it was five, maybe six inches of the total length, stainless steel with a nonreflective coating. I ran my finger along the groove in the side of the metal: a blood gutter, so the knife wouldn’t get caught by the suction of a deep wound. I slid it back in, snapped the sheath closed, and tucked the whole thing into the pocket of my heavy winter coat.
“It’s right up here,” said Kelly. “We’ve staked this place out before, so you all know the layout, and we’ve practiced so you all know the drill. Radio silence. Diana, this is your stop. We’ll give you five minutes.” She pulled over in front of a plain beige house behind Mary Gardner’s, and Diana got out with her unmarked duffel bag. The neighbors were gone during the day, but we’d already duplicated their key, and Diana was inside before we’d even turned the corner at the end of the block. She would wait at the top bedroom window with her rifle, to stop Gardner from escaping out the back.
Potash screwed a suppressor onto the end of his gun—not the one he’d offered me, I noticed, which meant he had at least two. Who knew how many he was carrying? I wondered if he really did have more than one at my house and where he hid them.
Mind on the job. Kelly would follow him in and wait by the front door, cutting off the other exit. My role was to stay in the car and hope nothing went wrong. I touched the hilt of the combat knife and tried to convince myself that “nothing” was what I really wanted.
The street was quiet, with most people gone for the day to school or work. There’d be a few homemakers around, but they wouldn’t see anything. Kelly parked across the street from Mary’s house and left me the car keys as we traded seats. I put my hands on the wheel, gripping it tightly to help stabilize my shaking. Kelly and Potash did a final check of their weapons, hid them in their coats, and got out of the car. I watched them walk to the front door, pull out a duplicated key, and let themselves in. It was 10:26 in the morning. They closed the door behind them.
Ostler insisted on a communications blackout during every project. Maybe she was worried about people overhearing us? If Meshara and whoever else was with him had radios of their own, they could listen in and warn Mary we were coming, so the rule made sense, but that didn’t make it any easier to sit in the car and wonder what was happening. I listened for the sound of Potash’s gun—even with a suppressor it would make a loud thump, like a pneumatic staple gun. Any people sitting in one of these houses might not notice it at all, but I was waiting for it and I—
The sound that came was a full gunshot, unsuppressed. That meant it wasn’t Potash, and that meant something had gone very wrong. Was it Kelly or Mary? I sat up straighter, staring across the street at the now-silent house. There was a small circle in the bedroom window, up on the second floor; I peered at it closer, almost certain that it was a bullet hole. I couldn’t tell for sure at that distance. I looked at the other windows, at the front door, at anything and everything hoping desperately to see some sign of what was going on. Our radio silence ended when the Withered was dead; they could call me then, like we’d called Kelly when we’d killed Cody French. I clutched my radio in my hand, my knuckles white, but it didn’t make a sound.
A curtain moved in the bedroom window—a sudden bulge, like it was being pressed against the glass from the inside. It moved to the side, then fell back to hang normally again. Was someone struggling, or was it just a current of air? I clutched my knife, wondering what to do.
I got out of the car and walked across the street.
The front yard was covered in snow, and a narrow path was shoveled along the walk. The steps to the porch were painted concrete, crusted with a scattered layer of rock salt. I put a hand to the door, wary, wondering if I should pull my knife out now, to