War is brewing. As crime bosses Sean Carsyn and Kenny O'Malley strive for control of the city, their actions spark repercussions that leave no one untouched.
Meanwhile, four friends confront terrifying obstacles, from a grieving drug dealer to a desperate assassin. As they fight to survive, they are also forced to face their own demons and the ghosts from a horrific accident ten years earlier.
In her debut novel, author Hannah Blanchsky sweeps readers away in a breathtaking thriller that will leave them guessing until the last page.
play the Soundtrack for the novel here!
To keep us all from going mad and to spark interest in my book, I've written some snapshots from the universe of Faultlines.
Special thanks to Sam, Ben, Luke, and Kalyn, who all encouraged me to keep posting these in the final stretch to publication.
Click on one of the boxes below to start exploring.
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Sean pushed his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat, trying to find a scrap of warmth.
The air crystallized each exhale, filling the space with small silver clouds. Even the smallest movement grew cramped and stiff as icy tendrils seeped into the world. The ground crackled beneath his boots as he strolled through the park.
He was the only person there. Every other sane creature had long since scurried towards shelter to escape the chill. Even the trees seemed to cling to each other, their branches frozen and unforgiving. The gentle rush of traffic in the background was the only indication that the city wasn’t completely deserted.
Sean didn’t mind the lonely atmosphere. Solitude was a dwindling commodity in his line of work. His recent deluge of conference calls, meetings, and correspondences had left him in a dark mood. As much as he promised himself that it would all be worth it in the end, a part of him longed to abandon the project entirely and return to his normal way of life. But that, he knew, was impossible.
Sean kicked a stray rock, watching as it collided with a tree and ricochet off. The sharp crack gave him a flicker of amusement.
He paused to take in the scene around him.
The gazebo towered in the center of the park. It was an elegant thing, with pale blue posts laced and a golden trim. The ornate arches and designs drew images of carousels and Victorian dresses. It stood as a testament to days past, a simpler time from long ago that never really existed. Trees surrounded it as if playing an audience to its presence. In the spring, they bloomed with enough flowers to light up the world with a dozen shades of pastel. Now, however, they were stripped down to their branches, leaving them mournful and barren.
Sean drew closer to the gazebo. He could still see the scratch on the side from when he had accidentally knocked a stand into it. It was not uncommon for small ensembles to rent out the park as a concert venue. Sean preferred it to any concert hall or theater. There was something more intimate about playing in the midst of nature, where families and lovers gathered and lounged to their hearts’ content.
Sean blinked rapidly, trying to clear the moisture that had suddenly crept into his eyes. Of course, no visit to the park would complete without remembering her.
If he closed his eyes, he could still feel her hand slipping into his as the pastor murmured behind them. The way her sapphire eyes glowed as they exchanged their vows. By some miracle, she hadn’t even hesitated when he had asked. Never had there been a thread of doubt in her, even as the truth of his life was thrust into the light.
In more ways than one, Jane had been the miracle he never deserved.
And yet, now, after nearly fifteen years, Sean felt detached from her. Time had dulled the pain, poisoning him with a numbness that drained the color from even the happiest of memories. Even his tears were superficial. They were an obligation, a duty noted, observed, and fulfilled. Sean felt no more sentiment towards them then the fallen leaves scattered around the park.
He shivered as a sudden rush of cold overswept him. It was this nothingness that haunted him more than anything else. Beyond exposure, beyond betrayal or death. The gaping maw of oblivion that lurked on the edge of nightmares, vacant of any coherency.
Sean pulled his hand from his pocket and flexed it, forcing blood back into the frozen joints. His fingers ached from the sudden cold, but Sean didn’t try to fight it. He waited until the pain dulled again when he couldn’t feel his hand. Without action, without purpose, the world faded away.
But if Sean could guarantee his future, Cassidy’s future, maybe he could stop the poison in his veins. If he pushed hard enough for long enough, nothing would stand in his way. And if he grew complacent...
Behind him, the murmur of voices and crunch of footsteps told him that he was no longer alone.
Sean pushed his hand back into his pocket, curling his hand into a fist. Fire sparked in his blood as the sudden rush warmth brought the feeling back to his fingers.
He stared at the gazebo for a few more moments, taking in the fading blue paint and the faint scar from so long ago. Then, without a breath of hesitation, Sean spun on his heel and left the park.
A Day in the Life
“Well, I wish I could say it’s been a pleasure, but, since we’re both determined to kill each other, I guess adieu will have to suffice.”
Quentin flicked his cigarette butt at Evan and offered him a jack-o-lantern grin.
