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A small-town school is rocked by a shooter, and the perpetrator is in the wind. The sheriff calls the FBI for help. Tim McAndrews, who is new to the profiling unit, has been assigned to the team and sent to the site to investigate. When the evidence doesn’t fit with a typical school shooting, Tim develops a theory that the unknown subject is an older man with military or law enforcement experience—an assassin and maybe one of their own. But who would target high school teens for such a fate and why? It’s up to Tim and the profiling team to find the shooter’s identity despite interference from a brazen news reporter, an attention-seeking politician, and pressure from a higher-up in the FBI. As they pursue the killer, the evidence leads them to a dark and twisted world of illicit drug abuse, to an insidious motive for murder and to villains they never expected.

Two rifle bullet casings falling to the ground

Chapter One


Pop. Pop. Pop-pop-pop.Firecrackers? Beth Ann Raines lost her train of thought mid-sentence when she heard the noise in the hallway outside of her classroom. Some jokers always caused trouble on the Friday before a holiday. She imagined teenage boys throwing down those Pop-it things, the kind of noise-maker that, when it hit the ground, exploded with a loud crack. She sighed, really needing the spring break as much as her students . Suddenly, the fire alarm shrieked to life. Beth scrambled away from her whiteboard and grabbed hold of her desk, losing her right shoe in the process. To the giggles of her students, she wriggled her foot back into the loafer and laughed. A blush raced into her cheeks. Her grandmother promised she’d grow out of her chubby, awkward phase, but she never did.What the heck is going on? Beth couldn’t imagine that those tiny poppers would start a fire, would they? No matter, she had to get her students out of the building and to their spot on the football field, even if it was just another drill. But, they’d had a training drill earlier this morning during first period. It seemed silly to have another so soon. Something wasn’t right. Her stomach rolled with anxiety. The kids wouldn’t learn a darn thing today if the school administrators kept this up.“All right. Put your pencils down and get lined up in order,” Beth fused both calm and urgency into her voice. The sooner this was over, the better. The kids were high-schoolers and knew the drill. By now, they’d practiced fire drills about a hundred times.Beth forced her breathing to slow. Her heart raced, and her body vibrated with adrenaline. Why had her fight or flight response kicked in? Her hands visibly trembled, and she slipped them into the pockets of her tan wool slacks to hide it. Fire drills were ordinary--two in one morning-- creepy. The teens casually gathered their belongings, stood from their desks, and chatted happily. Getting out of English Class was no hardship for them. Beth needed to control her class, and grabbed her roll book, hugging it to her chest. A scowl wrinkled her brow. If this wasn’t a practice, they could get out better and faster if they organized. Readily, the boys lined up behind Sandy Atherton. The girls dawdled. Katy Walberg stopped to refresh her lipstick. “Stop talking and hurry!” Beth wiped a wayward dark brown curl away from her cheek. “Hustle it up , ladies!” At the beginning of the school year, she’d chosen Sandy Atherton to lead the third-period drills. Sandy was handsome, smart, and a beefy, football star. He quickly controlled the boys. Most of the boys admired and respected him . If this was a real fire, he would be able to clear any debris that might hamper their progress down the stairs to the main building door and out to their assigned position in the field. She’d assigned Teddy Marshall, to sweep position. He and Beth would go last, helping anyone lagging behind if they stumbled on their way to safety. Louder this time, the popping noise rang in her ears. Beth spun toward the door. A secondary echo reverberated between the fire alarm blasts and off the walls of the empty hallway outside. Now, real fear clawed at her throat. A tiny inkling of thought tried to surface—a notion she couldn’t allow. She cleared it with a quick swallow. But it didn’t work, not all the way. Beth felt annoyance flushing up from her belly. Why hadn’t Mr. Radcliff collared the culprit with the fireworks? Radcliff was the only other teacher on the second floor and one big sissy. The skinny, four-eyed weasel occupied the classroom across the hall. She was more of a man than he, and she was as feminine as they came. She rolled her eyes. As usual, he waited for her to take charge of all the second-floor students.Again the popping sound—even louder. A sickening dread gushed into her mind like a flash flood after a thunderstorm. Gunfire? A shooter? A school shooter? She wanted to refute it. No one could get past the police security guard at the front entrance. How’d anyone get through the metal detectors? Where were the text messages? There should be text messages from the principal, or at least administration, if this was true. She looked at the face of her iPhone on the edge of her desk. Dark. Blank. Nothing.“Miss Raines! Miss Raines—that’s—that’s gunfire!” Sandy gasped, his eyes bugging wide with shock. Was it? “I go hunting with my father all the time. I know that sound—like the shooting range.” But, that would confirm the very thing she wanted to deny. What should she do now? Her heart fluttered, feeling almost as if it had flopped over in her chest. At last, her training kicked in. “Get to the back closet! Get down, lower the desktops like we practiced. And stay quiet,” she commanded, motioning toward the back of the room with her hands. The school board had spent the money on the new desks after being harassed by two very loud and persistent mothers. Built like a shield, the desk’s writing surface lowered on its front hinge. The top was wood, but underneath, a solid sheet of steel offered some bullet protection. That would buy them time if the shooter breached the doorway. She had to secure the door.Follow procedure; get the kids down on the floor behind the desk shields, lock the classroom door, turn out the lights, wait for help. Her mind regurgitated the list of instructions if she couldn’t get out. She watched helplessly as the kids noisily stampeded to take cover, all except Sandy, who crouched down beside her. “Miss Raines?” Sandy’s face was desperate. He didn’t want to die; neither did she--not today. “Stay calm. Call 9-1-1.” She grabbed hold of his hand and squeezed it. “Get down. I’ll go check.” Beth stood, gulped back her