Cemetery Dance Pubns
Anthony Breznican
October 18, 2017 AT 11:59 AM EDT

The cover for Robert McCammon’s new book The Listener is subtle, but the words within carry the force.

That’s part of what the story is about, after all.

The new book from the author of such horror novels as Boy’s Life and Swan Song comes out on Feb. 27 from Cemetery Dance Publications, and as part of the cover reveal EW presents an exclusive new excerpt.

Set in the heart of the Depression, the book focuses on a pair of grifters who cross the line from hucksterism to something much more deadly when they kidnap a young child for ransom. What they don’t count on is a railroad porter named Curtis Mayhew, who has a special ability to hear things that aren’t spoken out loud. He may be the only one who can stop them.

Here’s the jacket copy, followed by an excerpt from The Listener. Warning: It gets dark fast.

1934. Businesses went under by the hundreds, debt and foreclosures boomed, and breadlines grew in many American cities.

In the midst of this misery, some folks explored unscrupulous ways to make money. Angel-faced John Partlow and carnival huckster Ginger LaFrance are among the worst of this lot. Joining together they leave their small time confidence scams behind to attempt an elaborate kidnapping-for-ransom scheme.

In a different part of town, Curtis Mayhew, a young black man who works as a redcap for the Union Railroad Station, has a reputation for mending quarrels and misunderstandings among his friends. What those friends don’t know is that Curtis has a special talent for listening… and he can sometimes hear things that aren’t spoken aloud.

One day, Curtis Mayhew’s special talent allows him to overhear a child’s cry for help (THIS MAN IN THE CAR HE’S GOT A GUN), which draws him into the dangerous world of Partlow and LaFrance.

This gritty depression-era crime thriller is a complex tale enriched by powerfully observed social commentary and hints of the supernatural, and it represents Robert McCammon writing at the very top of his game.

One.

The Devil can be a man or a woman. The Devil can be a hard spring in the seat of a car, a gnat in the eye, or the whack of a wooden baton on the iron bars of a jail cell. The Devil can be a flash of  lightning, a swallow of bad whiskey, or a rotten apple slowly decaying a basketful of good ones. The Devil can be a belt across the back of a child, or a cardboard box of cheap paperback Bibles swelling up in the hot rear seat of an eight-year-old faded green Oakland two-door sedan held together by rust and wires.

Which, today, the Devil was.

The man behind the sedan’s wheel looked to be someone’s angel. He was thirty-two years old and handsome in the way of a lost cherub, with two lines of sadness bracketing the corners of his mouth. He had curly blonde hair, cut short, and eyes the color of summer smoke. He wore the pressed trousers of a white suit and a white shirt with a new collar and pleats down the front. His thin black tie was held in place by a silver clip of two hands clasped in prayer. A straw fedora with a black band sat on the cracked leather seat beside him, along with the folded white suit coat. His hands upon the wheel were soft. He was not a man who lived by physical labor, in a time when so many others dug ditches for their dollar-a-day. As he had an aversion to the fierce summer sun of southeastern Texas that burned men and women into withered and leathery sticks, he depended on his intelligence and wit to see him through the tough times.

Trouble was, he’d never seen a time that wasn’t tough.

He guided his tired car along a rutted and dusty backroad that cut through spiny pinewoods. Just below his right elbow was a hand-drawn map of the country he now travelled, with an inked-in ‘x’ here and there along this track leading to many small towns and farms that dotted the scorched landscape. He had not far to go to this one, but many miles to cover today.

His shirt was damp with sweat. The air that blew into the car seemed to steal the breath, and smelled faintly of rotten peaches. The aroma stirred a memory in him but he wasn’t quite sure what it was so he didn’t try to draw it up. Whatever it was, it belonged to the past. He was a man of the future, which was becoming the present second-by-second. He figured that in this tough old world if a man wanted to live he had to learn to shed his skin like a snake and move from the shadow of one rock to the shadow of another—move, move, always move—because the other snakes were on the move too, and they were always hungry.