“Don’t be mad, darling. I promise, Otis will make it fast.”
“Good. I’d hate to inconvenience you boys anymore,” Evan commented wryly.
Quentin laughed. “I will miss your delightful humor, Mr. White. But, ah, c’est la vie. Or, I suppose in this case, c’est la mort.”
He turned and strolled away with a wave, still chuckling at his own joke.
Evan swallowed, forcing himself to keep his eyes on the mountain in front of him.
Otis stared at him with steel gray eyes. Every inch of skin from his neck down was stained with tattoos. Flowers, faces, flames, blades, words - all blurred together as ink crumpled in mounds of muscle. The man would make Hulk look like a cuddly teddy bear.
There was only one way to beat a man like this, but Evan had already used up his bullets. If he was lucky - ha - he’d be able to improvise until Artemis could provide back up.
The mountain moved, taking one colossal step forward. The ground shook, rattling the windows in Singapore. He took another step, bringing the two men chest to navel. Evan silently swore using every cuss word he could think of.
He aimed an undercut at the thug’s stomach. His fist hit a wall of muscle so hard he gasped with pain.
There was a mini earthquake as Otis threw his head back and laughed. He took another step forward, forcing Evan to retreat a few steps.
He tried a left hook but Otis swatted his arm away as if Evan was a toddler. He swung up, grabbing a fist full of Evan’s shirt. He used the momentum to lift Evan up, kicking and struggling, off the ground. Evan could feel the big man’s laughter rumbling through his arm, rattling his teeth in his skull.
Otis walked over to the window, still chuckling.
“Oh shit,” muttered Evan.
He had just enough time to brace himself before Otis hurled him through the window.
Glass shattered, filling Evan’s ears with a roar. Pain ripped through his leg as a shard caught on his thigh, tearing through the skin. Before he could even register the pain, all thoughts vanished as he felt himself falling…
Ted slammed the tray of glasses down on the table. His hand jumped to steady one as it precariously tipped to the side. He managed to catch just in time, a single bead of moisture rolling over to trickle down the side. He shook it off as he picked up the two drinks and brought it over to his customers.
“Ah barkeep.” One of the old drunks slouching in the booth burped approvingly and slid further down the vinyl seat. “You always were too good to us.”
Ted had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from laughing. “Just make sure you tip fairly. I’ve had to slave over you two for hours now.”
The man snorted. “That’s hardly our record. Remember Thanksgiving?” A touch of pride crept into his voice. “Even the copper was impressed when he pulled me over.”
“You were breathing a 0.26,” Ted pointed out as he passed out the drinks. “Any higher and you would have died.”
“Balls of steel,” answered the man, taking his fresh drink in two hands. “None of the rest of you bastards coulda done it.”
Ted shook his head, a smile cutting through his defenses. “I really should start cutting your drinks.”
“You wouldn’t cut an old cripple from his crutch,” the man next to Brady stirred into life. His glass slipped down his nose and he jabbed them back into place, pushing up one end past his ear. “That’d be just down right vicious.”
Ted shrugged and pushed a lock of chestnut hair back from his eyes. “I don’t know what you guys expect. If you wanted to drink anymore, we’d have to hook up an IV to a keg.”
“I like the sound of that,” the second man argued. “Could be a good Christmas present.”
“Now that I’d pay to see.”
A familiar voice spoke behind Ted. He turned around to see Melissa, her lips parted in a dazzling smile. She picked up a coin from the floor. Her tight uniform squeezed against her body, showing off the curves reserved for the more adventurous of Faerie’s guests. She gave the men a wink before it flipping it high into the air…
The man caught the poker chip in palm of his hand. With a dark smile, he spun it through his fingers and slipped it into his pocket. His dark features glistened under the single yellow lightbulb, like a cockroach forced into daylight.
“Gentlemen, I think we’re all familiar with the game,” he rasped, his voice chafing in his throat. “Make it to twenty one, and the bank pays you. Break twenty one,” the man’s lips pulled back tighter against his skull, showing off gray teeth, “and you pay the bank.”
“Just shut up and deal out the cards,” the woman next to him growled. She lifted a cigarette to her lips, her eyes darting from face to face with the wariness of a predator. Her hand fiddled with the edge of her turtleneck, pulling it up past the thin veins in her neck and chin.
“Relax, Sylvia,” a second man chastised goodnaturedly. He wheezed on the words, the small effort sending ripples of fat across his body. His skin drooled over the edges of his chair. How he managed to stay in the chair without swallowing it into his rolls of fat was a mystery to everyone.
