R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author Urban Fantasy Fantasy Dystopian
12   ounces     of    mayhem,    scream    of    sarcasm,    trounce    of    romance, dash   of   terror—Slacker   Jon   Reagan   bungles   along   with   his   caped crusader   partners   and   continues   to   pay   for   his   poor   decision   to   hunt wanted    criminals    for    a    living.    How    long    he    lives    is    always    in question.   Past   entanglements   embroil   the   crew   in   more   adventures in    the    fringes    of    legality    with    mob    hitmen,    money    launderers, sociopaths,   and   dubious   love   interests.   Jon   proves   a   little   dumb   luck and   absolute   stupidity   works   for   him.   Maybe   next   time   he’ll   apply careful planning, skill, and cunning. If he had any.
Chapter 1 ~ M y   butt   slid   as   I   slumped   into   Shrink-lady’s   soft   leather   chaise,   but   I   didn’t   end   up   on the   floor.   Close,   but   I   saved   my   pride.   She   continued   with   a   rash   of   grief   for   cancelling last week before finally moving on. “How have you been?” she asked. “I killed some people.” I saw no reason to beat around the bush. “We   discussed   that   last   time.”   She   busied   herself   getting   her   skirt   perfect   as   she crossed   those   sexy   legs   of   hers.   Black   skirt.   Black   pumps.   No   hose.   Her   legs   were   silky enough naked. “No,”   I   said.   “These   are   new   dead   guys   since   we   first   spoke.   And   I   couldn’t   help missing our appointment. I was in the hospital.” Her mouth was stuck open, maybe. She recovered. “In the hospital?” “Yeah. The docs had to sew up that ulcer or something.” I   think   she   read   her   notes,   but   her   lips   didn’t   move.   “You   had   been   in   the   hospital before, with a bleeding ulcer.” “Yeah.   And   that   was   before   Amelia,   my   mom,   and   dad,   got   held   for   ransom.”   That should explain why my ulcer hadn’t gotten much better. “Did   that   have   something   to   do   with—”   She   really   stuttered.   “With   killing—”   She couldn’t finish her question. Maybe I rattled her. “Instead   of   paying   the   two-million   ransom,”   I   explained,   “we   went   after   the   drug dealer who held them. He threw some thugs at us.” “Did you shoot him?” she asked. “The drug dealer?” She nodded. “With a pea shooter. A couple of times. He’ll live a long life in a federal pen.” “A pea shooter?” “A little .22 automatic I hid in the crotch of my pants.” I   described   our   other   shootouts   and   the   drive   by   that   put   four   rounds   in   my   Kevlar, and   by   the   time   I   finished   I   think   her   hand   shook   too   much   to   take   notes.   Telling   it   all   at once made it sound more exciting than it was. “Maybe we should meet twice a week for the time being,” she said. That would get me off the street. “Whatever you think.” She   asked   if   I   was   sleeping.   I   explained   the   stomach   tube-thing,   being   propped   up by   pillows,   made   it   hard.   She   jolted   a   look   down   at   the   courier   bag   setting   next   to   me.   I could have left that at home. I don’t have to stay connected now. “The    ribs    are    still    hurting    a    bunch    too,”    I    said.    The    headaches    didn’t    help.    I probably should tell the doctor about those. “Ribs?” “Kevlar keeps you alive, but lead stopping in your chest still gives you a pounding.” “Uh. I guess so.” I   told   her   how   the   team   had   gotten   into   teasing   me   about   bullets   loving   me.   Her mouth   hung   open   a   moment   again.   When   she   recovered,   she   asked   me   if   I   needed anything to help me sleep. I explained I had four scripts for pain. Three I’d never filled. I really need to get health insurance. Hum. Maybe life insurance, too. “I was thinking more in line with—” “No offense, but I’d rather stay away from the pills.” “So. You think you’ll sleep when the other—” “I’ve never had much trouble sleeping.” Why’d I lie? She stuttered a second. “Back, before, all the, uh, killing, you mean.” I   nodded.   I   was   getting   a   little   tired   of   talking.   I   peered   over   at   the   clock   on   her desk.   I’d   already   been   going   blah,   blah   for   over   two   hours.   We   were   only   scheduled   for one.   I   had   another   thought.   Blabbed   about   how   my   sleeping   goes   in   cycles.   Lots   of   naps when I’m not having shootouts, summarized my explanation. “Your   Miss   Amelia   brought   you   here   originally—”   She   was   speaking   very   slowly,   as though   she   was   afraid   she   might   insult   me.   “Because   you   were   troubled   over,   previous, violence, you’d been involved in.” Oh.   Yeah.   That   was   a   whole   ’nother   story.   I   glanced   at   her   desk   clock   again.   She followed my line of sight and jolted in her seat, almost kicking off a shiny spiked pump. “Oh, my. The time.” Yep. And I’d never even gotten a chance to talk about Amelia. She   suggested   returning   Thursday.   Three   days.   She   must   be   eager   to   hear   more   of my   issues.   I   may   end   up   in   her   memoir.   My   life   the   last   six   months   has   been   rather   busy. She uncrossed her sexy legs and leaned toward me. “Are you having any thoughts—of harming yourself?” I’ve   experienced   plenty   of   depression   in   my   life,   but   never   worried   about   it.   Never got so bad I thought about poking myself in the eye with a ten-penny nail. “There are excellent pharmaceuticals—” “Maybe when I’m over some of my physical pain,” I said. She   suggested   we’d   talk   more   Thursday.   Fine.   Clearly   I’m   pretty   good   at   talking. Who   knew.   We   shook   hands,   which   I   think   made   her   feel   awkward.   Maybe   I   shouldn’t have    stuck    my    hand    out.    What’s    the    protocol    with    a    shrink?    She    led    me    out    that backdoor which still bothers me. Why in one door, out another? Seems weird. Stomping   down   the   stairs   I   drew   my   phone   out   of   my   cargo   shorts   and   dialed Amelia.   Was   I   ever   going   to   get   the   guts   to   call   her   Lia,   to   see   how   she’d   take   it?   Amelia is a pretty name. But it reminds me of 1950. And Amelia is nothing like 1950. “You alive?” she asked. Dang. She had to ask that just on a visit to the shrink? “Well, I was expecting your call an hour ago,” she said. Yeah. I told her I was heading for the dealer. “She isn’t on to anything, is she?” There   was   a   long   pause,   so   she   must   have   been   in   the   dining   room   with   everyone. “Doesn’t expect a thing. But Denny cornered me.” The blind woman figured something was up? “Augie knew something was up.” Of   course.   And   he   sicced   his   blind   guard   dog   on   her.   Why   should   I   be   surprised Augie got scent of the car we put on hold? “Mom   didn’t   think   it   was   weird   you   borrowed   her   car   and   not   Michael’s?”   There   is nothing sexier than a good looking woman driving a truck. In my opinion. “Or Roger’s.” I could hear the sigh in her voice. Amelia   just   didn’t   understand.   Doing   something   behind   Mom’s   back   is   dangerous in   the   extreme.   The   woman   scares   me.   More   so   now,   since   I   know   she   can   break   a   man’s neck with her bare hands. “Grow up, Jon.” That   was   rude.   “I’ve   tried   to   get   her   out   of   her   Taurus   for   ten   years,”   I   whined.   I shouldn’t whine so much. “I’ll meet you there in thirty minutes.” Not that they would give us ten bucks for Mom’s rusty Taurus. Amelia   hung   up   before   I   could   agree   with   her.   Maybe   while   we   were   there   I’d   look at   the   new   Mustangs.   No.   I   slid   into   my   seat   and   caressed   the   dash.   Baby   was   fine   for another   hundred   thousand   miles.   Just   a   new   clutch,   door   locks,   and—I   didn’t   have   the imagination   to   guess   what   all   else   she   needed.   