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Excerpt from THE GOOD KILLER
It’s like a caterpillar in a jar, this idea he’s got in his head.
Sometimes Henry imagines he’s watching it through the glass: It’s alive in there. It’s growing. If you gave it long enough, he thinks, you could watch it evolve. If you left it for a while and came back, you’d have a butterfly.
It starts out as this thing he needs to do, and he wants to do it without leaving a mess behind. Because he’d like to believe he’s not the kind of person who leaves a mess behind.
So he won’t do it at home. He’ll drive out, someplace far, where it’s green. He can picture the spot. There’s a field and an unpaved road, and he can see himself pulling over to the side and getting out of the car.
There’s a hill with grass, and a tree at the top. He walks up, until he’s in the shade of the tree. He looks around at the grass and the blue sky.
He’s in a high place and it’s windy, and he’s wearing a black wool coat. There’s a gun in the right-hand pocket. A pistol with fifteen bullets, even though he’ll only need one.
He’ll go out on his feet, standing in the shade. He’ll hold the gun to his temple. He has practiced at home in a mirror. He’ll pull the trigger and his body will crumple to the ground. His blood will end up on the grass.
That’s the idea.
But the idea evolves.
Morning. The windows in the bedroom face south. There’s sunlight falling on the white sheets and on the pale gray blanket that’s been thrown aside.
Sean is half-tangled in the top sheet. His eyes are closed, but he’s awake. He hears Molly come in from the kitchen. She has coffee. He can smell it.
She sets a glass on the bedside table. Orange juice. For him. He never developed a taste for coffee.
“I know how this goes,” she says.
Sean opens his eyes. Molly is perched on the edge of the bed now, holding her mug. She’s wearing one of his shirts. Her legs are bare.
“How does this go?” Sean asks.
She takes a drink of coffee before she answers.
“I’m gonna take a shower now and wash my hair. Then I’ll dry it and put on makeup. And you’ll be in here, all lazy. But eventually you’ll remember you’re not gonna see me for five days. And then—we both know what will happen then.”
“What will happen?”
“You’ll make a move. I’ll resist at first, but then I’ll give in. Because I’m a good sport.”
Sean smiles. “That’s true.”
“Afterward I’ll have to shower again and redo my makeup,” Molly says, “and we’ll be late getting to the airport. I don’t mind being late, but I know it makes you nervous, even if you’re not the one catching a flight.”
“That’s true too.”
“So if you’re gonna make a move, you need to do it now.”
Sean sits up and reaches for the orange juice. He takes a sip and puts on a face as if he’s thinking.
“All right,” he says. “If that’s the way it’s got to be.”
After: Sean is lying in bed, one leg dangling from under the sheet. Molly is in the shower. The bathroom door is open, and he can hear her in there, singing.
He’s keeping track of the time. It’s a forty-minute drive to the airport from their house outside Houston. He wants to get her there at least ninety minutes before her flight is scheduled to depart. She’s flying to Bozeman, Montana.
She’s been planning the trip for months. It’s a retreat on a ranch: yoga and meditation and riding horses. It’s designed just for women, so there was never any thought of Sean going along.
The first time she mentioned the trip, it made him uneasy.
“It’s a long way,” he said.
Molly nodded. “Sure.”
“There must be yoga retreats in Texas,”
“There must be.”
“But you don’t want one of those.”
“I want this one,” she said. “Montana’s not against the rules.”
“You worry too much.”
He couldn’t argue with that, so he said nothing.
“You think about it,” she said. “If you don’t want me to go, I won’t go.”
She didn’t bring it up again. He’s sure she would have let it drop. But later that week, one night before they went to bed, he told her, “You should go. It’s not against the rules.”
She takes a while, getting ready. Long enough for Sean to shower and dress and fry two eggs and make toast. He eats his breakfast standing in the kitchen. She’s already had hers: fruit and yogurt. She left him a bowl of grapes. He eats some of those too, carrying the bowl into the bedroom.
He lingers there, leaning against the oak dresser at the foot of the bed. It’s long and low: six drawers in two rows of three. It’s the first thing he made when he and Molly moved into this house.
Molly is in the bathroom fixing her hair. Sean watches her in profile through the open door. She’s dressed casually for her flight: jeans and a sky-blue sweater.
