The Edge of Ruinby Melinda Snodgrass
Beyond the history we know, there's been a secret war between science and superstition, waged by powerful entities with mutually-opposed plans for the human race. Now an Albuquerque cop with an unusual background is caught in the middle of that war.See more details below
Beyond the history we know, there's been a secret war between science and superstition, waged by powerful entities with mutually-opposed plans for the human race. Now an Albuquerque cop with an unusual background is caught in the middle of that war.
- Tom Doherty Associates
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The Edge of Ruin
By Melinda Snodgrass
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Melinda Snodgrass
All rights reserved.
The 911 operator kept his voice low and steady. "So, where are you now, honey?"
"In the bedroom." A little girl's voice, shaking with terror.
"Are you alone?"
"I've got the baby and Matt."
"Have you locked the door?"
"Daddy hurt Valerie. There's blood everywhere."
I floored it and got my POS used Volvo up to eighty. Now I wished I was driving the Ferrari or the Lamborghini parked underneath the Lumina building. But if I had been driving either of them I wouldn't have had the police radio. I wouldn't have known I was a quarter mile away. I couldn't have responded.
"Julie, have you locked the door?"
"Yes ... He's got Toby."
I killed the siren and made the turn onto Quincy. Then the screaming started. Even filtered through two phones and the radio the sound was ghastly, agonized. My hands jerked on the steering wheel and I practically drove up over the sidewalk. I got the car back under control and turned into one of the alleys that run behind the houses in this older neighborhood.
From the radio came the sound of panting breaths, each holding a shuddering sob. It took every ounce of control I had not to floor the gas pedal so I could get there faster.
There was a sudden silence. Then Julie's voice whispered, "He's coming."
Lieutenant Damon Weber's voice cut in. "Richard, I'm rounding up SWAT and a negotiator, but it'll be at least twenty minutes before we get there."
"Copy. Damon, we don't have that long."
"You want to go in?"
"I've got to. Have I got any backup?"
I wanted to curse. In my opinion Dale Snyder was a lazy cop just marking time until he had in his twenty years. We had a strained and antagonistic relationship because he thought I made detective because somebody pulled strings. He wasn't wrong, but personal rivalries became irrelevant when faced with a crisis of this magnitude.
"Tell him I'm going in through the alley and backyard."
I stopped the car and jumped out. The January sun was warm enough that the garbage cans in their little pens filled the air with that sickeningly sweet scent of rotting food. Nausea gripped my gut. Some of it was the smell. Some of it was fear. It's no fun walking into a domestic situation. It's when most cops get killed.
Opening the trunk, I ripped off my suit coat and donned my vest. The barrel of the shotgun glinted in the sunlight and the wood of the stock felt silky beneath my hand. But I had a hostage situation; I couldn't really use such a weapon. Instead I drew the Starfire.
Okay, so I guess I'm resigning later.
The back wall was a low cinder-block affair only four feet tall. There was a wooden gate so old that the wood had weathered until it looked like frozen smoke. It rested on a concrete path, and I knew it would shriek like a scalded cat if I tried to open it. I braced my free hand on top of the block wall and vaulted over. The winter-dry grass, faded like an old man's hair, crackled beneath my feet.
The yard would have been lovely if it were summer. There were arched trellises supporting the skeletal branches of climbing rosebushes. Water fell with a gentle tinkling down a small stone waterfall and into a fishpond. Gold flashed and flickered beneath the water.
I ran as lightly as I could for the back door, past an incredibly expensive swing, slide, and jungle gym set and a hand-built playhouse designed like a Victorian Painted Lady. The air was deathly still, but suddenly the swings rocked and the chains creaked. I whirled, thinking the father had come through the side yard, but there was nothing there. To my left the manes of five plastic horses on springs, frozen in a wild gallop, formed waves of palomino, chestnut, gray, and black.
The backyard was a child's paradise. It didn't jibe with a man murdering his children. There was a flutter of movement past the window of the playhouse. I drew down on it. Again nothing. My neck hairs felt like they were heading toward the top of my head.
It was like that elusive movement sometimes caught at the border between darkness and headlights, or the shadow you see out of the corner of your eye just before sleep takes you. In the past I would have dismissed it as my eyes playing tricks on me. Now I knew different. Two months ago I had learned there were unseen worlds on the borders of our reality. Dimensions filled with horrific, nightmare creatures. Things that viewed humans as prey. Things that drove us to acts of unspeakable violence. And I sensed they were here with me now.
Unlimbering my cell phone, I hit the speed dial. Damon answered on the first ring.
"This doesn't feel right," I whispered. "There's something here.
Something I can't see."
"Then you think this is one of yours ... ours?"
"I think ... yes."
"Shit, fuck, damn, hell ..."
I had reached the kitchen door. Now that I was at the house I could faintly hear drumming, rhythmical kicks from inside. The door was pierced by a medium-sized dog door, and I wondered if the dog had also fallen victim to the madman inside.
