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By Joseph Flynn Dedication For the Coates Gang: Judith, Martha, Susan, Ellen, Laura, David and Mary Beth. Also by Joseph Flynn Digger The Next President Hot Type Farewell Performance
Gasoline, Texas The President’s Henchman The Hangman’s Companion Coming soon … Round Robin Blood Street Punx Nailed One False Step
By Joseph Flynn Published by Stray Dog Press, Inc. Springfield, IL 62704, U.S.A. First Stray Dog Press, Inc. Printing, April 2004 Revised Smashwords Edition, October 2010 Copyright Stray Dog Press, Inc., 2004, 2010 All rights reserved Flynn, Joseph Pointy Teeth / Joseph Flynn 28,125 words eBook ISBN 978-0-9764170-7-1 Smashwords Edition, License Notes Thank you for downloading this free ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to Smashwords.com to discover other works by this author. Or visit the author's web site: http://www.josephflynn.com. Thank you for your support. Publisher’s Note This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously; any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. eBook design by Aha! Designs
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Beat the Devil Chapter 2: The Hotel Fred
Chapter 3: Smoked Out Chapter 4: High Heat Chapter 5: Bunny and Sunshine Chapter 6: No Good Deed . . . Chapter 7: Fixer-Upper Chapter 8: Sleepover Chapter 9: Speed Trap Chapter 10: Younger Woman Chapter 11: Money Man Chapter 12: Tech Support About the Author
Twelve Bite-Size Stories
Chapter 1: Beat the Devil
The devil sat at Penman’s place at the bar. Forty-five feet of gleaming mahogany, a couple dozen empty barstools to choose from, not another drinker in the joint, and the sonofabitch had taken Penman’s favorite spot. The far corner where most of the light came from the exit sign above the back door. It was the only place in town Penman could write his thrice-weekly column for the Great Metropolitan Daily. Penman had written for newspapers for 30 years, up and down both coasts and in a lot of burgs in between. He’d worked for journals with circulations of more than a million and rags that were little better than shopping mall throwaways. He’d called them all the Great Metropolitan Daily. At the moment, his career roller coaster was at the crest of another hill. Maybe his last view of the world from on high. Which was all right with him. For the first time in decades, he didn’t owe a cent of alimony and a liver transplant had saved his life. He felt a little guilty about the transplant. His old liver had been done in by a Niagara of booze; he’d gone over the falls in barrels of scotch too many times to remember. His new organ came courtesy of a 29-year-old Sunday school teacher who’d made the mistake of stopping at a tollbooth in front of an 18-wheeler whose brakes failed. The bereaved widower had visited Penman in the hospital. He’d told him what a wonderful woman his wife had been and how Penman should try to live up to having her liver. At almost any other time in his life, Penman would have told the guy to fuck off. Possession was 9/10 of the law and the liver was his now. To do with as he damn well pleased. For some reason, though, he hadn’t spouted. He’d only mumbled, “Thanks. Do my best.” Adding a moment later, “Sorry for your loss.” He told himself that lapse was due to being dopey from the anesthesia. Now, six months later, he worried that the Sunday school teacher’s liver had infected him — with a regard for the future and other people’s feelings. He couldn’t bring himself to drink anything but water: club soda here at Rick’s on the River, straight out of the tap anywhere else. If this got out, he’d be ruined.
He was ready for a confrontation. He liked his elbow room. The guy gave him a grin and said. The guy shook his head. On his way back to reading his newspaper opposite the cash register at the center of the bar. His ass startled to tingle. Very white but — Jesus — had they all been filed to points? That was when the guy told him. Penman caught a flash of teeth.Sobriety did have its benefits. your ass on fire?” The guy liked that one. Jet black hair combed back. As if the guy knew. friend. but just like that time in the hospital with the widower. Which might be a mixed blessing..” The guy slid one stool to his left. He gave Marty a twenty and told him to keep the change. Even so. “You can sit down now. Clean shaven except for a spiky tuft of hair under his lower lip. He extended his hand. he moved over one more place. Penman stood behind the guy who’d usurped his rightful place at the bar. Maybe because he believed the guy. Marty.” brought him his bottle of Calistoga and a glass with ice and a twist of lime. isn’t it?” the devil asked. Marty asked the guy who’d been “warming” Penman’s seat if he wanted another. “Just warming your seat. Sat right down. “It’ll cool off in a bit. keeping it several inches above the seat. His new sense of sweetness and light extended only so far. Wearing a hand-tailored suit. “I like heat: I’m the devil. to breathe down the creep’s neck. Damn thing looked perfectly normal. Felt like he’d plunked his ass onto a bed of white-hot coals. A red glow to his skin like he’d gotten too much sun. It looked like he might not wind up on a street corner holding a cup and a sign. No. he’d even rediscovered his sex drive. so can you. Penman sat down and jumped right back up again. his natural instincts failed him. Pleasurably so. Eyes so dark Penman couldn’t distinguish pupil from iris. Sans Viagra. in fact. He was now close enough. “So what’s with you. better than that. So vital. The guy was looking back at him now.. Penman took him at his word. “What do you want?” he asked. Penman. Penman wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. Grinned wider. however. Big shot. The seat was still warm but comfortably so. He couldn’t get a word out. Help me. though. He stared at the bar stool to see what kind of trick had been played on him. the bartender who worked what Penman had dubbed “The Morning Midlife-Crisis Hour. he could still feel the heat. His balls. too. if need be.” Penman wanted to crack wise. And all the clean living had made him feel stronger than he had in years. “A little heat’s nice. “Hey. He turned to look at the joker who’d been sitting there. Who still wasn’t satisfied. had been big since he was little. not even looking at Penman. He was saving a greater portion of his income than he ever would have believed possible. .” “Yeah” Penman asked. A soul patch. Still hadn’t looked at Penman. and intentionally so. like William “The Refrigerator” Perry. If I can take the big fall. So how could .” the devil told him.” Penman said.
I figured you for a sure thing.C.” “Anything you want. If he recycled a bit of it into the sparkling water.” the devil said.” . When he’d first ordered a glass of water in a bar he’d felt emasculated. you should pardon the expression. angel. but he thought he knew what the devil was getting at. you’re worried about losing me?” The devil shrugged.” “That’s problem number one. Penman nodded. To excess. Getting up to go. But now I look back on what I used to do and it bores the hell out of me. He remembered his first wife damning him to hell on a daily basis.” Penman told the devil. The all-time loser. If I let you sucker me. he could honestly say he’d stepped into Rick’s for a mixed drink. Well. Anything at all. The times I was ready to concede the existence of God and the devil. he was actually starting to like the taste of the swill.” the devil said.” he continued. You know the answer to that. “You don’t think I’ll backslide?” “Why take a chance?” Penman took a swig of his drink. and that just barely. And the taste! Lord. But I like a direct answer. really. I stopped by to see if you’d like to sell your soul. “I always figured you’d wind up with my soul anyway.“Come on.” “Oh. He stirred his drink with a finger.”Penman said. but as mentioned they were making him friskier than he’d been in years. “We’ll just have to see.” “I don’t doubt it.” the devil reminded him. That particular organ donor is causing me no end of trouble. we’re very real. “I can see you are. The main reason I’d never make a deal with you is you’re a loser. “so I’ll answer yours. isn’t it? It’s having an effect.” Penman asked. “you’ve got two problems. The stuff was fit only for bathing. You were God’s right-hand man.” “Going to make me work for it. Fields had it right. Not only that. “The usual deal: I get your soul. But that’s not even the big problem. And now look at you. “It’s the liver transplant. I’ll admit.” the devil assured him.” Penman enjoyed throwing the devil’s words back at him. Which. I hate to lose what I already consider mine.” “Maybe. he said. But he soon found that his balls were not only still present and accounted for. what kind of schmuck am I?” The devil didn’t take offense. “Well. You know the answer to that. W. “Nothing’s out of reach. He figured even with the new liver alcohol would continue to leach out of his body for years. He sucked his finger clean and looked at the devil. you get anything you want.” Penman laughed. “No. Reduced to hustling souls in gin joints.” Penman poured his Calistoga into his glass. “But you answered my question. the way I see it. “Until recently. “Okay. is the way to indulge a vice.” “I’m afraid so. But what’s your problem.” “What is?” “Come on. I’ve already indulged every vice that used to interest me. listened to the ice crack as the water hit it.
his editorial assistant. He stuck his finger back into his sparkling water. She gestured to him to hand over his handwritten column. She never offered him her pickle. When he didn’t.Penman finished his column: 450 words on why the public shouldn’t object to the mayor’s daughter marrying the son of the local crime boss. the pleasingly bitter aroma. He was glad she didn’t have his problem. Not that anyone actually edited Penman. knew better than to change so much as a punctuation mark in one of his pieces. He was mildly relieved to see that Kelly’s teeth hadn’t all been filed to points. She stopped long enough to give Marty a wink as he brought her a sandwich and a beer. some major publication. Really now. she opened wide and halved the pickle with a loud crunch. sat down next to him and swiped his pickle. Penman observed her teeth as she chewed. Kelly. He supposed that he could check the seat of his pants for scorch marks. not everybody did. hard-charger that she was. On pumpernickel yet. why would the devil want to buy his soul? Penman couldn’t believe that six months of relative probity was enough to earn salvation after a lifetime of debauchery. the two of them were world-beaters. Rick’s hadn’t even offered that crap until Kelly browbeat them into making it specially for her. He could see himself in his dotage working for her. and one more after work. if not outright owning. The product of the latest high-tech dental polish and orthodontia paid for by many hours of paternal overtime. Looked him right in the eye. The golden color. He could almost taste it. too? Marty brought Penman a corned beef sandwich as soon as he saw the scribe had stopped writing. Anyway. Before Penman could take a bite. Her complete acceptance of his work was one of her charms. Cosmetically white with perfect occlusion. gave him her crooked grin. Kelly reminded him of one of his wives. the hard stuff. Kelly finished the pickle and grabbed half of his sandwich. It was a necessary skill as Kelly was the one who transcribed his chicken-scratches into type and sent it along to his editor. As was the fact that she usually got what he had to say. she was smiling and bobbing her head as she read. of course. but they’d been the cretins who had caused all the fist fights in the newsroom. if only to bring her a sandwich and a beer. so why shouldn’t the kids have their fun. There had been those who’d tried. Kelly put half of her sandwich on his plate. Compensation for what she’d filched. He’d always made enough dough to afford real alcohol. You just couldn’t count on a Sunday school teacher being there to give up her liver for you. and the inevitable dismissals or resignations that followed. or anything else. Penman had never been much of a beer drinker. he’d become fascinated by Kelly’s brews. Even if she had a beer with breakfast. Still reading. . at one sitting. a meal he’d never shared with her. He couldn’t remember if it was number three or four. He was sure that Kelly would end up running. that’d make only three per day — separated by hours of abstinence. for instance. Right now. She knew that Penman would never eat the offering and in a few minutes she’d take it back and wolf it down. but he wasn’t sure he wanted to know that badly. Which meant she never drank to get drunk or even enjoy a mild buzz. Among her various talents was the ability to read Penman’s scribble. criminal hearings in the courtroom. Never had another beer. the creamy white head. the gist being the two fathers had been in bed together for years. Even Kelly. But. and dared him to object. She had just one beer with lunch. Only she’d stolen corned beef and repaid him with liverwurst. post-transplant. He was still debating with himself whether his encounter with the devil had been real or some kind of recovering-alcoholic delirium. Kelly didn’t seem to have a drinking problem.
Damn that transplant! It was probably for the best.6 degrees warm. After all. I mean. avoid focusing on her obvious physical charms: face and figure both. Then she downed her beer like a frat-boy in a chug-a-lug contest. I want to be just like you. The look in them was one he dimly remembered from his youth.” Penman would have told her to shut up — except her hand was warm. “When I grow up. But biting his tongue. The fact that she was directing such a look at him was more than a little distracting. though. he’d have to dwell on the professional aspects of their relationship. grabbed the uneaten half of her liverwurst sandwich and took the column with her for the walk back to the office. Wife number three or four had reamed him for more alimony than any of the others. Look and give him a wink. “Gimme a minute. . she put her hand on his arm and said.. “You can really write for an old man. More than 98. “About the devil. Penman watched her go. Interrupting was the only sin worse than editing in Penman’s world. devouring the slower.” She gave him a wink. weaker animals on the savanna.” she told Penman. okay?” The irony here was the subject of that day’s column: a city vice cop had gone into business as a tour guide for visiting Asian businessmen who longed to experience the town’s finer fleshpots. and for the first time in his life that was actually starting to matter to him. too. Penman was writing his next column the next day and he was surprised that she’d interrupted him. Except for the hairy back and shoulders. too. the receding hairline. admiring her rear view as she left Rick’s and her profile as she passed by the front window. Of course. After being arrested. he could enjoy watching her climb to the top of the journalistic food-chain. Or hadn’t been. only pure carnal need. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Kelly demanded. he jotted down the final sentence of his column. but undoubtedly his inspired idea lived on and horny business travelers could sleep easy when they came to town. power or career climbing. That confounding thought was driven from his mind a moment later when he saw the devil follow close in Kelly’s footsteps. and . Kelly looked up from her reading and smiled at him. Penman put his pen down and looked Kelly in the eye. even when their sleeping companions charged a small fortune for their affections. when desire had nothing to do with money. the vice cop jumped bail and disappeared. trusting that would be enough to quiet her.In the meantime. And now her eyes were different. she was young enough to be his daughter. He almost yelped. He glared at Kelly. Penman knocked back a slug of sparkling water and finger sludge. and he was sure Kelly could outclass her without breaking a sweat. The copper guaranteed a good time: clean girls and nobody pulling any scams or rip-offs on them.. Penman was alert enough to fashion trends to know that some young women adopted an intentionally disheveled look. Well. Instead. but Kelly was not one of them. Her hair was mussed. I’d like to write just like you. He’d been knocking down a quarter-mil a year when — Kelly ran her fingernails up the inside of Penman’s thigh. He took her hand off his arm and said. He thought maybe Kelly would be worth a boatload of alimony. And the satanic SOB turned to look at Penman as he went by.
. what could he do? Insist Kelly pee in a cup and test her specimen for brimstone? .” Marty brought sandwiches for both of them.” He didn’t smell any booze on her. Penman had a concern even more serious than being caught with his pants down. get loaded every weekend. I made enough to pay my tuition. Besides that. Still. Draw. “I could take care of you. I was hell on college boys. Seeing that would break his heart. She went across the street to the number two paper in town..” Penman asked for a direct answer. Sold her soul. Little tastes of what he can do. Penman should have known what she’d get from the devil in return. buy a car. Penman didn’t like that at all. “Please tell me you didn’t . About an octave lower than she used to. Sleazeball foreign ownership. You get what I’m saying?” Kelly laughed her new scary laugh again. Penman said. “Writing term papers?” Penman grinned. I won at all of them. there was one thing. He should have but he didn’t see it coming. Well. “Kelly.” “So why go into the news racket? Why not just play cards?” “I tried. The punk paper was a tabloid. Lose her soul. Beyond that. Her initial employment contract was torn up and her new salary was reported by the tabloid’s celebrity columnist. Kelly’s new column cut the tabloid’s circulation deficit by two-thirds. I played cards. you’re fired. “I ever tell you how I paid for college?” Penman asked her. I went to Vegas and lost every cent. No obligation. Half the circulation of Penman’s journal. too. “No. but she had to be drunk. but the pros were hell on me. “I thought of that but it was too much work. He said to Kelly.” She laughed. old man. She’d get conned.She seemed ready to jump him right there. “I’m just messing with his head. Kelly had signed to do monthly pieces for a TV news show. even rent a pretty nice apartment. he thought. Poker.” She leaned close and whispered. But it made Penman think of ball players who hit a ton of home runs and then refused to undergo steroid testing. But there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. Five days a week. Marty was gentleman enough to look the other way. “I can take care of myself. “He’s giving me freebies. It was twice the money Penman had made in his best year. “Sell my soul? Am I that dumb? You should know better. hold’em: I didn’t care.” “You’re messing with the devil’s head?” “Uh-huh. Within a month. This meteoric ascent was propelled by what Penman had to admit was some very sharp writing. but there was no telling if someone else might stop in for an early belt.” Kelly did it. Right now if you want to sneak into the men’s room with me. the Not-So-Great Metropolitan Daily.” Kelly told him. caught the vibe and didn’t linger. stud. I didn’t sell my soul. Hired scribes who couldn’t write their way out of a freshman composition course. Only thing was.” She wasn’t going to listen. Even after she’d told him she wanted to be just like him.
When Kelly reported that the head of the city council was taking bribes from real estate developers for zoning variances. So who you working for?” “Sir?” “Oh. Penman gave the devil a look and he removed his hand. keeping all the horny guys away. He took strength from his Sunday-school-teacher liver. Kelly would pick one out of the pack. “Something I can do for you?” the devil asked.” “Yeah. He was only a man. He raised his hand and gestured to Marty. Probably hadn’t liked being called a loser. “What do you call that silly little hairball on your chin?” Penman asked. Penman said. not the Prince of Darkness. let him draw near. “How long you been working here. Most of the time. He’d been wrong about not having to witness the whole sad show. I know you work for Rick. So what kind of angel are you? Exalted or fallen?” Marty grinned. Penman shook his head. The first time it had happened. He got up to go. Every time Kelly unearthed a scandal. From then on. now one of the two bartenders who worked the new morning crowd. Only Marty lingered on the far side of the room. I figure you’re with one of them. at sonny-boy’s request. though. Every once in a while. that occurred to me just now.” Penman thought the devil would be there in the wink of an eye but the bastard kept him waiting longer than a tech-support phone call. I was told not too long ago that God and the devil are both very real. too. but that’s just moonlighting. Kelly and her crowd had cleared out. It was enough to drive a man back to the bottle. Penman revealed that the middleaged pol’s mommy still spanked his bare bottom. gave him the courage to try the craziest idea of his life. A gaggle of sycophants hanging on her every word. But Penman knew that he couldn’t compete over the long haul. exchange a few salacious words and even swap a little spit. Penman had actually witnessed the disgusting exchange. he made a point of keeping his head down. I don’t remember you being here before I got my transplant. . He still had to listen to the titters and wolf howls coming from the other end of the bar. He took the stool next to Penman’s. After which Kelly had favored him with a wink. So had the back-up bartender. Penman was about to leave. Only Penman refused to give in. trying to concentrate on his work. Penman hadn’t seen the devil make his entrance but being sneaky was the guy’s stock in trade. too. of course. Maybe she was even the one who inspired him. taking the stool at the opposite end of the bar. Just like the devil had. He reported with more energy and ingenuity than at any time since his first liver was fresh and young. Marty?” “Not very long. It broke his heart to see what Kelly had done to herself. “Another Calistoga?” Marty asked. Penman topped it. “Tell your boss I’d like to see him. Maybe he had taken offense when Penman had rebuffed him. “A lost-soul patch?” The devil no longer found Penman amusing. their faces inches apart. when a hot hand fell upon his shoulder. Her posse came along with her. She made a point of writing her column at Rick’s just the way he did.Penman was facing tough competition but he didn’t give in. He had the same dentist the devil did.
. The devil was not so pleased.” The back door to Rick’s flew open and was filled with a celestial light. Penman squeezed his eyes shut but did not avert his face. Waited for Penman to speak. No exceptions. the light got dialed back to a tolerable level. The devil remained standing. “Michael.“Hold on. “You bastard. But I believe you told me there’s a higher power who might settle the issue.” Penman said. the contract was simplicity itself. But he looked like the original guy you’d never wanted to mess with. had to whip on a pair of Ray-Bans and. No hardhat. The devil took out a pen. the place was a featureless white plane.” “I have. “I can’t do that. Abandon all hope. Penman would receive . There was a blank space for him to fill in whatever he desired. amen. “Do I have to sign in blood?” Penman asked. “Ink is just as binding. on the other hand. “No exceptions?” Penman asked. “It’s a pickle. “Once I have a soul. “I want to review something with you. “But you told me just now I could have anything I want. he thought. “Long time.” he said. Cocky bastard. “Never expected to see you back here.” Penman agreed. You told me I can get anything I want for my soul. As a legal instrument. Penman dared to take a peek. Penman told him. Anything at all.” Penman said. more gallingly. bow his head to his old boss.” Michael answered.” the devil said.” he shouted. They were no longer . it’s mine. Clearly. though. After an indeterminate period of time. God was far too luminous to look at.” The devil sat down. and construction boots. removing his sunglasses. The devil snatched the executed contract off the bar — and frowned. To Penman. Lou. His light fell most brightly on Penman. jumping to his feet. Put it on the bar in front of Penman. jeans. “None. Then Penman noticed the devil’s eyes. “Possibly beyond your ability to resolve.” Penman took the pen and completed the form.. I’m swapping my soul for hers. the devil could see more. as if trying to reveal some new trick the newsman might have in mind. now and forever. Even you must have heard of that. easier to try staring at the sun.” The devil’s complexion got a good deal redder. “I can’t read your writing.” The devil looked around. That was only going to make things even sweeter. In consideration for relinquishing his immortal soul to the perpetual custody of the devil. Is that right?” The devil nodded. who saw that his name was already on it.” “Okay. He saw a guy dressed in a blue work shirt. The devil. The devil said. There was also a line for his signature. I’m ready to deal. You have to live up to that agreement for our contract to be valid.” Penman grinned. “What I want is for you to release all claim to Kelly’s soul.” He felt that the Sunday school teacher who’d given him her liver would be proud. He took a contract out of an inside pocket.
takes some big brass cojones.” “Used to be my friend. “Mostly stupid.” The tough guy grinned. he had to do it. too. Penman didn’t have a choice. Which. I did. Besides. maybe a little gutsy. “Are you really that gutsy or just plain stupid?” Penman knew what he meant: giving up his soul for Kelly’s. They were golden and reflected in them was a landscape only hinted at by the most beautiful places on earth.” Michael shook his head. . “It’s really not that bad. He’d made some dumb moves in the past but this one had to take the cake. Penman’s knees began to wobble. Or even wanted. he loved her.” “Yeah. Michael asked him. I do the heavy lifting around here. Holy shit! Dante hadn’t covered the half of it. He told Penman. He’d just given it up.” Penman said. I’ll console myself that I finally did the right thing. Don’t know why. What a fool.” Penman said. He was equally upset with himself. to give up such a place. “Still want to go through with it?” Michael asked. “Though that was usually the part I played. Enough to impress even heaven. “you gave away your soul for her. Michael looked at the devil and then back to Penman.” Penman said. “We’ve got a saying around here. he couldn’t bring himself to try to weasel out. Now. Before Penman could get bummed out. “What?” Penman asked.” The devil looked disgusted. “It’s a dry heat. But at least it was a sober decision. “Plenty. He wasn’t buying that.” the archangel said. Penman stared at his future.” “You lying bastard. If he could save her from what he’d just seen. While I’m down there suffering.” Penman suddenly felt very uneasy. Used to be: no greater love hath one man than he lay down his life for another. as Michael had just said.” “You cut ‘em loose if you couldn’t reach them?” Penman remembered firing Kelly. Even Michael wore a look of consternation. I have to say. “You ever have friends who made truly awful mistakes?” Michael asked.featureless dark orbs. “Are you Michael the Archangel?” Penman asked. “let’s do it. Still. “Yeah. “But this time. You say you’re willing to lay down your soul for another. you’ve upped the ante big-time.” the devil told him. Michael waved a hand like someone wiping steam off a bathroom mirror and Penman got a glimpse of hell. He’d had a long run. The ‘No Greater Love’ maxim. Then he thought: Uh-oh. “Yeah. As if Penman’s answer hadn’t been what he’d expected. “Want to see what’s waiting for you?” Michael asked. “Yeah. Kelly was just getting started. Penman thought of the devil.” the devil said bitterly.” Penman had the uneasy feeling Michael knew just what he was thinking.
Which meant she had no memory of selling her soul.” She paused. You know anyone who’s hiring?” Penman asked. It’s an unprecedented situation. Maybe quite a while. himself. postponed. “So you going to take me back?” Kelly asked. What you should do is have a drink or two while we work on it.” Penman replied. But from a lifetime of covering bureaucracies he was sure a decision on his fate would be a long time coming.” He saw she was sincere. “I started fast. And I got tired of all my sources trying to hit on me. Free scotch for eternity and it never ruined your liver. “Someplace more familiar. “They were going to fire me anyway. “You have no idea. But it got so even Listerine didn’t make my mouth feel fresh anymore. As a peace offering. “Not here.” Michael said.” “Here?” Penman asked.”she said. “You serve drinks in heaven?” He imagined it. In this case. Didn’t even swipe his pickle. He.” the archangel told him. Which implied that Kelly would be off the hook. “So I’m looking for a job. Alimony was no longer his biggest worry. she’d bought Penman a corned beef sandwich.” she explained. he was going to make sure Kelly provided him with a lot of good memories to take with him. I had to give up the whole thing. Back to Table of Contents . But as long as there was still a chance he might one day wind up in hell. had no such assurances. “You’re too good to me.” she told Penman. If so. he was really going to regret not getting in.” Kelly quit her job at the Not-So-Great Metropolitan Daily. “You have any outstanding obligations?” Kelly shook her head. Penman nodded. “this is going to take a while to sort out.“All right. Worked up her nerve. and delayed again. minus her entourage. She’d returned to Rick’s. “I’m free as a bird. Which was maybe my fault for stringing them along. “but I ran out of ideas. She grinned and swiped his pickle. Difficult choices were avoided. maybe forever.
” she said.” Charlie asked. God. I’ve never heard of that hotel. it sounded like this Pegler guy had sat next to her in high school algebra. Couldn’t imagine it. “So what’s this great place you’ve got for us?” Charlie and Twine had decided to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary in Cancún. her tone. He recorded it by himself. Charlie’s job was buying media and his thing was numbers: business figures. “You could do that. Not only because he knew the title. Her eyes lost focus as she recalled the song. “All the more reason I should go and not you. Passed her a love note or two. in one ear and out the other. But it was after the band broke up. I’d jump on this myself and salve my conscience by putting you into Le Meridien for free. if my mother hadn’t raised me right or even if my boyfriend could lie with a straight face. “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. his wife could not only remember a melody. “Don’t you remember? He was the lead singer of No Money Down. that he shared his name with an all-time jazz great. He never got a tune stuck in his head. Twine nodded.” Twine told him. his wife of almost ten years. Tina was his sister Delia’s best friend and was supposed to work her travel agent magic to get them a great deal on a top-tier hotel. She sounded as if she didn’t believe him. “Didn’t know Fred was still alive though. It didn’t come. you haven’t. that’s who owns the hotel?” Twine said to Charlie at home that night. “Of course.” Tina sighed. Threw rice at ballgames and saluted the bride.” Twine’s response surprised Charlie. melodies were beyond him. you ever hear of him?” She looked at him like he’d just dropped in from Mars. “You remember how the song goes?” Charlie asked. sports stats. “You’re not going to believe this. the way she kept referring to Fred. “What I’ve got you. Twine looked as if she was revisiting a special memory. “is the first opening in over six years at the Hotel Fred!” The Hotel Fred? Charlie waited for the punch line. Unlike him. probing.” Tina said.” he said. “Any of those hits something I might remember?” All he hoped for was a song title. “That was Fred’s. Then she finished dicing a plum tomato and tossed it into the pot for marinara sauce.. keeping a running total in his head when he went grocery shopping with Twine. He got the National Anthem and the Wedding March confused. But it was a momentary thing with him. she could also carry a tune. “Oh. and he generally liked music.” Antoinette. “I didn’t know he was ever alive.Chapter 2: The Hotel Fred Tina the travel agent gushed with excitement when she called Charlie Parker. get me Le Meridien for free?” “If your wife can pass herself off as me. aka Twine.” Charlie did know. The way Twine had answered. . couldn’t lie with a straight face either.” “You’re one up on me. “Oh. of course.” For a moment. “Yeah.” Charlie replied. “Um. They had a string of hits back when we were kids. He asked his wife. She started to sing in her soft clear alto and Charlie could see the lyrics as if they were printed out in front of him.” “Fred Pegler.
No matter how hard or tough. he supposed. No plan without a hitch. Then Twine picked up the tempo for the chorus. Life can be a bitch. however. But the boss said it’s time that I retire. The place looked like a movie star’s mansion to Charlie. Each one situated for maximum privacy.” Twine snorted.” “Tina says the place gets a lot of show-biz types. and said. like British royalty. As long as I have you. But not before the world caught fire. You know. Or a rock star’s. You’re allergic to silicone. He stepped up behind his wife.The sun burned out at noon today. “Only six guest suites.” “I’ll call Tina right now. I just turned twenty-six. he’d have given everything he had to have written those words. but at that moment.” “I won’t worry about you.” . But the judge called me a liar. Tell her we’ll take it. But no matter how bad it gets. about the hotel’s many virtues. Charlie. took her knife to another tomato. Extensive. They were poring over it for the hundredth time on the flight to Cancún.” Twine’s head bobbed.” He kissed his wife’s neck once more. Charlie. Red roof tiles. Twine stopped singing. and wondered what he was getting into. “I had my doubts about this Hotel Fred. “There’s a couple more verses. Lush gardens and a swimming pool in the shape of a sea serpent. Tina had sent them a brochure once they confirmed their reservation. The property sat smack on an immaculate beach and the startlingly blue Caribbean Sea. I swore to tell the whole truth. slipped his arms around her waist. he’d bet Twine knew the whole song by heart.” he said. but then she relaxed and pressed her backside against him. as if she never flew anything else. Tan stucco. For a second. he thought she might cry. Twine took his gesture in stride. looking at the smile on Twine’s face. You’re not supposed to talk to them unless they talk to you first. “And Tina says all the women at the pool go topless. to have composed that tune. but I don’t remember the words. “but I get the feeling you might like it. Charlie had sprung for first class. Wanting to be a sport. sometimes naked altogether. nuzzled her neck. Charlie was hardly a romantic. She was still marveling. I won’t sweat the small stuff. “It could be cool. She was dicing the Roma in time to the melody still playing in her head. Charlie. Every day a grind. The first verse was slow and bluesy. She stiffened.” Charlie didn’t think so. Not a truth left to find.
Two smiling Mexican men. discos. “In tune. there was a high-end stereo system with a hundred CDs and an equal number of old vinyl albums.” he told them. “After the demigod not the island. a string of restaurants. on the other hand. “You mind if I ask how any individual could afford to put up a hotel along here?” Roddy passed a red city bus that was doing 100 in a 70 kph zone. the total was into the billions. The ceilings were high. “I think we’ll be all right. one young. The road from the airport led to the Paseo Kukulcan and the Hotel Zone where everyone who was anyone in the hotel game had built — and built and built — along the Caribbean Sea. Much less one whose day had come and gone. The Hawaiian’s name was Roderick T. the floors were polished oak. Roddy pulled up at the front entrance. but he didn’t think it wise to inform his wife he was up on the latest techniques for breast augmentation. inclined him to try to calculate the property values. “Also in tune.” Roddy answered. they were greeted by a smiling Hawaiian giant with a dusty-rose drop-top Cadillac. cutoff jeans. Across the road.” Charlie said. Next to the piano. There was no television.” Fred’s hotel was approached via a gated flagstone driveway unburdened by signage of any kind. or lack thereof. “Put your faith in Nuestra Señora. the Parkers were escorted to their suite. once past customs. ushered them into the backseat. “But everyone calls me Roddy. Maui. “Um. one silver-haired. “I just meant we might not get the warmest or most comfortable reception from our fellow guests. greeted the new arrivals. but in the living room there was an old but lovingly burnished spinet piano. Roddy struck middle C. In addition to the instruments. the beach. either. Within the first kilometer. and flip-flops. It seemed impossible to him that even a current. By those not in the know. the younger one fetched their bags. Vintage 1961.” Roddy said. deftly ran his fingers across the strings. on an upright stand. top-charting music megastar could afford to build in such a place as this. Roddy introduced them respectively as Moises and Nestor. of tropical oceanfront architecture. Charlie’s numerical bent. Then he glanced over his shoulder and said.” As if to prove Twine’s point. Outnumbered by hotel staff three to two now. and mini-marts knelt like vassals before their massive liege-lords. and ficus. “Please play your music no louder than you’d like your neighbors to play theirs.” he said.Charlie knew surgeons used saline implants these days. making minor adjustments to three of them. hibiscus. Its large windows and balcony faced the pool. it was likely to be mistaken as a private garden belonging to one of the four-star. The structure itself was shielded from street view and traffic noise by a thick screen of mature plantings: palms.” he said.” He gestured to a statue of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard and took off. and the sea. Moises picked it up. and got behind the wheel. there’re no seatbelts back here. Twine did her best to take in all the natural beauty and the merits. was a gleaming acoustic guitar. bordering the Laguna de Nichupté. The older man opened the car door for Charlie and Twine. He said to Roddy. Charlie. most every tourist in town. “None up here. thousandroom behemoths to either side of it. both wearing aloha shirts. “Fred got here first.” He put their bags in the trunk.” .
At the moment. A high stucco wall and more plantings blocked the view. and went back to absorbing solar radiation. Both of them noticed before long. Contrary to all the other oceanfront hotels. The contrast is sexy.500. soap. or even soap in the bathroom. Congratulations.” . “Batting . Either way. there were no towels. The floors were bare. choose to sunbathe topless. Charlie didn’t look directly at either woman but he expected his peripheral vision would be markedly improved before this trip was over. and breasts that appeared to be nature’s own. with light brown hair. The linens. “We like our guests to feel this is their home away from home. a lithe build. “This is too cool. The fixtures were somewhat dated. unless in deference to the native tongue it was El Fred — Charlie and Twine were given free drinks to sip at poolside while the accoutrements they’d chosen for their suite were being installed.” Twine beamed. Rounding out the room was a writing desk that looked as if Dylan Thomas might have bent over it. shook her head in disgust. “Uh-huh. As the one who’d had the final say in choosing the Hotel Fred. Of equally gargantuan proportions were a leather reading chair. he would have started whistling “The Hotel California. as you prefer. pillows.” “Really?” “Yeah. their number was two: a woman about the Parkers’ age. shampoo. and duvet you’d prefer for your bed. there was no art on the walls.The tour continued with the bedroom where the bed was large enough to a land small plane. his poetry to compose. I’ll take you to our storage facility.” But if he’d had any musical memory at all. makes a guy aware he gets to see places nobody else does.” Roddy said. Charlie?” Charlie said. As part of their welcome to the Fred — nobody who stayed there called it anything else. In the dining room or in your suite. Moises and Nestor joined him.” “You just don’t want me going topless in public. bubble bath. Red gave Twine a mean look. pillows. The robes. indeed. “Get rid of my tan lines?” “I like tan lines. there were no linens. For all that. towels. a footstool. and a woman closer to fifty with hair a shade of red that Charlie had once seen on an old Chevy. and boobs that stuck up as if raised by tent poles. candles. The bathroom was also huge and featured a skylight. got up and left. “We’ve also been informed you’ll be celebrating your tenth wedding anniversary in a few days. the rugs you’d like to have under your feet. and shampoo you’d enjoy in your bathroom.” Moises and Nestor politely applauded. but they were immaculate and both the bathtub and the separate shower stall were big enough to accommodate two people. or comforter on the bed. Twine was the one checking out both women. mid-30ish. you’ll have your choice of flowers. The younger woman only gave Twine a friendly wave.” The place where you could check out but never leave. well lubricated. closed her eyes. and provided privacy for those female guests who did. You can choose the art you’d like to hang on your walls. Twine felt compelled to point out these shortcomings. “You think I should do that?” she asked. Roddy smiled. they were told. isn’t it. “In just a minute. the suite was incomplete. the Fred’s pool terrace did not look out on the ocean.” Charlie told his wife. and wine for your table. and a brass floor lamp. “We’d be pleased to have the hotel chef provide you with a complimentary dinner.
Wavy silver hair. I don’t play. Charlie said. Charlie went to open the door. Twine was in the shower prior to going downstairs to dinner. The guitar was a prop. sans socks of course. he was in costume and the suite had been transformed into a movie set. Moises or Nestor come to bring some new treat? Roddy had said they’d be looking after his and Twine’s needs. tweaked it a bit. .” the guy said. he thought. “Yes?” Charlie asked. Charlie was holding the guitar backward. As for Charlie himself. “You play?” Fred asked. Or maybe it was just the maid come to turn down the bed. The sound was rich and clear. His ankles were a bit pale at this point but he had a week to work on his tan. Someone new was there. Fred himself? Charlie was speechless. A soft knock called his attention to the door. checked the tuning. A guy about his own height. khaki sea-cotton slacks. cutoffs. Maybe the saddest eyes. And in the bedroom. A tune as beautifully sad as Fred’s eyes.” Charlie said. leaving a friend out on the front stoop. He sat in an easy chair. and kid leather moccasins. too. “Excuse me a minute. Rugs in deep earth colors with patterns they’d been told were Mayan now graced the floors. “I’m Fred Pegler. “No.” He closed the door to the bedroom. and flip-flops as Moises and Nestor. He was wearing the same aloha shirt. he wore a jade green silk T-shirt. guitar in hand. by Twine’s choice. His skin was deeply tanned and lined. one that featured No Money Down as the opening act for the Rolling Stones.” Fred smiled. Five days until his anniversary to work on his song.” Fred stepped into the suite. he had to agree with Twine. “Just wanted to see how you’re settling in. so far from home. Original watercolors by local artists hung on the walls. The Fred was a cool place. it didn’t matter. It became sweet but heart wrenching. He repressed his embarrassment and said. Neither he nor the instrument was left-handed. You fall in love at first sight. Turning back to Fred. Charlie immediately blushed. As did a genuine drawing by Picasso over the piano. He’d bet a guy could discover new things about himself here. a rock concert poster had been placed over the bed. Maybe here in this exotic place. nodding at the guitar. brushed straight back from a widow’s peak. Lest Twine make her entrance in the buff. he added. Looking around. “Please come in. “There are a lot of them like that. Then you hear the music you can make together and you think it’ll never end. and began to pluck the strings as he moved smoothly from chord to chord.“That too. Who knew. Write a song for his wife on the occasion of their tenth wedding anniversary. At that point. Charlie sat in the living room holding the guitar on his lap trying to pick out a few notes. Twine had picked out bed linens in a pale coral and a duvet that featured some mythical bird embodying all the colors of the rainbow. he could develop an unsuspected talent for music. too. Felt as if he was being rude. He had the clearest blue eyes Charlie had ever seen. May I?” Charlie gave the guitar to Fred. But it’s so beautiful I just had to pick it up. Maybe twenty years older.” The Fred’s owner.
