Matthew Crowe was stopped at a red light when he heard the woman scream.
The scream came from his left, and he glanced out the open driver’s-side window at the Folsom Furniture plant. The main warehouse looked the same as it did in his youth, a pile of rust and bricks that resembled a long-dead industrial relic. He would have thought it abandoned. A spotlight shining on an open door at the front of the building and a tractor trailer with FOLSOM in blue letters parked at a loading door told him they were still in business.
He checked the light again; it was still red. He looked back at the open warehouse door. That was bad news. Business owners didn’t make a habit of leaving doors open, especially with thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise sitting behind them. Did something break in, or out? That was the question.
The woman cried out again, this time a hoarse groan. No mistaking it, someone in trouble. He checked—no oncoming cars—and turned left against the light.
As he turned, he heard a second shriek, a low growl that rose in pitch to a keening wail. He felt the shriek reverberate through his guts, felt his stomach and bowels get liquidy. The last time he had heard that sound, there had been blood and pain and cries for mercy. Leaving now was not an option. One of the bastards was after someone.
He gunned the Cavalier’s engine and rolled up the driveway, gravel crunching and popping under the tires. He swung the car into a diagonal parking spot in front of the warehouse.
Hope nothing happens to the car. Rental company will be pissed.
When he boarded his plane, he never counted on something like this happening so soon.
Ten years out of Lincoln and I run into Them the first night back.
Ten years away, first in the Army Rangers and then in cramped apartments and Motel 6s around the country. Hell of a way to live, collecting newspaper clippings, Internet printouts and interviews about creatures that shouldn’t exist.
But they did exist, and from the sound of it, one of them was on the hunt.
Throwing the car in park, he got out, unlocked the trunk and pulled out the tire iron. If he had an automatic weapon handy, it might be a fair fight, but the tire iron would have to suffice.
The warehouse was separated from a four-story factory building by an alley. At the end of the alley, another spotlight shone like sunlight at the end of a train tunnel. Matt watched for any sign of movement, any shift in the shadows. When nothing rushed from the alley, he moved ahead, tire iron in hand.
The woman cried out again and he heard footsteps flop on the concrete floor of the warehouse. Had she managed to slip away? It sounded that way.
Creeping up on the door, he peered inside the warehouse, half expecting the thing inside to pop out and grab him.
, he thought.
He ducked inside and looked up at the three-tiered steel racks, the highest of which ran twenty feet in the air. Crates, pallets and rows of shrink-wrapped furniture went on for what seemed like a mile. It also created hundreds of hiding spots. Moonlight filtered in through the high windows, but instead of providing welcome illumination, it seemed to create more shadows.
He glanced at the door. The bolt was a mangled lump of metal. Likewise for the rings that held the door’s security bar in place. Something wanted to open the doors, and had done so from
He ventured a soft, “Hello?”
The woman darted out from under the storage bays and into the center of the aisle. She ducked and scrambled underneath one of the lower racks. The darkness swallowed her up.
, he thought.
He started down the aisle, aware that he could be ambushed from any angle.
A thundering crash behind him. Matt spun around to see a pallet of kitchen chairs piled on the floor. The plastic shrink-wrap had busted, and the chairs’ legs had snapped like kindling.
A second pallet of chairs tumbled down from the third tier and landed on the first pile. Matt realized the assailant was attempting to block the exit. It would not be impossible to leave through the door, but anyone who tried moving the chairs would be an easy target as they attempted to clear the exit.
Now he heard it move, thudding along the top racks, its breath coming in heavy, wet grunts.
Matt searched the racks, trying to get a glimpse of the woman. He crouched down, scanning the crates under the racks. “You in there?”
No answer came, so he continued to the end of the aisle. As he turned left, he heard footsteps, someone in a hurry. He turned quickly, but before he could square his shoulders, something hard and metal smacked his ankle.
Shit, that hurts!
he thought, hopping in pain.
The attacker followed up with a shove; already off-balance, Matt toppled over and smacked the concrete. The tire iron clanged to the floor beside him. Being a Good Samaritan hurt like hell.
“You son of a bitch!” the woman said, and pounced on top of him. She raised the crowbar over her head and brought it down like a lumberjack. He blocked the blow, his arm smacking her forearms. The crowbar flew out of her hands and tumbled under a pallet.
Her primary weapon gone, the woman dug her nails into his cheek. He winced but managed to grab her wrists and hold them. “I’m trying to help you, dammit!”
She tried to pull away, but then it dawned on her she couldn’t get loose her shoulders slumped in defeat.
I’m not what dragged you in here,
“My God,” she said. “I’m sorry.” A tear dribbled down her cheek. He wanted to wipe it away for her but thought better of it.
She was straddling him, and he glanced at her Nike T-shirt. It had been torn across the belly; blood stained the white fabric and had dribbled onto her running shorts. Something had clawed her before she slipped away.
“Thank you,” she said. “For coming in after me.”
In the dim warehouse, her eyes stood out. Pale green, they looked like they could be sniper’s eyes under the right (or wrong) circumstances. She was compact and had the lean, smooth legs of a runner. Her curly black hair was pulled into a ponytail. He took her for about twenty-eight or twenty-nine.
