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Authors: Erica Spindler

Dead Run

BOOK: Dead Run
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Dear Reader,

Thank you for purchasing
Dead Run.
I hope it keeps you up turning the pages until the wee hours of the night.

I'd love to hear from you! And now—as opposed to 2002 when
Dead Run
was originally published—there are lots of ways for you to contact me. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter, and you may also email me at [email protected] or write to my snail mail address, P.O. Box 8556, Mandeville, LA 70470.

Thanks again for choosing
Dead Run.
To show my appreciation, I'm offering you a free Erica Spindler refrigerator magnet! Simply request one through Facebook, Twitter, www.ericaspindler.com or my P.O. Box, and I'll mail it to you.

Best wishes,

Erica Spindler

Praise for the novels of Erica Spindler

“It's time for another pulse-pounding, page-turning, absolutely can't-put-it-down roller-coaster ride of a read!”

—Lisa Gardner, author of
The Neighbor,
on
Blood Vines

“Intoxicating suspense… Best served with a glass of your favorite wine for a sleepless one-night read.”

—Alex Kava, author of
Black Friday,
on
Blood Vines

“A masterful thriller that causes serious tingling in the spinal region.”

—
Daily Record
on
Breakneck

“The body count rises at a dizzying pace, and Spindler's clean writing style keeps the plot moving along.”

—
Star
magazine on
Breakneck

“Take a Big Easy tour down Erica Spindler's mean streets. This lady knows her turf…and her terror.”

—
Mississippi Clarion Ledger
on
Last Known Victim

“Addictively suspenseful.”

—
New Mystery Reader Magazine
on
Copycat


Copycat
will keep you on the edge of your chair and up for hours turning page after page.”

—
Writers Unlimited

“Almost impossible to predict the outcome.”

—
Bookreporter.com
on
Killer Takes All

“Get ready to stay up all night, and if you're prone to biting your fingernails when things get tense, wear gloves!”

—Dean James, Murder by the Book, Houston, TX, on
See Jane Die

ERICA SPINDLER
DEAD RUN

This book is dedicated to the many victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack upon the United States of America. And to all the heroes of that day and its aftermath: the firefighters, police, emergency medical and rescue personnel, Good Samaritan citizens and the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93. Thank you. God Bless.

Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

—1
Peter
5:8

DEAD RUN
PROLOGUE

Key West, Florida
Friday, July 13, 2001
11:00 p.m.

P
astor Rachel Howard peered out the bedroom's rear window, struggling to see past the sheets of rain. Thunder shook the one-hundred-and-twenty-year-old parsonage, followed immediately by a flash of lightning so bright it stung her eyes.

She shrank back from the ground-floor window, retreating to the absolute darkness of the room once more. She didn't want them, the ones who watched, to suspect what she was up to. They were coming for her. She didn't know who they were, only that there were many of them.

He was more powerful than she had imagined. Craftier. More vile.

She had underestimated his reach. An error. A fatal one, she feared.

Rachel squeezed her eyes shut, words from the Twenty-third Psalm running through her head, comforting her. Drowning out the litany of other voices, ones no one but she could hear.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.

She planned to escape tonight and head to the mainland. Once safe, she would decide her best course of action. If she made it.

A sense of calm came over her; a momentary peace. In death his glory awaited. No matter the outcome of this night, the darkness would not have her.

Rachel opened her eyes and inched toward the window once more, clutching the envelope in her hands more tightly. Her friend would come despite the storm. He wouldn't let her down.

She prayed he wouldn't.

And she prayed she hadn't endangered his life by asking for his help.

She imagined their laughter, their tauntings. She amused them, she knew. Her Lord amused them.

Thunder boomed again, reverberating through her. In the flash of lightning she saw her friend dart across the garden, a shapeless figure in a rain-slicked poncho.

Moments later he appeared at the window. Gratitude and affection flooded her senses; tears stung her eyes. She lifted the window and handed him the envelope.

“Take it. Make sure my sister gets it.” He nodded but didn't speak. “Now go, quickly.”

He hesitated a moment, then turned and disappeared into the storm.

Rachel wasted no time. She grabbed her raincoat and
umbrella, purse and car keys, and slipped out into the night. Flower petals littered the path before her, torn from the canopy of branches above by the wind and rain, the bruised poinciana blossoms forming a kind of bloody carpet.

Her Toyota was parked around the back of the parsonage. She started for it, working to keep her pace leisurely enough not to call attention to herself. She didn't want them to guess what she was up to.

The rain beat down on her umbrella, sluicing over the sides, splattering at her feet. Her lips moved as she silently spoke the words of the Apostles' Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.

I believe in—

She heard a sound from behind her. She stopped and turned, heart thundering in her chest. “Stephen?” she whispered, voice trembling. “Is that you?”

The rain stopped. The wind died. She felt the breath of death stir against her face, its stench as foul as the grave.

With a cry, Rachel broke into a run. The parking area in sight, she stumbled on a loose paver. Her car keys slipped from her fingers, clattering against the walkway. She scrambled to retrieve them.

