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Cover Of Night (Chapter 31)

Cal lay on his stomach to the North of where he'd mentally marked the location of the farthest firing position. It was a good place. Strategically, it was where lie would have placed a shooter if he wanted to prevent someone from coming down that side of the land spit and either making it into the cut or slipping behind him. The long, narrow groove was like a bowling alley lane, without a lot of great cover – for thermal scopes, that is. He'd guessed right about them switching to regular scopes and binoculars during the day, though, and it took a sniper a helluva lot more skilled than these old boys to spot him when he didn't want to be spotted.

Creed had always called him a naturally sneaky son of a bitch. Nice to know some things never changed.

He had waited, wanting to see when the shifts changed. The first night he had counted four different firing positions, but after that only two – the two most strategically placed to knock off anyone trying for the cut. No one could man those positions nonstop for three and a half days without being relieved and do any kind of a decent job. Not only did you need sleep, you needed food and water and the occasional trip behind the bushes. If you popped enough speed, you could stay awake that long, but you'd be hallucinating, shooting at ghosts, so paranoid you'd shoot your own self for spying, so he discounted that possibility. Either the shooters were asleep during the day, or someone was relieving them. Four shooters the first night, two after that. The math was simple. They were splitting shifts.

That left a big gap in coverage over toward the bridge, and Mellor had gone to too much trouble to make that kind of mistake. There would be another guard positioned at the bridge, armed with shorter-range weapons; that meant continuing with the two-shifts per twenty-four hours theory, two more men, for a total of six.

Six men, six civilians, meant at least two vehicles, probably more. They would be parked nearby, but off-road where they couldn't be spotted in case anyone going to Trail Stop came along. Likely someone would, if they hadn't already. Conrad and Gordon Moon really liked Cate's muffins and usually made the drive at least once a week. Maybe Cate had guests scheduled to arrive. There could be a big pretense about the bridge collapse, the power and phone lines being out because of it, but that charade wouldn't last for long.

These guys had to know they were hard up against the wall, time-wise, and they would move against the people in Trail Stop soon, against. Cate, because they thought she had what they were looking for. He would have preferred not to send her back to Trail Stop, but there had been no other place. She couldn't have come with him, and she couldn't have stayed on the mountain; she had to have food and shelter. At least if she was in Trail Stop, Greed would look out for her.

Night would be the best time for these men to move. They had the thermal scopes; they could see what they were shooting at. But they'd made a tactical error by blowing the bridge, and the difficultly in crossing the stream went both ways. He'd had to go half a mile upstream to find a place where he could cross without being swept off his feet. They'd made another tactical error by waiting; now the townspeople had organized some barricades where Cal had shown them, they had spread out, and they were mad as hell.

Still, when shooting started, anything could happen, and Cate was over there.

He had two choices: slip by the three on watch, locate their vehicles, take care of the three who would probably be there resting, and go for help; or take out all six, one by one, make it look as if they'd turned on each other, and then go for help. He could do it; he could set that scene with no problem at all. He really liked that idea a lot. He didn't want a single one of these bastards getting out alive.

Generally he was an easygoing guy, but you didn't want to piss him off. Right now, he was pissed off, big time.

He kept an eye on his watch. The shift changes wouldn't be at dumb-ass times like nine am and nine pm; they would be straight-up-and-down times like noon and midnight, or six am and six pm. If he didn't see any movement at six pm, that meant each shooter had been on watch since noon and was tired, but would be on duty for another six. A smart tactician would have staggered them, had one position swapping out at noon and midnight and the other swapping on the sixes, so one was always fresh while the other was tiring, but most people went for simplicity – and predictability. It boggled the mind.

At six pm, all was quiet. He didn't detect any activity.

Too bad. If a fresh shift had come on at six, he'd have waited until midnight, let them get tired, and they would all have lived a little longer.

As silent as a snake, each movement slow and deliberate, Cal crawled higher on the mountain, above where he'd marked the shooting locations, and began a meticulous grid search, looking for the first shooter. Cal had taken care to disguise his silhouette, with the olive drab blanket draped around him. He'd cut strips off the blanket and tied them around his hands and fingers, both for warmth and to keep him from leaving any telltale fingerprints on anything. Another strip was tied around his head, and small branches and leaves were stuck under the strip. When he was still, the naked eve would pass right over him.

Time passed and he didn't see anything. He began to wonder if either he'd mistaken the location or they'd moved around; if the latter, he might well be screwed and someone was drawing a bead on his head right now. But his head remained unexploded, and he continued his painfully slow crawl, looking for something, anything, that would betray the shooter's position.

