Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Review: The Keepsake

The Keepsake The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“The Keepsake” begins slow, not as fast paced as I prefer, but then, as I read on, the tempo picked up. After all, how engaging is a mummy, unless you’re an archeologist. Speaking of which, there is a whole cadre of archeologists who, at times, are both victims and suspects.

The story begins with Maura observing an examination of a mummy thought to be centuries old, but that’s as far as I can take the plot without revealing too much.

As the story built momentum, I found I needed to read just one more page, one more chapter. More than just suspense and crime solving, though, there is a lot of mystery here unwrapped layer upon layer. The “who-done-it” is clever and is left to the end. For those who are into the Rizzoli and Isles cast of characters, there are some twists you might not expect, which makes for good reading.

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Monday, December 7, 2015

Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen

If you're in the mood for a laugh, look no further. These writers have adlib dialed in.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: Natchez Burning

Natchez Burning Natchez Burning by Greg Iles
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, Greg Iles delivers with more than just a punch in this the fourth in the Penn Cage series and first in his epic trilogy about the sins, the sinners and the saints of the civil rights war in the 1960's south.

When Penn's father, Dr. Tom Cage, is accused of murdering the nurse who worked by his side in the days the KKK and a secret murderous cult known as the Double Eagles had more power and influence than J. Edgar Hoover and his army of FBI agents, secrets thought to be long buried ooze to the surface. Penn, devoted to his aging and ill father, disregards the past ghosts, though, now forty years in the rearview, to save his father from a corrupt DA and the hit the Double Eagles put out on Tom. But in the course of Penn's frantic efforts, he not only comes in conflict with the horrific past and those who will stop at nothing to keep their role hidden, but also his fiancé, the Noble Prize winning editor of the local newspaper. To get the jump on the story, she wants to reveal the web of terrorists who murdered several black men in the mid '60s before Tom, who has gone to ground, can be found.

Iles is a master of the thriller. "Edge of your seat" and "thrill ride" doesn't begin to describe this read. It's more like clawing at the walls while your fingernails rip and tear from their roots. I only have two minor critiques and is why the four star rating. 1) This is a Penn Cage novel and Penn is hardly a character for the first third of the book. 2) Iles is a bit repetitive on historic details. I found myself saying, "I already know that," when he would describe an event through a new characters eyes.

But don't let that get in the way of the read. If you love great thrillers, I guarantee that once you start reading "Natchez Burning" you'll find it almost impossible to put down.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: A Dance with Dragons

A Dance with Dragons A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

No spoilers here, just total enjoyment in reading.

Martin continues to be the master of suspension of disbelief in this his fifth edition to the fantasy novel series "Song of Ice and Fire Ice." He moves from point of view to point of view, giving the reader just enough detail to keep the pages turning and the plot weaving (not maundering or at a glacial creep) ever forward. The story is vivid in its beauty, bloody in its execution, majestic in its passion, and humiliating in its retribution. He crafts confrontations from which the characters see no way out and, yes, from time to time, they meet their end of days. Yet, at other times there's just another cliffhanger for this book ... or maybe not. In fact, there are so many cliffhangers by the end of "A Dance with Dragons" my fingernails are already fractured trying to hold on for book six.

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: Vanish

Vanish Vanish by Tess Gerritsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gerritsen continues to delight with this addition to the Rizzoli and Isles saga.

While Maura finds a live "dead body" in the morgue, Jane is ready to pop with her first child. When both converge in the hospital and Jane has a gun to her head, all bets are off as to what the truth really is. Why are all these alphabet soup federal agencies involved in a simple local abduction (if adduction can be simple for those who are hostages)? Is this story really about a national threat or is there something else afoot that the reader, without a microscope, can’t see.

With all the polish of a great mystery writer, Tess, weaves just enough clues and backstory so the reader is kept guessing. Yet, the truth is out there—between the lines. A great read.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: A Feast for Crows

A Feast for Crows A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now the fourth offering in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" novel series. There is so much going on in seven kingdoms, George R. R. Martin has chosen to move the action from the war over the Iron Throne (which is winding down now after the Red Wedding - book three) to Cersie Lannister's who is out for her dwarf brother's blood as she assumed he poisoned Joffrey, her first incestuous son, at his own wedding and killed their father), the search of Sansa, and the brewing battle between the Wildlings beyond the wall and those who have taken the black, led by Arya and Sansa's bastard brother John Snow.

About half way through the story, I began to wonder about some of the other characters I had learned to love or hate. But it wasn't until after I reached the final page that Martin explained that those characters would be back in volume five. Of interest also in this edition, the reader is introduced, or at least allowed to follow, some of the lesser characters (and even some new ones) to see how they move the story forward.

A good read. I'm enjoying this epic fantasy series almost as much as "Lord of the Rings.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: A Storm of Swords

A Storm of Swords A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Iron Throne is still under siege. Of the two Baratheon brothers, only Stannis still draws breath as Renly's throat was slashed by a mysterious shadow. But attempts at an all our war (by land and sea) on Kings Landing are stymied by new Lannister alliances emerge, even while Robb Stark, the king of the north can't be stopped by any foe, Lannister or not, Meanwhile, the ice wall of the north is under attack by the ruthless wildlings who live beyond the wall. and Dany (of the dragons), attempts to build (or buy) an army to take back her rightful throne.

Although I'm intrigued by this epic fantasy series, I recognize this is book three in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series and seven are planned. Sometimes the description get's a little long in the tooth and for one would like to know what's about to happen, not take twenty pages to describe a campfire (okay that's an exaggeration, but you get the point).  Despite this, this edition is worth the details to get to the action and why I rated it a five.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review: A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love epic stories like this and this didn't disappoint. As always Martin draws you into the characters whether they're the good guys or the villains (and there are plenty of both). With Robert's Lannister's death, and Eddard Stark losing his head, the seven kingdoms are in turmoil of the most bloody and vicious kind. Every one is either vies for the throne, survival or both: Cersei Lannister, the queen mother of the incestuous boy king Joffrey, Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf with his sharp wit and dull sword, Eddard's daughters, Sansa captured by the hated Lannisters and Arya running from all with her trusty sword Needle, Daenerys Targaryen, the widowed dragon queen (only because she is raising three newly hatched dragons), not to mention Robert's brothers, Stannis and Renly.  In all, they, and several others who grace this fantasy story, leave the reader with the smell of blood and human decay in their nostrils.

This, the second in the "A Song of Ice and Fire," series, baits me up to read volume three.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love epic drama and "A Song of Ice and Fire" does not disappoint. This fantasy novel, sadly did not come to my attention until 2011 when the HBO series premiered.

The plot (I should say "plots" as there are so many intertwined) is so compelling, the characters larger-than-life (how's that for cliché) and Martin's artful way of describing the setting places the reader right in the middle of the action (better duck or that sword will have your head). It's truly a total sensory read with characters you love (and hold your breath that they'll survive) and those you hate (and can't get enough of).

