Author Stephanie Kane-quiet time, blind spot, new books, book online, book search
 
 
 

EXTREME INDIFFERENCE
P R O L O G U E

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 “Isn’t this where they found that woman’s head?” “Relax,” he told her.      “You’re with me.”
     The girl pretended to shiver, and he slipped his free arm around her waist. She snuggled closer and he smiled to himself.
     Spring break had come early, but Left Hand Canyon remained untouched by the official change in season. In their shaggy winter coat the foothills held no appeal for the hikers who would dot the trails once the days lengthened and penstemons and Indian paintbrush burst into bloom.
Here the grade was steep, the terrain rugged, and the snow that streamed down the gutters in Boulder clung to the walls of the canyon like cascading ice.
     He glanced in the rearview mirror. They’d left the lights of the valley behind, and when the SUV in front of them finally turned, they were alone. He slid his arm from her waist and let his hand drop to her knee.
     “Where are we going?” she asked.
     “We’re almost there.”
     She moved his hand to her lap and tugged her skirt across her knees.
     “Isn’t this where that CU girl was raped?” she asked.
     “That was lower down, at a picnic spot. And they caught the guys, remember?”
     “I don’t like it here,” she said. “Can’t we go back?”
     As he negotiated the sharp turn onto gravel, the wheels spun and he held his breath. It was his dad’s car and being towed would mean a lot of explaining. Or, worse, being grounded. And if she saw that DEAD END sign. . . They gained traction and he slowly exhaled.
     He’d scoped this spot in daylight, but now nothing seemed familiar. A log house under construction loomed to the left and his hands tensed on the wheel. No pickup trucks—the workers had knocked off for the day. Two hundred yards later a dirt drive led to a finished dwelling hidden in the trees. At the cul-de-sac the gravel ended. He pulled onto the berm and switched off his engine.
     “You said you’d show me something neat.”
     He reached for her but she slapped his hands away. Just hard enough to show who was the boss. He leaned back in his seat. Plenty of time. No need to rush. After a moment, he gave her knee a conciliatory squeeze and this time she let his hand remain.
     The cul-de-sac was framed by forty-foot pines and the wind carried a sharp scent. He felt the girl slide towards him on the seat. No resistance as he slipped his hand under her sweater, but when he reached behind to unhook her bra she suddenly twisted away. Before he could react she jumped out of the car.
     “Is this what you wanted me to see?”
     She pointed to a barbed wire fence with a metal sign. PRIVATE LAND— NO ACCESS TO NATIONAL FOREST. But her tone was light, more teasing than bitchy. Offended that he’d read her so well—or simply prolonging the chase?
     As he followed her through the shadows to the clearing at the edge of the cul-de-sac, his feet sank in soft mountain gravel. Past the fence the terrain was studded with moss-covered boulders and towering trees shielded the ground from snow. A trail hugged the hillside beyond the barbed wire, and a small cabin across the ravine, perhaps a quarter mile away, was barely visible in the twilight. The scent of pine was very strong, the only sound the wind rushing down from the Continental Divide. He looked up at the first stars emerging in the inky sky.
     “They’re brighter here,” he said. On cue, a full moon began to rise.
     “It is beautiful,” she agreed, and gave a little shiver. Now that he was playing by the rules, she no longer had to pretend she was angry. As he came up behind her and drew her close, he knew she’d forgiven him for his busy hands and the earlier scare. Emotional contact, isn’t that what they said? A little of that went a long way…. He led her through a break in the fence to a stand of trees. The branches sheltered them from the wind and the ground beneath them felt warm and dry. Relaxing in his embrace, she let him pull her to the fragrant carpet of pine.
     “I wish we’d brought a blanket,” she murmured as he began kissing her throat. The needles were springy and it wasn’t until she stiffened that her words registered. He stopped fumbling with his belt.
     “There’s one in the trunk.” Would she make him use the backseat of the car?
     “It’s OK,” she said. Knowing how primed he was, just wanting to see how far he would go to please her. As she reached for his fly he forgave her. He would have forgiven her anything.
     “What’s that?” she whispered.
      The sound seemed to come from a long way off. From the direction of the ravine.
     “Nothing,” he lied. A small animal, maybe a fox, certainly not worth stopping now—
     “There it is again!”
     The thrashing was closer, interrupted by branches cracking underfoot. It was coming from the trail on the slope to their left. Did foxes drag their prey? The girl sat up and quickly buttoned her blouse.
     “It’s nothing,” he said, to reassure himself more than her. Heavier than a fox, maybe— a cougar? But the gait was all wrong. As he zipped his fly, he tried to remember where the break in the fence was, how far it was to the car. He heard a dull clank, like metal across rock.
      In the moonlight he saw it.
     From the trees lurched a naked figure, a dark slash at its throat. Its feet were h obbled—was that a chain?—and steel gleamed dully at the wrists. It stumbled, landing on all fours. Now he saw the other end of the chain was threaded through a ring attached to the back of the neck. As it struggled to regain its balance it stared directly at him. From the gaping mouth came an unintelligible whimper, but the eyes issued an unmistakable plea.
     Help.
     Rising on bare feet, the apparition held out its hands in supplication, revealing a ghostly V from hips to pubis and pale lines from collarbone to breasts. Only then did he register the chestnut hair, matted and looped in a knot halfway down the back, and the silver rings on three slender fingers.
      A girl, not much older than they were.
     And now he recognized the pattern made by those ivory bands of skin. Bikini marks, he thought, she’s a CU coed who just spent spring break in—
     
Ignoring the shrieking behind him, he moved to catch the girl as she pitched forward. He caught her and she began to jerk so violently she almost slipped from his grasp. Something rigid encircled her throat, forcing her chin up and holding it at an unnatural angle. She was so thin, so cold—
     “Get the blanket!” he shouted.
He heard the crunch of gravel and his trunk pop open. As he eased the girl to the mat of needles, still warm from his own body, her chest fluttered frantically. The handcuffs sliced into bruised and swollen wrists. Her eyes were wild, almost feral. Jesus, where was the blanket? His gaze dropped to the band of leather at her throat.
      The babbling sounds were getting fainter. He clawed at the metal studs, tried to undo the buckle, then gave up when he realized he had only succeeded in tightening it.
     “Who did this to you?” he cried.
She jerked her chin in the direction of the ravine. The gesture brought fresh pain to her eyes and suddenly they were human again.
     “There…” she whispered.
     Then she passed out.

 

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