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The shooting has started. For the next four hours a killer will stalk the inhabitants of a remote Alaskan village hidden in a wilderness of awesome beauty. And Micky Ascherfeld, a burned-out ex-cop, is the only person ...
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The shooting has started. For the next four hours a killer will stalk the inhabitants of a remote Alaskan village hidden in a wilderness of awesome beauty. And Micky Ascherfeld, a burned-out ex-cop, is the only person who can stop him. Without a gun, cut off from the outside world, Micky plays a deadly game of hide-and-seek with a man on a killing rampage.
Moving from cabin to cabin, she finds her once-familiar world turned into a landscape of sheer horror. To survive, she must confront the demons in her own past–even as she becomes the focus of a madman’s sick obsession and a terrified girl’s only hope. With another life to save besides her own, Micky has found a new reason to endure...if only she can.
Micky Ascherfeld watched the streets through the cool barrier of the cruiser's passenger-side window. Her partner, Wade Smith, hummed a country tune, nodding his head like one of those perpetual-motion birds in the Taqueria shop windows.
They stopped at a red light and Micky glanced at two teenage boys, hectoring each other on the corner. But the kids were mouthing, not doing. Micky knew potential violence when she saw it.
Heat waves transformed distant buildings and pedestrians into mirages. As the cruiser pulled away from the intersection, Micky imagined the tires lifting melted asphalt. It was only one o'clock. By three, the temperature was expected to go over 110. She held her hands in front of the air-conditioner vents.
They coasted along, letting traffic pass them by.
The order of the day on their beat was to be on the lookout for a pair of salt-and-pepper suspects who had been pulling hit-and-runs on local electronic shops. The pair, a teenage white male and a black female in her twenties, would burst into the store armed with pistols, grab all the money in the cash register and whatever appliance was handiest, then flee on foot. But Micky didn't think the pair would be doing any running on a day like today.
She spotted a florist shop and her heart pounded. Suddenly it was cold in the cruiser and she tucked both hands under her thighs. As the shop passed, she tried to erase the memory from her mind, reciting the mantra in her head.
Until the florist shop was left well behind. Until the hateful image it had conjured faded.
Wade stopped at another stoplight.
"You okay?" said Wade.
"Having the trouble again?"
She shook her head.
Her parents' murders were public record. But as far as the Houston Police Department was concerned, Micky had overcome any psychological damage the trauma had caused. By the time she got to the academy, the murders were four years old. She had buried the hurt and the fear so deeply that even the departmental shrink couldn't find enough of it to disqualify her for hire.
But you didn't hide things like that from your partner. Not when you had been working the streets together for four years. You certainly couldn't hide them from your lover and they had been lovers for three, although the department didn't know about that either.
"Just a glimpse," she said.
"Why don't you talk to the doc?"
"I'm all right," she replied. But she avoided florists, funerals, graveyards, and weddings. And as long as she didn't go into dark, tight places, she was okay.
"You're not all right." Wade watched an overloaded plumbing truck weave through the intersection. "You're thirty-one years old and you're a nervous wreck. You can't fix this all by yourself."
"I know that," she said, trying a smile. "But I've worked my way through it this long. I can handle it." An image of her father, lying in a pool of blood on a white-tile floor, flooded her mind. She could smell the flowers scattered around his body. She was crawling through their shop again. The sound of rubber soles padded somewhere behind her.
"You ought to let other people help you once in a while." Wade sounded petulant and that struck her as funny, the childish tone in a man his size. She let out a hollow laugh and knew instantly that she had hurt him. She touched his arm but he drew back.
"I'm sorry, Wade. I wasn't laughing at you."
What do I have to laugh about?
I'm a nutcase masquerading as a cop.
"How did you ever make it through the armed search course at the Academy?" asked Wade for the thousandth time. The course required the recruits to search a building for armed perps. The trainees went through in pairs, at night, with blanks in their pistols. Officers in disguise appeared at random. Some with guns, others portraying innocent bystanders.
Micky shivered, remembering.
"I don't know," she said.
Not even Wade would ever find out that she had made it through the course with illegally purchased Valiums and by repeating her mantra over and over through the entire thirty-minute ordeal.