It might be easier to just follow the action on the TV series, but the read is worth the investment. There is so much more than on the screen, I've committed to get ahead of HBO and read the next offerings in advance. Although this is my first post about "A Game of Thrones," I just finished book four, "A Feast for Crows."

No, it's not for everyone (especially those who faint at the sight of blood), but, if you want a good read, you'll find it here.

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, it’s a work of fiction, but I love it when a novel tweaks your preconceptions. And “The Mephisto Club” did just that.

Maura and Jane are simmering in a seething cauldron of evil. Well, simmering might not be the precise word, it’s more like the devil’s pot is boiling and they’re tangled up inside with a knot of slithering, poisonous vipers.

The book begins at a fairly routine murder scene but a rapid descent into Hell’s pit of death and mayhem keeps the reader engaged and guessing. Is the “Club” purely the researchers of the dark underworld of evil they claim to be, the victim, or the murderer?

Is the evil one really “like a prowling lion looking for someone to devour” or is the teaching that evil radiates out from a fallen angel simply a myth to give mankind someone to blame for his own malicious nature? With believable precision, Tess takes us into ancient manuscripts, both biblical and apocryphal, to lay out the basis for the book. It forced me to pull out my own Bible to see if she was on track and was shocked to see she was.

Maura and Jane, by now in the series, have taken on strong and authentic personalities, and this book does not disappoint or fail to build on previous offerings. The settings are graphically painted so the reader will feel both the frigid chill of the New England winter (where are my gloves and scarf) and the frozen terror of the malevolent scenes of death (I had to keep looking over my shoulder).

Mystery, body parts, pools of blood, and a heavy dose of what sounds like the flutter of bat wings, makes this a great read.

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Novel Nibbles Thanks for Reading

Thank you to all my loyal readers who have engaged in Novel Nibbles and followed the story of my debut novel "Born to Make the Kill." Three months is a long time but I hope the end was worth the wait.

For those who tuned in late and would like to pick up a copy to read at your leisure, it is available at in a Kindle version, or for those who like the feel of book and turn of the page in your hand, a hard copy version is also available. You can find this novel at 

For more info about me and my other books, please check out 

Again thank you and if you have feedback be sure to comment here. 


Thursday, August 27, 2015

88 Born to Make the Kill

"Mom, Alex tried to rape me that day. Threw me down in a cornfield and started ripping my clothes off.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“You don’t believe me?” Amy’s initial surprise turned quickly to anguish. The disappointment of her mother’s refusal to accept the truth was a weight so heavy. Tears began to well. “You think I made this up?”

“He’s always been such a good boy, Amy, polite, helpful. Why—”

“So you’ll accept him because he was a ‘good boy,’ but because I became difficult, you won’t take my word. Mom, I’m your daughter.”

“He’s away at Bible College studying for the ministry now.”

“Maybe he’s repented—”

“As should you,” her mom shouted.

“Maybe I should …” Amy paused long enough to put the brakes on the torrent of anger threatening, “but I never pretended to be anything I wasn’t. His duplicity made it impossible for me to accept your God on your terms.”

“And so you ran away to LA to get away from me and my God. If you hadn’t, none of the evil that week would have happened. If you had just stayed right here and accepted our beliefs you wouldn’t have been—”

“After all I’ve been through, you still want to judge me?” Amy didn’t want to raise her voice, but she felt an unwelcomed intensity increase the volume. “I’m your daughter no matter what my choices. You gave me life, Mom. You taught me that this incredible gift comes with free will. I may not now nor ever choose the path you want for me, but it’s my path, my choices. I have to live with the consequences. You should be happy I lived through this one.”

Amy saw no point in this going further. She just wanted to hug her mother until the frustration drained away, but she felt it best if her mom took the initiative. She stepped around the bed with the gift extended in her hand and looked into her mother’s eyes. They were moist and tired. Even though she wasn’t quite forty, her skin was drawn from the labors of the farm in the hot sun and frigid winters.

“I am happy your home, Amy,” her mom said with restraint. “We’re all glad you’re home and safe. What that man … what those men did to you is deserving of Hell fire. I just worry about you always. The way you left last time was so hurtful to me and your father. And now you’re going to leave again.”

“Yes, come Monday I’m going back. My home is there now. I have a job and friends. But this time it’s not because I’m running from you, Dad or your church. This time I’m running toward the next chapter in my life.”

“Who knows when we’ll see you again.” Her mom said it like a fact not a question.

“You’ll be seeing plenty of me, Mom. You just wait.”

“Well, time will tell,” she said, took a step back into the hallway, looked away from Amy’s face and to the box still in Amy’s hand.

Amy shoved her disappointment down. Why couldn’t her mother extend to her a hug and see past the expectations she had for her oldest daughter? Why she couldn’t offer the same unconditional love she said her God gave freely, left Amy’s heart broken. But she had learned how to swallow her tears and that after forgiveness comes acceptance. Her mom, just like Tony, might never change.

“Now, what’s this gift?” her mother asked.

“In the kitchen, Mom. Let’s open it in the kitchen with everyone else, okay?”

Amy followed her mother down the hall and through the doorway into the kitchen. Dad still stood by the table with the stack of plates, and Cindy had stepped to the stove to stir the gravy. Her mom stopped on the opposite side of the table from Dad. Amy handed her the bright yellow box. On top of the wrapping paper Amy had scrawled a message. “I love you, Mom.”

“What is it?” Cindy asked as she turned from the stove.

“Go ahead, open it, Mom.”

Her mom shot Amy a glance and cocked her head. She turned her mouth into a subtle smile. “Well, let’s just see,” she said as she ripped the paper free. She opened the box. “Oh! I’ve never spoiled myself with one of these.”

Amy felt a pang of guilt stab like a dull knife. It’s not that they couldn’t afford a tablecloth, but they lived such a frugal life that an old sheet was enough to cover the scratches and dents on the table top.

“What is it?” Cindy asked again.

“Why … it’s a new tablecloth,” her mom said. She pulled it from the box. Amy watched her eyes travel around the room from herself, to their dad and then to Cindy. Then as if she needed to distract herself from a tear that threatened, she handed the still folded white linen to Cindy. “Here, put the old sheet aside today. Now, before dinner gets cold get that table set.”

“It’s beautiful,” Cindy said with a smile aimed at Amy. She shook the cloth to unfurl the folds and, after Amy removed the sheet, draped the table.

Amy glanced around the kitchen to those she loved. Dad headed round the table and set the plates and flatware in place. Cindy pulled some serving dishes from the hutch. Mom had turned her back and faced the counter. She busied herself with a large spoon and dug into the cavity of the turkey to remove the stuffing.

