Nine months of being a law-abiding citizen was enough. My dirty little secret wasn’t a choice for me anymore. It was an urge I couldn’t resist. A need buried deep in my soul. The ultimate temptation I refused to deny.
Flashlight leveled, I prowled through the gates of Timber Point, a gated community with Stepford-esque lawns spaced the same distance apart. You needed dough to live in the digs around here. Clearly the residents believed the old adage, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Benzes, Beamers, one dude even had a Rolls Royce. In the good ol’ days that alone would lure me to the house, but I didn’t do this for myself anymore, no matter what my best friend believed.
Shrouded in darkness, I lowered to the curb across from a Victorian contemporary. White vinyl encapsulated the first floor, rich wine sided the pointed second story, navy trimmed the roofline, door, and a quadruple bay window, and two-foot lanterns fringed the sides of the walkway like an airstrip at night.
All this light wasn’t ideal, but I rolled with it. One can never be too particular in these situations. Bo Adams, the best cat burglar in the business and my mentor, taught me that little nugget of wisdom years ago. Like in most things, he was right about this, too. If I waited for the perfect opportunity, we would’ve starved to death in the tunnel where we lived back then.
Tonight’s target was this rich prick who used his wife as a punching bag. That wasn’t what set him in my crosshairs. Last week, the greedy bastard embezzled over a mil from his own father. What I should’ve done was tell his wife about his twenty-five-year-old girlfriend so she could dump his sorry ass, but no one ever accused me of being a rat.
I crept to the living room window to see if Christian Fairfield sat in his usual leather wing chair. Often times, Mr. Personality drank himself half in the bag before passing out in front of the TV. Elizabeth, his wife, probably welcomed the peace, time to lick her wounds and rest. How women put up with that shit was beyond me. But hey, some might say, who am I to judge?
Pitch-blackness veiled the house, except for a slight glimmer from a stove light. I jiggled the handle on the back door.
I scouted every window on the first floor before finding one left unlocked. A couple taps to the sides of the screen and it glided open like a finger swiped through icing. Snickering, I squirmed head-first through the frame and landed in a handstand that could’ve easily scored ten points at a gymnastic competition.
“Pretentious” didn’t describe this bathroom. Gaudy wallpaper with a gold paisley print. No one should be subjected to this much glitter. Poor bastard must be colorblind.
See the lengths I went to help people?
The rest of the house wasn’t much better. Clearly they reveled in their glory days, which by my count, landed somewhere in the 1980’s.
In the living room hung a painting that looked like a sea of glass, burning with fire. On the shore people held harps. Harps! I shit you not. Fairfield was one strange dude.
I prowled into the dining room, and a coppery, sweet aroma stopped me cold. Through the smoldering glow of my flashlight lay Elizabeth. Clear tubing ran from her inner thigh and neck to glass jugs, collecting her blood. Warily, I approached and pressed two gloved fingers to her wrist. If she had a pulse, it faded fast. Searching for a hint of life, I loomed over her face.
Nothing. Not even a twitch of the eyelids.
I swept my hair to the side and lowered my face to her nose and mouth.
Why would he drain her blood? The question only lingered till the upstairs floor creaked. I bolted toward the half-bath, off the kitchen.
Footsteps hit the stairs.
“Who’s there?” a man called out. Even after several hours of recon, I didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t the homeowner, Christian Fairfield.
Flattening against the wall in the hallway, I killed my flashlight. My heart was working overtime, blood sluicing through my veins. Not that I didn’t enjoy the rush, but I’d been down this road before and, in laymen’s terms, it sucked.
Little by little I inched toward the bathroom.
He called out, “Show yourself.”
Yeah, right. What’d he take me for, a fool?
Silence encompassed the house, except for a grandfather’s clock that ticked slow and loud as if counting off the seconds till my death. At the worst possible moment, my cell phone belted out, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrissette. Cringing, I fished my cell out of my back pocket, answered, “Little busy here, Nay.”
“Where are you?”
My gaze roamed the hall. “I’m runnin’ an errand, but I really can’t talk. Call ya back.”
“Why’re you whispering?”
“Nay, I’ve gotta go. I’ll see ya at home.”
“You’re out catting again, aren’t you?”
I didn’t have time for the third-degree. Click. Better to apologize later, then— Perhaps I shouldn’t finish that sentence.
