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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||563 KB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Goodkind was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, where he also attended art school, one of his many interests on the way to becoming a writer. Besides a career in wildlife art, he has been a cabinet maker, violin maker, and he has done restoration work on rare and exotic artifacts from around the world. In 1983 Goodkind moved to the forested mountains he loves. There, in the woods near the ocean, he built the house where he and his wife, Jeri, live, and came at last to tell his own stories.
Read an Excerpt
It was the pirate flag flying atop the plumbing truck that firstcaught his attention. The white skull and crossbones seemedto be straining to keep from being blown off the flapping blackflag as the flatbed truck, apparently trying to beat the light, cannonballedthrough the intersection. The truck heeled over as it cutan arc around the corner. White PVC pipe rolled across the diamondplate of the truck bed, sounding like the sharp rattle of bones.At the speed it was traveling the truck looked to be in danger ofcapsizing.
Alex glanced to the only other person waiting at the curb withhim. With his mind adrift in distracted thoughts he hadn’t beforenoticed the lone woman standing just in front of him and to theright. He didn’t even remember seeing where she’d come from. Hethought that he saw just a hint of vapor rising from the sides of herarms into the chill air.
Since he wasn’t able to see the woman’s face, Alex didn’t know ifshe saw the truck bearing down on them, but he found it difficult to believe that she wouldn’t at least hear the diesel engine roaring atfull throttle.
Seeing by the truck’s trajectory that it wasn’t going to make thecorner, Alex snatched the woman’s upper arm and yanked her backwith him.
Tires screeched as the great white truck bounced up over thecurb right where Alex and the woman had been standing. The frontbumper swept past, missing them by inches. Rusty dust billowedout behind the truck. Chunks of sod and dirt flew by.
Had Alex hesitated they both would have been dead.
On the white door just above the name “Jolly Roger Plumbing”was a picture of a jovial pirate with a jaunty black patch over one eyeand a sparkle painted in the corner of his smile. Alex glared back asthe pirate sailed past.
When he looked up to see what kind of maniac was driving heinstead met the direct, dark glare of a burly passenger. The man’scurly beard and thick mat of dark hair made him look like he reallycould have been a pirate. His eyes, peering out of narrow slits aboveplump, pockmarked cheeks, were filled with a kind of vulgar rage.
The big man appeared infuriated that Alex and the womanwould dare to be in the way of their off-road excursion. As the doorpopped open there was no doubt as to his combative intent.
He looked like a man stepping out of a nightmare.
Alex felt a cold wave of adrenaline flood through him as he mentallychoreographed his moves. The passenger, who seemed to begetting ready to leap out of the still-moving truck, would reach himbefore the driver could join in, making it one against one—at leastfor a brief time. Alex couldn’t believe that it was happening, but itwas and he knew that he was going to have to deal with it.
Calm fury filled him as he prepared himself for the unavoidable. Everything slowed until each beat of his heart seemed to take aneternity. He watched the muscles in the man’s arm bulge as he heldthe door open. In response, Alex’s own muscles tightened, ready tomeet the threat. His mind was cocooned in silence.
Just as the passenger’s stout leg swung out the open door, flashinglights and the sudden wail of a siren made the burly man turn hisattention away. A police car, tires squealing, launched across the intersectionin a way that suggested the cops were angered by the truck’sstunt. The police car had been parked beside a hedge to the side of thedrive into the parking lot across the street. As they had sped past, themen in the truck apparently hadn’t seen the parked police car watchingtraffi c. Lost in his own thoughts, Alex hadn’t, either.
The loudspeaker crackled to life. “Pull it over!”
The world seemed to rush back in.
The white plumbing truck, trailing a fog of dust, slowed as itrolled off the curb up ahead, the black-and-white police car rightbehind it. As the truck stopped, two policemen leaped out, handsresting at the ready on their guns as they approached from bothsides of the truck at the same time. They yelled orders and both mencarefully emerged with their hands up. In an instant the officers hadthem out and leaning on the front fenders of the truck.
Alex felt the tension drain out of his muscles, leaving his kneesfeeling weak.
As he turned his glare from the men being frisked, he found thewoman’s gaze fixed on him. Her eyes were the luscious color of hisfinest sable artist brushes. It was clearly evident to him that behindthose sensuous brown eyes she appraised the world around her withan incisive intellect.
She glanced deliberately down at his big hand still tightly grippingher upper arm. He had intended to toss her back out of harm’s way so that the passenger couldn’t hurt her, but the police hadshown up first.
She looked up at him in silent command.
“Sorry,” he said, releasing her arm. “You were about to be rundown by pirates.”
She said nothing.
He had meant his comment to be lighthearted, to ease the frightof what had nearly happened, but by her calm expression she didn’tappear to be the least bit amused. He hoped he hadn’t hurt her arm.He knew that sometimes he didn’t realize his own strength.
Not knowing what to do with his hands, Alex combed his fingersback through his thick hair as he stuffed his other hand in a pocket.
He cleared his throat, changed his tone to be more serious, andstarted over. “I’m sorry if I hurt your arm, but that truck would havehit you if I hadn’t pulled you back out of the way.”
