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Authors: Kelley Armstrong

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense

Exit Strategy

BOOK: Exit Strategy
13.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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Contents

TITLE PAGE

DEDICATION

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Mary

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

Joyce

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Russ

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Jaxson

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

HSK

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

HSK

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

CHAPTER THIRTY

Lyndsay

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Grace

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

HSK

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Wilkes

CHAPTER FORTY

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT

Dubois

CHAPTER FORTY-NINE

CHAPTER FIFTY

Dubois

Wilkes

CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ALSO BY KELLEY ARMSTRONG

PREVIEWS

COPYRIGHT

 

To Jeff

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

A huge thank-you with this one to my agent, Helen Heller, who supported and encouraged me when I wanted to “try something different.” Also to my editors, Anne Groell of Bantam, Anne Collins of Random House Canada, and Antonia Hodgson of Warner, for their willingness to let me “try something different.”

Thanks, too, to Alicia Hilton, for her invaluable help with the FBI and law enforcement details. Any remaining errors or oversights are my own.

 

Mary

Mary Lee pushed open the shop door. A wave of humid heat rolled in. Another hot Atlanta night, refusing to give way to cooler fall weather.

Her gaze swept the darkened street, lingering enough to be cautious but not enough to look nervous. Beyond a dozen feet, she could see little more than blurred shapes. At Christmas, her children had presented her with a check for a cataract operation, but she’d handed it back. Keep it for something important, she’d said. For the grandchildren, for college or a wedding. So long as she could still read her morning paper and recognize her customers across the store counter, such an operation was a waste of good money.

As for the rest of the world, she’d seen it often enough. It didn’t change. Like the view outside her shop door tonight. Though she couldn’t make out the faces of the teenagers standing at the corner, she knew their shapes, knew their names, knew the names of their parents should they make trouble. They wouldn’t, though; like dogs, they didn’t soil their own territory.

As she laid her small trash bag at the curb, one of the blurry shapes lifted a hand. Mary waved back.

Before she could duck back into her store, Mr. Emery stepped from his coffee shop. His wide face split in a Santa Claus grin, a smile that kept many a customer from complaining about stale bread or cream a few days past its “best before” date.

“Going home early tonight, Miz Lee?” Emery asked.

“No, no.”

His big stomach shuddered in a deep sigh. “You gotta start taking it easy, Miz Lee. We’re not kids anymore. When’s the last time you locked up and went home at closing time?”

She smiled and shrugged…and reminded herself to take out the garbage earlier tomorrow, so she could be spared this timeworn speech. She murmured a “good night” to Mr. Emery and escaped back into her shop.

Now it was her time. The customers gone, the shop door locked, and she could relax and get some real work done. She flipped on her radio and turned up the volume.

Mary took the broom from behind the counter as “Johnny B Goode” gave way to “Love Me Tender.” Crooning along with Elvis, she swept a path through the faint pattern of dusty footprints.

Something flickered to her left, zipping around the side of her head like a diving mosquito. As her hand went up to swat it, she felt the prick at her throat, but it was cool, almost cold. A sharp pain, followed by a rush of heat. At first, she felt only a twinge of annoyance, her brain telling her it was yet another hiccup of age to add to her body’s growing repertoire. Then she couldn’t breathe.

Gasping, her hands flew to her throat. Sticky wet heat streamed over them. Blood? Why would her neck be—? As she bent forward, she noticed a reflection in the glass lid of the ice cream freezer. A man’s face above hers. His expression blank. No, not blank. Patient.

Mary opened her mouth to scream.

Darkness.

 

He lowered the old woman’s body to the floor. To an onlooker, the gesture would seem gentle, but it was just habit, putting her down carefully so she didn’t fall with a thud. Not that anyone was around to hear it. Habit, again. Like unplugging the security camera even though, when he’d been surveying the shop, he’d noticed there was no tape in the recorder.

He left the wire embedded in the old woman’s throat. Standard wire, available at every hardware store in the country, cut with equally standard wire cutters. He double-and triple-checked the paper overshoes on his boots, making sure he hadn’t stepped in the puddle of blood and left a footprint. The boots would be gone by morning, but he looked anyway. Habit.

