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The Zombie Plagues Plague

THE ZOMBIE PLAGUES: PLAGUE

The Zombie Plagues: Plague is copyright © 2017 Geo Dell. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.

Cover Art © Copyright 2017 Geo Dell

Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Geo Dell

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.

Table of Contents

PROLOGUE

ONE

TWO

THREE

FOUR

FIVE

SIX

SEVEN

EIGHT

CHARACTER BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABOUT THE ZOMBIE PLAGUES

PLAGUE

PROLOGUE

Six months before:

Esmeraldas, Ecuador

Tommy Murphy and Jefferson Prescott

Jefferson Prescott stood quietly and sipped at his coffee. The house in Esmeraldas was his private escape. He could sit and watch the ocean, or travel into the mountains in just a few hours time, and Ecuador was such an easy country to live in: The people so happy with so little.

He owned a building in Manhattan, he owned a house in the hills outside of L.A., but this was his favorite place. This was where he did his real business, entertained and spent time with the women in his life, besides his wife and daughters back in Manhattan. This was the place where he bought his associates. Those that another man might call friends: In Jefferson’s world there was no place for friends. The luxury the concept didn’t exist.

Tommy Murphy stood at the rail a few feet away and smoked a cigar, looking out over the ocean. He was probably the closest person he had to a friend. The two of them had a lucrative relationship. Jefferson’s drugs and drug connections, Tommy’s organized crime connections. Between the two of them, they controlled almost everything that moved on the East Coast. They had tentacles that stretched all the way to the west coast, and inroads into the south that we’re starting to look like highways.

They both dealt in millions daily. Privately, they were probably two of the richest men in the world, but they were on no one’s list of who’s who, except a few specialized task forces within the world’s governments: Even they couldn’t touch them. They owned too many of their officials, too many of their agents were on their payrolls. They didn’t fight the task forces or special government branches the way the old syndicates had, they simply bought them. Every man really did have his price. And if that was too high you simply bought the man beside him, or above him, it was just as effective.

With all the deals they had made, and the millions they had amassed, nothing came close to what they had on the burner right now. Tommy had fallen into a deal on a tip, a way to collect on a sizable gambling debt, and the two of them had decided to take the risk.

Tommy sipped at his drink and then raised his eyes to Prescott. “Concerned?” Tommy asked.

“Unconcerned… It’s only money,” Jefferson assured him.

“Good,” Tommy said quietly. He reached into his pocket and retrieved a slim silver cylinder. A small red button, with a protective cap in the same cheap looking, red plastic covered the button.

Jefferson pulled a deep breath, audible in the sudden silence. From somewhere deep in the jungle of a forest that surrounded them a big cat screamed.

“Looks like nothing,” Jefferson said.

“I told the kid it reminded me of these little refill cylinders I used to have for my BB gun when I was a kid,” Tommy said.

“Jefferson laughed. “I can’t imagine that you played with anything that didn’t have a silencer and at least a ten round clip.”

Tommy laughed and then fell silent. “This is it, Jeff. Strip off the protective cap, push the button… The kid said it doesn’t matter after that… How close, how far, it will protect us.”

Infect us,” Jefferson corrected. “There is a difference.”

“Infect us,” Tommy agreed. “I figure, why not… We paid the big bucks for the rest of it, but this will start us down that path… Why not do it.”

“Why not,” Prescott agreed. “A sample? Just enough for two?”

Tommy shrugged. “He didn’t say… I depended upon the reports he smuggled out more than the first hand knowledge he has. He knows what he has seen, but he has not witnessed anyone come back… The reports detail exactly that.”

Jefferson laughed and shook his head. “Immortality.”

“Immortality,” Tommy agreed. He paused, stripped the small red cover from the slim, silver tube and pressed the button before he could change his mind. Nothing: He turned the silver tube back and forth.

“Maybe there should be no sound,” Jefferson said. He had braced for what he expected: A small cloud of vapor, a hiss, something to impart that magic the tube was supposed to contain.

Tommy raised the tube to his nose, but there was no detectable odor. “But did it do its job,” Tommy said so low it might almost have been to himself if he had not raised his eyes and asked of Prescott.

“The million dollar question,” Prescott said quietly.

Multi-million dollar question,” Tommy corrected. He stared at the container a few seconds longer and then slipped it into his pocket. “In for a penny,” he said.

“In for a pound,” Prescott agreed.

“You know Ben Neo?” Tommy asked after a few moments of silence, changing the subject to private business.

“Your best,” Jefferson said.

Tommy nodded and turned back to the rail. “When you find out who it is, tell me. I’ll have him take care of it for you. He’s good. Discreet. Fast.” He turned and looked at Jefferson. “Yeah?” he asked.

Jefferson nodded. “Yeah, I appreciate it. I’ve got Carlos on it. I’ll know soon. When I know, you will know. From my lips to yours,” he said.

Tommy nodded. He sipped at his drink again.

“I have that young woman you like so much coming over in just a little while,” Jefferson said.

Tommy turned away from the rail and smiled. “I could use the diversion,” he said.

Jefferson shrugged. “It’s what we do for each other,” he said as he got to his feet. “Enjoy yourself, Tommy. I am about to head back… Take care of a few things. I will see you at your place up in the Catskills next week?” he asked.

“Absolutely, Jeff, absolutely,” Tommy said. The two men embraced and Jefferson left the warm night air of the deck and followed his driver who was waiting to take him to the helicopter pad. Tommy watched him go and then turned back to the rail, watching the waves out in the sea, rolling under the moonlight.

“Sir?” a voice said from the doorway.

Tommy turned from the rail to look at Andrea Ivanna Zurita, the beautiful young woman who stood in the doorway smiling.

The Lita Situation

Manhattan

“Lita… Lita, stop, Lita: What are you doing?”

“I want you… I want you… I know what I’m doing,” Lita said. Her lips fell on his, her body pressed up against his own. He had been okay until he felt the softness of her breasts pressing against him: The firmness of her thighs as they moved against his own thigh. Whatever he had held back: Whatever resolve he had, had, he lost. He felt it fall away as he pulled her to him: Tasting her; feeling her hands on his body.

“Lita?” he tried again, but without much resolve. He breathed it against her cheek as she kissed his neck, ran her hands over his chest, squatted and came level with his belt line. Her fingernails pressed against the fabric of his shirt, ticking downward, and she ran her hands across to stomach and found the catch to his pants, and then worked the zipper down.

“Lita… Think, Lita,” he said.

She took him in her mouth and everything flew away. Everything he had fought to say. Everything he had been afraid of. All of it gone. There was only the warm night, the girl, and the darkness.

She stood and lifted her dress, she was bare beneath: He picked her up and her thighs parted, coming around his hips and locking together as he slid into her. Her lips fell on his neck once more; his hands pulled her closer, drove deeper into her. He stumbled forward until the wall was at her back. She thrust her hips harder, and the last vestige of doubt, the last small piece of resolve, melted away: She came alive under his hands.

Two Days Later

Watertown, New York

Carlos and Gabe

The man moved more fully into the shadows. “You Gabe?” he asked in a near whisper.

The darker shadow nodded. “You…?” He started.

“Now who in fuck else would I be?” He asked.

The darker shadow said nothing. The other man passed him a small paper bag. “Count it,” he told him.

Gabe Kohlson moved out of the shadow, more fully into the light. “It’s a lot; I can’t stand here, out here counting it.”

The man laughed. “You asked for this place. It’s the middle of nowhere. I Googled it, it comes up marked as the middle of nowhere. Who in fuck will see you?” He laughed and then choked it off with a harsh cough. “Count it. No mistakes… You got the shit?”

Kohlson’s head popped up fast from counting. “Of course I don’t… That wasn’t the deal.”

“Easy… Easy… Keep your panties on… I’m saying you got the shit... You got access to the shit?”

“That I got… I can get it out this Thursday at shift end…” He held up the paper bag. “A lot of this goes to greasing the skids… You know, to get it out,” Gabe told him. “This stuff.”

“Whoa right there,” the man told him. “Don’t say shit about it. I don’t know what it is and I don’t want to know, see? I do a job. Take this thing there, that thing here. That’s all I know. Keeps my head on my shoulders when all about are losing theirs.”

“Uh… Lost me,” Gabe Kohlson told him.

“Just shut up about the shit, man. I don’t want to know anything past what I know, okay?”

“Okay,” Kohlson agreed.

“I do know you got to get it out and I will be here to get it… Hey,” he waited until the kid looked up. “You know who I work for, right? You fuck this up you’ll wind up out at the county landfill… Gulls pecking out your fucking eyes let me tell you. I will meet you here next Thursday night… Seven… Don’t be late… Don’t fuck this up… Don’t make me come looking for you…” He faded back into the shadows more fully, turned and walked down the shadowed front of the building. A few minutes later he found his car in the darkness: He waited.

He heard the kid’s shit-box beater when it started. A few moments later he watched as it swept past him, heading out of the small park area toward the river road. He levered the handle on his own car, slipped inside, started it and drove slowly away.

Three months before:

Manhattan

“It makes no sense to me, Carlos” Jefferson said. “How can you say there is no one when I know there is someone? When she talks about her lover to her friends? This man, or boy, or whatever he is, is so bold as to meet her right in my very own home… Not always, but she brags to her friends about it. I know I listen, but she never says his name: How can that be… It’s like she is torturing me with this lover.” He looked to Carlos Sanchez.

“Carlos, you are like my son. I give you everything. Power, money, whatever you need. Whatever you ask, I give, Carlos, you know that…”

Carlos nodded. “I know, Mr. Prescott, I know,” Carlos said.

“So if you are as a son to me, I am like a father to you. How could you let someone do this to your father? It is as though I were naked; would you leave me naked and laugh about it as Hamm did with Noah? Or would you cover up my nakedness, as Shem and Japheth did?” His eyes locked on Carlos’ own.

“I would cover you,” Carlos said.

“This man has left me naked, Carlos: Exposed. So has she, and I will deal with that transgression too, but you must find this man: You, my son. You.” He nodded firmly at Carlos and Carlos nodded back.

Watertown

Project Bluechip

Complex C: Patient Ward

Test Subject: Clayton Hunter

Compound SS-V2765

Gabe Kohlson moved away from the monitors. “Heart rate is dropping, don’t you think…” He stopped as the monitor began to chime softly: Before he could get fully turned around the chiming turned into a strident alarm that rose and fell. “Dammit,” Kohlson said as he finished his turn.

“What is it,” David Johns wheeled his chair across the short space of the control room. His outstretched hands caught him at the counter top and slowed him at Kohlson’s monitor.

“Flat lined,” Kohlson said as he pushed a button on the wall to confirm what the doctor’s one level up already knew. Clayton Hunter was dead.

“I see it,” Doctor Ed Adams replied over the ceiling speakers. The staff called him Doctor Christmas for his long white beard and oversize belly. “Berty and I are on the way.”

“Lot of good that will do,” Johns muttered.

Kohlson turned to him. “Go on in… Do CPR if you want… They don’t pay me enough to do it. I don’t know what that shit is. Look at the way the Doc suits up. Clayton Hunter will be in rigor before anyone gets in there at all.”

“No argument,” Johns said. He wheeled back to his own monitor, called up an incident sheet and began to type.

“Me too,” Kohlson agreed. “Preserve the video, med and monitor data.” He punched a few buttons on his console and an interface for the medical equipment came up. He saved the last 48 hours of data, and then began to fill out his own incident report. These reports might never be seen by more than one person, maybe two if you counted the person that wrote it, Kohlson thought, but it would always be there. Classified: Top secret for the next hundred years or so, and he wondered about that too. Would it even be released after a long period? He doubted it. The shit they were doing here was bad. Shit you didn’t ever want the American public to know about. He had made his delivery a few weeks before. Whatever this shit was, bad people had not only come to know about it, but had come to have a need for what it did. It didn’t matter to him, not really. There were rumors, a few things he had seen while monitoring test subjects. Nothing he considered concrete. Maybe it extended life that was the strongest rumor. From what he had seen though, as far as test subjects, it did its fair share of ending life pretty effectively too. And here was another one to add to the growing number of failures… If that’s what they were.

This incident report, along with the one Johns was doing, would probably get buried deep under some program listing that no one would ever suspect to look into. Or maybe it would get burned right along with Clayton Hunter’s body. He glanced up at the clock and then went back to typing.

“Uh… Call it 4:32 PM?” He asked.

“Works for me,” Johns agreed. “I got 94 for the body,” Johns said.

“Yeah… Yeah, me too: That’s a fast drop, but we both got the same thing. 94 it is… No heart, no respiratory, dead as dog shit.”

“Dog shit,” Johns agreed. They both fell silent as they typed. A few moments later the doors to the observation room chimed, the air purifiers kicked on with a high pitched whine, and they could both feel the air as it dragged past them and into the air ducts. The entire volume would be replaced and the room depressurized and then re-pressurized before the doors would open. And that would only happen after the air was tested and retested. A good twenty minutes away before anyone would step foot into the room with Clayton Hunter.

Complex C, Autopsy Room

Ed Adams and Roberta Summers had dissected Clayton Hunter’s body methodically. The autopsy had been painstaking. It had to be, it was recorded in detail and some General somewhere, hell maybe even the president, would be looking that video over in the next few days. Maybe even watching live now, Ed Adams thought. They had that capability. There was nothing to see. He had suffered a major heart attack. The heart had a defect. No history: Just one of those things that just came along and fucked up your two billion dollar research project all at once.

“Coronary Thrombosis,” He spoke in a measured voice. “Appears to be after the fact. The artery looks to be mildly occluded… The myocardial infarction appears to be caused from a congenital defect… Specifically an Atrial Septal Defect… Berty?”

“I concur; easily overlooked. The lack of sustenance put a higher demand on the subject’s heart; the defect became a major player at that point… Bad luck for us.”

“Uh, bad luck for Clayton Hunter,” Ed Adams added.

“Of course, bad luck for the subject, Clayton Hunter. I simply meant bad luck for a research volunteer to be defective in such a way that in effect it would compromise a project of this magnitude so badly.” She turned her eyes up to one of the cameras she knew to be there. “This in no way paints a true picture of V2765. We should proceed, unsatisfying as these circumstances might be, we should proceed with subjects 1120F and 1119X… Same compound.” She turned back to the corpse on the table. “You want me to do the brain biopsy,” She asked Ed.

Ed frowned as he made eye contact with her. They had decided, at least he had thought they had decided, not to mention brain biopsies. Three times now he had discussed the importance of not focusing on the changes that V2765 made to the brain. Anything that altered the brain could alter financing, funding, lab time. Even the government didn’t like changes to brain matter.

“Are you thinking there could have been an embolism?” He asked.

“Well I,” she sputtered away for a second before Ed rescued her.

“I think all we would see is evidence of the embolism that occurred near the heart. We could search out areas of the body and most likely find more than one occurrence of embolism. Well thought, Berty, but I believe we will take a look at the brain later in the week. Right now I want to focus on the enzymes, proteins, blood work and readying the other two for a conclusion of this trial.”

“Yes. I agree entirely, Doctor Adams.”

“You have your samples?”

“Yes of course, Doctor… Rex?”

Ed frowned hard and shrugged his shoulders in the direction of the thick glass. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “None in here… That was stupid, Berty.”

“What was that,” Kohlson asked Johns in the control room.

“What?” Johns asked.

“That… Whisper, I guess,” Kohlson said.

“Oh… That. You know those two got it bad for each other. Probably making little remarks you don’t want to hear. Besides which, you make a report on that and we all have to deal with it: Them, sure, but us too because the bosses will be pissed off about it. Best to let that shit slide: If the boss wants to know, he will. He looks at all of this shit in depth.”

Kohlson looked about to say more when Doctor Christmas began talking once more in the autopsy room.

“Let’s close him up,” Ed Adams said. He stepped on a switch set into the floor, paused, and then spoke again. “Lower the air temperature in here. We intend to keep him a few hours while we attend to other parts of the autopsy… No one in here for any reason.”

Out in the control room Johns keyed his mic button. “Will do… How low, Doc.?”

“I guess about 34 Fahrenheit will do… Just to slow it all down for a while.”

“Done,” Johns agreed. He adjusted a temperature graphic on a nearby monitor via his mouse.

Kohlson leaned over across the short distance. “So we got to look at that shit for a while? Great.”

“They’re gonna sew him up, so it won’t be so bad.”

“Yeah… That’s like; I got a mild case of flu. It’s still gonna suck, because every time I look anywhere I’m gonna feel compelled to look at it.”

“Yeah. Me too. It’s there. Draws you to it. Like the Bunny on the Playboy Cover. You look at the rest of the magazine, but you know you’re gonna end up looking at her. She’s the reason you bought the magazine after all.”

Kohlson nodded and smiled. “And I’d rather look at Miss January than a dead guy with big stitches across his belly and over his chest, sewing him back up again. That is some ugly shit.”

Johns laughed. “But you look anyway… Human nature. Why do you think people slow down and look at accidents?”

“Because we’re morbid mother-fuckers,” Kohlson agreed.

“Well, that too, but it is that fascination with death we have. Look,” He pointed at the monitor. Do you think Clayton Hunter knew he’d be laying on a steel slab this afternoon, dick hanging out, with Doctor Christmas shoving his guts back in and stitching him up with his nursey assisting?” They both laughed and turned away.

“She ain’t half…”

A scream cut off the conversation and both men turned quickly back to the monitor.

Clayton Hunter was sitting up on the steel table: Arms drooping at his side; mouth yawning. Doctor Christmas had backed away until he had met the wall behind him. Nurse Berty was nowhere to be seen.

“What the fuck… What the fuck. Get a camera on the floor… Maybe she fainted,” Kohlson said.

“Got it,” Johns agreed. He stabbed at the keys on his keyboard and a view of the table at an angle appeared. Nurse Bertie’s leg could be seen, angled away from the table, skirt hiked high. The camera paused briefly and then the view began to shift as Johns manipulated the camera angle. Her face came into view: Mouth open, blood seeping from one corner.

“Doctor,” Kohlson called over the speaker system. Outside the airlocks had clicked on and the air was cycling. Good, he thought, in twenty minutes the Calvary would be here. “Doctor Adams?”

The doctor finally took his eyes off Clayton Hunter and turned toward one of the cameras. On the table Clayton Hunter leaned forward and tumbled off the edge of the table. At the same instant the air purifier quit cycling and three armed men in gas masks stepped into the airlock.

“Jesus,” Johns sputtered into his headset microphone, “You guys can’t do that shit. That air has to be worked?” Three more men stepped through the lock and the door to the autopsy room opened as well as the door to the control room. A split second later the rifles in their hands began to roar. The sound was louder than Kohlson expected in the enclosed space. He clasped his hands over his ears, but it did little good. The soldiers, he saw, were wearing ear protection of some sort: Noise canceling headgear. The remaining three soldiers had stepped into the control room, he saw as he looked back up from the floor: They had their rifles leveled at them; the others were still firing within the confines of the small autopsy room. A small gray cloud was creeping along the floor and rolling slowly into the control room. The stench of gunpowder was strong in the enclosed space. The air purifiers were off. Kohlson knew there was another control room outside this one that controlled this space, and possibly another outside of that space that controlled that space: Built in redundant protection; it was clear that they were in a very bad place.

Kohlson saw Clayton Hunter lurch to his feet and stumble into the soldiers who were firing at point blank range in the tight confines. A series of bullets finally tore across his chest and then into his head and he fell from view. A second later the firing dropped off and then stopped completely.

Johns was listening to the sound of his own heart hammering for a space of seconds before he figured out it was his own. The smell of gunpowder was nauseating, and he suddenly lunged forward and vomited on his shoes. As he was lifting his head he saw that the soldiers were retreating back through the airlocks and into the outer spaces of the compound.

“Jesus,” Kohlson managed before he also bent forward and vomited. They heard the air filtering kick back on as both of them rolled away from the puddles of vomit and quickly disappearing low, gray vapor from the gunfire. The doors into the autopsy room suddenly banged shut and then their own door whispered closed as well: Once again they were isolated in their small space.

They both sat silent for a moment and then Kohlson left and returned from the small bathroom with a mop and bucket from the utility closet there. He left again and returned with a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed down the vomit and the balance of the small room.

“That won’t do shit,” Johns said solemnly. “We’re infected. Whatever they infected that guy Hunter with, we got it now.

Kohlson ignored him, waited the ten minutes for the disinfectant to work and then cleaned up the mess. Neither spoke while he returned the equipment to the small closet and then came back and sat down.

“You heard me, right?”

“I heard you,” Kohlson admitted. “I just don’t give a fuck… It’s too fresh… I can’t believe it right now.” He looked up at the clock. “Mother fucker… I was off duty in twenty minutes… Twenty goddamn minutes!” He spun and looked at Johns, but Johns was looking up at the monitors that were still on in the autopsy room. The smoke was being drawn out by the air exchange, and the horror of the room was slowly coming into focus.

Doctor Adams lay sprawled in one corner, a line of bullet holes stitched across his back. The back portion of his skull was missing, jagged bone and gray-black hair clumped wildly around the fractured bone. Johns gagged and looked away.

“Jesus… They killed everybody,” Kohlson said as he continued to watch. Nurse Bertie lay where she had fallen. Only her legs visible in the shot they could see. Clayton Hunter lay against the end of the stainless slab, his head a shapeless mass. The stitches across his chest and stomach bulging. Kohlson finally turned away too.

“They’re coming back for us.” Johns said.

Kohlson spun to the door.

“Not now, stupid ass, but you can’t think we get to live after that. They contaminated our air. We’re dead. No way are we not dead.”

Kohlson said nothing.

~

It was six hours before the soldiers came. They had finally taken a better look at the room, Johns moving the camera around as Kohlson watched.

“Dave… Tell me I’m wrong, but that fucker came back to life, right?” He was unsure even as he said it.

Johns shrugged. “I think what happened is they missed something… We missed something. Maybe a lead came off, you know… And the lead came off and so he seemed dead and he wasn’t dead at all, not really, he was still alive… Just that lead was off.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I mean… I mean the alternative is that he came back to life… You don’t think that do you? I mean, do you? Cause that’s fucking crazy, Gabe, crazy.”

“No. No, I can see what you mean. I can see where that could be… But I’ve heard rumors…”

“Same as we all have,” Johns agreed. “But come on, that’s…”

The air lock cycled on and six soldiers stepped into the hall like space that was actually just an airlock between the control room, the autopsy room, the former patient ward and the outside world. Johns tensed, waiting for the door to their space to cycle on, but it didn’t.

The soldiers were dressed head to toe in army drab-green plastic coveralls. Respirators, big units, sat on their backs and a full face shield and breathing apparatus covered their faces, somehow joined into the coveralls. Tape was wound around the elastic cuffs of the legs and the plastic boot covers that joined there. Flexible olive-green gloves covered their hands, also taped where they slipped under the plastic coveralls. They never looked their way at all, just waited for the air lock to cycle and then stepped into the autopsy room. A second later the monitors went dead in the control room.

“Fuck,” David Johns said. “That is not good at all.”

Kohlson got up and left the room. A minute later he was back with two diet colas. He handed one to David Johns and then sat back down. Johns glanced down at the cola. The top was open already. He looked at Kohlson and Kohlson stared back unblinking. They kept the supply of the virus compounds they were testing in there, but the med supplies cabinet was also in that closet. They had talked it over once. They had decided that… He pushed it away and focused on the low whisper of the air exchange

“You think they will outright kill us,” Kohlson asked after a few long minutes of silence.

“Gabe… I think they will, Gabe.” Johns said after a hesitation. He tried to stop himself, but he glanced down at the cola in his hand. It was half full. White powder floated on the surface. Clumped and drifting like tiny icebergs across a cola sea. “Probably… No. They’re listening in right now, I’m sure. Listening to see where our minds are at: As soon as those flunkies in there are finished with that job they’ll be in here to finish up the clean up.” He swallowed hard.

“Yeah, I guess that’s how I see it too,” Kohlson agreed. He raised his can and tapped the side. “Been good knowing you, Dave.”

Johns stared him down for a few moments and then sighed. “Yeah, same here.” He raised the can in a salute and then downed it. Kohlson followed suit. Silence descended on the control room.

Project Bluechip:

Watertown NY: Subterranean base.

Commanding: Major Richard Weston

Major Dick Weston read the report slowly. This was not the first hitch in SS. Last year they had lost a whole ward, three test subjects compromised, two doctors, and three control rooms, six enlisted personnel there that had to be terminated because of it, and three civilian employees.

He rocked back in his chair and pulled at his lower lip as he read the report. So it had some drawbacks, but there was too much focus on the problems, and not enough on the positives of V2765. Of all the compounds they had tested, this one did exactly what they needed it to do. It prolonged life far past the point of termination. Grave wounds, starvation, dehydration, nothing mattered. This compound changed the cells and made them able to adapt to the consequences of war. The only drawback was that it did its job a little too well. It continued to allow the subject to live after death. Everything stopped and then everything started up again. Usually with a much diminished capacity for understanding: Just the basic low end survival instincts any animal had, eat, protect, and eat again. And it did those things very well.

Some doctors at the third level, men whose reputations would be on the line very shortly when V2765 was released on a squadron of troops bound for the Middle East, in fact, wanted a brain biopsy. They had studied the video and decided that good Old Doctor Christmas might have been hiding something with the secrecy he had afforded the previous brain autopsies. On top of that one full reiteration of this virus was missing. Four pieces total: two viruses, one antidote and one Rex, the compound that ended life within the dead. He suspected Doctor Christmas had taken the samples for his own use. Maybe they would turn up, but it was little or no consequence if they didn’t. There was no way they could have made it off the base. Security, his security, was too tight. No, if they really ever existed they were right here somewhere and he would find them.