It was the first week of July in the year 1934. Less than five years ago on that black Tuesday in October the bottom had dropped out of the nation’s economy. On that day the stock market had collapsed, and one bank after another had begun to fail across the nation. The windows over Wall Street had opened, allowing rich men who found themselves suddenly reduced to paupers to follow their fortunes down to the hard pavement of reality. Businesses went under by the hundreds, as the flow of cash had stopped at the shuttered tellers’ cages. Debt and foreclosures boomed. In the aftermath of the stocks and banking bust, winters had never seemed colder nor summers so brutally hot. The Great Plains was hit by high winds that blew topsoil off the drought-stricken farms to scour the tortured land into churning dust storms. Breadlines grew in once-dynamic American cities. Many thousands of vagabonds rode the rails in search of work, and many more thousands roamed the land on foot or in cars and trucks that were a broken axle or blown gasket away from their last mile.

It was a time of misery from which there seemed no end nor respite. The cheer from such radio shows as The Major Bowes Amateur Hour, The National Barn Dance, Amos and Andy, the Lone Ranger and Buck Rogers In The 25th Century was welcome, but was only a passing moment. Beyond the entertainment of disembodied voices and the merry golden glow of the radio tubes the harsh world remained, a fact that President Franklin Roosevelt’s measured and earnest “fireside chats” could not overcome. America—and indeed most of the world—had been shattered, and even now the pieces of the future were being gathered and reassembled by Stalin in Russia and a puffed-up mug in Germany named Hitler.

But today, though it was hot enough to fry an egg on the hood of his car, the man in the faded green Oakland was on velvet, as the saying went. He’d had a good day yesterday and made

nearly thirty dollars. He’d enjoyed a steak and fries last night at a cafe in Houston. There he’d gotten into a conversation with a travelling shirt salesman about whether the Feds were ever going to find out who’d kidnapped and killed the Lindbergh baby. It was called the Crime Of The Century and everybody who could listen to a radio or read a newspaper had kept up with it since the child’s corpse had been found, its skull smashed, a year ago last May.

The man who looked like someone’s angel didn’t care if they ever found out who’d killed the baby. Such things happened, it was the way of the world. The Lindberghs were richer than Midas, they’d be okay and they’d already had another kid since that one died. These were desperate times and people did desperate things.

The car’s tires jubbled over railroad tracks. He passed a road sign pocked with rust-edged bullet holes. FREEHOLD, he noted the sign said. He drove on from blinding sun into pine shadow and back again.

The sight of the bullet holes drew him to an area he thought more interesting and surely more entertaining than the matter of Lindbergh’s kid. He’d been following the exploits of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow since the pictures of the two of them clowning around with pistols and shotguns had been found in a camera they’d left behind up in Missouri and had gone out to all the read-rags. Too bad Bonnie and Clyde been shot to death by a posse of six lawmen on a back road in Louisiana not two months ago. He’d read that there were so many holes in the bodies the embalmer had trouble getting the fluid not to leak out, and that the cops who’d done the shooting had gone deaf from all the blasting.

He hated that because he was going to miss hearing news about the Barrow gang, who all they’d robbed and killed and so forth. Sure they’d been living on their rabbit’s foot, but there was something to be said for making your own way in what the country had become even if that meant using the noisemakers. The odds were against the regular joe, it was you against the big blue, and what was a joker going to do but find a way to blast out of that gray concrete vault they were always trying to wall you up in?

Well, there was always John Dillinger to follow. They hadn’t gotten that rowdy bastard yet, and he’d been lying low since April but he was bound to show up somewhere soon. His shootouts were always arousing news.

The man drove his raspy Oakland into the little town of Freehold, which came up from the pinewoods just beyond a red stone church and a small cemetery with a statue of an armspread Jesus at its center. He was approaching a little forlorn-looking Texaco gasoline station coming up on the right. Though he needed no fuel because he’d filled up in Houston and he always carried a spare can of gas in the trunk, he turned into the station. He pulled his car up beside the Ethyl pump and waited with the engine running. In another few seconds a young man with one leg shorter than the other and wearing a built-up shoe on the foot of his afflicted limb came out of the hut wiping his hands on an oily rag.

“Mornin’. Need to cut your motor, sir. How much you need?” the young man asked through the toothpick in his mouth. He added, “We just got some of that new Fire Chief gas in.”

“No gas,” said the driver in a soft, quiet voice. It was a voice carrying a nearly-musical

Southern accent that had been called both refined and aristocratic. “I am needin’ some information. Do you know how I can get to the Edson place?”

“Toby Edson’s?”

“That would be it.”

“Well…yessir. It’s on along Front Street, past Wahouma Street and take a right at the next one, which would be State Road Sixty. You go out about another mile…mile and a quarter, I reckon, and you’ll see the mailbox on the left says Edson on it.”

