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Authors: Ace Atkins

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The Forsaken

BOOK: The Forsaken
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ALSO BY ACE ATKINS

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The Lost Ones

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G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS

Publishers Since 1838

Published by the Penguin Group

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A Penguin Random House Company

Copyright © 2014 by Ace Atkins

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Atkins, Ace.

The forsaken / Ace Atkins.

p. cm.—(A Quinn Colson novel ; 4)

ISBN 978-1-101-59292-2

1. United States. Army—Commando troops—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 3. Mississippi—Fiction. 4. Mystery fiction. I. Title.

PS3551.T49F67 2014 2014015440

813'.54—dc23

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

For Dutch Leonard and Tom Laughlin

Contents

Also by Ace Atkins

Map

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Most men are more afraid of being thought cowards than of anything else, and a lot more afraid of being thought physical cowards than moral ones.

—W
ALTER
V
AN
T
ILBURG
C
LA
RK,
The Ox-Bow Incident

If somebody’s trailing you, make a circle, come back onto your own tracks, and ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.

—R
OGERS’
R
ANGER
S
S
TANDING
O
RDER
N
O. 17

July 4, 1977

A
fter Diane Tull caught her boyfriend in the back of his cherry-red Trans Am making out with some slut from Eupora, she told Lori she didn’t give a damn about the fireworks. Jimmy had run up after her, right in front of everyone and God, grabbed her elbow, and said she didn’t see what she thought she saw. And Diane stopped walking, put her hands to the tops of her flared Lee’s, wearing a thin yellow halter and clogs, big hoop earrings, and Dr
Pepper–f
lavored lipstick. She wanted Jimmy to see what he was missing just because a six-pack of Coors had clouded his brain and he’d jumped at the cheapest tail he could find on the Jericho Square.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I swear. She just crawled on top of me.”

“Here, would you hold something for me?” Diane said.

Jimmy smiled and nodded. Diane shot him her middle finger, turned on a heel, and walked through the Square toward the big gazebo, all lit up for the celebration, a band playing a half-decent version of “Freebird.” There were a lot of old men and young men hanging out in folding chairs and folding tables, big metal barbecue pits blowing smoke off chicken and ribs, talking about
Saigon and the Battle of the Bulge. The town aldermen had called it a celebration of Tibbehah County’s “Contribution to Freedom.” Damn, Diane just wanted the hell out of there to go smoke a cigarette and settle in and watch Johnny Carson before her father, a Pentecostal minister, told her to turn off that Hollywood filth.

He was never much fun. He didn’t even laugh when Johnny had on those animals who would crap on his desk.

“Let’s get a ride,” Lori said. Damn, she’d never forget that, Lori not wanting to walk the two miles home. Diane remembered being mad at Jimmy in that seventeen-year-old heartbreak way, but also feeling the freedom of the summer and a night like the Fourth of July when Jericho actually felt like a place she wanted to be, with the music and good-smelling food and cold watermelon. All the boys with their big shiny trucks and muscle cars circling the Square like sharks, revving their motors, tooting their horns, and trying to get Diane and Lori inside like some kind of trophies for the boy parade.

“We could see the fireworks,” Lori said. “After that, lots of people would give us rides.”

Lori was three years younger and lots less developed, still sort of gawky, with her plastic glasses and braces, hair feathered back, wearing a tight Fleetwood Mac T-shirt, ass-hugging bell-bottoms, and clogs identical to Diane’s. Diane and Lori had lived next door to each other since they’d been born, and Diane for a long time felt like the mother before she became the big sister. She was glad that Lori saw that shit with Jimmy. She wanted Lori to know a girl didn’t get treated like toilet paper, no matter if Jimmy was a senior and that his dad owned the big lumber mill and had bought him that red Pontiac for his birthday. You didn’t take a goddamn tramp thrown in your face.

“I never liked that bastard anyway.”

“The way he’s always brushing his hair, thinking he’s pretty,” Lori said. “Talks down to me like I’m a kid. Like when he comes over on Sunday before your parents get home and he tells me to get lost. Who talks to someone like that?”

“He’s a real jackass.”

