There's no way I could be prouder than I am in having an original piece of fiction by Bill Pronzini at Horror Drive-In. I don't care if I landed a Stephen King story, Straub, Barker, anyone.

I stumbled onto Bill's fiction early on in his career and it was a real stroke of luck. I wasn't even much of a mystery/suspense reader. I had read some of Pronzini's collaborations with Barry Malzberg and when I was in a used bookstore I found a solo novel by Bill. I took a chance. It just happened to be THE SNATCH, the very first Nameless Detective novel. I liked it a lot and the next Pronzini I bought was a stand-alone novel called SNOWBOUND, which I loved. From then on I was a Bill Pronzini fan.

While other writers who have published as long as he has have lost their steam or became repetitious, Bill Pronzini's fiction has remained fresh and he has continued to hone his craft. I've read every one of his books I could get my hands on and I've never once been disappointed.

I'm humbled to offer you ANGELIQUE.

She comes to me in the night, naked in the night.

The first time I believed her to be a dream image, a figment born of my passionate worship. I had dreamed of her often before then, more than once as she looked in the erotic nude scenes in her films, but not once had I imagined her there with me in my bed. My desire for her was intense, yet I never allowed it to become more than the wishful, respectful, unattainable kind one feels for a goddess.

On that first night when I heard the rustle of the sheets, smelled the alluring scent of her perfume, felt the velvety perfection of her body against mine, I thought: Don’t wake up, not yet! But I was already awake. When I was sure of it, I reached out to turn on the bedside lamp. I cannot describe the awe, the rapture I felt when I saw her there naked beside me.

“You can’t be real,” I said to her. “You can’t be Angelique.”

“Oh, but I am,” she said.

“How? Why? You don’t know me.”

“But I do know you. I know that you want me, I know that I want you.”

“A woman like you, a man like me? It isn’t possible.”

“I came because you love me. Anything is possible when love and need are strong enough.”

“I’m imagining this. You can’t be real...”

She took my hand. “Touch me this real? And here. Ah, and here. Is all of it real?”

“Yes. Oh, yes.”

“And this?” she said as she lifted her body onto mine, as the soft wetness of her engulfed me like a fire that did not burn. “Is this real?”


“Say my name.”


“Say it again.”

“Angelique. Angelique. Angelique.”

I am neither a handsome nor a successful man. Small, mild, nondescript, with a mundane job to match. No family left, no close friends. Lonely, yes, yet the real world often frightens and bewilders me. And so by design and inclination, as a form of self-defense, I’ve become an escapist.

I have always loved films of all types. A great deal of my free time is spent in darkened movie theaters, in front of television and computer screens in my modest apartment. By a conservative estimate I watch perhaps one hundred films new and old each month, and I have the capacity to lose myself in every one, to become part of whatever story is being told no matter how good or bad. In that respect, and this too I freely admit, I am an emotional sponge.

But I am not given to Walter Mitty-like flights of fancy. I do not see people who aren’t there. I have no fantasy life beyond my involvement in the films I watch. I have not masturbated in twenty-three years, since the age of fourteen.

I did not and do not imagine that Angelique comes to me in the night, naked in the night, and mounts me, and gives me the greatest sexual pleasure I have ever known. She is not a dream or a figment. Not an astral projection or anything of that fantastic nature. She is real, flesh and blood real, and for some strange and wondrous reason which she refuses to divulge, she chose me, Harold Brenner, out of all her millions of admirers, to be her new lover. I did not doubt it that first night, I did not doubt it in the cold light of morning after she was gone, I do not doubt it now. I simply accept it on faith.
And I feel blessed.

Angelique has always been my favorite actress. And not just mine – the favorite of countless others world-wide. She is the brightest star in the firmament of Hollywood stars, as Venus at dusk is the brightest in the heavens. No matter what role she plays, her talent shines so much more radiantly than that of anyone around her. Even Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman pale into insignificance alongside Angelique. Her luminous eyes, the golden fall of her hair, the sweetness of her smile and the grace of her movements are unparalleled. The critics might not agree with this assessment, but what do critics know?

I have seen all forty-two of her films at least a dozen times each, and I never tire of watching her perform. I could watch each one five hundred times and I would never tire of her. Perhaps the extent and magnitude of my adoration is the reason why she chose me.

Angelique came again two nights later, and the second night after that, and the
next after that. Our bodies joined and rejoined…again, again, again. And each time the level of my ecstasy intensified until it became nearly unbearable and I cried her name, cried out my love for her. Not once did she speak my name, nor tell me how much she loved me, but I don’t fault her for this. She comes to me, she’s real, she’s mine for as long as she’ll have me. That is all that matters.

