Chapter II

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Boise, Idaho, Present Day

JOHN CROSS WAS TIRED. His daughter was in a coma, on life support, unable to breathe on her own, and his wife was wilting away. She couldn't be budged from Airel's bedside. It had only been a week and she was already down ten pounds. Ten pounds she couldn't afford to lose.

Tonight he wanted nothing more than to sit in his living room and watch the late-night newscast. But two minutes into it, the power went out. He cursed under his breath. Every light and appliance in the house was dead. It didn't take much investigation past a quick glance at the clock on the stove and the display on the thermostat. All dead.

He peeked out the back windows toward his neighbors. Their houses were dark too. He looked over his shoulder through the living room toward the front of the house. The streetlights weren't even on. "Big power outage."

He walked outside onto the front porch to survey the neighborhood. It was lifeless, quiet. That eerie quality was broken by the opening and shutting of a door about a block away, a conversation spilling out from the private parts of another house in the opposite direction. People were being driven outside by the cutoff.

John chuckled. Figures. The only time we ever engage our neighbors anymore is when something's gone wrong.

He heard the sound of breaking glass. He wheeled around. It had come from behind him, inside the house. His instincts to defend kicked in.

He hurried inside, hugging the wall, staying low, using to his advantage the training and experience he had acquired in his time as a weapon's smuggler. As he surveyed his house, clearing it step by step, room by room, his mind was on one thing—his study. Behind the bookcase was his gun safe, his weapon's cache.

He cleared the living room, the kitchen and dining room, but they were basically one space, and he cleared them at a glance. There was no evidence of ingress here—no broken glass. He, or they, have to be somewhere else. Maybe down the hall. Toward the study. John cursed, his back to the corner of the wall that adjoined the hallway that led to his office. He got low and peeked around the corner.

Nothing.

He crept toward his study, but the door to the little half bath came first. He had to clear that room before moving past it. With the overwhelming feeling that it might be his last act on earth, and as quietly as possible, he pushed the partially open door wide, flicking on the light switch.

Nothing happened.

I forgot—the power's out.

For a moment, John's heart stopped, the hand of terror wrapping fully around it as he fumbled in the darkness. But his eyes adjusted and he perceived that the little room was empty. He breathed in hard and his heart pounded in his ears.

He turned toward his study, giving a slight shiver, so close to the security granted by the explosive power of his weapons. The study was empty—no intruder. He was beginning to wonder if this was all in his mind, if there had been anyone at all.

John swung the bookcase open and began working the combination to the safe. There was a 12-gauge Mossberg in there with six shells of birdshot in the magazine. That'll talk to 'em. He grabbed some rifled slugs and jammed them into his pockets.

He didn't have much time to think. He only had enough time to rack the slide on the Mossberg, jacking a shell into the chamber. Before he could take it off safety, before he could turn around, he was dropped to his knees by a blow to his leg that crackled through him in a blaze of pain. He cried out. It took all he had to keep the shotgun under control as he fell.

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