PROLOGUE


The Fireman smiled through artificial teeth and studied his reflection in the rearview mirror of his rented black Lincoln.

Like uncooked chicken, gobs of skin dangled from his cheeks.

He used the point of his sharp knife to flick off a piece of stringy flesh from below his right eye.

“Looks like I could use another face transplant,” he said, matter-of-factly.

He checked his watch and drew in a breath.

It was time.

He opened the car door and walked casually up to the Victorian house.

He turned.

Watson Street was quiet, as usual. Much like most of Taterville.

From beneath his heavy fireman’s coat, sweat dripped down his scarred body.

He rang the bell with the tip of his knife.

This was the best part. The anticipation.

He smiled to himself.

I wonder who will answer? I hope it’s his beloved Holly. I just love to watch a woman’s face as the blade goes in.

He stepped back, and waited.

Either way, he thought, I’ll have my revenge.



C H A P T E R 1


The disturbing, deadly sound of the doorbell interrupted our lively lunch.

“I’ll get it,” Holly said.

“Please do,” I said. “I love to watch you wiggle away.”

Holly sighed.

“Amos Grant, don’t you ever tire of looking at your wife’s backside?”

I tilted my head for a better look. Holly was wearing a pair of cutoff jeans that fit her petite 45-year-old taut body snugly.

“Nope,” I said.

A dimple surfaced in her right cheek. “Good answer,” she said over her shoulder. Then she exaggerated her wiggle, teasing me all the way down the long hallway before braking at the front door of our old Victorian house.

It was another sweltering sunny Florida day in Taterville. In a week we’d be celebrating our eleventh 4th of July together in the old Grant home. I still had occasional pangs of wanting to chuck it all–the house, the weekly newspaper, the struggling detective agency–and move away with Holly from our hick town in the middle of the state and go north, perhaps work on a large daily paper again. However when reality returned to my manic brain I knew it was merely a pipe dream. Hell, I thought, I’ll be drawing Social Security in ten years, seven if I opt to retire at sixty-two.

I tried not to think of my wasted youth. God, growing old was enough to make a happy man depressed. And I wasn’t one prone to happiness. Except, of course, when I looked at Holly.

I leaned back in my kitchen chair to ogle her heart-shaped bottom some more. She opened the front door to the outside. I squinted from the blinding sunlight to make out the figure standing before her. He was bathed in a halo of heat.

A uniform? A fireman?

Then, as if in slow motion, I saw it: a shiny sharp object in his raised hand.

My God! It’s him!

Before I could get to my feet, I heard Holly’s moan. She staggered backwards; then crashed into the small phone table by the door where I always dropped my keys when I came home.

The table toppled over and Holly fell to the floor with a knife imbedded in her chest. She gazed up at me with a glassy stare.

I cradled her head and frantically called 911 with one hand.

“This is Amos Grant. Holly’s been stabbed. Send an ambulance … now!”

Taterville’s emergency crew knew me. I didn’t have to elaborate.

Holly’s hand reached up and touched my cheek and a deathly chill inched across my hot face. “The EMT’s are on the way,” I told her. “Hold on.” Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes as I brought her limp hand to my lips.

Life slid from Holly’s face. “He’s back,” she said.

Then her eyes closed and she was still, deadly still.

“No! Oh, God! No!”

I wasn’t a man to pray, but I did.

Not Holly, Lord. Please, not her.

Then I screamed out the open door.

“Come on! Kill me, you bastard!”

I wanted him to end it, once and for all.

But Lester Dowd, the crazed Fireman, did not take the challenge.

Once more, he vaporized into the hellish heat from whence he came.

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