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Portland, Or

Outside The Driftwood Bar And Lounge

Twenty Years Earlier

Behind her, Shannon Wallace hears a familiar sound. A sound that freezes her in mid-stride like a blast of frigid Arctic air: the ka-chunk of a round being chambered.

“Just get in the goddamned car, Shannon.”

Shannon’s heart batters her ribs. Her booze-fueled buzz evaporates beneath a heated rush of adrenaline. Fear dries her mouth. But when she speaks, her voice is steady, scorn needling ice through her words.

“So you’re Jim’s bitch now. Doing his dirty work so he can keep his motherfucking hands pristine. Figures.”

“Get. In. The car.” The tension in Craig Stearns’s voice spools tighter with each word.

Shannon laughs, her derision dark and razor-edged. “I’m not getting in the car. If your goal is to shoot me and dump my body in the middle of nowhere, then I don’t plan to make it easy for you. You’re gonna have to shoot me, then lug my dead-weight ass to the car and stuff it in the trunk.”

His silence says everything.

Pulse fluttering like a wild thing in her veins, at her temples, Shannon resumes walking, her shoes still in her hands, road grit peppering the soles of her feet, her nylons. She focuses her attention on the neon martini glass winking in the distant tavern’s black-painted window.

Footsteps crunch on gravel behind her, coming up fast, and Shannon breaks into a run, pelting down the night-painted highway, the chilly October air burning in her lungs. But Craig is faster, Academy-trained and in prime lean-muscled shape. He grabs her, his fingers clamping around her biceps, and whirls her around.

She stabs at him with the heel of her shoe, but he ducks and bobs and weaves like a boxer in one of those stupid, bloody fights her father used to watch on TV all the time. And she loses her grip on the shoe and it bounces into the road. She’s not sure what happened to the other shoe, but it’s gone as well.

Shannon catches a glimpse of blurred motion out of the corner of her eye and throws up an arm to shield herself, but something—a hammer or a gun—slams against her skull. Bright pinwheels of light and pain explode through her mind.

She crumples to the road, dazed, the pavement scraping her knees and the heels of her hands. She feels the hot, wet trickle of blood along her temple. Her stunned mind stutters like a jumping film frame and her thoughts stutter with it, flipping up and down, up and down.

The bastard’s actually going to kill me. I’m going to miss Heather’s birthday. The bastard’s actually going to kill me. I’m going to miss Heather’s birthday . . .

She sucks in the mingled odors of car exhaust, sage, and dewed blacktop as she forces air into her lungs and struggles to get back up on her feet, to run before the bastard swings the hammer again, but her muscles won’t respond to her screaming brain’s demands: Get up! Get up! Get UP!

A rough hand latches around Shannon’s arm with bruising strength and hauls her upright again. Craig drags her back to the idling car. Flings open the passenger side door.

“Dammit, Shannon. Goddammit all to hell,” he mutters almost as if to himself, the tension in his voice edged with regret.

Regret? She’d show the motherfucker regret.

Shannon swings up a hand to claw at Craig’s face like a pissed-off tabby—or tries to, anyway. Her movement takes forever, her hand caught in slo-mo molasses-time as if the air has thickened. Craig tilts his head to one side, a slow smile slanting his lips. And bats her hand aside with a casual nudge of his own.

Craig’s face seems to shift, ripple with shadows. His body twists, flesh and clothing undulating. Denting.

Shannon blinks. Her heart clatters against her ribs. The man holds her arm in one hand and a gun—no, not a gun, make that a—

Shiv, baby. Make it a shiv. One just dying to get to know you better.

Shannon stares at the man who used to be Craig Stearns, her insides transforming into a winter wonderland of ice and terror. Thinning hair, sunglasses. A grin loops across his lips.

Behind him, flames lick up into the night sky, snapping the breath-stealing odor of burning wood and seared flesh into the air. A whirlwind of fire devours the tavern. The neon martini glass explodes in an electric shower of blue and red sparks.

Voices scream, high-pitched and raw, until only one remains—a woman’s. Screaming. Burning.

“S and fucking fire. He can’t keep away.” The man shakes his head, then turns it to watch the tavern inferno. Orange/yellow/red reflections flame across the lenses of his shades. “Well, so much for Goldilocks. A shame. She was one smokin’ hot chick.” He looks at Shannon and his grin stretches wide as a shark’s. “Gosh. Guess she still is.”

He’s still grinning as he hurls Shannon into the car through the opened passenger door. She sprawls onto the seat, vinyl squeaking underneath her. The stink of old smoke and nicotine burns the inside of her nostrils. Pain throbs behind her eyes. She tastes blood, thick and coppery, at the back of her throat.

The door clunks shut. Like the final closing of a coffin lid.

As she listens to the footsteps walking—no, skipping —around the car, Shannon grabs the armrest and pulls herself upright. For a second, she considers giving in to the shiv and the shark’s dead grin.

No more pills. No more booze. No more falling through the trapdoor into the unlit basement of her mind as her thoughts turn to lead. No more soaring catapult flights through the upper stratosphere, her consciousness full of fireflies and buzzing with ideas.

For a second.

Then she remembers she’s planned a surprise party for Heather’s twelfth birthday. Heather. Kevin. Annie. She’d be leaving her kids behind with an empty-hearted bastard of a man who had no problem asking his best friend to murder his wife, the mother of his children.

A cynical question corkscrewed through her mind: Wonder what took the motherfucker so long?

Shannon’s fingers fumble for the door handle. Just as she yanks the door open, spilling cool air inside the car, fingers curl into her hair and yank her back across the seat. Pain rips through her scalp. The door thunks shut again.

The man’s face lowers over hers. A fire-scorched metallic wasp crawls along the upper rim of his sunglasses and her heart skips a beat seeing it.

“Your nose is bleeding,” Elroy Jordan says. “That’s kinda sexy.”

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