There was a faint glint of metal about fifteen feet ahead and to the right, then a tiny green glow that immediately winked out. The stupid asshole had lit up his watch to check the time. Dumb. You didn't wear a watch that had to be backlit; you wore one with luminous hands and covered the face with a peel-back flap. The devil was truly in the details, and that little detail had just betrayed the shooter. Otherwise it was a good position; the guy was prone, which made a more stable platform for shooting, and he had good cover in the rocks. His head didn't stick up above the rocks, which was why Cal hadn't spotted him before.

The guy was totally focused on a slow, continuous sweep with the scope, even after all these hours. He didn't sense Cal's nearness, even when Cal was just a whisper away. He died without even knowing Death had come calling, his spinal cord snapped at C-2.

It was a difficult maneuver to perfect. It required skill, technique, and a lot of strength. Another obstacle to mastery was that not many people were stupid enough to let you practice on them. For that reason, it was often practiced in real-time situations, where a mistake could be costly.

The guy just went limp, the stink telling Cal he was dead, though the audible snap had been proof enough for him. He patted the body until he found the hunting knife on the man's belt, which he'd known would be there. He drew the knife and inspected it as much as he could. It would do. He slipped the knife inside his belt and hoped to hell he didn't accidentally stick himself, then quietly heaved the guy up and over the rocks, as if he'd slipped. It happened. Too bad.

He picked up the man's rifle and put it to his shoulder, his eye to the scope as he scanned the mountainside, looking for the bright glow of thermal signatures. Aha. The next position was a hundred yards away and somewhat lower, for flatter, more accurate shooting. Farther still, about where he judged the bridge to be, was another flare of light. That was it. Three, just as he'd thought. He scanned higher and lower, making certain. Nothing, except for some small animals and a couple of deer.

The rifle was a fine piece of work; it felt like magic in his hands, the balance perfect. Regretfully, he held it over the rocks and let it join the guy who had owned it. Now it really did look like an accident, as if the guy had stood up to take a piss, tripped, and went headlong down the rocks, taking his rifle with him.

Silently, he began stalking the next shooter.

Goss could feel it all going to hell. He sat in the tent playing Texas hold 'em with Teague and his cousin, Troy Gunnell, but his mind wasn't on the game and he was losing regularly.

Toxtel was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After telling the old guy what they wanted, they had heard… nothing. Not a peep out of them. You couldn't negotiate with people who wouldn't talk. They hadn't seen any movement over there lately, either, but Goss knew damn good and well they were moving around behind those fortifications they'd thrown up. They had somehow retrieved their dead. Teague had said they'd either drenched themselves with icy water or somehow mounted some kind of rolling barricade they could hide behind, which sounded like something out of a movie about a medieval war, so Goss went with the simplest explanation: water.

Teague was so proud of those fucking scopes, and they could be fooled by cold water. Great.

Teague was sort of losing it, too. He looked like hell, and he was popping ibuprofen as if they were candy. But he was functioning, and except for being obsessed with this guy Creed, he made sense when he talked. His three pals didn't seem to notice anything funny about him, so maybe it was only that he was still dealing with the effects of a concussion. Having been there himself just a week ago, Goss could sympathize.

Today two guys had come blowing down the road as blithely as if they hadn't driven around the fucking Bridge Out sign back at the highway. Yeah, they'd seen it. but thought it could have been there by mistake. Any idea how long it would take to repair the bridge? A couple of days, maybe?

They were just the sort of dimwits, Goss thought, who would complain long and loudly to anyone they thought could get the bridge fixed. Any day now, someone with the highway department would show up.

Maybe there was some sort of cosmic soup from which they all drew the same thoughts, because Teague suddenly said, "Your guy looks ready to flip out."

Goss shrugged. "He's under a lot of pressure. He's never failed to deliver before, plus he and the boss go back a long ways together."

"He's let his ego get involved."

"1 know." He had quietly helped that by spurring Toxtel on at every opportunity, agreeing with the most asinine of ideas, putting the most extreme twist on any view Toxtel came up with. Toxtel wasn't an idiot, far from it, but his pride was at stake and he didn't know how to back down because he'd never had to back down before. An unbroken string of successes could become a handicap if it went on too long, because a guy lost perspective.

Toxtel had definitely lost perspective.