Now she comes every night, and stays until just before dawn. Three, four, six, as many as eight times we merge and writhe and achieve simultaneous release. I think I can’t possibly accommodate her so often, I am a middle-aged man with so little sexual experience, but no matter how many times we have made love, she has only to touch me, lightly, and again I become like stone.

Once, in our second week together, I said to her, “You’re wearing me out, Angelique. Taking all my precious bodily fluids.”

“Yes. Isn’t it wonderful?”

She seemed not to have understood the small joke I’d made. Was it possible she was not as well versed as I in Hollywood film lore? “Precious bodily fluids,” I said again. “General Jack D. Ripper’s phrase in Dr. Strangelove. He felt it necessary to deny women his essence in order to remain pure.”

Angelique bathed me in the glow of her smile. “But you’ll never deny me yours.”

“No. Never.”

Again she touched me and again I was stone.

Every night, all night long, we revel in each other. That is all we do; she prefers not to talk about herself, me, anything at all. Again and again, again and again, with only short periods of rest between each coupling. Neither of us slept much in the beginning; now we hardly sleep at all. I am so tired each morning after she leaves that I can barely drag myself out of bed.

As much as I love and desire her, I must have a respite now and then – a night off to recharge my batteries, as it were. Tonight when she comes I’ll ask her to grant me this small favor, for both our benefits.

Her answer was no. A sweet and gentle no.

“I can’t get enough of you,” she said. “Don’t you feel the same about me anymore?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then don’t deny me. If you deny me, I might not come to you again.”

“Don’t say that! I couldn’t bear it.”

She gathers me to her again. And once more I drown in her warm soft wetness.

So tired now. Weak. I need sleep desperately, but even in the daytime I can’t seem to do more than doze for a few minutes. Can’t seem to eat anything, either; I have no appetite. My body looks and feels shrunken, shriveled, like that of a very old man.

I could not get out of bed at all yesterday or this morning. I can only lie here wide awake and wait for the night.

All day I found myself hoping Angelique would not come. But of course she does. And it seems not to matter to her that when she slips naked into my bed, she finds herself clutching a dessicated shell of a man.

“Not tonight,” I say to her in a voice that croaks like a frog’s, “please, not again tonight,” but she only laughs and reaches out her hand to touch me. I try to will myself not to respond, but I have no resistance. Her seductive powers are amazing. In an instant I am as ready for her as I was the first night.

When she joins her body to mine she laughs again, but this time the laughter is neither soft nor throaty with passion. It’s strange, shrill, a kind of hideous triumphant sound that fills me with ice instead of heat, terror instead of love. And I realize that I am not blessed but cursed.

“Lie still,” she says. “I’m almost done.”

I have no choice – I lie still.

“Now turn on the lamp. I want you to see me this last time.”

I have just enough strength left to turn on the lamp. In its pale glow as she writhes above me, the flawless beauty of her face shimmers, fragments, falls away like a crumbling mask, and when I see what lies beneath I scream...I scream...I scream...but my screams have no voice.

Quickly, hungrily, the thing that is not and never was Angelique finishes draining me dry.


Horror Drive-In: I'll start off with a question you've undoubtedly heard before, Bill. All those years ago, did you have any idea when you created an unnamed private eye that...

Bill Pronzini: No, I had no idea the Nameless series would last anywhere near as long as it has. Still a little amazed, in fact, that I've been able to keep it going 40-plus years given the vagaries and whims of publishing. The first Nameless story was published in 1967, four years before THE SNATCH, and in those early days I was mainly interested in writing short stories and learning my craft. I grew up reading Chandler, Hammett, Ross Macdonald, and Thomas B. Dewey, and I'd always wanted to try my own hand at private eye fiction; but it took me quite a while to develop Nameless into a character different enough from all the others to qualify as a fictional detective with legs. He and I sort of grew and evolved together over the years. (I was 24 and he was in his late fifties and a WW II vet when I created him; I've had to make a lot of adjustments over the years, aging him slowly and reshaping his background somewhat. Otherwise he'd be about 90 now, instead of 64 as in the most recent novel, BETRAYERS. Even so, I'm older than he is now and heading into geezerhood a lot more quickly. Doesn't seem fair, somehow.

HD-I: Nothing about aging seems fair to me.

I think a lot of your readers associate you with the Nameless Detective. Especially after it was revealed that Bill is his first name. How much of you is in his thoughts, ideals, philosophies?

