Prologue: Another Song About the Rain
Patrick Donnelly stared down the long ramp at the back of the warehouse as rain fell heavy around him. The constant, uneven patter saturated the pavement, raising a curtain of white noise that drowned out the night. At his feet, water crested the slope, descending in waves, washing down over a skinny grate littered with debris.
The loading dock, wide enough to accommodate four trailers side-by-side, lay vacant. Floodlights mounted on the overhang illuminated the ramp, but the platform of the receiving bay remained in shadow. A short ladder appeared to be the only way up.
This just gets better and better, Donnelly thought, holstering his maglite through a slit in his poncho as he began his descent. Ankle deep, he waded into frigid water to reach the makeshift ladder. Each rung of rebar set in concrete added to the chill that braced him.
As he mounted the platform, his eyes began to acclimate to the dim, indirect light. He immediately noticed one of the bay doors run halfway up its track. As he reached for his flashlight again, he paused to listen but heard nothing in the dark expanse beyond.
Beading on smooth concrete, water glistened in the beam of his light. Donnelly crouched, reached out and rubbed gritty water between his fingers as he stared after the trail of slender footprints running parallel to blocky treads.
Bare feet? he pondered. On a night like this?
Rows of industrial shipping racks extended deep into the warehouse. As he walked, Donnelly cast his light on pallets stacked along the aisles. It was hard to tell what they might contain. Each skid was stretch-wrapped in opaque white film. He supposed the bills of lading attached might offer a clue, but that wasn’t why he was there.
Emerging from the long aisle, he finally caught sight of his partner who stood admiring a broad collage of centerfolds tacked to the wall.
“Not bad, eh?”
Donnelly shook his head, unamused, and said, “You could have waited for me.”
“End of shift,” Russell grumbled, turning attention back to a nubile blonde washed in his light. Perched on all fours, she leaned forward. Her bosom grazed the plush cushions of a couch. Russell stood transfixed by the view of her from behind.
“Just being thorough, Fred, or is this something you haven’t seen before?”
“Ha. Very funny.”
“Come on. Tracks lead up front,” Donnelly said. “Doesn’t look like this was a false alarm after all.”
Russell sighed heavily. “You know it was probably just a bum ducking out of the rain. Can’t say as I blame ‘em.”
The call came at the end of a boring night, uneventful except for the sudden downpour. Both officers assumed the alarm response would end in a routine sweep of the building. No sense waiting. Property owners rarely showed up in weather like this.
Clearly, the warehouse was too quiet for a burglary, and there were no vehicles parked anywhere near the perimeter of the building. Russell was probably right. Someone had slipped in for shelter. That would explain the bare footprints. There was no sign of forced entry. An unsecured receiving door might have allowed trespass while tripping the alarm.
The problem was Donnelly hadn’t seen tracks leading out. All of the other doors were locked. He’d checked from outside. Unless the intruder dried his feet before slipping away, he should still be there.
Both officers followed the narrow hall until it opened to gray walled cubicles. They fanned out from there to sweep the room.
Surveying workspaces, Donnelly paused to admire an abstract finger-painting tacked to a partition. Back at the station, he had a masterpiece just like it taped inside his locker.
Beyond the cubicles, windows revealed a traditional run of offices. Russell circled the largest, clearly a meeting room by its long central table and surrounding chairs.
Donnelly moved on to reception. There, he gave the front door another shove to confirm no one had fled since he’d checked it earlier from outside. Turning back, he saw a silver trailer truck motoring along the facing wall. The slogan beneath read, “We go all the way!”
Donnelly couldn’t help but chuckle, making the connection between front of house innuendo and the pinups displayed in the warehouse.
Returning to the offices proper, his eyes were drawn to Russell, who stood stock-still.
“You hear that, Pat?” Russell asked, his tone low. He jerked his head toward the cubicles. Donnelly hadn’t heard a thing but followed to where Russell motioned to a break in the partition. Russell drew his sidearm before entering and Donnelly followed suit.