Maybe it was time to end this and move on, Goss thought, suddenly feeling cheerful at the idea. There was no way the lid could be kept on this fiasco. Too many people had died, too much damage had been done. All he had to do was make certain this blew back on Faulkner, and that was the easiest thing in the world to do.

"That's it for me," he said, yawning, when the current game ended. "I think I'll go talk to Hugh, maybe relieve him early if he's tired."

"It's a couple of hours yet until midnight. That makes for a long shift for you," said Teague.

"Yeah, well, don't tell him I said it, but I'm younger." He stood and stretched, and pulled on his heavy coat, made sure he had gloves and a watch cap. The weather here could change in the blink of an eye. It had gone from clear and cold to warm and cloudy, then to cold and cloudy, then cold and rainy, and now back to clear and cold – all in as many days as there were changes. This morning the mountains had been snowcapped. Winter was coming, and he wanted the hell out of Idaho.

Good old Hugh. He'd miss him.

Not really.

He had to make certain this pointed back to Faulkner. Maybe plant a note on Hugh that said, "Yuell Faulkner paid me to do this"? Yeah, right. It had to be something the cops would catch, but not so obvious they would discount it as a plant. Tying Bandini in would be a nice touch, too, guaranteed to bring a shitload of trouble down on Faulkner's ass, from both the good guys and the bad.

He pulled on his gloves as he went over to the Tahoe, opened the door, and fished Toxtel's cell phone out of the glove box. The phones were useless out here in the mountains, but he wasn't interested in making a call. He turned on the phone, then entered Faulkner's number in the address book. No name, just a number. The cops would run it down. He turned the phone off and replaced it in the glove box, then on second thought got it out again and slipped it into his pocket. Then he had a third thought, smiled, and once more put the phone in the glove box. Yeah. That would work even better.

There was a pile of papers in the Tahoe, maps and lists and sketches. One of the sheets of paper had fallen to the floorboard, been stepped on, and was generally dirty. Goss grabbed a pen, clumsily scribbled Bandini's name on the dirty sheet of paper, put a question mark after it, then marked through the name so it was almost illegible – almost, but not quite. He dumped all the papers on the back floorboard, and dropped the pen between the driver's seat and the console.

Then, whistling, he walked down the dark trail to where Toxtel stood – or rather, sat – lonely vigil, waiting for someone on the other side to talk to him.

Cal melted into the shadow of a tree, making himself part of the undergrowth. He was no more than five feet from the third guard, whom he recognized as Mellor, when he heard someone coming toward them, whistling.

He stood motionless, his head down and his eyes narrowed to mere slits. He'd smeared mud on his face to break up the pattern of pale features, but he'd slid effortlessly into the zone he reached when he was hunting, and if instinct prompted him to duck his head and close his eyes, he did. He was so close, the gleam of his eyes might give him away.

The second shooter was lying motionless in a pool of his own blood, the first guy's knife in his throat. Two down, four to go. He was tempted to take these two at the same time, but he ignored the idea. Controlling the noise, the scene, would be too difficult. He'd stick to his original plan and take them one at a time.

"You're early," said Mellor, standing up from his protected position. He was wearing a heavy coat and was holding a pistol instead of a rifle. Cal mentally shook his head at the way the guy was exposing himself to possible gunfire. He must feel safe at night, thinking no one in Trail Stop could see him.

"Thought I'd give you a break," said the other guy. Cal recognized him, too. Huxley. "Teague and his cousin are playing Texas hold 'em in the tent if you want to relax before turning in." As he spoke he leaned down and picked up a blanket, shook it out, started folding it.

"I don't play cards," said Mellor, turning to stare across the water at the dark houses. "What's with these people?" he asked suddenly. "Are they nuts? I'd have been trying to find out what was going on, what we want, anything. They just pulled back and locked down."

"Teague said they were – "

"Piss on Teague. If he'd known what he was doing, we'd already have the flash drive and be back in Chicago."

Flash drive. So that's what they wanted. But Cate had a computer; if there had been anything electronic in Layton's belongings, Cate would have recognized it, realized that was likely what they wanted. She hadn't, because it wasn't there. It had gone out the window with Layton.

"I thought you said he was highly recommended." Huxley had draped the folded blanket over his arm. Something was funny about the way he was holding it, with his hand inside the fold.

"I called a guy I know." Mellor muttered, tinning back. "I trus – "

Huxley fired three shots, the sound muffled by the blanket, so it wasn't much louder than if it had been suppressed. Mellor jerked as two shots hit him in the chest, a double tap, then the insurance tap to his forehead. He went down like a sack of feed. Huxley didn't check to see if he was dead, didn't spare his erstwhile partner a second glance; he simply turned and walked away, back the way he'd come.

