Praise for Michael Prescott:
"With Comes the Dark, Michael Prescott delivers a harrowing thriller of the first order. His characters are flesh-and-blood real, the atmosphere's intense, and the plot races along unceasingly." --Jeffery Deaver, author of The Devil's Teardrop
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.58(w) x 7.44(h) x 0.85(d)|
|Age Range:||14 Years|
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Hickle watched her as she ran.
Her hair fascinated him. It was long and golden, blown in wild trammels by the sea breeze. It trailed behind her, a comet's tail, a wake of blond fire.
She was crossing directly in front of him now. Instinctively he withdrew a few inches deeper into the overhanging foliage that screened him from view.
She pounded past, plumes of sand bursting under her bare feet. Her long legs pumped, and her slim belly swelled with intakes of air. Even from a distance of twenty yards he could see the glaze of perspiration on her suntanned skin. She glowed.
Months earlier, when he had first seen her, he had wondered if her radiance was a trick of the camera lens. Now that he had observed her in person many times, he knew it was real. She actually did glow, as angels did. She was an ethereal being, tethered lightly to this world.
Soon he would cut the tether, and then she would not be part of the world at all.
He could have done it now, today, if he'd brought the shotgun with him. But there was no hurry. He could kill her at any time.
Besides, he enjoyed watching her.
She continued down the beach, followed by her bodyguard. The bodyguard always accompanied her when she went jogging, and never once had he even glanced into the narrow gap between two beachfront houses, where a trellis of bougainvillea cast a shadow dark enough to conceal a crouching man.
"You shouldn't trust your life to him, Kris," Hicklewhispered. "You're not nearly as safe as you think."
There was sun and sea spray and blue sky. There was the momentum of her body, the rhythm of her feet on the sand. There was her breathing, her heart rate.
This was all. Nothing more. Only the moment. One moment detached from the rest of her life, one moment when she did not have to think about threats and security measures, the bodyguard jogging a few paces behind her, the command post in the guest cottage at her house ...
Kris Barwood slowed her pace. The thoughts were back. The mood was broken.
Her daily exercise routine, a four-mile run along the strip of semiprivate beach that bordered Malibu Reserve, had been her one respite from the constant stress of vigilance and fear. The beach had always felt safe to her. It was a special place. People played here with their dogs and flew kites in the salty wind. On one side was the Pacific, studded with wave-battered rocks, and on the other side stood rows of immaculate homes, some boasting the extravagance of swimming pools only steps from the high tide mark. The houses were narrow but deep, extending well back from the strand. Though ridiculously close together, they afforded a curious sense of privacy, and loud parties were rare. Most of the owners worked long hours in intensely competitive fields. They came home to relax, as she used to dobut now there was no relaxation for her anywhere.
"Kris? You okay?" That was Steve Drury, her bodyguard, a pleasant young man with a swimmer's build and a sun-streaked crewcut. When they jogged together, he wore shorts, a T-shirt, and a zippered belly-pouch that contained a 9mm Beretta.
She realized she had stopped running entirely. "Fine," she said. "Don't have my usual energy."
"You'll make up for it tomorrow. We'll do two extra miles. Deal?"
She found a smile. "Deal."
They crossed the sand to her house, a three-story modernistic box with wide windows that let in the magical Malibu light. She left Steve at the outdoor shower and entered through the door at the upper deck to avoid disturbing her husband in the game room, where he spent an unhealthy amount of time playing with his expensive toyspinball machines, model railroads, radio-operated cars, and his favorite, an electronic putting green. Lately, Howard seemed fonder of these acquisitions than he was of her.
The master bedroom was on the third floor, at the rear, of the house, with a view of the sea and the curving coastline. Kris stripped, running the shower hot. Under the steaming spray she shampooed and rinsed her long blond hair.
