Pray for Death (A Gunn Brothers Thriller), страница 1
Available from James Hilton and Titan Books
About the Author
Available from James Hilton and Titan Books
Search and Destroy
Fight or Die
Pray for Death
Pray for Death
Print edition ISBN: 9781783294909
E-book edition ISBN: 9781783294916
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: October 2018
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Names, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (except for satirical purposes), is entirely coincidental.
© 2018 James Hilton. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
This one is for my Wendy, as always
She passed him by without so much as a second glance.
The corners of Frank Bradshaw’s mouth twitched into a smile of cruel anticipation. He had been watching Chrissie Haims for weeks, each day moving closer to this point. It was inevitable. She was his.
He had tried to be nice.
Yet where had that got him?
She’d flashed him the briefest of smiles two days earlier as he held open the door to Starbucks, her face showing not the faintest glimmer of recognition. She had not even paused for a second in the flow of conversation, cell phone nestled on her shoulder. A slight nod of her head as she hurried past him, leaving the coffee shop with an extra-large skinny latte. She bought the same coffee from the same shop every day on her way to work. Walked the same route. Caught the same bus home. She never noticed him. But he noticed her, oh yes, and then some.
Chrissie Haims was beautiful—her skin the colour of milky coffee, her face a perfect oval, her body toned and tight from the hours of Pilates she taught at the gym. Frank was sure the skintight exercise suits she wore in the classes were for his benefit alone.
She knew exactly what she was doing. Teasing him, taunting him.
Look at what I’ve got…
You want it, don’t you?
“Yes!” Frank’s voice was barely above a dry whisper.
She lived in a modest single-storey clapperboard house, just three blocks over from Frank’s own Coral Gables home. An easy journey. He had followed her home several times, always just out of the line of her haughty gaze. He’d watched her through the windows as she pottered around her house. The clothes she wore indoors were a stark contrast to her teasing Lycra bodysuits. Big and baggy sweats, shapeless and dull. Further proof to Frank that the revealing gym gear was all for show.
Look at me, I’m perfect. Too good for the likes of you!
Did she even know he existed?
Yes, she knew. She teased him, thrusting and gyrating her ass at him through the plate-glass windows of the gym every day. Frank knew exactly what she was doing. He knew exactly why she was doing it.
“You can look but you can’t touch.” Frank startled himself by voicing his thoughts out loud. A nervous giggle escaped his throat. He pulled his backpack open, slow and smooth. “But today I will touch.”
A shape moved past one of the side windows. There she was. Mooching around the apartment. Baggy grey sweats, auburn hair piled high on her head. Thick white face cream slathered over her features like some housewife from a vintage sitcom. She’s in for a real wake-up call.
Frank approached the front door. Fingers trembling, he pulled out a key. He had followed Chrissie Haims back to her home several times, each time growing bolder, each time getting a little closer. A week earlier he had watched her leave for work, then he’d found the spare key hidden under a stone by the door. It was a simple task to have it copied at the nearby strip mall, returning the original back to its supposed hiding place within the hour.
For a moment, he feared she had discovered his subterfuge and changed the locks. The breath caught in his throat as the key slid home. The door swung open on silent hinges. He moved inside, crouching like a sprinter on the blocks as he listened to the sounds of the house. The floor was cool to his touch through the disposable latex gloves he wore. His tongue flicked across his lips as he inhaled the aromas of the house. Coffee, flowers just a little past their best, a sweet perfume. He had been at the store when she had bought it.
As he moved through the house, staying low, an electric tingle rolled the length of his spine. The sound of the television greeted him as he pushed gently on the kitchen door, a jingle from a commercial.
The syringe that he drew from his bag felt comfortable in his hand. This wasn’t the first time he had used it. The generous mix of fentanyl and ketamine would drop her in seconds. She would be out cold until he injected her again with a powerful stimulant. That’s when the real fun would begin.
Frank listened. Her bare feet padded on the hardwood floor. She was in the living room.
Swish. Swishhh. The sound of curtains being drawn.
Too late, little piggy, the big bad wolf is already inside.
Frank crept along the hall, his hand brushing the wall with the faintest pressure. The living-room door was open, light from the television flickering an abstract pattern on the wall.
Readying himself for a quick dash into the room, Frank raised the hypoder
A tree branch whipped across the young man’s face, drawing blood and sending him stumbling to the ground. He landed in an untidy heap on the hard-packed dirt, losing his remaining shoe as he fell. A shock wave of pain ran up his spine.