The   seventeen   years   had   been   hard   on her. If the tab came in under three thousand I was going to be amazed. But you don’t dump your loyal friends. I   started   her   up   and   headed   for   dealership   row.   I   should   have   gotten   Mom   the Lincoln.   That   car   was   sweet.   But   she’s   going   to   freak   enough   over   the   Edge.   Too   big,   too expensive, she’d say. But she’d skimped enough the last fifteen years. My   mind   wandered   as   I   trudged   through   the   midday   traffic.   Tampa   needs   more overpasses   and   fewer   traffic   lights.   Maybe   a   few   roundabouts   would   help.   No.   Too   many people     driving     around     with     licenses     from     K-Mart.     There     would     be     carnage. Roundabouts require firing synapses. The   ramp   off   Hillsborough   backed   up   in   front   of   Bill   Currie   Ford.   I   told   myself   to be   patient   as   the   cars   in   front   of   me   managed   to   skirt   the   lane   and   merge   with   the   Dale Mabry   traffic.   The   car   in   front   of   me   lurched   two   lanes   out   to   get   around   our   snarl   and   I realized   the   entrance   to   the   dealership’s   service   area   was   blocked   by   two   cars   mashed together in a tow truck delight. Two    men    stood    where    their    bumpers    crumpled    together.    Clearly,    words    were getting   hot,   the   fingers   pointing   with   vigor.   Ah,   man.   They   should   look   on   the   bright side. They were thirty feet from a body shop. Go around, Jon. Use the other entrance. Crud.   One   of   them   reached   for   the   back   of   his   jeans.   I   knew   what   that   meant. Horns   blared   as   I   flung   my   door   open,   twisting   away   from   my   seatbelt.   By   my   first   step   I knew   I   was   being   absolutely   stupid,   particularly   because   I   hadn’t   unhooked   my   bag,   and my piping ripped at my gut. I   stumbled   a   step   with   the   pain,   about   the   time   I   heard   the   first   pop.   I   looked   up   to find a short barrel pointed at my head. I saw the flash before I heard it. Chapter 2 ~ T he   bullet   whizzed   past   my   ear.   A   sensation   I’ve   experienced   often   since   meeting   the Muellers.   Those   two   introduced   me   to   Trouble.   Before   that   I   lived   a   safe,   uneventful   life. Now I drink beer with Trouble twice a week whether I’m thirsty or not. Before   the   Muellers,   BM,   I   couldn’t   even   afford   a   beer   most   nights   except   payday. As   with   most   things   there’s   a   silver   lining.   My   prayer   is   the   silver   lining   isn’t   in   the   fancy cloth covering the lid of my coffin in the near future. Perhaps   my   heart   didn’t   pump   as   I   watched   the   shooter   driving   away.   Maybe   I should   catch   his   license   plate.   Before   I   blinked   to   clear   my   vision   the   car   merged   with traffic. It was a silver Kia. Like there aren’t many of those running around. The   guy   on   the   ground   five   feet   away   hadn’t   budged.   My   experience   is   a   bullet   hurts so   darn   much,   if   you   have   only   one   second   to   live,   a   guy   will   be   thrashing   in   agony.   I’ve been   hit   plenty   of   times   through   my   Kevlar,   and   that   hurt   enough   to   make   me   wish   I was dead, for several minutes. There   wasn’t   a   lot   of   blood.   That   means,   usually,   the   heart   isn’t   pumping   it   out   the gaping hole. Cars   continued   to   blast   past   me   on   my   left.   I   pushed   my   feet   forward.   The   nearing whine   of   sirens   nudged   at   my   synapses.   I   knelt   and   pressed   two   fingers   into   the   guy’s throat.   His   eyes   glared   straight   up   without   moving,   an   expression   too   serene.   He   was toast.   A   crumpled   bumper.   What   a   crappy   reason   to   die.   Sweat   dripped   off   my   nose. Dang. My shirt was soaked. How long had I been standing there? Second   week   of   September.   Bad   day   to   die.   I   hope   when   I   buy   it,   it’s   a   pleasant spring   day.   Mostly   because   that   means   I   have   several   more   months   to   live,   and   since meeting the Muellers, every day has been a question mark. You have family, dude? You’re old enough to have a couple kids. I   wiped   my   brow.   With   a   jerk,   I   realized   a   voice   screeched   at   a   hundred   decibels   not to   move.   To   my   left,   a   young   kid,   blond,   short-buzzed   hair,   in   the   almost-black   uniform of   the   Tampa   Police,   leveled   a   piece   aimed   at   my   forehead.   I   looked   across   the   Glock’s slide to meet his eyes. He gave his service weapon a little shake, as though correcting a puppy for peeing. “What?” I mumbled. He   was   shouting   instructions   that   blurred   in   my   mind.   Maybe   because   he   couldn’t decide if he wanted me to freeze, or place my hands behind my head. “You want to put out a BOLO for a silver Kia?” I asked. “On   your   knees.   Clasp   your   hands   behind   your   head.”   He   sounded   a   little   freaked out. I was already on one knee. Maybe he was just out of the academy. Another   cop   walked   toward   me   a   little   to   my   right.   He   held   a   gun   too,   but   his   eyes flicked from me to the younger cop and back. The   last   time   cops   found   me   with   a   dead   body,   two   of   them,   they   patted   me   on   the back   and   thanked   me   for   cleaning   up   the   streets   a   little.   No.   That   wasn’t   the   last   time. Last time they called an ambulance for me. Time before that too. I   slowly   raised   my   hands   up,   fingers   extended   wide,   and   entwined   them   at   the   back of   my   head.   The   blond   kid   holstered   his   nine   and   rushed   to   me,   pressed   me   forward. Bam.   The   asphalt   creamed   me   in   the   cheek,   hard   enough   the   world   exploded   with   stars and tears flooded my eyes. “Easy! Easy!” the other cop shouted, a little late as far as I was concerned. The   asphalt   pressed   against   the   spigot   thing   leading   into   my   colon.   My   right   arm wrenched    backward    and    steel    slammed    across    my    wrist.    Ouch.    Ouch.    My    left    arm followed   a   similar   flight   path   and   steel   clamped   just   slightly   lighter   over   my   left   wrist. Still hurt. I bet this is the first time he’d ever collared anyone. Why   was   a   rookie   riding   by   himself?   I’ve   watched   lots   of   cop   shows   late   at   night. They’re always buddied up with the wise old-guy who is all-knowing. The   pain   in   my   cheek   tweaked   from   new   pain   to   that   it’s-going-to-really-ache   style of pain. Young-kid   and   Old-guy   were   throwing   around   thoughts   as   the   rest   of   the   police force   arrived.   I   turned   my   head   to   the   left   in   time   to   see   traffic   cones   getting   plopped   a half-lane   away.   The   arguing   continued.   Young-kid   patted   me   down.   Didn’t   he   wonder where the gun went that I shot Dead-guy with? Goldman’s   attorney   had   told   me   often   enough   to   keep   my   mouth   shut   so   I   didn’t bother   to   point   out   that   first   little   contradiction.   But   shouldn’t   they   be   wondering   where the back bumper was that smashed in Dead-guy’s front bumper? So   I   was   stashed   in   the   back   of   a   van   and   buckled   in.   Oh,   bother,   Pooh   always   said. Someone   had   said   they   needed   to   transport   me   quickly   because   of   all   the   blood.   I   first thought   they   meant   from   Dead-guy.   It   wasn’t   until   I   slumped   forward   in   the   little   bench seat I noticed the blood covering my shirt. Oh. The cheek. Michael was going to shout at me. Like this was all my fault. The   van   wasn’t   even   starting   to   cool   down   when   they   dragged   me   into   an   emergency room.   Ha.   An   ER   I’d   never   visited   before.   Each   time   I   should   get   a   new   hospital,   just   for the change of scenery. I had started to get a rep at Tampa General. A doc visited me quickly enough. Maybe it was my three, black-uniformed escorts. He   thought   my   cheek   was   fractured.   