terror, and carefully removed her shoes. In stocking feet and on tip-toe, she crossed the room. Quietly, she placed her shoes on top of her desk. Once at the wall abutting the hallway, she pressed her back against it. Cold from the concrete block oozed through the pink silk fabric of her blouse, making her shudder. She felt the rough surface of the blocks snag at the fibers as she crept along. Crap! She’d bought the silk blouse to impress Sam Moore, the new football coach, and her after-school date. Her new blouse would be ruined. He’d be astounded if he saw her now! I paid over a hundred dollars for this blouse! Small beads of sweat formed at her temples and on her upper lip. Just as she reached the steel doorway to the hall, she glanced back at her students. All twenty huddled together and sat on the floor against the closet wall behind the last row of desks. Between the faint sobs, she heard smartphone notification dings as the students texted messages to family and friends. Sandy whispered to the 9-1-1 operator. At least the police were on the way.She locked the door, flipped the light switch, killing the overhead lights. That plunged the classroom into an eerie semi-darkness. The pale light streaming through the windows on the west side of the room shimmered on dust floating weightlessly in the air, creating a strange wavering curtain. It blurred the student’s silhouettes, and they shapeshifted to look almost like another row of desks. Beth Raines breathed out a trembling sigh. If the shooter glanced in briefly, he might not see them. The popping noise started again. Beth clenched her fists in fear and frustration. Stop being such a ninny! You’re the adult. Still confused by disbelief, she scolded herself. She had to do her part.The sound changed. It was closer. These children had their whole lives ahead of them. Keep them safe! Beth ducked under the rectangular window in the door. She paused, then cautiously straightened and peeked through. She couldn’t see anything or anyone in the hallway. Damn it! The fire alarm abruptly stopped, replaced by a steady tick-tick-tick. The schoolhouse clock on the wall above the front whiteboard monumented the passing seconds . Waiting seemed interminable. How long had it been? She hadn’t heard gunfire for a while and decided to look. If the hall was clear, she could get her students out of the building. In her imagination, she hustled them quickly down the two gray brick-lined flights to the lobby on the first floor and to their place on the lawn. Slowly, she walked her fingers along the right side of the steel door, reaching for the knob. Unlocked it. Little by little, she pressed the lever handle down. Her senses revved to high alert as she pressed her weight against the door, intending only to open it an inch. But the heavy door swung to the left, dragging her out into the hallway with it. “Damn it!” The corridor was chaotic with shadow and light. Bundles littered the escape path—not bundles exactly. Beth couldn’t make sense of the shapes. An odd scent lingered in the draft swirling up through the ventilation grates; hot gunpowder and metal—copper and blood! Goosebumps erupted on her skin. Her mind refused to accept it—think it—but she had to. They were not bundles. They were bodies.Mr. Radcliff’s students cluttered the passageway. In their haste to respond to the fire drill, they’d stumbled into a trap. She clapped her right hand over her mouth to stifle her scream, and tears pooled in her eyes. In that moment of agony, she realized she heard moaning. Still alive! Someone is still alive! Before she could move toward the sound, she froze. Her gaze settled on the dark figure backlit by the daylight spilling through the long rectangular window at the end of the corridor. A specter, dressed all in black, chest and legs bulked up by some sort of padding, like an outer space visitor, turned to face her. He wore a helmet with an orange-tinged but still metallic faceplate, and it reflected the surreal carnage between them. Beth couldn’t breathe.Grabbing a gasp of air, she tried to reason. Sandy called the police. Was he a police officer from a SWAT team like she’d seen on television? Was he their rescue?“Oh, thank God!” Beth relaxed a little. Still unsure, she moved toward the injured students on the hallway floor. They needed her help. She stopped and stiffened as the Shadowman lifted the black tactical rifle and aimed it right at her. “Wait! I’m a teacher here,” she cried. Before she could react, she saw the white-hot muzzle flash. Instantly, the bullet seared through the flesh in her left shoulder and slammed her back into the door. Beth dove into her classroom, yanking the door closed with all her might. She fumbled with the lock. Finally, the deadbolt clicked into place. Panting, she searched for Sandy. He scurried on all fours to her side. “Oh God! Oh God! He knows we’re in here! He knows we’re here!” She reached out for Sandy. He took hold of her hand. Her pulse drubbed a staccato in her ears.A bullet plinked into the steel door, deforming the metal next to her bleeding arm. Gasping, she lunged away. The shooter fired two more rounds, each instantly denting but not penetrating the steel. With Sandy leading, she crawled along the wall, leaving a streak of blood each time her shoulder touched the cold surface. They reached the closet where her other students hid. She inched up the wall to stand. The terrifying rhythm of the gunfire broke the silence again.Beth convulsed as each shot pinged into the door. Trembling with fear, she felt tears trickle down to the corner of her mouth and could taste the salt. She heard the Shadowman rattle the door handle. He was trying to get in. Hold, please God, make the lock hold . . . . Now, all at once, pain throbbed in her shoulder with every heartbeat. Have to be strong ! Have to save the kids! He hadn’t broken through—yet. She looked around the closet for something, anything, that would keep them safe—anything they could use to fight back. Nothing. Defeated, she let a sob shudder through her whole body. Tired. Why am I so tired? She hung her head and noticed a dark red stain seeping through the pink silk sleeve of her blouse and down her arm. Her legs went weak and rubbery. Confused, she slumped back against the wall and sank to the floor. She could hear Sandy’s faint and faraway voice.“Stay with me, Miss Raines, stay with me. Please, please, police are on the way.” He held her hand.“Damn it!” Beth heard the distant wail of police sirens. Weird! At this particular moment, she thought, The dry cleaning bill for this blouse is going to be a fortune! She closed her eyes. 

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