Now, wasn't this interesting? A falling out, or a hidden agenda? Silently Cal followed, blending with the shadows, a part of the night itself. Huxley made no attempt at silence; he strode up the road as if he were on a sidewalk in the city. Around a curve he left the road, took a newly beaten-down path to the left. The vehicles would be tucked back in here, Cal thought; the flattened bushes looked as if something wide had been over them.

There was a tent set up in a clearing, with five vehicles parked around it: four pickup trucks and one Tahoe. A camp lantern hung inside the tent, shedding its less-than-sufficient light on two men playing a halfhearted round of poker. Through the opened flap, Cal could see sleeping bags rolled up on the floor of the tent.

"Toxtel in love with standing watch?" a big man with a huge, vivid bruise on his face asked, looking up. "Or does he think they'll suddenly start talking tonight?"

"Just conscientious, I guess," said Huxley, who brought his arm up, started pulling the trigger. Either he had given a lot of thought to how he was going to do two men, or he'd practiced until it was second nature. There was something almost mechanical about him: no hesitation, no excitement, no emotion at all. Two shots here, to the big man first, then two more to the other man, following so swiftly the second man had no time to read. Then the barrel swept back to the big man, the motion perfectly controlled, and he delivered the insurance tap. Back to the other man. once more, without feeling, taptap, taptap, tap, tap. Almost like a dance.

Huxley squatted beside the big man's body, stuck his gloved fingers in the right pants pocket, and came out with a set of keys. He tossed the pistol on the ground between the two bodies and walked out of the tent to one of the picktips.

Cal watched him drive away, his gaze narrow and thoughtful. He could have taken him at any time, but the guy was doing his work for him and at the same time effectively putting him completely in the dear, so this seemed best. Let the cops figure out what happened. Whatever Huxley's agenda was, it hadn't included his partners.

Cal went into the tent and took a set of keys from the second body. Glancing down at the key, he saw it was for a Dodge, and without hesitation he walked to the big four-wheel drive Dodge Ram and climbed in. He would be at Creed's place in fifteen minutes.

Neenah stayed with Creed at the clinic the next day while his leg was X-rayed and Cal's handiwork examined. When the doctor asked who did the suturing, Creed merely said an old buddy who'd had some medical training in the Corps, and left it at that. It was enough; the doctor immediately assumed "medic" and was satisfied.

Turned out he had a hairline fracture – like Cal hadn't already told him that – and they put him in a soft cast instead of a plaster one. He was to wear the cast until he came back in two weeks for more X-rays, but the doctor thought the fracture would be healed by then. All in all, good news. They gave him a pair of crutches; the doc ordered him to use them and give his leg as much rest as possible, and said that if he did what he was supposed to, in two weeks he'd be walking on his own two feet again.

Neenah smiled in relief when she heard Creed's prognosis. "I was afraid you'd done some sort of permanent damage, hobbling around the way you did," she said as he got into her rental car. How she'd gotten a car so fast, he didn't know. Maybe someone in the sheriff's department had helped. She had driven up to the clinic steps to pick him up, to keep his walking to a minimum.

"That's the only way I know how to hobble," he retorted, making her laugh. He loved her laugh, loved the way she tilted her head back and her eyes sparkled. The tension and strain of the past few days had left dark circles under her eyes and occasionally he'd seen grief etched in her face, but for a moment all that was gone. He'd like to keep it that way, keep the pain away from her. He knew he couldn't, knew everyone who had been in Trail Stop would have to deal with what had happened, each in his own way. He hadn't escaped unscathed himself, and he wasn't thinking about his leg. Old memories had resurfaced, brought back by the violence that had touched their lives. He'd dealt with them before and he would this time, too, the memories shared by all men who had been to war. The details differed, but friends had been lost.

The Trail Stop Massacre, as it was already being called by the bloodsucker press, was big news right now. A steady stream of reporters was flowing into town, which created an instant motel-room shortage because the Trail Stop inhabitants were already here and needed places to stay.

Eventually everything would settle down, but now the sheriff's department was taking statements from everyone and scrambling to find accommodations for so many people until the electricity and phone service could be restored to the community, which some people were saving could take until the bridge was rebuilt. Bridges weren't thrown up overnight, not even small bridges. The word was they might not be back in their houses by Christmas.

