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Blind Curve
By Annie Solomon

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 Blind Curve

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Blind Curve
By Annie Solomon
ISBN: 0446613584
Genre: Romance

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Chapter Excerpt from: Blind Curve , by Annie Solomon

Chapter 1

The night was too damn cold to be out on the streets. But the tall man with the knit cap pulled low over his face just hunched inside his green army jacket and stamped his feet to keep warm. A two-day beard stubbled his face and dark, greasy hair hung beneath the cap. On the street he was known as Turq, short for "turquoise," the color of his deepset eyes.

Half a block from the west side projects, he stood near a burned out streetlight where an abandoned grocery store hulked on the corner. Hidden in the shadows was the gun he planned to buy.

The seller was late, and Turq cursed silently. His neck bothered him. Two nights ago, he'd been popped in the head during a routine drug sweep in the Dutchman's Tavern, and the cold was making it ache. His cell phone vibrated against his hip.

"Yo," Turq said low. "What's up, uncle?" The voice belonged to one of his ghosts, stationed across the street and up the block, but still able to trail his every move.

"My date is late." Footsteps approached. "Catch you later, dude," Turq said.

The seller rounded the corner. Fifteen at best, he was scrawny, dressed in hip-hop mode with chains and a tracksuit hanging on his lanky form. The kid swaggered confidently toward Turq, who groaned under his breath. The young ones were the worst. You never knew what they'd do.

Turq didn't waste time. "You got it?" The seller eyed him suspiciously. "You got the dead presidents?"

"Two hundred. Cash. That was the deal." "Yeah, but I don't know you, bro. And I don't do business with peeps I don't know."

Christ. Turq tightened his jaw. First the guy was late, then he started giving attitude. Forcing himself to relax, he stuck out his hand. "Name's Turq. Ah shit. No, it ain't." He grinned sheepishly. "It's Danny." He left off Sinofsky, hoping the first name would be enough. "But don't you go telling no one."

Slowly, the seller shook his hand. "Danny, huh. Now that's about the whitest name I know." "We friends now?"

The seller shrugged. In the dim moonlight his skin looked creamy and smooth, no trace of beard yet. Danny tasted sadness. Kids killing kids. "Yeah, okay, Danny," the seller said. "So where is it?"

"Not here. I got it stashed." Damn. Changing locations was not a good idea. It meant his ghosts would have to follow in the catch car. If they could follow, and sometimes they couldn't. Or it could mean a setup. Take the money and run. And he had a lot of money on him.

But an illegal gun was a gun, and already he could smell the steel. "You bring it here, bro. That's the deal." The kid took a step back. "Fuck that shit. Cops all over the place."

"It's here or no place." "Then it's no place, dawg." The kid turned around. Christ. "Hold up!"

Going somewhere else sucked big time, but so was letting another gimme hang on the street where innocent civvies ended up paying the price. The latest vic had been a three-year-old girl.

"Where we going?" "I'll take you."

"I gotta know where first." If he could alert his ghosts, who were listening on a hidden wire, they had a better chance of keeping tabs.

But the night was not going Danny's way. "It's a sweet little secret spot. I got me a car waiting." The kid didn't look old enough to drive. Fuck. "Okay. Gotta have that piece."

"Yeah?" The seller led him around the corner to a rusted 1972 Chevy Camaro that was once gold and now looked like faded dirt. "You got a job in mind?"

Danny gave the kid a long look. "Never mind what I got in mind. I got the bills. That's all you need to know." The seller nodded, fifteen going on fifty. "You got that right."

Danny got into the car, fingers tingling, adrenaline pumping. He imagined Parnell popping his cork when he found out. He almost grinned, picturing his lieutenant's face.

The car wheezed down Market Street toward the railroad tracks by the river. A century ago, this was the commercial heart of Sokanan. Barges from Manhattan traveled up the Hudson and off-loaded at the dockside warehouses, filling up with light manufactured goods and produce from Hudson Valley farms. Freight trains did the same, going west.