“You always were too tense before a game,” the first man agreed.
Sylvia’s lips thinned until they were little more than slivers. Her hawk eyes flicked to Thomas’s face, narrowed.
“What about the mute, Carlos?” she asked. “Will he play?”
“Thomas?” The second man turned to face the man in the corner, his jowls trembling. “He’s won four hands already. It’s impossible to keep up that kind of a streak.”
“Not for him,” Sylvia muttered darkly. “He’s a damn curse.”
“What do you say, Tommy boy?” Carlos asked, rattling the deck of cards on the table. “You in for one more round?”
Thomas looked up from his nails, his face inscrutable. He stared at the other three for a moment, his face shadowed.
Slowly, he nodded.
Carlos’s smile widened and he sat a little straighter.
“Well then kids,” he said. “Let the games begin.”
He flicked his wrist, sending a card skidding across the table…
Brandon stopped the envelope with his hand. His dark features crumpled in confusion.
It was still too early for the coffee trudging through his bloodstream to kick in. He was still bitter from the night before, another night spent staring at the ceiling waiting for sleep to take him. Any patience he had was long over spent.
“The fuck is this?” he asked, holding it up to Barry.
“Open it and find out.”
Shooting Barry a dirty look, Brandon picked up the envelope and tore it open.
He tipped it upside down and a flood of documents poured out.
Brandon spread the papers out across the table. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, forcing the scar along his jaw to jut out.
“You didn’t,” he whispered. His voice came out oddly strained, although it was impossible to say if it was from excitement or from fear.
“Someone in Quantico owed me a favor. I had them pull a few strings to get this to you.”
Brandon’s jumped up to Barry’s face, searched it for answers.
Barry leaned against the desk behind him, the shadows under his eyes darkening. Age had caught the kid before his time, graying his blond hair and adding a stiffness to his movements.
A surge of sympathy flooded Brandon, brought on by the excitement pumping through his veins.
Poor Barry. It’s not his fault his dad forced him into this life. But maybe he just found a way for both of us to get out.
“You know what this means, don’t you?”
Barry hesitated, then nodded. “If you really think Sean had something to do with this, it’ll change everything.”
“We could actually get him. Both of them.” Brandon stood up. His dark face lit up with a giddy excitement. His fingers quivered as he turned through the reports. “It’s all here.”
The door behind Barry opened. Brandon hurriedly scraped the documents back into the envelope right as Stew walked in, yawning.
“Morning, Brandon. Sorry I’m late. Dad-” Stew stopped as he noticed Barry in the room. “What are you doing here?”
Barry straightened, a mask dropping back over his face. “Just delivering some stuff to Brandon. I was just leaving.”
Stew looked from Barry to Brandon, clearly not convinced.
Barry slid back out the door, leaving Brandon alone with Stew.
Brandon tucked the envelope under his arm.
“What is that?” pressed Stew.
Brandon ignored the question, instead walking over so he could throw his arm around Stew’s shoulder.
“Why don’t we go out to lunch at that new diner? There’s a couple of things I’d like to talk to you about.”
“But what about-”
Brandon steered Stew towards the door, interrupting Stew with a shake of his head. “We can’t worry about that now, kid. There’s a lot to do, and very little time to do it.”
Special thanks to my friends, who talked me into writing more snippets before the publication of my book.
Kenny felt invincible as he strode into Sean’s office. Behind him lay the corpses of Sean’s guards, their guns still trapped in their holsters.
They were the only the latest additions to the growing stack of bodies that had accumulated over the past two years. Both sides had suffered devastating losses, from longtime allies to vibrant new recruits. Kenny had seen and dealt atrocities he had never expected to face. But he had lived through it, and now was ready to end the war once and for all.
Sean was standing next to the glass wall of his office, his hands clasped behind his back. Below him, the indoor waterfall spilled down into a deep pool, falling past the many floors of his grand enterprise. His many employees scurried around, fulfilling tasks ranging from the benign to the nefarious. It wasn’t uncommon for crime bosses to operate legitimate businesses, but Sean had narrowed it down to an art. Even Kenny had to admire the smooth operation he had established over the past eight years.
“I’m surprised you didn’t come sooner,” Sean said. “There were rumors of you all throughout the city.”
Kenny froze in the doorway. Even now, he was still wary of Sean. His lithe frame still carried the same strength and stamina of a man half his age. Only the faint traces of silver at the edges of his hairline hinted at the passing of time. Kenny felt an urge to run his hand across his head, where his own hair was beginning to thin.
