Rush hour at four hours and counting. Every Angelino busting it to
get home before the heavens opened up like a bursting bladder and
the rains came in a gush. The city had been pressed down beneath
the weight of an anvil sky all day. Endless, ominous twilight in
the concrete canyons between the downtown skyscrapers. The air
heavy with expectation.
Legs pumping. Fingers tight on the handlebars. Fingertips numb.
Eyes on the gap between a Jag and a FedEx truck. Quads burning.
Calves like rocks. The taste of exhaust. Eyes dry and stinging
behind a pair of swim goggles. A bag full of blueprints in
cardboard cylinders riding his back.
The two-way strapped to his thigh like a six-gun barked
out bursts of static and the rock-crusted voice of Eta Fitzgerald,
the base dispatcher. He didn't know her real name. They called her
Eta because that was what they heard out of her all day, every day:
ETA? ETA sixteen? Base to Jace. ETA? What's your twenty,
He had three minutes to make it to the developer's
office on the seventeenth floor of a building still blocks away.
The guard at the front desk was a jerk. He locked the doors at six
on the dot and had no sympathy for anyone standing on the street
trying to get in. The guy would have turned his back on his own
mother, if he had one, which Jace doubted. He looked like something
that had sprouted up out of the ground. A human toadstool.
Shift his weight to the right. Cut around the Jag.
He caught the blast of its horn as he ran on his pedals
to put a few inches between his back wheel and the car's front
bumper. Just ahead of him the traffic light had turned yellow, but
the FedEx truck was running the intersection. Coming up on the
right side of the truck, Jace reached out and caught hold above the
wheel, letting the truck carry him through the intersection and
down the block.
He was a master at riding the blind spot. If the person behind the
wheel saw him and didn't want him there, a messenger could become a
bug on a windshield in a hurry. The FedEx drivers were usually
cool. Simpatico. Messenger to messenger. They were both connections
between people who didn't give a rat's ass who they were unless
they were late with a delivery.
The building was in sight. Jace checked over his shoulder, let go
of the truck, and dipped right again, cutting across another lane,
drawing another blaring horn. He angled to jump the curb in front
of a fire hydrant and behind a Cadillac idling in a red zone. The
car's passenger door swung open as the bike went airborne.
Jace turned the wheel hard right and twisted his hips left as the
bike came down. The old lady getting out of the car screamed and
fell back into the Cadillac. The bike's front tire hit the sidewalk
Jace held his position as tight as a tick on the back of a dog. He
touched the brakes with little more than his imagination. Just
enough to break the chaos.
Don't panic. Panic kills. Ice water, J.C. Steel. Focus.
He kept his eyes on his target. He could see the security
jerk walking toward the front doors, keys in hand.
Panic. Not at threat of injury, but at threat of being
locked out. The customer wouldn't care that he had sent the
delivery impossibly late or that the messenger had nearly been
killed by the door of a Cadillac. If the package didn't make it,
there would be hell to pay.
He dropped the bike ten feet from the door, sick at the thought it
might be gone by the time he got out of the building, but there was
no time to lock it. He bolted for the door, tripped himself, fell
like a boulder, and tumbled and skidded, arms and legs bouncing
like pickup sticks. Cardboard blueprint tubes shot out of his bag
and rolled down the sidewalk.
No time to assess damage or recognize and catalog pains.
He forced himself to his feet, tripping, stumbling,
trying to scoop up the tubes even as his momentum carried him
forward. The security jerk stared at him through the glass. A lumpy
gray face, twisted with sour disapproval. He turned the key in the
lock and walked away.
"Hey!" Jace shouted, slamming into the glass. "Hey, come on!"
The guard pretended not to hear him. Son of a bitch. One minute to
six and this guy had nothing more on his mind than getting on the
freeway and creeping out to Pomona or to the Valley or to whatever
nondescript shithole suburb he squatted in every night. He wasn't
staying three extra minutes to log in a delivery. Having the power
to walk away was probably the only power he had in his miserable
"Asshole!" Jace shouted. He would have kicked the door, but with
his luck the damn thing would shatter and he'd be hauled off to
jail. Not that he couldn't have used the rest and three squares a
day. In Jace Damon's life, rest was not an option.