Now the place was deserted, though the upswing in business from the Renaissance Oil deal, which brought a new boom to the town, had started talk of renovating warehouse row into a shopping mall on the lines of Faneuil Hall in Boston.

But all that was down the pike. Right now the place was dark and dusty.

"So where are we?" Danny asked, feeding clues to his ghosts. "Down by warehouse row?" "You got eyes, don't you?"

The seller pulled off the main drag onto a narrow path heading west toward the Hudson. The car bumped over old cobbles, then parked in a dirt yard fronting a derelict warehouse.

Moonlight bounced off the river, creating shadows and gloom. Faded yellow letters at the top of the brick building spelled out its name, but Danny could make out only an M and a C.

"McClanahan," Danny murmured. "What you talking about?" Danny nodded toward the warehouse. "The building. See the 'M' and the 'C'? I'll bet that was McClanahan's." "Who gives a shit?" Danny didn't tell him.

He got out, scanning the area. Murky and abandoned. No way backup could get there without being noticed. His palms were sweating but he followed the seller toward the looming structure. He did not want to go into that warehouse. "Where is it?" Danny asked.

"Inside." Shit. "Go get it. I'll wait here. That place gives me the-" The warehouse flickered in front of him. For a second he was in complete darkness. He stumbled, almost fell. What the f-

A gunshot cracked above him where his head would have been. Someone grunted and his vision cleared. In that split second he saw the boy down on the ground. Danny dove behind a dumpster as another shot chased him.

"Rounds fired!" he shouted into the hidden wire. "I'm behind a dumpster by the old McClanahan warehouse." His cell vibrated. He grabbed it. "You got the location?" "We got you, uncle."

Danny looked around. It would take time for the ghosts to get there and less than that to die. The shot had come from the warehouse roof. An excellent position, it gave the shooter coverage of the entire area, while Danny was pinned down-no vest, no weapon, just a fistful of cash for protection.

Trapped, he banged the back of his head against the bin's metal side in frustration. A shot pinged off the edge and instinctively he ducked.

The young seller lay unmoving facedown on the ground, the soles of his Nikes to the sky. Was the kid carrying? It wouldn't surprise him. In any case, he couldn't leave him out there, wounded and exposed to the shooter. He crawled to the edge of the blue bin, reached out and got shot at for his trouble.

Shit. He snatched back his hand, took a breath, tried again. This time, he managed to latch onto one of the boy's feet.

He dragged the body toward him. It jerked as another bullet hit.

When the boy was safe behind the trash container, Danny rolled him over. His eyes were wide open and a black circle decorated the middle of his forehead. Fuck.

Who the hell was out there? No time to think about it. He scrabbled over the body and found a fully loaded nine beneath the tracksuit. Wouldn't do much good against the high-powered rifle the shooter had, but it was better than nothing.

He peered around the corner of the dumpster and, once again, his vision sputtered out. He blinked as cars squealed into the area, sirens screaming. Doors slammed, shots fired. Bayliss over the bullhorn. "This is the police! Throw the rifle down!"

Then another voice over that. "Sin! Where are you? Sin!"

Hands shook him. "Jesus Christ, what happened?" It was Mike Finelli, his other ghost. "Danny? Sin? You all right?" "Yeah, I'm fine. Except I can't see a fucking thing."

"It's called cortical blindness," the neurologist said, her voice so calm and matter-of-fact he wanted to deck her. He didn't know how long he'd been in the hospital, but it felt like years. He'd been shuffled off to doctors and technicians who were a mush of voices with no faces. Now he sat in some kind of armchair; he could feel the shape and the fabric. And from the quiet and lack of movement around him, he sensed he was in a private office. And this doctor- Christ, he couldn't even remember her name-was telling him . . .

"You're kidding. One minute I'm fine and the next minute I'm fucking blind?" "You had a stroke."

"I'm thirty-two and healthy as a horse. Guys like me don't have strokes."

