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Recap #20: The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick

The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick

The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Title: The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick

Summary: There’s a stalker on the lose at the mall—and there’s no safe place to hide

Working at the mall is supposed to be fun. Trish’s job at Muffin-Mania is hardly intellectually challenging and her boss is a piece of work, but it’s worth it to have a job in the same building as her two best friends, the Hanson twins. And the hot guys who hang out there are an added bonus. But something isn’t right about this mall. It’s the oldest mall in the state, remodeled over a dozen times without rhyme or reason, and there are many strange nooks and secret passages behind the bright gleaming storefronts. Someone has been stealing housewares, furniture, and food, and now a mysterious man with ash-gray hair and a whisper-soft voice has started harassing Trish on the phone. He knows her secrets, and he has dark plans for her.

The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick - Scan by Mimi

The Mall by Richie Tankersley Cusick – Scan by Mimi

Tagline: Shop till you drop… dead

Note: I will use “Bad Guy” throughout my reviews to refer to the anonymous killer/prankster/whatever. Doesn’t mean it’s a guy. I will use the term “Muffin Man” to refer to our bad guy, because that’s what the text calls him. In fact, I want to call all future Bad Guys the Muffin Man. Wing, make this happen. Update your template.

WARNING: Just so you know, the entire book has a very rapey vibe (not just from the Bad Guy). It’s mild, because this is Point Horror, but I thought I’d better give a warning regardless. My own personal issues can be triggered by watching Brave, so honestly, there’s no guessing what can upset people. So consider yourself warned. Additionally, as I warned Wing when I first read this, “Just because I enjoyed it, doesn’t mean I won’t be using the phrase ‘statutory rape’ in my recap.” So, again, tread carefully if you have triggers.

Apology

First of all, I’d like to apologise for the delay in getting this up. It has taken me ages, because my skin keeps falling off my face, and sometimes the only way I can deal with it is to hold a wet cloth to my face to numb and moisturise the skin. Currently I look like the love child of Freddy Krueger and Sloth from Goonies.

Also, I posted this for Wing to comment on, and told her I was too tired to sort out all the things I wanted to link to. Wing went through and cleaned it up for me. I love Wing. Best friends means never having to hyperlink. ♥

[Wing: *preens*]

Initial Thoughts:

I had not read this before. I think I’d read the first few chapters a couple of times and bailed out, but I don’t actually remember anything from it, so I have no initial thoughts other than, “Oh god, when will the Cusick end.” So imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying it.

Disclaimer: You may require: an obsession with abandoned buildings, a high level of love for the Silent Hill franchise (especially SH3), and to be listening to the soundtrack as you read to enjoy it the way I did.

[Wing: I had all of those things and I did not enjoy it the way Dove did. In fact, I may have actively hated it. Possibly I wanted to burn things to the ground by the end.]

Recap:

We have a prologue. Of course we do, and it’s a bad guy POV. The bad guy has found the object of his stalking obsession, and he’s also pretending to be a mannequin in a shop window.

She’s the one.

She’s the one I want.

You're The One That I Want

You’re The One That I Want

*sings* Oooh-oooh-oooh. The one I neeeeeeeeeed, oh yes indeeeeeeeeeeed!

[Wing: Not nearly the greatest song in the musical.]

With this being Point Horror, what the Bad Guy wants to do to his victim is mild, but still unsettling. He wants to touch her. But only when everything’s perfect. And it’s a completely pointless prologue. The book would still stand without it.

Mwahahahaha!: 1 (Bad guy POV. Double points if the bad guy actually does an evil laugh.)

Then we’re into Chapter 1, where we meet our characters:

Trish Somerfield: our lead character, works in Muffin Mania. I like to believe that this means, back in the kitchen, Mickey Mouse has started his magic and it just won’t stop making muffins. Do not disabuse me of this beautiful fantasy.

[Wing:

Yes.]

[Dove: ♥]

Nita Hanson: One of Trish’s best friends. Works in The Latest Trend, a clothes shop in the mall. Has a “tall, willowy dancer’s frame and a classical sort of beauty”.

Bethany: Trish’s manager – the kind that lives to bully all of her underlings.

Storm Reynolds: A totally hot guy with an eye-pokingly stupid name. “With a name like that, he should be in the movies.” Nita says. He’s tall, dark and handsome. He also winks at Trish.

[Wing: GEE I WONDER IF THAT’S A FAKE NAME OR WHAT. IT’S SO SUBTLE.]

Nita tells Trish that the mall gives her the creeps. One of the sales clerks, Frieda, has gone missing. They wondered if it was a robbery, but the cash was still in the register and the doors were left unlocked. Frieda did not finish her close-up duties before vanishing. However, a neighbour said she might be going on a trip, so it’s no big deal.

They then talk about guys, Nita thinks Storm (Storm, FFS) is totally hot, then she notices another guy staring at Trish.

“Well, he was looking at you,” Nita said stubbornly.

“Was he drooling?” Trish tried to keep a straight face.

“Probably.”

“Were his eyes longing with desire?”

“I don’t know. He had sunglasses on.”

“Well, that makes a lot of sense, Nita. And that’s definitely the kind of guy I’ve always dreamed about. One who sits inside and reads his paper with sunglasses on.”

“Okay, go ahead and make fun. But when he turns out to be some famous celebrity who doesn’t want to be mobbed, and he goes back to his billion-dollar mansion all alone ‘cause you snubbed him, don’t blame me.”

As I’ve said before, Cusick can do good dialogue when she’s in the mood. And this is actually something I approve of – girl friendships, no hidden bitchiness, just cute banter. Thank you.

[Wing: I’ll agree. I quite liked the friendships in this one. It’s just everything else that was terrible.]

After this, Nita has to go back to work, then Bethany snaps at Trish in front of everyone, telling her not to goof off. Telling her off? Fair. Telling her off on the shop floor in front of everyone in a snappy and spiteful tone? Unfair. Again, Cusick is doing well to get her points across. (I told you I enjoyed this book.)

Next up, she has to serve the guy who Nita said was staring at her.

For a minute she thought it was a woman who had spoken, yet as she lifted her eyes from the pale, smooth palm, she saw a long, wispy beard on a pointed chin, long flowing hair that hid much of a gaunt face, and where the eyes should have been, only a pair of dark glasses. Helplessly, she stared into the two dark circles and saw her own puzzled reflections staring back at her.

The guy is creepy. When Trish serves him, she accidentally gets honey on her fingers – why is she not wearing gloves? Even in the 90s, food service employees should’ve been wearing gloves and/or using tongs.

[Wing: Hahahahahahahaha. Right. Nope. I worked in food service in the 90s, at a drive-in restaurant, and we did not have to wear gloves or use tongs. I can’t remember if the cooks did, but the other workers definitely did not.]

[Dove: my friend worked in the bakery opposite my office, and he always wore gloves and used tongs, and this would be around the same time.]

[Wing: I’m chalking this up to a UK/US thing. We’re such dirty teenagers.]

“You have lovely hands,” he said softly. “So small. Petite.” He was silent a moment, yet she could feel his eyes studying her hands, even as she tried to wrap them in the cloth. “The way that honey looks on your fingers… one could almost… taste it.”

One thing I got from this book, was how threatening Cusick can make sentences like that. For all that I bitch about Cusick, she really nailed the predatory character. As the book goes on, I actually feel for Trish. I don’t know if it’s my own personal history, but the fact that it’s all PG-13 and largely innocuous with a hint of predator really works for me.

[Wing: He is really, really creepy, and you’re right, Cusick did a great job of that. In fact, she’s great at making all the guys seem creepy, even when it MAKES NO FUCKING SENSE FOR THEM TO BE CREEPY.]

Cusick then blows it, because right after that, Trish decides he’s crazy.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 1 (Essentially, “crazy” is a blanket term for a bad person with no qualms about killing anyone and everyone. Often because they are “crazy”. Because that’s how mental health works.)

Next up, Trish goes to lunch and we get to meet Imogene Hanson. She’s Trish’s other best friend and Nita’s twin sister. “Imogene was straight and prim, with mousey brown hair and glasses that looked too big for her face.” She works in a book shop in the mall.

Trish tries to tell Imogene about the weird guy, and Nita cuts her off, stating that the mall is full of crazies.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 2 (+1)

Imogene then explains that the mall is the oldest in the state and has been renovated at least fifteen times, with no real plan or care, and there are loads of tunnels that people just don’t know about. And I love this. This kind of thing makes my black black heart grow three sizes. When I found out that Disney World has tunnels underneath for the staff to get around in, it made it all the more appealing. I adore old abandoned things, I love mysterious tunnels. I just love everything about this setting.

[Wing: I love this too, but I am skeptical. She’s making it sound like some sort of awesome old cathedral or historic house. Malls don’t tend to be so … I’m not even sure what word I want here. Then again, this is basically Phantom of the Opera set in a mall, so.]