Juggling the cardboard tubes in one arm, he yanked his bike up off
the sidewalk and climbed back on. The entrance to the underground
parking garage for the building was on the side street. The chain
gate would be down, but as soon as a car rolled out, he could slip
in. If there was a God in heaven-which he doubted, except in times
of dire need-someone would still be in the developer's office on
the seventeenth floor. Hopefully it would be Lori, the
receptionist, who was blond and bouncy and would give him a
Snickers bar from the stash in her bottom drawer. He hadn't eaten
since breakfast-a day-old bagel and a shoplifted PowerBar.
He parked himself to the right of the garage entrance, back just
far enough so as not to be noticed by anyone coming up the ramp. He
had learned a long time ago to fly below the radar, to be invisible
and furtive and resourceful. Survival skills of the street
His radio made a sound like Velcro tearing free. "Sixteen? You out
there? Base to Jace. Base to Jace. Hey, Lone Ranger, where you at?
I got Money chewing my ass."
Money was Eta's word for a customer. The developer was on the phone
screaming at her.
"I'm in the elevator," Jace answered. He keyed the radio on and
off, on and off. "You're breaking up, Base."
The chain gate rattled to life and began to rise. A nasty-looking
snot-green Chrysler nosed its way up out of the garage. The
security jerk was behind the wheel. Jace gave him the finger as he
turned into the drive and shot the bike down the ramp.
The Korean guy in the ticket booth barely looked at him as Jace
darted around the lowered arm that prevented cars from simply
rolling in. He rode the bike straight to the elevator, jumped off
as the doors opened and an assortment of well-dressed professional
people stepped out, freed from their cubicles for the day. A woman
with a helmet of blond hair and a leopard-print raincoat gave him a
look like he was dog shit, and clutched her designer bag to her as
she stepped around him.
Jace forced a grin. "How's it going?"
She sniffed and hurried away. People in suits and offices tended to
look at bike messengers with wary suspicion. They were rebels, road
warriors, fringe citizens in strange costumes invading the orderly,
respectable world of business. Most of the messengers Jace knew had
tattoos all over their bodies, and more piercings than a colander.
They were walking billboards for life on the edge, their
individuality screaming from their very pores.
Jace made no such statements. He wore what he could get for little
or nothing at Goodwill-baggy shorts and sweatshirts with the
sleeves cut off, worn over bike shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt.
His hair stuck up in spikes through the openings in his helmet. The
swim goggles made him look like an alien.
He pulled the goggles down and rubbed at the grit in his eyes as he
rolled the bike into the elevator and punched 17. He could smell
himself-stale sweat and exhaust fumes. He had run twenty-three
packages that day and could feel the filth of the city clinging to
him like a film. He had skinned his knee on the sidewalk out front.
Blood was running in a slow, thick trickle down his dirty bare shin
to soak into the top of his baggy gray sock.
When he finally got home and could take a shower, the day would
come off him like a mud slide and he would become a blond white kid
again. He would spend a couple of hours with his little brother,
Tyler, then hit the books until he fell asleep on them. Too soon it
would be five-thirty and another day would begin with him shoveling
ice into the coolers at the fish market they lived over in
My life sucks.
He allowed himself to acknowledge that fact only once in
a while. What was the point in dwelling on it? He didn't plan on
staying where he was in the grand scheme of things. That was the
thought to focus on: change, improvement, the future.
He had a future. Tyler had a future-Jace had made sure of that, and
would continue to make sure of it. And their futures would be a
thousand times better than anything life had given them so far. It
was only a matter of time and focus and will.
The elevator dinged and the doors pulled open. The developer's
office was down the hall on the left. Suite 1701. Major
Development. Lori the cute receptionist was gone, along with the
chance for a free Snickers. Mr. Major Development was standing at
her desk, shouting into the phone. He stopped abruptly and slammed
the receiver down as Jace walked in with the blueprint tubes.