"Damon, if I have to draw the sword, will you handle Snyder?"
"Yeah, of course. Is he there yet?"
"Not yet," but I'd no sooner finished the final word than Dale Snyder came pushing through the back gate. Just as I had anticipated, the wood shrieked across the concrete walkway. I winced, and Snyder's narrow hatchet face showed a brief flash of contrition, quickly masked.
"What the fuck was that?!" Weber exploded.
"Snyder." I flipped closed the phone and made certain it was set to vibrate rather than ring.
The other detective joined me at the back door. There was no sign from inside the house that the noise outside had been noticed.
"Tried it yet?" Snyder asked in a whisper.
It was too much to hope that it would have been unlocked. We pressed our shoulders against the door, but it was sturdy and well hung. It barely quivered. There were windows to the left and right, but wrought-iron bars covered the glass. Seconds, precious seconds, were ticking away. How much longer could that fragile bedroom door withstand the onslaught? I was trying to breathe. Trying to think.
The dog door. I returned the Starfire to its holster and lay down on my back. I'm small, and years of gymnastics had made me flexible. If I could get my shoulders through ... Snyder held the flap out of my way. I felt the sill of the dog door catch on my back pants pocket. The material ripped loose. Suddenly I was aware of something wet and sticky soaking into my hair. The sweet coppery scent of blood hung in the air, overlaying the spicy scent of cooking tomato sauce, and I choked briefly on bile.
Now that I was inside I realized there was a man's voice muttering in an almost unintelligible monologue, a basso continuo beneath the crash of the kicks and the splinter of wood.
"I know what you are. Open you up let the monsters out.
Where did you take them?"
I braced my hands against the floor, felt the sluggishly congealing blood well up around my fingers, and sprang to my feet. The cell phone in my pants pocket vibrated, but I ignored it and unlocked the door. Snyder stepped in, and his eyes widened. Mentally I prepared myself and turned. A woman lay in a pool of blood in the middle of the kitchen floor. Wounds like red mouths puckered the material of her white sweater. Her throat was partially cut. A large white Le Creuset pot sat on the stove. The burner was turned on, and there was an occasional wet plop as spaghetti sauce roiled in a slow boil.
There was the rending sound of wood tearing, a crash, and Julie's shrill screams. Stealth no longer served any purpose. We ran out of the kitchen, and through a small dining nook which opened into the living room. A young girl lay curled on the hardwood floor, her hands in front of her face. Her palms were slashed and punctured, testament to her desperate attempt to protect herself. Every part of her body bore a wound. Adrenaline sang along my nerves, but it helped dull the horror.
In the short hallway we found the body of a little boy. His throat was cut, and his body also punctured in multiple places. At the end of the hall I saw a man lunge through the door on the left. Even in that brief glance I saw he was soaked in blood. When I reached the door I went left and low, kneeling on one knee, shoulder pressed against the doorjamb to help steady my two-handed grip on the pistol.
Snyder was on the other side of the door, drawing down on the tableau in the center of the bedroom. A kneeling man held a little girl pressed against his chest. She was dressed in denim overalls. I found my attention drawn to the daisies embroidered on the yoke. Her brown hair was in pigtails. She was a picture of innocence gripped by a hellish figure. Blood spattered her father's face like macabre measles, and his hands and arms were stained red up to the elbows. The steel of the large kitchen knife was occluded with blood, and its point rested against her breastbone.
Julie's mouth was stretched open in a rictus of terror, but only grunted breaths emerged. In her arms she held a bundle wrapped in a soft white blanket. At first I thought it was a doll, but then the blanket moved, a small waving fist appeared, and I heard a high-pitched mewling. It was an infant.
My mind felt like it was spinning, grasping at plans and feeling them slip away. I frantically scanned the room, trying to locate anything that might be used to break the standoff. A toddler stood on one of the low twin beds screaming at the top of his lungs. A fantastic mural of mountains and castles and unicorns and fairies stretched across every wall. A bookshelf loaded with children's hardcover books stood beneath the one window. The top of the case was covered with dolls and stuffed animals Their plastic eyes glittered at me as if they were watching me, and damning me for my failure to think. If we took a shot it would most likely tear through the child's body.
Think! Think! Think!
In the father's eyes I suddenly saw madness and determination flare to an even higher level. The muscles and tendons in the man's right hand tensed and flexed on the hilt of the knife. We were so out of time.
I had a split second, and if the gamble failed it would be up to Snyder to take the shot because I would be disarmed. The safety slid beneath my thumb. I didn't bother to holster the pistol. I just dropped the Starfire onto the floor. The heavythunk as it hit the wood had the desired effect. The father's eyes flickered down to the pistol.
At the same time Snyder hissed, "What, are you fucking crazy?"
It had to be one smooth, fast movement. I flowed to my feet, reached back with my left hand, and pulled the hilt of the sword from its holster. Even through the sweat and blood on my hand the gray glass hilt felt cool. My fingers slid between its Escher-like curves; I laid my right hand against the bottom of the hilt and drew it quickly away.
