Face Off – Brenda Novak

Anchorage, Alaska … The cellar was almost ready. It’d taken months to put in the lighting, the plumbing, the Sheetrock and the flooring and to get it all soundproofed. Jasper Moore, aka Andy Smith, could’ve had it done in a matter of weeks had he hired a contractor, but he wasn’t that foolish. No one could know about what he’d created. He’d bought the materials in small batches from three different stores, just to mix things up, and he’d done the work himself in the hours he was off from the prison. He tested the restraints he’d ordered from a bondage site on the Web. He’d cemented the iron rings into the floor only yesterday and didn’t think they were fully secure. He’d give the concrete another week to cure. Meanwhile, he’d finish ordering the rest of the torture devices that appealed to him. Shit like that was so much more accessible these days. God, he loved the Internet. He stood at the foot of the stairs, giving what he’d created a final approving glance. Yep, he’d thought of everything. He’d even put a drain in the floor so he could wash blood and other bodily fluids down with a simple garden hose. Because he’d been married most of the past twenty years— he’d needed the income of a wife, since he didn’t care to work himself—he’d never had a playground like this before.

He’d always had to find an abandoned shack, trailer or barn where he could keep his victims and then worry that they might be discovered. This was going to be so much better. He’d have constant access, complete privacy. The excitement and awareness—the raw lust—he felt when he thought of Evelyn Talbot rose inside him, stronger and more powerful than ever. He’d put in the time, done the work. He was almost ready to make his move. Now that he had a place for her, a place no one knew existed, he’d be able to keep her indefinitely. 1 The weather was turning. Sierra Yerbowitz stood at the window of the small, rustic cabin she’d rented with her brother and his two friends and felt her stomach muscles tighten as she watched a sea of dark clouds roll toward her. She’d always wanted to visit Alaska, had wondered what the last frontier was like.

With climate change and population growth, she knew it wouldn’t remain unspoiled forever. Because it was vastly different from Louisiana, where she and her family lived, it intrigued her. So when her brother offered to take her on the hunting trip he’d been planning for ages, she’d readily agreed. She would’ve preferred visiting in the summer, when daylight lasted longer and bad weather wasn’t much of an issue. But Leland and his friends Peter and Ted were each determined to bag a moose, and their permits specified that they could hunt only from September 15 to October 15. They’d hoped to come in September, but a conflict in schedules left them with no other option than to take the trip after October 8. “Where are you?” she muttered, searching for any sign of the men driving through the trees beyond the snow that covered the ground immediately surrounding her. Surely Leland and his friends had spotted the clouds and were heading back. They’d taken the Ford Expedition they’d rented in Anchorage, along with a trailer carrying two ATVs, down a dirt road to a river. Sierra couldn’t remember the name of the river because there were rivers everywhere in Alaska and she hadn’t been paying attention when they were plotting their route.

None of it pertained to her, since she wasn’t interested in hunting. All she knew was that they planned to branch out from the SUV and go wherever the moose scat or tracks led them. She hoped they hadn’t wandered too far from their staging area. If so, it could take a long time to get back, and by then the storm would be upon them.… She checked her watch. Noon. Her brother had said they’d return at four, which had sounded early when he’d mentioned it that morning. Now she feared it wouldn’t be early enough. “Come on, Leland.” It would be like her brother to discount the weather, push his luck.

He’d always been a risk taker and, after coming so far and going to so much expense, he wouldn’t give up easily. They hadn’t gotten a bull yet, and this was their last chance. First thing tomorrow, they had to leave for Juneau so they could see other parts of the state before going home. Alaska could be unpredictable. She’d read that in all the literature. What if Leland and his friends got turned around and couldn’t make their way back to the truck? What if they got separated trying? If they didn’t return, she couldn’t even call for help. There was no cell service in this area, no phone service at all. And they’d taken the only vehicle, so she didn’t have a car. Hilltop, the closest town—not that a few squat buildings and five hundred people constituted much of a town—wasn’t far as the crow flew. But she’d have to use the roads, which made the trip significantly longer.

