Authors: Marcus Sakey
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers
Marcus Sakey is an award-winning copywriter and the author of
The Blade Itself
. While writing this he shadowed homicide detectives, toured a morgue, and learned to pick a deadbolt in sixty seconds. Born
in Flint, Michigan, he now lives in Chicago with his wife.
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London
First published in the United States of America by St. Martin’s Minotaur 2008
Published in Great Britain in Penguin Books 2009
Copyright © Marcus Sakey 2008
All rights reserved
The moral right of the author has been asserted
This is a work of fi ction. All of the characters, organizations and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fi ctitiously.
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
For Matt, who gave me the Lantern Bearers,
and many other things
Mountain grog seller and river gambler, Generous Sport and border jackal, blackleg braggart and coonskin roisterer, Long Knives
from Kentucky and hatchet-men from New York, bondsmen, brokers, and bounty jumpers – right from the go it was a broker’s town,
and the brokers run it yet.
His heart pumps fire.
Jason’s feet are impossibly heavy, and his world is blurring. Shin muscles stretch to snapping, rubber bands wound too tight.
When they began racing, the breeze was like cool water he could melt into. But it has been an hour at least, and now the air
is something to fight through, humid and thick.
Arms pumping, Jason risks a sideways glance at his older brother.
Michael catches it. His features are crinkled in effort, and sweat soaks the thin dark hairs pointing scraggly on his upper
lip. His shirt is stained a dark V. But he manages to cock one corner of his mouth up at an ugly angle. ‘Give up yet?’ he
asks. His voice the same as the upperclassmen in gym, the ones who snap locker room towels, who laugh at Jason’s hairless
body, call him faggot.
Jason leans into the run, speeding up. Feet tingling. Mouth open. Gasping.
He will never stop running. Never.
When the man pointed a gun at him, Jason Palmer was cooling down after his daily five and picturing the first beer of the
day, a sweating Corona-and-lime that he figured he’d drink in the shower. Happy hour had been coming early lately, but he’d
decided not to worry about it. To pretend this was summer vacation. Spend it running along the lake, scoping the bikini-girls
that hit North Avenue Beach every afternoon like rent was a concept they weren’t familiar with. He pushed sweat-damp bangs
out of his eyes, laced his fingers overhead, and turned into the pedestrian tunnel beneath Lake Shore Drive. The change from
blast-furnace sun to cement-cool shadows left him blinking, but when his eyes adjusted there the guy was, standing like he’d
Maybe twenty, with dark skin and predator’s eyes. A sharp-edged soul patch cropped the same length as his hair. A chromed-up
Beretta with the safety off. He held the weapon wrong, elbow cocked out and wrist twisted sideways, but his hand was dead
‘Yo, I wanna talk to you.’ A diamond-studded Cadillac crest hung on a rope chain around his neck.
Adrenaline tingled up the back of Jason’s legs. His heart, still racing from the run, thudded louder as he
stared at the black hole pointed at his chest. He tried to remember everything he’d heard about getting mugged, how you weren’t
supposed to look at the guy, that it could make him nervous. ‘Easy.’ Jason slowly unwound his hands from his head. ‘It’s no
problem. Take the money.’
Soul Patch tilted his head slightly, the smile wider. ‘I say anything about money?’
Jason froze. He’d never seen the man before, and didn’t suspect they had much to talk about. He stood at the mouth of the
tunnel, the sun roasting his back; behind him he could hear the sound of gulls calling to one another, fighting over garbage.
There were always people on the beach.
Then Soul Patch narrowed his eyes. ‘Further than you think.’ His finger curled against the trigger. ‘You don’t want to be
Reluctantly, Jason stepped forward. Soul Patch nodded down the underpass. ‘Slow.’ He draped his track jacket to cover the
pistol. A tattoo curled on his forearm, a six-pointed star with letters inside, a G, maybe a D.
Jason’s sneakers crunched sand as he walked toward the far end, Soul Patch falling in behind. The sound of their passage echoed
in the closed space, scuffing back mingled with the faint rumble of cars above. His shirt went cold and clammy.
Keep it easy,
Get him off balance.
‘You know,’ Jason said, voice light, ‘I like the Cadillac myself.’
‘Saw your necklace, is all.’