[Dove: I hadn’t even thought about the reality of it, but you’re right, why are there so many tunnels and crawlspaces?]

[Wing: Exactly! What’s the point of them? They’re clearly not used for deliveries or storage or anything useful.]

Imogene then says that there have been thefts in her store. Nita points out that every store has thefts, but Imo’s point is that none of the alarms are going off – and it’s not just little things, it’s from every store, even furniture has been stolen. It has to be acknowledged that Nita is ridiculously annoying and vapid in this chapter, but she gets better.

They ogle Storm again, and have a discussion about him winking at Trish.

“Which proves he’s just a huge flirt. A flirt and probably fickle. A flirt and fickle and not to be trusted.”

“A man,” Imogene clarified soberly, and Nita looked amused.

Well, the sexism isn’t directed at women, but still, not cool, Cusick.

We then meet Wyatt.

Look at him, Trish – he’s just her type! Five foot – what – ten? Or maybe six whole feet if he stood up straight! Long hair – combed back – or is it greased back? Jeans with holes – oh, sorry – maybe he’s trying to be stylish – and a T-shirt with something…” Nita squinted her eyes, trying to see. “…something written on the front – wait a minute – yes – yes – okay, now we know he loves rock music! And the sexiest combat boots – don’t you think so, Trish? Oh – and that denim jacket with the sleeves cut off – the absolutely perfect touch!”

Like I said, Nita is a vapid, shallow moron in this chapter. And since this was the 90s, that’s pretty much how half the guys dressed (can’t totally get behind the denim jacket with the sleeves cut off though – although Seth Green rocked that look in Pump Up The Volume). It was either that, or jeans, shirt, expensive trainers (because, in my experience, you were either a rocker or a raver, those were the only two options – that might just be an England thing, though).

[Wing: Skintight Wranglers and cowboy boots were also a thing here. Among others. Flannel shirts over band shirts. Did you know the 90s are back, fashion-wise?]

[Dove: Good, I’m buying 100 pairs of bootcut trousers. There is no bodyshape in the world they do not flatter. Also, true. I’d forgotten about the grunge look being around too.]

[Wing: God, I love grunge.]

And for all of Nita’s teasing, Imo decides that it actually works on Wyatt. Nita then waits until Wyatt is near, and rams him with her chair, causing him to drop everything he’s carrying and the entire food court to cheer. By the way, I love that detail. I thought it was only us Brits that cheer when things go wrong.

Nita then goes into brainless-flirt mode, which Wyatt no-sells like a pro. He snarks that a guy carrying trays across the food court is really hard to see, then walks off as she’s busy batting her lashes at him. And that’s all it takes for Nita to decide she’s into him.

When Trish gets back to work, Bethany tells her that someone hit her car and she needs to go down to the parking lot to check the damage. She also acts as if this is all Trish’s fault. Cusick is really good at antagonistic characters, it’s just a shame that most of the time she cluelessly casts them as the protagonist or the best friend. Again, kudos for figuring it out here.

The employee lot is a long walk away, it’s dark (I was under the impression that the above scenes took place during the day, but it’s not, it’s night), and barely lit by street lamps and the moon above. There’s nothing wrong with her car at all. Then the pay phone starts ringing. After a moment she answers it.

“Hello, Trish,” the voice said. It was a whisper… soft and familiar…yet strangely unreal.

It sounded like dark reflections and ash-gray shadows.

“I’m eating the muffin,” he said. “It tastes just like you.”

Sensible chapter break.

Trish finds the security guard for the parking lot and tries to recount what happened. Only problem is, she’s barely coherent, so he assumes it’s a prank.

Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 1 (When the protagonist experiences something genuinely frightening, such as finding a corpse, or that someone has been in their room while they were home alone, and it is treated as an attention-seeking prank. Or, when something is done that is written off as a prank or a joke, but is actually pretty damned spiteful.)

Yes, this is justified. Trish is completely incoherent, so it’s not the guard’s fault he thinks it’s a prank. On the other side of that, she’s clearly scared out of her mind, and any sensible adult would see a teenage girl alone, shaking and barely able to get a sentence out, and immediately be alarmed. Any sensible person would ask her to calm down, take a deep breath and tell the full story once she was ready. It’s best to give the benefit of the doubt and find out it’s a prank, than to let a scared girl go off alone. However, PH, so screw her.

So, Trish heads back to work and bumps into Storm. They talk, she tells him why she’s outside, but doesn’t tell him about the phone call because he’ll think she’s “crazy”.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 3 (+1)

“What’s your name?” he asked, smiling.

“What?” She snapped back to the present, conscious now of his eyes upon her.

“I’d like to know your name,” he said. “Is that okay?”

Is it just me, or is the second time he asks really respectful? What the fuck, Cusick? I’m not used to guys not being dicks. Don’t worry, I’ve read the whole thing, I know you’re going to screw it up.

“You haven’t been working here long, have you? Let me guess.” He thought a moment, his eyes twinkling. “Five days. Five days exactly.”

“Yes,” Trish nodded, startled.

“Or should I say five nights. You don’t work days. You come in the afternoon and work till closing.”

“I… that’s right.”

“You look surprised.” He squeezed her shoulders, and that wonderful grin played at the corners of his mouth. “I always notice the really important things.”

There we go. Creepy guy is creepy. When she gets back, Bethany is giving her the hairy eyeball, and Storm notices her body goes tense. Also creepy. Trish says that she and Bethany don’t get along, and Storm says it will all be fine.

Cut to closing time and Trish is in Nita’s shop. There’s still three girls trying on dresses, and Nita is trying to get shot of them.

In this scene, Nita is a good friend, which makes her earlier vapid chapter seem really strange. She also continues to be a good friend throughout the book, so I have no idea why she was so shallow before. Trish recounts her scare, and Nita reassures her that it wasn’t stupid to pick up the phone, and it’s really creepy, and no, she is not over-reacting and… Cusick, did you get a ghostwriter? Hildy would not put up with this from a best friend. She would tell Trish that she was stupid and over-sensitive and totally crazy, and then probably tie her up and hand her over to Bad Guy as a “joke”.

Nita reassures her that he’s unlikely to call again, especially since Trish won’t be picking up any ringing pay phones after this experience. However, she ought to tell the police. God bless you, Nita. Thank you. What neither of them make a huge deal of is the fact that he knows her name. Yes, Trish mentions it, but neither of them give it the gravitas it deserves. Nita says it’s probably a weirdo who gets his jollies from freaking out people, however, using her name has personalised it. It’s either someone she knows who has a beef with her, but, unlike most Cusick books, none of her friends fall into that category – and Bethany seems unlikely, it would be too much hassle to do this to Trish; or it’s someone she doesn’t know, but has taken a shine to her. My god, I’m over-thinking this. I think this will probably be my longest recap of all time.

“Is your mom still out of town?” Nita looked sympathetic.

“Yes, she’s still on that stupid business trip flying around Europe somewhere,” Trish said gloomily.

Parents? What parents?: 1 (They’re in fucking Europe. They’re always in fucking Europe.)

“You know you can always stay with us.” Nita gave her a hug, and Trish hugged her back gratefully.

“I know. But it’s only for the rest of the week. And I don’t want to wear out my welcome until I’m sure I’m really being terrorized!”

It was meant to be a joke, but neither of them laughed.

Nita goes about closing up shop with Trish (and the three girls trying on clothes) in there. I know this a big no-no in retail. Hell, my previous employer used to moan about letting in employees if they were off shift. But since Nita’s manager, who she has mentioned several times, is never around, I’ll let it slide. My personal head-cannon for this is that Nita’s boss is manager in name only, and merely signs in and out, leaving her underlings to do all the work. Am I over-personalising? Yes, yes, I am, since that’s what my life has become.

Nita shouldn’t be alone, Frieda should be there, but “obviously nobody knew she was planning a trip”… which kind of makes it a missing person case, Nita.

[Wing: I want to know why the neighbor is telling this story at all. Clearly the neighbor is not an actual friend, and has no evidence of anything. It’s not like the neighbor is coming in to feed animals and water plants or anything.]

Trish finds a perfect dress:

She’d never seen such a beautiful dress. Long and flowing, it was all white satin and lace, like a gauzy cloud, with delicate trimmings of ribbons and velvet. Holding it at arm’s length, she ran a finger carefully along the low-cut neckline, the tiny row of pearl buttons down the front, the soft, full skirt. A princess might have worn this, she found herself thinking, and she smiled, feeling silly for her own romantic notions. Some long-ago princess in some passionate legend with some wildly happy ending…

… it sounds hideous to me, but Trish loves it, and Nita agrees. While Nita rings up the last-minute purchases, Trish tries it on. It makes her feel beautiful, there’s a bit of pity-me where she feels that Nita is beautiful, Imogene is smart and Trish is just boring. Whatevs. However, she keeps feeling a cold draught and feels like someone’s watching her.