"I understand you were hit in the head two days ago." "In my line of work I get hit a lot. What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"You injured your neck," she said gently. "Tore your vertebral artery. That's the one right at the top of your spine. The tear allowed blood to dissect-to seep-into the arterial wall. The blood embolized. Clotted. The clot traveled to the top of the basilar artery, the main artery at the back of the head. It went from there to one of the posterior cerebral arteries and fragmented, plugging up your cortex."

"Yeah, but why can't I see?" "Because the messages from your eyes can't get to the cortex, which is where they're interpreted. It's called a bilateral occipital stroke."

The words slid over him like so much fog. His heart was thudding wildly, his mouth was dry. He wondered if he'd been shot at the warehouse instead of the seller and this was a coma dream from which he would eventually wake. "Detective Sinofsky?"

"Yeah." "Do you have any other questions?" He hesitated, feeling lost, adrift. "Am I . . ." He cleared his throat. "Am I dreaming?"

There was a short pause. "No." She spoke the word quietly, with compassion and complete certainty. He nodded, dread gripping him. "Any chance this will go away?"

Another short pause. "It's possible. There have been cases of it clearing up on its own."

"But?" "But the damage is extensive. I wouldn't count on it. I'm sorry." He heard the sound of her rising, the swish of clothing, the creak of a chair. "I'm going to set you up with a social worker. She'll get you into rehab. You'll need a mobility instructor."

He sat there, not taking any of this in. Ahand touched his shoulder. He flinched.

"How are you getting home?" He had no idea. "Are you married?"

He shook his head. "A girlfriend? Parents, relative?" His mother was dead, and he didn't want to dump this on his sister, Beth.

"I'll, uh, I'll call a friend." He'd been in and out of his clothes, his eyes and his head poked and prodded, his body X-rayed. But now he was back in his street wear-the ripped jeans and ancient army jacket that belonged to Turq. Fumbling in the huge pockets, he found his cell phone below Turq's knit cap. His fingers searched the buttons for the correct ones, but his hand was shaking.

Gently, someone took the phone from him. "What's the number?" Doctor whoever.

He swallowed. His brain had stopped and it took a moment to jumpstart it again. But he remembered it at last and told her. A minute later she handed him the phone. Mike Finelli's voice came on the line, an anchor of familiarity.

"It's me," Danny said, desperate to keep the tremor out of his voice.

"Sin. Where are you? I've been at the hospital all day and they keep saying they're doing tests. What's going on? Are you okay?"

Not really. But he wasn't ready to get into that. "I need a ride home."

"Beth's here. I think she's got that covered." A phone rang and he heard the doctor pick up and speak softly into it.

"What about her kids?" he asked Finelli. "I don't know. They're not with her." "All right. I'll call Beth on her cell and tell her where to meet me."

"She's right here-" A hand touched his arm. "Hold on," he said to Mike. "Mr. Sinofsky?" A bright, cheery voice. "I'm Pat Embry. I'll be taking you to the waiting room where your mobility instructor will meet you."

"They're taking me somewhere," he told Mike. "I'll have them call Beth when I get there."

"If you'll just stand for a moment," the cheery voice said. He pictured a plump, big bosomed woman with tightly curled hair-an Aunt Bea type-but her hand, which she kept on him while he complied, was bony and smelled of disinfectant.

"Just a few steps," she told him brightly as if he were three. "Here's your chair."

He felt the leather sides of a wheelchair and something tightened in his chest. "That's right. Good boy. Comfy?" His hands fisted. "Okay, here we go."

They'd all warned her about him. Everyone from the supervising social worker to the nurse's aide had given her a sharp-eyed look, a cautionary word.

But she didn't need a warning because she remembered him.

Someone had wheeled him into the patient's lounge and he'd managed to find his way out of the chair. One arm propped against the wall, he faced the window as though drinking in the night.

