Tonight--Wednesday, March 21, 2007--an unfortunate event will happen in one man's life ... an event that will change the face of Kanner Lake.
For your "Sneak Pique" on this auspicious day I give you Chapter One of Coral Moon. (I have run the beginning of this chapter before, in an editing exercise. This is the complete chapter.)
Coral Moon releases Friday.
Kill tonight—or die.
The words burned, hot acid eating through his eyes, his brain. Right down to his soul.
Only a crazy person would obey.
He slapped both hands to his ears, squeezed hard against his head. Screwed his eyes shut. He hung there, cut off from the world, snagged on the life sounds of his body. The whoosh of breath, the beat of his heart.
The words boiled.
His skull hurt. He pulled his hands away, let them fall. The kitchen spun. He dropped into a chair, bent forward, and breathed deeply until the dizziness passed.
He sat up, looked again to the table.
The note lay upon the unfolded Kanner Lake Times newspaper, each word horrific against the backdrop of a coral crescent moon.
How did they get in here?
What a stupid question. As if they lacked stealth, as if mere walls and locked entrances could keep them out. He’d been down the hall in the bedroom watching TV, door wide open, yet had heard nothing. Hadn’t even sensed their presence as he pushed off the bed and walked to the kitchen for some water.
A chill blew over his feet.
His eyes bugged, then scanned the room. Over white refrigerator and oak cabinets, wiped-down counters and empty sink. To the threshold of the kitchen and into the hallway. There his gaze lingered as the chill worked up to his ankles.
It had to be coming from the front of the house.
His skin oozed sweat, a web of sticky fear spinning down over him. Trembling, he pulled himself out of the chair. He clung to the smooth table edge, ensuring his balance. Then, heart beating in his throat, he forced himself across the floor, around the corner, and toward the front door.
It hung open a few inches.
They were taunting him.
He approached, hands up and fingers spread, as if pushing through phantoms. Sounds of the night wafted on the frigid air—the rustle of breeze through tree limbs, distant car tires singing against pavement. He reached the door, peered around it, knowing he was a fool to seek sign of them. The air smelled crisp, tanged with the purity of pine trees. The last vestiges of snow dusted his porch, bearing the tracks of his footprints alone.
He closed the door and locked it. As if that would do any good. He sagged against the wall, defeated and sick. How stupid to think they would leave him in peace. Hadn’t he seen this coming? All the events of the last few months . . .
Shoulders drawn, he made his way back to the kitchen and his inevitable fate. Each footstep drew him away from the life he’d built, reasoning and confidence seeping from him like blood from a fatal wound. His conscience pulsed at what he had to do.
The message sat on his table, an executioner beckoning victim to the noose. He fell into the chair, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He read the words, fresh nausea rising in his stomach. No misunderstanding their commands. They had a chess score to settle. He was their pawn.
He pushed back against the chair, arms crossed and hugging himself, the way he used to do as a boy. Dully, he stared at the window, seeing only his own pitiable reflection. For a long time he watched himself, first transfixed in fright, then with the evolving expression of self-preservation.
If he just did this one thing, his debt would be paid. They’d leave him alone.
For another hour...two…he sat, forcing down the queasiness as he thought through dozens of details. How he should do it. What could go wrong.
By the time he rose near midnight, he’d laid his plans.
Gathering the necessary items, shrugging on a coat, he slipped out into the cold and soulless night.