When she brought drinks to the Parkers’ table. He stuck the message into a pocket. Tell me what it says. I’ll see if I can teach you to play it. Saw Charlie was clearly disappointed. I can’t tell you all the times I listened to that song. Been in recovery a long time. Twine looked up at her husband. Maybe that way you’ll be able to hold onto it. “Man.” “How about the song you just played? You ever tape it strictly for yourself?” Fred shook his head. “Composing and recording. But go back to the music scene? No way I’m strong enough for that. “I’m a junkie. “Read the note.” “Not for me. “Almost forgot. casually cradling the guitar as if it were a small child. Bring the guitar from our suite.” Fred left. For Charlie.” . Just sat down and let the music claim him. it was beginning to bug him. “Glad you and your wife could come visit. “Tell you what.” Charlie said. His face clouded. Other than the crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes she struck the image of a wellpreserved hippie chick.” “Why’d you stop?” Charlie asked. Something a normal person would recognize immediately and say to Fred. Twine waited until Hannah left before ordering her husband. “You liked it that much?” he asked. “Something wrong. unread. here in the hotel. Charlie wondered if he was hearing a classic.” “Yeah. Like all the other staff — and the hotel’s owner — she wore a flowered shirt and cutoffs. Twine opened the door to the bedroom. I mean. and explained himself. if that’s not too early.” After almost ten years together. Unlike the others. Fred asked me to give that to you if you came in.” Then he thought.” Fred shrugged. the melody was already disappearing from his mind. “Fred Pegler dropped by to say hello. When Fred finished he gave a small nod. Never will be. He pulled Fred’s message out of his pocket and passed it to Twine. we’re glad. Hannah gave Charlie a folded slip of paper and said. though. she went barefoot.” Charlie said. She said her name was Hannah and she came from Minneapolis. tomorrow morning at ten. as if he’d finally gotten the piece right.” Fred got up and handed the guitar back to Charlie. “Did he say anything else?” “Yeah.” The woman behind Fred’s bar was a deeply tanned platinum blonde. She had one towel wrapped around her hair and another around her body. “I have musical Alzheimer’s. She unfolded the piece of paper and her eyes danced across the words. You’re here a week.For an anxious moment. A moment later.” “He did? And I missed him?” Her face crumpled. Having been revealed. too. “Did I hear you talking to someone?” she asked. screw it. Up till now there had been no sign of it.” “Thanks. He offered to give me music lessons. “He says he’ll start you out with a 30-minute lesson. We’ll start tomorrow. man?” Fred asked. Charlie never would have guessed his wife was star-struck. “My sympathies. “Fred’s inviting you to his apartment. Charlie nodded.” Charlie said.
and gone straight to sleep. said he was pleased to meet her. “Always have. Said he wasn’t going to shell out money just to make both of us unhappy.“I can do that. Delia. “So you like numbers?” Fred asked the next morning.” Charlie said. They showed up at Fred’s apartment on time and wearing smiles. introduce me to Fred. but the younger woman gave them a smile.” Twine put her hand over Charlie’s and squeezed a little too hard. hardly ever at breakfast.. “But a couple more drinks and her playing gets sloppy. and after a drink or two her playing improves. Red pointedly ignored the Parkers. Far too polite to get sweaty and conjugal. the maitre d’ entered from the dining room. “Ever since I was a kid. “Okay . after the first two. Still. they’d returned to their suite. Removed her hand. so she got them.” “No. When I said I’d rather go out and play ball.. Charlie was annoyed because.” . Charlie introduced Fred to Twine and asked if it would be okay if she watched him torture Fred’s guitar. you’ve got to take me with you. and personally served her a bottle of sparkling water. they had been polite enough to set other’s teeth on edge. my dad let me. he’d have liked to keep his lessons with Fred a secret..” “Yeah. That morning. “Exactly. the two of them appreciated the warm reception everyone at the Fred had given them. and they weren’t about to be rude. My sister. having thought about it.” Twine got the point. “She likes to get the party going . He told Charlie and Twine their dinner would be served momentarily. Sat back.” “Unh-uh. And a wink. Last night. Please bring their drinks along. if you promise not to faint. was the one who got the piano lessons in my family.” “But you never took music lessons. Make whatever progress he could and then surprise Twine with his playing.. “Charlie. Just then the two women who’d sunbathed topless that afternoon entered the bar. her husband cuts her off. Before they could discuss what that meant. How about you. Charlie?” “No more than one drink per meal.” Fred summed up to Charlie. you drink.” He looked over at Twine and was pleased to see a grin on her face.” Fred nodded. dressed for the evening.” Charlie said. though.” Fred smiled as if he knew a secret. then said.” “Good for him. brushed their teeth. only occasionally at lunch. Fred shook Twine’s hand. Couldn’t do that now. “So you’re a steady guy who loves numbers and whose knowledge of music is zilch.” Charlie gave her a look. Hardly the romantic beginning to their trip that Charlie had imagined. Charlie hadn’t caught it at the pool but now it was clear they were a couple. Delia wanted the lessons. “Your sister still play?” “Any time there’s a party and a piano.
But Twine had a question for him. was getting stronger. but not nearly as many as he would have expected. The 30-minute lesson flew by. Charlie had his pick. tempo. A steady procession of waves rolled shoreward. what a workout. Charlie.” Charlie smiled and the lesson began. and then getting sweaty with his wife. And one for Fred. and shook Fred’s hand. with this force of nature. The force of the first wave that struck him almost knocked him off his feet. and the flag posted on the sand was now red. and he got a mouthful of saltwater. “Charlie. He spat the water out and looked around. Down the beach. the salt always took him by surprise. and the business end of things. Soon he was diving over the waves. evidently. music is almost nothing but numbers. But he remembered his manners. and dropped it on the nearest chair. peeled off his T-shirt. Charlie said. at least a little. and he was hungry for more. he heard a whistle blow. It went far better than he’d ever expected. the waves returning to the sea. When he tired of that he tried to bodysurf the waves. timing was critical. my man. Just looked at Charlie to see if it was cool. His legs were getting wobbly and it seemed like the back-flow. You can catch up with me down at the beach. But that one caught him broadside. man. The Caribbean was surprisingly cool. Now. He understood the music theory Fred laid on him almost intuitively.“Well. Like a roller coaster and a magic carpet ride rolled into one. Again. because between notation. starting to paddle toward the beach just as the wave lifted you so you could ride it as far as possible. He enjoyed both the physical sensation of the water rushing past and that fact that he’d learned to cope. trying to time his leaps and plunges to the very last second before the wave would smash into him. He turned to look and saw a lifeguard from one of the big hotels waving swimmers ashore. He turned sideways to the next wave and more or less knifed through it. Charlie kicked off his Fred-provided flip-flops. The Fred had a dozen thickly padded lounge chairs set out on the beach. He remembered from his tourist guide that yellow meant caution. He’d never have thought playing in the water could be so tiring. No one was within fifty yards of him. practicing a little more. liked to catch their rays near the pool. It was a hoot.” He didn’t want to practice or get sweaty anymore. Maybe four-to-five feet high. would you mind if I stayed a few minutes and talked with Fred? Fred. he felt like going back to the suite. “Sure. He wasn’t a strong swimmer but he plunged into the sea. With his . The Fred’s guests. A handful of other bathers were splashing and playing games. stood up. He wound up being dunked more than once. but soon his timing improved and he got some good rides. He left his sunglasses and bottle of Coppertone on the table. Water conditions might be marginal. A freshwater kid growing up. behind the garden wall. Maybe it was time to head for a lounge chair. you’re in luck. A yellow flag was waving on the beach as he ran across the sand. Each pair of them shared a dark blue umbrella and a small circular table. And. and much to his surprise he had a high degree of manual dexterity. Not big if you’d spent your life swimming in the ocean but plenty big for him. He could form chords without too much difficulty and he got the hang of finger picking almost as quickly as the counting pattern clicked into his head. would that be all right with you?” Fred didn’t say a word.
I almost died the day you left. The word riptide popped into his head and his heart turned to ice.” Twine told Fred.back to the sea. and away you went. she picked up his bottle of sunscreen and handed it to him. A female lifeguard. Of course.” With grave suspicion. with all its other amenities. just another of the little extras that made a stay at the Fred such a treat. He broke the surface in a trough between waves. You looked a little rubber-legged out there. managed to gulp enough air to refill his lungs. “Do my back and legs. hell. how could he say no? As his hand touched her back. it separated Fred from Twine like one of those fences Robert Frost said made good neighbors. “How’d I do that?” “You released “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. He panicked. a wave caught Charlie when he wasn’t looking. Didn’t know which way to turn. From L. will you?” Owing the woman his life. she told him. “I’m Jenny. hoping he was moving in the direction of the sky and not the sandy bottom. do a good deed and lose half your bikini. he was feeling bare breasts against his back. “I was just trying to meet you. Only now. I jumped on a plane so see you in L. way too far for his meager swimming abilities to return him to land. Ah. But this time somebody grabbed his wrist. He felt as if he was being swept away. you’d stopped touring by then. “Well. He’d be carried out to sea.. though. She felt the weight of his eyes and said.” Twine said. he wondered why. the Fred didn’t have a goddamn lifeguard of its own. More than he could say for himself. It knocked him off his feet and hurled him toward the beach. He sat on his chair and stared at her. Fred asked. If he wasn’t mistaken. Twine began to sing. The Fred did have a lifeguard. He stroked as hard as he could. the wave hit you.” “One time. Growing desperate.” Figuring he knew the rest. Before he could stand up. he’d drown sooner rather than later. She lay down on her stomach and as Charlie approached he could see her breathing was already returning to normal. He sat in a big easy chair.A. “You mean in concert?” Fred asked. Nobody would notice he was gone and he would drown. “No. Then the whistle blew. . “I came out and saw you in the water. And then there was an arm under his chin and he was being towed to shore by a far stronger swimmer than he was.” Before Charlie could respond. One of the verses she hadn’t sung for Charlie. She looked at herself and said. well. if he didn’t get his head above the surface right away. it pulled him under and back out. To tell you how much I loved you. she crossed the beach and took the lounge chair next to the one he’d staked out. Charlie saw that he’d been saved not by an employee of the hotel but by another of the guests: the brunette who’d been by the pool yesterday and in the bar last night. That and the fact you had saved my life. But when they got close enough to the beach to stand without worry of being reclaimed by the deep.A.” “And that did it?” By way of an answer. still holding the guitar he’d used for his lesson with Charlie. and then was smashed under again by the next wave. I felt so damn bereft.
Take joy from looking at all that pretty blue water out there.” Twine had been on her feet. maybe thinking about Lucy.” Twine said.. But I didn’t know if that one ray of sunshine was enough to keep me going. and then the jerk who knocked me up came back. “I thought my dad would have liked that. then let it go. It made me think my dad’s love endured in me. we’re married. she sank to her knees. “We were both going to come down here and get clean. but Roddy clocked me. I’ll never sweat the small stuff. “When I turned 18. that’s nice to know.” . I’d recorded that song with just me and the engineer in the studio. giving him a peek at her boobs. It was the first time Twine had seen him look happy. I saw it clear enough.” He gave Twine’s hand a squeeze. either. “Yes. too. Then we’d get married on the beach. “Charlie know any of that stuff you told me?” “Your wife has Margo worried.” “You didn’t .” “Not dead but in need of some money. sister?” Twine leaned back on her heels. “I was sure you wrote that song for me. Right after that I lost the baby. proving my dad right.A. Only Lucy never got on the plane to come here.. I wanted to go back and find her. but they didn’t find her.My soul began to burn But by that fire’s light. “The girl I wrote that song for didn’t make it. He had people look for her back in L.. like an acolyte before her guru. One guy even told me you were dead and your estate had released the song.. a cop.” Charlie said. I had to tell you how much your song meant to me. The love you gave to me endures. isn’t she? You’re wearing a ring and so was she. “You have a nice voice.” he told Twine. told Charlie. “We had a plan. Fred looked sadder than ever now. Then he asked Twine. Of course.” Fred laughed. Then your song came out on the radio.” Fred fell silent for a time. But you’d disappeared.. too. you could both be married but to other people. She reached up. and she was glad she’d been able to put a smile on his face.A. So I wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff. But the money went for a good cause . that’s when I flew out to L. The guy left. got killed chasing some moron who’d robbed a 7-Eleven. Held it gently. and if it helped you. Live out our lives high on each other. Then my dad.A. Fred shook his head. It about killed me to turn a buck off it. Lucy and me. and he took the hand she offered. Then I put it away for years. “Yeah. shuffling nervously in front of him as she made her confession.” Jenny from L. I couldn’t get enough of it. “So what’s your sob story.” Jenny propped herself up. “Go back to him? I broke his nose with a Coke bottle.” he said.” Fred didn’t finish the question. A janitor cleaning the ladies room at a highway rest-stop did. “I got pregnant at 16 by a guy my dad warned me against. “Who?” “She is your wife.” she said. nobody knew where you went. Now. how much I loved you. “To each other.
“Me. and reflected on his day thus far. showered. “I think I’d be happy with a fold-out sofa here.” Charlie lay back on his chair. “What exactly is your arrangement?” “Well. So at least think about it. gotten pissed off at Twine for both horning in on his lesson and then staying behind . “My accountant told me last month I’ve officially become a millionaire. what other kind is there?” “I model body parts: hands.” Jenny told him. I’m glad I got to see it. Do some body-double work for films. we allow each other some latitude. especially when I was going down the second time. she was looking us over pretty good the other day. Saves me a lot of money. But. “And you might want to be a little grateful to me for saving your life. cleavage.” she said. okay?” Charlie went back to his suite.” “Oh. and slipped on a pair of faded cocoa shorts and a navy blue T-shirt that said Daily Planet across the chest. waited to see if he’d heard her right. feet. shoulders. but Margo kind of freaked. no. She wanted it. I only show my face off-camera. Drive one of her cars. “Thanks.” Charlie said.” “What about your face? You’re really pretty.A. Margo’s bi by professional necessity. She’s also worried your wife wants to put the moves on me. you know?” “Sounds reasonable. “She’s going to be bitchy if I tell her you said no.” Charlie couldn’t resist. too. “Well. I don’t mind. “Margo’s mad at you. “Margo is my friend with the red hair. making it easier for Charlie to look at her face. a guy who works both movies and the Broadway stage. But Fred tossed his ass out and gave the suite to you.” She lay back down.” “Um.” Charlie said. “Me? Why?” “Because of the suite Fred gave you. Anyway.” Charlie said. She’s a pretty big talent agent back in L.” “What?” Charlie sat up.” Jenny smiled at him again. The last guest who had it was a big-shot producer. “But now Margo said I should see if you’d be interested in a threesome with her and me. arms. “What do you do?” “I’m a model. too. but not the usual kind. He’d been given a music lesson by a rock star. I’ve been able to save almost everything I’ve earned the past five years.” Jenny propped herself up again and looked down on Charlie. tushie. That and she wants to get into your suite any way she can. Me stepping out on Margo here wouldn’t be part of our arrangement. looked down at Jenny.” “Twine?” “Antoinette. She says it’s nicer than ours.” Charlie goggled. too. Back home. He picked up the suite’s guitar.” “Twine’s not like that. sat in the living room’s easy chair.“That’s what I thought. Eat her food. back to our arrangement. Teach her not to mess with other people’s honeys.” Jenny lay back down. but looked up at him. “It’s her way of getting back at your wife. I live at Margo’s house.” “Jesus. Margo was hoping she’d get it.” Jenny smiled brightly. legs.” she said. But when we travel we’re supposed to be true to each other. I’m bisexual by nature. abdomen. Well. if you know the cost of living in Los Angeles. “But not Margo.
but there was no way in the world he was ever going to share a bed with Margo. “It was like nothing I’d ever done before. So I proved it. After all. but from a heartbreak she was about to inflict. had to be bad. Tears fell hot against the back of his neck. Oh. for ulterior motives. hell. here it comes. Twine closed the door and crossed the living room. “I don’t want to know. He didn’t believe me.” Twine said. Pegler. That did it.with the rock star. He couldn’t remember another vacation quite like it. Talked for a long time. She took the guitar from him and laid it on the adjacent sofa. it wouldn’t be like he was the first guy who lost his wife to a big — The door to the suite opened and Twine walked in. almost drowned. “I’ve been with Fred. the only semblance of animation about him was the throbbing in his tortured fingertips. just came from his place this minute. He did offer to buy Jenny a new bikini. Well. to commit an act of infidelity he’d never entertained even in his fantasies.” she said. Not from a wound she’d received. And then I told Fred I knew all the words to every song he ever released. looking as if she’d been crying. He played all his songs and I sang them. “I wasn’t with Fred like that. If he’d retained the power to speak. Charlie’s heart sank. “If she gets too nasty maybe I won’t sleep with her anymore either. Fred and I became friends. planning to pack his suitcase and buy a seat on the first plane leaving for anywhere.” . No offense. every one. He started to go. She was leaving him and would be staying at the Fred permanently.” If Charlie could have moved. We didn’t have sex.” Charlie began to practice the song Fred was teaching him. he would have dumped her on the floor. Like a dream come true. It was too much. I have a million dollars — even if that really isn’t a lot of money where I live. Bared our souls. He definitely didn’t want to hear the details.” she said. he would have screamed at her.” he said. been rescued by an attractive woman who’d been topless two out of the three times he’d seen her. he thought. Or Margo. Charlie. And Twine said. he was sure. He played until the fingertips of his left hand got sore. he had no trouble remembering it. But Twine caught his wrist. “What’s deeper than sex?” “Friendship. he thought. Charlie. just like Jenny had. He looked back at her. At least with anyone who looked like Jenny. and her chin was quivering. though. “What?” Charlie demanded. He slipped out from under her. Then he pushed through the pain and practiced some more. and had been propositioned. Welcome to the Fred. There was still a sheen of moisture on her eyes. Gave him a peck on the cheek and said. But at that critical moment. “Oh. said she should get whatever she liked and he’d reimburse her. God. Having mentally converted the melody into a series of numbers. He’d told Jenny regretfully he’d have to decline her offer. He moved the guitar and plopped down on the sofa. The new Mrs. The news she had for him. “It was much deeper than sex.” His relief was immense. She sat on Charlie’s lap and put her arms around him. Today. Anything to try to take his mind off the fact that he’d left Twine with Fred that morning and she still hadn’t returned to their suite. It would go something like: He and Twine weren’t going to have an eleventh anniversary. Jenny had been a good sport.
Singing with him. To entertain themselves on the flight home. and tell her thanks for me.. And how he’d been asked to repay his debt. all right. Twine sang Fred’s songbook from memory. “Jenny. Roddy got it down on digital video. He really did. he’d never know. how she’d felt guilty about her dad dying.” She told Charlie the story about getting pregnant. okay?” Charlie and Twine flew home on the Fred’s private jet. and I never got the chance to thank him until today. and how depressed she’d been until Fred’s song came out. It must have been a far more.” Charlie sat back.” “Do I want to know?” Charlie asked. Over the course of the week. said he could bring it back the next time he and Twine came to visit. Charlie had continued to make remarkable progress with his musical education. center. Accompanying his wife on the last two lines of the final verse.500.” Charlie told her what had happened to him that day. “It saved my life. I’ll never sweat the small stuff. Twine and Fred sang a duet of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” in the hotel’s dining room. “I told Fred something today I never told you. Charlie stuck to his original bargain with Jenny. “Yes. Their suite would be ready for them.A.Charlie could understand that. On the night of the Parkers’ anniversary. Charlie. and Charlie tried to pick out the music by ear. But as they made their approach for landing. if you want to. Twine frowned. So even if she hadn’t slept with Fred. captivating experience for Twine to spend most of the day with Fred. Once he understood the mathematical underpinnings of the art form. gave his wife’s words a good deal of thought. Maybe L. and many of his attempts went hilariously wrong. The love you gave to me endures. on Twine’s third rendition of what they now considered their song. did some deep thinking of her own. That was pretty ambitious even for someone who was making a fast start. Fred’s first public performance in decades. “But not Margo. Bought her a new bikini.” she said. “I think you should. Fred had shared just 30 minutes of Fred’s magic with him and he’d felt its power. Charlie sat front row. Though where she found one that cost $1. “It’s important to thank someone who saves your life?” Charlie asked. it is. had he lost her anyway? She seemed to confirm his fear. Fred lent Charlie the guitar from the suite. it was really pretty easy. Fred saved my life. Charlie got it right. Back to Table of Contents .. what .
Chapter 3: Smoked Out The stink hit Mark Bellknap the moment he opened the library book. The intrepid hero. George Haverford. Would it be all right if I dropped by for a moment?” Mark Bellknap was a civic-minded man. certainly not under fire and on the woman he loved. and the Municipal String Quartet. a North Shore suburb of Chicago. he turned to the first page. O’Leary. and Navy SEAL. and if the authorities ever did an audit . and Navy SEAL. “George. Well. The opening sentence was a corker. Mark felt a headache coming on. George would write Mark a prescription that he could then legitimately fill for himself. His throbbing head he’d been able to ignore. such a course would not only be foolish. though. Mark picked up his phone and made the call. Sure. the Friends of the Parks. Some people were considerate about such things. his housekeeper. but it was fun. Mumphrey. wrote about the continuing exploits of Tad O’Looney. It rose like a toxic fume from the new novel by Mark’s favorite thriller writer. ‘94-‘96. He’d received the prestigious Worthy-of-Worthy Award for outstanding community service three years running. was also his best friend and personal physician. He was mad and getting madder. O’Looney had never done open-heart surgery before. Illinois. but continuing exposure to the cigar reek was threatening to recall his dinner from his digestive tract. it was escapist nonsense. it was also unnecessary. A glance showed him he’d left the bathroom window open a crack before he’d left for work that morning. He turned the water off and walked back into the reading room. bent over. But it had no salutary effect on his temper. No.. he would have to fudge his inventory a bit. cop. Just the kind of light reading Mark enjoyed after a day of filling prescriptions and tending to all the details of running his three drugstores in Worthy. There was no way he’d be able to read that book. lawyer. God. Through his donations and fund-raising efforts. it’s me. The fresh air diminished and then eliminated Mark’s queasiness. and he could feel his blood pressure start to climb. but the stench was awful. hoping O’Leary’s fevered writing would draw him into the story and help him ignore the foul emanations rising from the otherwise pristine book. lawyer. cop. A spasm wracked his middle but all it produced was a belch. bleeding from a wound at his right temple. he felt a current of cool air caress his face. He looked at the despoiled copy of Hell on the Half Shell. who cleaned his home on Tuesdays. Cigar smoke. a small kindness to Mrs. Mark’s next-door neighbor. were not. a former priest. reporter. get up from his reading chair and hurry to the bathroom. Ted O’Leary. and waited for the regurgitation to begin. George would simply give him a sample of an appropriate medication that he’d received free from a pharmaceutical company. turned the cold water on. had just cracked his beloved’s chest with his K-Bar knife when Mark was forced to close the book. While awaiting further developments. No need for her to walk in on the after-effects of his morning sit-down. Others. More likely. He contributed to the Community Chest. Doggedly.. the Benevolent Fund of both the police and fire departments.000 . reporter. a former priest. A man in his position would have no problem medicating himself. But his special largesse was reserved for the Worthy Public Library. He pulled the stopper from the bathroom sink. decidedly. the library in the town of 45.
There was no question the motion would have passed. when the library was three or four times its current size. And when he moved to Worthy he immediately became the library’s most important benefactor. though. everyone in the room applauded Mandek’s regular-joe humility. returned it to the library from which it had been borrowed. saw through it. Mark modestly said that would be far more than he deserved. Mandek read it. he could have purchased any book that interested him. He became famous for his generosity to libraries. His good friend. Mandek would keep pouring in cash and make it inevitable that the library board would overcome his objections. “I’m just a guy who got lucky. Perhaps Marian would even see to it that a statue of him might be placed outside the main entrance. Some years later. then he’d humbly accept the honor of having his name on the building.had a collection of books and periodicals that would have been impressive for a city ten times its size. and then had gone on to use Stone’s advice to make a fortune in selling and repairing cars as well as wrecking them. number one on the reserved book list. Other libraries were constantly making requests of Worthy for unusual items. Keep the name the way it is. She even ventured the notion of renaming the library after him so his contributions would be known to coming generations. even if he had the ill grace to vote against it. Julie moved that when construction was completed the library be renamed in honor of Oscar Mandek. . For all of his efforts. W. Mandek never forgot the source of his riches: a library book.” The magazine went on to recount how Mandek. in a jalopy that was about to go into the compactor. Soon the library was so awash with funds a committee was set up to plan a new wing and double the size of the library’s collection.” Except for Mark. of which Mark Bellknap was a member. happened to spot a library book. Mark. but nothing could have pleased him more. but Mandek himself put an end to the idea before the motion could even be seconded. Mandek was a mega-millionaire. At the first meeting of the committee. you know. Wouldn’t that be grand? A man of some means. had told him she only wished she could do something more to repay him. “Don’t do that. Mandek got all the people who did business with him to contribute. there was nothing Mark could do. At some future point. Marian’s daughter and the new head librarian.” he said. and if there was no local call for the volumes they were generously dispatched. but it meant so much more when he picked it up at the library. everything changed when Oscar Mandek moved to town. Mark’s heart constricted. “And. Mark was automatically put at the head of the list for any new book he cared to place on reserve. paid a thirty-five dollar overdue fine that wasn’t his responsibility. In addition to his own hefty checks. but in his heart he hoped that it would happen. I still do. “I just loved to hear metal shriek when it gets crushed. a high-school dropout. You might know.” Mandek told Forbes Magazine. but what are you gonna do about it? For the moment. Marian Keller. The head of the committee was Julie Keller. This was an honor he had not sought. the head librarian. a self-made man who had started out in the auto-wrecking business when he was only nineteen. Retrieving the book. pal. Mandek saw that Mark had him figured out and gave Mark an oily smile. Clement Stone’s Think and Grow Rich.
purchased 30 years earlier. she returned to Worthy and told Mark what had happened. except he could see her decision was breaking her heart. she’d volunteered tirelessly. He’d have preferred to have his daughter and son come back to Worthy and start their families in their hometown. Just tossed them directly into the trash. that was enough to scare her silly. She said she’d have to quit her job. Something he wasn’t ready to do yet. Dorothy said she didn’t want to go backward. Providentially. But once Hal had gone off to college. One morning on a pre-dawn drive to work Dorothy fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road. Mark had suggested she consider going back to work full-time as a social worker. Accepting disappointment on that plan. one that would have a strict nonsmoking policy. He seriously considered opening his own bookstore. While the kids had been in the Worthy school system. Worse. Which meant Mandek stank up all of Mark’s favorite reading material with his infernal cigar smoke. After dealing with the police. met and married sweethearts who were natives of their campus communities. Dorothy had become restless. he asked if maybe the nuns couldn’t put her up at the convent and he could come up and see her on weekends. Adding a four-hour daily commute on top of the arduous workload was more than she could endure. The days were long and often emotionally charged. damnit. At first Dorothy worked only two days a week. and a sympathetic farmer. Mark was still the automatic number one on the reserved list. the only thing she hit was a haystack. Unsettling his stomach. They’d gone off to college. he had to admit. Making Mark crazy. Besides that. What she found was working with an order of nuns who ministered to at-risk families in southern Wisconsin. Which would be no financial hardship as she was volunteering her time. and there they’d stayed. thanks to the big chain stores. But he did his research before he committed any money to the idea and found out that independent booksellers had become an endangered species. He didn’t even open the mailings those pesky AARP people kept sending him. He might be graying but he was still vital. she’d held her husband tight and thanked him every way she could. and patronize a new library. it had been a natural enough process. But that would also mean he’d have to sell his stores and retire. He’d have liked to criticize his wife’s choice. seemed too daunting a task. Mark had admired and encouraged her selfless efforts. now that he was 62. His house. and finally five days a week. Bucking the odds. Dorothy had always been a caring soul and had worked as a licensed social worker until Carolyn had been born. Mandek seemed to read every book Mark wanted to read. Driving up his blood pressure. Even so. He could move to a pleasant town in a more salubrious climate. . a two-hour drive from Worthy. but he couldn’t do that either. With Carolyn and Hal. but he couldn’t really criticize their choices. the paramedics. People there would come to value his place in the community as they once had in Worthy. was worth a small fortune these days. she needed to find something new to do.Nor was there anything he could do when Mandek started getting new books before Mark. Not only for himself but also for Worthy. Hearing that magnanimous offer. But the demand for her skills increased to three. At no small cost to his own emotions. he’d felt a sense of abandonment when his children and his wife had left town. buy something nice. All those years. Giving Mark headaches. he considered moving to another community. four. Mark would have been glad at the prospect of having his wife back. but Mandek had become number one on the pre-reserved list.
His housekeeper told him. he found companionship and comfort.” Marian Keller confided to Mark. it seemed she had become more and more like one of the nuns. first of all. She said Mandek had made it his business to find out who had been the biggest fish — his words — at the library before he’d come along.” Marian continued. But being on-hand full time now. Marian took Mark’s hand in hers. They’d met at Domenici’s.” Mrs. let him know when he should visit. too. when she might actually spare the time for the two of them. Mumphrey had more disturbing news for Mark when he went home early. I want you to know that I’ve been browbeating my daughter to put you back at the top of the reserved book list. ordered their meals. Which put a considerable damper on his ardor. had called him at work that Tuesday morning and asked if they might have lunch. “Marian. just so he can blow his cigar smoke on them. Mark had agreed. he’ll have her fired and replaced with someone else. Then he made it a point of getting all the books by your favorite authors before you do . Bellknap. and spoke quietly over plates of angel-hair pasta. “Mr. The thing was. If she annoys him.. sir. when I was badgering Julie to put you back at number one on the book list. For the first few months. “When you hear what I have to say. calm down. he has a majority of the library board in his pocket.” “It is. Oh Mark. he turned not to another woman but ever more deeply to his reading. Until Oscar Mandek and his damnable cigars made their appearances. every time he went to see her. “What’s the problem?” Mark asked. He could often see that his wife’s help might make a critical difference to desperate people and he would tell her to go do her job. His old friend. “Well. Mark put a hand over hers. she snapped at me. but only if she let him pay. “Maybe we’ll need a bottle. he’d visited Dorothy every single weekend. “I have something very disturbing to tell you. He found out it was you. Dorothy’s workload increased to fill her availability. “That’s not all.” Mark said.” Now. they worked it out that she would call him.” Up to that point. “that does make me want to order a drink.It was a memory he still cherished. he doesn’t even read novels. he’d been too angry to go back to work.” “You’re right. He learned from your borrowing records what you liked to read. Good old Marian “You were the one who made our library special long before Oscar Mandek came to town. Mark would go to visit and Dorothy would have to tear herself away from heart (and/or gut)-wrenching situations to be with him. Yesterday. the former head librarian. Dorothy never let it go longer than that. With his plans for the new construction and the book-buying program. She can call Oscar Mandek’s status pre-reserved all she wants but we both know she bumped you down for him and I don’t like it.. you’ll want one.” Mark grinned. if it’s as bad as all that. She said that Mandek has too strong a hold on things now to do anything that might upset him. I’ve been offered a live-in job. I think you’d better order a glass of wine. In time. After a long discussion at the end of one visit.” Mark frowned.” . In books. It turned out to be about once every three months. they’d both been content with sparkling water.
He’d spent the last two weeks thinking of little else. George pulled out an oral thermometer and stuck it in Mark’s mouth. Mumphrey. But not this time. He was thinking of how Mrs. So what I’d like to know.” Mark waited for the other shoe to drop. He’d turned the day-to-day operation of his stores to his senior pharmacist. Mandek wanted you to be put out in particular.Mark had no doubt who the prospective employer was. I just said my other people depended on me too much. bless her. returned to work. Mumphrey. but that would be an aggravation the hard-working woman didn’t need. rest his soul. friend. Just said to let him know if I changed my mind. and sat him down on the sofa. Mumphrey had a key to Mandek’s house. He wiped his fingerprints off the books before he re-shelved them. and after dinner tried watching game shows on television. He just couldn’t do it. He roamed the stacks selecting volumes of criminology texts and truecrime stories. He picked up the remote control. But Mrs. They gave him headaches almost as bad as cigar smoke. he was convinced he’d fall into the class of killer who only outsmarted himself. if I may say so. sir. after all — it wouldn’t be possible for him. George Haverford. He spun Mark around. as the more he read the more he became convinced that while it may in fact have been possible for someone to commit the perfect murder — there were such unsolved crimes. He tried to increase his drinking but that only upset his stomach.” “Thank you. Mumphrey. “No. he’d take the train into downtown Chicago where he’d go to the massive Harold Washington Library.” Mark told her. is do you want me to quit working that one day a week I do for Mr. All of his precautions were for naught.” “Yes. and physician. if I’d’a left them.” “Yes. glanced at Wheel of Fortune emanating from the TV. he stopped going into Chicago. walked him into his living room. He musta heard in my voice more money wouldn’t make no difference. Please continue with things just as they are. all that medicine outta your own pocket. He offered me more money than you can imagine. “Oscar Mandek. Lost in the throngs of people who passed through the doors each day. “I know it’d inconvenience all my people. he would read and read and read. Which could be a very convenient thing to have. More money than is right for the kind of work I do. Finding an isolated carrel. I didn’t mention you. Should he kill Oscar Mandek. When Mark didn’t immediately invite George in. Mumphrey. didn’t fail him. You. Day after day. Depressed. You have a fine sense of Christian charity. sir. sir. that last year he was with us. Nobody knew him there. “I told him no. He never made a note that someone might find. Mandek?” Mark knew he only had to say the word. Not that he hadn’t given the matter considerable thought. Mumphrey had children and grandchildren who counted on her income. Mrs. Mark would have agreed with that assessment. Tom Wilson. who gave Mr. standing there. he went unnoticed. He considered banging his head against the walls and was about to give that idea a try one night when his doorbell rang. He never borrowed any of the books: that would create a record. she could find a new client to replace Mandek. his reading had shown him that their number was not insignificant. Doubtless. but I got the feelin’ Mr. and clicked it off. Mrs. As Mark had decided to kill Oscar Mandek. He opened the door to find his neighbor.” In general. . and it would not be inconceivable for him to secretly make a copy of that key. But he also knew Mrs.
Sniffed. Mrs. “what would you prescribe?” “You’re to come into my office first thing tomorrow morning for a complete workup and —” George wrinkled his nose. I’ll be in to see you bright and early tomorrow. There was no end to the illicit information to be found in cyberspace. I’ve had 17 people call me about you in the past two weeks. “You missed your appointment for your annual physical. and ears.” he said. Mark knew for a fact that she despised tobacco smoke as much as he did.” George shook Mark’s hand. Got up from where he’d been sitting next to Mark and followed the scent like a bloodhound. He gave monthly seminars around the country on maximizing office efficiency and revenue. blood pressure.” “No?” “Well . He found exactly the information he needed from one of the library’s computers with an Internet hookup. “Temperature’s normal.” Ed was Mark’s other adjacent neighbor. He stood and said. “Monte Cristo. Ask me if I knew what the heck’s wrong with you. He opened the book. There were at least seventeen of them. for God’s sake!” Mark didn’t tell George that the whirling wheel had given him a crashing headache. Mark made one more trip to the Harold Washington Library. “Premium Dominican. Ed Greenlea even wanted to know if you were dying. despite your profession. That made Mark feel almost as good as what he had in mind for Oscar Mandek. “I don’t think I’m dying. just to be sure his surmise about his neighbor was correct. “I didn’t know George smoked cigars. “Well.” he said. Thank you for being a friend.” he asked. Mumphrey must have stuck it on the shelf when she cleaned up. eyes. He knew how he would vanquish his enemy. “I’m not your only friend. It had to be a month overdue by now. And this time he felt absolutely no worry about getting caught. Hell on the Half Shell. If you won’t come to me.He took the thermometer from Mark’s mouth and looked at the readout. Found no gross abnormalities.” Mark told his friend. He also spoke with George’s wife. doctor. “He doesn’t..” George said. and smiled. George was a wizard at managing a medical practice. what am I going to do?” Mark had completely forgotten about his physical.” That’s right. Mandek would undoubtedly have his library card revoked if he — An epiphany hit Mark like a thunderbolt. that there are treatments for that diagnosis?” “I didn’t think it was that bad.” Mark looked at the book his friend held. I can’t let myself go any more. Almost. Denise. He’d never had an overdue book before. “Mark.” “And you’ve forgotten. “George. .. you know.” he said to Denise.” “You were watching a game show. The trail led him to a bookcase where he pulled a volume from a shelf. “I didn’t know you still made house-calls. when he travels. He checked Mark’s pulse. you’re right. “Sorry.” Besides being a first-class physician. I’m just down in the dumps. sniffed again.
A classical guitarist played softly in the background. Dr. thanked him. Don’t want them to be late and have you take my plaque back. “Yes.. The occasion was catered. “When there is at least one state between the two of us. too. what’s this all about?” Mandek asked. Mark told her.” . “Something wrong . “I’m leaving for Wisconsin early in the morning. The evening was capped off when the library board gave Mark a plaque thanking him for his many years of dedicated service to the Worthy Public Library. “I’m going to buy a cottage in Wisconsin. the prospect of facing another maternal scolding. “Does Mark still get his library books before anyone else?” The head librarian turned red. Mandek. “Do you smoke cigars?” “Yes. Oscar?” “My pleasure. The plaque was presented to him by a smiling Oscar Mandek Mark shook Mandek’s hand. Would you please tell your mother?” Maybe that was the source of Julie’s distress. “Smart. “Oh. Mark could smell the cigar smoke on those volumes before he picked them up. but she publicly confessed.” “Look. I’ll be having a little gettogether at my place in a couple of weeks to say farewell to everyone on the board. They’re the only two patrons who’ve borrowed those books so far. Julie pretended not to notice the stink. and made a brief speech.” Mark said. “Have you taken up cigars?” “Never smoked one in my life. but he insisted on paying it. making sure he passed George Haverford before he handed them to Oscar Mandek. I let George have exactly one cigar. Glad to help. “I’d like you to be the first to know that I’m resigning from the library board.” Denise replied.” “Then Mandek’s the one.” Mark said. I hope.Denise elaborated.” Mark returned Hell on the Half Shell to the Worthy Public Library. one more thing before I forget. “You won’t mind returning these for me. “Except for Mr. I enjoy a fine smoke. sniffing. “If he gets his thrills sneaking a cigar. will you. George had become the center of attention by now. maybe he won’t sneak around with other women. I have two books to return.” “Sure. Haverford.” she said.” “Thanks. but maybe you can let people know in advance in case the mail is slow. He didn’t want Oscar Mandek to be otherwise engaged. Julie Keller offered to waive the fine on the book. yes.” “Oh. Then she gave him two more novels that he’d been expecting. no.” Mandek said.” George turned to Mark.. so I can be closer to Dorothy at least half of the year. So long as he showers and has his clothes dry-cleaned before he comes home. I’ll be sending out invitations. He turned to Julie Keller. It was as civilized a gathering as contemporary American society was able to offer. and he’s having a nice dinner with those doctors he meets at his speeches. he thought. Then he noticed George at his elbow. sounding truly dismayed.” Mark said.” He went to a bookshelf and removed the volumes.” “Very generous of you. isn’t it?” George looked at Mandek. Then he added.
“Of course.” The board. and even the caterers cast disapproving looks at Mandek. Mandek?” For a moment. Mark was returned to his rightful place at the top of the reserved book list. “If they’re illegal. He moved out of town within a month. Back to Table of Contents .” he said. though. Did you take these books to Mexico. and sniffed deeply. the lending period for him was doubled. Mandek looked like he was going to say yes. that six boxes of Cuban cigars were found at Mandek’s home.S. you can all come with me to my house right now and I’ll show you. And best of all his reading material was odor free. “The one smoking illegal cigars. I don’t smoke illegal cigars. If you don’t believe me. To accommodate the time he was now spending in Wisconsin. Mr. except Mark.” George grabbed one of the books Mandek was holding. I didn’t. He heard later. He invited her to his cottage and told her his family life was at risk. But that didn’t matter. “Definitely a Havana. In the eyes of the community. Who blustered back at George. He claimed they were planted there to ruin him. They’re legal there.” Everybody went. opened it. the guitarist. He even found a way to rekindle things with Dorothy. And no formal charges were ever filed against him. how do you know so much?” “I smoked mine on a visit to Mexico. law to be imported into this country.“The one what?” Mandek demanded. “and you don’t know what you’re talking about. definitely not allowed by U. he was deemed unworthy of Worthy. but there were too many eyes watching him far too closely for the lie to succeed.
