It was just a dull thud, a sound that drifted down to him as he lay in the deepest fathoms of his sleep. He struggled up to the surface and opened his eyes with a start. Darkness, and then, emerging from the shadows, a bulky form and a glint of light. He let out a breath. Just the oak bureau, and his badge laying on top.
The sound had probably come from his dream, and the thought made him relax back into the pillows. But his ears remained alert for foreign sounds amid all the familiar groans and squeaks of the house.
He glanced over at Stephanie, snoring softly by his side. She always kidded him about his excellent hearing. "Tommy, baby, you can hear the snow falling," she laughed. Hell, sometimes he thought so, too. He pulled the quilt up over his wifes shoulder and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
He rose, shivering in the cold air, and went to the window. He pulled back the drape. Sure enough, it was snowing. Already covered the yard, leaving pillows of meringue on the kids swing set. He gazed at the softly falling snow. First big snowfall of the season. It was beautiful.
His eyes narrowed. There was a truck parked across the street, a few houses down, in front of the McCabe house. The headlights were off but he could see the tail of smoke coming from the exhaust pipe. He squinted, trying to remember if hed seen it before. It looked to be brown, although it was so dirty he couldnt really tell. He felt his body tense slightly, that involuntary response to an unknown situation.
It was probably nothing. Maybe someone visiting the McCabes. But except for the Christmas lights around the front door, the McCabe house was dark. He squinted to see who was in the car and thought he picked out two forms. Shoot, it was probably that crazy teenager Lisa, necking with some boy just to make her old man mad.
He glanced back at the clock on the bureau. Three ten. Late for a Sunday night, even for Lisa.
He shivered, and he knew it wasnt from the cold. It was his body sending out its old signals, that familiar release of adrenalin.
Stephanie gave out a soft moan and he looked back at her. It occurred to him, as he watched her, that he should have told her what was going on. He had never held things back from her before and he shouldnt have now. But she was so happy in this place and he hadnt wanted to give her a reason to worry. This isnt like Flint, he had told her not long after they had arrived, they dont hurt cops in a place like this.
He hadnt really wanted to leave his old job, especially to work in this speck of a town in the Michigan woods. But the bullet he had taken in the shoulder by that crack-crazed kid had been the last straw. Were safe here, baby, he told her, were safe here.
He moved silently to the closet. He ran his hand along the top shelf until it found the cold metal of his service weapon, a .357 Colt Python. He checked the cylinder and, with a glance back at Stephanie, tiptoed out of the bedroom.
The gun was cold; he could feel it against his thigh through the thin cotton of his pajamas as he crept down the hall. Outside the kids room, he paused. The baby had colic and it occurred to him that it might have been just his restless thump that he had heard. He strained his ears in the darkness. Nothing.
Downstairs in the foyer, the white tile floor shimmered with a kaleidoscope of color, created by the Christmas lights outside, refracted through the leaded-glass panel of the front door. He stopped. No sound. Had the truck left? He looked out the small window in the door but couldnt see it.
He let out a breath of relief and turned away from the door.
A soft tap. Someone knocking. He drew back the small curtain and looked out at the face in the shadows outside.
A sharp, snapping sound.
Copyright P.J. Parrish 2001. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author, PJ Parrish
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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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