Who   would   have   suspected   that?   I   never   make it   to   the   ER   for   just   a   nick.   Usually   it’s   a   concussion.   A   broken   rib.   Deep   sigh.   They   were really concerned about my spigot, too. Five   hours   later   without   me   speaking   to   anyone   but   a   nurse   or   doctor,   I   was   hauled to the main edifice of Tampa law enforcement. At least I was close to home. The   first   thing   Goldman’s   attorney   said   when   he   walked   into   my   two-foot   by   three- foot   interrogation   closet,   after   shaking   his   head,   was,   “Why   did   you   test   positive   for GSR?” “Jeez,”   I   said.   “The   guy   shot   at   me   from   six   feet   away.”   And   still   missed.   “How   far can that stuff flutter around?” “He shot at you?” His jaw dropped a bit. I nodded. He stared at me a moment. “You tell them that?” I   shook   my   head,   which   hurt.   All   my   recent   concussions   keep   me   in   a   constant   near- migraine. The attorney batted his eyelids. “Jon. Are you cursed or something?” Good   question.   He   sat   and   drew   a   pad   out   of   his   fancy   brief-thingie   and   told   me   to walk   through   it.   He   shook   his   head   a   lot.   Actually   he   mixed   it   with   chuckles.   The   sad variety. “That’s it?” “Yep. Pretty much.” “How much you want to sue the city for?” he asked. I   didn’t   answer   him.   Maybe   it   was   a   rhetorical   question   because   he   didn’t   wait   for an   answer   before   he   barged   out   of   the   tiny   room,   slamming   the   door   against   the   wall, cussing   like   a   sailor.   I’ve   never   met   a   sailor,   but   I   have   an   impression   they   swear   a   lot. Probably   a   little   like   Roger.   But   he’s   a   Marine,   once   a   Marine   always   a   Marine,   which   is a little like a sailor. Ten   minutes   later   the   attorney   returned   with   Amelia   and   a   cop   with   rosy   cheeks who   went   out   of   his   way   not   to   look   me   in   the   face.   Amelia   didn’t   say   anything.   Just shook her head. She wore her FBI thingie around her neck. Looked real official. Embarrassed-cop   unshackled   me   from   the   ring   in   the   table   and   Amelia   gave   me   a nod   to   follow   her.   I   do   what   Amelia   instructs   without   question.   She   didn’t   speak   to   me until we were in the parking garage. “Jon. The guy really shot at you? Near enough to leave you with GSR?” There   must   have   been   a   breeze   my   way.   We   reached   Roger’s   Jeep   and   climbed   in, her   behind   the   wheel.   I   gave   her   a   nod.   She   shook   her   head.   A   smile,   I   think,   hid   behind her lips. She isn’t one to find a lot of humor in things, so that made me feel better. She   asked   me   about   the   cheek.   I   explained   the   ER   guy   figured   it   was   broken.   Amelia shook her head again. “Bruising something awful.” Yeah. Fractures do that. Chapter 3 ~ “I  got nothing registered to a Jon Reagan here,” the guy at the impound lot said. Roger asked him to double check. “Red Mustang.” “I’ll    triple    check,    but    no    Mustangs    last    night.    Three    pickups,    a    van,    and    seven sedans.    No    Mustangs.    I    drive    a    Tang.    I’d    remember.”    But    he    turned    back    to    his computer. Five seconds later he gave us another head shake. Roger turned to me wearing an expression implying that this was my fault. I   could   either   get   mad   or   whine.   He’d   embarrass   me   for   either   reaction   so   I   just turned   and   walked   toward   his   Jeep,   leaving   Roger   to   find   out   what   I   had   to   do   to   find Baby.   I   climbed   into   the   passenger   seat   working   hard   not   to   pant   like   a   mutt.   I’m   tired   of being   exhausted.   Have   to   stop   getting   dinged   up.   I   sweat   too   much.   Should   move   to Wyoming.    The    minute    I    did,    the    world’s    axis    would    shift    placing    Cheyanne    on    the equator. I   reached   across   and   shoved   Roger’s   door   open   for   a   draft.   Wasn’t   much   to   be   had.   I hate   Florida.   At   least   the   heat.   I   closed   my   eyes   and   concentrated   on   slowing   down   my metabolism.   Yogis   or   some   sort   of   people   can   lower   their   heart   rate,   right?   Maybe   it’s   a ying yang thing? I should read up on it. Roger finally joined me. “Jeez it’s hot.” I nodded. “He   opened   an   incident   report.   Doesn’t   know   why   it   isn’t   in   the   computer,   even   if they took it to a private lot. But if the city’s gonna lose a car, it would be yours.” I hummed an agreement as he got the AC going on high and I shut my door. “Someone is supposed to call you.” He pulled out onto the highway. I nodded. “I wanted to ask how your shrink session went.” I   looked   across   at   him.   The   tough   Marine   is   too   manly   to   go   talk   to   his   own   shrink. But   since   he   came   back   from   Peru   he’s   been   a   new   man   anyway.   Hiking   in   thirty-below weather must work for him. “So.” What? “How did it go?” Oh. I shrugged. Roger didn’t say anything for a moment. “She even get you to talk? I never can.” “I   think   she   has   lithium   or   something   circulating   in   her   office.   The   words   kind   of float out.” “Yeah?” he pressed inside of a grunt. “So it isn’t like pulling teeth?” I shook my head. “Michael say’s they’ve helped him.” I had to ask. It was time. “Why don’t you call him Dad?” We   drove   a   good   five   minutes   in   silence.   I   watched   the   odd   businesses   lining   the boulevard pass by. “He   was   never—”   He   clammed   up   a   minute.   “I   barely   remember—”   He   cleared   his throat. “So why’d you change the subject?” He turned off Causeway, heading for I-4. Maybe   I   didn’t   need   to   know.   I   didn’t   call   the   man   who   sired   me   Dad,   either.   But Turlough   is   a   wanted   fugitive   who   has   never   held   a   job.   Maybe   the   first   name   basis   thing is   common.   Never   had   heard   Michael   talk   about   his   father.   Didn’t   even   know   Goldman was   Michael’s   stepfather   for   months,   though   the   bail   bondsman’s   name   is   often   part   of our conversations. As our nominal employer. “Where’s your grandmother live?” I asked him. “Out of a suitcase, so Michael says.” “Huh?” “She   likes   to   travel,   spend   her   husband’s   money.   Think   the   current   hubby   lives   in Manhattan. But Gran probably hasn’t been in the states for two years.” “How’s Kari doing?” I asked. “Mom’s Mom, you know.” Not   really.   The   former   Mrs.   Mueller   is   as   big   an   enigma   as—   Nothing   enigmatic came to mind. Maybe because I was trying to use a word I’d never be able to spell. “Amelia seemed grumpy this morning,” Roger said a long moment later. Yeah. She’s not a morning person. Or a midday, or afternoon person for that matter. She    takes    the    type    A    personality    to    another    atomic    orbit.    Another    good    reason    to wonder what she sees in me. Is there an F personality type? That would be me. “I thought she’d be excited to get back on the job,” Roger said. I nodded. “Clean slate. New office, people. Start over and all that.” Yeah.   But   she   was   going   to   miss   New   York.   No   getting   around   that.   She   called   the city   home   base   for   intergalactic   justice.   I   guess   DC   is   just   a   bunch   of   wannabees.   Tampa would be the serious backwaters. So why did she move here? My   stomach   growled.   It   does   that   a   lot.   One   thing   about   all   that   stuff   going   directly into   my   colon   and   a   clear   liquid   diet,   as   though   I   followed   that   rule,   I’ve   stayed   hungry. So glad the doc pulled the spigot out yesterday while I was in the ER. “So she went back to work before she returned to empty out her apartment.” There   was   probably   a   question   imbedded   in   that   statement   of   the   obvious.   