She’s taking a final look at herself in the mirror, and the palm of her right hand comes to rest on her stomach, just above the buckle of her belt.
It only stays there for a moment, but Sean sees it. It’s a gesture he remembers. Two years ago, she got pregnant, and sometimes he would catch her in front of the mirror, her hand coming up to rest there. As if to remind herself that it was real.
She never had the baby. She lost it after three months. She cried for a week, in bed with the curtains closed. He didn’t know what to do, so he brought her meals she didn’t eat and stroked her hair and said things he thought would be soothing. Eventually the crying passed.
Now he wonders if she’s pregnant again. They haven’t been trying, but they haven’t been not trying. And if she is, he wonders if she’ll tell him, or if she’ll want to wait.
She turns her head and catches him watching her. Her lips part as if she might say something, but she doesn’t.
She’s quiet on the drive to the airport. The traffic is mild. He pulls up in front of the terminal and gets out to lift her suitcase from the trunk. Kisses her and holds onto her. She draws back to look into his eyes, and he can see that she knows what he’s thinking.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she says softly.
He keeps hold of her a little longer.
He watches her walk in, the suitcase trailing behind her. The glass doors slide open to admit her and close again when she’s gone through.
When Sean arrives back home, he leaves the car in the driveway and raises the garage door. The garage is designed to hold two vehicles, but half of it is given over to his workshop. A long bench holds the pieces of his latest project: an armoire he’s building for a dentist in Houston.
He puts on some music—The Strokes, Is This It—and gets to work. The armoire is based on an eighteenth-century design, but he’s modernized it, made the lines cleaner. There’s trim on either side of the doors that’s meant to resemble tall, stylized pillars. There are two drawers at the bottom, each with a diamond-shaped ornament on its face.
Today he’s working on the feet for the piece. They’re broad and rounded at the bottom and narrow at the top. He turns them on the lathe, starting with blocks of cherry and cutting away everything that doesn’t belong. It takes patience to make them match.
He works until the early afternoon. When he stops it’s because he’s feeling restless, and he realizes he missed his usual morning walk. He closes the garage and drives out to Bear Creek Park.
The park covers twenty-one hundred acres, fifteen miles west of Houston. It has pavilions and tennis courts, fields for soccer and softball. There’s even a small zoo with buffalo and emus. The visitors now are mostly mothers with small children, but when the schools let out the fields will fill up with young athletes. Sean finds a space in the parking lot, at a distance from the other cars.
His hiking boots are in the trunk. He puts them on and locks the car. He sets out for one of the hiking trails, but after only a few paces he turns back.
There’s a Glock nine-millimeter in his glove compartment, with a shoulder rig to hold it. He sits in the passenger seat and straps it on. He reaches into the back seat for his gray windbreaker. He puts it on to cover the gun.
Locking the car again, he heads out. He walks south on the trail that rambles along roughly parallel with Bear Creek, moving away from the busy part of the park and into the woods.
It’s October and the sun is obscured by clouds. The trail is well-maintained, covered over with mulch in the low-lying spots that would otherwise turn muddy. Sean encounters a few people—joggers and dogwalkers—but as he pushes south, he feels more and more alone. Which is what he wants.
He listens to birdsong and the lilt of the wind through the trees. The trail curves toward the creek and veers away again. Sean treks along, thinking about Molly and the child they’re going to have—and the one they almost had. The one they lost. He remembers how he felt then: during those days that Molly spent crying. He was afraid that he would lose her too, that she would drift away from him. He thought he would wake up one morning and find her side of the bed empty.
The time seemed to crawl by, especially in the long afternoons when he sat with her in the dim of the bedroom, with only a sliver of light coming through the curtains. He started to long for the times when she would fall asleep, so he could slip out and get away from that dimness.
On the seventh day of it, he left to pick up some groceries, and when he returned he found Molly sitting up, hugging the blanket over her knees, her hair in tangles.
“What time is it?” she asked him.
He looked at his watch. “Four thirty.”
“I’m tired,” she said.
“It’s okay,” he told her.
“No. It’s not.” She rubbed her face, looked around the room. “I thought you were gone.”
“I went to the store.”
“Gone gone,” she said. “Not coming back.”
He went to the side of the bed and laid his palm between her shoulderblades.
“Well, you were mistaken,” he said.