[Wing: I’m pretty sure that’s nothing like what a princess would wear. Then again, it’s probably meant to be an updated version of this:

1phantomdress

So there’s that.]

She gets upset and tells Nita, but Nita points out that nobody is there. Three uses of the word “crazy”, but Nita’s reasonable otherwise. There is nobody there, Trish didn’t see anyone, she just felt like she was being watched. She’s probably still upset over the phone call from “the muffin man” today. Yes, that’s what they’re calling him.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 6 (+3)

After that, Nita tries to get Trish to buy the dress on layaway, but Trish says no, she can’t afford it. Then she offers to walk Trish to her car, get some food, then Trish can drop her off by her car. GIRL FRIENDSHIPS: UR DOING IT RITE!

[Wing: I KNOW! Barring all the fucking ableism, I was really getting into the book at this point. The FRIENDSHIPS. THE WONDERFUL FRIENDSHIPS.]

The walk to the car is eventful, Nita drops her purse and then thinks she can hear footsteps. Then they see someone breaking into her car. It’s Wyatt, who claims that he thought it was his, they have the same make and colour. Uh-huh, and if that’s the case, why was he breaking in? Shouldn’t he have keys? Since there’s no other car around that fits the description, Wyatt says he assumes someone stole the car. He doesn’t seem too bothered by this, and Nita is rightly suspicious, and Trish – again, rightly – asks if he can step away from the car before they get in.

Once they’re in the car, they have fits of remorse, especially when they see Wyatt is limping, and trade stories of how they’ve both tried to get into the wrong car before. [Wing: I don’t think this really happens. Readers? Has this ever happened to you?] [Dove: No, not me or spouse. But it has happened to my mother, but *thinks* my mother can be quite distracted when it comes to fine details.] [Wing: That really just supports my point that it doesn’t really happen. Your mother.] They go back and forth a bit, then offer him a lift. Wyatt is oddly non-specific about his destination, saying he’ll get out wherever they’re going. And at this point, after all of this nonsense, I’m giving out a point:

Red Herrings: 1 (Fairly obvious, but in Point Horror, there’s basically a neon sign above them stating “sinister as fuck”.)

They ask Wyatt to join them for dinner, he says he doesn’t have his wallet, it was left in the car (which we are still assuming has been stolen/misplaced). Given how this book ends, WTF, CUSICK? Why is this happening, other than to make Wyatt look: a) shady; and/or b) poor? It’s written in a way to make us think he’s hiding something, but the thing he’s hiding won’t be revealed by a wallet. [Wing: It’s pointless. It’s so fucking pointless. This is really what kills me about this book, the treatment of Storm and Wyatt. I DON’T GET IT. WHAT DID CUSICK THINK SHE WAS DOING?] Anyway, Nita offers to treat him and flirtily said he can make it up to her, which he point blank refuses. Trish offers to treat him, he says no handouts, so she says (without flirting) that he can owe her, which he’s fine with. I’m mentioning this because it is important in view of later scenes.

Later on, I realised that this is an ongoing problem in this book, so I created a brand new counter, just to see how many fuckups are made. I will count once per scene, rather than every sentence that bugs me.

Dove will asplode: 1 (+1)

[Wing: ILU]

Wyatt (who I keep wanting to call Wade, both are wrestling names, so I can’t figure out why [Wing: Because you’re afraid you’ve got some bad news?] [Dove:] says that he also does maintenance work and can pick locks (yeah, I don’t get how both are related), and Nita and Trish immediately say they’d love the mall after everyone left (again, not a smooth transition) and Wyatt shuts them down, saying they wouldn’t like it.

“The mall’s different then.” His voice hesitated, lowered. “You wouldn’t like it,” he said again quickly. “It’s not what you think.”

“What do you mean? It’s just a bunch of stores and food places.” Nita laughed, but she sounded unsure. “It’s just a place to have fun.”

“Fun?” He was silent for a long moment. “It can be fun. But nobody really knows that mall. Not really.” Again his voice drifted off, sank to a whisper. “It has… life. You know? Like… thoughts. Like… a weird kind of… mind.”

A long, uneasy silence settled down. Nita turned her attention back to her coleslaw. Trish sat there staring at her plate, her appetite suddenly gone.

As they leave, Wyatt asks where Trish lives, and she changes the subject. Once more, kudos for making your lead not a complete moron. Wyatt then asks to be dropped off on a street right near the mall, which is odd, because they’ve just come from there. Let’s just say Wyatt’s a bad liar and the girls are rightly suspicious of his paper-thin excuses.

Red Herrings: 2 (+1) and DED FROM STUPID: 1 (Exactly what it says on the tin. If you do not understand this trope, then you are the cause of this trope.)

Trish drives Nita back at her car, and on the way home her car conks out. Add to that, it’s foggy. Trish has actually seen horror movies, and knows that this is not a good thing. She heads back to the mall, since she’s nearer to it than her home. She trips over a discarded coke bottle and gashes her knees. Basically, Trish is having an awesome time.

[Wing: This is a pretty delightful scene, amazingly creepy.]

She tries plenty of doors at the mall, but they’re all locked. Finally, she finds a security guard having a cigarette out of one of the smaller entrances. The guard is wearing dark glasses and gloves. (Only the Blues Brothers can pull off sunnies at night: “It’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.”) He has thick curly black hair and a long scar on his face.

And this is the moment when Cusick gets to shine. This guy speaks almost exclusively with ellipsis.

“You should… shouldn’t be walking out there all by yourself. You should… be more careful.”

“I know – only this was the closest place–” Trish broke off as the guard turned away.

He walked off several feet, started to turn around, then stopped with his back to her. “You… you shouldn’t really be here. Not now.”

“Well – I just thought I could use your phone. I was so scared–”

“Of course,” he said slowly. “Of course I can do that for you. The important thing is that… that you came. That you… found me.”

“Yes, that’s how I feel, too.”

“Your knee,” the guard interrupted. “It’s bleeding. Let’s take care of you first. Then we’ll worry about… about the phone.”

See, now I think that the guy is an alien, and he knows what words mean, and he knows that people speak with pauses, but he hasn’t figured out why. Or maybe Cusick’s the alien. Who knows?

Despite the fact that this guy is clearly Trish’s stalker, he comes across as reassuring. He offers to bandage her knee and says she shouldn’t go out alone. They also have a chat about how he works nights, and Trish comments that he must get a lot of thinking done when it’s all quiet. He softens completely towards her after that. And I will give Cusick props that on the surface, it’s really reassuring – Trish takes everything at face value and is not scared – and there’s an air of menace about it too. See, Cusick, this is why I love/hate you. You can do awesome things, but most of the time you don’t.

Anyway, Trish knocks something over, and despite the dude’s protestations, oh, and btw, there’s a dead girl in the trash, and she has an ice pick stuck in her throat.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 1 (Cliffhanger endings of chapters for no reason other than to build false tension and piss me and Wing the hell off.)

Yes, it gets a point, because the chapter ends and then picks up right where it left off.

Security Guy calls someone on a walkie-talkie and asks for backup, and then tells Trish she has to leave before the police come, because by letting her in he could lose his job, because it’s against the rules. She cannot tell anyone what she saw. He says he’ll call her a cab, and asks for her address. He gives her money for the cab, and she lets slip that her parents are out of town until Monday. However, I’m not going to give that a count, because he’s basically being reassuring and grabbing information while she’s distracted by the corpse in the trash.

[Wing: This is handled very deftly, which is part of why I am so annoyed at the other stuff. Why bash us over the heads with guys whose creepiness makes no logical storytelling sense when you can do awesome like this, Cusick? What is going on?]

Trish gets home and channels Tess, by locking up the house soundly and checking every window and door. Yes, that’s right. I just compared a Cusick protagonist to Saint Tess. Does anyone want to group hug or something? I think I’m in shock. Also, she wants to call Nita, but she knows Nita will immediately be able to tell that something’s wrong, and Trish will tell her everything. And while we’re at it, let’s compare Nita to Saint Gina, because GIRL FRIENDSHIPS! AT FUCKING LAST!

The next day there is no mention of the mall in the news. No mention of the corpse at all. On the way to work, she tells Nita half the story – the part about breaking down and having to get a cab home and Nita berates her for not calling her, no matter what time, and I just want to hug the pair of them for being friends. Nita then tells her to get something to eat because she doesn’t look well and she’s acting a bit spacey – she can’t figure out why the mall isn’t a crime scene – and she “can’t take on Bethany in this condition.

