Well, this is awkward...
You've sort of walked in on the middle of the party here. You'll want to start with last week's a free teaser (The Prologue and Chapter 1 to be specific) of Shadows in the Water, my supernatural thriller. You can find those here.
If you've already enjoyed those chapters and want to enjoy more, here's Chapters 2 & 3 for you:
Will you do it?
The question looped in King’s mind. Will you do it, Robbie?
At the corner of St. Peter and Bourbon, Robert King paused beneath a neon bar sign. Thudding bass blared through the open door, hitting him in the chest. The doorman motioned him forward. King waved him off. He was done drinking for the night. Not only because the hurricane was getting acquainted with the pickle chips he’d eaten earlier, but because the case file under his arms wasn’t going to examine itself.
Despite the riot in his stomach, he hoped the booze would help him sleep. He was overdue a good night. A night without crushing darkness and concrete blocks pinning him down on all sides. A night where he didn’t wake up at least twice with the taste of plaster dust on his lips. Leaving the bedside light on helped, but sometimes even that wasn’t enough to keep the nightmares away.
Drunk revelers stumbled out of the bar laughing, and a woman down the street busked with her violin case open at her feet. The violin’s whine floated toward him but was swallowed by the bass from the bar.
King paused to inspect his reflection in the front window. He smoothed his shaggy hair with a slick palm. He could barely see the scar. A bullet had cut a ten-degree angle across his cheekbone before blasting a wedge off his ear. The ear folded in on itself when it grew back together, giving him an elfish look.
A whole building collapsed on him, and it hadn’t left a single mark. One bullet and…well, he supposed that was how the world worked.
Calamity didn’t kill you. What finished you was the shot you never saw coming.
He straightened and smiled at the man in the glass.
Now that he didn’t look like a drunk, it was time to make sure he didn’t smell like one. He pinned the file against his body with a clenched elbow and dug into his pocket for mints. He popped two mints out of the red tin and into his mouth, rolling them back and forth with his tongue as if to erase all the evidence. Satisfied, he continued his slow progress toward home.
The central streets of the French Quarter were never dark, even after the shops closed and all that remained were the human fleas feeding in the red light of Bourbon Street. The city didn’t want a bunch of drunks searching for their hotels in the dark, nor did they care to provide cover for the petty pickpockets who preyed on them. There were plenty of both in this ecosystem.
At the corner of Royal and St. Peter, King paused beneath a metal sign swinging in the breeze rolling in off Lake Pontchartrain and wiped his boots on the curb. Gum. Vomit. Dog shit. A pedestrian could pick up all sorts of discarded waste on these streets. He balanced his unsteady body by placing one hand on a metal post, cane height and topped with a horse’s head. The pointed ears pressed into his palm as he struggled to balance himself.
A fire engine red building stood waiting for him to clean his feet. Black iron railings crowned the place, with ferns lining the balcony. Hunter green shutters framed oversized windows overlooking both Royal and St. Peter.
The market across the street was still open. King considered ducking in and buying a bento box, but one acidic pickle belch changed his mind. He rubbed his nose, suppressing a sneeze.
Best to go to bed early and think about all that Brasso had told him. Sleep on it. Perhaps literally with the photographs and testimony of one Paula Venetti under his pillow for safe keeping.
And with his gun too, should someone come in during the night and press a blade to his throat in search of information. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Will you do it?
King supposed if he thought this case was hot enough to warrant a knifing in the night, he should’ve said no. He should remind his old partner he’s retired. Brasso should find some young buck full of piss and vinegar. Not a man pushing sixty who can’t have two cocktails without getting acid reflux severe enough to be mistaken for a heart attack.
The case file sat heavy in his hand. Heavier than it had been when he’d first accepted it. He clutched the folder tighter and crossed the threshold into Mel’s shop, the lights flickered, and a ghostly moan vibrated the shelves.
A gaggle of girls looked up from their cell phones wide-eyed. Then they burst into laughter. One with braces snorted, and the laughter began anew.
Mel’s sales tactics may not be old hat to them, but King found the 10,000th fake moan less thrilling than the first. Funny how it had been the same with his ex-wife.
It’s all about theatrics with these folk, Mel had said when she forced him to help install the unconventional door chime. They come to N’awlins for the witchy voodoo stuff, and if you want to keep renting my room upstairs, Mr. King, you best clip these two wires here together. My old fingers don’t bend the way they used to.
And he did want to keep renting the large one-bedroom apartment upstairs, so he offered no further resistance to her schemes.