“Thank you kindly. And for your trouble.” The man brought a shiny nickle from his trouser pocket and placed it into the oily palm.

“Much thanks,” the young man answered. He frowned. “If you got business with Mr. Edson, I have to tell you he passed away last week. Buried him on Thursday. His heart give out.”

Oh.” Now it was the driver’s turn to frown. “I am sorry to hear that. Still…I do have business at the Edson house, and possibly I can be of a comfort. Good day to you.” He gave the young man a nod, put the car into gear and started off again.

Freehold was a dusty town with several shuttered storefronts. He passed a farmer driving a watermelon wagon on Front Street. A couple of old cars and a battered Model A with an iron pick-up box welded to the back were parked in front of a place whose sign proclaimed it as Betsy’s Cafe. Nearby, two elderly gents wearing overalls and straw hats sat on a bench watching the man in the faded green Oakland glide past; he waved at them, just being neighborly, and of course they waved back.

He turned right on State Road Sixty and picked up some speed after he’d left the town limits. The mile and a quarter passed. He saw the Edson mailbox on the left. He pulled off onto a dirt road that threw whorls of dust up behind his tires. Pine trees and underbrush grew on either side of the road. In another moment he came out upon a clearing where stood a small white-painted house under the spreading limbs of a huge oak tree.

A few cows were grazing in a fenced-in pasture, and about fifty yards distant from the house was a weather-beaten barn. He stopped in front of the house, cut the engine, retrieved his white coat and his fedora, unstuck his sweat-damp back from the seat’s leather, got out and put on both coat and hat. He smoothed his tie and adjusted his collar so that the coat hung as perfectly as he could manage. He noted a tire swing hanging from one of the oak tree’s lower branches and briefly envisioned Toby Edson’s two kids, Jess and Jody, playing there in the sweet shade.

The screened front door groaned open. “Mornin’,” said the woman. She sounded both weary and wary. “Help you?”

“Yes ma’am, I believe so. This is the Edson residence, if I am correct?”

“It is.”

He was already walking around to the other side of the car. Dust from the road drifted in the air and sparkled golden in the sunlight. “I have somethin’ here for you and the children,” he said.

“Pardon?”

“Somethin’ for you and the children,” he repeated. He opened the passenger door, pulled the seat up and reached back to get one of the Bibles from its box. The proper one was marked with a yellow tag with the number One on it, meaning it was the first delivery of the day. Moving quickly and deftly, he removed the tag, dropped it onto the floorboard, and slid the Bible into a white cardboard box designed to fit it snugly and made to look like leather. The words Holy Bible were tooled across its front in gold-colored ink. Then he closed the door and turned toward the widow Edson, summoning up the proper expression of both regret and expectation.

“I am sorry for your recent loss, ma’am,” he offered, with a slight bow of his head. “I learned at the gas station in town that your husband has only recently passed away.”

“Buried Toby last Thursday,” she said. She was blonde-haired, had a pale long-jawed face, a sharp nose and eyes that looked drowned. The man from the Oakland noted that she held the door open with her right hand while her left hand was out of view in the house, and he wondered if she might be gripping onto either a pistol or a shotgun. “What’re you wantin’?” she asked, ready for the stranger to clear out.

He paused for a few seconds before he answered. “Well…this is a difficult time for you, I know, but—”

He was interrupted by two children who came out of the house and stood around their mother’s skirt. They were both blonde and fair, like the woman; the boy, Jess, was maybe eight and the girl, Jody, was about eleven or so. They were clean and cleanly-dressed, but they had the rawboned look of kids who’d been hit hard by life. They both stared at him as if he’d just dropped down from another planet.

“May I approach you, ma’am?” he asked.

“What do you have there? I’ve paid what I needed to pay this month, I’m all square with the bank.”

“I am sure. And you are square with Jesus and the Holy Father, too.”

She blinked. “What?”

“Allow me.” He lifted the Bible in its white presentation box and waited for her to motion him forward. As he reached the woman and her children, he heard a dog half-barking and half-baying from the direction of the barn.

“Dottie wants her pups back,” the woman said to her kids, though her eyes never left the white box that the stranger carried. “Go on and take ’em.”