A flash of irritation and humiliation blossomed in his chest. He hadn’t come there to snivel about looks. There were pressing matters at stake.
He continued into the office, moving to stand next to Sean’s desk, halfway between the man himself and the exit. There would be no escape for him now.
“It’s time to give it up, Sean. The FBI are beginning their investigations as we speak. It won’t be long before something slips and we both go down.”
“I couldn’t agree more.” Sean turned from the window to look at Kenny. His gray eyes sparkled with a rare swirl of emotion. It froze Kenny’s momentum in his tracks. He felt his anger dissipate as confusion rushed into its place. He had expected pleading, shouting, maybe even a desperate struggle. But benevolence?
Kenny found himself at a loss for words.
“You… agree with me?”
“Yes.” Sean walked over to the bar in the corner of his office and poured them both two glasses of champagne. “This petty war has gone on long enough.”
Kenny watched Sean carefully, trying to detect a layer of deceit to his words. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Sean smiled as he walked back over and handed Kenny his glass. “It’s simple. If you agree to end the war, we can end this needless bloodbath and share in the spoils.”
“You want to split the city?” asked Kenny. He took a sip of his champagne, trying to sort through his chaotic thoughts. “That would take weeks to organize. The logistics of it alone- ”
“But think of all the carnage we could end!” Sean said, shamelessly interrupting him. “Two years of bloodshed, Kenny, and for what? For absolute rule? We both know how easily the tides change in this city. Together, we stand a much better chance of staying in power.”
“So I could continue with the whores,” Kenny said slowly. “While you could continue with the trafficking.”
“And our other legitimate business,” added Sean. “Don’t think I haven’t heard of your noble exploits into the adult entertainment industry.”
Kenny waved the comment away. There was still one thing that was confusing him. “But why now? What changed, Sean?”
Why am I standing here sipping champagne with you like old friends, rather than blasting your head off and ending this idiocracy?
Sean’s smile grew on his face. He couldn’t hide it now - the sheer joy and excitement and anxiety that had been consuming him for the past few hours.
“Kenny, I’m a father.”
Kenny felt his mouth drop open. He had heard of the pregnancy vaguely, but he hadn’t given it much thought. The announcement brought a sudden rush of emotions that forced Kenny to lean against the chair behind him, his hand clutching the glass in his hand.
He looked up at Sean, trying to make sense of the world that had just flipped in front of him. Did he celebrate with Sean, the man who brought him in and relied on him for three years, or did he scorn him, the man who he had fought bitterly for the past two years?
Kenny thought about all the lines Sean had crossed, the thousand and one betrayals that had cut him through to the bone. And then he thought about all the times he had returned the favor, taking brutal advantage of any weakness Sean might have shown.
Could they really go back after all of that?
“I know it won’t be the same,” Sean said. “I wouldn’t want it to be. But we have to think about where this leads, Kenny. If we kill each other, if the war continues, everything we’ve built will disintegrate. And if only one of us survives, the old gangs will sense our weakness and come rushing back. All they need is in an excuse to start a war of their own here.”
Kenny couldn’t deny the truth in Sean’s words. He stared down into his glass of champagne, his thoughts churning.
He couldn’t kill Sean, he knew that much. That would be crossing a line he swore to never go near. And if he couldn’t stick to his principles, what kind of man would he be?
Before he could make a decision, his phone rang in his pocket. A familiar saxophone riff swelled in the office, loud enough for both men to hear. Kenny felt his cheeks burn as he realized who it was.
He must have changed Kenny’s phone settings while Kenny was still asleep. Kenny quickly shut off his phone, although he knew the damage was already done.
“Friend of yours?” asked Sean.
Kenny, struck mute, only shrugged.
He felt his hand creep towards his gun. If Sean found out about Peter, it could threaten everything. All it would take is a word from Sean, and his world would end.
“You don’t need to worry,” Sean said hurriedly. “If we end this now, our loved ones can be safe. Cassidy, Amy…” his eyes drifted towards Kenny’s phone, the meaning clear.
“If I agree to this,” Kenny said, his voice hoarse, “what promise do I have that you won’t betray me?”
“I could say the same thing of you,” Sean pointed out. He gave Kenny a dry smile, and for a moment Kenny remembered how close they had been. In many ways, Sean had been the brother Kenny never got to have.
Now, however, it felt like a lifetime ago.
“I guess we’ll just have to trust each other.”
“I guess so.”
Kenny held out his hand, and Sean accepted it. The two adversaries shook hands, for the first time looking at each other with an honest smile.