The store was smoky with incense. Ylang ylang. Despite the open door and late breeze, a visible cloud hung in the air, haloing the bookshelves and trinket displays full of sugar skulls, candles, statues of saints, and porcelain figurines. The fact that he recognized the scent spoke of Mel’s influence on him these past months. If someone had bet him he would know the difference between Ylang ylang and Geranium two years ago, he would have lost the shirt off his back.
Apart from the four girls clustered by a wall of talismans, only one other patron was in the store. A rail-thin man with a rainbow tank top and cut-off jean shorts showing the bottom of his ass cheeks plucked a Revenge is Love candle from a wooden shelf. He read the label with one hand on his hip. When he scratched his ash blond hair, glitter rained onto the floor.
King’s heart sank. Despite Mel’s endless tactics, business was still slow. At ten o’clock on a Friday, this place should be packed wall-to-wall with tourists, ravers, or even drunks. Five customers did not an income make.
Behind the counter, a twenty-two-year-old girl with a white pixie cut took one look at the falling glitter and her nostrils flared.
Piper wore a sleeveless tank top with deep arm holes revealing her black sports bra beneath. A diamond cat earring sat curled in the upper curve of her ear and sparkled in the light of the cathedral chandelier overhead. A hemp necklace with three glass beads hung around her neck. Every finger had a silver ring, and a crow in flight was tattooed on her inner wrist. She managed to mask her irritation before Booty Shorts reached the counter with his purchase.
“$6.99.” Piper slipped the candle into a paper bag with the Madame Melandra’s Fortunes and Fixes logo stamped on the front.
Booty Shorts thanked her and sashayed out into the night. A glow stick around his neck burned magenta in the dark.
“I don’t see what a candle can do that a hitman can’t.” Piper blew her long bangs out of her face.
“Why would you have someone else fight your battles for you?”
“I don’t hit girls.” Piper scoffed in mock indignation. “Anyway, my point is it’s a waste of time sitting up all night with a candle praying to some goddess who doesn’t give two shits about my sex life. Don’t cry about your sour milk! Go get another fish! A cute, kissable fish who’ll let you unsnap her bra after a couple tequila shots.”
“Be grateful for the candle-burning crybabies,” King adjusted the folder under his arms. “Unless you want to be a shop girl somewhere else.”
Her nostrils flared. “Apprentice. I’m learning how to read fortunes. Sometimes I set up a table in Jackson Square and make shit up. People pay me! It’s unbelievable.”
“The Quarter is a dicey place for a young woman to be alone.”
“Awww. I’ve always wanted a concerned father figure.” She pressed her hands to her heart. Then she rolled her eyes. “Who said I was alone?”
“Were you with Tiffany?”
“Tanya,” she corrected. “And no. We broke up weeks ago.”
King rubbed the back of his head, leaning heavily against the glass case. “That’s right. You left her for Amy.”
“Amanda,” she said. “Keep up, man.”
He’d never been great with names. Now faces—he never forgot a face. “I’m sorry. How’s Amanda?”
A teenage girl burst from behind the curtain, clutching her palm as if it’d been burned. Fat tears slid down her cheeks, glistening in the light until her friends enfolded her in their arms.
The velvety curtain with its spiraling gold tassels was pulled back again and hung on a hook to one side of the door frame. From the shadows, a voluptuous black woman with considerable hips emerged. Mel’s kohl-rimmed eyes burned and an off-the-shoulders patchwork dress hugged her curvy frame. Gold bangles jangled against her wrist as she adjusted the purple shawl around her.
“Bad news?” Piper arched a brow, and King realized she’d begun to mimic Mel’s dramatic eye makeup.
Mel crossed the small shop, and King straightened again. He hoped his eyes weren’t glassy, and the mints had done the trick.
Mel stopped short of the counter and put one hand on her hip.
“Crushing hearts?” Piper asked, and she sounded excited about it.
Mel rolled her eyes. “I only suggested a book.”
Piper frowned. “What book?”
Mel puckered her lips. “He’s Just Not That Into You.”
Piper’s grin deepened. “You’re so cruel. Do you want me to talk to her? I’m really good with damsels.”
“They’re release tears. They’re good for the soul. She’ll wake up tomorrow and feel like the sun is shining, the baby bluebirds are singing, and—”
“—she’ll be $80 lighter for it,” Piper muttered.
“She’ll be fine.” Mel tapped her long purple nails on the checkout counter and turned her dark eyes on King. “You, on the other hand, you’re in trouble. Big trouble.”
