Home > Reckoning (FBI Thriller #26)

Reckoning (FBI Thriller #26)
Author: Catherine Coulter

 

1


Porte Franklyn, Virginia

Allison slid back under a single sheet after a middle-of-the-night trek to the bathroom. She lay still, breathing in the sweet deep-summer air, listening to the night sounds outside her open window—the symphony of crickets, the hoot of a barn owl, the wind rustling the oak leaves near her window. The air was heavy, and it was humid, so she soon kicked off the sheet. Even in her pink sleep shorts and tank top, it wasn’t enough. She rolled out of bed and walked to the wall switch beside her bedroom door to turn on the overhead fan. Her finger was on the switch when she heard slow, light footsteps on the stairs, tiptoeing steps, and the familiar creak of the seventh stair. One of her parents was up? She opened her door, looked out into the dim hallway, started to call out, and froze. Two men were walking quietly toward her parents’ bedroom at the end of the hall. In the hallway night-light she saw each man carried a gun. At first she didn’t understand, then she was afraid, paralyzed. Should she scream out to her parents, warn them? She pushed her door closed, grabbed her cell phone in its charger on her desk, and punched in 911. Instantly a deep man’s voice said calmly, “What is your emergency?”

She whispered, “Two men are walking toward my parents’ bedroom and they’ve got guns. Help, please, help.”

She heard two popping sounds, knew they were gunshots. Allison’s voice caught on a sob of terror. “Pl-please, hurry, I heard them shooting my parents!”

The man’s voice was whip-sharp. “Can you get out of the house?”

“Yes, yes.”

“Go now! Hide. Help is coming right now.”

She needed to do something, wanted to help her parents, but what? The man on the phone was right, she had to hide or they’d kill her, too. Allison pushed out the bedroom window screen, climbed out on the ledge, and jumped on the thick oak branch nearly touching the house.

She was sobbing she was so afraid, and clumsy, but she’d done it so many times, she didn’t fall. She shimmied down from branch to branch, sometimes swinging, sometimes crawling. She heard a low vicious voice shout from above her, “I see the little bitch! Let me do her!”

Allison heard a shot and felt a slap of pain just above her right ear. She saw white, the world tumbled and spun, and she nearly fell off the branch, but she flattened herself and hung on. She heard three more shots, all of them above her. She felt a shard of wood dig into her arm and a hit of pain. She was dizzy, the world spinning, but her fear brought her back. She knew she had to get down to the ground, she had to hide or they’d shoot her like they’d shot her parents. She’d climbed up and down this tree from her earliest years, and though her head pounded and her arm felt like it was on fire, she didn’t hesitate. She stepped down onto the lowest branch, sucked in her breath and jumped the last six feet to the ground. She rolled up and ran. She ran all out toward the mass of trees, dark shadows huddled together, sobbing, her breath hitching. They seemed a thousand miles away, but she kept running. Two more shots sounded and kicked up grass beside her feet. She changed direction, zigged and zagged, looked back over her shoulder at a man’s shout, and nearly stumbled. She realized blood was snaking down her forehead and into her eye from the wound in her head. Allison staggered into the trees, breathing hard, fell to her knees behind a huge old oak, and swiped at the blood on her face. She looked at her hand, wet, sticky, the blood black in the moonlight. She felt a wave of nausea and the world tilted sideways. She fell onto her side, hugging herself. She keened with pain and fear, until she heard shouts and realized she couldn’t stay there. The men were coming, running toward the woods, toward her. She had to move, had to hide or they’d see her, run her down, and shoot her dead.

Black, terrifying thoughts ricocheted through Allison’s brain, of her parents dead in their bed, covered with blood, black like the blood on her hand and sliding down her face. Her parents. She could practically hear their voices, yelling at her to move, to get to safety. She pushed away the grief, staggered to her feet, and ran toward a familiar leaf-strewn trail through the forest that passed by the entrance to Williker’s Cave, tucked beneath an overhang of thick-leaved oak branches. She’d spent hours there, her own private hideaway when she was younger, but rarely now because she was twelve, her first teenage birthday only six months away. She fell to her hands and knees when she reached the cave, lifted the brush covering it, crawled in through the narrow entrance, and pulled the brush back into place. It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see inside because she knew the cave well, knew the narrow, winding stone corridor widened as it wove back into the hill, where the cave ceiling soared above her head.

She mewled as she crawled onto the ancient threadbare blanket still in a tangle on the sand against the cave wall. Jumbled images came to her of herself as a child hiding in her sanctuary, drinking forbidden Diet Coke and eating junk food, feeling cocky she’d fooled her mother. The ancient grocery bag she’d kept next to the blanket was still there, filled with her childhood treasures. She grabbed a Lenny Stiles T-shirt from the bag that felt clean enough. She pulled off the tank top she’d worn to bed, wiped the blood off her face with it, and pressed it against the bloody wound on her head like they did on TV. Her arm wasn’t bleeding much, but it throbbed like a nail trying to shove through her flesh. When the bleeding stopped, she pulled on the T-shirt and sank back against the cave wall. Her head was still spinning, she wanted to vomit, so she focused on the ancient grocery bag. She felt frozen, so afraid her breath came out in gasps. She felt a new pain. She looked at her bare feet, scratched and a few cuts oozing blood. She hadn’t felt a thing on her wild run, but now—wait—was that voices? Men’s voices? She slapped her fist against her mouth to keep the sob quiet. They’d followed her, they were close. Would they see the cave opening through the leaves and the brush? She scooted backward into the cave, around a corner, and waited, unmoving. Then she heard sirens but knew it was too late to help her parents. She heard the men’s voices, knew they were closer. They’d find her. She was crying as she pressed her back against the cave wall.

 

 

2


Kings Canyon

Northern Territory

Australia

“It’s all right, sweetheart, you’re all right. You’re safe. Come on, wake up, you had a nightmare. You’re okay. I’ve got you.”

She heard his voice, a man’s voice, and he was close, too close. Terror squeezed her throat, made her heart kettledrum. The men were near, coming to kill her like they’d killed her parents. She fought like a wild thing, hitting at his arms holding her.

He held her tightly against him and continued to whisper against her cheek, his voice low and calm. Slowly she came awake, hiccuping at the knot of fear in her throat. She saw a dim face above her, a face she knew, a face she trusted. He was holding her, stroking her back as he continued to speak in his low easy voice, saying nonsense, really, reassuring her. Finally, she knew who it was.

Another nightmare.

Allison whispered, “Uncle Leo?”

“Yes, baby, I’m here. It’s all right. You’re safe. I’ve got you.”

“I’m sorry.”

Leo continued to hold her, lightly rubbed his hands up and down her back, slow and easy, like she was a wounded and terrified kangaroo joey tangled in a barbed-wire fence. “Don’t be daft. I’d have bloody nightmares, too, if I’d been through what you have. That’s right, breathe deep, that’s my girl.” He kissed her forehead. Slowly, the images from her dream blurred and faded. It was odd but sometimes in her dreams she felt the pain from the bullet wound on the side of her head, and the gash in her arm from the wood shard. She sucked in another deep breath, locked her arms around his back, and pressed her face against his chest.

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