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West Hollywood, California
Steve Dark snapped awake, rolled out of bed, dropped to the floor.
Landing silently on his fingertips and toes, he stayed frozen in place and listened. Traffic hummed on nearby Sunset. Someone laughed, drunkenly. There was the faint click-clack of high heels on concrete. A car horn, muted and distant. Normal L.A. night sounds. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Supporting himself on fingertips and toes, Dark slowly crept through the house, keeping to the shadows, listening intently. The only sounds he could discern were the soft popping of his joints as he moved. Dark recovered his fifteen-round Glock 22 from its concealed space beneath the floorboards, then stood up on the balls of his feet. He slipped off the safety. He always kept a bullet chambered. The initial sweep took about ten minutes and revealed nothing. He checked the windows and doors, one by one. The front doorsecured. Window locksin place. Security systemon. Invisible window and door tapeunbroken. Not a single entry point had been disturbed.
Dark put himself through this routine so often it was almost becoming rote. Which was a problem. He couldn't let himself become complacent. He should devise another routine. Maybe think up another safeguard.
After slipping on the safety on his Glock, Dark placed it on the couch next to him. Then he opened his laptop and accessed the remote site that stored his video surveillance. Every square foot of his home was covered by pinhole-size, motion-activated cameras. The quality was low-res, but then again, Dark wasn't shooting precious family moments. He merely wanted to detect movement. Dark tapped the ENTER key, and the remote site began to download video from the past six hours that showed any movement whatsoever. When it finished loading, though, it only showed Dark's own movements through the house. Nothing else.
So what had he heard?
Just some stray noise from a nightmare?
Dark checked his watch. 3:21 A.M. Early, even for him. He didn't sleep much, and the loss of two more hours was disappointing. But at least the house was secure.
Dark had thought the same thing five years ago, and a monster had still managed to squirm his way into his living space. It had been a different house, with a much cruder security system, but it shouldn't have been so easy. Dark had learned the painful lesson: You could never be too careful. Dark had destroyed the monster with his own hands. Hacked away at his adversary until he resembled a pile on a butcher's table. Watched the pieces burn. Spread the ashes with a metal rake.
Still, the lesson remained: You could never be too careful.
Dark padded his way to the kitchen and flicked on his electric carafe that heated water in about sixty seconds. A coffee would be good. After that…; he didn't know what. Ever since leaving Special Circs, his days had seemed both shapeless and endless. Four months of limbo.
When he left, he told Riggins he had a lot of unfinished business. Namely, reconnecting with his daughterwho almost didn't recognize her father's voice on the phone.
But Dark had spent most of the summer installing security in his new home, telling himself he couldn't possibly bring his daughter here to visit without it being locked down tight, 100 percent secure. That process felt like battling a hydra. Chop off the head of one potential problem, six more seemed to spring up in its place. Dark did nothing but work on the house, check the Internet for murder stories, and try to sleep.
Five years ago he'd killed a monster. But no matter what he did, he couldn't shake the feeling that another monster was coming after him…;
So now it was three thirty A.M. and his instant coffee sat cooling in a mug and the sounds of L.A. murmured and there was nothing left to do.