King felt the sweat beading under his collar. He resisted the urge to reach up and pull at it. It was the chandelier overhead, beating down on him. Or he could blame the muggy night. New Orleans was hot as hell in June. Sweating didn’t mean a damn thing.
“You’re awfully quiet tonight, Mr. King.”
Mel stopped tapping her fingers on the glass countertops. King noticed reflective gems had been glued to the end of her index fingernails. “I see a woman in your future. She’s someone from your past. Pretty little white thing. Blonde. Big blue eyes. And she needs your help.”
His ex-wife Fiona had brown eyes, and no one would have called her a pretty little white thing.” She’d been nearly six feet tall with the body of a rugby player.
“Is this a real fortune, Mel?” he asked his tongue heavy in his mouth.
Mel wrinkled her nose. “As real as the booze on your breath, Mr. King.”
He adjusted the file under his arm. “It’s mouthwash.”
“I’ve done told you when you signed your lease, I wouldn’t let no drunk man in my house again.”
King found it amusing when Mel’s southern accent thickened with her anger. Amusing, but he didn’t dare smile. Mel hadn’t wanted to rent her spare apartment to anyone, let alone a man. It had taken two weeks of wooing and reference checking to convince the fortune teller an ex-DEA agent was an asset rather than a liability.
“At least he’s not an angry drunk.” Piper tried to pull the file free from King’s underarm. She bit her lip as she tried to peel the flaps apart and glimpse the contents within.
He slapped her hand lightly. “I’m not even buzzed.”
Mel’s eyes flicked to the case file then met his again. She arched an eyebrow.
King didn’t believe in palm reading or fortune telling. Ghosts only existed in the mind, and he would be the first to admit he had a menagerie of malevolent spirits haunting him.
But despite what his mother called a healthy dose of skepticism, he believed in intuition. Intuition was knowledge the frontal lobe had yet to process. He trusted his instinct and he respected the instinct of others. No one person could see every angle. Shooters on the roof. Boots on the ground. You had to rely on someone else’s eyes, and this was no different.
Did Mel sense something about the case Brasso brought him? About a witness on the run and the man hunting her? And this mysterious woman from his past…
Mel spoke to the gaggle of girls. “Who’s next?”
Three hands shot up. Someone cried, “Me!”
Clearly, they were eager to have their hearts broken.
“Wait.” King touched her shoulder, and she turned. “Were you serious about the woman?”
“I don’t need to be a fortune teller to know there’s a woman, Mr. King.” Mel tucked one of the girls behind the curtain and met his eyes again. She looked at him through long, painted lashes. Candle flames danced on the walls behind her. “She’s in your apartment.”
“You let a woman into my apartment?” His heart took off. “There’s a woman in my apartment? Now?”
Mel grinned and dropped the burgundy curtain.
“Good luck with your ex-girlfriend.” Piper swiped at the floor with a corn husk broom, doing no more than smearing the glitter. “Hope you have better luck than I do with mine.”
“I’ll be okay.” King stood at the base of the stairs, looking up at his dark door. “Probably.”
The moment the water overtook the car, Lou made her largest slip yet. She took Angelo, the car, and the dead driver. She didn’t know if this was her doing, or if some things slip through on the current of their own desire. After all, there were enough rumors. Ships found floating without people. The Bermuda triangle. Planes disappeared and were never seen again. No debris ever found. She wasn’t so egotistic to assume she was the only one who could slip through thin places.
Once the dark water turned red, became a different lake in a different place and time, Lou kicked out the window and swam.
She surfaced beside the body of the driver. He floated face down in the water. His shirt was puffed up in places where the air had entered beneath his collar. The water of Blood Lake, always the same crimson hue, added a surreal dimension to the floating body. As if the driver floated in an ocean of his own blood.
A large splash caught her attention, and she paddled in a half-circle. Her heavy boots tugged at her ankles, making it harder to stay afloat.
It wasn’t Angelo. He was moving slowly toward the shore, making poor progress under the weight of his leather jacket. He slapped at the surface of the lake, each clumsy stroke of his arm like an eagle trying to swim. She spun further to the right in time to see a large dorsal fin dip beneath the surface about ten yards away.
She didn’t need to be told getting out of the water was a good idea. Blood in the water was sure to attract any predator, earthly or otherwise. The splattered brains on the sinking car’s window was an added draw.
And she didn’t have much time. The ripples of the creature’s descent were already lapping at her breast bone.
