Roseoak Park, New York
Lori Fulton woke in the darkness of her bedroom to a strange pressure covering her mouth, forcing her head deep into her pillow.
A hideous face glared down at her.
Straining to breathe, Lori thought: I’m dreaming! Then her eyes flicked to her husband’s side of the bed. It was empty.
Where’s Dan? What’s happening? Wake up!
At the peel of duct tape and the guttural noises of a struggle nearby, Lori’s brain thundered awake with the horrible realization that the man above her was real. Again, she thought of her husband and her son.
Where’s Dan? Where’s Billy?
She thrashed against her attacker, who countered by seizing her throat.
The lights switched on and she saw Dan was across the room in his T-shirt and boxers, on his knees, hands bound behind his back. A band of tape sealed his mouth. Blood webbed down his cheek. His eyes met hers.
A gun was being held to his head.
Dan! Oh God, where’s Billy?
The two men in her room wore loose mechanic-style coveralls over top of hoodies and white masks with grotesque faces. In an explosion of terror and rage, Lori fought back, shaking her mouth free to shriek.
“Billy! Where’s my son? Billy!”
Lori’s assailant pressed a strip of duct tape over her mouth then yanked her by her hair from her bed. Dan moved to protect her but was stopped when his attacker smashed the butt of his gun against his face. Lori was shoved to the floor, her nightshirt hiked up to her waist in the scuffle. Her attacker—Thorne, according to the name embroidered on the patch on his chest—paused to take in her body before dropping his knee hard on her stomach, knocking out her breath. He clamped her wrists in one gloved hand then reached for the duct tape.
Through her pain Lori noticed him fumbling, unable to find the start of the tape. He cursed, shook off his glove, peeled a lead and quickly wrapped her wrists like a rodeo cowboy in a calf-roping competition.
Thorne replaced his glove, then pulled Lori to her knees positioning her next to Dan, both of them now bound helplessly. Lori wheezed, her need for air contending with the ache in her gut. A muffled whimpering sounded through their open bedroom door. Shadows moved in the hallway as two more figures approached, dressed the same as the first two. Their name patches read Cutty and Percy.
Cutty, the largest of the four, carried Billy on his hip as if he were luggage.
Dan’s muzzled growl nearly burst through his tape as Lori screamed under hers. Billy’s hands and mouth were bound, his eyes wide with terror as Cutty tossed him on the floor next to them. Lori fumbled closer, feeling Billy’s body trembling against hers as he sobbed.
Who were these monsters?
The man who’d been holding on to Dan—Vic, by his name patch—took charge. He sat on the foot of Lori and Dan’s bed, casually contemplating his gun, then the family.
Lori, Dan and Billy were on their knees before him, their armed attackers looming behind them—a portrait of contrasts. Dan was in his favorite Jets T-shirt, now bloodstained, and Billy in the new Spider-Man pajamas Lori had bought him for his ninth birthday last month. They’d been torn in the struggle.
Why had these people violated their home?
Vic tapped his gun to his knee as if coming to a decision.
“Are we calm now? Do we have your attention?” he asked. “I’ll make it simple. If you do what we say and do it right no one gets hurt and this will be over tomorrow. If you fail at any stage, you’ll die.”