She wouldn’t be able to walk that distance even if it wasn’t storming. Determined not to let herself get too worked up, she moved away from the window. They’d been at the cabin for three days and were low on firewood. She needed to figure out how to get more from the shed behind the cabin, so she could be prepared, if necessary. But when Leland had gone out last night to do just that, he’d come back empty-handed. He’d said the combination they’d been given wouldn’t open the lock, which hadn’t been good news. The cabin had a generator for lights and hot water, but the wood-burning stove served as the only source of heat. Still, they hadn’t been too worried. They were leaving soon and had a few sticks they could use to get by. They’d thought they could make it.

But a storm changed everything. They could get snowed in, be stranded for days.… Sierra yanked on her heavy coat, shoved her feet into her boots and, when she left the cabin, closed the door behind her to preserve what heat there was before trudging across an icy bank of snow that rested in the shade of a thick stand of western hemlock and spruce trees. She hoped to get into that shed before the wind blowing at her back grew any stronger and the snow began to fall. Nervous as she was about being alone in this storm and having her brother and his friends out in the open, she’d feel a lot better if she at least had some firewood. The lock was a simple padlock. She tried the combination provided by the rental company to no avail, proving Leland had been right. Had the rental company accidentally transposed two digits? She tried different options, stood there for twenty minutes, struggling to find the right combination. Nothing worked. “Damn it!” she cried, but wasn’t willing to give up.

She supposed the combination could be written somewhere as a fail-safe. They’d already looked inside, but now she searched outside, too—on the shed itself, under the rocks nearby in case there was a note, on the tiny back porch of the cabin—hoping to discover it tacked up somewhere. No luck. Her ears were ringing from the cold by the time she went back in to warm up. Blowing on her hands, which felt like blocks of ice, she checked the front window. Still no sign of the men, and the sky was growing ever darker. They were in for a big one. She could feel it in her bones. When they’d been gathering up all the gear they needed for the hunt, the locals in Anchorage had told them that winter was coming early this year and to be careful. They’d mentioned having their “termination dust,” or the first snowstorm signaling the end of the summer working season, on the tenth of September, an entire month before it usually came.

She hoped her brother was thinking about that right now and getting himself back to the truck … “What should I do?” she asked herself. She got out all the food, water and candles they had left, in case the generator failed or they ran out of propane, and set it on the counter. There wasn’t a lot, but they could stretch their supplies for a day or two. Maybe the storm would blow over quickly. Either way, they’d need more wood. So how would she get it? She’d have to break the shed door. She went back out to the shed, where she shoved, pulled and yanked, even rammed her shoulder into the panel, hoping to make the latch give way. But it was too sturdy; she didn’t have the strength. She was walking around the small building, looking for any loose boards she might be able to pry away, when she remembered the ax hanging on the wall of the mudroom. Although she’d been hoping to keep any damage to a minimum, she’d exhausted her other options.

It wasn’t her fault they hadn’t been given the correct combination to the lock! That wood could be a matter of life and death; in her mind, she had every right to go after it. Once she got the ax and returned, she swung it as hard as she could. The wind was nearly blowing her down, so it wasn’t easy to wield such a heavy object, especially since she’d never used one before. The blade landed with a satisfying thwack, but the metal head bit so deep, she broke several fingernails trying to get it out, and she still couldn’t manage. For a moment she feared that would be the end of this idea. But after considerable effort, she managed to dislodge it. Then she swung again and again, until she’d completely destroyed the door. If the storm didn’t turn out to be a bad one and she was doing this for nothing, her brother wouldn’t be happy if they got stuck paying for the damage. But she wasn’t willing to take the chance of freezing to death when there was wood in this shed. Once she formed a hole large enough to step through, she dropped the ax and went inside.

The sunlight, already nearly obliterated by the roiling clouds outside, could scarcely penetrate the cracks between the slats. Even the big opening she’d made afforded almost no light. But she found wood. Plenty of it. Although she could barely make out the dimly lit pile, she could smell the sap. “Thank God.” Relief swept through her as she bent to pick up an armful. It wasn’t until she stood and turned to go that she glanced anywhere else, but when she did she saw a shape that caused her to scream and drop the logs she’d gathered. She wasn’t alone. Unless her eyes deceived her, someone else was curled up in the corner— naked.