She swam for shore in slow, controlled movements. Not panicked. Not like prey. Yet she expected at any moment to find herself jerked under. Each easy stroke toward Angelo was an act of self-control.
Yet she emerged from the lake unharmed. Her heart hammered, but her body was whole. Angelo inspected a cut on his hand. He hadn’t been careful enough with the broken window he’d pushed himself through.
Lou watched him, waited for him to adjust to his surroundings.
Finally, he looked up. He made a small sound of surprise, and Lou followed his gaze toward the water. The body of the driver bobbed once. Then a harder jerk submerged all but the puffed shirt. A flick of a large grotesque tail covered in purple spines slapped against the surface. One more tug and the body was gone. Only ripples on the surface suggested an exchange had happened.
Angelo stared gape-mouthed at the sky, transfixed by the two moons sagging there. “We are dead.”
Lou tried to imagine what this place looked like to him. What it had looked like to her on her first visit.
The red lake. The white mountains. The strange yellow sky. A black forest with short trees and heart shaped leaves. Incongruous colors that were so different than those of her world.
“You are a demon.” He crossed himself and kissed a saint pendant hanging from a gold chain around his neck.
It was the smell of sulfur that made him think of Hell, no doubt. It hung in the air and would cling to her hair and skin until she bathed. She shook water off her hands. “This is not some Roman Catholic parable.” Though you will learn a lesson here, she thought.
“Who are you?”
“Jack Thorne’s daughter.”
Angelo’s eyes widen. “No. She hit the bottom of the pool and didn’t come up.”
I didn’t come up, she thought. I went down. Sometimes the only way out is through. And Lou thought there wasn’t another person on Earth who that could be more true for.
She remembered every detail of that night, of her father’s final hours. As if those moments had been burned like images onto film, forever preserved in her mind.
On the last night of his life, Jack Thorne entered their Tudor house in the St. Louis suburbs. He stood there in the doorway, wearing his bulletproof vest and badge. He was an intimidating sight, over six feet tall and filling the doorway like an ogre from a storybook. His gaze was direct and cumbersome most of the time. Only when he smiled, and the lines beside his eyes creased, did the gaze feel friendly.
“I want to talk to you,” he said.
Louie, twelve, had slowly lowered her book, mentally marking her place on the page, before looking up from the window seat where she sat.
Her father had laughed, his grin transforming his face. “You’re not in trouble. Scout’s honor.”
He’d never been a scout, but that hadn’t stopped him from hailing the three-finger salute.
He ruffled her hair before heading to his bedroom where he changed. She’d listened to him, to the sound of his holster buttons snapping open. The clunk of the gun being placed on the dresser. One boot falling with a thud to the floor. Then the other. The Velcro of the bulletproof vest ripping free. These were the sounds of him coming home, and they had comforted her.
At dinner, she pushed a piece of soft, over-boiled broccoli around her plate, and waited. She listened to her mother complain about her day, about her part-time job at the chiropractor’s office.
“They don’t even vaccinate their children,” her mother sneered between sips of red wine. “Six children and no vaccinations. Haven’t they ever heard of herd immunity?”
“Mmmhmm,” her father said companionably and scraped up the last of his turkey and broccoli with a fork. The turkey was dry as sandpaper, and the broccoli was practically mush. But Jack Thorne ate it with the same relish he would have a 24 oz. Porterhouse because of his respect for the woman who made it. Tasteless food never hurt anyone, he’d told Louie once. But cruel words do.
“Dr. Perdy said, ‘my children have never been sick.' I wanted to ask, ‘do you know why, Dr. Perdy?’ Herd immunity, that’s why. And do you know how we gained herd immunity?”
“Hmmm?” her father prompted, as he was expected to. He sat back in his chair, unbuttoned his jeans and began reviewing his teeth with a toothpick.
“He’s supposed to be a medical professional.” Courtney finished her glass of wine. “A medical professional surely understands what could happen if we sabotage our herd immunity.”
Her father took a swig of beer. “Do you want to do anything special this summer, Louie?”
Louie looked up from her broccoli and shrugged.
Her mother made a tsk with her tongue, a sound which she reserved to express her annoyance. In this instance, it was about her husband’s unbuttoned pants at the table and his attempt to shift the conversation to their daughter.
Louie’s showers usually ended with such a tsk of her mother’s tongue and a complaint about her aching back. Other times, her mother would thrust the towel past the curtain and hold it there until Louie wiped the water out of her eyes and took it. She hadn’t been allowed to bathe alone since she’d returned from Ohio.
