In Dark Territory—the second book in Susan Philpott’s debut series—Signy Shepherd embarks on her newest assignment for the Line: a rescue mission to save Lizzy Stone and her baby boy from an abusive household.
Cut off from the Line, what will Signy Shepherd do when the very people she protects become more dangerous than the threats they’re escaping?
Signy Shepherd has spent her career with the Line, a modern underground railroad, shepherding at-risk women out of peril. When Signy takes Lizzy, a young woman desperate to save her infant son, under her protection, the case appears to be like any other. With a severe winter storm on the horizon, Signy drives Lizzy and her son out of the city. Suddenly, she finds the police hot on their tail, and when Lizzy’s erratic behavior propels them into further danger, Signy begins to suspect that her new ward is not the victim she claims to be.
Meanwhile, Signy’s PTSD-stricken mentor, Grace, investigates Lizzy’s husband. But Lizzy’s husband is hiding secrets of his own, and soon Grace finds herself out of her depth. As the treacherous blizzard closes in, the entire operation spirals out of control. Isolated and relying on nothing but her instincts, Signy is confronted with a choice that will force her to risk not only her own life, but those of the people she cares about most.
Expertly plotted and featuring a fiery protagonist, Dark Territory is a taut, high-speed thriller about a young woman who will stop at nothing to save the people she loves.
Dark Territory Chapter 1 Lizzy Stone hurried down the deserted corridor, its concrete walls plastered with fluorescent biohazard warnings. Clutched under one arm like an overinflated football, Justin screamed bloody murder, his furious cries echoing through the underground maze. Clamping a hand over the baby’s mouth, Lizzy darted a quick look over her shoulder.
She skittered to a halt in front of a heavy steel door. Ignoring the Do Not Enter sign, she swiped the access card she’d stolen and shouldered the door open. Flipping on the lights, she whirled round, slammed the door shut, and then clicked home the deadbolt. Only then did she lean against the wall and close her eyes.
She breathed in the familiar mix of pine disinfectant and chlorine bleach, and it was a minute or two before she noticed the baby’s squirms grow weaker. She glanced down. His nose clogged, he was struggling to breathe. She whipped her hand away from his mouth, and after a couple of sputtered cries, he let loose again, every muscle in his body quivering with rage.
Swinging him up onto her hip, she patted his back while completing a quick survey of the room. She was surprised to see that nothing much had changed in the laboratory since she’d last been allowed down here. On one wall, a gleaming stainless steel lab bench held an array of scientific equipment, autoclaves, a centrifuge, flasks, and test tubes.
Tears pricked behind her eyes when she saw that the caricature she’d had made for Solomon at the New York State Fair still occupied its place of honour on the centre of the bench. The artist had drawn him hunched over a microscope, a white lab coat hanging around his knees, his hair wild, à la Einstein. Surrounding him, a ring of smiling children held up Thank You signs in a variety of languages.
Turning her back on the drawing, she examined the class II safety cabinet that dominated the opposite wall. With its separate environmental controls it served to keep the operator safe from both biological and chemical agents.
“No,” she cried, prying the baby’s grasping fingers from her long brown hair. She held his writhing, sweat-slick body out in front of her, his tiny feet windmilling. She grimaced as his screams rose in an almost unbearable crescendo.
Striding over to the safety cabinet, she bent forward and peered inside. The empty interior was sparkling clean. Using her hip, she opened the glass shield and set the baby inside.
His shrieks abruptly halted as he stared open-mouthed at this novel environment.
Her shoulders relaxed a fraction of an inch. She’d suspected a stint in Daddy’s sanctum sanctorum might do the trick. As if he were reading her mind, the baby burst out into a babble of infant chatter.
Lizzy slid the door shut, then glanced at the temperature gauge. If she cranked the dial even a little, the temperature inside the cabinet would climb to unbearable levels. Like a dog left in a car on a sweltering summer day, he’d be cooked within minutes.
Shaking her head, she stepped over to a refrigerator-sized incubator. A quick check of the gauges showed that the temperature, humidity, oxygen, and carbon dioxide were ticking along at optimum levels. Peeking through a small window on the door, she could see tightly packed culture dishes. Each dish had a white screw top at one end and a thin layer of pink nutrient medium lining the bottom. Not bothering to don a mask, she reached in and extracted one of the plastic containers.
She peered closely at the contents, noting with satisfaction the fuzzy dark spots that marred the clean surface of the medium. Carrying the culture dish over to a deep metal sink, she twisted off the white cap. Bringing the mouth of the dish under the tap, she turned on the hot water. The little container filled almost immediately, and she watched as grainy splotches of cell tissue broke free of their life-giving moorings, floated to the surface, and rode a torrent of water out into the sink.
She repeated the process until every scrap of her husband’s work met an unceremonious end in the sewer tank deep underground.
Tossing the last culture dish into the garbage, she stepped over to a large metal desk that held the computer in which Solomon recorded his data. She turned it on, and scrolled through the contents. She dragged the cursor past scores of files containing years of raw data and statistical analyzes, as well as a series of scientific articles Solomon was poised to send to peer-reviewed journals.
She paid no attention to the research files. She wanted the videos, and there they were. Hundreds of them. She chose one at random, her lips twisting with disgust as the familiar images flickered to life.
Shuddering, Lizzy grabbed a USB key from the desk drawer and copied the file onto the key, slipping it in her pocket as soon as the transfer was complete. Then she spun the computer tower, opened the back, and slid out the hard drive. Glancing around the lab, she found what she was looking for over by the door. Dropping the hard drive onto the concrete floor, she picked up a heavy metal doorstop and used it to crack open the drive.
Tossing the battered casing in the sink, she found a flask of hydrochloric acid in a glass-fronted cupboard. She poured the entire bottle over the hard drive, watching as the delicate inner workings dissolved into a smoking lump of twisted metal.
Certain that Solomon’s work had been obliterated, she returned her focus to the baby’s miniature prison. He’d managed to roll over onto his side, his fuzz of blond hair dark with sweat. Her hand hovered over the temperature dial. With what his father had planned for him, the poor little thing would be better off if she simply cranked the knob.
The baby stared back at her with his sparkling blue eyes.
“Just like going to sleep,” she whispered through the glass.
Justin grinned, then plugged a thumb into his mouth.
Lizzy shook her head. “Come here, little monkey,” she said, sliding open the door and lifting him free of the stuffy cabinet. The baby wrapped his arms around her neck and she pressed his impossibly soft cheek to hers.
She was turning to leave when she caught sight of a black marker. Ripping the cap off with her teeth, she walked over to the wall and scrawled the word Murderer in ten-inch-high letters.
Back in the hallway, she spotted a trail of evenly spaced marks marring the concrete floor. Inspecting the bottom of her feet, she found the offending stain on the sole of her right foot. She discounted the idea of returning with a bucket and mop. She’d be long gone by the time he discovered the bloody footprints.
Wiping away an errant tear, she choked back a hysterical giggle. By then, a little extra cleanup would be the least of his problems.
Susan Philpott holds a master’s degree in both science and social work. She has worked as a university teaching assistant, zookeeper and mental health professional. The mother of three grown children, she lives in the wilds of Ontario with her husband and yellow lab.
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More books from this author: Susan Philpott
More books in this series: A Signy Shepherd Novel
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