“Maybe this would make us feel better,” Lori said, stopping in front of the closed storefront of Snooky Williams’ Insurance, opening her purse and showing Diane a little baggie with a couple joints in it. “I stole them from my mom. She won’t say anything because she doesn’t think I know about her liking to smoke.”

“Lori?”

“Yeah,” she said, as they walked side by side around the shops, the
Tibbehah Monitor
, the old laundromat, Kaye’s Western Wear, and the old Rexall Drugs.

“You’re my hero,” she said.

Around the Square, the old movie marquee showed
The Exorcist
II
still. They wouldn’t be getting that Star Wars movie for another two years. They turned away from the big celebration and followed Cotton Road to the west, out of town and into the country, and the little houses off County Road 234 where they lived. They made the walk a lot of days, sometimes coming into the Rexall for milk shakes or ice cream, mainly to meet up when there wasn’t much to do, before Diane had taken that afternoon job at the Dairy Queen off Highway 45. Something else that her dad didn’t like, again saying she’d come into highway trash. Diane thinking he must have a whole system of how to divide trashy people by geography.

The music was still loud coming from the Square a quarter mile away as they walked through people’s yards and little gullies and on the soft gravel shoulder of the road. Headlights popped up only every few minutes, and they’d walk into shadows and away from the road when a car would be coming up on them from town. When they got to the creek bridge, just a little concrete span, they walked down the bank, a hell of a lot easier when they took off their clogs and didn’t slide. There was a big flat rock where they could jump over the shallow sandy creek. They used to come here a lot as kids and play and watch the old men fish. Lori’s stepfather and Diane’s dad had been friends for a while but had a falling-out when Lori’s parents had left the church and become Methodists.

Lori pulled out a joint and lit it with a matchbook from the Rebel Truck Stop. She sucked on it a few moments, coughed out most of the smoke, and smiled as she passed it.

“Listen,” Diane said, straining to hear the music off the Square. “What’s that song?”

“‘My Name Is Lisa.’”

“Yes,” Diane said, taking a long pull. “Yes. Jessi Colter. God damn, I love Jess Colter.”

“Anyone ever tell you that you favor her?”

“Jess Colter?” Diane said. “Um, no. You can’t be high yet.”

“You’re dark like her,” Lori said. “And the way you do your hair, all black and feathered. Makes you look like an Indian.”

“I am part Indian,” Diane said. “On my momma’s side. Her daddy was full Cherokee.”

“You never told me that.”

“My daddy says it’s an embarrassment to have Indian blood,” Diane said. “He said those people were godless and did nothing but worship trees and rocks.”

Lori passed back the joint. There was a very large moon that night and a lot of stars, the rock where they sat still warm from the hot summer days. They both heard cracks off in the distance and both turned to the sky above Jericho thinking that the fireworks had started.

“Shit,” Diane said. “Just some rednecks shooting off pistols. Every Christmas and Fourth of July they got to make a lot of noise and raise hell. They’ll be shooting all night long.”

“You think we can see the fireworks from here?”

“Sure,” Diane said. “Why not?” Diane reached into her purse and pulled out a pint of Aristocrat Vodka and took a swig.

“Are we both going to hell?” Lori asked. She said it with a great deal of seriousness, spending way too much time as a kid at Diane’s daddy’s church.

“All I really know, Lori, is that I don’t want to be like my dad or even my
mother,” Diane said. “What they do is not living. It’s preparing to die. My dad won’t be satisfied until he’s fitted into his coffin, waiting to take the journey to heaven to square-dance and drink apple juice.”

Lori laughed so hard, she spit out a little vodka. Diane smoked the joint, the idea of Jimmy making her laugh, too. The hair, all that goddamn blond hair, and that little joke of a mustache. He thought he looked like Burt Reynolds but really looked like he’d forgotten to wipe his face.

After a while under the moon, and finding warmth on that hot rock, they finished the joint and a lot of the vodka and walked back up the hill to the road. They slid into their clogs and laughed and walked over the bridge, a big expanse of cattle land stretching out to the north of them, cows grouped under shade trees as if they couldn’t tell when the sun had gone down, and a gathering of trailers and little houses every quarter mile or so. Their road wasn’t too far, a turn at Varner’s Quick Mart and about a half mile beyond that into the hills. Diane would have to run straight to the bathroom to get off the smoke smell and brush her teeth, she could guarantee the pastor would be checking on her before he turned in from his nightly Bible readings at the kitchen table. And if he started in on her again, the animated yelling and screaming, her mother would be just assured to be back in their bedroom covered up and hiding, waiting to be bright-faced and beaming in the morning as if the words hadn’t been said.