Matt said, “We need to get out of here fast. We’re in here with someone very dangerous.”
“You’ve got my vote.” She stood up and brushed off her shorts.
Matt got to his feet as well. His cheek stung from the scratch, a low throb pulsed through his ankle. A gimp leg wasn’t going to help them get out of Folsom’s warehouse.
He lowered his voice to a whisper. “That was pretty smart, hiding out and whacking me with the crowbar like that.”
“I found it under one of the racks.” She looked down at his foot. “I didn’t hit you full force, but you’re lucky your ankle’s not broken.”
He hoped there was an ice pack at his aunt’s house with his name on it. “Could’ve fooled me,” he said. “And now that you’ve nearly maimed me, I’m Matt Crowe.”
“Jill Adams,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Crowe—let’s get the hell out of here.”
She retrieved the crowbar and he picked up the tire iron. They turned the corner to the next aisle, heading toward the front of the building, nearest the street.
Glass crashed and wood cracked in the aisle behind them. The attacker had pushed another pallet full of goods off of one of the top bays, hoping to crush them. One of these times he wasn’t going to miss.
Matt looked at the far wall and noticed an elevated platform running along the walls. There was a small office, with plywood walls and a picture window. Thick steel posts rose from the ground, supporting the office and the catwalk. Matt imagined a stogie-chewing, bull-necked boss in a shirt and tie looking out the window, making sure that the employees hauled ass during working hours.
A metal staircase led up to the catwalk, which seemed like their best chance for escape. He guessed the warehouse would have large doors somewhere to accommodate trucks. But could they open them?
If they could get on the catwalk, it would allow them to move around the warehouse and find a window to climb out of.
“Let’s make a move for the stairs,” he said.
“What about the door?”
“Blocked off by a pallet.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” She brushed a lock of hair off her forehead. “The walkway it is.”
They crept down the aisle, watching every direction for any sign of movement. As they neared the stairway, Jill shouted, “Look out!”
She clamped down on his arm and yanked him toward her. A pallet with a recliner on it smashed against the concrete where Matt had stood a second ago. He put his arm up, as if to ward off the already fallen pallet. It was purely reflex and he realized if Jill hadn’t pulled him away, he would have been crushed like an ant under a boot.
“Whoever he is has rotten aim,” she said.
Matt’s heart beat a rhythm in his chest John Bonham would have envied. His hands trembled and cool sweat trickled down his back. “Now it’s my turn to thank you.”
“Keep moving,” she said.
As they started up the stairs Matt glanced up at the third tier of racks. A cold lump of ice formed in his belly when he saw their attacker climb over a crate and stand upright. It wrapped its too-long arms around a support beam and swung itself around the pole. He saw a row of spiky quills running down its back, got a look at the oversize skull. It lowered itself like a man descending a rope, hand over hand. It had decided to finish the hunt.
They hurried up the stairs.
Chief Ed Rafferty watched Billy Hamil crawl across the floor of the cell block. He’d slammed his nightstick into Hamil’s knee, driving him to the ground. He looked down at the crawling worm, right between the 1 and the 8 on Hamil’s Lincoln High Football jersey. It made a perfect target. He swung and connected.
Hamil let out a grunt and flopped on his belly. His breath came in shallow gasps. Hamil was learning quickly that you didn’t mess with the Chief of Police. When he rolled over Rafferty saw blood dripping from his lower lip where Rafferty had smacked him earlier.
“Don’t get blood on my floor. You’ll be licking it clean if you do.”
Hamil curled up in a ball, as if expecting more punishment, and Rafferty liked that. The scumbag looked like a dog that had taken a good beating from its master for pissing on the rug.
“Gonna get drunk again, Hamil?”
Rafferty nudged him with his foot. “Gonna spray any more of your shitty-ass graffiti again? Better answer me, ’cause the next one’s not gonna be a love tap.”
“Good, now get your ass up and into that cell.”
The Hamil boy, all of eighteen, propped himself up and staggered through the open cell door. The Chief slammed the door shut and it echoed in the hallway. He liked it down here, the hot light from the naked bulb overhead, the moldy smell, the spiders that dwelled in the corners. Doing business in the cell block was the best. The only thing that could have improved it was a rack and a set of hot irons, Inquisition style.
He looked at Hamil, who lay on the cot. “If you’re good, you go home tomorrow. After the fine, of course.”
“And if I’m not?”
“You don’t want to know.”
Rafferty turned and left the cell block, smiling the whole way, glad to have taught another one of Lincoln’s little punks a lesson. After all, he had been Chief here for thirteen years and it was his town; if he had to dish out some pain to keep the peace, then so be it.
It was good to be the king when the subjects were all terrified of you.
Rafferty ascended the three steps that led back into the main office. Linda Mulvaney, his secretary and dispatcher, sat at her desk near the front door, typing away on her Dell. He noticed her shudder a little as he entered the room and he liked that. It kept her in line.
He crossed the room, squinting from the glare of the fluorescents overhead.