Southtown - Rick Riordan

Chapter 1

Fourth of July morning, Wil Stirman woke up with blood on his hands.

He’d been dreaming about the men who kil ed his wife. He’d been strangling them, one with each hand.

His fingernails had cut half-moons into his palms.

Sunlight filtered through the barred window, refracted by lead glass and chicken wire. In the berth above, his cel mate, Zeke, was humming “Amazing Grace.”

“Up yet, boss?” Zeke cal ed, excitement in his voice.

Today was the day.

A few more hours. Then one way or the other, Wil would never have to have that dream again.

He wiped his palms on the sheets. He shifted over to his workspace—a metal desk with a toadstool seat welded to the floor. Stuck on the wal s with Juicy Fruit gum were eight years’ worth of Wil ’s sketches, fluttering in the breeze of a little green plastic fan. Adam and Eve. Abraham and Isaac. Moses and Pharaoh.

He opened his Bible and took out what he’d done last night—a map instead of a Bible scene.

Behind him, Zeke slipped down from the bunk. He started doing waist twists, his elbows cutting the air above Wil ’s head. “Freedom sound good, boss?”

“Watch what you say, Zeke.”

“Hel , just Independence Day.” Zeke grinned. “I didn’t mean nothing.”

Zeke had a gap-toothed smile, vacant green eyes, a wide forehead dotted with acne. He was in Floresvil e State for raping elderly ladies in a nursing home, which didn’t make him the worst sort Wil had met. Been abused as a kid, is al . Had some funny ideas about love. Wil worried how the boy would do when he got back to the real world.

Wil looked over his map of Kingsvil e, hoping the police would take the bait. He’d labeled most of the major streets, his old warehouse property, the two biggest banks in town, the home of the attorney who’d defended him unsuccessful y in court.

He had a bad feeling about today—a taste like dirty coins in his mouth. He’d had that feeling before, the night he lost Soledad.

Exactly at eight, the cel door buzzed open.

“Come on, boss!” Zeke hustled outside, his shirt stil unbuttoned, his shoes in his hands.

Wil felt the urge to hurry, too—to respond to the buzzer like a racetrack dog, burst out of his kennel on time. But he forced himself to wait. He looked up to make sure Zeke was real y gone. Then he slipped Soledad’s picture out from under his mattress.

It wasn’t a very good sketch. He’d gotten her long dark hair right, maybe, the intensity of her eyes, the soft curve of her face that made her look so young. But it was hard to get her smile, that look of chal enge she’d always given him.

Stil , it was al he had.

He kissed the portrait, folded it, and tucked it into his shirt.

Something would go wrong with the plan. He could feel it. He knew if he walked out that door, somebody was going to die.

But he’d made a promise.

He put the Kingsvil e map in the Bible, and set it on the desk where the guards were sure to find it. Then he went to join Zeke on the walkway.

After chow time, Pablo and his cousin Luis were hanging out on the rec yard, trying to avoid Hermandad Pistoleros Latinos. The HPL didn’t like Pablo and Luis getting al religious when they could’ve been dealing for the homeboys.

Luis tried to joke about it, but he stil had bruises across his rib cage from the last time the carnales had cornered him. Pablo figured if they didn’t get out of Floresvil e soon, they’d both end up in cardboard coffins.

Out past the guard towers and the double line of razor wire fence, the hil s hummed with cicadas.

Lightning pulsed in the clouds.

Every morning, Pablo tried to imagine Floresvil e State Pen was a motel. He came out of Pod C and told himself he could check out anytime, get on the road, drive home to El Paso where his wife would be waiting.

She’d hug him tight, tel him she stil loved him—she’d read his letters and forgiven the one horrible mistake that had put him in jail.

After twelve long months inside, the dream was getting hard to hold on to.

That would change today.

He and Luis stood at the fence, chatting with their favorite guard, a Latina named Gonzales, who had breasts like mortar shel s, gold-rimmed glasses, and a wispy mustache that reminded Pablo of his grandmother.

“You want to see fireworks tonight,