The moment had passed and her mom hadn’t extended Amy that hug—maybe someday. Amy gave a silent sigh and again buried her disappointment. In its place, she let a smile crinkle the freckles on her nose and expose her soon-to-be famous dimples.

“What can I do?”

The End
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

87 Born to Make the Kill

“I don’t read minds but perhaps. You might remember me if I remind you of a little kiss I gave you a few weeks ago.”

Now it came clear. The opening line of this conversation was the line Ansell Parker had delivered on the set just before he kissed her—“You’re such a beautiful girl, well, woman, obviously.”

“Ansell? Ansell Parker?”

She looked at Cindy again. Her eyes were about the size of the pumpkin pie her mom had baked. Cindy mouthed the words, “Ansell Parker?” Amy nodded her head and gave her sister a wink.

“Yes. I just signed a new movie contract and I’m looking for my newest costar. Would you be interested?”

“Why would you want me? Why Amy Westerhill? Until all this happened, no one knew who I was. I was just a nameless extra. Even that day on your set I was the dead girl. You don’t even know if I have talent.”

“Actually I do and you’re feisty too. I like that. Amy, I’ve watched you on national TV over the last couple of weeks. You’re a natural. The camera loves you. But I’ve done my research. Guess what I’ve found?”

“I have no idea. A playbill from my high school?”

“No … that sounds interesting, but … actually I found a pilot you did a couple years ago. You remember that?”

How could she forget? That unaired pilot for the after school market was supposed to launch her film career. She thought it lost in obscurity. “That? I only had one line.”

“And I only have one question, Amy. How many takes did they shoot for that one line?”


“See? I told you you’re a natural. My instincts are rarely off. If you’re willing to give it a try, I’d like to meet with you after the holiday.”

“You’re taking quite a risk.”

“Amy, I find that we are defined by the risks we take, not by our hesitations. I’ll pick you up at LAX on Monday afternoon. The plane ticket is already purchased, and a messenger will deliver it before the weekend’s over.”

“That seems rather presumptuous, Mr. Parker. The last guy who did that to me almost got me killed.”

“No one’s trying to kill you now. I’m just offering you a new life. Will I see you on Monday?”

It had only been four weeks since Tony Alonso had made just such an unbelievable offer to her. She remembered thinking she wanted to be discovered because of her talent, and how pissed she had been with her agent who only saw her as a commodity. She had jumped at Tony’s offer because she thought she was that good and that deserving.

Something about Ansell Parker, though, had a ring of honesty. True, her escape brought her to national prominence—her fifteen minutes of fame—but Ansell needed talent not notoriety. She remembered on the set that day just after the promise kiss that he’d taken the time to congratulate her on the scene. Did he see it then?

Amy looked back to Cindy. She couldn’t have fit a bigger smile on her face if she tried. Dad stood at the end of the table with a stack of plates ready to set them up on the bed-sheet table-cover. He grinned out from under his dirty St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap. But her mother, who stood by the kitchen sink with her hands on her hips, wore an expected condescending look.

“Mr. Parker, I’ll see you Monday,” Amy said and hung up the phone.

“Ansell Parker?” Cindy screamed with a giddy laugh.

“Yes, Ansell Parker,” Amy said. “Now, Dad, before you put those plates on the table, I have something for Mom. I’ll just be a moment.”

Amy slipped out through the kitchen door and went down the hall to her old bedroom. She pulled a giftwrapped package from her blue suitcase and turned. Her mom stood in the doorway. Amy didn’t want a confrontation, but from her mother’s judgmental expression, whether it was today, next week or next year, she knew this conversation was inevitable.

“Mom, I know I’m not the daughter you wanted me to be. My high school years were a rough patch for both of us. But I’m becoming the woman I want to be. I’m almost 19 now. I’m sure that doesn’t sound very old to you, but remember you and dad got married when you were about my age. I’ve learned a lot being away the last couple of years, and that last week of October I gained a whole new perspective on life. Mom, I thought I’d never see you again. But here I am. I made it. For that I’m thankful, not just because it’s Thanksgiving day, but because I’m here under our roof with the people I love most. The thing is, Mom, I don’t know if it was circumstance or your God who saved me.”

“Our God,” her mom interjected. “Why can’t you say ‘our God?’”

That was the question. It didn’t seem like the right time to bring it up. Today was a day of thanks. But then it had never seemed like the right time. It had been the root of the bitterness between them all these years. A truth her mother never knew. A truth she may never accept. She decided to go on. “Mom … Do you remember when I was fourteen and I asked to beg off my chores for one afternoon so I could spend it with a friend?”

“Yes,” her mom said with a quick bite at the response as if it had happened yesterday.

“I lied then and told you it was a girlfriend, but it was Alex Daniels. We went on a bike ride.”

“Reverend Daniels’ boy?”

“Yes, the same boy who the Sunday before gave a short sermon on Youth Day on morality.”

“I don’t remember that.”

“I don’t expect you would,” Amy said with an even tone, “and I wouldn’t have either since it was more than four years ago. But how can I forget his hypocrisy?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Mom, I’ve never told this to anyone, not Dad, not Cindy, and especially not you because it was so traumatic. But if I tell you now maybe it’ll help you understand me.”

“What is the great secret, Amy?”
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

86 Born to Make the Kill

Thanksgiving Day

The last three and a half weeks had been a furious whirlwind of unexpected events. After a brief hospital stay in Spokane, Washington, she had flown back to LA where she faced a battery of local and national news reporters. Within days she had been contacted by “Dateline,” “Nightline,” “Entertainment Tonight,” and even Oprah Winfrey booked her for her show. It had been almost too much to take in.

Despite all the attention, all she really wanted to do was take a bath. But there didn’t seem to be enough soap and disinfectant to cleanse the filth from her body, and her mind. She had vowed to do everything she could to get out alive. And she had done so. But the worst part, as she had feared in the warehouse during the rape, was that she would spend the rest of her life faced with the knowledge of what, because of her own pride, had happened to her. What she couldn’t have known then was the carnage that her naivety brought on those who got in the path of Tony’s insanity.

“What’ll happen to him, Amy?” Cindy asked.

Amy glanced at her sister. Since the last time she had been home, Cindy had a new series of piercings on her ears and one in her lower lip, evidence of the Goth influence her mother had been so critical of just last month. They sat on the front porch glider and looked out over the front lawn. An early snow had hit Iowa and covered the yard with a pure white blanket. Amy, glad to be with Cindy again and with dinner preparations at a lull, they bundled in heavy jackets and went outside for a talk.

“He’ll probably spend the rest of his life in a federal prison. The irony is he didn’t want that. He wanted me to kill him, you know? But the best I could do was force him to live the rest of his life as a mute quadriplegic. I suppose that’s justice. He’ll have to depend on someone else to feed him and change is diapers until the day he dies.”