A brief glance at his dugout showed Kilgore that Top had both of his fists clenched and was nodding his head rapidly. Kilgore wound up. and another in the seventh. Murray Aronson.” Turner gave his pitcher a pat on the back and left the mound. Aronson had no doubt what was about to happen. halfway to the plate. Worst of all from the home-team’s point of view. Every player on both teams was on the top step of his respective dugout. He knew the ump was looking for a way to toss him out of the game. Just like if he wanted to bean the batter. Kilgore’s pitch was in line with Cash’s head but it was so high Teddy Teeman had to jump to catch it. San Francisco’s third baseman.” the manager growled to Kilgore. Even so. Neither did Jack Cash.” “I know it. suddenly looked sheepish. into the dirt ten feet short . with a head the size of Cash’s. but Aronson didn’t have any grounds. Cash held his batting stance. “I’m countin’ on ya here. Aronson gave Kilgore the timeless command: Play ball. he had 11 RBIs. ready to charge out onto the field. Wish it’d worked out better for ya. Behind the plate. not so much as flinching. The Chicago players also retreated. frowned at the relief pitcher. Cash. Chicago manager. Kilgore could see the home plate ump grinning under his mask. Then they all broke out laughing and returned to their dugout.Chapter 4: High Heat Kyle Kilgore was supposed to throw one last big league pitch. Home plate umpire. The radar gun clocked the pitch at 101 mph. traveling at 102 mph. that was his own damn business. Chicago catcher Teddy Teeman made an open-arms gesture: Wanna toss a few warmups? Kilgore shook him off.” Kilgore muttered. Blood might actually flow. he was told to nail the sonofabitch crowding the plate. A pitch that fast would have killed Cash had it hit him in the head. focused. Shit. Nevertheless. stood at the plate. The beanball sign was still on. who crowded the plate in his customary fashion anyway.” “Yer a good kid. He took the toss of the ball from Teeman and picked up the rosin bag to take the sweat off his pitching hand. the Thursday night contest was the first of a four-game series between the two teams. If a pitcher didn’t want to loosen his arm. his mask up. including a grand slam. From the looks on their faces. “You got it. decided to send a message. Cash managed to leg out the first triple of his career. had already lit up Chicago pitching for four home runs that night: one in the first inning. Top. one that would keep Cash from beating up his pitching staff all weekend long. muttering and cursing. looking for a pitch to hit. and guys were boiling out of the dugouts while Kilgore was still in his windup. directing hard looks at Kilgore.” the pitcher replied. Topsoil Turner. Top wanted Cash hit with first pitch. “Stick it in his ear. trying to spot the pitch right on the batter’s helmet. Only now Aronson didn’t seem so worried. it was entirely possible this would be more than the usual baseball dustup. In the fifth inning. it should have been as easy as hitting the biggest watermelon at the state fair. All of the San Francisco players. two in the third. To his credit. Kilgore spat. He wasn’t supposed to throw a strike. a fast ball. Kilgore managed to put his next pitch. For the game. me too. With Cash leading off the ninth and having a chance to go into the record books with a fifth homer. the single-minded SOB. Jack Cash. one or two who’d already crossed the first-base line. “Yeah.
The San Francisco slugger finally acknowledged what had been going on. gawking.” Kilgore said. The only reason nobody got seriously hurt was because baseball players were more inept at fisticuffs than the Little Sisters of the Poor. too. I know Top wants this guy drilled with a fast ball but that don’t seem to be working too great. he’d be swinging and the ball would leave the park. Handing the ball to his pitcher. . The visiting team became even more amused when the fans openly urged their errant assassin: “Drill him! Drill him! DRILL HIM!” The thing that made Kilgore madder than anything else was that Cash let nothing distract him. If Kilgore somehow managed to find the strike zone.” and the laughter doubled. Teeman went back behind the plate. buying the drinks. What rule applied? The batter had already been awarded first base. But the game was called in San Francisco’s favor as Chicago was judged to have been the aggressor. Kilgore hated Cash more than anyone he’d ever known. For a stunned moment. The ball hit the screen 40 feet behind home plate on the fly. Kyle.” Kilgore was so mortified all he could do was nod. Did he now get second. He caught it as Cash was trotting along to first base. Didn’t matter that the count was 3-0. Some wiseass with a booming voice yelled.of the plate. as both Kilgore and Cash broke free of their trances at the same time and charged each other. either. “Listen. He called time and carried the ball out to the mound. and actually set up his glove behind Cash’s body. everyone remained immobile. Now even Kilgore’s teammates and the Chicago fans were laughing at him. You think maybe you could get him with a curve?” “I’ll try. “You don’t have to hit him on the head. Anywhere’d be good. too? Or did he stay at first. Topsoil Turner was too wrung out to climb the dugout steps to yank his pitcher so Teeman tossed a ball out to Kilgore. Hit Cash smack on the left side of his ass. Kilgore knew the whole thing would play on SportsCenter until Judgment Day. making the plunking penalty free? The umpires didn’t have to decide just then. Low and outside. He was still waiting for a pitch to hit. that and San Francisco being 14 runs ahead in the ninth inning.” “Yeah. “Intentional walk. But Kilgore’s curve missed. Teeman said. a renowned tightwad. Their teammates weren’t far behind. As for themselves. the Chicagoans were absolutely certain they would go out and kick San Francisco’s ass in the remaining three games of the series. The whole Chicago team went out on the town with Topsoil Turner. No one could recall a batter being beaned on his way to first base. He let fly with everything he had: 105 mph. It was such a rare occasion that even the two Southern Baptists on the team joined in hoisting a beer to Kilgore and wishing him well. Teeman fielded it on the short hop. “Yer damn lucky you didn’t hit me. I’ll step on his foot and spike him. Nobody had a radar gun on the throw but everyone agreed it got there in hurry. At that moment.” “You don’t hurt him too bad. got into his crouch.” Kilgore fired the ball in his hand and the whole park fell quiet. The San Francisco bench was rolling with laughter now. Topsoil Turner’s eyes were bugging out by now as raucous tide of laughter from the San Francisco side filled the stadium. He looked at Kilgore and told him. blinking back tears.
Then Kilgore himself was shown. Besides that. It hadn’t been that long ago that Kilgore had been celebrated for other accomplishments. a renowned tightwad of a team. Then he was brought up to Chicago in August. they were all talking about Cash getting drilled in the ass going to first base. Again. was given a try. He was sent down to Triple-A and then Double-A. Every other test known to modern medicine. the team used him in a promotional TV spot for the coming season. meanest gunslinger in the majors. but would pitch middle relief. he dominated opposition hitting. finished with 62 whiffs for the five games he pitched that season. a set-up man for the closer. The futility went on for most of the season. throwing nine complete games and six shutouts. showing one opposition batter after another futilely trying to catch up to his high heat. He’d been brought up in August the season before last. You could tell what the bastard was thinking: there was no telling where he might get beaned in this town. K after K.Nobody gave a second thought to the debacle of a game they’d just played. He went 24-3. On the strength of that performance. It was given every chance to return. His ability to throw a baseball where he wanted it to go had simply disappeared. Every pitching coach in the organization worked with him. He didn’t get out of the first inning in any of his four starts. Trouble followed on the first day of next season’s spring training. Possibly. all without result. barely 22 years old. And for that they thanked Kyle Kilgore. his fastball being Hell. the youngest. the . recording 271 strikeouts. signed the young pitcher to the richest contract in its history. When he returned to Chicago. his circumstances changed in two way. There was no reason known to the mind of man why Kilgore had so badly lost his control. Kilgore worked with everyone. just stared at the camera while his name and claim to fame appeared on the screen: Kyle Kilgore . Kilgore started the season in Chicago.. which included a $10 million signing bonus. Kyle Kilgore wouldn’t have hit the broad side of it. by mid-season he developed such a wicked curve that a sportswriter named it High Water. Maybe getting off the team bus. making as much money as he did and not being able to produce. he wore out every instructor who came his way. He worked tirelessly. Not wanting to take any chance on letting Kilgore ever get away from them. and even Caribbean voodoo. He didn’t say a word. Chicago. This was conceived as the least stressful situation a big-league pitcher could face. and he would only be brought into games when there was no runner on base and Chicago was at least three runs ahead. Further portending a Hall of Fame career. He would no longer be a starter. and as he was still young and strong and determined to return to greatness. he could have hit the ocean from a rowboat. He’d won all five of his starts. the fear. and more than that. They’d seen the disbelief on his face when it had happened. two legendary old-timers were even brought out of retirement to see if they could help. set a team record with 21 strikeouts in his first big league game. but he had. His first full season in the bigs more than lived up to the promise shown the year before. but nobody put him to that test. The guy’d be lucky if he ever got another hit in Chicago. The ad finished with a sudden rush of wind: another batter swinging and missing. If there had been a barn behind the diamond of Chicago’s training complex in Arizona.. The team reasoned Kilgore was adversely affecting their farm teams. His teammates had come to resent him. saying the least he could do was buy them a nicer bus to take to road games.
Maine. Cash getting drilled on the way to first base. Some of them would be traded ten times. Carrying drugs. Told himself that was just being smart. It was only because he’d worked so hard — and had offered to return to management every cent of his contract outside of his signing bonus. sure. He couldn’t afford to have anyone of value to the team face the music . only not in quite the way he expected. so that ought to be a pretty sure way of ending it all. he no longer had to be a renowned tightwad. from having driving privileges. however. he thought. All the other guys had a game the next day and. The gods of baseball. Bunch of dickheads. And it had.. When the moment came that Jack Cash had to be drilled for the good of Chicago. Not that anyone sat close to him. they left at midnight when Top stopped buying drinks. he couldn’t find the strike zone. he made his last pitch count. He looked around for a cab. so what? He had it and he’d tried to give it back. Some of them were bound for Cooperstown. Both strategies went for nought. States ought to exclude everyone in pro sports. He still had eight or nine hundred left in his wallet. Kilgore stayed on and kept drinking. He had millions socked away in solid investments. They would. He never had learned to swim. a move which the players’ union had refused to allow — that the team let him continue to dress for games and sit on the end of the bench. moved in their own mysterious ways. He was twenty-four. A compassionate barmaid eased him out the door at closing time. Kilgore took cabs. somebody had put an inscription on the ball. No longer a big-leaguer. being renowned tightwads themselves. jump off the Michigan Avenue bridge into the Chicago River. when they got behind the wheel. . He tipped her a hundred dollars. Speeding. Or a gun. being among the most superstitious people anywhere. He looked at each signature and imagined the career of the player behind the name.. He didn’t drive. His mom watched his money for him. there was no doubt in Topsoil Turner’s mind that whoever he sent to the mound would be in for a serious suspension and fine. rich. but the beer helped him come to grips with the gift the guys had given him. Baseball players. limos when he was going someplace fancy. strong as an ox. Top was sure fate had delivered just the pitcher he needed. For Kyle Kilgore. Made Top laugh every time he thought of it. figured that whatever Kilgore had might be catching. Not ever. Sometimes all of the above. and all he wanted to do was . coaches and owners included. And if he got fined a million bucks. a true symbol of everything he was leaving behind: a baseball signed by the whole team. The team bitterly accepted the fact that he was done as a ballplayer and it would have to eat his enormous contract. He didn’t even loosen up in the bullpen anymore. he wouldn’t. In addition to the names.team had flown in Kilgore’s mother from Bangor. Driving drunk. as the heckling he took from the fans was merciless. but what about Kilgore? He wasn’t going to throw another pitch for the team.. Oh.. Kilgore just couldn’t find the strike zone or come anywhere close. figuring if he had some real home cooking it might raise his comfort level. You couldn’t hardly open the sports section of a newspaper without reading about some asshole pro athlete getting into trouble in a car. not that he was much of a drinker. the lot of them. so no worries there. But all of them would get to keep on playing baseball at the highest level there was. but didn’t that make it even more likely he’d be able to bean the guy standing next to it.
he thought.” “Gimme yo money. too. “You hold back.. as if this was supposed to make it look more threatening. and ring. Other than being the only dumbass on the street besides him.. He turned around. Now. Give it up!” Kilgore squinted at the guy. He stopped walking when he saw the bald guy pointing a gun at him.” . you could figure out your other directions .” Kilgore was still laughing too hard to pay attention. “You’re not even black. That startled the robber and he jumped back.” Kilgore patted his pockets.. okay. What the hell? It was only . whitey? Ain’t you got it figured out. my money. “So.Only now he didn’t see a cab anywhere. too. he could always take the damn thing down with him when he jumped in the river. you bein’ robbed here? I’ll blow a hole in yo ass!” Kilgore laughed. what was it you want again. he slapped his thigh with his gun-hand. Only this one wasn’t around his arm it was around his neck. The lake was always to the east of the city. wondering if it felt sharp. Damn.m. You the guy I saw on SportsCenter tonight. “Okay.. honky. He held it out to the robber who took it with a look of suspicion.. The gun didn’t register as threat right away. you sorry sonofabitch. “Hey. Then he read the inscription and smiled broadly. To the east.. Until the guy fired a shot that whizzed by his head. And he had earrings in both ears . getting your throat tattooed.” Laughing now. He didn’t want to get shot.” He handed over his wallet. came up with the only other thing he had on him: the autographed baseball. he’d shaved his head.” The robber compressed his lips and turned his gun sideways. couldn’t he? He started walking. Flash-in-the-damn-pan ring.” the robber demanded. You look like this Iranian guy back home. watch. the ones that were legible. his fancy watch told him. even if it took a minute or two when you’d been drinking. He reached out to touch the tattoo. Well. But now he had Kilgore’s attention. I’ll give you what you want. “An’ that watch an’ ring. He started to read the names on the ball. that had to hurt. Kilgore finally got his bearings and figured out he’d been walking the wrong way. Looking at the time. Kilgore was too busy trying to figure out what kind of guy he was looking at. you Kyle Kilgore. Drowning he could handle. “The hell you think you doin’. and ring?” “That’s right. as long as he didn’t land on a boat going by underneath. “Got one already. where was it again? Oh. He squelched that impulse when he realized he might miss his throw and the ring would bounce away to who the hell knew where. The nice thing about Chicago was you could always orient yourself by remembering where Lake Michigan was. “Funniest damn thing I ever saw in my life. he thought. he noticed his rookie-of-the-year ring. Maybe the robber had control problems. waving his gun. I shoot you. He ought to take it off and throw it down the nearest sewer. Kilgore held up his hands placatingly. and recognized the ballplayers from his hometown team. four oh nine a. and once you knew where east was. watch. Come on. yeah. and one of those barbed-wire-looking tattoos. he supposed.. wondering whether he should dive off the bridge or just jump. “You got anything else I can sell?” the robber asked. He realized that the guy wasn’t bald. didn’t really matter.
Kilgore knew — he knew — he had his control back. He ran toward the guy.Kilgore considered jumping the asshole then and there. picking up the ball as he went. But he thought. he’d own baseball. he saw the damage his pitch had done. but it was stained. Only it couldn’t be in Chicago. Maybe even Hawaii.. shit! He’d go to trial for killing this guy. He dropped the ball back into his jacket pocket. But wait a minute. What was he going to do? He couldn’t stay away from baseball now that he was right again. he’d be starting on Opening Day. He didn’t care about his money or jewelry. It was as hard a pitch as he’d ever thrown. rolled the guy over. one that would put him above suspicion. They’d make a big deal about him hitting the guy from behind. You could see the impression of the ball’s stitches in his skin. A few of the names had gotten smudged. When he got to the body. Kyle Kilgore never could have made such a throw. too. He took his handkerchief out of his pocket — Mom always told him to keep a hankie on him. Lou Brock. though. God. he’d hire his own pitching coach. “You keep that ball. Damn. Make like. first of all. as if it had picked up oil from the guy’s scalp. It’d kill him. Suddenly. my man. And. as long as he was going to kill himself. Give the coach all the credit in the world. What with guys like Bobby Layne. Straight and true. Getting madder and madder. little by little. “You sho the hell earned it. a guy who could throw that hard. But if all of a sudden he showed he had his command of the strike zone back. Back to Table of Contents . There was no blood on it. and Phil Esposito. There was another reason. You’d never know when you might need one. with control. and rolled the robber back the way he’d fallen. As things stood. Pretend like he was working hard at getting his game back. too. still laughing. Dropped the sucker like he’d been shot. Go out to California. Far better than that. No question the guy was dead — and killed with a baseball. took back the stuff he’d handed over. he had the answer. What the hell did an Iranian know about baseball anyway? Before he could move. What would he do? Leave town. Caught the robber on the back of his polished dome. Then in February he’d decide whose spring training camp he’d show up at and start kicking ass. Nobody saw him.. Hell. the robber tossed the ball back to him. the robber turned and loped away. Kilgore wound up and threw the autographed ball. he’d crushed the guy’s skull. Kilgore watched him go. when he could have just let him go. though. and as SportsCenter had shown the world. Then he walked away. Just as the robber was about 60 feet away. everybody knew pro jocks always came into their own only after they left Chicago. He looked around. why not take this sonofabitch with him? Make it one less guy who’d be laughing whenever his name came up. Geez. no doubt about it. damn. the guy was helping him. Along about December. Nobody in sight. He covered his hand so he’d leave no prints. if it didn’t go right where he wanted it. That’d be too close for comfort.” he said.” With that. He’d be back in the bigs on Opening Day. then .
crying piteously as a jalopy with a bad muffler fled into the night. the home soon evolved into an asylum for young victims of mental illness. Originally founded as an orphanage by Arinda Hirsch. Shortly after Bunny and Sunshine’s arrival. In fact. She faked being a retard so she could stay with Bunny and take care of him. was just about right.Chapter 5: Bunny and Sunshine Bunny had a lesion on his brain. Sunshine. Illinois budget politics were about to turn him loose on the public. and the sole heir of Cincinnati beer baron Baltasar Hirsch. She only pretended she couldn’t read and had trouble talking. Illinois. The same kind John Wayne Gacy had. a severe beating was the most common cause. A handful of mega-producers consolidated their hold on the beer market in the mid-’80s and put Baltasar Hirsch and many other small-scale brewers out of business. Bunny wanted to be a black panther. Sunshine was judged to be developmentally disabled. More than anything else. underfed. . The latter two guys were better known. No child was ever turned away. The two of them had been left on the doorstep of the Mercy Home for Children in Vienna. She was the only person who could take care of Bunny. An unusually high percentage of the Mercy Home’s wards was able to overcome horrific starts in life and go on to become independent. she judged. In any case. ingestion of heavy metals such as lead from paint chips. Sunshine wanted to get her nose fixed. had a broken nose and two black eyes. they were wrapped together in a dirty yellow blanket. Brain damage in children can be the result of fetal exposure to alcohol and/or drugs. David Berkowitz and Kenneth Bianchi. or physical trauma. Sunshine was Bunny’s lover. philanthropic heiress Arinda Hirsch found her fortune dwindling rapidly. everything else on her was outrageous. Sunshine was nineteen or thereabouts. The actual felis melas kind. spinster. When the night watchman found Bunny and Sunshine on the front step of the Mercy Home. (pronounced Vy-enna). Or maybe their mamas had just been friends. More than anything else. Not long after that. She may have been his sister. Too many people neither knew nor cared that the formative brain was more easily bruised than a ripe peach. too. only an infant. Arinda was forced to do the unthinkable: turn her labor of love over to the state government. Bunny. Bunny was around seventeen. In the experience of the Mercy Home. respectively. Despite Bunny’s potential as a serial killer. Or his cousin. as the Son of Sam and the younger of the two Hillside Stranglers. registered nurse. way the hell down at the southern tip of the state. had a depressed skull. productive adults. Not the ‘60s revolutionary kind. Everything else on her. she was a natural born con artist. The only good thing about that was the same legislative knife-fight was going to deinstitutionalize Sunshine right along with him. and dehydrated. but her brain worked just fine. Both of them were unwashed. Until beer-drinkers everywhere opted for cheap mass-produced suds. The guiding principle of the Mercy Home was to provide first-rate medical care and unstinting love from a staff replete with advanced training and bountiful hearts. Hell. almost a toddler then.
Sunshine realized her name was a cliché by the time she was eight.Which was when it became the Wallace P. People who disposed of their kids generally beat them first. but having been beaten and abandoned before she was out of diapers. Despite its name change and agglomeration by the state. she asked Arinda for an explanation. Maria had light brown skin and long black hair. blue-eyed. Maria could speak two languages. Sunshine decided. things were never the same once the state took over. But Sunshine determined that she was going to learn Maria’s secret language. what a foreign language was. her eyes always grew wide and darted about madly as if she was expecting to be attacked from any point of the compass. she came to feel a lack of imagination in choosing her name was a small indignity to bear. . Which worked out okay as Maria did all her Spanish talking to herself. After Sunshine figured out that Maria wasn’t simply jibber-jabbering. Arinda remained the home’s director. But try as they might. American first. she could read and write in them. she’d also have Maria teach her to read and write. Sunshine wrapped her arms around him and pressed his head to her chest. Bunny got his name from his early form of locomotion. While she was at it. From the start. And wherever she went. He didn’t start talking until he was five. Arinda no longer controlled the admission policy. He didn’t stand up and walk until he was four. The two of them pretty much had the run of the place. No longer was a place found for every child. not a psychiatric residential facility for minors. too. operating under the aegis of the Office of Mental Health. The very idea that anyone anywhere spoke anything but American came as a revelation to Sunshine. Many of the decisions placing children elsewhere broke Arinda’s heart. the way a lot of the other kids did. The reason for that was simple. The director took great pains to explain to Sunshine. Department of Human Services. She was tall and thin. Plain and simple. Rather than crawl. People loved to have her around. Or left to fend for themselves. She continued to call it a home.U. and they tried hard.. It got so he could move faster that way than some of the other kids could run. The director of the Illinois Mental Health Resources Board decided who was placed in which facility. Yunis Psychiatric Residential Facility for Minors. If that went okay. Even with her broken nose. and many other things. were Bunny and Sunshine. either. Sunshine came to understand quickly what it was: a way of communicating that nobody else at the home knew. with a seemingly angelic disposition. where he could listen to the reassuring rhythm of her heartbeat. too. not knowing how smart she really was. American and Spanish. Watching her dismay. Sunshine learned to read from Maria with a Whip. because every time she held him. he scampered around on all fours like a rabbit. she’d learn to read and write Spanish. For one thing. But his fits of rage began when he was one. How Sunshine managed to keep her heart moving slowly and steadily enough to comfort Bunny was anybody’s guess. as most of the children called it. Bunny went. and according to Arinda was about two years older than Sunshine. Most of the staff stayed on with Arinda. at least in the early years. Arinda didn’t and she said there were no Spanish speakers on the staff. Sunshine was beautiful: blonde. Especially as she was well treated otherwise. Not Wally P.
they grabbed their asses and one dummy held his wienie in his hand. draw her arm back. how smart she really was. had as many scars on their backs and legs as Maria did. She never volunteered anything. Whatever it was.” Sunshine said. If you came up on her too fast. because Maria never talked to anyone unless they asked her a question first. With a nod of her head. trying to keep off to herself. Maria didn’t eat the pudding right away. All the other kids could identify with that. Sometimes. “can you keep a secret?” Maria looked away. Maria looked at Sunshine out of the corner of her eye. She wondered who had whipped Maria.. When it did..” The new boy was talking to himself not Sunshine. He charged them like a . She didn’t cower and curl up and cover her head like a lot of the others. Whatever was going on in her head had to run its course before she’d move again. she’d close her hand around it. and several half-bowls of pudding. and pretended they were statues. Sunshine had seen all of Maria’s scars when they were in the shower room together. she gobbled it up. she’d only answer what she’d been asked. who she wanted to whip back. But then most of the kids at the home were that way. Could be something only she could see. like a black panther running down a pack of wart hogs. she punctuated it with a sibilant. Maria never noticed a thing. hadn’t budged an inch. when Maria was walking around by herself. Starting that day. hunch her shoulders and look like she’d turned to stone. she nodded. Defense lawyers would have loved her. the one dummy running off with his wienie still in his hand. just like me. Maria was waiting for another beating. Could be a slender branch off a tree. “Tsssh!” Sunshine hadn’t understood what Maria was doing until one day a new boy standing close to her in the play-yard saw Maria and said. Sunshine thought that was brave. “So Maria. but a moment later the corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly in a ghost of a smile.She wouldn’t have to worry about Maria telling on her. well. Even then. effectively keeping all the other kids at a distance. too. The one place Bunny had to wait outside. In keeping with his preferred identity.. and finish with a flick of her wrist. “She took herself a good whippin’ or two just like me. bleating. After some time. Maria mostly walked around with her head down. they ran over to where she was. she’d flinch. Only they had their fingers in their noses and ears. Sunshine she decided to give Maria with a Whip half of her chocolate dinner pudding. With her head still down. Bunny walked a half-dozen steps behind. Sunshine fell into step with Maria as she walked about the play-yard with her head down. she would come to a sudden stop. She just made her body as stiff as she could and waited for whatever she knew was coming. One day. That was when Sunshine started thinking of Maria as Maria with a Whip. In her head. some of the serious retards decided to have some fun with Maria. Could be an old shoelace. Sunshine sent Bunny over to deal with the retards. snap it forward. . Sunshine was the most popular mental defective at the home. she’d look for something long and flexible to pick up. The idiots scattered. though. stood in front of her. Bunny roared as he descended upon his prey. too. And now she wants to give it back . Not many of them.. When they saw her freeze up in the play-yard. Each time she repeated the motion. but when Bunny pointed out where the gift had come from. She had Bunny take her bowl over to where Maria sat alone.
not like he was smiling. he’d only turned the page after Sunshine told him there might be other pictures of the panther further on. she found the picture of the animal captivating. Or thereabouts. The panther’s eyes: they were the same yellow-gold color as Bunny’s. She stalled Bunny. pointing at the black man. But he woke up as she approached his bed. That idea had scared Maria so much she got a knife from the kitchen and was going to cut her uncle’s thing off while he was sleeping. She’d seen hers. The women were all fat and disgusting and most of them drank even more mescal than her uncle. “Me. Bunny had no interest in learning to read. too. There weren’t. Told him he was too young to have his teeth filed. All black and sleek and strong with a mouthful of sharp white teeth. Bunny didn’t respond. but like he might gobble up anyone who turned to that page in the book. “That’s one scary-looking critter. It was a real close-up picture of a very black African man. Put a tail on Bunny. In it.. Come to that. pointing a finger at his chest. had been sharpened to points. and she knew the address they had for her uncle. the animal’s fur was the same color as Bunny’s hair. She didn’t want to watch the things they did but her uncle said she had to — so she’d know what to do when her time came. “Him.” It was clear what Bunny wanted: to have Sunshine file all his teeth to points. herself. But she knew intuitively what fascinated Bunny. The uncle.” Sunshine told him. Something that gave Bunny an idea of how he could look even more like the panther. Wouldn’t be hard for him. Seeing . you ever bit your tongue with teeth like that. one day when he was about seven he was given a book on Africa. him. He still had baby teeth. Maria told Sunshine that the home kept a file on each kid. then she’d just have to do the new ones all over again.. was the one who had whipped her all the time. of course. Sunshine didn’t mind. he settled on the man and turned to Sunshine. looking over his shoulder.” he added. Maria had confided. he’d made her watch when he was with one of his women. but he liked to look through the picture books people were always donating to the home. because all of his shiny white teeth. She’d gone to live with him when mami died. Man. every last one of them. More than once a staffer came by to make sure he was still breathing. He sat on his bed and stared at it for hours. Maria secretly began to teach Sunshine to read and write. American. was of a black panther. Finally. Sunshine was ten at the time. He looked from the picture of the man back to the picture of the panther. As luck would have it.” he told her. either. Bunny’s eyes grew big. “Me. And speak Spanish. He flipped back and forth for several minutes. But by then Sunshine had had enough time to get him to accept that she would sharpen only his four canine teeth. comparing the dentition of the man and the animal. but there was something almost as good. me. he found two pictures that would have a lifelong impact on him.Not long thereafter. Him. The first. The vampire look was something she could get behind. too. She didn’t care for the look. They’d fall out soon. he’d have been happy. A few pages later there was another picture that stopped him cold. Bunny hadn’t lost interest or forgotten the favor he wanted by the time his permanent teeth came in. The man had his mouth wide open. Her uncle had not only whipped her.
that sucked. Looked out for them that much at least. Paducah. Maybe she’d have Bunny do something. What it got down to. was that either Wally P. and brought her to the home. If that ever happened. Maria said Sunshine should look in her file. she was still a retard. the staff at Wally P. it was known that a certain percentage of the inmates of whichever institution was closed would be released when no place was found for them in other over-crowded facilities. she didn’t know what she’d say to their parents. Missouri. He just wanted to be rid of her. She tried to work out her feelings.U. A-B was way up at the top.U. Looked enough like one of them they had to be kin. They continued to let her wander where she wanted as long as she didn’t make a mess. was close to the floor. What had happened to Maria had been a lot worse. really. Beyond that. Look at Bunny’s. He simply took the knife from her. . S-T. in the end. The powers-that-be might have reconsidered had they known Bunny better. was not. Kentucky. in her file. Unlike Maria. too. threw her in his truck. had scared him badly. her file didn’t have any specific information on her family. but she figured what she learned about herself would tell her about Bunny. What had happened to her and Bunny. Sunshine put the file back where she’d found it and closed the drawer.” It was suspected that her parents had been teenagers either from a nearby town in Illinois or from one of the bigger population centers within a 100mile radius: Cape Girardeau. Luckily for her. or a medium security prison in Vandalia would have to go. were judged likely to be a much smaller threat to the public than the thugs in the prison. As far as the staff knew. it was unlikely anyone would have known of the Mercy Home as a likely place to abandon a child. She found her file. the file draw with her name in it. It was no contest. Evansville. too. The state government didn’t have money for both of them. Beyond that distance. The people in Vandalia loved their prison. Sunshine did just that. But in the end somebody had gone and put them in a better place. too. Indiana. they had the part about her black eyes and broken nose and Bunny’s dented skull. now that could read.U. recognized the likely death of any child continuing to reside with them/her and did what they/she thought was in the best interest of the offspring. well. The file suggested the teenage parents. So badly he didn’t even whip her. knowing without a doubt how she’d hoped to use it.Maria with the knife. She had been abandoned by “a party or parties unknown. She knew right where to find him. her uncle said he didn’t know anything about that. When asked about Maria’s scars. Only now she had decided to whip him first and then cut off his thing. took it out and read it. See what their story was. The guards at the prison were unionized. she wouldn’t have to reach up to one of the high drawers. But Maria wanted to see him again. She didn’t know what she’d do. though. and the denizens of Wally P. too. Sunshine didn’t make any plans to go looking for her mama or daddy. But she’d keep an eye out for anyone who looked like Bunny or her. She was mad but not like Maria. telling Arinda the crazy thing she’d tried to do to him. His address was in her file. the people in Vienna would be just as happy to see all those crazy kids sent somewhere else. or the mother.
however.” She gave Sunshine their stipends and bus tickets. if mostly boring. knew just what to say to each of them.” “Where?” Bunny asked again.” All the children at the home had received appropriately geared courses in sex education before they hit puberty. the state legislators provided a stipend of $500 to each formerly custodial person. a better chance to survive long enough to outlast any media interest in their plight. But with many of them. don’t ever worry about embarrassing yourself. But she kissed Arinda on the cheek and said the one thing she knew would comfort her. Mulgrew. The money also gave the alumni of Wally P. who never once broke character with Arinda Hirsch. too. it was in one ear and out the other. if you need to. She’ll meet you at the bus station in Chicago. and she’s looking for something for you. knowing that life had to be more than steamed vegetables and baked cod. got good. Thirty minutes later. . Mulgrew was the home’s former nutritionist. after her aunt had died and left her house to Mrs. young and old. “It’s a group that brings medical care to poor people around the world. Please be nice to her. She also arranged a place for them to stay.U.U. Bunny bared his fangs to show what would happen to anyone who messed with Sunshine.” “Where?” “I’m joining a group called Doctors without Borders. and held her hand for a moment. who will try to take advantage of you. The nutritionist had always seen to it that everyone at Wally P. Bunny and Sunshine started the 8-hour bus ride to Chicago. “You remember Mrs.” Neither young person understood. “Sunshine. “I got Bunny to save me. He bounced on his seat until Sunshine settled him down. she bought them bus tickets to Chicago. She works at a hospital now. I’m going. The first time since they were in diapers they’d been away from Wally P. She says she can get Bunny a job as a janitor. “She’s agreed to take the both of you into her home. you’re a very beautiful young lady. Arinda continued. food. “But I believe there are some at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Which seemed to be the case with Sunshine. “You stay here or you go. Sunshine. too?” Tears welled in the elderly woman’s eyes. On the bright side. Arinda Hirsch. All I can say is. Mulgrew help you. kick and fight. don’t do anything you think is wrong. She had moved to Chicago three years ago.” Bunny had a question for the woman who’d been his de facto mother. I’m sure you’ll be happy and safe if you let Mrs. Mrs. “There are no black panthers in the part of Africa where I’m going. and I’d be failing you if I didn’t warn you that there will be many men. Arinda knew all her children.” She looped her arm through his and held him close. “Oh. For Bunny and Sunshine. Run and shout.” Bunny’s eyes got big. Mulgrew?” Arinda asked. she was not above doling out Hershey bars every now and then.U. “Well.As a sop to their consciences for sending mentally damaged children out into the world.” she told Bunny. went the extra mile for each of her departing children. my first assignment is in Africa. She smiled as brightly and vacantly as she always did.
the driver had to wake them up after everybody else had gotten off. And the way he stared. He turned his cab north from the Loop. He also saw the boy’s demon-haunted eyes . So she turned to Bunny and asked. without luck. He knew immediately what Sunshine was suggesting. They’d slept the last two hours of the trip.. Something amusing.” he said between snarls. They couldn’t believe where they were when they stepped outside of the bus station. With his growling and his vampire teeth flashing many people jumped out of Bunny’s way. She remembered what Arinda had told them. “How about we go somewhere else?” “Where?” he demanded. Maybe the boy was a demon. seemed to have forgotten. “Go home. “We’ll take a taxi. He growled at anyone who got too close. not to other people. Bunny didn’t like any of it. He thought he could make his day with these two. Yokels! Maybe he’d drive them to Michigan first.” They didn’t have a home anymore. “The Lincoln Park Zoo. cars and buses whizzed past. Especially after the girl was foolish enough to let him see how much money they had. Wasn’t . crowds of people rushed by in both directions . and everything moved so fast. He wore an idiot’s grin each time the fare escalated.Chicago knocked them out... People were talking. half of them honking their horns. Mulgrew. He became even more terrified when the demon began looking back and forth from him to the meter. Sunshine had seen movies on TV. It was all so loud. he’d insisted that they show him they had enough to pay the fare. Whistles were blowing. the driver started to shake. At a construction site something big was going THUNK-THUNK. He would take the most direct route possible. “How we get there?” The way people in big cities like this on TV got anywhere. Then the boy turned his gaze on the driver. in his agitation. Also. Sunshine had no intention of leaving somewhere this exciting for any place of confinement — even a benevolent one — ever again. From the meter to him. tugging at her arms. Mulgrew was nowhere to be found. which only made him more aggressive. now she had the giddy feeling she was in one. He stared fixedly at it. Giant buildings were everywhere .. Sunshine turned away from the window and saw what Bunny was doing: looking back and forth as he’d done with the pictures of the panther and the man with the pointy teeth. “go home now.” Bunny’s frenzy ceased. The girl was busy craning her neck looking out the window at all the tall buildings. The cabdriver. he saw this in his rear-view mirror. But the boy pressed his nose to the bulletproof partition the first time he heard the meter click. And then stroking his chin as if he were the one with the beard. And Mrs. She pulled Bunny close. A man wearing sunglasses was playing a guitar.. a man with brown skin and a pointed beard. most of them into little phones. and then his teeth. something Bunny. and it was impossible not to get close in the midst of the rushing crowd.. Maybe drive them all the way to the Indiana line before heading back north to the zoo. Sunshine knew this wasn’t a good situation. took them for hayseeds immediately. as if he were seeing something magical.” Sunshine said. She looked around once more for Mrs.
All of a sudden a seal shot into the sky. and then he began to growl. Good to know Bunny would be as useful as ever to her. Sunshine read a sign: California Sea Lions. as close as he could get to the boy. Pretty much. which was sleeping on a rock. Sunshine wasn’t going to spoil Bunny’s fun with details. and then. Bunny stayed right where he was. Further on. She took an involuntary step backward. Couldn’t have Bunny growl too much or he’d wind up biting someone. the one that told him she wanted all his teeth out there with a low growl. it was going to be a different story. there were some cheetahs.. She followed maybe six steps behind him. She’d trusted the vendors not to cheat her. but she knew it wouldn’t be a concern for some time. Pretty darn close in personality. Sunshine didn’t care much for facial hair.. never taking his eyes off the beast. Getting everybody wet when they came down. they’d never seen anything like this. The panther’s head snapped up immediately. When they got to the zoo. The panther followed along. there was a lion. Bunny hadn’t raised much beyond peach fuzz on his face. She told Bunny what they were. She figured the driver wouldn’t cheat them now. The moat suddenly looked very narrow to her. Sure enough. Bunny was thinking how it would look on him. but in keeping with her cover she hadn’t taken the lessons too far. Sunshine bought them soft drinks and popcorn. There was a moat between them and the big cat. He said the trip was on him. . swimming around in the circles like brown darts. There was a big refreshment stand right inside the gate. Then he began to pace to his right. She’d learned to do some simple arithmetic at Wally P. The panther hopped down from the rock and came to the edge of his habitat. Out here. Making all the kids laugh.. Jumping up out of the water when they took the notion. Bunny’s nose led him unerringly to a big building that had ground outside of it that looked like pictures from the Africa book. It was interesting to her how people avoided him. His nose went up in the air and without a word to Sunshine he walked off. though. The popcorn was sold at a little wagon parked nearby. They both turned their heads when they heard a big splash.U. Meanwhile. Going around the back of the building and turning to the far side. A black panther. She’d have to learn fast. Bunny and Sunshine joined right in. Even the ones who hadn’t been paying attention knew when to look up and step aside.hard to figure out what interested him about the driver. staring at Bunny. Then Bunny seemed to catch the scent of something. That black pointy beard of his. there was a spotted leopard. she gave Bunny a little nudge. even Maria didn’t know her numbers any better than Sunshine. Bunny and Sunshine went over to the where a crowd of people was standing and looked over the rail at a large pool. the moat seeming to frustrate both of them. Sunshine gave him a smile and a thank you. there’d been no reason to do calculations at the home. There were three of them. Really. He didn’t. Entirely too close for Sunshine. Which the sign said was really a kind of leopard. They longed to confront each other. She joined him at the rail. Sunshine took her money out. He fixed Bunny with savage eyes that were identical in color to the boy’s own. it was the same way things had been at the home. They walked back and forth along the length of the panther’s enclosure. obvious as the growling from each became louder. She wanted to keep watching the sea lions — what she really wanted to do was jump right in the water with them — but she knew she had to look out for Bunny. too. They got out of the cab and walked through the main entrance to the zoo. Bunny stared at the animal. It came down and splashed water everywhere.