“Three, two, one… HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
The cheerful shout echoed around the world as the giant sphere plummeted. Glasses, overflowing with sparkling cider, clinked together as the friends celebrated. Laughter echoed through the house, chasing out the few shadows still clinging to the walls.
Stew and Evan threw their arms around each other’s shoulders and sang Auld Lang Syne, the beaded necklaces thrown around their necks swaying precariously back and forth. Evan had uncovered a floppy purple hat and jammed it down over his ruffled hair. Stew, meanwhile, had balanced a pair of oversized sunglasses on his nose. They made an odd pairing; Evan, with his broad shoulders and tanned skin, was almost the polar opposite of the more spindly and pale Stew. And yet, after Evan had moved in with Stew and his family, the two had been almost inseparable.
Sarah and Ted watched them from the couch, legs tangled together. At some point, Ted had wrapped his arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer to him. She rested her head on his shoulder, her long curly hair spilling down to her waist. Every now and then, Sarah would murmur something to Ted, drawing a quiet chuckle from him.
As the hugs and grins spread in a happy blaze, Thomas caught Jamie’s eye and made a motion towards the door. He had already started to drift away from his friends, surreptitiously moving towards the door. Jamie, on the other hand, seemed content to stay in the middle of the room. Now, however, Jamie nodded and set down his glass.
He and Thomas meandered their way to the front door, following the shadows out into the bitter night. Before he stepped outside, Thomas shot one last look back at his friends.
Evan and Stew had finished singing and were moving on to look for something more entertaining to watch. They bumped shoulders and elbows as they wrestled for control of the remote. The TV screen flickered as they clicked through the various options.
Sarah, meanwhile, had leaned over to kiss Ted, capturing his attention away from his friends.
A tendril of ice snaked its way into the pit of Thomas’s stomach. His friends wouldn’t even notice that he was gone.
“Tommy,” hissed Jamie. “We need to go.”
Thomas wrenched himself away and followed Jamie out the front door. It wasn’t until the frigid air hit him that he realized what they were about to do. He had never expected Jamie to agree to something this crazy. Then again, he never had expected himself to follow through on it. It had always been one of those wild fantasies, something to keep his inner demons entertained. But then Paul had crossed a line.
A ghost of pain whispered through Thomas’s cheek, where Paul had punched him hard enough to loosen two of his teeth. Thomas’s fingers drifted to the spot. It wasn’t about standing up to him or getting vengeance. It was about putting a bully back in his place.
“Let’s go!” Jamie grabbed his hand and pulled him towards his car.
Once they were in the car, Thomas started it with a low purr.
“Don’t turn the headlights on,” Jamie murmured. “Not until we make it around the corner.”
The softness of his voice sent a thrill down Thomas’s spine, but he forced himself not to pay attention. He ignored the way his hand still felt warm where Jamie had touched him, the way Jamie melted the remaining shard of ice caught inside of him.
Instead, Thomas pulled the car away from the car and let it drift down the street, moving out of sight from the rest of the house.
“Where’s Thomas?” Sarah pushed herself up, her gray eyes searching the same living room.
“I don’t know,” Ted admitted. He sat up with her, the smile dying from his face. “Maybe he went to the bathroom?”
“He took his jacket with him,” Sarah pointed out. “Is it really that cold in there?”
“Jamie isn’t here either,” Evan noted, his own expression sobering. “Could they have gone somewhere?”
The cheering from the TV cut out as Ted shut it off. The four friends looked at each other, their merriment forgotten. Stew walked over to the window, to confirm what they already knew.
“Thomas’s car isn’t there.” He turned back to them, his eyebrows wrinkling. “Where could they go this time of night?”
Sarah’s eyes widened in horror. “Karl’s.”
Sarah struggled to stand up, knocking down Ted’s arm from around her shoulders. “They’re going to Karl’s. The jeweler’s.”
Ted’s mouth fell open. “Oh shit.”
“What?” Stew pressed. “What’s so special about Karl’s?”
“Karl’s son is Paul,” explained Sarah.
The mention of Thomas’s longtime tormentor caused the blood to drain from Stew’s face.
“Oh shit,” he said, echoing Ted.
“We need to go,” Ted said. “If we don’t, Jamie is going to drag Thomas into doing something really stupid.”
Evan nodded and pulled his keys out. “C’mon. We can all fit in my car.”
They all ran out to Evan’s car. The car chirped as Evan unlocked it and he and Ted yanked open the doors.
