Blow Out Page 1

CHAPTER 1

POCONO MOUNTAINS
NEAR BLESSED CREEK, PENNSYLVANIA
FRIDAY EVENING

IT WAS DARKER than Savich was used to, what with no city lights within fifty miles. The moon was a sharp sickle, cutting in and out of bloated black clouds. He rolled down the window and sniffed the air. Snow was coming, he thought, lots of it, more than enough to build a snowman with Sherlock and Sean in the morning; then the three of them could tramp through the beautiful woods filled with spruce and pine to Lake Klister.

Savich started singing one of his favorite country-western songs, written by his friend James Quinlan, as he drove the straight road with snowcapped boulders and stands of thick trees on his left and a guardrail on his right. “A blameless life ain’t no fun at all. I robbed that bank, laughin’ till my belly hurt, till I—”

When there was a sudden pop, loud as a shotgun blast, he flung himself to the side in automatic reaction. The pop was followed by the hard slap of rubber against the asphalt. A blowout, a damned blowout. The Subaru’s steering wheel jerked in his hands as the car’s back end lurched wildly to his left. He gently eased the car into the skid and let up on the accelerator, but the Subaru’s momentum lunged it into a snowbank. Despite his seatbelt, his head slammed against the steering wheel, stunning him for a moment. Then everything was quiet. Savich raised his head, shook it, hoped he hadn’t hurt himself, and slowly climbed out of the car. The back driver’s-side tire had blown.

All in all, he preferred the snowbank to going through the guardrail. He buttoned up his coat, wrapped his scarf tight about his neck, and cleared snow from beneath the left front wheel. Satisfied, he climbed back in and put the gear in reverse. The Subaru hardly hesitated, just backed right out, leaning heavily to the left. Savich climbed out again and collected the spare tire and jack. He called Sherlock, told her what had happened, told her he’d be about twenty minutes late.

The grocery bag from Lew’s Friendly Staples, in the small town of Blessed Creek, had spilled over. Lew’s Staples, he thought, was really for tourists; Lew was expensive, but his little store was open nearly 24/7 and that was what counted for everyone from out of town, that and the fact that the cabin where he, Sherlock, and Sean were staying for a long weekend was only ten miles away. He picked up a bunch of wizened carrots off the passenger-side floor, for the snowman’s nose. The quart of two-percent milk for Sean hadn’t burst open, unlike the lovely big watermelon, an unexpected find in the middle of January, in a nearly empty produce bin in a grocery store the size of his dining room. It had splatted open, drenching the microwave-popcorn box.

He wasn’t about to clean it up now, but it didn’t look too bad, maybe even most of it salvageable. As he jacked up the rear end of the car, he thought the watermelon looked rather like the cabin they had borrowed from Savich’s boss, Jimmy Maitland, who regularly loaned it out to his friends and his college sons—it had taken them two hours of scrubbing before the cabin was habitable again.

It didn’t take him long to change the tire. He was fastening down the last lug nut when he heard something. He turned to see a woman burst out of the trees twenty feet ahead of him, running directly at him, waving her arms wildly, screaming something he couldn’t understand. Her hair was long, dark, and straight, flying back as she ran. Her face was stark white beneath the pale sickle of moon that suddenly shone down through the dark heavy clouds.

She was still screaming when she reached him, her breath hitching. Words he couldn’t understand bulleted out of her mouth.

He was on his feet in an instant. “It’s all right. It’s okay, you’ve found me. I’m an FBI agent. It will be all right.” He left his SIG in his belt harness for now. She was so terrified she was heaving, speaking fast and high, hysteria smearing her words like thick grease. “The man, he’s in the house! He’s trying to kill me. Oh God, help me!”

She threw herself against him. Savich was startled for just a moment, then he took her arms and gently drew her close, patting her back. She wasn’t wearing a coat, not even a sweater, only what appeared to be a light summer dress, with thin straps. “It’s all right,” he said against her hair. A young woman, not more than thirty, he thought, but so frightened she would collapse if she didn’t calm down. He tried to soothe her, but it wasn’t working. She kept saying over and over again, her voice breaking, her terror slamming him in the face, “The man, he’s in the house, he’s trying to kill me. You’ve got to help me!”

The same words, over and over, nothing specific, no names, nothing more than what she’d said since she’d run out of the woods. Her voice was hoarse now, but her hysteria kept building. Her eyes were dark, wild and terrified.

Next