* * * “Are you sure you want a baby?” Now that the doctor had finished her pelvic exam, Evelyn Talbot sat up and straightened the lap covering she’d been given, along with the paper gown she was wearing. She and her boyfriend, Amarok, a nickname that meant “wolf” in the language of the native Inuit people around whom he’d grown up, had been sleeping together without birth control for the past eight months. Yet nothing had come of it. She was beginning to think nothing ever would. “I’m approaching forty, Dr. Fielding. If I’m going to have a child, it should happen soon, wouldn’t you say?” He peeled off his latex gloves. “I agree with you from a timing standpoint.” “But … I’m not physically capable? Is that what you’re saying?” During the hour-long drive from Hilltop, where she both lived and worked, she’d worried about the news she might get today. She hadn’t even told Amarok she’d made this appointment.

If she couldn’t have kids, she wanted a chance to absorb the blow before having that talk with him. He knew about her background, understood there was a possibility she might be sterile, of course. Since she’d been kidnapped and tortured—by her own boyfriend—when she was only sixteen, she hadn’t had regular periods. But she and Amarok had been holding out hope that she might be able to conceive in spite of that. The doctors she’d seen before leaving Boston had indicated children were still a possibility. “There’s some scar tissue from … from before.” He stepped on the pedal that opened the trash can and tossed his gloves inside. “It could cause problems.” She let her breath seep out. “You don’t sound optimistic.

” He rested a hand on the counter. “I wouldn’t go that far, Dr. Talbot. You went through medical school before becoming a psychiatrist. You know human bodies are amazingly resilient, sometimes more resilient than human minds.” “You could make a case for that in certain situations,” she agreed. “Your body seems to have healed well.” Given his reticent manner, she felt a moment’s confusion. “That’s good, isn’t it?” “Perhaps. But may I speak frankly?” “Of course.

” “I admit I wouldn’t have this conversation with just any patient. It might be going too far, even for someone I consider a colleague of sorts. But I respect who you are, what you’ve been through and what you’ve done as a result. So I’d advise you to think carefully about this. You study—interact with —psychopaths on a daily basis. From what I heard and saw of you on TV when you were lobbying for Hanover House to be built a few years ago, you’re incredibly dedicated to your work.” “I am. There’s no question about that.” She had to be. Psychopathy was on the rise.

Someone had to figure out why—and how to stop those who preyed on the innocent. After what she’d endured, she’d made it her life’s work. “You’re still that committed?” he asked. “Even after so many close calls?” She assumed he was talking primarily about what had happened with Lyman Bishop last winter, since that incident had been highly publicized in Alaska. “What happened with Bishop won’t happen again. He had a brain hemorrhage while he was in the hospital trying to recover from … that night. These days he’s in an institution. He can hardly speak.” “But you deal with hundreds of psychopaths, many of them extremely dangerous. Men who kill for pleasure.

There could be another Lyman Bishop.” Or Jasper Moore could show up. Fielding didn’t mention that, but she was always wondering when her former boyfriend might strike again. “You’re a bright, well-educated, attractive woman, and an authority figure, in a prison with an entirely male population—” “A lot of people become infatuated with their doctor, preacher, teacher, et cetera,” she broke in. “That’s not unusual, even outside prison. Granted, with the men I study, it’d be more of a fixation than a true infatuation. But I’m well aware of the dynamic.” “I would guess that you are.” He slid his glasses higher on the bridge of his nose. “What if you’re carrying a baby the next time a sadist gets hold of you? Have you thought about that? You could be setting yourself up for some real heartbreak.

