A shocking wave of mass evictions triggers a national crisis, a media meltdown—and all-out war—in this explosive new thriller.
THIS IS NOT THE AMERICA WE LOVE.
From coast to coast, American families are losing their homes. Evicted with little notice and tossed into the streets by predatory bankers, landlords, and real estate developers, these once-proud homeowners have invested their lives in the American Dream—only to see it turn into a nightmare. But one tightknit community is fighting back. They've decided to stand their ground, defend their homes, and fight the power—with firepower . . .
THIS IS WAR.
Enter Joseph Knox, a military veteran whose parents have been targeted in an illegal scheme to turn their quiet but slightly rundown neighborhood into luxury condos. The man behind the project has the backing of greedy investors, sleazy lawyers, and a corrupt police force. But the Knox family has backing, too—a makeshift army of real Americans who refuse to surrender. With some last-minute training from Joe Knox and his brother John—and a small arsenal of weapons—this ragtag team of senior citizens will do whatever it takes to save their homes. Even kill if they have to.
Release date: April 26, 2022
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 400
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Listen to a sample
Down the Dark Streets
William W. Johnstone
Anne glanced at the oxygen tank by her bedside. The steady hiss of air through the cannula came to a sudden and alarming stop.
I can’t breathe!
She didn’t dare open her mouth to express her profound terror.
Anne’s gnarled hands clutched the sheet across her chest. Her lungs felt on the verge of collapse. The room swam around her as she gasped for air, her hips aching as she writhed on the bed.
“Don’t you move. I’ll be right back.”
The door closed, and Anne heard the lock click into place.
If she could only reach the valve on the oxygen tank. It was only a few feet away. Not much more than a long stretch across her night table.
Not for the first time, Anne cursed the withered husk that was her body. Her ninety-one years hadn’t always been easy, and four bouts of cancer over the last twenty of them had left her brittle and bound to her sickbed. Some days, she prayed for the black, painless emptiness to where all souls must eventually pass.
Not like this, desperate for air, mouth opening and closing like a fish on land, trembling with fright and . . . and anger. Yes, Anne was furious.
Furious at her tormentor.
And, perhaps even more so, furious with herself.
You can breathe if you just calm down, she admonished herself. Closing her eyes, she took as deep a tremulous breath as she could, willing her legs and arms to cease their useless struggling. All that was doing was getting her tangled up in the sheets, and if it continued, she’d be sealed up like a mummy, and then there would be no hope at all.
She listened for the sound of approaching footsteps on the other side of the door. Again, she knew it was futile. Her hearing aids mocked her from their perch on her dresser—all the way across the room. They might as well have been on the dark side of the moon.
The Dark Side of the Moon. Oh, how her son Jimmy used to play that album over and over when he was in high school. She and Herbert (and how she wished he were here right now to save her, and not in the ground these past twenty-six years) begged him daily to turn the volume down. This was when Jimmy had started to change. He was no longer their little, timid boy who looked at them with wet eyes when they told him he’d have to take the public bus to school in seventh grade. This was the Jimmy who oftentimes turned the volume up instead, slamming his door in their faces. His hair had grown long and shaggy, and good grades and the track team were no longer priorities in his life. All he cared about was that awful music and that trashy girl who worked in the bowling alley, Dana Grogan. She knew what that Dana girl was all about, and her heart broke as she watched her rebellious son led down the road of premarital sex and drinking in the woods and smoking pot.
Instead of heading off to college, Jimmy and Dana had hopped in an old Impala and simply drove away. They’d seen him a dozen or so times after that awful day, until he simply stopped coming around, or even calling. A postcard would arrive in the mail every few years, usually including a request for money and a note of where to wire it.
The men in her family, in her life, had left her long, long ago. Her vitality had followed suit.
Anne turned her head and looked at the door. It was still closed.
There was no way of defending herself. She was painfully aware that she was more helpless than a newborn kitten, at the mercy of anyone who stepped into her room.
She just wanted air.
If she could breathe properly, she could think straight.
And then what?
Anne didn’t know.
All that mattered was getting oxygen into her lungs. It was funny. All the things she and Herbert scrimped and saved for, the clutter and trips and amusements that seemed so important at the time, all of it paled compared to something as simple as fresh, clean air.
It hurt like the dickens to grasp the edge of the mattress and roll herself onto her side. Her vision was almost as bad as her hearing, but she could see the hazy shape of the tank with enough clarity to make her chest ache.