The workspace appeared vacant as Russell swept the cubicle with his flashlight held in a crossed grip. Finally Donnelly heard what had drawn his partner’s attention, a low rasp of breath.
The line of Russell’s light dipped beneath the desk. “Get out of there,” he barked. When there was no response, he shook his head in annoyance and added, “Don’t make me drag you out.”
Still no response.
When Donnelly dropped to a crouch, he saw a young woman, huddled beneath the desk, backed deep into the corner. Trembling, she sat with knees to her chest. Damp fabric clung to her skin. The building offered protection from the rain but little warmth. No wonder she was shivering.
He holstered his piece. She obviously wasn’t a burglar or even some junkie off the street. Clearly not in that dress.
“Are you okay, Miss?” he asked in concern.
No answer. Slowly he reached out to her.
“No—” she started in protest. He wasn’t sure if it was in response to his words or his proximity. Her pupils were dilated; she stared off into nothing.
“Get that light off her, Fred. She’s in shock.”
Backing away, Russell grumbled something about finding a light switch. Delicate interactions were never his forte. He avoided them whenever possible.
Donnelly extended his hand but the young woman shrank back again. Abrasions covered the soles of her feet. She’d obviously cut them up running, but from who?
“It’s okay,” he repeated, trying to catch her frightened gaze from miles away. “No one’s going to hurt you. You’re safe now.”
It seemed like minutes passed before the lights came on.
He introduced himself, kept talking, trying to coax her forward but to no result. Russell returned with a blanket, setting it on the desk before returning to the front entrance where he called in the particulars to dispatch.
Given the hour, Donnelly considered calling home. The situation would likely tie him up well past shift change. Would the girls still be awake? he wondered. He was about to break his crouch when the young woman’s focus abruptly shifted and their eyes met. Her brow creased. Tears followed as she came back to herself.
“What’s your name?” he asked moments later.
“R-r-rebecca,” she shivered.
“Can we get you out of here, Rebecca? You must be cold. You’re soaking wet.”
He found answer in her eyes, but the moment stretched before she moved. One uncertain inch led to another. He helped her up and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. As they stood there, her breathing began to ease. Her quivering lessened.
“Are you okay to walk?” he asked. She nodded. Slowly he led her to the front entrance, matching her ginger steps. “Fred, get the door, will you?”
The squad car offered a warmer, more secure environment while they figured out who she was. Tucked in the back of the car, she shrank into the blue wool wrapped around her.
“We’ll get you home, Miss. I promise.”
“It—it’s…” She gulped before continuing. “Still here. I can f-feel it.”
Donnelly looked to his partner then back. “Were you running from someone?”
“Not s-someone,” she shook. “S-someth-thing. D-don’t know what it was.”
“We didn’t see anyone else,” Russell said. “No one but you.”
Frightened, she stared off.
“Can you tell us what happened?” Donnelly asked. She didn’t answer. Maybe she couldn’t. She was trembling again. “It’s okay if you can’t. Maybe we should get you to a hospital, have a doctor check you out.”
“J-Jason,” she breathed. “Scared. R-running. He was—”
He didn’t get the impression she was talking about the same person—or thing—that had been chasing her. “Someone else? You mean—”
He didn’t get the chance to finish. His partner cut him off.
“Pat, you see that?”
Donnelly turned to scan the street.
“Someone in the alley, I think.”
“You’ll be safe here,” Donnelly said, moving to shut the door. He slid his hand though the break in his slicker, unfastened the stop on his holster, and hefted his semi-auto again. To his partner, he said, “Let’s have a look.”
He swung out wide on approach to cover the gap between buildings. Near the mouth of the alley, his partner boomed a warning. “Police! Hands up and ease out of there!”
Donnelly took another step, finally gaining an angle to see all the way down the alley. It was empty.
Confused, Russell blinked. He’d shouted at no one, but his command had been so direct. He seemed certain someone was there. “Damnit. Swear I saw something.”
“Just the rain playing tricks,” Donnelly suggested.
“Yeah, maybe,” he said, but his expression remain troubled.
Turning back to the car, Donnelly spotted a man approaching. Twenty feet in front of the cruiser, bathed in light. His hands were held high, but his sudden appearance was startling.