Wade pulled across the intersection. The office buildings and shops opened up to parking lots in front of minimalls. Searching desperately for shade, pedestrians in sunglasses shielded their eyes with their hands.
"You had that nightmare again last night," said Wade.
She didn't remember having the dreams anymore. The only inkling she had of anything wrong was the gray haze she experienced the next morning, as though the rest she had gotten had done her body no good.
"I'm sorry," was all she could manage.
"It's all right. I held you and you finally went back to sleep. But it's scary. I feel so damned useless when you have one of those things."
"You're not useless," she said to the window. "I love you."
"I love you, too," he said, easing around a Ryder truck as it pulled into a parking lot. "Maybe we ought to get out of town for a couple of days."
"How could we do that?"
"We have time coming. Why not head up to the lake? We could go next week."
She did like it out on the lake. It was a man-made pond really. A group of avid fishermen, including her Uncle Jim, had purchased the land up in East Texas when it was dirt cheap and excavated their own backwoods fishing hole.
"I'll never understand why you stay here in Houston," Wade said. "Why don't we just say to hell with it and find a job on some hick PD?"
"You'd do that?" she said. Wade was slated for detective. It was what he'd always wanted, his goal since childhood. "You'd move to the country for me?"
"In a heartbeat."
"You'd hate it and so would I," she told him.
"Why would you hate it?"
"I'd hate it because you did. I'd hate it because I was giving up."
"So you'll live like this for the rest of your life, fighting your demons valiantly, and never being content?"
"Content is overrated."
"Sometimes you remind me of one of your stained-glass pieces," said Wade. Stained glass was Micky's passion. Two of her works hung in a local gallery and the year before she had sold a piece for over a thousand dollars. "You're so beautiful I want to hang you up on a wall somewhere."
"Uncomfortable," said Micky.
"You know what I mean. There just seems to be something broken in you and no matter what I do, I can't fix it."
"Some things no one can fix."
"I wish sometime you'd finish one of the abstract pieces you start."
"The abstract stuff isn't any good."
"It is good. And just about the time a piece gets interesting you pull it apart and go back to the old stuff."
"People like the old stuff."
"But what do you like?"
"It's just a hobby," she said.
He tapped the wheel with his fingertips and she watched the heat rising from the engine compartment, stirring up the day.
Stirring up my past.
"You're not responsible for what happened," said Wade.
They eased up to yet another red light.
"You seem to hit every one," she said, nodding up toward the stoplight and smiling.
"You in a hurry?"
"Not if you're not."
Tires squealed and horns blared as frightened-looking drivers raced through the light before it turned. Wade craned his neck to see what was causing the excitement was. As the light changed he eased out, watching.
The Brinks truck, built like a land battleship, was four cars back, moving fast toward the intersection. Power steering screeched as cars fought to pull out of its way. Those drivers not quick enough were blasted aside by the big truck. Sparks flew and the air reverberated with the sound of grinding metal, horns, burning rubber, and curses.
"He isn't stopping," said Micky, as they reached the center of the intersection.
Wade pounced on the accelerator just as the big truck cleared the last car.
As Micky gaped, the front of the metal monster bore down on them. The huge grille looked like the face of an evil, grinning giant, intent on devouring the two of them. The impact was sudden and fierce.
Wade's head struck the driver's side window when the huge bumper slammed through it. Both airbags exploded impotently and disappeared, as the cruiser was lifted off the ground. When the car struck pavement again, with a sickening groan, the top crumpled. Three tires blew out as the weight of the big truck bore the cruiser up over the curb, across the sidewalk, and onto the parking lot of a topless bar. Metal grated on asphalt. The truck's screaming engine and its grinding gears completed the chorus of chaos.
Wade slumped onto the steering wheel as Micky desperately tried to figure out where she was and what she was supposed to do. Blood slickened her hands and stung her eyes. She didn't know if it was hers or Wade's. Blood dripped from his nose, his mouth, and his right ear but she couldn't reach for him. Her hands wouldn't obey her and her hearing and vision were skewed.
Another hard thump and the car wrenched sideways.
Micky blinked as a small tree draped across the hood of the cruiser, then vanished.
Wade turned toward her, confusion in his eyes. His head wobbled but he clawed at his holster.
Is he going to shoot the Brinks truck?
