Alicia Gerard is the wife of a wealthy business tycoon with strong connections to the political world. Abby agrees to take Alicia and her daughter in, but when FBI agents swarm the building looking for them, Abby finds herself trapped in a world of murder, conspiracy and threats to national security. On the run from government agents who make their own rules, Abby must decide which of her beliefs are worth dying forand which ones are not.
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The Final Kill
By Meg O'Brien
MIRACopyright © 2006 Meg O'Brien
All right reserved.
Abby Northrup wasn't, by nature, vengeful. In fact, it was more in her nature to be at peace, especially since she'd come to live in this private little apartment at the Prayer House. There were times, however, and situations...
She took the small sheaf of papers she'd been reading and set them down on the table next to her chair. Carrying her cup of lukewarm coffee, she went into her office and sat at her computer. Opening a new document, she began to write out a plan. There was no rage in her words, no heat. Just a hard, cold resolution.
She did it as a Q & A: Where is the lilac killer now? Out in the potting shed? Or has he gone into town? And what should she use? Poison? Ah, yes. The perfect karmic weapon.
Better yet, an ax. Or perhaps a knife from the kitchen. But Sister Edna would surely spot it missing. Would she turn her in? Or cover for her? Would anyone understand why she'd done what she'd done?
The abbey bells sounded a solemn tone over her head, announcing the midnight hour. The timing was perfect. She began to jot down her plan, and drew a map of the property alongside her keyboard. Here was the garden shed. And here the stables, then the well house. Or perhaps she'd find him in the little shack on the hill that hadn't been used in years, except for that one time when someone...
A shiver ranthrough her. Never mind that now. She would go first to the stables. If he wasn't there, she would wend her way across the field to the well house. It was on the way to the shack on the hill, so if she hadn't found Frank Frett by then, she'd just keep going uphill.
Leaving her office, she went into the adjoining living room. There she took a gun and ammunition from the antique Spanish armoire. Quietly shutting the armoire doors, she crossed to her bedroom, where she removed her jeans and shirt and slipped on cargo pants and a plain black jersey with long sleeves. Next she strapped the ammo around her belt. She dragged her hiking boots out from under the bed, then pulled them on. Finally, she stood still for a moment with her eyes closed and her arms out, level with her chest. I am strong, she said silently to herself. I will not fail.
Opening her eyes for one quick look around, she didn't see it at first. Then it was there, on her pillow, as if it had appeared through some ancient magic spell while her eyes were closed.
Which was foolish, of course. It was only a piece of paper. A note, put there hours ago while she was still in her office.
She stooped down and picked it up. It read:
You won't win. Don't even try.
So her quarry knew she was after him. She ignored the note, crushing it in her fist and tossing it into a corner. Picking up her gun bag and equipment, she stepped out into the tiled hall, listening for any unusual sounds. There were three floors to the old Spanish abbey, each of them with someone living on them, but it didn't surprise her that she didn't hear a thing. No one here ever spoke after midnight.
Across the wide, semidark hallway from her apartment was a carved oak door. She opened it and went swiftly through a short, narrow corridor and then a door that opened into a rose garden near the front of the house.
It was a little before one a.m. now, and June gloom was upon the entire Carmel Valley, bringing damp, biting temperatures. As she stepped outside she cursed herself for forgetting a jacket. Too late to turn back for one, though.
Just above the rim of a nearby hill, a half moon veiled by clouds managed to look eerie rather than helpful. It cast no solid shadows, only pale glimmers of gray that turned every would-be shadow into formless, evanes-cent ghosts moving deep within it. She pulled a small flashlight out of her pants pocket, turning it on but shading it with her other hand and pointing it only toward the ground. It was important to watch for snares.
Newly blossoming roses assailed her nostrils with a rich scent that was far too powerful, overriding all other senses. She quickly moved away from the garden, keeping her back against the wall of the adobe convent. Along this side was an arched stone colonnade over a cobbled walk. She followed the colonnade to the field in back, where several small buildings stood. One was a women's center for learning, another the horse barn and another a greenhouse. A tiny adobe chapel had been built several yards behind the convent by a couple of runaway Carmelite friars in the 1600s. They put down stakes here when the rest of their party sailed off, and after they died, no one lived here until the early 1900s, when the nuns came. They found the humble little monastery the friars had built and expanded it for their use.