"Well, it's about fucking time!" Major shouted. "My eighty-year-old
mother could have gotten here faster with her walker!"
"Sorry." Jace said, handing over the manifest. He offered no excuse
or explanation. He knew from experience it wouldn't matter. What
mattered to Mr. Major Development was that he now had his
blueprints and could get on with his life.
Major snatched the manifest away from him, scribbled a signature,
and shoved it back at him. No thanks, no tip, no nothing. Lori the
receptionist might have noticed the scrape on his knee and given
him a Band-Aid and sympathy along with the Snickers bar. All he got
was the fantasy. At least in his imaginary social life he could
afford to take a girl out someplace decent.
Back out on the street, he radioed Base to confirm the delivery. He
would make it back to the base office in fifteen and spend half an
hour matching his delivery receipts with Eta's floaters-the notes
she made assigning jobs to messengers. By seven-fifteen he could be
standing in the shower.
"Sixteen to Base. Jace to Base. Got POD on Major Pain In The
"Ten-four, angel. You'll go to heaven yet."
"I don't believe in heaven."
"Darlin', you got to believe in a better world than this."
"Sure. It's called Malibu. I'm gonna get a house there when I'm
rich and famous."
"And I'll come be your kept woman. Give you a big ole' dose a brown
sugar, baby boy."
Eta weighed two hundred pounds, had three-inch purple fingernails,
and a Medusa's head of braids.
"You'll have to get in line behind Claire Danes and Liv
"Honey, I'll eat them skinny white girls for lunch and pick my
teeth with their bones."
"Eta, you're scaring me."
"That's good. How else can I boss you around and tell you you got
one more run?"
The groan came from the deepest part of his soul. "No way. Not
tonight. Call someone else."
"Ain't no one else left. You're it, Lone Ranger, and baby, you're
She gave him the address for the pickup and delivery and told him
he could use the tip he would get to buy her a diamond ring.
Jace sat on his bike under the security light beside the garage
entrance and stared at the note he'd written with the name and
address, and he thought of the only tip anyone had ever given him
that was of any real value: It's better to be lucky than
As he folded the note, it began to rain.
The television was playing in the overflowing bookcase across the
room as Lenny Lowell prepared the packet for pickup. His office was
an oasis of amber light in an otherwise dark strip of low-end
storefronts --- a yoga place, a psychic, a nail salon frequented by
hookers. Across the street and down the block, the
bailbonds/check-cashing place was open, and farther down a 76
station lit up the night with more lights than a prison yard.
The gas-station attendant would already be locked in his booth like
a veal calf behind a couple of inches of bulletproof Plexiglas. But
there wouldn't be much crime tonight for either the station
attendant or the bail bondsman to worry about. It was raining. In
LA even the criminals don't do rain.
On the TV, a hot brunette was reporting on the latest crime of the
century. Jury selection continued for the upcoming trial of actor
Rob Cole, accused in the brutal murder of his wife, Tricia.
Lenny watched with one eye, listened with one ear. Only his
jealousy was fully committed. Cole had retained the services of
Martin Gorman, whose client list read like a Who's Who of
Hollywood's most famous screwups. Lenny's client list read like a
Who's Who of LAPD's best-known dirtbags.
Not that he hadn't done well for himself. The world was full of
recidivists too flush for a public defender and too stupid to keep
from getting caught. Lenny had a thriving practice. And his
extracurricular activities of late had netted him a new Cadillac
and a ticket to Tahiti. Still, he had always coveted the spotlight
claimed by lawyers like Martin Gorman and Johnnie Cochran and
Robert Shapiro. He had just never found a way to get there that
didn't involve talent and social connections.
A photograph of Tricia Crowne-Cole filled the television screen.
She wasn't especially attractive, kind of pudgy and mousy with
brown hair too long for a woman her age. (She had to be
fiftysomething --- significantly older than Cole, provided he was
the forty-something he claimed to be.) She wore glasses that made
her look like a spinster librarian.
You would've thought the daughter of a bazillionaire would have
used some of that money to jazz herself up a little. Especially in
this town, where women kept the numbers of their plastic surgeons
and their favorite designers on speed dial. A bazillion dollars
could make plain look pretty damn gorgeous.
