It was the rat, in a way, which brought Blake Johnson not only awake but back to life. Sitting on the stone seat in the darkness, up to his waist in water, it was astonishing that he'd drifted into sleep at all, and then he'd come awake, aware of something on his neck, and had sat up.
The light in the grilled entrance behind him gave enough illumination for him to see what it was that slid from his left shoulder. It splashed into the water, surfaced, and turned to look at him, nose pointing, eyes unwinking.
It took Blake back more than twenty-five years to when he'd been a young Special Forces sergeant at the end of the Vietnam War, up to his neck in a tidal swamp in the Mekong Delta, trying to avoid sudden death at the hands of the Vietcong. There had been rats there, too, especially because of the bodies.
No bodies here. Just the grill entrance with the faint light showing through, the rough stone walls of the tunnel, the strong, dank sewer smell, and the grill forty yards the other way, the grill that meant there was nowhere to go as he'd found when they had first put him into this place.
The rat floated, watching him, strangely friendly. Blake said softly, "Now you behave yourself. Be off with you."
He stirred the water, and the rat fled. He leaned back, intensely cold, and tried to think straight. He remembered coming to a kind of half-life in the Range Rover, the effects of the drugs wearing off. They'd come over a hill, in heavy rain, some sort of storm, and then in the lightning, he'd seen cliffs below, a cruel sea, and above the cliffs a castle like something out of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
When Blake had groaned and tried to sit up, Falcone, the one sitting beside the driver, had turned and smiled.
"There you are. Back in the land of the living."
And Blake, trying hard to return to some kind of reality, had said, "Where am I?"
And Falcone had smiled. "The end of the world, my friend. There's nowhere else but the Atlantic Ocean all the way to America. Hellsmouth, that's what they call this place."
He'd started to laugh as Blake lapsed back into semiconsciousness.
Time really had no meaning. His bandaged right shoulder hurt as he sat on the seat, arms tightly folded to try to preserve some kind of body heat, and yet his senses were alert and strangely sharp so that when there was a clang behind him and the grill opened, he sat up.
"Hey, there you are, Dottore. Still with us," Falcone said.
"And fuck you, too," Blake managed.
"Excellent. Signs of life. I like that. Out you come."
Falcone got a hand on the collar of Blake's shirt and pulled. Blake went through the opening and landed on his hands and knees in the corridor. Russo was there, a smile on his ugly face.
"He don't look too good."
"Well, he sure as hell stinks. Wash him down."
There was a hose fastened to a brass tap in the wall. Russo turned it on and directed the spray all over Blake's body. It was ice cold and he fought for breath. Russo finally switched off and draped a blanket round Blake's shoulders. "The boss wants to see you, so be good."
"Sure, he'll be good," Falcone said. "Just like that nice little wife of his in Brooklyn was good."
Blake pulled the blanket around him and looked up. "You did that?"
"Hey, business is business."
"I'll kill you for that."
"Don't be stupid. You're on borrowed time as it is. Let's move it, the man's waiting," and he pushed Blake along the corridor.
They climbed two sets of stone steps and finally reached a black oak door bound in iron. Russo opened it, and Falcone pushed Blake through into a baronial hall, stone-flagged, with a staircase to the left and a log fire burning on a stone hearth. Suits of armor and ancient banners hung from poles. There was a slightly unreal touch to things, like a bad film set.
Reprinted from DAY OF RECKONING by Jack Higgins by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2000 by Jack Higgins. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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