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ALSO BY ANDREW VACHSS

THE BURKE SERIES

Flood

Strega

Blue Belle

Hard Candy

Blossom

Sacrifice

Down in the Zero

Footsteps of the Hawk

False Allegations

Safe House

Choice of Evil

Dead and Gone

Pain Management

Only Child

Down Here

Mask Market

Terminal

Another Life

OTHER NOVELS

Shella

The Getaway Man

Two Trains Running

Haiku The Weight

SHORT-STORY COLLECTIONS

Born Bad

Everybody Pays

my beloved brother Olaf

29 December 2010 @ 11:30 p.m.

he chose the night to depart

bringing a new star to the sky

a warrior’s star, casting its own light

a guidepost to the path of righteousness

a warning to predators

and now the True North for all our tribe

my brother:

welcomed by Odin

waiting for us

    and always, always watching

My name is Esau Till.

What I’ve put down here isn’t some “Death Row Diary,” like the bloodsuckers wanted to pay me to write. Don’t look for a last-minute confession to crimes I was never caught for. Or for the apology some think I owe.

This is a bomb. The last one I’ll ever build. You’ll never even know it exists unless someone stumbles over the tripwire I left behind.

That will happen only if I am betrayed. I don’t expect that, but I still have to plan for it.

No bomb I made ever failed, which is why people paid me so much to build them. In my chosen line of work, you have to earn a reputation before you start earning real money.

My bombs were always custom-tailored to the job. Now, the only ingredients I have for building this last one are my own words. Those words should be more than enough, but they won’t ignite unless they are believed.

I know if I’m caught in one single lie people might well disbelieve my entire account … and they’d be entitled to do so. All it takes is a single clutch of termite eggs to bring down a whole house.

People say the truth can’t be killed. Maybe not. But from my own experience, I know it can be buried so deep it might as well never have existed at all.

Oh, you might get your ear close enough to the ground to hear it ticking. But no matter how close you listen, you’re still just hearing strange noises deep down in the dark.

Your eyes won’t help, either. The brighter the light you shine, the more the darkness thickens.

Only the most powerful explosive will light the way. So this bomb must be like the most carefully constructed house.

I know it must stand up to the most microscopic examination. And it must stay standing, no matter what attempts are made to defuse it.

For this house, each brick will be embedded in the cement of gospel truth. No flood will ever carry it away. No fire will ever incinerate it. And the most powerful wrecking ball would just bounce right off.

I never broke my word when I was alive. That’s the one thing I get to take with me, and I intend on doing just that. I’m building this house out of nothing but truth, and no more powerful explosive has ever been invented. Once revealed, it will be denied by some, and “explained” by others.

But it can’t be changed.

When that last button is pushed, the roof will fly off. Inside, just a few empty rooms.

And a map.

I’m marking that map with an “X” for each spot.

If you’re looking for buried treasure, don’t waste your time. But if you dig deep enough, if you keep digging, you will find that pure truth I promised. It’s all there.

Whether that truth frees you or destroys you no longer matters to me.

I’m done.

e and Tory-boy, neither of us came out right. I was born with this spine thing. I’m past forty years old, and I’ve never once stood on my own feet.

Tory came along about eight years after me. He was a big, handsome baby. It took a while before you could tell he carried the same curse I did.

I’ve been protecting Tory-boy all his life. I won’t stop doing that just because the State is getting ready to end mine.

Nobody expects anything less from me. They have confidence that I’ll come up with some way to keep right on protecting my little brother.

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