As for the virus itself, he had what he needed. He could deliver what was expected of him to deliver. That was what really mattered. He stopped pulling at his lip. Leaned forward and fed the paper sheaf from the incident into a shredder.

The thing is there was a secret. Major Weston had no idea what it signified, he was no doctor, but he had found the good doctor’s private files and brain biopsy reports on the previous candidates: Significant structural change to the brain cells. Not just slight modifications as the virus did when it infected the host, no, something deeper: A mutation. That file lay nearby on his desk too. He reached for it. If that information got out there would be a fast end to SS, and he could not have that. SS was not his baby, some General he had never even met had that honor, but Bluechip was his base, and SS was a feather in his cap. It meant jobs. It meant growth. It meant over a mile of top secret base three miles below ground. These were things that could not be compromised. If, in the field, there were incidents, so be it. They could be isolated. Tests so far showed that very few came back after actual death. Destroy the brain and it destroyed whatever life had kicked back in. And if there were a large outbreak, they had spent the last fourteen months working on an antidote to kill the V virus itself, Rex.

REX34T could easily take care of a large outbreak. REX34T took it all back to normal. The doctors had nicknamed it Rex. Rex, like a trusty dog that could get the job done, but what sort of job did Rex do? He didn’t know. Rex seemed to reverse the process that V2765 started. It could not undo the cell changes, but it did not leave a single trace of the V virus when it was finished. The dead died. According to this report, there was a counterpart to REX34T that was meant specifically for the living: The antidote. Release it in the air, same as Rex, and it affected only the living, reversing the changes that the V virus had made, and the living went on living, maybe. The testing insinuated that the longer the process that V2765 initiated had gone on the more of a shock to the human body it was when it was removed. It suggested that some might not survive the withdrawal of the V virus.

He glanced down at the three containers that sat on the edge of his desk: Evaluation units. Below, in one of the storage areas, there was enough of each to reverse the entire world population ten times over if need be. If, he reminded himself, if. He looked down at the three containers where they sat on the desk. One small vial filled with dark red liquid. The other two were small aluminum cartridges that reminded him of small inhaler refills of some kind. They looked so innocuous, so everyday ordinary. He beat out a nervous tempo with his fingers on the desktop and then picked up the three vials and slipped them into a plastic bag. He set the bag on the desktop, withdrew the test results from the drugs from the thick file and then placed the bag into the file itself. A second later he placed the file into his personal file cabinet and locked it. He called up the same report on his monitor, excised the three pages of reports, and then saved the file. He pulled a fresh file folder from his cabinet before he closed and locked it, and then dropped the pages into the empty folder. He hesitated and then fed that smaller file into the shredder too.

No problem, no liability, because if there was an acknowledged problem that was preexisting in this lawyer happy atmosphere, every ex-soldier would be suing when the first x-ray showed the alteration in brain cell structure. No higher climb up the ladder for Major Richard Weston, and probably General whoever he was too. And that would be a long stop from where either of them wanted to be.

“Alice?” He looked over at his secretary.

“Major?”

“I want you to take this out and burn it.” He pulled the wastebasket free and slid it across to her. “I guess I’ve thought it out. Those two fools who took the overdose on morphine?” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I think it was a mistake to try to save them. I would like you to take care of that personally, Alice… Doesn’t matter how. Let me know if you need anything.” He held her eyes for a moment. “That will be all,” he finished.

“Sir,” Alice said. She picked up the wastebasket and started to leave the office.

“Oh, Alice?”

She stopped and turned back.

“Have that med closet removed. Stupid to put it in an interior control room… Have it moved to the very outside. From now on when they need something like that they can damn well get it walked in by our boys.”

“Sir,” Alice nodded. She turned and left the office.

Two months before:

Rochester New York

Ben Neo leaned back from the monitor and waited for the numbers to change and confirm that the amount had been wired. It was a foregone conclusion that it would be wired. It was Jefferson Prescott after all.

He had spent most of the previous week working the job and had come up with nothing that pointed anywhere, but tonight he had gotten proof. It was not the sort of proof that Jefferson had hoped for, but it was the sort of proof he had suspected, and he had been right.

To Neo it wasn’t personal. He did his work and he was paid well. It truly didn’t matter what the work was. It was all the same. He had drawn lines when he had first come down the road years before, but after redrawing those lines so many times he had finally stopped drawing lines.

He wasn’t an animal like Jimmy West. Jimmy was employed by Tommy Murphy too. A problem solver as Ben himself was, but Jimmy did what he did crudely. It was a wonder to Neo how he never managed to be caught: How he drenched himself in blood and violence, lost himself completely in it at times, yet had the presence of mind to save his own ass on occasion. He always seemed to walk away just at the right moment. Like he could sniff the air and smell his demise: Skipping out just before the ax fell.

The problem with that was the unknown. If you didn’t plan, you didn’t know what you needed to be safe. And how long could you play that game and live? Walk away? For Jimmy, almost 15 years now.

Neo believed in plans. He stacked his deck as completely in his favor as he could every time, but he didn’t get complacent. He didn’t trust to his plans completely. He trusted his head and the knowledge it contained. He watched himself and everyone who came in contact with him.

He guessed if he were to be honest, that he did have a few lines left. He would never do the sort of work that Jimmy West did: Never, but Tommy Murphy seemed to know that and had never asked Neo to do that sort of work. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do wet work. He could and did almost every week, but there was a difference in the contracts he took and those that Jimmy was given.

The other line he wouldn’t cross was working with Jimmy. And that had never happened either. Tommy knew without asking. The same as he knew about the types of work. In Neo’s mind Jimmy was a paid serial killer. He would’ve been out there doing those sorts of crimes, the way he did them, for free. He had simply been fortunate enough to find a way to get paid to do them.

The numbers changed on the screen and he picked up the phone and dialed the number he had been given. He had sent the photos as an attachment hours ago, shot from a rooftop a half mile away that had a clear view directly into Jefferson Prescott’s Manhattan penthouse. He had received Jefferson’s reply in the contract. It was only details now. When, how and whatever else there might be.

The phone was answered and Ben Neo listened. His mind worked that way. He could hear it once and that was all he needed. A phone number, a license number, a street address. It didn’t matter what the information contained, he could spit it back out verbatim whenever he needed it. And when he was through with it he could flush it out of his head just as if he had erased it from his memory for good. He listened; he said nothing until the end.

“It’s not something I would do,” he said. He listened as the voice persuaded him. It wasn’t exactly a line he was asked to cross: It was subjective, and after a few minutes of listening he came to believe it was necessary.

“Okay,” he said at last. “When the time comes let me know.” He hung up, shut down his laptop and closed it.

One week before:

Tommy Murphy stood at the rail of his deck and looked out onto the pines in the forest below. Jefferson had his place in Ecuador; this was his place in New Paltz. It just wasn’t so far away, and he spent every extra moment here that he could.

He owned 1600 acres, and the house, all cedar shakes and black glass, sat right in the middle of that. A private road led in and out, and when he was here, which was nearly every weekend he could manage, and any time in between that he could get here, his men patrolled the road and the woods. He was never disturbed by an errant hunter or hiker. After a few years of discouragement, the hunters and the hikers had begun to leave the entire area alone: Which was just the way Tommy liked it: Wanted it.

He sipped at his drink and then puffed at the cigar he held in one hand. He turned from the rail.

“Carlos,” he said. “I know that Jefferson has talked to you and I’m so glad to see you will be with us next week. It is a… A large deal… One of our largest. Neo,” he nodded at Neo, “will be along to keep things straight for me… He is my best, and it is good to see that Jefferson has sent you… His best… His right hand man… Like his own son, he tells me… You work out all the details with Neo?” Tommy asked.

“Of course, Mr. Murphy,” Carlos said.

“Carlos… Tommy… My friend’s son… So close to me too, call me Tommy.”

“Of course… Tommy,” Carlos said. “I’m sorry.”

“Carlos, never be sorry… Fuck ‘em, right, Neo?” he asked and laughed. He cut his eyes to Neo who nodded, and then back to Carlos. “Never say you are sorry. In this business it means you are not up to snuff. Not good enough. Not able to get the job done. We say, “He’s sorry.” It means he’s washed up. You see?” He nodded at Carlos. “A man should never apologize, never… Leave that to the women,” Tommy said.

He looked out over the deck rail for a moment longer and then turned back to Carlos. “Carlos, could you excuse Ben and me for a few moments? Go on down to the main room. There are several young ladies here for the weekend… Enjoy yourself. Tomorrow the two of you will leave to take care of business.” Tommy nodded as Carlos got up and left the room. He waited until Carlos was gone. He turned to the huge bodyguard at the door. “Jack, I want you to speak to Kim. Put her on to Carlos. Make sure he has a good time. Tell her I said so… And Jack, when you come back give Neo and me a little time: We have some business to discuss.” Tommy smiled.

“Certainly,” Jack said. He left and closed the door.

Tommy smiled at Neo. “You’re quiet, Ben, is everything okay?”

“Yeah; everything is good, Tommy,” Neo said.

“What do you think of our boy?” Tommy asked.

“Polite,” Neo said.

Tommy laughed. “Well, I guess he’s not too fuckin’ polite, huh?”

“Guess not,” Neo agreed.

“Everything is a go? No problems?” Tommy asked.

“None at all,” Neo agreed.

“There will be, ah, three packages. They will be inside two very large bales of pot. A significant amount of cash, several bricks of product… I figure hide it in plain sight. You, me, Prescott and of course his contact in Watertown who picked it up, that is it. Nobody on this little trip will know where it is, except you… Just another drug deal as far as everyone else is concerned. You got the little bonus I wired?” he asked.

“I did… It was very generous, Tommy. Thank you,” Neo said.

“Eh,” Tommy said, and shrugged. “We all gotta eat. Watch out for me, this is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. Believe me when I tell you that the merchandise amounts to nothing in comparison to those three packages…” He opened his desk drawer, retrieved a small silver cartridge, and held it between two fingers. “Looks like nothing… An inhaler… Or one of those small CO2 cartridges we used to use in our BB guns when we were kids… Something like that.” He fingered the red tab on the top and then handed it to Neo. “Much more than that though… There are three small, aluminum cases… Uh… You talked to Jeff?” Tommy asked, finally getting around to asking what he had wanted to ask in the first place.

“I did,” Neo said. He twirled the cartridge back and forth. He knew nothing about what it was… A new wonder drug, a new street drug or anything in between, but whatever it was it had to be big for both Jefferson Prescott and Tommy Murphy to be involved. Very big. He rolled the cartridge between his thumb and forefinger. It felt neither cold nor hot. What it did feel, was out of place in his hand, something about the feel of the metal made him apprehensive. He handed the cartridge back to Murphy.

Tommy Murphy nodded as he took the cartridge and slipped it into one pocket. “He thought Jimmy, but I told him not Jimmy. Jimmy shouldn’t be spoken of in the same breath as you. He needs understanding and your unique skills… So I said okay if you agreed… You agreed?” Tommy asked him. He tossed off his drink, looked at Neo, “Drink, Ben?” he asked.

“Please,” Neo said. “I agreed… It’s not the same as what Jimmy does. And I see the reasons.”

“He paid you well?” Tommy asked.

“Very,” Neo agreed.

Tommy poured the drinks and came back across the room, handing Neo his. “One thing: He wants you to bring the uh, some items back. That means it’s probably best to do it here, not there. You see?” Tommy asked.

“I do,” Neo agreed.

“Good… Good… One more thing… There is this man… A cop… He’s on our payroll, has been for some time, but he is a potential problem, this man. A potential problem that I thought you might personally take care of for me,” Tommy Murphy said.

Ben Neo nodded politely. “It can be dangerous to take out a cop,” he said quietly.

Tommy nodded back as if in full agreement with Neo. “It is. It is, but it is also dangerous to leave that cop around once he knows too much. And this last deal he was involved in at our request,” he spread the fingers of his hands in what Neo took to be a sometimes things happen and have to be dealt with gesture and then shrugged “Well, he may have learned too much. There is no way to know for certain, just a feeling really, but I’ve been where I am for too long not to take those little feelings seriously… And,” he spread his hands in a helpless gesture, “Unfortunately for him the local prosecutor is looking at him a little funny because he was sloppy in some help that he gave to us when we last needed it. Prescott thought we should take two birds with one stone. Of course I would be very generous and appreciative of your help in such sensitive matters, as would he.” He seemed to consider a moment. Then reached into his desktop and retrieved a tinfoil wrapped brick, nearly an exact match to the bricks of cocaine Neo normally saw coming from Prescott’s Ecuador clans. Different markings, he noticed. “Yes… A clan that works for Prescott’s competitor,” Tommy said when he saw that Neo had noticed the difference in markings. “Actual product: Hard for me to come by, believe it or not… You could plant this on the cop?”

Neo nodded as Tommy Murphy slid a photo across the desktop and left it next to the cocaine brick.

He spoke as Neo studied the photo. “He will come to you… He’ll know about the drug deal. Be tipped off.”

“Maybe he could follow me… Have an accident… It would be a shame to die in a car with drugs right there too,” Neo said.

“Exactly,” Tommy agreed. He reached into the same drawer and pulled out a stack of cash. “And money too… Must have been on the take as the prosecutors are so fond of saying. And of course the markings will get them looking away from my interests.” He shrugged and smiled, sipped at his drink. “They thought as much anyway so it will simply confirm their suspicions.” He pushed both items across the desktop, bent behind the desk and produced a small black duffel bag that he handed to Neo. “I will wire a little something to your account, Ben. And again I do appreciate your discretion. Prescott will too.”

“It’s no trouble at all, Tommy,” Neo told him. “None at all.”

“That’s it then, Ben. Go on down and enjoy the evening… I think there’s a little of everything available… I’ll be gone in the morning.” He reached into his pocket and took out a thick envelope and tossed it to Neo. “That should cover your expenses: If not let me know.” He smiled and then turned back out toward the mountains. “Send Jackie back in, would you, Ben?” he asked.

“Sure,” Neo said. He tossed back the drink, picked up the duffel bag and left the room.

[] ONE

Watertown

Tuesday Morning:

Watertown

Project Bluechip

Major Richard Weston

He read the report twice and then carefully set it back on his desk. Johns or Kohlson: One of the two had stolen samples of SS-V2765. It was not a question. No one else had the access, no one else the proximity or knowledge of where it was stored. Two of the viruses, one each of the REX agents were missing. Enough to infect several million people, and that was just the initial infection. From there the infected would go on to infect even more, where it stopped was anyone’s guess.

Knowing it was one of the two did not solve the problem of how for him though: There should have been no way to get it out. Every area of the facility was under surveillance. There had to be more than just one of the two involved.

From Complex C they were stripped down, showered: Out of the showers naked and into a locker room where they could retrieve their own personal clothing they had stripped out of that morning: Dressed, frisked, metal wanded and then allowed into the elevators that would take them six stories to the surface. This theft was not something either of them could have committed alone.

“Alice.” He picked up the report from his desk. “I have a problem… A problem that requires your… Expertise. Two fold… First, all the guard and camera operators for C Complex are to be relieved of duty. You will personally interrogate them and find out which of them took a payoff to look the other way… Our boys, Johns and Kohlson… Both or one smuggled out the virus.” He paused… “It hardly matters in the scheme of things, it changes nothing, but it is the principle of the thing.” He tossed her the report. “Read it… Quartermaster’s office… Handle that too?” Alice nodded before she bent and looked over the thick report. “Second thing is the virus agent and the REX agents are out there somewhere.” Alice raised her head from the report. “Find it and bring it back?” Alice nodded once more before her head dipped low again; eyes devouring the report. Weston leaned back in his chair, the cigar that was a near permanent fixture in his mouth, rolling from side to side as he closed his eyes and rubbed at his temples. “It goes without saying… They’re all expendable,” he added as an afterthought.

“Sir,” Alice said before she returned to reading.

Ecuador

Jefferson Prescott’s Estate

Wednesday Morning

Andrea Zurita had been alive for the second time for more than three days. The men who had left her body had done so carefully: Senor Prescott would be very angry to find them on his land. Transgressions had been met with violence in the past, the bodies dumped into the ocean.

Andrea Ivanna Zurita had taken I’ll three days before in the small village near to Prescott’s property. She worked for Prescott, someone allowed on and off the property with ease. She had taken ill at work suddenly, no one knew the why of it and her family was poor: A doctor, other than the local clinic, was out of the question. So she had been sent home to rest, but she had never made it to the local free clinic: She had lapsed into a coma a few hours later, and while her family had still been reeling she had died. No rhyme, no reason.

Andrea Zurita was a young woman, there seemed no reason for her sudden illness and death, but there were things that should be done, and so the local Mirukus, shaman had come. A few words, prayers, the shaman was a transplanted Haitian. They understood most of what he said, but not everything. He had left and they had prepared her for burial. She was washed and dressed in a plain white cotton dress. The second day came and the family came to call, leaving their wishes where she lay in her grandmother’s home. The third day came, and the burial was coming. Cousins, men who worked in a neighboring village, were on the way to open the grave. That was when Andrea had sat up and vomited blood.

Her eyes had rolled back into her head. Her body shaken, but her chest did not rise. She had spoken no words, but she had tried to rise several times before one of the arriving cousins, crossing himself, had bound her with rope, hand and foot. They had sent for the Mirukus again.

The old Haitian had come quickly, taken one look at Andrea and then spoken cryptically, quickly. “Return her to the man that has cast this spell on her. He has bound her to him in life and that has followed her into death. Return her for she is yours no longer.”

The Mirukus believed the white man, Prescott, had attempted to control the river spirit Pullujmu, to take control of the beautiful young woman for his own devices, but she had slipped over into death and was now controlled only by those who controlled the dead. He had left fearfully, quickly, and had refused to come back for any reason. With nothing left to do for her they had taken her and left her bound body on the long drive that lead to the Prescott house. The white man may have her, but he would not have what he expected to have.

Jefferson Prescott.

Jefferson watched as the men carefully skirted the body of the young woman in the back of the patrol truck. They had picked her up and, not knowing what else to do, they had bought her to him.

Her eyes rolled in her head, but occasionally they would stop and focus, seeming to stare through him. Blood seeped from her open mouth, staining the front of what looked to be a burial garb of some sort. She was, at first, unrecognizable to him until one of the men told him she was his own worker, Andrea Ivanna Zurita: Kitchen help, among other things, she had been here for more than a year. To Jefferson’s Catholic upbringing she seemed possessed, and he kept his distance as he watched her, perhaps as superstitious as the local shaman had been.

He had eventually made the phone call to the Policía Nacional del Ecuador, and left the matter in their hands. He had seen stranger than this in his time in Ecuador, and had no doubt he would see it again. He sent one of his men into the small village with a thousand dollars in U.S. Currency, Ecuador had no currency of its own, for her family. A thousand dollars would go a long way for a poor family living in an equally poor village.

His phone had chimed and he had excused himself to answer it. He was needed back in Manhattan; Ben Neo had found the answers he required. He pushed the problem of Andrea Zurita from his mind and concentrated on plans to leave that evening and return to Manhattan.

The Policía Nacional del Ecuador had come some hours later, taken her off his hands without question, as though they saw this sort of thing every day, and he had never heard another thing about it, or given it another thought. He had taken his private helicopter back to the United States later in the day as though nothing of any significance had occurred.

Manhattan

Wednesday evening

“You have a beautiful view, Mr. Prescott,” Ben Neo said. He stood on the balcony of the top floor of Prescott’s building which was his home in Manhattan and where his wife and two daughters lived full-time.

“I am rarely here,” Prescott said. “But I do enjoy the view when I am. My wife and daughters seem to like it too. My eldest daughter, Lita, seems to enjoy it more than my wife Esmeralda or my youngest Mia.” His eyes slid to Carlos who met them with his own. “But we’re working on that, aren’t we?” His comments seemed directed a Carlos. Carlos nodded. Not sure what he should say or do. “We are,” Prescott said. He sipped at his drink. “Are we all set for tomorrow?” he asked Carlos?

“We are,” Carlos said. “We’ll drive back to Rochester later tonight.”

“You own a home there?” He turned to Neo.

“Yes. Everything is there; we’ll take it from there to the meet in Watertown. Carlos will go with that, I’ll pick up the cash and then meet your guys there,” Neo said.

Prescott nodded. “It seems like Tommy and I should just dispense with all the drama and just deliver the stuff directly to each other,” he said. He laughed, “But that would put both of you out of a job. And there are so many things I can’t handle as well or don’t have the time or inclination to handle, as well as you two.”

He was interrupted by Carlos’ cell phone ringing. Carlos’ dark face flushed with embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” he said, obviously not about to answer it. He fumbled it out of his pocket ready to shut it off.

“No, no,” Prescott said. “We were done. Take your call. It is all right, Carlos. Take it out here on the balcony. Benjamin and I will give you a little privacy… Won’t we, Ben?” he asked.

Ben nodded and they both stepped through into the living room and pulled the sliding glass door shut.

“Hello,” Carlos said, obviously upset. He listened. “I cannot believe you called me here,” he said. His voice was high and panicked. “Are you crazy? Did you know he was here with me? Right here with me? He is in the living room separated by a few pieces of glass. You are crazy. Crazy,” he took a couple of deep breaths while she spoke. “No… That is even crazier! While he is right here? Meet you with him in the house? Are you trying to get me killed…? No? It seems as though you are… It does… No… How…? How will he not know?” He listened for a few minutes glancing nervously through the glass, but Neo and Prescott stood with their backs to him over by the bar.

“Lita,” he said at last, “I will meet you… Nothing else… I have to leave later on…”

She continued to talk.

~

Ben stood silently drinking his drink. The two voices came clearly through the small scanner behind the bar. They listened to the conversation between Lita and Carlos.

“Did you know, Ben that they were simply radio signals and they can be picked up easily?” Prescott asked.

“Yes… I did… Although I did not realize it could be done this easily,” Neo said.

“Cheap frequency scanner. I only need to know the frequency.” He sighed. “I’m sorry you are a witness to this embarrassment. I treated him like a son… She is my daughter. He has obviously corrupted her… Take him down through the basement, leave that way… Bring me back what I requested, Ben. I would almost do it myself; right now, but I will not bring murder into my home… Call me?” he asked.

Neo nodded. It was obvious that the conversation was over. Prescott reached behind the bar and flicked off the scanner. He pulled his phone from his pocket and punched in a number.

“Yes… Bring Mr. Neo’s car to the basement elevator… Thank you.” He hung up just as Carlos came back in through the sliding glass doors, rubbing his arms.

“A little cool, eh?” Prescott asked.

“A little,” Carlos answered. “About the phone call,” he started.

Prescott held up his hand. “Not necessary. Besides, we have had a change in plans. Ben here, along with you, will drive back now. A little earlier than we planned, but apparently Mr. Neo needs to take care of something for Tommy this evening… So… You see?” He shook Neo’s hand. “Your car is waiting at the basement entrance.” He looked to Carlos, but his face was a mask: Unreadable. Carlos said goodbye and followed Neo to the elevator.

On the road:

The idiot lights came on: Ben’s Ford bucked twice and then died. Carlos looked over from where he had been watching the lights of Manhattan slip away. They were in an abandoned industrial area on their way across the city.

“Not good,” Carlos said. “Especially here.”

“Hopefully it’s not a big deal,” Neo said. “And who would be stupid enough to mess with us?” he asked. He laughed and Carlos joined in. “I think it’s a loose wire. It happened once before,” Neo said. He coasted the car to a stop and shifted into park. He reached down, pulled the release handle and the hood popped up.

“With all the money you make? You should buy a better car,” Carlos said.

Neo nodded… “Too cheap, I guess. Will you pop that glove box and see if there’s a flashlight in there? Should be.”

Carlos searched briefly and pulled out the flashlight, held it to his chin and turned it on. He laughed. “Makes me look like a dead guy,” Carlos said and laughed again.

Neo nodded. “Come and hold it for me and we’ll get this baby fixed and be on our way.”

They both climbed out and walked to the front of the car. Neo popped the second hood latch and pulled the prop rod into the air. “Back here,” Neo said. He pointed to a block of wires and one loose red wire that had pulled free. “I knew it,” he said. “Hang on, let me get the tape. Fix it a little better this time,” Neo said. He ducked back into the car and Carlos stood holding the flashlight and thinking to himself; wishing he could have met Lita, but glad that he had not, if Prescott ever found out he would be a dead man. He felt the car shift as Neo got back out and came around to stand beside him.

“Hey?” Neo said in a soft voice.

Carlos looked over at him.

“It’s not personal. I would have done her too,” Neo said. His hand came up fast and he shot Carlos twice between the eyes before he could say anything. Carlos dropped straight down: Folding up as he went. Neo shot his hand out and snatched the flash light out of the air before it hit the ground. He bent down and checked the pulse at the side of Carlos’ neck to make sure, but Carlos was gone. The silenced 22 was perfect. Not enough velocity to exit the back of his head, just enough to kill him dead. He walked around to the back of the car.

He unlocked the trunk and pulled out a plastic rain suit and slipped it on. The trunk was lined in plastic. All taped up the sides and ready. He walked back around to the front of the car, ran a piece of duct tape over the hole in Carlos’ head and pressed it tight so there would be little spillage. He picked him up in his arms and carried him to the trunk. The plastic was there just in case. You never knew. He slammed the trunk, walked back around to the front of the car and slammed the hood shut. He got back in and flipped the small kill switch under the dash that cut out the ignition hot wire. You could buy them in any automotive supply store; wire them in to stop someone from stealing your car even if they hotwired it. He pulled back out onto the road and drove on into the blackness.