It was hard for the average person to imagine why anyone would have
wanted her dead. She had devoted her life to overseeing her
father's philanthropic trust. There wasn't a disease Norman Crowne
wasn't trying to cure, a liberal social cause he didn't champion, a
highfalutin art he didn't support --- via Tricia. She was her
father's social conscience.
It was impossible for the average person to imagine how anyone
could have killed her so brutally, strangling her, then smashing
her face in with a piece of sculpture the size of a bowling
Lenny was not the average person. He had heard it all a thousand
times and knew full well what people were capable of, what jealousy
and hate could drive them to.
Word around town was that Tricia, fed up with Cole's infidelities
and endless dramas, had been about to dump Rob Cole off the gravy
train at long last. Cole had tanked his career with sulkiness,
stupidity, and a shallow store of talent. He had run through all of
his money and plenty of hers. A lot of it had gone up his nose. A
lot had gone to rehab clinics --- charitable donations, as it
turned out. Rob Cole didn't have the character to pull himself out
of the train wreck, or sense enough to keep his weaknesses
The tailor-made Leonard Lowell client, Lenny lamented. He could
have made a big name for himself getting Rob Cole off the hook ---
a name that would be recognized even by people who didn't have rap
sheets. But Rob Cole was Martin Gorman's headache. Lenny had other
fish to fry.
The front buzzer sounded, announcing the arrival of the messenger.
As he rounded the desk, Lenny glanced at the brochures he had
gotten from the redhead at the travel agency on the second floor
and wondered if he could sweet-talk her into going with him. The
Cayman Islands and a hot broad. Paradise.
Jace leaned on the buzzer a second time, even though he could see
Lenny Lowell coming out of the office and into the dark cubicle
occupied in daylight hours by Lowell's secretary --- a woman with
cotton-candy blond hair and cat-eye glasses, known only as "Doll."
Lenny was like a character out of an old movie where all the men
wore hats and baggy suits, and everybody smoked cigarettes and
Jace had been to Lowell's office many times. A lot of a messenger's
runs were to or from lawyers of one kind or another --- much to the
displeasure of the messengers. Lawyers were notoriously cheap and
impossible to please. At the annual Thanksgiving bash ---
Cranksgiving --- the messengers always had a piñata in the
image of their least favorite attorney of the year. They made the
thing extra tough so everyone could get their chance to beat on it
Jace played along with the game and kept to himself the fact that
he intended to join the ranks of the loathed someday. Growing up
the way he had, he had seen the law work against a lot of people,
especially kids. He meant to turn it in his favor --- turn his life
around, and hopefully some others' too. But he was taking only two
college courses a semester, so most of his messenger cohorts would
be dead or gone by the time he passed the bar. If Jace was ever to
be immortalized as a piñata, it would be strangers beating the
stuffing out of him.
In the meantime, he always made an effort to chat up any lawyers he
could, trying to make a good impression, trying to pick up whatever
he could about the profession and the people in it. Networking.
Working toward the day when he might be looking for a job, a
recommendation, career advice.
Lowell pulled the door open, an unnaturally white smile splitting
his long, horsey face.
"Neither rain, nor smog, nor gloom of night," he boomed. He'd been
drinking. Jace could smell the bourbon hanging over the bad
"Hey, Lenny," he said, pushing his way inside. "It's raining,
"That's why they pay you the big bucks, kid."
"Yeah, right. I'm rolling in it," Jace said, resisting the urge to
shake himself like a wet dog. "I just do this gig for the
"You got a simple life," the lawyer said, weaving his way back to
"There's a lot to be said for that."
"Yeah, like it sucks. Believe me, Lenny, I'd rather be driving your
new Cadillac than my bike. Especially tonight. Man, I hate the
Lowell waved a big bony hand at him. "Nah. It never rains in
Southern California. Unless you're some poor stiff like Rob Cole.
Then you get a shitstorm on your head."
