The Hunter


Chapter 1

Jenny glanced back over her shoulder. They were still behind her, on the other side of the street but definitely following. They matched their pace to hers; when she slowed to pretend to look in a store window, they slowed, too.

There were two of them, one dressed in a black T-shirt and leather vest, with a black bandanna on his head, the other in a long flannel shirt, black-and-blue plaid, unbuttoned. Also unwashed. They both looked like trouble.

The game store was a few blocks ahead. Jenny quickened her pace a little. This wasn't the best neighborhood in town, and she'd come here specifically because she didn't want any of her friends to see her. She hadn't realized, though, that Eastman Avenue had gotten quite so rough. After the last riots the police had cleared things up, but many of the vandalized stores still had boarded windows, which gave Jenny a creeping feeling between her shoulder blades. They were like bandaged eyes turned toward her.

Not at all the place to be at dusk-but it wasn't dusk yet, Jenny told herself fiercely. If only those two guys would turn off onto another street. Her heart was beating unpleasantly hard. Maybe they had turned....

She slowed again, her feet in their lace-up canvas Tretons making no sound on the dirty sidewalk. From behind and to the left she heard the flat smack of running shoes and the clack of bootheels. The footsteps slowed.

They were still there.

Don't look back, she told herself. Think. You have to cross over at Joshua Street to get to the store-but that means crossing left, to their side of the street. Bad idea, Jenny. While you're crossing they can catch up to you.

All right, then, she'd turn off before that, she'd go right on this next street up here-what was it? Montevideo. She'd go right on Montevideo, and then she'd find a store to duck into, a place to hide until the two guys had passed by.

The Tower Records on the corner of Eastman and Montevideo was no longer in business. Too bad. Back straight, stubbornly pretending she was perfectly calm, Jenny walked by the darkened windows. She caught a glimpse of herself in one of them: a slender girl with hair that Michael had once said was the color of honey in sunlight. Her eyebrows were straight, like two decisive brush strokes, and her forest-green eyes were dark as pine needles and even more serious than usual. She looked worried.

She turned right at the cross street. As soon as she was out of sight of Eastman Avenue, she stopped and stood as still as a deer, backpack swinging from her hand, eyes desperately scanning Montevideo for cover.

Directly opposite her was a vacant lot and beside that a Thai restaurant, closed. Behind her the looming bulk of the record store presented a blank wall to the street all the way down to the park. No cover. Nowhere to hide.

Jenny's neck prickled and her little fingers began to tingle.

She turned toward Eastman and hugged the wall, tossing back her hair to listen.

Were those footsteps or just the sick thudding of her own heart?

She wished that Tom were with her.

But of course that was the whole point. Tom couldn't be with her, since it was his party she was shopping for.

It was supposed to have been a pool party. Jenny Thornton was known for her pool parties, and here in southern California late April was a perfectly reasonable time to have one. The temperature often hovered in the mid-seventies at night, and the Thornton pool glowed like a huge blue-green jewel in the backyard, giving off little wisps of steam from its surface. The perfect setting for an outdoor barbecue.

Then three days ago the cold snap had come ... and Jenny's plans were ruined. Nobody except polar bears swam in this kind of weather.

She'd meant to rethink things, to come up with some other brilliant idea, but it had been one of those weeks. Summer's fourteen-year-old schnauzer had finally had to be put to sleep, and Summer had needed Jenny for moral support. Dee had taken a kung fu exam, and Jenny had gone to cheer her on. Audrey and Michael had had a fight, and Zach had had the flu....

And then suddenly it had been Friday afternoon, with just hours to go before the party and everyone expecting something special-and nothing set up.

Fortunately an idea had come to her in the middle of computer applications class. A game. People gave