Adon pulled to a stop in front of the address Sunshine had given them. She knew what he wanted to do: unzip and piss right back at the panther. “I see lions every day when I’m a boy. Adon asked. Bunny was most interested in the Good Samaritan as he was a very black man. too?” Bunny started to vibrate. Bunny just barely dodged out of the way. On TV just this morning. Bunny trudged over and plopped down next to Sunshine. they were going to have to learn new ways. saw how he looked with his new cat’s eyes. The man from the zoo’s name was Adon Mbeneka. “That one big house. You save your money. Have to be very careful ‘round them fellas. “You like the big cats. Mbeneka was up to something. Having seen Bunny’s obvious joy in his mirror. Sitting on a bench on the far side of the promenade by now. but all she could she was someone who was being nice to them. maybe you and your pretty sister can come with me. “In Africa. He said he’d come to Chicago from Kenya. missy. He continued to bounce but only in one place. A jet of urine shot out across the moat. his teeth weren’t pointed. Sunshine paid the girl for her broken mirror. The man who told them they’d have to leave was nice enough to offer them a ride when Sunshine showed him the address for Mrs. “But this neighborhood. but that could always be arranged. he cocked a rear leg.” He turned to Sunshine. Mulgrew that Arinda had given her. He ducked his head to get a better look at the building. I like to see you at zoo again.Finally. yes?” Bunny nodded furiously. gestured for him to calm down. Sunshine looked to see if Mr. but as he did. lady still dead. though. she shook her head at him. Sunshine.U. She remembered what Arinda had said about men. But she’d bet there’d be others who weren’t nice at all.U. They stayed at the zoo until closing time. That kind of stuff might fly back at Wally P. “I go home once a year. my new young friends. lady got run over by police car near here. he let go with such a blood-curdling roar that the girl dropped her mirror and a half-a-dozen people standing nearby dropped their cups of soda. Not for another ten months. Be very careful. police very sorry. Out here. up front. Police chasing two men who rob store. all right. The girl working the stand showed them how to moisten the lenses and put them in. all his fun spoiled. began bouncing from one side of the vehicle to the other. When Bunny saw his reflection in a mirror the girl held up for him. she knew.” Bunny growled fiercely and Adon chuckled.” Bunny. “You like Africa. Robbers get away. it not so good. When he saw that meant nothing to his passengers. he added. It was good to know there were people like that outside Wally P.” Bunny almost swooned. She also said you had to take them out before you went to sleep or they’d hurt your eyes. alone in the back seat of Adon’s car. He felt a lot better a little while later when Sunshine found a gift stand nearby that sold nonprescription cat’s-eye contact lenses. Then he laughed and took a quick look over his shoulder at Sunshine. killed dead. He turned his back on Bunny.” . I show you cats that don’t have moats and bars around them. True. the panther realized the futility of the situation.
He reminded her of a janitor at Wally P. Bunny stood at her back. She gave the guy the note Arinda had given them.U. The guy bobbed his head. The guy said. watching for the approach of any form of threat. Jerk got arrested. . got carefully to his feet. She asked him.Sunshine pressed the doorbell. All of them the same. a boy who could barely feed himself. he said. For messing with one of the kids. Sunshine counted the televisions: twelve of them. “They fell off a truck. “What the hell is that?” “We was told to come here. the only one who’d ever gotten fired from the home. Sunshine had been in the room when Arinda was talking on the phone to the police. “You’re a couple of retards from the home where Aunt Janice used to work. huh?” Sunshine didn’t reply. Mindful of Adon’s warning. “Listen. But the kid has to get lost. Their new host’s face was contorted with fear as he got his first good look at Bunny.” “And none of ‘em broke? Or is that why they got no sound?” Sunshine saw him look at her. who was still looking the other way. Bunny got off of his intended victim. too bad. painting his face with blood... thanking Mrs.” He reconsidered as he looked Sunshine up and down. From his perch high in a corner of the room. A black panther in a tree eating some kind of animal it had dragged up there. swallowing. Sunshine stepped inside and closed the door behind them. Sunshine saw someone peeking out from behind curtains hanging in a window to the right of the door. After a moment. “Well. his gaze went from one screen to the next. He was older than Sunshine but not by a lot. “Who the hell’re you?” Sunshine played dumb. all of them showing his alter ego enjoying his meal: ripping flesh. but real big TVs with flat screens and the most real-life intense pictures Sunshine had ever seen. The guy Bunny had attacked had pushed himself up to his elbows. Not the kind they had at the home. He snorted when he finished. caught the guy’s tone and started a low growl. All of those TVs and not a sound was coming from any of them. Miss Arinda pressed charges. The new creep asked. A thin scraggly-haired guy stood in the doorway. Bunny. I got someone coming to buy those sets.” Bunny whirled and pounced. chewing. For his part. I always like a good-looking girl who’s not too smart. the two of them sliding along a polished hardwood floor. “Where’d you get all those fancy TVs?” Not looking at her. went into the living room and climbed up on a bookcase.” Sunshine said meekly.” Sunshine said. Bunny might have ripped the jerk’s throat out then and there — except he was distracted by what he saw in the adjacent living room. The guy’s lips moved as he read the note. too. The place is mine now and you can’t. Mulgrew for agreeing to take in Bunny and Sunshine. Then footsteps approached and the door opened. Aunt Janice got run over by the cops this morning. maybe you can. tearing tendons. knocking the creep flat on his back.. like she might be joking him or something. The space was filled with rows of televisions. Can I get up now?” “Long as you’re nice. “Yeah? Well. and was looking around waiting to see if his reprieve was only temporary.
” Curtis thought this girl was even better looking than he’d first thought. “Who’s the broad?” the man with gun asked. “Hell if I know.” The gun swung toward her and she added.” .U. right. “Look behind you.. mister. “You were supposed to bring cash not rip me off.” he shrugged. But she gave it to my aunt. See how much money he’s got for you.” A loud roar came from the living room. let him in. Sunshine heard a sharp cracking sound and wondered if that was how it sounded when her nose got broken. The man with the gun saw the black panther on all the TV screens.” He herded Sunshine and Curtis into the living room. The roar came again. Bunny. Curtis?” Sunshine had been in town less than a day.” He waited for Sunshine to draw the obvious conclusion. Well. believe me. the doorbell rang. I know.” Sunshine relented. You think I’m some kind of retard?” “Not even that smart. Now. “No! Don’t do that.. — which had seemed like all the money in the world at the time — wasn’t going to be nearly enough here in Chicago.” “Yeah. Curtis? The one come to buy the TVs?” Curtis nodded.“This is my house. Sunshine said. and since I had my gun with me.” “That’s a shame.” Sunshine asked the obvious next question: “You gonna make a lot of money selling all those fancy TVs. anyway?” “Curtis Mulgrew.” the man said. When he looked back. but she already had the feeling that the money she’d been given back at Wally P. it looks like I’ll have to take care of blondie here. “Well. “Damn. Before Curtis could answer.” Sunshine said. he got a gun shoved into his nose. “You was supposed to be alone. huh?” he asked with a smile. “That the person you was expecting. too. “I did bring cash. “and. sorry to shoot and run but I got a truck to load. He looked back over his shoulder at her as he opened the door. So..” “You want me to call Bunny?” Her lips started to form his name.” he said. and a whole lot smarter.. And as you can see. “Used to be my grandma’s.” Curtis replied. “Bunny ‘n’ me got nowhere else to go.” He pointed the gun at Curtis first. She saw a big man with a shaved head and blotchy red skin push Curtis back into the hallway and kick the door shut behind him. “Now. “Now. Let’s go take a closer listen. that makes the hair stand up on my neck.” the man said. I’m using it to do business. my aunt’s gone so it’s mine. Should’ve been mine when she died.” Curtis said. “That oughta bump the price. “What’s your name. “Got surround sound. “but on the way over I remembered how much I hated your freakin’ guts.
“No. Bunny hopped off his own game animal and sat down tailorfashion to watch the rest of the show. but as his knees hit his prey’s chest. Bunny was already in the air. Made some money. Bunny.” she told him. She felt Bunny’s hands go around her. Couldn’t leave ‘em in at night. He handed Sunshine her share. “Let’s be gentle tonight. he’d brushed just fine.” Sunshine said. You got room for us now. The robber screamed and dropped his gun. peeing and brushing his teeth. Take out the trash. “Good. Liked the way he’d growl in her ear. too. Sunshine picked up the gun and said to Curtis. “We did okay today. Bunny didn’t have an angle on the guy’s throat. Sunshine managed to find a remote control for the TVs. Back to Table of Contents . Turned out. Got Curtis to see things our way. after eating that guy’s ear and all. He knew he had to be real clean before they snuggled in together. he blacked out.” The growl immediately changed to a purr. Which came off his head like a niblet off a corncob. Saw the zoo.” Curtis found cash in the robber’s pockets and divided it evenly. The horrified victim looked up as Bunny chomped his flesh. A narrator with an English accent was explaining how long the panther’s meal would keep him satisfied. fangs bared. He was one strong boy and there were times she liked all that strength no end. don’t you?” Curtis bobbed his head. Make it into two even piles and then drag him out of the house somewheres. She’d told him she would send him right back if she didn’t think he did a good enough job with his teeth. mouth wide. But she had to go back into the bathroom with him to get those cat’s eyes off. He gently licked her chin. Bunny was in the bathroom. Found us a place to live. But not tonight. Sunshine turned off the TV and the light. returning sound to the dozen sets. Only with a lot more blood. the girl at the zoo had said. When they got back into bed. “I’ve got some thinkin’ to do. Being eaten alive was too much for him. cat’s eyes glowing. his teeth fastened onto the robber’s right ear. I think we’re gonna have ourselves some fun here. “Why don’t you find out how much money that fella has on him. he started to give the other to the oblivious Bunny.That got the guy to turn around and look. that’s for you. She held him close. Curtis stood watching with glazed eyes. “for letting us stay here.” Bunny roared. Then he fell asleep with his head on Sunshine’s chest. She hit the mute button. leaping from above.” Sunshine lay in a great big bed watching one of the TVs she had Curtis bring up.
The stalled vehicle came into focus. He had about five seconds to decide whether he should see if somebody was in the Porsche and needed help. it stuck out almost sideways from the car. to keep body and soul together. Its front end was on the right shoulder but its ass end stuck out into the number one lane. The simple thought of having to lend a hand to someone irritated him. Damn thing would have been a traffic hazard if there’d been anyone else on I-94 at three a. Jeff blinked an hour or two of fatigue out of his eyes. then he approached the Porsche carefully and with his cell phone in his hand. all right. . He was whipped. Or explain it to his sister. Terri. that early autumn morning. either. positioned his Dodge Magnum to shield the disabled vehicle from oncoming traffic. as if she expected something bad to happen. Fast enough to splatter Jeff up the highway for a mile. His lane. Then his heart settled back into his chest and with a grin he realized that a road-rage duel would really put him in a bad spot. Sonofabitch. He took a look to make sure no other psycho was bearing down on him.” Jeff said loudly enough for her to hear. “You look like you could use some help. and so close to home and his soft warm bed. He also . Was the guy drunk. Guy had come out of nowhere. fancy and black. his job. He could see her watching him in the driver’s side mirror. He switched on his emergency flashers — and wondered why the Porsche’s driver hadn’t done the same. Not that there was any at the moment. Sam. She had a scarf on her head and was wearing sunglasses but he got the impression that she was about his age. close enough to make Jeff flatten himself against the Magnum. He was about a half-mile back when he saw what the problem was. Wouldn’t do for him to breathe his last by the side of the road. The sudden roar of a motor reached his ears and a car whizzed past.Chapter 6: No Good Deed. He thought you usually didn’t see a car like that broken down at the side of the road. her posture grew more rigid. As he drew near. Wouldn’t help the disabled Porsche driver either — if anyone was in the sport car. A woman sat behind the wheel. especially on a six-figure sport car. Jeff thought that’d bring you up short. On the other hand. and his nephew. Five or ten years from now. Jeff Marsh was 14 hours on the road and ten minutes from home when he noticed the car up ahead. He’d stopped because he hadn’t wanted to read in his morning paper that some unfortunate motorist had expired due to his neglect. Beat him more senseless than he already was. He was tempted to jump in the Magnum and catch the bastard. early thirties. The rear wheel on the driver’s side had all but come off. A Porsche Turbo Carrera.m. The car was a two-seater: something foreign. But he pulled over anyway. Certainly not so it couldn’t make it all the way off the road. narcoleptic. She kept looking the other way. The guy had to be doing eighty. dead of a heart attack? As Jeff stepped out of his car. he got the uneasy feeling he might be walking into something bad here. . Wouldn’t want to own up to that one. But how the hell had it happened? Somebody had changed a flat and hadn’t screwed the lugs back on tight? That was almost too stupid to believe. Terri and Sam depended on him. gripping it with both hands. She turned her head away as he peered in her window. had four lanes to himself and he’d almost nailed Jeff anyway. He got no response. A car he’d considered buying for himself.
he finished it.” Without looking at him or speaking. You could simplify things. Jeff’s knees went rubbery. The support staff. but he wasn’t. Must’ve been terrifying for the woman when the wheel started to come off. “She wants me to hold her watch till she can get back to me back tomorrow. He considered leaving Miss Congeniality to her lonesome now that help was on the way. “You have a jack and a lug wrench?” he asked. “What the hell are you talking about?” . trying not to wince. he asked. too. Turning back. She nodded vigorously. being the one who made the call. I’m afraid to take it. looking away from him. Which was perfectly acceptable to his employer as he generated more sales than anyone else in the office.” he said. got a flare out of the back. “I’ll put a flare out. “It was a real pleasure. he asked.had the feeling maybe he’d seen her somewhere before. but still didn’t look at him. “You kidding? It’s solid gold.” Jeff handed over his credit card. Jeff. But nobody was there. He’d slept in. “I’ve never met a movie star before. Has jewels in it. maybe someone playing a joke on him. I’d have to sell my truck to make good. and ignited it. He slid into the Magnum and called the motor club. they all stared and grinned liked they’d caught him with his pants down.” For a second. Could explain her attitude: scared shitless. “You believe it?” the tow-truck driver asked. He was being fired and everyone was happy about it? Then Dave put a hand on his shoulder. the watch and the band.” he said. the other sales guys.” he said.” Jeff went back to his car. the regional manager. Glancing back at the cockeyed rear wheel he saw that idea wouldn’t work anyway. It wasn’t cheap putting a Porsche on a flatbed. “Tell her she can send the check there. Pulling back from Dave. Jeff shook himself. Dave Taradash. The woman in the Porsche had forgotten her wallet. He hoped she wouldn’t stiff him. “Give oncoming traffic plenty of warning we’re here. Jeff didn’t get to work until after lunch the next day. He signed the tab. too.” Jeff gave the guy his work address. I lost it. stepped forward and handed him an envelope. Only one of the lug nuts that had held the wheel onto the car was still in place. she shook her head. But he hated to leave any job undone. So he was more than a little surprised when everybody stopped what they were doing and looked at him as he came in.” She just sat there.” “Watch won’t cover the bill?” Jeff asked. so she can repay you. “nice talking to you. “What?” His boss. explaining the situation to Jeff. even his boss. “Maybe I can put your wheel back on. “You want me to give her your address? You know. “Okay. But this wasn’t the time or the place to raise that possibility. He looked over his shoulder to see if somebody had walked in behind him. They said they’d have a truck out to him in 15 minutes. if you’ve got your wallet on you. “Want me to call the motor club?” he asked. If he started something. Dave said. rubbed his tired eyes while the driver wrote up the tow charge. The rest were God knew where. Turned out to be a good choice.” he said. thinking he had to be dreaming.
He never drank at business meals.” He raised his glass to salute her good fortune. The secretaries laughed again.. He continued.. but he found it hard to blame people for being drawn to his hostess. too. Jeff thought. “ Dave agreed. Then. “You’re not married. Made him want to hold her hands. unless it was champagne to celebrate a deal. Jeff had to keep himself from leaning forward. that’s the important thing. if you’re not the type who’s starstruck.. I thought it might fly apart. Of course. her phone number so she can say thanks personally.” he said. He talked to everyone who touched my car. you came through it okay.” she said quietly. her eyes still haunted by the memory. but he promised to contact Porsche North America to investigate the matter and see how they could make it up to me.” he told her. Hollywood’s number-one heartthrob. They all swore they’d maintained the car completely to specifications. “The whole car was shuddering. I’ll be happy to talk to her again. She seemed to know what he was thinking. too. Seemed to Jeff she was checking him out. and if he couldn’t come up with something more original than that he’d do better to keep quiet. After the contract had been signed. the one in the broken down Porsche . But Dave explained..” She looked back.. what . “Who wouldn’t be. Couldn’t be real. before the maitre d’ posted two busboys to keep the riffraff at bay. “and she can act. “. it wasn’t a dream. “It was horrifying. She said there’s a check in that envelope to reimburse you for the tow charge. “Let’s see if the check’s good. Jeff hadn’t liked the intrusions. It helped that he’d seen her when she’d been resolutely withdrawn.” she said.” It all seemed like a big joke to Jeff. Not only was the check good.Everybody laughed. He felt he ought to be as careful with Johnnie Reed as he was with a client. Along with a thank you note. The owner said his people were the best. “Yeah. But he didn’t know here well enough to touch her. And .” The sales guys did a drum roll. She’d been maintaining almost unblinking eye contact with him until he said that. More like. classic features. tell her everything would be all right.” The sales guys howled like wolves.. flawless skin. she looked away. like last night.” “Well. was he an acceptable physical specimen? They were interrupted half-a-dozen times by people stopping by their table to ask for autographs. are you?” . She asked. Not so much like he was hot stuff. “The woman you helped last night. oval face. She looked over her glass at him as they sipped.. Johnnie Reed was a stunning woman. that was Johnnie Reed. “I’m sure you thought I was perfectly horrible last night. it was a Felini film. “I thought you were scared. Jeff took a sip of water. almost losing a wheel off your car.” “You talk to your mechanic? See what the problem was?” “I talked to the owner of the dealership. Johnnie Reed insisted on taking him to lunch to express her appreciation. Underlying her physical perfection was an energy that acted like a gravitational field pulling lesser bodies into orbit around her. Okay.. She was drinking water. Dark hair. Clinked her glass against his. too.
phone number and they left it at that.” “At the moment?” Johnnie asked.” “Wow. I don’t meet many of those. man. become a dentist.” “But?” “But about a year ago she told me what she’d really like to do is go to dental school. unless you’d really like to give it a shot.” He’d seen she’d looked for a ring. Terri took care of me for a long time. “An honest man.” She gave him her L. “What’d you have in mind.” he said. maybe by as much as 50 percent.A. I’m the guy who persuaded my sister to leave her asshole husband.” “That would be you?” “Yes.” “Okay. The one where she did the orgasm-in-the-deli scene. meant as a question.” “You mind if I ask how much your job pays?” Jeff laughed. got a steady job. “Am I being interviewed for something here?” “I’m curious. and took care of her son. Wasn’t hard to see she belonged up on a movie screen.A. A guy would have to be a blue-ribbon fool to hook up with an actress.” Johnnie Reed laughed. “I was going to ask you if you’d like to come to L. finish sooner. “I made a little over 100K last year. Not acting. “Usually cheerful but not gay.” Phrased as a statement.” She gave him the big-screen smile again.” she said with a smile. She studied to be a dental hygienist.” he replied. she could fake you right out of your socks. with me.” “Our parents died when we were young. I told her go full time. Told her I’d take care of her until she got back on her feet. Half the guys in his office would have left their wives for the chance he was being offered.” “Yeah.” “But you’re not gay. have her own practice.” Johnnie gave him a thoughtful look. I’m on pace to do better this year. An actress was any good. I do have two dependents at the moment: my sister and her son. And while it’s true I’m neither married nor gay.” He was curious.” “Maybe I’ll accept. “Never been?” “No. Maybe I’ll ask you to escort me to my next premiere. She had a plan to go to night school. All you had to do was see Meg Ryan in that movie with Billy Crystal. “Have you seen any of them?” “No. But there are things a smart. though. It was a nice bump for his ego. “Maybe you can send me a couple of tickets to your next movie. But I can see your responsibilities are here. and she and Sam could stay with me again. “Yeah. “I’d like to know something about the man who came to my aid. You’re some brother.“No. energetic guy can do. I’d take care of their expenses. . for me to do in Los Angeles?” “Movies. If he knows somebody. but he didn’t get carried away by the whole thing.
“Woo. Jeff came home and his sister. but he has family obligations back home. Sam called me to come watch. woo from me. “What’re you doing watching that show?” he asked. If he wasn’t feeling like Billy Crystal right then.” His sister sounded calm about it.” the actress said. if you see this. poking his head out of the family room.” It all would have been pretty overwhelming . “His name is Jeffrey Marsh. I definitely want him to do that. The woman interviewing Johnnie came back on and said. Before I said goodbye to Jeff. and I guess he is kind of handsome . “He’s a sales executive with Keller Custom Plumbing Supplies.” Jeff wondered if Dave got her to throw in that free plug for the company.. who was reading one of her text books on the living room sofa. Left no doubt in Jeff’s mind that Dave Taradash had gotten to talk to Johnnie Reed one more time.” . too. still not believing.m. I did.” Terri kissed her brother’s cheek.” Terri told him. More like she knew something he didn’t. “Come and see. Now that I’ve had time to think about it. Not a welcome-home smile. “Yes. there are. Thing was. there was a guy skulking around the house a minute ago. It came from his nephew.. You’ve got my number. like the whole thing had been recreated.” Sam explained.” Now Johnnie had the screen to herself. the car’s rear wheel all but fallen off.” Sam waggled his eyebrows at his uncle and said. “What?” Jeff asked. They showed a picture of a Porsche on a flatbed tow truck. “So there are good men out there. I tried to bring him back here with me. “He’s a doll.” the blonde said.” “They tell you what’s coming on before they show it. “He might have had it in mind. “As frightening as that was. but as soon as he heard your name mentioned. A good man.” The look on Johnnie’s face was one of adoration. Like in his office the other day. looked up at him and smiled.” Johnnie looked directly at the camera. “You were on TV tonight. please give me a call. He gave her a look. Terri got up and took him by the arm. It was his company picture.” Inset next to Johnnie a picture of Jeff appeared. and I respect him very much for that. Uncle Jeff.. he started recording. Johnnie Reed was being interviewed by a blonde woman who was very sympathetic to the star about the automotive mishap she’d suffered on her visit home to the Midwest to see her family. “Jeff. “Really. I understand you met a very handsome man who helped you out in your hour of need. The three of them went into the family room and watched. but her words brought Jeff fully awake. it looked like a different Porsche to Jeff. Jeff was on the road again the following week when Terri called his hotel room at 1:45 a. You were on Entertainment Nightly. waited for the punch line. told him I could help him find a good job in the business. “Woo. woo. “He try to break in?” Terri said.” the blonde said. “You’re not going to let him get away are you?” “Well. I told him maybe I’d ask him to escort me to my next premiere. before I let off a round. “Yes..A couple of nights later. “Jeff.” the 10-year -old told him. Show biz.
“Make that later today. I confirmed that this morning. Maybe you could break down and give her a call. “Not—” “No. he hung up. Tonight.” He’d never have left Terri and Sam alone otherwise. They’d discussed it and went to a gun dealer. “I’ll stop by the office on the way home.” “The state’s attorney said she’d give us 24-hours notice of Gerald’s release. “Couldn’t be Gerald. First things first. “I’ll cut my trip short. but hearing about this guy at your house last night. I didn’t think too much of it at the time. “I’ll be back tomor—” He looked at the clock. But I might have killed a few impatiens. All but telling him. Louise took a call for you yesterday.When Jeff had taken Terri and Sam in the first time. Anything else I should know?” “Got another gift from your girlfriend today. It was like he didn’t believe her. you fired into the air. Terri signed up for a weapon-safety class and did range practice. “Were you trying to hit him?” Jeff asked.” “Yeah. she’d been so jumpy about leaving her husband she’d wanted to buy a pistol. “Too dark.” Meaning. “Somebody was creeping around my house last night. Guy got abusive when she told him you were out of town. Only Jeff hadn’t joined his sister in taking up the gun. he’s still in jail. get Louise to check my calendar and set up new dates. you might kill somebody a half-mile away. Johnnie Reed. Jeff had been afraid she might shoot him by mistake if she had a gun. that’s what I thought. Reed to stop calling all the time. “He’s not due out ‘til next week. should Gerald ever come anywhere near them or Sam again. should he feel the need. told he’d be back ahead of schedule. “but can you get Ms.” You fired into soft dirt. “Seemed to scare the bastard off. no harm.” “Don’t bother.” Jeff agreed. I’ll call the clients I couldn’t see this trip. She thought it was some crank.” “What?” “Never thought I’d say this.” “The caller didn’t leave his name?” “You kidding? When I got on the line. he could blow Gerald away.” Jeff called Dave Taradash from the road. was the first time she’d ever shot at anything except a paper target.” “Then who?” “I don’t know. though. Then she bought a LadySmith revolver. it gives me a bad feeling. but I thought what if it’s a photo album? Nudies or something.” Terri said.” Dave told him. A bad joke or something. “You open it?” he asked. and you just reminded me. could it?” His sister’s deranged ex. apologize. checking to see if you’re back yet.” “Yeah.” Jeff told his boss. “Sam wanted me to.” The prosecutor had also told Jeff privately that she’d give him and Terri considerable latitude in any self-defense claim they might need to make. be home tomorrow afternoon. though.” . me too. But you can do one thing for me. That okay?” “Yeah.” “Sam?” “Slept right through it.
Then he called the people who’d urged him to return Johnnie’s affection. The prison where he was being held was so overcrowded cons were being let go the minute the law allowed. It had to really get under Cody’s skin to know Johnnie was chasing after a guy who sold plumbing supplies. Johnnie Reed had entered his life a little more than a week ago. calling him at the office. And once more Jeff had been quietly advised that his right to selfdefense would be honored in any imaginable circumstance. he had a nut creeping around his house. when he pursued Johnnie Reed. confrontation was never long in coming. Now. More than that. the madman had to be even more pissed now that Johnnie was making such a big deal about Jeff. If you didn’t run from them. Not even after his name hit the newspaper gossip columns and morning radio shows. he still didn’t believe it. Jeff and Terri sent Sam to stay with a family friend and waited. He was reaching too high. Didn’t always result in a sale. It wasn’t long before he learned what Johnnie’s publicists had kept private. Sorry they hadn’t gotten a full 24 hours notice. Learned every last fact that was available about a prospective client. a guy named Cody Darton. . What the hell’s wrong with you anyway? The most beautiful actress in Hollywood is practically begging you to get in touch. Of course.Jeff hadn’t taken Johnnie Reed up on her invitation to call her. Cody showed up at Jeff’s house the sixth night after he had returned home. The state’s attorney had called that afternoon to tell them Gerald was going to be released at midnight. But Terri’s ex had been warned once again to stay away from his former wife. Jeff read everything he could find in the public record about Johnnie Reed. He told them a little bit about himself. almost home. but apparently he was something of a celebrity himself: a NASCAR driver who won an occasional race and moonlighted choreographing car-chase scenes for movies and TV. Tailored his approach to suit the needs of the person with whom he’d have to deal. “Jesus. Thing was. One of the reasons Jeff was so good at his job was he always did his homework. Like he was letting them play matchmaker. where he’d first seen Johnnie’s broken down Porsche when he made the connection. That was the thing about stalkers: they couldn’t stay away. The star did indeed have a stalker. but his batting average put him up in the all-star bracket. He was passing the spot on I-94. She was siccing her stalker on him. the lunatic had intended that he’d be the one who came to Johnnie’s rescue. Thought he was being set up for something. Jeff had never heard of him. all of a sudden. asked for hints about her. you fool. Since then she’d made a public show of pursuing of a guy who’d done nothing more than call the auto club for her. Then he thought of something else and muttered. That was why the wheel had almost come off. though. Which made it a great day. Which explained why he was so pissed Jeff had stolen his Galahad role. Jeff call Johnnie.” The bastard who’d almost run him over when he’d stopped to help Johnnie: he was the guy who loosened the lug nuts on her Porsche. and his son. That was a coincidence? No way. Which was just how Johnnie wanted it. his former brother-in-law.
She called him back after one of her people had relayed Jeff’s message. “I could blow this guy away. Must have been inspired by all his film work. “I was. as he had with Gerald. Jeff picked up. someone in your position. they agreed that Jeff’s response had been a model of restraint. that she was going to hang up on him.” There was a pout in her voice. And that’s what they did. Then Jeff waled him up and down his hamstrings and calves. “What?” Terri asked.” She didn’t try to deny what she’d done. no broken bones. We could say we thought it was Gerald before we got a good look at him. But why don’t we take care of your problem the first? We’ll do it the way you took care of Gerald. Jeff told Terri.” he said.” He listened some more and nodded. I called to let you know I took care of Cody Darton for you. “Are you mad at me?” “Never liked you enough to get mad. Go for it. Booted him over and smacked him a good one across his stomach. They took Cody away. Toppled him like a tall pine. Had him pinned him to the carpet like a bug. but acquiescence was in his eyes. Cody did surprise them.” He thought he almost lost her there. You understand?” Cody could neither speak nor nod. Setting me up for Cody.” “You’d know. Jeff swooped in from behind.So shortly before Cody arrived. She didn’t have to shoot him.” Johnnie sounded suspicious now. But she said. “You’re a bastard. “But even if you’d called right away. Why don’t you come over? Party’s just getting started.” Jeff said. Jeff said. “I can’t let you shoot both of them. though. No blood. by driving his car up onto Jeff’s porch and splintering his front door.” He hung up. okay?” “Okay. Then he picked up the phone and called Johnnie Reed.” “You’re mocking me. “You know what? That’s a great idea.” “You’re not the one who knows how to shoot. and said. Finished by jamming the end of the bat under Cody’s chin and leaning on his throat. remember?” his sister asked. “We’re letting you off easy this time. The law won’t make a fuss. “Hey. Gerald. Just a guy who wouldn’t be walking or talking the same for a very long time. “I thought you’d be waiting by the phone. .” “You’re very thoughtful.” Jeff said. and swung his Louisville Slugger hard across the backs of Cody Darton’s knees. Hoping I could handle him or the cops would nail him for doing me in. But there’s been an unexpected turn of events. “What’s he going for?” Jeff told her. listened.” “I suppose not. When they arrived and saw where Cody had parked his car.” “Just a little. For days. But he was brought up short when he charged into the house and found Terri with her gun leveled at his head. Next time we won’t be so nice. but there was still a patrol unit out front when the phone rang. I never answer my own phone. “What?” “Remember I told you I persuaded my sister to leave her asshole husband?” “Yes. Terri phoned the cops.
Seems he has this new idea for getting even with me. the Hollywood movie star. he went to prison for the last eight years. after they’d separated. he’s so twisted he thought I broke up his marriage because I wanted Terri for myself.” Johnnie started to see where he was going. So now he’s going after the new love of my life. Even made a pretty good attempt. in fact. He got very threatening. exactly. said he was going to kill both of us.” Johnnie was speechless. Back to Table of Contents . “Pretty funny. “Even in prison. Anyway.” Jeff said. Couldn’t even fake it. Gerald saw on TV how much I mean to you.” Jeff said. “You don’t mean—” “Yeah. See. huh?” But Johnnie Reed didn’t laugh. Got out tonight. I just heard from Gerald. but now he’s out.” “Why are you telling me?” “Well.“Well. “You sicced your stalker on me and got mine in return. One he likes a whole lot. Gerald — that’s his name — started stalking my sister and me.
He knew the old house’s history. “Because of the ghosts. though.” Whistler said. Whistler closed on the property a week later. a young mom named Connie who was getting back into the work force.” “Don’t blame them one bit. He pulled up to his new house in his pick-up truck just after dark. for one thing. Before he climbed the front stairs.” Whistler gave her a grin. I have.” honest Connie said. Which explained Connie’s idea of showing the place: glancing at it nervously from a hundred yards away. and sneakers.. Before he could turn it a gust of wind kicked up. jeans. neither of them’s Casper. “Because of the ghosts?” Whistler asked. would keep any secrets from a prospective buyer. still had most of his sandy brown hair. She looked Whistler right in the eye. but something else.” “Most people around here think that’s just a story.” Whistler nodded. “I’m not surprised. “So you’re going to fix it up yourself then?” “That’s my intention.” “Nobody’s checked it out personally?” Connie shook her head. He turned the key and went inside. nice clear green eyes. appropriate to the setting. too. “It needs some work. his sleeping bag. Long and lean. right?” “I know. Either brave or crazy. “You might’ve heard rumors about a pile of money being hidden in there.” “People feel uneasy about a place where two people killed each other. There were creaks and groans. “The only reason someone new like me gets to show a place like this is because no one believes it’ll ever sell.. Right now. she stuck to business. too. Looked good in his denim shirt.” he said.Chapter 7: Fixer-upper The state had a full-disclosure law for any residential real estate transaction. “You know this house is so cheap because it’s haunted.” She gave Whistler the once over. He carried with him a flashlight. The sudden rush of air was cold and held a plaintive note. Connie wondered if he might be right for her divorced older sister.” “I’ll take it just the same. “You can’t get craftsmen to come out here. A ragged blanket of clouds blocked out most of the stars but left a full moon visible and glowing bright.” Whistler agreed. A working guy .” he reflected. “Nice try. Not that the Realtor.” Connie advised. “A lot of work. figured he had to be pushing fifty. “In fact. he looked up at the sky. He crossed the wide porch and slipped the key into the front door lock. and a sack with a couple of turkey sandwiches and a super-sized ice tea. but in a nice way. Those two. . but the treads held fast.” Whistler told her. “Good night for a witch on a broomstick. She nodded at the house. He tested each of the front steps before he put his full weight on it.
Whistler consumed his takeout dinner in the sitting room. “Get out. There was no hokey rattling of chains or eerie moaning when they arrived. He vanished. a sun room. He was drifting off when the ghosts showed up. A six-car garage was set discreetly behind a row of tall hedges. porches upstairs and down. but that’s what happened. Whistler nodded. used the nearest bathroom. damn you. Evaporated in a puff of ectoplasm. a main sitting room. That Kirby you’ve got with you?” “Noel?” Sheila asked. The room had grown considerably colder. and said. a wine cellar. her footsteps inaudible. His ex-wife’s restless spirit looked as if she’d seen a ghost. a greenhouse. an observatory. He could have chosen to sleep in a bed or on a sofa. His sleeping arrangement was a matter of choice not necessity. Kirby was still looking at him.The house had 20 rooms. The house was still furnished. a laundry and the heating and air-conditioning plant. Apparently. Sheila. Ghosts might scare some people. The style was Southern ante-bellum: white paint. In the basement were four small suites for servants. Sheila ran from the room. he thought. The next morning. Both of them had their heads canted at cockeyed angles. when you died of broken necks. Her male counterpart was standing just behind her. Whistler went to work on the house’s electrical system. and stretched out in the sleeping bag he’d unrolled on the floor. but then Sheila’s displeasure had always worked better than central air. but not sure of what he’d see. He used his old suede jacket for a pillow. but faulty wiring caused fires. looking on over her shoulder. a library. Just an embittered woman screaming at him. “Wanna bet?” Whistler replied. get out. Kirby didn’t. but a quick scan had shown him every piece of furniture was thick with dust. a ceramics room complete with kiln. Except when two angry ghosts drove off would-be buyers. “She’ll never let you have it.” . a painter’s studio. not with menace. but sizing him up. Whistler was a little surprised she hadn’t just disappeared. Maybe she’d been too rattled pull off any special effects. It didn’t have a swimming pool but there was a brook running through the property for fishing and a pretty pond surrounded by woodland that was perfect for any sort of water activity that didn’t involve an internal combustion engine. eleven bathrooms. french doors everywhere. putting his head down. eight bedrooms. The house sat on 50 acres of land. as one might expect with a ghost. It was the kind of place usually reserved for the seriously rich. “About the bet you wanted to make. a billiard room. Much more ghostlike. a small gym. two dining rooms. Still. Whistler judged. Better to sleep in a clean. Whistler supposed. he recognized the female wraith immediately. snug bag. pillars. let them take a good look at him. “Been a long time. get out!” Whistler rolled over. either.” his late ex-wife said.” he told Whistler. He looked at the pair of spooks. “Kirby told me. formal and casual. not scared. He was down in the basement switching out an old fuse-box to circuit breakers when he felt Sheila’s presence. and a commercial-size kitchen.
” Whistler told him. he could see that she’d still been a beautiful woman when she’d died.” “You got off. Maybe they found watching someone rewire a house boring. you know. Waited for Whistler to speak. Harvey at the hardware store came right out and asked him. “They’re a fairly sad pair. “You doin’ okay out there?” “Work’s going well. He did get a lot of strange looks from his new neighbors when he went into town for supplies or food.. “don’t go. Wasn’t until later. She’d always enjoyed a barb at someone else’s expense. For all her pallor and translucency. Sheila’s ghost nodded. and defending myself against the phony statutory rape charge took the rest. and lissome.” Whistler answered. not raising his eyes from his work. Dark-haired. Sheila? I would have given you anything you wanted.” Sheila laughed.. Whistler saw neither ghost for days.” The merchant’s eyebrows rose. dangerous?” . if cocked at a funny angle. “If you hadn’t broken his neck. Noel. it was only a matter of time before somebody did. A perfect appearance for a female con artist. them.” Whistler said.” Whistler looked up. “Not nasty or. like a movie beginning before the theater was fully dark. “Why’d you do it. “Damn. “Ghosts?” Whistler asked. “I’m really supposed to believe that? If it’s not the money. Whistler whistled. fair skinned.“Tattletale. “There have been times when I’ve missed you.” She tuned back in.” Even in the shadow. Perhaps the only kind for a ghost.” “That wouldn’t have been the same. She lost definition around the edges. Sheila started to grow pale. Broke. “And the . “Yeah.” She regarded him with grave suspicion. “When was that.” She stepped into a shadow for better contrast and made her clothes disappear. The light streaming through the basement windows dimmed Sheila’s apparition. They couldn’t figure out how he was managing to get along with his ethereal roomies. with a sixteen-year-old girl who turned out to be your niece —” “You found out about that?” Sheila was suddenly dressed again. Noel. I read that in the paper. “You’ll never get my money back.” Whistler said.” Harvey couldn’t bring himself to say the word. I was a free man.” Whistler told her. “Wait a minute. After you took most of my money in the divorce. Sheila?” “All the times I needed a real man. jobless and with my reputation in ruins.” Whistler said. why are you here?” “I want a reconciliation.” “We’ve met. knowing that wasn’t what the man was asking. though. her chin up and defiant. turned up the contrast.” “Because the fun is in the taking as much as the having.” “I don’t want it. “Uh-huh.” “Sure did. If you hadn’t divorced me for an infidelity I didn’t commit. you’re good. but free.
something that didn’t work well for a ghost. but if you and Sheila give me too much grief . “I can wreck the place myself.” “Place is starting to shape up. “We could do worse than destroy the house.” Whistler said. That possibility had occurred to him.” Whistler sat at the foot of the grand staircase sketching a rough drawing of the elegant structure that bridged the first and second stories of the house. “She did. too. “Demolition permit.” Kirby didn’t like that line of thought. “We’ve seen all the work you’ve done. what if peace isn’t what they want? What if they’re cantankerous by nature?” Whistler sighed. After a few minutes work.. As if Whistler might grab him.” “He did. And I guarantee you.” Kirby said.” Whistler glanced at the chandelier. but Whistler said.” Kirby tried to snap his fingers. Then where would you be?” “I thought of that. maybe. I mean. “The one where you and Sheila were strangling each other before you both fell down the stairs?” Kirby disappeared. the lying bastard. I’m going to be the top spook around here. My spirit.” He took a piece of paper from a back pocket of his jeans and unfolded it. too.” Kirby said. Kicking ass and taking names. Kirby. don’t you think?” “We could undo it all. He flipped his drawing pad shut as Kirby sat down next to him. Kirby forgetting he was incorporeal. “You’re saying you and Sheila could kill me?” he asked. “But I’m betting that if I die violently in this house.” He shrugged. “We could fix it so.” Whistler replied. “Who started that final argument?” Whistler asked. He started a fast fade.“Not to me. But his disembodied voice said.” “Well. as Kirby leaned in for a look. The apparition was careful to leave room between himself and Whistler. “Sheila warned me you’re full of tricks.” “You a priest or a minister or somethin’?” Whistler laughed. “Wait. He was going to move it — depending on his plans — but that would miss the point Kirby was trying to make. “Do the poltergeist bit. I’ll be stuck here. he felt a presence at his shoulder. “I’ve considered that possibility. “Then where will the two of you be?” “You bastard. “Like that. “County says I can knock the place down. “Far from it.” Whistler told him. You think about that before you or Sheila arrange any accidents for me.” . “Have a seat. if we wanted. “We’ve been watching you. “Then I’ll just have to work them into my remodeling plans.” The ghost paused. that chandelier up there fell on you. Kirby. halfway to invisibility. you know.” he told Whistler.” Whistler told the ghost.” “So you’re just gonna live with ‘em then?” “I hope to help them find peace.” “She’s a fine one to talk.” Whistler said.. I don’t want to.” Kirby threatened. A natural-born eavesdropper. if I cross over to your side of the curtain.