It was as if a cosmic organ had played a chord whose bass tones and overtones extended far beyond the range of human hearing.
"Jesus shit," Snyder yelped.
I knew how it must have appeared to him. As if a night-black blade had emerged from my hand.
"It's real," Snyder breathed.
I wanted to pray, but I knew better. Praying would draw them closer, and they were already here. I could almost hear Kenntnis's rich basso tones as he told me about the sword, Among its many other attributes, the sword has the ability to restore reason and sanity in certain situations.
Well, I sure as hell hope this is one of them.
And then the wild light in the father's eyes faded. The knife dropped from his suddenly slack fingers, and the man stared in confusion at his bloodstained hands. But only the touch of the sword could fully reverse the effects of an irrational belief. As I took a step forward the father's eyes widened in surprise, and he turned his head — over toward Snyder and then back to me.
It was instinct more than conscious thought. I threw myself onto the floor in a long dive. I landed on my knees and the heels of my hands, and my chin hit the floor hard enough to set dark spots dancing in front of my eyes. The sword flew out of my hand, and the blade vanished. I was deafened by the crashing report of Snyder's .38. I glanced back. There was a ragged hole gouged into the wood of the door frame. My head had been there only seconds before.
"Snyder!? What the fuck?!" Could the madness that had affected the father have somehow been transferred to Snyder? But if that was the case, why hadn't the sword negated the effects on Snyder as well?
The barrel of the .38 was swinging toward me. Snyder's face suddenly seemed very small and distant when compared with the cannon-sized hole at the end of the pistol. Frantically I rolled to the side, but not nearly fast enough. It felt like a fist slammed into my right thigh. For several heartbeats the leg just felt numb; then the pain came crashing down, sharp and hot, as if an electric wire had been thrust through my flesh. I screamed and clutched at the wound. The blood was hot against my skin, my slacks were soaked, but it wasn't the gush of a severed artery. I wasn't dead yet.
But Snyder, walking toward me with a grim expression, was going to change that real quick. His face was tight with concentration and grim determination. This time he wasn't going to miss.
He thinks I'm disarmed. Big mistake, asshole.
Gasping with pain, I coiled into a fetal position, clawed at the cuff of my left pant leg, and pulled it up enough to reach the ankle holster and the tiny Firestar that rested there. I yanked the gun free, swung it up, and double tapped. No real time to aim, but he was only two feet from me. The recoil sent the pistol sliding in my blood-slicked hand. The first round got sucked by Snyder's vest, but it affected his aim, so his third shot buried itself in the floor next to my head. Smoke trailed like ghostly hair, and the biting smell of cordite filled the room. It felt like a percussion band was tuning in my ears.
My second round took Snyder in the cheek. Shattered teeth, bone, blood, and flesh seemed to hang in the air as half his face ripped away. Snyder tipped sideways and fell to the floor. The vibration of his fall shivered through the length of my body. Black spots danced in front of my eyes. More than anything I wanted to rest my head on the floor and slide away into unconsciousness. But there were three children and a madman in the room. I pressed my hand hard against the wound and felt my head whirl from the pain. Whimpering, I dragged myself toward the hilt. Each move pulled a strangled moan from between my tightly clenched teeth. Suddenly the little girl was there, holding the hilt out to me.
I managed to draw the sword. Stretching, I used the point and knocked the knife beyond the father's reach, then crawled another foot forward and laid the blade against the man's knee. He fell back screaming on the floor. His spine arched and his heels drummed as a violent seizure gripped him.
My hands seemed to belong to a stranger. They seemed very far away, and they shook like a person afflicted with Parkinson's. With the last of my strength, I got the blade sheathed and thrust the hilt into the waistband of my trousers. The floor felt very soft as I laid my cheek down. The black spots became a wall of darkness.CHAPTER 2
They had walked the dimensions back to the gate in Virginia. Madoc had told her to wait for him in the public rooms of the great stone and log house that had once been both the headquarters for the World Wide Christian Alliance and Mark Grenier's palatial home. She didn't know why she was being left like a piece of luggage to be called for later. Maybe he was up to something. Maybe he was angry. It was hard to read her father. He placed human emotions on his face like a Mardi Gras attendee changing masks.
Eventually she became restless. She hated the white carpet underfoot and the blue velvet upholstered furniture, and what passed for art. There were a few framed studio photographs of Grenier, and some too-bright, too-colorful pictures of Jesus suffering the little children to come to him, doling out the loaves and fishes, praying in Gethsemane. The girl growing up in Van Nuys would have been impressed with the cushy carpet underfoot and the plush velvet beneath her fingertips. But the weeks she had spent living in Kenntnis's penthouse had taught her enough to know that this was kitsch masquerading as elegance.
Excerpted from The Edge of Ruin by Melinda Snodgrass. Copyright © 2010 Melinda Snodgrass. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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