His jeans were outrageously worn, faded and ripped. After fourteen years and who knew what life had done to him, she would have thought his wardrobe would at least have improved. His black T-shirt was in much better shape.

The sleeves strained over well-defined biceps. A man's biceps to match a man's body. Tall and rangy, he had wide shoulders that tapered down to a lean waist and a tight rear.

A jungle cat. Strong, healthy. Young. Looking at him, even from the back, she felt the opposite. She stepped into the room, and his shoulders stiffened. He'd heard her.

"Detective Sinofsky?" He turned and hit her with the full force of his face. Even prepared, she nearly gasped. Age had given him lines and hollows, hardened him into an adult. But he was still dark and intense with a face born of fantasy. Of dangerous dreams deep in the night.

Far away, deep in the recesses of her soul, something stirred. An echo of an echo, so thin and faint it was easy to pretend she hadn't heard it.

His eyes were deep-set and still piercingly turquoise. Clear and transparent as the Caribbean. And healthy- looking. No injury marred the lids or sockets. Nothing at all to signal they were useless.

"Danny Sinofsky?" "Who wants to know?"

She swallowed, glad he couldn't see the shock and pity she didn't hide fast enough. Would he have recognized her? Half hoping, half dreading, she steeled her voice into the safe rhythms of brisk objectivity. "Martha Crowe." She waited just the merest second to see if her name jarred memories. But he stared expressionlessly at her, and she doused the quick jab of disappointment. "I'm a rehab teacher and an O and M instructor-Orientation and Mobility.

I'd like to talk to you about your options." "Options?"

"We can get started with a cane immediately. But there are other things to think about. Adog. Even some electronic devices."

His face, tough and impossibly handsome, even shadowed by stubble, darkened. "Get lost." The expression was eerie because it looked as though he could really see her. "I'm fine."

Not one for false comfort, she opted for bluntness as a way to cut through the anger. "You're not fine. You're blind."

He tensed, coiled, muscles waiting to spring. "It's temporary." She looked at his paperwork. Cortical blindness due to a stroke caused by a neck injury. A freak accident but not unheard of. The internal damage had been extensive; there wasn't much hope he'd get back his sight.

"Look, Detective-" "Are you still here?" She remembered the rough-edged boy with the smile that could break hearts. The man he'd grown into scowled at her.

"I know this has been a shock but-" "I told you to get lost. My eyes are fine. A few days and this will all be a bad dream." "I hope so but-"

He took a threatening step in her direction. Despite his handicap, she instinctively stepped back. "Something wrong with your hearing? Get the fuck out of here!"

She inhaled a breath, let it out slowly. Sometimes shock therapy was the only way to get through a shock. "You want me to go? Why don't you come over here and make me." A flash of panic crossed his face, quickly followed by fury.

"I'm right here," she said using her voice to position herself in the room. "Throw me out."

He leaped at her like a caged tiger. But instead of bars, the darkness held him back. He ran into a row of chairs. Bolted to the floor, they didn't budge and he went flying backward, struck a coffee table, spilling the year-old magazines on the floor. Cursing, he cleared the table and banged his head against a post holding a magazine stand. By this time he was completely turned around and would have headed off in the opposite direction, but she ran over, put a hand on his upper arm just above the elbow.

His arm was hard and powerful, intensely masculine. The feel of it beneath her fingers sent a jolt through her system, yet he was the one who flinched. His whole body shuddered with rage.

Quietly, she said, "Even if you're blind for only a day, you should learn to get around without breaking your neck."

"Fuck you." "Not likely, but if you'd like to try, my number is 422- 2222. Easy to remember. 422-2222."

He shook off her hold as a man hurried into the room. "Sin?"

Danny turned to the sound of the new voice. A leanfaced man with silver hair.

"It's Bob Parnell." The expression in Parnell's face was carefully controlled, but the taut lines around his mouth and the intense way he observed Danny gave his true feelings away: worry, shock, uncertainty. But none of that was in his voice. "How're you doing?"

