At first, the deaths seem random. A young Portland couple brutally murdered in a game gone awry. . .a Chicago woman who plummeted to her death from an office building. . .an aspiring screenwriter asphyxiated in his New York apartment. But the macabre souvenirs television reporter Sydney Jordan receives hint at a connection that is both personal and terrifying.
After events in her own life went wrong, Sydney fled to Seattle with her teenage son. But instead of getting a fresh start, Sydney is plagued by strange occurrences. Someone is watching, someone who knows her intimately. . .someone who's just waiting to play the next move in a twisted game.
She is his chosen one. Every murder is a sign, and soon, Sydney will understand why each victim had to suffer--and why she's the next in line. . .
""A fast-paced thriller. . .O'Brien's crisp, clear writing, and taut suspense elevate this above similar fare."" --Publishers Weekly
""Another page-turner.""--Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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December 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Final Breath by Kevin O'Brien
"I swear to God, I'm going to kill her," he whispered.
Erin Travino didn't pay attention to the man seated in the row behind her. She switched on her cell phone, activating the little blue display light. It glowed in the darkened movie theater. Erin punched in the code to check her messages again.
Up on the big screen in front of her, Judi Dench was reprimanding Keira Knightley for something. Erin hadn't paid much attention to Pride and Prejudice. Maybe she should have been. She had a book report due next week, and hadn't even chosen the stupid book yet. If she'd been following the movie more closely, she could have pretended to have read Pride and Prejudice. Her English Lit teacher was a sucker for Jane Austen.
Then again, she really didn't have to try too hard at school lately. Most of her teachers were cutting her some slack. Erin simply had to say she was still traumatized over what had happened last week, and her teachers would grant her an extension or raise her C to a B minus.
Erin intended to milk the situation for as long as she could. Along with Molly Gerrard, and that nut job, Warren Tunny, she was prominently featured in all the newspaper articles. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer even ran a photo of her, the halfway-decent snapshot from her high school ID. At least her wavy, shoulder-length, auburn hair was freshly washed, and the dimpled smile looked natural. Plus she appeared really thin in the picture.
Erin was constantly dieting, even though her friends insisted it was the last thing in the world she needed to do. Tonight, for example, her best friend, Kim, had bought a soda and a large buttered popcorn for the movie. Kim asked if she wanted some popcorn, but Erin just shook her head and sipped her medium Diet Coke. Didn't Kim know that stuff had the fat equivalent of three Big Macs? At least that was what Erin had heard.
She squinted at the illuminated display on her cell phone: NO NEW MESSAGES.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder, startling her. Erin almost dropped the phone. She glanced over her shoulder.
"Would you mind putting your phone away?" growled the man behind her. He was in his late thirties--as was the lean, Asian guy with him. "The light is very distracting."
Erin shifted in her cushioned seat. "Well, I wasn't talking on it," she whispered, rolling her eyes.
The man glared at her. The light from the movie screen flickered across his handsome, narrow face. "That's the fifth time you've pulled out your phone and switched it on since the movie started. Do you have ADD or something? How about showing a little courtesy for the people around you, huh?"
Her mouth open, Erin let out a stunned little laugh.
Suddenly her phone chimed out this ancient tune, "I Just Called to Say I Love You," in ring tones. She'd programmed it by accident last week and couldn't undo the damn thing.
"Shit," she muttered. A few people in nearby seats shushed her. The man and his buddy were frowning and shaking their heads.
Flustered, Erin grabbed her purse and retreated up the aisle toward the lobby. Ignoring the filthy looks from several people seated along the aisle, she pressed the Talk button on her phone. "Hello?" she whispered, pushing at the door with her shoulder. She stepped into the narrow, dimly lit foyer. The door swung shut behind her.
"Hello?" Erin repeated, louder this time.
She heard a click. Frowning, she checked the caller ID: NUMBER NOT LISTED.
With a sigh, Erin headed into the Harvard Exit Theater's lobby. They showed mostly foreign and independent films. Erin got a waft of popcorn smell as she wandered through the large lobby. It had a fireplace, a grand piano, and worn, antique parlor furnishings that were true to the building's 1920s architecture. The concessions stand was in the far corner, and beyond that, a stairway to the restrooms and another theater on the third floor.
Erin paused at the foot of the stairs. She dialed Molly's number and got her machine again. Erin clicked off. She'd already left three messages. They'd arranged to meet in front of the movie theater tonight. But Molly had never shown.
Molly was one of the most popular girls in Erin's class. She was thin and pretty with gorgeous, long, black hair that was right out of a shampoo commercial. Molly wore designer glasses, and somehow managed to look chic--even in just a sweater and jeans. Molly's stock only went up after what had happened last week. Erin's stock soared, too. Suddenly, she mattered.
