Despite the ribbons of blood on his face, which were as angry as war paint, the man on the bed was still breathing. She hadn’t killed him.
He lay on his back, sprawled in a tangle of bedsheets. His unbuttoned dress shirt exposed a flat chest, winter-pale and hairless. His pants puddled around his ankles. He smelled of cigar smoke and cologne. The whiskey bottle he’d opened lay tipped on the floor of the old stateroom, dripping Lagavulin onto the emerald carpet. He still clutched a crystal tumbler in his hand. Her blow had come by surprise, knocking him off his feet.
Cat slid a flowery cocktail dress over her nude body. She wanted to be gone before he woke up. She grabbed one of her cowboy boots from the floor. Its heel was slick with blood where she’d swung it into the man’s temple. She shoved her foot inside, and the leather nestled her calf. Her legs were lithe and smooth; young legs for a young girl. She reached into the toe of her other boot, retrieved the chain that held her father’s ring and slipped it over her head. She fluffed her nut-brown hair. Reaching into the boot again, she curled her fingers around the onyx handle of a knife.
Wherever she went, whatever she did, Cat always carried a knife.
She felt a wave of desire – as tall and powerful as a tsunami – to unsheathe the blade and plunge it into the torso of the man on the bed, slicing through skin, tissue, organs and bone. Up and down. Over and over. Thirty times. Forty times. A frenzy. She knew what he would look like when she was done, butchered and dead, a slaughtered pig. She could picture herself spray-painted with his blood, like graffiti art in a graveyard.
She’d seen that painting before. She knew what knives did.
Cat hid the blade in her boot and left him there, unconscious. He wasn’t worth killing. She felt sick from the images popping in her brain like fireworks. She headed for the bathroom, sank to her bare knees on the cold tile, and vomited into the toilet. She flushed down the puke. When she felt steady on her feet, she hurried down the steps and escaped outside, where the elements assaulted her immediately.
She stood on the deck of the giant ore boat Charles Frederick, but she wasn’t at sea. This ship didn’t go to sea anymore. It was a museum showpiece, locked away from the open waters of Lake Superior on a narrow channel in the heart of Duluth’s tourist district. The long, flat deck, like two football fields of red steel, swayed under her heels. The ship groaned like a living thing. Wind off the lake made a tornado of her hair and sneaked under her dress with cold fingers. It was early April, but in Duluth, April meant winter when the sun went down.
Dots of frigid moisture beaded on her skin from the flurries whipping through the night air. She hugged herself tightly, shivering, wishing she had a coat. Her heels clanged on the deck as, feeling alone and small, she picked her way beside a rope railing sixty feet over the water. When she looked down, she felt dizzy. Her eyes darted with the quickness of a bird, alert to the shadows and hiding places around her. She was never safe.
Cat located a hatch, where steep wet steps descended to an interior room that was like a prison of gray metal, with huge rivets dotting the walls. The room was dark and empty. On the far wall, snow blew inside through an open exit door. She exhaled in sharp relief; all she had to do was hurry to the ground and run. She bolted for the door but at the gangway she stopped and nervously studied the deserted street below the ship. Her boots were on a metal landing in the water of the snowmelt. She wiped wet flakes from her eyes and squinted to see better.
Then, with her heart in her mouth, she froze. Even in the bitter cold, sweat gathered on her neck like a film of fear. She backed into the shadows, making herself invisible, but it was too late.
He’d seen her.
He’d found her again.
For days, she’d stayed a step ahead of him, like a game of hopscotch. Now he was back and she was trapped. She pricked up her ears and listened. Footsteps crunched across the gravel and ice, coming closer. She ran to a steel door that led to the mammoth cargo holds in the guts of the ship. She tugged on the door – it was heavy – and slipped through it, closing it behind her. Looking down, she saw only blackness; she couldn’t see the bottom of the steps. The interior was cold and vast, like she’d been swallowed down into a whale’s belly. She was blind as she descended. The air got colder on her wet skin, and the wind made muffled shrieks outside the hull.
When she finally felt the bottom of the ship under her feet, she inched forward, expecting open space. Instead, she bumped against walls, and wire netting scraped her face. Her fingers found grease and peeling paint. With no frame of reference, she lost her sense of direction. Her eyes saw things that weren’t there, mirages in the shadows. Objects moved. Colors floated in the air. Vertigo made her head spin, as if she were on a catwalk instead of safely on the ground.
Something real skittered over her foot – a rat. Cat flailed and couldn’t stifle her cry. She collided with a stack of paint cans that clattered to the floor and rolled like squeaky bicycles. The noise bounced around the walls, rippling to the high ceiling in ghastly echoes. She dropped to her knees, tightened into a ball, and slid her knife out of her boot and clutched it in front of her.
The door high above her swung open. He was here. A flashlight scoured the floor like a dazzling white eye. The light, passing over her head, helped her see where she was. She was crouched behind a yellow forklift in a maze of makeshift plywood walls. Twenty feet away, a corridor beside the hull led from the cargo hold where she was hiding. That was the way out.
Cat waited. She heard the bang of footfalls. He was on the floor with her now. His light explored every crevice, patiently clearing every hiding place as he hunted her. She heard his footsteps; she heard his breathing. He was on the other side of the forklift, no more than six feet away, and he stopped, as if his senses told him that she was near. She rubbed her fingers on the knife; her sweat made it slippery. She aimed her blade at his throat. His light spilled across the dusty floor in front of her. He took a step closer, until he was a dark shape beside the wheels of the machine.