“He’ll have to live with his thoughts, too,” Cindy said. “I for one hope they’re tormented. After what he did to you, that only seems fair.”

“After what he did to all those people, I’m not so sure. Do you know what a psychopath is?”

“Sure, someone who doesn’t care what he does to people.”

“Well, I saw it in his eyes. I know I should feel vindicated, but I take no solace in destroying his life even though he deserved it.”

Amy blew out a breath and watched the steam fade into the icy afternoon air. Cindy did the same and laughed. Amy remembered as children that when the air chilled, she and Cindy would pretend to smoke cigarettes, something forbidden around their house. They both laughed then. But now, after nearly three days locked up with a murdering chain smoker, smoking didn’t seem so funny anymore.

“So why didn’t you leave him to burn?”

“I learned something that week, Cindy. For one thing, our world is a screwed up place. And one of its causes is because we focus our energy on vengeance. But the truth is, when you take forgiveness out of humanity, that void is filled with something ugly, often hatred. I don’t want to live in that world. So saving him saved me from the emotional weight of knowing I could have done more but didn’t. It also saved me from toting that burden to my shrink’s couch for the rest of my life. I’ll have enough baggage with the rape and everything else. I don’t need that, too. At least there’s some good that may come out of it, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Well, now that people recognize my name, I’ve been contacted by the Office on Violence Against Women to act as a spokesperson. After the first of the year, I’ll be helping to raise national awareness of the brutality against women epidemic in our county. It may not be much, but if I can help one woman avoid the kind of trap I fell into, then maybe it’s worth it.”

Behind her Amy heard the sound of her dad’s work boots scuff against the hardwood living room floor. Even on this holiday, he had started the day at work on the tractor in the barn. The front door opened and he spoke through the screen door.

“Amy, you have a phone call.”

“Who is it Dad?”

“Don’t know, he just asked for you.”

Amy looked at Cindy and shrugged. “Didn’t think anyone but you guys and my friend Maggie in LA knew I was here.”

Amy shifted off the glider, pulled the screen open and stepped inside. Cindy walked two steps behind her.

Amy breathed in deep the aromas of the Thanksgiving feast as she stepped into the kitchen. For a while she thought she would never smell turkey, stuffing, fresh cranberries and rolls hot from the oven again. She shrugged out of her coat, hung it on a hook next to the wall phone, and picked up the beige receiver which lay on the hutch.

“Hello?” she answered with a question in her voice.

“Amy Westerhill?”

“This is Amy.” Natalie had fought so hard to forget Amy Westerhill for the last two years, but the events of that week and the fire in the barn seemed to purge her desire to be anyone else.

“You’re a hard girl, well woman, to track down.”

Not only the Aussie accent but the line “well woman” tickled at the back of her memory. She scrunched her eyebrows and looked at Cindy trying to bring it forward. “I’ve … been kind of busy lately.”

“So I’ve noticed. Look I won’t take much of your time. I know it’s a holiday and your home with your family, but I’m wondering when you’re planning on coming back to Hollywood?”

“Is this who I think it is?”
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Monday, August 24, 2015

85 Born to Make the Kill

Tony blinked and then struggled to suck in a breath. The wheeze from his lungs was the same sound she had heard seconds before. His head hadn’t moved. His eyes—a mask of sadness—gazed at her.

Her body tensed, ready to leap away from his grasp but then she realized his clothes were still on fire and yet he didn’t stir to extinguish the flames. He must have broken his neck in the fall, she thought. With him paralyzed, she entertained for a moment the perfect justice it would be for him to make his way to the pit of Hell already on fire. And then she did what she couldn’t understand. She stripped off her coat, ran to him, and smothered the flames consuming his body.

“What are you doing?” Tony’s voice croaked. The damage Natalie had caused to his larynx made his words came out in a raspy broken whisper. He inhaled another wheezing breath.

She couldn’t respond. The look that met hers was that of desperation. As much as she wanted him dead, she realized he didn’t want to be alive either. She grabbed his hands and began to pull him away from the collapsing barn.

“Let me die, Natalie,” he forced out another whispered directive.

“Shut up!” she said, as she continued to pull him across the barn floor. Once they were next to the Subaru, she released him and jumped into the driver’s seat. The key ring only had five keys but she tried each one until it slid into the ignition. She turned the key and sent a quick prayer.

Special Agent Hawk stepped from black SUV and stared at the fully involved inferno before her. The sirens in the distance, the pulsating lights of emergency vehicles already on the scene and the roar of Captain Seth Parker’s helicopter twenty-five yards away didn’t register. If Natalie was inside that hellhole, all the firefighters in the county, still several minutes away, couldn’t save her now.

“Damn it,” she said as the back of the barn began to fall in on itself.

As the Subaru came to life, another thunderous sound drew Natalie’s eyes away from the ignition. The air filled with orange hail as the roof and walls crumbled. They covered the place where Tony had fallen with a cascade of glowing flame, black soot and gray smoke. The ravenous blaze ignited the loft and it too fell victim to the fire’s voracious appetite.

Through the windshield, she saw the roof over her now fully involved as well and knew within seconds it would collapse on top of Tony and the car.

“Don’t save me Natalie,” Tony’s broken voice crackled above the thrash of the snarling flames. “Save yourself. I must die. You were destined to kill me.”

Natalie looked at the pathetic waste lying just outside the car door and knew she could do just that without regret. This had been his plan all along. He not only wanted to die, but he wanted her to kill him. What insanity? All the destruction and terror he caused just to make her angry enough to kill him, but for what reason? Oh, he had that and so much more coming, but he manipulated this outcome. Why, she realized, she might never know.

She slammed the car door, jammed the gearshift into reverse and stomped her foot on the accelerator pedal. The car hesitated as if it too had a death wish, unwilling to the leave the halls of Hell behind. She realized the parking brake must be set and searched the compartment until she found the release.

Natalie tromped the pedal to the floor again. The back tires spun violently throwing a cloud of dust into the face of the billows of smoke rolling toward her. The Subaru jerked to a start and began to race backwards toward the wooden door.

Like the Phoenix rising from its funeral pyre, Angela saw a sedan, the Osorio’s Subaru she had pursued most of the afternoon, burst through the barn door. It gave way without resistance. She pulled her service weapon, dropped to one knee and crouched prepared to give fire.

Natalie slammed her foot on the brake pedal and tore open the car’s door. She met another gun. A silhouette frozen against the strobe lights of emergency vehicles pointed a weapon at her.

“Natalie Beaumont?”

“Yes,” Natalie said and jumped from the car. She cleared the door and ran back toward the barn.

“You can’t go back in there,” Angela shouted.