The day before yesterday, Molly had asked if she wanted to hang out after school. They went to pick up a new pair of glasses for Molly at this store on Capitol Hill. The glasses had square lenses with tortoiseshell frames, slightly nerdy, very funky. Only someone as popular and pretty as Molly could have worn them without looking like a total dork. While in the optical shop with her new friend, Erin wished she had weak eyes so she could get glasses like Molly Gerrard. Afterward, they had Diet Cokes and shared a plate of cheese fries at the Broadway Grill. Erin ate only seven fries and was still hungry, but it didn't matter. She felt so cool, hanging out with Molly.
Kim was an okay friend. But Molly was queen of the "A" crowd, and being friends with her put Erin in the "A" crowd, too. She was devastated Molly hadn't shown up for the movie tonight. Erin wondered if she'd done something wrong. Maybe Molly didn't want to hang out with her and Kim. Kim wasn't "A" list. But no, that wasn't like Molly; she was nice to everyone.
Erin was still trying to figure out what must have happened when she glanced over toward the lobby and spotted one of the older guys who had been sitting behind her. It was the man's friend, the slim Asian guy. He seemed to be headed for the concessions stand, but his eyes suddenly locked with hers. He passed by the concessions counter and came toward her.
Erin automatically turned and started up the stairs. She wasn't afraid of him; she just didn't feel like hearing another lecture about movie theater etiquette. Halfway up the stairs, Erin figured she could duck into the women's room and avoid him altogether. But the cell phone slipped out of her hand and skipped down a few steps.
The man paused on the landing--in front of a huge old poster for An American in Paris. He retrieved her cell phone, climbed the stairs, and plopped the phone in her hand. "Well, I know you couldn't live without this now, could you?" he muttered.
Her mouth open, Erin didn't reply.
Brushing past her, the man started up the next flight of stairs--probably to the men's restroom on the third floor. But he paused and glanced back down at her. "A thank you might have been nice," he said. "You know, you're very rude." Shaking his head, he continued up the stairs.
Erin wanted to say, "Well, screw you!" But instead, she just retreated into the women's room. It was dimly lit and slightly creepy. The partition housing the two stalls was painted dark green, and the floor was old, chipped black-and-white tile-- little hexagons. The old sink had separate faucets for the hot and cold water, and there were rust stains on the porcelain.
Erin could hear people laughing in the smaller theater upstairs. Some comedy from Italy was showing.
She caught herself frowning in the bathroom mirror. She flicked back her auburn hair. That guy who had just called her rude would have been asking for her goddamn autograph if he knew who she was. Obviously, he hadn't seen the newspaper last week. They called her a hero for what she did. A hero.
It had happened last Tuesday in Mr. Gunther's fifth period study hall. Only about half of the students actually studied or did their homework in study hall; the rest napped, doodled, or tried to pass notes to each other. Gunther, a short, wiry, balding, forty-something wannabe-jock, wouldn't let anyone talk while he lorded over the classroom. He was a real hard- ass. He sat at the front of class with his nose buried in the Seattle Times sports section.
Erin was at her desk by the windows in the last row, listlessly paging through her Us Weekly. Gunther was such a Nazi, he'd assigned seats and wouldn't let anyone switch. Erin was stuck with a view of the faculty parking lot on one side and squirrelly Warren Tunny on the other.
Warren sat hunched over his sketchpad. He was always drawing these weird cartoon monsters that looked like a cross between SpongeBob SquarePants and Godzilla. Erin never admitted it, but she found his drawings fascinating--gory, graphic, and oddly funny. No one else appreciated Warren's artwork--except maybe his geek buddies, if he even had any buddies. Erin couldn't see what he was drawing at that moment. His arm and shoulder blocked her view. He was probably protecting his sketch pad. It was new. The previous week, while Warren had been at his locker, one of the guys had grabbed his old sketch pad out of his hands and torn it up in front of him. Erin hadn't seen it happen, but she heard Warren had cried.
The guys were constantly picking on him and the girls made fun of him. Warren was skinny, with a pale, splotchy complexion and ugly, kinky, rust-colored hair that he parted on the side. Some of the guys called him "Pubes" because of that awful hair. Erin felt sorry for him, but the guy was definitely weird. Warren wore the same green army jacket to school every day--even in warm weather. And he kept it on all day long.
Bored, Erin tried to peek at what Warren was drawing. She still couldn't see the sketch pad. But she noticed something shiny inside Warren's fatigue jacket. It looked like a gun.