Because she said I could - and while Cat's delighting in the knowledge that she finished the edits for Flashbyte - here is the first page of EXACERBYTE. (First page and a little bit, I didn't want to cut it off mid-sentence or anything silly.)
My phone chirped like a demented cricket. It was the second call in two minutes. Demented crickets are never good. I pulled over to the shoulder and stopped. Cars whizzed by me. The phone chirped again.
“Ellie, Chrissy here. Just reminding you about the high school visit.”
“I hadn’t forgotten – there’s plenty of time yet.” I checked the time on my watch just to be sure. “I’m dropping by Cassie’s then I have a few things to do. I don’t have to be at the school until later this afternoon.”
“Tell her she’s invited to my place next weekend. My turn to cook for us all.”
“I’ll pass it along.”
I dropped my phone on the passenger seat and pulled back into the traffic.
Ten minutes later, I parked in the driveway behind Cassie’s Subaru. Icy rain splattered from the gray sky as I cleared some mail I noticed poking from the mailbox. Clutching a few letters, I wrapped my jacket tighter against the cold wind and hurried to the front door.
I knocked and waited, shuffling from foot to foot to keep warm. I knocked again. There were no signs of life beyond the stained-glass inset in the door.
“Cassie!” I called.
I walked along the porch. The curtains were open. It was difficult to see into the room; even weak winter light caused too much glare. I cupped one hand against the window and placed my eye up to it. No one moved within. I knocked on the window as I peered. For a second I thought I saw something moving by the living room door. “Cassie!”
There was a skittering of paws on wood. Suddenly Roscoe’s face was pressed against the window, his huge paws on the windowsill. Tongue lolling.
“Roscoe! Sit!” The large dog dropped to his hairy backside, tongue still hanging from his open mouth. He wasn’t the brightest of dogs but he was sweet.
He’d left a large reddish smear across the glass. I craned my neck to see if the dog was bleeding but couldn’t see anything. I jogged around the back of the house, letting myself in the back gate. Still no sign of human life.
I pulled out my cell phone and called Cassie’s cell. From where I stood I heard it ring. It had to be in the kitchen. I hung up before it went to voicemail and hammered on the solid back door. The only noise beyond was the dog tearing across the house and sliding into the kitchen cabinets.
It just wasn’t right. Cassie never left without her cell. Her car was there. Roscoe was in the house, not in his centrally-heated dog run. I counted rocks in the garden beside the back porch until I found the hollow one and the back door key. I knocked, turned the key and handle and then called out as the door swung open.
Roscoe hit me like a freight train, knocking me back. I scrambled to my feet and wiped my slimy hands down my jeans. “Damn drooling dog.”
Roscoe bounced around me, slobber flying.
He plopped like a stone sending a cloud of fluff into the air. His yellow fur was stained red in patches. His large hairy feet were matted and messy.
“What’s on you?” I held his collar and leaned down. There was no mistaking the smell. “Blood.”
I couldn’t trust the dog to stay, so with a firm grip on his collar and my Glock in the other hand I started searching the house. We were in the laundry. I followed his dark footprints into the kitchen. My eyes scanned the immediate area. My nose prickled at the smell of fresh blood. On the corner of the kitchen counter, there was blood and long strands of dark hair. Blood dripped down the front of the cabinets. I held the dog tightly, stopping him from putting his hairy feet in any more evidence.
Above the dog’s panting, I heard a click. I closed my eyes and concentrated. A door clicked shut. Someone was in the house. Dog, gun, no hands left for the phone. I crouched down next to the dog and pried my cell from my belt. This wasn’t going to work. I stood up and put a leg over the dog, successfully trapping his head between my knees. I managed to send an emergency call to Delta A. An open line was all I needed. I slipped the phone into my shirt pocket.
“I hope you can hear me. I’m at Cassandra Smith’s home in Reston. Possible home invasion. There is blood all over the floor. Can’t find Cassie. I need back-up and paramedics.”
Voices jumbled in my pocket. Sam’s overrode Lee and Chrissy’s. “We’re on our way Chicky Babe. Notifying local police.”
Copyright Cat Connor 2010-2011