“Ma, we just brought ’em—” the little boy started, but the woman shushed him. The man smiled politely, waiting for this small family drama to pass. It was then he saw that both the boy and girl were holding a puppy cupped in their hands, the one dark brown and the other a lighter shade with a cream-colored spot between its eyes.

“Newborns,” said the man, maintaining his soft smile. “Nice lookin’ pups.”

“We got six of ’em.” Jess held his up closer for the man to see. “Fresh-baked.”

“Hush that,” the widow Edson said sharply, and the man from the Oakland thought it was probably an expression her husband had used. “Go on, do like I told you.”

The boy started off, though reluctantly. Jody said, “Jess, take Dolly with you too.” She gave the pup a quick kiss on the nose and then handed Dolly to her brother, and with one puppy cupped in each hand the boy trudged on toward the barn while the mama dog continued to bay forlornly. Then the little girl stood at her mother’s side, her face expressionless but her jaw set, and her blue eyes seemed to cut right through the skull of the man who looked like someone’s angel.

“You have somethin’ for us?” the woman prompted.

“Most certainly I do.” He offered a smile to the little girl, but she wasn’t having any so he turned the full force of his gilded charm upon the widow. “First, ma’am, let me show you my business card.” He reached into his inside coat pocket and brought it out, a clean white card fresh-baked, as Toby Edson might have said, last night in the hotel room. When he offered the card, the woman seemed to pull back a space and the little girl took it.

“Says his name is John Partner, mama,” said Jody after looking it over. “Says he’s the president of the Holy Partner Bible Company in Houston.”

“That I am.” John Partner retrieved the card and put it away. He thought the woman can not read and she depends on the child. Well, that is interesting. “As I say, I know this is a difficult time for you, but possibly my visit will be some comfort to you today. I have the Golden Edition Bible your husband ordered last month.”

“The what?”

“Oh…pardon. You weren’t aware of this?”

“You need to speak plain English, Mr. Partner,” said the woman, near exasperation. “I’m awful wrung out right now.”

“Your husband,” said John Partner, “placed an order last month with my company for a Golden Edition Bible. He sent one dollar pre-payment, as I specified. The inscription was done, as he asked, and I responded that I would personally deliver the item.” He pushed back the brim of his fedora, brought a white handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his forehead because the heat was truly fierce even here at just after nine o’clock. “I…suppose he didn’t tell you any of this?”

“A Golden Edition Bible,” she said. Her eyes had reddened. “No. No, he didn’t say a thing. You mean…he sent you a whole dollar? By mail?”

“Yes, ma’am. He must’ve seen my advertisements in the county newspaper.” His gut tightened. If Toby Edson was also unable to read, the game might well be up. But the woman remained silent though her stricken expression spoke volumes, and John Partner plowed ahead on the fertile field of human suffering. “My guess, Mrs. Edson…is that your husband meant it to be a surprise. Maybe a gift for a birthday, or an anniversary?” She didn’t respond, so he used another tool from his well-used box of sentiments and softened his voice to deliver it.

“Or possibly…he had a premonition that his time was short. Many people do. It is the voice of

God speakin’ to them. Or at least that is what I believe. But it all comes down to love, Mrs. Edson. The love of God to let someone gently know that their days are numbered, and the love of a husband—and father—for his wife and children. Would you like to see the inscription he asked me to make?”

“I don’t…” She had to stop and take a long breath, as if she’d been stunned by a belly-punch from the blue. “I don’t read so well, sir. Would you read it for me?”

“Surely.” He was aware that the dog had stopped baying from the barn, content that her puppies had been returned, but Jess evidently had decided to stay in there for awhile. The little girl’s solid, no-nonsense stare made John Partner a shade uneasy, and he wished she too had gone to the barn but it was part of his craft and gift to show no crack in his calm demeanor.

He withdrew the Bible from its box, turned to the inscription page where the receipt was folded, and began to read with appropriate gravity: “To my dear family, my wife Edith, my children Jody and Jess, your loving husband and father.” He offered her the bit of paper. “This is the receipt, one dollar paid by Toby Edson of Freehold, Texas. You will note the date was the 12th of June, but I believe my secretary made a mistake and that date is incorrect by a few days, give or take.”

The widow Edson accepted the receipt, unfolded it and looked at it with blank eyes; then she gave it to her daughter, who read it with the attention that John Partner thought a canny lawyer would give to a foreclosure notice.

“I’m just…I’m not knowin’ what to say,” the woman told him.

