, she felt his anxiety.
"Well, I wouldn't put anything past her, but I gave her specific directions to the hotel, and when it comes to traveling, Stacey usually isn't adventurous." He stood thinking for a moment. "All right. I'd better get out there with Cullen."
"I'll call you as soon as she phones," Judy said.
He stepped out of the trailer into the wall of heat. The contrast between the air-conditioned office and the hot, August day was so great, he was tempted to turn off the air conditioning to smooth the abrupt difference. But that wouldn't be fair to Judy, he thought.
As he walked toward the activity, he couldn't help but think about Stacey and Tami. Stacey was so anxious to get up here it was hard to believe she would have left much later than she had planned. If she had left anywhere near her intended departure time, she could have arrived and circled halfway back by now. He hoped she didn't have any trouble with the car, but he knew that if she did, the first thing she would do after going to a garage was call him.
It would be downright criminal if the receptionist at the hotel's front desk had made a mistake and erroneously claimed Stacey hadn't arrived yet, he thought. But then he remembered that she was supposed to call as soon as she arrived anyway, so that couldn't be it.
He couldn't help worrying, but he knew he couldn't overdo it. There was too much demanding his attention at the construction site. He put his faith in his wife's failure to follow directions, smiled to himself about it, and went on to supervise the changes in the plant plans.
He got so involved he didn't realize the time until Cullen told him that was it for the day. Everyone started packing up. It wasn't until he started back to the trailer that he realized Judy hadn't come out of the trailer to beckon him to the phone. She was getting set to close up shop when he stepped in.
"No call," she said as soon as he looked at her. He nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe you should call home. Maybe she never started out."
"She'd call to let me know."
"That's true. Is there anything you want me to do?" She knew what kind of a panic her husband Carey would be in if she did anything like this to him. He'd be worried as hell, and even angrier. She could just see him ranting and raving to everyone, and when she came home ... There was the time she went off with Paula and Betty Ann and they got a little tipsy. He'd flung the clock across the living room and gouged out a two-inch hole in the sheetrock walls.
"No, thank you," David said. He went to his desk and began sifting through papers. She shook her head. How could he continue to work when his wife and child were so late?
"Then I'll be going," she said, swallowing down her concern.
"What? Oh, sure. See you in the morning."
"I hope everything's all right."
"I'm sure it is," he said. She shook her head when he turned back to his papers, then she left.
As soon as she was gone, he looked up at the clock and sank back in his chair. There was no way she could be this lost, he thought. What the hell was going on? To get it off his mind a moment, he shuffled loose papers back into their proper folders and left them neatly on Judy's desk. Then he rolled down his sleeves, shrugged on his light sports coat, and left the trailer, locking the door behind him.
The men were pulling out in trucks and cars. He watched them for a few moments. They were a good crew, ahead of schedule and unmarred by a single work-related accident. Cullen was a good foreman, he thought. He made a mental note to praise the man in his evaluation report.
He climbed into his Audi 5000S. He was proud of it, proud of the luxury he could now afford. As soon as he pulled out onto the highway, he turned up the air conditioning, then switched on the radio to catch the national headlines. He wanted to keep his mind off Stacey until he reached the hotel.
When he arrived there, the carhop took his car and he walked into the lobby, a large, plushly carpeted room lined with soft couches and easy chairs, richly paneled walls, oil paintings of bucolic landscapes, chandeliers, and rich-looking velvet-curtained windows. As it was the middle of the week, the hotel wasn't quite full. Still, the lobby was filled with guests milling around and conversing. Some had come off the golf course and tennis courts and were still dressed in their sports gear. A number had come in from the pool and didn't seem to mind standing around in wet bathing suits, robes, and sandals. He caught the scent of suntan oil and admired some of the guests who had captured a bronzed polish.
A number of elderly guests had circled around a card table and couch to his right. They were already dressed for dinner even though there was still a good hour and a half until the dining room opened.
He liked the informal relaxed atmosphere and found the contrast between this and his project site invigorating. He was glad now that Stacey had agreed to visit and that he had booked them into this resort. They would have a good time. He stopped at the front desk, recognizing that the young woman behind it couldn't have been the woman he spoke to earlier in the day. She had sounded much older.
"My wife was supposed to check in. The name is Oberman."
"Oberman? Yes, I have a note here."
"There's a number to call as soon as she arrives."
"Yeah, I called in and left it. She's arrived?"
The receptionist studied the card before her and then went to her papers at the front of the desk. She sifted through all of them and then looked up, still smiling.
"No? Well ..." He looked toward his box. "Is there a message for me, David Oberman, Room 205?" She went to his box.