“Whatever you were into.” For just a second. Sheila almost looked remorseful. She asked him. that she leaned in toward him. wondering if this is the same man I married. “I couldn’t get a job in my field. I mean.” “Unclaimed valuables from World War II. and looked at Sheila.” Sheila said flatly.” Whistler shook his head. “I had to take a crash course in self-improvement.” he said. “And you and Kirby. He wanted to take Sheila’s hands in his.Sheila was giving Whistler her side of the story as he plumbed the underside of a sink in one of the downstairs bathrooms. mineral rights. That straightened Sheila right up. after you married him. Then I began to see. hey. watched the water flow down the drain and smiled when not a drop leaked.” Whistler said. Finally brought the law down on you hard. but the Shelter People gave me an opportunity. “When did you become such a jack-of-all-trades. With a lot of help from some very patient instructors. but there was no way he could hold her anymore. He sat on the toilet seat. though. wrench in his lap.” “But you still want my money. that I’d gotten just what I’d deserved.” Whistler smiled. who perched gracefully on the edge of the bathtub opposite him. The subject is way too touchy. “I’d ask you to hand me that wrench. unable to keep a note of pride out of her voice. the proceeds from the divorce greased the con: See. “I don’t believe you. that was where you went wrong. He got up off the floor. used that as front money for your schemes: real estate. don’t you? Despite your denials. Noel? I’ve been watching you closely for weeks now.” Whistler shrugged. Would have left her breathless. “Yeah. Whistler dropped the wrench in his toolbox and leaned forward. He tightened the connection on the pipes he’d just joined and gave his work a nod of approval. too. about you not wanting to get your hands on my money.” Whistler said to Sheila. He was pleased. little by little.” “Of course not.” Sheila said. I like the work. “How about that? For a year or so. we got rich and you can. opened the tap.” The wrench slid across the floor to Whistler and levitated neatly into his hand. I’ve helped to put up almost 200 homes for low-income families. But you never let the suckers get near any of that money. “You never did tell me why I should believe you.” Sheila said contemptuously.” “I’ve got a little better than ten million of my own right now. Then she steered the conversation back to its original course. my . and. I knew the stocks were crap but.” Whistler wasn’t going to debate responsibility. of course. though. I was a hotshot stockbroker who pushed tons of shares in shitty companies on people just because those companies were paying my bosses big fees. the monetary figure for the whole works?” he asked softly.” “It was Kirby’s idea. “only I don’t know if you’re up to that sort of thing. “You remember how much you got from me in the divorce. if she were still breathing. I’ve learned a number of building trades. I was pretty bitter about what you did to me. that last one. I’ve become fairly good at them and what’s really surprising. “Yeah. “Thank you. forearms on his legs.” she said. But the job still had to be tested. “More than eight million.
“Anyway.” Whistler corrected..” Sheila nodded absently. Their belongings wouldn’t suit the new residents who’d soon be taking occupancy. “You had me set up from the start. “What?” Sheila asked. “You’ve got to get it through your heads. A table and four chairs had been left behind. The former owners didn’t reveal their spectral selves to the moving men.” “Ah. I really don’t care where your money is. They were all in the kitchen. They took special interest when the huge chandelier over the foot of the grand stairway was removed. “I can see where that would make you angry. “you can no longer make any claim on earthly possessions.” “Okay.” Sheila reaffirmed. People saw what I was doing. we’ve all done very well.” Whistler said.” Whistler’s work on the house was almost finished when the moving truck arrived.” Whistler told them. the suspicion clear in her voice. that and divorce me and take all my money. after the movers had left. I’ll give you that. I thought that was what mattered. asked if they could get in on it. and a bottle of Dos Equis. but it was killing her all that she’d never get her hands on any of it. a kosher dill pickle.” “No.” Whistler said. too. I had a little money I wanted to put somewhere. “Neither of those things. But when I heard you hadn’t departed I thought I’d take a chance. I had plenty of good stocks I could have recommended. after a couple years of building houses. I am curious. Kirby opposite him.” Sheila was stuck on what mattered most to her. So I started buying some shares here and there. Was it about what your legal strategy should be when you went to trial or were you just unable to agree on where you should run and hide?” Sheila folded her arms across her chest. “You’ve really got ten million dollars?” she asked. Ever the clever girl. The ironic thing. too.” Whistler shook his head in regret.. there was the sex. “Our house. “Not that. I found out Kirby was going to try to put all the blame on me . though. That being the case. Whistler was enjoying a roast beef sandwich. I felt like that was the first step to evening out my moral balance sheet. You’ve got to let go. but by then you and Kirby had died. Sheila sat to his right. though. too. “My house. He gestured to his guests to join him at the table.” . Give it up. didn’t you? The money was all that ever mattered. Then you came along and did the same thing to me that I did to all my clients: played me for a sucker. I told them they put their money down at their own risk. Sheila was ready to lean whichever way the wind blew.bonuses were ungodly. She was dead. he managed to hire a crew to come and take away Sheila and Kirby’s old furniture. “Let me ask you one question. well. But you know what. the one that led to the two of you to fall down all those stairs. I wanted to make peace with you. what your final argument with Kirby was all about. “What are you doing to our house?” Kirby demanded. but Whistler noticed them watching carefully as the house emptied out. Word had circulated over the months he’d been working there that he’d been able to co-exist with the ghosts without suffering a ghastly demise. Only the good companies weren’t paying my bosses any big fees. I have a real eye as a stock-picker. while I was playing all my suckers.
“You’re not going to give it to him are you?” “Of course not.” he said. just turn on the lights. “Not after all the work I’ve put into this place. If they ever wanted to let him know they were willing to make peace with him and themselves. And. That and the companion piece chandelier. but he’d never convince these two of that.The wind blew Sheila toward Kirby. they put up a tall narrow structure with one door and a high window. easy. “I guess you should have.” Whistler told them. and reassembled.” The two ghosts laughed in eerie harmony. so he didn’t try to argue. “I should have taken that bet you offered. go away?” Whistler shook his head. remember?” Kirby said. It was. Whistler honestly didn’t want the money. Before he left. In it was the grand staircase from the main house. Whistler told Sheila and Kirby that their new residence was wired for electricity.” Kirby looked at Whistler with a smirk. Standing in a clearing amidst the trees out back of the main house. Sheila told him once more.” “Then what?” Kirby wanted to know. But Whistler didn’t hold out much hope he’d be hearing from the ghosts anytime soon. as Whistler correctly surmised. It wasn’t the house to which they’d been bound. It would last a hundred years or more. Noel?” Sheila asked. It would be seen at the main house. get out!” Back to Table of Contents . Because just before he locked the two of them in.” “So what will you do now. the scene of their crime. “You see. “Give up. I wouldn’t give it to you. Whistler’s friends from the Shelter People showed up the next morning. of course. She told him. “I’m afraid you and Sheila are the ones who will be leaving. get out.” Kirby agreed. damn you. I won’t give it to him. “We’re condemned to stay here. “We’ll see about that. it was exceptionally well built. Within a week. the staircase. “We can’t leave. Which he had given to a group that provided second chances to troubled young people. I was right! He wants my money!” “I’ve known it all along. that held them in thrall. taken apart.” Sheila jeered. “Get out. moved. Sheila and Kirby. and added quickly.
“A wager. the flurries turned into the biggest blizzard since 1967.” Mr. By 3:00 p. Loggins. sir? Five dollars says he’s here before 3:30. gave the matter due consideration.m. sir. If Dr. but . though. The headmaster of the Parkside Country Day School. He couldn’t even see the buildings across the street now. “Handy fella. So Ray said.” she told Ray. Loggins peered up and down Clark Street through the windows of the Welcoming Room. who’d attended the school since junior kindergarten. First words she’d ever shared with him. A long line of luxury sedans and SUVs had lined the school’s driveway on Clark Street to pick up children fleeing the storm. Princess Jane’s. the only people still waiting for transport were the headmaster and two 10th graders. Who needs a lift?” Mr. there’s plenty of food in the cafeteria. Among them were the planners and the workers at the Department of Streets and Sanitation. Loggins decided it was his place to stay at the school. a lot of people had forgotten that. the normal dismissal time for the day. “Looks like we’re stuck. Or the street itself for that matter.” “My dad will be here. “Shouldn’t be too bad. surprised by his student’s proposition.. All of two seconds later Ulysses Donnelly pushed through the school’s front door looking like a polar bear. Which was how winter could go in Chicago. “Not terribly. had wisely begun sending his students home at lunchtime. What with all the talk about global warming and a series of milder than normal winters. Mr. to be there in case the storm caused some unforeseen damage which required immediate attention. and Janie Prince. and we’ve more than enough sofas to use as beds.” “I don’t doubt he’ll try.Chapter 8: Sleepover In memory of Marie Stone. the city had slammed to a halt. By 3:10. Ray. Not a vehicle moved along what was normally a busy thoroughfare.” Mr. whom some students had taken to calling Princess Jane shortly after her arrival from Boston the previous September. “He’ll pick me up. He shook an avalanche of snow off his work parka and said. Raven Donnelly. the day was supposed to begin with snow flurries which would give way to partly cloudy skies. Who could be moving about in that? Ray saw the look of doubt on the headmaster’s face. better known as Ray. Everything outside the windows was an undifferentiated swirl of snow. Walker Loggins. We should all be comfortable until help arrives. The way the weather forecast called it. Daniel’s. are you?” Ulysses asked. The building’s warm. that Friday afternoon. the longtime headmaster of Parkside hadn’t retired last year.” Loggins admitted. “but I give my all to any problem.” With the new guy a little more deference was in order. “I’ve got a truck with a snow plow outside.” Ray told the headmaster. a man with a keen awareness that he shepherded the offspring of many of the city’s most prominent families. He turned to his young charges and shrugged. The way it actually happened. “I’ll take that bet. but Princess Jane was immediately game.” he said.” . “Betcha. Loggins turned to the window again. Ray would have said.. too.
Don’t know if it’s in her character to do such a thing.” “Probably isn’t used to riding in a tow truck. if the girl ever took a dislike toward you. He asked if he could have a word in private with Ulysses.” Loggins admitted.” A sudden look of consternation clouded Mr. “You know the neighborhood?” “Had a girlfriend who lived across the street from your place. I’ll drive the girl home. she might even make a false claim against you.” Ulysses turned to Janie Prince. I was quite prepared to wait things out here with your son and Miss Prince. sister?” “I’ll stay.. “One of life’s great experiences.” “Really?” Ray.. godspeed then. So he was an outreach student. Princess Jane leaned forward to look at Ulysses. “Astor Street. so Janie wouldn’t feel hemmed in by the two Donnellys. “I could take you home.” Ulysses responded offhandedly. “Dad’s a grad of good old Parkside. she knew Ray was a Parkside student.” “You’re sure you’ll all be safe? All of us could stay here. Was her own future in jeopardy? Ray and his father grinned at her.” “Oh. dressed as if they belonged in a tow truck. the blast from the heater melting the snow that had accumulated on their heads and shoulders on the ten-foot run from the school to the truck. Two guys in a tow truck. but to each her own.” “You don’t say?” Both Donnellys could see Princess Jane was trying to decide if they were putting her on. “Nice digs. too? How could they be graduates of Parkside if Mr. Everything could be perfectly innocent and some people would still have their suspicions.. she’s my mom. Dad.” “I have other children. he was in half of her classes. Now. too. Loggin’s face.” Loggins began. Solve that problem right there. Why. “Where’s home?” Ulysses asked Janie when they were settled in the truck. His girlfriend was a classmate.” “I don’t know her that well.” “I really think I should stay. brought into the school community to alleviate the affluent homogeneity.. “It wouldn’t look good for you to be alone in the school with a young girl. or had she been right. “How about you.” Ray said. “I mean. Well. It’s the responsible thing to do. Janie thought. Donnelly still drove a tow truck? Weren’t Parkside alumni supposed to rise in the world? Or . aiding fellow motorists. but now . who rarely interrupted one of his father’s conversations. as if they knew the answer. Okay.” Ulysses told Princess Jane she was coming with them. a worthy scholar of modest means. .” she said. and her parents had chosen the wrong school for her when the Princes had relocated. claiming connections to the Gold Coast and the exclusive school her parents had chosen for her. Ray had taken the middle seat. put in. But his father and his mother. too. and she’d seen he was smart. “I’m afraid this is a bit awkward.” Ulysses understood.“Good man.” “Okay. The two men distanced themselves from the young people by a few paces. giving him the number.
He knew how his father felt about such things. “I’m an only child.” Ray didn’t doubt it. she seemed to think an adult presence was warranted at the moment. Ulysses Donnelly.” Home with them? Janie didn’t think so.” “Ulysses Donnelly here. allow me to introduce Ms. “Come by as soon as you get to town. She keyed in the number of her mother’s mobile phone. but felt it best to keep quiet. All perfectly true. As he listened to the response. Donnelly. Not these two . But Janie hadn’t been able to do more than give her mother the bare outlines of the situation. Our cleaning lady comes and goes. whoever’s at home.” “What’s your name anyway?” he asked. Janie Prince. She couldn’t very well tell mother she was sitting in a truck with two guys from snow patrol. sir. It wasn’t a long trip in terms of mileage. giving his son a nudge.” “I’m afraid neither of them is at home. her tone indicating displeasure. I will be perfectly fine by myself. Prince. “Your mother would prefer to have you stay with us. “Please call her. Prince.” “An older sibling at home?” Ulysses asked. his eyes momentarily took on a faraway look.Then with a lurch Mr. Ms. I am 16. Donnelly started plowing his way toward Astor Street. Donnelly. ” He said goodbye and returned the phone to Janie. Mrs. “Dad. “You have a cell phone. Ulysses asked. certain her mother would see things her way. tradesmen. Prince the Donnellys’ home address.” “Sir.” “Oh. O’Hare is closed. Don’t worry if it’s early.” Janie produced her cell phone. “My mother would like to speak with you.” “Nobody older than yourself is home waiting for you?” “Mr.” Ulysses gave Mrs. Let them know you’re safe and will be with them shortly. she handed the phone to Mr. Then he blinked as if waking from a dream. sister?” “Of course. Ray took his cue. Homer. . Snobbish. eliminating the necessity for Janie to answer. but they never got there. “No.” Janie said with a nod. “Do you know how to reach your mother?” “I have her cell number. The dog barks loudly enough to wake the dead. but when I last checked her flight was canceled. but one didn’t come out and voice such matters. “Were your parents fans of James Joyce?” “No. Janie’s confidence was misplaced.” Princess Jane was exasperated beyond self-restraint. My father left on a business trip this morning and my mother was due to return home today.. While her mother was quite happy to hear she was safe. no trouble at all. We Parkside people stick together. my father..” “Do you have a live-in housekeeper?” “No. ” Princess Jane replied. as evinced by Ulysses pulling the truck over to the curb and looking at his young guest. Ask if she wants me to leave you alone or bring you home with us.” he said. “Who would you like me to call?” “Your mother or father. She’d sound ungrateful. With a grim countenance. taking the phone.
” Ulysses and Ray exchanged a look. “Thought she sounded like someone I used to know. Ray’s nod said that they could indeed.“This is crazy. “Well. But the Donnellys stopped half-a-dozen times to free motorists stuck in the snow. until Ray leaned across her and popped open the door. What was that all about?” Ulysses grinned. “I won’t stop you from going home. “We Irish have a thing about that. A blast from the storm struck her immediately. Not against your mother’s express wishes. “I know some people on their admissions board. Wordlessly. “Maybe. Ulysses watched closely. We can’t be more than three blocks from my house. She ignored the offer of assistance. two tickets to a Bulls game. she couldn’t see more than the few feet the truck’s headlights penetrated the storm. He took it and carefully pulled his new classmate upright. in their name.” Janie lasted half-a-block.” Ulysses said. “Maybe her anger will keep her warm. Then he extended a hand to help her out of the truck. “You can’t be serious. but you’ll have to make the journey on your own.” But she wasn’t really sure about that. her foot found a slick spot under the snow and she sprawled on her back. Stepping out of the truck. Neither Donnelly was so cruel as to laugh at her. “You got this funny look on your face when you were talking with Mrs. never let it be said that I kept someone from going home. For their good deeds they were rewarded with calls of “Merry Christmas.” Janie smiled. not minding the snow building up inside his truck. Ray helped pull her inside and didn’t complain as she melted all over him.” Ulysses told her. .” “Maybe a taxi’ll come by. His father nudged him again. as Ulysses called it. “Want a hand now?” Ray asked. and the promise of a donation to WTTW. The chocolate didn’t seem to tempt her but she was regarding the Irish whiskey with some interest. but I won’t help you. Ulysses told her.” Ray said with a grin.” he said. and stepped out into the storm. Princess Jane extended her had to Ray.” The ride to the Donnelly house took an hour. Princess Jane gave the Donnellys a mighty frown. By the time they arrived at Donnelly Central.” she told the Donnellys. “I never wanted to go to Parkside. “I wanted to go to Chicago Latin. blue-lipped. “I want to go home. Ray had to slide over and close the door. Prince. Janie was seated between father and son with their booty on her lap. I’ll see what I can do. threw open the door. They turned down cash and a lotto ticket for the MegaMillions game. either. and trembling.” he told his father. We’ll follow along behind you and see that you get safely inside. Ray stepped out into knee-deep snow. a box of Godiva chocolates. the local PBS station. They watched the stubborn girl kick her way through a drift. Even with the windshield wipers clacking furiously. took the tokens of appreciation from Janie. before she scrambled back into the truck. Enough of that. She yanked the door shut before a snow drift could form in her lap. But then I remembered that particular someone doesn’t even speak English.” a bottle of Jameson. and then Ray said.” she told them red-nosed. Not that it was a long drive or that Ulysses had trouble making headway.
” .” He closed the truck’s door and watched his father drive off. Those were the only ornamentations about the place that Janie could see. And immediately cowered behind Ray.” “Your older sister?” Ray knew where she was going. The teeth were sheathed and the rumbling stopped. did we? If the hospital has been plowed. Fenris is with her. two stories.” They trudged up the snowed-in driveway toward the house. he’s off to the fire station. Can’t go wrong lending a hand to a priest who might have to rush out into the storm. Dad. but we didn’t see many snow plows out. The city is supposed to support its vital services.” The dog extended a paw. let’s get you inside. Pro bono publico. the hospital. No it was larger than that: a fortress. Donnelly had called it: a fort. It made Ray grin.” Ray looked at the dog. gripping his waist so he’d stay between her and the biggest dog she’d ever seen in her life. It was red brick. Raven. Andrew’s. “Manners. Otherwise.The elder Donnelly nodded and told his son. “Shake.” “Aren’t other people supposed to do that?” “Sure. She’s in middle-school at Parkside.” “Maybe. “Nah. “Ellie’s twelve. “Republicans. A dog showing its teeth and making a deep rumbling sound in its throat. spartan architecture reminded her of just what Mr.” “Yes. “So he’s leaving the two of us here alone?” The note of suspicion was clear in her voice. Janie asked. sit.” “Are you crazy?” “He needs to know you. “Fen. Elan. is home. but she twisted her ankle last night at gymnastics and stayed home today. Ray shook it. Come on. as he put his haul of gratuities down.” “Come on.” “By herself?” Princess Jane asked acidly.” Ray conceded. Dad’ll go on to St. “The fort is yours. He’ll be moving a lot of snow. grinned wider. me lad.” “How could you stop him? He’s bigger than you are.” he said offhandedly.” The dog sat. “A storm like this. She stepped inside. and our parish church. I won’t let him bite you.” “He’s a dog: he can smell me right where I am. Looking over his shoulder he told Janie. After a moment. broad. the police station. “My sister. “Stick your hand out. The living room windows were lit from within and graced with leaded glass.” “He could be gone all night. Ray cuffed the beast softly on the side of his head. A large holiday wreath hung from a polished oak front door. its dense. let him have a sniff. That and trying to get a better look at her. “Where’s he going?” Ray told her. Tend to the grounds.
“You can understand why my dad doesn’t worry about my sister being in the house with Fen. even gave Fen a few ounces in his water bowl.” “Sometimes. When Ray offered the back of his hand. as if in happy remembrance. and a soft pink cast on her left ankle. “Didn’t think they had any in Boston. rolling her eyes. .” Janie grinned. “Best manners.” Ray made hot cocoa. his tongue.” “Really?” Ray asked.” The animal sat as if presenting himself to the Westminster judges. Before Princess Jane could take offense. shaking hands. “much better than fast. head held high. “Rock ‘n’ roll.The dog jumped to his feet. he said to the dog. who didn’t move. The dog stepped aside just enough for the girl’s hand to fall on his neck as she stopped tumbling. “He won’t move until I release him. “No.” She extended her hand to Janie. “Hi. But he’s dying to sniff your hand.” “Dad’s originally from Virginia. Fen ate a mailman just the other day. Then she said. Andrew’s choir. He told Janie that he’d invited exactly one girl over to the house in his whole life. She nodded. I think he finds most of them on the street.” Janie inched her hand up from her side.” The dog dropped to the floor and covered his ears with his forepaws. leaving her face to face with the wolfhound. Fenris licked it. “A coloratura soprano.” The wolfhound wagged his tail. “How come I haven’t seen you at Parkside?” she asked Ellie...” Ray told her. “Slow is good. Janie saw a girl standing in a doorway wearing navy tights. “We’re lucky there’s an un-cracked pane of glass left in the whole church. the dog remained in position. The cast didn’t stop her from crossing over to them by doing a couple of cartwheels.” “An immigrant?” Ray asked with a grin. Fen.” Ellie added. and she said. looked around. Mom’s a naturalized American. She was starting to like Ray’s little sister. you know. boy. if you’ll allow it. we bite. That made Janie laugh. Fen sniffed the proffered hand several times and then gave it one long lick from fingertips to wrist. “My parents are . “You’re much nicer looking than any of the other girls Ray’s brought home.” Ray told Janie. I mean. I’m Ellie.” Ray told him. and currently the star of St.” She brought her hand to a stop an inch from the dog . “Okay. you mean?” Janie asked.” “Fen’s just like the rest of us Donnellys: we can show you a mouthful of pointy teeth but at heart we’re sentimental slobs. He’ll lick it. “It’s so soft. Ray eased Janie’s hands off his waist and stepped aside. and started growling.” a voice said. a friend he’d known from catechism lessons since the time he was six. “Why. When he took his hand away.. eyes straight ahead.” “From school. A shiver ran through Janie. Mary Catherine Murphy.. too. noble in aspect and manner. a yellow leotard. not daring to speak. extended it toward the dog.
help prepare them for the rigors of high school. veritable demigods. “You’re the cook tonight. “Shouldn’t you wait till it stops?” “That’d be one way to do it. Seventh grader.Ellie said. You’re perfectly free to take it easy.” Princess Jane informed him. But. “Shelly Katzman.” “Please do. That should be enough time for even a gimp like you to make dinner. The snow was no longer swirling...” “Fen prevents a lot of trouble that way. “I . if I didn’t want to join that mailman.” Janie’s eyes narrowed. if you don’t want to. “You’re sure you want to do this now?” she asked.. We lesser creatures are beneath your notice. “You really don’t have to worry about him any more. but if you want.” She looked relieved. “Do you help out at home?” “I cook. “You and Ray are upper-school students. who was sleeping peacefully under the kitchen table.” The snow blower had a pull-cord starter.” he said. “. “You’re going out?” Janie asked Ray. Then hopped into to the pantry to fetch the ingredients for the feast she would prepare.” Ray reminded Ellie. you know. “you can brighten some poor child’s life for only pennies a day.” Ellie said in a beseeching tone. it looked like they had to plow a runway at O’Hare. but it was falling as heavily as ever. . Clear the driveway from where they stood at the overhead door of the garage to the street.” “I’d like to be helpful now. Ellie.. “I’ll do it. “I’d hit you if I . but what am I supposed to do?” Ray asked.” “I have a little brother. I’ll take him outside with me.” “Okay. “Get your stuff back on.. I’ll show you how to use the snow blower..” She stuck her tongue out at her brother.” Ray snorted and told his sister. I’ll have to look into finding a little sister.” Ray said.” She looked out the window. I’ll be outside for an hour. Put some wrist and a nice turn of the hips into it and the blower roared into life.” The upper-school students at Parkside were encouraged to adopt middle-school students as little brothers and sisters. “Have to clear the driveway and the front walk. “I have my specialties. He figured it would take her at least three tries. she got it the first go. 112 feet distant. He pointed out the task ahead of them. But the program was voluntary and not everyone participated. we’re not doing Captains Courageous here. but not entirely satisfied. “You and Ellie will be contributing.” Janie glanced at Fenris.” “How often do you cook?” “Specialties are reserved for special occasions. if that’s all right with you.” She looked at the sleeping wolfhound. Ray decided to let Janie work out her aggression getting the machine going. What with all the snow. Which at the moment caused Janie’s face to flush with embarrassment. Made him glad she hadn’t belted him.” “In other words not often.
” “Dad fixes Porsches. When she saw how much of the path she’d cleared had already been filled in by the falling snow.” “True. we will. “Your father works for a dealer?” “Has his own shop. She cleared a stripe of pavement from one end of the driveway to the other. Ray took the machine from her at that point.” “Yeah. Which had provoked Ellie’s comment re fixing but not owning. Ray.” Ellie elaborated. Something like this is practice for what we’ll face later on.” “Your father’s a philosopher?” “Yeah. she lurched forward.” they all agreed. “Red. one who fixes Porsches for a living.” “So what changed your mind?” “My dad told me life is filled with pointless exercises. bull your way past them and ultimately shrug them off. he could always come back with: Go inside any time you feel like it. But Janie didn’t give up. She’d set the table while they showered.” Ellie said at the dinner table. Whatever she said. The snow was not only deep it was also wet. He won’t let us have one. and Ray added. “We give thanks before we eat dinner. separately.” Ellie had broiled salmon filets. God. though.” . Ellie led them.” she said.” he said.” She started to rebut that argument but stopped when she saw Ray’s impassive mug. “So your father fixes Porsches?” Janie asked. and served the meal as they came downstairs. Ellie.” Ray answered. and baked a tray of brownies for dessert. Janie wearing some of Mom’s sweats. but it won’t be as bad as if we hadn’t done it the first time. while her clothes were in the wash.” Ray and Janie reprised the blessing. He gave her some satisfaction. You have to develop the strength of will to butt heads with them. too.” “Amen. like a football player engaging a blocking sled. “This is crazy. Even with a three-horsepower blower it was a chore. took his hand before they ate. on his right. Thought it was very warm.” Janie extended her hand to Ray and he took it. she moaned. “Good fish.” he told Janie. and our blessings. that’s okay. “Grace. pushing hard with her legs. She was breathless and sweating from her exertion. made pan-fried potatoes and a green salad. Heart-attack snow if you were trying to move it with a shovel. Well. and told his sister. But if you’re not comfortable joining in.” Ray said.” “But we’ll still have to do it all over again. “But we don’t own any. It’s simple and nondenominational. “Thank you. Janie nodded. for our food. “we’ll never get anywhere. as the momentary head of the household.She charged forward. We’ll be ahead of the game by exactly the amount of snow we’ve moved. “I used to feel it was silly doing this. “We’ll switch off. all right. and our family. sat at the head of the table. She clomped alongside him as he cleared the next stripe. “She’s twelve and she already wants a Carrera GT. “And please bring everyone safely through the storm.
“Very good.” Ray said.” Janie looked at him.” Janie smiled. Janie had helped to build the fire. Has a little peace and quiet to get it decorated before the horde descends on her. that one. a sip mind you.” Ellie muttered something under her breath. and me. short for Quinlan. we sleep six to a bed. Ray looked at his sister and shook his head. “Well. Please. bird brain? Cawing scavenger? No. Janie saw now. Then he turned to Janie. So she can play the two of us against each other. My other brother is Quin. Though Ellie’s sure to tell you wise-guy is more like it. We use it in summer and for the holidays. I worry about this girl at times. my two older brothers.” “And what does Raven mean. too. Well. ” Good reason to have a house this big.” Ellie asked. “You mean. He’s a junior at Johns Hopkins. can we have a little wine with dinner? Just a glass. and means champion in Irish. Mom goes up early. Janie watched her go.” “You’re kidding. Ray told her. With my dad. His given name is Anlon.” “She’s Machiavellian. ate without looking at the others. She’d also set out wine glasses.” Ellie had provided each of them with a glass of sparkling water for dinner. meaning graceful. the womenfolk can feel overwhelmed. “Any other reason Ellie would want me for a big sister?” Janie asked. Ray washed the dishes and made popcorn. “Last New Year’s Eve.” “Champ?” “Of the chess variety. it means wise. They ate it sitting opposite one another on the floor in front of the living room fireplace. We have a little place up there.” “Absolutely. Ellie kept her head down.” Janie said. She’s in way too big a hurry to grow up. the obvious?” Janie had seen Ray’s proper name on school papers.” . “since we have company and it’s the holiday season. arm-wrestling. which is too formal for the likes of us. my mom let Ellie have her first sip of champagne. “Ray. “What do you mean?” “She wants you to be her big sister at school. “That performance was for your benefit. and she’s been dying for another go at the grape juice ever since. “And your mother? Where’s she?” “Up in Wisconsin. too. this house does have a scarcity of females. “Potatoes and salad are good.” “She’s by herself?” “She has Fen’s big brother for company.” Janie seconded. “So where is everybody?” “Champ’s at his house with his wife and baby girl. She muttered something again and took the whole tray of brownies with her when she left the table. Ray said.
” “Well. but with the draft no longer hanging over his head. instead of the guys who block the tacklers. looking at the world through a windshield. they wind up chasing each other’s tails. And Ray felt her tremble against him... He said he liked being one of the protectors who knocked problems out of the way. She scooted across the rug and the two of them sat shoulder to shoulder. that was not only the end of his football career but his injuries also classified him as 4F for the military draft. which was unheard of at Parkside. When we have a political discussion. Whether it’s from inside a car. gets agitated if someone says Democrats. “You mean. He was an offensive guard. Republican or two.” Janie could imagine.The wolfhound lay sleeping directly in front of the fire. He was good enough that he had football scholarship offers from three or four schools. Made it necessary for him to clear his throat before he could continue. He bought a motorcycle. He’d always intended to go to college. How you experience the world.” Janie said. or from a motorcycle with nothing between you and what you’re seeing.” “Is your dad a hippie?” “Minus the drugs and long hair. “Anyway. but all the schools wanted to convert him to either a linebacker or a free safety. “What’s your mom do — if I’m not being too nosy. It’s great fun.” . my dad played football at Parkside before the school switched over to soccer as its fall sport. My dad didn’t like that idea.” “Does Fen approve?” Ray laughed.” Ray whispered. maybe.” Janie looked at him blankly. metaphorically. “The guys who make tackles. wincing. physically and intellectually. “I’m starting to feel a little cold. “How did your father get into the Porsche-fixing business?” she asked. leaning against an old leather sofa. it has to do with how you see things. like looking at a TV screen.” “Really?” “Even a . Would you mind if I sat next to you?” Ray hesitated a moment then gestured her over.” “Ouch. one of the big linemen who blocks for the running backs and protects the quarterback. Of the moderate persuasion .. how come a Parkside grad is an auto mechanic?” “Yeah. physically unqualified. he decided to take a year off first.. She had a hard time imagining a dog bigger than him. “Well. of course. Janie closer to the embers.” “She raises funds for political candidates. Turned out to be moot because in his last game for Parkside he blew out both his left Achilles tendon and his right patellar tendon on the same play. Which is one of the reasons he fixes Porsches. “His brother. Odin. Though he does like his beer. “So how does drinking beer tie in with fixing Porsches?” she asked. “.” The fire was burning low now and Janie shivered. rode it around this country. But the schools recruiting him said he wasn’t big enough to do that on the college level.” “You ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?” “Sorry. and then put it and himself on a boat to Europe.
” Then they heard Ellie giggle.” “I know. the door closed. He would have felt like a total feeb if he didn’t do anything. handed it to Janie. that he didn’t do dope. “She was listening the whole time?” Janie asked quietly.” Ray told her. You guys want some?” “You come down here.” The upstairs door opened. Ray reached up and grabbed it. . He said a silent prayer: Please. He was on the job for five years. they got him a job at the plant building Porsches.” “You’re no fun at all. Zuffenhausen is —” “A little town near Stuttgart. that he wasn’t political. Each of them had recently broken up with their sweethearts.” They rested against one another in silence. no prohibition in the Prince family against owning Porsches. “Dad got into a beer-drinking contest.” “Yeah.” Now she was starting to annoy him.” “Yeah. First American ever to do that. so he put an arm around her shoulders. surprised. And give me a couple creaks. He was knocking around Europe and he took his bike to Munich for Oktoberfest.” “How romantic. with Germans.” A door closed. I’ll break your other ankle. He went on with his story. the precision. Lord.” Sure. don’t let Ellie — or Dad — or anyone else — come into the room now. For a girl who’d said she was cold. “Close your door. but he came close enough that they admired his effort. “Well. Ray.” “And now?” “We better keep things PG for a few minutes. She draped it over both of them. the single-minded pursuit of excellence. They also liked the way he was relatively clean-cut for those days. his voice huskier now.” Ray said. He was hoping to meet some fräuleins but he met some engineers from Zuffenhausen instead. close it from inside your bedroom.“And he got interested in cars there?” She shivered again and said. She was in Paris and ran into my dad who was on holiday.” “What brought him back?” “My mom. “That’s where they build Porsches. “I couldn’t eat all the brownies.” Janie snuggled against Ray. When they found out he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. “Yeah. Just as Ellie called out. Okay. “It wasn’t cars that interested dad. Ray felt she was radiating more heat than the fireplace had when the flames were high. excuuuuse me. footsteps sounded. he thought. Kismet.” Ray continued.” “With Germans? Wow. “I’m still cold. “Now. Dad liked the work: the focus. “it was beer. the connection.” “Ah.” Ray yelled. “Aww. he lost. and floorboards above Ray and Janie creaked twice. “Probably taking notes.” There was an afghan on the sofa.
Ray kissed Janie Prince. the two of them huddled up to their chins under the afghan. Among other things. you’re the ignoble rich. say. “My granduncle. but the nobility tax doubles it. starting at the knee. Not ready to own up to that. was a city-beat reporter for the Daily News. Janie looked good all of the time. walked out without a word to anyone. “Why won’t your father let you have a Porsche. perfectly styled hair. he has a chance to look out for you. however. She started kissing his neck. and something happens to you.” “That’s awful.” Ray said. .” They both understood the implicit criticism here. Michael Donnelly. Lots of little kisses like she was nibbling at him. we can’t have that. He put his glass down.” Janie glanced up. He liked it. and was never seen again. He was having a beer in a neighborhood tavern one night. feeling that she’d badly misjudged Ulysses Donnelly. Janie could be one of them he thought. looking good in the dying light from the fireplace. A woman with soft. Waited to hear the rest. Makes him concerned about other people he cares for. you ought to set aside a like amount of money for the less fortunate. “Well. She put her arms around Ray’s chest. what’s the nobility tax?” “Mom and Dad think if you’re going to indulge yourself on the scale of anything beyond. he lost his Uncle Michael. He remembered his mom describing a woman that way once. how’s he going to feel?” Janie slumped down against Ray again. making him wonderfully aware of her breasts. a two-scoop ice cream cone. She looked like a Breck girl. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end.” “Or you’re ignoble?” “Buy a Porsche without paying the tax. can we?” she asked with a smile. Even if you weren’t.” “Did he die young?” “He didn’t die at all. doesn’t take it. clear bright eyes. If the shampoo were still around. I’m going to mess myself. “Can’t you get your own dates?” Ray laughed. Then she moved her hand up his leg. “You go any higher. “Source of all the world’s ills. looked Ray in the eye. He just disappeared. a Chicago paper now long defunct. Janie didn’t rise to the fight. the idea they might vanish without explanation. the cost is high enough. inching upward. Then he said. retro All-American looks. she changed the subject.” Janie sat up. Well. Ray thought.” he said. the cost?” she asked “Well. Mom said Breck shampoo had used that look for all of its models.” “But he just met me. “You think we’re safe from Ellie now?” she asked. still half full. too. “Okay. It’s been decades now and the mystery’s never been solved. He stopped her. too.” “Dad’s always thought so.“How come your father was so insistent about bringing me home with you?” Janie asked. as far as anyone knows. “When Dad was overseas.” “You’re a fellow Parksider.