“I understand.” He made a show of examining the house with a wandering but careful gaze, as if he were the banker set on foreclosing. “Well,” he said, “usually it would be five more dollars, cash on delivery, but—”

Five more dollars?” The way she said that, it sounded like five hundred.

“Six dollars is our rate for the Golden Edition. You understand, ma’am, it is a family keepsake meant to last for generations. On the receipt, it says five dollars due.”

“Oh…yes sir, but…that’s a terrible lot of money.”

“Mister?” said the little girl. “Can I see the inscription?”

“Certainly. Bear in mind, it is not in your father’s handwriting. It is printed there by our special process and with ink blessed by Reverend Winston Carter of the First Baptist Church of Houston.” He gave her the Bible and turned his focus again on the distraught woman. “Now, Mrs. Edson, do not fret,” he said gently. “I am not a mercenary man, and our dear Jesus and Father in Heaven would not wish you to be deprived of your late husband’s gift to you. There are costs to consider, though. It is the penalty for living in Caesar’s world. But let me offer you this: the Holy Partner Bible Company will take four dollars for this special edition, and we can call it—”

“Mama,” Jody interrupted, “don’t give this man no money.”

John Partner stopped speaking, but his mouth remained open.

What?” the woman said. “Don’t be rude to—”

“The words written here,” the child went on. “They’re what he said they were, but…Mama..it’s got my name spelled wrong.”

A piece of hard rock seemed caught for a few seconds in John Partner’s throat. When he got his voice out, it sounded thin and shrill in the quiet. “Spelled wrong? How?”

“My name,” said the little girl, with her defiant blue eyes burning into his skull, “is spelled with an ‘i’, not a ‘y’. Daddy wouldn’t have made no mistake like that.”

Somewhere out over the pasture, a crow cawed and another answered from the trees at

John Partner’s back. Otherwise the world seemed to him to have stopped all other motion and

noise, except for the roaring that was beginning to rise in volume in his ears. It came to him to wonder if that sound was what the deputies heard after all the shooting had gunned down Bonnie and Clyde.

“Her name is spelled J-o-d-i,” said Edith Edson. Her eyes narrowed. “Surely Toby couldn’t have told you any different.”

It took only three seconds for him to regain his composure. He restrained himself from snatching the Bible out of the child’s hands because he knew full well how he’d spelled it, the name had been spelled that way in the goddamned obituary in the county newsrag. He squared his shoulders and answered, adamantly, “If we have indeed made an error in the spelling, we will be glad to correct it.”

“My name’s spelled wrong,” said the girl, and she showed him. “See? Right there it is.”

Her index finger pointed to the offending ‘y’. Then she showed her mother, who if she could not read much else could at least make out the names of her children.

“Four dollars,” Mrs. Edson said, “is still an awful lot of money, sir. How are we gonna correct this?”

Before John Partner could reply, the child said, “I think he ought to give us the Good Book for free, mama. Let that be the end of it. Daddy would likely think it was funny. I can see him laughin’ about it right now.”

“Yep.” The woman nodded, and maybe a small shadow of a smile slipped across her mouth. “I can too.” She took the Bible from her daughter and ran the fingers of one hand over the front cover, which had begun to buckle in the heat. “Seems like this was a nice gift to us from Toby, but my man wasn’t one to throw money away on somebody’s mistake. He’d appreciate the effort you made and all, and he’d say this is a real pretty Bible, but…he’d tell me to pay you one dollar and let that be the end of it, like Jodi says. Does that suit you?” When John Partner didn’t immediately respond, she went one step further. “Don’t think you can sell this one to anybody else, can you?”

His face felt paralyzed. It seemed a long while until he heard himself say, as if from a great distance, “All right. One dollar.”

She took from him the white cardboard presentation box made up to look like leather and slid the Golden Edition Bible into it, and then she went inside to get the money. He was left staring at the little girl, who simply stared back at him in silence yet her accusing eyes seemed to send to him the message I know what you are.

When he had the dollar in his fist he gave the woman a cold smile and wished her good day. Then he turned his back on her and the child, went to his car, took off his coat and fedora with regal grace as the mother and daughter watched him, and climbed in. The engine started with a bone-shaking rattle and a harsh bark. Going out he passed the little boy coming from the barn, who waved to him in a neighborly way but John Partner did not wave back.

He drove away, leaving in his wake roiling clouds of dust.

