Authors: Susan M. MacDonald
Susan M. MacDonald
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eBook ISBN 978-1-55081-372-2
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from Library Archives Canada.
Â© 2011 Susan M. MacDonald
Cover Photo: Pritesh Gandhi, Ambient Devices
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We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts which last year invested $20.1 million in writing and publishing throughout Canada, the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador through the department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation for our publishing activities.
Printed in Canada.
For Christopher, Caileigh, Jamieson and my mum, Margot, for constantly believing I could.
This novel is dedicated to my father, Wilson.
The Writer's Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador's Mentorship program was valuable in helping this novel reach publishable form.
othing like a little shoplifting to get the blood pumping, Alec thought as he tucked the DVD down the front of his jeans. He picked up another from the display and pretended to be absorbed in the story outline. Sure it was a stupid thing to do and his father would kill him if he found out, but only losers backed out of a bet at the last minute. And besides, he really needed the money.
The music store was packed with kids on summer vacation. Overhead, coloured lights flashed with the heavy bass rhythm that throbbed through the soles of Alec's feet. Someone jostled him from behind as they pushed through the crowd. Stevie and Chin were waiting behind the rack of discounted television series, neither looking at him. He meandered in their direction, playing it cool, but it felt like everyone was watching him. Was that a plain-clothes security guard lounging by Heavy Metal? Alec halted and feigned a sudden interest in the CDs on the shelf next to him. Grabbing three, he held them up to his face to hide his gaze.
For several long moments the suspected cop did nothing, then headed off to the cashiers. Alec tossed the CDs back.
The DVD slipped slightly with every step. Any minute it was going to fall right down onto the floor. Alec shoved his hands into his front pockets and tried to unobtrusively grasp the edge of the case with a couple of fingers, keenly aware of how it looked. Time to change plans and just get out of there. The mall entrance was almost closer than Stevie and Chin anyway and there was no way the fat security guard lounging at the entrance would be able to catch him.
He turned to give Chin the signal he was leaving and caught a glimpse of the man out of the side of his eye. His heart gave a funny jump. There, behind Stevie. He glanced again, taking his time to make sure without being obvious.
He wasn't mistaken. It was the same guy. He'd noticed him outside his high school, at the park, and twice at soccer practice over the last few weeks. At least ten years older than Alec, of medium height and slim build, he didn't
like a cop, but that didn't mean anything. Something in the way he always seemed to be watching made Alec feel uneasy. Scarborough was a huge sprawl of cement and humanity. You hardly ever saw the same people day after day unless they worked or went to school with you, and even then you could easily miss someone. Was this guy following him?
Deliberately turning his eyes away, Alec put the stranger out of his mind. He had forty bucks to win. He glanced towards the mall. Twenty metres to the concourse. The DVD slipped even farther. He had to get out of there. Now.
Suddenly a most peculiar feeling slipped over his skin. Like the first icy touch of winter, raising the hair on his arms and neck with the slightest chill. Alec stopped walking. He looked up.
A punk with oversize jeans falling off his narrow hips and a hood flung up over his Blue Jays cap was slouching up the aisle towards him. His eyes were totally blank yet staring directly at Alec. The punk said nothing and no one around even seemed to notice him. Alec couldn't tear his eyes away. There was something odd here, something he should be â¦
When he was about three metres away, the punk stopped. He pulled his right hand from the pocket of his hoodie and slowly raised it. He pointed a small gun straight at Alec.
What the hell
Part of Alec's mind screamed,
, but he couldn't move. He couldn't even open his mouth to shout for help. It was like something out of a zombie horror movie â too bizarre to even contemplate as real.
The punk's trigger knuckle tightened in slow motion.
Suddenly Alec was tackled from behind. He hit the tiles with a thud that knocked the air out of his lungs. His chin glanced painfully off the dirty floor. A terrific
thundered above, momentarily deafening him. Acrid gunpowder smoke filled the air. Somewhere someone screamed. It might have been him.
Strong hands pinned him. Alec squirmed helplessly. He couldn't even turn his head to get a clear view of his rescuer, but he knew with sudden overwhelming conviction that it was the guy who'd been following him around over the last few weeks.
“Hold still,” the stranger hissed as he shifted slightly. His free hand shot out past Alec's nose. Alec saw a glass ball, the size of a small orange, which glowed with an almost blinding blue-white light, clasped in his fist.
There wasn't time to think about what his rescuer was doing. The punk wouldn't miss such an easy target again. This was it. Alec squeezed his eyes shut and held his breath. What a stupid way to die.
A brilliant white flash ripped under his eyelids the same instant the roaring blast thundered above him. His protector jerked spasmodically with a grunt but didn't lessen his grip on Alec's neck. It was all Alec could do not to scream. The rolling echo of the gunshot reverberated through the store. There were more shrieks above the blasting music, and several steps away, a dull thud as something heavy fell to the floor.