When they separate, Trish finds a security guard, this one is a “grandfatherly” type and describes last night’s security guard to him. He points her in the direction of Roger, who is not the right guy and doesn’t have a scar. She asks him about the night guards, but he says that after 10:30 the mall switches over to alarms, they don’t have night guards.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 2 (+1)

Once again, I’m giving it a point because the chapter ends in the middle of the scene. Even more so because the tail end of that scene is pointless, it adds nothing to the book, and we could have cut straight to Trish doing what she does next. Which is re-trace last night’s steps, and check all the dumpsters. Which is when Storm catches her. She gives a lame excuse about looking for Nita’s gloves in the trash, then asks Storm what he’s doing there, if he was on break, he ought to be the other end of the mall.

“Well, would you believe me if I said a little bird told me some cute girl was digging around in the trash cans, and I couldn’t resist finding out who it was?”

Trish looked at him suspiciously. “What little bird?”

“Come on.” Storm shook her arm and chuckled. “I happened to be getting some stuff in the Gourmet Shop when one of the girls came out of the stockroom and said someone was out there scavenging. Someone – meaning you.”

“You mean people saw me?”

Storm tried to look solemn. “It’s all over the mall now. Your reputation’s shot.”

It would be kind of cute, if I didn’t hate Storm. And I wish I hated Storm for the logical reason that he’s creepy, but mostly it’s because he has a stupid name, and when we get to the end of this recap, I’m really going to explode about him. I refuse to explode until I reach the logical point.

Trish heads to work, and accidentally collides with someone carrying a fresh tray of muffins.

That’s coming out of your paycheck,” Bethany snapped, hovering over Trish as she knelt to retrieve the damage. “Being late to work – being careless – I promise you, that’s all being written up!”

“It was an accident,” Trish mumbled, close to tears. “I didn’t see–”

And antagonizing management,” Bethany broke in. “And let’s not forget being rude to customers!”

“I have never been rude to customers!” Trish protested hotly, standing up and confronting her. “I have never once been rude to a–”

Her words died in her throat. Standing at the counter was a tall figure with flowing gray hair… a gray beard… sunglasses…

“If I say you’ve been rude, then you obviously have an attitude problem.” Bethany was seething.

“I – I–” Trish stammered, but Bethany grabbed her and gave her a shove.

“Now clean that up. And don’t you ever embarrass me in front of the employees again!”

Yeah, Bethany is a horrible manager. I’ve known loads of managers like this (and I fucking danced the EPIC DANCE OF JOY when three of them got simultaneously made redundant last month). I hope that Trish flips out and rams the muffins somewhere unpleasant for Bethany.

Instead, Trish does what I always do when I’ve been humiliated by management, which is have a good old cry in the loo. Only Trish is crying over the fact that Muffin Man was there, Bethany was a turbo-cow in front of the entire eatery and last night she found a body and nobody knows anything about it.

At long last Trish opened the door and came out. She turned on the water full blast and splashed it over her face – again and again – until her heart began to settle back into her chest and her breathing was normal once more. What am I going to do? She leaned forward over the sink and stared at herself in the mirror, feeling horribly sick, yet strangely detached. I can’t tell anyone. I wasn’t supposed to be here last night – they might say I sneaked into the mall – they’ll arrest me for breaking and entering. They’ll think I’m crazy – or worse – that I’m making everything up – a guard that doesn’t exist – a body that doesn’t exist…

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 7 (+1) and DED FROM STUPID: 2 (+1)

I’m sorry, Trish, I know you’re stressed and all, but I swear most police would be more concerned about the corpse than the fact that you were let in by a security guard after you had car trouble. Also, just to be the voice of reason, even if they did arrest you for breaking and entering, it’s your first offence, you work at the mall, your car is in the shop, all the evidence points to this being a non-malicious breakage of the rules, so worst case scenario is that you’d get probation – maybe community service. And also: YOU FOUND A CORPSE. For fuck’s sake, drop that idiot ball, because I was really liking you until you grabbed hold of it.

Trish obligingly drops the idiot ball and suddenly realises that she walked in on a murderer disposing of the body, and, hells bells, he knows her address and that she’s alone until Monday. That realisation makes her throw up.

It could only be a matter of time now for him to find her house, to discover where she went to school. Murderers were so good at that sort of thing, weren’t they, when there were witnesses to get rid of?

No.

Then she wonders why the murderer made her leave instead of killing her. There’s lots of “crazy” talk in her freakout, so I’m giving a blanket bump to Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 17 (+10)

Imogene finds her and asks her to come down to the loading docks with her because it’s scary, and Trish is agreeable, since she’s sure she doesn’t have a job any more.

The loading docks were located in the oldest section of the mall. To reach them required traveling a complicated series of underground passages and tunnels that seemed to wind forever but finally came out into the huge warehouses on the west end of the property. Trish had been there only once – on a quick tour her first day of work – and had hoped never to go back. Now, accompanying Imogene, she thought she’d feel better about the place, but it was just as unnerving as it had been before.

I want to work there. Working in the mall sounds awesome. Except there is nothing frightening about my local one. It’s not even closed in.

No Hidden Tunnels

No Hidden Tunnels

[Wing: Is that a see-through glittery silver horse in your mall?]

[Dove: Yes. Yes, that’s exactly what’s in there. I do not know why.]

[Wing: I want one.]

Anyway, it’s dark down there too, apparently they need to replace the lights. Health and Safety be damned! While Imogene picks up whatever they’re down there for, Trish gets a scare because she bumps into yet another person with dark glasses. It’s like Men In Black moved in to this mall – OH HELLS YES, THIS TIES IN WITH MY ALIEN THEORY.

On their way back they find what they initially think is a rat, but it actually turns out to be a wig and fake beard. Oooooh.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 3 (+1)

Trish is freaking out. Not only has she got all of the previous angst, now the Muffin Man wears disguises and could be anyone. Oooooh.

[Wing: Again, legitimately creepy! People who are good at disguises are terrifying.]

On the way back, Trish asks Imogene about her theory about shoplifting in the mall. Imogene says they’re using the tunnels and store rooms, since nobody knows the entire layout of the mall because it’s been built and rebuilt over and over and over. Imogene then gives her theory on Bethany: “she’s the most frustrated manager on earth” because she’s worked in every store and had to leave after failing because she has no idea how to deal with people. She’s also not worth Trish getting upset over. And I like Imogene too.

Trish decides she’s not even going to give notice, she’s just going to vanish from Muffin Mania and ask Nita to pick up her things. And I support that plan. Bethany is a terrible manager, and I bet it won’t be her first walk out. She asks Nita to do this for her, and Nita says she will, as soon as she’s got time, and also, why doesn’t Trish take the job that Frieda bailed on? But Trish says she doesn’t want anything to do with the mall now. In other news, the dress that was so pretty and perfect on Trish has gone missing. Just vanished. If it had left through the main door, the alarm would’ve gone off, so it’s a mystery. Imogene’s theory is looking likely.

As is the fact that Muffin Man stole it because Trish wanted it and he’s besotted with her. Not that Trish realises this yet.

Trish goes for a wander around the mall, and even though the text doesn’t say so, I want to acknowledge what a lovely belligerent act this is. Hopefully Bethany will spot her, and realise that as soon as Trish quit, she lost all power over her. I may be over-identifying with Trish here. At a social event, I bumped into a partner from a law firm I had walked out of, and she asked which floor I was working on now, because she hadn’t seen me in awhile. I cheerfully reeled off the name of the rival law firm and caused a magnificently awkward silence.

Anyway, before that side-step into the life of Dove circa five years ago, Trish was moseying around the mall. She finds herself outside a vacant store that’s undergoing works. It occurs to her that it would be a marvellous place to hide and watch, and even though she’s scared witless, she feels the need to check inside and see if Muffin Man is there.

Before she can, a “huge workman” steps out and frightens the life out of her. I’m going to assume this is because she’s completely on edge at the moment, and not because the working classes unnerve her. She runs full-tilt-boogie away from him, (“shoving people out of her path”) and ends up on an out of order escalator, where she realises nobody is chasing her. Then it lurches and she falls.

I have no idea how she falls, where she falls, how this happens, or anything. The description is like this:

There wasn’t even a warning.

As the escalator gave a sudden, violent lurch, Trish grabbed out wildly for the railing and touched nothing but air.

She runs downwards, so I’m assuming that it jerks up, and for some reason she’s unable to grab the railing and faceplants downwards on a moving escalator. However, given the very brief description, I can’t shake the visual of it literally coming to pieces, in an “exploded view” kind of way.

We have a sensible chapter break, followed by a brief bout of consciousness from Trish, where she sees Storm, Wyatt and Muffin Man, then passes out again.

Ok, she wakes up in hospital, and she’s in a lot of pain, and there’s a bandage on her face, so I’m guessing I was right in how she fell, but still – come on, Cusick, even I need more description than you bother to give.

