Excerpt: 'Lights Out Tonight'



Sunday, July 30

It was just a few feet from the front door of the convenience store to the shiny, new car parked in the spot marked "handicapped." Two perfectly good legs strode to the vehicle and swung themselves inside. An able body leaned back against the car seat as two steady hands twisted the cap off a soda bottle and lifted it to a parched mouth. The first cold drink tasted good, but the second was ruined by the voice that came through the open window.

"Hey. Can't you read? The spot says 'handicapped.' " A lanky young man dressed in shorts, a black "I Love New York" T-shirt, and hiking boots stood beside the car and glared at the driver. Ignoring him didn't work.

"Hey. I'm talking to you."

"Give me a break, will you please?"

"It looks to me like you've already been given a break. All your body parts seem to be working amazingly well."

"Come on, Tommy," said a young woman in shorts and mud-caked tennis shoes who pulled at his shirtsleeve. "It's not worth it. Let's go."

"No, Amy. It's wrong, and I can't stand it when I see some lazy, inconsiderate idiot using a space meant to be there for someone who really needs it."

"Stop showing off for your girlfriend, will you, Sir Galahad? Mind your own business."

The car backed out of the parking space, leaving the indignant couple standing openmouthed. As the vehicle pulled away, the driver glanced in the rearview mirror.

Was that what it looked like? Was that stupid girl taking a picture with her cell phone? What if they were angry enough to go to the police with it? There would be a picture of the car. With the way technology was these days, they'd probably be able to enhance the image enough to make out the license plate. Not good.

If the police came around now, it could ruin everything.



Tommy and Amy drove by in their old yellow convertible, engrossed in conversation, oblivious to the fact they were being watched. Nor did either of them seem to realize they were being followed for the next few miles on the meandering country road.

The route was familiar. After the next farmhouse and barn, there would be no buildings for several miles. A long stretch of road dropped off sharply at one side. That would be the place to do it.

If they were so damned insistent on doing the right thing, why were they passing that joint back and forth? They were actually flaunting their marijuana smoking as they drove with the top down, secure in the knowledge that police cars, or any cars for that matter, on this road were few and far between. So much the better. If autopsies were done, they would show marijuana in the kids' systems, and that would be blamed for the accident.

The young man raised his arm, wrapped it around his girlfriend, and pulled her closer. Now was as good a time as any to floor the accelerator. The car sped toward the yellow convertible, catching up and ramming the already dented rear fender.

Tommy looked into his rearview mirror, and Amy twisted around to see what was happening. It took them just an instant to recognize their assailant. The young man held his middle finger up in anger and defiance as the car rammed into the yellow convertible again.

Gripping the steering wheel with both hands now, Tommy tried to maintain control, but the third collision pushed the convertible to the side of the road. The fourth sent it hurtling over the edge of the precipice.

The wheels were still spinning on the overturned convertible as the killer reached in to check Amy's and Tommy's pulses and retrieve the cell phone.



Monday morning, July 31

The body shop owner inspected the badly dented grill, two smashed headlights, and mangled fender.

"What did you hit?"

"Another car."

"Anybody hurt?"

The lie came easily. "No, thank goodness."

"I can have it ready for you at the end of the week."

"I need it sooner than that."

"Look around." The owner pointed to the other cars jammed into the parking lot.

"I'll pay extra. Name your price."

While the repairmen worked, there was time to go around the corner to a coffee shop and get some breakfast. Waiting for the scrambled eggs to come provided the opportunity to study the cell phone that had been in the dead girl's pocket. The last message had been sent not to a phone number but to an Internet address.

Brightlights999@hotmail.com.

It had been sent at 5:47 p.m. Had Amy managed to get off a message even as she and her boyfriend were being run off the road? Had she transmitted the picture of her attacker's car?

Who was Brightlights?

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