Delete All Suspects

Chapter 1

Wednesday night, 11:30 p.m.

He stumbled over the door sill on his way out, but he didn't think anyone noticed. Even if they did, this wasn't a place where they'd make a big fuss about taking away his keys and pouring coffee into him. Not that he was drunk. Only slightly tipsy. Tipsy and preoccupied.

He paused on the sidewalk to zip up his jacket and look around.

"Home or back to work?" he muttered. His lips moved in a perfunctory smile at the well-worn joke. Three years ago, he'd thought he had it made. The shortest commute possible; just roll out of bed and over to the keyboard.

Tonight he lingered on the sidewalk and wished he had someplace else to go. He thought briefly of Kristyn, but she'd only say "I told you so," and slam the door in his face. As for his so-called friends--he had no idea which of them were in on it. Maybe they all were.

Wasn't there some old warning against doing business with friends? Of course, maybe if he'd been more businesslike, his friends wouldn't have gotten him in all this trouble. With even more trouble coming if he let them--

"No," he said aloud, shaking his head. "I won't go along with it."

Then he glanced around to see if anyone had heard him talking to himself.

No one. The sidewalks were empty and still wet from the earlier rainfall. Dark, silent cars lined both sides of the street. To his left, he saw a single car at the intersection, its turn signal blinking as it waited patiently for the green light.

He turned right and began walking toward the side street where his car was parked.

That's it, he thought. I'll go home and e-mail him that I won't go along. No, first I'll change the rest of the passwords. Make sure everything's working normally. Then I'll e-mail him.

He spent a few moments worrying about what could have gone wrong in the hours he'd been absent. Normally, if he wanted to get away, he'd ask one of his friends to keep an eye on things. Tonight he'd just raced out.

Probably the smartest thing he could have done. Even if all the hardware crashed while he was out and he returned to find dozens of angry e-mails and voice mails from his customers, it still wouldn't be as bad as what his so-called friend had already done on purpose.

Friends. They could all be in on it. All except him, but if the police showed up, he'd be the one holding the bag.

Maybe he should make good on his threat and call the cops for real.

As he reached his car, he fumbled in his pocket, pulled out his keys, and dropped them. Of course he'd parked in the darkest part of the block, right under a burnt out streetlight. He patted the ground for long seconds before the headlights of an approaching car gave enough light to reveal the keys.

As he stood up, keys in hand, the headlights vanished and he heard the car accelerate suddenly, tires squealing. He turned to see what was happening and froze.

The car was heading straight for him.

He tried to move, but there wasn't enough time. Only time to blink with surprise when he recognized the driver, a split second before the impact that exploded his world into shards of light and then blackness.