A moment later Ausonio said, "The switch is out here. He'll turn 'em on when I say so." A deep breath that Franciscovich heard through the microphone. Then Ausonio said, "Ready. On three. You count it."
"Okay. One...Wait. I'll be coming in from your two o'clock. Don't shoot me."
"Okay. Two o'clock. I'll be -- "
"You'll be on my left."
"One." Franciscovich gripped the knob with her left hand. "Two."
This time her finger slipped inside the guard of her weapon, gently caressing the second trigger -- the safety on Glock pistols.
"Three!" Franciscovich shouted so loud that she was sure her partner heard the call without the radio. She shoved through the doorway into the large rectangular room just as the glaring lights came on.
"Freeze!" she screamed -- to an empty room.
Crouching, skin humming with the tension, she swung her weapon from side to side as she scanned every inch of the space.
No sign of the killer, no sign of a hostage.
A glance to her left, the other doorway, where Nancy Ausonio stood, doing the same frantic scan of the room. "Where?" the woman whispered.
Franciscovich shook her head. She noticed about fifty wooden folding chairs arranged in neat rows. Four or five of them were lying on their backs or sides. But they didn't seem to be a barricade; they were randomly kicked over. To her right was a low stage. On it sat an amplifier and two speakers. A battered grand piano.
The young officers could see virtually everything in the room.
Except the perp.
"What happened, Nancy? Tell me what happened."
Ausonio didn't answer; like her partner she was looking around frantically, three-sixty, checking out every shadow, every piece of furniture, even though it was clear the man wasn't here.
The room was essentially a sealed cube. No windows. The air-conditioning and heating vents were only six inches across. A wooden ceiling, not acoustic tile. No trapdoors that she could see. No doors other than the main one Ausonio had used and the fire door that Franciscovich had entered through.
Where? Franciscovich mouthed.
Her partner mouthed something back. The policewoman couldn't decipher it but the message could be read in her face: I don't have a clue.
"Yo," a loud voice called from the doorway. They spun toward it, drawing targets on the empty lobby. "Ambulance and some other officers just got here." It was the security guard, hiding out of sight.
Heart slamming from the fright, Franciscovich called him inside.
He asked, "Is it, uhm...I mean, you get him?"
"He's not here," Ausonio said in a shaky voice.
"What?" The man peeked cautiously into the hall.
Franciscovich heard the voices of the officers and EMS techs arriving. The jangle of equipment. Still, the women couldn't bring themselves to join their fellow cops just yet. They stood transfixed in the middle of the recital space, both uneasy and bewildered, trying vainly to figure out how the killer had escaped from a room from which there was no escape.
From The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver. Copyright Jeffery Deaver 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher, Simon & Schuster
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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