If he rued the decision soon and forever after. “After all.” “Are you going with anyone at school?” “Unh-uh. “She’s divorced.” “Why not?” “Wouldn’t be fair to either of you. Ray wondered. “Have you done it before?” “No.” “What makes her special? Her looks. if you like clichés?” It was a measure of how pliable the moment had made him that he was ready to divulge his secret. knowing perfectly well what she meant. Too damn good even for the kids whose families measured their fortunes in the billions. If this is all a big tease. he said. Wondered if she was playing with his head.” “Do you have a fantasy girl? You know. her age or is there something more?” Ray remembered hearing Janie’s dad was a shrink. “Would you like to pretend I’m her?” she whispered in his ear. “Do you like me?” she asked. Decided he didn’t care. or he’d mess her pants as well as his own. She sat back on his thighs and looked at him. At least not yet.” he said. She slid forward. “Is she pretty?” “Very. Ray thought. He had to be a jerk. He only hoped Ellie didn’t have a stethoscope pressed to the floor of her room. a senior at school? A teacher? A movie star.” “Maybe not.” she answered. “But if you want. “So you want to try just being friends first?” “Yeah. “No. She swung a leg over both of his. walking out on someone like her. a mask for her insecurities? Janie whispered in his ear. Think about it much?” “A whole lot right now.” Complicated girl. I want to do it.” Janie nodded. “My sister-in-law’s sister. Looking for an exit line. “Of course. Her husband left her. it’s a pretty good one. I’m one of the ignoble rich. looked down at him.” “Maybe Ellie’s not the only one who’s Machiavellian. “Do you want to do it?” “It?” Ray asked. Ray told her. though. Her eyes reflected the embers from the fireplace.” “How old is she?” “Twenty-seven. “It. He was going to have to get out of there fast.” Ray told Janie. So was it all a pose. I could —” .The reputation Princess Jane had at Parkside was that she was standoffish.” “Neither have I. “More than I used to. Helping me clear away the snow went a long way to knocking down the snooty image you have at school. Made her look supernatural.” he said. so be it. pressed herself against him from hip to shoulder. She put her arms around Ray’s neck and kissed him.” “Why shouldn’t it be a tease?” she asked.” she repeated.
had to be the Queen — “Mother!” Janie said. if Janie was a princess. He gave Janie a wink. they’d gotten away clean. This time that familiar voice I’d heard earlier was speaking the language I’d always heard her speak in the past.” “Aah. He’d half expected he and Janie would face some kind of intrusion.” “Make sure we’re friends first. She slapped his shoulder. knew that he spoke German. I said. The woman smiled and said. Didn’t even break a leg. of course. diminishing that possibility. But who was the woman with him? He looked at Janie. Ray recognized his father’s voice. considering. Darling. “Is that handsome boy your son. Will you have to pay your tax?” “Undoubtedly. Andrew’s when your Mr. somewhat bedraggled after a hard night of snowplowing.” She turned to Ulysses and asked.That thought was left unfinished as two sets of headlights swung into the Donnelly’s driveway. he thought. “I’d just finished cleaning up around St. Ray recognized the engine note of his father’s truck. She was staring at the front door. attractive middle-aged woman who. Like they were old friends. She hopped off him. there was the sound of two vehicles opening and closing their doors. and an expensively dressed.” Janie looked at him. Loggins at Parkside called me. The sound of the second vehicle was unfamiliar. then said. A beaming Ulysses told Ray.” “You wouldn’t mind hobnobbing with the ignoble rich?” “Is that what you call it?” he asked with a grin. perfect in all ways. Prince my mobile number. picked a kernel of popcorn out of a crease in his shirt.” . He wanted to know if it would be all right to give Mrs. Outside the front door. He hadn’t anticipated Janie’s psychodrama. and a minute later she called. “Someone’s coming!” Janie said. and two people speaking German. wearing her Princess Jane face. Unless Ellie had a mini-cam hidden in the room. So he’d taken his chances the interruption would come after proper appearances had been restored. “Liebschen. Ray asked Janie. Ray wondered. “We’ll see about that. That was the way life in his house worked. save for the frown that smudged her lips The door swung open and there stood Ulysses. He got to his feet.” Janie gave him a quick kiss for that one. He and Janie shared a look of disbelief. Outside. “You ski?” “Done it a couple times. As long as it isn’t me.” “You have the money?” “I’ll take out a loan if I have to. and ate it.” “Yes. “You have any plans for New Year’s Eve?” “We’re going to Stowe. But he’d also thought his first sexual experience would be easily timed with a stopwatch. they heard voices laughing. Uly?” Ooly. The bilingualism added to Ulysses’s aura as a Porsche wizard. the way he’d heard such things went.
And now her daughter is going to school with my son. Small world indeed!” “And we’re all going to spend the holidays together. O’Hare had reopened and she’d caught a private flight home. Dad?” Ray asked. Ellie looked on with glee and said to herself. Her mother. Prince laughed and said. incredulous. One big happy family. Anyway. “Dad. Together for the holidays. Ray looked at Janie. I said not with me clearing the way for her.” “Well. From her perch at the top of the stairs. not Vermont. “No. that and not having heard your voice for 25 years. Prince is —” “Romi is my old girlfriend from Germany.” Mrs. his father. “Small world. are you saying Mrs.” Ray and Janie just looked at each other.” Wanting to know more. Prince told Janie and Ray. “Kleine Welt. “This oughta be rich. Their spouses.Mrs. The Princes will be joining us in Wisconsin. Ray asked.” Janie’s mother squeezed Ray’s father’s hand.” Back to Table of Contents . “We’re going to Stowe.” she said. She translated. She called to ask me if she was likely to get stuck on the road driving home. “I teased Uly for not recognizing me just because I’d spoken English.
His young legs pumped as hard as they could. All the children who came to any corner of his intersection knew they had to wait for him to escort them across the street. The rider then tried to lean back to the left to complete his slalom. Percival could see the boy’s eyes were wide with fear. As he did every morning during the school year. sighting along Dirksen Street. It was coming his way. But the motorcyclist veered hard right. a lumber mill saw ripping through raw pine. Faster than he’d ever seen anything move on a roadway. Maybe three blocks up Dirksen. Gary and Sherry Carlisle. Tommy!” the chief shouted. gained visual definition . Once again. Percival spotted the source of the ungodly racket: a motorcycle. Percival thought it might knock the bus over or maybe cut right through it like an artillery shell. Illinois acted as the crossing guard for the elementary school. His effort was helped by the guy on the motorcycle swerving left to avoid the child . Any cop in his 12-officer department would have been happy to do the job. “Get out of the way!” His warning was drowned out by the tidal wave of sound from the motorcycle as it rocketed past where the chief was standing. It sure beat anything Percival had done in his 30 years in the Chicago Police Department. there was Tommy Craddick riding his bicycle across the street. For that very reason. Sure enough. more menacing. almost magical. . But on a warm sunny morning in late October seeing gaggles of young smiling faces safely into their classrooms was nothing short of a pleasure. but his front wheel clipped the curb on the far side of the intersection. As fast as the motorcycle was traveling.. which then lined the biker up to T-bone the school bus that just nosed into the intersection. even in winter when windblown snow could sting like a shower of needles. between the well-kept modest houses that lined the street. Percival was sure he was about to witness a death. In either case. He didn’t have to do it. But Tommy’s instincts were sound. grew larger. If that goddamn motorcycle ever hit any — Oh. fearing for the boy’s life. trembling as the noise grew louder. It was perversely fascinating. The chief’s head swiveled to his right. now clung to the chief’s legs. the chief of police of the small town of Hamilton. as he tracked the sound. “Pedal. Then it seemed higher pitched. some of the older kids would go out of their way to cross the street a block north of his post. blasted right past the automated speed display board that warned motorists to slow down for the school zone. first graders whose mother watched them walk the one block from their home to Percival’s corner. Even from a block away. how rapidly the machine and its rider drew near. high and far. traveling faster than the chief could believe. missing the front of the bus by a margin too small for the chief to discern.. At first he thought it was the roar of a car engine..Chapter 9: Speed Trap Frank Percival’s hands tightened around the tiny wrists of the Carlisle twins the moment he heard the sound. he didn’t need anyone to tell him to get the hell out of the way. The chief pulled the Carlisle twins back from the curb. He watched helplessly. The fourthgrader had his head turned to look in the direction of the oncoming motorcycle.. Jesus! The chief whipped his head in the opposite direction. Both man and machine flew into the air. kids would die.
and SWAT team commander for the CPD answered the ad. meet the people. He should have known. A homeowner’s pride of property saved the cretin’s life. he’d wind up in court. Beatty had precipitated matters by driving off Hamilton’s previous top cop.. he’d put him right back up there. Both the biker and his machine fell to earth not against unforgiving concrete or blacktop but atop two long neatly laid-out rows of brown bags stuffed to the brim with fallen autumnal leaves.. he decided he wanted to relocate to someplace warm. Giving the matter additional thought. He was starting to move. selling large volumes of amphetamines to an outlaw motorcycle gang. except for Beatty Egan and the problems he caused. random fusillades of gunfire.. Nineteen years old and Hamilton’s only a felon-intraining. if he got any response at all. too. He’d expected. dog fights. When Percival saw the delegation from Hamilton the first thing that came to mind was the band of Mexican peasants who had hired Yul Brynner and the rest of The Magnificent Seven. Chief. He was maybe 20 feet away when the biker managed to sit up among the burst bags of leaves. then in his mid-50s. Carlisle was there a second later to claim her children. Cully Egan. He could see that the biker hadn’t even been knocked unconscious. but if he didn’t leave town before the next storm. that speed-board clock my ride? I was tryin’ for 205. But the selection committee traveled to Chicago to take a look at him. He’d had his fill of violent assholes. at least two occasions where men and women ran naked in the fields and copulated under a full moon. The former chief was being taught a lesson for having the nerve to ask Beatty if maybe he was running a crystal meth lab on his property. “Chief. They were that fearful. Percival was about to run to the scene when he realized he still had a 50-pound child fastened to each leg. Cully was the son of Beatty Egan. No way Percival was going to let him get back on his goddamn motorcycle. Frank Percival listened. they’d tried to pretend that they were there simply to hire him for an ordinary job. Frank Percival. and no sign whatsoever that Beatty had farmed any corn or soybeans in the past five years. The town fathers sought to fill their vacancy by placing a help-wanted ad in a national police trade journal. .Only fate had another idea. what his pay and benefits would be. He ran as fast as he could. Told him about the department. the man who was unofficially responsible for Frank Percival becoming chief of police in Hamilton. likely as not. rolled him over. that determined. He’d done so by tying the man to the top of the grain silo during a thunderstorm. Then. one that Percival never would have believed if he didn’t see it with his own eyes. Word of this possibility had reached the former chief from nervous neighbors of the Egan property who reported regular visits by ten-to-twenty bikers wearing Satan’s Sons colors. former beat cop. But Mrs. He’d intended to tell them no.. Beatty had told the hapless lawman that if he didn’t get hit by lightning he’d let him go . to be invited downstate to Hamilton to see the town. having to defend his actions. detective. what was that thing?” Percival had no time to answer. and cuffed him. How Hamilton was a truly fine place to live . He didn’t need dealing with some small-town terror. “Hey. Did I get it?” Frank Percival shoved Cully Egan back down. Dumb ass looked at Percival with a grin and asked. its facilities. He’d probably have to kill the sonofabitch. At first. told them they’d have his answer within a week.
Beatty Egan was charged with and convicted of criminal trespass and assault on a police officer. The state cops had responded to a request from Percival. Frank thought Sally’d had the tougher job. So we’ll take three. Ice fishing. Even so. Probably try to get him to take up cross-country skiing. and forget about some sandbox in a desert somewhere. And then there was a tremendous explosion in a stand of trees on his property. Cully had passed his adolescence chronically truant from school.” Sounded pretty good to Percival. “You can’t take care of this one jerk for these people? You know I’m not going to California with its earthquakes or Florida with its hurricanes. Eight patrol units from the Illinois State Police were waiting the night the Sons of Satan towed a double-wide trailer onto the Egan property to set up a new speed lab. Perhaps upset by his recent reversals of fortune. There was no need for any witness to corroborate the chief’s testimony. somebody shot all six of Beatty Egan’s pit bulls. One from which she’d never backed down an inch. Hamilton might well have become Mayberry . But you said you’d get five weeks vacation on this job. Sally had matched him with one in the Chicago public schools. grabbing him by the front of his shirt and yanking him to his feet. He’d set up a video camera in his office.. The animals were done in by long-range sniper shots. They saw Beatty running around like a madman. who got him to change his mind. Beatty stopped by the chief’s office to introduce himself. For every year Frank had put in with the cops. “That’s how it works around here now. before he was allowed to drop out altogether. in the winter. But he never called the fire department.. Each patrol unit contained four troopers. Go to nice warm places all around the world.It was Frank’s wife. first as a teacher and then a principal. Chief Percival had the pleasure of meeting Beatty Egan not ninety minutes after he was sworn in. Sally had grown up in Minnesota. Beatty sought to make Percival’s acquaintance by reaching across his desk. maybe four. Percival raised the billy-club he’d held alongside his leg and drove the tip smartly into Beatty’s solar plexus. So he listened when she said. In the week before Percival officially started his job. Which wasn’t to say that Cully had lacked female role models. Neighbors for miles came to watch. By his own admission. giving the cops a two-to-one edge over the bikers. The author of Beatty’s troubles was never found. who knew the commander of the district barracks from his days with the Chicago PD. Beatty Egan went away to serve a ten-year jolt.” Percival said before he called the paramedics. The blow dislodged Beatty’s grip on the chief and doubled the thug over. even if he had reason to be suspicious of his wife. Perhaps it said something about what she’d seen in her son that she hadn’t taken the boy with her. he agreed to give Hamilton a try. Red-faced. His mother had wisely abandoned her husband many years earlier. Cully. This is how things work around here and —” Beatty didn’t get to elaborate. With Beatty and his drug business out of the picture. screaming curses into the night. The jury got to see the whole thing. all of whom would soon join Beatty Egan in the joint. Many of the biker mamas thought he . Beatty began a tutorial for the new lawman. The blast set the woods on fire. leaving the crown of his head perfectly positioned for the blow that fractured his skull. She liked cold weather. if it hadn’t been for Beatty’s son. Someplace new every year. “You listen real close. Sally.
was the cutest little thing they’d ever seen. On such occasions as Cully had made it to school, he’d boasted that he’d been getting all the sex he wanted since he first had fuzz on his nuts. While he was barely literate, Cully had learned the intricacies of tearing apart a motorcycle engine and putting it back together. He was a gifted mechanic. His father, a couple years before Percival came to town, had even opened a small repair shop on the edge of Hamilton for the boy. None of the townsfolk ever patronized the business, but the biker brethren did, and it came in handy when explaining Beatty’s cash-flow to the taxman. As for what the elder Egan did with his money, he didn’t go in for anything that would leave a paper-trail. He managed his funds the old-fashioned way. He buried his cash on his property. That was local folklore, anyway. A field of mason jars stuffed with government green, just waiting for someone to dig it all up. Thing was, even with Beatty locked up for ten years, nobody wanted to go treasure hunting out at his place. Mean sonofabitch was bound to get out or break out of jail someday. Maybe come back after Chief Percival had moved on. Cully, obviously, was permitted to dip into his daddy’s money. He had funds to pay the property taxes on the family farm. He bought a new motorcycle that cost more than most people’s cars. He kept the lights on at the farmhouse, and just about every weekend he had some foolish farm-girl out there carrying on with him. Beatty Egan’s boy was doing just fine without any visible means of support. Just out of curiosity, Percival had asked him one time where he got his money. “Don’t tell me it’s from your repair shop,” the chief said. “All your customers are in stir.” Cully gave him a dirty-toothed grin and said, “I consult on the Internet.” “Yeah?” Percival asked, grinning right back at the kid. “People anywhere in the world got problems with their bikes, I’m the man to see. I tell ‘em how to fix the suckers.” The Internet, the chief thought. Yeah, right. He knew Cully visited Beatty in prison once a month. That had to be where the kid had gotten his bullshit story. It wouldn’t have been hard to knock it down, but Percival figured Beatty had maybe a year or two more in the joint before somebody shanked him. Once sonny-boy was alone in the world, he’d have another talk with him. In the meantime, the chief and the townspeople were content to let Cully hover on the edge of the community and their collective consciousness. Until the morning he tried to do 205 in a school zone. Percival stepped into the hallway that ran outside the Hamilton PD’s two holding cells. Cully was in one; the other was empty. The click of the chief’s heels on the cement floor roused the prisoner from the open-eyed stupor in which he lay. Cully smiled at Percival. “Well, did I do it? Get my 205? You gotta know by now.” What Cully had done was fry the speed-board’s circuits. It had recorded his speed as 999 miles per hour. Which was impossible, but still would have given the young fool a thrill and a story to tell for the rest of his life. Percival wasn’t about to give him that satisfaction. “Why’d you do it?” he asked Cully. His prisoner blinked. “I was goin’ for the record, a course.” It was with regret that the chief accepted the possibility there could be such a record. Still, he asked, “What record is that?”
Cully lifted his feet off his cot and set them on the floor, engaging in serious conversation now. “The one for outlaw biker street racing. Some boy out in Pennsylvania or Minnesota or somewhere set it. State troopers clocked him with an airplane.” “And you...” “I had to show I could do as good.” Cully frowned. “Only thinking about it now, I figure I shoulda gone that boy one better. Got my bike up to 206.” Cully stood up, approached the bars that confined him, and put his hands around two of them. “Did I do it, set a new record?” Percival thought he might have. Who the hell knew? But he said, “No.” Cully cursed and kicked a bar, sending him hopping in pain back to his cot. “Well, did I get close at least?” he asked, holding his wounded foot. An idea took shape in Percival’s mind. “Two oh five,” he said. “You tied the record.” Cully grinned like the idiot he was. Then his look turned sly. Percival asked him, “You ran Dirksen Street so you could clock your speed, right?” “Yeah. What else was I gonna do? Ain’t no cops with airplanes ‘round here.” “Why didn’t you wait until the kids were all in school?” “I thought they shoulda been. What I remember of when school started. But I just finished modifyin’ my bike, you know. I had a real itch to get on it and go. To be honest, I didn’t rightfully know if it was day or night, and I didn’t care.” “In law enforcement we call that depraved indifference,” Percival told him. Recognizing the official turn the conversation had taken, Cully asked, “So what’s my fine? When do I get out of here?” “Your fine?” Percival responded. “We’re still adding zeroes on to the end of it.” “You can do shit like that?” Cully asked, outraged. “Oh, yeah. It’s gonna be big. You got any money you want me to dig up for you?” Cully narrowed his eyes, clamped his mouth shut. Percival told him, “Get comfortable then. You’re going to be here a while.” “I don’t know how long we can hold the little shit,” Percival told the mayor and the four members of the town council. “Why not?” the five men asked as one. “I’m having trouble coming up with a charge,” the chief said. “How about speeding?” the mayor asked caustically. “Or is that too obvious?” “Okay,” Percival said. “I pull out my citation book and how fast do I say he was going? Only record we have says he was doing 999 miles per hour. I don’t think that’ll stand up in court. Or I could write in way too fast. But a judge might think that’s a little vague.” “How about public endangerment?” a councilman asked. “That’s a good charge.” “And it was certainly the case,” Percival agreed. “Everyone knows it’s true. But, again, proving it in court is probably impossible. Pauline Carlisle was right there when Cully shot past and she couldn’t even tell what it was she’d just seen. How are we going to prove he actually endangered anyone? A defense attorney will say he didn’t hit anyone and, in fact, did his best to avoid striking either Tommy Craddick or the school bus. Under oath, I’d have to corroborate that. Worst we could get him for is busting up a bunch of leaf bags that cost Dave Melvin maybe $20.” “This is outrageous,” the mayor said. “We have to do something. I had a hundred people call me this morning and they all said the same thing: ‘Lock him up and throw away the key!’”
Percival shrugged. “Anybody else, I could at least scare him out of town. Cully, though, no way he’s leaving daddy’s money behind. Or digging it up while we watch him.” There was no disagreement about that. “What’s worse, he’s going to try it again,” the chief said. “I could see it in his eyes. The next time the mood strikes him, he’ll get back on his bike and do his best to go 206. Tough shit if someone gets in his way.” “Well,” one councilman said quietly, “we could just shoot the little asshole.” His municipal brethren considered the idea but didn’t feel right actually planning a murder with the chief of police present. “I have another idea,” Percival said. “But there are a couple things I’ll need from the five of you.” With some hesitation, the mayor asked, “What’s that?” The chief told them. Cully was looking out his cell window at an approaching thunderstorm when they put a guy in the next cell. Cully had never seen the guy before, meant he was from out of town. Guy had greasy black hair and a face like a rat. That was his business, but what Cully didn’t like was the way the guy was smiling at him. He even had pointy teeth like a rat. “The hell you grinnin’ at?” Cully wasn’t as big as his daddy, but he had more size on him than Ratface. Who just laughed at him. Sat on his bunk, pulled out a pack of smokes and a silver lighter. He lit his cigarette, inhaled deeply, and blew smoke rings at Cully. “I’m grinning at you, dumbass.” Cully moved to the bars that separated the two cells. “You wanna come over here and say that, you ugly little fucker?” Ratface grinned around his cigarette. “I could do that. I mean, if you’re sure that’s what you want.” Cully looked at Ratface just sitting there smoking and smiling, his damn teeth looking like they’d been filed to those points. Then Cully recalled that all his possessions had been taken from him before he’d been put in his cell. So how’d Ratface hold on to his smokes and a lighter? Had to be the dip-shit cop who’d brought him in didn’t frisk him right. That was the case ... who knew what else the fucker might have in his pockets? A knife, maybe. Cully stepped away from the bars. Went back to looking out his window. Storm was getting close now. Had to be about the last big rainstorm of the year. Snow would be next. He heard Ratface cough. Thought good: Die from cancer right now. “You want a smoke?” Ratface asked. Cully looked over at him, shook his head. “Your name’s Cully Egan,” Ratface said. “Good hillbilly name for a hick town like this.” “Yeah, what’s your name, dickwad? And how’d you know mine anyway?” “My name doesn’t matter. But I heard the cops talking about you while they were writing me up.” “So what?” Cully asked. Ratface lit a second cigarette off the butt of the first. “It was me,” he said, “I’d want to know what the cops have in mind for me.” Shit. The little fucker had Cully there. “So what’re they gonna do?” Ratface held his hands wide.
“First, why don’t we see if there’s something you can do for me?” “Fuck you,” Cully said. He went to looking back out the window, saw the rain had started, was coming down heavy. “Okay, have it your way,” Ratface told him. Cully glanced at the little man in the next cell. Bastard was stretched out on his bunk, eyes closed, puffing away like he didn’t have a care in the world. “I don’t have anything to give you,” Cully complained. Then a sickening thought occurred to him. “I sure as hell ain’t gonna blow you or nothin’.” Ratface opened his eyes and looked at Cully. Smiled again. Damn those pointy teeth. “That’s okay, darling. You aren’t my type.” He sat up and put his feet on the floor. “I know you don’t have anything to give me now. But what I overheard, you got a whole lot of money stashed on some farm.” Cully’s face turned hard. But as long as they were getting personal, he asked, “How’d you keep those smokes and that lighter. They took all my stuff.” Ratface’s smile disappeared. He was all business now. “I didn’t keep them; I stole them. Right off the cop that brought me in here. I’m a pickpocket.” Cully grinned. He’d heard about pickpockets, but he’d never met one. It woulda been kinda cool knowing one, the two of them hadn’t been locked up. Ratface lay back down. He said to Cully, “You know, I’ll tell you for free. I don’t believe a shitkicker like you is smart enough to have any money anyway.” Cully was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. “What they’re gonna do, kid, is give you one day in the county jail for every mile per hour you did over the speed limit. I heard some idiot cop say that’ll keep you locked up for 190 days.” Ratface looked over at Cully. “But I don’t believe that bullshit, either.” Cully sprang back to the bars. “You better believe it, asshole. I was clocked doin’ 205 on my bike.” “Yeah, right.” “Goddamnit, I was!” Ratface grew thoughtful. “So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you do have some money hidden somewhere. Well, that’s your tough luck. Those cops out there? They figure six months is long enough to find it.” Cully sank to his knees and wailed. His daddy was going to kill him when he found out Cully had let all his money get taken. In the depths of his misery, the boy heard a cheerful tinkling sound. Was just like someone jangling ... Keys! Ratface dangled them from one hand, still lying on his cot and smoking. Cully asked, “Are those—” “Sure are, kid.” “Then you ‘n’ me can—” “Unh-uh. I fuck with the screws just for the fun of it. But I’m feeling good my case is going to get shit-canned. I break jail, though, I’m in real trouble.” “Well, what about me, goddamnit?” Cully asked. “What about you?” “I gotta get outta here before my money gets stole.” “How much money we talking about?” Ratface asked. Cully told him and was pleased when the little creep whistled.
Right now. That happened. Of course.. slipped his key into the bike’s ignition. Still. His fear of his father finally got Cully to open the door. He saw Ratface close his eyes again.” he said. but he did hear someone talking . “Good luck. he’d be locked up a lot longer than six months. This time he wasn’t smoking. Would’ve been a whole lot better if it wasn’t raining so hard. he was scared shitless to go any farther. The cupboard was locked.” Cully took his boots off so he could move quiet. He grabbed the key to his bike and headed for freedom. but a key on Ratface’s ring opened it. of course. “You’d do the same thing if I don’t leave your share for you?” Ratface nodded. he’d pull the door shut and toss the keys back at Ratface.” Ratface tossed them without looking. They sailed neatly between the bars and into Cully’s hands. He waited to see if there was some kind of alarm that was about to sound. A minute earlier. He let those crooked cops dig up his daddy’s money. Then he was under control and able to pick up speed. The door there had a small window in its upper half. There was a cup of coffee on a desk outside. Had to ease off on the gas when he felt the back end start to go sideways. He got caught breaking jail. that was fine by him. “You leave me. a voice had reached him through the earpiece that he wore. and two men laughing. He went to the cupboard where he’d seen that damn chief of police put the keys to his bike. Ratface’s keys came through one last time. gimme them keys.” Ratface had said. but no steam rising from it. He was mortally relieved when no one was in the office outside . “Now. Couldn’t see a damn soul. After you tell me where I can find my money. Had a big damn chain and lock on it. Cully exited the building and was immediately drenched. trying to decide if he knew the title. and someone else moaning . ten grand. Didn’t look like anyone would be back to drink it soon. okay. He figured he had time to dig up his daddy’s money before they saw he was gone..” Cully told him where he’d find his money.” Ratface said. “Okay. It’d make a good detail when he told the story of his jailbreak. but as long as he kept blinking real fast he could see pretty good.. He opened his cell door. . Hit the little fucker in the head if he could. and now Cully saw the real menace of those teeth.“Tell you what. though. You get caught and rat on me.” Ratface had his mouth open. He’d get that done and never come back to this shitty little town. “Don’t wake me when you go.. but being who he was he skidded to a stop and listened to the sounds of the porn show. Jesus! The screws were watching a porn flick. but he saw where his bike was parked. Chief Frank Percival sat in his patrol unit. I’ll give you the keys. Only he might not get any nookie ever again if he stayed there too long. Cully sneaked a peek. tapped the gear shifter and let in the clutch. say. The shit some people did when they were supposed to be working. that wouldn’t matter. I’ll find you and gut you like a fish. He pulled his boots on. but he didn’t leave right off. he thought. You get away with your pile. But there was no alarm and after a minute he moved silently to the end of the lockup hallway.. “He’s out. kid. he was dead anyway.. good for you.
WHOOP-WHOOP-WHOOP. he was so close now.Percival clicked his transmitter two times in acknowledgment. Then he’d go somewhere nobody’d ever think to look for him. Which he soon noted he was. and there it was: 207! Hot damn. One ninety-eight ..191. He was going to do it. But he’d hit a trough of standing water. He had missed the curve in the road just past the speed board. Daring to glance over his shoulder.. the number changed again: 999. if he remembered right. Frank Percival pulled to a stop and observed what had happened. In the goddamn rain. urging it to break the record while he could still see it. But the way things were. The chief turned his engine on. He hunched low over his handlebars and let his bike run flat out . But no way could he slow down... Not even his old man. Cully thought at first some goddamn fool on an ATV was headed straight at him. Well maybe the jackass was just a little off to his right. and taken off. Close to the record but close to the speed board. hydroplaned. Anything going that speed ought to be airborne. By his own witless doing without causing harm to anyone else. He was fixated on the board. Then. He was going to set a new world record. on the shoulder of the road. The chief carefully turned his car around on the narrow road and hitched the speed board to the back end. But it was a soft shoulder here. Nothing else existed for him.. put on his lights and windshield wipers. Someone had moved it from its place on Dirksen Street near the school to out here. Had to set the wipers to high. directly ahead there was an .. So whoever was coming at him had to have some serious off-road vehicle. There was a small fire when the bike’s gas take ruptured but it was quickly put out by the downpour. He tapped his foot. but he could sure as hell outrun a lousy cop car. Now. pickpocket or otherwise. he might as well shoot himself as give up. shifting up a gear.. He might not see what speed he hit as he went past. 202 . light bar all lit up and now its howler started blaring nonstop. but the way the numbers on the board were climbing — like a damn rocket ship — he was glad they did.. and with all the rain it had to be pure mud by now. too. It blotted up Cully Egan like a paper towel absorbing a spill. He would take full responsibility for that lapse in security that allowed Cully to escape and resign his position.. 167 . His department would show no record of any prisoner intake.. Oak tree. The road-water hissed under his wheels like someone laid a steam iron on it: 145. His departure was one of the conditions the mayor and the town council had . 182 . on the night Cully Egan had escaped custody. massive and ancient. Cully fed gas to his engine and right quick he could see the lights ahead weren’t any ATV. He hoped Cully would be able to see what he’d left for him at the side of the road. he saw a cop car. just before he shot past. A moment later he saw the escaped Cully Egan unchain his bike and head out in the direction of the family farm.. Just the way a punk like Cully Egan should go out. Maybe he wouldn’t have time to dig up Daddy’s money now. He didn’t know why. He was doing better than 100 already. Telling him to pull over and give his ass up. Which was fast enough to scare even Cully. They were the lights on the speed board.. he’d have it towed back to its customary spot. Only who the hell except a fugitive would be out on a night like this? A sudden electronic WHOOP gave him his answer. In twenty minutes. He leaned further out over his bike. It shattered the motorcycle with only a small loss of bark. gave it some more gas and watched the board: 121. he judged.
Of course. When she and Percival had come to town there’d been a job open at the district high school for a chemistry teacher. she’d fallen for the school principal. now his ex-wife. Sally. if he’d wanted to stay in Hamilton. for one. Percival might have figured out a less drastic way to deal to with Cully Egan. Sally might guess what he had done. Sally. Back to Table of Contents . There might be some who’d find the circumstances of Cully’s demise suspicious. If Sally hadn’t left him. Hell of a thing. and wouldn’t you know it. As it was. her specialty. Especially after she’d blown up a meth lab for you. he thought it was time to try someplace warm. Yeah. The other was to accelerate his pension eligibility from the Hamilton PD. moving someplace new and having your wife leave you. but she wouldn’t be talking. Now. he’d get two retirement checks to keep him going.to accept.
They each had two kids. “So who is she?” Trisha asked. “What’s wrong. I’m the younger woman. No. They walked to the lakefront. Anyway. and dangled their toes in the water. they treated themselves to lunch at The Cheesecake Factory on the lower level of the Hancock Building. “Well. “I think Mark has fallen in love with a younger woman. “Get to the good part. ordered cheeseburgers for lunch. During the early years. . It was an unspoken rule among the Houseketeers that if somebody was having a banner day you didn’t spoil it with bad news. The lake level was high that year. they dined outside. The next day she’d spent crying with them.” Casey’s thoughts drifted until Mimi gave her a nudge. Bobbi.” Casey continued. Deedee’s exit meant all of them were now empty-nesters. she was cleaning out the attic.” Something like that.” “You remember my dad passed away last year?” Casey said. They raised their margarita glasses to their good fortune and. “Why not?” they asked. “And should we kill her?” “Or at least dent her car. So she sent it to him. calories be damned. “Okay. they hadn’t forgotten. Mimi Hirsch was 48. for one thing. don’t do either of those things. rolled up their pant legs. Whenever they had a reason to celebrate. Casey?” She told them. deciding which of Dad’s things to give to family and which would go to the Salvation Army. They all lived on the North Side of Chicago in a neighborhood that had been iffy when they’d bought in and then had gentrified around them. Their conversation was as light as their plates were heavy. “Well. The occasion was the departure that morning of Mimi’s younger daughter for college. she was the one who got to break protocol. you didn’t talk about it at a café table with people buzzing all around you. As it was Mimi’s big day.” she said. Now they were united in complaints about skyrocketing property taxes. But by the time Mimi and Trisha swabbed up their last dollops of ketchup with their last french fries they both knew that something was wrong with Casey — despite the brave face she was putting on for her friends. Then they regarded Casey.” Casey told her friends. They took off their shoes. Trisha Nolan was 45. “Mom’s ready to sell the house now. “you got some splainin’ to do. When she got to Dad’s old view camera. Sharing the perils of the urban frontier and then the joys of watching their environs prosper created strong bonds between them. sat on the concrete shoreline. they watched out for each other and for all of their kids.” Mimi said in her best Desi Arnaz voice. who sat between them. and she thought how much she’d always appreciated how close Mark and Dad had been. Casey had spent all night crying on Mark’s shoulder.Chapter 10: Younger Woman They called themselves the Three Houseketeers. She’s going to live with my sister. Lucy. “No. she remembered that Mark had always been fascinated by it. As the weather was fine that early September day. Trisha and Mimi did. and at each other. After she’d heard the news. Casey Severin was 46.” Trisha and Mimi leaned forward to look past Casey.” Mimi countered.
But who the hell hadn’t? “I was the one who asked my dad to take the picture. Until Casey set them straight. But then he asked me if I wanted to go to the frame store with him.” “Meaning what. to see how close the architects came to his drawings. but for maybe an insane week or two I thought about being a model. His face got this dreamy look when he did.“Along with the camera Mom sent this picture Dad took of me when I was 19. “Uh-huh. Took a minute to answer. “I got to New York. I wasn’t nude. I could see the wheels turning in his head. I’d think we were talking about a nudie here. too. Without looking away from the sink. I didn’t think so.” “And after all this time. A soccer mom who could get out on the field and play the game if she wanted. He said he wanted to frame my picture.. “If the photographer had been anyone other than your dad. sweetie?” Mimi asked. and looks of creeping uneasiness crossed on her friends faces. “It’s hard to talk about. I thought that was sweet of him. it was a bit provocative. Casey had always been slim and attractive but in an AllAmerican girl sort of way. My dad was as proper a man as ever lived... “Last week I was washing dishes. it made my knees weak when I got right up close to it. He came up behind me and brought me his wine glass. though..” Casey said. Mark and I. “that old picture still packs a punch?” Casey gave each of her friends a stern look.” “So how come you’re a hausfrau and not on magazine covers. Her friends raised their eyebrows. Then .. I mailed it to an agency in New York and they sent me a first-class airplane ticket and said come see them right away.” Casey blushed . but he kept looking at the picture. He shots were so great that I thought maybe he could do okay with me.” Mimi said. They bobbed their heads in acquiescence. she’d let herself go a little.. stood in front of the agency’s building..” Casey said. Casey shook her head. In the last few years. we’d had some wine with dinner. One that said: You’ll take this secret to your graves with you.” Trisha said. I couldn’t believe I was the girl in the picture. But the picture .. I wanted to forget the whole thing. I knew if I did I’d be setting off on something that . staring at it more every day. Which took me about a year.” “Only maybe he did a lot better than you ever expected?” Trisha asked. he didn’t seem to make too much of it. I was relieved. but I sure hadn’t shown it to him. You know. giving me the last drink.” “Or maybe you were just imagining. Get just the right mat for it. When Mark first saw it. There was a sip or two left in it. and I was too scared to go in. I kept putting him off. I asked if there was anything more to wash. exactly?” Trisha asked. Made me repay my travel expenses. but my dad made me call the head of the agency and apologize to her. well. He held it up to my lips so I could finish the wine and then he put the glass in the sink. I thought I’d stick it the back of a photo album and it’d be forgotten. It was almost as if he’d seen it before. . I never meant for Mark to see it. “Of course. I turned around and went home. “At first. “What could be so bad?” Mimi added.” Trisha knitted her brow. Casey splashed the water with her foot. “He’d go out and shoot every building for which he ever did a rendering.
She prepared five courses. deep blue eyes holding infinite mysteries. The next thing I knew they were both around my ankles and Mark was. this must be one hot picture of you. dessert was consumed. Mark didn’t comment on this vaudeville act but he did smirk. “More’s the pity that her dad has passed on.” Mimi gave Ed an elbow to the ribs.” “Well. Trisha and Paul. ready to go. she was sure Mark would be watching the two men closely. you know. “How many girls have an orgasm doing the dishes?” Mimi wanted to know. Which is something I still have a hard time believing. Maybe I—” “Yeah. And we did it right there at the sink. They all came. What they all saw was a 19-year old Casey Mulroy. But I didn’t realize just how gorgeous she really is until I saw this picture. “Tom was a meticulous records-keeper. “The past few years. amazed. He stood next to it and said. Mimi let out a long low whistle. Mimi and Ed. And my panties. We used to compare notes all the time. Besides. too.” “Come on. dark hair shining.” Paul said. Casey thought it was only slightly less embarrassing than if she’d simply posed nude on the dining room table while the others gorged around her. Trisha and Mimi had the difficult job of restraining their husbands from wolfing their food while they delicately shoveled it in as fast as they could. sure.” Mark nodded and pulled the silk cover off with a flourish. and afterdinner drinks were politely declined. “just as soon as Mimi and I are nineteen again we’ll circle a date on our calendars.” “Damn. And I still had had my hands in rubber gloves and soap suds. But Mark told him. Casey watched her guests’ reactions closely. you’ll stay home. “But I stopped washing for a while. “Can we see it?” Mimi asked. right.“I felt him slip his hands inside the waistband of my shorts.” Trisha and Mimi looked at each other. I can’t be ready at the drop of a hat. Casey’s eyes took on the soft focus of someone recalling a potent memory. She caught my eye the first time we were in the same room. things haven’t been as fluid as they once were.” Two-thirds of the Houseketeers just laughed.” Casey returned to the moment.” Trisha said. “Tell me we can. The company repaired to the living room where Mark had already hung the picture and draped it with a white silk cloth.” Trisha said.” Trisha said. “Did you? Have an orgasm?” Casey nodded. she did appear to be . skin as fair as the morning sun. mouths were patted clean with linen napkins. But that night it was as easy as it’s ever been. And keep your husbands with you. but Casey made them wait. In due course. Their husband’s impressions were secondary. especially Trisha’s and Mimi’s. looked at each of her friends. She insisted they eat dinner first. And Trisha said softly.” Ed Hirsch commented. “I’ve always thought Casey was a good looking woman.” Paul and Ed just got big round eyes. “Let’s see what the fuss is all about. but if you’re really my friends. At first glimpse. “Hubba-hubba. right there. he could have done one of Mimi and Trisha. come on. “Mark is inviting the Nolans and the Hirsches to the unveiling this Saturday night.
“Well. standing tall and slim and proud. I must. Which is crazy because how can he cheat on me when I know he’s thinking of me? Only he’s not thinking of me the way I am now but the way I was then. Her face and graceful neck led the eye to bare shoulders and a floating slope of cleavage. Casey said. Mimi wanted to get some new furniture and Trisha had the design credentials to get them into showrooms that were off-limits to the public. I must have you. It’s only natural that Mark feels the way he does.” Mimi took Casey’s hand. she might explode. Mimi chuckled. “No. Mimi and Trisha sensed her mood and dragged their husbands out the door.” Mimi made little kissing sounds. “It really is a stunning picture. making the inevitable comparisons. You were beautiful.” Casey told the Houseketeers. I wish my mother had never sent me that picture. and if people didn’t stop staring soon. “Let’s get real here. it wasn’t that bad. After a silence long enough to make her uncomfortable. Mark looked at his wife. After they were gone. You’ve got the best of both worlds. Casey yanked her hand free. I’m going to take a hot shower. “you glamour queens always are.” Ed replied looking over at her. The ever-changing face of the city raced past below them. “In fact. Fortunately.” “I don’t get any help with the clean up?” “No. you do the dishes tonight. I do want to marry you. “Hell. If I were married to you I’d feel the same way.” Mimi added her other hand to Casey’s and pitched her voice much deeper. “Have a good time?” he asked.” Trisha said. I want to smash it every time I walk past.” “Has Mark asked you to try?” Mimi inquired.nude. The area between the revealed skin was pitch black.” “Come on.” “The best. “It’s all trick photography. too. At either side of her hovered two long delicate hands. girl. Everyone was looking at her now.” Trisha said. and her left leg was bare from sleek thigh to tapered calf to slender ankle. as was the background. we’d all like to be in our 20s again. “But what about the pressure? I can never look that good again. Your husband loves you and now you’re his fantasy girl. sure. Casey hadn’t let herself go that badly. How do you top that?” Casey parried. “Fine friends you two are. The morning rush was an hour past and they had one end of the car to themselves. and Trisha laughed. But on further examination the highlights of Casey’s black satin dress became apparent and with them the contours of her body. leaving it to the imagination to complete the picture. but compared to the girl in the picture she felt like the Hindenburg. “A million laughs. too. aiding whatever thoughts the viewer had already conjured. Bet the girls give you a lot of compliments.” “We’ll see.” “Damn good trick. issuing thanks for an enjoyable evening. Goddamnit. They were riding the “L” to the Merchandise Mart.” . “I feel like Mark’s cheating on me every time we make love.” “I was a bitch the rest of the weekend. but isn’t it clear that’s what he’d like?” Trisha said. She got her laughter under control and continued.