“One of them is still alive,” Natalie yelled over her shoulder. “I’ve got to save him.”
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Sunday, August 23, 2015

84 Born to Make the Kill

As the sun rested its case until another day, the rays of pale yellow light that had moments before filtered through the gaps in the barn’s roof, faded along with the patter of rain. Natalie sat with her legs hanging over the edge of the loft, feet supported by a ladder rung, and watched Tony for signs of life. After a few moments, convinced none were forthcoming, she let her eyes drift toward Rudy. He lay slumped motionless against the post. Flames lapped around what had been his face. The ropes had burned off now. He would have been free except nothing remained but the burnt ruins of something minutes earlier had been a living being.

A loud crack overhead turned her eyes to a shower of sparks that fell into the hay in the corral. New hotspots erupted. Orange tongues had lapped their way up the roof and engaged some of the rafters. Black smoke filled the barn. Breathable air was being replaced by the dark smoldering cloud. It billowed toward her. She had survived one hell but if she didn’t move, she wouldn’t survive this one.

Barns she knew. They had been her playground growing up. Only one way out of this was left—through the main door. She twisted her body, found footing on the rungs of the ladder and began to scramble down to the floor. Once she reached the dirt, she ran between the two men to the door.

She tried to push it but it wouldn’t move. She turned back a few of steps and then ran at it. Her shoulder rammed into it, but the frantic attempt to budge it just enough to escape her fiery doom. The barn shuddered but the door didn’t give.

Over her shoulder, she saw that it would only be a minute or two before the tinder box was fully engulfed. The flames had already engaged the roof in the back of the barn. The reservoir of rage she had built over the last three days had all been released on Tony. What remained was fear.

Between her and the inferno, the car sat as if it defied the existence of the disaster around it. With the perplexed look in Rudy’s eyes while he stared at the matrix of wires under the dash still in her head, she knew she didn’t have time to figure out how to hot wire the car. Her options were limited. With luck, the police would arrive in time to save her, if they would dare barge into a burning barn, that is. She could barricade herself inside the car and trust it to protector her from smoke inhalation, but when the building collapsed would the windows burst from the heat or would the gas tank explode? The only other option she could consider was the keys.

She looked across at Tony’s still body. They had to be in his pocket. She didn’t want to get close enough to him to search—dead or alive—but if she wanted to live, she had no choice. As she ran towards the body, an approving roar of the flames testified to the collapse of one of the roof beams. It swung across the full width of the barn and brought with it a shower of blazing debris raining on the floor and Tony’s body. His clothes ignited.

Natalie flinched and instinct threw her hands over her face to block the intense wave of heat blown toward her. She looked again toward Tony. His body aflame, she had no choice; she had to get the keys. She pulled the collar of her black leather coat over her head to protect from flaming fragments being hurtled at her and ran to Tony. At this body, she paused for a moment. His head was twisted to the left and his eyes were closed. To protect her hands, she grabbed the body of her jacket, kneeled next to his still form and smothered the hotspots around his pockets. There were no keys.

As she turned to the left to look for the tweed jacket he had worn, she heard a wheezing gasp behind her like a hiss caused as the fire boils the sap in another wooden victim. There was so much other clamor from the blaze, she ignored it.

The rake head lay among the rubble a few feet away. She ran to it. Next to the burning rope, the jacket smoldered. As she had done with Tony’s pockets, she grabbed the edge of the coat and made a frantic search pocket by pocket. Just as she felt the solid lump on the right side, overhead she heard another loud crack.

She tore her eyes away from the coat and looked up. A second roof support had burnt through. The beam crashed to the ground and bounced to rest just three feet away from her. She sprang away like a startled cat as a shower of orange and black shards landed where she had been squatting.

With the jacket still in her hand, she reached into the pocket and extracted the keys. As she rocked back to her feet, she heard a new sound over the bellowing conflagration—sirens. They were here but she couldn’t wait for them. A few more seconds and she would meet the same fate as Rudy, burned alive.

As she turned to run back to the car, she froze in place. She couldn’t believe what met her eyes.
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Saturday, August 22, 2015

83 Born to Make the Kill

The side rails of the ladder extended above the bed of the loft by three feet so that climbers would have hand support while they stepped in. She sat down on the hay and kicked at one of the rails with her right foot several times. It had been fastened to the loft securely and didn’t budge. She aimed her foot at the other rail and pounded on the post. This time she felt it move. She hit it again and again. The rusty nails came loose and one side of the ladder swung out from the loft.

“Shit what you doing up there, Whore?” Tony shouted.

Natalie scooted toward the rail and pushed it as hard she could with her foot. It twisted out but she was still unable to budge the other side. Just then, she saw Tony’s hand reach for the rail still attached. As the last remnants of daylight trickled through a hole in the roof and fell across the top of the ladder, Tony’s snarling, acne-scarred face appeared in the light. The rake had caused fresh wounds and blood trickled from his forehead and cheek. He had the look of a madman on his countenance with his teeth clenched together in a Cheshire cat grimace.

Natalie lay on her back and jammed her right foot at Tony’s face. He ducked his head to his right and grabbed her ankle at the same time. His right hand, wrapped around the ladder rail, was exposed and she slammed her other foot against his knuckles.

He quickly let go, balanced only by his feet on a narrow ladder rung and Natalie’s ankle. He held it tight and waved his right arm like a windmill.

She kicked her right foot to disengage his hand and throw him off balance even more. But his grip was like a vice. He pulled himself back toward the ladder.

She felt her body slide toward the edge of the loft and put her hands down into the hay to act as a brake. There was no purchase and she continued to slip forward.

Tony reached out for a rung, just getting the fingers of his right hand around it.

Natalie lashed out again with her left foot. She aimed at his face again. This time the spiked heal of the black leather boot caught him in the right eye. His head snapped backward from the force of the blow. A scream of anguish escaped his lips and he grabbed his face with his right hand. Thick, red ooze flowed between his fingers and down his cheeks.

“Bring it on, Whore.”

That outburst caught her by surprise. Did he need violence to arouse his sexual appetite? Despite the confusion, she sensed a glimmer of hope begin to radiate through her as she realized she could win this battle. Soon Tony would have to slither off into some dark corner to lick his wounds or die.

With his left hand Tony pulled on her foot again and she felt her body slide closer to the edge of the loft. Much closer and she would be suspended over space. She reached for the side rails of the ladder and held on.

He released his right hand from his eye and stretched for the rail. With his left hand, he let her foot loose and reached for the other support.

With her foot free, she kicked him once more. This time the sole of her boot planted in his chest. It didn’t throw him. His hands held tight. She kicked again but he was too close to affect any damage.

“Right where I want you, Whore!” he screamed and stepped up another rung. Blood dripped off his face and into the hay between her legs as he leaned over her body.

She rolled backwards in a reverse summersault and came up on her knees. The hay scratched against the infection and the wound throbbed. But she held her position. Her eyes watched the agonized look on his face turn into a menacing scowl.

