Read an Excerpt
Just before dawn
Wednesday, September 16
Jesse Penrick didn’t miss much on his solitary nocturnal rambles. Lights at an odd hour. A visitor never before seen. An unfamiliar car.
It was the car that attracted him in the ghostly hour just before dawn. The car and the window lighted at such an unusually for this cabin, early hour. Jesse sidled between the oleander and the exterior wall to peer through the smudged window. He liked looking in from the darkness, unseen, unfelt. He liked to slip inside unlatched doors, too, when occupants were absent. He liked finding out about people.
Knowing funny little facts could pay off Sometimes the payoff was slipping in the needle, the muttered comment that brought a flash of fear or fury to an unwary face.
Jesse Penrick liked finding out about people. But he didn’t like people.
His watery, nearsighted eyes strained to see as much as possible. The wooden shutters were closed, but a broken slat afforded him a narrow field of vision, the portion of the living room that held a couple of wicker chairs and a wooden chest. As he watched, the occupant of the room came into view, carrying an awkward, lumpy bundle. The bearer dumped the load on the floor beside the wooden chest, then lifted the lid.
But Jesse’s gaze was riveted on the floor and the red-and-blue quilt—just like one his grandmothere’d made—that gaped open to reveal its contents.
Jesse could have called the police.
It would have been exciting. Lights flashing. Sirens. Maybe even yellow tape like he saw sometimes in TV crime scenes. And Jesse could be a hero, interviewed on Channel 10. Hot stuff.
Instead, he waited, his gnarled hands gripping the window frame. In only a few minutes, the room was empty and dark, the bundle stuffed into the chest, the lights turned off, the car departed in a swirl of dust.
Jesse looked once over his shoulder, then trotted to the back of the cabin and the kitchen door he had learned to shake until the bolt slipped. He tiptoed inside. He had a little pocket flash which he aimed down at the opened chest. He tugged on the quilt. His impersonal blue eyes surveyed the interior thoughtfully, then he gave a satisfied nod. Without a qualm, he reached down and pulled. In a moment, he stared at the soft gleam of gold against his palm. That would prove he’d been here, all right.
He tucked the covering in place, closed the lid, then slid out of the house as silently as he’d come. Be interesting to see what happened next. And it would happen pretty quick, as hot as it was. He didn’t have to be in any hurry. But, when the time was right, he’d make a little phone call. Be a hell of a shock. His thin mouth stretched in a wolfish grin.
Lucinda Burrows darted through the crowd, her brown alligator heels clicking excitedly against the concrete.
She’d done just as instructed, and the whole operation had gone without a hitch.
She was good at this.
Soon there would be more to do. Her green eyes glowed with excitement. She caught a glimpse of herself in plate glass and was pleased. She still looked young—and tonight she felt so young. To think this fabulous week had begun with a chance conversation at her favorite bookstore. After all the years of reading about adventure, adventure had come to her. She’d never thought it could happen!
She paused once, a little daunted now, because the crowds had thinned, and she was at the far end of the long drive that led to the highway. Then lights blinked twice in the darkness beneath a line of loblolly pines.
She took a tighter grip on her overnight bag and broke into an eager trot, stumbling a little in her eagerness, careening like a moth toward extinction.
The perfect crime.
Who said it couldn’t be done?
The solitary drinker raised the champagne glass in silent toast.
It was then—and did some dark gods in a shadowy corner of the universe clasp their sides and shake with mirth?—that the phone began to ring.