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Last to Die

Last to Die

Titel: Last to Die
Autoren: Tess Gerritsen
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ON THE NIGHT that thirteen-year-old Claire Ward should have died, she stood on the window ledge of her third-floor Ithaca bedroom, trying to decide whether to jump. Twenty feet below were scraggly forsythia bushes, long past their spring bloom. They would cushion her fall, but most likely there’d be broken bones involved. She glanced across at the maple tree, eyeing the sturdy branch that arched only a few feet away. She’d never attempted this leap before, because she’d never been forced to. Until tonight she’d managed to sneak out the front door without being noticed. But those nights of easy escapes were over, because Boring Bob was on to her.
From now on young lady, you are staying home! No more running around town after dark like a wildcat
.
    If I break my neck on this jump, she thought, it’s all Bob’s fault.
    Yes, that maple branch was definitely within reach. She had places to go, people to see, and she couldn’t hang around here forever, weighing her chances.
    She crouched, tensing for the leap, but suddenly froze as an approaching car’s headlights angled around the corner. The SUV glided like a black shark beneath her window and continued slowly up the quiet street, as if searching for a particular house. Not ours, she thought; no one interesting ever turned up at the residence of her foster parents Boring Bob and Equally Boring Barbara Buckley. Even their names were boring, not to mention their dinner conversations.
How was your day, dear? And yours? The weather’s turning nice, isn’t it? Can you pass me the potatoes?
    In their tweedy, bookish world, Claire was the alien, the wild child they’d never understand, although they tried. They really did. She should be living instead with artists or actors or musicians, people who stayed up all night and knew how to have fun.
Her
kind of people.
    The black SUV had vanished. It was now or never.
    She took a breath and sprang. Felt the night air whoosh in her long hair as she soared through the darkness. She landed, graceful as a cat, and the branch shuddered under her weight. Piece of cake. She scrambled down to a lower branch and was about to jump off when that black SUV returned. Again it glided past, engine purring. She watched it until it vanished around the corner; then she dropped down onto the wet grass.
    Glancing back at the house, she expected Bob to come storming out the front door, yelling at her:
Get back inside now, young lady!
But the porch remained dark.
    Now the night could begin.
    She zipped up her hoodie and headed toward the town common, where the action was—if you could call it that. At this late hour, the street was quiet, most of the windows dark. It was a neighborhood of picture-perfect houses with gingerbread trim, a street populated by college professors and gluten-free vegan moms who all belonged to book groups.
Ten square miles surrounded by reality
was how Bob affectionately described the town, but he and Barbara belonged here.
    Claire did not know where she belonged.
    She strode across the street, scattering dead leaves with her scuffed boots. A block ahead, a trio of teens, two boys and a girl, stood smoking cigarettes beneath the pool of light cast by a streetlamp.
    “Hey,” she called out to them.
    The taller boy waved. “Hey, Claire Bear. I heard you were grounded again.”
    “For about thirty seconds.” She took the lit cigarette he offered her, drew in a lungful of smoke, and exhaled with a happy sigh. “So what’s our plan tonight? What’re we doing?”
    “I hear there’s a party over at the falls. But we need to find a ride.”
    “What about your sister? She could take us.”
    “Naw, Dad took her car keys. Let’s just hang around here and see who else shows up.” The boy paused, frowning past Claire’s shoulder. “Uh-oh. Look who just did.”
    She turned and groaned as a dark blue Saab pulled up at the curb beside her. The passenger window rolled down and Barbara Buckley said, “Claire, get in the car.”
    “I’m just hanging out with my friends.”
    “It’s nearly midnight and tomorrow’s a school day.”
    “It’s not like I’m doing anything illegal.”
    From the driver’s seat, Bob Buckley ordered, “Get in the car
now
, young lady!”
    “You’re not my parents!”
    “But we
are
responsible for you. It’s our job to raise you right, and that’s what we’re trying to do. If you don’t come home with us now, there’ll be—there’ll be, well, consequences!”
    Yeah, I’m

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