Authors: Kate Brady
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This one’s for Alta. She and the angels know why.
Many thanks to my wonderful editors—both of them. To Celia Johnson, thanks for the start, and may your new path be filled with joy. To Selina McLemore, thanks for being there in the middle of the stream, and may our new path together be filled with success. No good things happen to writers without great editors, and I am twice-blessed.
My deepest gratitude to my agent, Jenny Bent, who makes me the envy of writers everywhere I go. How did I get so lucky?
To Carol Whitescarver, whose devotion to the process of writing and commitment to our friendship and salad bars made these characters possible. Her patience is unmatched.
To Elaine Sims, who forged the path before me and taught by example.
To Joyce Lamb, who hangs out with me even though more famous, interesting, and exciting people are always knocking at her door. Her support, her experience, and her sense of humor are godsends.
And of course, to my children and husband, whose love and devotion keep me going. It’s pretty amazing that they are proud of such a twisted mind, but I’ll take it.
naked wires clawing from the outlets and a heap of cold ash huddled in the fireplace. The ceiling joists crisscrossed in a matrix ten feet up, the floors and walls stripped to bare concrete and plaster, making the tiniest sound ricochet in the rafters. Even the faint moans of a woman nearly dead echoed like whispers in a cathedral.
The Angelmaker studied the woman, face up on a wooden table with duct tape binding her wrists and ankles. Her eyes stared at nothing in the rafters.
What do you see now, bitch?
Nothing, of course; she was almost finished. It rankled, actually. She should have held up better.
But it was too late to worry about that now. The clock was ticking, lives counted in minutes now. A week ago, who’d have thought the grand finale would come so soon, or be so exhilarating? And yet, here she lay, ready for her transformation.
The Angelmaker pried a hunk of cold earth from a pile, kneaded it like artist’s clay, then smeared it onto her jaw. Got another handful and pushed it over the edge of
the first, thumbing it smooth with practiced strokes—not too thick and not too thin. Over the slender nose, over the high cheekbone, over the seam of ugly stitches at her temple. The Angelmaker smiled at that. On the inside of this mask would be something special: the imprint of stitches and the swell of a nasty welt on the side of her face. When the authorities found this mask, there would be no doubt whose face had provided the mold.
The mighty Erin Sims. Her death would come just in time to join her brother in hell. A twofer.
That thought brought a snicker and the Angelmaker worked faster.
Seven days earlier…
Thursday, November 8
Outside the Florida State Prison, Starke, Florida
Erin Sims jerked against handcuffs, the metal rings biting into her wrists. Tears rose to her throat but she held them back: Time was almost up. What was it, twenty ’til twelve? Quarter ’til? She couldn’t see her watch but it was late. God, she had to stop them before midnight.
She took a step and a guard snagged her arm. “No,” he said. He was a burly black man with tattoos vining his neck and an earring winking in the darkness. His tag read Collier but people called him Collie. Erin had been coming here long enough to remember when his son made the varsity football team and his wife beat breast cancer. Now, he and another guard stood on either side of her, each with a hand on her elbows. Just in case she decided to throw herself at one of the demonstrators or incite a riot.
“Stay back here,” he said. “You’re already hurt.”
She followed his glance to her legs, where her jeans were torn and the skin of both knees ripped open. Sheriff’s deputies had dragged her from the prison entrance. “I won’t do anything this time,” she said. “Just let me go back to the front. I need to see.”
I need to be close to him.
“There’s nothing more you can do,” the second guard said.
The words brushed a chill over Erin’s skin. There had to be something more. Eleven years of fighting couldn’t end with—
The chant started up again, cycling through thirty friends and relatives of Lauren McAllister, all gathered to witness justice, cheering and crying and waving handwritten signs:
Death to Justin Sims, An Eye for An Eye, We Love You, Lauren.
Nine reporters, the most permitted at an execution by law, wove among the demonstrators with their photographers trailing behind like cyclopes. On Erin’s side of the drive, three people—strangers—carried worn signs reading
Stop the Death Penalty
Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right.
Otherwise, Justin had no supporters. He was the murderer of a senator’s daughter.
Erin drew a shuddering breath. “What time is it?”
“Quarter ’til,” Collie said. “Fifteen more minutes.”
Illogically, as if to confirm the time, Erin glanced to the sky. It was a night made for tragedy: black clouds grumbling with thunder, security lights casting the air in thin shades of gray. A slivered moon had slunk out of sight, as if cowering from the travesty about to happen.
“They can’t do this,” Erin said, her voice coming out on a thread. “Victor Santos is still with the Attorney General. He’s presenting new evidence.”
Collie shook his head. “That might not matt—”
“It has to matter.” She rounded on him. “Damn it, I found John Huggins. After all these years, I know where he is and gave them more evidence.
murdered Lauren McAllister, not Justin. How can the Attorney General ignore that? He has to listen.”