And you wouldn’t be the only one to suffer. Think about your family—and your partner.” She wanted to claim there was no chance of her being attacked again. The situation with Bishop had been unique. The institution was set up to protect the psychology team while they studied “the conscienceless,” so it wasn’t the convicts at Hanover House, the men behind bars, who worried her. It was Jasper Moore. He’d never been caught, was still out there somewhere, and she knew he’d like nothing more than to finish what he’d started when he’d killed three of her best friends, and tried to kill her, while they were in high school. The fact that he’d made another attempt to kidnap her two years ago told her he hadn’t forgotten her. She hadn’t seen his face that night. He’d been wearing a mask, so she had no idea how the years might’ve changed him, but he’d made no secret of who he was.

He’d wanted her to know he was back. She’d be dead now if she hadn’t escaped almost immediately. What if she’d been pregnant when that happened? “I can’t let fear stop me from living my life.” She told herself that all the time. Told other victims they couldn’t allow fear to paralyze them, either. But did that advice apply when an innocent child was involved? Dr. Fielding drummed his fingers on the counter. “Then you’re willing to accept the risks—and the consequences—if something goes wrong.” “Yes.” She wasn’t as certain as she made it sound, but she didn’t want him to know that.

He seemed to accept her answer. “Well, then. I see nothing from a biological standpoint to indicate you can’t get pregnant. Generally, we wait until a couple’s been trying for twelve months before recommending any type of fertility treatment, but considering your background and your age, I think we’re justified in starting sooner. Our first step would be to test Amarok, so we can get a clear picture of the entire situation.” After the terrible things Jasper had done, she had to be the one with infertility problems. But she understood why Amarok would need to be tested, as well. Although chances were small, he could have a low sperm count, low mobility or something else that contributed to the problem. He’d never been checked out, not for that. He’d told her he’d only been to a doctor twice in his entire life—and both instances were for broken bones.

Dr. Fielding didn’t ask, but she could tell he was curious as to why she hadn’t mentioned marrying Amarok if they might be having a child together. No one else could understand how truly complicated her situation was. She loved Amarok. There was no question about that. But at this point she wasn’t committed to spending the rest of her life in Alaska. She had responsibilities back in Boston, where she was from, and she knew he’d never be happy anywhere else. He’d been born and raised in Hilltop, was a sixteenth-part Inuit, on his father’s side. He was the town’s only police presence, too, and he thrived on living in such a rugged part of the world. Alaska was in his blood.

Dragging him down to the Lower 48 would be like caging a wild animal. And yet her biological clock was ticking. She wouldn’t leave Hilltop for another three or four years. By then, it’d be too late to have a baby, especially since she’d have to wait for another relationship to develop like the one she had with Amarok, which probably wouldn’t happen. Other than Jasper, way back when, Amarok was the only man she’d ever truly loved. He was also the only man she’d ever been able to sleep with. After the violence she’d suffered at sixteen, she struggled with trust issues. If she ever wanted to be a mother, this could be her one chance. She didn’t want to be childless without even considering her options. And if she did get pregnant? She’d simply have to stay in Alaska; that would make the decision for her.

“I’ll speak to him about it,” she said. But she wasn’t sure how to bring up the subject. If she did, she knew Amarok would want to talk about marriage. He had every right to ask for a lifelong commitment instead of gambling with his heart. 2 Jasper was tempted to provide one of the inmates at Hanover House with a shiv. If someone were to get shanked, at least that would be intriguing, give him something enjoyable to watch. Those were the kinds of thoughts that went through his mind when he was bored, and he was always bored when Evelyn wasn’t at the prison. He’d hated being a correctional officer in Florence, Arizona, had done whatever he could to relieve the drudgery, including aiding and abetting a few stabbings. But he wouldn’t have been able to get on at Hanover House if not for the experience he’d gained at Florence, so he was glad he’d never been caught. Now he looked forward to going to work if he thought he might bump into his old girlfriend—or even catch a glimpse of her.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen today. He’d heard someone say Evelyn wasn’t coming in, which explained the desire he felt to create a diversion, something to cause a little excitement. But he couldn’t draw too much attention to himself, especially negative attention. Ever since he’d moved to Anchorage eight months ago and started commuting to Hanover House in Hilltop, he’d worked hard to build the illusion that he was a dependable, nonthreatening, normal prison guard. Even Evelyn seemed to buy his act. Whenever he passed her in the halls, she had a smile for him. She believed he’d saved her life when Lyman Bishop attacked her last winter, so she should have a smile for him. But her complete trust wasn’t easy to win. And her boyfriend, Sergeant Benjamin Murphy—or Amarok, as the locals called him—was ever watchful. Although Amarok didn’t work at the prison, he visited Hanover House often to bring Evelyn lunch or pick her up if there was a storm.

