Seven years earlier
“What the hell?” Jarrett Brandt cursed as he hid behind a large Dumpster and clutched a cloth bag to his chest. He breathed deep to catch his breath and nearly choked on the stench that emanated from the overflowing trash bin. He opened the bag and stared hard at about three grand. He cursed, tied up the bag and then peeked out around the bin.
Flashing blue lights illuminated the darkness of the alley as sirens blared. Several men shouted from a block away, their deep voices ricocheting like static throughout the night.
Jarrett rushed deeper into a maze of filthy, abandoned alleys, continued to look over his shoulder and then hopped a chain-link fence. He’d screwed up bad. After all the time, pain and energy he’d spent trying to clean up, he’d let his addiction take over. He’d just robbed a department store to buy drugs that he didn’t really want. The owners of the small, locally-owned shop always treated him with kindness. They even offered him a job once he quit using drugs. Now he’d just betrayed their trust and stolen their money.
He squeezed his eyes shut as shame washed through him. Tripping over an old cardboard box, he landed face down in a pile of sopping wet trash. He struck his fists against the pavement and hurried to his feet, desperate to escape the ensuing police.
He once loved his carefree life in San Francisco’s underbelly. Now he wanted something better. He’d decided to go cold turkey six months ago and beat his addiction to cocaine. Major withdrawals kept him fatigued in bed with cold and hot sweats, muscle aches, vivid nightmares and anxiety for the first few weeks. He’d gained weight over the next following months, his complexion cleared up and he felt healthier than he had in years. Even though he still craved the drug, and probably would until he died, every day of non-use was a victory.
His friends didn’t understand why he quit—neither did he at times—but the stress of watching his roommates shoot up or snort cocaine in the living room of his home grew too much to handle, so he moved out. With money from his new job, he secured a single-room efficiency apartment, determined to get his life back on track.
Until he’d fucked everything up earlier that night.
He caught his girlfriend having sex with another man and snapped. He beat the shit out of her lover and, even though she sported a black eye with blood caked around her nose, she defended the abusive stranger and cursed Jarrett. He wanted to hit her, too, but refused to stoop that low. He left her apartment and walked the streets for hours, trying to figure out what to do.
He felt like shit. He didn’t want to relapse but he needed just one hit to soothe his nerves. Since he’d spent the last of his paycheck on bills and food—broke for another week now—he decided to rob the store. He waited until after midnight to pop the lock on the back door and then broke into the manager’s office to steal the money. The police arrived as he tried to leave. He apparently tripped a silent alarm in his rush to get the cash. Jarrett escaped through a back window and raced down a darkened, deserted alley with cops hot on his trail.
More angry than hurt over his girlfriend’s betrayal, he thought of his first love—the girl he gave up when he left home—and dropped the bag of money. He didn’t want it anymore. He needed to stay clean, no matter who screwed him over. That’s what Marissa would want.
The sound of sirens blared louder. Jarrett picked up his speed and turned a corner. He ran down a long, graffiti-covered alleyway that opened into a vast park dense with trees and skidded to a stop when he saw the flashing blue lights at the mouth of the alley.
His heart pounded against his ribcage like a drum. Desperate to stay out of prison, he ignored the cops’ shouts of warning and dashed the opposite way. He barely made it three steps before something thick jabbed into his back. Electricity surged through his body.
Jarrett dropped to his knees and passed out in a grimy puddle of water.
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