Manhattan

Jefferson Prescott’s Penthouse

Lita watched the balcony. There were two ways to reach it: From her bedroom or her sister Mia’s bedroom. Since Mia was rarely in her room it was the easiest way for Carlos to get to the balcony without being seen. Lita’s bedroom door was on the edge of the U shaped hallway, her parents on the opposite end with their own balcony. It was divided from the girl’s by the building’s structure which protruded there, and Mia’s bedroom was in the center where no one passing by would see him enter.

Her lights were off. The bedroom dark, but there was enough light to see dimly from the outside. She was bare beneath the thin sheets that covered her. She had no intention of letting him get away too soon: Once his hands told him what his eyes could not see he wouldn’t think of leaving.

She saw the shadow move out on the balcony. It separated from the other shadows and came slowly to the door. The door whispered on its track. A breath of cold air swept into the room. Her nipples became erect and poked at the thin sheet.

He came to the bed and looked down at her from the thick shadows. She sat up slowly; letting the sheets slide away from her body.

He caught his breath. She laughed carelessly and her hands moved to his waist, her fingers working his zipper. His hand came up behind her head, a little roughly, but it was okay. Rough could be good as long as it wasn’t too rough.

She realized something was wrong and she started to pull away. The feel, his cologne, something, all of it. It just felt wrong. This was not Carlos. The hand tried to bring her back, but she fought and started to crawl across the bed.

She had no idea who was with her; she only knew it was not Carlos. Even so something about him was familiar. The feel of his hands… Something… She tried to crawl across the bed and away for him, but he grabbed her roughly and pulled her back.

“I’ll scream… I’ll scream… I swear I will,” she gasped. Fear causing her shortness of breath. “My father will kill you… Kill you…” Her voice was high and frightened.

“Scream, whore. No one will hear you. I sent them all away for the night!”

She stopped… Father, she thought? Sudden pain flared inside of her head as one of his hands flashed out and rocked her head back on her neck. Stars bloomed across her vision, she nearly blacked out.

“Filthy, Slut,” he screamed as he hit her again. She collapsed on the bed, barely conscience. A phone began to ring somewhere as she slipped into unconsciousness.

~

Prescott answered the phone. He listened. “Thank you… Thank you, so much,” he said. He closed the phone and dropped it into his trouser pocket. He looked down at Lita curled up on her side. Blood running from her nose. He reached down and removed his shoes one at a time, lowered his body to the bed and stretched out beside her.

12:01 A.M.

Thursday morning

The Deal Begins

Danny and Daryl

Daryl Jones had walked by the Toyota three times: If he walked by again he would probably attract the wrong kind of attention. Even though he was a black man in a black neighborhood, it just wouldn’t sit right with someone. They might guess he was up to something, but it didn’t matter, he didn’t have to go by again he had seen what there was to see.

It was a big Toyota, not one of the little ones: Looked to be in good shape too; locked up tight, sitting at the curb right in front of Jessie Brown’s pool hall: Which didn’t really mean shit. It could be a player, it could be someone just having a quick drink in the underground bar in the basement, but it could also be one of the big boys in the poker games that went on all day and all night in the back room. That could be a problem, those guys, any one of them, would probably come out with their guns in their hands, shoot first and never even bother to ask questions.

He turned the corner and walked up next to Danny Gaynor where he sat on the steps of an abandoned building. Danny was probably the craziest white boy he knew. He was also the best car thief he knew, period.

“It’ll work,” he said to Gaynor. “Long as you’re fast enough. They see me over there again I’ll be fucked.” He looked at his watch. “Got to get a move on too.”

Gaynor nodded. “You know I’m fast. Tell me everything you saw,” he said.

“Saw? I saw shit! There ain’t shit to see,” Daryl said. “Fuckin’ Toyota: One of the big ones; you know I can’t read so I can’t tell you what the fuck it says… A big Toyota: I could tell from the symbol; it’s blue. It’s not tricked out, ain’t any bangers’ car: Don’t look like no old man’s car neither… Doors is locked… Let me see… Got nice seats, looked comfortable. I can’t think of nothing else I saw except these guys in the pool hall looking at me ‘cause they might think I’m scoping it out, you see?” he asked.

“Yeah… Yeah, okay, man. I’ll be right back.” He got up and walked around the corner.

Daryl watched from the corner. Danny was good. So good that sometimes you didn’t even realize what he had just done.

Danny walked up to the Toyota, the slim-Jim came up and sank into the window channel in one practiced move, so that it looked like he was simply bending to put the key into the lock. Even to Daryl it looked like Danny had simply slid a key into the Toyota’s door lock. It was what your mind suggested because it didn’t really see what happened: It was too fast. As he came out of the bend and straightened up, the slim Jim popped out and went back down the front of his pants and his other hand opened the door.

His head never dropped out of sight once he was inside the car. It just looked like a man settling his briefcase on the passenger seat, maybe, or a case-file, just getting ready to start the car and head off to work. He didn’t hear it start, but he saw some dust lift from the curb of the roadway and the Toyota moved away and headed down the street.

Nothing: No one came out screaming and yelling: Whoever owned the car would find out later. He turned, jogged down to the next corner and climbed into the passenger side of the car when it stopped.

The ignition cylinder had a screwdriver sticking out of it. One of those cheap plastic, yellow handled ones. Danny said he liked them because they were easy to use without destroying the ignition. If you intended to peddle the car you simply went to the parts house, bought a new cylinder and door locks. All new keys, everything worked and there was no visible damage at all.

Danny held up a set of keys. “Under the fuckin’ floor mat; should’ve looked. I know better,” he said.

They crossed over into Brownsville and pulled into what appeared to be a vacant warehouse. Two guys that were roughly the size of gorillas loaded the trunk up. “Don’t fuck with it,” one said. “Give it to them, take what they give you, and bring it back.” They both nodded and left the warehouse. They stopped long enough to switch plates and then they were rolling again.

Carlos had given them money to buy a used car to make the deal. Three thousand dollars, but they had spent that money on crack. It went so goddamn fast, Daryl thought. One minute you were a king, the next a piece of shit sucking some dudes’ dick for more crack while the other guys laughed at you. He’d seen it: Never done it; it didn’t have him by the balls yet, but it was creeping up.

It was worse for chicks. For chicks it was, “Sure I’ll give you a rock, just blow my dog.” Not, My Dog-My Boy, a real dog: That kind of shit. Crack was bad shit: Still bad shit, even with crystal. It had been for so long. Fuck, they were both bad, he supposed, but they were so goddamned good. It made you feel so goddamned good.

So the money got cracked up, that was all there was to it and Danny’s solution had been to liberate the Toyota. There had never been any doubt that he could do it: None at all. If they could just keep their shit together for the next 24 hours or so they’d be fine. Back in the money: Sell the Toyota if they needed more.

“I don’t know how to get there,” Danny said.

“Well, first get us the fuck out of Brownsville before we get dead,” Daryl said. “Let’s go slow. It’s a small town up north, almost in Canada. They got them country-ass farm girls up there. Cows everywhere, probably. Let’s get out of New York and then we’ll worry about getting up there,” he said. “I got a fuckin’ map. Take us out through Jersey. We got ‘bout seven hours to get there… Plenty of time, I think.”

Danny nodded. He turned the radio on and headed out of Brownsville.

Rochester New York

Ben Neo

Ben had managed about four hours of sleep. Considering everything he had gotten done that was pretty good. No better or worse than his usual amount.

He wandered through the house to the kitchen. There was a huge walk in freezer in the basement, which, for some reason it would probably cost a lot of money to determine, had refused to kick on last night. So he’d had to take the racks out of his refrigerator and stuffed what was left of Carlos in there.

He opened the door to the refrigerator now and picked up the black duffel bag that sat in Carlos’ headless lap and closed the door once more. The parts in the duffel bag had to go back to Prescott. What he intended to do with them Ben did not care to know; especially the other items: Head, two hands, one penis. Ben understood the symbolism of it, but the fact of it had been a little tougher to deal with, especially since he’d been the one to have to deal with it, but as requested, it was in there. Jefferson Prescott could make a statue of it if that’s what he wanted to do.

He carried the duffel bag to the back door and placed it next to the big brown suitcase. Just over fourteen and a half million dollars in untraceable hundred dollar bills. Jimmy had met him in a bar over on ridge road late last night and delivered it to him in the parking lot. It wasn’t enough to tempt him, although if he didn’t have what he had in his own accounts it might have been. The weight of it was enough to make any man consider, but there was always the reality of Tommy Murphy and crazy Jimmy West to consider too.

He left the duffel bag next to the suitcase, went to the kitchen table, it was a retro 1950s style table on a pedestal: He moved the pedestal, took out his pocket knife and carefully levered out the one foot by one foot square floor tile that sat directly under the pedestal to reveal a floor safe. He bent, worked the combination and opened it. He pulled a paper bag and three 9 MM handguns from the deep well, leaving it empty for the first time he could remember. The paper bag held traveling money. Emergency stuff: Enough to buy whatever he might need. The three handguns were cheap, flat-black Chinese weapons. Good in a fix, but not much more. None had serial numbers, and all had friction tape wrapped around their handles to impede finger prints in case he had no time for gloves and had to leave one behind. He was wearing an over-sized leather jacket. The cash went into one pocket the three handguns in the other. He had already pulled his car around back, so it would be no problem to load it. He opened the back door, made his way down the steps, set the duffel bag and suitcase down and unlocked the trunk. Clean, except a black suitcase that sat to one side. That was Carlos’ suitcase he had set in the back seat yesterday. He debated on taking it out and decided to leave it; he’d take care of it later if he needed to.

He set the duffel bag and the big brown suitcase into the trunk and then shut it. He got in the car and opened the glove box, slipped the paper bag and one of the guns inside, stuck another gun under the driver seat when he went around, and kept the last one in his pocket. His silenced 22 was in an inside pocket of the same jacket. He went back; locked the kitchen door after one last look around. A few minutes later he pulled out of his driveway and headed down Lake Avenue. It was not yet dawn and the traffic was light and sporadic. The city not yet awakened. He decided on the long route and ended up driving East Avenue out of downtown before he crossed to ridge road and headed towards Watertown.

Jilly

Jilly worked at the phish. She had nearly gotten the last user. She only needed the right password to get where she needed to be. And it would come along it always did.

The way she worked it was simple. She had a list of employees who had the clearance she needed. So she sent them a simple password update form as an e-mail attachment. It required them to enter their current password in order to update to the new password: Simple. Looked official too, just like the real thing. Of course there was no real thing, but they didn’t know that. If they took the bait she was in, if not the email would destroy itself in an hour and so it wouldn’t end up passed along to some tech guy to look into.

Most of these people made a little more than minimum wage, and had access to some of the most sensitive information in the world. And, she told herself, let’s face it, someone with a basic high school equivalency diploma could enter data into a computer. It was easy. Kids in grade school did every day. It didn’t take a genius, which was good as it helped that they were stupid enough to fall for her trick. Her Email alert chimed. She popped the program up in her browser.

Two returns out of the six. She opened them, both had updated their passwords. She squealed with delight. She would use the one tonight and save the other for the next job like this. She never used a password more than once. One random use usually wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Too many uses would: Once and flush it.

She turned around to another machine, bought up the password window from its icon, and typed in the user name and password; once it was up she changed the password to the new password the user had entered. She repeated the process for the other user that had responded. Within a few seconds both accounts were legit again, only she had an in on both of them.

She wasn’t entering from a website she was entering through a modeled machine. A perfect duplicate of a machine on an intranet in a government building that was out in L.A. somewhere. An intranet was a closed system, except this one wasn’t. A tech that worked there had seen to that by hooking a simple emulation board into a LAN circuit card. After the modification the mainframe handled her request as though it were from a machine that was part of the intranet.

She called up the sets a finger print files and made the changes she had been asked to make. She had no idea who Benjamin Neo was in reality, but in her world he was a customer who paid well and used her often. He had just paid 100 grand for clean fingerprints. His old prints had then been attached to the second name he had given her. She wondered for a second or two what that might mean, then pushed it out of her head. Bad people, good money; but she was not a bad person. She had good karma. Sometimes you had to do bad things, but since the bad people were paying you it was really them that did those bad things, she simply facilitated. She thought about that. She decided she liked it.

She popped up the window for her word processor and began typing in her thought. She had a whole collection of illuminating thoughts like that. Someday she might publish it, she thought, but then again maybe not: If she did, everyone would be as smart as she was. Know everything she knew. No, she decided. She’d keep her collection to herself. Go and look at it from time to time just to keep it fresh in her head. She clicked save and then turned the window into an icon.

Bad people, good money, she thought. She sipped at her diet coke and went to work on the next job.

Northbound I-81

Ben Neo

Ben Neo picked up Ed Reiser in Mexico on the way to Watertown. Ed was someone he had developed on his own. Ed thought he had what it took to be a mafia bag man. Ed didn’t really know what that was, except what he’d seen in movies. It looked fun. Stimulating and better than that you could make a lot of money.

Ben had met Ed online. Once they had met a few times, Ben had, had Jilly check him out. Clean. Not so much as a parking ticket. Finger printed when he went into the air force. Honorable discharge: Not the typical guy looking to get into organized crime.

Ed had been disappointed at first when Ben had told him he wasn’t in the mafia and didn’t know anyone that was, but he was sure he could find lots of things for Ed to do that would be interesting, fun and make him a lot of money as well.

He’d taken him with him twice now: Two small drug deals, which probably looked enormous to Ed; a quarter of million in cash on the last one. This would be his biggest deal to date, enough hard stuff to keep a small city high for a few years.

Ben filled him in on the deal as they drove.

Watertown

Thompson Park

The Cop

The car rolled to a stop. He was by himself. It was still early, a half hour before he had to be in: The shift-change. He had plenty of time, and at his level it wasn’t like he had to punch a time clock. Worse came to worse and everything got badly fucked up he could call in sick at the last minute: There wasn’t that much going on; at least not much that would require his input. He had his partner to worry about, but probably only marginally.

He had parked in the lot and walked down the sidewalk to the lookout area at the park. You could see for miles, which was probably the reason they were meeting here for the deal. They would be able to see in all directions, no one could sneak up on them and there was no place to hide. Even his personal car parked farther up the hill in the empty lot stuck out like a sore thumb. He had pulled it closer to the zoo area so it would look like it belonged to an overnight worker there.

He tried to decide quickly where they might meet. In the pavilion to the left that capped a set of stone steps descending out of the park, or at the lookout itself which was a circular stone walled area to the right. He decided to bug both places. He could go up to the main parking lot, still be able to pick up the radio signal, be out of sight, yet close enough to get here quickly if he had to: If he was honest with himself he wasn’t even sure that this whole deal was going to happen. The same guy who delivered his payoff had put the bug in his ear. Rivals, he supposed; trying to knock each other out of the arena. He only knew there would be a substantial amount of money involved and a large quantity of drugs. The guy who had delivered his envelope for the month had called it a tip.

He wasn’t worried about a setup. They had been working together for almost five years, who was there to set up? He assumed the money he took covered certain people, certain situations. If he was called and asked to lose a piece of evidence, or soft peddle a case he did. It was that simple. Maybe nothing for six months: Maybe two or three small requests in a month; maybe something big every once in a while. He could count those on one hand though: Exactly twice, and he had made happen what they had wanted to happen. No problem.

So he wasn’t worried about a set up, it was a tip; a little something extra. All he had to do was see how it played out, and that was a few hours away. He had the whole day planned out so he could be solo. Mostly bullshit, but it would keep his partner doing something while he did something else. Apart: He would have the freedom to move. To do what he needed to do, whatever that might be. It would start though with getting to work, making an appearance and then getting back up here to wait and listen.

He placed both bugs. Checked them and then walked back up the hill to his vehicle.

Lott Road

Billy Jingo

Billy Jingo came awake all at once: He had been dozing in front of the television. He had gotten home about two AM from work. He’d picked up beer and cigarettes for the weekend, he didn’t work Fridays, that was the beginning of his weekend. He’d debated and then decided to stay up a little while, have a few beers and watch TV. The Canadian station was coming in pretty good and there had been some foreign film on. It was in French, or at least he supposed it was in French. He heard enough French living so close to Canada and he had even been to Canada a few times, so he was pretty sure it was French. He couldn’t understand a word of it, but you didn’t have to speak French to understand nudity. And there had been a lot of nudity in the film. The film had been about a group of young college girls who kept finding themselves in trouble, or naked, or both. Somewhere along in there he had fallen asleep.

The clock said 7:30 AM. The sun was up. The trailer was cold, a litter of empty beer cans and an overflowing ashtray sat on the coffee table in front of the couch.

He got up, his body stiff. He had run a buffer nearly his entire eight hour shift and his back and shoulders were sore. It would go away, he told himself. It always did. Go to sleep get up tonight and… Well, sit alone and drink beer, watch TV. Whoopee, he told himself. He dropped the beer cans into the bag for empties under the sink. He never bothered to rinse them. He dumped the ashtray and wandered down the hallway to bed.

Watertown Center

Shop and Stock

April Evans

“Going home?” Alice Chambers asked.

“Yeah,” April agreed. It was early morning, the sun just coming up, shining through the dirty front windows of the store.

“I could drop you. I know it’s not a long walk, but if you wanted a ride, you know,” she blushed and her face colored.

The Shop and Stock was on the main highway nearly directly across from the entrance to Lott road. It was a half mile down the road to the trailer park. Not far. She walked it all the time, including early morning and late evening.

April’s rule of thumb with Alice was not to lead her on. Not to give her false hope. Alice wanted to be with her, it was clear. There had been a time when they had been together, but that was over and had been over for nearly a year. She didn’t want her to think that it might start up again. Letting her give her a ride home might make her think that there was hope. It might, and that could hurt her and she didn’t want to do that.

“I think the walk would do me good, besides it’s just incentive for me to buy a car,” April said.

“You’re saving?” Alice asked. Her face had become sad when April hadn’t said yes. Her sad eyes were magnified behind her thick glasses.

“No, but I hope to be… That’s the incentive part. It’s just that it costs so much to live…” April stopped, regretting she had said as much as she did.

“Well they say two can live as cheaply as one,” Alice said. Her eyes became hopeful again.

Sometimes April wondered why she didn’t just do it. Almost everyone at work thought she and Alice were an item anyway. Guys at work didn’t even hit on her anymore, and occasionally she would catch girls looking at her speculatively, like the new girl, Haley, beautiful: She had some sort of tribal tattoo that covered one arm and disappeared under her sleeve. It peaked out when her shirt lifted enough to bare her stomach, making April wonder where else it went. Dark blue against brown skin. She had been looking at her, wondering about where that tattoo might go one day last week when Haley had caught her. They had both smiled and looked away.

“You didn’t say anything,” Alice said.

“I’m sorry, I zoned out… You know, maybe two can live as cheaply as one… I guess it is something to consider,” April said. She had no idea why she had said it except that it was true. She had two guys at the trailer park that were interested. She couldn’t stand either one of them, but they were persistent. And she supposed it was only a matter of time before something happened. Probably something she didn’t want to happen. She kept an aluminum bat next to the door, but she was a young woman living alone in a bad place. It was probably only a matter of time.

Alice was smiling up of her. “Are you sure about the walk? It’s such a bad place,” Alice said, echoing her thoughts.

“Sure… You’re right, Ali. Listen, I have a cold six-pack in my fridge, if it didn’t stop working again that is, maybe we could have a couple of beers, unwind from the night,” April said. “It’s morning, but technically it’s night to us.” She laughed.

Alice positively overflowed. “Sure… I’ll… I’ll get some chips?” She looked at April as if asking permission. April nodded almost imperceptibly. That was how they had gotten together in high school. Alice asked, April had never said yes, just that tiny little nod, but that had been all that Alice had needed.

Alice hurried off now and April told herself she wasn’t building her hopes up to dash them. She was sick of the trailer park: Sick of her life right now. Before she ended up with one of those clowns on either side of her, she would move back in with Alice. She shocked herself with the admission, but then she realized it was the truth. Maybe it was the truth she had been hiding from herself, but it was the truth.

Alice came back blooming. A totally different woman than the shy, unassuming person she normally was. She walked close to her as they left the store. She could see Alice wanted to slip her arm through hers, so April did it herself. She just slipped her arm through hers as they walked across the parking lot to Alice’s car.

Alice seemed to be in shock, but a happy kind of shock. April was surprised, but it lifted her mood too.

Route 81 rest-stop

Watertown

Danny and Daryl

“Who would really know?” Daryl asked. “I mean really, Danny?”

They were stopped at a rest area a few miles outside of Watertown New York. The trunk was open and they had looked through what was there. It was far more than they had thought, far more than Carlos had led them to believe. Neither of them knew how much, but they had a good idea. They had already made small holes in four of the bricks and discovered they were dealing with both cocaine and heroin. And since the holes had been there they had taken a bit of each. Only a little: Nothing that would be missed, probably, but that had been three or four hours ago at another rest area when the curiosity had gotten the best of them. That and their withdrawals after a two week crack binge and the little that they had taken was gone.

Now they were trying to decide if they took a few full bricks whether they would be missed. There were eight bricks of coke, and six of heroin in the black duffel bag. That was a tight fit. They had purchased a cheap foam plastic cooler just outside of Rochester and filled it with beer and packages of lunch meat and cheese. They had purchased bread and other stuff for the long trip. Thinking all those weeks of not eating right would catch up to them and they’d be starving. And they would’ve been except they had gotten right back into the coke. They were numb again. Hunger was on the back burner once more. All their bodies craved were more cocaine and maybe some heroin to chase it.

Daryl pulled the zipper on the blue duffel bag and opened it.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Danny asked.

“You know goddamn good and well what I’m doing,” he said. He reached in and took one of each brick.

“Holy Jesus,” Danny said. “You’re crazy. They’ll kill us.”

Daryl licked his lips. “Maybe… But… Maybe we can blame that on the other guys. You know, they got the shit! They played with it. Our word against theirs, right?”

“Christ,” Danny said. His hands shook slightly, but then harder. Before he could stop himself he reached into the duffel bag and pulled out two more bricks, one of each. Daryl’s eyes bugged.

“I don’t know, man. That is a lot. Two is enough,” he said.

“To get killed over?” Danny asked. “Fuck that! If it’s gonna get us in the shit and we gotta lie our way out of it we might as well make it worth it,” he said. He looked at the untouched ice chest, popped off the foam cover and plunged the bricks down into the ice. Daryl took a small chunk of the cocaine, sealed the brick back up and plunged both of his bricks into the ice chest too. They piled up the errant ice cubes and arranged the packages of meat and cheese to hide the bricks underneath them, breathing hard as they did: On the verge of panic.

“You can see the foil,” Danny said.

Daryl grabbed the plastic bag that the lunch meat had come in, fished out the bricks and wrapped them up tightly in the plastic. The bag was white and blended much better under the ice this time.

“Can tell, not really,” Daryl said. He had already sniffed some coke. Danny wasn’t far behind.

“Looks fine,” Danny agreed. “Let’s go.”

They both reached up to slam the trunk lid down, scaring the hell out of each other as they did. They laughed nervously and then got back into the car.

“Alright, I’m getting on top of it now, man… It’s gonna be all right,” Daryl said.

“Yeah… Yeah,” Danny agreed as he started the car.

Watertown

Thompson Park

Ben Neo

“This is a really big deal, Ed. As in a million plus, you see?” Ben asked.

“Sure,” Ed said. “I get it. Well, you mean a million plus as in more than a million dollars?” he asked.

Ben laughed. “Yeah, more than a million, Ed: These guys, well, I don’t know these guys. They’re really just hired flunkies. Pick up the stuff; drive it from point A to point B, that kind of thing. They’re probably not professionals. So we’ll have to make up for that by maintaining our own professional standards, Ed. We’ll just be cold: Aloof, removed. No laughing if they crack a joke. No small talk at all.” He handed Ed one of the flat black 9 mm guns. The one he had shoved under the front seat.

Ed looked it over. “Grips broken?” he asked. He fingered the tape that wound around them.

“No,” Ben told him. “That’s friction tape, stops them from getting prints… Most of the time at least. It’s what I call a throw away gun. Cheap, doctored up with tape in case I do have to toss it and I don’t have time to wipe it. Ground down serial number. Here’s a spare clip.” He handed him a clip. “The one in that gun is full, and there’s one in the chamber. I do that by putting one in the chamber then ejecting the clip and replacing that one in the clip. Then put the clip back in. Sometimes an extra bullet can mean a lot. All you need to do is flick off the safety, aim and shoot… You got that, Ed?” Ben asked.

“Yeah… Yeah… I do,” Ed agreed. He looked nervous. “Do you think we’ll have to shoot, Ben?”

“Sometimes… You can shoot, right?” Ben asked. He knew he owned a 9 mm and that he had taken a weapons class in Syracuse a few years back. He had carried a sidearm and had, had to train on a rifle when he was in the service. He had checked all of that out. He also knew he was a poor shot. Myopic, and even with his thick glasses his depth perception, which was critical to accuracy, was bad.

“Sure, sure, it’s just been a while,” Ed said.

“Just make sure you don’t shoot me, or yourself,” Ben said.

They were at the lookout in the park standing near the trunk of the car waiting for the other car. It could be a few minutes, maybe as much as an hour, Ben thought.

Ed nodded. “I won’t,” he said, unsmiling.