He opened mouth, but with the butt of the pen braced against the palm of her hand, this time she was prepared to stifle his retort. Natalie thrust the pen toward the demonic face contorted in front of her. It passed through his snarling lips, and found lodging in the back of his throat. She pushed as hard as she could until she felt the point penetrate his esophagus.

Tony gagged and gasped but couldn’t speak. The blow pushed him back from her. He released his left hand from the ladder and grabbed the pen. With a quick tug, he extracted it from his throat and threw the offense to the dirt floor below. Although the pain in his eye and now his throat was excruciating, she had proved her worth.

Natalie could see his silhouette against the raging hellhole on the other side of the barn. While he had fought with the pen, she had turned around on her knees. Now she eyed her target and kicked backwards into Tony’s chest. He swung out and tried to catch the hand rail again with his left hand, but missed.

She kicked again. This time the sole of her boot slammed into his throat.

The instant her foot made contact, Tony knew his larynx had been crushed. He reached for his neck with both hands and attempted to free the obstruction in his windpipe. Already off balance by the first blow, he fell backwards.

Everything was suddenly out of control. No sight penetrated through his blood drenched right eye and the left, filled with tears, made Natalie’s image at the head of the ladder a blur like an unfocused photo. Oxygen didn’t flow naturally into his lungs despite his efforts to rip the damaged obstacle from his throat. His equilibrium off balance, his world seemed upside down with no hope of righting it.

As soon as she saw him fall backwards, Natalie spun around and looked between the rails of the ladder. Tony plummeted through empty space. From the light of the blaze now overhead, she saw a puzzling look of satisfaction on his face and above the roar of the inferno, she heard him struggle to laugh. Not the sinister screech she had become accustomed to, but a chortle seemed to say he was at peace. Defeated and yet unexplainably relieved.

The sound of the thud when he hit the ground, like a sack of manure tossed over a fence, seemed anticlimactic compared to the perverse language he had used against her. In the fingers of fire light that danced across his crumbled body on the dirt floor, he looked like a discarded marionette among the barn’s decay ridden remnants.
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Friday, August 21, 2015

82 Born to Make the Kill

Tony tore at the rope and the smoldering jacket until he was free. He dropped them to the dirt floor, stood to his feet, and reached to his waistband for the gun. It wasn’t there. He looked on the ground around him and saw the orange glint from the fire reflect off the polished nickel barrel behind him. It lay two feet away. With one step, he grabbed the Colt and glanced toward the crackling sound back in the corral. The voracious appetite of the fire, in a feeding frenzy, had begun its greedy consumption up the wall of the barn.

“Help me,” Rudy shouted. The flames around him had begun to nourish themselves on his jeans. “For God’s sake Tony untie me. I’m burning up.”

Confident Tony was distracted enough by the rope and flames, Natalie had fled toward a more protected position. A ladder on the opposite side from the coral led to a loft. She had taken the first two tentative steps up its rungs when Rudy’s anguished cry stirred her heart with pity and she turned toward him.

“Aaaaahhh,” he shrieked and began to writhe under the constraint of the ropes as the flames began to devour his legs.

When his sweatshirt burst into flames Natalie started down the ladder. She couldn’t just standby and do nothing. As her right foot touched the ground, he screamed again.

“N A T A L I E!” His legs frantically thrashed to no avail and his body twisted without relief.

She fought tears as she watched his pyre. Even if she could get to him in time, with the rope she had tied him up with, she knew she couldn’t release him before the flames charred his flesh. But she had to try. As she pushed away from the ladder, however, Tony, who stood between them and to her right, raised the pistol.

“See you in Hell, lover boy,” Tony said, with an almost reverent tone.

“No!” Natalie shrieked as the gun exploded. The shock of the explosion forced her eyes to blink. She opened them quickly and turned back to Rudy. Where his head had been, a blaze now danced around his stillness. He slumped against the post where she had tied him.

She looked toward her assailant. When last she had seen Tony a second before, his gaze was focused on the lifeless torch on the other side of the barn. Now he glared at her. Whether he had used his last bullet to silence Rudy like he warned or put him out of his misery, she couldn’t determine. But one thing she was certain of, for whatever reason, he wanted her alive, at least for a while. She jumped back on the ladder and began to climb.

“Here, pussy, pussy,” Tony chanted and dropped the revolver. “We have unfinished business don’t we?”

Natalie reached both hands to the next rung and continued to climb. The rungs were mossy from years of nonuse in the moist climate. Her feet were four feet from the ground when her right foot slipped. She held on with her hands as her body slammed against the rungs. Although she banged an infected knee against one of them, she ignored the pain again and, able to regain footing, she continued to scurry up the ladder. She made sure to support her step on each rung with the arch of her foot.

Above the roar of the flames, she could hear Tony’s footsteps as he splashed through one of the many puddles on the barn’s dirt floor.

“Here pussy, pussy,” he chided again. “You have something I want and I won’t stop until you give it to me.”

Natalie remembered in the warehouse Tony hadn’t raped her. “Not this time,” he told Hank, “I’ll take her later.” Now she knew this was later. What else could it be? How he would force himself on her and then get away from the barn before it buried him in flames she couldn’t imagine—unless he didn’t plan to live through the inferno. But that made no sense whatsoever. Everything she perceived about Tony indicated he was a survivor. He didn’t find a doctor for Hank so he wouldn’t have to answer questions about the gun. He shot and killed so many people along the way so he wouldn’t leave witnesses. She had questioned him about his plan, “you didn’t kill me when you could have.” But what was his end game? Was he running from something or toward it, and what did she have to do with it?

Whatever he planned for her role, she had to take action. She couldn’t take the luxury of time to ponder long in uncertainty as the flames that feasted on the wall across the barn had reached the roof. They now spread across the fresh fuel in their selfish quest. If they didn’t get out of this furnace soon, Rudy’s prediction that they would all die would be manifest.

She scrambled into the loft and stepped between the side rails and into the hay. She looked across the barn toward Rudy. Above the smell of burned flesh she caught the astringent scent of melted rubber. She remembered just a few days ago the innocent kid with brown helmet haircut and the squeaky athletic shoes opened the door to her dressing room like a gentleman. Now, he was nothing but blackened, scorched remains.

The scrape of Tony’s foot on a ladder rung pulled her to the pen tucked into her panties. She pulled it out with her right hand.

“This is getting real tiresome. Tony has plans for you. What’s that they say? ‘Resistance is futile?’”