The girl running ahead of him turned, a desperate sob catching in her throat. “Dean!”
The young man waved his hand frantically. “Keep going. I’m right behind you.”
Fear encompassed every inch of her face. She looked back and forth, searching the trees for the danger that was close behind. The leafy canopy overhead shielded most of the burning sun, but here and there daggers of bright light illuminated the dirt and dead foliage below with an almost theatrical intensity. Vines spread from tree to tree, intersecting at ground level like the veins of a colossal creature. Fiddlewood and mahogany trees stretched impassive, tall and proud like cyclopean gods.
Dean’s voice was a dry rasp. “Run!”
He knew Ellen could do it. She regularly ran track and was part of the school swim team. Despite that, her legs visibly shuddered with each faltering step. Bile rose in the back of his throat.
A chunk of tree bark pinwheeled as a bullet passed close to Ellen’s head. She ran.
Dean struggled to his feet and followed her as best he could. His bare legs were caked with dried blood and dirt. He was naked save for a pair of grubby boxer shorts. Two raised welts ran in diagonal lines across his shoulders, forming an oversized X.
Crack, crack, crack.
Another short rattle of bullets cut through the trees to either side of his path. He risked a backward glance. Indistinct shadows flitted from tree to tree, visible for a second, then gone again. Ellen was sprinting, head bent, arms and legs pumping like an automaton. Her ash-blond hair and pale skin gave her an almost ethereal look as she dodged between the trees.
Dean knew he was in no way as fit as he could have been. While the other guys from his school had readied themselves for spring break by hitting the gym, he had laughed it off as pointless vanity. He had been running for less than half a mile and already he had vomited his meagre breakfast. His legs felt like they were slowly turning to stone, his muscles seizing. His chest burned as he sucked in huge gulps of air. The pain in his side was horrendous. He hadn’t had a stitch since he was in junior high.
A new ripple of fear coursed through his body. He couldn’t see Ellen. Where the hell had she gone? Then a flash of pale skin caught his eye. She was moving at a clip. Had she changed direction?
A man stepped from behind the tree some thirty feet to his left. His face was marked by green and brown camouflage paint; his white hair, spiked into tufts, stood out in contrast. The man raised his crossbow and in one smooth action pulled the trigger.
Dean howled in shock as the bolt lodged deep in his shoulder. He forced himself to continue running despite the agony, but he was stumbling like a drunkard. Blood seeped between his fingers as he cupped his injured shoulder. The flights of the crossbow bolt were the colour of a raven’s feather. Behind him he could hear the shooter laughing.
“Hab dich! Hab dich! I got you!”
Dean staggered on. The German was one of the worst.
A new voice came to him. It took long seconds to realise it was his own.
“Don’t look back. Just keep running. Don’t look back. Just keep running.”
He repeated the mantra over and over as he lurched spasmodically from tree to tree. Cold sweat beaded over his face, stinging his eyes. Then he was on a path. A narrow path, but one that at least provided a clear line through the trees. “Don’t look back. Just keep running. Don’t look back. Just keep running.”
The new pain struck him like a punch from a karate master. He could not scream. His lungs would not let him. Another bolt must have struck him in his back. The blood bubbled from his mouth as he turned to look at his killer.
He didn’t even know the bastard’s name.
The camouflaged killer raised his stubby weapon high in the air and laughed aloud.
Dean fell to his knees. Another five men materialised out of nowhere, like ghosts. A brief exchange of words ended with the German pointing in the direction that Ellen had taken. The other men set off again in rapid pursuit, their camouflage clothing and greasepaint blending with the jungle perfectly. They were lost from sight within a few seconds.
Dean’s vision was dimming, dark spots dancing before his eyes. He knew he was dying. Tears ran down his dirt-streaked face.
The German stood over him, crossbow loose in his grasp, laughing softly. He placed a boot on Dean’s belly, almost as if he was posing for a picture. Dean struggled to free himself from beneath the man’s boot, the last vestiges of his strength almost spent. The German increased the pressure slightly, pinning him down.
A short burst of automatic gunfire echoed through the trees. A woman’s choked scream rang out. Then a single shot.
“Ellen…” He couldn’t say more. The blood filled his mouth as he died.