"No message," he repeated as though he had to confirm what he'd been told. "And she hasn't arrived."
"No, sir. Not since I came on about fifteen minutes ago."
David didn't move. He just stared at her. Some other guests interrupted, inquiring about how to reserve the racquet ball court. He turned around and for a few moments stood rooted to the spot, dumbfounded, looking at the conglomeration of guests. Then he moved quickly, as though jolted out of a daydream, and rushed to the elevator.
When he got to his room, he looked about as though he expected to find some evidence of Stacey's arrival. Everything was as he had left it in the morning. The emptiness struck him as a sharp blow to the stomach. He went to the phone and requested that the hotel operator ring his home. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally he hung up.
He went to the bathroom and rinsed his face in cold water. Then he stood looking at himself in the mirror.
"Where the hell is she?" he asked his image. The dead response was deafening. He had no answers, no ideas. Why wouldn't she call if there were to be any delays? Why wouldn't she call if anything happened on the road? Something was wrong; something was very very wrong.
He had another idea and strode back to the phone. He called Cynthia Grossman, their closest neighbor in Mount Kisco. Her daughter answered and then went to fetch her mother.
"I hate to bother you, Cynthia," he said when she answered.
"David? What's happening?"
"That's what I'd like to know. Did you by any chance see Stacey leave today?"
"You mean she's not there yet?"
"No, and I'm beginning to panic."
"Jesus, David, she left a little after one. I was out front when she left. We talked for a few minutes before she pulled away."
"A little after one?"
"Yes. I had just finished watching my soap opera, so I'm sure about the time."
"What the hell ... All right," he said.
"What are you going to do?"
"I guess I'm going to have to call the police."
"She should have been here more than three hours ago," he said.
"Call me as soon as you find out anything."
"I will, Cynthia. Thanks."
"My God," she repeated just before he hung up. He sat there with the receiver in his hand.
"This is ridiculous," he mused aloud, but there was absolutely nothing he could do ... He had to call the police. The hotel operator was baffled at first.
"The police, the police," he repeated. "I've got to talk to the police."
"Yes, sir. Is there anything hotel security can do for you?"
"Er ..." Yes, he thought, maybe he should start with them. Being local, they would probably know how best to proceed. "Yes, please send someone up to room 205."
"Right away, sir," the operator said.
He cradled the phone and sat back to wait, now impatient with every passing moment. An unusual state for a man who knew how to cruise through any crisis.
Stacey pulled and tugged on the doorknob. She tried to pry it open by working the tips of her fingers around the doorjamb, but all she succeeded in doing was scraping herself so badly that her fingers stung. Her efforts to pry off the boards that closed up the windows met with similar results. They had been bolted into the interior casing with large screws impossible to wedge loose. Frustrated, she pounded and screamed, but there was no response. She stood by the door, listening and waiting.
Finally, she heard the sound of a child's laughter. It wasn't Tami's; it was the other girl's, Shirley. Stacey strained to catch Tami's voice. Was she all right? Stacey was sure that by now Tami was petrified. She might even think I deserted her, Stacey realized.
Visions of her daughter's panic filled her with renewed energy. She went at the door again, this time literally attacking it, kicking and pounding it with all her might. She drove her shoulder against it; she clawed at the sides until her fingers began to bleed, but she disregarded the pain. She was determined to make an enormous racket until someone came to free her.
But no one stirred. Exhausted, she pressed herself against the door and sagged to the floor, sobbing hysterically until she could only gasp. She tried to fight back the panic, but the terror of being in a dark, sealed room, and the realization that her daughter was at the mercy of these strange people, engulfed her. By the time the lock on the door was turned and the door was opened, she was babbling incoherently, her face pressed against the hardwood floor.
Gerald had to push her away from the door to get it completely open. She slid along, the friction burning her elbow. She was shaking uncontrollably, moaning. The tips of his work boots were inches from her face. She looked up from them; from this position, he appeared even more enormous than she had first thought. He seemed to grow right before her eyes.
"Where ... where ... where's my daughter?" she asked.
"She's playing with Shirley," the woman responded. She was standing right behind him, holding a tray. "I have your dinner."
The man crossed to the lamp by the bed and turned it on. Stacey tried to sit up. The tremors in her legs and arms were so great she fought for control. She pressed the palms of her hands against her face and then brushed her hair back. In the weak lamplight, the man and the woman looked pale and deadly, like animated corpses. The shadows around the man's eyes were deep and dark and the lines in the woman's face had deepened from when Stacey first saw her. It was as though within their house they could become their true selves. Ghouls.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Maddening"
Copyright © 1987 Andrew Neiderman.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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