Alec opened his eyes, almost too afraid to see the blood and devastation. His rescuer scrambled sideways, easing himself off Alec's prostrate form. He slipped the glowing ball into his pocket, murmuring directly into Alec's ear in a soft Irish lilt, “Next time, Alec, they won't miss.” Before Alec could open his mouth to reply, the man disappeared into the gathering crowd.
Alec scrambled to his knees. Hang on a minute. There was
the punk could have missed. He looked down at himself. No blood.
Still shaking, he climbed to his feet. His heart, which only a moment before had taken up lodging in his throat, returned to its normal position and slammed against his ribs. He felt dazed and slightly ill. Where had his rescuer gone? Was he hurt? And how did he know his name?
Alec barely noticed the points and stares. He shuffled over and stood right above the sprawled form of his assailant. A crimson stain had blossomed through the thicker fabric of the punk's hoodie. Glazed eyes stared upward. The beginnings of a ratty moustache fuzzed over thin lips that would never speak again. The gun was still loosely clasped in his hand.
Bile rose unbidden in Alec's throat. There wasn't any air. He couldn't breathe. Without heeding the shout of the security guard, Alec bolted.
He raced past the electronic boutique and the lingerie store. Skidding around the corner of his favourite clothing store, his stomach heaved when he caught the eye of a mannequin in the store window wearing the same jacket as the dead guy. He slammed his hands down on the bar that released the glass exit doors and shoved so hard they smacked against the doorstops. He stumbled outside into the stifling heat of the parking lot.
A crowd of shoppers milled at the entrance, several watching as a mall security guard, walkie-talkie held to his mouth, waved at a rapidly approaching fire truck.
Alec skidded to a stop, dropped his hands to his knees and gasped for breath. His stomach surged in revolt.
Hold it together, he admonished himself. It's over.
Nearly two hours later, Alec eased open the door to his apartment and ducked inside the living room gloom.
His father was barely visible in the grey recliner, just the top of his balding head showing over the back of the headrest. Only the bluish flickering of the television set lighted the room. The news. His father only watched the news, and lately, it was all bad.
A pale yellow light shone from under the door of the galley kitchen and the comforting smells of allspice and coconut indicated his mother was in the final stages of dinner preparations. Pots clattered for a second. His father reached forward and thumbed the remote.
The large sliding doors were partly open and the floor-length curtains were not drawn against the early twilight. On the narrow balcony, his older brother, Peter, was curled up on a battered lounge chair, an ever-present book in his hand.
Alec stood silently. He tried to take some deep and calming breaths, but his chest felt constricted, like someone was squeezing him, and his legs still felt like jelly. If Chin hadn't walked him home, he doubted he would have made it.
The next news story flashed on the television screen. Between the fire engines, the doors of the mall winked into view. A reporter, her eyes wide with salacious glee, raised a microphone to her lips and began to speak. “For the fourth time this week, area residents have witnessed senseless violence â¦”
Alec dashed across the living room and past the kitchen door. He had almost made it into the bedroom hallway when the light spilled out behind him and he heard his mother's voice.
“Alec, is that you?”
He stopped in his tracks and carefully modulated his tone. “Yeah.” Sassing his mother twice in one day would have his father out of his chair so fast his head would spin.
“I asked you to be back by five.” His mother wiped her hands on a dishtowel and leaned one weary shoulder against the kitchen doorjamb. She was shorter than Alec by several inches now, but it was kind of like seeing a female version of himself. The same dark curls, the same chocolate eyes.
Alec scuffed his toe on the scratched linoleum. “I got sick at the mall. Ask Chin. I threw up all over the sidewalk.”
His mother frowned. Her hand whipped out and before he could back away, felt his forehead in the manner of concerned mothers the world over.
“You're a bit clammy. What did you eat?”
Alec shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Better lie down. I'll keep your supper warm, in case you feel hungry later.” She dismissed him without another glance and disappeared into the kitchen. Behind him, the television droned. He could feel his father's eyes on the back of his neck.
Peter hadn't turned on the light and their room was bathed in the pale blue of the street lamp directly outside. Alec crossed the floor in three strides and yanked the curtains shut. He pulled the DVD from his waistband and tossed it onto the cluttered dresser. He climbed the rungs to the top bunk, shoving the pile of freshly folded laundry off the end of his mattress with his foot, before flopping down on top of the comforter. Clasping the back of his head, he stared at the ceiling.
He'd seen a guy get shot. Not a movie or a cartoon or his video games. But real and right in front of him. And the guy, whoever he was, had been aiming right at him.
He knew he'd never seen the punk before. The guy had been too old to still be in high school and he certainly didn't play against him in any sport. The creep looked like he'd get winded climbing a flight of stairs. So why did he try to kill him? And maybe more importantly, why did that guy who pinned him to the ground say what he said?
Next time, they won't miss.
What on earth did
mean? Who were
? Were they really after
And if someone did have it out for him, what was he going to do?