It   wasn’t something   I   wanted   to   think   about.   Because   what   I   figured   wasn’t   good.   She   might spend   a   day   in   the   Tampa   office   and   say   heck   with   it.   Miss   the   big   city.   Move   back.   I wouldn’t   feel   we   were   settled   as   a   couple   until   she   got   her   kayak,   mountain   bike,   road bike, and all her hiking gear stashed away here. “So when is she gonna do that?” Roger asked. Maybe I should ask her. “With her back to work, maybe you and I could drive up, pack her up.” I about pulled a groin yanking my eyes at him. “It’d be fun,” he mumbled. “We were good on the road together.” Those were the Moreno days. We nearly got killed every day. “It had its tense moments,” he said. Like   when   Michael   almost   got   sliced   in   two   with   a   shotgun   blast   through   a   front door. “Which was kind of cool too.” Or   that   time   that   army   of   whack   jobs   chased   us   down   that   private   lane   shooting   at us. Roger   turned   his   music   on,   as   though   thinking   about   the   road   reminded   him   it required brain blasting vibrations to make it a complete gig. “So, you want me to take you to the dealer?” Oh,   yeah.   I   still   needed   to   pick   up   Mom’s   Edge.   I   asked   him   if   he   had   the   time.   He snorted. “Augie seems to have forgotten all about our original line of work.” I   nodded.   Yeah.   He   likes   his   computer   stuff   now.   Funny   his   parents   said   six   months ago   he   didn’t   like,   how   did   Mrs.   Nellis   put   it?   Didn’t   like   to   touch   computers.   The   whole tactile   stimulation   thing   I   guess,   fingers   on   a   nasty   keyboard.   The   man   got   over   his distaste   of   being   touched   too,   once   he   met   that   hussy,   Denny   Abana.   That   woman   loves to    keep    her    hands    on    him.    Maybe    it’s    a    blind    thing.    Connection    to    his    world    or something. “So. I’ll head to Currie Ford?” I nodded. “You’re welcome,” he mumbled. “Yeah. That.” Roger   entered   the   broad   intersection   of,   I   think   we   were   at   Palm   River   Road,   and my   eyes   glued   onto   a   sedan   on   my   right   barreling   toward   his   red   light.   Time   to   hit   the left   peddle,   dude.   Dude.   Left   peddle!   Oh,   crud.   I   tensed   tight   enough   I   think   my   belly split where spigot-thing had been. The   sedan,   another   Kia   of   all   things,   entered   the   intersection   never   slowing   down. Had   to   be   on   my   side.   Of   course.   An   eeeeeek    stabbed   my   ears.   Wasn’t   tires   screeching.   I think it came out of my throat. Maybe   Roger   hit   his   brakes.   Probably   would   have   been   better   off   if   he   gunned   the Jeep.   In   slow   motion   I   watched   the   shiny   grill   of   the   Kia   until   it   plowed   into   us.   I   oddly followed   the   leading   edge   of   the   Kia’s   hood   sliding   under   us   as   the   Jeep   exploded   and any sense of reality evaporated. We   violently   whirled   inside   a   food   processor—there   probably   isn’t   any   other   way   to be   whirled   around.   Can’t   calmly   be   ground   into   mush.   At   times   it   seemed   Roger   was   on my right, then left, and my right again, though I suppose that isn’t possible either. He   definitely   ended   up   above   me   though.   So   did   we   nearly   do   a   full   gainer,   or   one and three-quarters? Roger’s   epic   Marine   vocabulary   cut   the   air.   Practically   as   loud   as   the   initial   blast   of the   Kia’s   frontend   slamming   under   my   butt.   Couldn’t   Roger   wait   until   the   glass   stopped flying around? It dawned on me I should close my eyes. A full minute later the Jeep finally stopped teetering and I opened my eyes. “Thank God for roll bars,” Roger hissed. Wow.   Five   whole   syllables   without   a   word   that   would   have   Mom   washing   my   mouth out. “You   okay?”   Roger   was   struggling   to   get   his   legs   untangled   from   the   center-stuff. “You   okay?”   he   shrieked   fifty   cinnabars   louder.   That   didn’t   sound   right.   Oh.   Decibels. What the heck is a cinnabar? I’ll look it up tonight. Roger   got   his   feet   jammed   against   the   dash   and   I   heard   the   click   of   his   seatbelt releasing. Oh,   man,   did   I   hurt.   How’d   my   legs   get   twisted   beneath   me   like   I   was   ready   to smoke a peace pipe? Chapter 4 ~ C learly, Karma doesn’t require an angry man with a gun to ruin my day. “You can’t call Amelia,” I hissed without a lot of breath. “So. You’re alive?” Roger asked. His   shin   pressed   against   my   forehead   for   a   moment.   His   hikers   appeared   firmly planted   on   asphalt   a   couple   inches   from   my   face.   There   was   a   lot   of   sun   shrieking   down on me. The top of the Jeep was history. Where’d it go? “I’m not going to the hospital,” I shouted. “Calm down, dude,” Roger whispered. He cradled my head in his hands. “I’m tired of hospitals.” Maybe   he   giggled.   Or   maybe   he   sobbed.   “You   have   the   worst   freakin’   luck   in   the world. How’s the neck feel?” “Everything hurts,” I said. That Kia had to be going fifty miles an hour. “Good. That’s good news.” How could that be good? Maybe sixty miles an hour. “Means you’re in one piece, huh?” Yeah.   The   first   siren   was   already   grinding   to   a   pitiful   half-whine   a   few   yards   away. There were more nearing. “Don’t    move    around,    okay?”    Roger    whispered.    “We    need    to    get    you    on    a    back board.” “Didn’t   you   just   go   through   what   I   went   through?”   I   asked.   “Why   are   you   moving around?   Why   don’t   you   need   a   back   board?”   My   last   syllables   might   have   been   juggled inside sobs. But don’t tell anyone. I’ll deny it. “I don’t break,” he said. “That’s my superpower.” I   tested   my   hands.   They   seemed   fine.   I   twisted   my   toes   inside   my   hikers,   tensed   to get my butt off my legs. “Slowly,” Roger hissed. “We don’t know what’s broken yet.” I   tingled   all   over   but   the   aches   that   vibrated   everywhere   didn’t   feel   that   bad.   I’ve had   more   fractures   in   the   last   six   months   than   I   can   count,   so   I   figure   I   can   judge   a break from a simple owie. Roger   argued   with   me   as   my   shaking   fingers   fumbled   with   my   seatbelt   release.   I was   determined   to   walk   away   from   this.   No   ambulance   rides   today.   A   bevy   of   firemen circled us now, so I started on my, “I’m fine. I’m fine,” whine. I whine way too much. They   didn’t   like   it   when   I   pushed   away   their   hands   and   crawled   out   of   the   mesh   of ruined   steel   surrounding   me.   I   finally   got   to   my   feet   and   searched   for   the   Kia   that blasted    us.    It    lay,    pancake    like,    fifty    feet    away    in    the    middle    of    the    intersection, surrounded    by    even    more    bulky-attired    firemen    and    EMTs.    There    wasn’t    a    bit    of urgency in their movements. Which   was   understandable.   The   South   Korean   car   had   been   cleaved   in   two,   from the   crushed   front   grill   to   the   back   bumper.   No   one   survived   that.   Roger   was   wrong.   I wasn’t the unluckiest person in the world after all. Distracted driving—kills. A   continuing   firmer   grip   at   both   arms   drew   me   out   of   my   thoughts.   Calm,   yellow- suited   firemen   encouraged   me   to   go   with   them   so   they   could   check   me   out.   I   looked around   for   Roger.   He   was   sitting   at   the   back   of   an   ambulance   already,   thirty   feet   away. An   EMT   dabbed   at   the   blood   flowing   down   his   face.   I   couldn’t   catch   his   eye.   But   if   they were treating nicks from flying glass, he was okay. I   looked   back   at   the   Jeep.   Jeez.   Roger   had   just   gotten   it   out   of   the   body   shop,   thanks to   me   getting   it   shot   up.   The   Wrangler   looked   more   like   a   crumpled   beer   can.   