Read an Excerpt
November 21 . . . 10:27 p.m.
They couldn't rip things apart fast enough. They overturned the soda machine. They slashed the cushions for the lawn furniture that were stacked beneath the overhang in front of the camp store. They pulled fistfuls of white polyester filler from the gashes. Two of them hurled a metal lawn chair through one of the front windows. Glass shattered, spraying in all directions.
Alec Stryker smashed the sole of his boot against the front door. It sprang open without protest. Gabriel and Lydia stumbled past him, followed by Hollis, who moved with slow determination, seeming to savor each moment.
The store was only one small room at the front of a larger building. A few feet inside an old-fashioned cash register, its empty drawer half open, sat on the rustic pine counter. Gabriel Hart stared at it. The drawer made him think of a tongue hanging from a thirsty mouth. He looked away, glad no one was around to hear them break in. Kate Hennessey, who owned the place, and her niece, Gem, were in Virginia at a funeral. Alec had sworn to it. For the moment, anyway, Gabriel forced himself not to think about Gem. If he did, he would bolt for the woods and never stop running.
While the others smashed a display case filled with silver and turquoise jewelry, Gabriel halfheartedly looked around for something to break, finally grabbing the glass pot from the Mr. Coffee machine and smacking it hard against the counter until it shattered. He had to at least try to make it look like he was into the trashing.
Lydia Misurella stood on the other side of the room watching him intently. One by one she pulled postcards of the camp from the cardrack and tore them into pieces. The look she gave Gabriel was knowing and intimate. But he turned away, searching for something else to destroy.
Across the room a refrigerator with a glass door stood almost empty except for a few bottles of Snapple and a six-pack of Coke. Gabriel looked around for something heavy. Something to smash into the door. But then a row of T-shirts and sweatshirts, each with the name Stony Brook Campgrounds emblazoned across the front, caught his attention. With one sweep of his arm they were on the floor. He wiped his muddy hiking boots on the shirts, grinding his heels into them, pretending it was Alec Stryker's face. His jaw was so tight it felt as if his teeth might crack.
A few minutes ago Alec Stryker and Hollis Feeney had been like dark shadows darting about the room, pulling shelves from the walls, letting their contents crash to the floor. But when Gabriel looked up from the muddy mess of torn and tangled shirts, Hollis was no longer there.
Gabriel stepped outside, pretending to look for him. It was an excuse not to have to watch Alec and Lydia as they continued to trash the store, and he knew it. He leaned against the front of the building. A heavy white frost had begun to settle over everything. Gabriel's nose and fingers were almost numb. Clouds of his breath circled his head.
Inside the building Alec was laughing. Gabriel heard the shatter of glass and knew Alec had broken the door of the refrigerator. Other soundsthe crunch of metal, the thud of heavy woodhe was not so sure about and was surprised to discover he did not want to turn around to look.
The woods across the dirt road beckoned him. He had a sudden urge to make a run for it, but he shoved aside any thoughts of deserting the others. In a few minutes they would realize he wasn't in the store and call him. And he would go. He always did. For a brief moment he squeezed his eyes closed, as if he could shut out everything that was happening.
When he opened them, he saw the tops of the trees, the bare black branches spread across an almost moonless sky, looking like dark exposed veins. Tonight was not like those other times. The rushthe blood pumping so fast through his veins it threatened to burst through his skinwasn't there. Only one thing was the same. None of what was happening seemed real. If it hadn't been for the sting of the cold on his hands and face, he might have made himself believe he was dreaming. And that would have been fine with him.
Gabriel was still leaning against the front of the store when Alec and Lydia came through the door. Alec headed straight for the woods. A silver and turquoise necklace dangled from his bulging back pocket, and Gabriel knew, despite Hollis's warning not to take anything, that Alec had been helping himself to the jewelry from the smashed display case.
Lydia, who had been right behind Alec, stopped when she saw Gabriel and leaned into him, squinting in the dim, icy moonlight. Her face was so close to his he could smell the lavender soap she always used. Lydia ran her cold finger along his jaw. "Let's get out of here," she whispered.
Gabriel shivered at her touch just as something crashed through the side window. A bright light flashed from somewhere behind him. He whipped around to see flames licking at the pine counter, streaking across the floor toward the windows, lapping at the sills as if trying to get out.
The smell of gasoline stung his nose. Lydia, in a panic, began pulling at his arm. From the edge of the woods Alec shouted for them to get the hell away from the building.
Lydia began to run. Gabriel followed her just as the other front windowthe one they hadn't brokenexploded from the heat.
The three of them stood across the road, watching, transfixed. Then Hollis appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. He stood a few feet apart from the others.
Alec came up behind Gabriel. He could smell the beer on Alec's breath. "When it reaches that propane tank, all hell's gonna break loose." Alec pointed to the large tank that stood about twenty feet from the left side of the building.
Gabriel stared at him as if Alec had lost his mind. No one had said anything about setting the place on fire. That was not part of the plan.
He looked over at Lydia, whose expression was as stunned as his own.
The wind picked up, sweeping through the branches. The fire leaped from the building, tearing through the dry winter grass, swallowing everything in sight.
From the Hardcover edition.
Copyright 2002 by Joyce McDonald