According to the nurse, Nita and Imogene were at the hospital earlier, beside themselves with worry, and since Trish’s mom is in Europe (it’s not a country, you know! Be more specific!), their mom will be responsible for Trish until her own returns. Trish then thanks the nurse for everything she’s done, and I swear to god Cusick didn’t write this. I like the protagonist, she makes fairly good choices, she’s a nice person, her friends are good people, she displays manners… what the fuck is going on? Martha would never deign to thank any human being for anything. Hildy would never visit Belinda in the hospital. Kate wouldn’t even fall down an escalator, because she had a set routine, and using a escalator would deviate. SERIOUSLY, CUSICK, WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED? I KIND OF LIKE YOU RIGHT NOW!

Trish falls asleep, and when she wakes up it’s dark, and the Muffin Man is in the room with her. He tells her not to be afraid, and he was scared when she fell, he thought she was going to die.

“Who are you?” She was trying so hard not to cry, but tears were filling her eyes, streaming down her cheeks in the darkness. “Why are you doing this to me?”

There was a long moment of silence. When the voice came again, it sounded shocked and upset.

“You – you think I did this? That I could ever hurt you?”

“Please – please go away–”

“How could I ever do anything to hurt you – you’re my life! Do you understand? My…” His voice trailed off. “… My… life…”

He says he’s removed the call button, because he doesn’t want to be interrupted. If you’ve ever played Silent Hill 3, he’s basically Stanley Coleman from that. He adores her, and he’s creepy as hell with it, and damn, Cusick, again, well done. Because this is PH, all he really wants to do is touch her hair (which is a euphemism that Sweet Valley used too), but he also mentions the taste of the muffin. As I said before, maybe it’s because the creepiness cannot be overt, it actually works better for me. Because we all know he doesn’t just want to touch her hair, and the muffin he wants to eat… well, you get it.

Muffin Man reveals that he knows how pretty she looks in the white dress – and out of it. She threatens to call the police, and he says they won’t take her seriously. And I’m giving a count for that, even if it’s only hypothetical.

Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 2 (+1)

Because really, his argument should be, they will take you seriously, they will make a report, but the thing is, they won’t be able to find Muffin Man, and there’s not much they can do based on that.

“Someone will believe me!” She tried to draw away from him, felt his hand brush over her arm. “And they’ll come after you–”

“Oh, no, they won’t,” he said calmly. “No-one else has a place in our world, Trish – no-one else – just you and me. Soon… very soon… you’ll see that for yourself. But in the meantime…” His shadow pulled away again… hesitated near the window as if thinking. “If I do hear that you’ve talked about this – and believe me, I will know – then I’ll have no choice… but to hurt your friends. Nita, isn’t it? And Imogene?”

She threatens to never go back to the mall again, and he points out that Nita and Imogene still work there. Then he reels off where she lives, where her friends live and other scary details. He wants her love and she must not speak to “him”. Muffin Man forbids her from seeing him. (So, Storm, I assume.)

Who are you?” Trish murmured again. “For God’s sake–”

“You may call me… Athan,” he replied. “I am your protector. Your guardian… your devoted keeper. I’m very, very close to you… especially when you can’t see me.”

Nope, I’m calling you Stanley, because that’s who you’re acting like. Well, for continuity, I’ll call you Muffin Man, but internally I think you’re Stanley.

He leaves and Trish drags herself out of bed to get someone’s attention. Nobody believes that someone was in her room, but the nurse humours her and asks for a description, which Trish can’t give because Muffin Man stuck to the shadows.

The next day Nita shows up and they talk about work. Trish says she’s going back, Nita is proud of her for not being bullied by Bethany. Trish is ashamed that Nita thinks she’s so brave when the real reason is because Muffin Man threatened Nita and Imogene. *snuggles Trish*

“The workmen were drunk – they’d been drinking on their break, and when they got back, they just started working on the escalator and turned it on without even bothering to look up. They swore they never saw you. I thought you’d like to know.”

“So in other words I don’t have some crazy psycho killer after me, is that what you mean?” Trish forced a laugh, and Nita shook her head, chuckling.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 19 (+2) – also, I’d love to score something for the workmen being drunk, because, WTF? Why couldn’t they have just not have seen her? The escalator was cordoned off, so she shouldn’t have been there anyway. This just seems like it’s going out of its way to absolve Trish of any blame. And as a reader, yes, I thought she was a bit daft for doing it, but up to this point, I’d given her a pass anyway because she was frightened and stressed. The workmen being drunk was just a step too far, and now I’m ticked off again.

[Wing: Yeah, the fact that she did not notice the escalator wasn’t moving is ridiculous in and of itself. YOU NOTICE THESE THINGS EVEN IN PANIC. ESCALATORS DON’T LOOK LIKE STAIRS.]

Anyway, Trish goes home with Nita and Imogene’s mom, Mrs Hanson, and ponders the “him” that Muffin Man mentioned.

Someone at school? Storm? Wyatt? Someone else at work?

No, yes, maybe, no. You don’t know any other men, Trish, and you’re more interested in Storm, so it’s likely to be him.

By six o’clock, Trish is getting cabin fever. Mrs Hanson goes out, and her kids are at work but Nita will call to check on her. When the phone rings, it’s not Nita, it’s Muffin Man. He says they’ll be together soon.

Trish panics again, she wants to call her friends, but thinks he’ll know if she does. She doesn’t want to stay in the house, because he knows she’s there, so decides to cut through the back gardens to get to the library, leaving the lights and TV on, as if she’s home.

Once she’s at the library, it hits her that Muffin Man might be there too. Seconds later, Storm turns up. Trish is so panicked that Muffin Man could be anyone that she does not trust him for a second (clever girl). However, Storm verbally bullies, then physically drags her out of the library and into his car, citing that he’s “worried” about her. Trish says no (or some variation, such as “I don’t want to”, “please don’t”, etc) no less than twenty times.

I’m scoring this on both and I’m giving it double points:

Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 40 (previously All my friends are a bag of dicks – Something strange and evil is happening. Since I hate all of my BFFs, it’s bound to be one of them.)

I beat you because I love you: 40 (Abusive relationships in any way, shape or form.)

“Are you kidnapping me?”

To her surprise, he chuckled softly, giving her a sidelong glance. “Well… don’t think I haven’t thought about it. But I’m too young to spend the rest of my life in prison.”

Just FYI, Trish is in tears during this conversation. Fuck you, Storm. Fuck you with something rusty. And fuck you too, Cusick, for writing this. [Wing: YES SO MUCH FUCKING YES CUSICK DID WELL IN OTHER PARTS OF THIS BOOK ONLY TO SAVE UP FOR THE FUCKERY OF STORM AND WYATT.]

“You seem to have a pretty big thing against going home right now. And you sure look like you could use a good friend,” he said softly.

Trish stared at the windshield – at the thick black sky… at the full autumn moon.

“I feel like I could be a good friend,” Storm said.

“If you were a good friend, you’d have left me in the library,” Trish said wearily.

WTF? Dude, you just fucking took a teenage girl from a public place against her will. No, you cannot ever be a good friend. Fuck you, Storm. [Wing: HE CAN’T BE A GOOD ANYTHING HE IS TERRIBLE AND THIS IS EVEN MORE ABUSIVE ONCE YOU KNOW THE TRUTH ABOUT HIM.]

Dove will asplode: 2 (+1)

Hypocrites are hypocritical: 1 (Because it’s ok, when you do it.)

Storm then mentions her friends, and then gets all pity-me because when he was younger he moved around a lot and it hurt too much to say goodbye, and then his mom died, and fuck off, I don’t care, Storm. But Trish does. Fuck you too, Trish.

Storm says “She was beautiful. I missed her a lot.” and I’m going to have to take a time-out to have a rant about something I hate even more than the distasteful phrase “soul mates”.

I HATE DEAD PARENTS, OK?

My father died when I was nine, I loved him, but I would never say he was handsome. I wouldn’t say he was my best friend. And I didn’t let it ruin my life. I do not bring it up unless someone specifically asks, because I hate the assumption that ALL BOOKS perpetuate that it was my defining moment, that he was my BFF, that my life would be perfect if he hadn’t died. I HATE THIS SHIT, OK? For all I know, my parents could have hit a snag five years later and had a monstrous divorce (unlikely, but still possible). I do know that if he’d lived, I would have moved up north sooner, but this doesn’t necessarily mean I’d have been happier, I suspect, given my personality, I would’ve been bullied by northerners, rather than southern ponces. I hate everything about the dead parent trope. I hate the way it ruins a character’s life. Some of us took it on the chin and got on with life. And all this mournful shit generalises that this is the only way to deal with a parental death.

So, yeah, if you write a dead parent, take a different fucking route. For example, I got so sick of the soulful looks people would give me, the soft tone, the head tilt, and the gentle pats on the shoulder, that I started lying, saying my parents were divorced, and that he worked away from home. Nobody cared about that. Except the school counsellor, who thought I was in denial. No, just socially awkward.

I wonder if I’m going to get up on my soapbox in every recap now about something that’s unrelated to the story.