Her own words stopped her.
You have to listen, Mommy. Please. He scares me.
She’d learned long ago that people don’t listen to things they don’t want to hear.
A finger of panic touched her heart. Even if Justin’s attorney had gotten a last-minute audience with the Attorney General and convinced him there was enough evidence to warrant investigating John Huggins again, even if just now they were waking up a judge and working through paper or chewing through levels of bureaucracy, what if it was too late? Where was Justin? Strapped to a gurney already, an IV dripping into his arm, awaiting the toxins that would end his life?
The unspeakable passed her lips. “What if it’s not enough? What if—”
She couldn’t finish. She had to save Justin. People didn’t see him the way she did; no one else would keep up the fight. He needed her.
No, he didn’t. And he didn’t want her, either.
Erin cursed. Damn it, she was a shrink, an advocate. She’d made her career unearthing the emotions of people who were victims, and serving as their voice when they couldn’t do it themselves. She ought to understand why Justin had pushed her away.
But she didn’t.
“I should be in there,” she said, tears stinging the backs of her eyes. “He could have had three people in there with him. Why didn’t he let me—?”
A siren cut her off. She whirled and the crowd turned en masse to see a deputy’s car swing in, the wail of the siren lopping off with a
. A guard stepped out, talked to the driver in the strobe of blue and red lights, then waved the car through and picked up his radio. From a nearby tower a voice roared through a bullhorn, commanding people to clear the way and make a path.
Erin held her breath. Three men spilled from the car. Deputies who had been stationed outside the prison to aid security guards swooped in to provide escort, and the group rushed through the gates. Erin rose on tiptoe trying to see. She caught Victor Santos’s eye a second before he was swallowed into the maximum security prison.
A wave of hope washed over her. “Oh, God,” she whispered. Collie and the guard behind her stood like pillars. A pall of silence lowered on the larger crowd—the McAllister camp—like a damp wool blanket on fiery coals.
Let me have done enough.
Moments passed, the crowd holding its collective breath, then the front doors opened. Erin’s throat tightened into a knot. From the black maw of the entrance, a handful of people plodded outside with their heads down. The sobs of a woman scraped the air.
“It’s the senator,” Collie said, and Erin could hardly believe it. She noticed hands at her back, and heard the cuffs jangle as the second guard said in her ear, “That means they didn’t do it. They stopped it.”
Erin stared, her hands coming free. What? It was over?
Like a giant beast that had been thrashing just seconds before, the crowd gaped at their fallen warriors emerging from the prison. Senator and Mrs. McAllister made their way through the inner and outer gates, and as realization crept through the bystanders, the great beast collapsed
into groans and sobs and curses. Erin stood rigid, afraid to move. Beside her, the three anti-death penalty activists issued kudos, but their triumph was bathed in macabre tones, like a dream that wasn’t yet real. Lauren McAllister’s father, supporting his wife with an arm, glared at Erin as they drew near, a security guard handing them off to a local police escort. McAllister stopped in front of her.
“You,” he said, his voice like chipped ice. “You did this.”
She nearly wilted with relief. Dear God, Justin was alive.
“Yes,” she managed, and couldn’t suppress the joy that bubbled into her voice. It was over. At least for now. “Justin didn’t kill your daughter, Senator. I’ve found the man who did.”
McAllister’s head moved back and forth, the hot emotion Erin had seen in the early years now gone cold. He’d heard it all before. Never listened.
His wife stepped forward. “May you rot in hell,” she said to Erin, her voice trembling with emotion. “My angel is dead. He should have paid.
has to pay—”
A cop nudged her and piloted the couple past. Mrs. McAllister walked as if a steel rod held her, her skirt tangling below her knees as she twisted to keep her eyes glued to Erin. News cameras flashed, catching it all.
Erin steeled her spine. She ought to be used to it; she and the McAllisters had faced off more than once over the years, sometimes in public and other times in private. But this time, Erin realized, they’d believed Justin would finally be put to death.
Dear God. This time, so had she.
The crowd fragmented, clusters of mourners following the McAllisters, others trailing to the parking lot with
defeat dragging their steps. Erin pushed through a handful of lingering reporters and saw Victor. He paused outside the prison gates to give a statement to the press, then said “no more” with his hands and walked over to Erin.
Collie gave her a nod and both guards stepped away. She could hardly speak.
“Thank you, Victor,” she began, but he held up a hand.
She blinked. “What?”
“The judge stayed the execution for a week.”
“No.” The momentary high of knowing Justin had escaped death gave way to a surge of alarm. “That’s not enough time.”
“It’s more than I thought you’d get. Even if you’re right and this man you found on the Internet in Ohio really
John Huggins, it doesn’t mean he’s the man who shot Lauren McAllister through the heart and scrubbed her face with paint thinner. You’ve accused Huggins before and they cleared him.”