Ben had no idea what to expect. He knew what they were driving, but he had no idea how far out they were, all Tommy had told him was the make and model, a big silver-blue Toyota, and their names. They had picked up the stuff in Brownsville earlier that morning, and they were on the way. He popped the trunk lid and snapped open the catches on the big brown suitcase. Neat rows of bills: All hundreds. Ed whistled.

Ben removed one of the stacks, set it aside and closed the case. “Your pay,” Ben told him.

“How much is that?” Ed asked. His eyes were a little bugged out. He’d never seen that much money anywhere. Not even in gangster movies, which were his favorite kinds of flicks. It was a lot of money.

“Eighty thousand dollars per stack,” Ben told him.

“You’re kidding? I’m making eighty thousand dollars for this deal?” he asked.

Ben smiled and nodded. “I told you it was big.”

“Yeah,” Ed smiled. His mind was thinking about all the things he could buy with eighty thousand dollars.

Ben’s cell phone rang. He pulled it from his pocket, looked at the caller ID window and turned to Ed. “It’s my boss, I’ll have to take it,” he said. He walked away leaving Ed to his thoughts and answered the phone.

Suncrest Trailer Park

Lott Road

April Evans

It started out bad and got worse. First Alice tried to kiss her when they got to April’s trailer. April had pretended she didn’t see it coming and turned it into an embrace. But once they were inside she tried again and they had ended up in an argument.

“It’s my fault, I should’ve walked home. I didn’t mean to lead you on, Ali, I didn’t,” April said.

“But… You held my hand. I know you want this just like I do. I know it. Why can’t we just be together? I don’t get it… You’re not seeing somebody else, right?” Alice asked.

“No… It’s not about that… It’s about compatibility… I’m not like you, Ali. How else can I say it?” April asked.

Alice broke down into tears. “But you are…” Her voice fell to a whisper. “You’ve made love to me, April; better than any man ever has… Ever could… You are like me,” she sobbed.

“I’m not,” April said. “We did those things. I was drunk. I was upset. I hated what had happened to me, you know that, it didn’t mean to me what it meant to you, Ali, it didn’t.”

Alice jumped up. “So I’m the one who is sick? Interested in the wrong sex? The Lesbo?” Her anger was barely in check. She was spitting the words out, tears streaming down her face. “Well fuck you, April Evans. I know about that boy at the end of the road. The one you talk about. If that’s what you want, then fuck you, take him.” She ran to the door, flung it open and rushed down the steps. Her car started as April got to the door, and she heard the gravel spit and clatter against the aluminum siding of the trailer as she took off.

Two trailers over a curtain parted and a woman’s face looked out into the gloom of early morning. Her eyes nearly skipped across April, lingered briefly and then the curtain edges fell back together. April sagged down to the top step and lowered her head into her hands. She got up a few minutes later, went inside and grabbed two of the beers. She left one in the plastic collar, slipped an open collar over her wrist and let the second can hang from it. As she went back out she picked up the aluminum bat, closed and locked the trailer door. She walked out to the end of the gravel road that cut down into the trailer park and looked towards the end of Lott road.

There was a guy, not a boy that lived at the end of the road. She had mentioned him to Alice. She shouldn’t have. He was just a guy. She had seen him go by a few times, but he had never paid any attention to her. She had even waited on him at the store a few times. Nothing: He wasn’t interested; Alice had that all wrong.

She hefted the bat in one hand. There were wild dogs all over the place. They lived in the woods and raided the county dump where it backed up to Lott road for their means of survival. It was best to be prepared. More than once she had driven one away with a quick tap from the bat. She took one of the trails that lead out of the trailer park and cut down toward the end of the road. She sipped at one of the beers as she pushed some overhanging small branches aside with the bat. The sun was finally starting to rise, casting shadows along the dirt path. She wondered about the boy at the end of the road as she walked.

Watertown PD

Sammy and John

“Sammy, what’s on for today?” Don asked.

“You’re the boss and you’re asking me?” Sammy asked.

“Yeah, well, sometimes I have to make you feel like you have a choice in these things,” Don joked. “We’re both on our own today, Sammy. I’ll be tied up with some dip shit statements that will probably mean nothing to anyone. I have to go out to Carthage to take them, and God knows where else. I’ll have to chase these guys around,” Don said.

“Yeah? Well I have something I had to take care of anyway,” Sammy said. “We’re back together tomorrow?” he asked.

“Unless hell freezes over,” Don said. “Let me translate that for you. I don’t get to make the rules. We should be though,” Don said and laughed. He followed Sammy out through the side door and into the municipal parking lot.

Adams, New York

State Park Area

Danny and Daryl

“I’m really fucked up,” Daryl said. “I mean really fucked up.” He leaned out of the car door and puked again.

“You okay, man?” Danny asked.

“Yeah… Yeah. Never better. I love to puke, man, it’s so…” He stopped talking, leaned out the door and dry heaved.

“We’re fucked up, man, really fucked up,” Danny said.

They had both gotten heavily into the coke and mixed just a small amount of heroin in with it. They should’ve mixed a smaller amount they told themselves now or none at all. They’d both been sick ever since: High, really high, but sick, really sick.

“We’re gonna fuck this up,” Daryl said once he caught his breath.

“No shit,” Danny agreed.

They were pulled off the road a few miles outside of Watertown: Parked on an old State Park road off the woods; the whole area was full of roads like this one; the woods were practically honeycombed with them.

“Hey… For real,” Daryl said. “We’re gonna fuck this up.” Danny didn’t answer. He looked over and he was out cold.

“Fuck,” Daryl said, but a few seconds later he dropped out too.

The sun climbed into the sky, but the car stayed cool, parked back under the trees. The light didn’t wake them. Probably couldn’t have awakened them. The day moved on without them.

Lott Road

Nikki Moore

Nikki watched the girl as she walked along. She had been here a few days now, checking the area out, getting it ready for Ben, and this was the fourth time the girl had shown up, walking through the woods and over the trails that cut through them, and it didn’t seem to concern the girl how late it was; what or who might be in the woods.

The night before last she had followed her back to her trailer and watched for a while. She was popular with the trailer park crowd, at least the guys. It seemed to Nikki now that, that popularity might even be the reason why she was out walking in the middle of the night. Maybe the world was just getting to her: Her little world; and she came to the trails to walk it off. Nikki had been in that situation herself and she understood it.

Last night she had stopped into the little convenience store across the highway at the end of the road and she had been surprised to see her there. April Evans, her name tag had said. She had smiled at Nikki and asked how her day was going. Nikki had smiled back and told her just fine, surprised that this was the same girl. She seemed so completely out of place. A different girl from the melancholy one Nikki had come to know that walked the trails nearly every night: Down to the trailer at the end of the road and then back. She had yet to step out of the trees and walk up to the trailer, but Nikki could tell she wanted to.

Nikki knew who lived in the trailer at the end of the road, William Jingo, Billy to his friends, but so far she hadn’t seen any friends: Just him and April Evans who walked nearly right to his door and then changed her mind and didn’t step from the trees to make herself known to him.

Billy Jingo looked to be one step away from county jail. She had no idea what the connection was between the two of them or even if there was one. The girl simply stared at the trailer for a few moments and then walked back to her own trailer.

Nikki couldn’t even say what had drawn her to the girl in the first place, except having been surprised by her twice out walking on a trail that should have been empty. That had made her take an interest, Nikki supposed. After that she had begun following her around as she walked the trails that cut through the thick woods and then back to her trailer to make sure she wasn’t up to something that would interfere with Nikki’s own plans. She didn’t think that she was.

Nikki had found her way to the trailer park along the trails through the woods tonight. Empty. The lights were off. The girl was not home, but a few seconds later as she had been about to leave a car had pulled in to her driveway, or the rutted dirt area beside the trailer that served as a driveway. She had come back with another girl, and that girl had looked vaguely familiar, like maybe one of the other girls that worked in the little store across the highway. She couldn’t be sure though.

So she was surprised to see her now: The two had looked as though they couldn’t wait to get inside the trailer and get each other’s clothes off. At least that was the impression Nikki had gotten. She had been hiding in the bushes when they had left the car and headed to the trailer. The girl had seemed to be very familiar with April Evans. Like intimately familiar.

Lesbian, she had thought? There was something about the closeness. The way the other girl looked at her, stepped into her personal space that said she felt possessive of her. She had thought that maybe this girl with her was the reason she avoided the men in the trailer park, yet here she was walking the trail alone again just a short time later. I must have been wrong, Nikki told herself. She watched April Evans from the underbrush and shadow as she walked.

She had called Ben earlier because she had been worried. He would not be coming this morning. Something had gone wrong. It might be delayed all the way to Friday morning. He would call when and if it changed. Maybe another day and night of waiting, and that had not been the plan, but Ben had not called back again.

She was bored when it came right down to it, and she was curious about the girl. What was it that drew her to her? She knew that curiosity was against her own rules: That she was becoming obsessed or something. She also knew that she should find other things to do to pass the time, lie low as she was supposed to do: As Ben had told her to do, but she couldn’t help it. Something about the girl had caught her attention and held it. Something she could not let go of.

She watched her still, dropping back far enough so she could light a cigarette and not be seen. She lost track of her as she smoked, but it was no real consequence, she would find her again. She took a deep breath, sucked smoke into her lungs and only barely got turned around when she heard a noise behind her.

“Now who the fuck are you,” The girl asked, “And why have you been following me?” The question was rhetorical. An aluminum bat hit the side of Nikki’s head hard, and she found herself looking at the leaves on the floor of the woods a few seconds later. The leaves were cool, moist; they felt good against her cheek. Something trickled out of her hairline and into her eye. Sweat? Blood? The world went hazy and then winked out for a second.

The world came back: A second blow was coming down; she saw the bat blurring as it descended. She rolled, barely missing it.

The swing had thrown the girl off balance and she stumbled forward and crashed to the ground. Nikki was on her a second later. Her head throbbing, a knife at the girl’s throat. The girl was breathing hard, making little murmuring noises in her throat.

“Don’t… Don’t… Please don’t”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You tried to kill me,” Nikki told her. She pulled the knife back and then poked it at her throat, causing a little well of blood to form and trickle away from the point. “You are gonna tell me all about you; all about you.” She settled her weight onto the girls’ chest, rocked back a little and waited.

Thursday afternoon:

Thompson Park

The Cop

Something was wrong. He couldn’t just hang around in the parking lot all day. He’d be missed.

He’d been listening to the radio and should have called in when the dispatcher had called for all available units to roll to the report of the DB on Lott road. He’d stuck it out though. Someone else had gone, and at least he’d have that unfolding drama to listen to over the radio as he waited. Some female: It sounded like she had been killed and dumped there, maybe as early as this morning.

Lott road was all scum of the earth as far as he was concerned: Trailer homes; enough druggies, welfare mothers and crack whores to keep any decent people out. Most of the men out that way were sporadic workers at best. They always looked familiar to him; like he had seen them in county jail whether he had actually seen them there or not. They all had a similar look… Similar attitude.

The body was gone and things had died down, still nothing from down the hill. He’d heard someone earlier and they had left, or at least their car had started. Maybe that was half of whom he was expecting, but that didn’t tell him where the other half was. It made no sense. The tip was for this morning, not this afternoon, or wherever this was heading to. He glanced down at his watch: Afternoon and it wasn’t heading to afternoon it was afternoon.

The conversation he had picked up had sounded right. One guy talking to another about how to act: Talking about the deal and how it needed to go down. It sounded right, and he had been sure the other car would be pulling in any second after that, but it hadn’t happened. The day was bleeding away, and it made no sense at all. The worst part was that he had no choice. He had to stick it out now, had to see it through.

Thompson Park

Ben Neo

Ed was antsy: Ben was pissed off. Something was absolutely wrong. On one hand he couldn’t care less, but on the other hand he had to finish this to get where he wanted to get to: If he had anticipated this kind of deal he probably would have made different plans. In fact, he told himself, there was no probably about it, he would have.

He was stuck now though. He couldn’t call Tommy to find out if something had happened. He wouldn’t know anyway, most likely, but he would know something was wrong as soon as Ben called.

He couldn’t call Prescott either for the same reasons: If it took too long he would have no choice, he’d have to call, bite the bullet: Find out what had happened.

There were reasons why a delay now made him more than a little paranoid. He had gambled himself. He was on the verge of something. He had made some moves and was about to make the big move. And he had been so careful too.

Or had he? He thought about Carlos. Carlos had been sure right up to the end that he had made the right moves. That he was safe, and nobody knew. Now some of him was in a duffel bag in the trunk and the rest of him was stuffed in Ben’s own refrigerator back in Rochester. That was what thinking got you.

It really bugged him that after he had met Jimmy and picked up the cash, he had had no idea where Jimmy had gone to. He normally wouldn’t know, shouldn’t know but now he had a need to know. Was Jimmy coming after him? Had Tommy found out that Ben was about to disappear and decided it would be better if Jimmy disappeared him? It was certainly possible that was for sure.

Lott Road

Nikki

She sat in the Ford and waited. She had pulled down off the little used road into the woods. Apparently people only used it to dump trash. She wasn’t surprised that there had been a problem. It seemed there were always problems when it came to counting on other people: If she had only herself to depend on it would be so much better, but the world didn’t tend to work that way.

She was okay with the car. She was positive no one would find it, and anyway she would be able to see it from where she was going to be if anyone did come down onto this road from the other road.

She looked in the mirror. She looked good. She looked believable even. She had done a good job, and that was all she could hope for. Her cell phone rang. She answered with a quiet hello and then laughed.

“On board is what I am. Where are you? What’s taking so long…? Yeah…? No, I’m about to. No, really, you wouldn’t be able to tell, I swear… Yeah… I love you too… Yeah. It’s with me. Call when you want… I’m going now… Okay.”

She clicked off, took one more look in the mirror, and then put everything back into her new purse. She got out, walked around the car and started down the dirt road.

Manhattan

Lita Prescott

Lita got up carefully from the bed and walked to the mirror. Her face was black and blue. Her nose was pushed over to one side; encrusted with blood. One eye was closed, the other red and blood filled. She let the robe she wore fall away from her shoulders. Her body wasn’t much better. Marks from the belt he had used on her twice, the pain was incredible.

He had told her he sent everybody away for the week coming up. So there would be no hope of any help at all for the next week and by that time she would most likely be dead.

She knew Carlos was dead, he had told her: Gloated over the fact that sometime in the next few days he would have his severed head and hands to prove it, along with something just for her. She had shuddered at the beginnings of the thoughts that had leapt into her mind, and then she had refused them: Pushed them completely away; shut down that part of her mind and she had not been back to visit it.

He had told her a story about her mother. How she was a whore too. How she had played around on him and gotten pregnant. How she, Lita, wasn’t really his daughter. It had gone on and on. She had screamed and yelled, but no one had come. It seemed even the bodyguards were gone. She let the robe fall closed and headed to the door. It wasn’t locked. She was in her parents’ bedroom. He had bought her to her own mother’s bed. She opened the bedroom door and walked out into the hallway.

When she was younger she and Mia used to play hide and seek in her father’s study. All dark wood panels, potted palms, desks, a bar, chairs, couches, there were so many places to hide. She headed down the hall towards that study now, her robe falling open once again as she walked, but she didn’t care.

They had discovered a small hollow behind one of the desk drawers. She herself had discovered it while she had been hiding there and happened to look up. She opened the door to the study now and crossed to the desk: When she had looked up she had seen that the space had purposely been created to hold a gun. A small chrome plated gun. Almost toy like, but even then she had known what her father was, and she had known that the gun was no toy. She hadn’t touched it, but she hadn’t forgotten it either.

She stopped in front of the desk now, walked around it, rolled a chair aside and felt under the desk with her hand. She came back with the gun and for the first time a smile touched her face.

She left the study and met him coming from the living room. Her robe hung open, her hands dangled at her sides, the small pistol concealed easily in one hand. He stopped when he saw her, something about the look on her face, the set of her eyes.

“Lita, what are you doing?” He asked harshly.

“You hurt me,” she said.

“You whored… You whored just like your mother, Lita… Go back to the bedroom. I’ll be in to deal with you in a few minutes,” he said.

She continued to walk until she stood directly in front of him. “No,” she said.

His eyes flashed, his hand pulled back to slap her and Lita raised the little gun and shot him in the head twice.

She watched him fall in slow motion; he took so long to hit the floor. She looked down at him. One eye was gone and blood dripped from the socket to the floor. She watched, but he didn’t move. She couldn’t believe it had been so easy to kill him. She laughed, put the barrel of the gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Thompson Park

Late Thursday night

Ben Neo

Ben was more than pissed off. He had planned things for months and now something had happened. He had no idea what and he had now waited far too long to call Tommy. In fact he was a little surprised that Tommy hadn’t called him yet: Grateful, but surprised.

He was waiting alone by the turnout; he’d sent Ed down the road to find them some fast food. He would probably be back soon. He had decided that was better than having Ed wait and have the guys show up to do the deal. That would really fuck things up. This was his well planned last deal. Well planned right down to the last item, or so he had thought. The only thing that he could figure was that Tommy had tumbled to the fact that he was going to disappear; it made no sense, yet it was all he could think. The piece that didn’t fit was why would Tommy deliver fourteen and a half million dollars to someone he knew was going to disappear? Plus the items that only a few of them knew about: He, Tommy and two other men; that were hidden in the packaged pot. Were they really there? He had no way of knowing, would have no way of knowing until he had them in his hands. He didn’t know what to think. He only knew that as the hours slipped by he became more and more concerned.

He had spoken with Nikki and even that part of his plan had gone wrong. She was out there on Lott road waiting for him. She was his way out after he ditched the car, she would wait, plant the drugs in the cops’ car, nothing more, but she had killed some girl that had just happened onto her where she had hidden. Ben had not listened to the radio or seen any newscasts, but he wondered now if it was a good idea to do what he had planned. Maybe the cops would be watching Lott road now. Nikki said no. Nikki said they had come and taken the body and that had been that, they were none the wiser.

Nikki had taken it in stride. It was a bad place and bad things happened in bad places all the time, she had said. It was no reason to change their plans. She had gone so far as making herself up to look like the girl. She was convinced it could help them when everything else unfolded, and maybe it could, but it had not been something he had planned. Again something had gone wrong, changed despite his plans. The whole thing seemed to be falling apart.

And now there was this part of the plan, slowly falling apart as he stood waiting. Something had gone wrong, that was the only thing that he could see. Maybe someone had found out that there was something even more valuable inside the pot. Something more valuable than the entire shipment: If so… If someone had found out, all bets were off.

Whatever had happened, he knew it was over for him. It had to be, there could be no going back for any reason at all. He had gone too far. Everything was in motion, and he would be smart to be on his way, instead of hanging around to see what was going to happen here, if anything at all was going to happen.

His phone rang.

[] TWO

Thompson Park

The Cop

He had gone back, hung around long enough to be seen with the rest of the guys on the day shift and then he had left. If anyone had thought anything was strange or wondered where he had been all day, no one had said anything at all. He had stopped and picked up a sack of burgers and a couple of large coffees on the way back up to the park. Whatever the hell was going on, he intended to wait it out. He had too much invested in it now; he had no choice but to tough it out.

He sat in his car in the parking lot, munching on one of the cold burgers. A clump of congealed condiment and pickle fell into the paper wrapping. He stared at it for a second and then tossed the whole mess back into the bag in disgust. He grabbed the coffee, also cold now, and washed the taste out of his mouth.

He could hear one side of a conversation, had to be talking on the phone. He had panicked when he had come back up to the top. He had taken the opportunity to drive past the lookout when he had left and had spotted a green Ford Taurus parked there. It had been gone when he came back up. A few seconds later though, he had picked up the one sided conversation. Just grunts and a few Yeah that sounds good, or No that sounds bad, or I just don’t know. But it proved to him that there was still someone there.

Maybe they were as worried about why the deal wasn’t going down as he was, or at least the side of the conversation he could hear suggested that. The other person must have left for some reason. He had no idea why, but he had gone with the car. Maybe they had gone for food; after all they’ve been up here all day long too.

He had heard the two of them talking. Ed and Ben, and the fact that they were referring to each other as Ed and Ben meant they probably hadn’t known each other long or only had a business relationship.

The car came back a few minutes after he had gotten back, and it turned out the one called Ed had gone out for food.

He fished his cigarettes from his coat pocket and lit one. He sat, smoked and waited.

Adams

State Park Area

Danny and Daryl

Daryl opened his eyes. He closed them, opened them again and then screamed in panic. The shit had blinded him.

“I’m blind! I’m fuckin’ blind! Poison! Poison,” he screamed. He lunged forward, slammed into the dashboard and then fell back, flailing around the front seat of the car.

“What! What?” Danny yelled as he suddenly came awake to the screaming.

“We’re blind! We’re blind! It was bad shit, Danny, bad shit and it blinded us.” Daryl started to sob.

Danny’s hand shot past him in the pitch black and fumbled around on the dashboard. A second later the headlights came on, lighting up the outside and making Daryl jump and smack his head on the hangar book above the car door as the dash lights seemed to flood the interior of the car in light. He looked at the hook and rubbed his head. Who in fuck would put a hook there anyhow, he asked himself.

“We’re not blind, you goofy fuck,” Danny said. “It’s just dark; we must’ve fallen asleep or something.”

Daryl nodded… “The whole fuckin’ day, Danny? The whole day?”

“Or more,” Danny said.

Silence held for a few minutes.

“Did we do the deal, Danny?” Daryl asked hopefully?

“I don’t remember doing it,” Danny said. He reached over, pulled the keys from the ignition, got out and hurried back to the trunk. He unlocked and raised the lid. The light came on. It was all still there.

“Motherfucker,” Danny said.

Daryl came up beside him. “We’ll blame them, whoever they are… They… They did something… Right?” Daryl asked.

“How in fuck do we blame them, Daryl?” Danny asked.

“Are you stupid? We say they did it. They were late… Something,” Daryl said.

“But we’re the ones who’ve been out of touch, not them. They probably already called their people wondering where we were. They got the alibis, we don’t,” Danny said.

“He’ll kill us,” Daryl said. “We damn well better have an alibi, something: Carlos is nobody to fuck with and we know who he works for.”

“Like it’s my entire fault?” Danny asked.

“No, man, it was mixing that cocaine with that heroin, that’s what did it,” Daryl said.

“Great,” Danny said. “We’ll just tell Carlos, “Sorry man, that shit we stole from you fucked us up and we passed-out and missed the buy … I’m sure he’ll love that.”

“We really are fucked,” Daryl said. “If we don’t do the deal we can’t say they ripped us off. It’ll never be in their hands… We are so fucked.”

“Yeah? Well, start the fucking car and get us out of here before you kill the battery and then we’re stuck out here in the sticks on top of everything else: Let’s at least go see if maybe we got here too early or something,” Danny said.

Daryl looked at him. “But it’s night-time,” Daryl said as if talking to a child.

“Yeah, but maybe this shit has us so fucked up that we got here before we were even supposed to be here, you see? Like it’s not even Thursday morning yet, get it?” Danny asked.

“No, man, I don’t, ‘cause, see, we got here in the morning.”

“Yeah? Well you better start remembering it different. We’re going up there and take a look and if in the morning? If those guys aren’t there? Well, they messed it up, not us, do you see that? Do you see how we waited and waited for those fuckers and they never showed up?” Danny asked.

“Yeah… Okay… I see that,” Daryl said. He reached down, started the engine and bumped over the rutted turn out and onto the overgrown dirt road. He turned back onto the main road a short time later and headed toward Watertown.

Watertown

Lott Road

April Evans Trailer

Nikki

“Come on out, girl, I don’t bite,” John Porter said. He pounded on the trailer door.

She moved behind the door and then slipped the chain, opening it slowly.

“Hey there, Miss April, I don’t bite: Although I could be persuaded to… Why you here all alone on a Thursday night?” he asked.

“I was sleeping until you pounded on my door,” she said.

“Oh you got a little temper. Why don’t you come on out and party with me, April? You won’t be sorry,” he said.

“Not tonight, I gotta work tomorrow.” She eased the door shut and locked it back up. She lay back down on the couch where she had been and tried to drift back off.

Off Lott Road

The car seemed abandoned, and she supposed that made sense. Her concern was whether it was truly abandoned of if it only looked abandoned. She made her way silently through the dark trees, finding her way by the weak moonlight.

Lott Road

Billy Jingo

Billy sat up and scratched his head. It was late, he’d slept pretty well. He had awakened once when he heard an ambulance down the road, or cops, or whatever it had been. And that was it. He’d gone right back to sleep and slept straight through. Probably a fight in the trailer park again, he thought.

He got up, padded through to the kitchen and turned the TV on, went back and got dressed. He was on his way back to the living room when a commercial ended and a news break came on. A pretty blond, probably not much older than he himself was, smiled into the camera and began to talk as he yawned deeply.

“Good morning: Coming up on News Fifteen in ten minutes, your local headlines, sports and weather. Topping our local headlines this morning the grisly discovery of the body of a young woman earlier this morning on Lott road; police are releasing no details, but a source has told News Fifteen that they do suspect foul play. The body was discovered in a drainage ditch by a passing motorist. In world news, Mieka Petre, USGS lead seismologist tells us that everyone can release their collective breath over the news that DX2379R, the errant meteor that was said to be on a collision course with Earth early next month, will actually miss us by thousands of miles.”

“Whew,” the lead anchor, a young man named James, with jet black hair said and laughed. “Had me worried.”

