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It was only when the indicator light of the car in front began to blink that Carla realised how dark it was getting. The sky beyond the left side windows was still purple with sunset, but on the right it was already black and studded with stars. The other vehicle began to climb the sliproad, leaving her alone on the narrow two-lane. Carla flipped on the main beams and pressed her foot down, coaxing another ten miles per hour from the rented Honda.

It was almost seven p.m. and she was supposed to be at the hotel already, but her plane had spent an extra hour in a holding pattern over Logan International because of some security scare. A missing pilot’s uniform or something. She hadn’t bothered to seek out the details. All she knew was that it meant she was going to arrive late; and she was tired, and she was hungry.

The GPS chimed, interrupting the Handel concerto she’d found on one of the Boston stations. “In – two – hundred – yards, turn right.” It was the first thing it had said for ten minutes. Carla slowed down.

She was driving past houses now. They had been spaced well apart at first, but were now almost continuous. They were modern and shabby, set well back from the street. Half of them looked derelict, with flaking paint or boarded-up windows; but the flickering light of television sets, and the mouldering cars beached at the side of the road, pointed to some degree of inhabitation.

“In – one – hundred – yards, turn right.”

Carla hunched forward, peering through the windscreen for any sign of the road she was meant to take. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a sudden flash of movement. Her foot shot instinctively to the brake pedal, and only just in time.

With a squeal of tyres, a white pick-up roared out of a side street at speed, swinging across the road just a couple of feet in front of the Honda. It looked for one sickening moment as though it would turn completely over, before it lurched heavily back towards its center of gravity. Two young men clung on in the back, yelling and waving cans of Budweiser in drunken approval. A pale arse was hanging out of the passenger-side window, mooning the shutters and unlit windows of a row of impoverished-looking shops. Reaching the end of the street, the pick-up screeched to the left, taking the wing mirror of a parked car with it, and disappeared from sight.

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