FEVERED

Fevered is the sequel to Tango Key and I wrote it originally as Alison Drake, in the early 90s. It begins more violently than most of my books, but as you’ll see, it fits the character. An audio book from Crossroad Press will soon be available. For now, you can read it on Kindle and Nook and other e-readers, $3.99.

Here’s an excerpt:

 

PROLOGUE:

THE JUDGE

1

Pain.

He was clawing his way through the pain, trying to surface, to lift above it, beyond it. But the pain burned through his legs, pulling him under again.

2

The screams awakened him.

They fluttered through the house like bats, rising and falling, slapping the cool air. He couldn’t tell where they were coming from or who they belonged to—his wife? His sons? Himself? His hearing faded in and out, as though he were perched at the edge of a canyon, listening to an echo as it made its way toward him—and then away again.

Henry Michael tried to rise, but couldn’t. His hands were bound, and his legs refused to work. He couldn’t feel them from the knees down. Get up, old man, get up.

Up from where? Where was he? Why were his hands tied? Why was everything so fuzzy? His glasses, right, he wasn’t wearing his glasses. No wonder he couldn’t see worth a damn. He moved his back and felt the hard surface of the floor, its wood. . . . Why am I on the floor?

The screams were rising again, pounding the air around him, terrible screams, and once more he tried to lift up and failed. A sob wrenched from his throat as hot shoots of pain burned through his thighs, fanning out across his groin, his belly. Please, oh God, please, make the screams stop. No more screams. Please.

The pain blinked off, then on again, then off, and he squinted his eyes, attempting to focus on something, on anything, but it was useless. A gray fuzz sprouted like fur at the edge of his perception; the pain bit more deeply, and he fell back against the floor, his chest heaving from the exertion. Be calm, old man. Be calm. You’re imagining those screams. They’re inside your head.

Yes, all right. He would think backward from this moment to the moment when . . .

What? What was I doing before this?

Sleeping.

No, Christ no, he’d been . . . reading. He’d been reading through a case and

(But why are my hands tied?)

his youngest son had been sprawled in the beanbag chair, watching TV, and his wife, Jenny, had been

(Why do my legs hurt so much? Why . . .)

in the kitchen, cleaning up after supper. His oldest son had been in the kitchen with his mother, doing his homework. An ordinary evening,

(. . . my legs, the stink of blood, oh God, what . . .)

until the doorbell had rung, until a woman had arrived and . . .

no God no lemme be wrong please please

Henry Michael started to whimper. His teeth chattered. Terror and revulsion broke loose inside him as the screams spurted into the air once more and then died abruptly, like an artery that had been sucked dry. The fuzz, the webs, were clearing from his mind, and he knew the woman would come for him now, to finish what she began when she blew off his kneecaps and shot his youngest son in the chest.

3

He heard her footfalls, rapid and urgent, moving toward him from the kitchen, the dining room. He caught a whiff of her perfume. He heard her breathing; the sound of it echoed inside him as the screams had. He sensed her stopping just behind him, at his head, and felt her eyes boring into him. He pressed his elbows against the floor, pushed, pressed, and pushed again to propel himself away from her, but his legs felt like two-ton lead pipes. They wouldn’t budge.

“How’re the knees, Judge? I bet they smart, huh.”

“Wh-why’re you doing this?” He moved his head back, but the only thing he could see were her legs, blurred and gray, like distant tree stumps. “Wh-why?”

“You really don’t know, Judge? I thought you were a bright man. That’s what everyone says, you know. That you’re a very bright man, the biggest supporter of capital punishment in the state of Florida. Yes siree, Judge Henry Michael, hotshot.” She touched his forehead and he winced. Her skin was cold, clammy, like a corpse’s. “Bet you don’t feel like much of a hotshot now, do you.” She patted his cheek. “Your wife wasn’t very brave, Judge. I was really very disappointed in her.”

“Please,” he sobbed, trying to wiggle away from her but failing. “Wh-what do y-you want?”

