He came on through the rain and Val turned and ran on.


The smiling man kept walking but he got closer and closer and closer, and just as he was reaching out to close his bone-​white fingers around her naked shoulder…


…Val woke up.


She shuddered and shook her head and crawled up until the knobs of her spine were pressed against the wooden headboard. Her face and throat and breasts were wet with sweat and for just a moment the sweat smelled like rainwater.


Chapter 6


1


“Boyd!”


The cry clawed its way out of the car and fled away across the tops of the corn. A few crows stirred and flapped uneasily, casting lifeless black eyes suspiciously around. They sat on the crossbar of a scarecrow perch, but there was no scarecrow here, just the faded old wood of the perch. The birds waited, listening.


There was silence, except for the swaying of the corn.


“Oh…Jesus…” A whisper now: pale and bloodless, too weak to even rustle the feathers of the crows.


Silence again. Longer this time. The birds fidgeted.


Then a new sound. A creak and then a mild protest of metal. The birds hopped and turned to look. The broken car squatted below them, half buried in toppled stalks of corn. The crumpled metal skin of the car looked like cloth thrown over a pile of rocks; there was no moon and no starlight to give it a metallic sheen. The car simply hunched there on its crippled wheel, abandoned and desolate.


The crows waited. They were hungry crows. They knew.


With ancient black eyes they watched as the door of the car was pushed slowly, heavily open. Its hinges squealed with piglike protest, but the door finally opened.


There was more of the expectant silence again. Nearly ten minutes passed before there were any further movements from within the car. The crows rustled their feathers and tried not to think about their empty bellies. One crow opened its beak as if to utter a loud cry, but closed it again without making a sound.


It was a hand that first appeared. Dark with blood, it reached out of the car and hooked trembling fingers over the frame. The fingers slipped on the smooth metal, but finally the tips caught in the depression of the rain gutter above the door. The hand curled, tensed, tried to be strong. Tendons stood taut on the back of the hand and in the wrist, the forearm muscles swelled with effort as the bloody hand tried to haul its body out of the car. It was a problem in physics, and it should have be an insoluble one; the arm should never have been able to collect enough strength to pull the body from its seat, there wasn’t enough blood or life in its veins to carry strength to its muscles. Even adrenaline should not have been enough to allow that engineering feat to come to fruition. But as the crows watched, Tony Macchio pulled himself slowly, carefully, and painfully out of the car.


The nearest crow squawked very quietly as if ironically cheering the performance. The other crows watched with more evident annoyance. Death was sometimes too slow, slowest when the belly was empty.


It took Tony all of five minutes to get himself into a reasonably upright position, but then he sagged into the V formed by the car and the open door. His legs refused to be part of this mad venture and simply buckled, but his arms spread and he hung in bleeding cruciform on the apex of the doorway. He coughed once, sharply, and then again more softly. His ruined nose was swollen and purple. Blood dottled his lips and dripped onto his chest, but each drop was lost against the immensity of the stain that drenched him from sternum to crotch. The two bullet holes in his gut leaked sluggishly, the flow diminishing from a simple lack of hydrostatic pressure. He was bled white and should by all accounts have been dead, but even though his body was dying it lingered at the point of death and life, sustained by a single thread. That thread was the wire of hatred sewn through Tony’s soul.


His bloody lips formed a single word.


“Karl!” He said it without sound, but it had all the force of a curse screamed at the top of furious lungs. Just saying the name funneled power into his dying muscles. It wasn’t a lot of power, but it was a cold and determined power. It made his legs assume the abandoned duty of supporting him, and with slow deliberation he pushed himself away from the door and stood. More or less. He had to grab the edge of the roof to keep from falling face-​forward into the dirt. He couldn’t let that happen, he knew. If he fell, he would die. If he could stand, he could find Ruger. If he could find him, then he could kill the evil son of a bitch.


That was the plan and he reviewed it in his jumbled mind. It seemed like a good plan, it seemed like the only plan he would ever need. Simple, direct, and very satisfying. Find Karl Ruger and cut out his black heart. Maybe shoot his way up and down the man, like the Sicilians used to do: put one in each foot, then in each ankle, then through the knees, and keep working up. Firing his gun dry and reloading, making sure not to hit any arteries, keeping Ruger alive for a long time and making it last until Karl was begging and crying for one right through the brain. No…maybe Tony wouldn’t finish him off at all. Maybe he would just sit there and watch Ruger bleed, maybe have a race, just the two of them, to see which one died first. At that moment, despite the sea of blood that he had lost, Tony believed that he could outlast Ruger. It didn’t matter a damned bit if he died a single second later. That was fine. He’d chase Ruger all the way down to hell.


Rotten bastard!


