THIRTY-SIX

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The dog outside barked. He was a German Shepherd named Rex who had arrived courtesy of his owner, Richard. Virginia had complained when they tied the poor thing up to the front porch, but Rex had taken on his new assignment with tail wagging, seeming quite happy to lie down at the foot of the steps to watch the road. During the night he had barked a couple of times—nothing aggressive—likely just some territorial warnings to wandering wildlife.

"Virginia," Bill called from the living room.

She put down the coffeepot she had been about to fill. "Coming," she said, moving slower than usual. She'd had a restless night. The men had all stayed, spread out on the main floor with mats and sleeping bags, but still, every little creak in the house had woken her up. She needed caffeine—an indulgence she didn't partake in too often these days.

Rex's bark grew more urgent.

She rushed out to the living room.

Bill and Richard were up at the curtained windows, peeking out to the front lawn. "Someone's coming up the path," Bill said.

Virginia moved in behind him and peered over his shoulder. Bill's two other friends, Andrew and John, joined in on the lookout.

"Is that him?" Bill whispered.

The man approaching Rex was tall, broad-shouldered, wearing a dark suit and matching fedora. His hair and face were well hidden in the shadow of the hat, and for a moment her anger spiked, thinking it was Mark going against her wishes. "It's not Gus," she muttered.

Anger turned to alarm when the man stopped twenty feet from Rex's snapping jaws and brought a cigarette to his lips. With the flick of a lighter, his face was revealed in a soft glow, along with the large scar that ran from above his eyebrow to his cheekbone, narrowly missing his right eye.

Virginia gasped. "I don't know who that is."

As they watched, the man said something to Rex. Then, much to everyone's shock, he walked right up to the dog and patted him. Rex shushed and sat down, clearly enjoying the attention.

Bill muttered a curse. "So much for your guard dog, Richard."

"What," Richard said with a shrug. "He's a pet, not a killer."

Andrew and John both grabbed the rifles they had brought with them and fast tracked it to the front hallway.

"Wait," Virginia called, hurrying after them, Bill and Richard following close behind.

Andrew leaned against the door frame with his rifle pointed up to the ceiling and watched the man's approach through the stained glass insert. "He's coming up to the door," he said in a hushed tone.

"Let's calm down and see what he has to say," she directed.

The doorbell rang. She stared wide-eyed at the dark silhouette cast on colored glass, wondering who the hell was waiting for her on the other side. "Just keep your guard up," she added.

Andrew and John backed up and aimed their rifles at the doorway. Reaching behind her, Virginia wrapped her fingers around the handgun tucked into her waistband at the small of her back. Giving each of the four men a perfunctory nod, she took a deep breath, walked up to the door, cranked the deadbolt, and grabbed for the knob.

)l(

Bruce noticed the thin line of light shining beneath the door of the clinic while on his way to Morris's secret stash. Thinking Claire had left the lights on by mistake, he pulled out his keys and unlocked it, planning to just reach in and hit the switch.

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