Edward, her hairstylist, had repeatedly suggested that she was reaching the stage of life when it was better to wear her hair short. She had finally told him to quit it. She liked her hair long. Anyway, forty wasn't old. And she could pass for thirty-five in most circumstances. Direct sunlight showed the creases at the corners of her eyes, the gathering tightness around her mouth, the hint of a sag in her cheeks, but while on the air she was lit by diffusion-filtered lights and masked by a layer of makeup that got thicker each year.
She hated to worry about her looks. It was shallow and stupid, and she had other assets, after all. She could shoot tape and record sound, handle every piece of equipment in an editing booth, write copy, extemporize fluently in the coverage of a breaking story. Few of those skills, however, were required in her present position. For better or worse, she had become a celebrity.
Draped in a robe, she dried and brushed her hair in front of the big mirror over the bathroom's marble countertop. The face that looked back at her was strong and NordicKris Andersen had been her maiden name. Her eyes were blue-gray and had the peculiar quality of seeming larger and more intense than ordinary eyes. She had white, perfectly even teeth, and her mouth could execute an impressive variety of smiles, one of many tricks that made her interesting to watch. She knew that if she ever stopped being interesting, she would not be watched for long. Of course there was one viewer whose attention she would gladly do without
She froze, the hairbrush motionless in her hand.
From the bedroom had come a sound. A rustle of movement, barely audible. It might be Steve or Courtney, the housekeeper, but irrationally she was certain it was him.
She heard it againa whisper of motion, the soft scrape of fabric on fabric.
She turned from the mirror. The hairbrush was her only weapon. Absurdly she raised it like a club, then stepped out of the bathroom, her gaze darting, and there he was by the windows, silhouetted against the vertical blind ...
"Kris? You okay?"
All the tension leaked out of her, because it was Howard's voice.
She dropped the hairbrush. It thumped on the floor. "Damn," she breathed. "Don't do that to me."
She shook her head, dismissing his question. "I thought you were him," she said simply.
Her husband crossed the room to take her hand in his. "Come on, that's crazy."
"I heard someone out here. I thought it might bewell, it could have been ..."
"No, it couldn't. Not a chance."
From a strictly rational standpoint Howard was probably correct. But how could she explain to him that rationality played little part in her fears and nightmares, the false alarms and spasms of panic that made her glance over her shoulder at every stray noise and flicker of shadow?
"You're right," she said, feeling empty. "Guess I'm a little overwrought."
He stooped and retrieved her hairbrush, placing it gently in her grasp as if she were a child. "Don't worry about it. Don't worry about anything."
"Good advice. Hard to follow."
He showed her a warm smile that lit up his square, tanned face. After retiring last year at fifty, he had taken to hanging around the house and eating too much. A belt of flab, hung around his waist, and his neck had grown thick and loose. "You're no good at taking orders," Howard said. "Me, I'm great at it. Travis told me not to worry, and I haven't."
"Your faith is touching."
"Isn't it, though?" His smile faded. "Speaking of Travis, we'll be late for that meeting if we don't leave soon."
"Give me another minute to get dressed."
"Right. See how well I take orders? I'm a natural." He moved toward the hall.
She stopped him. "While you're waiting, could you check the cottage for me?"
"Is that necessary?"
"I want to know if he's called."
"Let's assume he has. How does it help you to find out?"
"I have to know. If you won't check, I will."
"If you worry about it all the time, it defeats the whole purpose of having Travis's people around."
"Their purpose isn't to keep me happy. Their purpose is to keep me alive."
"You're getting worked up again."
His patronizing tone infuriated her. "I have a right to get worked up. It's me he's after. Or is that another thing I'm supposed to not think about?" She turned away, suddenly exhausted. "Check the cottage, all right? I have to get changed."
She returned to the bathroom and finished brushing her hair, performing the task with more vigor than necessary. When she emerged, the bedroom was empty. Howard had gone.
She changed into a pantsuit. At the studio she would put on whatever outfit the clothing coordinator had selected, usually something in blue to bring out her eyes.