They were about to get in when Ted looked back and noticed that Sarah had trailed to a stop a few feet from the car. Her
hands were pressed tightly into fists at her sides, and what little color in her face had drained away completely.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “You-you go on ahead. I can’t…” her voice trailed off, and she shook her head.
“Ted, we don’t have time to wait for her,” Evan warned.
Ted shot him a look and walked over to Sarah. “It’ll be okay, I promise,” he said gently, reaching out to her.
Sarah offered him a smile, but it was clear she wasn’t going to move. “Go, Teddy. I’ll be okay. Just bring them home safe.”
Still, Ted hesitated. He knew he badly Sarah wanted to come, to make sure that her friends would be okay. She always insisted on looking after them, even though she was by far the youngest. But as badly as she wanted to help, Ted could still see the fear in her eyes. She could no sooner get in the rumbling car than he could stick his hand in a roaring fire.
Stew stepped up next to Sarah and offered them both a smile. “I’ll stay with her. You guys go on ahead.”
“Are you sure?”
The car horn honked behind them, causing them all to jump.
“Let’s go already!” shouted Evan.
Ted gestured at him to wait before turning back to Sarah. She leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss. “Go. Evan will drive off without you if you don’t hurry.”
Ted managed to give her a tight smile of thanks before he turned and jogged back to Evan’s car. He barely had time to shut the door before Evan sped off with a screech of tires.
“You know, I suddenly understand why you wouldn’t want to drive with Evan behind the wheel,” Stew said with a wan smile.
In answer, Sarah punched him in the arm.
“Hey,” protested Stew. “Didn’t anyone tell you it’s rude to abuse your driver?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Sarah asked.
Stew held up his keys. “Well, we might not get there as fast as Speed Racer, but we’re certainly not going to stay here and miss all the excitement.”
Stew flinched as Sarah moved, expecting another punch. Instead, she threw her arms around him.
“Stew, you’re an absolute treasure, you know that?”
Stew awkwardly patted her back, laughing a little. “C’mon. If we leave now, we still might get a chance to catch up with them.”
Sarah let go and followed Stew to his car. As she slid into the passenger seat, the smile on her face died as a wave of uneasiness passed over her. She gripped the car door as the engine roared to life.
Stew caught this and casually turned on the music. Sarah recognized it instantly.
“This is one of Ted’s mixtapes, isn’t it?”
Stew smiled as he pulled away from the curb. “Yep. I think this one was called ‘Awesome Jams.’”
Sarah laughed and shook her head, her unease momentarily forgotten as she remembered Ted’s excitement over the tape. “Why not just use a CD? They’re so much easier to use.”
“Yeah, but a mixtape is classic,” Stew pointed out. “You can’t go wrong with them.”
“True,” Sarah admitted, smiling.
Stew turned a corner sharply, causing the car to rock one side. Sarah tensed and tightened her grip on the door. Stew caught this out of the corner of his eyes.
“Sorry,” he said. “I should have slowed down for that.”
Sarah shook her head, but her eyes didn’t leave the road in front of them. “You don’t need to apologize. I’m just being stupid.”
“You’re not being stupid,” Stew chided gently. “You’ve got a good reason to be nervous around cars. Now me being afraid of heights? That’s just silly.”
“Shut up,” grumbled Sarah, but her smile was already returning.
“Fine,” Stew said. “But you can at least tell me what Jamie and Thomas are up to.”
“It was Thomas’s idea originally,” admitted Sarah. “He told me about it. I guess he finally got so sick of Paul bullying him, he would do just about anything to get him to back off. Including stealing from his dad’s store.”
“What does one thing have to do with the other?”
“It’s all about pride, I guess. Thomas wanted to prove that Paul and his dad aren’t as tough as everyone thinks they are.”
Stew shook his head. “You know, most people would just stand up to the bully.”
“He already tried that, remember?” Sarah shivered, remembering how swollen and bruised Thomas’s face had been. “This is his last chance.”
“It’s a good thing he has us, then,” Stew said. “True friends don’t let their friends get caught robbing a jewelry store.”
Sarah laughed. “If you guys had known about it, I’m sure you would have volunteered to help.”
A rueful smile crept across Stew’s face. “You’re not wrong.”
As they talked, the tension in Sarah’s chest faded into the background. She relaxed her grip on the door and slowly stopped focusing on the speed of the car. She didn’t even notice that they were going nearly twenty above until they sailed through a yellow light.
“That was a questionable yellow,” she teased.
Stew smiled. “We made it, didn’t we?”