[Wing: Interesting to me is that I read this as him trying to use it to build a rapport with her, because she’s in a single family home, not that his mother had necessarily actually died. So while your rant is absolutely valid and an honest commentary on the way the majority of books with dead parents choose to tell a story, I wondered if it wasn’t a skewering of this very trope. And then I remembered CUSICK and what’s going on with Storm and HELL NO.]

Ok, back to The Mall.

They talk about what a turbo-cow Bethany is, and Storm says she won’t be around much longer. Like anyone reading this didn’t think that Bethany is going to be the first and only victim. Basically, he hits all of the conversation points that Muffin Man did.

Red Herrings: 3 (+1)

And on that note, he asserts that Trish is going back to work, he then speeds and watches her have a panic attack until she agrees that she is going back to work, at which point, he slows down again.

I beat you because I love you: 41 (+1)

And, then I’m quoting:

“I want to go home. Please – I don’t feel good, I–”

“This will make you feel good,” he said quietly. She could see his face in the half light. He was smiling.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 4 (+1)

And we pick up right where we left off, Cusick manages a line of description and nails it.

Almost immediately the trees closed in, pressing against the sides of the car, bowing over the roof and shutting out the sky. It was almost like being inside a tunnel, and as Trish stared fearfully out the windshield, the only thing she could see was a tiny stretch of gravel road ahead, illuminated by the headlights.

Storm tells her that he’s taking her to a “special place”, and Trish finds this just as serial killer-ish as I do and bolts from the car the minute he slows down. Storm chases after her, not bothering for a second to temper his attitude to take into account she is fucking terrified of her. Trish recalls that Muffin Man said “He is not what he seems to be.” Honestly, this makes no sense. Either Storm is the “he” and she is taking advice from her own stalker; or Storm is the stalker, in which case this sentence is completely irrelevant for her current situation.

Storm catches her, calls her crazy, and acts like she’s being completely irrational by reacting in fear to his sinister approach.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 20 (+1) and I beat you because I love you: 42 (+1)

I don’t know whether it’s intentional, but Cusick is really victimising Trish here. She makes her feel really bad for acting this way, and, let’s face it, that’s how abusive relationships work. However, I will explode later, at the correct point, so every time Storm is around, just keep track of all of his awful people skills. [Wing: Yes, Cusick does an amazing job of the abusive relationships around Trish (unintentionally for the most part), which would be fantastic if they were all meant to be abusive relationships. BUT NO. I am trying to refrain from saying more here because Dove wants to wait to the reveal, but JESUS CUSICK WTF.] He then coaxes a smile out of her (which she did not feel), and convinces her to get in the car again so she can see his special place.

His “special place” is not a euphemism for a kill site, it’s a abandoned ruin of a house. They talk about where they live, Trish changes the subject, and Storm is completely lying in his answers of where he lives. And again, WTF?

Dove will asplode: 2 (+1)

He then tells her an urban legend about the woman who supposedly lived in the house. Apparently she had “wild notions” that someone was stalking her. Then one day she vanished, popular theories are she either: (a) killed herself; or (b) was actually being stalked and was abducted/murdered by said stalker.

Trish is again, freaked the fuck out by Storm’s inability to get his mind out of the mortuary.

And then this:

“I’d like to go back now.”

“Trish…

In one swift movement he’d crossed the room and was next to her, his hands on her shoulders, his head bent low to her own.

“Trish, listen to me. I never would have told you if I’d thought it’d upset you. Come on, it’s just an old wives’ tale – nobody really believes in those anymore.”

She tried to pull away, but he only pulled her closer.

“Please!” Her voice rose. “I just want to get out of here.”

“Not yet.” Storm cut her off, and suddenly he was kissing her, his arms tight around her, pressing her close, and she could feel his lips, warm and soft, tasting hers, trailing down the side of her neck, into the sensitive spot on her shoulder.

“Stop it!”

She slapped him – hard. Gasping in horror at her own reaction, she watched as he recoiled in surprise and lifted one palm to his stinging cheek. For the briefest moment she thought a look of pure rage darkened his eyes – then, just as quickly it was gone, leaving his face shocked and slightly bewildered.

“Take me back,” she whispered.

He stepped away, his mouth set in a tight line.

“Okay, lady – you got it.”

That’s right, Storm. You shame that frigid bitch for not putting out when you’ve taken her to the middle of fucking nowhere against her will, and then told her about a woman who was stalked and killed. What kind of emotional fuck up would not want to bang right there in the ruins after such sensitive wooing. You complete and utter asshat.

I beat you because I love you: 52 (+10) and also another Dove will asplode: 3 (+1 I’d give it a hundred, but it’s not a real count, it’s just a marker for my inevitable explosion because, oh yes, words will be motherfucking had about this. Oh. Yes.)

The drive back is in a “stony silence”. [Wing: I am actually surprised she didn’t go for a stormy silence.] Oh boy. I have so many words. Storm takes Trish to her street, when Trish calls him on it, he says he’s just taking a different route to the library. He drops her at the library and stays there until he’s gone. Again, she’s doing the best she can and she’s actually in a lot worse a situation than Saint Tessa, so I’m giving her as many kudos as I can here. She heads back to Nita’s house, and once inside, she realises there’s a car outside the house. Wyatt is in it.

By the time she psyches herself up for a second look, the car is gone, then arrives home. Another “insane” is in there somewhere.

Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 21 (+1)

Nita notices that Trish is both upset and bedraggled. Trish comes up with a convincing lie that she went for some fresh air and a dog chased her, so she cut through the backyards and fell. Trish is a far better off-the-cuff liar than Wyatt and Storm.

Dove will asplode: 4 (+1)

Nita then comforts her and gets her cocoa and chocolate cake. Nita is fucking awesome at being a best friend.

Imogene then arrives home. Ladies, why didn’t you carpool? You work in the same place, and the scene feels like you get home no more than half an hour apart (more like 10 minutes, to be honest). I would totally wait for my sister for half an hour while she finished up. Imogene went to a movie, that’s why she’s back later. Even so, I stand by my statement. Wyatt was at the movie. And the movie was a romance.

In other news, Bethany wasn’t at work. Trish remembers that both Muffin Man and Storm said she wouldn’t be around much longer.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 1 (Recap! Recap! Recap! Something happened last chapter. Tell us about it! Tell it again. Then tell it one more time. Because otherwise we’ll forget.)

And quite frankly, Cusick, you’re lucky I didn’t whip out that count earlier. Trish recaps pretty much the whole book here.

The next morning, Nita and Imogene drop Trish off to pick up her car. As she drives, she puts in a cassette (aww, remember them?) and it’s not music, it’s Muffin Man, reprimanding her for telling on him. Even though she didn’t. He’s going to have to punish someone because of this. He then says she must be at the mall today, because tonight they’ll be together forever.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 5 (+1) and Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 22 (+1 “losing her mind”)

Trish now officially hits new highs on the freak-out scale. To the point where she decides to drive over to Storm’s part of town and wait outside his building… for the safety? Seriously, Trish, Storm might or might not be your stalker, but if he’s not your stalker, he’s a complete monster of a guy, so yeah, no. BAD PLAN.

So, she drives over to the apartment complex he said he lived in and she can’t find his name on any of the mailboxes. So she keeps driving. At one point she thinks she’s being tailed. Another time, she pulls over and checks the trunk and under the car, just to make sure Muffin Man isn’t somehow attached to her car.

Finally, she goes to the mall and sees Wyatt. She asks him if he was outside her house last night, and he points out that his car was stolen, so no, it probably wasn’t him.

She then sits down and mentally recaps the entire book again.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 2 (+1)

Trish then goes to work, where Bethany is absent. And Nita comes in to check on her and give back her flashlight.

McGuffin, ahoy!: 1 (An attempt is made to casually reference something that is clearly going to be a plot point at a later date. And it fails to be casual.)

A co-worker says that Trish got a phone message. It’s a bit garbled, but the key elements are: Imogene and life or death. Oh, and to hurry. [Wing: Considering the “life or death” part, this coworker is RIDICULOUS in giving that message. WTF?] [Dove: Wing makes an excellent point. The scene reads as if the co-worker moseys over and says something like, “We’re out of blueberry muffins, I’m going on my break in ten minutes, on and BTW, your BFF might die. Are we good?” No sense of worry or urgency at all.]

Muffin Man gave no specifications as to where to hurry to, so Trish pegs it over to Imogene’s work. The first person she asks is completely unhelpful, the second says Imo went down to the loading dock.

She heads down there, and in the tunnels she can hear someone approaching her round the corner, she sees an ice pick covered in blood and flees.