She shrank away from him. “You shouldn’t touch me. I’m all sweaty.”
“I don’t care.”
“I need a bath.”
“I don’t care about that either.”
“You could go, if you wanted to.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Find a woman who’s not going to have a breakdown every time some little thing goes wrong.”
A big statement there. A lot packed into it. Sean stood by the bed with his hand pressed against her back, trying to decide how to respond. The air felt thick in the room. She spoke before he did, in a small voice, hunched over, her face turned away from him.
“I thought you were gone.”
He bent to kiss the top of her head. “I wasn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t.”
He felt her shoulders tremble and he breathed the words into her hair: “I will never leave you. Never. Not ever.”
The words were true then, and they’re true now as he walks in the woods of Bear Creek Park, his thoughts shifting to the future. To the baby Molly’s going to have. He’s not worried that they might lose this one the way they lost the other. He’s not exactly an optimist, but he believes that when things go wrong, they go wrong in ways you’re not expecting. So he takes it for granted that the child is coming, and that plans need to be made.
Raising children requires money. Sean expects to make three thousand dollars for the armoire he’s building, but most of the projects he takes on don’t pay quite so well. He and Molly keep their expenses low, but having a child will alter the equation. Sean plays with some numbers in his head, trying to guess how much more he’ll need to earn. He slows down without meaning to, from a brisk walk to a stroll.
He thinks he hears footsteps behind him.
He stops and turns to look. There’s no one there.
He scans the woods to find the source of the sound. A few yards back along the trail, a small gray bird swoops down from the canopy of the trees. It peels off in the direction of the creek.
Sean starts walking again, waiting for the sound he heard to repeat itself. He knows it didn’t come from a bird. He goes along for half a mile before he hears it again.
He doesn’t turn this time. He knows what it is now.
It’s Cole Harper.
Sean spent long stretches of his childhood walking with Cole, on sidewalks and through the halls of schools. When they were older they spent fifteen months in Iraq. They walked together on the streets of East Baghdad, sweating in the heat under body armor, surrounded by the smell of dust and burning trash. Sean knows the sound of Cole’s footsteps.
He listens to them now, as the trail bends toward the creek again. He stops by the bank and catches sight of a family of ducks floating in the current.
No sound of footsteps now. Only the rush of the water.
Sean watches the ducks as they glide away downstream, but his thoughts are elsewhere. He’s wondering if he’ll see Cole. It hasn’t happened in a while. Cole is hard to see these days. Sometimes you can glimpse him out of the corner of your eye, but if you turn and look directly he won’t be there. Because Cole doesn’t exist. He died years ago.
All that’s left of him are the things Sean carries around in his head.
Like Cole’s voice.
“What are you doing out here?” it says.
The tone is calm and steady. Sean doesn’t answer. He gets back on the trail. It moves away from the creek, and the sound of the water grows distant. A post from some forgotten fence leans crooked by the trailside, and when Sean sees it he leaves the path and makes his way deeper into the woods. He’s guided by a few familiar landmarks. There’s a tall elm that cracked from rot near the base of its trunk and keeled over. There’s a clearing with a hickory tree on its eastern edge.
Sean skirts past that hickory and finds another beyond it. Some of the bark has been peeled off, but the tree is still alive. He kicks away some fallen leaves and exposes two of its larger roots. There’s a shallow depression between them, and in the middle of it rests a flat rock nearly a foot wide.
Sean sets his back against the tree and looks down at the rock.
“It’s still here,” Cole’s voice says. It’s coming from a remove, as if Cole is lurking on the other side of the tree.
“Yeah,” Sean says.
“Well, go ahead,” says Cole. “You came all this way.”
There’s a dead branch on the ground. Sean uses the sharper end of it to pry up the rock and move it aside. He takes a folding knife from his pocket, crouches down, and uses the blade to begin to loosen the earth.
He pauses, looks around to be sure there’s no one watching.
“Paranoid,” Cole says.
Sean digs with the knife and the branch. Soon he’s sweating, but he doesn’t need to go very deep. Less than a foot.
It’s there, as he knew it would be: a small bundle wrapped in a white plastic trash bag. He opens it, and inside there’s a cigar box with an image of a stag on the lid.