“Had all of us worried, James” the female lead agreed. She returned the laugh before she began speaking once more. “Cable Corp has issued an apology for the wide spread internet outages of the last several days. They are blaming it on faulty satellite down feeds, hinting that maybe the government has been messing with their transmissions.” She nodded toward the handsome anchor somewhere off camera. “Cue the conspiracy theorists,” she joked. The anchor chuckled briefly off screen as she turned back to the camera with a serious expression on her face once more. “And this from a small village in Ecuador, the jungle of the living dead? The locals claim their relatives are returning from the dead. All that and more inside of 10 minutes: But first these messages from our sponsors…”

Billy closed his mouth. Well, he thought, it wasn’t the first body to be found out here. Just before he had moved here they found the body of a local prostitute whose throat had been cut. She’d been dumped nearly in front of his house.

He headed back toward the bathroom. Probably the same thing again, he thought. Welcome to your night off, Billy.

Friday morning

Public Park Turnout

Mistakes

Ben Neo

The headlights swept the area of the lookout and then flicked off. Ben waited to see what would happen next. The car had parked right next to their car, but they had not been in it: They were a hundred yards up, just inside the tree line, waiting.

The door opened and a light came on. A voice: “It’s the right color, maybe it is them,” the voice said. A young, thin black man stepped out into the circles of light cast by the headlights and stretched his legs.

The driver, a shorter, even skinnier white kid, got out and looked around. “I don’t see them,” he said. He lit a cigarette and then shut the car door. “Yo ho,” he said loudly. “If you’re here speak up. We know we’re late.”

The silence held. Ben put one finger to his lips so Ed wouldn’t be tempted to answer.

“Told you: They’re fuckin’ long gone,” the black kid said.

Ben made a follow me motion and headed over to the car. Not really sneaking, but walking quietly. He held his gun at his side and Ed did the same.

Both men were smoking now and looking out at the city lights. Ben walked right up to them and then purposely ground his foot into the gravel to make a noise. Both of them screamed and jumped.

“Where the fuck have you two been?” Ben asked. He actually was mad, but he was even more relieved and trying hard not to laugh at the way they had screamed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” the black kid asked. He seemed to recover the quickest. “We don’t know you.”

“Yeah?” Ben asked. “Do you know Carlos by any chance? Are you two sorry looking fuckers Daryl and Danny? Huh? Would that be you two?”

“Man, there ain’t no call to cuss,” Daryl said.

“No? Then explain why you’re almost twenty-four fuckin’ hours late?” Ben asked.

“Car broke down. Carlos only gave us enough for this shit box and it broke down,” Daryl said.

“For twenty-four hours?” Ben asked.

“Hey, man, we had to get a part, okay?” Daryl asked.

“What part?” Ben asked.

“The mother fuckin’ alternator, okay, white man?” he asked.

“No need to go in that direction,” Ben said.

“Yeah? Then get off my fuckin’ back,” Daryl said. “And put those guns away unless you’re gonna use them.” He pulled a gun partway out of his own pocket. It looked like a Chinese made 9 mm to Ben.

Ben was tempted to shoot the kid just for the threat, but he slipped his own pistol back into his jacket pocket, walked over to the Ford’s trunk, unlocked it and swung up the trunk lid. “You ready or what?” he asked.

Up The Hill

The Cop

It felt like he broke his kneecap when he slammed it into the bottom of the dashboard. He must have dozed off, he told himself. When he had come awake, he had heard them talking and realized the deal was finally going down. He had sprung suddenly forward and rammed the knee right into the lower metal lip of the dashboard. He had jumped out of the car, rubbed the knee for a second and then started down the hill at a quick pace.

It was maybe a quarter mile and he wasn’t in bad shape, but he wasn’t in great shape either: And the knee was not helping at all. It was the goddamn cigarettes, which was what the worst of it was: Killed your wind; heart, lungs, bad shit. He had to stop soon before they fucking killed him.

By the time he got close to the lookout he had to stop and catch his breath. He didn’t want them to hear him breathing heavy; he meant to sneak up on them. He finally caught his breath and crept forward into the woods that surrounded the lookout area.

The Turnout

The Deal

Daryl opened the trunk of the Toyota and picked up the blue duffel bag, he tossed it to Ben and Ben caught it deftly. Ben stared at him until Daryl broke the stare.

“If you want it any time you can have it,” Ben said softly.

Daryl’s eyes cut back up. “What’s that supposed to mean, white boy?” His hand plunged into his jacket pocket.

“Words to an old song,” Ben said and smiled. The smile didn’t extend to his eyes. His eyes said, ‘If you want a piece of me you can have it.’ Daryl looked away again.

Ben set the bag down and ran the zipper. He pulled a few bricks out, counted and then looked back at Daryl who refused to meet his gaze. His eyes kept sliding way.

“A little short,” Ben said.

“My ass,” Daryl said.

“It is going to be your ass,” Ben agreed quietly. “There are two and two missing. See this mark?” He turned one of the bricks over to show a mark in the shape of a star. “I know that mark. That mark tells me a lot: Where it came from, which clan made it, and what it is: Pure heroin. I mean pure. Hasn’t been touched. From Torres, deep Mexico.” He turned the other brick upside down. A double circle with a triangle was stamped on the wrapper. “Also pure, this time cocaine: Almonte’s crew, Ecuador. I know this stuff, like I said. And I know what should be here. Two and two missing. Cough it up.” His gun magically appeared in his hand.

“Hey, man,” Danny said. “I think we need to calm down. Why you wanna kill someone right off the bat, man, huh?”

“Where is it?” Ben asked. He set the duffel bag into the trunk, and switched the gun to his shooting hand. “I don’t necessarily want to kill anyone, but I will. I have no problem with that.” He lifted the gun and aimed it at Daryl’s head.

“Hey,” Daryl started.

“Drop the mother fuckin’ gun,” a new voice yelled out. “Don’t think about changing positions… I mean all of you fucks: All of you; starting with you, wise guy. Bring that gun down.” The man who owned the voice stepped up behind him and pressed the barrel of a gun to Ben’s neck. Ben’s hand dropped and the man took the gun from him. “On the ground out flat, hands behind your head,” the man told him.

The cop took Ben’s gun and dropped it into the blue duffel bag. He took Ed’s gun, then Daryl’s, and Danny’s last. He checked the cars, found the other 9 mm in the glove box. He took Ed’s bundle of cash when he searched him, whistling as he did. He dropped the cash and the three cheap, black 9 mm guns into the blue duffel bag, which he set into the open trunk of the Ford. He holstered his own weapon and flipped the safety off the small Chinese gun Daryl had been carrying; he stepped back and tripped over the curb. The gun went flying and all hell broke loose.

Ben jumped up and caught Ed’s elbow dragging him backwards fast. Daryl and Danny grabbed the brown suitcase, threw it onto the back seat of the Toyota and jumped inside.

Ben had retrieved his spare gun, a 22 caliber, and was fishing for his silenced 9 mm from his inside jacket pocket. He had been about to make his own move when the cop made the mistake of tripping, playing right into Ben’s game plan.

The cop found his feet, got his own gun back into his hands and then ran for the woods. Ben got his other gun from his jacket, passed the 22 to Ed, and palmed the 9 mm himself. They both duck walked around to the front of the Ford, got to the door, levered it open and got in. Ed crawled across to the passenger’s seat while Ben jumped into the driver’s seat. A shot came from behind them, staring the rear window and passing through the fleshy part of Ben’s shoulder. Ed leaned out the window and opened up on Daryl who was leaning out of the driver’s side of the Toyota trying for another shot. He apparently had no idea how to use the gun. He ducked downward into the car when Ed fired back.

“Ed, you gotta drive. You gotta drive, Ed” Ben said. He held his shoulder as he slid across the seat and they switched places. Ed was nervous, but he got the car going. He started to turn around to see where he was going, but another shot starred the glass and he simply floored the Ford and dropped it into reverse.

The Ford leapt backwards, smashed into the rear quarter panel of the Toyota and pushed past it. The Toyota skipped across the gravel as the Ford screeched past it, spun around, and came to a stop pointing outward. Ed floored it and started out of the turnout.

Daryl had the Toyota started a second later. “We got to get them, Danny. We got to get them or were dead, man. We got to.” He spun the wheel hard left on the Toyota, jammed the gas pedal to the floorboard and slewed around, clipping the stone wall and then screaming out onto the blacktop; chasing after the Ford.

Ben managed to get his cell phone out of his pocket and punched in a number.

“I’m coming to you,” he said… “No… Like a dream… A bad fuckin’ dream… I’ve been shot… Not bad, but be ready for me.” He clicked off the phone and shoved it into his pocket. “I’m gonna tell you where to turn. Don’t sweat it. This was part of the plan, except being shot and it was supposed to be just the cop, not those two dip shits. Now it’ll probably be both… I can shoot: If I have to take them out I will… You understand, Ed, you got me? You drive. Turn when I tell you, we’ll be fine. Drive hard, but don’t lose them. They stole from us, we have to get that back, plus the cop was probably parked farther away. We have to give him time to reach his car and follow us.”

Ed nodded.

“Good… He took a deep breath. The pain was heavy in his shoulder: Maybe a fractured bone, maybe worse; maybe just the freshness of the wound. “Okay, turn left at the bottom of the hill. First left, that will get us on our way.” Ben told him.

Up the Hill Again

The Cop

He made it back to the car and nearly passed out. He couldn’t open the door. The door was stuck, and then he remembered he had locked it. He reached into his pocket for his keys but the pocket was empty. He searched his other pocket, his coat, but there were no keys.

He yelled. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” He slammed his fists into the top of the car over and over again. He finally turned around, leaned back against the car and then slid to the ground.

He stayed that way for a while; he had no idea how long. Finally, the rage passed and he got back to his feet and walked off down the hill in search of the keys.

Thankfully, most of the lookout was well lit. Still, he didn’t find the keys until he was at the absolute end of his journey. They were on the ground amid some scuffed up earth, just about a foot past the curbing he had tripped over.

He pocketed the keys just as the sound of distance sirens came to him and looking out over the city he saw the red lights pulsing in the valley below the park. He sighed and began to run once again.

Lott Road

Nikki

She ran to the car, a little spooked to be out here on her own in the pitch black of the early morning. She got the car started, pulled out of its hiding place, and headed for the next road over that paralleled Lott road. There was a four by four trail that cut across to a mud bog; the trail also joined the two roads. She made the parallel road, which was really nothing more than another old logging trail, this one in only slightly better shape because it was used to reach the river where it ran nearby. An unofficial party spot for most of the teenagers that lived around here: This early on a Friday morning it was deserted. She parked the car, locked it and headed off through the trees at a run.

The Cop

He raced for the entrance on the back side of the park, hoping he would make it before one of the police cars came up that way.

He was nearly halfway to the bottom when he realized it was probably stupid to go down and chance getting caught: Wherever they had gone to he didn’t know. He stopped, did a fast K turn, took the bubble out from under his seat and plugged it in: He started back up the hill.

When he got back to the turnout there were already four cars there, and another one came up from where he had come just as he was parking.

Lott Road

Nikki

She waited. She heard them coming before they actually got there and it worried her.

She pulled the 9 mm out of her waist band. Flicked off the safety and slipped back into the trees. There was only the one trailer down this far where Ben planned to dump the car, Jingo’s trailer and it looked like he was up: That wasn’t part of the plan either.

She thought about taking him out of the equation right then, before he could become a problem. She was nearly to the door to do just that when the lights splashed across her as the cars made the turn about a quarter mile away and headed toward them. She heard gunshots and hoped they were coming from Ben and no one else. If this was going down close to right, Ben’s car would be the first car, but she couldn’t be sure. Everything else had gotten screwed up, not gone according to plan, so there was no real reason to expect that this part of it hadn’t also been screwed up.

It was her job to get the cop set up. To get Ben away; posing as April Evans to get the cop set up had been her own idea. She didn’t belong here, that was how she ended up with the problem with April Evans in the first place. April Evans, on the other hand, lived here. No one would find her being here out of place. She had spent last night in her trailer. All she had to do was plant the shit that Ben had given her in the cop’s car. She had it in a small duffel bag along with her own things, then catch up to Ben later.

She was supposed to call him once she was away. An easy job, it had seemed, and Ben had planned it out. But now it was all going down and she wasn’t so sure she could do what she was supposed to do.

And it really wasn’t according to plan. It was supposed to be three cars and she could see there were only two cars. Either the two delivery guys we’re missing or the cop was. She had no way of knowing, and no more time to think about it. She stepped out into the backyard of the trailer so Ben would see her.

One Week Earlier

Rochester

Nikki

Nikki’s eyes opened slowly. It was early. So early that the light seeping around the edges of the drapes was the orange sodium vapor light of the city street lights outside, dawn was not yet here. She slipped quietly from the bed and the warmth of Ben’s body and made her way to the bathroom, the wood floors cold against her bare feet.

She made her way into the bathroom without a light and then nearly tripped over something on the floor. She cursed quietly, toed the door shut and then flipped on the light.

Ben’s robe: He liked, for some reason known only to him, to hang it on a hook on the back of the door. Fine, except the hook was missing the end and the robe often slipped off onto the floor and lay there waiting to trip her up in the middle of the night when she least expected it. She scooped it up and returned it to the hook and that was when she saw the scrap of paper on the floor.

She stared at it a long time. Things that were written on scraps of paper, to her limited experience, were always bad things. She could not think of a single good thing that could come from picking that scrap of paper up and doing anything other than returning it to the robe pocket it had fallen out of. Not a single thing. She picked it up and unfolded it: Smoothed it out against her palm.

The handwriting was Ben’s. No doubt about that. There was little written, but what was written caused her heart to go cold instantly.

Call Jilly.

Jilly: You could not mistake that name for a man’s name. It was a woman’s name. No number. And that implied that he knew the number well enough that he didn’t need to write it down. Nothing else, just the reminder to call her; why, Nikki asked herself, did Ben need to call Jilly? Ben said they shared everything. Nothing was hidden. She had certainly hidden nothing from him. So why had she never heard this woman’s name before she had found this scrap of paper with it written on it.

She reached over, turned the light back off, and sat down on the toilet lid thinking. She sat for nearly twenty minutes before she remembered why she had gotten up in the first place. She stood, raised the lid, remembered the slip of paper, now no more than a crumpled ball, wet with her sweat and opened her hand allowing it to roll off her palm into the water. She lowered her pajama bottoms and sat down once more.

When she made her way back to the bedroom she was subdued, but the anger at being betrayed was building inside of her. She made her way back under the sheets, but she did not snuggle into Ben’s warmth where she had been. Instead, she lay awake waiting for the sunrise. Wondering exactly who Jilly was and what she had that she didn’t.

Friday Morning

Lott road

Ben Neo

“The girl… See the girl, Ed? Head for the girl. That’s where we’re going,” Ben yelled. He leaned out the back window, took as careful an aim as he could, and fired eight rounds of his clip into the driver’s side windshield of the Toyota. He turned back quickly. “I’m sorry, Ed,” he said, but Ed didn’t hear him. Ben placed the gun close to the back of his head and fired the last two shots. He levered his door handle and waited for the car to jump the ditch.

The Ford came back down with a hard jolt, nearly tearing the door handle out of Ben’s grasp: He pushed the door and rolled out across the blackness of the yard. Off to his side he heard the car hit a tree. He made his feet, his shoulder screaming in pain now, and spun around looking for the girl, he found her and limped to her. He had done something to the ankle, either kicking the door open or when he jumped, hopefully it was only turned. They limped off as fast as he could move. Her supporting him on one side as they made their way through the woods to where she had parked the car.

“Your head is bleeding badly, Ben, very badly,” Nikki said.

He felt his head, but it didn’t seem too serious. “Head wounds bleed heavily. It’s what they do… It’ll be okay,” he told her. “Gotta check the shoulder when we get to the car it’s worse than the ankle.”

They reached the car and she unlocked the trunk and pulled out a small medical kit Ben had insisted upon. She took some gauze, pads and white tape, fixing up his head and one knee, while he stripped off his clothes and patched up his shoulder. The shoulder, she saw, was not as bad as his head, only a flesh wound. The head was gashed open. He redressed quickly in clean clothes. She pushed a hat onto his head carefully, angling it low to hide the bandaging and handed him a wallet. He flipped it opened and smiled.

“You have to go, baby. You have to,” she said.

He kissed her and she pulled away. “Go,” she said.

“I don’t want you to stay,” he said. “The cop… The cop didn’t follow…”

“But he might: Can’t change the plan now; besides we have to know what happens to keep them from looking for you… We have to if we’re ever going to be able to breathe easy, baby.” She kissed him again. “Go, if the cop shows up I’ll get the shit into his car.”

He looked at her once more, threw all the old stuff into the back of the car in a plastic bag that he would dispose of later, and started the car. “Make sure you get the pot out of the Toyota… Leave here and go right there and get that.”

She shook her head. “What’s so special about that?”

Ben laughed. “I’ll tell you later. You better go. Just don’t forget to get that… Leave everything else.”

She nodded. “You and me?” she asked as she kissed him.

“You and me,” he agreed. He tried to hold her eyes, but they slid away.

Nikki

Nikki turned and ran back through the woods. She had been gone too long. Everything was swimming around in her head.

In the last few days before she had left she had decided a few things. First, Ben was a killer. She knew that. It was how he made a living. It wouldn’t be hard for him to kill her, she supposed. She knew that sounded unreasonable, probably was wildly unreasonable to anyone else, but she couldn’t get it out of her head, and who lived with a man with those capabilities anyway? She did. What if they were over and Jilly was now in the picture? And suppose he needed her gone because she knew too much: Way too much. What would he do? Tell her it was over and show her the door? She didn’t believe it. What she did believe, what had gotten into her head, was that he would take her somewhere and kill her. She would never know it was coming. It was what he did, and he was good at it.

The second thing she decided was to take the suitcase of money for herself. She didn’t have it all planned out as well as Ben would have. He was a good planner. He drilled that into her head, plan, plan, and plan! But she had done a pretty good job nonetheless. She would go back, get the money out of Ben’s car, and she would take it right back to April Evans trailer. Hide in plain site for a day or two until everything calmed down. Then she would buy a bus ticket for California: One way. No one, Ben included, would ever find her. She had April Evans ID. She had made herself up so that she looked just like her. It wasn’t a long drawn out plan, but it was solid. It was solid and it would work. Fuck Ben Neo and Jilly Whoever-the-fuck-she-was.

She concentrated on running. There was a path that led through the woods that helped, but even with that she had to slow down as she got closer to keep the noise down. She finally reached the edge of the woods, settled herself just inside the tree line, and watched as Billy Jingo took everything that she had decided to take for herself. She had come very close to shooting him and then she had heard the sirens coming in the distance.

The cop still had not shown up, but she didn’t have any intention of trying to plant the drugs and money on him anyway. The way she felt about Ben she couldn’t have cared less if his former boss came after him. In fact it would suit her plans better. Keep anyone from looking for her.

The money was in the purse she carried, the drugs she had thrown into the woods two days before in a fit of anger: Even after she had calmed down she had not gone back to retrieve them. Let someone find them in a week or a year or never, she didn’t care.

She thought for a second longer as the sirens grew louder. Billy Jingo was now back outside his trailer, sitting on the front steps as though nothing at all had just happened: Oblivious to her presence just a few hundred feet away in the tree line. She took a deep breath and then threw her gun deep into the woods: She made her way quickly, back to the trail that would take her back down the road to April Evans trailer.

Thompson Park

The Cop

He had been about to leave when one of the uniforms told him that dispatch had said to have him call. They were giving the call to him since he was on the scene and it looked like the problem may have left the park and culminated in some shooting and a car crash out on Lott road.

He got on the radio and got the particulars. There had been no way to avoid it, but maybe it was better this way. He had a reason for being here now. He might have to come up with a reason why he was out driving around so early, but he would figure something out if it came up. He may not even need to come up with anything at all. Maybe no one would ever ask him and it would just blow over.

He walked back to his car, climbed in and put the bubble on the dashboard. He called two of the uniforms over and told them to secure the scene for the techs that would be coming out and told them where he was going.

He backed the car out, pulled out of the lookout and headed down out of the park. He wondered if this was the same thing. And if so what had happened out on Lott road to bring it all to an end. He wondered too about the bundle of cash he had held, if only for a very brief time. He lit a cigarette, cursed the habit and sucked the smoke greedily into his lungs.

He reached the bottom of the hill, blew the stop sign and bore left. He fell in behind two other units that were on their way out to Lott road too.

USGS Alaska

Mieka Petre

Mieka leaned forward overshadowing Jane Howe as he studied her monitor.

“Looks good,” he said. Her monitor showed a running seismic graph representing the valley floor of the Yellowstone Caldera. All change had been negligible for the last seventy-two hours.

“It is,” Jane agreed. “All the equations show nearly the same thing… Our equations anyway.”

Mieka laughed. “Ours are the only ones that matter, Jane: The only ones. They pay us precisely for this. Years of waiting, all validated in a few weeks time.”

“Time will prove us right, Mieka. I know that.”

“If anything changes, let me know… I’ll be rechecking David’s final calculations on DX2379R.”

“Anything?” Jane asked.

“No… No, I’m sure he made a miscalculation…” He leaned close to her and lowered his voice. “Such a minor mistake can make such a large error in distance. I’m confidant my initial figures are correct.” He absently patted her shoulder and wandered off; his mind already turning to the problem with DX2379R, the same meteor he had already announced would miss the Earth by a few hundred thousand miles. David’s calculations had narrowed that margin to less than thirty thousand miles. Much closer: Much more capable of crust deformation at that distance. It worried him.

He realized at that moment that a frown had slipped onto his face. A frown showed lack of confidence, worry, and concern with things that he should not be concerned with. He pushed the frown away and smiled out at the room as he crossed to his office.

Friday Morning:

Lott Road

Billy Jingo

Billy Jingo had sat watching his television just minutes before: An old war movie, boring, but it was three A.M. and there were only the local stations that he could get, plus the one from Canada when the weather was right, or what-ever had to be right for an antenna to work. Tonight it wasn’t working. Excuse me; he corrected himself, this morning. Whatever needed to be right wasn’t. It had looked like a good film too, but the goddamn thing had kept fading in and out so much that he had gotten a headache trying to watch it. He’d finally settled for the old war movie on one of the local stations.

He had been trying to nurse his last beer. He’d been sure that there was one more left, but he’d been wrong. Somehow he had miscounted and that was unlike him. He always knew how many beers he had to the can: Somehow he’d messed up the count tonight. There were no more. He’d even moved the green loaf of bread, which he had hated to do, but he had moved it only to find nothing behind it. He had hoped the one remaining can had rolled behind it, but it had not been behind the moldy bread. He had been wrong.

It hadn’t occurred to him to throw out the moldy loaf of bread while he was at it. Instead, he had gotten one of the spatulas from the silverware drawer, levered it under the bread and then pushed it to the side only to find no beer can hiding there. He had then levered the loaf of bread back into the original position it had been in.

So he had been nursing his last beer: The last beer and no money for beer. And it was Friday: That meant the rest of Friday, Friday night, and the whole weekend loomed ahead dry. It was too depressing to think about. He had tried to focus on the movie instead.

His trailer was located at the end of Lott road, a dirt road on the outskirts of the city two miles beyond the county dump. Nobody really wanted to live on Lott road it seemed, except Billy, and if he were honest with himself he didn’t really want to live here either, he simply had no choice. His crappy job only paid him enough for a crappy place to live. This was it: The crappiest of the crappiest. In fact, he reminded himself, the morning before the cops had taken the body of a young girl out of the ditch just down the road. Found by someone driving by. She hadn’t been there very long either; someone had killed her and dumped her there. It was definitely a crappy place to live. He knew that for a fact because he had gone looking. There were no crappier places. Except maybe the trailer park down the road, he thought, but that was also part of Lott road, so it didn’t count.

He owned neither the trailer nor the lot. He did own the furniture, which had been easy. He had simply cruised every street in the city on garbage day: A chair here, another one there. The mattress and box springs he’d gotten from the Salvation Army. Thirty bucks and only pee stained on one side, well mostly only the one side. There was some other stain on the other side, but he wasn’t sure what that stain was. It didn’t exactly look like a pee stain. Anyway, it was barely noticeable and the guy in the store had sworn that they weren’t really pee stains, but water stains. Billy wasn’t too sure about that. His own brother had wet the bed until he was ten and they had slept in the same bed. He knew what a pee stain looked like and this looked like a pee stain. Still, it had been a good deal and stains couldn’t hurt him: After all when his brother had been wetting the bed he had probably peed on him a time or two, if he could live with that he could live with a little pee stain: If it was a pee stain. And if they were pee stains, they were on the other side of the mattress, he had added optimistically. Besides, they disinfected those things. The guy said so. They sprayed them down with something that killed everything on them and in them. He had grinned, tipped his beer, nearly took a large swallow, took a small sip instead and then lowered the can depressed all over again about the long, dry weekend ahead of him.

Five or six garbage runs and one trip to the city dump, where they didn’t mind if you took half the dump away with you, and he had been furnished. It was amazing the things people threw away. He had sipped carefully at his beer as he reminisced, pulled a crumpled cigarette from his pack and lit it with a long, wooden kitchen match.

There was an old fashioned wood stove store in town and he stopped there once or twice a week for kitchen matches. Not that they gave them away for free, but they used them for the stoves so there was always a box or two lying around that he could help himself to.

Day old bread and doughnuts at the bakery twice a week, those cheap ten pound bags of chicken and what they had called Crack Head soups in Jail, noodle soups to the rest of the world, and there was his weekly food budget. The only other things he needed were gas and of course beer and cigarettes.