"Terrific." Danny's tone said otherwise. "Look, can we sit somewhere and talk?" Panic surged into Danny's face again. "To your left," Martha said quietly. "Nine o'clock. Three steps over." His expression hardened, but he followed her instructions and found a seat without mishap.

The new man looked from her to Danny and back again. "I interrupt something?"

She stuck out her hand. "Martha Crowe. I do rehab." "Bob Parnell. I do police work. I'm Danny's boss. And his friend."

"Good." She gave his hand a firm, curt shake. "He could use one. We're done for now." She turned to Danny, who sat stone-faced. "422-2222. All twos, detective. Except for that four in the front."

She left him. Half of her hoped he called. The other half hoped he wouldn't.

Danny listened for the sound of her retreating footsteps. Was she gone? He prayed she was. Prayed he'd never hear her calm, Goody Two-shoes voice again.

We can start with a cane. Everything inside him shuddered with panic. The words replayed themselves over and over. A cane. Tapping out every step for the rest of his life. "Danny. Danny! Can you hear me?" "I'm blind, boss, not deaf."

A hard nugget of silence greeted that jibe. "Sorry," the head of Sokanan's detective division said. "I was talking to you and-"

"I'm a little distracted." "Yeah. I imagine you are."

Another short silence. Danny pictured the older man's lean, no-nonsense face. Firm, planted. The calm in the center of the storm. When Danny was a kid, angry and lost and ready for trouble, Parnell had cuffed him, brought him to the station, scared the living shit out of him, and let him go.

And every so often, showed up at home. Took him to a ball game. Made sure there was something besides Cocoa Puffs to eat. He'd been the hand that kept Danny from falling over the cliff. When he returned from the army, Parnell had reached out again, pulled him into the department. If there was one person on this earth he didn't want to fuck up in front of, it was Bob Parnell.

"What did the doctor say?" "I'm blind." "You want to expand on that?" Danny pushed out the explanation as best he could, choking on the words "cortical blindness," "stroke," and the other medicalese.

"So it wasn't the shooting?" "No. It was the pop in the head at the Dutchman a couple of nights ago. Christ, how ironic is that? I can dodge a bullet but don't hit me."

"Is it permanent?" Danny shrugged. "Not if I have anything to do with it." Parnell touched Danny's shoulder. He started.

"Look, I can't tell you how sorry I am. How sorry we all are. The whole department. This has hit everyone hard." Danny's belly turned over. The thought of everyone feeling sorry for him made him want to puke. "I don't need you to feel sorry. I'm going to be fine."

"Danny-" "I mean it," he said, shrugging off Parnell's hand. "Hey, Sin. How you holding up?"

Danny steeled his face into neutrality at the sound of the newcomer's voice. Although Sokanan's detective division was too small to be broken into units and everyone was expected to handle a variety of cases, Hank Bonner was usually the division's point man on homicide. If he was here, maybe there was news. Any change of subject was welcome.

"You working on the warehouse shooting?" "Yeah. I'm digging deep, but I gotta tell you, I'm not getting very far."

He pictured Hank. A couple of inches taller than Danny, he was a big man with a perpetually tanned face from working in his family's apple orchards. He was a good cop who knew what it was to weather personal storms. He'd weathered plenty of his own in the last few years. But Hank's family tragedy had ended with marriage and a new baby, a happy ending that at the moment seemed wildly out of reach for Danny. His personal life was the last thing he wanted to talk about. "You ID the kid?"

"Name's Rufus Teeter, but goes by T-bone. Mean anything to you?"

Danny shook his head, grateful to have his mind occupied by the normal routine of police work. "Any connection to the drug trade or the gangs in Weston?" Weston meant the west side projects where Danny had met T-bone. Recently, they'd seen a rash of drive-bys and armed robberies, which was why he'd been there in the first place-too many weapons bloodying the streets. Danny was one of five assigned to the Neighborhood Recovery Unit, responsible for getting illegal guns off the streets, as well as the players, junkies, hookers, and johns that went along with them.

