Four Live Rounds, стр. 1

FOUR LIVE ROUNDS

four short thrillers by

Blake Crouch

SMASHWORDS EDITION

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PUBLISHED BY:

Blake Crouch on Smashwords

Copyright 2010 by Blake Crouch

Introduction copyright 2010 by J.A. Konrath

Cover art copyright 2010 by Jeroen ten Berge

All rights reserved.

PRAISE FOR BLAKE CROUCH

Crouch quite simply is a marvel. Highest possible recommendation.

BOOKREPORTER

Blake Crouch is the most exciting new thriller writer I've read in years.

DAVID MORRELL

FOUR LIVE ROUNDS is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All of the stories contained in this volume appeared previously in the following magazines and anthologies: Uncage Me, edited by Jen Jordan and published by Bleak House Books: “*69”; Thriller 2, edited by Clive Cussler and published by Mira Books: “Remaking”; Brilliance Audio edition of Abandon by Blake Crouch: “On the Good, Red Road”; Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine: “Shining Rock.”

For more information about the author, please visit www.blakecrouch.com.

For more information about the artist, please visit www.jeroentenberge.com.

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.

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Foreword

As a horror writer, I often get asked what scares me.

My answer is always the same: Blake Crouch.

More than any other author working today, Crouch knows how to make the reader squirm. Part of it is because he dreams up scenarios so horrible that I fear for his sanity. But I think the main reason he’s so effective is because Crouch writes about characters you really feel for. Then, when he puts them through hell, you experience every cut, every bite, every atrocity.

This short story collection is a perfect introduction to Crouch’s skewed world. But before you dive in, please heed my warning. I don’t care how tough you think you are. You still need to brace yourself.

Because this is going to hurt…

-J.A. Konrath (aka Jack Kilborn), March 2010

An introduction to “*69”

Have you ever received an accidental phone call from someone who kept your number in their address book? I blame my old high-school buddy, Ryan McDaniels, for this story. A few years ago, over the course of several weeks, he inadvertently joggled his cell phone and called me several times. He didn’t know he had done it, and I received a handful of strange, muffled messages. Later, it occurred to me—what if my friend had accidentally called me when he was doing something terrible, and only realized after the fact that he’d unintentionally made me a witness to his brutal crime? From these questions emerged “*69.”

*69

At nine-thirty on a Thursday evening, as he lounged in bed grading the pop quizzes he’d sprung on his 11th grade honors English class, Tim West heard footsteps ascend the staircase and pad down the hallway toward the bedroom.

His wife, Laura, appeared in the open doorway.

“Tim, come here.”

He set the papers aside and climbed out of bed.

Following her down the squeaky stairs into the living room, he found immense pleasure in the architecture of her long legs and the grace with which she carried herself. Coupled with that yellow satin teddy he loved and the floral tang of skin lotion, Tim foresaw a night of marital bliss. Historically, Thursdays were their night.

Laura sat him down in the oversize leather chair across from the fireplace, and as she took a seat on its matching ottoman, it struck him—this fleeting premonition that she was on the verge of revealing she was pregnant with their first child, a project they’d been working on since last Christmas. Instead, she reached over to the end table beside the chair and pressed the blinking play button on the answering machine:

Ten seconds of the static hiss of wind.

A woman’s voice breaks through, severely muffled, and mostly unintelligible except for, “…didn’t mean anything!”

A man’s voice, louder and distorted by static: “…making me do this.”

I can explain!”

“…late for that.”

A thud, a sucking sound.

“…in my eyes.” The man’s voice. “Look in them! …you can’t speak….but…listen the last minute…whore-life…be disrespected. You lie there and think about that while…”

Thirty seconds of that horrible sucking sound, occasionally cut by the wind.

The man weeps deeply and from his core.

An electronic voice ended the message with, “Thursday, nine-sixteen, p.m.”

Tim looked at his wife. Laura shrugged. He reached over, played it again.

When it finished, Laura said, “There’s no way that’s what it sounds like, right?”

“There any way to know for certain?”

“Let’s just call nine-one—”

“And tell them what? What information do we have?”

Laura rubbed her bare arms. Tim went to the hearth and turned up the gas logs. She came over, sat beside him on the cool brick.

“Maybe it’s just some stupid joke,” she said.

“Maybe.”

“What? You don’t think so?”

“Remember Gene Malack? Phys ed teacher?”

“Tall, geeky-looking guy. Sure.”

“We hung out some last year while he was going through his divorce. Grabbed beers, went bowling. Nice guy, but a little quirky. There was this one time when our phone rang, and I picked it up, said, ‘Hello?’, but no one answered. The strange thing was that I could hear someone talking, only it was muffled, just like that message. But I recognized Gene’s voice. I should’ve hung up, but human nature, I stayed on, listened to him order a meal from the Wendy’s drive-through. Apparently, he’d had our number on speed-dial in his cell. It had gotten joggled, accidentally called our house.”

One of the straps had fallen down on Laura’s teddy.

As Tim fixed it, she said, “You just trying to scare me? Let’s call your brother—”

“No, not yet—”

“No, you’re saying that a man, who we know well enough to be on his speed-dial list, was killing some poor woman tonight, and he accidentally…what was the word?”

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