The rest of his paycheck went for the rent and utilities. Sometimes it was close, but he always made it somehow. The real bummer this morning was that he had today off and the whole weekend too and he’d have to stay here watching the crappy T.V. … Sober…

His job Monday through Thursday was cleaning for a maintenance company. They only required that you showed up. They ran you all over the city to clean supermarkets; banks; mall shops that were closed. He worked the nights away pretty quickly. Go to work at five P.M. Next thing you knew it was one thirty in the morning and they were through for another night. He kept telling himself that he would have to get a better job if he ever wanted to be better off in the world. A job that paid more than minimum wage had to be in his future. He was sure there were plenty of them out there; he just didn’t know where to look. Some day, he told himself, some day.

He had taken another deep drag off his cigarette and then sipped carefully at his beer. He thought about the girl’s body and realized she could have been killed while he had been sleeping. The thought had made him shudder, he hated this place.

He had just set the beer down carefully on the coffee table. It was scared with cigarette burns and missing the tip of one leg, but it had been free and an old paperback novel held up that corner of the table well enough. As he had looked back up from the coffee table, lights had swept across the living room wall, bouncing up and down and back and forth. Because his was the last place on the road, every car that came down the road lit up his living room. These headlights however seemed a little more frantic, bobbing, and darting across the wall and then a second set shot up onto the wall too, jittering and jumping across the cheap wood paneling.

Twice now cars had come down the road, shot right across the bare dirt of his front yard and into the woods before they had been stopped by the trees. Billy had a fear about some car, some day, hitting the bedroom wall while he slept. So far it had just been the woods, but you could never tell. He had jumped up quickly and run to the window.

It had been immediately obvious that this was something different from just some drunk not realizing that the road was about to end. The lead car had been flat out. He had heard the whine of the engine as it came. The car behind had been trying to stay close, tapping the back bumper of the lead car, causing it to slew all over the dirt road. Apparently that hadn’t been good enough because a second later the passenger had leaned out of the car’s window and opened up on the lead car with what had looked to be some sort of hand held machine pistol. Billy had let out a startled squawk, ducked below the window and then popped right back up. Now he found himself staring out the window, breathing fast, where what seemed like only seconds ago he had been carefully sipping at his beer watching the TV.

The shots had taken out the rear window, traveled through the car and taken out part of the front windshield too. And from the large red stain on the spider webbed remains of that window, Billy guessed it had taken out the driver too. Maybe even the passenger had there been one. There was a lot of red.

Shit, Billy thought. That meant that the lead car was not going to be able to stop, it was nearly on the trailer already as it screamed forward. Billy calculated quickly and realized the car would miss the trailer. At the same time the driver of the rear car locked up his brakes, suddenly realizing that he was on a dead end road, and the car began to slide in the dirt. Billy’s eyes shifted back to the front car which hit the end of the road, jumped up over the drainage ditch and roared through the front yard just missing the edge of the trailer, shaking the thin walls; engine still screaming. It was out of his eyesight for less than a split second before he heard the crash. The big oak in the back yard, he thought.

His eyes came back to the second car long enough to see it slide down into the drainage ditch at full speed, catch its nose on the opposite edge and then flip end over end across an empty lot before it crashed down on the edge of a cement slab that was trailer-less and had been since he, Billy, had moved out here. Billy crouched down quickly to the floor, grabbed his boots and wedged his feet into them. He ran to the kitchen, grabbed a flashlight off the counter and headed out the front door at a run…

~

The smell of hot metal filled the air. Billy looked to the car down the road, partway onto the cement pad first: The trunk had popped open and all manner of stuff that had been inside now lay scattered across the ground. Hot oil and antifreeze dripped from under the hood and onto the concrete. The front roof line was smashed flat to the top of the driver’s seats. The backseat area seemed untouched.

He slipped around the end of the trailer and looked at the other car. A newer Ford: He could see the badge on the rear deck. The front end of the car was wrapped around the oak in the backyard just as he had thought and steam was rising up into the air. The Ford first, he decided. The car across the road would have to wait.

The Ford had hit the tree and climbed it a few feet before it came to a complete stop. Billy had to stand on tip toe to peer into it. The driver had no head left, which had been the huge stain on the windshield. There was no passenger. Looking out from the inside it was not just red but gray and black too: Bone, hair and brain matter. His stomach did a quick flip and he began to close his eyes as he turned away.

As he turned, his eyes caught on the floorboard and a blue duffel bag that was jammed into the space with the drivers legs. There was no way that the door was going to open, but the glass was gone from the window. He balanced over the edge of the door trying to stay as far away as he could from the dead man as he did, leaned in and tried to snag the duffel bag. His fingers brushed the two plastic handles, but he could not get a grip on them.

Billy levered himself further over the window sill and nearly came down into the dead man’s lap as he lost his balance and his feet left the ground. His hand shot down quickly, bounced off the dead man’s thigh and hit the seat, stopping him just a few inches above the man’s lap and a small splattering of bone and blood that was there. His hand slipped, but he pressed down harder and held himself.

He could feel the slick blood and splinters of bone under his hand, but he pushed the knowledge out of his mind, took a deep breath, braced himself and then reached down with his free hand and snatched the handles pulling the heavy bag free.

He pulled back, but the bag was so heavy that he had to hold on tight and push off the seat with his other hand. For one alarming second it seemed he would fall forward into the dead man’s lap. After a second of indecision his body dropped back down to the ground, the bag in his hand. He thought about the trunk as he started to turn away, reached back in, shut off the dead ignition, pulled the keys free and hurried around to the trunk.

The trunk held nothing but a black suitcase. He debated briefly, then reached in and took it. He went back, put the keys back into the ignition, and turned it back to the On position. What else! What else! His mind asked.

His heart felt like it was beating a mile a minute, skipping beats, and his breath was tearing in and out of his lungs so quickly that it was painful. He could think of nothing he had forgotten. He told himself there was nothing else and then immediately he thought of the glove compartment. He ran back around the passenger’s side of the car, dropped the bags and pushed the button on the glove box. A small paper bag and a dull, black pistol rested inside.

He took a deep breath, thought for a moment and then took both, slammed the glove box shut, picked up the bags and ran for the trailer. He booted the door open, threw the bags inside, slammed the door and then started for the other car down the road. He stopped mid stride, bent double and nearly threw up. He caught himself, forced himself to take several slow breaths and stood experimentally. It seemed as though his stomach had decided the remains of the beer could stay for now and so he trotted off down the road to the other car.

This was an older Toyota, not one of the small ones though, one of the ones that seemed almost as big as an American car. He stopped thirty feet away. Two large plastic garbage bags had fallen from the popped trunk. They were both crisscrossed with gray duct tape, bound tightly. Two black duffel bags were jumbled in a heap nearby, along with what looked like a cheap foam ice chest. The ice chest had ruptured and splintered when it hit the ground spilling beer, soda, and packages of lunch meat and cheese out onto the ground. Mixed in, and what had really caught his attention, were small brick sized packages, also bound with duct tape.

His heart was still racing hard. There was no one anywhere yet. No sirens. The nearest neighbors were Suncrest Trailer Park, nearly a mile back down the road… No car lights… Nothing.

He tried to carry both bales, but they were too heavy. He had to make two trips. The duct taped bricks, which could only mean one thing to his way of thinking, both duffel bags and two six packs of the beer that hadn’t ruptured went next. He had debated about the beer but decided he could not leave it. He came back one more time, looked at a few more cans of beer and the packages of bologna and cheese and decided what the hell. He quickly picked them up and took them too. It would be something to put into the ‘fridge except the moldy loaf of bread he told himself.

He walked back down the road once more. He reached the car where it lay flipped onto its roof and had just started around the hood when he heard a soft pop. He stopped as the hood area suddenly burst into flames. The sharp smell of gasoline hit his nose and he jumped backwards just that fast. The car didn’t blow, but he stayed clear watching it as it began to burn, allowing his thoughts and breathing to began to slow down. It had seemed like a log jam of thoughts all trying to be expressed at the same time. He thought back as he watched the flames begin to build from under the hood.

Not long ago a car had plowed into that same Oak in his back yard where the other car was now. It was just the way that Oak lined up with the road. That driver had not hit as hard. He had jumped from the car and run for the woods that began in back of the trailer at a dead run. Billy had come out to look over the wreck a little closer. The jimmied ignition told him the story. The car had been stolen. He had heard sirens in the distance and said to hell with it, reached into the car and grabbed a cheap 22. pistol from the front seat, and an unopened and miraculously unbroken bottle of whiskey from the floorboards. He had barely stashed them before the cops had shown up.

He had stood on the sidelines and watched as the cops had popped the trunk to expose a large collection of electronic gear. Flat screen televisions, game consoles, DVD players, a shotgun and several more bottles of whiskey too. He had kicked himself over that one and vowed not to let something like that happen again should providence ever grace him with a second chance: Here was that second chance.

He had no phone, but the way the flames were leaping into the air he was sure someone farther down the road would be calling the fire department soon. The heat was already intense.

He squatted down, shaded his eyes against the glare of the flames, and tried to see into the back seat. No one, or if there was anyone else in the car he couldn’t see them, but he did see a large suitcase resting on the roof of the car just inside the shattered rear door glass. He debated for a split second and then ran forward and grabbed for the bag, pulling it from inside the wreck. It was heavy and hot to the touch: The imitation brown leather sticky on one corner and melting. Whatever was in it, he told himself, would not have lasted much longer. He was headed back up the road from the wreck when he spotted a grocery bag spilled into the ditch. It was mainly intact so he picked that up too and ran for the trailer.

Behind him he could hear the sirens now. They were on their way and that meant there would probably be neighbors on the way too… Any minute, he told himself. He got the trailer door opened, jumped inside and closed it. He set the grocery bag on the counter. His heart was beginning to slam in his chest once more. He picked up the suitcases and duffel bags and hurried them back to the bedroom. He came back, threw the grocery bag and the packages of lunch meat and cheese into the refrigerator, debated briefly about the loaf of moldy bread, but decided to leave it. He looked back into the fridge. It looked crowded: Beer, lunch meat, cheese, bread. It was the most he could ever recall seeing in there at one time before.

He stepped back letting the door swing shut and looked around the kitchen-living room area: Nothing looked out of place. He could not imagine that the cops would want to come in here for any reason, but if they did they wouldn’t find anything.

He looked down at his hands, grimaced at the blood and specks of bone. A smear of drying blood decorated one shirtsleeve. He looked down at the front of the shirt and saw it was streaked with blood and gore. He turned and ran to the bathroom stripping off the shirt as he went: As he looked down at his jeans he noticed they were gore spattered to. He peeled them off just as quickly, kicking his boots aside. He left the bathroom and went to the bedroom where he dug a wrinkled pair of jeans from the basket there, a clean shirt from the dresser, and quickly re-dressed. He sat back on the bed, pulled the jeans up and shoved his left foot into one of his sneakers lying next to the bed where he had left them the night before. He stood, jammed his right foot into the other sneaker, danced around unbalanced for a moment as he tugged the zipper home, buttoned the top and threw himself back down onto the tangle of sheets to work the sneakers on the rest of the way and lace them.

His heart had become a racing engine once again, all high speed and flat out, and he tried to calm down as he smoothed the sheets out flat and then walked down the short hall, opened the door and stepped down the rickety steps and into the bare dirt front yard.

He could not see the fire engines or police cars, whichever it was that were coming. Both eventually, he told himself, but the sirens were loud and a half dozen people were walking down the road towards his place and the car that was burning. They were still a quarter of a mile away. He forced his breathing to slow down for the second time, and sat down on the top step waiting. The smoke from the fire was thick and black, spiraling up into the air. The smells of cooking meat and burning plastic hung in the air, competing with each other, causing his stomach to flip once more. The smoke seemed to catch in the trees, unable to rise further: Pools of it snaked along the ground, drifting slowly.

The lights came into view within a few seconds. They were far down the road, but closing fast. Within a few seconds a city police car skidded to a shuddering stop on the dirt road, followed by two sheriff cars. Two fire engines came next, coasting to a stop behind the sheriff cars, and then swung around them angling down toward the burning car. Billy Jingo rose from the steps and began walking down the road to meet them.

Cops

All the cops were calling on their radios at once it seemed to Billy. He broke into a run and the city cop looked his way.

“There’s another one in my back yard with a dead guy too,” he yelled.

The cop looked amazed for a moment and then went back to talking on his radio once more. He finished, threw the radio handset back into his car, and glancing once more at the burning car, he turned and followed Billy into his back yard.

“Jesus,” the young cop said. “That happened when he hit the tree? No way!”

“The other car was shooting at them,” Billy said. He immediately wished he had kept his mouth shut.

“You saw that?” the cop asked.

Providence again, Billy thought. “Well, no, I didn’t. I heard shots… I didn’t see ‘em,” he lied.

“So there are people in that other car?” the cop asked.

“I think so,” Billy answered. He took a few moments to formulate a lie. He didn’t need a complicated lie. Something simple: Something close to the truth so he could remember it, but something that wouldn’t make him an eye witness. “When I got out, I had seen the car lying on its top. I didn’t know about the other one. I had to get dressed. Once I got out of the house and headed down the road the car made this little popping sound and flames shot out of the engine compartment: When I turned away I saw the other one in the back yard. I knew something had crashed, because a few months back another car crashed into that same tree, and this sounded the same to me,” Billy said.

The cop nodded. “You go near either car?” he asked.

“The one out back: I leaned through the window to see if the guy was okay… Had to catch my hand on the seat… It was gross… I realized the guy was dead and got away from the car as quick as I could… Waited for you guys,” Billy said.

The cop nodded, pulled a small notebook from his shirt pocket and wrote in it. He asked Billy for his name and the address and wrote that down too.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, Billy thought. He hadn’t wanted to link himself to anything, but he had been afraid that they would find the hand print on the seat: An area of the seat that had been covered with blood and splatter and was now noticeably cleaner in the shape of a hand. What else could he do?

“You okay?” the cop asked.

“Not really,” Billy admitted.

“Go sit down… I’ll have somebody talk to you.” He looked intently at Billy for a moment. “How much you had to drink, Billy?”

“Uh… About a six pack… It’s my night off,” Billy explained.

“Easy, Billy… I’m not here to bust your balls. They’ll want to know… Impairs your judgment. It will determine whether they will take what you say or look for other witnesses, you see?” the cop asked.

“Yeah,” Billy agreed. “I do see.”

“So?” The cop asked.

“Oh… Right; I had about a twelve pack,” Billy said. He shrugged.

“Night off,” the young cop said.

“Night off,” Billy agreed.

“All right, Billy. Go have a seat and when the detectives get here I’ll send them over,” he told him.

Billy went and sat down on his front steps and waited for the rest of the cops to show up. He watched the lead fire truck drown the burning car in foam, and in just a few seconds the fire was out, the car sat smoking: Steam rising into the air: The smell of burned meat thick and heavy.

The cops were brief:

“I understand you had quite a lot to drink during the evening,” a big, blonde haired cop said to him.

“Well, yes,” Billy admitted. “But it’s my day off,” he added.

“Easy, son nobody’s blaming you. You’re home; day off. No reason why you shouldn’t have a few drinks. It’s not like you knew a car was going to crash into your back yard.” He smiled to put Billy more at ease, and although Billy knew that was why he smiled he felt more at ease anyway.

“You look familiar to me,” The shorter dark haired cop said.

“Did a little county time a few years back,” Billy admitted.

He looked at him.

“Possession with intent,” Billy added. “Eighteen months.”

“Out in a year with the good time though, right?” the blonde haired cop said.

“Still fucking around with pot, Billy?” The dark haired one asked.

“No… Not no more,” Billy told him.

“So we could check the house and find nothing,” the shorter, dark haired detective said.

“Sure… Sure…. Go ahead,” Billy said. “There’s nothing there at all.”

“But we aren’t going to do that,” The blonde said. “Your past is your past, Billy. I said I ain’t here to give you a hard time and I meant that.” He turned and looked over at the Toyota which had been lifted into the air. The roof had been cut away and two bodies had been taken out as they talked. They had set the car back down and were now winching it over onto its wheels so they could pull it up onto the flatbed wrecker that waited. He glanced back to the backyard. They were still working to pry the car in the back yard away from the tree. The body was long gone. They were using metal saws to cut the car away. Once enough had been cut away to move the car, it would go on a flat bed too. The cop’s eyes came back to Billy.

“You think of anything else that might help us?” he asked.

“The gunshots,” Billy said and shrugged.

The detective nodded. “We have an eyewitness to that. Says she was walking down the road when she saw the two cars coming, jumped in the woods. She saw the passenger lean out the window and fire at the car ahead… The dude in the car in your back yard, Billy? That’s how he got dead.”

To Billy it felt as though his eyes had bugged out of his head, but he struggled to maintain his composure. She? Who was she? He had seen no one at all, but whoever she was, she had described exactly what he himself had seen, so she must have been there. What else did she see?

“You okay?” the blonde asked.

“Tired… Sickened too, to be honest,” Billy said.

“Yeah… Pauls-that’s the name of the officer that spoke to you, Jay Pauls-said you leaned into the car to check the guy… Found a hand print there…. I assume it’s yours. I guess if I had found that I wouldn’t be feeling too good either.” He sighed. “We’ll be out of here in a few minutes,” he added. “But if you think of something.”

He closed his own little notebook that he had pulled from his pocket and looked at the other cop. He shook his head.

“I guess we have nothing else, Billy. Like I said, if you think of anything else,” he reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card. He handed the card to Billy. “Give me a call, okay?”

Billy nodded, looked over the card and then shoved it into his pocket.

They all stood and watched as the Toyota flipped back over onto its wheels: Metal screeching, the car lurching from side to side on its ruined suspension as it slammed down. The men began hooking up the cables to winch the car up onto the flat bed truck. A few seconds later a second flat bed truck drove around the first and then backed down Billy’s driveway to the back yard. A steady Beep, Beep, Beep sounding as it backed up. They watched in silence as two men hooked up the remains of the Ford and then winched it backwards and up onto the flat bed.

A second later the two cops walked away without another word. Billy sat back down on his wooden steps and watched them get into their car and drive away. The trucks followed, and a few seconds later the silence descended once more on Lott road. Billy sat and watched the dust settle back down to the dirt lane.

There was a little gray seeping into the air and the sky was lightening above the tree tops. Dawn was not far away. Billy walked up the steps and into the trailer He took one of the beers from the refrigerator, went back outside and sat down on the steps once more.

She, whoever she was, was on his mind. If there had been someone else there, why hadn’t she let him know? Had she been afraid? Most likely, he thought. What had she seen? Had she seen him take the stuff from the Toyota? The Ford?

The Ford he found hard to believe. She would have pretty much had to have been in plain view to have seen the Ford in his back yard, but the Toyota was a different matter. He had been exposed, she could have been anywhere, but if she had seen what he had done why hadn’t she told the cops? She couldn’t have or they would have confronted him and taken those items back, probably arrested him too.

He sipped at the beer, remembered that he had eleven more: Wished he had, had time to check the one guys wallet, maybe there had been money it; in fact probably there had been money in it; then he tipped the beer and chugged it. Got up, went back inside, got two more beers and then came back out and sat down on the steps once more.

He really wanted nothing more than to go back inside to the bedroom and see what he had gotten, but he was too worried about the witness the cops had told him about. Who could it be? Would she eventually tell the cops? Had she and they were just playing it cool to see if he would lie? Questions and questions and no answers.

He popped the top on one of the beers and took a deep drink. His mind seemed to clear a little.

The big bags were almost certainly pot. That wasn’t cash money, but it could be soon. The bricks that had been hidden in the ice chest were probably cocaine: That was scary, but it was also money. And he knew who to go to, to get rid of all of that. That would be a very large sum of money. He sipped at the beer and thought about it, playing it over in his head.

The two bags of pot were huge: Too heavy for him to carry both bags. That was a lot of pot. A lot of money… The guns… And what else was in the other bags? More drugs? Money? Guns? Dirty gym clothes?

He reached to pop the top on the beer, was surprised to find it was already open, and took a deep gulp: As he lowered his hand he caught movement down the road. A shadow at the side of the road, but it quickly turned into a shape: Someone walking toward him down the side of the road.

[] THREE

Lott Road

Billy Jingo

Billy pulled out his cigarettes, lit one and watched. He knew it was a young woman long before she got to his driveway and started up it. Nineteen… Twenty give or take… A little younger than himself: Dark hair, slim jeans and a Baby-T that showed a lot of skin and a pierced belly button. She walked up and stopped in front of him.

“Got another smoke?” she asked.

And suddenly Billy was not sure she was that old. She sounded even younger. He shook out a cigarette and lit it for her. She reached down, picked up the second can of beer, popped the top and took a deep drink. No, Billy told himself. She must be even older.

“April,” she said. “I’ve seen you around. I live down at the trailer park.”

The trailer park was a worse dump than his own place. “Billy,” he said.

She took a deep pull on the cigarette; blew the smoke out and then locked her eyes on his. “I saw you,” she said simply. “I saw you take that shit from the cars, but I didn’t tell the cops.” She smiled.

~

He held the door for her as she stepped into the trailer. Her eyes seemed to take in everything in one sweeping gaze.

“Hey,” she said as she walked to the couch. “This looks like that old lady’s couch. The one her husband died on… I heard,” she said as she turned to Billy, “he died watching one of those uncensored Canadian films…. Had him a heart attack,” she sat down.

Billy snapped his mouth shut. He had been going to tell her how he had found it on the curb in front of old lady Johnson’s house. How it had taken him twenty minutes to wrestle it into the truck by himself, and nearly a half hour to get it through the trailer door, but how it had been worth it because it was in such great shape. Now it didn’t seem like such great news.

He opened the refrigerator and checked the sack he had picked up from the ditch. Bread, crackers, two bags of chips, probably smashed, he told himself, and a broken jar of mayonnaise. He turned around to ask her if she wanted a sandwich and some chips, but she was right behind him.

“Too bad about the mayo,” she told him.

“Yeah… But we got bread. Cheese, bologna, and…“He picked up the other packs of meat, “Salami, ham and olive loaf too,” he told her. “Oh, and chips.”

“I’ll take the white bread for mine,” she said and laughed.

Billy looked at the green loaf of bread. “I guess it’s no good, huh?” he asked.

“It was probably no good two months ago,” April told him. She took out the new loaf of bread, the cheese and the olive loaf. “What kind do you want?”

“Salami,” Billy answered.

“I’ll make the sandwiches.” She picked up a squeeze bottle of mustard and looked at it critically, shook it and then looked at Billy.

“It’s good… Just bought it last week… “Besides, mustard doesn’t go bad, does it?” he asked.

“Everything can go bad,” April said. She picked up the salami and the mustard. “You can get the beers and chips,” she said.

She sat everything down on the counter top and then dragged the steel trash can over to the refrigerator: Got the same spatula out of the sink, and levered the green bread into the trash can. She took everything else out of the bag with the broken mayonnaise and then carefully dropped the bag into the can too. A cup that had something that seemed to be growing black hair. An expired container of milk, and that was it. She dragged the can away, pulled out the bag and looked at Billy.

“Under the sink is fresh bags,” he told her.

After she had taken the trash out to the steel bin down by the road, she came back, washed her hands, and made the sandwiches. She carried the sandwiches over and handed one to Billy and then settled down on to the opposite end of the couch.

He looked at her funny as he ate his sandwich, a question in his eyes.

“You want to know about the stuff from the cars?” she asked.

Billy nodded. “Like, how did you see me out back?”

“I was in the woods. I ran. I didn’t know what those guys would do. I knew you lived here. I was heading here when I saw you come out. I wouldn’t have done that… I couldn’t have: Especially when you fell inside the car. It made me gag.”

She paused and met his eyes for a second, then looked away once more. She closed her eyes like she was recalling the scene, or it was playing out again behind her closed lids. Billy supposed it was. She continued in a lower, measured voice.

“When you got done-I was surprised how fast you did it-I just stayed in the wood for a few minutes… Like I didn’t know what to do… I guess I didn’t,” she shook her head. “Then I walked down the road through the woods across from the other car. I was going to tell you… Call out… But you seemed so focused… I guess that’s the word. Intent might be better. And anyway, next thing you know you were done with that too. Then the cops… I came out of the woods when the cops got here. You didn’t see me ‘cause you were talking to one of them…” She looked back at him and held his eyes with her own. That was pretty easy to do: Billy seemed unable to look away. “You mad?” she asked after a few moments.

“How old are you?” Billy asked.

“Huh?” she asked.

“You know… How old are you. I look at you and I keep thinking you are younger. Then you talk and I start thinking you are older,” Billy said.

“Fifteen,” she said. “Still wanna do me?” she asked and smiled.

“God,” Billy said, nearly choking.

“I’m kidding,” she laughed. “I’m eighteen.” She pulled out her driver’s license and showed it to him.

Billy looked from her to the license. “Doesn’t really look like you.”

She sighed, took the license and stuck it back into her pocket. “Now who else would it be?” she asked.

“That was mean,” Billy said. “I’m sorry. No one ever looks like themselves in a license photo.”

“Yeah… But the upside is I’m legal and I bet that matters, doesn’t it?” April asked.

He opened his mouth to respond and then snapped it shut just as quickly. She giggled.

“So… You didn’t peek at all? Look in the bags?”

Billy cleared his throat and hoped his face wasn’t too red. “No… But you could tell what some of it was. At least I’m pretty sure. There are two huge bags of pot. I mean huge,” Billy told her.

“I know. I saw you had a hard time lifting them. You could only carry one at a time,” April agreed.

“You really were watching the whole thing?” Billy said.

“I told you,” April agreed.

