Sandra Brown, New York Times Bestselling author
"The Dying Hour starts scary and ends scary. You'll be craving Mofina's next novel."
The Dying Hour
Finalist, Best Paperback Original, 2006 Thriller Award, International Thriller Writers (ITW)
The Dying Hour launches a new suspense series by award-winning author Rick Mofina. The Dying Hour introduces Jason Wade, a rookie crime reporter with The Seattle Mirror, a loner who grew up in the shadow of a brewery in one of the city's blue-collar neighborhoods. At The Seattle Mirror, he is competing for the single fulltime job being offered through the paper's intense intern program. But unlike the program's other young reporters, who attended big name schools and worked at other big metro dailies, Wade put himself through community college, and lacked the same experience.
Wade struggles with his haunting past as he pursues the story of Karen Harding, a college student whose car was found abandoned on a lonely stretch of highway in the Pacific Northwest. How could this beloved young woman with the altrustic nature simply vanish? Wade battles mounting odds and cut-throat competition to unearth the truth behind Karen Harding's disturbing case. Her disappearance is a story he cannot give up, never realizing the toll it could exact from him. The Dying Hour is a bone-chilling, mesmorizing page-turner that introduces readers to an all-too-human young hero who journeys into the darkest regions of the human heart to confront a nightmare.
Karen Harding had to get away.
She was alone, driving from Seattle north on Interstate 5, wipers slapping at the rain as she tried to understand why her fiancÚ was suddenly forcing her to make a life-changing decision.
Karen brushed her tears away.
Why was he doing this? Luke’s change of heart had staggered her. She needed to leave for a few days. To think. After they spoke she threw some things into a bag, tossed it into her Toyota and set off to see her big sister Marlene who lived in Vancouver. Karen didn’t bother calling ahead. This was an emergency. Besides, Marlene would be home. She and her husband rarely left town because of their two kids and their jobs.
The air horn of a Freightliner yanked Karen’s attention back to the highway. Her windshield was a watery curtain. Lights from oncoming traffic stabbed at her from the darkness. Big rigs trailed blinding spray as they passed, their wakes nearly swamping her.
Time for a break.
She exited at a truck stop outside of Bellingham. A massive map of Washington and British Columbia covered the lobby wall. Below it, a corkboard papered with ads for trucks, bonding agents and driving jobs. Faces of missing children, women and fugitive men stared at her from posters. Video games beeped and ponged next to the soda and snack machines.
She was hungry.
In the restaurant, country music mingled with the aroma of deep-fried food, coffee and the clink of cutlery. Amid the murmur of weary men in ballcaps, plaid shirts and jeans, Karen searched for a seat.
She walked by a woman and a young girl laughing over ice-cream, a white-haired couple sharing soft conversation over soup, then a bearded man who wore dark glasses and the white collar of a reverend. He was sitting alone reading a book and sipping coffee. She found a booth by the window and ordered a chicken sandwich.
Wind-driven rain bled against the glass. As Karen resumed wrestling with her problem, the truck stop’s electrical power surged. The lights flickered. Karen glanced around the diner. The reverend was watching her. He offered a warm smile. Karen tried smiling but looked away.
She ached to talk to her sister, to someone who might offer guidance when she was struck by an idea. Maybe the fact a reverend was nearby was a sign. Perhaps she could talk to him. Could she confide her dilemma to a stranger? She looked to his booth but he was gone.
Karen noticed the tip left by his coffee cup as the truckers’ conversations grew louder. Those who were talking on cell phones began alerting the others to trouble arising from the storm, a wreck at the border crossing near Blaine.
“A reefer and a loaded tanker,” one of them said. “Going to push your wait time way, way back. A couple of hours.”
Karen needed to reach her sister tonight. She looked at her folded map for an alternative entry into Canada. She’d always crossed at Blaine. She examined the web of roads in Washington’s northwest corner. Lynden looked easy enough. Exit northbound on Route 539 at the north end of Bellingham, straight shot to the border. If Lynden was choked, she’d try Sumas.
The storm was unrelenting.
Karen couldn’t see much. Gusts rattled her Toyota. She tightened her grip, questioned her sanity and considered returning to her apartment in Seattle. Or at least finding a motel for the night.
She estimated that she could be at Marlene’s home in less than two hours if she was cautious.
But this route made her uneasy. She saw fewer towns, buildings, houses, lights. She pressed on, unable to see the streams, the forested foothills or the slopes of the Cascade Mountains. But they were out there. Veiled by darkness. As she drove deeper into it, Karen felt alone. Vulnerable. As if she were being swallowed. She switched on her radio to find a jazz station to help her relax.
A warning light began blinking. The low fuel indicator.
