Authors: Bill Evans
To my children, Maggie, William, Julia, and Sarah. You have brought me more joy and love than anything else in life!
I am a firm believer in work hard, keep your head down, stay above the fray, work as a team, and then good things will happen. I have a wonderful team to work with that has made me a great success. “Thank you” is just not enough for the outstanding work you have done to make
come to life.
I want to first thank the wonderful people at Tor/Forge Books for having the confidence in me once again! You guys apparently love the punishment of producing a book with me!
Thanks to Tom Doherty, Linda Quinton, and Melissa Singer at Tor/Forge for believing in me and for your extremely hard work. Melissa, you are the best editor on the planet. Let’s keep that our secret. Thanks to the world’s greatest book agent and friend, Coleen O’Shea of the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency. Thanks for all the great guidance and white wine. Thanks to Mark Nykanen for your love of weather and geoengineering.
I want to thank my “extended family” at WABC-TV for their love and support all these years. Lori Stokes, Ken Rosato, Susan Greenstein, Eddie Arsis, Sandy Kenyon, Andy Savas, Vanessa Botelho, David Bloch, you make it a pleasure to go to work every weekday at 2:00
! Sorry for all those times I came in a little grumpy. You really find out who your friends are when you work the harsh hours that we do. Thanks so much for your love, kindness, and friendship.
Thanks to my wonderful wife, Dana. I know I’m often away on book tours, and I thank you for your advice and support! You are the greatest.
There’s no need for retreat but he steps back anyway. For a better view. A body lies spread-eagled on the floor: once a woman, now a bloodied, disfigured form. Red smears on rough planks.
The smells of salt and sweat and blood rise like the crackling madness of cicadas, millions of them beating their belly membranes in the surrounding fields and forests.
A taper burns in his hand, flickering light that dares the shadows to dance, the reckless darkness to come to life.
Carefully, with a true aim, steady hand, he dribbles wax on the five points of a pentacle that he’s carved into her chest, then stares at the smaller stars that he’s gouged into each of her perfect cheeks and her lightly lined brow.
Her empty eyes are open, but even in death—so ravenous and raw—they hold his gaze. Not for long. He will grant them special attention.
He retrieves two white votive candles from his pocket and lights them. The scents of anise, cinnamon, cloves, and rose hips fill his nostrils. Like cookies.
He doesn’t touch her. Not directly. Not anymore. He tilts the taper till it spills hot wax on her fallen eyes, patiently sealing their glum surfaces. The rest of her face, though lit with an orange glow, proves no less opaque, its features drowned in a crimson flood, as if she’s been flayed in a furious rage. Purely unidentifiable at a glance, and that’s all he allows himself, for a calm has come; and his attention to the macabre details of murder is spent. For now.
He smiles. He didn’t choose her. She chose herself. The laws of night coming alive in veils of sudden wonder.
He stares at the red length of her, then places the taper on her bloody belly, where babies might have nested. The candle falls over, sticks to her richly scored skin, and sputters in the silence. As she did. Quickly snuffed. As she was.
Straightening, he runs his index finger and thumb down the slippery sides of a beveled blade, his eyes on the drips that spatter the floor.
Like the rain that never comes.
Jenna Withers could see more than fifty miles from the shotgun seat of
The Morning Show
helicopter. None of it looked pretty. The farms and forests north of New York City had turned to tinder. Mid-October was as hot as mid-August had been, the third scorching year in a row. Lakes and reservoirs were drying up and the rivers looked like they’d slunk away from their banks, thieves in the night.
It was just as dry—or drier—on the West Coast and across the Sun Belt. The hottest growing season on record. Much of the Midwest had been singed, too, with farmers in Iowa and Nebraska losing 80 percent of their corn crop. Food and fuel prices were rising as fast as the mercury.
Minutes ago Jenna; her producer, Nicole Parsons; and their crew had choppered out of New York City, the heart of a drought emergency that had been declared two months ago. That was the second highest level of official panic, right below drought disaster—conditions so dire that they were bluntly unthinkable in a metro area of twenty million people.
No one in the Big Apple had escaped the vicious grip of the Northeast drought. Water for parks, golf courses, and fountains? Fahgeddaboutit. Let ’em brown, where they hadn’t burned. Car washes? You gotta be kiddin’. Pools? You’re still jokin’.
Not even sprinklers to cool off the kiddies, and fire hydrants were locked up tighter than Tiffany’s. Most of the water for everything but drinking now came from the Hudson River, where crews worked 24/7 to pump out tens of millions of gallons. The water level had dropped to historic lows. Sailors had to take extra steps to climb down from docks to their decks, but this was a minor inconvenience to a city in survival mode. A city that looked like it was on chemo.