It took all of thirty seconds to run through the dozens of checks in his head, and reassure himself that he’d left nothing behind. Then he reached his gloved hand into his pocket and withdrew a square of plastic. He tore open the plastic wrapper and pulled out a folded sheet of paper within. Then he bent down, lifted the old woman’s shirttail and tucked the paper inside her waistband.

After one final look around the scene, he walked past the cash register, past the bulging night-deposit bag, past the cartons of cigarettes and liquor, and headed out the back door.

 

ONE

I twisted my fork through the blueberry pie and wished it was apple. I’ve never been fond of blueberry, not even when the berries were wild and fresh from the forest. These were fresh from a can.

Barry’s Diner advertised itself as “home of the best blueberry pie in New York City.” That should have been the tip-off, but the sign outside said only Award-Winning Homemade Pie. So I’d come in hoping for a slice of fresh apple and found myself amid a sea of diners eating blueberry. Sure, the restaurant carried apple, but if everyone else was eating blueberry, I couldn’t stand out by ordering something different. It didn’t help that I had to accompany the pie with decaf coffee—in a place that seemed to brew only one pot and leave it simmering all day.

The regular coffee smelled great, but caffeine was off my menu today, so I settled for inhaling it as I nibbled the crust on my pie. At least that was homemade. I shifted on my seat, the vinyl-covered stool squeaking under me, the noise lost in the sounds of the diner—the clatter of china and silverware, the steady murmur of conversation regularly erupting in laughs or shouts. The door behind me opened with a tinkle of the bell, a gust of October air and a belch of exhaust fumes that stole that rich scent of fresh coffee.

A man in a dirt-encrusted ball cap clanked his metal lunch box onto the counter beside my plate. “He got another one last night. Number four. Police just confirmed it.”

I slanted my gaze his way, in case he was talking to me. He wasn’t, of course. I was invisible…or as close to it as a nonsuperhero could get, having donned the ultimate female disguise: no apparent makeup and thirty-five pounds of extra padding.

“Who’d he get this time?” the server asked as she poured coffee for the newcomer.

“Little old Chinese lady closing up her shop. Choked her with a wire.”

“Garroted,” said a man sitting farther down the counter.

“Gary who?”

The other man folded his newspaper, rustling it with a flourish. “Garroted. If you use something to strangle someone, it’s called garroting. The Spanish used it as a method of execution.”

I glanced at the speaker. A silver-haired man in a suit, manicured fingernails resting on his
Wall Street Journal
. Not the sort you’d expect to know the origin of the term “garroted.” Next thing you know, his neighbors would be on TV, telling the world he’d seemed like such a nice man.

They continued talking. I struggled to ignore them.
Had
to ignore them. I had a job to do, and couldn’t allow myself to be sidetracked.

It wasn’t easy. Words and phrases kept tumbling my way. Killer. Victim. Police. Investigation. No leads. I could, with effort, block the words, remind myself that they had nothing to do with me, but the voices weren’t so easy to push aside. Sharp with excitement, as if this was something they’d seen in a movie and the victims were nothing more than actors who, when the credits rolled, would stand up, wash off the fake blood and grab a cigarette before heading home to their families.

The Helter Skelter killer. Even the name was catchy, almost jocular. I bet he was proud of it. He’d risen from the ranks of the unnamed and now he was someone—the Helter Skelter killer. I pictured him sitting in a coffee shop like this, eavesdropping on a conversation like this one, his heart tripping every time he heard his new name. My hand tightened on my fork. A burr on the handle dug in. I squeezed until pain forced my thoughts back on track.

It wasn’t my concern. There were dozens of killers all across the continent, plotting crimes just as ruthless. Nothing to be done about it, and I was no longer in a position to try.

I took a swig of coffee. Bitter and burned, foul on my tongue, acid in my stomach. I took another gulp, deeper, almost draining the mug. Then I pushed it aside with my half-eaten pie, got to my feet and walked out.

 

I stood in the subway station and waited for Dean Moretti.

Moretti was a Mafia wannabe, a small-time thug with tenuous connections to the Tomassini crime family. Three months earlier, he had decided it was time to strike out on his own, so he’d made a deal with the nephew of a local drug lord. Together they’d set up business in a residential neighborhood previously untapped—probably because it was under the protection of the Riccio family.

BOOK: Exit Strategy
13.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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