How could that be? It made no sense. She had filled up at the truck stop. Maybe it was faulty? All right. She’d stop at the next gas station. Just to be safe. But there was nothing out there except the wind, the rain and the night. She kept driving. After a few more miles, more warning lights began flashing. Engine. Oil. Her car began vibrating. The motor sputtered, then began bucking. Karen was jolted.
She pulled over, switched off the ignition and took a deep breath. Be calm. Wait ten minutes, start the car and drive slowly to the nearest gas station. Ten minutes passed. Karen turned the key. Nothing.
She tried again.
Nothing. Take it easy. She fished through her bag for her cell phone and address book. She’d call the auto club. But the familiar silver shape of her phone failed to emerge. It has to be here. Karen dumped the contents of her bag on the passenger seat feeling her stomach tighten. In her hurry to leave Seattle she had forgotten her phone. It was in her apartment. Charging on her kitchen counter.
She closed her eyes. Inhaled, then exhaled slowly. Rain hammered on her car as the wind rocked it. She tried starting it again. Nothing. She reached for the manual and flipped through it, knowing it was futile. She knew nothing about cars.
Karen had no choice, she had to try something. She reached for the hood release. She found her penlight and umbrella. Maybe the trouble was obvious. She got out and a violent gust snapped her umbrella, tearing the cloth, exposing the frame’s prongs, like the ribs of an eviscerated animal.
Karen managed to raise the hood. Her tiny light came to life and she probed an alien world of wires, metal, rubber, hoses and plastic reservoirs with colored fluids. Maybe something had come loose. Right. How would she know? As she reached to the engine to test a cable the world began glowing in intense white light. The hissing rain yielded to a growing roar as a line of several big trucks thundered by throwing waves of spray that drenched her.
Defeated, Karen retreated into her car.
She tossed her twisted umbrella into the backseat, then grabbed the wheel to steady herself. Soaked to her bones she began shivering. Don’t panic. Think of a plan. Stay in the car. Change into dry clothes. Maybe a patrol car or Samaritan would stop and call a tow truck or something. If not, she could spend the night in her Toyota. It wasn’t too cold. She had a blanket. In the morning, she’d start walking. The next town couldn’t be far.
She reached for her clothes bag and froze. Two white circles blossomed in her rearview mirror. A vehicle had pulled onto the shoulder and was approaching. The lights grew brighter as it crept closer, coming to a stop a few yards behind her. It looked like an RV.
Someone was going to help her.
A door opened on the RV’s passenger side and a figure stepped out. A man. Wearing a long, long overcoat and a hat. He stood at the rear bumper of Karen’s car, silhouetted in the glare of his highbeams and the curtain of rain. Hope fluttered in her stomach. She wiped her hands across her face and smoothed her wet hair as his shadow crossed the light.
Karen gave thanks.
The first thing she noticed at her door was a white collar then she recognized the beard and ballcap of the reverend from the truck stop. Relieved, she lowered her window about ten inches.
“Your car giving you trouble, Miss?”
Karen hesitated. She couldn’t see his face. His voice was a grating, almost laryngitic whisper.
“Yes, it quit and won’t start.”
“Is anyone coming to help you?”
“Let me take a look.”
The reverend switched on a flashlight and walked to the front. The hood was still raised. Karen felt him pulling and tapping as he inspected the motor.
“Try starting it now!”
She turned the key. Nothing happened. The front end dipped as he pressed hard on something.
Nothing. He closed the hood, returned to the window.
“Smells like something’s burned out on you. Could be anything. I’ve got a phone in my motorhome. I can call a service truck for you, if you like.”
“Yes, please. Oh, wait.” She turned to the passenger seat, sifted through the contents emptied from her bag. “I’m a member of the auto club. Here’s their card with the toll-free line.”
“Goodness,” he swept his flashlight from the card to Karen. “You’re sopping wet.”
“I tried fixing it myself.”
“I can see that. You shouldn’t sit here and risk catching cold. You’re welcome to wait with me in my RV until they come.”
Karen weighed his offer. He seemed kind. He was a clergyman. She had considered approaching him at the truck stop to talk. Rain poured from his hat as he waited.
“You’re a Christian, aren’t you, Karen?”
She caught her breath.
“How did you know that, and my name?”
The hat tipped to her club card.
“Your name’s on your card here and I noticed you have an ICHTHUS bumper sticker, the fish symbol for Jesus.”
“Oh, right,” she nodded. “Of course.”
“I saw you in the restaurant near Bellingham. You looked troubled.”
Karen was half-smiling in amazement as she reflected on everything that had happened to her today. She had prayed for help.
“Karen? Would you like to wait with me, or do you prefer some solitude?”
Was this a sign? A reverend finding her adrift in her personal storm? Was it all part of a master plan?
“I think I’d like to wait with you.”
The reverend nodded.
She collected her things then followed the stranger to his vehicle. He opened the door. A few small papers swirled from the RV and fluttered into the night before Karen stepped inside.