Home > Seeing Red

Seeing Red
Author: Sandra Brown

Prologue

Did you think you were going to die?”

The Major pursed his lips with disapproval. “That question wasn’t on the list I approved.”

“Which is why I didn’t ask it while the cameras were rolling. But there’s no one here now but us. I’m asking off the record. Were you in fear of your life? Did dying cross your mind?”

“I didn’t stop to think about it.”

Kerra Bailey tilted her head and regarded him with doubt. “That sounds like a canned answer.”

The seventy-year-old gave her the smile that had won him the heart of a nation. “It is.”

“All right. I’ll respectfully withdraw the question.”

She could graciously pass on it because she’d got what she’d come for: the first interview of any kind that The Major had granted in more than three years. In the days leading up to this evening’s live telecast from his home, he and she had become well acquainted. They’d engaged in some lively discussions, often taking opposing views.

Kerra looked up at the stag head mounted above his mantel. “I stand by my aversion to having the eyes of dead animals staring down at me.”

“Venison is food. And keeping the herd thinned out is ecologically necessary to its survival.”

“Scientifically, that’s a sound observation. From a personal and humane standpoint, I don’t understand how anyone could place a beautiful animal like that in the crosshairs and pull the trigger.”

“Neither of us is going to win this argument,” he said, to which she replied with matching stubbornness, “Neither of us is going to concede it, either.”

He blurted a short laugh that ended in a dry cough. “You’re right.” He glanced over at the tall gun cabinet in the corner of the vast room, then pushed himself out of his brown leather La-Z-Boy, walked over to the cabinet, and opened the windowpane front.

He removed one of the rifles. “I took that particular deer with this rifle. It was my wife’s last Christmas present to me.” He ran his hand along the bluish barrel. “I haven’t used it since Debra died.”

Kerra was touched to see this softer side of the former soldier. “I wish she could have been here for the interview.”

“So do I. I miss her every day.”

“What was it like for her, being married to America’s hero?”

“Oh, she was super-impressed,” he said around a chuckle as he propped the rifle in the corner between the cabinet and the wall. “She nagged me only every other day about leaving my dirty socks on the floor rather than putting them in the hamper.”

Kerra laughed, but her thoughts had turned to The Major’s son, who’d made no bones about his aversion to his father’s fame. She’d felt an obligation to invite him to appear on the program alongside The Major, perhaps just a brief appearance in the final segment. Using explicit language that left no room for misinterpretation, he had declined. Thank God.

The Major crossed to the built-in bar. “So much talking has made me thirsty. I could use a drink. What would you like?”

“Nothing for me.” She stood and retrieved her bag from where she’d set it on the floor beside her chair. “As soon as the crew gets back, we need to hit the road.”

The Major had ordered a cold fried chicken picnic supper from a local restaurant for her and the five-person production crew. It was delivered to the house, and, after they’d eaten, packing up the gear had taken an hour. When all was done, Kerra had asked the others to go gas up the van for their two-hour drive back to Dallas while she stayed behind. She had wanted a few minutes alone with The Major in order to thank him properly.

She began, “Major, I must tell you—”

He turned to her and interrupted. “You’ve said it, Kerra. Repeatedly. You don’t need to say it again.”

“You may not need to hear it again, but I need to say it.” Her voice turned husky with emotion. “Please accept my heartfelt thanks for … well, for everything. I can’t adequately express my gratitude. It knows no bounds.”

Matching her solemn tone, he replied, “You’re welcome.”

She smiled at him and took a short breath. “May I call you every once in a while? Come visit if I’m ever out this way again?”

“I’d like that very much.”

They shared a long look, leaving the many insufficient words unspoken, but conveying to each other a depth of feeling. Then, to break the sentimental mood, he rubbed his hands together. “Sure you won’t have a drink?”

“No, but I would take advantage of your bathroom.” She left her coat in the chair but shouldered her bag.

“You know where it is.”

This making the fourth time she’d been to his house, she was familiar with the layout. The living area looked like a miniature Texas museum, with cowhide rugs on the distressed hardwood floor, Remington reproductions in bronze of cowboys in action, and pieces of furniture that made The Major’s recliner seem miniature by comparison.

One of the offshoots of the main room was a hallway, and the first door on the left was the powder room, although that feminine-sounding name was incongruous with the hand soap dispenser in the shape of a longhorn steer.

She was drying her hands at the sink and checking her reflection in the framed mirror above it, making a mental note to call her hairdresser—maybe a few more highlights around her face?—when the door latch rattled, calling her attention to it. “Major? Is the crew back? I’ll be right out.”

He didn’t respond, although she sensed someone on the other side of the door.

She replaced the hand towel in the iron ring mounted on the wall beside the sink and was reaching for her shoulder bag when she heard the bang.

Her mind instantly clicked back to The Major taking the rifle from the cabinet but not replacing it. If he’d been doing so now and it had accidentally discharged … Oh, my God!

She lunged for the door and grabbed hold of the knob, but snatched her hand back when she heard a voice, not The Major’s, say, “How do you like being dead so far?”

Kerra clapped her hand over her mouth to hold back a wail of disbelief and horror. She heard footsteps thudding around in the living room. One set? Two? It was hard to tell, and fear had robbed her of mental acuity. She did, however, have the presence of mind to reach for the switch plate and turn off the light.

Holding her breath, she listened, tracking the footsteps as they crossed rugs, struck hardwood, and then, to her mounting horror, entered the hallway. They came even with the bathroom door and stopped.

Moving as soundlessly as possible, she backed away from the door, feeling her way past the sink and toilet in the darkness, until she came up against the bead board wall. She tried to keep her breathing silent, though her lips moved around a prayer of only one repeated word: Please, please, please.

Whoever was on the other side of the door tried turning the knob and found it locked. It was tried a second time, then the door shook as an attempt was made to force it open. To whomever was trying to open it, the locked door could only mean one thing: Someone was on the other side of it.

She’d been discovered.

Another set of footsteps came rushing from the living area. The door was battered against with what she imagined was the stock of a rifle.

She had nothing with which to defend herself against armed assailants. If they had in fact fatally shot The Major, and if they got past that door, she would die, too.

Escape was her only option, and it had to be now.

The double-hung window behind her was small, but it was the only chance she had of getting out alive. She felt for the lock holding the sashes together, twisted it open, then placed her fingers in the depressions of the lower sash and pulled up with all her might. It didn’t budge.

Bambambam! The rapid succession of blows loosened the latch and splintered the wood anchoring it.

Because silence was no longer necessary, Kerra was sobbing now, taking in noisy gulps of air. Please, please, please. She whimpered the entreaty for salvation from a source stronger than she because she felt powerless.

She put all she had into raising the window, and it became unstuck with such suddenness that it stunned her for perhaps one heartbeat. Another violent attempt to break the latch separated metal parts of it. She heard them landing on the floor.

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