The gentle old friars, Abby thought, would never have been the type to murder living, growing things. If there were lilacs in their gardens back then, they would have brought them inside in huge, fragrant bunches to dress their kitchen table for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As she paused there on the edge of the field, her mind played tricks. Several coastal live oaks dotted the ankle-high grass, their black branches dripping with moss that swayed and twisted like angry snakes in the dank wind. The perfect setting for the demise of one Frank Frett, she thought, shivering.
She shook herself, feeling a tremor of anxiety. Focus, Abby.
It worried her that her mind had been wandering. Did her target know she would do that? Did he know she'd be an easy mark, once surrounded by her beloved gardens and the multitude of wonderful scents in the night air? That she'd go off on some historical reverie of days gone by and lose her concentration for the job at hand?
Possible. He knew too much about her, didn't he? So, then. She would have to go against her norm, act in some way he wouldn't expect.
Carefully steering away from the oak trees and the greenhouse beyond them, she picked her way along a rutted track to the horse barn. Thick old eucalyptus trees lined the track, but they were too far apart to provide absolute cover. Abby crouched and moved swiftly but silently between each one, standing only when she knew she couldn't be seen from the windows lining this side of the dilapidated barn.
Barely breathing, she listened for even the slightest sound. Certain rustlings, she knew, came from the four horses inside, softly snorting. Now and then a hoof thudded against the floor of a stall. The other sounds were night animals: raccoons, mice, coyotes. Of them, the raccoons worried her the most. She'd gone up against the fierce little buggers more than once, and they'd love nothing more than to chomp down on her foot and run off with it. At one point, when she'd tried to shoo one away outside the Prayer House kitchen, he'd grabbed the broom from her and carried it off in his paws.
A spotlight at the front of the barn shone bright as day on a corral and about fifty square feet of open ground. Both stood between her and the barn. The thought of being that exposed worried her, but she had no other choice. If Frank Frett was in there and she ran to the greenhouse and gardening shed without first checking out the barn, she would only be handing him her back.
Watching a few moments, she didn't catch any movement at the windows along this side of the old building. Still, she knew there were cracks here and there in the wooden siding where the boards had warped from the winter's hard rains. Frett could have stationed himself at one of those cracks, where he could easily see out, yet be invisible to her.
Abby took her gun from its bag and held it at the ready, then ran as silently as she could toward the barn. Her heart pounded under the too-bright spotlight, and the only thing in her mind was, He can see me now. The man is evil, spawn of the devil, and if he's at one of those windows, he can see me now. Her imagination, always in top form, was so strong she could almost feel him grabbing her from every side. He was before her, no, behind her, he had a finger on the trigger of his own gun --
As she came within feet of the barn, she saw that one of the two big doors in front, usually locked up at night, stood half-open. An invitation.
How considerate. But sorry, Frank. I have other plans.
Veering off toward the far side of the building, she ran the way she'd been taught, barely touching the ground and with little sound. But as she reached that side, her heart jumped to her throat.
The usual porch light wasn't on over here.
The fixture was on the wall at the far end of the stable. It should have illuminated this side dimly -- just enough to see if someone else had gotten here before her -- but the bulb had apparently burned out. Or Frett had knocked it out. It was so black here, it felt like the dark side of the moon. And the air was thick. Thick with fear. She thought she heard another heart beating, and her legs turned to jelly.
Several moments later, she realized she was hearing the heartbeat of one of the horses on the other side of the barn wall. Only then did she know that her hearing had improved because her own heart had actually stopped a few beats. She'd been holding her breath so long, it was a wonder she hadn't passed out.
She sucked in air, steadied herself and listened a few more moments for any human sounds.
But that might not matter. Frank Frett would know better than to reveal himself that carelessly. He could be anywhere inside the stables -- in the tack room, the feed room, in Sister Ellen's office -- and no matter where he was, he wouldn't make a sound.
She was so sure of that, she made an on-the-spot decision and did what any impulsive, get-the-job-done person like her wouldn't do.
She sat down.
Excerpted from The Final Kill by Meg O'Brien Copyright © 2006 by Meg O'Brien. Excerpted by permission.
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