Excerpt: The Alabaster Fool

By Marie Robinson

The floor above them creaked.

Richard tensed. Andrea's hair fell over his forearm as she looked up into the dark like he had. At least she had the good sense not to cry out.

Richard pulled out of her arms as the footsteps crunched and scraped along the floor. He pulled her along behind him as he hustled into the main room.

Jericka and Bobby stood next to each other, looking at the ceiling toward the other end of the building.

Tracked more footsteps. Somebody else had come through the front door.

Jerry sat on the floor with his feet stretched out, pressed flat against Duncan's. Naomi leaned against his shoulder, eyes closed.

When Richard wondered if she was asleep, her eyes popped open like she had heard his thoughts. A fierce look told him the crying was behind her for now. Like she had made a decision, and that was that.

Carter stood on Duncan's chest. Sniffed the air with his eyes closed.

Richard followed his example. Could no longer smell the rain, the sulfur and ozone that had coated everything. Sniffed again. Under the smoke and ash was something … fresh.

Voices sounded above him.

He turned his ear up to listen. Hushed words, and he could almost place them with a speaker. He knew who was up there, but he couldn't retrieve it out of the fog of his exhaustion.

The door at the top of the stairs clanged. Somebody had put a shoulder to it.

Bobby snickered, then he clapped his hand over his mouth.

Richard understood — that door only looked like wood. One of the geezers from the Makers building had painted it to look just like old white oak with a dark walnut stain on it.

Kerry Dyer was a wizard with an airbrush. Smoked nonstop and smelled like armpit, but she was an artist, for sure.

They hit the door again, and the impact sent an echo into the basement like the bell on the old church. Steel door, steel frame mounted into a block wall, tempered security bolt on the inside — made a decent bunker.

Chase had insisted they prepare at least a little bit.

Couldn't figure out why the dumb fuck was trying to bash the damn thing in. It opened out.

More footsteps thundered above. Must be three or four people up there.

Richard didn't know the situation. Were they armed? Friendly?

Their own stash of weapons was paltry. They'd been unconcerned with carrying guns downstairs, what with the sky on fire and all.

He dug his fists into his hips. Jericka slid the 9mm out of the canvas holster. His own .45 was snug on his hip.

Duncan was still out cold. Jerry was a big fucker, but Naomi and Andrea were practically defenseless. Maybe Bobby, too.

At least Carter had claws.

Shouted words were followed by a denial from a different speaker. Demanding and angry, the second voice lit his memory again. Richard closed his eyes and waited. Held his hands up for silence in a silent room.

The next shout made something click in Richard's head. His eyes flew open. Breathless confusion splashed in his chest like a frigid tide.

Bruce Brittle.

The footsteps scraped through the dirt and glass on the floor above them, one after another until they were gone.

Richard looked at Jericka. Her eyebrows were up, and she shook her head, waiting for him to explain himself.

He was almost afraid to say it. He could barely keep it a whisper. “I know who one of 'em was.”

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