Sarah only shook her head. The music, combined with Stew’s laid-back manner, was helping her stay calm. Her anxiety was still there, like a thundercloud smoldering at the edge of the horizon, but now at least she could manage it.
They reached the mall a few minutes later. Thomas’s and Evan’s cars were already there, parked outside the main entrance.
Stew pulled up next to them and shut off the engine.
Before he could step out of the car, Sarah grabbed his arm.
Fear had come rushing back in a cold blast, freezing Sarah’s heart in her throat. She swallowed, trying to get her voice to work again. Luckily, Stew seemed to understand.
“Don’t worry, Sarah,” Stew said, his voice gentle. “I’m sure this will work out.”
Stew smiled. “I promise. We’ll all be fine.”
Sarah returned the smile and let go of Stew’s arm. He shut off the car, and they stepped outside into the night air. Their breath hung in a cloud in front of them and Sarah shivered with the sudden rush of cold.
The sooner they all got home, the happier she’d be. A look at Stew’s face told her that he was thinking the same thing.
They ran into the mall, slipping in through a door that had been left propped open. The pale moon watched them, its face hidden by the gathering fog rolling in from the ocean.
If he was really honest with himself, Karl would admit he had made more than his fair share of mistakes in life. Maybe it was marrying his bitch of a second wife. Or maybe it was taking that timeshare in Hong Kong. But, if he thought about it hard enough, he would claim it wasn’t his fault. He was just another victim of life’s unfairness. Another poor soul, taken advantage of by the fringes and largely forgotten by the mainstream.
There was a time when he would have stayed up late at night broiling over such fantasies. Now, however, he was passed out on the faded leather couch in his office. After being kicked out of the house - his house - he had been forced to hole up in his store. It had been nearly a month since he had slept in a real bed, to say nothing of a hot shower. But, in a way, there was a sense of peace here he had been denied at home. At least his shithead of a son couldn’t bother him anymore.
A soft thud jerked Karl out of his sleep. He sat up, knocking the laptop off of his stomach. It hummed back into life, and the sound of gentle gasping and moaning filled the office. Unashamed, Karl pushed it close and looked around his office.
The door from his office to the store was cracked open. Karl crept towards it, keeping one hand ready to lash out in case of an attack.
He pushed open the door in time to see a small figure dart out of his store.
“Hey!” he shouted. He started to run after him but tripped and fell to his hands and knees.
At that level, he could see the rows of empty cases that were left in his store. A flash of pain flared in Karl’s chest, so abruptly that for a moment he thought he was having a stroke.
“Son of a bitch,” he gasped.
He pushed himself to his feet and stumbled over to his register. The little bastards had left the drawer on the floor, scattering the change everywhere. Karl stumbled through it to the drawer next to the register. He threw it open and yanked out his pistol.
“Run from this, you fuckers,” he growled.
As Ted and Evan made their way into the mall, they listened for signs of life. Without the lights from the stores on, it was impossible to see beyond a few meters. The pale light from the full moon shone through the glass ceiling, lighting their path to the stairs. A gentle hum filled the air; someone had left the heater on, keeping the winter frost from creeping into the building. Despite the warmth inside the mall, Ted shivered.
It was eerily quiet. Without the usual bustle and murmur, the mall seemed forlorn and haunted. Ted could feel his heartbeat echoing in his ears. He looked around but saw no sign of his friends. Karl’s was on the other end of the mall, across from one of the Macy’s. It could easily take them ten minutes to find a sign of their friends, a luxury Ted was afraid they didn’t have. But they had to try.
They barely made it halfway up the stairs when a gunshot exploded in the mall.
Ted and Evan stumbled to a stop. The roar from the shot echoed wildly in the mall, making it impossible to tell where it had come from.
“You bastards!” a gruff voice shouted. “I’ll fucking kill you!”
Ted and Evan took off again, sprinting towards the voice. They barely had run for ten seconds before they barrelled straight into Jamie and Thomas, their chests heaving. Moments later, Sarah and Stew caught up to them.
Ted barely had the chance to question why Sarah and Stew were there before Jamie shoved him back.
“What the fuck are you doing?” demanded Jamie, his eyes flashing with anger. “You shouldn’t be here!”
“Yeah, no shit,” snapped Ted. “You shouldn’t be here either, Jamie!”
Jamie opened his mouth to argue, but Sarah cut across them. “Guys, we can argue about this later. Right now we need to get out of here.”
Before they could say anything, Karl appeared across the from them. He was wearing an untied bathrobe and plaid boxers.
His thinning blond hair spun out wildly from his head as he brandished his massive pistol.
