Schram had spent Sunday morning doing a light routine with his weight training set. He had not slipped since prison, thanks also to his hard labor at the Goodwill warehouse. He had also used his morning workout to plan his afternoon. He reminded himself that he needed to maintain control. He visualized controlling himself. He would leave no evidence at the scene. He would take no souvenirs. When angry, he would act soft and reserved. When lustful, he would pull back and not ravish her. There would be no ripping of clothing. It would be more like a striptease. He would rape her so gently.
He repeated these visualizations until he felt confident he could obey his own rules even in the heat of the moment or if the situation turned bad all of a sudden. He reminded himself of the consequences of failure. He would never go back to prison.
He didn’t need to remind himself of pleasures of doing it right. He was already enjoying the thought of Steele learning about the murder, perhaps on the radio as he drove to work Monday morning. He would know the victim was another scapegoat sacrificed for him. The victim, a surrogate Donna. Steele would know he was the one responsible and that he was the ultimate target. Steele would be Judas in a living Hell, but tortured subtly as a shrink should be tortured—psychologically, over and over again.
Schram showered and dressed in a preppy outfit he’d pieced together from the racks of the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store across the street from where he worked. Brown penny loafers, argyle socks, Docker’s khaki pants, white long-sleeve turtleneck, and herringbone tweed sport coat. He put a white handkerchief in his pocket. He gooped his dark hair and gave himself a spiky look. He looked ridiculous, he thought, but he’d seen Steele dress similarly. This was practically Steele’s uniform. That was part of it.
The other part of it was that he needed to look like a respectable college student to infiltrate Donna’s world. He would need some additional supplies. He had some time. It was still before noon. He took a bus to the Loop and got a transfer for the El train. Here he would procure his supplies. Everything he needed was within walking distance.
He walked into a Walgreen’s Drugs, where he purchased a pair of sterile plastic gloves, thin but strong, and a shower cap. He paid in cash. He walked a block west to a Speedway mini-mart. He went straight to the men’s room and bought a condom from the machine. He handled the coins with his handkerchief. He touched nothing else. He pushed the door open with his shoulder. Then he bought a large glazed donut for a dollar and walked out eating it. What bad guy stops for a big donut on his way to commit rape and murder? he asked himself. His mind played for awhile on the delicious sound of the word—murder. He, Schram, had become a murderer. He remembered the nurse on her kitchen floor. She had been licked by his fire. Sweet.
Walking south a few blocks, he saw a Target department store. He went in and paid for a student’s backpack and a 12 ounce can of lighter fluid. He placed the can in the pack. As soon as he was outside, he put all his supplies inside the pack, throwing away the Walgreen’s bag and receipt.
Now he needed only the ligatures, a nice word he’d learned in prison by reading mysteries. He had to go far to find the Ace Hardware store. He walked a dozen blocks, doubling back to find it. Inside he went straight to automotive, found the display of bungie tie-downs. He picked out six of various lengths, the heavier type. They all had plastic-coated steel hooks on both ends. Their elastic was covered with a stretchy fabric. Ideal. He turned down the bag and the receipt the clerk offered him, but just carried the cords out of the store in his right hand. It would make a hell of a whip, he thought. Once he got outside, he placed them into the backpack with the other stuff. He was ready.
He found the subway entrance and took the train up to Evanston like any student might. He got off before the main stop because he had thought of another item he’d need for the afternoon’s business. The Italian restaurant on Garland just off campus had opened for lunch. He saw a group go in and followed them a moment later. There was no one at the cash register or at the hostess’ station when he entered. Schram strode up to the counter and helped himself to a paper menu and a book of matches. He opened the menu and scanned it. Then he placed it back on the counter, turned and left, acting as though this were just not the place he had hoped it would be. But he was acting for no one, he was sure, because no one was there to see him. He slipped the matches into his coat pocket. They were printed with the words, “Donatello’s Fine Italian Trattoria.” He was glad he had them. They made him feel warmer. The wool coat he wore warmed him too, as clouds rolled in overhead and the wind took on a chill. Not uncommon for May in Chicago. Schram knew that Steele and Donna had eaten at the restaurant recently. He’d heard them talk about it on the phone.
Schram hiked the sidewalks between the large buildings on the Northwestern University Campus. He was impressed by the size of the campus. He was looking for the student union. Finally he found it. He stood in line and bought himself a mug of coffee for 50 cents. No one gave him a second look. Then he carried his coffee over to a large bulletin board that was labeled “Places to Rent.” He surveyed the notices posted there, looking for “Summer Sublet.” He passed over several until he found one written in a pretty hand. The notice read:
Summer Sublet -- June 1 – August 31
Have your own room in clean, well-lighted place
Prefer mature student, male or female okay
$500 mo, $500 security deposit
He tore off one of the little strips of paper at the bottom where the sign maker had repeated her number for the first ten interested prospects. Then he searched for another ad that met his criteria. He found it within two minutes. This one was produced with a color ink-jet printer. It said it preferred a quiet male graduate student open to living in a co-ed environment. Interested applicants were to call Dee at a number that looked like a cell phone number.
He was ready. He went to a long wall of pay phones, inserted a quarter, and called the first number. A woman named Georgia told him it was still available. She had some kind of accent, not southern, despite the name. He didn’t hear any people in the background. Yes, he could come see it right away. “Give me 30 minutes,” he said. She asked his name. “Andrew Steele,” he said. “And here’s my phone number in case you want to reach me. He gave her the number of Steele’s cell phone.
“About 1:30,” she said.
