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The two guys looked at each other as if to say: can you believe this joker?

'Nice try,' the first guy said. 'Go with her José.'

She led the way upstairs and José followed her. She wasn't even surprised when he goosed her on the way up. They went into her bedroom. She kept the key in the nightstand drawer. There was something else in there as well—her Kel-Tec P-32. She'd bought it two years previously when her neighbor's husband had been shot during a home invasion. She'd gone to the gun store the next day. The guy had recommended the P-32 because of its light weight, small grip size and light trigger pull. She'd spent a few hours at the range and then it had sat in the drawer ever since. She knew the seven round capacity magazine was full.

She could come clean and tell him it was in there. Let him open the drawer and take the key and the gun. That would be the sensible thing to do. It would demonstrate a huge amount of cooperation and that had to increase the chances that they left her alone and didn't hurt her. Didn't it? Hurt her any more, that was. Or any more seriously.

But could she trust them? Were they totally focussed on the money and that was all? Or were they garden variety psychopaths who wanted to have a bit of fun as well. Fun, as in torturing her just for the sake of it. The guy right behind her now, the one whose eyes she could feel on her ass, had seemed very taken with her sushi knives. Maybe he was a knife aficionado. Perhaps he prepared sushi on a regular basis and had never been able to afford quality knives. He might want to try them out—and not just on a piece of raw tuna. She could hear them laughing and joking: Hey José, try out that knife on the bearded clam; slice it up nice and thin so we all get a bite.

It was a hell of a gamble. But so was the other alternative. To grab the gun and shoot the guy. Then what? The guy downstairs was sure to have a gun as well. He certainly had more experience using one than she did. But he'd have to come up the stairs to get her and that would give her the advantage. She could phone the police from the bedroom.

Then there was the money. Ellie had told her she would pay her for looking after it. How much more grateful would she be if she stopped the guys she'd stolen it from (it was obvious that's what had happened) from taking it back? A hundred grand grateful? Two hundred grand? Call it a round quarter million for all the aggravation?

She had to make up her mind in the next couple of seconds. God, how she hated Ellie for putting her through this. She deserved to lose the money. Psychopaths or not? A quarter of a million dollars? Her whole head hurt. Really hurt. She couldn't think straight. Was she even only thinking about it because of the blows to the head? They hurt, you bastard. And her throat. She was sure he'd crushed something important, some of the little bones in there. It hurt to swallow. How dare you attack me? In my own home. Bastards.

'It's in the nightstand,' she said.

Big mistake. Should have kept your mouth shut.

The guy wasn't stupid. He probably knew that more than a third of all Americans admit to owning a gun. Estimates said there were roughly three hundred million guns in the country—almost one for every man, woman and child. And how many of those were sitting quietly in bedroom nightstands waiting for nocturnal intruders? Millions of them. Millions and millions.

She was aware of him moving up on her fast. She lunged for the drawer handle and yanked the whole thing out and onto the floor. He was almost on top of her. She dropped to her knees. It made her exactly level with his crotch. She punched him in the balls, giving it everything she'd got and grabbed the gun with her left hand.

It wasn't a good punch. In fact it was a pathetic punch, even for a woman. He grunted, but more in surprise than in pain. He certainly didn't double over and roll around the floor moaning. But it gave her time to get hold of the gun. Only in her left hand though. She was right-handed. She didn't have time to swap hands or even aim properly. She swung her arm towards him and pulled the trigger blindly. The noise was deafening in the small room. He let out a sharp cry and looked down at his left arm. She'd caught him in the fleshy part of his upper arm.

She stared, almost in a daze, at the blood soaking into his jacket sleeve, not really knowing what to do next.

Like pull the trigger again, you dumb bitch.

It was all the time he needed. He lashed out with his foot and caught her solidly on the left shoulder. She gasped and dropped the gun as her arm went numb. The gun bounced once on the floor and landed by his feet. He bent and picked it up and stepped away as the other guy appeared in the doorway.

'Are you hurt?'

José shook his head and smiled grimly. She stared, terrified, into his eyes. She could swear he'd wanted it to happen like this all along. As if he needed an excuse. She could already feel the stinging pain as the razor sharp steel slit her flesh open, watching in horror as her blood welled up and overflowed out of the wound.

'Not as much as she's going to be,' José said through clenched teeth.

They dragged her kicking and screaming back to the kitchen where they stripped her naked, ripping at her clothes as they pushed her back and forth between them. They taped her arms and legs to a chair and made sure her legs were stretched open, nice and wide, all the soft bits on show and easy to get at. Then they taped her mouth, but they poked a small hole through the tape. She wondered if it was because they could see she was having difficulty breathing through her nose from when she'd been slapped. Or maybe they liked to hear their victims scream. Just not too loud, so as not to disturb the neighbors.

The guy she'd shot, José, had made a tourniquet out of strips of kitchen towel. It seemed it was only a flesh wound anyway. It was only his left arm as well, and, like her, he was right-handed.

'Pass me that Yan-something, will you,' he said to the other guy, whose name she still didn't know.

The guy didn't so much pass it across as stab it into the wooden table top, before going back to rooting through her handbag.

José took hold of the knife and worked it free, a sick, satisfied smile on his lips as he took hold of her hair and pulled her head back. The sound of her desperate sobs squeezing past the tape that covered her mouth made his breath come faster, made his eyes shine, as the horror that lived behind them came awake.

'Hey,' the other guy called, her driving licence in his hand, 'her name's not Rachel, it's—'

But José didn't hear the end of the sentence. A red mist consumed him as the first, hideous scream filled the room. It didn't make any difference to him what her name was. Bitch was good enough for him and soon she wouldn't need a name at all.


To be continued in A Time To Kill – Dixie Killer Blues Book 2, out NOW!

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Also by James Harper:

The Evan Buckley Thrillers:

In Cold Blood

Strip Squeeze

A Time To Kill— Dixie Killer Blues Book 2

Last Killer Standing— Dixie Killer Blues Book 3

Dixie Killer Blues—The Complete Series

Standalone Novellas and Short Stories:

Bad Call

Red Stripe

Double Red Stripe



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