“Who the hell—?” Russell blurted, attention drawn suddenly from thoughts of the alley. He trailed Donnelly after a moment’s hesitation.
“You!” Donnelly shouted, striding forward briskly. “Stop right there!”
“Is she okay?” the man demanded. The rain hadn’t let up. His hair, his jeans and his sweater were drenched. “Rebecca?”
“I said hold it right there!”
“I’m not going to hurt her. I just need to know that she’s okay.”
With the way he stared, he seemed certain she was in the car. But the headlights must have been blinding. Had he watched them escort her out? Something wasn’t right.
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” Donnelly commanded. The man came to a halt, complying.
“Fred?” Donnelly asked without a glance back.
“Yeah, I got you, man.”
Holstering as he approached, Donnelly gestured. “Step to the car. Hands on the hood. Legs spread.”
It was hard to tell how the guy played into the situation. He showed concern. While initially balking at direction, he seemed rational. Still no reason to take a chance. Best to call for another car.
“We’ll do this my way then we confirm your story,” Donnelly explained, patting the man down. He found nothing. “You’re not carrying a wallet?”
“Hell of a night to get caught in this rain. What’s your name?”
At his hesitation, Donnelly prompted, “How about Jason? That work for you?”
Uncertainty broke. “Look, you don’t understand. She was with me. I wasn’t trying to hurt her.”
“I don’t need to understand,” Donnelly said. If the guy didn’t want to talk, fine. Donnelly was in no mood to stand in the rain while the man danced around questions. It had been a long night, and this would best be sorted out at the station.
Suddenly, Jason’s head swung up just as Russell shouted, “PAAAT!”
With gun drawn, Russell tracked someone. Only a silhouette from Donnelly’s perspective but the man was huge. “Hold it right there! I said STOP!”
“Get away,” Jason urged. “Get her away. You have no idea what this is.”
Donnelly used an arm folded behind him as leverage to push Jason to the hood and then reached for cuffs. As his partner swung the floodlight around with a free hand, Donnelly fixed on the perp who had to be close to seven feet tall and thickly muscled. Strands of wet hair draped over a dark trench coat which hung open, exposing pale skin down to the waist. It was only a moment’s glance before the long coat whipped in sudden motion. Russell squeezed off a round as the mountain of a man rushed him.
The report cracked over the drone of rainfall.
Donnelly didn’t catch the flash of discharge. He lost his grip with a sudden yank. Unexpected momentum launched him forward. His hands came up too late to catch himself cleanly.
Stunned more than hurt, he pushed off the car and reached into his slicker. He found his holster empty. Paces from the car, Russell was down, curled on his side, arms clenched at his midsection.
“Toys,” the big man spat as he strode past Russell. There was a tinny, unnatural quality to his voice. Focused ahead, he was oblivious of Donnelly whose eyes followed to where Jason stood.
There was no hesitation in grip or stance as Jason leveled his pistol on the bigger man, only strides away as the muzzle flashed. The assailant rocked as the gun hammered again and again until the slide locked open.
Impossibly, the big man straightened and drew his lips in a razor thin smile. Holes torn in the front of his jacket glistened red, but quickly thinned in the falling rain.
Donnelly saw it all clearly as the perp strode past. The leather on his back appeared clean, intact. No exit wound? At close range, .357 rounds should have ripped right through him. Obviously, he wasn’t wearing a vest, but—
Discarded, the gun clacked against pavement. As Jason backpedaled, a leathered arm flashed toward him. One swipe then another, quick blurs. Jason spun away, but only barely.
Donnelly looked to his partner, unsure of how badly Russell might be hurt. Russell’s hands were covered in blood, but Donnelly couldn’t see the wound. Grimacing, Russell uttered, “Go!”
Ducking into the squad car, Donnelly reached across the driver’s seat. As he grabbed the shotgun, melee carried past the cruiser.
The blast that followed cracked the night.
The big man turned sharply in the wake of his warning shot. Donnelly swung the spotlight to blind the him, but the perp barely squinted. Light bleached his features the palest white.