” Trisha nodded. So Mark had said to take another year and reinvent herself. “That picture of me makes you hot. “I’m going to join a gym with Mimi and Trisha. and she wasn’t ready for more kids. That year had come and gone and she still hadn’t wanted to go back to the classroom.” “Would you like me to look like that again?” Mark opened his eyes. “And we’re going to look at whirlpool baths while we’re at the Mart. Trisha nodded. Casey got on carefully. doesn’t it?” Casey asked.Mimi added.” . Her husband’s hair loss hadn’t made him any less attractive. “Sure. Jack. “It’s a hot picture. she thought. she had said it was time for her to go back to work. He really had been good to her. “You bet. She’d apologized to Mark when he’d come home from work. all the more so because it’s you. “Every chance I get. He kept what was left.” Casey told her friends.” He slipped an arm around her shoulders. You’re welcome to come sweat with us.” He scooted over.” “Maybe fly off to a Swiss clinic. had gone off to college two years ago. Which was proving tougher than she ever would have thought. After their younger child.” Mimi added. Casey was re-staking plants. “Think about a little cosmetic surgery. “There room on that thing for me?” she asked. and a patch for growing tomatoes. He’d kissed her and hugged her and they’d gone out back to putter in the yard. too.” “I know. we are going to join a gym. She looked over at her husband. “Even if the two of us never looked quite so fair as you did. his eyes closed.” Casey and Mark were in their backyard. The hair he had went well with his beard. pleased that several of them were heavy with fruit. “Nothing like yours. so she didn’t dump the both of them.” He had a small ridge in front. The train pulled into the stop for the Merchandise Mart and they got off. and I’d like to have all my hair again. sides and back. But there was enough grass to mow.” “You two are so full of it. She walked over to him. humming tunelessly to himself. Mark had been understanding and told her to take a year’s sabbatical.” “That’s not what I meant. Behind that it disappeared to the crown of his head. Casey thought. trimmed short. “We both prefer whirlpools to the kitchen sink.” She eased her way off the hammock. but it answers your question anyway. “We’re going to join a gym. a relatively small space taken up mostly by their garage. not after 20 years of raising her own. “Are there any old pictures of you hanging around?” Casey asked. “Do you love me?” she asked. and space for a hammock and a butane grill. But her degree was in elementary education.” Trisha said. “Should we tell her now?” “Tell me what?” Casey asked. “Well. He’d finished his mowing and was lying peacefully on the hammock. Have some of those forever-young treatments.” Mimi said. Trish ‘n’ me. which complimented his likably craggy face. as Mark was doing now.
Not the picture of the 19-year-old Casey. and spring they did strength work. “I don’t know a thing about accounting or interior design. Mimi was a CPA and started working more hours at Ed’s firm.” Trisha said.” “What?” her friends asked.” Mimi said. shapelier.” Mimi said. unable to find a new niche for herself. cardio. “if you might like to come work with one of us. . Now she was looking for an office of her own. But against the middle-aged Casey. sweetie.” Trisha amended. Casey cut back to one night of Häagen-Dazs per week and stopped baking chocolate chip cookies altogether. Trisha and Mimi measured themselves against Casey. They tried pilates.” Mimi and Trisha looked at each other. Especially as their friend kept getting eerily closer to her youthful incarnation. right?” Trisha asked. Through the fall. She certainly wouldn’t be treated as an underling. This time they went to Charlie Trotter’s. Moving in new directions. We’ve got to figure out something for you to do. I do know how to make coffee. Their friend seemed stuck. “We’re worried. and stronger Trisha and Mimi became the less they saw themselves as Houseketeers. where the food was to die for and the portions were to search for with a magnifying glass. Just what they needed on their diets.” Each of her friends took one of Casey’s hands. damn her. “You. an interior designer. Casey grinned.” Mimi insisted. Mimi and Trisha went on the South Beach Diet.” “Well.” Mark said. you two seem to be off to good starts.” “We figure. “But how would you like to be support staff for one of us?” Mimi asked.” Trisha told Casey.” Mimi said.” Mimi and Trisha both protested that Casey would be given serious responsibilities with either of them. picked up a handful of private clients and then pitched and won a commercial account. Though they didn’t say so. “About me?” Casey asked.“Good for you. put us back on the domestic track. She said. Trisha. “So you shouldn’t take this the wrong way. “You want me to be your secretary? Well. “More concerned than worried. yoga. “You know we love you. We’re worried—” “Concerned. The Houseketeers became regulars at the health club. So Mimi and Trisha took her to lunch. “Very much.” Trisha repeated. but my typing’s not so hot. “Whatever. and cycling. “I’m worried. I think I may have come up with something. winter.” Casey frowned. The interesting thing was that the fitter. He closed his eyes again and went back to humming. the two of them worried — about Casey. “It’s okay. So we’ve got to do something interesting now. and stretching. You don’t have to be worried or concerned about me. “We were wondering. which was a high enough hill to climb. Casey gently disengaged her hands from theirs. “we’ve got five-to-ten years at most before our kids make us grandmas and stick us with the babysitting. that would be masochism.
There was knowledge in Casey’s eyes now where before there had been innocence. the inconstancy of relationships.” “Doesn’t sound like any fun when you put it like that. assuming you can keep up with the new super-fit me.” Mark laughed. broke. the drug use. Casey said.” Mark shook his head. She had her hair fixed the same way. all of the furniture had been pushed out of its normal positions to make way for . maybe if I’d gotten to meet Springsteen. That last part was maybe what scared me most. Mark noticed the changes the moment he stepped through the front door and into his living room. And. but I can imagine it with only one lover . “For all the glamour that appealed to me. too. and see if I can find an old phone number. and then dying childless. a string of them. An elaborate array of lights and reflectors had sprouted like an industrial forest.” “None at all.” “That we do. You and the boys mean more to me than any rock stars . a stage set? No. I suppose I should be grateful for that fit of paranoia. I have to talk with Mark first. Casey nodded. He nodded his head at the camera and the lights. damnit. if you even get there.” “Do my best. For another.. Mark smiled and called out.. “But all of those thoughts raced through my head that day in New York. or damn close to it. “Casey!” Timing it to a T.. she was sexier now than she had been then.. animated the fantasy he’d been entertaining for a couple of years. “So is this what I think it is?” . and alone.” “I still like sex. His eyes and smile widened as he saw what she was wearing.. It looked like the same dress she’d had on in the photo. Me. I was also afraid of the dark side I’d read and heard about. The brevity of being on top.” “Ditto. No.” “I like a little wine now and then but show no signs of becoming dependent.” “Well.” “We have two great boys. all of the windows had been hung with blackout curtains. kiddo.” Being an architect and sensitive to his environment. never finding one good guy. and Patrick and Jack. a photography studio. well. “I never told you why at 19 I was afraid to become a model.. He had a hard time finding the breath just to talk to her. the thoughts of fame and fortune.” Mark said with a grin. He body showed strength and depth where before there had been potential and promise. anorexic. The likeness was stunning but it wasn’t perfect. The view camera he’d inherited from Tom Mulroy was set up in the middle of the room. He had to blink to make sure his wife hadn’t somehow become a teenager again. Casey crossed the room and sat down on the stool. The starvation diets.“I don’t want to say right now. I have met my great guy and all these years later I still love him. she most certainly hadn’t. do some shopping. I saw myself married to rock stars.” Mark said. The same makeup was on her face. she stepped into the room just before he would have called her again. For one thing. Positioned at the focal point of the setup was a tall wooden barstool.” “Me. “But now I’m older and stronger.
had first shown him the picture of Casey a couple years back.” “Anyone ever get away from you?” Casey asked. right after Tom was first diagnosed. “you look like you know what you’re doing. almost offhand way. “You bet we will. knowing even though he wasn’t supposed to. “She runs the modeling agency I ran out on. there’s a catch. Casey was sleeping deeply when Mark slipped out of bed. you always remember the one who got away. Is Helen there? . now. So you’ll back me up?” “Whatever you need. “Unh-uh. whatever I can do. But closing out a life emotionally was inevitably a more delicate proposition.. Tom.” “Keeping up with you sexually?” “Supporting my new career. you got it. “Hey.” Casey told him.” she said. He tapped in a phone number he’d committed to memory. Did it in a casual.” “So you’ll take my picture now? Penelope wants to see how well I’ve aged. Maybe I’ll do the swimsuit edition of Modern Maturity. He lay down in his hammock and looked up at the stars.” “Who’s Penelope?” he asked. Talked to Penelope Hayes..” He smiled at her. He closed the bedroom door behind him.” He hummed tunelessly as he waited for his mother-in-law. let me guess. . “You want to move?” Mark asked. He grabbed a portable phone and took it out to the backyard.” “Thanks. “I’d give you a big kiss if it wouldn’t ruin your makeup.. She and her late husband.Case told him. Went great. “I think the only way to get your mind off that old picture is to take a new one .” “The agency’s in New York. “Hmm.” Mark laughed.” Then he took the picture.” “I made a call today.” Mark crossed the room to Casey. He made small adjustments in two of them and adjusted a reflector.” “You’re all right with it?” Casey asked. Yeah.” Casey said. Tom Mulroy’s financial affairs were always in order.” “Sure.” Casey told him. but if you do.” “Take the work that interests you. “I’ve committed your dad’s notes to memory.” Mark said. “We’ll work it out.” “Take my picture. He moved the barstool out of the way and then looked at the way the lights were set up.” “I won’t work too much.” “Okay.” Mark extended his hand to Casey and she took it to stand up. “What about models having to be young?” “People are smart enough to use mature models. A methodical man. “Hi.. “Found an old number. told it was time to get his affairs in order. She remembered me after all this time. tonight. “I’ll commute.” he said. Got it first try. Bobbi. “It’s Mark. then kissing will be just one of the things we’ll do.
marry. Tom showing Mark how to use his camera every time he and Casey visited. he’d been glad to have his daughter come home. Helen. After that. But the picture he’d taken of Casey had always haunted him. As much as anyone else. No. When the end had come for him it was shockingly abrupt. “Helen. Showed him the picture his wife didn’t want him to see. No.” Mark said. I don’t think she suspects. I almost slipped. Mark spotted a shooting star.” Back to Table of Contents . He said. it’s great. Mark understood. and he’s still helping with the lighting. have children. Looking up. They concocted all sorts of plans to get Casey to give her youthful ambition another try. backing down from an ambition that had briefly enthralled her.He had few enough enough regrets and those were mostly resolved with grants of forgiveness and requests for the same. It arced across the heavens. Casey. but then — “Hello. But one thing that stuck in his craw was his daughter. He’s still here. he enlisted Mark in his scheme. don’t worry about Tom missing a thing. He called that modeling agency Casey had gone to and spoke to the same woman she’d gone to see years ago. he had an idea. She was wishing Tom was there to hear the news. Casey’s very excited. He’d asked if there was any call for beautiful older women in her business and was pleased to hear the answer. but I think I covered up okay.” Helen was delighted. but her words trailed off into a bittersweet pause. she isn’t scared any more. He should have raised his girl to be tougher. Yeah. more dauntless. When Tom had heard from Casey that Mark had said she should take a year to reinvent herself. Casey made the call. and live close by. Spoke to Penelope Hayes. showing a little too much familiarity with how to take the shot. “Yeah. a face like hers should have been celebrated publicly.
” Clack let Tula’s door close behind him. Wondered why he didn’t know some other guys. leaves his whole crew shit outta luck. He hadn’t gone looking to get into crime. so Naldo jumped in.” Huey said to him.” “Did some roofing. wait.” Clack told them. though. “Maybe you can help us with somethin’. “He had that non-union construction gig. They didn’t know about the respectable grades and the advanced placement test. Clack gave them the finger and headed for the door.” Naldo shook his head in commiseration.Chapter 11: Money Man Clack McKinnon graduated high school with a B average. Clack swears it wasn’t him smokin’ dope.” Huey smiled. he’d have a three-hour credit going in. “Fuck you both. Even got a “4” on an AP history test. ex-cons. “Man. the building got built. “Yeah. bam. “Our boy was smart enough to stay far enough away he didn’t even get a contact high. gets sued. they’re jobs for guys like us. “Then there was the car-wash. Down at the station. whispering back and forth about a crime they were planning. uses the money from the job to pay his medical bills. “So what’s it been now man? Three or four jobs you lost since you got your diploma?” Clack wasn’t in a hurry to answer. It’d be his first crime. So if he ever went to college. ready to go home and.” Huey called. But. But the cops kept him overnight anyway ‘cause they didn’t like him saying he didn’t see anybody tokin’ up. Clack had no intention of telling them. He was considering joining them in the heist they were working out. The idea had come up last week. .” Naldo said. goes out of business. His buddies Naldo Montes and Huey Kleef. damn. “Even bein’ a high school grad-u-ate.” “And you ain’t been able to keep ‘em anyway. Good money.” Huey and Naldo both snickered. had barely made it into high school and hadn’t lasted a semester. falls off his ladder.” Naldo said. sitting with him at the back of Tula’s Diner. “Only the boss comes to work hungover one morning. and he ain’t been called back since.” Huey said. and his blood test proves it. didn’t look back. man. but they figured he’d squeaked by just to please his mom. after he’d lost his latest job and he was sitting right there in that same booth. Tula not minding that he and Naldo and Huey were nursing the same cups of coffee for an hour because nobody else was in the place and they always kept their voices down and left as big a tip as they could afford. He got up from the booth to go.” Naldo said. “Clack here’s changin’ in the locker room. Huey said to Clack. They knew Clack had gone through school and graduated in the four years they’d been in and out of jail. “you realize somethin’? All those jobs a yours.” Clack looked at his friends. “Hey.” “Bein’ innocent didn’t keep him from losin’ that fine job at the car wash. the cops bust in and arrest the whole shift ‘cause a few of the guys are enjoyin’ a joint or two.
. Only thing was.” He pressed his static button.” Huey took a small black plastic object out of his pocket. Either they called for experience he didn’t have or they wanted a college education.” Huey said. Preferred them to anything they got at home. Pretty small. Naldo said.” How . Clack put his cup down. too.” Naldo said when they were settled in Loris McKinnon’s kitchen. must have felt the three of them were a good fit. Which made Huey smile. a lookout. Clack glanced at it and looked back at his friends.. “Maybe.” Naldo said. Means we need help fast.” Naldo told him. They brought coffee and Krispy Kremes. “Keep your eyes open and if you see anything doesn’t look right. “but we need a third guy. Others.” Huey nodded and took two more EZTalks out of his pocket. It had a stubby antenna and three buttons. Then we give you two buzzes.” Huey added. “You know how far back we go. “It’s a walkie-talkie. Had to be that. and an inscription saying it was made in China. “We got this job we’re planning..” Huey looked at Naldo and got a nod. man. but he only sipped his coffee. they didn’t like his voice when he called their phone numbers.” “You’d have to wash a lotta cars to get two K. not then.” Naldo told Clack. Clack hadn’t talked much since his daddy left him and Mama.Huey and Naldo came to his house the next day. Because the guys he’d watched eating crayons were asking how he’d like to become a felon just like them. She was not warm to them and when she had her son alone always told him. though. and not at all his first five months in Chicago.” He produced more static. Loris hadn’t thought much of her son’s new friends. “Ain’t you gonna say nothin’?” Naldo asked. because he hadn’t said ten words before the guy on the other end said. giving one to Naldo. Most of them he could skip right by. “See. He pressed a button on his and a burst of static came from the other two. “Keep your eyes open. She was right. Huey and Naldo ate crayons. just . Now. huh? But works up to a half-mile away.” Huey and Naldo were the first two kids Clack had met when his mother brought him up to Chicago from Texas. The kindergarten teacher put them together. “Just . EZTalk. He kept reading the help-wanted ads. “You can do better. too. They all felt more at ease with each other than with any of the other kids.” “That’s all you gotta do. “We was just fuckin’ with you yesterday. you know. he was beginning to think his mother was right.” Huey added. “Didn’t mean nothin’ by it.” Huey said. after they’d seen his mother leave for work. somethin’ goes wrong on the inside where we can see it but you can’t. right?” They both looked at Clack expectantly. the teacher. that job’s been filled.” Naldo said. “Don’t need to say a word. Anderson. So come on the run. keeping one for himself.. Mrs. “Sorry. “You guys make sure you’ve got fresh batteries in these things?” He still didn’t say yes. “Two grand.. “Only one more thing. “And for that we’ll give you . It had a name on it.” Clack thought about telling Mama the same thing. that’s all you have to do. “Whole thing shouldn’t take more’n twenty minutes..
“How you guys made a big score and are living the high life. Only other thing he could figure. He thought about joining the army for maybe ten seconds. but B’s never won anybody a scholarship. Huey helped keep the hallways swept and mopped so Naldo let him crash on the floor in a sleeping bag he stole from a sporting goods store.the fuck could that be? Clack had called first thing on the first day the ad appeared in the paper. thanks. After reading the classified ads and going around almost begging for a job. Clack thought. and Mama sure couldn’t afford to pay his tuition. you were supposed to salute that guy? The one thing left for him. And who started the war? Bunch of assholes who never put themselves in any truck going down any dangerous road. how about letting me out early? Christ. . don’t send my ass overseas. Bomb goes off and the poor guys inside never knew what hit them. you could only pull shit like that in places far away. He could have delivered pizzas. “Let’s hear what you’ve got in mind. so Clack got to read all about out-sourcing. Only the working stiffs even in those places were starting to look expensive. and offer to work 12 hours for 30¢ or whatever those poor bastards scraped by on. but then they both cracked up. The two of them were drinking malt liquor at ten in the morning.” Clack told Naldo and Huey. None of the non-union places had any jobs either. “Yeah. if he’d had a car. The job ads appeared in the same section of the paper as the business news. and down-at-the-heels Air Jordans. Shit. was to consider the only job offer he had. and while you’re at it. His grades were good enough to get into a state school. man. where people couldn’t actually see what a miserable asshole you were. President who’d checked off that box on his National Guard form: No. Clack thought maybe he ought to learn whatever language they spoke in Bangladesh. where was it going to stop? And what were people like him supposed to do? He’d tried all of the neighborhood stores. Huey bobbed his head. Two grand for twenty minutes work. starting with the few big supermarkets that still paid half-decent and actually had health and dental plans. You think all we got to do is wait for you?” Clack’s friends were both wearing faded AC/DC t-shirts. They were sitting in the two-room basement apartment Naldo got from an uncle in return for hauling trash down to the alley from the other six flats in the building. But he didn’t think that’d work either. So the guys who had the jobs to give were looking at Bangladesh and places he’d never even heard of. jeans that had never been washed. you joined up. “Never could lie to you. only got put in the paper to make it look like somebody else actually had a chance.” Naldo and Huey gave him hard jailhouse stares. “How do you know we ain’t done the job already?” Naldo asked. You were a businessman.” Naldo said. study something that would at least give him a chance of making a life for himself. Long enough to see one of those video clips on TV. Clack would grind his teeth about not being able to go to college. “Must’ve missed it. Jobs going to China and India. Just keep your eyes open.” Clack said. People over there making EZTalks and all sorts of other shit. They let him put in applications but told him not to hold his breath because unless a whole lot of people suddenly died the waiting list for openings was two-three years long. dress in rags. man. the job was already given to a kid of somebody who worked at the place. Army truck going down the road in Iraq and BANG. press a button if you have to.
“Always was smarter than us,” Huey added. “So what’s the job?” Clack asked. “Fur,” Naldo told him. Huey made like he was rubbing his face in something wonderful. “Pussy?” Clack asked, puzzled. His friends laughed and took pulls at their 45-ounce bottles. “That’ll come later,” Huey said. “After we steal a shitload of real fur. Minks ‘n’ shit like that. Coats, right?” “Capes, too,” Huey put in. “An’ stoles,” Naldo reminded him. “I love that one. Someone asks, what’d you steal? You say I stole a stole.” Clack watched as the two of them rolled around laughing, spilling malt liquor on a sofa that had been baptized that way countless times before. He waited them out. Would have left except he had nothing else waiting for him. Calming down, Naldo said, “Weather’s getting warm. All the rich ladies got to put their fancy furs in storage till next winter. Bet you never thought of that. Place that’s like one big closet for rich bitches’ furs from all over town.” “Place keeps ‘em safe and clean till next time they need ‘em,” Huey explained. “How many coats can you take?” Clack asked. The question drained the last of the merriment from Huey and Naldo. Now they were getting down to business, and maybe Clack was asking more than he needed to know. “A lot, man, we’re gonna get a lot a fur,” Naldo said. “Fur is expensive,” Clack reasoned, “so you’re talking big money.” Huey told him, “Two grand’s all we’re offerin’ you. Take it or leave it.” “I’m not arguing that,” Clack said, “just trying to understand things. So who gave you boys the idea to do this job?” Huey and Naldo looked at each other, silently debating whether to claim the idea as their own, but they’d already seen they couldn’t put one past Clack. “Was this guy we did time with,” Naldo said. “Black dude name a Cadmus.” Clack raised his eyebrows. “Cadmus?” “His name,” Huey said, “Maybe his mama liked it. But he’s the guy who works security at the storage company. It was his idea.” “Tell Clack how he got the idea,” Naldo told Huey. Huey smiled and had a final tilt of his bottle. “Was some a those animal rights nuts. Offered Cadmus five K to let ‘em into the building so they could ruin all that fur. Pour pig blood on it or some shit like that.” “Only what those assholes don’t know is Cadmus likes fur. He’s savin’ to buy himself a fur coat.” Naldo informed Clack. “How’s that for pickin’ the wrong guy?” Huey continued, “Anyway Cadmus pretends like he’s down with these punks but he sets them up. Tells his boss, has the cops waiting, ‘n’ zippity-doo-dah the bust goes down like sweet cream. Cadmus, he’s a hero.” “We were shooting craps in this alley with him an’ after we’re done he tells us his idea. Since he’s proved he’s righteous at the storage company, how about he lets us in, we tie him up, grab the furs, split the take with him later? Nobody’s gonna question him ‘cause he’s already proved he’s an honest man,” Naldo summed up.
Clack had a question. “If this guy’s got a criminal record, how’d he get his job?” “He was an MP in the army,” Huey said. “Good background for a security job.” “Left out the part about jail time when he filled out his application,” Naldo said. Shit, Clack thought. Didn’t people check? If you could lie about your past and get away with it, maybe he could b.s. his way into some halfway decent job. “This Cadmus,” he said, “if he’s wired the heist for you guys, why do you need me?” Huey and Naldo exchanged a furtive look. “Just bein’ careful,” Naldo said. “Can’t be too careful,” Huey agreed. “Remember what we said,” Naldo added, “we might need you to come on the run to help us.” They were lying to him again, Clack knew, but he didn’t call them on it. “One more thing,” he said. “You ever mention me to this Cadmus.” His friends both shook their heads. Looked honest this time. “All right then,” Clack said. “You keep it that way, I’m in.” “Where have you been?” Clack’s mother demanded. “Your daddy died!” As far as mothers went, Clack figured Loris was a C+. She’d always kept him clothed and fed. Made sure he got to school with a bag-lunch most days. Even helped him with his math as far as she could. She’d been smart enough not to remarry, but she did have her boyfriends. A new one about every three months. She never let any of them come home with her, so Clack never had to worry about some asshole knocking him around. But he felt about Mama’s friends the same way she felt about his. She could have done better. One thing she did great was keep her paycheck coming in. She supervised a shift of ladies, mostly illegal Mexicans and Asians, who packed nuts for a wholesaler called Life Is Nuts that shipped them all over the country. Clack couldn’t remember the last time his mother missed a day of work. So what the hell was she doing home? And who gave a shit if his old man had died? Clack couldn’t even remember the guy. As to her question, where he’d been, he didn’t think she’d care to hear he was out deciding to go to work for Naldo and Huey. So he said, “How do you know he died? You been in touch?” That set her right back on her heels. Made her mad. “Of course not! Why would I do that?” “Well, then who gives a shit? Why’d you take off work?” “I got a call from a lawyer this morning, that’s why.” Clack frowned. A lawyer? What was that all about? He asked his mother. She put her hands on Clack’s shoulders and looked him in the eye. “Your daddy left you and me some money.” Clack didn’t believe it. The lawyer told them how much. “Mrs. McKinnon, you’ll get thirty thousand dollars cash; Mr. McKinnon, you’ll get sixty thousand dollars worth of shares in a company called NanoTech, Inc.” “What’s that?” Clack asked.
Before answering, the lawyer, whose name was Cormac Walsh, turned to Loris and asked, “Mrs. McKinnon, would you please give me a moment alone with your son?” “Why?” she asked, suspicion in her voice. “It’s a stipulation of the will.” Loris read between the lines: Play ball if you want your money, lady. She got up and told Clack, “I’ll be right outside, honey, if you need me.” Once the door closed behind her, Clack asked the same question his mother had. “Why’d she have to leave?” “Your father wanted it that way.” The lawyer almost looked embarrassed. “He wanted me to ask you if you get along with your mother.” “Why? We don’t like each other, we don’t get the money?” “Oh, no. You both get what was provided for in the will. That’s not subject to change.” “Then why kick my mom out?” “The stock you’ve been given is currently valued at sixty thousand dollars, but your father suggests that if you hold it for a period of five years it will be worth a million dollars or more.” Clack stared at the lawyer, looking for any sign he was bullshitting him. Walsh continued, “Your father was an executive at NanoTech, so perhaps his forecast for the stock was optimistic ... or perhaps he had a very clear idea of how bright the company’s future will be. In either case, he didn’t want your mother to put pressure on you to sell the stock to benefit her.” “But what about me. If I want to sell it for myself I can do that, right?” “Yes, of course.” The lawyer paused again. “But I think if it was me, I’d keep the stock for at least a little while. See if it starts heading in the direction you father predicted.” Clack sat still momentarily, then looked at Walsh. “Why he’d do it?” he asked. “After all this time, never even calling me on the phone, why’d my father leave me anything?” “I’m sorry,” the lawyer said, “I don’t have that information.” Loris got a certified check; Clack got a brokerage account containing 1500 shares of NanoTech, Inc. Walsh checked the latest quote on share price before Clack left his office: $40.15. So Clack was already up 225 bucks on his inheritance; his shares value was now $60,225. But Walsh told him prices could go down, too. Waiting for the elevator outside the lawyer’s offices, Mama looked at her check and asked Clack, “Don’t this beat all, honey?” “Sure the hell does.” “You want to tell me what that lawyer said after I left?” “You want to tell me what you got planned for your money?” Mama said maybe it’d be best if neither of them was nosy. “So when’s the job?” Clack asked Huey and Naldo. The three of them were in the Rainbow Arcade, a bowling alley started by a pair of hippie entrepreneurs back in the late ‘60s. When the place had opened, all of the pins were painted with likenesess of authority figures. Richard Nixon was always the one-pin right out front, Spiro was the two-pin, John Mitchell number three. You rolled a strike you could take out half of Tricky Dick’s administration.
” “They’re pretty. “What kind of details?” Clack asked.” Naldo said. The question was resolved with a pair of shrugs. We’re free ‘n’ clear. The two working criminals looked at each other. He put a placating hand up. notching his holdings up to $60. If he hadn’t already told his friends he’d help them..” Huey added. Clack whistled and said. “You crank the ball way the hell up behind you and let the fucker fly. “We’re just workin’ out the details. we got cash in hand.” Naldo said. Talk about a great way to make money. But if he didn’t sell at least a little. plus he has to unload them on someone else.” Naldo told him. Sitting back down and picking up his beer.” “How much is this guy. to see the display.” Huey said.” “The furs. Shit. Naldo opined.” Having some serious money for the first time in his life. There were rumors that the low prices were subsidized by major marijuana deals going down in a back room. he would have steered clear of the heist. Clack thought. “A money man. even with us being old friends and all. whoever you find. Why would he want to bankroll Huey and Naldo? . tell me. “Okay. someone to buy all a the furs we steal. man.” “That’s right. had closed up 25¢ for the day. trying to decide whether they should share confidential information.” Right back to where you started in a week or two even if everything goes perfectly. “Us. NanoTech.” Huey told him. But humor me. Nobody can’t say it’s not our. there was no bowling.” Naldo informed Clack.” Naldo continued. “We’re lookin’ for a fence. He wondered . There were no other bowlers present at three a. They both made crashing sounds.375. Problem was. “You know. “Bowling’s got some muscle to it. Huey elaborated. so you don’t want to tell me your end. “Wow.” Clack reminded them. “Yeah. flailed their arms about and banged off one another like ricocheting pins. His money was legal and growing. I’ll respect that. he’d had second thoughts about embarking on a life of crime. has that risk. He’s receivin’ stolen goods. You couldn’t sell it. Power to the people and all that. that’d be stupid. “I know. you had to hold on to it to do that. I bet a lot more people’d be throwing bricks through windows.m.It was great fun for the counterculture and a line of bowling was the cheapest in town. what the hell was he gonna live on in the meantime? So maybe being a lookout and making a couple grand wasn’t such a bad idea after all. havin’ the times of our lives.. What percentage of the take is this money man getting?” “Ninety.” “It’s standard. nah. man. and Naldo and Huey preferred knocking down pins to playing video games. “If the job’s off. but the bowling was still as cheap as you could find in Chicago. enough to pay me two grand. Inc.” Huey added gleefully. The hippie owners were long gone by now. but we’re not takin’ them to wear.” “Make those pins explode like you threw a bomb. His question drew two stony stares. “Job’s not off. going to pay you?” Clack asked. just sit back and watch your stock holdings snowball.
“Just like we’ll call you.” Clack never could have imagined such a job. In case you never noticed. And today I just started taking some of it. You got Bs in school. Guys like Huey and Naldo. crayon-eaters. “He better or I’ll throw him overboard and find someone else.” Clack didn’t remember who Mama’s boyfriend of the moment was. “No. “What about Cadmus?” Clack asked. you know what? The other day was the first time in 15 years I missed a day a work. Of course.” “He’s not in a hurry. Sat on his bed and woke him up at 10 a. Clack’s face went blank. not creeps who’d sponge off her. I’m going on a cruise.” Clack opened his eyes. “He doesn’t know any money men?” “Only thing he’s doin’. “A tree grader. “He said just call him when we’re ready to go. peanuts. I’ve been a supervisor for the past ten years. “Where at?” “Life Is Nuts. to tell him. huh?” Seemed funny to Clack.On the other hand.” He lay back down to get another hour’s sleep but his mother shook her head. and that was ten percent of the take. mister. Exasperated. “How’m I supposed to know one tree from another?” . but I do get sick days. cashews. he’d normally not be too picky. You put tons of pecans.” Mama said. “Won’t try to get fresh with you on that boat?” Loris grinned and slapped her son’s shoulder. “When’re you leaving?” he asked.” Naldo said. “Have fun. “Something nice came open. sir. Clack would’ve remembered a name like Dexter. You deserve it. you could do the math in your head. almonds. man.” Where she worked. Mama had news for him. But. he’d been to Life Is Nuts.” Somebody new. but she was usually careful to take up only with guys who had jobs. Someone’s gotta go around to our growers.” she said. Made him feel better that she wasn’t about to blow her whole bundle. Flying to Miami with Dexter. that’d mean his ninety percent would be 450K. Then the grower sends us only the nuts from those trees for our extra fancies. pick out the best trees with the best nuts.” “What?” A guy who’d worked in a car-wash. if he paid them. “is openin’ the door for us. The two of them. I’ve got more of ‘em piled up than a dog’s got fleas. She’d taken off of work again. say. usually were off to the races the minute they got an idea. “Rise and shine. and he had to assume Cadmus.” Clack sat up and kissed his mother’s cheek. “Boy. I may not make a pile of money. Clack interrupted what she wanted to tell him to ask how come.m. Loris said. then he’d have to unload the furs. standing up. I got you a job interview. Mama. “He’s a good guy?” Clack asked.” Naldo told Clack. “Tonight. and all those other nuts together and the smell could just about knock you down. I’ve got weeks of vacation time coming. too. the brains of the outfit.” Huey said. extra fancy nuts. 50K. “A what?” “For our high-end.
From the other side of the door. That true?” “Yes. it is. Texas. It was up another dime. Told me I’d done a good job. Barry’d said. didn’t look like he was about to hand Clack the job with a pat on the back.” Clack jumped out of bed. Nothing fancy but new every year. Barry’ll take you to lunch if you’re doing good that far. He’s retiring in six months. do you think you can pull A’s working for me?” “Are you going to explain things to me in plain English?” A forkful of lasagna stopped halfway to Barry’s mouth. They wouldn’t need anything else for a while. So he kept quiet instead of hitting Barry in the face with the plate of lasagna he had in front of him. “Your mother told me how hard it was on you when your father left: moving up north. that’d be great. When I’m not on the road. maybe somewhere in his fifties. “Can’t stand the smell of the warehouse. I thought you’d like that. If he got the job. So I imagine she was pleased when you brought home B’s. He and Clack had gone straight to lunch at a Macaroni Grill to have their interview. He wanted that money to keep right on growing. “So I’d be working outside of the warehouse?” “Mostly. who didn’t look that old to Clack to be retiring. Then what I want to know. that was.” Clack smiled widely. Inc. “My mother always told me I had to do respectable work in school. he called out. So he’s got to train a new man. I brought home B’s. In response to the waitress asking. and California. But Clack had checked the price of NanoTech. The rest of the time you’d be driving around the South.” “So how come you got B’s in school and not A’s?” Barry Taubman asked Clack. “Okay. Right now.” Loris said. “Yeah. There’re about three months a year at the warehouse. “How much does a tree grader get paid?” “A whole lot more than you’re making right now. Now he was glad he’d decided not to. I go in once a week.” .” Clack seized on the most obvious advantage of the job. “I guess B’s were what I thought I was supposed to get. “What time’s the interview?” “Eleven-thirty. not talking to anyone for months. She thought you might’ve suffered some developmental setbacks. Barry told her everything was fine. “Yeah. otherwise I work from home.“You’re gonna learn from Barry Taubman. Barry was having lasagna and an iced tea. He’d bet Mama had never told anyone at work about her social life. Guy was serious with his question about Clack’s grades. If he could do the same thing. with his shares that was another $150 in his till. So Clack gave him a straight answer. “There’s even a car that comes with the job.” “Nobody ever set the bar higher for you. Barry. Clack had ordered the angel hair pasta and a Coke. huh?” The waitress brought their lunches.” Clack didn’t saying anything.” Clack ran to the bathroom. “Your mother also told me you’re a very hard worker. she was happy.” Clack had wondered if he should call Barry sir.” Clack had been jazzed to hear that.” He shrugged. before he’d left for the interview. but he wasn’t happy.
what’s the big deal then?” “Mr. McKinnon?” Clack wasn’t used to hearing himself called that but he said. God. “Mr. but when Clack got home he heard the phone ring as soon as he put his key in the lock. I’ll get over it. “No.500 shares will become 4.” “My money will triple?” Had to be some kind of catch.“Are you going to ask me to do anything you haven’t already done?” “No. and thanks.” “Did they?” “I couldn’t tell you this if you didn’t already own the stock and if what I heard was a certainty and not informed speculation. Hadn’t meant to.” “I did a bit of follow-up for you.” “Why’d you do that?” There was a moment’s pause before Walsh answered. With room to spare. But the call was from his father’s lawyer.” “Pardon.” “And if you have 4. 45 bucks. “It means that for every share you now hold you’ll have three after the split. the value of each share will be one-third of what it was before the split.” . “Each penny puts me up 15 bucks.” Taubman nodded. He didn’t want to seem too anxious.” “What’s that mean?” Clack asked.” “Do I look like someone your growers might take a natural dislike to?” “You could stand a haircut. but he let the phone go one more ring before he picked up. the NanoTech. I followed the letter of your father’s instructions when we met. “Yes. McKinnon.” “On what?” “Your inheritance. “You set the bar.” “No. have you started to calculate yet how much each one-cent increase in stock value benefits you?” Clack did the math.” “People who might know something about NanoTech.” “Well. stock. Cormac Walsh. While your shares will triple.” “I’ll get one. He ate his lasagna and kept on nodding. “No.” “But you didn’t have to.500 shares?” “Oh. He opened the door and got inside quick. don’t let it go. Taubman. your 1. Inc.” Clack decided the job would be worth putting up with this guy for six months.” “You’re welcome. Mr. Inc. not immediately anyway. Lunch ended with Taubman telling Clack he’d let him know tomorrow. but two of the sources I checked have told me that your stock will split two-for-one when the price hits $60. “I felt my efforts were in keeping with the spirit of your father’s request. I sought out some friends who work in the securities markets. I’d like to hear what you found out. He’d have to watch that. Would you like to hear what I’ve learned or should I let it go?” Clack realized he’d ticked Walsh off.500 shares.
I think they might’ve gotten into trouble. Clack thought. And he gave the lawyer Huey and Naldo’s names. and as long as it’s heading in the right direction. Trying hard to start think like a guy who got A’s. as silence seemed to be working pretty well for him right now. and that’s just what I was thinking about letting them have. Can’t do the job without you. In the meantime. as I’ve said. Not five minutes later. you know what Huey ‘n’ me got planned?” “No. man. “Mr. no way. “Listen. With the law.” “That and I worked my backside off. did you get A’s?” “Every class. They were just interested in whatever I might be able to put my hands on. He hoped so. in the time I haven’t seen them. “Hey. I’ll find out from a friend with the police. I mean. this split isn’t guaranteed. anyway. I hadn’t seen them for a long time. Almost made him feel like Naldo knew what Clack was doing. They’d come looking for him.” “You think I could ask you a favor?” “What’s that?” Clack hated lying to the man.” “How come?” . Walsh. Then a question occurred to him. Clack thought he wasn’t being offered enough money. Inc.” Damn straight.” No way Naldo and Huey would involve him if they knew what he was doing. He kept the notion to himself. They told me I’d double my money fast. But you might want to watch the price of NanoTech. but they asked if I had any money I could lend them. “When?” “Two nights from now. Who’s gonna let us know if something starts going wrong.” Clack just grunted. closely. “Hey. every year. Naldo managed to understand the unspoken message. “If they have criminal records. We gotta have you. we’re countin’ on you. you have an added incentive to hold on to every share.” “We’re goin’ to Mexico.” “You didn’t tell them —” “No. “Some friends of mine came around the other day. I sure the hell hope you’re not gettin’ cold feet. You think you could have someone check them out before I do anything?” “Give me their names. Gave Clack the creeps. but felt he had to.“Exactly.” Walsh said. man. But what Naldo had to say made him forget about that. Huey ‘n’ me. Which Naldo didn’t take as encouraging. “Job’s on. when you were in school. don’t give them a cent.” Clack thought that’d be enough time for Walsh to get back to him. Naldo called. Now. A grand would make them happy. Naldo interpreted Clack’s silence another way. man.” “I won’t.” Clack said. But here’s the thing: these guys.” “Because you paid attention to the spirit of things. we don’t have you?” Put it that way. man. Nor is it assured the price of your stock will get to $60.