It wouldn’t be long now, though. And recapturing Evelyn would be all the sweeter for the patience and effort he’d invested in making certain that moment went down perfectly. Thanks to the plastic surgery he’d had twenty years ago, the dye he used to darken his hair and the passage of more than two decades, she didn’t know what he looked like these days. He’d even grown a beard since coming to Hilltop. He had all that going for him but still had to be careful not to get overeager and ruin the perception of himself he’d so painstakingly created. If he screwed up, she might realize he was right under her nose. “Hey, what are you doing standing there?” Jasper clenched his jaw as Lieutenant Dickey approached. This wasn’t anyone he wanted to see, not when he was leaning against the painted cinder-block wall outside the cafeteria, scraping the dirt from underneath his nails and wasting time until he could go home. “Nothing. Why?” he said, immediately straightening.

“Because last I checked, you were getting paid for being here.” “We just finished searching Cellblock B, and my shift is nearly over, sir. I go home at one.” Waking up for work in the middle of the night wasn’t easy, but Jasper liked getting off when he had so much of the day ahead of him. He wished all his shifts started and ended at the same time, but they varied. “That’s no excuse for loitering in the halls. If you’re done with Cellblock B, search A.” Most of the COs hated doing searches. Trying to drag a belligerent inmate out of his cell could be dangerous. The men incarcerated here didn’t have a lot to lose, which made them unpredictable.

And the searches were mostly a waste of time. In Florence, a search turned up all kinds of stuff— handmade weapons, drugs, even cell phones. But the prisoners incarcerated at Hanover House didn’t have many visitors. That just left the guards and other employees to smuggle in contraband, and in an institution containing only 350 beds the risk of getting caught was too great. Irked by Dickey’s imperial tone, Jasper felt his muscles tense, but if there was an aspect to his job he liked, it was rummaging through the inmates’ meager possessions. Threatening the men, invading their privacy, humiliating them whenever possible … Jasper found it all quite enjoyable. He figured any good sadist would. “Who should I get to work with me?” “The same guys who helped you search the other cellblock.” “No problem.” As far as Jasper was concerned, the sooner they started the better.

He didn’t want to stay late. He had plans for after work. He had to go back to the cabin he’d been using so he could finish cleaning up. “Then get your ass moving!” Dickey bellowed, even though Jasper was already on his way. Jasper refused the temptation to throw him a dirty look. He hated taking direction from someone so obviously inferior to him. But most men were inferior to him, both mentally and physically—except, perhaps, Sergeant Amarok. It was because of Amarok that he’d had to kill his own parents. After all the help they’d given him over the years, that wasn’t something he’d wanted to do. They were the ones who’d gotten him out of the country in the very beginning, after he’d killed Evelyn’s three friends and tried to kill her.

They’d also paid for all the plastic surgery he’d had back then, while he was in Europe. Without them, he would’ve been caught and prosecuted. Yes, Amarok had made a brilliant move last winter. The Alaska State Trooper had forced Jasper to make a costly sacrifice. He was a worthy opponent, but this Lieutenant Dickey … he was just an asshole. Ignore the bastard, Jasper told himself as he rounded up the other guards. Jasper had a reason for being at Hanover House, a reason to put up with Lieutenant Dickey and all the other pricks who enjoyed telling him what to do and when to do it. He smiled as he pictured Evelyn. He certainly wasn’t working here for the money. * * * Amarok felt the tension that’d been knotting his muscles ease as soon as he saw a call from his home number come into the trooper post.