“Yeah… Well anyway, I could only carry one bag at a time. I mean, how heavy is that? How much pot is that? A lot. A freakin’ lot. And then there are four bricks of cocaine. Probably cocaine, but what else do you package like that and shoot other people over? They’re actually brick size. Like a real brick. That has to be worth a lot too.” He paused and looked at her.

“The rest?” she asked.

“The rest we’ll have to see. I didn’t have time to look at it,” Billy told her.

“When?” she asked. “When will we see?”

“Well… We should come to some sort of deal first, right?” Billy asked.

“Deal… What do you mean deal?” April asked.

Billy looked away and then turned back and met her eyes. “Deal as in I did all the work,” he said.

She nodded. “And I kept my mouth shut or you wouldn’t have it. And you would probably be sitting in county jail right now too,” she told him.

Billy finished his sandwich and then licked his fingers. April finished hers and they both sat in the silence for a while. The refrigerator clicked on and the compressor began to hum loudly from the kitchen. Billy drank down the entire can of beer waiting for her to speak, letting the minutes play out. When she didn’t speak he got up for another can, offered her one, but she shook her head and so he sat back down with the fresh can.

“So,” Billy said reluctantly. “What do you want? You want to split it fifty, fifty?”

“That would be the fairest… If you consider it all, we’re both in on it from go. I intended to look in those cars too, you just got there first. I kept my mouth shut. I would have yelled to you if I had seen someone coming… It was an equal thing… Equal risk, so it should be equal profit,” April finished.

“Really; you’re not just saying that?” Billy asked.

“What? Calling out to you if someone came? Going for the cars myself? Of course I mean it. I would have. I ain’t rich. I don’t have anyone that helps me. I don’t have shit. I could use some money too. I got a crappy little job. Life doesn’t seem to be going anywhere… It’s tough,” she said.

Billy finished his beer and sat it down on the coffee table. “Three things,” he said. “First, we’ll do fifty, fifty. I know someone who can take that pot from us… It’ll be good money… Probably take the coke too…” He paused and brushed at the side of his face.

“Second… We risk everything just like we share everything: Fifty, fifty; we put the same work into it, whatever there is to do… Cool?” he asked.

“Cool,” she said. “What is three?”

“Were you kidding about me and you? … Just teasing?”

“Nope,” she said. “I think you do want me… I think you’re cute too.”

~

“You don’t think I’m easy, do you?” April asked.

They were in the bedroom. She had simply got up and followed him down the hall to the bedroom. She looked at the bed which appeared to be made. That was surprising: A guy making his own bed.

Billy looked at her confused, and then looked down at the bed. “Oh,” he said and turned red. “I put the stuff here. I put it here because I really couldn’t think of a better place to put it, and I heard the sirens coming… So I stuffed it under the bed.” He explained.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought… Never mind.”

Billy turned a deeper red. He moved to the side of the bed and picked up the blanket that trailed onto the floor. The underside of the bed was crammed with duffel bags and suitcases.

“I’ll pick up the box springs and you pull the stuff out. It’s the only way I could get it under there quick.” He squatted, picked up one corner of the box springs and mattress and lifted it from the frame. April began pulling everything out onto the floor.

Outside a car door slammed.

“Fuck,” Billy squeaked.

April picked up bags and began shoving them back under the bed: Pushing them deep under the bed with her feet. Billy wrenched the mattress and box springs back up and she dumped the rest back in, struggling with the suitcases.

Billy lowered the box spring, starting to breathe hard with panic. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. He smoothed the blanket over the corner of the bed once more, and then turned and headed out of the bed room: As he walked into the living room someone began to knock on the front door that opened into the kitchen. Billy looked out the peephole only to find a young guy with thick, curly black hair staring back at him. A camera hung around his neck, a clip board in his hand.

Billy took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and then opened the door.

“Mister Jingo?” the young guy asked. He looked even younger than Billy was.

“Yeah,” Billy said. It was never any good when someone called you by your government name.

“I have to take some pictures. You know, out back. That okay?” He held up the camera.

“Yeah… Go ahead,” Billy said, relieved. He started to shut the door.

“Uh… Hold on… You got to sign.” He smiled and offered Billy the clipboard, tapping with one finger where the signature should go.

Billy had let go of the door when he took the clipboard. The door swung open to reveal April who stood behind him. The young guy looked up at her from his place on the rickety wooden steps.

“Oh… Hey,” the guy said.

“Hey,” April returned. She turned on her best three hundred watt smile and the guy returned it.

Billy scratched out a reasonable version of his name and then handed the clip board back to the kid.

“Cool,” he said. He glanced at April once more. “I won’t be long.” He turned away and walked toward the end of the trailer and the back yard. Billy shut the door and they both sighed.

“Says he won’t be long… Hopefully he won’t… Want another beer?” Billy asked.

“Sure,” April agreed. She wandered over to the couch and sat down. Billy took a beer to her and then sat down at the other end of the couch. The T.V. was still playing low and it amazed Billy that it could still be playing after all that had happened. An infomercial for a new mini washing machine that washed just a few items at a time came on and caught his attention for a few moments. April pulled his attention away from the T.V.

“What was in the paper bag?” she asked.

“Don’t know. It was in the glove box of the Ford…. The car out back,” he finished.

“I can tell a Ford from a Toyota,” April said. “So, three duffel bags and two suitcases?”

He nodded.

“That one suitcase is heavy… The melted one?”

He nodded. “That’s the one I pulled out of the Toyota while it was burning… That blue duffel bag I pulled out of the Ford is heavy too.”

“That was crazy,” April said. “It could have blown up or something.”

“Yeah… I thought about that afterward,” Billy admitted. He got up and crossed to the T.V., pushing aside the curtain that covered the window that looked out over the back yard.

The guy was taking measurements, and both close up and distant shots of the tree with a digital camera. He looked up and saw Billy at the window and waved. Billy waved back and then came back over to the couch and sat down.

“Do you realize it’s almost two hours after the fact?” Billy asked her.

April looked at him.

“Just makes me wonder if we’ll ever look inside those bags today or not. And eventually I have to get hold of someone for that pot… Probably the coke too,” he added.

“Is that smart?” April asked.

“What do you mean?” Billy returned.

“Just that, that’s a lot of stuff, somebody’s gonna miss it… If we show up with it, it could be bad, right?” she asked.

“I thought about that,” Billy said. “We could just get rid of some of it… A little today… A little next week… Like that, until it’s all gone. I only know one person who could take it all… I was going to do that, and then I thought about it like you said, and realized it could be stupid… Same reasons… I only know that the guy deals big time… Not with who,” Billy said.

“Could be money in one of those suitcases… Or duffel bags,” April said.

“I hope so… It makes sense, right? If they were doing a big drug deal that went bad and the drugs are there wouldn’t the money be there too,” Billy said.

“Or,” April said. “If it went bad maybe they were trying to rip the guy off… Maybe they had no money.”

“Maybe,” Billy agreed reluctantly. He sipped at the beer, got up and went back to the window. The guy was gone. He walked to the front door just in time to hear the door slam and the motor start on the car the guy was driving. He watched through the peephole until the car turned out of the driveway and headed down the road. He turned to April and shrugged.

“Try again?” he asked. She followed him back to the bedroom once more.

~

They decided on the blue duffel bag that Billy had pulled from the floorboard of the Ford. The bag was a mess, something he hadn’t noticed at the time, and April made him take it to the shower and clean off the outside of the dark blue nylon first.

Ten bricks of the duct tape wrapped stuff that Billy assumed was cocaine, two more of the flat-black hand guns. Several spare clips and boxes of 9 mm ammunition, and two thick wads of bills, rubber banded. They appeared to be all one hundred dollar bills. Billy handed them over to April to count, while he pulled out his pocket knife and dug into the side of one of the bricks: Brown instead of white.

“Heroin,” he said as he showed April.

She raised her eyebrows.

“Worth more than coke anyway,” Billy said. He dug into the remaining bricks. Two more were heroin and the remaining bricks were cocaine He closed the holes with pieces of the duct tape they were wrapped with.

“Jesus,” April said. “There’s almost eighty thousand dollars here.”

Billy looked at her and licked his lips. He added the other four bricks he had grabbed from the trunk of the car: Two were cocaine, the other two heroin, “Six and Eight,” Billy told her. “There has to be close to a quarter mil. here… At least… I don’t really even know what something this big sells for.”

April picked up the paper bag from the glove box. It felt like something was rolled up inside the bag. Solid… A brick shape, but smaller than the other bricks… More cash maybe, she thought. She unrolled the bag and shook it out: Two smaller bundles of cash, again all hundreds, and a wallet. She handed the wallet to Billy as she counted the cash.

“Ben Neo,” Billy said aloud. He pulled a thick wad of cash from the wallet and handed it to April.

“Ben Neo?” she asked.

“The dude,” Billy explained. “License, credit cards… That cash. A key,” he said, holding up a brass key.

“Probably his house,” April said. “Where’s he live?”

“Rochester… Lake Avenue,” Billy said, reading from his license.

April shrugged.

“Me either,” Billy said. “Bet the key fits his door though. And it’s not like he’ll need it if he was the guy in the Ford.”

“Yeah,” April agreed, “Twenty thousand more. Ben Neo… That has to be a fake name,” she looked down at the money again. “Billy, we got over a hundred thousand dollars here… We’re rich.”

Billy turned away and looked at the duffel bags and suitcases. “Eenie meenie miney moe,” Billy said and picked up one of the black duffel bags from the Toyota.

Clean change of clothes, sneakers and a silenced chrome 45 caliber pistol: Another wallet, a razor and a deadly looking eight inch switchblade with a long, sharp two sided blade. Billy picked up the wallet: Driver’s license, debit card, all in the name of Dan Gaynor; thirty five hundred in cash, all hundreds.

“I think these guys must have made a deal. Something went wrong after the deal. They all have some of these hundreds. Well so far.” He handed April the cash and snagged the other duffel bag. It was bulky, but not overly so, a little heavier than the other one had been.

Billy pulled the zipper and recoiled from the smell that came from the bag. April leaned close to see what was in the bag and then recoiled herself.

“What the hell?” she asked.

Billy opened the bag wider, but saw nothing except crumpled up newspapers. Tentatively he pushed aside the newspapers and a pair of dead, dusty eyes stared up at him through the newspapers. He flung the bag away from him, reacting simply on impulse. The bag hit the wall and the head, along with a pair of hands, rolled out onto the floor.

“Oh, God,” April said. “Put it back in the bag, Billy, put it back in the bag and get it out of here!” She jumped off the other side of the bed and pressed into the wall as far away from the bag and she could get. Billy looked at her and then grabbed one of the shirts that had been in the other duffel bag; he lunged forward quickly, picked up the head so he wouldn’t have to think about it too long and tried to jam it back into the bag. It wouldn’t go. The shirt, or the head, or both kept catching the side of the bag and collapsing it. He finally laid the bag on its side and managed to hold it open as he scooped the head back inside of it: Once it was in he quickly zipped up the bag. He stood quickly and started to walk from the room.

“Billy, where are you going?” April asked.

He stopped. He had been heading for the door, but he had no idea where he would go from there.

“Billy… The hands… Billy,” she pointed.

Billy looked back by the wall where the two hands lay. The fingers curled slightly. It looked like they used to be pretty good hands, Billy thought. One had a small narrow gold ring on the pinky finger. Billy grabbed another one of the shirts, carefully picked up the hands, bought them to the duffel bag and dropped them in. He calmed down a little, taking the time to pick up the crumpled pieces of newspaper that lay on the floor and stuff them back into the bag too. He had a hard time picking the bag up, but finally managed.

“I can… I can dig a hole in the backyard and bury it,” he told April.

“Not now, in the middle of the morning… Besides, we can take them and drop them in the river. They should sink to the bottom. Problem over… Was there anything else in the bag?” she asked.

“I… I didn’t see anything else,” Billy said.

“We’ll have to check. Make sure you didn’t accidentally include something of your own from the floor. There’s one sock there,” she pointed to where the head and hands had fallen. “Were there two?” she asked.

Billy looked sick as he nodded.

“Well then you got to open it back up… Make sure. Make sure there’s nothing else in the bag, Billy,” April said.

“All I wanna do is throw this into the river like you said,” Billy said.

“I know. I know. But what if it did float up? What if they did find something to track it back to us…? What then, huh? And what if there’s something else in the bag? You see?” she asked.

“I see fifty-fifty. It’s your turn, April. Not trying to be an asshole, but really it’s your turn,” Billy said.

She stared at him. “I got a weak stomach. I’ll puke,” she said.

“So what!” Billy protested. “So will I!”

Please, Billy… Don’t make me do it,” April shot back.

“Fair’s fair,” Billy said.

She glared at him. “Oh for Christ’s sake!” she scrambled off the bed, dragged the duffel bag over to a clean area of the rug, laid out another t-shirt from the other duffel bag, and then unzipped the bag. She took one more t-shirt and used it to fish out the hands and then the head. One by one she pulled the wadded up newspapers out of the bag and laid them on the floor. She peeked into the bag once more. “There’s something… I… Oh, Jesus, Billy,” she covered her mouth and scrambled back away from the bag.

“What… What?” Billy asked. She said nothing, but pointed at the bag.

Billy got off the bed and walked over to the bag. He turned his head one way then the other as he stared into the bag. “Is that what I think it is?” he asked.

April came back over and looked once more. “You should know,” she said. He looked at her.

“Not looking like that I shouldn’t. I hope the hell I never do anyway…” He looked up. “Fuck… Did you find the sock?”

She shook her head.

He stared back down to the bag. “Oh, man… It’s… It’s in there next to it… My fuckin’ sock,” Billy said.

“Well you’ll have to get it,” April said. “You’ll have to.”

“Fifty, fifty!” Billy said. His eyes were insistent.

“I did my fifty. The ball’s back in your court,” April told him.

“Well how about I just throw the other sock in there,” Billy said suddenly. “That would solve it.”

“Sure,” April agreed. “You’ll give them two samples of your DNA.”

Billy frowned, reached down, grabbed a piece of the crumpled up newspaper and fished his sock out of the bag. A fat, white maggot clung to the sock and Billy nearly threw up as it dropped off and fell back into the bag. He carefully piled everything else back into the bag and zipped it back up. He rolled his socks up and took them out and dropped them into the garbage. He took the duffel bag outside and stuck it into the back of his pickup truck and covered it with a tarp. He went back in, waited for April to come out of the bathroom and then went in and washed his hands and face. He met her back in the bedroom.

“We’ll have to get rid of that today,” Billy said.

“We should do it right now: Right down the road and onto the main highway. Drop it off the bridge,” April said

“It’s still morning. Too early, you just said that yourself. We’ll have to wait until tonight,” Billy said. “What next?” he asked.

April dragged one of the big plastic bags over, borrowed Billy’s knife and burrowed a hole through the heavy, black plastic.

“Pot,” she said. “Packed tight… That’s a lot of pot, Billy.”

“Maybe we should try it. Make sure it’s good,” Billy said.

“So you can get all messed up and screw something up? Forget to get rid of the head?” April said.

“I didn’t think about that,” Billy agreed.

“Later, Billy; later tonight,” April said. “Okay, your turn,” she finished nodding at the unopened bags.

Billy dragged the black suitcase from the trunk of the Ford over. He took a deep breath and pushed the latches back. They were locked. He used his pocketknife to Jimmy them and then slowly lifted the lid.

“Clothes,” he said. “All clothes… Wait another stack of hundred dollar bills.” He took everything out and searched more carefully. A man’s watch and diamond ring were hidden inside a sock and that was it.

“Thirty thousand in cash,” April said. “Over a hundred and thirty five thousand dollars,” She looked at the brown suitcase. “That’s from the Toyota, right?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Billy agreed. “It’s heavy… Maybe the body that goes to the head and hands… Maybe money… More drugs?”

April was nodding. “I had to do the last body parts,” she said.

“Yeah, but it might not be body parts,” Billy said.

“Good. You’ll get over then, but either way it’s yours,” April said.

“I just opened the black one, it could’ve been a body too, but I did it. It’s your turn,” Billy said.

“No, it’s a body. I can feel it, if it’s a body that’s not my turn it’s yours. I already opened a package of body parts. It’s your turn and that’s final, Billy.” April said. She locked her eyes on his. Blue gray, Billy noticed. Long lashes: She had beautiful eyes. He nodded.

Billy leaned close to the brown suitcase he had pulled from the Toyota and sniffed, but all he could smell was the burned vinyl that covered the case. A sharp chemical smell he smelled every time he burned plastic in his own burning barrel. He pulled the case over, stood to one side to open it and that was when the sound of dogs snarling and fighting came through the thin walls of the trailer: The sounds of claws scrambling on metal.

“Oh fuck,” Billy said and jumped up.

“What, what?” April asked.

“The head… The duffel bag,” Billy spluttered. He bolted out of the bedroom through the front door and around the end of the trailer. He was too late. Fifty feet away going into the tree line a Rottweiler he recognized from down the road was dragging the duffel bag backwards into the woods. A scrawny yellow dog was running alongside beside the bag, biting at it as it bumped over the ground. A second later they were both gone.

Billy walked over and looked into the back of his truck. At least they hadn’t made a mess… Now what, he wondered. He turned and went back inside, listening to the two dogs still fighting over the bag somewhere off in the woods. He walked back into the bedroom.

“Gone,” Billy said.

“Gone?” April echoed.

“Gone. Two dogs; a big Rottweiler from down the road?”

She nodded.

“And some stray… A yellow dog… Never seen it before. They took it. Dragged the whole bag off into the woods where they’re fighting over who gets what… It sounds like that anyway.” Billy said

“What do we do now?” April asked.

“Nothing,” Billy said. “There’s nothing we can do.”

“Somebody will find it,” April said.

“Probably… Eventually… Whatever is left,” Billy said.

“Don’t say that,” April said.

“Well, April, they’re dogs. Sort of like wolves only better manners… Sometimes anyway.” Billy said.

They both looked down at the other suitcase. “If that’s another part or parts or whatever, maybe we can leave it for the dogs,” Billy said.

“That’s not funny, Billy,” April said.

“Okay,” Billy agreed. He wrestled the suitcase closer, popped the top, it wasn’t locked and begin to raise the lid. “Here goes,” he said.

“Oh God,” April gasped as the lid opened.

The Cops

Municipal Garage

Detective Don Wright pushed his thick knot of black hair out of his eyes and leaned in closer to look at the key which was still in the ignition of the Ford.

“It was taken out,” the tech said. “See?” He pointed out a disruption in the spray patterns of blood, brain and bone around the sides of the ignition switch. “Probably a thumb and a forefinger,” the tech said. “Should be able to get good prints.”

“Got to be the kid,” his partner Sammy Simons said. He pushed his own hand across his forehead to catch the sweat that threatened to roll out of his blond hair and into his eyes.

Don nodded. “Couldn’t be anyone else… But why? And why not tell us?” he asked.

“Also,” the tech said. “There’s another intrusion into the glove box. Two actually: What is probably a perfect thumbprint, and then the palm print; perfectly outlined in the fine spray of blood.” Don and Sammy walked over to the passenger side of the car and looked at the glove box. It was clear as day. It hadn’t been so clear in the half light of morning, but here with all the light trained on it, it was easy to see.

“Kid must’ve been looking for something. Might have even found something,” Sammy said.

“He probably did… How long until you ID those prints?” Don asked.

“Tomorrow… Late afternoon at the soonest…” He blinked and then shook his head. “Nope, tomorrow is Saturday. Monday afternoon at the soonest,” the tech amended.

“Well what do we do until then?” Sammy asked. He was younger, less seniority and the case was Don’s anyway.

“Nothing without proof: We can’t prove that anything is missing or what his intent was. Or even that it is him, yet. I guess we wait until Monday afternoon, maybe between now and then we’ll get something solid.” Don said.

“Go out and talk to him?” Sammy asked.

“We could, but I don’t want to until I have something concrete,” Don said. He gestured toward the tech as he began to walk away. “Maybe they’ll come up with something else. Something concrete,” Don said. He made his way over to the other side of the garage where the Toyota set with its own techs going over it. It smelled like burnt, roasted meat. He pushed the smell out of his mind and watched the techs work.

Lott Road

Billy Jingo

April stared into the suitcase.

“Has to be… I don’t even know,” she breathed.

“A couple a million dollars” Billy finished.

“I was gonna say that,” April agreed. “Except it’s all hundreds again. It’s packed full… Might be more.” She sounded breathless.

“It’s a lot of money,” Billy said. “Somebody’s gonna be coming back for this money… It’s too much.”

“How can it be too much?” April asked. She looked up again.

Billy shook his head. “Nobody turns loose of that much money and doesn’t come back for it… Those guys had to be flunkies… Just dudes doing their job. Somebody higher up is gonna miss all of this. And if this was payment for all of that,” he gestured at the bricks and bags, “Someone will probably be coming for that too.” Billy said.

Billy fell silent for a few minutes.

“Well it’s ours,” April said finally.

“Is it worth dying for?” Billy asked her?

Her lower lip quivered.

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to scare you,” Billy said. He seemed thoughtful for a moment. “The cops might be back too. If it’s big, someone will snitch, tell the cops what was here and is now missing. They’ll be back, I know it.”

“But what can they do? They need warrants to search, right? It’s not like they have fingerprints, right. They need all that shit. I watch TV. They need that stuff,” April said.

“That’s television, April. This is the real world, they search first and cover their asses later… And maybe there are prints. I touched the car… I took the key from the ignition… I wasn’t thinking about prints. Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he said as he pounded one fist against the floor.

“You left fingerprints?” April asked.

He nodded.

“Well I spoke to them. They’ll know I lied,” she said.

“Sorry,” Billy said. He looked up quickly. “We have to get out of here,” he finished. His eyes widened. “But we have all the money in the world. We can get lost, right now. Today, right?” he asked.

She just stared for a moment and then she looked at the suitcase. “Yeah,” she said finally. “We could.”

“You said you don’t have anybody, well neither do I,” Billy said. “Who would miss us? Who would we miss?” he asked.

“Nobody,” April said, seeming to warm to the idea. “Where would we go though, Billy? They’ll look for us, right? They’ll know your truck… We’ll have to be careful,” she finished.

“We can be though. We’ll have to be too. They’ll know. The cops will know maybe already do. And if the cops know the guys who own the drugs and money will know too. They’ll read our names in the paper and come after us” Billy said.

“Then we’ll have to go,” April said. “We’ll have to go right now.”

“We have a little time,” Billy said. He thought for a few minutes. “We need a truck… An SUV. Yeah, an SUV is closed in and we can put everything in there with us. We need to buy one… With cash… Maybe get the paper and find a used one for sale by owner… Take the plates off my truck and put them on it… Leave my truck somewhere where they won’t find it right away,” Billy said.

“Can we do it from the road,” April asked. “You’re scaring me a little. Maybe we should already be gone.”

“Yeah… We can… Should… C’mon, let’s get the truck loaded and get the hell out of here.” He jumped from the bed and April’s hand caught him as he did.

“Are we going to be okay?” she asked. Her eyes were bright: Her voice shaky. She pulled herself to him from across the bed as he stood there and hugged him. “I’m scared,” she said.

Billy was so surprised that he couldn’t react for a second. “I won’t let anything happen to you,” he told her. He sank down onto the bed as her hands pulled him, body pressed against hers. He could feel her breasts pressing against him: The little hard and soft parts of her body. She looked up at him. “You promise?” she asked.

“I promise,” he told her.

She looked at him a few seconds longer and then kissed him softly. It just seemed to go on forever to Billy and even though he hated himself for it he felt himself grow hard. He couldn’t help it. She looked back up and smiled. She shifted and her body pressed a little more firmly against his erection.

“We’ll take care of that later,” she said, “Okay?”

Billy nodded and reluctantly let her go when she pulled away. He fell back against the bed for a second as she began getting everything ready to go. A half hour later the truck was loaded, a tarp tied down across the back and they were driving down Lott road toward the main highway: The money in the suitcase between them.

