Far Gone

By: Laura Griffin

chapter one




THE MESSENGER PULLED UP to the stoplight and scanned his surroundings. People streamed up and down the sidewalk, headed to jobs and meetings and classes under the colorless Philadelphia sky. The older ones wore dark overcoats and moved briskly down Market Street, with cell phones pressed to their ears. The younger ones were casual, dressed in jeans and bright-colored scarves and hats. They had backpacks slung over their shoulders and read texts from their friends as they walked.

He glanced at his watch. Eight minutes. He rolled his shoulders to ease the tension as he waited for the light. Three hours ago, he had woken up in a motel parking lot. He’d had a solid night’s sleep in the front of the van—which was probably odd, considering his cargo. But years ago, he’d learned how to sleep anywhere.

The car ahead of him rolled forward. A silver Accord, late-model, female driver. She hooked a right, and the man followed, keeping his moves cautious.

A utility crew occupied the left lane, squeezing traffic down to a single line as they tore up the asphalt. The construction was good and bad, he’d decided. Bad because it might throw off his timeline. Good because it added to the chaos and created another reason for him to go unnoticed.

The man surveyed the sidewalks, skimming his gaze over the now-familiar takeout restaurants and shops hawking Liberty Bell replicas to tourists. Another glance at his watch.

Six minutes.

He reached into his jacket to check his weapon, a sleek FN Five-seveN with a twenty-round magazine. The pistol was loaded with nineteen SS195 jacketed hollow-point bullets, one already in the chamber. He was good to go.

Five minutes.

The messenger circled the block again. His stomach growled as he passed a doughnut store for the third time. He scanned the faces along the street, forcing hunger and fear and all distractions out of his mind as he made what he hoped would be his final lap through campus.

The phone beeped from the cup holder. He glanced at the text.

Red coat. Coming from the trolley stop.

He spotted her. No hat today, and her blond hair hung loose around her shoulders. Tall black boots. Tight jeans. Short red jacket with a belt at the waist.

He checked his watch. Once again, she was right on time.

Easing the minivan to the curb beside a fire hydrant, he watched her. She hurried toward her destination, gripping the strap of her backpack with a gloved hand. The other hand held a cigarette, and she lifted it to her lips for one last drag as she neared the building.

The cigarette disappointed him. She’d probably taste like an ashtray, nothing at all like his fantasies. He looked her over for another moment before sliding from the vehicle.

The sound of jackhammers hit him, along with the familiar smell of busted-up concrete. He glanced up and down the block and noted the cop on foot patrol talking to one of the utility workers. Both guys were fat and complacent. Too many doughnuts. The cop would hoof it over here in a few minutes, but by then, it would be too late.

The messenger hit the sidewalk, keeping the brim of his cap low as he watched the woman.

Eye contact. Just an instant, but it sent a sweet jolt of adrenaline through him.

One minute.

He looked straight ahead as they passed each other. This was it. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out two bits of orange foam, which he pressed into his ears. He hung a right and saw the Ford parked in the designated place.

Ten seconds.

He pulled out his second phone. Took a deep breath as he flipped it open.

Message One: You reap what you sow. He hit send and braced for the concussion. For a moment, nothing.

And then the earth moved.





Andrea Finch had never been dumped at a barbecue joint, but there was a first time for everything.

Her date looked out of place at the scarred wooden booth in his charcoal-gray suit. He’d come straight from work, as she had. He’d ditched the tie but still seemed overly formal in a restaurant that had paper-towel rolls on every table and classic country drifting from the jukebox.

“So.” Nick Mays took a swig of beer. “How was your day?”

Andrea smiled. He sounded like a tired husband, and they’d only been dating a month.

“Fine,” she said. “Yours?”

“Fine.”

For the dozenth time since she’d sat down, his gaze darted over her shoulder. When his blue eyes met hers again, she felt a twinge of regret. He really was a nice-looking man. Good eyes, thick hair. A bit of a beer gut, but she didn’t mind, really. His main problem was his oversize ego. Andrea was used to men with big egos. She’d been surrounded by them since she’d entered the police academy, and they’d only multiplied once she earned her detective’s badge.

“Listen, Andrea.” He glanced over her shoulder again, and she braced for the speech. “These last few weeks, they’ve really been great.”

He was a terrible liar, which was too bad. As an assistant district attorney, he was going to need the skill if he planned to run for his boss’s job someday.

He opened his mouth to continue just as a waitress stepped up and beamed a smile at him.

“Y’all ready to order?”

Nick looked pained. But to his credit, he nodded in Andrea’s direction. “Andie?”

“I’m good, thanks.”

He glanced at the waitress. “Me, too.”

“So . . . y’all won’t be having dinner with us?” Her overly made-up eyes shifted to Andrea. She tucked a lock of blond hair behind her ear and looked impatient.

“Just the drinks for now.” Nick gave her one of his smiles, which seemed to lessen her annoyance as she hustled off. The smile faded as he turned back to Andrea. “So I was saying. These past few weeks. It’s been a good time, Andie. You’re an interesting girl.”

She gritted her teeth. If he insisted on using frat-boy speak, she was going to make this way harder for him. She folded her arms over her chest and cast her gaze around the restaurant, letting his comment dangle awkwardly.

The cowbell on the door rattled as a family of four filed outside. Tonight’s crowd was thin, even for a Monday. Maybe the weather was keeping people away. Austin was set to get sleet tonight, and her lieutenant had called in extra officers, expecting the roads to be a mess.

“Andrea?”

She looked at him.

“I said, wouldn’t you agree with that?”

The cowbell rattled again as a skinny young man stepped through the entrance. He wore a black trench coat and clunky boots. His too-big ears reminded Andrea of her brother.

She looked at Nick. “Agree with what?”

His mouth tightened. “I said it seems like neither of us is looking for something serious right now. So maybe we should cool things down a little.”