Jace glanced around the office piled with books and papers and file
folders. Next to a bowling trophy dated 1974, two framed
photographs sat on the desk --- one of a racehorse in the winner's
circle with a bunch of flowers around its neck, and one of a pretty
young woman with long dark hair and a confident smile --- Lenny's
daughter, Abby. A law student, Lenny had told him.
"Gorman will get him off," Jace said, picking up the bowling trophy
to read the inscription: 2nd place team, Hollywood bowl, 1974. It
wasn't difficult to picture Lenny in one of those bowling shirts
from the fifties, his hair greased back. "Gorman is good. Better
"It's better to be lucky than good, kid," Lowell returned.
"Martin's betting against the house in a rigged game. Money talks.
"I would if I had any." Jace put the trophy back and scratched his
arm under the sleeve of his cheap plastic rain jacket. He had
bought half a dozen at the 99 Cent Store because they came folded
to the size of a wallet and didn't take up any space in his
messenger bag. One seldom lasted more than a single storm, but the
odds were good that six would last him the winter.
"Here," Lowell said, thrusting a twenty at him. "For your trouble,
kid. Don't let it shoot its mouth off all in one place."
Jace wanted to hold it up to the light.
Lowell snorted. "It's real. Jesus. The last paperhanger I defended
went to San Quentin in 1987. Counterfeiting is all Russian mob now.
I don't want any part of that. Those bastards make Hannibal Lecter
look like a moody guy with an eating disorder." He raised his glass
in a toast to himself. "To long life. Mine. You want a toot,
"No, thanks, I don't drink."
"Something like that."
Designated adult, as long as he could remember, but he didn't tell
Leonard Lowell that. He never told anyone anything about his life.
Below the radar. The less people knew, the less curious they would
be, the less apt to want to "help." An extra twenty bucks was the
only kind of help Jace wanted.
"Thanks, Lenny. I appreciate it."
"I know you do, kid. Tell your mother she raised a good one."
He wouldn't. His mother had been dead six years. He had mostly
raised himself, and Tyler too.
Lowell handed him a five-by-seven-inch padded manila envelope. He
hung a cigarette on his lip and it bobbed up and down as he spoke
while he fished in his baggy pants pocket for a lighter. "I
appreciate you dropping this off for me, kid. You've got the
Jace repeated it from memory.
"Keep it dry," Lowell said, blowing smoke at the dingy
"Like my life depends on it."
Famous last words, Jace would think later when he looked back on
this night. But he didn't think anything as he went out into the
rain and pulled the U-lock off his bike.
Instead of putting the package in his bag, he slipped it up under
his T-shirt and tucked the shirt and the package inside the
waistband of his bike shorts. Warm and dry.
He climbed on the bike under the blue neon of the psychic readings
sign and started to pedal, legs heavy, back aching, fingers cold
and slipping on the wet handlebars. His weight shifted from pedal
to pedal, the bike tilting side to side, the lateral motion
gradually becoming forward motion as he picked up speed, the aches
gradually melding into a familiar numbness.
One last run.
He would leave his paperwork 'til morning. Drop this package, go
home, and crawl into that hot shower. He tried to imagine it: hot
water pounding on his shoulders, massaging out the knots in the
muscles, warm steam cleansing the stink of the city from his
nostrils and soothing lungs that had spent the day sucking in car
exhaust. He imagined Madame Chen's hot and sour soup, and clean
sheets on the futon, and did his best to ignore the cold rain
pelting his face and deglazing the oil on the surface of the
His mind distracted, he rode on autopilot. Past the 76 station,
take a right. Down two blocks, take a left. The side streets were
empty, dark. Nobody hung around in this part of town at this time
of night for any good reason. The businesses --- a glass shop, an
air-conditioning place, a furniture-stripping place, an auto-body
shop --- in the dirty, low, flat-roofed buildings closed up at
He might have thought it was a strange destination for a package
from a lawyer, except that the lawyer was Lenny, and Lenny's
clients were low-end career criminals.
He checked address numbers as lighting allowed. The drop would be
the first place on the right on the next block. Except that the
first place on the right on the next block was a vacant lot.