Swallowing hard and dry, she stretched her right hand out with fingers that looked like they belonged to someone else, someone unearthed from a long-sealed tomb, fluttering uncontrollably, seeking the cold metal of the small handle atop the oxygen tank.
She leaned into the night table. Her arm weakened, collapsing onto the collection of pill bottles, knocking over the glass of water.
She felt the vibrations of feet rushing up the stairs well before she heard the thump-thump-thump along the landing. The door opened with a crash.
“What have you been up to?”
Anne’s heart skipped several, painful beats. She was too weak to even lift her arm off the table.
“You’ll get that once you’ve done what I asked you.”
When Anne tried to speak, all that came out was a gargled hiss. Resting on her side compacted her lungs. Now even taking the smallest breath had become a chore.
“What a state you’ve gotten yourself in. Well, I can’t have you like this.”
When the woman went to grab her, Anne tried to recoil, but her movement was so faint, she was sure it wasn’t even noticed.
Placed on her back and pulled into a sitting position, Anne’s head bobbed as her pillows were fluffed.
No, you evil witch! she wanted to scream. Her eyes watered from pain and helplessness instead.
“I know you want your oxygen, and I promise, you’ll have it in just a few minutes. We just need to get through a few things first.”
The woman had introduced herself as Nia Anderson, though Anne was sure her last name was something else, something foreign. She looked Eastern European and had let slip a few oddly accented words from time to time. Nia had come to her through a recommendation from her friend Dolores as a capable elder companion who hadn’t once touched the jar of quarters or envelope of twenty-dollar bills Dolores kept on her dresser.
Nia had been coming by once a day, every weekday, for the past year. She helped get Anne showered and clothed, cleaned the house, and ran any errands that needed doing. She was sweet and compassionate and loved to sit with her and watch old movies on TV. She’d even stayed around when the visiting nurse came by to learn more about Anne’s medical needs just in case Anne had an emergency and there was no time for medical help to get there.
Anne had let Nia not just into her life, but into her heart. Nia’s visits were the highlights of her day. Anne had wished for more children, but God had only granted them Jimmy, then sowed the seeds for him to desert them.
It had been a lifetime between Jimmy—the young Jimmy who loved her—and Nia.
And now this.
Who was this girl standing over her, rifling through an accordion file of papers? The Nia she knew would be making sure she took her medication before doing a load of laundry and setting into the chair next to her to see if there was a Cary Grant movie on TV. She wouldn’t be turning off Anne’s precious oxygen and threatening to kill her.
Was Anne hallucinating all of this?
It was possible.
It had happened before. Or so she’d been told. The memory was a tricky thing at her age. So much reliance on the accounting of others, so many gaps that couldn’t be filled.
Or was this someone who looked like her Nia?
Yes. That was it.
The file slipped from the woman’s fingers, and when she bent down to retrieve it, cursing loudly, Anne though her hair looked different. It was a shade darker than Nia’s normal chestnut.
And what about that tiny scar above her right eyebrow. Had that always been there?
Anne racked her brain, calling up images of Nia tending to her, smiling when she brought in magazines to read to her, staring into her face when she brushed her hair or tucked her in.
That scar. Where was that scar?
Anne started to cry, frustrated that she couldn’t recall the scar or the proper hair color or decide whether she was dreaming or awake. She prayed this was all a nightmare, a fever dream brought on by her pills and flagging health.
“Don’t cry,” the woman said, suddenly soothing.
“Nia?” Anne gasped.
Blinking her tears away, Anne looked to Nia as if for the first time that day. Yes, maybe she had been dreaming and was now just coming out of it. Nia smiled at her, dabbing her cheeks with a tissue.
Anne touched the cannula under her nostrils.
Still no air!
“Now, I need you to take this,” Nia said, wrapping Anne’s arthritic fingers around the pen. “Just sign exactly where I tell you to sign.”
Nia placed the bed tray over Anne’s lap. On it, instead of her usual nutrition shake and wheat toast with butter and jelly, was a stack of papers.
Her vision went fuzzy as her lungs hitched.
A sharp slap on her cheek brought everything back into focus.
“Stay with me, Anne. If you want your oxygen, you’re going to have to do what I say. It’ll all be over before you know it.”
There was nothing to do but follow Nia’s orders. Anne didn’t even have the breath to shout—not that anyone would have heard her.
In a shaky scrawl, Anne signed her name wherever Nia pointed. Without her glasses, she couldn’t even read what she was signing. Truth be told, she didn’t care. She would sign anything just to be able to breathe again and make all of this go away.
