CHAPTER ONE


No meaning. No reason. No sense. Senseless.

Why?

Why?

Why?

That one word, driving like the pistons of an engine, the engine of her Corvette, the engine of Auggie's Corvette.

And the scarlet ribbons of Auggie's warm blood, twirling through her fingers, spooling out onto the concrete, running off the edge of the curb, and disappearing into the storm drain below.

No! She doesn't want any part of him in that dark hole! She irrationally lunges to dam the stream of all that blood. But doing so would mean letting his head fall against the cold ground instead of resting in the soft valley of her lap, and she is even less willing to let that happen. She pulls back, but throws her face to the sky, so many tears escaping from underneath tightly closed eyelids. She commands herself with rock-hard jaw not to look down. But she has never been very good at listening to that voice in her head, the voice of warning, of self-preservation. She has always been mesmerized, hypnotized, magnetized to this man, now lying so perfectly still in her arms on the DC street corner.

She looks down.

He isn't meeting her eyes. Which is not new. But his gaze, always slightly unfocused, is now totally blank. Lips subtly parted. Such a dreadful silence and stillness to all his features. A sinister red flag unfurling across the front of his grey t-shirt. Something is ripping her open from the inside out, too, and she knows that it is the absolute certainty that he is gone.

Auggie is dead.

No. No. No. No. No.

This word replaces the "why," and it is more like a steam train. Annie wills its brakes to screech, its wheels to lock and then reverse. Go back. Just go back two minutes and none of this is happening, dammit! But two minutes is all anyone needs to destroy an entire world. Her entire world.

Annie lets out a roar, a bellow, a keening. A primal sound she has never heard rushes from her mouth as though it is violently ripped from her. It, too, is senseless. She expects to see vital parts of her insides coming out with it, it comes from so deep and is so brutally extracted. A great pressure swells not from inside, but from without, and it is squeezing her skull so she can hardly see. She is compressing. She is imploding. She is blinding.

She becomes dreamily aware of the crowd beginning to gather around their macabre tableau. Annie & Auggie. Auggie & Annie. Someone touches her shoulder and she wants to rip the hand off the arm it belongs to. "Don't touch me!" she screams in a stranger's voice, and she is prepared to use deadly force to back up the warning. The gun in her waistband, so useless two minutes ago, is perfectly capable of adding to the victim count tonight. And she has never felt so uninhibited by conscience or consequence. She is an animal in a trap, prehistoric savagery primed to burst through the flimsy palisades built over eons by civilization and her frontal cortex.

It is a very real possibility that Annie will reach for that gun if anyone tries to touch him.

Him. He. Hers. Auggie.

His handsome face is bathed in red, then white, then red, then white. And suddenly someone is touching him, moving him. And Annie doesn't reach for the gun.

No, because whatever it is that makes Annie Walker tick - a soul? an intellect? a consciousness? - has drifted up like smoke, evaporated through her scalp, and escaped into the dark sky above.

There's simply nothing left.