BP: I had to reveal his first name when I altered the series format to a combination of first-person (from his POV) and third-person (from other characters' POVs); if I hadn't, I would have had a lot of trouble writing the Runyon, Tamara, and Kerry scenes in which he appears or is referred to. The fact that I called him Bill pretty much says that he's my alter ego. He's braver than I am and less inclined to fits of temper, and I have a much more off-the-wall sense of humor, but other than that we have same likes, dislikes, biases, pet peeves, flaws (lack of patience for one), etc.

HD-I: I knew that you had to at least be partially similar to 'Bill'. The stories seem too personal and heartfelt for it to be any other way.

Since this is a horror website and ANGELIQUE is a horror story, let's bring the subject around to the genre. You've been involved in horror, particularly early in your career, editing anthologies and penning the occasional scary story. Do you consider yourself a horror fan?

BP: Absolutely. I've been reading and collecting horror and dark suspense fiction for nearly half a century and writing in the field since the start of my career; one of my earliest published stories was a horror tale, "Night Freight," which I included in my 2000 Leisure collection of the same title. Much of my fiction has horror elements and I think qualifies as dark suspense. Have to say, though, that I prefer the more subtle type of dark imaginings to the blood and gore variety, both in fiction and in film. I get as much butchery as I can stand in the media.

HD-I: One of my favorite horror stories by you is Out Behind the Shed, which appeared in Charles Grant's Final Shadows .

BP: Charlie Grant was a skilled writer, an outstanding editor, and one of the nicest people I've dealt with in publishing. His premature death was a real tragedy to anyone who knew him. We had a good working relationship over the years; he bought several of my stories for his SHADOWS series and a few of his other anthologies, and I had the pleasure of including stories of his in some of the horror and s-f anthos I edited. Glad to hear that "Out Behind the Shed" rates high with you, Mark; I'd rank it in the top 5 among my own favorites as well. All thanks to Charlie, not only for publishing it but for not buying it until I doubled its length from my original 1,000-word submission. His suggestion made the difference between an okay story and one I'm proud of.

HD-I: Unless I'm mistaken, it's been a while since you wrote or at least had a horror story published. Before ANGELIQUE, that is.

BP: Not so long, really. There are two original stories, "Toiling in the Fields of the Lord" and "Private Terrors," in my horror/dark suspense collection, DAGO RED, published by Ramble House in 2008 and still available from RH, Amazon, and other sources (plug). And I'll have a new dark suspense novel, THE HIDDEN, out from Walker & Co. in November.

HD-I: Oh yeah! I totally forgot about that! I have a paperback of DAGO RED. Damned good collection.

How would you describe THE HIDDEN?

BP: First, thanks for the thumbs-up on DAGO RED. I hope other readers who pick up a copy feel the same. As for THE HIDDEN, here's a brief description from Walker's fall catalogue: "A series of seemingly random murders along a fifty-mile stretch of the rugged northern California coast, committed by an unknown dubbed the Coastline Killer by the media. A young couple with marital problems, Shelby and Jay Macklin, who come to spend the week between Christmas and New Year's at a friend's remote coastal cottage. Two other couples in a neighboring home whose interrelationships are thick with festering menace. And a fierce winter storm that leads to a night of unrelenting terror. These are the main ingredients in BP's chilling and twist-filled tale about the hidden nature of crime and its motives."

HD-I: Bill, that sounds absolutely awesome. I'll be first in line for it.

And what of the future for Nameless?

BP: The next in the series, as you know, is BETRAYERS, due out from Tor/Forge in July. I've already delivered the 2011 title, CAMOUFLAGE, and have begun work on the 2012 entry, tentatively titled PAYBACK -- something different in that it'll be more a novel of terror than a detective story. Working so far ahead because I have no other contracts at the moment, though I do have a gestating idea for another dark suspense stand-alone.

HD-I: BETRAYERS is easily one of the best of the entire Nameless series. Very dark and suspenseful, but not without some comic relief.

I, and I'm sure all of your fans, am glad to hear that the Nameless series will continue on for some time to come. But do you ever see a day when you conclude it?

BP: I hope to continue publishing Nameless novels at least through 2013, and probably beyond if Tor will give me a new contract. But very few writers can indefinitely sustain a series at a consistent level of quality; if and when I reach a point where I feel that I've taken Nameless as far as I can, I'll retire him for his (and my) own good.

HD-I: Bill, thanks so much for the great story and for visiting the Drive-In. Don't forget to hang the speaker back on its pole before you drive away.

BP: My pleasure. And thanks to you for the opportunity to write "Angelique," for the support of my work, and for making Horror Drive-In such a quality site.

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