|DEAD SHOT Sneak Peek
From the edge of the angry crowd, he watched the fat black limousine crawl to the entrance of the Gray Visual Arts Center. The place blazed, lights piercing the night like knife points. Flags celebrating the art museum’s first anniversary flapped against poles in the night breeze, snapping like skins.
Someone bellowed a chant. "De-cen-cy! De-cen-cy!" The crowd joined in, fisted arms raised in time to the beat. "De-cen-cy!"
A protester broke from the police lines and rushed the car, attacking the windshield with a homemade placard on a stick. The man couldn't read what it said, but he could guess from the others around him: GO HOME, SICKO, NO TO DEATH ART, JESUS IS THE TRUE SACRIFICE. A phalanx of uniformed cops pried the scraggly man off the car and dragged him away.
Amid the swirlthe multitude of TV trucks with their satellite antennas, the angry crowd, the police trying to maintain a barricadethe man stood still, hands buried deep in his jacket pockets. The eye of the hurricane.
He inhaled deeply, absorbed the chaos through his skin. It leached into his veins and up his bloodstream, pumped hard and fast through his heart. The noise, the excitement, the energy of the night juiced him with a seething envy he could hardly contain.
For her. All for her.
The crowd pushed against the police line as the limousine stopped at the foot of the museum steps. He stood in the back, and from that distance, the four passengers appeared like tiny dolls climbing the stairs. But he imagined them. Wrapped in silk and glitter, six-thousand-dollar tuxedos, three-thousand-dollar shoes.
And her pale, white body, such fragile beauty, soft and perfumed.
A swarm of reporters descended from all sides of the steps and overwhelmed the four passengers. The shape of the swarm bulged and contracted as people shoved each other for position.
Jealousy churned into white-hot resentment. It should be him up there. Him in the newspapers, him on television. It should be his name the crowd chanted.
She was a liar, and a cheat.
He was the real thing.
She only imitated death.
He created it.
Be careful what you wish for. As the limousine crept through the enraged protesters that little piece of irony reverberated in Gillian Gray’s head.
Outside the car, the protesters formed pockets, dispersed, and re-formed again, like a giant snake undulating in fury. Gillian narrowed her eyes so the group’s edges blurred. She imagined a dragon. A monster. As if she’d summoned Godzilla from the depths.
Maddie leaned over and murmured, "Regrets?"
Gillian could smell the perfume on her. Something strong and spicy. Venom or Vengeance. She smiled. "Are you kidding?"
Maddie smiled back. "You are not a nice person."
"Look who’s talking."
It was Maddie who had convinced Gillian to come in the first place. Maddie, with her long, scary face and Morticia Addams hair, who, as Gillian’s assistant, had taken the message and passed it on to her. "It’s the museum’s first anniversary," she’d said. "They want to bring in a local."
Oh, Gillian was a local all right. Not born, and because of boarding school, not even bred. But branded just the same. The way the building they were creeping to was branded. Gray. Gillian Gray. Daughter of a murdered daughter. Photographer. Aristocrat. Demon. Artiste.
But not Maddie, lucky girl. She was from some other godforsaken place. Some other nightmare. One where food itself was scarce. Not rich, not famous. Just glad to go to school with them, be friends with them. How long had she known Maddie? Longer than she wanted to count.
Gillian watched her friend out of the corner of her eye. She was pouring a small snooker of liquid courage for les grandperes.
Helpful Maddie. Lean and spare and strong as a tree limb weathered by winds.
Of course, Gillian had initially refused the invitation. She’d shrugged and climbed the ten-foot ladder to the platform in her Brooklyn studio where a bulky eight-by-ten camera sat on a tripod overlooking a set of a kitchen. An ordinary, commonplace suburban kitchen. But nothing in this life was ordinary, a kitchen least of all.
"The museum has your name on it," Maddie had said.
"My grandfather’s name," Gillian had corrected.
"It would be a great tie-in. Good publicity."
"I don’t need publicity."
Too true. Her name and face had been famous since she was a child and, as an adult, her work had always been controversial. So, she couldn’t avoid publicity even if she wanted to. And she didn’t want to. Not really. How could he find her if he didn’t know where she was?
Maddie had held the pink message slip between two fingers. Waved it like the devil offering temptation to a sinner. "Yeah, but think how much you could rock their world."
Gillian stared at her friend. Maddie’s lips had twitched, not a smile exactly, but the smug suggestion of one.
Gillian had snatched the message out of Maddie’s hand.
Rock their world.
It sure to hell was rocking now.
And this was only the VIP party; the show hadn’t even opened yet. What would happen on Friday?
A thud. Someone with a sign flung himself at the slow- moving vehicle. On the seat opposite, her grandmother, Genevra, gasped and clutched at her fur-encased throat. It was early April, but she still wore the silver mink, more out of status than a need for warmth, although she did always complain about the cold. Not enough fat on those patrician bones. Above the stole’s rim, Genevra’s throat rose tall and tapered, the cords stretched tight in her too-thin neck. She stared in horror at the half word, "obsceni," which hung on the window, then slipped out of sight as a cop dragged whoever it was away.
"It’s all right," Gillian’s grandfather said grimly. He squeezed his wife’s other hand, curled tightly in her lap. His own was beefy, his fingers squat and well manicured.
"Of course it is," Genevra said through tight lips, pretending, as she always did.
Of course it was.
They made a handsome couple. The college quarterback and his homecoming queen. Growing up it seemed no surprise to Gillian that their only child had become an icon of beauty. At least to everyone with a subscription to Vogue. Not much of an icon to her own parents, however, but that was an old story.
Gillian turned, pressed her forehead against the glass like she was seven again.
"Get away from the window," Genevra snapped.
Gillian ignored her. She peered into the face of the furies. Was he out there? Watching her? Would he come for her, too?
"Gillian!" Genevra’s voice grated into the hum of silence inside the car.
"Is your glass empty, Genevra? Let me take that from you." Maddie’s voice behind her. Smooth interference. "Wouldn’t want to ruin that beautiful mink with spilled gin."
"Thank you," Genevra said, the words a sniff of stoicism, a warble of concealment, a disguise.
"Vintage?" Maddie asked, and like that she distracted Genevra into a discussion of fur and color and shape.
And Gillian could stare out the window at the faces. Would she see his face? The face of the man who’d killed her beautiful and famous mother? Was he out there, watching?
Be careful what you wish for.