Creed knew better. He'd already made some phone calls to some people who knew some people, and red tape was being sliced through, the Trail Stop bridge shoved to the front of a list of projects. Creed expected the new bridge would be ready within a month.

Things would still be a mess in Trail Stop, though. Food in refrigerators and freezers would be spoiled, rain would have blown in through broken windows and damaged floors and walls, plus there was the little matter of all the bullet holes, damaged or destroyed possessions, vehicles that had been damaged… the insurance adjusters would be busy for a while.

At least the cops seemed to be leaning toward the scenario that there had been trouble in the bad-guy ranks, and one of them had turned on the rest. Unless Cal spoke up and said otherwise, that was the theory Creed was publicly buying.

Privately, Creed knew otherwise. He'd been on too many missions with the cunning bastard not to recognize his handiwork. Cal had always gotten the job done. No matter what that job was, he'd been Creed's go-to guy in tougher situations than this. He was never the biggest guy around, never the fastest or the strongest, but by God, he'd always been the toughest.

"You're smiling like a wolf," Neenah observed, which might have been a caution that people could be watching.

The comparison startled him. "Wolves smile?"

"Not really. It's more a baring of teeth."

Okay, so the comparison was an apt one.

"I was just thinking about Cate and Cal. It's nice to see them together." It was only half a lie. He'd been thinking about Cal. But, damn, it was nice the way he'd seen Cate three years ago and hung in there all this time, waiting for her to notice him – and while he was waiting, quietly bonding with her kids and inserting himself into her life so completely she wouldn't know what to do without him. That was Cal. He decided what he wanted, then he made it happen. Creed was suddenly glad Cal hadn't wanted Neenah, or he'd have had to kill the best friend he had in the world.

Creed directed Neenah to his house, and for the first time in his life he suddenly wondered if he'd left underwear lying on the floor. He knew he hadn't – his military training was too deeply ingrained – but if ever he had, it would probably be when Neenah would see the house for the first time.

He made it to the front door and started to unlock it, then noticed where Cal had knocked out a window. He laughed, reached inside, and unlocked the door, then maneuvered his crutches to the side so she could precede him inside.

He liked his place. It was rustic, small enough for him, but not too small, since there were two bedrooms. The kitchen was modern, not that he used it a lot, the furniture sized to fit him and comfortable enough to sleep on. The decorating was plain Jane, if you could call it decorating. The furniture was put where he wanted it, and the bed was made up. That was the extent of his domestic abilities, or inclinations.

She didn't have a place to live, he realized. Her house had taken a lot of hits, plus she couldn't even get to it right now. The sheriff's department had brought in a helicopter to airlift the stranded inhabitants to town, because that was deemed the fastest, easiest way.

"It looks like you," she said with her serene smile. "No nonsense. I like it."

He touched her cheek with one finger, lightly stroking her smooth skin. "You could stay here with me," he offered, going straight to the heart of what he wanted.

"Would you want me to have sex with you?"

He almost fell, the crutches suddenly becoming unmanageable, but he found he was incapable of lying to this woman, incapable of looking into those blue eyes and uttering anything except the absolute truth. "Hell, yes, but I want to do that regardless of where you live."

"You know I was a nun?"

How could she be so calm when his heart was suddenly beating so fast he thought he'd pass out. "I heard. Are you a virgin?"

She smiled, a tiny curve of her mouth. "No, I'm not. Does it matter?"

"It matters in that I'm relieved as hell. I'm fifty years old; I can't take that kind of stress."

"Don't you want to know why I'm not a nun anymore?"

He bit the bullet and hazarded a guess. "Because you liked sex too much to give it up?"

She burst out laughing. She seemed to think that was so hilarious, in fact, that she ended up sitting on his couch laughing so hard she cried. He began to get the idea she hadn't liked sex that much. He bet he could change her mind. He was slower now, and he knew a hell of a lot, and when it came to sex that was a good thing.

"I became a nun because I was too afraid of life, too afraid to live," she finally said. "I left the convent because those were the wrong reasons for being there."

He eased down beside her and put his crutches aside. With one arm around her he tilled her fate up. "Do you remember where we left off right before the bridge exploded and your house got shot up?"

"Vaguely," she said, the twinkle in her eye telling him she was teasing.

"Do you want to pick up there, or do you want to go to bed and make love?"

Her cheeks turned pink and she regarded him with absolute seriousness. "Bed."

Thank you, Jesus. "Okay, but first there are two things I want to get clear."

She nodded, her clear blue gaze locked with his.