“Where have you been?” he barked into the phone as soon as he picked up. Evelyn hesitated. “What do you mean?” “I tried calling you at work,” he replied. “I was told you never came in this morning.” “How did you know I wasn’t at home?” she asked sheepishly. Since he’d left before she did this morning, at first he hadn’t. That was why he’d gone back to check. “When I couldn’t reach you, I drove to the house. I’ve been in a panic ever since, trying to find you. I’ve got everyone in town on the lookout—Shorty over at the Moosehead, Garrett at the Quick Stop, all the waitresses at The Dinky Diner, even Margaret Seaver at The Shady Lady, not that I could imagine you having any reason to go to the motel.

” “You thought I might be having an affair?” He heard the humor in her voice. “No. Considering your background, I realize that’s unlikely. Although you did eventually allow me in your pants.” They’d made love again this morning. That was why he’d called her. He couldn’t stop thinking about her. “So I guess it’s not impossible for a man to get past your defenses.” “No one else has ever managed it—not after Jasper.” She hadn’t had much sexual experience when she and Amarok got together, but they’d come a long way from the days when he’d had to be careful not to make her feel pinned down, overpowered or threatened.

Now that she knew she could trust him, now that he’d put in the time to build that trust, she wanted to touch him or feel him inside her almost every day. Amarok couldn’t believe how lucky he was that the situation had changed. When he’d fallen in love with her, he’d decided he’d just have to cope with a difficult sex life, but the opposite was turning out to be true. “I was only being thorough, stopping by the motel,” he said. “Why would you scare me like that?” He heard her sigh. “What’s going on?” he pressed. “You can’t simply disappear. You’re not like other people. I can’t assume everything’s okay and go about my business, not when there’s a chance you could be in trouble. Jasper could pop up at any time.

He’s done it before. And you’ve had other close calls since you moved here.” “I know,” she said. “I just … I wasn’t gone long. I thought I could get away for a few hours.” “Away where?” “I went to Anchorage.” “With a storm coming in?” “I felt I could beat it, and I did. It’s ugly out there now, but I’m home safe.” “Don’t tell me you went shopping.” “No, I went to see a doctor.

” He gripped the phone tighter. “What kind of doctor?” Another pause. “Evelyn…” “An ob/gyn,” she said at length. A burst of excitement brought him to his feet. “Are you pregnant?” “No.” He tried to shrug off the disappointment, careful not to let even a hint of it enter his voice. “Then what?” “I went to see if … if anything had changed with my … ability to have a child since I was last checked.” Obviously, she was trying to figure out why she hadn’t gotten pregnant. They hadn’t been doing anything to prevent it. He’d been wondering, too—and worrying that it wouldn’t be possible to have a child with her.

“And?” “My doctor thinks fertility drugs will help. But he needs to check your sperm count before we do anything else.” “I’m willing. When?” “I’ll have to call him back and set up an appointment.” “Do it.” “Okay.” Silence fell as he tried to get a sense of what she was feeling. “Evelyn?” “What?” “Why didn’t you tell me about the appointment?” “I don’t know,” she said, “but I’ve got several things I need to take care of for work, so … can we talk about it later?” “Of course. I’ll see you tonight.” After she hung up, Amarok stared down at the phone.

She loved him; he knew she did. But his mother had also loved his father, and yet she’d hated Alaska. She couldn’t tolerate the dark, the cold, the isolation. She’d broken up the family, taken his twin brother and moved to Seattle when Amarok was only two and never looked back. Amarok hadn’t even known he had a brother until his eighteenth birthday, when he received a call from his twin. They’d remained in contact ever since, but Amarok still refused to have any sort of relationship with his mother. By falling in love with Evelyn, having a child with her, was he setting himself up for the same kind of heartbreak his father had experienced? * * * The weather was so bad that Jasper almost decided to put off returning to the cabin. After assisting with the search of Cellblock A, he wasn’t in the best mood. Tex, one of the other COs, had seen him tearing up a picture of an inmate’s grandmother and had the nerve to call him on it. Jasper had claimed he hadn’t meant to destroy the photograph, but that was a lame excuse.