I want some lookers. got it pulled up on her computer. a sparse goatee and suspicious eyes. Gwen was familiar with the story. they were fine. said her name was Gwen. were women who looked like the next-door neighbor on TV sitcoms. Prompted Clack to ask if she could pull up the latest business news on a company called NanoTech. One of the better things about Chicago.” “Musta got tired a waitin’. Librarians. and he didn’t mention Cadmus. We’ll have lotsa pretty señoritas sent in and party till we drop. Not that they weren’t sharp — all librarians seemed to be smart — but. too. But the mayor must’ve said. It was the first time he’d ever been in it and he was knocked out. “You found your money man?” Clack asked. and a dollar goes about ten times as far as it does up here. didn’t you?” “Yeah. Cadmus did. huh? He’d have to be checked out. About the nicest looking one. Clack thought. Guy looked tall and wiry. He’d have to ask Mama or Cormac Walsh what it was.” He gave her the name of the storage company and how the cops caught the animal rights nuts who wanted to throw blood on all the fur coats. How’s that sound?” Sounded like Naldo was bullshitting him again. too. Clack took the printout of the storage company bust to a nearby table. I’m gonna call you in two days. Be plenty of room for you to come. There was a nice new one right in Clack’s neighborhood. that’s how come. Naldo and Huey had to be crazy to trust this guy. Slick as a whistle. First thing he did was look at the picture of Cadmus Green. “Well. the reference books he’d used as a kid at his old library to find newspaper stories. man. and printed it out for him for 50¢. What we got planned. except Clack couldn’t remember his daddy’s first name. Listen.“How come? It’s goddamn gorgeous down there. Not just by the place but by the women working there. “but why don’t we just use the library’s LexisNexis Total Search account? You did say you wanted to look up a newspaper story. not three blocks from where he and Mama lived. Clack didn’t want anyone connecting him to the security guard. You just be ready. Nice but no threat to the star. Hell. we do have a set of Reader’s Guides down in the basement. “Nah. the way he remembered them. Your two grand’ll seem like twenty down there. had close-cut hair. if you liked to read. He asked her where they kept their Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. damn.” Naldo hung up. Cadmus had earned himself a $5. But Clack was thinking: Cadmus got itchy. Trusting Clack would do as he was told.” “Thought he was just opening the door. and I speak the language. the mayor was a madman about building libraries. Nice coin for . Inc. too. was helping Clack. Gwen smiled at him like he’d said something funny. they should’ve checked to see if the dice were loaded before they shot craps with him.000 reward for helping to nab the animal rights vandals.” she said. He even thought to ask if LexisNexis had anything about his father. I’m putting up all these fancy libraries. we’re gonna rent a big old beach house. The way the newspaper story had it. Be interesting to know the story of the man who’d left him all that stock. He didn’t actually say nuts in case Gwen had something against fur.
Huey’d always had a ten-yard head-start on that look and wasn’t doing too bad with it. “Sorry about that. Had to be. It was on a big fancy sailing ship. Also. “What for?” Huey asked. No coincidence here.essentially doing your job. The way Cadmus did things. Didn’t keep Naldo from saying. but Clack didn’t like Naldo rubbing up against him. So what you’d have to do was — Shit. gunbelt at his waist. Give you the money you needed. if you wanted a really nice one. he got to be the hero. There’d been two or three before. telling him. But this time Clack was old enough to be out on his own.” That was good enough for his friends. Only this time. “’Cause I’m buying. Mama and Dexter had just left for O’Hare and their red-eye flight to Miami. And would he want to be back living with her when he got back to Chicago? Unh-uh. It almost made his head spin how fast things were moving.” Not asking Clack. here we are. you couldn’t have the cops waiting for the bad guys.” he said.” Naldo slid into the booth beside Clack. maybe that’d be worth a bigger reward.” “Thanks. But if you stopped two fools from breaking into the storage company and heisting a shitload of coats. I took a peek at the article. This asshole was going to kill Naldo and Huey. but not enough to buy your own fur coat.” “You have any spare money. He gave Naldo a bump and moved him over some. . like something from a long time ago. His story about finding a money man was just to get Naldo and Huey off their asses. “You ain’t chickenin’ out on us. Huey sat across from Clack. man. That was one thing. Their legs were touching. Dexter had showed Clack the brochure for the cruise they were going to take. giving him a look like he’d been watching Taxi Driver and was trying to look as crazy as Robert De Niro.” Made him feel good to give Gwen a stock tip. No way Clack could see Cadmus Green letting two crayon-eaters tie him up. Looks like an interesting company.. Inc. Mama was looking out for herself as much as him. make him look bad. It was ten at night. she had to figure with all that stock-money he’d been left he could have a down payment on his own house. Clack jumped when a hand fell on his shoulder. man. And Mama was looking to set him up with a job that’d have him away from home most of the time. “Didn’t mean to startle you.” Her smile was apologetic but it made Clack’s heart race nonetheless. I could find. Clack called Naldo and Huey and told them to meet him at Danny’s Donuts. but . In his newspaper picture Cadmus had a rent-a-cop uniform on. That’d show you knew about the crime up front. She gave him another printout. Too close. Was only a couple of days ago he’d been a guy out of work who looked like he’d hit bottom. Hell. “Most recent article on NanoTech. “maybe you should buy a few shares..” Gwen said. only rigged out with all the modern touches and real nice state rooms. How much I owe you?” “It’s on me. And now — “Hey. Clack could tell that Dexter was going to be one of the guys who asked Mama to marry him. for scaring you.
Now Naldo was acting like he’d forgotten or jail had toughened him up.” Huey said. Naldo grinned and took a drink of coffee. “’Cept for bein’ our lookout. Naldo and Huey stopped chewing. That’s what you told me. one who’ll give you 20% of the furs’ value. “Our boy’s doin’ his homework. “But we didn’t lose much. “That time you were shooting dice with Cadmus. .” Hearing himself. “Not in person. Naldo and Huey came back to the booth and took the same seats they’d had before. All I’m saying is see what Cadmus has to say when you tell him. There was one guy behind the counter and no other customers in the place. Naldo quickly added. Clack asked his other question.” “Was all we had.” Huey answered. “Killed a guy in a bar fight. Naldo had said it’d been only one hand. who won?” “He did. Clack threw two back and bloodied Naldo’s nose and lip. “Go get some donuts. Better position to fight.” Naldo’s agitation continued to grow. “Yeah. not stick your nose up everyone’s ass. “His picture was in the paper from that time he turned in the animal rights crazies. Tell him you found your own money man. Clack had tagged Naldo with two hands.” “Hey. taking another bite of donut. “How’re you lookin’ out for us?” “Like this. What’s this all about? We want you to be a lookout.” Clack said.” One time. what he’d just said. getting angry.” “I am looking out for you.” Naldo said. spraying bits of donut on the table.” Naldo added. Or run. End of fight. “Only a few bucks. “Just to see what Cadmus says. what was he in for?” “Manslaughter. We’ll talk. “I took a look at this Cadmus guy of yours. Get out of the way so I can go.” “Ain’t nobody gonna do that. “I got a couple questions. I mean. The shop was closing in less than an hour. He was still ticked.” Clack told them.” Huey said. shit.” Huey understood Clack’s intent if not his exact thoughts. He threw a punch at Clack that missed. “What?” Naldo asked. man. “I’m trying to help you here.” Clack said. Clack and Naldo had gotten into a fight over a touch-football game. “Maybe we don’t want your help. their mouths hung open. Give Cadmus a call. “What could it hurt?” he asked Naldo.” he said.Clack put a ten from the money Mama had left for him on the table and said. wait a minute.” Clack said. too. when they were kids. but Naldo didn’t crowd Clack this time.” Huey snatched up the money and they each got two donuts and a coffee.” Huey confessed.” Naldo slid out of the booth and stood up. “I think our boy’s fuckin’ with us here. “Hey. I know. but he looked like he was remembering the fight with Clack after all. “When you met Cadmus in jail.” Huey laughed. “What’s that got to do with anything?” Naldo said.” Clack got out of the booth. but maybe that’s stupid of me.
” “When do I start?” Clack asked.” Clack set the clock-radio for seven the next morning.” “Yeah. “Your mother took care of all that for you.“Somebody is. Ask for personnel or human resources or whatever the hell they called it there.” “What?” “When do you want to come by?” “Ten minutes if that’s okay. See you Sunday.m.” “In case it’s a long time till the next time?” “You never know. “but it’s not me. Say you’ve got a guy named Cadmus Green working for you. After reading Huey’s and Naldo’s rap sheets just now. Just in case Barry Taubman called early.” “No. He’d had the idea after leaving Danny’s last night that what he should do. neither did Clack. We leave Sunday morning six o’clock. and it’d be the last thing he’d do. He didn’t want the guy’s call waking him up. “You the church-going type?” “Only when my mother wants company.” He hung up and opened the envelope from Cormac Walsh. “You’ve got the job if you want it. Wasn’t in a hurry to open it. Huey called Clack at home. “Good. So I decided to take her word for it.” Clack said. having him sound all groggy like a lazy asshole who slept the whole day away. Looked at it for about ten minutes. then. you don’t. but you can try. Meet me at the warehouse. Had a cup of coffee. “Just you?” “Yeah. Unless he got to talking with Huey and Naldo and they let it slip.” he said. Clack had to sign for the envelope. You know he once killed a guy in a bar fight? He mention that on his job application? Get Cadmus’s ass fired before he could kill Huey and Naldo. the day of the job. He looked around like Loris might .” “Don’t I have to fill out any papers? Job application or tax stuff?” Taubman laughed.” Clack wanted Huey to think he wouldn’t be alone for more than a few minutes — just in case he and Naldo had some stunt planned. man. man. But Huey came alone. it all right if I drop by for a minute?” Huey was asking if Clack’s mother was home. Taubman didn’t call early but a messenger rang Clack’s doorbell at 8:00 a. he spends a few hours right before gettin’ laid. He took the envelope inside and put it on the kitchen table. He and Naldo knew she didn’t think much of them. He said. Clack was reaching for the manilla envelope when the phone rang. was call up the storage company. Anytime we do a job. but you can’t stay long. Saturday afternoon. Confidential and Privileged. “McKinnon?” It was Taubman. Naldo’s got this thing. “Hey. She called me after our lunch and told me you could have made A’s if she’d pushed you harder. Fucker’d never know who ratted him out. Gave him a manilla envelope from Cormac Walsh with Clack’s name on it and the inscription: Client Information.” “Okay.
” Huey told Clack his observation post would be kitty-corner to the storage company’s main entrance. I’ll buzz you back. “I’ll do that.” “And?” “He said don’t bother.” Clack asked.” Huey clenched his fists. it works up to half-mile away. “Remember. you could look over your shoulders. “Yeah. leaving. since me ‘n’ Naldo are doin’ the hard part. I might as well have a sign around my neck. “No. They’d give him a buzz on his EZTalk right before they went through the door. He’d buzz them back to let them know he was in position.” Clack had to stop himself from shaking his head.” It took Huey a minute. Clack asked.pop out of the next room. but he didn’t take it.” Clack was trying to give Huey a chance. you wouldn’t even need me. man. “I’m standing where you want. “How about outside?” “That’s what you’ll be there for. Take it or leave it. Nobody’ll see us. I’ll give you an extra K outta my cut. The place’ll be closed. she’d yelled at Huey and Naldo a few times to wipe their feet before they came into her house. “You better—” “I’ll decide where I stand. Save yourselves a couple grand. Just give us a buzz if someone looks too interested. You buzz me. we need you. Hell. Now.” . “So what’s up?” Clack asked.” He handed an EZTalk walkie-talkie to Clack. I’m supposed to kill him?” “Don’t be crazy. Tell you what. When they were kids. He’d get us 20% from his guy. “Gotta give you this. “You ever know anybody in jail who fucked over a friend?” Huey’s eyes narrowed to slits as he looked at Clack. but he noticed Clack’s frown.” Clack said.” “What? I see somebody who sees you go inside. you know?” Huey went for a hard look. Acting suspiciously. man. we’re gonna be able to buy ourselves a beach house down in Mexico. “You just remember who your friends are. man. “Sure. “Guys I know would never do that. “You tell Cadmus you had a new money man?” Huey brightened.” “Cadmus said he’d make his guy do it. That’s it.” Clack replied.” he said. that’s what he said. we did. we ain’t stupid. “Cadmus is letting you in the front door?” “Yeah. But that’s too far for you to watch what’s happenin’ after me ‘n’ Naldo go into the building. But I just stand on a street corner.” “But you and Naldo said nobody’d do that. He told Clack the time they’d be going into the storage company. He also said he’d drop his share a the take from a third to a quarter.” “Nobody inside maybe. “Hey.” Huey’d just blown the last chance Clack was going to give him. He asked.” “Okay. It was plain he wished Naldo was there to back him up.” “Wouldn’t it be simpler to go in the back way? Less of a chance anyone would see you at all.
how hard they should hit him. too. They’d talked about smoking the guy from the start. and then tie him up. The plan had been to eliminate Clack as a witness. Naldo and Huey gave as good as they got but what everybody got was dead. be the hero again. just enough to split his scalp. that was what they did. Got a buzz right back. “Oh. They weren’t going to bop one another with their pistols. In the head. yeah. How about I give you a bigger cut of the take. For that matter. They took out their guns. no problem.” Huey reminded him. get a decent amount of blood flowing. too? Bullshit.” “He’ll come when we call him. He’d gone out with Gwen last night — after he’d given Huey and Naldo the one buzz he’d promised them and dumped the walkie-talkie in the Chicago River. Streetlights had just come on. “Long as he’s nearby. But by the time Naldo croaked Clack hadn’t shown up. Cadmus had told them the place had security cameras. Clack had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Wasn’t a soul in sight. it’d been great. the bastard. They were going to shoot the motherfucker. They surely didn’t need him around to rat them out if something went wrong.Naldo looked around. They were supposed to clip Cadmus on the head. Just before he died. Pull his rent-a-cop gun on them when they weren’t looking and BANG-BANG. Turned out Cadmus did have something tricky in mind because his body hadn’t even hit the floor before three black guys — all of them wearing full-length minks — came around a corner blasting away. Get their touch right. yeah? Let’s see. Cadmus let them into the place. Only thing they couldn’t figure. Gwen was as much fun to talk to as she was to look at. if no one else. Gave him the titles of a lot of good . that was all they needed from him. And the two of them had agreed if they kept on ripping off people they were bound to kill someone sooner or later. but conceded. Huey grinned.” Huey said. For a first date. Asking Cadmus could he get them 20% on the merchandise — and him saying. anywhere else they got the chance. “He said he’d be around. Sure as hell. Naldo managed to push the squelch button on his EZTalk twice. the signal to tell Clack to come on the run. which had to please the animal rights people. Didn’t look like going in the front door of the storage company was going to be any problem at all.” Naldo said bitterly. Clack wasn’t just across the street. “See. “That bastard.” He pressed the squelch button of his EZTalk. so why not now? Good old Clack had only reinforced their decision. after they’d taken care of Cadmus. or did he have another play in mind? Didn’t matter because soon as the bastard opened the door Naldo stuck his gun in Cadmus’s ear and pulled the trigger. in the heart.” Naldo still didn’t like that he couldn’t see Clack. There was blood all over the coats the black guys were wearing. Cadmus had told them to practice on each other. But Naldo and Huey weren’t that stupid. The two robbers pulled the turtleneck collars of their shirts up to cover their faces. Hadn’t even buzzed back. Guy was looking to rip them off. was Cadmus going to say he’d stopped a robbery. hell. they weren’t going to conk Cadmus either.
The two guys doing the long stretches were named Eddy Corgan and Patrick Nash. cover more trees in less time.. too.” Barry said. If his NanoTech. “After you get familiar with things. People who ran the TV station figured their viewers wouldn’t mind looking at a massacre first thing Sunday morning. Life Is Nuts paid for the gas and insurance. just kidding.” “Thanks. Hell. More than he could say for Naldo and Huey. You have any questions. Back to Table of Contents . Barry started telling Clack all about the job. Barry pulled out. Told himself: six months. She took it all right. Clack slid into the passenger seat of Barry’s car. Just a vanilla Ford sedan. Unless they actually pulled off the job. appreciated him being honest and a gentleman.” Clack smiled. “Good to see you’re on time. Only both times they got their sentences reduced to slaps on the wrist by implicating other guys as the instigators of the crimes. that’d make things easier. Gave him a kiss when they said goodnight. knowing he’d be leaving town the next day. His two childhood friends had been convicted twice on armed robbery charges. too. What he should look for in the way of trees and nuts. “We’ll deduct the cost from your first paycheck. Maybe drown him down in Mexico.” Barry went on. Clack had made sure to get to the warehouse 15 minutes early. but it had a leather interior. He hadn’t tried to get physical at all. he was going to miss her.” Clack said. he’d try to be one step ahead of Taubman whenever he could. Naldo and Huey had just been the dopes who’d gone along for the ride.” Pretended he’d never seen anything like it.books he should read. Barry Taubman. telling her that he was going. The way he wanted it. Clack told him what a guy making A’s would say.” He reached back into a bag on the back seat and took out an EZTalk. too. Inc. In that case. The other thing he had in mind was telling himself it’d be only six months he’d have to spend with the guy. Right there with the four dead black guys were Naldo and Huey. “we’ll work individually. Some kiss. So this time it was Clack’s turn to be the fall guy. “You know how to use it?” Barry asked. Somebody honked a car horn and Clack look up. taking the cup Barry offered. Hey. “No. Eddy and Pat had also been grade school classmates of Naldo and Huey. Clack figured. Not that he’d wanted to all that much after reading their rap sheets. they still should have been in jail. As soon as they got onto the Kennedy Expressway heading south. they’d try to kill him. you can contact me with this. Some people you just couldn’t help. By all rights. stock kept going up. The story of the bloodbath at the storage company was all over the early morning news. “I stopped for orange juice and donuts. Told him to send her some postcards.
you’ll be blown to bits. Set the bomb to blow with that in mind: the three-hour talking limit for the phone. It was an Iridium 9550A. The note said we have champagne on ice. wait. The best joke would be if he went boom while he was talking on his own phone. We have champagne on ice to toast the detonation. He styled himself as the Charles Darwin of capitalism. God. of course they had. go ahead and disregard these instructions. Jarvis was a guy who bought companies. his head hurt. in a mountain cabin he had never seen before. You get only one call. No telling when it might go off. All he found was a postscript. It might be his phone. he’d have three hours to talk. The cabin is booby-trapped. Adds to the suspense. Safer to think he had maybe twentyfour hours at the most. He studied his surroundings. Wait a minute. the charger wasn’t plugged in. If you’re feeling stupid. If you try to leave without following instructions. It’s your only chance to survive. First. it might have been enough people to fill a football stadium. One more thing. Making American business fit to withstand the onslaught of international competition. With text messaging and a distress signal key. Yeah. If he played along. Hell. the way the game had likely been set up. The phone’s battery would last thirty hours on standby. But the fact that he was familiar with the Iridium told him a few things. He didn’t know how long the phone had been sitting there before he'd woken up. He had to get something to ease the pain or he didn’t stand a chance. threw thousands of people out of work. Jarvis was a businessman with a reputation for making enemies— and laughing at them—but he’d never thought things would come to this. the same model he owned. and got somebody on the phone. Inc. Assuming the battery started at a full charge. stripped them drown to their core assets. Jarvis studied the phone that stood in a charger cradle on the table where he’d found the note. He might have already wasted ten minutes of the last three hours of his life. Had those bastards had thought of— Yeah. though. a day. Glancing around. Two or more SOBs had put him in this fix. Use the phone for help. The bomb is on a timer. he didn’t see an electrical outlet in the cabin. he had to focus. So. don’t you think? Jesus. and hired hundreds back at one-third the wages and no benefits. Not that he promoted himself in those terms. They were hoping he’d get tricky and blow himself up. that would be more like it. and that call is preset on speed dial #1. Or the bastards might have figured he’d hit #1 right away. and then he found the note about the bomb.Chapter 12: Tech Support Derek Jarvis woke up. The stockholders in DeJa. This public persona conveniently overlooked the fact he outsourced every job he could. pressed #1. he’d have thirty hours at the outside before the phone became inoperative and the timer on the bomb went off. made out like bandits and Jarvis lived like the bandit king. He turned the note over to see if there was any sign of who had written it. Jarvis wondered if the sonofabitch who put him in the cabin had at least left him some aspirin for his headache. his head pounding. . Those fuckers. No. He looked once more at the front side of the note. It wasn’t some lone maniac who had done this to him. Laugh themselves silly while they slurped their champagne.
the Cascades. even if he had no idea how he’d wound up in the middle of it. Or the bomb could be rigged to the other side of the door where he couldn’t see it. Those two things and a small Styrofoam cooler in the far corner. but the Olympian perspective of the neighborhood’s residents was eternal: They looked down on the rest of the world as a matter of course. From where he sat. And the note. The thought he might never see his beautiful Beacon Hill townhouse again hit him like a steel-toed boot to the gut. Someone had thought to humiliate him in every regard. maybe fifteen feet each way. Just a latch. Well.S. Home. Jarvis looked back at the door. he looked directly at the phone. The rafters. Aspirin. thank God. An empty liter bottle of the same brand of water. A lot of damn big mountains was what. And. A workman's clothes. Lifting the latch and walking out looked like the easiest thing in world. It got blown up. here he was trapped in an oversized outhouse. Bright sunlight reflecting off virgin snow streamed through the smudged pane of glass and revealed every slipshod detail of the place’s construction. after sniffing that. He lifted the lid and saw three objects inside. but stopped short. Including the fact that the door had no lock. It was a lift-and-pull setup. Sonofabitch. Beacon Hill itself had been all but leveled long ago.S. it was the kidnappers intent to paralyze him with fear until they blew him to bits. The mountains were far too tall for the Eastern U. That meant someone had gone to a lot of trouble to haul him all the way across the country—if he was still in the U. too. walls. What if the bomb was in there? Lift the lid and goodbye. being careful to sit between the pee stains. to hell with that.The place was a shit-hole. worn blue jeans. There was a full liter bottle of spring water. The only furnishings were a bare. pee-stained mattress on which he'd lain and the scarred oak table on which the phone rested. and down-at-the-heel work boots. There was no way he could allow it to be the place where he met his end. and floorboards were all made of the same rough pine. Derek. This whole damn situation. he assumed. He popped two into his mouth and washed them down with the water. Somewhere west then: the Rockies. the property loss wouldn’t come to a thousand dollars. not capped at all. Anything he touched might trigger the bomb. He stepped over to the cooler and reached for it.—because the last place he remembered being was Boston. To hell with them. No lock at all. No need to lock this place. The window was set in the wall to the left of the door and had no curtains. as primitive as you could get. too. He went to the window to see what was out there. Now. He opened the tin and sniffed the tablets. Heavy with snow and thick with evergreens. the cap seal intact. Maybe. He took the bottle of water and the aspirin tin to the soiled mattress. the Sierra Nevada. There was one door and one window. could all be a big joke. That was when he took notice of what he was wearing: a red plaid wool shirt. none of which appeared to be explosive. . a tin of twelve Bayer aspirin tablets. Jarvis moved closer and studied the latch. the edges of which now curled up. he thought. That was to be his toilet. The cabin was square. He looked over his shoulder.
The problem with that was Jarvis wasn’t sure where to begin. just as he noticed what looked like a manila envelope stuck to a tree not far from the cabin. He started from there and told Superintendent Vaze the rest. Nobody heard the blast that killed them. India. Jarvis realized what he was seeing: the work of a ski patrol eliminating hazardous conditions. followed by another avalanche. Turning away from the window.” Jarvis told him. Do you know anything about bombs?” When Vaze spoke there was a note of interest in his voice. he hurried to the window. Jarvis had a faultless memory.” Jarvis recognized the accent and asked. “Yes.” And then very clearly stated. The last clear memory he had before waking up in the cabin was being at his cigar club: The Smoke-Filled Room. in the hope you can save my life. Then Jarvis heard the first ring of the phone call.” Vaze replied. My name is Derek Jarvis. Derek Jarvis got to his feet. so be it.He looked back at the window. “Do you smoke alone?” the superintendent asked. You could pick up your Iridium 9550A and call anywhere in the world. in the distance. Jarvis said. India. sir. “What kind of bomb?” “Let me start at the beginning. And you said your name is Aasim Vaze. “That is correct. “Head of the Lucknow Police Department. And he heard the bomb go off. A voice said in accented English.” came the voice from the phone. “This is Superintendent Aasim Vaze. “Fuck you. and you’re the superintendent of police in Lucknow. an avalanche scour the side of a peak. “Could you please hold for just a second?” Without waiting for the Indian’s assent. He could see no wiring on it. and pressed #1. grabbed the phone. He’d get in a last. “Yes. If that was their plan. “Uttar Pradesh.” Jarvis heard a rumbling outside and asked. He heard the bomb go off? Come on.” And then elaborated. I also smoke with friends. “At times. “Hello. Maybe that was the way out.” “When was the last time that happened?” . Maybe a direct line to his kidnappers who would laugh and tell him to kiss his ass goodbye while they detonated their bomb. “Have I called India?” The voice repeated. So he still had to be alive. He saw. he said. “Superintendent Aasim Vaze. He tried to think of where pressing #1 would get him. Then came the bang of a second explosion on another far off mountain. I’m here. “Are you still there?” Jarvis raised the Iridium to speak.” before they could kill him. now that you mention it. Sometimes a new member of the club will stop by my table and introduce himself.” A man who never forgot or forgave a grudge. No sensor or alarm. “I’m calling.” “And casual acquaintances?” The question made Jarvis frown. But then this was a wireless world.
Only he couldn’t recall the bastard’s name or face.” “Good God. Jarvis. But he didn’t want to lose the thread of the conversation again.” Jarvis had no trouble reading between the lines: The damn Indian considered him an inferior. “On your side of the world. “My point is. “I think it is ironic.” Vaze responded. I’m what is known as a Boston Brahman.” Vaze said with irritation.” “You’re going to rely on the media to save you?” Jarvis couldn’t believe this guy. Jarvis. “I did. Exactly what happened. Mr.” Jarvis heard the Indian cop chuckle and he didn’t like it.” Jarvis said. “I thought all that was outlawed by your constitution.” he said.” Jarvis said. And at that distance. “You think this is funny. he laughed.” That was it. Vaze said. “Publicizing my situation might be the only thing that will save me. You see. trying to keep a number of my enemies out.” Vaze told him. could a small bomb do him any harm? “Mr.” “I really can’t tie up this line long. “I am a member of the Kshatriya caste.” The Indian’s English took on a British gloss. he seemed to appreciate. that was a manila envelope stuck to the base of a fir tree out there. With his memory. “No. .” “Yes. the situation I’m in?” Jarvis asked. oddly enough.” Hearing his own words. He brought his attention back to the superintendent. that meant the cigar must have been drugged.” Jarvis went back to the window.Jarvis’s frown deepened. “Yes. wait! I didn’t tell you the most important thing about me. “Over here.” Vaze continued. “Best of luck to you. “despite your money. “The warrior caste. Something he’d just said was important. Yeah. a merchant. “Your CIA tried to kill Fidel Castro using exploding cigars. He usually didn’t let his mind wander.” Jarvis replied.” Putting the uppity cop right back in his place. I am presently barricaded in my office.” Jarvis regained focus. But I was expecting a call from an English journalist so I could make my predicament an international cause célèbre. of course. I’m wealthy. “Billions. started Jarvis off down another divergent path. It would have to be pretty small to fit inside the envelope. Jarvis heard the interest in Vaze’s voice. He wondered if the bomb was in there. I think you are a Vaishya.” Superintendent Vaze said. I do business in your country.” This time both men laughed. did someone spike my cigar?” “Perhaps he offered you one of his. “Do you?” “I’ll keep that to myself. “Didn’t you hear me say my life is at stake?” Jarvis asked. “Lots of them. “Millions or billions?” the cop asked. “The BBC.” Vaze said. It’s not surprising someone has revisited the idea with a new twist. it is. and I told you mine is also in peril. I have a cursory knowledge. “I asked if you know of our caste system. Jarvis couldn’t help himself. Which. perhaps. And all Americans are created equal. “The last time was … Damnit. But then you rang my office instead.” Just as when he’d mentioned the bomb. I told them I have a bomb.
000 rupees for their jobs.000 to 300.” “Encounter squad?” “You Americans might call it a shootout squad.” “As head of the encounter squad.” And American labor was getting cheaper all the time.” “Of course. they do. I was the inspector in charge of our encounter squad. so far. Jarvis thought. superintendent.” “But you and I know they will.” Jarvis was surprised by Vaze’s candor. I killed eighty-six members of criminal syndicates. But so far we manage without encounter squads. I paid two million rupees for mine.” “A precise reading. at the moment.400 next year. not before he got out of the cabin.” Jarvis said. the idea that had teased him earlier. too.” “Then that’s what we’d call it.” The guy didn’t sound like he was bragging. The superintendent had paid a little better than fifty-one thousand dollars for his job. Jarvis thought. “Very impressive. “You see. but he figured he could bat near .” “Is that what you do?” Jarvis asked.” Vaze said. and you got your job through bribery?” Some country. Perhaps we can help each other. too. All that’s keeping this evil plan from succeeding is my enemies are unable. But who cared as long as the labor was cheap? “I understand the same flaws afflict the United States. he hit .” Jarvis did the math. Would you like me to continue?” Vaze asked. So why did you have to pay your bribe?” “Because that is our tradition.” That was when it hit Jarvis. “Yes. Mr. He came across like a ballplayer saying. “Shoot people?” “Criminals.” “Your courts are corrupt.” “Yes. “but there may be a Vaishya somewhere in my lineage.” Jarvis said.” Jarvis said. he could conclude… “That’s a bit more than your annual salary. yes. And dispose of you in the bargain. Vaze was his tech support line.” . “Please do. Jarvis. From what any good American businessman knew of Indian pay scales.“That is a very good thing to know. “I earned my current position by both merit and bribery.” “I would never admit this to anyone else.340 for the season. I’m afraid. “Meaning you’ve done so well someone else has come along and offered your sponsor a bigger bribe to take your place. “Tell me about the merit. Through your own thrift and ingenuity.” Superintendent Vaze said. isn’t it?” “My government salary. “There are always hotshots who thinks they can beat the odds. but then he might be blown to pieces soon. “Before becoming superintendent. yeah. to find underlings willing to sacrifice their own lives. New recruits to the police pay 150. you’ve prospered. Why don’t you just make arrests?” “Our courts are corrupt and overburdened with cases. Jarvis didn’t want to alienate the man. What you Americans would call mafias.
“How big?” Jarvis asked.” Bastard. Are you all right?” “Just a bit of a probe from the opposition. I’m afraid I’m going to be busy again for the next few minutes. I’m afraid I’ll have to double the fee I require. But then Vaze told him. At the same time. “Plastic explosives require a detonator. had someone just killed his tech support guy? It would be bad enough if he had to call back and start over. Yes. there is an electrical device in your cabin. though. “As its name implies. Mr.” “But first we get me out of my box.to set off the larger explosion. Jarvis thought. Fucker had more than one Vaishya in his family tree. too. Now what about the detonator?” “Oh.“Another unfortunate truth. Plead my case to the world that in India even our system of corruption is being corrupted. I’m here.” Vaze didn’t respond immediately. So you see. “With a military-grade plastic explosive. Imagine being at the center of a square with four shock waves rushing toward you at more than 8. indeed. it could be bad for business. such as a detonator cord or a blasting cap. Jarvis had tipped a yacht broker that much for finding him the right boat. breathing a little hard.” “If it’s spread out thin like that.” Jarvis could. but—” “But what?” Vaze continued. Christ Almighty.” “But this dump doesn’t have any electricity. he did just that. “Done. I think that would do the trick. In fact. The superintendent had a good memory. He was still able to hear Vaze tell him.000 meters per second. “Whatever you do.” Unfortunately for Jarvis. “Yes. “You are a Brahman indeed. and Jarvis heard a horrendous racket originating in India.” The Indian cop had also recalled hearing the place was shoddily built. A fairly small quantity might be stretched without breaking around the interior perimeter of your cabin. Jarvis?” Vaze was back. but if he didn’t even have that opt— “Mr. But he suggested an alternative to Vaze. Got a bit nicked myself. don’t disconnect.” Jarvis said. see that. Assuming you have a normal hand. yes. The government won’t like that. a lump not much bigger than your fist. Jarvis. “How about you offer your boss a mega-bribe to stay on the job? You think thirty-nine million rupees would do it?” A million bucks. Jarvis held the Iridium at arm’s length and gaped at it. “A space as small as that will not require a very big explosion to both kill you and destroy the structure. or a spark.” “What kind of a spark?” “Electrical.” . I really must ring off. “Quite nicely.” Horrified. I had to send a few brash fellows on to their next lives.” “What’s that?” “One of two things: a smaller explosion. this explosive has great plasticity. You are holding it in your hand. and almost dropped the phone. Sounded like gunfire. he admired Vaze’s shrewdness. He recalled what Jarvis had told him the size of the cabin was: 15X15. would it still kill me?” Jarvis asked.
Mr. But he had to know for sure what happened. I’m afraid I’ve also cast myself in too unfavorable a light to get any international media sympathy. He put it down in a corner of the cabin.” Vaze said. More than likely. “You do not believe you will be reincarnated. But I’ve killed too many of them now for bribery to remain a viable notion. But if we have to keep talking.” he asked in soft voice. Jarvis?” “If there’s an afterlife. This is all just starting to wear on my nerves. superintendent. they also had to keep their dialogue going to prevent the detonation. But if he wasn’t supposed to break the connection. “She could use the money. “I will patch a third party into our call. “I do have a favorite mistress. The battery in the phone might die and set off the bomb. The superintendent told Jarvis his theory. “You mean if you’d been away from the phone a little longer…” “I really was killing them as fast as I could. “Mr. Which he just about did when he heard a loud BOOM. wouldn’t breaking it from Vaze’s end also be fatal for him? The superintendent came back on the phone. He tipped the oaken table on its side and put it in front of the phone. He didn’t see any signs of a new planned avalanche. I’m afraid mine will be in a broiler. Jarvis.” The Indian must have liked the image. It looks as though there’ll be no escape for me now. Vaze might get killed.” he said. how do I get away?” “I have an idea. Once Jarvis had opened the phone connection between them. He thought of something else he could do. He laughed again. Jarvis.” he said. “are you there?” There was no answer.” “You set off your bomb?” “One of them.” Jarvis thought fast. that it was just the ski patrol coming closer. I assure you. The phone might be the bomb and blow his head off. The he went back to crouching behind the mattress.” “How are you going to do that?” . but you did what you could. Overcoming enormous apprehension. they had to keep it open to prevent the bomb in the cabin from going off. He did see the manila envelope again. Jarvis thought of all the things that might go wrong. of course. But he didn’t have time for it now. “things are getting a bit sticky here. Jarvis committed them to memory and promised to provide the funds—if Vaze got him safely out of the cabin. “Superintendent Vaze. Jarvis could almost smell smoke and charred flesh in Lucknow. Jarvis said. None of which was going to him any good if he had a heart attack before the bomb went off.” “Yes. clearing a nearby slope of unstable snow. He prayed it hadn’t come from the phone. A male with an American accent. Undoubtedly a futile gesture. Mr. “Is there anyone you might like me to send your seventy-eight million rupees to?” Vaze chuckled. he crossed to the phone and picked it up. grabbed the stinking mattress and covered himself with it in the far corner. He emerged from behind the mattress and went to the window. Took out enough of the blighters to buy myself a respite of an hour or two. Another barrier.” Vaze provided a name and address. The damn thing was really beginning to annoy him.In a natural progression for a man in his position.
three. The phone must have been the detonator and the plastic explosives had to be stretched around the outside of the cabin. “Thanks.” “And they wanted me to be on the phone with you when you died. “So I’d hear my tech support call get cut off and know I was cooked. . “Damn right. He might wind up dying anyway. that is perfect.” Vaze snarled. though. Vaze.” “An encounter squad to destroy these criminals? Yes. Figure no more than thirty seconds. How much time do you think I have once I put the phone down?” “The bastards might be using voice recognition software. then read your script.” “Mr. “It’s a conspiracy.” Vaze worked his end of the telecom system to bring what sounded to Jarvis like a California surfer dude into the conversation. too. “Everybody who’s ever gotten pissed off talking to Friendly Tech. One of my holdings is a call-answering enterprise named Friendly Tech. Mary?” The snow was thigh-deep on Jarvis and he didn’t quite get all the way behind the big fir tree in time. he’d have been smashed flat.” And in that instant both men knew what had brought them together. may I have your name please? Mary? How may I help you. read your script.” Vaze said. “Rajiv might not fool it for long. “They are the ones who bribed the chief minister to dispose of me. I’ll make it my life’s work to hunt down every last one of them.” Superintendent Aasim Vaze replied.” “Right. But if you help me get out of here. Then something more tangible struck him.” “Are you kidding?” Jarvis asked. “I’ll get even for us. it looked like he was going to have a hell of a time getting off the mountain on foot. Now go. First thing.” Jarvis said.“As you suggested. After the shock waves had turned him into putty. bang. Mr. Rajiv. Jarvis. “may Shiva the destroyer guide your efforts. man. two.” Jarvis said. and ran from the cabin. man…I mean. Without redeeming his promises to Inspector Vaze. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.” Vaze said.” Derek Jarvis dropped the phone.” Jarvis said. Jarvis thought the choreography of the controlled demolition was a thing of beauty. Thought if he got out alive he might have to alter his world view. I have invested my money wisely. what do you want me to say?” “It does not matter.” Jarvis liked that. “Vengeance.” “Right. something pointed poked his forehead. “Hi. “I use Friendly Tech for all my outsourced tech calls. the cabin had been built with more care than he’d appreciated. The last thing he heard from India was an American sounding voice saying. So he got to see what happened. Rajiv. four. Each wall fell inward: one. Jarvis. yanked the door open. Apparently.” the superintendent told. Four bombs went off: bang. and I have the means to do it. they’re taking it out on both of us. And the roof dropped neatly atop the pile. bang. “Just wait until I tell you. He braced an arm against the fir tree and lay his head against it as a wave of self-pity washed over him. bang. He looked up and saw the corner of the manila envelope he’d seen from the cabin. Had he been inside. As it was. “I’m sorry.” Vaze said. I send the money to your mistress. this is Kyle.” “May all these swine be reborn as Dalits with leprosy. Mr.
which paths his lunatic captors had mined.com/profile/view/StrayDogPress Back to top . He is the author of The Concrete Inquisition. The Next President. Gasoline Texas. Digger.He grabbed it.smashwords. and The Hangman’s Companion.josephflynn. Farewell Performance. currently living in central Illinois with his wife and daughter.com or his author's page at Smashwords: https://www. born and raised. and the single path the was his only hope for survival. Inside he found another Iridium 9550A and another note. ### About the Author Joseph Flynn is a Chicagoan. He would never have his revenge. And whatever time he had left to live would be spent making calls to tech support. The President’s Henchman. Hot Type. That was when Derek Jarvis knew. pulled it off the tree. Read free excerpts of Joe’s books by visiting his website at: http://www. and tore it open. The note told him to use the phone to get help to determine which of the paths down the mountain the ski patrol had set with explosives.
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