Jace cruised past, checked the number on the next available
building, which was dark, save for the security light hanging over
the front door.
Apprehension scratched like a fingernail on the back of his neck.
He swung around in the street and rode slowly past the vacant lot
Headlights flashed on, blinding him for a second.
What the hell kind of drop was this? Drugs? A payoff? Whatever it
was, Jace wasn't making it. Only a fool would ride into this and
ask for a signature on a manifest.
Now he was pissed. Pissed and scared. Sent to a vacant lot in the
dead of fucking night. Fuck that. Fuck Lenny Lowell. He could take
his package and shove it up his ass.
Jace stood on his pedals and started to go.
The car lurched forward, engine roaring like a charging beast as it
made straight for him.
For a split second it seemed Jace didn't --- couldn't --- move.
Then he was going, legs pumping like pistons, the bike's tires
slipping on the wet street. If he ran straight, the car would be on
him like a cat on a mouse. He turned hard left instead. The bike's
back end skated sideways on the slick pavement. He stuck a foot
down to keep from falling, pulled the bike back under himself. Then
he was charging the car.
Heart in his throat, he juked right, nearly too late, jumped the
curb back into the vacant lot, shooting past the car --- big, dark,
domestic. He heard the grind of metal on pavement as the car went
off the curb and bottomed out. Tires squealed on the wet street as
it swung a wide, awkward, skidding turn.
Jace made for the alley as hard as he could go, praying it wouldn't
dead-end. In the heart of downtown he was like a street rat that
knew every sewer pipe, every Dumpster, every crack in a wall that
could offer a shortcut, escape, shelter, a hiding place. Here he
was vulnerable, a rabbit caught in the open. Prey.
The car was coming after him. The predator. The headlights bucked
up and down in the gloom as the car banged back up over the
Jace had had cars come after him in traffic --- kids screwing
around, men with rage disorders pissed off that he had cut in front
of them or skitched a ride up a hill or knocked a side mirror.
Assholes trying to make a point, trying to give him a scare. He had
never been set up. He had never been hunted.
If he could get to the end of the alley before the car turned down
it and spotlit him, he had a fifty-fifty shot at ditching it. The
end of the alley looked nine miles away.
And it was already too late.
The high beams slapped at his back like a paw reaching out to tag
him. The car came, as loud as a train, sending trash cans
scattering like bowling pins.
Shit, shit, shit.
luck was running out faster than the alley was. He couldn't outrun
the car. He couldn't turn and ditch the car. To his left: buildings
shoulder to shoulder, backed with Dumpsters and boxes and discarded
junk --- an obstacle course. To his right: a chain-link fence
crowned with razor wire. On his ass: the angel of death.
Jace reached back with one hand and jerked his U-lock out of his
messenger bag. The bumper kissed his back tire. He nearly fell onto
the hood of the car. Moving as close as he could against the fence,
Jace touched his brakes, dropped just behind Predator's
Jace swung the heavy U-lock left-handed into the windshield. A
spiderweb of cracks exploded across the span of glass. The car
swerved into him, drove him sideways into the fence. Jace turned
and grabbed hold of the chain-link fence with both hands, hanging
on hard as the bike was yanked out from under him. The toe of his
right shoe hung up in the pedal clip and his body jerked wildly
sideways as the car pushed the bike forward.
The fence bit into his fingers as the bike tried to drag him. It
felt like his arms were tearing out of their sockets, that his foot
was being wrenched off at the ankle, then suddenly he was free and
He landed on his back on the cracked asphalt, rolled, and scrambled
up onto his knees, his eyes on the car as his bike went under the
back tire and died a terrible death.
His only transportation. His livelihood. Gone.
He was on his own. On foot. And one foot was missing a shoe. Pain
burned through his wrenched ankle as Jace pushed himself to his
feet and ran for the buildings before the car could come to a
The voice of his survival instinct screamed through his brain.
Go, go, go!!!
was young, he was fast, he was highly motivated. He set his sights
on a half wall blocking the space between two buildings. He would
hit it running, vault over the side, and be gone. Bum ankle or no,
he could damn well outrun the asshole driving that car.