The stranger soldiered toward me. With the full moon’s smoldering luster, neither of us could hide the fact that we’d seen each other. My calf muscles tightened, ready to run, but before I got the chance he pitched toward me, brandishing a massive hunting knife, saturated with fresh blood.
Hands raised in surrender, I backed away. “Look. Whatever it is you’re doin’ is so not my business. Let’s forget this ever happened. Whaddaya say?”
Eyebrows pinched as though he had no idea what to make of me, he listed his head to one side. “Are you Gothic? I believe that’s the correct term, is it not?”
I cocked my arm, ready to knock his teeth out if he tossed one more dig about my signature style. “Who are you callin’ Goth, pal?”
He snickered—in my face. The balls on this guy.
“My, my, aren’t you an interesting feline,” he said, his tone dripping with malevolence.
“How’d you know what I—?”
“The only ones who break into homes in the middle of the night are thieves, gangsters, and killers. You’re not wearing the color of the day, so gangs aren’t your thing. And I seriously doubt you’re casing the joint to commit murder. Therefore, by simple deduction, that leaves only one reason for your presence tonight. From the confidence you ooze, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. Hence, feline. If you prefer, I don’t mind using the term ‘cat burglar’ for the remainder of our time together.”
“Tell me.” He stepped closer. “Do you enjoy your work?”
“What are we girlfriends now?”
He threw his head back and laughed.
“Listen, if we’re done sharing, I’ve really gotta bounce.”
“Adorable. You actually believe you can walk away. Ahh, to be young again.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“You don’t understand my statement? It’s fairly straightforward.”
An icy tongue licked up my spine. “Aw, shit. You’re the one I’ve been hearin’ about at work. I mean, on the news.”
“Uh-oh, slip of the tongue.” He grinned, and it was all I could do not to wipe the smug look off his face. “Where exactly do you work, my little lynx?”
“First of all, buddy, I’m not your anything.”
“Ooh, you are a feisty one. I like that.” Knife lowered, his pale, almost-translucent eyes burned right through me, like he could penetrate my soul. “Tell me. Why this house? Why tonight?”
“Let’s just say I’ve got a beef with the rich prick who owns the place.”
“You’re a fascinating little creature, aren’tcha?”
Knuckles white from lack of blood flow, I raised my fist to eye-level. “Creature? Wanna try that again, pal?”
A boisterous laugh broke from somewhere deep inside him. “Adorable.”
“You tryin’ to piss me off?”
Holding his side, he laughed harder. Joyful tears filled his eyes. Whatever amused him to this level, I had no idea. That said, it didn’t take a genius to figure out I was the butt of his secret joke.
Heat jagged up my chest. If he wasn’t wielding a knife, I might be tempted to teach him a lesson in common decency. “Yeah, great. Keep laughing, pal. I’m outta here.” I rotated toward the front door.
“Ah, ah, ah. Not so fast. You’ve seen my face.”
“And you’ve seen mine. That makes us even.”
“Tell me.” Forehead wrinkling, his unusual yet disturbing eyes narrowed to slits. “What’s with the makeup?”
He waved a dismissive hand toward my face. “The makeup, the hair, the nose piercing. Is this what the kids are wearing nowadays?”
Arm snapping a cuff, he glimpsed an expensive gold watch. “We’ve got time.” Combined with the tailored silk suit and black fedora, this dude wasn’t hurting for cash.
“As much as I’d love to chat with ya about shit that’s none of your business, I’ve gotta be somewhere.”
“You have quite a mouth on you.”
Though it wasn’t easy, I resisted rolling my eyes. “So I’ve been told. Anyway, it’s been real. Have a good night, Mr. Murderer.”
Startled, my head jerked back. “Excuse me?”
“Mr. Mayhem. That’s what they call me.”
“Catchy. Your mother must be so proud.”
With fire in his eyes he pitched toward me. I zigzagged around him, but he beat me to the stairs. “Look. I don’t have time for this crap. Make your move or get outta my way.”
“Why is everyone in such a rush? Life is precious. You should appreciate the fact that I’m willing to take my time. Color me curious, but you intrigue me, with your tough girl routine, the makeup, the hair, even the nose piercing.” Each time he sloughed off a shrug blood boiled in my veins. “I suppose some might find it attractive.”
“You better watch that mouth of yours, pal. I’m startin’ to lose my patience.”
Grinning, his nose crinkled. “Adorable.”
“Did I say somethin’ to amuse you?”