“Don’t squirm like that, Judge. It’s very unbecoming. And besides, there’s no place to go. You can shriek if you want, but that won’t do much good, because all the windows are closed. I kept telling your wife that, but she didn’t care. She just screamed and screamed, and I got fed up with it.”

“Pl-please . . .”

“All you have to do is die, Judge.” She was doing something to his legs now. Sitting on them? Tying his ankles together? He couldn’t tell because he had no feeling in his legs and he couldn’t see her clearly enough. “Nothing is simpler than dying. Even being born isn’t as simple as dying, Judge. That’s one of those cosmic thoughts you get sometimes when you’re about to fall asleep. Like you, Judge, you’re about to take a long nap.” She laughed. “And if I were you, I’d sure be thinking about how easy it is to die.”

“Please,” he whispered.

“You can think of me as . . . let’s see . . . what would be a good name for me. Oh.” She snapped her fingers. “I know. The Avenger. I’m the Avenger, just like on the old TV show. Remember that show, Judge? With Emma Peel and that turkey sidekick of hers?”

Another laugh. Dear God, how that laugh terrified him, hurt him, pressed down against his gut with its horrible weight, its unbearable weight.

“I don’t believe in getting back at someone, Judge. I just get even.”

And she laughed some more, a weird, high cackle, and Henry Michael began to pray. Bless me Father, for I have sinned. . . . The prayer, what was the rest of the prayer? He couldn’t remember because now she was touching something sharp and cold to the side of his neck. “You know what this is, Judge? It’s an old-fashioned hat pin. It belonged to my grandmother. On Sundays, she would fix a couple of these pretty pins in her hat and off she would go to church. Can you see it, Judge?”

He knew she was holding something above him, but it was a long, gray blur. Old and tired eyes, like your bones, Henry, like your bones. “I . . . I . . . my eyes . . . aren’t very good.”

How normal his voice had sounded for that moment. My eyes aren’t very good, as if he were talking to someone at the courthouse, an acquaintance. My eyes are old . . .

“Oh, your glasses. Right. I forgot all about your glasses.” She slipped them on over his nose. One lens was shattered and it fractured her features, created a mosaic of her face. But through the other lens he could see her soft skin, her bright, mad eyes, and there, the hat pin. It was long, slender, with a small red bulb on the end like a tiny impaled radish. “Isn’t it pretty, Judge?”

“Pl-please,” he stammered, “d-don’t hurt Jenny. Don’t hurt m-my sons, don’t . . .”

She smiled. “Too late, hon. Jenny’s taken the route of the big sleep. Remember? And your sons, too.”

No no no

“. . . You should’ve thought of that four years ago. He didn’t deserve the chair, you know. Have you ever seen anyone fry in the chair, Judge? You know what burning skin smells like? You know what happens when all the juice zips through you? I . . . I was there. I saw him fry. I saw him twitch. I smelled him b-burning, you son of a bitch.”

“Who? Who?” he cried.

“God will have to tell you, Judge. Say your prayers, okay? It’s only fair you should have a chance to say your prayers. Even a man going to the chair has that chance. I’ll say them with you. ‘Now I lay me down to sleep. . . .’ C’mon, Judge, say it along with me. ‘Now I lay me . . .’ ”

But when he opened his mouth, only his raw, ragged breath came out.

“Oh Christ,” she snapped. “I give you a chance to say your prayers and you blow it.” She removed his glasses. “I’m afraid you’ve exhausted my patience, Judge Michael. Now, this is going to smart a little. You’d better not move your head, either, because that’ll just make it worse.”

Pain exploded in his right eye as she slid the hat pin into the corner of it, down under the lid, deeply into the eyeball. It ruptured. It bled and oozed. He shrieked and bucked against the floor, and she straddled his chest and kept working the pin back into the eyeball, through the optic nerve, cooing, “Now, now, Judge, you’re not very brave, either.” She pressed something cold and sharp against his throat. For a blinding second he felt a warm rush of blood against his chest. He sucked at the air, but there wasn’t any. There was no air, no light.

There was nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

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