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THE TREES SWAYED around me, moaning and shaking like the wind had brought them to life. I stared into the dark water at the base of the ravine. The pale light of the moon reflected off the glassy surface as a cloud drifted across it.

Hunger and anxiety gnawed away at the inside of my stomach. It turned with nausea and unease, but the nerves kept me awake and alert. I'd tried to sleep during the day, but I hadn't been able to get more than a few hours rest. The pain in my leg had gotten worse. My ankle pulsed and throbbed with each beat of my heart. I ground my teeth together and ignored it as best I could.

The wind gusted and I shivered. I'd checked the clock in my car before getting out. It had to be almost eight by now.

Suddenly, leaves rustled behind me. Sticks snapped. I looked over my shoulder. A bulky man wearing a dark jacket and a backpack climbed down the side of the ravine slowly, watching every step like there might be a trap waiting for him under the decaying leaves. Finally, he reached the base where the terrain leveled out. He crept towards me, keeping his head down until he was right in front of me—close enough that I could smell the skunky weed on his clothes.

He adjusted the black baseball cap on his head. His eyes shifted over me like he was trying to decide if I could be trusted. He had a good half of a foot on me, and he towered over me like a monument in a cemetery. "Are you Harper?" he asked in a gruff voice.

"Yeah," I said. I looked him directly in his hazel brown eyes. They flickered in the light of the moon. A thin silver scar glistened on his tanned left cheek. "Are you Kurt?"

He nodded. "You have the money?"

I nodded. "You have the gun?"

He looked back behind himself, up to the top of the ravine, checking to make sure we weren't being watched. He sniffed once and rubbed the scruffy brown stubble on his chin. "Cash first."

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet. Carefully, I slipped the bills out of the fold of the worn leather and handed them to him. Kurt licked the tip of his thumb and flipped through the stack, moving his lips as he counted in his head. With a satisfied nod, he took his wallet out of his pocket and put the money away.

"Well?" I asked impatiently. My leg twitched involuntarily with nerves, and I hoped he didn't notice.

"Relax," Kurt said, holding his hand out in front of himself, as if to calm me. He took his backpack off and slung it to the ground. Crouching in front of it, he unzipped the main compartment and removed a small gun. "Safety is here." He pointed to a small switch at the top. "Bullets go in here." He flipped open the chamber of the revolver and spun it once before snapping it shut.

He held the gun out to me. I took it without hesitation, gripping it firmly in my hand like it was a snake that might slither away if I let it go. The metal was ice against my numb fingers.

I liked it.

The wind kicked up and carried rotten leaves from last autumn through the eternally composting ravine. Kurt narrowed his eyes at me. "Bullets sold separately."

I skipped a breath like I'd had the wind knocked out of me. "Are you fucking with me?"

He laughed. Too loudly. I thought his laugh was so loud the entire town would hear us. I thought all of New Jersey would hear us. I thought Joshua and the dogs would emerge at the top of the ravine, glaring down—hungry and ready for a meal.

"Yeah, I'm fucking with you, kid," Kurt finally chuckled. "You look like you're easy to fuck with. Don't worry." He picked up the backpack and handed it to me. "They're in the bag. You can keep it, too. Need somewhere to put that gun."

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