“Oh, you have no idea. Compared to Elizabeth over there—” his gaze fled to the dining room table, but returned too fast for me to make my move—“you’re a ray of sunshine. I’ll tell you what, my feisty lynx. Because I’m in a giving mood, before we play together I’ll give you a head start. One … don’t let me get to ten. Two.”
Before this psycho made his move I hauled ass, leaping the stairs two at a time, my boots screeching across the hardwood as I careened around the top railing and took off down the hall. The lying bastard didn’t wait till ten. Not three seconds after I fled, his heavy footfalls pounded the stairs.
Down the hall was another full bath. What can I say? They’re easy escape routes.
I slid open the screen and climbed on to the roof, scurried across the shingles to the west side of the house, and peered over the edge.
No trees. No grass. A two-car garage stood solo, not attached to the house. Ten feet of tar between us. If the fall didn’t kill me, it would surely end my career. Well, this one, anyway.
With no other choice, I backed to the far end of the roof and ran full-force toward the garage. Leaped, like a doe, over to the garage roof and landed with a heavy thud. My knees barely had time to absorb the blow when Mayhem shoved open the back door.
I jumped off the eight-foot-high roof to a small patch of grass, tucked into somersault, and rolled to my feet. Flawless rendition, too.
Mayhem bolted out the house and tried to cut me off. Out of nowhere a crow swooped down to eye-level. Caw, caw, caw penetrated bone-deep. I shooed him away, veered into the wooded lot next door, weaving around trees, over fallen branches, and through last fall’s crunchy leaves.
Through gnarled branches and thorny vines my gaze stayed with Mayhem, who stopped, the moonlight ricocheting off the sharp blade in his hand.
“Ahh, I haven’t felt this alive in years. You are really making me work for this.”
What kind of whack job acts like we’re playing Hide and Seek while he’s hunting me like game?
He took one step, then another. Methodical. Deliberate. Precise.
One step, then another.
What could I do? Where could I run?
One step, then another.
If he found me, there’s no telling what he’d do. From what I’d heard at work, he enjoyed spending time with his victims. The specifics of which were never clear, and I certainly was in no hurry to find out.
One step, then another.
I tucked into a ball, my hands latched around bent knees, my boots planted on the soft soil.
One step, then another.
I slid my mace from the holster. If pepper spray could stop a grizzly bear, it might buy me enough time to flee.
One step, then another.
Arms triangled in front of me, I aimed for his face, finger locked on the trigger.
Nose wiggling like a bloodhound tracking my scent, he stopped directly in front of my hiding spot. “Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
Yeah, right. “Moron” was not my middle name.
“C’mon, my feisty lynx. I won’t bite … much.”
The way I saw it, I had only two options. Either stay hidden and wait him out, or show myself and pray to all that’s holy that I could blind him long enough to escape. I’d never been one to shy away from a challenge, but this situation had serious consequences. As in, if I missed, I could kiss my ass goodbye.
It wasn’t until he rotated halfway that a third option emerged. It would take skill and speed—two of my best attributes—but I needed to work fast. I clawed at the soil till I collected two good-sized rocks, then lobbed one over to the right. When the rock landed he whirled toward the noise, and I inched farther into the shadows.
As he was about to reface my hiding spot, I whipped the second rock, which landed with a resounding thud.
That drew his full attention.
Quickly but quietly, I bolted for the main drag. The toe of my boot hit an exposed root and sent me flying into a tree with thick, edgy bark at the exact moment the crow soared by me. When I fell my hand slapped his tail feathers and he spiraled to the ground with me. Stunned, he lay motionless. I might be spit-ballin’ here, but knocking a crow out of mid-air and almost killing him probably wasn’t a good sign.
Ca-caw. Ca-caw. Ca-caw.
Yeah, he didn’t look happy at all. Crap.
The crow, with a gold band around his ankle, flew to a low-hanging branch and glared at me, head cocked as though taking mental snapshots of my face. It was one of the strangest thing I’d ever encountered, and believe me, I’d seen some doozies over the years.
When I scrambled to my feet, Mayhem snagged my back pocket and yanked me to the ground. Instinct took over. I flipped, crushed his balls with the heel of my boot. Perfect shot, too.
With the family jewels clutched in both hands, he buckled over in agony. But rather than threaten me, he called out, “Poe.”
Poe? Did he have a partner?
While he recovered I sprinted to my jeep, parked outside the gates of Timber Point. This bitch better start.