The weight of it feels right. Sean lifts the lid and sees the zip-lock freezer bag, just the way he left it. Within the bag are fourteen white cotton handkerchiefs rolled up like napkins.
He draws one out and unwraps it. At the center is a cylindrical stone about the size of his thumb.
The stone is amethyst and there’s an intricate image carved into its surface: a hunting scene. If you rolled it over a clay tablet, the image would be pressed into the clay. You’d see men with spears tracking wild goats.
It’s more than four thousand years old, and there are thirteen others in the bag. Each one carved with a different scene. There are fourteen more buried near the shore of a lake in Kentucky, and sixteen in upstate New York.
They’re called cylinder seals, and if Sean had a clear legal title to them they might sell at auction for six million dollars. They might go as high as twelve.
Even without legal title, he might be able to get a million for them, if he could find the right buyer.
“You could pay for a kid with that,” Cole says.
It’s true. A million dollars would make things easier. Sean wouldn’t need to worry as much about finding rich people who want to buy custom-made furniture.
Standing in the woods with the cigar box at his feet, he considers it. It’s tempting: to gather them up and try to sell them. But he knows it’s only a fantasy. It’s too dangerous.
Sean used to be reckless, but he lives differently now. Because something happened that divided his life in two. It divided both their lives, his and Molly’s. They follow new rules now.
They joke about the rules sometimes, but the rules are necessary.
One: They’ve left the people they used to know behind. They don’t see them or talk to them, ever.
Two: They stay clear of where they used to live. The state of Michigan is off limits. Living in Texas puts them at a nice safe distance. But they’re allowed to travel—which is why it’s all right for Molly to take her trip to Montana.
Those are the two main rules, and they’ve kept Sean and Molly safe for years. The third rule is one they rarely talk about, but it’s still important: They leave the cylinder seals hidden. They don’t try to sell them.
Sean takes a final look at the seal he’s holding, then wraps it in the handkerchief and returns it to the bag. The bag goes into the cigar box, and the box gets swaddled in plastic again and goes into the ground. Covering it over with dirt takes only a few seconds. Sean puts the flat rock back in place and sweeps the leaves over it with his feet, and everything looks the way it did before.
The walk back to his car takes less than an hour, and in that time he doesn’t hear Cole’s voice or any footsteps but his own. As he catches sight of the trailhead he feels a prick of pain in his right foot, as if a pebble has gotten into his boot. On a bench near the trailhead, he sits and takes the boot off. Turns it over and shakes it. Nothing comes out.
When Sean looks closer at the sole, he finds a split running between two of the treads. There’s a small stone wedged in there, something he must have picked up on the trail. He pries it out with his pocketknife and drops it on the ground. Then slips his foot back into the boot.
Later on, he’ll think about chance and fate, about what might have happened if not for that stone. But right now, he ties his laces and makes up his mind. If his boots were in better shape, he might have them resoled. But they’re old and worn out. He needs to replace them.
There are plenty of places to shop for boots in Houston. He considers his options as he walks to his car, then starts it up and drives to the Galleria.
He’s been living with the idea for weeks.
He tried to snuff it out. He pictured it very clearly, the caterpillar in the jar. But he imagined the jar with a lid this time. A metal lid that you could twist into place. No air holes. No way for the thing to breathe.
It didn’t work. The thing kept squirming in there. It wouldn’t die.
He decided he would give in to it.
He drove out to the spot he had in mind and climbed the hill. He took the gun from the pocket of his black wool coat and held it to his head. It was a hot day, too hot for the coat, and there was barely any wind. And he couldn’t go through with it.
Not because of the heat or the wind. Let’s not be silly.
He wrote a note, and he had it with him, up there beneath the tree. He made the mistake of unfolding it and reading it over. It sounded awful. Poor pitiful Henry. A lot of talk about how he never got a fair chance.
Which is debatable.
He had a good job once, and he lost it. The job that came after paid half as well, but he could still get by. His mother died, and then his father. His sister is still around. She has a family of her own. She invites him to visit on holidays. She worries that he’s alone.
And that’s the thing, being alone.
It doesn’t seem right.
He hasn’t always been alone. There have been women over the years. There was one, when he was young, who wanted to have children. But he wasn’t ready.
Katy. That was her name.
She was sweet. But she’s not the one he was thinking of that day, up on the hill.
He was thinking of the last one: Rose Dillon.