"Not yet." "What about Ricky Roda?" He named the key player in Sokanan's drug trade.

"Can't see why Roda would take out one of his own," Parnell said.

"Who knows how guys like him tick? Drugs and money are all they care about. Someone puts the tap on that, who knows what he'd do."

"I don't think so," Hank said. "Kid's a distant cousin of Roda's sent up from Mississippi. I just came from the interview. Women wailing all over the place."

Christ. Danny should be doing the interviews. He swallowed down a rage of jealousy. "Maybe it's someone wanting to get back at Roda. Someone sending a message. Is there someone else from the Bronx trying to move in? Sokanan's just a train ride away. Maybe it's a turf war." "We're checking that out," Hank said.

"Nothing's popped yet," Parnell added. The two men lapsed into silence, as though turning that thought over. "What about the gun?" Danny asked, afraid to let the silence stretch. Too much thinking in the quiet. Too many places he didn't want to go. "Kid said it was in the warehouse. Anyone find it?"

"No," Parnell said. "So what does that mean?" "Maybe he had it stashed deep, and it'll turn up eventually." "Or maybe there never was a gun." Another silence. What were they thinking? Danny would have given anything to see their faces. "A setup?" Hank said. "Why not?"

"Then why take the kid out first?" Parnell said. The scene played out in Danny's head-the tramp to the warehouse, his aversion to walking into a trap, that brief, weird shutting down of his eyes, his near-fall in the dark . . . Had the shooter meant to hit him and hit the kid instead? "If he was after you," Parnell said, "why do it that way? Why not wait until you got inside where they could roll you good?"

No one answered. Probably because there was no answer. Yet.

It was eerie, this conversation. Like lying on his cot in basic training, talking after the lights were doused. Words floating in the dark.

"And you didn't see the shooter?" Hank asked. "No."

Not that it mattered. He couldn't ID him off a mug shot or a lineup anyway. Not now.

Not ever, a voice in his head whispered. Another flush of panic swept through him. This couldn't be real. Couldn't be happening to him. "Okay." Parnell sighed. "I'll keep you posted. If you think of anything else . . ." "I got you on speed dial." The rustle of clothes told him the others were rising.

Danny stood, too, praying he'd judged the sounds right and was facing them. "I'll see you tomorrow," Hank said. To Parnell, Danny guessed. "Sin, you take care." He slapped Danny on the back and left.

Parnell said, "What are your plans?" "Plans? Get my damn eyes back, that's my plan." A strong hand squeezed his shoulder. "Good. We're all hoping that one works out. And in the meantime, I've got you on medical leave."

"In the meantime, he's coming home with me." That sounded like Beth. "Hi, Bob." "How are you, Beth?"

"I'll be better once I get him home." Danny turned his head toward his sister's voice. "I'm going to my own house. I'll be fine." She sighed. "I'm not letting you go home by yourself. And there's no room for me and the kids at your place. So you're coming home with me. Don't argue."

Her voice was thick with the struggle to keep tears at bay. It pierced him, that sound, knowing it was there because of him. Him. The one who always took care of everything.

Parnell leaned close. He felt the other man's body against his. "Go ahead and let her baby you. Women like that. It'll make her happy and it won't kill you." The panic threatened to overwhelm him. He just wanted to be alone where no one could see him. But his friend and his sister were two too many to fight at the moment. Nodding, he rose, searching for obstacles. Without asking, Parnell took his arm and Danny jerked it away. "Whoa, Danny. It's okay. You need some help. I'm here."

Danny clenched his jaw. He did need help. And it killed him. Curtly, he nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Parnell took his arm again and walked him through the darkness.

Because he didn't have a clue where he was going, every step was a leap of faith and a struggle with fear. Even with help, Danny still managed to stub his toe, hit his shin, and walk into someone.