But he couldn't outrun a bullet.
The shot hit the Dumpster a foot to Jace's left almost
simultaneously as he heard the report.
had to get over that wall. He had to get over it. Get over it and
run like hell.
Footfalls were coming hard behind him.
The second shot went wide right and hit another Dumpster.
A man shouted, "Fuck!"
Too close. Too close.
Footfalls coming hard behind him.
Jace launched himself at the wall and was summarily yanked backward
as his pursuer grabbed hold of the messenger bag he wore strapped
across his back.
He fell into the man, and momentum carried them both backward,
their feet tangling. Predator's body cushioned the fall as they
went down. Jace scrambled to get his feet under him, to wriggle
away. Predator hung tight to the messenger bag.
"Fucking little shit!"
Jace swung an elbow back, connected hard with some part of the
guy's face. A bone cracked nearly as loudly as the gunshot had, and
for a split second the bastard's hold let loose and he cursed a
blue streak. Jace ducked down and twisted out of the bag's strap
and lunged toward the wall again.
Predator grabbed hold of the back of Jace's rain slicker with one
hand and swung at him with the other. The cheap poncho tore away
like wet tissue. The butt of the gun glanced off the back of Jace's
helmet. Stars burst bright before his eyes, but he kept
Over the wall! Over the wall!
hit it running, scrambled up and over, and tumbled
ass-over-teakettle as he landed, rolling through mud and muck and
garbage and water.
The canyon between the buildings was pitch-black, the only light at
the end of the tunnel the dim silver glow of a distant sodium vapor
light. He ran toward it, never expecting to reach it, expecting to
feel the thump and burn of a bullet passing through his back,
tearing through his body, ripping apart organs and blood vessels.
He would probably be dead before he hit the ground.
But still he ran.
The bullet didn't come.
He broke out of the alley, turned left, and raced past the fronts
of dark buildings, jumping shrubbery and low walls of tired
landscaping. As he landed on the other side of a row of bushes, his
bad ankle buckled beneath him and he fell, gravel tearing at his
hands as he tried to break the impact. He expected to hear
footfalls behind him, another shot aimed at his back, but no one
was coming yet.
Panting, dizzy, Jace rose and stumbled down the narrow corridor
between two buildings. He stopped and fell against the rough
concrete wall, wanting to puke, afraid the sound would draw his
predator and get him killed.
Doubled over, he cupped his hands over his mouth and tried to slow
his breathing. His heart felt like it would burst through his chest
wall and flop out onto the ground, bouncing and twitching like a
beached fish. His head was spinning. His brain felt like it was
swirling around in a toilet bowl, ready to be sucked down the
Oh, God. Oh, my God.The
God he didn't believe in.
Someone's trying to kill me.
was shaking violently, suddenly cold, suddenly aware of the winter
rain pouring down on him, soaking his clothes. Pain throbbed and
burned in his ankle. A sharper pain pierced his foot. He felt along
the bottom of his wet sock and pulled out a sliver of broken glass.
He sank down into a squat, hugged his arms around his legs as he
leaned against the wall.
The two-way was still strapped to his thigh. He could try to call
Base, but Eta was long gone home to her kids by now. If he had a
cell phone, he could call the cops. But he couldn't afford a cell
phone, and he had no faith in the police. He had no real faith in
anyone but himself. He never had.
The dizziness was swept away by a wave of weakness, the wake of the
initial adrenaline rush. He strained to hear past his own
breathing, past the sound of his pulse pounding in his ears. He
tried to listen for the sounds of pursuit. He tried to think what
to do next.
Best to stay where he was. He was out of sight and had an escape
route if his assailant did flush him out. Unless there were two of
them --- assailants, plural. One on either end of this tunnel and
he was cooked.
He thought of Tyler, who would by now be wondering where he was.
Not that the kid was sitting alone somewhere, waiting. Tyler was
never alone. A brainiac little white kid living in Chinatown and
speaking fluent Mandarin sort of stood out. Tyler was a novelty.