Early thirties. Auburn hair. Pretty smile. Tall, but not too tall.
Henry met her seven weeks ago, when he was shopping. She sold him the black wool coat. She said it looked good on him.
He asked for her number, thinking she would turn him down. She didn’t. She met him for coffee on a Saturday afternoon. He spent two hours with her and he found things to say. A week later they went out to dinner, and afterward he kissed her impulsively on the street.
She returned the kiss. She was happy with the kiss. He’s almost certain of that.
Another week and they made plans to go to a concert. A few hours before they were supposed to meet, she sent him a text saying she wasn’t feeling well. Nothing serious, but she wouldn’t be able to make it. He went to the concert on his own. Since then, nothing. She doesn’t answer his calls or his texts.
He would like to understand what happened. He would like the world to make sense.
He’s not naïve. He’s not surprised that Rose doesn’t want to talk to him. The puzzling thing is why she agreed to go out with him at all.
He’s too old for her. His hair is too thin. It’s been too long since he saw the inside of a gym.
She should never have given him her number. But she did.
He would like to understand her, and he would like to be understood. He would like her to know that she meant something to him.
Which is why he couldn’t do it on the hill. Why he tore the note in half and put the gun back in his pocket.
That was when his idea started to evolve. He wanted Rose to be there. He wanted her to see. He didn’t want to blame her for anything. He just wanted her to know: This is what I’ve come to.
He would like to see her face when it happens. This is the new idea.
The plan will have to change. He can’t expect her to go with him to the hill. He’ll have to go to her. But he knows where to find her—he knows where she works.
At the mall. At Brooks Brothers.
Sean Tennant and Henry Keen
The Houston Galleria is the biggest shopping mall in Texas. It has an ice skating rink and two hotels and close to four hundred stores and restaurants.
Sean finds what he’s looking for at Macy’s: a pair of waterproof Timberlands that fit him well. He pays for them in cash and wears them out of the store, leaving the box behind and dropping his old boots in the first trashcan he comes to.
He eats a Cuban sandwich at the Kona Grill and then wanders along the concourse. The shops don’t tempt him, but there’s something compelling about the place. It’s the bright light and the sound. The mall is full of people on a Friday evening. Sean finds a cluster of armchairs—put there for shoppers who want a break. It’s not far from the lobby of the Westin Galleria Hotel. He sinks into one of the chairs and lets the mix of sounds wash over him:
Voices, young and old. Footsteps clipping over the hard floor. Occasional laughter.
The whirr of a plastic propeller: a twenty-something guy at a kiosk, demonstrating a toy helicopter.
The mechanical tread of an escalator rising.
Henry Keen is listening to the same sounds. He’s sitting in another armchair, less than a dozen feet away.
He has already walked past Brooks Brothers and confirmed that Rose Dillon is there. He’s taking a few minutes to work up his nerve.
Sean sees him sitting there: a man in a black wool coat. But Sean’s attention is elsewhere. He’s sifting through the noise around him and picking out bits of conversation:
A mother and son coming out of the Gap. The boy says, “I want pizza.”
“You’re not hungry,” his mother says.
“Yes I am.”
“We’re not getting pizza.”
“You said we could.”
“I didn’t see you yesterday. Your father had you yesterday.”
“The day before.”
“You should get your story straight.”
They move off together and Sean shifts his attention to the guy selling toy helicopters. He’s trying to flirt with a girl.
“You want one. I can tell,” he says to her.
“I don’t know.”
“At least one. Maybe more. One for each of your boyfriends.”
She laughs. “Just one then, I guess.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that for a second.”
There’s a little more back-and-forth, but no sale. The girl walks away, carrying a bag from Abercrombie & Fitch. She passes Sean. Her bag almost brushes his knee.
Sean takes out his phone. He’s expecting to hear from Molly. Her plane should have landed by now.
As he’s looking at the screen, a feeling passes through him like a flush of heat. There’s a smell of cement and smoke. And Cole Harper’s voice, right beside him:
“Why are you here?”
Sean doesn’t turn. He can see Cole out of the corner of his eye. Sprawled in the next chair, dressed in camouflage and heavy boots, a clean white bandage taped to his throat.
The bandage is always there. It shimmers at the edges.
Cole asks his question again: “Why are you here?”