We   both stepped   out   of   that   alive?   There   was   no   fixing   it   this   time.   Where   were   its   giant   tires? They    grow    wings    and    fly    away?    How    could    all    five    of    them,    counting    the    spare, disappear? No one could blame me for this one. I was here, but I wasn’t driving. If   this   new   bout   of   Karma   didn’t   send   Amelia   skittering   back   for   New   York,   nothing would.   The   EMT   got   me   seated   and   shined   the   brightest   tiny-light   in   the   world   in   my eyes.   I   told   him   if   they   didn’t   look   too   good   it   was   because   I   was   already   recovering   from a concussion. I’m always recovering from a concussion. He   grunted.   Made   a   face   over   my   pulse   and   blood   pressure.   No   reason   for   those   to be high. Yeah, sure. Doesn’t help I got twenty minutes of sleep last night. He   grunted   again   and   started   sanding   my   forehead   with   a   sheet   of   gauze.   The   only thing   missing   was   an   ounce   or   two   of   alcohol   to   make   it   feel   really   good.   He   asked   about the   bruise.   I   had   to   think.   I   get   clobbered   so   often   the   hurts   run   together.   Oh.   The fractured left cheekbone. Now I’ve broken both. “I   don’t   think   any   of   these   will   need   sutures,”   my   EMT   said,   and   proceeded   to   make a jigsaw puzzle out of my face with those pull-together bandages. A   shadow   fell   across   us.   I   didn’t   want   to   look   up.   It   would   be   cops   wanting   to   arrest me.   I   wasn’t   driving.   We   had   the   green   light.   But   they   would   cuff   me.   I’ve   been   given more   rides   downtown   than   the   average,   regular   suspect.   The   EMT   finished   with   a   cut and pulled back his hands. Roger stood next to my EMT. I guffawed. “What?” he hissed. He   looked   like   that   Johnny   Dep   guy—Scissorhands   dude.   I   told   him   he   looked beautiful.   He   mumbled   something   about   at   least   starting   that   way.   That   I   would   make   a good mud fence on my best day. He didn’t say, mud. All very true. But I’m loveable. Have lots of personality. “And you have no personality,” Roger said. “He must know you well,” the EMT said with a smirk. I    considered    giving    something    back    to    both    of    them    but    nothing    came    to    me. Nothing   ever   does.   The   EMT   started   his   monologue   about   what   to   pay   attention   to   if- and-when we got new aches, we should go to the ER immediately. I’ve had enough of the ER. A   two-thousand-decibel   shriek   erupted   at   the   obliterated   Kia.   They   were   cutting   the ball   of   rubble   in   two.   The   EMT   explained   there   was   no   rush   getting   them   out.   The husband   and   wife   were   both   sliced   in   half   like   the   car,   just   above   the   breast   line.   They hadn’t   found   their   top   halves   yet.   Probably   enmeshed   in   the   Jeep’s   undercarriage.   Like hamburger.   All   three   of   us   turned   to   look   at   the   Jeep,   cleared   our   throats   at   the   same time. Somehow I kept from vomiting into the EMT’s chest. “A   buddy   offered   us   a   ride,”   Roger   said   softly.   I   must   read   lips   well   because   I   think all I heard was the scream from the machines working on the crumpled Kia. I   gave   Roger   a   nod.   The   EMT   helped   me   to   my   feet   and   asked   me   if   I   felt   okay.   The dizzy   faded   fast   enough   I   don’t   think   he   caught   on   I   couldn’t   see   for   a   few   seconds.   I   told him   thanks.   He   didn’t   tackle   me   as   I   followed   Roger   toward   the   line   of   sheriff   units.   I read Supervisor down the quarter panel of the car Roger waved me to. The   officer’s   name   went   past   me   too   fast,   but   that   was   okay.   I   didn’t   feel   all   that social.   He   said   we   looked   like   twins   with   our   matching   bandages.   Roger   and   I   got   in   the back.    Thankfully,    no    cuffs.    The    two    of    them    dropped    into    an    old-buddy    banter immediately.   I   didn’t   know   Roger   had   been   SWAT.   No   surprise   he   had   every   unmarried female officer on the force at one time trying to get their hooks into him. Roger is rather homely, in a famous, Hollywood leading actor way. They   both   served   in   Afghanistan—that   is,   A-Stan.   I   guess   everyone   did.   Except   me.   I stayed   home.   We   entered   I-4   and   Roger   told   him   we   were   heading   for   Bill   Currie   Ford. Oh.   Yeah.   I   guess   we   might   as   well   still   go   there.   Should   have   an   Edge   waiting   for   me.   I zoned   out.   Snapped   out   of   it   only   when   Roger’s   friend   pulled   up   to   the   front   of   the dealership showroom. I checked to make sure I hadn’t dribbled down my chin. The   lieutenant   let   us   out   of   the   back   of   the   cruiser   and   I   shook   hands   quickly,   left   to leave   the   Marine   buddies   finish   their   hurrah-farewell   thing.   Didn’t   take   me   long   to   find the   salesman   Amelia   and   I   worked   with   over   the   phone.   He   complimented   my   facial puzzle.   Didn’t   say   anything   about   the   blood   across   my   polo.   Striding   for   the   door   to   find Mom’s future Edge I caught Roger drooling over a GT. My   heart   may   have   lost   a   couple   beats.   Partly   because   I   was   thinking   about   my missing   Mustang,   and   guilt   slammed   me   for   maybe-wistfully   thinking   about   replacing Baby   with   a   new   GT   if   she   never   showed   up.   And   secondly.   How   could   Roger   do   his   job in   a   GT?   Sexier   than   heck.   But   they   take   a   shoehorn   to   get   in   and   out   of.   With   tactical vests and belts? Impossible. How could we pile out of a GT to run after a skip? No   way.   Roger’s   a   Wrangler   man,   right?   Besides,   as   often   as   the   Mueller   vehicles   get shot   up,   it   would   be   insane   for   him   to   replace   his   Wrangler   with   a   forty-thousand-dollar car. After   a   quick   test   ride   in   the   Edge   and   I   strolled   with   the   guy   to   sign   the   papers,   I caught Roger still sitting in the GT. The man was in love. An   old   itch   hit   me   in   the   cerebellum,   or   one   of   those   other   brainy   lobes.   Amelia’s Wrangler   still   sat   in   a   Brooklyn   garage.   She   and   Roger   have   so   much   in   common,   with their   type-A   personalities,   brains,   good   looks,   educations,   police   background.   I   could rattle   on.   Always   expected   her   to   go   for   Roger.   Still   don’t   understand   why   she   veered   my way. No explaining that. She must be a moron and I’m so stupid I can’t tell. The   sales   manager   was   running   my   credit   card,   mumbling   about   how   rare   it   used   to be   for   anyone   to   pay   for   a   car   on   a   credit   card,   when   Roger   strolled   into   the   little   office. The   fellow   mentioned   we   looked   like   twins.   Roger   must   have   felt   obligated   to   explain   he just totaled his vehicle. The guy got excited. “You ever test drive the GT?” Roger mumbled at me. I had to say it. “You sure you don’t want to look at the Wranglers.” “The Edge has a really nice sport package,” the Ford guy said. I   almost   laughed   out   loud.   Roger   in   the   same   car   my   mom   drives?   Would   drive.   As soon   as   I   gave   her   the   keys   and   took   a   sledge   hammer   to   her   ancient   Taurus.   No   way was Roger driving an Edge. “Really pretty sporty,” Ford-guy said as he stapled a three-inch-thick stack of papers together, sliding the ream into a slick, Ford-emblazoned folder. I’m pretty sure Roger and I gave the guy the same look. He   cleared   his   throat.   “Let   me   run   and   see   if   they   finished   detailing   your   new   car, Mr. Reagan.” He slipped past Roger who leaned in the doorway. Mom’s   Edge   sat   right   outside   the   door   when   we   made   it   back   to   the   showroom.   