People liked him and were bemused by him at the same time. The
Chens treated him like some kind of golden child sent to them for
Still, the only true family the Damon brothers had was each other.
And that bond of family with Tyler was the strongest thing Jace had
ever known. It was the thing he lived for, the motivation behind
everything he did, every goal he had.
Gotta get out of here.
Footfalls slapped on pavement. Jace couldn't tell from where.
The alley? The street? He made himself as small as he could, a
tight human ball tucked against the side of the building, and
counted his heartbeats as he waited.
A dark figure stopped at the end of the building, street side, and
stood there, arms slightly out to his sides, his movements hesitant
as he turned one way and then the other. There wasn't enough light
to make out more than the vague shape of him. He had no face. He
had no color.
Jace pressed his hand against his belly, against the envelope he
had tucked inside his shirt for safekeeping. What the hell had
Lenny gotten him into?
The dark figure at the end of the tunnel turned and went back the
way he had come.
Jace waited, counting silently until he decided Predator wasn't
coming back. Then he crept along the wall through scraps of trash
and puddles and broken glass, and cautiously peered out. A Dumpster
blocked his view. He could see only one section of taillight,
glowing like an evil red eye in the dark some distance down the
His bike lay crumpled on the ground somewhere behind the car. Jace
hoped against hope that the frame wasn't shot, that maybe only a
wheel had been mangled. He could fix that. He could fix a lot of
damage. If the frame was bent, that was something else.
He could hear Mojo now, telling him the bike was cursed. Mojo, the
tall, skinny Jamaican who had dreads down to his ass and wore the
kind of black wraparound shades meant for blind people. Mojo was
maybe thirty, an ancient among the messengers. A shaman to some. He
would have plenty to say about that bike.
Jace had inherited the thing, in a manner of speaking. That was to
say no one else would touch it when it had suddenly become
available two years before. Its previous owner, a guy who called
himself King and worked nights as an Elvis-impersonating stripper,
had lost control dodging street traffic and ended up under the
wheels of a garbage truck. The bike had survived. King had
Messengers were a superstitious bunch. King died in the line.
Nobody wanted a dead guy's bike if he died in the line. It sat in
the back hall at Base for a week, waiting to be claimed by King's
next of kin, only it turned out he didn't have any, at least none
that gave a shit about him.
Jace didn't believe in superstition. He believed you made your own
luck. King went under the wheels because he was cranked up on speed
most of the time and had poor judgment. Jace believed in focus and
hustle. He had looked at the bike and seen a strong Cannondale
frame, two good wheels, and a gel-cushioned seat. He saw himself
cutting his delivery times, making more runs, making more money. He
waved off all warnings, left the piece of shit he'd been riding
leaning against an LA Times box for anyone who wanted to steal it,
and rode home on the Cannondale. He named it The Beast.
The car's engine revved and the taillight disappeared from view.
Predator was going home, calling it after a hard day of trying to
kill people, Jace thought. Chills shook his body, from the rain and
from relief. This time when he thought he was going to puke, he
Headlights flashed past on the street. Predator passed by, the big
car growling like a panther as sirens whined in the distance.
Jace went back to the scene where his fallen mount lay, the rear
wheel mangled beyond saving. If it were a horse, someone would
shoot it, put it out of its misery. But it was a bike, and the
frame was still intact. A miracle from God, Preacher John would
have said. In his downtime between runs, Preacher John stood on the
corner of Fourth and Flower in front of the upscale Bonaventure
Hotel and recited the Bible for all those unfortunate enough to
have to pass by him.
Jace didn't believe in miracles. He'd caught a break. Two,
considering he was still alive.
He looked around for his bag, but it was gone. Taken as a trophy by
Predator, a consolation prize. Or maybe he thought he'd
accomplished his true mission. Someone wanted whatever the hell was
in Lenny Lowell's packet, held tight against Jace's belly by his
Whatever it was, Jace was going to find out. Lenny had a lot to
He picked up the bike, tilted it up onto the front wheel only, and
Excerpted from KILL THE MESSENGER © Copyright 2004 by Tami
Hoag. Reprinted with permission by Bantam, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved.