Piwko's Proof

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Piwko's Proof

AJ Davidson

CHAPTER ONE

They came for him through the shadows of a Virginian night, a night so still that the mist from the river draped itself along the banks like some monstrous gray web. Two men came for him. Silent, stalking predators under a hunter's moon. They came for him in that deadest of times − the hour before dawn. Two mute figures darting and flitting through Indian Wood, using the ancient oak boles as cover until they reached the dirt path at the eastern border of the woodland.

Aware of being in the open for the first time, the duo increased their pace as they loped alongside a line of creosoted ranch fencing, towards the five-bar gate at the property's riverbank edge. It was his wife's house, a prime piece of real-estate in the heart of Virginia, hunting country for Washington's elite. Strictly Private, the wooden sign warned. No access to road. A black-leather-gloved hand stretched out and lifted the simple metal catch, before giving the gate the gentlest of nudges. It swung back on well-oiled hinges and admitted him and his shadowing companion.

They paused, exhaled breath wreathing them with plumes of gray vapor. Above them the lawn rose steeply towards the house. The dew-soaked grass glowed in the moonlight, as though a coating of silver leaf had been applied.

The sounds of the night carried to them across the still air. From beyond distant hills came the thrum of diesel engines as eighteen-wheeled behemoths sped along a highway. Behind and below them, the slow waters of the river lapped gently. The creaking of the trees added a sharper, more urgent note. The house was silent. Silent and dark.

They sprinted diagonally up and across the lawn, backs bent low, sneakers quickly saturated by the damp grass. Only one of the house's occupants observed their progress: a tortoiseshell cat watched them warily as they breasted the rise of the garden. Startled by this unwarranted intrusion, she chose not to defend her territory but dashed across the smooth stone slabs of the rear terrace and sought sanctuary in the double garage, under a Lincoln.

They approached the solid Victorian house at the inner corner of its southern aspect. Past the empty blue bowl of the swimming pool. Onto the stone terrace so recently vacated.

Through the leaded windows they could make out the layout of the kitchen as the cooker's digital timer threw a ghostly green pool of light across the room. Stark white units took up most of the vast expanse of wall space. A jarring choice for a house like this, one of the men thought. Too harsh.

They froze when the burner of the oil-fired furnace kicked into life. The house had no basement and the furnace room was behind the wooden door next to the kitchen door. Ventilation panels set into the exterior door were proof of that. Gradually confidence that they were still undetected returned and their hearts started to beat again. The burner would be set on a timer to heat the water for bathing and to take the chill off the house before he arose. A reminder to the men, if any was needed, that time was short.

Sam, the taller of the two, made a start. He cautiously set the small Chicago Bears' kit bag on the ground and slid open the zipper. He pulled out two suction cups and a glass cutter. Hunkering down, he placed the rubber cups against the lower glass panel of the kitchen door and carefully snapped the levers on their backs to complete the vacuum bond. The grating of the cutter against the clear glass panel sounded to him as loud as a young girl's scream as he ran it around the wooden edging. Now they had reason to be thankful for the noise from the furnace masking the sound of their labors. The foreign sound of the splintering glass might have registered with the occupants, but their slumber would be untroubled by the familiar throb of the burner.

With his partner holding the rubber clamps, Sam tapped gently around the edges of the glass panel with the heavy head of the cutter. A snap indicated the first parting of the glass and his accomplice applied a steady out and downwards pressure until, with a fierce crack, the entire panel broke free, leaving a hole in the door's glass panel large enough for an adult to crawl through.

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