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PROLOGUE


The lonely stretch of country road, way upstate New York, was quiet as a moonrise. Deep woods of black oak and sugar maple flanked both sides, up and down, as far as the eye could see – and a thick canopy of branches hung overhead, blocking much of what little gray light the early-morning sky had to offer. The trees seemed to reach across the roadway to embrace each other for warmth, as if they knew that summer’s end had come and gone and that autumn was now well upon them, with the cold touch of winter’s hand not far off.

A fine veil of white morning mist hung in the late-October air. Except for the occasional brightly colored leaf falling soundless to the ground, here and there, all was still and peaceful, and would have remained so for some time if not for the sudden appearance of a lone car that came to a halt at the wayside.

The car sat there momentarily, the engine idling. Then the driver’s door opened and a somber looking man wearing jeans and a plaid shirt stepped out. A thin strip of gravelly earth crunched sharply beneath his beat-up hiking boots as he moved quickly to the back door, pulled it open and called to his passenger.

Come on, Toby,” the man grumbled, with no affection. “Let’s get this over with.”

Toby lifted his head and gazed up with warm eyes, brown as ripe acorns. Then, although about to rise, he stopped and hesitated. It was not that he didn’t understand what was being asked of him; he was quite intelligent. He just hadn’t expected this. Something didn’t feel right, somehow. So he sat there, and waited.

Come on, Toby,” the man repeated less patiently. “Don’t make this difficult, now.” He then held up a chewed-up rubber ball and tossed it into the air a few times, hoping to entice Toby, and slapped his knee encouragingly. “Come on, boy! Come on!”

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