Jenna, a meteorologist, didn’t need the Ph.D. after her name to tally up the terror that could come from a cigarette tossed into the brittle brush down below, where a single spark could turn the region crisp as Southern California when the Santa Ana winds wicked all the life from the land, before burning the mountainsides black. Merely looking down at the devastation from the front passenger seat brought to mind the scores of scientific studies linking high temperatures and high-pressure systems to homicide and the full spectrum of urban violence.
The current condition was a classic summertime high. It had originated just east of Bermuda. For most of the past two months, it had driven the polar jet stream north, into Canada, and the subtropical jet stream south, below the Gulf of Mexico. That left the “Bermuda high,” as it was aptly known, hunkered down like a big old bear at a beehive, far too content to move.
“You finding our reservoir? I’m getting nervous back here.” Nicole’s voice came through Jenna’s headphones. In the seat right behind her, “Nicci” to those who knew her well, was the off-camera part of the weather team. She was as short and dark-haired as Jenna was tall and blond. They were the best of friends—real friends, not frenemies—which was good because they were virtually joined at the hip, “married” in the parlance of network television.
“I don’t see it yet.”
Nicci shot back, “We’ve got to land somewhere and go live in
There’s always a frickin’ countdown.
Her stomach tightened as seconds flew by, softening only slightly when their pilot, Harry “Bird” Stephenson, pointed to a huge empty bowl in the earth that was their destination, a reservoir wrung dry of every last ounce, as if a plug had been pulled on the whole works, but not a drop had drained: All the water had burned into the sky.
Dust was rising now, engulfing the copter, swirling wildly as if they were in Iraq or Afghanistan. Bird flew by instruments—eyes locked on the panel, pudgy hands on the controls—and landed on the edge of the dry lake bed with the softest bump.
With the engine shut down and the AC off, the glass bubble heated up faster than a cheap lightbulb. Jenna started to sweat immediately. Her blouse and panty hose felt like warm, wet leaves plastered to her skin. Even the dust still eddying outside looked more appealing than sitting in this sauna. But the instant she reached for the door, Bird took her arm.
“I don’t want that goddamn grit getting in here. It’s hell on the instruments. Give it a sec to settle down.”
“Bird,” Nicci said in her most urgent voice, “we’ve got about five minutes to get out, get set up, and get on the air.
Bird. Let’s go.”
Nicci shouldered open her door, rousing Andi, the camerawoman, from her open-eyed torpor. Andi cradled the high-definition digital camera in her arms as she started to climb out the left side of the chopper.
Jenna sucked in one more breath before heading into the chest-choking air. Ducking, she hustled out from under the still whirling rotors, and spotted a man and his border collie in the drifting dust. Not a happy pair. The guy stood stiffly, rifle by his side. That made Jenna uneasy. She found little relief in glancing at Bowser. The dog was poised next to his master, staring at Jenna from a pair of unblinking blue marbles. Eerie freakin’ eyes.
Doesn’t the dust get in them?
Jenna’s own eyes were closed to slits.
Squinting, she looked from beast to man. They looked like attitude squared, an opinion only confirmed when he roared, “You didn’t even see us, did you?”
“I’m not the pilot,” she said calmly, hoping to soothe him. He did have that rifle.
we manage to miss them?
“You almost killed us.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“Everywhere we ran, that helicopter kept coming at us, and then we couldn’t see a damn thing with all the dust. Four miles of open reservoir, and you just about planted that thing right on our heads. How stupid is that?”
Jenna glanced at Bird, still sitting at the controls, staring straight ahead. Leaving her to own up.
“Pretty damn stupid,” Jenna agreed. “Look, really, I’m sorry. I’m Jenna Withers. I do weather for
The Morning Show.
“I know who you are.”
Now she noticed a pistol hung from his hip.
“Law enforcement?” she asked softly. Hoping. She’d grown up with guns—her dear departed father had been a hunter and marksman all his life—but years of city living had made her more wary of firearms.
But you’re not
she told herself.
Before he could answer, Nicci snapped, “Weather girl”—only she could get away with that moniker—“three minutes.
Jenna nodded, still hoping that the gunslinger was a cop because presumably they possessed a strong measure of self-control with their weapons. On the other hand, there had to be some really nasty FAA regulations about almost landing a chopper on an officer and his four-legged friend.
“Dairy farmer,” she heard him say in the next breath.
“Dairy farmer,” she repeated. That sounded friendly enough:
Elsie the cow, right?
Reassuring. So was the lowered volume of his voice. Which was good because she needed to focus on the live update, now less than ninety seconds away. She pulled weather data up on her laptop screen, then checked temperatures for the region; this was a story on the Northeast drought, so she didn’t need to worry about the entire country on this go-round.