They were about a quarter mile past the bridge, laughing and talking, planning some kind of revenge for Jimmy, learning of two boys that Lori thought she could get once her braces came off, and deciding that if it came down to Jan-Michael Vincent and Parker Stevenson, that Parker seemed to be much smarter and better-looking. They both liked how he handled himself on the
Battle of the Network Stars
.

“Who’s that?”

Diane turned and looked over her shoulder, walking kind of sloppy on the gravel, not caring to move back off the highway. “Who cares?”

“They’re slowing down.”

“Shit,” Diane said. “Probably Jimmy wanting to explain how it was really that tramp’s fault for jumping into his backseat and starting to make out.”

The car had slowed to a crawl, but when she looked back again, she didn’t see those telltale cat eyes of the Trans Am. This was a bigger car, black, probably a Chevy, with big headlights that switched onto bright and blinded them a bit, the engine in neutral and growling.

“Fucking asshole!” Diane yelled.

“Yeah,” Lori said. “Fucking asshole!”

The engine growled again, leaving the high beams on, following them slow and steady. The creep really getting on Diane’s nerves. She waved for the car to move on, and when that didn’t work, raised her right hand high and shot the bird. The driver revved the engine and blasted up ahead of them and then just as fast hit the brakes hard. The car idled in the hot summer air up in the high gentle curve of the country road, the exhaust chugging, taillights glowing red.

“You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Someone is just messing with us,” Diane said. “I’m not scared.”

“Me either,” Lori said. “Fuck you, man!”

They laughed and kept walking, waiting for the car to speed off, but instead it just sat there maybe forty yards away, and then the driver shot the car into reverse, heading back for them. The girls jumped off the shoulder and found themselves caught between the road and a long barbed wire fence. Diane felt the fence poking and catching her top and biting into her side. “Goddamn son of a bitch.”

The car was a Chevy, a black Monte Carlo, and it waited at the roadside, both of the girls stuck down between the gulley and the road. Diane grabbed Lori’s hand and told her to be quiet and just walk, and they followed the road as the Monte Carlo drove slow alongside of them. Revving the motor every few seconds, Diane now scared, scared as hell, because she didn’t know this car or the driver and knew they were still a good ways from Varner’s, where they could call someone, or scream near some trailers, and not be hanging out here
in the night. She couldn’t even imagine what her daddy would say if she told him.

The passenger window rolled down. She could not see the driver but caught part of his face when he fired up a cigarette and said, “You little dolls want a ride?” In half shadow, he was black and wore a beard, she could see, a jean jacket collar popped around his neck, something wrong with his skin, as if some of it had been burned at one time. The lighter went out and the girls kept walking. She held Lori’s hand tighter. The younger girl was trembling and staring at the ground. That proud, sexy strut from the Square was gone; now it was fast and shameful and following that barbed wire path, her muttering that she should never ever have taken those joints, that they shouldn’t have been drinking and messing about.

“Hush,” Diane said. “Just hush.”

The Monte Carlo revved. The man followed them slow but didn’t say another word. Diane thought maybe they could run, but running might make it worse, show the man they were scared, although he probably already knew it and liked it.

When an old truck passed them on the road, one headlight busted out, and heading to town, the girls ran up to the side of the road and waved and yelled, but the truck just kept on puttering by them, leaving them full out exposed in the headlights of the Monte Carlo and caught in the high beams. As the old truck disappeared over the hill, there was still the sound of the big party, a mile away, playing some Tanya Tucker. “Delta Dawn.”

Diane held on to Lori’s hand tighter.

The driver’s door opened and the shadow of the man appeared behind the lights. Diane tried to shield her eyes and yelled for the man to get the hell away from both of them. Lori was crying. And that made Diane madder than anything. “What the fuck do you want?”

BOOK: The Forsaken
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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