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Hustling out the door on her way to work, Adriana Torres caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye that stopped her in her tracks. Her keys fell out of her suddenly slack grip, jangling loudly as they hit the ground.
A nasty-looking hunting knife protruded from her home's siding. Pinned to the wood by the sharply gleaming steel was a folded slip of paper. She didn't need to read its contents to know that the message would be very concise and very disturbing.
Some people's neighbors said good morning to each other as they started their day. Hers jabbed knives into her house. And por el amor de Dios, what had her house ever done to them?
Rolling her eyes heavenward and muttering a brief prayer for patience in Spanish, Addy grabbed hold of the handle, giving it a good tug. When it didn't come out on the first try, she dropped her tote back on her front stoop with a thud and tried again with both hands until the knife chunked free.
She didn't bother to glance around her quiet street, figuring it was hardly worth it to muster up the energy to be annoyed anymore. As one of the neighborhood dogs started up a faraway, staccato bark, she examined the latest addition to her growing collection of cutlery. It felt heavier and looked a little more expensive than usual.
Whatever. Maybe the idiot who'd put it there thought that spending more money would be scarier. As if.
Purposefully adopting a bored expression, just in case the nasty little twerp was watching, she picked up her keys and dropped them back into her purse. She'd always hated the thought of living in a wealthy gated community, but at times like this the idea had its attractions.
Pushingthe door back open with one hip, she kicked at the slip of paper that had fallen to the ground after she'd freed the knife holding it. It fluttered inside the house, and she picked up her tote and followed suit. Without bothering to pick the paper up, she headed for the phone in her kitchen. She dialed the familiar number without glancing at the list of her favorite contacts stuck to the fridge.
"Borkowski," came a woman's curt response.
"Hey, Liz, it's me." Addy leaned against the counter, a frisson of annoyance tracking up her spine as she contemplated being late to work because of a stupid prank again. But while she and Liz both knew that none of the teenage troublemakers who lived on her block was going to slink forward and confess, she'd promised her friend she would call each and every time someone stabbed her house. "Got another note."
"Same deal as last time?"
Addy tossed the knife on the counter. "If by that you mean, one large, ugly knife that left yet another large, ugly hole in my siding, yes. Every time Halloween comes around, it's the prank du jour."
Liz swore softlywhich was very uncharacteristic of herand for the first time, Addy realized that the usual sounds she heard in the background when she called Liz at the stationpapers shuffling, phones ringingweren't present. Instead, it sounded like Liz was outside.
"Is this a bad time?" Addy asked. "You out and about doing your cop thing?"
"No, no," said Liz, sounding somewhat preoccupied despite her denial. "I'm at a scene, but this is important."
"After seven of these notes since " She let her voice trail off, not wanting to think about the event that had divided her life into before and since. "I don't think it's all that important, Liz. The sky hasn't fallen yet."
The first threat had also come in October, exactly a year after the love of Addy's life, Monterey Police Detective James Brentwood, had been killed in the line of duty while hunting a prolific serial killera serial killer who was now dead, thank you very much. But a bestselling book about the case had made her little corner of the city rather notorious, since the killer known as The Surgeon had drowned just a few yards away fromAddy's home in an FBI-Monterey PD undercover operation.
And suddenly the kids in her neighborhood had found it amusing to leave notes on her door, pretending to be the resurrected killer of her beloved fiancé by mimicking his favorite way of terrorizing his intended victims.
Sometimes you just had to wonder what was wrong with people.
The first time, the message had terrified her beyond belief, coming on the grim anniversary as it had. Then, more notes came, and they were always the samesomeone would leave a cheap knife embedded in her wooden door, along with a childishly scrawled note saying he was "coming for" her.
So she'd bought a security system and a steel front door, and the notes kept coming, until there had been so many, all they sparked in her was contempt. If someone was really out to get her, she figured they'd have done something by now, rather than simply continuing to write about it. And on one occasion, she'd seen a suspiciously gangly, teenager-looking shadow lurking about her front door when another note had appeared, which had led her and the police to believe that she was merely the target of a few young pranksters in the area with tragically inept parents.
"I'm sorry, Addy," Liz said, breaking a silence that had stretched out for too long. It seemed as if all of her conversations did that, in the four years since James had died. "This has to be so hard on you, especially now."
Especially now. October again. The month when she'd lost James.
Addy picked at a hangnail as she watched the cold waves of the Pacific Ocean crash spectacularly against the jagged black rocks that lined the shore outside her window. Four years. She'd gotten to the point where she could handle being left behind most days, where the intense, indescribable grief she'd felt at losing him was just a dull memory, hanging in the background of her everyday activitiesalways there, but something she could live with. Like Liz lived with it, although she and James had just been work partners and friends.
And then sometimes, out of the blue, it sucker-punched Addy in the stomach, leaving her gasping for air and wondering whether she'd even be able to function into the next hour, much less the next decade. And all the ones that would come after.