“She should do summer school this summer,” Courtney said with arched brows. “Her social studies grade was dismal! We need to get serious about this, Lou. You only have four years before you start applying to college.”
Louie opened her mouth but caught her father’s slight shake of the head. She shut her mouth and resumed her assault on the vegetables.
Courtney topped off her glass of wine and retired to the bedroom, with the cordless phone as she did every night. She’d call her sister, and they’d talk while watching the DVR recordings of her favorite soap operas.
As soon as the bedroom door closed, her father nodded toward the back door. “Last one out is a snot-covered Wheat Thin.”
Louie wrinkled her nose. “Gross!” Any lingering hunger from her unsatisfying meal was squashed by this disgusting image. She pushed back from the oaken table.
Despite his playful attempt to put her at ease, her heart knocked wildly against her ribs and her legs dragged beneath her like two bags of wet sand. She wasn’t sure if it was the prospect of going near the pool or the pretense of their conversation.
Her father turned to find her trailing reluctantly behind.
She closed the door behind her and stepped out into their fenced backyard. She skirted the kidney bean-shaped pool. Her eyes transfixed on the dark water. “What’s wrong?”
“Come over here and sit with me,” he said. He slipped into one of the poolside chairs and patted the seat beside him.
Her arms and legs felt ten pounds heavier, but Louie obeyed, inching toward him. Once they were knee to knee, he spoke up.
“I want to talk about the pool.”
The pulse in her ears blocked out all sound.
“Stay with me, Louie,” he said as she instinctively stepped away from the water. “I know this scares you, but it’s important.”
When she didn’t answer, he put his hand on her shoulder, cupping the large scar encircling her upper arm and clavicle. Twenty-three stitches and months of physical therapy to combat the scar tissue which formed after.
“Louie, Louiiii. Oh baby,” he sang. If he wanted her to smile, he sang mumbled nonsense from some ‘60s cover song. “Do you trust me?”
She did. But she only managed a small nod despite her father’s pleasing baritone.
“Do you remember me telling you about Aunt Lucy?”
Her brows pinched together. “The one you named me after?”
“That’s the one. I want you to go stay with her.”
“You’re sending me away?” She swayed on her feet. The shadows dancing at the edge of the motion lights pressed in on her, swiped at her neck and face with cold fingers. And the water—the godawful water—seemed to roll toward her like a hungry, anxious tongue, lapping at the sides of the pool.
“No, no,” her father said, squeezing her shoulders. “Aunt Lucy can help you.”
“Summer school,” she blurted. “Mom said I—
“You don’t need to learn about wars, Lou-blue. You need help.”
“I’m sorry about—” Louie stammered. “I know it’s not normal. I—”
“No, no, hey,” he said. He pulled her into his arms. She collapsed completely even before he kissed the top of her head. A whiff of beer burned her nose. She liked the smell. She wrapped her arms around him.
“This isn’t a punishment. You haven’t done anything wrong. Do you hear me?”
“I don’t want to leave.” Tears stung the corners of her eyes. Her fists balled behind his back. “Don’t make me leave.”
I only feel safe with you. She wasn’t sure if it was merely his size or the steady calm of his presence. He wasn’t reactive like her mother. He wasn’t volatile in his responses—one minute pleased, the next panicked—he was even. Predictable. A cool, unmovable stone to rest her hot face against.
He grounded her in a world where she felt on the verge of falling through at any moment.
“Maybe Lucy can come here,” he said, kissing the top of her head. “But you need to see her. I think she can help you. When we were children, she would disappear like you did.”
She pulled herself out of his lap. Like her. Someone in the world like her. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
An aunt. An aunt like me. “Why didn’t you tell me about Aunt Lucy?”
“I had to find her first.” He considered the beer bottle as if the answer was hidden in the bottom. He looked up and saw the questions in Lou’s eyes. “Aunt Lucy and I didn’t always get along. I didn’t believe her. I thought she disappeared for attention. I figured she liked scaring our grandmother half to death.”
Louie cupped her elbows with her palms and chewed her lip. An aunt. An aunt like me.
“But I believe you,” he said and pushed her hair out of her eyes. “And I don’t want you to be afraid. When you’re out of school this summer, we’ll have three whole months to work on this. We’ll figure this out.”
“This isn’t a trick?” Louie whispered, squeezing her elbow tighter. “I’m not being sent away to an insane asylum or something?”