Natalie had shared her dad’s passion for science fiction and recognized the Star Trek reference to the Borg’s irresistible assimilation tactics. Even though she didn’t have the right weapon to stop him, she knew what she had to do to thwart Tony. She could hear him climb rung-by-rung in a slow ascent. “Here pussy, pussy,” he chanted as he drew closer. She realized he moved up slow and deliberate to intensify the terror, but she wasn’t going to let him have it his way. She was no longer the timid farm girl from Iowa afraid of snakes. This bastard was nothing more than an old sidewinder. She would crush his head if she could.
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Thursday, August 20, 2015

81 Born to Make the Kill

Rudy heard a pop as the scattered coals burst into flame and they gorged themselves on the fresh fuel by his legs. His eyes darted back and forth as this new terror threatened. He twisted to get out of their path and pulled his knees toward his chest. The rope tight around his neck choked, yet the fire continued toward him on a careless path without reprieve.

“Help me,” he shouted, but no one responded.

He scraped his feet on the ground and tried to push the hay away from him. It had opposite effect and stoked the blaze with new fuel. A few feet away he saw the pile of hay by the wall burning. Hasty billows of smoke streamed toward the roof.

“We’re all going to die in here. We need to get out.”

Tony ignored him and turned his attention to the more desirable subject as she leapt over the fence of the corral. He headed through the gateless gap toward her, unaware the bottom edge of his jacket had ignited in the back.

“Trick or treat pussy.”

Natalie disregarded him and ran toward the center of the barn with the rake head clutched in her left hand. As she reached the open area, she realized it had a rope tied to it. She grabbed the line about three feet from the rake and began to swing it over her head. As it circled, she let the rope slip out from her hands until it extended to a ten foot radius from her body. She stood in the vortex and turned the rope above her head like a lasso in faster and faster circles. The rake flew around her chest high.

Tony came toward her out of the corral past Rudy. The flames at the back of his jacket lapped up its full length. They flickered above his shoulders. Natalie saw that he was oblivious to the heat as his concentration fixated on the obstacle she hurtled between them.

Then, above her, she heard the distinct vibration from the blades of a helicopter. She tore her eyes away from Tony and lifted them toward the roof. The sound continued to build until it seemed to hesitate just above her. A flash of hope ignited as Natalie continued to swing the rake around her. Had a spark from the fire, a wisp of smoke, or a glow from inside the barn escaped the hole-ridden roof and alerted the pilot? But then the roar crept away into the distance and hope careened even deeper into the abyss.

She turned her eyes back to Tony.

Tony’s eyes, too, had followed the cloud of smoke toward the rafters. He knew they had been spotted. Time was short but it no longer mattered. Survival gave way to redemption for Ma’s pathetic life and the crown of righteousness could only be earned by a willing sacrifice.

He tore his eyes away from the smoke and looked toward the glaring eyes of the innocent girl in front of him. From behind the tongues of orange flame reflected in them he saw no fear, only confident rage. He began to walk again as if the flying object was his destiny. When at last he stood at the edge of the orbit the rake navigated, he paused and listened to the air as it twisted its way through the molded steel.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

“Leave her alone,” Rudy shouted and kicked at the flames around him.

“I told you once, asshole, to shut the hell up or I’d do it for you,” Tony yelled with his eyes glued to the projectile Natalie had thrown between them. She had proven to be a creditable adversary. He would take pleasure in her final test.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh.

The whirling weapon flew by him several more times and Tony stood like a school girl waiting to step into the arc of a jump rope.

With Tony’s face in the shadows, and the flames that lapped up his coat, it looked to Natalie like Satan had walked straight out of the fires of Hell. Suddenly, Tony’s expression changed from victor to panic. She took three quick steps forward.

The smell of singed hair drew Tony’s concentration from the orbit of the rake. He realized he was on fire. He grabbed the lapel of this jacket and started to tear it off. But at the same moment the heavy rope collided with his right arm and began to wrap around his body. His arms, already pinned inside his blazing jacket, were entrapped. He knew at any instant the steel object would collide with him.

To avoid it, he threw himself to the ground. The action only proved to be more catastrophic as the change in elevation brought the rake on a trajectory with his head. It hit him in the face. The tines tore several fresh gashes into his flesh. Stunned, he collapsed to the dirt floor.

“Damn you, Whore. Bring it on.”

The ring of her phone aroused Angela Hawk from the comatose sleep she had fallen into as soon as her eyes had closed. She jerked her head up from the head rest.

“Agent Hawk,” she said as the sleep fog slowly released her mind.

“Agent Hawk, this is Patrolman Seth Parker, I may have found something.”

“What do you have?” she asked, and as her startled heart began to pump life back into her veins, she sat up straight and looked out the window. One emergency vehicle remained on the scene. A tow truck had just finished hooking up the burgundy pickup.

“I’ve been flying south of the scene of the murder,” Seth reported to the agent, “and I just passed over what looks like a deserted barn. There’s smoke coming through the roof.”
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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

80 Born to Make the Kill

The click was unsatisfying. The snarl on Tony’s face twisted into a smirk and foretold what would happen next. Yet without wavering, Natalie continued to hold the gun against Tony’s chest, and pulled the trigger again and again. But with no surprise the hammer fell on hollow chambers. Frustration settled on her like a chainmail cloak. The terror wasn’t yet ended.

“Trick or treat, bitch. You got tricked, now I get the treat.”

She watched as he reached into the left pocket of the jacket and produced a single bullet. He held it in front of him in the palm of his hand. “Had a feeling you might try to cheat me, so I took out some insurance. You’re going to have to work harder to make this kill.”

Natalie saw his right hand come up slow. She knew he was reaching for the barrel of the Colt. She jerked the pistol away and swung for his head. He twisted, raised his arm and blocked the blow. The weight of the gun ripped it from her hand and, for a moment it seemed suspended in air, but then it slammed into to the dirt floor and slid to a stop near Rudy’s feet.

Rudy stretched his leg and tried to kick it toward Natalie, but his leg wasn’t long enough. The revolver lay inches away. Tony dove fast and stretched his hand out for it. Rudy swung his foot up and hooked Tony’s arm. The kick spun Tony around. He fell hard on his side and landed on the gun.

Natalie realized the silver barreled menace was back under Tony’s control. She kicked him in the low back with the toe of her boot. He rolled with the bullet still clutched in his left hand, and grabbed for her leg with his right. She pulled it away just in time and his hand flailed passed her calf. With his chest exposed, she drove a spiked heel into his abdomen and felt gratified as a shriek escaped his lips.

She realized that Tony would come up with the gun, so she ran toward the back of the corral, and then turned to gauge what he would do next.

Tony sat up and picked up the Colt. Standing, he turned toward Rudy and with a swift kick, planted the heel of his shoe in Rudy’s face.

“Don’t screw with me. Your life is hanging by a thread already.”

He loaded the single slug into the chamber, slammed the cylinders closed and raised his eyes. Across the corral, Natalie stood like a trapped cat trying to judge which direction to run, he chided, “Here pussy, pussy, time for my treat.”