It took another hour to get through the hospital paperwork. They loaded him up with phone numbers and pamphlets he couldn't read. There was more discussion of rehab and that Martha woman. Beth made him another appointment with the neurologist and one for another MRI and then they were free to go.

Except he'd never be free again unless he got his sight back. Always helpless. Always dependent on someone. Beth took his arm, her touch reinforcing his despair. "What time is it?" "Five thirty-five." "In the morning?" "At night."

So he'd been there all night and all day. No wonder he felt keyed up and exhausted. "Who's with the kids?" "I dropped them next door."

Guilt swarmed him. He'd been watching out for his baby sister for as long as he could remember. Having her watch out for him set his whole world upside down. "Look, I can call a cab. You go home and take care of the kids."

"Shut up, will you? Geez. I'm not letting go of you, so get used to it. Nothing you can do about it. Damn stupid man." She muttered the last, but he heard her. "All right.

Here's the door coming up. Two steps. That's right." She talked him through and the sting of winter air bit into his face. He gulped in exhaust and old snow. They were outside. "Wait here," she told him. "I'll get the car."

He opened his mouth to protest that she didn't have to pick him up like some damned cripple, then didn't. It would be easier and faster for her to get the car by herself. He stood awkwardly, afraid to take a step in any direction. Someone rushed by him.

"Hey, pal," whoever it was murmured. "Watch where you're going."

He projected himself into the darkness, trying to see himself standing there, hands fisted tight to keep from howling.

A car pulled up, a door slammed. Then Beth was at his side. She led him to the car like he was a child, and he felt his way around the door and seat. She shut the door behind him and seconds later, slid behind the wheel. The car moved off, picked up speed. It was a strange, eerie feeling, hurtling through a void, no way to judge direction, suspended in deep space, running faster than sight.

Silence hovered between them. He didn't know what to say and he imagined Beth didn't either. It was all too unbelievable. "The social worker at the hospital said she was setting you up with some kind of instructor," Beth said at last. "Did she?"

"Someone came around, yeah." "And?" "And what?" "And what did you arrange?"

He hesitated. He knew he was in for another fight and didn't have the energy. "I didn't." "What do you mean?"

"I don't need any damn instruction. This is temporary. I'm going to be fine."

Beth didn't respond, but that was response enough. Ten minutes later, the car slanted up a slope and stopped. The garage door scraped open.

"I'm going to pull into the garage," she said. "Wait there and I'll come get you."

But he was sick of being led around by the nose. Once the car was parked, he got out himself. "Danny, wait-"

But he was already feeling his way along the wall. He ran into something that fell over with a metallic crash. "Oh God," Beth said. "Are you all right?" She was beside him again. "There are rakes and shovels here. Hold on while I clear a path."

Holding his hand and creeping slowly, she guided him into the house. He pictured the narrow back hallway with the washing machine and dryer on the left. If it looked the way it usually did, there'd be a laundry basket somewhere on the floor, dirty or clean clothes spilling over. His toe hit it, and Beth pulled him to the left to avoid it.

"Up a step," she said and he smelled old coffee and cooked onions. They were in the kitchen. Two more steps and he groped for a chair. Collapsed into it. He was sweating. "I'm just going to call Debbie and ask her to bring the kids over."

"Look, you don't have to check in with me every minute."

"I'm sorry. I just . . . I just don't know how to behave. What to say. What to do." Her voice clogged with tears and his chest contracted again.

"I don't know either, babe," he said softly. Was she staring at him? He turned his head away but she put her arms around him. "I love you, Danny."

He held her tight and sighed. "Go get the kids." His voice came out rough and choked. He heard them the minute they came in the house. Nineyear- old Josh and five-year-old Katie. A whirlwind of sound, of voices, footsteps, and energy.

"Is he here?" Josh was asking. "Do his eyes hurt?" Katie said. "Shh, now we talked about this," Beth said in a low voice. "Don't be rude."

"But I want to see," Katie said. He braced himself for the onslaught. "I'm in here!" Footsteps pounded as the children ran into the kitchen. "Josh, Katie!" Beth called after them. "Uncle Danny!"