How’s this guy still standing?
“Stop right there!” he ordered, pumping another round. The casing ejected, clinking on the ground. Donnelly gripped the shotgun, level on center mass, intent on taking the lunatic down.
Still the assailant took a challenging step forward and hissed, “I don’t think so.”
Donnelly clenched, stiffening in anticipation of recoil, as the shotgun bucked against his shoulder. The blast spun the giant, dropping him to the ground.
Slowly the man raised himself to a crouch, snarling as he examined the ruin of his arm. He’d lurched at the last second, avoiding the worst.
What the fuck is this guy on? That hit him square in the shoulder.
Donnelly pumped another round. He stepped forward and angled the barrel down in the man’s face. “Stop. Just stop.”
“No,” the big man said, steel in his words as he tensed.
Donnelly drew back on the trigger but his reaction came too slow. The barrel swung wildly as it erupted. The sudden rotation loosened his grip; the concussive force tore the shotgun from his hands.
Struck again, hard in the chest, Donnelly flew back. His head thumped against the pavement.
“No!” Distantly, he heard the scream—a man? It seemed like a million miles away.
His ears rang. His head throbbed. Dazed, Donnelly stared up, his vision swimming as fat drops of rain smacked cold on his suddenly feverish face. He strained to sit up, but a wave of vertigo rolled through him as dark leather flowed past.
Get up, Pat. Get up! Thoughts hammered, threatening to cleave his skull, but he gritted against the pain. Would you let that son of a bitch stop you if one of your girls was in the car?
He struggled to roll onto his side and finally—thankfully—his muscles responded. Stretching to reach the shotgun, he saw Jason flailing, desperately pounding the bigger man’s forearm, kicking wildly, finding no release from the thick fingers clamping his throat.
Donnelly strained to reach the shotgun. He got it by the butt, inched and re-grasped it to draw it toward him. The barrel was heavy. Nose down he dragged it over the asphalt.
Held aloft by one arm extended, Jason continued to choke. A low disturbing chuckle mocked his flagging resistance.
Leaning on the gun for leverage, Donnelly managed to sit upright. He pumped a round from a seated position. Raising the barrel proved taxing. His aim wavered. The big man’s back was to him. Somehow the desperate blast impacted, shredding leather again.
Recoil jolted Donnelly. Sitting unsupported, he managed to hold onto the shotgun. He struggled to right himself for another shot when the wild man rushed him.
Donnelly couldn’t get the gun around fast enough. A kick to the chest leveled him. His head snapped back, striking pavement again, as the gun clattered away.
He was staring up at the dark sky when a jolt of pain shot through his arm. A heavy boot pinned his wrist. He should have been able to roll, gain some leverage but his body felt heavy, unresponsive.
Pain magnified, pulsing anew.
“Enough,” the big man breathed, a tower of malevolence seething over him. When Donnelly’s arm came free, he was jerked from the ground with suddenness. It was like he weighed nothing.
Silver reflected in eyes drawn to black points. They were squarely focused on him now. Lips parted in an angry scowl, baring sickly metallic teeth. Fear shot through Donnelly. He struggled against an unyielding grip as panicked thoughts raced through him.
This can’t be happening. Has to be some kind of nightmare—
A scream erupted from inside the car. The window behind him buckled inward, spiderwebbing as his back slammed against it. The door frame didn’t give as his head impacted.
The world tilted sideways as he slid limply to the pavement. Blearily, he stared at the backlit figure standing over him. A mountain in silhouette. One arm extended. Outlined in the brightest contrast.
The floodlight attached to the driver’s side must have turned with impact, he thought, teetering on the edge of consciousness. He could barely hold onto the fading notion as light gleamed off those fingertips. Points shimmered. Mesmerizingly brilliant, they reflected the faintest cast of blue, blurring, descending faster than his eyes could track—
White hot, the world blazed around him.
This book is the culmination of many years of writing and research. It would not be possible without the core audience who read and provided feedback along the way. Thank you for joining that audience and taking the time to read my work.