She saw the light glinting on his hand. He held a gun. Cat’s breath shot into her chest, loud and scared. She sprang up, slashing with the knife, but as she lurched toward him her wrist collided with the cage and the blade dropped to the floor. Helpless, she charged, taking them both to the ground, landing on dirt and scrap wood. The gun fell, and the flashlight rolled. Cat jabbed with her fingers and found his eyes. She poked hard, and when he screamed she squirmed away, scooped up the flashlight and ran.
With the light bouncing in front of her, she sprinted down a narrow passage. He scrambled to follow, but she heard him lose his footing and fall. She widened the gap between them. The passage opened into a second cargo hold, and she saw another set of steps, which she climbed two at a time. Her mouth hung open, gulping air. At the top, she bolted back onto the ship’s deck.
She was out of time. She took off the way she’d come, beside the rope railing with the water far below her. The metal was wet, and she skidded, trying to stay on her feet. He was already closing on her again. She heard his running footsteps behind her, but she didn’t look back. She sprinted on the slippery steel like a clumsy dancer, until she reached the end of the boat and had nowhere else to run. She stood at the stern, with the massive anchor chain beside her and the wind and flurries stinging her face from the midnight sky. The steel floor thundered, reverberating with his heavy footfalls. He was almost here. He almost had her.
Cat clasped her fists in front of her face and stared in despair at the harbor below her. Then she did the only thing she could do.
She flung herself off the ship into the ice-strewn water.
Jonathan Stride knew he wasn’t alone.
He arrived at his cottage on Park Point at two in the morning and realized that something was wrong. It was instinct; nothing looked out of place on the street. There were no cars in the neighborhood that he didn’t recognize. His eyes flicked across the trees and shadows around the house, but he saw nothing to alarm him. When he listened, he heard only the intermittent roar of Lake Superior beyond the crest of the dunes. Even so, as he locked his Ford Expedition and headed for his front porch, he went so far as to slide his gun into his hand.
Nearing the house, he spotted footprints in the snow. The prints were small, maybe size seven, and whoever made them was in a hurry, not trying to hide their approach. He tracked the running prints across his lawn and along the dirt driveway that led to the back of the house. He examined the cottage windows from the yard but saw no lights. If anyone was inside, they were waiting for him in the dark.
Stride headed for the rear door of his house, near the grassy trail that led to the beach. He let himself inside onto the screened porch. He eased his leather jacket off his shoulders and draped it over the garage sale sofa he kept out back. He shook snow out of his wavy hair. Leading with his gun, he opened the inner door that led to his kitchen.
The house was colder than usual. He heard a whistle of wind. He left the lights off and walked quietly, but the floor timbers in the 1880s cottage were never silent. They groaned with each step, announcing his arrival. It didn’t matter.
‘I know you’re here,’ he called.
No one replied.
He followed the kitchen into the dining room and eased around the corner into the living room. The cold fireplace and his red leather armchair were on his right. Sofas and throw rugs took up the middle of the room, near steps that led to the unfinished attic. The open space was empty. The room was dark. He heard the wind again, loud and agitated, blowing curtains in a spare bedroom immediately across from him. He rarely used that room; it was filled with dusty bookshelves and notes on cold cases. He crossed through the threshold into the bedroom, where the old floor slanted downward, like a corridor in a fun house. He spied a broken window, with glass littering the floor and lacy fabric billowing in and out of the night air like a ghost.
The bedroom was deserted. Using a penlight on his keychain he studied the glass and saw a spatter of blood on the shards.
‘You’re hurt,’ he said aloud.
He went back to the living room and eyed the doorway to his own bedroom on the opposite wall. She was hiding there. He’d already decided it was a woman, based on the footprints. There were other rooms in the house – another small bedroom in the corner facing the street, the attic, the tiny bathroom – but he could make out damp tracks on the carpet leading toward his room. Halfway across the floor, he saw beige cowboy boots that matched the tracks in the snow.
‘I’m coming in, okay?’ he said.
He examined his bedroom. The comforter had been yanked off his bed. The space on either side of the bed was empty, but his closet door was closed and latched. It usually swung shut by itself because of the slight tilt of the house, but he never actually pushed it all the way closed. He turned the antique metal door knob and pulled hard. The closet door opened with a shriek.
He turned his light to the floor and saw a huddled body wrapped tightly in the blanket from his bed. All he could see was her face. Not a woman. A girl. A teenager. She stared up at him, eyes wide with fright. Her long brown hair was soaking wet, plastered to her face. She was wracked with trembling, and her skin was blue with cold.
Stride holstered his gun. He turned on the closet light and the girl’s eyes squeezed shut.
‘My name’s Stride,’ he told her. ‘It’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m a lieutenant with the Duluth Police.’
Without opening her eyes, she nodded. She already knew who he was. The blanket slipped, and he saw bony bare shoulders.
Stride squatted in front of her. ‘What’s your name?’
She opened her eyes now and he could see how brown and perfect they were. ‘Cat,’ she said.
‘Hello, Cat. Can you tell me why you’re here?’
She didn’t answer right away but he could feel her reaching out to him across the dusty space. He could feel her fear and loneliness and he knew without her saying so that she had nowhere else in the world to go. Finally, she whispered to him, as if it were a secret to keep hidden.
‘Someone’s trying to kill me,’ she said.
Excerpted from The Cold Nowhere by Brian Freeman. Copyright © 2013 by Brian Freeman.
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block
London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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