His heart slammed up against his sternum, then froze.
It was a sound he had heard before. Too many times before.
The pump of a shot gun.
Dear God Almighty...
Glass exploded over, around and into him. He was hurled back against the staircase. His fingers groped for the spindles but he could not move. He couldnt feel his legs. He couldnt feel anything. Except, except....except a horrible pumping. His blood pumping out the black hole in his chest.
Oh Jesus, help me. Stephanie...
Then he felt nothing.
The colored lights danced over the white tile, turning the shards of glass into gaudy jewels. Snowflakes swirled in through the gaping hole in the glass window of the door, dying as they hit the warm blood. A Christmas wreath lay across his legs, its sound-activated battery pack sending out a tinny rendition of Silent Night.
A scream came from upstairs.
The man holding the shotgun looked up the staircase and then reached into his jacket and withdrew a blue-backed playing card. With a flick of his wrist, he tossed it through the hole in the glass. It spun to the floor, settling on the white tile near the body.
"Merry fucking Christmas, Officer Pryce," he said.
It was a lousy day for a drive. Smog-stained sleet left dirty streaks on the windshield. Slick patches of ice sent the tires spinning for grip. It seemed to take forever for the gray Detroit skyline to disappear in the rear-view mirror.
The bad weather followed him as he drove up I-75, past the sooty factories in Flint and the sodden corn fields outside Saginaw. Somewhere north of a town called Standish, the temperature dropped and the sleet turned to snow. Now it was coming down hard, flakes so big he could make out their lacy patterns on the windshield before the wipers slapped them away.
Louis Kincaid followed a snowplow into a town called Rose City and pulled into a gas station. As he waited for the old man to fill the tank, he unfolded the wrinkled map. It couldnt be far now, maybe twenty-five miles.
"Thats eleven fifty," the old man said, holding out a mittened hand. "Check your oil?"
Louis nodded. "Yeah, guess you better. Got a small leak."
The man eyed the scarred white sixty-five Mustang. "That aint your only problem," he said. "That back right tires bald."
Louis nodded grimly and the man trudged to the front and popped the hood. As he watched the man pull the dipstick, he thought of Phillip Lawrences warning that morning. Take my truck, Louis, that Mustang will never make it. It looked like his foster father was right again, which bothered him. And it bothered him that it bothered him.
"It took a quart. Youre gonna need another soon though."
"Thanks." He handled the old man some bills. "How far to Loon Lake?"
"Oh, bout thirty miles." His snow-encrusted brows knitted together. "You going up there for some ice fishing?"
"Nope. For a job."
The man nodded and handed back the change. "Well, good luck to you. Pretty place, Loon Lake."
"So Ive heard."
As he pulled back onto the highway, Louis shook his head and smiled. It was obvious the old man had been trying his damndest to figure out what business a young black man in a beat-up convertible had in Loon Lake. Phillip had warned him it would be like that. I just dont think youll like it there, Louis. Its a resort town, where rich white men from Chicago build hunting lodges so they have a place to get away.
Louis reached down and turned the heater up to its highest setting. It answered with a cough and a sudden blast of cold air.
He banged a fist on the dash, then switched the dead heater off.
A place to get away. That didnt sound so bad. It wasnt like he had such a great life back in Detroit. A roach-filled efficiency. And no job.
Copyright P.J. Parrish 2001. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author, PJ Parrish
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