Thirty-two-year-old Tristan Shays isn’t a messenger; he’s the CEO of an electronics manufacturer who is literally minding his own business. But one fateful day, everything in his life changes.
Tristan receives a mysterious warning delivered directly to his mind—and accompanied by unbearable pain. The warning tells him that a good friend will be murdered if Tristan doesn’t give him a message. Impossible as it seems, he decides to share the message.
As Tristan begins to realize that the warnings are real and he has the power to save people’s lives, he is faced with an unenviable choice: continue living the life he knows or give up his career and his free will to be the universe’s bearer of bad news.
If that weren’t bad enough, someone is working very hard to stand in his way—a stranger named Ephraim who knows Tristan’s every move and delights in causing chaos. How do you fight an enemy who knows everything about you?
A prequel to the award-winning Messenger Trilogy, Instant Messenger tells the story of how Tristan’s journey begins.
Cautiously I approach. Fifteen feet away; twelve; ten; eight. Close enough. This is the moment, but how will it go down? His back is to me, as he is still watching the substitute victim he has scouted. Do I tackle him? Grab him and immobilize him until help arrives? I have to do something.
“Hey!” It is a single word, a warning. I am surprised to realize that it is I myself who have uttered it. I only hope that I don’t look too stupid as he turns around at the sound of my voice. “Let her go.”
The girl, witnessing this, now seems to realize her plight, and she makes a hasty exit from the room. This, combined with my verbalizations, has drawn the attention of the few museum guests in this exhibit hall. More attention is better at this point, so I decide to raise the stakes. “I’m with the FBI,” I announce to the onlookers. It’s only a felony if I get caught, after all. “I’m here to take this man into custody. I need someone to go alert museum security that the suspect is here with me, and I need some assistance.”
That about does it. Everyone but him clears the room. He faces me with no fear evident on his expression. “FBI?” he says disdainfully, with a look that resembles disappointment. “Lies make the baby Jesus cry, you know.”
“What makes you think I’m lying?” I ask, internally terrified but refusing to show it.
“It’s what you do. It’s who you are.”
“I know why you’re here,” I tell him. “I know about your plan to take Logan Mansfield.”
“Of course you do.” It’s not a sarcastic response, but a proclamation which suggests that my statement is obvious. “What’s the matter? Mommy didn’t believe your warning and sent the little tyke anyway?”
This is the moment when it truly gets weird. His question suggests that he knows of my mission—and more, my deviation from it. I have to get him off this line of thinking. “I’ve been tracking you for weeks. The whole agency has. Your face is plastered all over the state. Police are outside. Come along quietly and you’ve got a chance at a deal.”
“Oh, spare me the bullshit! There’s no agency. I’d be hugely surprised if there’s even police waiting. Hardly your style. Where’s your friend, anyway? Guarding the exit, in case I make a break for it?”
I assume he’s referring to the security guard. Freaked out as I’m feeling, I want to keep up an air of control, so I reply as confidently as I can muster, “He’s out there. Right where he needs to be.”
The man smiles oddly at this. “He? Don’t let her hear you say that. With a body like that, I suspect she’d be pretty offended.” All I can offer is a look of confusion. What the hell is he talking about? Genevieve? That doesn’t make any sense; there’s no way he could ever have seen her. My expression gives away too much, and I lose the control I need. “You’re alone,” he continues in a tone of delighted realization. “Of course. It’s 2007. You haven’t even— Oh, this is rich.” A bit of mockery enters his voice. “I’m not your first, am I? That would be so special. I should make a speech or something.”
My shit is officially wigged. All I can ask is, “What is this? Who are you?”
“You don’t know. I love it. Here I thought you’d found me at the height of everything, her by your side, you all full of yourself. But you don’t even know who I am. And I am loving this.”
“Tell me!” The anger building in me won’t be denied.
“No, no. Not yet. There’ll be time. Many times. Different places, different circumstances. But many chances.” He hesitates and looks into my eyes—drills into them with his own—and I see the strangest combination in his features. Hatred; contempt; disdain; and yet, I’d swear I see respect there as well.
Her by your side. Her … who?
“Our first meeting,” he says with something that, puzzlingly, sounds like nostalgia.
“Correction,” I counter. “Our last meeting. It’s over.”
He laughs at this. “Oh, Tristan, you don’t know how wrong you are.”
“How do you know who I am?” I demand.
“It’s simple,” he says. “I’m standing over you when you take your last breath.”
His words are utterly without humor or irony, and they are enough to freeze the blood flowing within me. I can’t speak, can’t move, overwhelmed as I am at what he has just told me. Before I can begin to make sense of it, there is a loud click and all the lights in the museum go out. In the second or two before the backup lights turn on, a horrible sound fills the place—a mechanical howling sound, endless and repetitive. The fire alarm.
I look for the man, who seconds ago was just a few feet away, but amid the darkness and noise, I can’t see him anywhere. Moments later, to my horror, I hear him whisper in my ear, “Till next time.”
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