As Tony started to walk toward her, Natalie took a step back and assessed escape routes. The corral stood in the corner of the barn, so behind her and to the right, the walls offered no way out. If she continued backward, she would further box herself in. Tony, on the other side of the small fire, blocked any opening in the corral’s fence. This left one path. She had to go over the top rail. She bolted to the left and, after the first step, her foot hit something in the darkness. It slammed into her boot-covered shin.

Natalie stopped. She looked up as Tony shifted on an interception path. The pistol hung from his right hand like a useless appendage.

She reached down to free her foot from whatever had entrapped it and recognized the head of a handle-less steel dirt rake like her dad used on the farm. She wrapped the fingers of her left hand around it. Prepared to run, she bent her knees and swayed side to side as if Tony was the pitcher and she was about to steal second base. Tony continued to approach. She waited until he was five feet away and then faked a run to the right.

Tony matched her move to his left and drew a step closer.

Natalie brought the rake up with a jerk and swung it at him. He twisted away to this left. Even without much force, the head of the rake made contact with Tony’s right arm. He lurched backwards, stumbled over his feet and fell into the fire. Coals and flaming shards scattered in all directions.

Natalie turned back toward the fence. In two steps she reached it. As she grabbed the top-rail, a shriek pulled her attention away from escape to the boy she tied to the post just a few feet away.

“Natalie, Tony untie me!”

Natalie stood aghast with her fingers clutched around the plank and stared toward Rudy. Some of the embers had landed in the hay where he sat.

“Burn in Hell,” Tony said as he got back to his feet. He tucked the gun into his belt.

Natalie stepped on the first plank with her left foot. Years of neglect had weakened the support and it cracked under her weight. She thrust her right foot to the next slat before it gave way and swung her left leg over the top in one fluid movement. The action shifted her right foot. It slipped off the board and brought her down on the top rail hard on her crotch. The pain shot through her, and a vivid memory of the pistol whip Tony had given her on her pubic bone in the warehouse replayed. She didn’t have time to cower or flinch. She employed the ache to stoke her mental strength. Pain meant she was alive and could still fight back. Tony had said, “You going to have to work harder to make this kill,” and she meant to do just that.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

79 Born to Make the Kill

“Don’t,” Natalie demanded. “You don’t have to kill anyone else.”

Tony looked at her and smiled and then turned back to Rudy. He flexed his finger and the hammer clicked on an empty chamber.

Rudy turned his head back toward Tony and blew out a forceful sigh.

Natalie wasn’t sure if this was good news or not. If the gun had gone off and only one bullet did remain, this would have brought her to a more equal footing in Tony’s game. But when no explosion erupted, it had to continue.

“Damn, nothing there. Must be your lucky day. Now it’s your turn lover boy.”

Tony pointed the gun at Natalie.

“But I’d aim the gun at you,” Rudy said.

“Of course you would, cocksucker. But as I said, I’m taking your turn and I choose the whore.”

Natalie’s heart had begun to crawl up her throat. At the very least, if the gun fired it would be over quickly and she wouldn’t have to be subjected any more to the threat of rape or brutality. She wanted it to be over but she didn’t want to die. She recognized the look in Tony’s eyes. She had seen it in the motel room. His soul had vanished and his hazel eyes had turned cold with the vacant look of a murderer—a psychopath.

“On your knees. Plead for your life.”

“Damn it Tony, leave her alone,” Rudy screamed.

Tony turned the gun back toward Rudy and squeezed the trigger once again. Click. The hammer fell on another empty chamber.

Rudy gasped.

“Shut the hell up or I’ll do it for you.”

He aimed the gun at Natalie again. “On your knees.”

“I’m not giving you the satisfaction. If I die, I’ll die standing not begging.”

“Have it your way then. Let’s see, I’ve pulled the trigger twice and haven’t found the slug. That means you have a three out of four chance of living through this. Not bad odds, but you know what they say, the house always wins.”

He stepped toward Natalie and put the muzzle of the gun between her blond eyebrows.

She could feel the steel against her flesh and remembered how hard and cold it had felt when he thrust it inside her in the warehouse. Against her will, her eyes closed.

“Can’t watch this, huh? So, you’re just another damn sniveling coward after all.”

She forced her eyes open again and looked straight into his. The fear that had arisen, she fed to rage. “That better?” she screamed.

“You have no idea what it’s like to watch the light go out in someone’s eyes. There’s no feeling like it.”

“I’ve seen the light go out in yours more than once, but somehow you keep drawing breath.”

She looked at his forefinger as it slipped over the trigger and then turned her eyes back to his. “I hate you,” she continued, yet her tone remained as matter-of-fact as if she was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I know. That’s what makes this so damn much fun.”

She sensed the contraction of his finger but continued to look into his eyes. To run away wouldn’t improve her chances as he would still have the gun with the one bullet left he had promised for her brain. She decided to stand her ground. If she survived the next few seconds, it would be her turn.

The hammer moved and the cylinders rotated as she saw Tony squeeze the trigger. When she heard the metallic click, her heart slid into her stomach and she exhaled the bitter taste of tension.

“Damn, your still here.”

“Stop this shit,” Rudy yelled.

“Why? Now it’s the whore’s turn and there’s a one in three chance she’ll take me out.

Tony looked at Natalie. Her face still revealed no fear and yet the hatred he had seen before had been eclipsed by something unexpected—something disappointing. He had driven her over the last three days to the brink of Hell’s shore and tormented her far beyond anyone he had faced down before. Now her time to settle the debt, to give recompense for his brutality, was at hand. Yet the look on her countenance showed hesitation.

“You can’t do this can you?” he asked. “You can’t pull the trigger on this jackal after all I’ve done to you. You wanted the gun before, now I’m ready to hand it to you, yet you don’t think you can do it.”

Natalie wasn’t sure she could. It had been easier with Hank. It had been self-defense. He came at her with assault and rape in his eye. This was different, though. To take the life of an unarmed man no matter how repulsive or threatening he had been would feel like murder. At that moment he would pose no threat to her, but yet this was the way out. If she could kill him, it would be over.

“Why don’t you give me the gun and let’s find out,” she said.

“Damn Rudy, she just grew a set of titanium balls.” He turned the gun, grabbed the nickel-plated barrel and held the handle out to her. “Like I said, we all get a turn.”

Natalie took the Python. It was heavy and she remembered when she first grabbed the pistol just before she shot Hank that it filled her hands. After it had exploded, the force of the blast had knocked her backward into the bumper of the old sedan. Stunned at that moment as the bumper crashed into the swollen knot on the back of her head, she had lost control of the revolver.

Not this time. She rested the muzzle on his tweed jacket right over Tony’s stone heart.

She looked into the gargoyle face in front of her and without hesitation pulled the trigger.
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© Jearl Rugh 2012

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