Sean puts his phone away and says, “Where should I be?”
“Anywhere you like,” says Cole. “But not at the mall.”
People are walking by. They’re paying no attention.
“I needed boots,” Sean says.
“Sure you did. And you had to get them here. There’s nowhere else to buy a pair of boots.”
Sean lets some time tick by. He doesn’t respond.
“I know why you’re here,” Cole says. “Practice.”
Sean sighs. “I don’t need practice.”
“Yes you do. Being around all these people. It would be enough to put anyone on edge. You have to remind yourself what it’s like. What are you carrying?”
“Why do you assume I’m carrying?”
“Christ, what a question. Is it the Beretta?”
“You always liked the Beretta.”
“I don’t have it anymore,” Sean says. “I’ve got a Glock.”
He almost forgot about it, but it’s still there. In the shoulder rig, under his gray windbreaker.
“That’s good,” says Cole. “What else?”
“No helmet. I can see that. No gloves?”
“Not even a tourniquet?”
Everyone carried a tourniquet, back then, over there. In Baghdad. Sean carried two. Even after he came back home, he felt safer if he kept one in his pocket.
“I don’t do that anymore,” he says.
Cole nods. “You’ll probably be all right. These people, look at them. They’re sheep anyway.”
Sean looks around. There’s another mom with another son, not the ones from before. The mom is digging for something in her purse. The boy grins and makes a gun with his thumb and index finger. Points it at Sean. Sean makes his own and the two of them have a standoff.
Across the way, the man in the black coat is leaning forward in his chair with his face in his hands.
“Watch out for that one,” Cole says. “He doesn’t look right. He’s been talking to himself.”
Down along the concourse, at the Starbucks, someone knocks over a stool. It hits the floor with a metal clang. The man in the black coat jumps in his seat at the sound. Sean does too.
Cole chuckles beside him. “It’s like a damn war zone.”
Just then, Sean’s phone rings in his pocket. He’s slow to answer. He’s still scanning the concourse to be sure that a falling stool is just a stool.
“Relax,” Cole says. “Talk to her.”
Sean brings the phone out and raises it to his ear.
“You got there,” he says.
“I got here,” Molly agrees. “I’m on the road now. Driving from Bozeman to Clyde Park. Should take another twenty minutes, if I don’t stop to look at the mountains.”
“Have you been stopping to look at the mountains?”
“I bet they’re something.”
“They are,” Molly says. “I’ll send you a picture. But I’m trying not to take too many pictures. I want to see things, you know—”
“With my eyes, not through a camera. I’m turning my phone off, as soon as you and I are done talking. They’ll take it anyway, when I get there. Did I tell you?”
“You told me.” Sean says.
“They take everybody’s phone. I think they tie them in a sack and throw them down a well. These people are serious. The whole point is to unplug.”
“And look at the mountains. And ride horses.”
“And breathe,” Sean says.
“Yes! You’re making fun of me. But that’s the point. To breathe.”
“I’m not making fun of you.”
Molly is quiet on the line. Skeptical.
“All right,” she says. “It’s five days. Nothing’s gonna happen in five days.”
“Except I’ll miss you.”
“So tell me you’re wild about me and hang up the phone.”
Sean pictures her cruising along in a rental car on a highway in Montana. Windows down. Dark hair loose in the wind.
“I’m wild about you,” he says.
He slips the phone back in his pocket and waits for Cole to make some sly comment. But the chair beside him is empty. Cole is gone.
The man in the black coat is gone too.
Sean thinks about getting up, going home. He watches as the guy at the kiosk puts the toy helicopter through some basic maneuvers: vertical climbs and descents, straight-and-level flight. The chopper comes in low and skims across the floor, then zooms up, up, to the mall’s second level. It banks left and the propeller clips a railing and stalls out. The chopper crashes down, breaking apart into plastic pieces.
The guy at the kiosk says, “Shit.”
Sean gives him a sympathetic look. Rises from the chair.
That’s when he hears the shot.
In the men’s apparel section of Brooks Brothers, Rose is helping a customer in his fifties who wants to buy a suit. He’s trying on a jacket: forty-four regular in navy blue. He’s not happy. He asks her to find him a forty-four long.