Chrissie Haims had her back to him. Tonight, she would pay dearly for the weeks of fleeting smiles and her cruel teasing. Frank raised the hypodermic syringe level with his shoulder and stepped into the room. He had done this before… step in close, inject her with the sleepy juice. She would be out for at least an hour. More than enough time to get everything ready.
Frank held his breath as he reached for the back of her neck.
Then she did something that caught him completely off guard. In one smooth motion she pivoted, squatting almost to the floor, and raised both hands. The cylindrical pistol she held spat only once.
Frank staggered back, staring in surprise at the dart protruding from his chest.
Chrissie Haims stood up. Had she been that tall earlier?
The drug flooded his system. His own syringe was plucked unceremoniously from his rapidly numbing fingers. Chrissie pulled at her hair. The bushy auburn wig fell to the floor, now resembling roadkill.
“No!” Frank’s legs folded beneath him. He stared up at the woman… who wasn’t a woman at all! Under that cream mask was a thin, battle-hardened face.
“Hello, Frank!” The voice was cold and laced with a thick Scottish accent. “I bet you’re not exactly thrilled to be on the receiving end for a change.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Just think of me as a very concerned citizen.” The Scotsman’s smile was devoid of humour. “Neighbourhood Watch on steroids, that kind of thing.”
Frank tried to pull the dart from his chest, but his hands succeeded only in tracing lazy circles in front of his stomach. They seemed to weigh more than the rest of his body combined.
“But enough about me, Frankie-boy. Let’s talk about you. Francis Charles Bradshaw, single, works at Miami Parks and Recreation. Assaulted your first victim aged seventeen.”
“I… I was never charged.”
“Because the girl was too scared or too ashamed to press charges.” The Scotsman began to remove the thick layer of moisturising cream from his face, deception complete. “Attacked another four women in the last five years. You don’t get to do that anymore. You’re careful, I’ll give you that. You’ve never been arrested. Cautioned only once. What we call a ‘sneaky bastard’ back home. But not careful enough. All of you sickos are the same; you’re so intent on watching your victims you never notice if you are being watched.”
Frank was no coward. If he could keep this guy talking long enough for the paralytic to wear off, he might have a chance. “I wasn’t going to kill her.”
“What? Just drug and rape her? That’s okay, then, is it?”
“I love her. I wouldn’t hurt her.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that, Frank. Let’s take a wee look-see in your goodie bag. Maybe that will shed some light on your noble and purely romantic intentions.” The
“So, what now, big shot? You some Batman wannabe? You gonna kill me in cold blood, or doesn’t your code of ethics allow that?” Frank’s vision had dimmed at the edges, his voice beginning to slur. Biting the inside of his mouth until he tasted blood, he fought against the effects of the sedative.
“I’m no hero, so you can forget that, and my code of ethics don’t extend to streaks of shite like you.”
“You’re full of crap. If you were gonna kill me, you would have just shot me.” Frank’s voice was getting louder with each word.
The Scotsman slowly shook his head. “Gunshot wounds leave a mess. Leave evidence. This way’s… neater. No one will ever know what became of you, and I don’t think you’ll be missed by many, either.”
Spittle flew as Frank tried to sit up. “Fucking do it, then, if you’ve got the balls! Or I’m gonna kill y—”
The Scotsman snapped out his right foot in a blur of motion, catching Frank full in the throat. As Frank fell back, choking, the Scotsman looked on with a cold detachment.
Frank’s eyes bulged as he strained to take another breath through his crushed windpipe. His heels rapped against the floor in a steady beat as he slowly asphyxiated, choking on his own blood.
Danny Gunn sat on the arm of the settee and looked around the room. The house was typical working-class Miami, neat and clean. He liked Coral Gables. The houses here were a mixed bag, some large and luxurious, others small and homely. Chrissie Haims’ abode was simple yet stylish. The walls were painted a pale shade of yellow; the furniture was all high quality. No dust bunnies to be found hiding beneath the couch in this house. Danny rubbed the chenille fabric of a throw pillow between his thumb and forefinger as Frank Bradshaw was racked by a final spasm.
A brief childhood memory of making snow angels flitted into Danny’s mind, dying at the same time as Frank’s final motions. Danny finished removing the cold cream from his face, then picked up his cell phone from the teak table.
Chrissie answered on the second ring. “Danny?”
“Aye, it’s me.”
“Did he come to the house like you said he would?” Her voice was quiet and conspiratorial, her words laced with a nervous tone.