Suddenly, he heard voices. For a minute, he was relieved. Then two girls turned from the ramp to the hallway, their voices
young, college freshmen maybe, laughing like the whole world was their keg party. Soul Patch stiffened at the sight of them.
Jason’s fingers tingled. One thing when it was just him on the line; this was responsibility he didn’t need. He had to keep
the situation under control. ‘Yup. Beautiful vehicles.’ Dry tongue forcing the words. ‘I got a ’72 Eldorado. Convertible.’
‘Shit, one of those old boats? I don’t roll that way.’
‘What do you like, the Escalade?’
‘I’m black, I gotta drive an Escalade?’
‘I don’t know,’ Jason said. The girls were ten feet away. ‘Just guessing.’
‘Man, I got me a XLR.’
Jason looked over his shoulder. ‘No shit?’
‘Leather interior and a DVD in the dash.’
He nodded, trying to ignore the tension in his muscles. ‘Nice.’ The girls drew parallel, and Jason clenched to jump if Soul
Patch even looked their direction. But the blonde and brunette passed smooth-faced and oblivious. Jason let out a relieved
breath, walked another dozen feet, out of earshot, and then stopped. Enough. ‘Listen, I’ve only got twenty bucks on me.’
‘So, take it.’ He started to reach, froze when Soul Patch shook his head slow.
‘Son, I wanted your money, you think you’d still have it?’
‘I want to talk.’ He cocked his head. ‘About what your brother’s up to.’
Jason felt his fingers go to fists. He fought the urge to jump the fucker right there. But the man’s gun was steady and his
smile was cruel. ‘What do you mean?’ Jason’s voice thinner than he intended.
Soul Patch cleared his throat in a sticky gurgle and spat a chunk of phlegm against the wall. ‘Move.’
He forced himself to obey, biting at his lip, limbs raw with adrenaline. Ten more steps took him out of the tunnel, the sun
landing with physical force on his shoulders, the faint burn on his neck. He walked up the concrete ramp to a two-story parking
deck, most of the spaces filled, the BMWs, Hummers, and Mercedes of a class of people who saw Monday as just a quieter afternoon
to take the yacht out. Soul Patch followed, gestured to the stairs.
Jason climbed, mind working furiously. What could possibly connect his brother and this man with the killer’s eyes? He tried
and discarded a dozen explanations with every step, but couldn’t make the pieces fit. It had to be a mistake. They reached
the second floor and started down the row of cars. The whole thing was funny in a dark sort of way. Used to be that every
time the squad hit the street, someone might have been watching, sweaty finger on a radio detonator,
waiting for Jason to step a little too close to death. It was a feeling he’d grown used to, that proximity to nothingness,
the way he might just disappear in a roar of flame. Now here he was, safe and sound at home, getting hijacked by somebody
who couldn’t tell one white dude from another. It would have been hysterical if it weren’t actually happening.
So what are you going to do about it, soldier?
A delivery truck was parked forty yards up, the angular rear jutting out past the car beside, and he began to drift toward
it, rolling on the balls of his feet to fight adrenaline-stiffness. Six cars to go: a couple of imports, a big SUV, one of
the new Beetles, and then his truck. A lunge would get him behind it. Soul Patch might snap a shot off, but it would be hurried.
And after that, it was just a matter of staying low and weaving. Killer or no, a man who held his weapon sideways didn’t have
the skill to hit a moving target at any distance. Just a few more steps, and he’d be clear.
Three cars short of the delivery truck, a man leaned out from behind the big SUV and slammed his fist into Jason’s stomach.
Breath exploded from his lungs. He doubled over, hands flying out for something solid, coming to rest on the SUV. Pain blossomed
in his gut, a warm and living thing. As his body fought for air, his mind raged, telling him to take the pain. He struggled
to straighten, one hand against the rear door, the other up in a clumsy defense.
The man who’d hit him stood five and a half.
Elaborately muscled shoulders tapered directly into his shaven head. He wore a spotless white T-shirt that hung almost to
his knees and ornate gold rings on every finger of his punching hand. Soul Patch stood beside him, chuckling, the gun steady
on Jason’s heart.
Every breath was razors in his belly. Slowly, he forced his shoulders back, took the hand off the SUV. He glanced at it as
he turned away, did a double-take, then looked at Soul Patch.