With a hand shaking so badly that it slapped the window, she reached for her own pistol, a blocky Glock automatic. She couldn't get the leather snap undone.
"Stay with me, Wade!" Micky shouted over the roar of the truck.
Instinctively, she jerked the pump shotgun out of its stand between the seats. Wade's eyes had gone glassy and there was too much blood seeping from the side of his head.
The cruiser hit a pair of parked cars. Metal crunched as the truck downshifted and lifted them up over another curb, onto the walkway in front of the minimall. Ahead pedestrians pointed and screamed and Micky prayed that they would stay well away from the lunatic driving the truck. Whoever was behind the wheel of the big rig wasn't going to be satisfied with just a hit-and-run.
"Stay with me!" she shouted as her window blew out and the front window of the Baby Doll Topless Bar burst inward.
Screams and crashing glass.
Groaning metal and crumbling concrete.
And then they were abruptly trapped in a cave that stank of alcohol and cigarettes and overripe hormones mixed with air-conditioning and money. Tires churned hot asphalt and fan belts screeched; the cruiser dropped again and shuddered like a dog, shaking off a cold bath.
The big truck receded slowly, backing across the parking lot. Micky groped for the radio mike. But she stopped in midreach as the truck creaked to a halt. One of its headlights hung from a thin black cable. The other seemed to be leering at Micky.
Grinding gears again.
"Oh, my God," she whispered, watching the truck roll forward.
This time they had nowhere to go. This time they would be crushed between six tons of armor-plated truck and the immovable mass of concrete-block building. She grabbed Wade by the shoulder of his uniform and tugged him toward her. Deadweight. He fell across her, pressing the shotgun painfully into her breast.
The truck punched them sideways through the bar window. It also drove Micky's head into the doorframe. Lights flashed across her eyes and she fought for consciousness.
But there was no real pain. Not yet.
Pain would come later.
If she lived.
Again there was the sound of shrieking tires as the truck tried to shove them on through the building. The truck's motor revved wildly and the cruiser rocked.
Who the hell is driving that thing?
Where are the cops?
Blood warmed her chest and stomach and coated her fingers. The side of Wade's head felt strangely soft, as though there were no skull beneath his bloody skin. The front of her uniform was splotched crimson.
The truck shifted into reverse and shook itself loose from the cruiser again.
They had to get out of the car. The next time the big truck would crush right through the cruiser and smash them both like overripe melons. Micky fumbled for the door handle.
What a surprise.
She was pressed against the door by Wade's weight and the shotgun and the door itself was crimped and twisted, wedged against the remains of the wall. She was never going to open it. She glanced over her shoulder and stared directly into the eyes of one of the dancers.
The girl was thin and pale with unbelievably large breasts. She would have been underdressed for a bawdy honeymoon night.
"Help me!" Micky rasped, trying to push Wade's weight off of her so that she could twist in the seat. A bolt of pain shot up her back.
So I am hurt.
"Help me! Now!" she screamed.
There were other patrons in the bar but none ventured forward, through the sea of overturned tables or downed chairs. The girl gnawed at her lip but took one tentative step, her high heels clicking in the shattered glass.
Micky managed to twist around. She passed the shotgun out to the girl, who grimaced but set the gun gingerly in a booth and quickly returned.
Micky glanced over her shoulder; the truck was still backing up. But they had only seconds at best. Reaching through the window toward the dancer, Micky kicked back.
The car's safety glass had disintegrated into a million harmless crystal pebbles and, as she tried to slide through the car window, her upper body broke away the last of them. But the bar window had splintered into long silver swords with razor edges and dagger points. Micky stared at one of the wicked, curved pieces of death that pointed directly at her heart.
Sharp enough to cut me in half.
Hesitantly, the dancer reached across the nasty piece of crystal wreckage. She clasped both Micky's hands in her own soft palms and pulled.
When I'm nearly out I'll have to roll to my left.
If I sag, or drop straight down, I'll be skewered like the priest in The Omen.
Micky was praying that the attack had stopped. That the insane or drunken driver was having second thoughts or changing his game plan. But she pictured the guy behind the wheel of the truck, shifting and crunching, shifting and crunching, pounding over and over into the cruiser until the cruiser was an unrecognizable mass of crippled metal and Wade was . . .