It couldn’t have been torn to pieces by accident, and he could tell Tex thought the same thing. This was the first time since coming to Alaska that Jasper had done something for which he could be written up —a stupid mistake. He scowled as he left Hilltop behind. What was the big deal, anyway? So he’d torn up a picture? The inmate’s grandmother had died of a stroke while he was incarcerated. But if his grandmother was gone, she was gone. Why would the stupid idiot be trying to sketch her photograph, especially when he didn’t have the talent to begin with? There was no use being maudlin and sentimental over a photograph. Hopefully Tex would let the incident go, forget about it. “He’d better,” Jasper mumbled as he strained to see the road through the rapid slap-slap-slap of his windshield wipers. The snow was coming down so thick, he couldn’t drive very fast. More than once he considered turning back.

But because the day had ended badly, he persevered, figured he might as well get this over with. Disposing of the body was always the worst part of any kill. He couldn’t simply bury “Kat” like his victims in the Lower 48; the ground was frozen. He could try to outwait the storm and come back in the next day or two. The problem there was that if another cold front hit right away and then another, he might not be able to reach the cabin until spring. And he couldn’t leave it that long. If someone else beat him out there, for whatever reason, and found the body in the shed, it would spook everyone in Hilltop. Amarok would open an investigation and the locals would feel twitchy and frightened and doubt anyone they didn’t know well. That could screw with his ability to get to Evelyn now that he was finally ready. He shouldn’t have nabbed Kat in the first place, since he hadn’t been ready to take a victim to his house.

But she’d been right there, walking down Spenard Road, the red-light district of Anchorage, which wasn’t far from where he lived, such easy pickings he couldn’t resist. And he’d known the hunting cabins in the mountains were rarely used after September. That constituted an Opportunity. Besides, he’d been confident he could get away with whatever he wanted. Nothing he’d done had caught up with him yet. He’d been killing for more than twenty years, had fooled his parents whenever he needed to, two wives—both ex-wives these days—and various bosses. Basically, he’d fooled everybody in one way or another, even Evelyn and Amarok last winter. But he was now operating in a very different theater, and he should’ve taken that into account. Alaska offered him a lot of freedom and space, without a lot of police presence—outside of Anchorage. He’d kidnapped Kat a week ago and chosen to keep her in a cabin that wasn’t far from Hilltop so he could get to her more easily before or after work.

He had yet to deal with the full brunt of an Alaskan winter, however, and this year winter was starting early. He might’ve underestimated how difficult returning there might be. He gave the truck more gas. He could make it. At least he’d already scoured the cabin. Once he arrived, all he had to do was put her body in the back of his four-wheel drive, under the tarp he’d picked up at the hardware store last night. After the weather cleared, he’d drive her an hour or more to the other side of Anchorage and dump her in some isolated wilderness area. With any luck, she wouldn’t be discovered until spring. Even if she was discovered sooner, she’d be so far away from Hilltop there’d be nothing to alert Amarok or anyone else in the town where he worked that they should take notice. His tires slipped.

He turned into the slide to avoid going over the side of the mountain and managed to regain control, but he was mad at himself for having to make this drive to begin with. He should’ve taken Kat’s body when he left her there the day she died. It would’ve saved him this nightmare of a trip. But she’d been such a weakling, she’d died before he was ready, and he’d had to get to Hanover House for work right after. The radio had fallen to static, so he turned it off. If he had one complaint about Alaska, it was the lack of radio reception. Everything else he considered a plus, especially for a man like him. The sparse population. The isolated areas. The long, dark months. Evelyn … He immediately cheered up when he thought of the woman he’d fantasized about for so many years. He’d set everything up perfectly, recovered beautifully from what could’ve been a disaster last winter with Bishop. No one was as brilliant as he was. He was a good driver, too. He’d get through this storm, and he’d get around the small mistake he’d made letting Tex see him tear up that picture. By the time he reached the cabin, he felt much better. He was humming “Heathens” by Twenty-One Pilots as he navigated the final hairpin turn. But then he saw something that made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. There was a light in the window.

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