Authors: Max Allan Collins
Other Books by Max Allan Collins
Published by Thomas & Mercer
The Memoirs of Nathan Heller
The Million-Dollar Wound
Blood and Thunder
Damned in Paradise
Angel in Black
No Cure for Death
The Baby Blue Rip-off
Kill Your Darlings
A Shroud for Aquarius
Nice Weekend for a Murder
The “Disaster” Mysteries
The Titanic Murders
The Hindenburg Murders
The Pearl Harbor Murders
The Lusitania Murders
The London Blitz Murders
The War of the Worlds Murder
(with Barbara Collins, as “Barbara Allan”)
(with Barbara Collins, as “Barbara Allan”)
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2013 Max Allan Collins
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
PO Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
Library of Congress Control Number: 2013904877
I wish to acknowledge my frequent collaborator,
Matthew V. Clemens,
for coplotting, forensics (and other) research, and the preparation of a story treatment from which I could develop this novel.
—M. A. C.
In memory of Bj Elsner with fond remembrance of days at the Mississippi Valley Writers Conference
If you are bent on revenge, dig two graves.
There is a sacredness in tears.
True first love is dangerous.
Ten Years Ago
Breath coming in raspy gasps, sixteen-year-old Jordan Rivera peeked out from her hiding place under her bed.
she knew, working to calm herself, control her breathing.
This had been such a typical boring evening, dinner with her folks and her older brother, Jimmy, then to her room for homework. Now the dullness that was her life had taken a terrifying turn.…
She’d been lying on her bed, wearing only a knee-length nightshirt, algebra book open in front of her as she daydreamed about Mark Pryor. About kissing him. About
than kissing him…
While it seemed every other cheerleader lusted after quarterback Pete Harris, Jordan had set her eyes on Mark, the team kicker. Mark was no broad-shouldered knuckle dragger—he was short and thin, like she was; but his hair was blond where hers was black, his eyes blue where hers were dark brown.
Not just a football player, either—Mark was incredibly bright and no stuck-up jackass like so many jocks. And she just
those lips of his would be the softest of any guy’s in the senior class—even if she hadn’t found out for herself yet.
Such thoughts had sent her homework retreating to the furthest recesses of her mind, only to be interrupted by the crash downstairs.
She never jumped at the “boo” moments in scary movies, but this jarring sound, unexpected and unknown, made her jump, all right. Shook and shivered her. As she hopped off the bed, she settled herself, thinking clumsy
Jimmy had knocked something over, or maybe one of her parents had tripped and fallen.
These innocent thoughts disappeared when, from beyond the door, came muffled, alarmed voices, and what sounded like someone thrashing around.
Cautious but without hesitation, she opened her door, stepped into the hallway, and had just gotten to where she could see down the stairs when she heard her mother scream, “
The words themselves barely registered—it was the fear in her mother’s scream that seized Jordan. Fear like nothing she’d ever heard from her mother before. It stopped her like a punch, and the girl’s eyes automatically shifted across the railing to the first floor…
… where her father wrestled desperately with a man in dark blue.
The front door was thrown open wide, a small hole in the wall where the knob had crashed into it.
had been the sound Jordan had heard—this man in blue had forced his way into their home!
Their unwanted guest seemed to be wearing a police uniform…
but why would a policeman be wrestling with her father?
Then light glinted off something in the intruder’s hand—
—whose blade slashed down across her father’s face. A ribbon of scarlet glistened on her dad’s cheek as he howled like a wounded animal.
Her mom again screamed, “
But there was no going forward, the stairs blocked now by the struggle between the intruder and her father. And then her brother, Jimmy, entered into the fray, coming to aid Dad, but too late to prevent a second knife blow that plunged deep in her father’s chest. Dad sagged back to the floor, blood blossoming on his white shirt.
Jimmy was diving at the intruder, and she wanted to help, but Jordan’s training was to obey her parents, and her mother had said “Run,” and so she ran.
Back to her room, where she shut the door behind her, considered going out the window, but there was nowhere to go, just straight down to the ground, two floors below.
Should she jump?
She would almost certainly break one leg, if not both, and
how could she ever get away?
She looked for her cell phone, remembered it was in her jacket downstairs…
, where Jimmy’s voice rose in a peal of yowling pain.
Jordan shuddered, choked back tears, scoured her room for a weapon, seeing teddy bears, CDs, posters of teen idols, the mirror over the tiny dressing table. Though nothing looked out of place, nothing resembled a weapon either, unless she broke the mirror maybe. Then her eyes fell on her student desk.
She jerked open the drawer, found the scissors, and drew them out as the sounds of struggle grew closer. Someone was coming up the stairs—
more than one person?
Holding the scissors like a knife, the points not as sharp as she wished, Jordan threw open her window to suggest that she’d fled, then squeezed under her bed.
Where she waited.
Trying to control her breathing, a ragged sound so loud that it seemed to echo throughout the room. The house. The universe. Sweat matting her hair, running into her eyes. Cold terror flowing through her veins, her heart hammering in her ears. She looked at the scissors in her trembling fist and tried to force herself not to shake. The room seemed warm, but she couldn’t stop shivering.
She peeked under the hanging bedspread toward the door. Sounds of struggle had grown louder, closer, moving to the hallway beyond that door. Grunts and growls and bodies bouncing off walls.
Then Jordan heard her mother nearby, crying, “Why are you
this to us? What did we
If the intruder answered, Jordan didn’t hear the reply.
Shivering, her teeth chattering now, she heard the struggle perhaps another ten seconds—then there was a loud gasp right outside her door.
Not Jimmy or Dad—her mother.
She wanted to scream, for her mother, for herself, for mercy, for no reason but to scream at the insanity that had invaded her sphere.
But Jordan managed to stay silent and even made her breathing quieter, eyes glued to the light leaking in under the door.
After what seemed like forever, the door swung slowly open and Jordan stared at a patch of hallway. An eternity seemed to pass before she saw a shoe take a drunken step in. Instantly, Jordan recognized her mother’s white New Balance walking shoe. Her mother’s foot hung there for a long moment, then a bead of blood plopped like a solitary raindrop on the toe.
Her mother took another unsteady step, a gurgling sound coming from somewhere. As Jordan watched, her mother’s feet hesitated, then the body those feet had supported toppled.
And her mother’s face came to rest just inches from Jordan’s own.
Mom’s brown eyes wide, staring, lifeless, blood visible at the corners of her mouth and now Jordan screamed.
The shrill wordless wail seemed to fill the whole world and even though she tried to stop, Jordan couldn’t. And when need for breath demanded a stop, the scream started right back in, on and on, her mother’s eyes staring at her without life, without love, without hope.
A hand closed around her ankle and pulled—
—cutting off her scream. She released the scissors to try to grip the floor or the underside of the bed or
, but she felt herself traveling backward, her fingernails clawing uselessly at the hardwood floor as she jerked her foot, trying to free herself of the firm grip. On her tummy, she tried to twist around to see her attacker, but couldn’t lift her shoulder, the bottom of the bed blocking her.