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Livvie studied the bag of chocolate-chip cookies that peeked out of the plastic bag as she placed a foot on the bottom step of the flight that led to her second-floor apartment. Twenty-five percent more chips. Good. She needed all the chocolate she could get.
An unexpected noise penetrated her dismal introspection, and she stopped with one foot on the stairway and the other on the floor. While she was tempted to dismiss the popping sound as something innocent, she couldn't. Uncle Max had once taken her to a firing range and she'd taken a few shots with a pistol that had a suppressor attached. Some newfangled toy he'd been tryingout at the time, she remembered. The gun had made that exact sound. The popping, coughing noise had come from ... she turned her head ... that apartment. The door was open, just a crack.
The walls in this building were thin. If the hard-of-hearing woman in 1B had had her television on as usual, Livvie never would've heard the noise from 1A, open door or no. She listened for a moment more, and tried to dismiss what she'd heard.
She didn't know the woman who lived in 1A, but they said hello in the hallway on a regular basis. 1A was a very pretty, very quiet woman with dark hair and dark eyes. Hispanic, Livvie had guessed, since the name on the mailbox was Nina Garcia. There were two young girls in that apartment, girls who were as quiet and pretty as their mother. It was the thought of those girls that made it impossible for Livvie to ignore what she'd heard.
"Mrs. Garcia? Nina?" Livvie walked to the door, her grocery bag in one hand, the purse strap over her shoulder threatening to fall. "Hello? Is everything okay?" Nina Garcia would come to the door, tell her all was well, and Livvie could climb the stairs to eat her ice cream and cookies while she cursed Terry's name. The rat. And maybe she'd cry a little bit again, as she contemplated what she'd lost. Or rather, what she'd falsely imagined she'd found. Ice cream, cookies and tears. The ultimate pity party.
No one answered her call. Livvie slung the plastic handle of her grocery bag over her arm and took her cell phone out of her purse. She wasn't about to walk into that apartment. This was a job for the police, not a recently dumped elementary school teacher who had an overactive imagination and too much time on her hands.
"What's your emergency?" a dispassionate voice asked.
"I think I heard a gunshot," Livvie said. She gave the 911 operator her name and address.
"We'll have an officer on the scene shortly," the woman on the other end of the line said.
Livvie leaned against the wall and relaxed a little. "It's probably nothing," she said. "I just heard a ..."
The door to the apartment opened slowly. For a moment Livvie thought she'd be proved wrong. Nina would walk into the hallway with a glass of champagne in her hand ... explaining the popping sound ... and Livvie would tell the 911 operator to call off the cops.
A gun, bulky suppressor attached, was the first thing she saw.
It wasn't Nina who stepped into the hall, but a man. Like the family in 1A, he was dark-skinned. Unlike the Garcias, he was not pretty. His nose had been broken at least once, there was a tattoo of a spiderweb on his neck, and most startling ... a jagged scar marred his face from the corner of one eye to his jaw.
The man turned to her, startled to find her so close. In an instant he noted the cell phone, her groceries and her fear. His gun hand began to shift.
Livvie did the only thing she could think of. She swung the grocery bag up with all the force she could muster. The cookies didn't carry much weight, but a half-gallon of frozen ice cream could do a lot of damage, if used properly. She caught him off guard and knocked the gun out of his hand, then swung again and aimed for the scar.
And she screamed. Doors along the hallway began to open. Cautiously, yes, but she and the man with the scar were no longer alone. The distant wail of sirens grabbed his attention, and he ran. He scooped up the gun she'd knocked out of his hand as he made his escape.
The man with the scar glanced back, and his eye caught hers. She shuddered and turned away, pushing the door to 1A open wide.
"Mrs. Garcia?" The danger was gone. If the scarred man had had an accomplice, she'd know it by now because he'd be running, too. "Hello?"
The drapes in the living room had been drawn and most of the lights were off. The apartment was dim, and much too quiet. Livvie's instinct was to return to the hallway and wait for the cops, but what if someone was hurt? It wouldn't be right to leave them unattended, even for a few more minutes. Especially if those children were in here! The very thought gave Livvie a chill. She couldn't possibly stand in the hallway when those girls might be in the apartment, frightened out of their wits and maybe even wounded. Or worse.
The apartment was too quiet. Hysterical screaming would have been preferable to the ominous silence, but silence was what she got as she walked through the small rooms, touching nothing as she searched for the occupants of 1A. No one was in the living room, and the bedrooms seemed to be deserted. Livvie called out a friendly "hello" as she walked through the apartment, searching for signs of life.
Just when she'd decided that no one was at home, Livvie stepped into the kitchen and found Nina. She'd been expecting the worst, and still her heart leapt and she cried out in surprise. The woman's motionless body lay in a pool of her own blood. There was so much blood. The petite woman had been shot in the chest, and her once-white summer dress was soaked.
Pale fingers twitched, and Livvie jumped back, startled. A ragged, horrible sound echoed through the room as the woman on the floor tried to breathe. Nina wasn't dead ... at least, not yet. Livvie pushed her fear and revulsion aside and knelt down beside Nina, trying to ignore all the blood on the floor and on the woman. Surely she should do something, but she didn't know exactly what. Livvie pressed her hand over the wound to quell the flow of blood, even though she was almost positive it was too late for such an effort. She had to try, at least. She couldn't possibly just sit here and do nothing at all.
Excerpted from Running Scared by Linda Jones Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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