I   did my   handshaking   with   the   sales   team   and   their   forty-three   uncles   or   whatever,   and   drove Roger   directly   to   the   Jeep   dealership   just   down   Dale   Mabry,   trying   to   ignore   all   the Edge’s buttons. Why do cars need so many gadgets these days? Roger   found   a   red,   pimped   out   Rubicon   with   seventeen-inch   wheels   to   love   right away.   But   he   screeched   about   it   being   ten   thousand   more   than   the   GT.   Uh   oh.   He   had   a tough   decision   to   make.   I   didn’t   have   to   tell   him   which   made   more   sense.   But   yeah,   I was drooling a little about that GT, too. Chapter 5 ~ T he    Taurus    wasn’t    at    the    curb    when    we    reached    the    fraternity    house.    Neither    was Michael’s   F250.   Odd   the   two   of   them   weren’t   together,   here,   midday.   I   pulled   into   the alley leading to the garage, so the Edge wouldn’t be so noticeable. Augie   and   Denny   weren’t   at   the   dining   room   table.   Someone   must   have   given   them a   ride   to   her   place.   But   Norm   stood   in   the   kitchen,   a   paper-style   book   open   on   the counter.    Had    to    be    a    cook    book.    Someone    should    tell    him    tablets    make    for    better reading. “What happened to you two?” Norm screeched. “Born beautiful,” Roger said. “That’s a given,” Norm answered. “What made you ugly?” “Ugly?” Roger hissed. “You know, like him.” Norm hooked a thumb my way. The man is so rude. “A freakin’ car T-boned us on US-41,” Roger explained. Norm   turned   all   emotional,   grasping   me   by   the   shoulders   and   looking   hard   into   my eyes.   “Are   you   okay?”   He   went   on   with   more   blah,   blah,   which   I   ignored.   I   needed coffee.    Thankfully    Norm    turned    his    attention    on    Roger,    giving    him    a    big    hug.    The Marine   didn’t   punch   his   lights   out.   Norm   dodged   a   bullet.   Neither   Mueller   is   about displaying emotion. Except for irritation. I   got   two   cups   of   Joe   poured   for   us   before   Norm   turned   his   attention   back   on   me. No,   of   course   I   didn’t   call   Amelia.   It’s   her   first   day   back   on   the   job.   I   really   didn’t   think she’d   kill   me   for   not   calling   her.   Not   like   I   ended   up   in   intensive   care   or   anything.   But she’s pretty brusk. He got me worrying. Roger   handed   me   the   creamer,   not   trying   to   hide   his   smirk.   He   loves   to   ride   me because I like a bit of the bitter rubbed out of my coffee. “I’ll call her,” Norm announced. “I’ll   shoot   you,”   I   bellowed.   I   patted   my   hip.   I   wasn’t   packing,   but   I   should   have been.    We’ve    made    too    many    enemies.    Roger    handed    me    his    nine,    which    he    had holstered   at   the   small   of   his   back.   Dang   big   gun   for   the   small   of   the   back.   I   really   don’t know how he does that. But he’s a Marine. They’re tough. “That’s not funny.” Norm gritted at Roger. I   jacked   a   round   just   for   grins.   Roger   grabbed   the   ejected   live   one   out   of   the   air   for me, though I had planned on grabbing it. Norm turned a different serious. Uh oh. What? Roger   plopped   down   in   his   regular   place   at   the   dining   table.   I   set   his   gun   on   the counter   without   looking   away   from   Norm.   Roger   must   have   picked   up   on   the   stress   in the air. “Oh—” He used his Marine vocabulary. “Who’d we piss off now?” “I got a call from a former peer,” Norm said slowly. I waited. “She said my old employer reached out to her.” I   waited.   This   wasn’t   going   to   be   good.   There’s   a   reason   Norm   moved   in   with   us, changed   his   phone   number,   switched   email   addresses,   sold   his   house   and   car,   all   that stuff   to   disappear.   I’m   surprised   he   kept   in   contact   with   any   of   the   folks   he   used   to   work with,   considering   the   danger.   He’s   got   a   lot   of   enemies   too.   Not   a   lot,   but   dangerous ones. I’ve killed a few of them myself, put a couple others in a penitentiary. “Why   does   anyone   know   how   to   reach   you?”   Roger   growled.   He   hued   a   little   ticked too. “Just her. No one else,” Norm said softly. “Ah,” Roger trilled. “I was starting to think you were gay.” I shot him a hard look. “Shut up, fool.” Roger grinned. “She cute?” “Shut up,” Norm mumbled. Roger echoed, “Shut up.” “So   what   did   the   scumbag   lawyer   want?”   Had   to   get   the   shut   ups   stopped   or   they’d go an hour like two ten-year-olds bickering. “To meet.” Roger and I both ranted, “Meet?” Last   meeting   we   agreed   to,   I   killed   two   men   and   a   270   grain   slug   penetrated   the wall   I   hid   behind.   Several   bullets,   actually,   but   I   was   only   worried   about   the   one   that whizzed past my nose. “The   guy   couldn’t   actually   expect   you   to   agree   to   that?”   Roger   was   still   in   growl- mode. I realized my mouth hung open and clomped it shut. “He   asked   Liz   for   a   few   bucks   to   get   by,”   Norm   said.   “He’s   almost   living   on   the street.” Roger   stood.   “Let   him,   the   drug-funding   wacko.”   He   practiced   some   of   his   colorful hyperbole. “He wants WITSEC,” I said. Roger ripped a look my way. “What?” Norm asked. What   did   he   mean   by   what?   It’s   the   program   we   tried   to   get   him   into.   Does   he   have a short memory? “Witness protection,” Roger snarled after he finished cursing. “Why isn’t it called WITPRO?” Norm asked. I think we had that conversation once already back in June, maybe. “He   can   call   the   feds   himself.”   Roger   hadn’t   calmed   down   yet.   He   had   a   point.   The mob   attorney   had   two   guys   on   a   roof   targeting   Roger   and   his   dad   before   I   started emptying my clip from the roof across the street—where I took out two other guys. Norm   had   his   face   folded   into   a   thoughtful   frown.   “You   guys   only   put   up   with   me because you expected, what was that program called?” Yeah.   Michael   got   dizzy-drunk   thinking   about   the   finder’s   fees   we’d   pull   in   for securing   the   mob’s   money   Norm   was   supposed   to   lead   us   to.   I’m   glad   Michael’s   wallet got   fat   enough   nabbing   all   of   Morino’s   people.   We   shouldn’t   have   lived   through   that   gig. We didn’t need another syndicate coming after us. “We don’t put up with you now,” Roger snarked. I said, “You’d starve without Norm’s cooking.” Roger snorted. “I know how to throw a hunk of meat in a Crock Pot.” That   would   have   gotten   old   fast.   In   my   bachelor   days,   I   made   many   a   dinner   out   of cheese   and   crackers.   Thank   God   cheese   is   cheap.   I   pretty   much   existed   on   spaghetti.   I’d buy   a   case   of   sauce   when   it   was   on   sale,   buy   one   get   one.   Actually,   it   was   important   the pasta was BOGO too. I didn’t make much back in those days. “There a reward out for the guy?” Norm asked. Probably,   but   not   a   big   one.   The   feds   were   happy   with   the   forfeiture   they   got   out   of his on-shore accounts. “I feel bad for ruining his life,” Norm said. I started hyperventilating. “What?” Roger shrieked. “He had a hit out on all of us.” “Just self-preservation,” Norm mumbled. “I’ll preserve his—” and Roger used his Marine-vocabulary for a good fifty syllables. “Are you through?” I asked. Roger ratcheted his head to the left. I think his neck popped five times. “Meh.” I asked Norm what he wanted to do. “We have something to say in the matter.” Roger was back to simple-snarl. Norm   looked   down   at   the   kitchen   counter,   sad-like.   The   pout   didn’t   look   right   with his   fairly-new,   Uncle   Fester   bald   dome.   I   guess   I   haven’t   adjusted   to   his   new   look.   I’m not big on change. Though it’s been weeks. I need to learn to go with the flow. Oh, crud. “We can’t say a thing about this to Amelia.” Roger   laughed.   I   didn’t   find   it   funny.   She   didn’t   like   to   hear   anything   about   us   not perfectly   following   legal   procedure,   and   I   was   pretty   certain   meeting   with   a   federal fugitive could be labeled abetting, or something like that. “She can be point for the feds,” Roger said. I   shook   my   head   hard   enough   to   tweak   my   headache.   Dang   concussions.   “She’s   told me more times than I can count—” “Yeah, yeah. We’ve been in the room,” Roger mumbled. Norm   snarled   at   Roger   not   to   be   flippant.   Roger   claimed   he   was   never   flippant.   I thought   back   to   the   last   time   I   lay   on   the   asphalt,   besides   today,   about   to   die,   and   he grinned down at me and asked if I was going to live, or something like that. A thought struck me. “Hey. Where’s my mom and Michael?” © R. Mac Wheeler 2017