She’s looking—and then there’s Henry Keen, walking toward her. His face is strange. Rose can read sadness in it, but eagerness too. She believes she knows why he’s here. She should have resolved things with him instead of going silent. She thinks she’s in for an awkward conversation.
The man she’s helping clears his throat impatiently. She turns to him and there’s a crazy loud noise that she can feel in her bones. The man’s head snaps back and his left eye isn’t there anymore. There’s just a void. His knees give and he drops over sideways. There’s blood running over the bridge of his nose.
Rose looks at Henry and sees the gun—a black shape in his hand—and she’s slow to put things together. When she does, there’s only shock. She doesn’t scream. She can’t even speak.
The expression on her face is everything he wanted.
He was worried, but he knows now that he got it right.
His old idea was wrong. The truth came to him earlier today, as he played the scenario out in his mind. He saw himself putting the gun to his temple and pulling the trigger. In front of Rose, so they could see each other in that moment. And he realized his mistake.
He realized that when he pulled the trigger, that would be the end. He wouldn’t see anything. He wouldn’t see her reaction.
He almost decided to forget the whole thing. But then the idea evolved.
He watches her mouth drop open. Her eyes are big and they’re riveted on him. She can see him, finally, and he can see her, and what he sees is awe.
This is just the beginning. She doesn’t know yet, but she will. The pockets of Henry’s coat are filled with extra clips for his gun. He’s glad he brought them. Because the feeling he’s having right now, looking at Rose’s face, is good. He wants more of it.
He grabs her by the wrist and goes looking for more.
There’s a delay after the first shot, and Sean has time to doubt that he heard what he thought he heard. Then come three more shots in quick succession and there’s no mistake.
He expects chaos, but the people around him are calm at first. They’re confused. Some of them stop and listen. They can’t see where the noise is coming from. They don’t want to overreact.
The kiosk guy looks puzzled, kneeling by the pieces of the toy helicopter. Sean grabs his arm and pulls him up.
“Did you hear that?” the guy says.
“Could have been balloons. You know. Popping.”
There’s another shot. The fifth. And a scream.
“It’s not balloons,” Sean says.
“Call nine-one-one,” Sean says. “Tell them shots fired.”
The kiosk guy squints at him.
“Gunshots,” Sean says. “Are you listening to me?”
Sean gives him a push, away from the sound of the gunfire. Toward the entrance of the Westin Galleria Hotel.
“Go. Get out of here. And make the call.”
He goes. Sean moves in the direction of the gunfire. It’s coming from somewhere on the other side of the Starbucks.
There are three more shots: six, seven, eight. There’s shouting.
People are starting to catch on. There’s a rush of them along the concourse. Sean weaves through them.
Shot number nine. Number ten.
A pair of teenagers are standing still. Trying to gawk. A short one and a tall one. The tall one is holding up his cellphone, shooting video.
Sean grabs the phone and throws it as far as he can.
“Run away, you idiots,” he says.
On the other side of Starbucks there’s a gray-haired man dressed in white linen sitting on the floor. A barista kneels beside him. She’s patting at his pockets. Sean looks for a wound, for blood. But there’s nothing.
“He’s having an asthma attack,” the barista says.
She finds the man’s inhaler. There’s another shot. Louder than the others. A pair of older ladies run out of the Brooks Brothers store in their stocking feet. One of them is holding her shoes.
There’s a whip-crack sound and the woman with the shoes pitches forward. Her companion cries out and drops to the floor with her.
Then two more people tumble out of Brooks Brothers. One is the gunman—the man in the black coat. The other is a thirty-something woman with auburn hair. She’s weeping. The gunman holds her tight by the wrist.
He raises his pistol in the air and squeezes off three shots. At first Sean thinks the gunman is firing at nothing, but there are people up there, gathered at the railing on the second level, looking down.
Three shots and the pistol locks in the open position. The clip is empty.
The gunman works a button on the pistol with his thumb. The empty clip falls to the floor. He lets loose the woman’s wrist, pushes her down. His hand dips into a pocket of his black coat and comes out with a fresh clip.
The woman is retreating from him, scrambling with her head down, locks of hair obscuring her face.
“Don’t do that,” the gunman says to her. “Don’t look away from me.”
He jams the clip into the pistol and works the slide to put a round in the chamber.
His attention is on the woman. He never looks up. He never sees Sean coming.
(End of excerpt)
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