She was still staring in the mirror when a car door slammed outside. Streak, always the first to finish eating, abandoned his dish and raced to the front door, barking furiously. Leaving their food uneaten, the other dogs followed suit in a raucous, noisy chorus.
"Quiet," the woman urged. "It's all right."
Milling in excited circles, the agitated dogs paid no attention. The woman waded through them as far as the front window. Tweaking one corner of the curtain, she peeked outside. She recognized the familiar truck as soon as she saw it.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded, without moving toward the door.
The dogs had quieted briefly. At the sound of her voice they resumed barking. "Quiet," she ordered once more. This time the dogs didn't stop. Their deafening barking continued unabated as her unwelcome visitor began pounding on the front door.
"Open up," a voice called from outside. "Let me in. I need to talk to you."
"No. Go away. Leave me alone. Please."
The woman watched spellbound as the front doorknob jiggled. Fortunately the door was locked. She always kept it that way. After a long moment, the jiggling stopped abruptly. Creaking footsteps retreated across the rickety front porch and down the steps. As they started around the side of the mobile, the woman realized in dismay that she had been in such a rush when she came into the house with the dogs that the back door might still be unlocked.
Alarmed, she headed there. Her overly excited dogs impeded her progress at every step. No matter how she tried to maneuver, one or another of them was in her way. She reached the back door just in time--just as that doorknob, too, began to turn. When the door started to open, the woman sprang against it and slammed it shut. First she twisted the small button on the knob that locked the door. Then, for good measure, she shoved home the dead bolt as well.
"Let me in!" her visitor complained. "I have to talk to you."
Breathing rapidly, the woman leaned against the door and closed her eyes in relief. "I don't want to talk to you," she retorted. "Go away."
She was still standing just that way when the first of the bullets ripped through the door's thin aluminum shell and slammed into her midsection. The powerful .45-caliber bullet ripped into her flesh and propelled her backward until she came to rest against the flimsy paperboard wall behind her. As the wall collapsed under her weight, another bullet found its mark and pounded into her shoulder. She was already off balance and falling, and the force of the second bullet spun her around so that when she landed she was facedown. Other bullets were fired as well, but they flew harmlessly overhead. The fallen woman wasn't conscious of any of them. All she heard was the sound of her dogs, barking, and barking--trying to protect her. But it was too late for that--much too late.
Sometime later, she came to. Oscar was pressed to her side, whining and licking her face. In the background she heard the other dogs as well, whimpering and whining. Drifting in and out of consciousness, she tried to reach out to pet Oscar, but her right arm was useless. She saw that the dog was covered with blood. At first she thought Oscar had been shot as well, but as soon as she attempted to move, she knew the truth. Wounded, bleeding badly, and in need of help, she was the one who was in trouble.
Using only her left arm and with terrible effort, she inched her way along the linoleum-covered floor, down the hall, through the kitchen and into the living room. All the while the dogs continued to race around her as if trying to understand if this was some new game. The woman knew that the phone was there--in the living room. All she had to do was reach it and dial 911. If she did that, someone would come to help her. And they would have, too, but the woman never made it that far. She dragged her bleeding body as far as the living room, where the telephone sat on a corner table next to the couch. It was no more than a foot away from her grasping fingers, but it might just as well have been on the moon.
The foregoing is excerpted from Exit Wounds by J. A. Jance. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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