“What the hell is he doing here?” Evan asked.
“He must have gotten kicked out,” Thomas said. “It looked like he had been living in the back of his store.”
“You fuckers!” Karl screamed. “Get back here!”
“Scatter!” shouted Evan.
They all sprinted in different directions as Karl aimed his gun.
Thomas and Jamie ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. The second they reached the bottom of the stairs, Jamie yanked Thomas to the side.
A strand of hair fell into his face, a black sickle standing out against his ghost white skin. Jamie swept it back from his face and took a deep, rattling breath.
“Give me the money,” he ordered. Although his voice was low, there was an undercurrent of tension humming through it.
Thomas could see his control fraying as his anger thundered underneath his hard features.
Thomas fumbled the envelope out of his pocket. Jamie snatched it from him and stuffed it into his jacket.
“What about you?” Thomas asked helplessly.
“Don’t worry about me,” Jamie said, not looking Thomas in the eyes. “I’ll be okay.”
“Trust me, Tommy,” Jamie replied. For the first time, Thomas saw the pain and terror in Jamie’s eyes. It cracked through his mask, chilling the night air. He needed Thomas to agree with him.
Thomas nodded, pressing his lips tightly together.
“Thank you. Listen, there’s one more thing I need to tell you.” Jamie grabbed Thomas by the shoulder and pulled him close, his lips brushing Thomas’s ear.
The world imploded with an electric fire. Thomas could barely comprehend what Jamie was saying, but he clung to each word desperately.
Finally, after a lifetime, Jamie pulled himself away.
Thomas’s mouth fell open, but no sound would come out. The fire sank down into his bones, scorching his blood with a brilliant glow. He searched Jamie’s face, but that Jamie was already buried away again, lost to a mask as hard and as cold as ice.
The moment disintegrated, and Thomas felt his throat close up with tears. It just wasn’t fair.
He saw the same pain and regret flash across Jamie’s face, as clear and as poignant as a lightning bolt.
“You better go,” Jamie said. “I’ll see you when I can.”
He turned away and started running again. Thomas watched him for a moment before shaking himself. He needed to keep moving. Before he could, a second gunshot split the air.
The gunshot froze Evan in his tracks. He looked behind him and felt his heart seize in his throat.
Sarah wasn’t behind him.
She had been right there, her feet pounding in his wake. He could have been sure he had heard her, her breath ragged with adrenalin.
But that meant...
Evan raced back the way he came, moving faster than he thought possible. The distant whine of a siren grew louder, warring with the roar that filled his ears.
Please God, not her. Not Sarah.
Even as he ran, Evan knew what he would find. Dread choked him, turning his every muscle to lead.
He found her outside of a restaurant. Blood spilled across the white tiles, drenching her sweatshirt and jeans. Her hair fanned out around her face as her hand reached out beside her. Towards him.
Evan felt bile rise in his throat and turned away.
A flash of movement caught his gaze, and he looked up to see Karl, his face ashen. A smoking gun dangled from his hand.
Karl took first one step back, then another. Within seconds he was running away, his feet scrambling for purchase.
Fury exploded through Evan’s mind, blinding him to any sense or logic. Evan felt a beast breakthrough inside him, howling for blood. He tightened his hands into fists, into weapons capable of smashing through flesh like tissue paper. He took a step forward, ready to chase after Karl.
“Oh my God.”
Evan stumbled, the voice wrenching him back. He turned around to see Ted standing there, the blood draining from his face.
All thoughts of Karl faded. The anger was still there, the beast still slavering for vengeance, but Evan regained control of his emotions.
He needed to help his friends.
Evan leaped forward to catch Ted before he fell to his knees.
“It’s okay Teddy, I’ve got you. I’ve got you.”
Evan wrapped his hands in Ted’s shirt, holding on to keep Ted from falling, to keep the world from falling apart around him, to keep himself from running after Karl and punching him until he felt the bones snap like twigs and the blood boil across his knuckles.
He could feel Ted’s body quake, the grief flooding his best friend in wave after wave. Dimly, he could feel it echo through himself. The pure shock of it stopping his heart. The pain and horror draining the strength from his muscles.
Stew and Thomas caught up moments later.
Thomas fell to his knees, shaking. Stew pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, his face a sickly pale green. Evan turned his gaze away, unable to face the horror on their faces.
The wail of a police silence drowned out any other thought. Evan felt the thunder of the police boots through the floor. He sank to the floor with Ted and pressed against him to try and steady the hurricane of emotions that threatened to pulverize his mind.
It was over.