She gets in the elevator. I’m not sure if it’s ever described, but I’m picturing the elevators we had when I worked in retail – metal cages, essentially. [Wing: Pretty sure it’s not cage style, just because of what happens in a moment. That’d let her see too much.] [Dove (after a quick re-read): later in the text it does use the word “cage”, so I’m assuming cage with solid roof and floor. Still, confusing.] [Wing: Well damn, that’s just weird. Plus the fact there are two sets of elevators you have to use to get down to the dock, and nothing description-wise makes sense.] It goes straight past her floor. This happened a lot where I worked. It’s like shops deliberately pick elevators that refuse to do what the controls may indicate.

Then it stops, and goes back down to D Level, which is the docks level she’s just come from. Then it moves upwards again. It stops at her floor (the basement level) but the doors won’t open. Finally she pries them open and the elevator is below the floor she needs, and she has to climb up to get out.

And afterward, she never really knew exactly what it was that had stopped her from climbing out – that had stopped her from going out through that door at that precise moment.

For suddenly – something fell into the doorway and hung there – blocking her escape – swinging back and forth – slowly – from the roof of the elevator.

And as her eyes widened in horror, the thing slipped down a little more… swaying gently… right in front of her face…

It’s Bethany’s corpse with a note pinned to her throat using an ice pick “YOU’RE LUCKY. THIS COULD HAVE BEEN IMOGENE.

This is dumb. However, I’m just going to assume that Muffin Man is sitting on the roof of the elevator, and it’s a solid roof, not a cage, and he’s somehow playing with the controls up there. [Wing: I found it kind of creepy, except I was still in a rage over Storm, so nothing mattered anyway. And now I’m curious, do elevators have controls on the top?] [Dove: Apparently so. However, they work at a much reduced speed.] [Wing: I MAY NEVER GET INTO AN ELEVATOR AGAIN.] When it stopped, he hurled the top half of Bethany over the edge, keeping hold of her legs. Still, I’ve just sat here for ten minutes working out the logistics of it, which means I’m not completely immersed in this story.

Bethany’s body tumbles to the floor and Trish realises Muffin Man is on the roof. [Wing: This is what is creepy to me, someone standing above me on an elevator and I can do nothing about it.] She closes the door again and the elevator starts moving, at high speed towards the ground.

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 6 (+1)

Trish wakes up after some nonsense where she thinks she’s dead. The elevator is at docks level, so it didn’t fall to the bottom (what is below the docks?) and she manages to get the elevator to take her back to the basement level. She successfully gets to the main level and everything is dark and locked up.

And I’m wondering why the fuck Muffin Man didn’t just abduct her when she passed out in the elevator. Seriously, that would’ve made so much more sense.

Speaking of a lack of sense, Trish starts carrying the idiot ball like it’s a fucking security blanket.

Trish turned slowly, taking a long, careful look around her. I’ll just let myself out. Somewhere. If the alarm goes off I’ll just…

What?

Immediately she was filled with a cold sense of dread. What could she do? Tell the police she’d gotten sick and fainted? Gotten locked in? They’d want to know how – and then she’d look suspicious, like a shoplifter who’d lost her nerve and gotten caught. Tell them about Bethany? Tell them she’d accidentally gotten locked in with a dead girl? But of course he would have moved her by now – of course the body would have conveniently disappeared – just like that other one. They’d never believe her – she’d be in more trouble than she’d ever been in her whole life.

As we all know, the police in PH are woefully inept, and write everything off as a prank from a jealous ex. What she should do is call the cops, and explain that she’s got a dickhead of an ex-boyfriend who is trying to kill her. Then they’ll just mock her angst, probably call her “little lady”, and let her go.

She finds a bank of payphones, tries to dial 911, despite her fear of being locked up for being locked in a building, but all the phones have been destroyed. This is a massive mall, Trish. Go try more phones. I find it hard to believe he’s broken every phone in the building. In fact, just break a door, the alarms will go off, and the police will come. Also: being reprimanded by the police is still preferable to being raped and murdered. Just saying.

DED FROM STUPID: 3 (+1)

There’s an open exit, but in the doorway is a bag with Nita’s sweater in it. She runs to the shop where Nita works and thinks she hears a voice calling her name from the dressing rooms. In one of them, a portion of the wall is missing. Wyatt is in the crawlspace and tells her to come with him.

Dove will asplode: 5 (+1)

Trish throws a paperweight at him and runs into the crawlspace. You know, as opposed to out of the mall, given that there was an open exit and she’s convinced Wyatt is Muffin Man.

DED FROM STUPID: 4 (+1)

Trish has a revelation that she’s behind the dressing rooms and can see through a two-way mirror. That’s why she felt so exposed when she tried on the dress. Trish, you literally crawled in from the dressing rooms. I’ve been giving you a pass thus far, but seriously, I’m pulling back. [Wing: Yes, true, but that mirror thing is creepy as hell.]

DED FROM STUPID: 5 (+1)

Anyway, she travels through the tunnels, it’s dark, there’s spiders and mannequins, blah, blah, blah. Finally she finds herself in a room that’s lit by candles, there’s food and drink and a wedding cake. In the next room, her pretty dress is there, on the bed.

And Muffin Man’s there. Nita and Imo are fine, and cheerfully oblivious that they were ever in danger. Trish calls MM “Wyatt” and he clarifies that he’s not Wyatt. He then implies that he’s Storm. He’s not.

Trish tries to be agreeable, so as not to anger him, and says she knows he cares for her, and she wants to see him. Yet again, he is described, then he peels off that disguise. OMG, he could be anyone. Yeah, we know, we had that revelation ages ago.

This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 3 (+1)

Trish is told to get into her “wedding dress” [Wing: Music of the Niiiiiiiiiiiiight.] and while she does, Muffin Man rants to himself about Wyatt and Storm without saying their names. Muttering about how they’ve been following him, and one of them put his hands on Trish. He just goes on and on, and there’s nothing of interest in it, except eventually he moseys off, presumably to murder Storm and Wyatt. (God I hope he kills Storm.)

Her head fell forward, and hysterical sobs rose in her throat. She choked them back down and flattened herself against the wall, her eyes frantically sweeping the chamber, the ceiling – even the floor. I’ve got to get out of here – I can’t be here when he gets back – Storm’s face – the strength of him, the warmth of him as he’d pressed her close. Trish covered her face with her hands and gave in to total despair. Why didn’t I trust him? Where is he? If he dies, it’s all my fault.

No, punkin, [Wing: Punkin?] [Dove: deliberately spelled phonetically, it’s an endearment we use at work.] it won’t be your fault. Why is Storm suddenly such a good guy now that you’ve met a real bad guy? This is not ok. I’m scoring this, but it’s actually the opposite of that trope. Usually the protagonist suspects a perfectly normal, somewhat introverted, guy for the simple fact that he doesn’t make much of an effort to get to know her. In this case, she got to know Storm and found out he was too close to the definition of “rapist” and certainly dead centre on the definition of “abusive” and didn’t want to know him. Now she’s met someone else who is both rapey and abusive, she’s totally in love with Storm? No. Not cool, Cusick. [Wing: So much not cool.]

He’s the killer! He’s the killer! He’s … my LOVAH!: 1 (The protagonist has spent 200 pages convinced he’s the bad guy, but now we’ve found the real killer, they’re going to start a relationship. Uh-huh.)

Oh, and all the above? Not my promised asplode. Not even close.

Trish decides to kill herself rather than be murdered, but cannot find a weapon. But someone (not Muffin Man) turns up and tells her to put out the lights. Then, in the darkness:

“Police!” Wyatt shouted. “Freeze, dammit! Police!” Without any warning a gun went off – explosions echoing back and back and back through endless caverns of night. Trish screamed and covered her ears.

“I’m a cop!” Wyatt yelled again. “Freeze!”

“Let go!” a second voice answered back. “It’s me, you idiot!”

The scuffling stopped. As Trish huddled in her pocket of darkness, she heard a moan and then Wyatt’s voice, tense and angry.

“Where the hell have you been, anyway?”

“Was that my gun or yours?” the other voice groaned.

“I… think it was mine. Are you okay?”

“Are you?”

“No… I think I just shot myself.”

Shot yourself?”

“Relax. It’s just a scratch.”

“Way to go, Wyatt.”

