Gerritsen / THE LAST TO DIE
We called him Icarus.
It was not his real name, of course. My childhood on the farm taught me that you must never give a name to an animal marked for slaughter. Instead you referred to it as Pig Number One or Pig Number Two, and you always avoided looking it in the eye, to shield yourself from any glimpse of self-awareness or personality or affection. When a beast trusts you, it takes far more resolve to slit its throat.
We had no such issue with Icarus, who neither trusted us nor had any inkling of who we were. But we knew a great deal about him. We knew that he lived behind high walls in a hilltop villa on the outskirts of Rome. That he and his wife, Lucia, had two sons, ages eight and ten. That despite his immense wealth, he had simple tastes in food, and a favorite local restaurant, La Nonna, at which he dined almost every Thursday.
And that he was a monster. Which was the reason we came to be in Italy that summer.
The hunting of monsters is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for those who feel bound by such trivial doctrines as law or national borders. Monsters, after all, do not play by the rules, so neither can we. Not if we hope to defeat them.
But when you abandon civilized standards of conduct, you run the risk of becoming a monster yourself. And that is what happened that summer in Rome. I did not recognize it at the time; none of us did.
Until it was too late.
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,...