Before he could say anything Katie scrambled onto his lap. He didn't know where Josh was. "Come on, now, Katie, get down," Beth scolded. Katie ignored her and he let her settle. Small hands brushed his face.

"They're still pretty," Katie said, her little fingers tracing his brows.

"You really can't see?" That was Josh. His voice was close as though he'd stopped just short of Danny's chair. "God, I'm sorry, Danny," Beth said.

"It's okay," he said to Beth. And to the kids, "The eyes are fine. It's my brain that's messed up." "Wow," Josh said solemnly.

Katie knocked on his head. "Are you going to be stupid now?"

"Katie!" Beth said. "I hope not," Danny said. "It's just that the part of my brain that sees things is plugged up." "You should get Drano," Katie said.

"Is it going to get unplugged?" Anxiety tinged Josh's voice. "You promised to teach me how to pitch this summer." A small vise grabbed hold of him and twisted sharp. "Summer's a long ways away, Josh. We'll see." "You won't," said Katie with a giggle.

"Okay, that's enough," Beth said, and lifted the little girl off his lap. "Go wash your hands. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes. You, too, Josh."

Dinner proved a minor disaster. He knocked over the milk carton, then spilled his coffee and heard Josh yelp in pain. Instinctively, he leaped up to help, overturned his chair, got tangled in it, and went sprawling.

Katie laughed, but Josh burst into tears and while Beth went after her son, Danny sat on the floor, helpless and angry.

"You're funny, Uncle Danny." He felt her crawl onto his lap and put her head on his shoulder.

"Yeah, Katie, I guess I am." One big, fat, blind joke. Beth returned a few minutes later. "You've got milk and coffee on your jeans. Take them off and I'll wash them." "That's okay. I got a spare somewhere. Josh all right?" "He's fine. Really. He's in his room. He . . . he's just having trouble with all this. He still remembers Frank leaving. I don't know. Your . . . losing your sight somehow brings it all back. Be patient with him." Danny nodded numbly. "Sure. No problem." "Katie, why don't you take Uncle Danny to his room," Beth said in an overly bright voice.

"Okay." The little girl slipped her hand into his. "Come on, Uncle Danny."

Between the two of them they managed to get to the room he always stayed in when he slept over. He did that a couple of nights a week. Making sure Beth was all right, the kids okay.

Danny fished his wallet and ID out of his pants and unhooked his cell phone. He slid off the wet jeans and rummaged around the closet until his fingers closed on something that felt like denim. He traced the shape-a waist and two legs. Gingerly, he slipped them on. They fit.

Feeling his way to the bed again, he lay down, every speck of him weary. The usual drill after an undercover buyback was a return to the station-preferably with the gun and the perp-recover his duty weapon and back up, and process the collar before going home. He never went to bed alone. If he didn't have a woman for company, he had his North American minirevolver, a five-shot .22 Magnum, which he never slept without.

But he hadn't made it back to the station. And he hadn't gone home. For the first time in he couldn't remember when, he was unarmed. Naked, exposed, his dick shriveled in humiliation.

And if he did have his mini? A queasy shudder ran through him. Without sight, his judgment would be gone. He'd likely shoot Josh or Beth as an intruder. Or his own foot off.

He closed his eyes, the dark no darker either way. He forced himself to relive the scene at dinner. Blackness closing in like a suffocating blanket, reaching and hitting everything but what he wanted, spilling food and drink like a baby.

He could have hurt someone. Burned Josh, landed on Katie.

He bit down hard on the rage that wanted to boil up and out of his mouth. Clutching the cell phone, he felt carefully for the keypad. In his head he heard the dry, quiet voice deal out the number.

All twos except for that four in front. It took him several tries, but eventually his fingers found the buttons.

Excerpted from Blind Curve , by Annie Solomon . Copyright (c) 2005 by Wylann Solomon. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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