Yes, these fucking morons are police. And now Dove will asplode in bullet points and swearing:

  • Why was Wyatt being such a weirdo when they went for food after work? If he’s a cop, he’d have money, so why was he pretending he didn’t? The girls knew he had a job, it wouldn’t be weird if he could afford to pay for himself. Was all of this strange behaviour some way to prevent the girls from seeing his badge/shield thing? Because, surely if Wyatt wanted to not show them, he could, you know, just not show them. It probably doesn’t live in his wallet. Unless he’s really stupid. [Wing: CUSICK WHY WOULD HE CARRY HIS BADGE WHILE HE’S UNDERCOVER? THE WHOLE POINT IS TO NOT LOOK LIKE A FUCKING COP.]
  • Why are Wyatt and Storm such bad liars? Why do they have no cover story already prepared? Why do they have to lie at all? Why do they give a good five-minute pause when someone says “which part of town do you live in?” See, some a friend-of-a-friend asked me that in a bar, I didn’t want to answer in too much detail (and I doubted the near-stranger wanted my exact postal address), so I said, “oh, south,” and moved on. They could do the same. Are they trying to hide their real addresses because they’re pretending to be teenagers, and teens couldn’t afford their own apartments on part time retail wages? Why not just pretend mom and/or dad own the apartment and they’re in Europe? Everyone’s parents are in fucking Europe.
  • Storm, seriously, as a cop you should be aware of “statutory rape”. If that girl is a minor, you step the fuck off. Ages are not specified, but she is at least sixteen because she drives, however, this could take place in a state where the age of majority is eighteen. And either way…
  • Additionally, Storm, as a cop, you should be aware of the concept of “sexual harassment” and “rape”. If that girl says no in any way shape or form (much less at least twenty times), you step the fuck off.
  • Storm, as a cop, you should be aware of “abduction”, which is taking a person against their will. Which is exactly what you did in the library. If someone doesn’t want to go with you, you step the fuck off.
  • Storm, as a human fucking being, you should be aware of people skills, and if you don’t have them, you should not be in a position where you have no clue whether you are reassuring or terrifying the girl you are supposed to protect. Basically, fake like a human being or step the fuck off.
  • Also, I suspect there are rules about getting involved with the person you are trying to protect. If she’s that hot, and she likes you back (that part is key), then friendzone yourself until the case is over, then politely ask her out. And if she says no, step the fuck off.
  • I’m sure there are more points, but I know Wing has bullet points of rage, so I’m sure she’ll catch what I forgot to mention, because believe me. I had a lot of fucking issues with Storm and Wyatt. [Wing: You’ve pretty much caught everything. The only thing I really have is WTF WAS CUSICK THINKING? I literally cannot understand what she was trying to do. I mean, I guess make readers think possibly one of them was the stalker, but how in the hell does anything they’ve done actually work with them being undercover cops? THERE IS NO LOGIC AND I KNOW I SHOULDN’T EXPECT LOGIC BUT GODDAMN. NOTHING MAKES SENSE.]
  • [Dove: Oh, one more thing: if you’re going undercover, why pick a name that screams “look at me”? Storm Reynolds. Seriously? Why didn’t someone with a brain talk him into choosing something like Steve Reynolds instead?] [Wing: He wants to be down with the kids these days?]

Anyway, Muffin Man grabs Trish, and I have no idea what happens, because Cusick’s as fed up with this story as I am and dissolves into barely coherent description, which she then caps off with the tried-and-tested protagonist faints/is she dead fakeout.

She wakes up to Wyatt giving her mouth-to-mouth, and Storm makes a comment about how he’s meant to be reviving her only. Because making out with an unconscious girl who cannot breathe is funny. I swear to god, once these two were revealed as cops, they’ve become a “comedy” duo. They just joke around with each other, all the time. And “all the time” has been: (a) when they’re trying to escape a murderer; (b) when they’re trying to save Trish from the grip of a murderer; and (c) when Trish was nearly dead because of a murderer.

“We’ve had our eye on ol’ Roger here for a long time.” Wyatt sighed, positioning himself next to Storm, leaning back against the wall. “Things around the mall disappearing – people around the mall disappearing – except we just never could quite figure out how he was doing it.”

“And you two are policemen?” Trish stared at both of them in amazement.

“Undercover.” Storm nodded, looking a little ashamed of the ruse. “And we’ve had our eyes on you for a long time, too.”

Trish, keep up. You already knew they were policemen. It’s why you trusted them to escape Muffin Man.

DED FROM STUPID: 6 (+1)

“How old are you anyway?” Trish was still staring at Storm, who managed a weak smile.

“Older than I look,” he said.

Much older than he looks,” Wyatt said.

Again, fucking creepy idiots. [Wing: WTF CUSICK WTF]

“And then you had that accident on the escalator,” Storm went on. “I kept trying to get you to admit to me that you’d been running from something. I kept thinking if you’d just confide in me, we’d be able to do something!”

“But you were a jerk about it,” Wyatt sighed. “You wouldn’t say a word.”

“I couldn’t!” Trish protested. “He said he’d hurt my friends!”

“I told you that’s what the reason probably was.” Wyatt glanced over at Storm. “Didn’t I tell you that’s what the reason probably was?”

“And then that night at the cabin, I was still trying to get you to open up to me–” Storm began, but Wyatt started laughing.

“And that was the absolutely stupidest story I ever heard in my life! That whole thing about the crazy lady – where the hell did you come up with that!”

Again, with the victim-blaming. And also Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 23 (+1)

They basically rehash everything that happens, highlighting how woefully incompetent they are as cops, protectors and human beings in general. I mean, all the times Trish has been terrified of them, and Muffin Man clearly knew they were watching him, it wouldn’t really have been that much of a risk to say, “I’m a cop, I’m watching your stalker, it’s all going to be ok,” rather than abducting, molesting and terrifying someone who is already being stalked.

Anyway, nothing of interest happens in the final chapter, so I’m wrapping this shit up. I really hope if I missed any moment of rage or stupidity then Wing will catch it.

Final Thoughts:

Ok, so this was simultaneously a very good and very bad book. First, I loved that the lead character was not an asshole. I adored that her friends actually acted like friends. I loved the setting.

I pretty much hated everything else, and I’m too exhausted to repeat myself.

Wing, any input?

[Wing: That’s it in a nutshell really. I am so much angrier at this book than I am at most Cusick books, and I rage at them all the time. It’s because this one had so many moments of sheer awesome and then Cusick either just gave up and threw words at it to make her deadline or she legitimately doesn’t understand how abusive, rapey and victim blaming this shit is. My fear is the latter, because rape culture.]

[Dove: Yep, that’s it. When I said I enjoyed it, I was refreshed by having a good protagonist with real friends, and I loved the setting (even though it’s an unlikely one), but Cusick made so many bad choices here. I definitely get Wing’s rage on this, because the idea that Storm is a cop is terrifying. There were so many things she got right (creepy fog scene, scenes that showed friendship), it’s like she had to be as offensive as possible when it came to Storm’s behaviour to balance out.]

Final Counts:

Dove will asplode: 5
DED FROM STUPID: 6
Dun-Dun-DUNNNNN!: 6
Fuck My Little Pony! Friendship is not magic!: 40
He’s the killer! He’s the killer! He’s … my LOVAH!: 1
Hypocrites are hypocritical: 1
I beat you because I love you: 52
McGuffin, ahoy!: 1
Mwahahahaha!: 1
Mental health: with tact and sensitivity: 23
Oh you wacky kids, with your hi-jinks and your pranks: 2
Parents? What parents?: 1
Red Herrings: 3
This recap is sponsored by the WWE: 3

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I am the evil twin. I'm in a feud with Richie Tankersley Cusick, and I'm waging a war on over-used en-dashes and ellipsis. All of these things are related. I worship at the altar of the ISUZU TROOPER, BITCHES.

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3 Comments

  1. Mimi
    Posted 31 March 2015 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    First of all, I want to say I’m sorry your face is falling off. I seriously hope it stops doing that and you feel much better really soon.

    I wanted to thank you for the rape-trigger warning too. I wish more people did things like that.

    I’ve never read this one. I got 3/4 through the recap thinking I was going to have to track a copy down because it sounded pretty good. But that ending. What the actual f*ck? I really have no words for that. The amount of wrong there is just stunning.

    As for the part about getting into the wrong car, I have to admit that I’ve come close to it. I have ZERO car recognition. I know blue and the basic shape and I’ve (more than once) tried my key in the wrong blue car. But I have a better story than that. My best friend left Walmart with her three kids one day and got into what she believed was her van. One of her kids mentioned that a car seat was missing and she was upset that someone stole her car seat. The whole time she and her kids are actually sitting in this van. The one of them says very slowly “Mom, this isn’t our car” and panic ensues. I laughed and laughed. So it happens. Maybe not to normal people, but it happens.

    • Dove
      Posted 4 April 2015 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Mimi, it’s a pretty good book overall — definitely one of Cusick’s better efforts — but the men in it are horrible. Storm’s treatment of Trish was shocking. Generally, there are a few guys out there who will shame you for not putting out, and without a great sense of self, you can start feeling like you’re the one in the wrong, and that’s bad in itself. However, the fact that Storm is an adult cop just makes that scene so much more offensive.

      Ok, I’m glad that people do get the wrong car. How did your friend manage to get inside the van? Was it unlocked? The closest I’ve come is to go to the correct row my car is on, veer towards the first blue one I see, and then realise it’s not mine and keep walking. I’ve never actually tried to get in the wrong car.

      • Mimi
        Posted 11 April 2015 at 5:21 am | Permalink

        It was unlocked. She hit the button on her key fob to open the doors as she walked up so it wasn’t weird to her that it was unlocked.

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