"I've had the serious hots for you for years, I love you, and I want to marry you."

Her mouth fell open. She turned white, then pink again, he hoped with pleasure. She said, "That's three things."

He thought about it for a split second then shrugged before scooping her onto his lap to kiss her. "Actually, I think it's just separate parts of one big thing."

"You know, I think you're right." She wiggled against him, and ended up sitting astride his hip with her arms looped around his neck while they kissed each other crazy. After a while she was half naked and his pants were unzipped, and she was all but panting as she lay against his sweaty chest. Her hand was inside his pants and she was stroking up and down and his spine was so rigid he thought he could do a good imitation of a plank. Bed was the last thing on his mind.

"This had better be good," she said fiercely.

"It will be," he promised as he eased her into position.

"If I've gone all this lime without having sex and if this turns into another dud, I – "

"Honey," he said clearly, getting out his last lucid thought for the next twenty minutes, "Marines don't fire duds."

"Cate!" Sheila flew out of the house, sobbing in relief even though Cate had called her mother immediately on reaching a phone two days ago. She had been anxious to speak to her mother before the news hit the wire services, and she'd warned to talk to her boys. They'd been in bed asleep, but Cate had insisted Sheila wake them so she could hear their sleepy protests that faded when they realized Mommy was on the phone.

With all the police questions Cal had been obliged to answer, they hadn't been allowed to leave until just that morning. Until the electricity was on and the bridge rebuilt, they couldn't go home, and Cate's parents had invited them to stay with them in Seattle until that was possible.

Cate was engulfed in her mother's arms, tightly hugged, kissed, then hugged again. Her father came out of the house and hugged her, too, very tightly, and was followed closely by two jumping, shouting, very dirty little boys who couldn't decide if they wanted to shriek "Mommy!" or "Mr. Hawwis! so they did both.

Cal swiftly shook hands with Cate's father, then went down on one knee and the boys all but swarmed him. Alter three years of it, she was accustomed to being abandoned in favor of the handy-man, who, after all, had taught them how to cuss. How could a mother compete with that? She found herself grinning like an idiot at the sight of him with two sets of little arms wrapped tightly around his neck while they both vied to tell him all the news of their visit with Mimi. He looked as if he were being choked, they had such tight and enthusiastic grips on him.

"I see I was right," said Sheila, looking down at him with satisfaction.

"Right about what?" he managed to gasp out.

"That there was something going on between you and Cate."

"Yes, ma'am, you were. I've been after her for three years."

"Well, good job. Are you getting married?"

"Mom!"

"Yes, ma'am," said Cal, without a hint of a blush.

"When?"

"Mom!"

"As soon as possible."

"In that case," said Sheila, "I'll let you stay here with her. But no hanky-panky with my daughter under my roof."

Her dad looked as if he would choke with laughter. Cal was close to being choked by the twins. Cate thought she might choke on indignation. "1 wouldn't think of it, ma'am," Cal assured her mother.

"Liar," Sheila said briskly.

Cal winked at his future mother-in-law. "Yes, ma'am," he said very definitely, and she grinned.

A couple of weeks later, the man who used to be Kennon Goss, who used to be Ryan Ferris, walked casually through a cemetery outside Chicago. He seemed to walk without purpose, pausing to read names, then meandering on.

He passed by a new grave. There was a temporary marker up, and the name on it was Yuell Faulkner, with the dates of his birth and death listed. The man didn't stop, didn't appear to pay the grave any attention. He went by it to study the old tombstone of a child who had died in 1903, and from there to a veteran's grave decorated with two small American flags.

One of life's ironies, the man thought. Faulkner had already been dead that night, by a few hours. Good old Hugh Toxtel hadn't had to die; his involuntary sacrifice hadn't been necessary, after all. The others, either, but he didn't care about Teague and his cousin Troy. He did wonder about Billy Copeland and that young guy, Blake, though; he hadn't killed them, so who had?

Thinking back on that night, sometimes he thought he remembered a hint of a breeze, as if something or someone had moved close to him. Other times his common sense told him that there had been a breeze – a real breeze, caused by the movement of air. That didn't explain why several times since then he'd bolted upright in bed, startled out of a sound sleep by this weird sensation that his dreams had conjured up, of being watched.

He was glad to his bones to be out of Idaho, but he couldn't stay in Chicago. It was time to move on. Maybe someplace warm. Maybe Miami. He'd heard on the news there had been a series of vicious murders down there. The killer was evidently collecting eyeballs.

What were the odds?

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