She closed her fingers around the keys. The bushes rustled; she heard a soft laugh. She twisted her head, looking back. Lightning flashed; she caught the glint of metal as it arced through the darkness.

“No!” She leaped to her feet and ran, tripping once but righting herself.

She reached her car, curled her fingers around the door handle and yanked. The door popped open. She heard them following her. Without looking back, she scrambled behind the wheel and slammed the door shut. She hit the lock and attempted to insert the key into the ignition, her hands shaking so badly it took her three tries.

Finally the engine sputtered, then turned over. Sobbing with relief, she threw the car into Reverse and floored the accelerator. The vehicle shot backward, fishtailing on the wet pavement.

Rachel shifted to Drive and gunned the engine. As the car leaped forward, she whispered a prayer of thanks. She had done it! She was going to make it.

Rachel dared a glance back, searching for her pursuers, unable to see past the wall of rain. She returned her gaze to the road. Her headlights fell across something blocking her way. A figure, she realized, standing in the middle of the road.

A scream ripping past her lips, Rachel simultaneously yanked the wheel to the right and jammed on the brakes. The car lurched sideways, sliding on the wet pavement, going into a three-sixty spin. Rachel fought to regain control of the vehicle, praying for a miracle. Knowing it was too late.

The vehicle jettisoned off the pavement. A tree rushed up to meet the car. Rachel threw up her arms to shield her face as the impact sent her flying forward.

CHAPTER 1

St. Louis, Missouri
Monday, July 16
8:40 a.m.

L
iz Ames watched as coffee dripped from the filter basket into the glass carafe. She yawned, cursing snooze buttons, red-eye flights and coffeemakers that brewed at a snail's pace. She needed caffeine now, not five minutes from now.

She was going to be really late this morning, she acknowledged. What was with her? She used to be so punctual. So…perky. No matter how few hours of sleep she had gotten the night before.

Now she could barely drag herself out of bed.

Jared, her cheating weasel of an ex-husband, had happened to her, she thought, squinting against the light streaming in and around the edges of the closed blinds.
And in response, her personal and professional life had taken a quick, sanity-stealing trip south.

Even Rachel had gone south, Liz thought, thinking of her older sister who had accepted the call from a small nondenominational Christian church on Key West right in the middle of the crisis. She shifted her gaze to her answering machine and its frantically flashing message-waiting light.

She really should call her. They hadn't spoken in nearly a month, and their last conversation had been troubling for many reasons, including the fact they had argued.

Simultaneously, the coffeemaker gurgled, signaling it was in its final throes of brewing, and the phone rang. Liz grabbed her mug with one hand, the phone with the other. “H'lo?”

“Elizabeth Ames?”

The voice on the other end of the line was a man's. Liz recognized his official tone from the many calls she had made and received in her capacity as a licensed clinical social worker and family counselor.

“Yes,” she responded. “Could you hold a moment?”

Without waiting for a reply, she set down the receiver, filled her coffee mug then added a splash of cream. She opened the cabinet above the sink and took out the vial of antidepressants her doctor had prescribed.
Modern medicine's answer to a cloudy day.
She shook one onto her palm, then downed it with the scalding coffee.

Wincing, she brought the phone back to her ear. “Now, how can I help you?”

“This is Lieutenant Detective Valentine Lopez, Key West Police Department. Are you Rachel Howard's sister?”

Liz froze. Finally, she pulled one of the kitchen chairs away from the table and sank heavily onto it.

“Ms. Ames?” the detective said again. “You are Pastor Rachel Howard's sister, aren't you? Pastor Howard from Paradise Christian Church on Key West? She listed you as her next of kin.”

Next of kin. Dear Lord, no.
“I am,” Liz managed to say. “What's… Is Rachel all right?”

“I'm calling because we're concerned about your sister. Have you seen her recently?”

Her heart skipped a beat. “Not since she…since she left for Key West.”

“And that was about six months ago?”

“Yes.”

“When did you last speak with her?”

Liz closed her eyes, remembering. Rachel had been subdued and evasive. When Liz had confronted her, she had denied anything was wrong. She had claimed her pastoral duties had kept her from calling. “It's been a while. A month or so. We argued. I was angry.”

“May I ask why?”

“It's personal, Detective.”

“It's important, Ms. Ames.”

“I'm going through…was going through a divorce. And one of my patients… I needed my sister and she wasn't available. I was angry.” Her words sounded childish to her own ears and she felt herself flush. “What's happened? Is Rachel—”

“And that's the last time you talked with her?”

“Yes, but I don't understa—”

“So, you haven't heard from her in the past seventy-two hours? Not by phone, e-mail or post?”

“No, but—” She brought a hand to her pounding head and glanced at the machine's blinking message
light once more. “I've been out of town since last Thursday. I planned to get caught up on messages this morning.”

“I'll need you to contact me after you do.”

The blood rushed to Liz's head. She tightened her grip on the receiver, suddenly terrified. “I don't think so, Lieutenant. Not until you tell me what's going on. Is something wrong with Rachel?”

“Your sister has disappeared, Ms. Ames. We'd hoped you might be able to offer us a clue as to her whereabouts.”

BOOK: Dead Run
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