When she was done, Nia scooped the papers up and stuffed them back in the folder.
“Wasn’t that easy?” Nia said, back to her smiling self. But was that her voice? Her light accent sounded off. Had she said she was Nia? Now Anne couldn’t remember, and the not remembering frightened her almost as much as her desperate need for air.
Anne nodded, her body sinking deeper into the bed.
Nia turned the valve on the tank, and the sweet tang of fresh oxygen burst through the cannula.
Leaning over her to adjust the cannula, Nia said, “There, do you feel better?”
All Anne could give in response was a slow closing and opening of her eyes.
“Good. I need you to understand this. You’re not going to say a word about this to anyone. I’ve changed my schedule. For the foreseeable future, I’m increasing my visits to seven days a week. I’ll be here every day. And if I find out you talked to someone, your nurse, a doctor, that dried-up old hag Dolores”—Nia’s lips pulled back, revealing her too-white incisors—“I’ll kill you slowly and painfully. And then I’ll do the same to the person you spoke to.”
Seven thirty was Wheel of Fortune time, which meant Patrick Knox had to get his tired butt out of his tattered chair and rustle up a ginger ale and some crackers for his wife. It was slow getting up, Patrick’s knees popping like firecrackers. There was a time those knees carried him across the finish line of the New York City Marathon. Now, the walk to the kitchen and upstairs was marathon enough, and there was no one to cheer him on.
He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of ginger ale for Mary and a seltzer for himself. Tucking a sleeve of crackers under his arm, he trekked upstairs to their bedroom. Mary had the TV on. Vanna White showed the world her latest dress with a smile.
“Oh, isn’t it beautiful, Pat?” his wife said.
The formf itting dress was a riot of some glittery fabric, red and white streaks racing up the letter turner’s waist and chest.
“You could see her in that thing from space,” he said, twisting open the cap and inserting a straw. He held the straw to Mary’s lips so she could take a sip.
“Daft old man. What do you know about fashion?”
“About enough to fill the head of a pin,” he replied with a light chuckle.
Mary loved all that glamour and gossip on the TV and in those magazines he bought her from the racks by the supermarket register. She’d long since given up trying to clue him in to the latest travails of the movie starlet of the moment. He wouldn’t know Jennifer Aniston from the woman who offered tax advice to seniors at the library, and he was proud of it.
“Now, are you at least going to try to solve the puzzles tonight?” Mary asked.
“I always try. It’s just that I don’t even know what the heck the answers are referring to half the time.”
With some difficulty, Mary lifted her hand off the bed, her arm skeletally thin, and patted his hand.
“When did I marry such an old codger?”
Pat smiled. “I resemble that remark.” He glanced at the screen. The woman who had spun the wheel asked if there was a J. “A J? No one starts with the letter J.”
“Maybe she knows something we don’t,” Mary said.
The buzzer sounded.
“Or maybe not,” Pat said.
For the next half hour, he fed Mary her nightly snack of two crackers, a bit at a time, in between sips from the small ginger ale bottle. Mary figured out two of the four puzzles before the contestants. As usual, Pat hadn’t a clue what anyone was talking about.
After the game show ended, he asked her, “You feeling tired, or would you like your pill?”
“I’d better take that damn pill. You look bushed. You need your rest.”
“Don’t you worry about me, old lady. I’m just hitting my prime.”
“Well, then, it looks like your prime hit you right back.”
Their bedroom had an attached bath. Pat found the bottle with her sleeping pills on the counter and filled a glass with water. When he saw himself in the mirror, beneath the garish light that made everything look worse (why were these lights even invented?), he nearly gasped. The circles under his eyes were darker than usual, and his bags had their own bags. He didn’t like to admit to her how tired he really felt. She had her own worries.
But he wasn’t naïve. They both worried about each other, and there was no amount of sugarcoating that could hide it.
With Mary being laid up with the distal muscular dystrophy, unable to walk on her own and her arms and hands so thin and weak, it was hard to maintain normal body rhythms. She often wasn’t tired at night because there was nothing she could do to tire herself out. Which meant she’d be up at night and at several points would need his help, including getting to and from the bathroom. So some nights she took the sleeping pill to let him get a good night’s sleep.
Pat never minded taking care of Mary. After all, she had given him two children (both boys—or, more accurately, men now) had been by his side through layoffs, illness, deaths, births, relocations, and all of the highs and lows of a life well lived. He knew he hadn’t always been an easy mate, but Mary had never flinched. They were each others’ rocks in a world seemingly made of gravel.