Continuing his route by following the ‘x’ marks of recently deceased people in the small towns on his roadmap, he had a mixed day. He sold two Golden Edition Bibles for six dollars and one for three because it was all the old lady could get out of her cookie jar. He stopped alongside someone’s muddy lake near noon, ate some crackers and drank a Nehi orange soda. His next stop was aborted because there was a Texas trooper car parked in front of the house, and the stop after that was to an empty house with a foreclosure sign nailed to the door.

But all during the day, he thought of how that little girl had stared at him, and how her voice had stung when she’d said Don’t give this man no money.

It had long been his feeling that people had no idea how hard he worked for his dollars. As hard as any ditch-digger, it seemed to him. Poring over the obituaries in the different county rags, getting the names and the addresses and whatever other information he could, then using his small rubber-stamping machine that allowed him to change the lettering and stamp in gold-colored ink what needed to be on the page. The Bibles and the presentation boxes combined cost him only a quarter from the company in Fort Worth, but the ink was damned expensive at seventy-five cents a bottle and it had to come all the way from New Orleans.

He thought that he was selling a valuable commodity, and people didn’t realize it. The law didn’t realize it. He was selling a lasting memory. A dream, of sorts. He was selling golden thread to tie up all the loose ends of a life. He was doing society and the grieving families a good service.

Don’t give this man no money.

It just didn’t sit right with him. It gnawed at his guts and made the crackers and Nehi orange soda boil in his belly. A few miles outside the town of Wharton he had to pull the Oakland over and throw up on the side of the road.

After that he felt cooler and calmer and he knew what he had to do. He sat in his car, rolled a cigarette and lit it with his silver lighter that had a pair of praying hands on it just like his tie clip. Then he rolled on into Wharton and in the five-and-dime there bought a baseball bat sized for a child.

He was surprised to find that Wharton had a movie theater and an afternoon showing of King Kong, which he’d seen last year when it came out but he had enjoyed the movie and thought it was worth seeing again. When he emerged from the theater dark was beginning to fall, and as he had time to kill he had a plate of pork sausage, creamed corn and turnip greens in a little cafe a block down from the theater. He smoked another cigarette, nursed a cup of coffee down to the last drop and flirted a little with the red-haired waitress who brought him a piece of pecan pie on the sly. Then he paid his bill and left.

At the next junction of state roads, under the stars and the faint glow of a half-moon, he turned his car’s headlamps in the direction of Freehold.

Don’t give this man no money.

The injustice of it made him want to cry. But his face bore no expression but resolve, and his eyes remained as dry as prairie rock.

It was after nine o’clock by his wristwatch when John Partner pulled his car off State Road Sixty about thirty yards short of the dirt road that led to the Edson house. He figured he had to work fast, in case any troopers were on the prowl, but he’d already seen today that this road didn’t carry a lot of traffic. The next house was probably a quarter of a mile west. He took the child-sized baseball bat and his can full of gasoline and started walking.

There were a few lights on in the Edson house. Lantern lights, they looked to be, and burning low. No electricity there. John Partner went to the barn. The door was already open a crack, so much the better.

When he stepped inside he flicked his lighter. Instantly the mother dog on her red-and-black plaid blanket in the hay almost at his feet started growling and tried to struggle up but the six puppies were feeding and they dragged on her. Before the dog could let loose a bark, John Partner clubbed her in the head with the bat.

He hit her a second blow, all his strength behind it, just to make sure.

Then he surveyed what he had done and went on to finish the rest of it. He covered the puppies with handfuls of straw. He poured the gasoline.

His lighter flared.

In the red glare of the flame, John Partner no longer resembled someone’s angel. For an instant it was as if the flame revealed the face behind the face, and it was not something that John Partner wished to have on public view.

He picked up a final handful of straw and touched it with fire.

“J-o-d-i,” he said quietly. His eyes were dead.

He dropped the burning straw upon the gas-soaked puppies on their gas-soaked blanket beside the body of their mother. They went up with a hot little whoosh that almost took his eyebrows and some of his curly blonde hair before he could step back.

As much as he would have liked to have stayed to watch them burn, it was time to get out.

But he left the baseball bat. Jess might get some use from it.

John Partner returned to his car feeling as if a heavy burden had been lifted from him, or a terrible wrong set right. He put away the gasoline can, and with his load of Golden Edition Bibles he drove away into the night, into the dark, away and long gone.

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