SCI FI Suspense
R .  Mac Wheeler Multi - Genre Author
SEEker 4 Chapter 1 ~ M y   butt   slid   as   I   slumped   into   Shrink- lady’s    soft    leather    chaise,    but    I    didn’t end   up   on   the   floor.   Close,   but   I   saved my   pride.   She   continued   with   a   rash   of grief    for    cancelling    last    week    before finally moving on. “How have you been?” she asked. “I    killed    some    people.”    I    saw    no reason to beat around the bush. “We   discussed   that   last   time.”   She busied   herself   getting   her   skirt   perfect as   she   crossed   those   sexy   legs   of   hers. Black   skirt.   Black   pumps.   No   hose.   Her legs were silky enough naked. “No,”   I   said.   “These   are   new   dead guys   since   we   first   spoke.   And   I   couldn’t help   missing   our   appointment.   I   was   in the hospital.” Her mouth was stuck open, maybe. She recovered. “In the hospital?” “Yeah.   The   docs   had   to   sew   up   that ulcer or something.” I   think   she   read   her   notes,   but   her lips   didn’t   move.   “You   had   been   in   the hospital before, with a bleeding ulcer.” “Yeah.   And   that   was   before   Amelia, my     mom,     and     dad,     got     held     for ransom.”   That   should   explain   why   my ulcer hadn’t gotten much better. “Did    that    have    something    to    do with—”     She     really     stuttered.     “With killing—”      She      couldn’t      finish      her question. Maybe I rattled her. “Instead   of   paying   the   two-million ransom,”   I   explained,   “we   went   after   the drug   dealer   who   held   them.   He   threw some thugs at us.” “Did you shoot him?” she asked. “The drug dealer?” She nodded. “With    a    pea    shooter.    A    couple    of times.   He’ll   live   a   long   life   in   a   federal pen.” “A pea shooter?” “A   little   .22   automatic   I   hid   in   the crotch of my pants.” I   described   our   other   shootouts   and the   drive   by   that   put   four   rounds   in   my Kevlar,    and    by    the    time    I    finished    I think   her   hand   shook   too   much   to   take notes.    Telling    it    all    at    once    made    it sound more exciting than it was. “Maybe    we    should    meet    twice    a week for the time being,” she said. That    would    get    me    off    the    street. “Whatever you think.” She     asked     if     I     was     sleeping.     I explained   the   stomach   tube-thing,   being propped    up    by    pillows,    made    it    hard. She   jolted   a   look   down   at   the   courier bag   setting   next   to   me.   I   could   have   left that    at    home.    I    don’t    have    to    stay connected now. “The   ribs   are   still   hurting   a   bunch too,”   I   said.   The   headaches   didn’t   help.   I probably    should    tell    the    doctor    about those. “Ribs?” “Kevlar    keeps    you    alive,    but    lead stopping   in   your   chest   still   gives   you   a pounding.” “Uh. I guess so.” I   told   her   how   the   team   had   gotten into   teasing   me   about   bullets   loving   me. Her   mouth   hung   open   a   moment   again. When   she   recovered,   she   asked   me   if   I needed    anything    to    help    me    sleep.    I explained    I    had    four    scripts    for    pain. Three I’d never filled. I      really      need      to      get      health insurance.   Hum.   Maybe   life   insurance, too. “I was thinking more in line with—” “No    offense,    but    I’d    rather    stay away from the pills.” “So.   You   think   you’ll   sleep   when   the other—” “I’ve      never      had      much      trouble sleeping.” Why’d I lie? She     stuttered     a     second.     “Back, before, all the, uh, killing, you mean.” I   nodded.   I   was   getting   a   little   tired of   talking.   I   peered   over   at   the   clock   on her   desk.   I’d   already   been   going   blah, blah   for   over   two   hours.   We   were   only scheduled     for     one.     I     had     another thought.      Blabbed      about      how      my sleeping    goes    in    cycles.    Lots    of    naps when       I’m       not       having       shootouts, summarized my explanation. “Your     Miss     Amelia     brought     you here   originally—”   She   was   speaking   very slowly,    as    though    she    was    afraid    she might    insult    me.    “Because    you    were troubled   over,   previous,   violence,   you’d been involved in.” Oh.   Yeah.   That   was   a   whole   ’nother story.   I   glanced   at   her   desk   clock   again. She   followed   my   line   of   sight   and   jolted in   her   seat,   almost   kicking   off   a   shiny spiked pump. “Oh, my. The time.” Yep.    And    I’d    never    even    gotten    a chance to talk about Amelia. She   suggested   returning   Thursday. Three   days.   She   must   be   eager   to   hear more   of   my   issues.   I   may   end   up   in   her memoir.   My   life   the   last   six   months   has been    rather    busy.    She    uncrossed    her sexy legs and leaned toward me. “Are    you    having    any    thoughts—of harming yourself?” I’ve         experienced         plenty         of depression   in   my   life,   but   never   worried about    it.    Never    got    so    bad    I    thought about   poking   myself   in   the   eye   with   a ten-penny nail. “There                 are                 excellent pharmaceuticals—” “Maybe   when   I’m   over   some   of   my physical pain,” I said. She      suggested      we’d      talk      more Thursday.   Fine.   Clearly   I’m   pretty   good at   talking.   Who   knew.   We   shook   hands, which   I   think   made   her   feel   awkward. Maybe   I   shouldn’t   have   stuck   my   hand out.   What’s   the   protocol   with   a   shrink? She   led   me   out   that   backdoor   which   still bothers     me.     Why     in     one     door,     out another? Seems weird. Stomping    down    the    stairs    I    drew my   phone   out   of   my   cargo   shorts   and dialed   Amelia.   Was   I   ever   going   to   get the   guts   to   call   her   Lia,   to   see   how   she’d take   it?   Amelia   is   a   pretty   name.   But   it reminds    me    of    1950.    And    Amelia    is nothing like 1950. “You alive?” she asked. Dang.   She   had   to   ask   that   just   on   a visit to the shrink? “Well,   I   was   expecting   your   call   an hour ago,” she said. Yeah.   I   told   her   I   was   heading   for the   dealer.   “She   isn’t   on   to   anything,   is she?” There   was   a   long   pause,   so   she   must have    been    in    the    dining    room    with everyone.   “Doesn’t   expect   a   thing.   But Denny cornered me.” The         blind         woman         figured something was up? “Augie knew something was up.” Of   course.   And   he   sicced   his   blind guard    dog    on    her.    Why    should    I    be surprised   Augie   got   scent   of   the   car   we put on hold? “Mom   didn’t   think   it   was   weird   you borrowed    her    car    and    not    Michael’s?” There    is    nothing    sexier    than    a    good looking   woman   driving   a   truck.   In   my opinion. “Or   Roger’s.”   I   could   hear   the   sigh in her voice. Amelia      just      didn’t      understand. Doing   something   behind   Mom’s   back   is dangerous   in   the   extreme.   