“It matters to you?”
Her voice was as captivating as her eyes.
“Yes,” he said, a little puzzled. “I wouldn’t like to see anyone gethurt in an accident like that.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t an accident.”
Her expression was unreadable. He could only wonder at hermeaning. He was at a loss as to how to respond.
The memory of the way she’d been standing at the curb still hungin the shadows in the back of his mind. Even lost in distant, dejectedthoughts at the time, he had noticed that her body language hadn’tbeen quite right. Because he was an artist, a person’s balance, eitherat rest or in motion, stood out to him. There had been somethingout of the ordinary about the way she had been standing.
Alex wasn’t sure if, by her answer, she was simply trying to do thesame as he had been doing—trying to lighten the heart-poundingscare of what had nearly happened—or if she was dismissing hischivalry as a presumptuous line. He imagined that a woman asattractive as she was had to deal with men constantly trying cleverlines in order to meet her.
The satiny black dress that hugged her curves looked to be eitherhigh fashion or oddly out of time and place—he couldn’t quitedecide which—as did the long, deep green wrap draped over hershoulders. Her luxuriant fall of soft, summer-blond hair could havegone either way as well.
Alex figured that she had to be on her way to the exclusive jewelrystore that was the anchor of the upscale Regent Center acrossthe street. The slanted glass façade was just visible beyond the shadeof ash and linden trees spread across the broad grounds separatingthe upscale shops from Regent Boulevard.
He glanced over at the plumbing truck sitting at the curb. Thestrobing lights from the police car made the white truck look alternatelyblue and red.
After getting handcuffs on the passenger, the police officerpointed at the curb and told the man to sit beside the driver. Theman sat and crossed his legs. Both wore dark work clothes coveredwith grime. While both men quietly did as they were told, neitherlooked to be the least bit cowed.
One of the officers started toward Alex as the other spoke intothe radio clipped to his shirt at the shoulder.
“Are you two all right?” the man asked as he approached, hisvoice still carrying an adrenaline edge. “They didn’t hit you, didthey?”
Both of the cops were young and built like weightlifters. Bothhad bull necks. Black, short-sleeved shirts stretched over the swell oftheir arms served only to emphasize the size of their muscles. “No,” Alex said. “We’re fine.”
“Glad to hear it. That was quick thinking. For a minute I thoughtyou two were going to be roadkill.”
Alex gestured toward the men in handcuffs. “Are they beingarrested?”
With a quick glance he took in the woman, then shook his head.“No, unless they come back with warrants. With guys like this younever know what you’ve got, so we often cuff them for our ownsafety until they can be checked out. When my partner is finishedwriting up that ticket, though, I don’t think they’ll be in the moodto pull a stunt like this again for a while.”
That two cops this powerfully built would be worried about theguys in the truck to the point of cuffing them made Alex not feel sobad for being spooked when he’d looked into the dark eyes of thepassenger.
He glanced at the badge and extended his hand. “Thanks forcoming along when you did, Officer Slawinski.”
“Sure thing,” the man said as he shook Alex’s hand. By the forceapplied to the grip Alex figured that the man was still keyed up.Officer Slawinski turned away, then, eager to get back to the pirates.
The driver, still sitting on the curb, was thinner but just as mean-lookingas the burly passenger. He sat stone-faced, giving briefanswers as the officer standing over him asked questions while writingthe ticket.
The two officers spoke briefly, apparently about the results of thewarrant check, because Officer Slawinski nodded, then uncuffedthe passenger and told him to get back in the truck. After climbingback in, the passenger rested a hairy arm out the side window as theother cop started uncuffing the driver.
In the truck’s big, square side mirror, Alex saw the man’s dark eyes glaring right at him. They were the kind of eyes that seemed tobe out of place in a civilized world. Alex told himself that it had tobe that in such a newly built, luxurious part of town the work-wornconstruction vehicles, despite there being a lot of them, all seemedto be out of place. In fact, Alex recalled having seen the Jolly RogerPlumbing truck before.
Alex’s small house, not far away, had once been at the outskirtsof town among a cluster of other homes built in the seclusion ofwooded hills and cornfields, but they had long since been swallowedby the ever-expanding city. He now lived in a desirable area, if notexactly on a desirable street or in a desirable house.
Alex stood frozen for a moment, staring at the grubby, beardedface watching him in the truck’s mirror.
Then the man grinned at him.
It was as wicked a grin as Alex had ever seen.
As the black flag atop the truck lifted in a gust of wind, the skullalso gave Alex a grim grin.
He noticed then that the woman, ignoring the activity, waswatching him. As the light turned green, Alex gestured.
“Would you allow me to escort you safely across the street?” heasked in a tone of exaggerated gallantry.
For the first time she smiled. It wasn’t a broad grin, or a smilethat threatened to break into laughter, but rather a simple, modestcurve of her lips saying that this time she got the lighthearted natureof his words.
Still, it seemed to make the world suddenly beautiful on whatwas otherwise a rather depressing day for him.