Tony inched his way along the side of the car toward the trunk. He needed something to use as a bandage, something to keep the last little drops of blood within him until he could find Ruger. Maybe there was a towel or something in the trunk. Even a greasy one would be fine; Tony didn’t much care about infection. He knew he was going to die, but just needed to stay alive a little while longer. Just a little while longer.


His feet stumbled clumsily over the clots of dirt thrown by the car’s violent entry into the field, but he didn’t fall. Once or twice he staggered, but both times his hands had managed to find purchase on the car and pull him back to balance.


The trunk was open, and when Tony finally crept far enough along the side of the car to look inside, he could see that the big bags of coke and cash were gone. Well, what did he expect? Of course they would be gone. That’s why Ruger had shot him: to take his cut. Boyd must have been in on it, too.


Tony ground his teeth even as he felt tears well up in his eyes. Boyd was supposed to have been his friend, and yet he hadn’t done a fucking thing to stop Ruger. He just went along with it.


Well , Tony thought bitterly, we’ll just have to settle his hash, too. Yes, sir, settle Boyd’s fucking hash. Right along with Ruger’s. Shoot them both. Or maybe play Spartacus and give them knives and hold them at gunpoint while he made them fight it out. Fight to the death. That would be a real pisser. Fucking Spartacus. Thumbs down, fellows, thumbs-​fucking-​down.


He leaned on the edge of the trunk and peered in. The trunk light glimmered faintly off the metal edge of a jack handle, a can of Fix-​a-​Flat, the barrel of a shotgun, and…


…the edge of a twenty-​dollar bill.


Tony grinned. The edge of the bill stuck out from under the cloth cover usually draped over the spare. Tony reached in and pulled away the cover. His grin widened.


Ruger had missed some.


Eight packs of twenties lay in a sprawl. Each pack was banded with paper and initialed by whoever had counted it. Each pack was badly stained with blood, but it was all good money. Well, well…what was this? Tony’s grin became even broader, stretching his bloodless skin over his yellow teeth. Dusted all around the money was a thick white powder. There was a lot of it, maybe as much as a pound. One of the glassine bags must have ruptured and a fine white snow had fallen in the trunk of the car.


Well, well…


Tony reached down into the trunk and lifted out one of the bundles of twenties, looking at it with fascination. If he could have seen his own eyes just then they would have frightened him. The lights that flickered in them were not fires so much as weird neon glowing and blinking and twisting to form bizarre shapes. Holding the bills up to his nose, he snorted some of the cocaine off them, drawing the white fire deep into his body. The anesthetic quality of the coke began to work its magic on him almost at once.


Continuing to grin, he pulled his sodden shirt open and slid the money down under his belt as a compress. The crisp bills brushed across the ragged edges of one of the bullet holes, but Tony was beyond normal pain. He took another stack of bills and roughly applied a five-​hundred-​dollar bandage to the second entry wound. The cocaine on the money would provide some mild topical anesthesia as well, should the pain come calling, but Tony really didn’t care. It tickled him to think about his expensive bandages. He adjusted his belt, drawing it tighter to hold the compresses firmly in place. He had begun to chuckle now, thinking about Boyd and Ruger slicing each other up as he watched, each of them hoping that the winner might be allowed to live. The chuckle was low, mean, and wet.


Again Tony reached into the trunk, but this time he pulled up a loose handful of cocaine. “Finest kind,” he said aloud, and then buried his snout in the snow and inhaled. The rush was incredible.


He coughed a little, gagging on the coke, but then the cough turned into another nasty chuckle. With a careless flick of his hand he let the rest of the coke flutter down to blanket the inside of the trunk.


Then he picked up the shotgun. He knew it was loaded, because he was the one who had carried it during the job. One shell in the pipe and four up the ass. His chuckle bubbled into a laugh as he pushed himself away from the open trunk and turned to begin his search for Ruger and Boyd.


“Wait for me, fellas,” he said jovially, “I’ll be right with you.”


He took one decisive step toward the cornfield and fell flat on his face. The shotgun discharged as his finger spasmodically jerked the trigger, and the blast swept the crossbar clear of crows. Black and bloody feathers swirled in the night air and then fluttered down to become lost in the ranks of corn.


Tony lay with mud in his nose and eyes and laughed until he vomited blood into the dirt.


He didn’t move at all until the beam of a flashlight suddenly seared into his eyes and he winced and turned away. He heard footsteps approaching slowly, and through the distorted dimness that settled over his brain, Tony thought he could hear the rumble of an engine somewhere off to his left, way over on the road. It took most of his remaining strength to open his eyes, and he could just make out the thick, hulking shape that towered over him. As he watched, the shape moved toward him, following the beam of the flashlight. It was a strange shape: man-​shaped, but gnarled and apelike, too much bulk on the shoulders and arms, and a simian gait to the long, bowed legs.

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