Do NOT enter!

Do not remove this paper or look in the windows.

Stay quiet.

Do not let it see you or hear you.

Under no circumstances attempt to enter this apartment.

Don’t touch Kyle’s truck. It might be compromised.

We know how to get rid of it.

We are putting that plan in place as fast as we can.

We will get through this together.

Fear and anger went head to head for an instant. Fear came out ahead. Nutter retreated to the cab of his wrecker, the red notice crumpled in his hands.

His windows were still down and open to the night. As he sat in the cab he became aware that the only sound was the sigh of cars on the distant highway, joined briefly by a lonely train whistle. The crickets, the cicadas, the tree frogs and bull frogs and night-birds – every one of them had gone silent. He rolled his windows up and put his truck in gear when his phone beeped to life – text message. Same nine-digit number that had led him to this place.

I was having 2nd thoughts. U saw car seat. Towed anyway. Ur a real sick puppy. Njoy.

Nutter replied with a text that was rife with profanity. Immediately after he hit “send" his phone beeped a notice -- invalid number. He cursed and threw the phone into the passenger seat and when he looked up he saw the door to apartment #107 standing wide open with a gulf of black beyond.

He shifted into drive and put his foot on the gas.

The sky was going purple-pink when he pulled into his gravel driveway and got out of his tow-truck. His house – a tiny white number gifted from a dead aunt – stood quiet and dark-windowed amid a cluster of pines. This was home base. This is where he kept his guns, where he knew the layout. If someone was fucking with him, fine. He could admit defeat. If they wanted to take it to the next level, they’d learn what he was all about.

But for a moment all was safe. The woods held court to thousands of birds who filled it with their morning songs. He could hear them resonating for miles. Safety, they sang. Safety after a weird night. Put this nonsense behind you, go out tomorrow night and earn some money and next time double-check the numbers.

Then all the birds stopped singing and the only sound was the whisper of wind through pine branches.

Dwayne looked back toward his house. Its windows had never seemed this dark, this foreboding. Some psycho might be in there right now, drawing a bead on him with his own gun. They might be lurking in a closet, ready to slip out once he’d drifted off to sleep and take a knife to him (and despite everything, falling asleep was unavoidable – he was tired, damn tired).

Dwayne sucked it up and went to the front door. Locked, just like he’d left it at sundown. He went inside, going straight to his kitchen to claim the biggest, sharpest butcher knife he owned. That carried him to his bedroom, where he kept a pistol in the drawer of his nightstand. Thus armed he went from room to room, looking under tables and in closets, casting aside the shower curtain, even grabbing a flashlight and going on a heart-stopping climb into his spidery attic.

The house was empty.

As he’d been searching his house, the morning had come on hard. He had blackout curtains on his bedroom windows, but they wouldn’t do much good against this blazing sun. It was bound to be a bright, blue, unforgiving day. He had to put some work in tomorrow night, even if it meant driving all the way to Kansas City. That meant he needed sleep. Sleep meant taking a shower and washing off the cold sweat of the last few hours. He didn’t like the idea of being unconscious when a maniac might come after him, but being naked with shampoo in his eyes somehow seemed much worse.


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