“No,” he said, firm. “Lucy wants to help. She thinks she can show you how to control it—”
Louie’s voice bursts from her throat. “I’m not going in the water!”
“You can control it,” her father said again. He pressed her hands to his beard, trapping them beneath his own. She loved this beard and thought it made him look very handsome. But it wasn’t enough to soothe her blind panic. Not now. The pool seemed to swell in her vision.
“No.” She tried to pull her hands away from his. “You don’t understand. There are things over there.”
He wouldn’t let go of her. “You can conquer this. And I’ll be right here.”
Nightmares reared in her mind. A great yellow eye. Rows of stained teeth. Hooked talons reaching.
“Master this, Lou-blue. Don’t be its victim.” He cupped her cheeks this time and kissed the tip of her nose. “Promise me.”
Gunfire erupted in the house. Their heads snapped toward the sound of it in time to see strobe lights flash in the bedroom window. The noise of a wine glass shattering on the floor wafted through the open bedroom window. No screams. Then the gunfire ceased, and the bedroom fell dark again except for the soft blue light of the television.
Seconds later, only long enough for her father to stand from the pool chair, men burst through the side gates into their backyard. A hand shoved aside a lilac bush. Petals the colors of bruises rained down on the lawn.
Louie saw a specter, a phantom illuminated by the motion lights. And that was all she saw before her father lifted her off the ground and threw her into the pool.
Her body hit the surface, and on impact, the air was knocked out of her, swallowing her scream. The cold water engulfed her, enclosed her limbs like tendrils of seaweed. Through the aqua distortion, she saw her father turn and run, his white shirt an ethereal target drawing the gunfire away from her.
But even as she tried to frantically swim toward the surface, screaming and reaching out for him, she felt herself falling through.
But she never forgot the face of the monster.
Angelo Martinelli. And here he was at long last.
“She’s dead. We made sure.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.” She kept one eye on Angelo, but her attention was on the trees. She had only one reason for bringing Angelo here. Where are you?
“What are you looking at?” Angelo turned toward the trees and peered into the black forest.
Her shoulder burned. The warped flesh and old scar tissue was a reminder of the beast’s stealth. Of its ability to appear suddenly no matter how quiet or careful she was.
The dark seemed to ripple, and Lou had only a second to prepare herself.
A beast with skin the color of tar leapt from the trees. Angelo screamed the way she must have the first time she saw the animal. If it could be called an animal. Six legs with scaly feet. Pus-colored talons and eyes. A face and round belly could be mistaken for cute, as long as it didn’t open its mouth and hurl its death screech into the sky. Or bared its double row of jagged shark teeth.
Lou put one foot in the water, making Angelo the closer target. His decision to scream and run only sealed his fate. She knew she should jump into the water. Slip through before the animal could catch her.
When she used La Loon to dump dead bodies, she never stayed longer than a minute. But Angelo was alive. She wasn’t leaving until she saw him dead.
The beast’s serpentine back contracted, black muscle stretching long as it lurched forward onto its anterior feet. Screaming louder, Angelo dashed for her as if to throw himself at her feet and beg for mercy.
“You can’t run from it,” she said. Her voice was weakened by her throbbing shoulder. Her old scars were alive again. “It’ll catch up to you every time.”
One snap of its jaws brought Angelo down. A second tore open his belly, spilling his guts on the wet earth. The flesh stretched away from his rib cage, the scraps of leather jacket serving as inadequate protection.
He stayed alive much longer than Lou expected, long after his intestines erupted, spilling out of his abdomen as if spring loaded. Then his screams weren’t much more than gurgling sounds. The water’s edge grew darker, thicker with Angelo’s gore.
Lou took a step toward the creature. Its yellow eyes contracted at the sight of her. The eyes, forward facing like the predators of her own world. Its lips pulled back in a recognizable growl.
Master this, Lou-blue. Don’t be its victim. Promise me. The sound of her father’s voice in her mind winded her. Her sweet father who was dead because of the man at her feet.
The beast’s nostrils flared.
“Am I still prey?” Lou asked, and slid one heel behind the other. She assumed a fighter’s stance and curled her fingers around the handle of her knife. “If you think so, then I still have business here.”
Lou waited for the pounce. A lunge. The way it would rise on its hind legs like a fox.
But the beast didn’t pounce. It regarded her with its acid-yellow eyes and then much the way a hyena protects its kill, the monster seized one of Angelo’s legs in its mouth and dragged his body into the woods to eat in privacy. It kept one great yellow eye on her as it went.
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