It pained Pat to the core to see her like this. Mary had been stronger than any three men and prettier than those movie stars she liked to gawk over. She’d always been a ball of nervous energy, flitting around the house like a hummingbird, preferring catnaps to a good night’s sleep. How many times had he begged her to just sit still, her tutting at him and dashing off to the corner store or doing extra work she brought home from her job at the Woolworth department store? She did the books for the store, and those books were often laid out on their living room table—a table reserved for her work and special family meals.
“Here you go, my sweet,” he said. Pat put the pill on her tongue and helped her wash it down with some water.
After she swallowed, she smiled and lay her head against the pillow. “Remember how much I hated when you called me that?”
“Only when I did it in front of your friends.” He adjusted her sheets, tucking her in as best he could.
“That’s because it sounded corny and insincere.”
“And how about now?” Brushing her hair away from her forehead, he bent over to kiss the tip of her nose.
Mary smiled. “It’s sweet.”
“I knew I’d wear you down eventually. It just took, oh, fifty-three years to do it.”
“If you are anything, it’s persistent.”
“That I am. That I am. You must be in a good mood, because you usually call me a stubborn old mule.”
He changed the channel to a station that played reruns of old comedies. Welcome Back, Kotter was on. He didn’t like the show when it was on in the seventies, but Mary loved it, saying it reminded her of their watching it as a family when the boys were young.
“You need anything else?” he asked, suddenly feeling bone tired.
“Yes, for you to get ready for bed. I didn’t take this pill for nothing.”
With a sigh, Pat said, “I think I’ll do just that. Let me close up shop downstairs, and I’ll slip into something more comfortable.”
“Just don’t slip down the stairs,” Mary said with a light titter.
Pat double-checked the locks on the door, made sure the windows were closed, and turned out the lights. He put on his pajamas, took his own pills—there was never a shortage of pills in the Knox house—and settled into his bed, which was next to Mary’s fancy hospital bed that she hated but had become a necessity. It had at first felt utterly alien, sleeping in separate beds, but at least they were still beside one another.
“Whatcha reading?” Mary asked as he turned on the lamp.
He held a battered book he’d checked out at the library earlier that day. “The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. I’ve been meaning to read it for a long time. Written over a hundred years ago by this British lady.”
Mary’s nose crinkled. “Is there nothing you won’t read?”
“It’s a classic. It tells the story of a sorry old couple—you know, like us—who take in a lodger who might be an active serial killer. I could read it to you if you want.”
“You stick to your books. I have Mr. Kotter.”
He got as far as page two before he fell asleep.
The town of Woodlean, Virginia, had been home to Patrick and Mary Knox their entire lives, save for that two-year period when his job had forced them to relocate to Boca Raton. They’d hated Florida, from the heat down to the lack of anything to do. Luckily, Pat’s manager had been fired, and his replacement saw no reason why he couldn’t return to Woodlean.
Since the early twentieth century, Woodlean had been a haven for immigrating Irish, most of them arriving at Ellis Island and taking the Boston Post Road to what they’d heard was a slice of Ireland among the opportunity and grandeur of America. Pat’s parents had settled in Woodlean from Cork in 1932. Mary’s had arrived from nearby Limerick the following year. Her family moved around the block from Pat, and they’d both attended St. Brendan’s Elementary, Pat two grades ahead of the girl who would one day become his wife.
There was a time when hearing heavy brogues on every corner was commonplace. Nowadays, they were few and far between. The children of Pat and Mary’s contemporaries had moved off to what they called bigger and better things, scattered across the country like buckshot. Woodlean was not exactly a hotbed of opportunity and excitement. At least, not anymore. It had served its purpose as a haven for the Irish when they needed time to acclimate to a new country. Several generations later, it was still a quaint, safe place to live, but its days were numbered without an influx of youth.
The Knoxes were a dying breed. The town, Pat sometimes lamented, was dying right along with them.
Pat showered, changed, and made sure Mary had everything she needed before heading for his doctor appointment. Driving down the narrow street, he noted the sad shape many of the houses were in, including his own. Paint was peeling, roofs needed mending, gates were off their hinges, and lawns were in dire need of tending. For the most part, the people living in those homes were too old, sick, or crippled to do the necessary upkeep. And with the younger generation hundreds if not thousands of miles away, it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Pat kept a to-do list in his head that grew longer with each passing year. Pushing a broom and gathering some leaves were just about enough to take the wind out of his sails but good nowadays.
