Fatal Intrusion Excerpt

Chapter 1

Walter Kemp was not about to let her escape again.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he muttered in a sing- song voice.

She couldn’t hear very well, but still he treaded carefully, unwilling to blunder through the dense woods and scare her off. He wanted her calm and unaware until he was good and close, so he had to be stealthy.

And deceptive. He tossed a pebble deep into the lush foliage to further disguise his position.

On the outskirts of San Diego, the secluded park felt far from civilization. And from prying eyes.

“You can’t hide forever,” he whispered. “Not from me.”

Walter, a solid man in his sixties, wasn’t the least stiff or winded by the hunt. He was nearly in the same shape as thirty years ago. A bit less hair, but so what? There were more important things in life.

Like what he was presently up to.

She had slipped away from him, forcing him to spend the past half hour stalking her. When he found her this time, he wouldn’t let her out of his sight until he was finished.

A slight rustle to his left caught his attention. Was that her? He squinted in the direction of the noise.

She peeked out from behind a bush, and his heart hammered with excitement. She was every bit as beautiful as when he had first seen her.

Catching sight of him, she froze. No matter, she couldn’t get away. “I’ve got you now.”

She hadn’t been his first, and she wouldn’t be his last, but she might be the loveliest.

He reached into his vest, thick fingers fumbling over the finely machined metal and plastic. One of the tools of his trade. Slowly, carefully, he raised his hand and took aim. He would have only one chance.

She opened her mouth wide as if to scream.

He pressed the button and held it down. At the rate of thirty shots per second, the Nikon captured ninety images—in stunning forty-five megapixels—of the Lampropeltis zonata pulchra, also known as the San Diego mountain kingsnake, before she slithered into the underbrush.

Walter had pictures of several males but had been on the hunt for an elusive female for weeks. Only careful study had allowed him to spot the subtle difference in the subcaudal scales—those under the tail—and the slightly shorter proportion compared to the overall body length that indicated the sex of the reptile.

Unlike with many other species, where the females weren’t as brightly colored as the males, all San Diego mountain kingsnakes sported alternating bands of red, black and yellow covering their bodies. The vivid display that mimicked a venomous coral snake was an illusion to scare off potential predators. This species was harmless to everything except the small mammals and lizards in its diet.

Mission accomplished, Walter covered the expensive lens and tucked the camera back into his vest. Now unconcerned about making noise, he tramped back to the trail that led to the lot at the park’s entrance. He would much rather be walking in nature than attending yet another ground-breaking ceremony. At first, many years ago, real estate development had been exciting. His life’s passion. He had started off with a small loan and slowly parlayed it into an empire.

Things had begun to look different after over three decades in the business, however. He’d reflected on all the formerly wooded acreage he had eviscerated to turn into suburban havens, and he had started changing his practices. Last year he took up the cause of affordable housing and had been working to improve blighted areas of the community that had fallen on hard economic times. He lost money on every project but felt he’d gained back some of his soul. In addition, he could look his only child—an adult son—in the eyes again. If he was blessed with grandchildren, he would be giving them a better world.

Walter made it to the parking lot, thinking about how his son’s high school science project more than a decade ago had led them to bond over the study of reptiles and amphibians. They had both volunteered at the local herpetological society, though only Walter remained a member.

He was nearly to his car when a soft clatter drew his attention. He glanced down to see a small white ball roll past his booted feet. Mesmerized, he watched its progress as it rattled along the asphalt and disappeared under his car.

Hurried footsteps pounded up from behind, startling and unnerving him. As he turned, the blade of a heavy-duty shovel crashed down onto his head.

He cried out in shock and pain.

Stumbling, he threw his arms up in an attempt to protect himself, but another devastating blow drove him to his hands and knees. The agony was beyond anything he’d ever felt. It gripped his entire body, dulling his thoughts and slowing his reactions.

Darkness closed in as his sluggish brain tried to make sense of what was happening.

“Why?” he gasped.

Or maybe he just thought the word.

Then he pitched forward, as if in slow motion, falling face down onto the oil-stained surface of the deserted parking lot.

He sank deeper into oblivion, unable to lift his leaden arms. He managed to turn his eyes upward. The shovel was about to come down in another vicious arc, and he knew this would be the last blow.

Someone was killing him . . .

An instant before the tool struck and the void engulfed him, Walter Kemp found himself looking not at the face or torso of his attacker, but at the hands, in clear plastic gloves, gripping the shovel firmly.

Specifically, at the bold and carefully inked tattoo of a black widow spider that graced the man’s pale inner wrist.

His last image before the world went dark.

Dennison Fallow swung the shovel with all his considerable strength. The satisfying thwack of metal against bone, followed by an ominous crunch, told him his work here was done.

He paused to study his handiwork. Good.

The Push, deep within Fallow’s soul, was satisfied. For now.

The man lying at his feet hunted snakes, but this time he’d been the one hunted. And by a far superior predator—a spider.

Various species of these creatures employed many clever means of ensnaring their prey. Some wove a web and patiently waited for an unsuspecting victim to get caught. Others constructed trapdoors or disguised themselves. Today Fallow had attacked in an ambush, like a wolf spider, among the most aggressive arachnids in the world. They don’t bother with webs. Or disguise. They charge their prey like a mountain lion.

He continued to watch Kemp for several minutes, making sure the man’s chest had stopped rising and falling. One could never be too careful.

That thought reminded him of the shovel he still gripped tightly. Though he’d worn gloves, he’d make sure he removed all traces of his presence from the handle and the shaft, because he was going to leave it behind at the scene.

After all, how could you tell a story without setting the stage?

Read more of Fatal Intrusion when it is released in September 2024.