Before leaving the bedroom, she went to the windows for another look at the beach. The tide was going out. Seagulls bobbed and weaved on chancy currents of air. She wished she could sit and watch the birds and not deal with this meeting Travis had called or with anything else, ever.
Her life had been easier when she was a twenty-two-year-old radio reporter in Duluth, Minnesota. True, there had been no money for rent or food, but she had been too busy to care. Maybe she should have stayed in Duluth, married the junior manager at the radio station. Sometimes she wished she didn't have this hard-edged ambition inside her, driving her to high-profile assignments, more money, more pressure. But there had always been part of her that felt she would die without fame and recognition and strangers turning their heads. Now she had all of that, and because of itbecause of one particular stranger whose head she'd turnedshe might die anyway.
Life was a tangle. Her life, at least. Maybe everybody's.
Downstairs she found Courtney dusting the autographed golf balls in Howard's display cabinet. "They're waiting in the Lincoln," Courtney said. "Mr. Drury and Mr. Barwood."
Kris glanced at her watch. She was running late. Having Steve bring the car out of the garage to idle in the driveway was Howard's way of telling her so.
A garden path, bordered by rosebushes, white oleander, and bird-of-paradise, led from the main house to the guest cottage attached to the garage. A gray Lincoln Town Car, the Cartier model, idled in the driveway, Steve Drury at the wheel. The car was her own, but the pleasure of driving it was one more thing Hickle had taken from her.
Steve got out and opened the rear door for her. He had changed into slacks, a button-down shirt, and a suit jacket that concealed his Beretta. She slipped into the backseat, next to Howard, while Steve slid behind the wheel and adjusted the volume on the Alpine audio system. He was playing a CD of Mozart's Magic Flute, her favorite. It soothed her.
The Lincoln pulled out of the driveway and headed down a narrow lane colonnaded with tall eucalyptus trees. At the gate, guards waved the Town Car through, and the sedan accelerated onto Pacific Coast Highway, rushing over the bridge that straddled Malibu Creek. In the lagoon fed by the estuary, a few shore birds lifted themselves into the afternoon sun.
"Did you check?" she asked Howard tonelessly.
He acknowledged her only with a half turn in her direction. "I checked. Nothing serious to report."
"He called a couple of times this morning. Not since then. It's been a quiet afternoon. Maybe he's losing interest."
But she knew Raymond Hickle would never lose interest in her as long as she was alive.
Hickle sat on the roadside, a hat covering his face, and watched the Town Car pull out of the Malibu Reserve gate. He took a good look at it when it turned onto the coast highway. The car was close; he could see his own reflection in the polished panels of the passenger doors. In the lightly tinted rear window there was the vague outline of a silhouetted figure.
There was no chance that Kris or her driver would spot him. Sitting cross-legged on the curb, the hat pulled low, he was just one of the many faceless derelicts who wandered through Malibu and other towns along the California coast. He could watch Kris come and go, and no one would be the wiser.
His gaze followed the car as it disappeared down the road. He kept staring after it even when it was long gone. Then he got up and retraced his steps to his own car, a Volkswagen Rabbit parked on a side street a mile from Malibu Reserve.
He had no intention of trying to catch up with Kris. Her driver was a security officer trained to spot a pursuing vehicle and take evasive action.
Even so, he expected to arrive at the studio gate well before she did. She had left earlier than usual, and the route she'd takensouthbound on Pacific Coast Highway, heading toward West LAwas not the most direct way to Burbank.
He figured she had an appointment to keep. It would occupy her for a half hour or longer. By the time she reached the studio, he would be positioned near the entrance to the parking lot.
In his car, he had his duffel bag. And in the duffel, he had the shotgun. He imagined holding it now, feeling its sleekness, its smoothness, pumping the action and then the trigger, and the satisfying recoil as the spray of lethal shots fanned wide.
"Blammo," Hickle said. He was smiling.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lots of good jokes, and a lot of good insight to who we are.
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