He stopped outside a gray two-family house. The front porch, just big enough for a couple of resin chairs, was starting to sag in the middle. He honked the horn. The front door opened immediately, and Pat chuckled. Doyle was one of those curtain peekers. Most likely, he’d spotted Pat’s Buick as he’d turned down the street, but the man wasn’t going to budge until Pat tapped the horn.
The old man waved, donning a tweed cap that was older than Moses and a favorite meal of the moths in Doyle’s house. It had more holes than a cheese grater, the man’s bare scalp plainly visible from every angle.
“You’re late,” Doyle said, slamming the door so hard it made Pat’s teeth rattle. The man was a world-class door slammer, though when he was truly angry, he’d turn it on its head and close the door softly.
Pat looked at the clock on his dashboard. “By two minutes. I hope I didn’t inconvenience you.”
Clicking his seat belt in place, Doyle huffed.
“It’s a good thing Dr. Mendelman isn’t a stickler for time, or else I would have gotten ready for nothing.”
“It’s a good thing at that,” Pat said, pulling away from the curb. “How’s your knee?”
“Feels like someone hit it with a bat, but I can take it.”
“You should ask the doctor for one of those cortisone shots. They worked wonders for my shoulder.”
“Then they might as well stick me all over. You take away one pain, another just takes its place. Better to just accept it and move on.”
Pat turned onto Bridge Avenue. Both sides of the street were lined with stores, the zombies, as Pat liked to call people his age, out and about buying groceries, newspapers, or heading to the Bridge Coffee Shop for a cup and conversation.
“Is that Edna Moore?” Doyle said, pointing at a woman wheeling a collapsible pushcart filled with her day’s haul, plastic bags heaped upon one another. Her white hair was windblown, her eyes downcast, concentrating on getting to her next stop.
“Looks like they released her from the hospital,” Pat said. “She shouldn’t be out like this. She just had a heart attack two weeks ago, for crying out loud.” He slowed to a stop, double-parking. Doyle rolled down his window.
Pat called out, “Edna. Edna!”
She either couldn’t hear or was willfully ignoring him. He got out of the car and approached her. Edna looked up when her cart brushed against his leg. The poor dear looked terrible, her face gone waxy, beads of sweat on her upper lip.
“Here, Edna, what are you doing about? Shouldn’t you be resting?”
Edna squinted at him, and a tiny smile touched her wrinkled face. “Heya, Pat. I was near starving to death in that house. I figured if I was to go out, I might as well get enough to last me a while.”
“Doyle, get your butt out here.” Pat gently pried Edna’s hands off the cart’s handle. “Let me take you home.”
“I can manage,” Edna protested.
“Oh, I know you can. But if I don’t do this, I won’t get my merit badge.”
“We’re late as it is,” Doyle cried out, still in the passenger seat.
“Doyle, you come help me, or you can walk. Then see how late you are.”
His friend was out the door before he could finish. Doyle was paranoid about being late. He made a big production of the whole thing, raising his arms in the air, grunting louder than he had to when they placed the cart in the trunk and muttering under his breath about missing his appointment and in all likelihood being excommunicated by the doctor, and then what would become of him. Pat ignored his griping. If Doyle wasn’t complaining, it was time to put the mirror under his nose.
He was relieved that he didn’t have to struggle with Edna. He helped her into the back seat and drove the three blocks to her house. They brought her things inside and managed to unpack four of the bags, filling her kitchen table with groceries, before she ordered them out of the house with a big thank-you for a deed well done.
“You call me if you need anything else,” Pat said as he stepped out the door.
Edna nodded. “I think I’m set until Armageddon. Thanks, Pat. Please tell Mary I was asking about her and to give me a call.”
“I will.” He crossed his heart. “Scout’s honor.”
She laughed as she closed the door.
“I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to Dr. Mendelman. Edna knows better than to be out like that. Sometimes it’s like everyone around us has regressed to stupid children,” Doyle whined all the way to the row of medical offices that had once been family homes.
“I’m sure you’ll find a way, and the good doctor will give you a special dispensation for helping a woman in need.”
Doyle gave an actual harrumph and slammed the door, tottering his way to the doctor’s office. Pat’s doctor was in the house next door. Luck shined on him because a spot had opened up right in front of it. It was a good thing, because he was knackered by the time he got inside, said his hellos to the girls who ran the office, signed in, and took a seat under the television. But he had plenty of time to catch his breath. He managed to read most of the paper before his name. . .
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