Too long. Too long to be without him.
She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to pull herself together enough to finish the conversation, so she could hang up, call in sick and scream into her pillow until she fell into an exhausted sleep, the way she'd done too many times to count. Unfair.
Unfair-unfair-unfair-unfair-unfair . "Addy."
"Have you seen the news this morning?"
She shook her head, swallowing hard a couple of times before she answered so she wouldn't sound half-strangled. "No. I don't watch the news until after dinner. It's not a positive way to start your day."
"Look" Liz exhaled sharply into the phone "I can't leave just now, but I'm sending someone over"
"No." Clenching her teeth together so hard, she thought they might crack, Addy shook her head and willed herself to function. Don't think. Don't feel. Put James back in the little box inside her head where she kept him, so she could interact with others like a semi-normal human being. Howling at them in grief never made for good conversation. "No."
"Addy, I mean it, stay there."
Grabbing a paper bag from under the sink, the phone tucked between her shoulder and chin, Addy stuffed the knife into it and headed for the door. Just before she reached it, she picked up the note from the floor and put it in the paper bag, then shoved the whole mess into her tote. "No. I'm sick of letting these idiotic pranks disrupt my life."
Liz let out a muffled groan, and Addy could visualize the exasperated, because-I'm-the-mom look on her face. "I can't tell you what's going on right now, but you really ought to stay put."
"I'm going to my car," Addy singsonged, feeling stronger now as she locked her front door. Defying Liz's prudent sense of caution always had that effect.
She made her way to the boxy little Scion XB that sat in her driveway. Fortunately, no one had yet jabbed a knife into it. "I'm getting in and turning the key. Screw you, socially stunted neighborhood children."
"Adriana, could you stop for a minute and tell me where the note is?"
Addy turned the key and put the car in gear, backing slowly out of her driveway. "Sitting next to me, along with the knife. You can send one of your lackeys to the studio to get it." Addy owned a yoga studio on Cannery Row, the trendy, store-lined street in Monterey made famous by John Steinbeck, and she had no intention of being late to her first class of the day because her neighbors were jerks. Not this time. "Okay, look," Liz said, "I need you to pull over and read the note to me."
"Dear Miss Torres, We're coming for you. This time we mean it, just like the other seven times. Love, your friendly neighborhood troll children," Addy droned.
"You know," Liz said, her too-polite tone barely concealing her growing impatience, "you really should talk to my new partnerhe's the department go-to guy for stalking cases. He could tell you some stories about why this isn't funny."
"Okay, fine." Addy sighed and fished around in her tote for the paper bag while keeping her eyes on the road. Hearing the telltale crinkle, she opened it up and picked the note out of it, unfolding it against the steering wheel. As she hit an open stretch of road, she glanced down at the contents.
Her hand involuntarily jerked the wheel; the car jolted to the right.
As the note fluttered to the car floor, Addy managed to steer the Scion to the curb, where, hands shaking, she put it in Park. She pitched forward, until her forehead rested against the steering wheel. A sickly, clammy feeling prickled across her skin, and she gripped the wheel as if it were the last thing anchoring her to the sane world. Not that. She couldn't have seen that.
"Just a minute." Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she slowly raised her head and picked the note up off the floor. Instead of the childish penciled scrawls or cut-out magazine letters affixed to a page of loose-leaf that she'd received in the past, what she held was a computer printout of a photo. The image was slightly pixilated, so maybe she had been mistaken .
But then it snapped into focus. A low, soft, keening sound filled the car, and it took a moment to realize she was making it.
"Addy?" Liz snapped, the urgency in her voice carrying through the phone.
"Oh, God." Scrabbling for the driver's-side armrest, Addy punched the button to activate her automatic door locks. She twisted around to look back down her street, her pulse kicking into overdrive.
But who was hiding out there? Who had left this?
Who would do this to her?
Suddenly furious, she let the note fall as she smacked her hand against the window. A stinging, fiery pain shot across her palm. She curled her arm against her chest and sank back in her seat.
"Addy, for heaven's sake, tell me what the note said!"
She doubled over, trying to regain control and finding that for the first time in four years, she just couldn't. "Liz, it's awful," she gasped, trying desperately not to cry, not to lose it completely until she'd told her friend what she'd seen. "I can't breathe."
"I'm coming over."
"No. I can't go back there." Focus. She had to focus.
"God, Liz, I'm afraid to go back to my own home." Pressing her palms against the steering wheel, she narrowed her focus to the space between her thumbs, inhaling through her nose, exhaling through her mouth. In. Out. In. Out. "It's different this time," she said, her voice regaining some of its former calm.
"It's James." Inhale. Detach, just like her first yoga master had taught her. Detach. What shows up must be accepted without upset. "It's a picture of James. Someone took a picture of his body the day he " Exhale. Accept. She glanced at the slip of paper and the tremors in her body worsened. "Liz, I think this was taken right when he died."