The   woman scares   me.   More   so   now,   since   I   know she    can    break    a    man’s    neck    with    her bare hands. “Grow up, Jon.” That   was   rude.   “I’ve   tried   to   get   her out    of    her    Taurus    for    ten    years,”    I whined. I shouldn’t whine so much. “I’ll      meet      you      there      in      thirty minutes.” Not    that    they    would    give    us    ten bucks for Mom’s rusty Taurus. Amelia     hung     up     before     I     could agree    with    her.    Maybe    while    we    were there   I’d   look   at   the   new   Mustangs.   No. I    slid    into    my    seat    and    caressed    the dash.      Baby      was      fine      for      another hundred    thousand    miles.    Just    a    new clutch,    door    locks,    and—I    didn’t    have the   imagination   to   guess   what   all   else she    needed.    The    seventeen    years    had been    hard    on    her.    If    the    tab    came    in under   three   thousand   I   was   going   to   be amazed. But     you     don’t     dump     your     loyal friends. I    started    her    up    and    headed    for dealership    row.    I    should    have    gotten Mom   the   Lincoln.   That   car   was   sweet. But   she’s   going   to   freak   enough   over   the Edge.   Too   big,   too   expensive,   she’d   say. But     she’d     skimped     enough     the     last fifteen years. My    mind    wandered    as    I    trudged through     the     midday     traffic.     Tampa needs   more   overpasses   and   fewer   traffic lights.   Maybe   a   few   roundabouts   would help.     No.     Too     many     people     driving around     with     licenses     from     K-Mart. There   would   be   carnage.   Roundabouts require firing synapses. The   ramp   off   Hillsborough   backed up   in   front   of   Bill   Currie   Ford.   I   told myself   to   be   patient   as   the   cars   in   front of    me    managed    to    skirt    the    lane    and merge   with   the   Dale   Mabry   traffic.   The car   in   front   of   me   lurched   two   lanes   out to   get   around   our   snarl   and   I   realized the   entrance   to   the   dealership’s   service area   was   blocked   by   two   cars   mashed together in a tow truck delight. Two       men       stood       where       their bumpers     crumpled     together.     Clearly, words     were     getting     hot,     the     fingers pointing     with     vigor.     Ah,     man.     They should    look    on    the    bright    side.    They were thirty feet from a body shop. Go     around,     Jon.     Use     the     other entrance. Crud.   One   of   them   reached   for   the back    of    his    jeans.    I    knew    what    that meant.   Horns   blared   as   I   flung   my   door open,   twisting   away   from   my   seatbelt. By    my    first    step    I    knew    I    was    being absolutely   stupid,   particularly   because   I hadn’t   unhooked   my   bag,   and   my   piping ripped at my gut. I    stumbled    a    step    with    the    pain, about   the   time   I   heard   the   first   pop.   I looked   up   to   find   a   short   barrel   pointed at    my    head.    I    saw    the    flash    before    I heard it. Chapter 2 ~ T he     bullet     whizzed     past     my     ear.     A sensation    I’ve    experienced    often    since meeting      the      Muellers.      Those      two introduced   me   to   Trouble.   Before   that   I lived   a   safe,   uneventful   life.   Now   I   drink beer   with   Trouble   twice   a   week   whether I’m thirsty or not. Before   the   Muellers,   BM,   I   couldn’t even   afford   a   beer   most   nights   except payday.    As    with    most    things    there’s    a silver    lining.    My    prayer    is    the    silver lining   isn’t   in   the   fancy   cloth   covering the lid of my coffin in the near future. Perhaps   my   heart   didn’t   pump   as   I watched     the     shooter     driving     away. Maybe   I   should   catch   his   license   plate. Before   I   blinked   to   clear   my   vision   the car   merged   with   traffic.   It   was   a   silver Kia.    Like    there    aren’t    many    of    those running around. The   guy   on   the   ground   five   feet   away hadn’t   budged.   My   experience   is   a   bullet hurts    so    darn    much,    if    you    have    only one     second     to     live,     a     guy     will     be thrashing   in   agony.   I’ve   been   hit   plenty of    times    through    my    Kevlar,    and    that hurt    enough    to    make    me    wish    I    was dead, for several minutes. There    wasn’t    a    lot    of    blood.    That means,   usually,   the   heart   isn’t   pumping it out the gaping hole. Cars   continued   to   blast   past   me   on my   left.   I   pushed   my   feet   forward.   The nearing   whine   of   sirens   nudged   at   my synapses.     I     knelt     and     pressed     two fingers    into    the    guy’s    throat.    His    eyes glared   straight   up   without   moving,   an expression   too   serene.   He   was   toast.   A crumpled      bumper.      What      a      crappy reason    to    die.    Sweat    dripped    off    my nose.   Dang.   My   shirt   was   soaked.   How long had I been standing there? Second   week   of   September.   Bad   day to    die.    I    hope    when    I    buy    it,    it’s    a pleasant     spring     day.     Mostly     because that   means   I   have   several   more   months to   live,   and   since   meeting   the   Muellers, every day has been a question mark. You    have    family,    dude?    You’re    old enough to have a couple kids. I    wiped    my    brow.    With    a    jerk,    I realized   a   voice   screeched   at   a   hundred decibels    not    to    move.    To    my    left,    a young   kid,   blond,   short-buzzed   hair,   in the   almost-black   uniform   of   the   Tampa Police,    leveled    a    piece    aimed    at    my forehead.    I    looked    across    the    Glock’s slide to meet his eyes. He   gave   his   service   weapon   a   little shake,   as   though   correcting   a   puppy   for peeing. “What?” I mumbled. He    was    shouting    instructions    that blurred   in   my   mind.   Maybe   because   he couldn’t    decide    if    he    wanted    me    to freeze,    or    place    my    hands    behind    my head. “You   want   to   put   out   a   BOLO   for   a silver Kia?” I asked. “On    your    knees.    Clasp    your    hands behind   your   head.”   He   sounded   a   little freaked   out.   I   was   already   on   one   knee. Maybe he was just out of the academy. Another    cop    walked    toward    me    a little   to   my   right.   He   held   a   gun   too,   but his   eyes   flicked   from   me   to   the   younger cop and back. The   last   time   cops   found   me   with   a dead   body,   two   of   them,   they   patted   me on     the     back     and     thanked     me     for cleaning   up   the   streets   a   little.   No.   That wasn’t    the    last    time.    Last    time    they called     an     ambulance     for     me.     Time before that too. I   slowly   raised   my   hands   up,   fingers extended    wide,    and    entwined    them    at the    back    of    my    head.    The    blond    kid holstered    his    nine    and    rushed    to    me, pressed   me   forward.   Bam.   The   asphalt creamed   me   in   the   cheek,   hard   enough the   world   exploded   with   stars   and   tears flooded my eyes. “Easy!   Easy!”   the   other   cop   shouted, a little late as far as I was concerned. The     asphalt     pressed     against     the spigot   thing   leading   into   my   colon.   My right   arm   wrenched   backward   and   steel slammed   across   my   wrist.   Ouch.   Ouch. My    left    arm    followed    a    similar    flight path    and    steel    clamped    just    slightly lighter   over   my   left   wrist.   Still   hurt.   I bet    this    is    the    first    time    he’d    ever collared anyone. Why   was   a   rookie   riding   by   himself? I’ve   watched   lots   of   cop   shows   late   at night.   They’re   always   buddied   up   with the wise old-guy who is all-knowing. T