The Shop Online - J. Carson Black

PROLOGUE

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND

ASPEN, COLORADO

Landry thought: The kid’s positively giddy.

Landry had been getting comfortable with the night, watching from the woods as the party wound down at the house on Castle Creek Road, people getting into their expensive cars and driving away, leaving just the core group.

Shortly after, the young man came out and made his unsteady way to the deck railing. He had spiky hair and a scarecrow frame. He looked down at the rushing water, then up at the stars. Landry could see his smile even from where he was. The kid’s skinny arms hugged his body, as if he couldn’t quite believe his good fortune. Tipsy—more than tipsy, inebriated—but something had delighted him, thrilled him. Something had gone very right for him today.

The young man twirled around, looking at the stars. Mesmerized by them. He could have been the leading man in his own musical—the wonderful story of his life. He could barely contain his joy. He had less than an hour to live.

As they reached the walkway, Landry said, “Gloves and masks from now on.”

They split up. Jackson would go in first, through the back door. Landry and Davis would go in the front. Green would remain outside; he was surveillance only.

They waited for Jackson to report in. “Upstairs clear.”

“How many?”

“Two. The couple. They were laying in bed.”

“Lying,” Landry said.

“What?”

“Lying in bed. Not laying.”

A pause. Then, “Roger that.”

Davis opened the front door in one smooth, quick motion, and they stepped inside.

The lights were on. Landry saw the expensive furnishings and enormous stone fireplace, cataloging these things briefly before dismissing them. His eye was on the four targets. Three of them were sleeping: a male and female entwined on a zebra skin near the fireplace and a young woman crashed out on the couch. The fourth was in the process of walking unsteadily toward the kitchen. He was the kid Landry had seen twirling under the stars. A lot worse for wear. He’d done some steady imbibing, or toking, or snorting, since last Landry saw him on the deck.

The kid looked at them. His eyes had difficulty tracking. He said, “You should’ve come earlier, there was a lot more food.”

Landry fell into step with the kid and put an arm around his shoulder, casually pulling him around so he held him from behind. He slit the kid’s throat and dropped him like a sack of grain. Dead in eight seconds.

Davis finished dispatching the couple as Landry turned his attention to the sleeper, who was half-sitting, half-lying, her head resting against the couch back. Some sixth sense must have awakened her because she cocked her head upward, her eyes bewildered.

Startled.

He’d seen her before. It came to him—Brienne Cross. One of those celebrities in the news all the time. His daughter had a poster of her up in her room.

He hesitated just long enough for alarm to dawn in her eyes, which dismayed him. He touched a finger to his lips, letting her know it was all right, and pulled her up toward him with one hand. He drew his knife across her throat with the other.

Her mouth went slack. The light in her eyes died. He let her back down on the couch, gently.

“Four here,” he said into the radio. Thinking: Brienne Cross.

Jackson joined them. There were six people dead. All in all the operation had taken fewer than five minutes.

Landry looked at Jackson. Jackson shifted his feet, then started back toward the stairway. His reluctance was clear. He might not do a convincing job.

Landry said, “I’ll do it.”

The couple lay in bed, naked above the sheets. They looked peaceful despite their slashed throats. Landry crossed himself, trying to think of what he did next as gutting a deer. They were dead; they would feel nothing. But their mutilation bothered him.

Done, he glanced around the room, which now resembled an abattoir. His regret at the desecration of these young people was eclipsed by the satisfaction of a job accomplished with flawless precision. It had taken him three and a half minutes, including painting the two eights on the mirror with the woman’s blood.

As he started down the stairs, Landry thought about the girl on the couch, the look in her eyes: frightened, then trusting, and finally, empty.

His daughter wanted to grow up to be Brienne Cross.

They were almost out of there. One last check of the perimeter and—

Then he heard sirens. They were a long way off but coming fast.

Simultaneously, Green’s voice crackled in his ear.

“Police heading this way.”

“Where?”

“Up from