He called the second sublet immediately and asked for Dee. A woman with a low voice said “speaking.” He told her he was a quiet graduate student seeking a quiet summer sublet. He asked how many rooms were in the apartment.
“It’s a house, actually. We are one man and two women, she said, all private rooms, private baths, shared kitchen and living room.”
“May I stop by in an hour or so to see it?” he asked.
“Yes, I’ll be here,” she said. He liked it that she said I and not we. He liked her voice because it was low like Donna’s. He thought about all the conversations he’d heard between Steele and Donna. He had been eavesdropping on them, listening to their conversations through little speaker buds in his ears as he sat at a table in the front window of Starbuck’s across the street from Steele’s apartment building. The buds in his ears were attached by thin white wires to a receiver that looked like a chunky variation of an iPod. All the sounds from Steele’s kitchen, living room and bedroom came to him loud and clear. Schram had paid a man $2,000 to bug Steele’s apartment. He was a friend of a friend from prison. Schram didn’t know how he did it, but a few days after he’d asked for it, the guy was done. And he’d done it well. He said he’d placed some state-of-the-art bugs and a transmitter in Steele’s ceiling, a booster in the basement, and another transmitter directed to beam across the street. He was ex-FBI or something, just making a living now. Heartening to think how a man could change if he had to.
Many a weekday evening and some of his weekends too, Schram had sat at the window. He was patient, sipping coffee for hours over soduku puzzles or crime novels. Not only could he hear the sounds inside Steele’s apartment, he could also see his windows as the lights came on and went off. When Steele left or arrived by the front door, Schram could see it. When Steele left or arrived by car, Schram could see the Jetta on the parking ramp. Schram had Steele covered, coming and going.
Schram hung up the phone and slung the backpack over his shoulder. It wasn’t heavy, but he was. He felt like he was carrying a bag of big bills. He was someone to be reckoned with, a man on a mission. He had a delivery to make. He was sending a message to Andrew Steele that he no longer had any control over him, but, quite the contrary, he, Schram, had seized control. He would dominate. He would drive Steele to his knees.
And Steele had only himself to thank. Steele had pretended to care just to find out his secrets. Then Steele betrayed him to the court and turned him over to the prison guards. His captors had beaten and raped him because of Steele, but Steele’s betrayal hurt him more than all the physical abuse he had suffered in prison. Steele had raised his hopes, then slammed them down. Steele had pretended to understand him, befriend him, and lead him imagine that he could be someone. It proved to be all manipulation. Steele would suffer for that.
Schram found the first address, a large apartment house, and went to #8 as the woman had told him. He knocked. He was smiling when she opened the door. A pretty girl smiled back at him, introduced herself as Georgia, and let him in. She was not alone. There were two couples sitting on the couch inside watching basketball on TV. “These are my roommates and their boyfriends,” she said with that certain accent. She was ethnic—Russian? He had known some Russians in prison who sounded like this, but with much more accent.
“Do they all live here?” asked Schram nervously, as if he were concerned they might interfere with his studying.
“No, they just came over for the basketball game today. This is a rare party. Do you want to see the room?” Schram like her easy nonchalance. She was lively, comfortable in her skin.
“Sure,” he said.
She led the way down a hall, past a bathroom. Mirrors flashed. He saw white walls everywhere. His glance swept her body, the movement of her hips, the indentation of her waist. She stopped walking. They were inside the room. She turned to him suddenly. He noticed the bounce of her round breasts inside a blue T-shirt. Schram made a show of looking around at the room. He was thinking about her reaction to him. Was she attracted? Was she repulsed? “Will you go down?” he asked. She stared at him. He realized he had misspoken. “I mean will you come down in price?”
“I don’t have much wiggle room,” she said, shifting her weight to her other leg and pursing her lips a little. Was she trying to tease him?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Yours is the first I’ve seen.”
“It’s a fair price,” she said curtly. “The room goes for $750 per month during the year. We’re only asking $500 during the summer. My roommate got a sudden chance to do research with her professor in France. How could she say no?” She smiled at him. She was speaking to him beyond the mere requirements of their business now. Was she coming on to him? Did she like his looks?
He pretended to be considering the room. He was trying to remain aloof. Yet it was hard to ignore the fact he was alone with a pretty woman a bedroom. He tried not to imagine undressing her. He refused to imagine her naked in that double bed. He reminded himself of the people in the other room. Besides, she looks nothing like my mother, he thought, apropos of nothing. “I’m not interested,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He did feel sorry.
“That’s too bad,” said the young woman. “I could try to persuade you, but you need to feel okay about it on your own. I wouldn’t want you to be unhappy here.”
“You are very understanding,” said Schram, touched.
She escorted him back to the front door. Her body drew his mind along behind her. She gave off a fragrance that pulled him closer. She reached the front door and opened it, saying, “Well, I’m sorry it wasn’t to your liking, Andy. It’s Andy Steele, right?”
“Yes, it is. Good luck, Georgia.” He glided out to the sidewalk on wings. Though strongly tempted, he had maintained control. He did not allow her to melt him, even though he could tell she was attracted to him. He had hoped women would like him if he improved his body. Actually, Steele was the one who originally encouraged him to work out. Steele had been right about that, he might as well admit it.
He felt a little uncomfortable, however, to think that these women were simply responding to his act. He was pretending to be Steele, not himself. He had left Schram behind. Tonya in that State Street bar had liked him, thought him intelligent and good looking. Georgia had liked him too. But in both cases he was playing the role of Steele. Would they have been equally attracted to Schram?