Gabe Kohlson

Watertown New York

Jefferson County Transfer Station 2

{color:#000;}
 Gabe Kohlson came around slowly, his hands clutched tightly across his face.   They had gone for the eyes: Gulls; they were everywhere here… Thousands of them.   Fuck that! They had gone for all sorts of things, but he couldn't protect it all. Without eyes you couldn't see, even an idiot knew that, and so he had protected those and let them have the rest. The hands were in bad shape, he could feel that.   He could also tell that it was morning, or close to it, the red screen beyond his eyes, beyond the hands that covered his eyes, told him that, but the hands had done their job. He had probably passed out and stayed gone until this morning. If he could see that red screen, then he could see, and so if the hands were a bit ripped up it was worth it.   The rest of his body hurt too, it wasn't just the hands, but he supposed he should still be grateful, after all he hadn't expected to live through it. He had been sure she would kill him when she had come for him and Johns, and so if he hurt a little, even if he was banged up pretty good, at least she hadn't killed him. He removed his hands, but left the eyes closed.   Ah, yes, the redness was brighter, not much brighter, but it had been fairly damn bright to begin with, he opened them slowly, one at a time, and...    ... He looked up into a clear, blue sky. There was not a cloud in sight anywhere: Stunningly beautiful, absolutely beautiful, especially since he hadn't expected to ever see it again. One lone bird up there, circling in all that blue, looked like a buzzard for sure, but even that didn't break the spell. He'd probably been lying here, unmoving, all morning long, and so the buzzard had obviously assumed he was a goner. Fuck that though, once he was up and moving, Mr. Buzzard could take a walk. No free meal for him today, Gabe Kohlson assured himself.   He tried to sit.    Well, maybe not totally unhurt, he told himself. He could feel his legs, but they didn't seem to want to move for him.   Don't panic, he told himself, keep a cool tool Gabe, probably broke 'em, or something like that, is all.   He tried to lift his head. It didn't budge. It didn't even try to budge.   Fuck!   [_Hey, hold on, your hands work, right?_]   "Yeah," Gabe said aloud, in a buzzing-whisper. He hadn't meant to whisper; in fact he had meant to shout. The buzzard was dropping lower, and he thought a shout might send him along. Let him know for sure that Gabe Kohlson was not road-kill, but his voice didn't seem to be working all that well. The hands...?   He brought them up from his side and looked closely. Blinked, and looked again.   They were fuckticated big time: Really fuckticated. They weren't really hands anymore either. They were really nothing more than bones, tendons, and a few stringy runners of flesh.   Apparently they had suffered a little more than he had thought they had, apparently they had suffered greatly, and apparently they had not suffered alone.  Gabe Kohlson had always thought there was just one great big long bone that ran up a person’s arm from the wrist. He saw now that he had been wrong. There were two, and not great big bones like he had thought either, pretty skinny thin ones, and... And how was it that they could be this bad and still move, Gabe? How could that be?   A shadow slipped across his face, before he could think of an answer, and he dragged his attention back to the sky above.   Mr. Buzzard was coming down quick. No more than ten feet off the ground now, and circling like a mad bastard as he spiraled downward. Gabe jammed his fingers under the back of his head and tried to lift it. It came, but barely. He could move the fingers, but apparently there was no real strength in them. It came up enough though, enough to get a good peek at the rest of him. He quickly let go of his head, and it cracked back down to the ground. He was lying on a mound of garbage. A huge mound of garbage... County Dump? Transfer Station? Maybe; and that was bad, but his body was worse. He quickly pushed what he had seen away.   His swiveled his eyes to the left. Mr. Buzzard had apparently been cleared to land over there. He glared back at Carl with his beady little buzzard eyes and strutted importantly, purposely, towards him.  Gabe had gotten a good peek while he had been holding his head up, and wasn't Mr. buzzard really wasting his time?    He was, the small little voice inside him agreed, and Gabe had to agree right back. He had seen in that little peek that there was nothing there for him to eat, somebody, or maybe several somebody's had beaten him to it, and so how could he disagree.    There was nothing but bone below him, at least what he could see. White bone, gnawed bone, several types of bone, but it was all bone, and there was...    The buzzard was standing over him now, and Carl really didn't like the way the son-of-a-bitch was looking at him, not at all.   "Get," he whisper-croaked.    No good. The buzzard, Gabe was afraid, had noticed that there was some left. Maybe not the good stuff, maybe not even the best stuff, but still...    A quick blur of movement, and suddenly, painlessly, the left eye stopped working. He could see why too, the son-of-a-...    Another quick blur...   It was dark now, totally and utterly, no redness, no anything, but he could still feel that little son-of-a-bitch staring at him up there, and the last thing... The last thing he had seen was his own...    Ouch! Oh you bitch, you no good...
pre

Richard Pierce

Project Bluechip

Far below the small city of Watertown New
York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer
terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small
nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. A small
handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and
listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile
spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily when the
caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset
back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in
front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to,
no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely
happy. Two more weeks tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out
of this dump.

He supposed he should feel honored that he
was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the
country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt.
He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything
and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had
not, he would never have come at all, but he had written the
software that handled the power plant, as well as several other
sections of the underground city, and that made it his baby. There
were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had
been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do.
The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he
would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally
thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to
feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t
that be a real bitch.

[] FOUR

Rochester New York

Friday afternoon

“It’s the right straight ahead,” April said.

“She looked back down at the directions she had written down.

They were on Lyell Avenue in Rochester New
York looking for a street that would take them away from downtown.
The used car lot they were looking for would be right on the
corner.

“Take the next right… That was the right,
right behind us. The car lot must be close to here,” April told
him. She twisted and looked back shaking her head.

Billy made the next corner and then the next
right again to take them back to the avenue.

They both looked from the corner, but saw
nothing.

“I don’t know, but there’s one down that
way,” Billy said. He pointed further down the street to where there
were two used car lots right across the street from each other.

April sighed in exasperation. “Might as
well, I guess this guy doesn’t care enough about our money to give
us good directions.” April had spent ten minutes talking to the guy
on the phone already. She picked up the prepaid cell phone they
were using, one of half a dozen: The clerk had looked at them like
they were crazy. She turned it on and called up the recent-calls
readout.

Billy continued down the street and pulled
into one of the car lots. Bob’s Easy Auto, the sign over a
small trailer office said.

“We’re on Lexington Avenue,” April was
saying. “Bobs Easy Auto… All there are…” She twisted
around and looked back toward Lyell Avenue. “All I see is signs, no
cars, nothing. No place to park even… Across from the corner…
You said on the corner… I thought you said [_on the
corner,_]” she said.

An old guy walked over from the trailer and
knocked on Billy’s window.

“Help you kids?” he asked. He smiled the
kind of perfect, white square-toothed smile his grandmother had
always smiled with her plastic dentures.

“We’re looking for ‘[_Denny’s Auto
Body,_]’” Billy told him. “A Jeep Cherokee they have for
sale.”

The guy nodded. “Well it’s good for you that
you stopped here instead. That old bastard buys wrecks, fixes them
up, doesn’t even tell you. You could be buying anything.” He stared
at Billy.

Billy heard April in the background.

“Has that car ever been wrecked,” she asked
into the cell phone.

“Sure, honey, ask him,” The old guy said,
“Junk: Pure and simple.”

“It hasn’t?” April asked into the phone.

The old guy scoffed. “Tell him you want a
body-man to take a look at it,” he said wisely and winked at
April.

“Would you care if we came and picked it up
and let a body guy look it over?” April asked. She listened for a
few minutes and then simply closed the phone.

“He had a few choice words for you,” April
said. “You must be Bob?” she asked.

“Robert Robello,” the old guy said. “At your
service.”

“Might as well pull in, honey,” April said
smiling.

“Might as well,” the old guy said and nodded
at Billy.

Billy pulled in, parked his truck, got out
and stretched his legs. It was early afternoon; they had just
driven three hours straight. This was the first time out of the
truck.

“Miss…?” Robert Robello asked her.

“April Evans,” April said.

“Well, April, and…?’ He looked at
Billy.

“Billy,” Billy told him. They were supposed
to be playing it like they were husband and wife. She should have
said Jingo.

“So it was a Jeep Cherokee… Late model?
Anything else that might come close?” the old guy asked.

“We had called on the price,” April said.

“And then we went and got the money from the bank… We’re kind of
on a tight budget,” she said and smiled.

“I’m used to working with budgets…” He
paused and waited for April to tell him the amount, but she
remained silent.

“You’ll be trading in the pickup?” he
asked.

“No… I need the truck for work,” Billy
told him.

“So a Sport-Ute… Does it have to be a
Jeep? I ask because I got this really nice blazer and a low mileage
Nissan… Wanna take a look at them? I do have a one owner
Commander with low mileage… Big V8 though, kind of hard on gas
the way things are,” he apologized. He was walking as he talked and
they followed along behind him a few spaces. Billy did not want to
get too far from the truck. Finally, he turned back and walked back
to the truck. Started it and pulled up close to the building and
then locked it up before he came back to them.

“He really likes that truck,” April said to
Robert’s raised eyebrows.

“I can see. Well, loyalty is good… I could
give him a good price for it though… Help you folks out. Pickup
trucks are in demand. Even though it’s rough,” he told her. He had
pegged her as the head of the relationship: The one who made the
decisions.

“He’d never let it go,” she said. “It was
his dad’s,” she decided spur of the moment.

Billy walked back over. “Sorry,” he said,
“it’s just that…” April cut him off.

“I told him it used to be your dad’s,
honey,” she said.

“Huh,” Billy said. He focused on Robello.

“Yeah.” He spread his palms out in front of his body pointed at the
ground. “He’s passed on.”

“I understand the deal,” Robello said and
nodded solemnly.

They ended up choosing the commander. It was
really the same thing as the Cherokee they had been interested in
when it came to space, only this one had the benefit of the big V8
motor.

“So it was Billy and April Evans?” Robello
asked.

They both nodded as Robello pulled out the
paperwork. I can send my guy for the plates if you can get proof of
insurance,” he looked at his watch. “There’s time.” He looked at
them.

“I didn’t think about the insurance. I
thought we’d drive it home and worry about it tomorrow,” Billy
said.

“We just moved down here from up north. I
don’t even know an insurance agent here,” April added.

“I got a guy a lot of my customers use,”
Robello said. “Cash up front for three months fee and you’re on
your way… I can call him, get his guy to bring around the
insurance cards,” Robello told them. “Say the word and I’ll call
him.”

A few minutes later and it was done, another
$1100 which someone was there to pick up in just a few minutes.
Shortly after that his man was off to the DMV office.

Billy and April stood and watched the
traffic go by while they waited. They drank cokes from the machine
outside of the dealership.

“We’re not far from Lake Avenue,” April
said.

“Ben Neo… Sounds like a fake name, doesn’t
it?” Billy asked.

She nodded. “But it’s what I put down for
the address for the registration and insurance.”

“I don’t know if it’s smart to go by there,”
Billy said. “Who knows? Maybe he’s got a girl… A wife… Kids…
Dogs: Maybe the cops are there already too,” he said.

“Maybe, maybe not,” April said. “Wouldn’t
hurt to look, would it?” she asked.

Billy looked at her. “We have all the money
we could ever use: Too much… And the drugs and pot to get rid of
too: Why do you wanna go?”

“Just to see how a dude that makes deals
like that lives, I guess,” April said.

“I guess we could drive by… See how it
looks,” Billy agreed at last. “But no stopping unless it looks
really good… Even then I don’t know.”

“I just wanna see how it looks,” April
said.

Robello walked out of the office as his guy,
a skinny pimple-faced kid got back and pulled onto the lot. He
handed the kid a screwdriver so he could put the plates on the
Commander.

A few minutes later Billy was following
April as she made her way through the late afternoon traffic and
onto Lake Avenue.

~

The house was nondescript and set back from
the street on its own. The driveways on both sides of it were
empty. They drove by twice before April pulled into the driveway.
Billy had no choice but to follow her in. He locked the truck and
got out. She met him coming from the Jeep. “Nobody’s here,” she
said.

“This is crazy, April. What do you mean
nobody’s here? You can’t see inside! Could be a dog, wife,
girlfriend: Could be that some dude across the street looks after
his place while he’s gone,” Billy said.

“There’s a dude across the street watching
the place?” April asked. She looked comically across the street,
hiding behind his arm, looking frightful. She smiled. “It’s a city.
Nobody cares who does what or who they do it too. There’s nobody
here. Let’s just go in for a few minutes… Just to see,” she
said.

“I must be nuts,” Billy said.

“It would probably help to be with me,”
April said. “Well?” she asked.

“Maybe the key won’t fit,” Billy said.

“Maybe,” April agreed. She walked right over
to the front door and rang the doorbell. The chimes sounded loudly
somewhere inside. She waited and tried again before she pulled the
brass key from her pocket and slipped it into the lock. It slid in
easily and April turned it unlocking the door.

“I don’t like this,” Billy said.

“Oh don’t be a baby,” April said. “Come on.

Anybody asks we’re friends who stopped by to water his plants.” She
boldly stepped inside and Billy closed and locked the door behind
them.

Across the street

Marion

Marion Winters leaned back away from her
window across the street as her husband Fred walked in from the
kitchen his first drink of the afternoon in his hand.

“What are you watching now, Marion?” he
asked as he sat down in his recliner and clicked on the
television.

“The drug dealers place,” she answered.

“Very interesting.”

Fred sighed. “Okay, what’s so interesting,
Marion?” he asked.

“Well, Freddy, I could tell you that if you
really wanted to know, but maybe you think I’m a little buggy or
something,” she looked away from the window at him.

He sighed again: Accepted the fact that
Sports Center would have to wait for a little longer and
focused his attention on her. “I don’t think you’re buggy. I’ve
never said that, Marion. Nosy, yes! Buggy, no: At least not yet,”
Fred said.

“Well if you’re gonna be like that,” she
said. She flipped her blue tinted hair away from her eyes and
turned back to the window.

“I’m sorry, honey. I know you’re not looking
to be nosy. I don’t think your buggy. And I know you’re just
looking out for the neighborhood. I’m sorry, Marion…
Okay?” he asked.

She looked at him again and then turned back
to the window before she spoke once more. “He’s gone and there are
strangers going into his house,” she said and nodded her head.
“Well at least one stranger… I don’t know about the girl.”

“Well, Marion how can you tell they’re
strangers. I mean they may be his friends, except the girl of
course, who may or may not be a friend. And how do you know that
he’s not home. He could be.” Fred said, glancing at Sports Center,
hoping she’d get to the point quickly.

“He left yesterday morning at about 8:15 AM.

He’s not come back since, I’d know,” Marion said. “His girlfriend
left last week… Didn’t come back.”

[_Of course you would know, you nosy
bitch_], Fred thought to himself. Jesus. He was missing Sports
Center. “Well, honey what do you plan to do… I thought he was a
drug dealer? I thought you didn’t like him,” Fred said. “But here
you are looking out for his house for him.”

“He is. I don’t, but you have to keep track
of things like this. Don’t you watch TV at all?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” Fred answered, his eyes slid
once more to the television.

“I know, Freddie. I know what you think,”
she said and nodded.

“I don’t think anything,” Fred said.

He sipped at his drink and wished he had made it a double. “Marion,
honey, how do you know they’re not friends of his?” Fred asked.

“Well, Freddy do friends knock on the door
and then use a key? No. Friends that have a key just put it in the
lock and go in, don’t they, Freddy?” she asked.

“I would knock, Marion. Especially since my
friend’s a drug dealer. Maybe he’s come back early, see? Maybe if I
just walk in and he’s all hyped up on those drugs he sells-they
always use it themselves, see I watch TV too, Marion-But let’s say
he’s all hyped up and shoots me even though he’s a friend: You
can’t trust a junkie,” Fred said solemnly.

“You think he’s a Junkie?” Marion asked
seriously.

Fred sipped at his drink. “Of course; all
those drug dealers are. Did you not see that movie with
what’s-his-name? We watched it. He was a cop and he got hooked…
Nearly ruined his life! It’s the way it goes. You got to taste that
stuff to make sure you don’t get ripped off, right? Bang! You’re
hooked: Monkey on your back and all that stuff, Marion. They’re all
junkies eventually,” Fred said. “Plus the girl could be the
girlfriend come back.”

“I never thought of it like that,” she said.

“I guess I’d knock too, but he’s not usually gone this long that he
would give someone the key,” she said. “And the girl doesn’t look
quite right…” She turned and squinted out the window. “Not
dressed right.” She sighed. “It’s too far away to tell.”

“Sure, but if you’re going for a while you
don’t want people to know it. You don’t want the mail or the papers
to pile up, see? Then the other junkies will probably stop by to
rob you. So, you have your girlfriend stop by. Pick up the mail,
feed the dog.”

“He doesn’t have a dog, Freddie,” Marion
said.

“Okay, water the plants… Whatever… You
just want to keep the other junkies away. I mean they’ll know and
come around and rob him. And then probably take over his spot,”
Fred said.

“You think he has a spot?” Marion asked.

“Honey, Marion, they all do. They all have a
spot. Usually one they took from someone else. It’s how they sell.
They take their stuff there. The other drug users and junkies know
about it. They come to buy… They call it copping… I thought you
knew all of this from TV, Marion?” Fred asked.

“I do. I do,” Marion said. “I just didn’t
realize all of that was going on over there. Maybe I should
call the police,” She said.

“And say what?” Freddie asked. “I think
this? I think that? No, better to let it take care of itself; it
always does, Marion.”

“You think?” she asked.

“I think so… Now why don’t you come over
here and we’ll sit and watch the Sports Center for a while… OK?
You know I like to hear all the college scores from yesterday,”
Freddy said.

Marion took one last look out the window and
then came over and sat down next to her husband.

Ben Neo’s House

Billy Jingo

April went through each room opening doors
as she went.

“Fingerprints,” Billy said. “You know they
will come here.”

“Should have bought gloves,” April said.

“I didn’t know we’d be doing a B and E,”
Billy said.

“We had a key,” April said. “That’s not a B
and E.”

“Dead people can’t give permission,” Billy
said.

“Ben wouldn’t have minded,” April said and
tried a smile on her face.

“Famous last words spoken too,” Billy said.

“What are we looking for?”

They had come into a bedroom and April chose
a pair of socks from a drawer and slipped them on her hands. Billy
did the same.

“This will work?” Billy asked.

She nodded. “I saw it in a movie. Remind me
to wipe down those door knobs.” She searched through the drawers
and came up with two guns and another $15,000 in cash in a thick
white envelope. “See?” she said.

Billy went back and checked the other rooms,
wiping the doorknobs as he went. They met back in the kitchen and
searched it together. Billy opened the refrigerator and then
quickly slammed the door.

“What?” April asked. She walked over to
him.

“Fuck… It’s a body… One that just
happens to be missing a head and hands,” Billy said.

He wiped off the handle of the refrigerator.

They both stopped. She looked at him.

“What?” he asked.

“What else was in there?” she asked.

[_“A fuckin’ body! Christ, isn’t that
enough?”_] Billy asked.

“We should check it is all,” April said.

[_“For what? To make sure it’s the same dude?
Make sure he’s missing…”_]

“Don’t say it,” April said. … [_“Is he
missing it?”_]

“I didn’t see,” Billy said.

“You’re going to have to,” April said. “…

Money: Guns… Drugs; I don’t know, but we have to check,” she said
after a pause.

“Yeah? It’s your turn, you know. And don’t
say it isn’t,” Billy said.

“Yeah? Well just so you know looking at dead
guys with missing parts might just put me right off sex for a
while,” April said.

Billy stared at her, his mouth open. “Fuck!
Fuck, Fuck, Fuck!” He said loudly. He crossed back to the
refrigerator and pulled the door open a little too fast, rocking
the refrigerator. The door flew open and the body that had been
wedged into it fell out onto the floor with a stiff clunk.

April stifled a scream. “Look at what you
did,” she managed at last.

“Well I didn’t mean to,” Billy answered. He
made himself look into the refrigerator. All the shelves had been
removed so that the body would fit. There was a puddle of blood in
the bottom of the fridge but nothing else. “All that and there’s
nothing in here in all,” Billy said.

“He has a wallet,” April said, pointing.

Billy looked. A light colored leather bulge
that protruded from his back pocket. He reached down carefully and
pulled free the wallet which was gummed together with blood.

“Jesus, April,” Billy complained. “Why do we have to look inside
everything?” he complained.

“You never know,” she said.

“Never know what?” Billy asked. “What is it
you never know?”

“See,” April said. “You don’t know because
you never took the time to find out. See what I mean? You’ll never
know.”

Billy stared at her for a few minutes. “I
have no clue what the fuck you just said it was all about even,” he
said.

“Exactly,” April said.

Billy shook his head, pried the wallet open
to look inside. Money, ID, a few credit cards, all of it stuck
together with blood. He showed her.

“It washes off,” April said.

He stared at her, [_“You’re
serious?”_]

She came, took the wallet, pulled out the ID
and money, searching through the rest of the stuff. She walked to
the sink, turned on the water and began to rinse the two credit
cards and driver’s license: When she finished she rinsed off the
money too. Billy watched the pink water run down the drain. He
walked over and picked up a driver’s license. It was the head from
the duffel bag. “This is him,” Billy said. “Carlos Sanchez,”
he read from the license.

“Yeah, he looked a little better when his
head wasn’t in a duffel bag,” April said.

“You’re so cold,” Billy said.

“I’m not cold; just truthful. What else can
I say? [_He looks better without a body? His neck was too long
anyway? It’s a shame, he just lost his head?_] He’s in no shape
to critique me anyway that’s for sure,” she said.

“Can we go now?” Billy asked.

“You gotta put him back into the fridge,”
April said. “We have another twelve hundred bucks by the way.”

“How much does that make?” Billy asked.

“I don’t know, we haven’t counted it all
yet, remember?” April asked. “Like a gazillion or so, I guess.”

Billy bent, picked up the body, and carried
it back to the fridge, but no matter how he twisted and shoved it
he couldn’t get it back in. “You’ll have to help me,” he told
her.

“If I do I’ll get blood all over me like
you,” April said.

“Well, blood washes off,” Billy said.

“Smart ass,” April said. “I’ll take his legs
stick them in and then the rest should be easy,” she said. She
grabbed his legs and swung them into the bottom of the
refrigerator, then helped as Billy shoved the rest of the body in
and slammed the door.

They were both smeared with blood.

“We have to get this blood cleaned up off
the floor,” April said. “I’m going up to get cleaned up. You clean
it up and then get yourself cleaned up… He has clothes upstairs
that will fit you,” April said. She was slightly out of breath.

“This was a bad idea,” Billy said.

“Not really,” April said.

“No, it really was, April. What did we
accomplish?” Billy asked.

“We know who the dead guy is… We know
nobody else is here… We got another twelve hundred bucks…
Billy, I gotta get this shit off me… It’s creeping me out,” she
said. The pleading was in her voice.

“Okay… Go on… I’ll clean this up, bag it
all, and then I’ll be up,” Billy said.

Marion

“Ha,” Marion said.

Fred knew the Ha was designed to get
him to ask what. Even knowing that he asked anyway.

“What?” Fred asked.

“They’re leaving,” Marion said. “But they
changed clothes. She has on a man’s clothes… Like a bad girl…
Looks like a thug girl. Like you see on those videos our grand kids
watch. You know?”

“Honey: She’s a drug dealer’s girlfriend, if
it is her, and it probably is… She probably is one of
those thug girls. Let me see,” Fred got up and came to the window.
He tilted his edge of the blinds and peeked out. “Oh yeah: She’s a
thug… I see them all the time. They dress that way,” Fred told
her.

“Yeah?” Marion asked.

“No doubt: She was probably dressed that way
when she went in; you probably didn’t notice,” Fred said.

“I noticed. I’m sure she wasn’t… They
bought out garbage bags… Probably drugs,” Marion said switching
gears.

“Probably,” Fred agreed… “It’s a shame how
they just do what they want to do in broad daylight.”

“Yes it is,” Marion agreed. “Well there they
go. That’s that. Nothing we can do now,” Marion said. She sighed
deeply as she moved away from the window and let the blind fall
shut.

Fred followed her back to the television.

“Cheer up,” he said. “I’m sure someone will stop by later on. Give
you something to do.”

“You think I’ve become a busybody?” she
accused.

“No, I don’t. I think you’re bored is all,”
Fred told her.

“Well… Sometimes… How you feeling?” she
asked. She came over next to him and then rested one hand on his
thigh. He looked up to see a smile playing across her lips.

Watertown

Sammy and Don

“Oh yeah, it’s a match,” Don said. He showed
Sammy the two thumbprints.

“But I thought we wouldn’t know until Monday
afternoon at the earliest?” Sammy said.

“Technically, officially we won’t. I
just suspected it was the kid. He did time so I pulled his card.
The prints match, but I’m not a qualified expert, so we have to
wait officially until they give us the word on Monday,” Don
said.

“So we still can’t do anything this
weekend?” Sammy said.

“Might give us a little leverage,” Don said.

He walked across the garage and returned the fingerprint to a
tech.

“Got our guy?” the tech asked.

“A strong possibility,” Don said. “Very
strong. I’d like you to keep that between us… Chain of custody…
Don’t wanna fuck with that shit,” Don said.

“Hell no,” the tech said. “That would be my
ass.” He walked away and then came back. “Same print on the trunk
lid too… Glad it helped… It did help, right?” he asked.

“It did,” Don said in a low voice. “And
thanks.”

“So now we know why he needed the keys, to
check the trunk,” Sammy said.

Don nodded… “Want to go rattle his cage a
little?” he asked.

“I do. And I’m wondering why our witness
didn’t see him do it?” Sammy said.

“Easy,” Don said. “The car was out of sight
at the back of the trailer.”

“Probably,” Sammy agreed. “But I want to
hear her say that. What was her name anyway, Ali… Amy…
Something like that.”

“April,” Don supplied before Sammy could
look it up in his notebook. “Yeah, April like the month. Why does
someone name their daughter something like that? Or Brandy, or
Misty, you just know every guy in school is gonna be banging her,”
Don said.

“Banging the shit right out of her,” Sammy
agreed. They both laughed.

“Let’s go,” Don said. They headed out of the
garage into the late afternoon sunlight. It was early fall and even
with the strong sunlight there wasn’t a lot of warmth in the
air.

“I fucking hate this weather,” Sammy
said.

“Be fall soon,” Don said. He unlocked the
car: Leaned across to unlock the passenger side; started the car
and pulled out of the lot.

Rochester New York

Billy Jingo

They drove over to the West side of the
city. April followed as Billy searched for an abandoned piece of
property. The problem wasn’t finding one, the problem was finding
one that wasn’t already being used by drug dealers or that had a
place to pull behind it. He found one by an abandoned apartment
house on a side street and pulled behind it. April pulled in behind
him.

“This makes the trailer park looked like
high class,” she said.

“We better hurry before we attract a crowd,”
Billy said. They transferred everything to the Jeep in just a few
minutes, and then Billy used a screwdriver to take the plates off
the truck. He emptied the glove box and behind the seat, then used
a hammer to smash one corner out of the windshield and a pair of
pliers along with a screwdriver to remove the VIN plate.

He had no doubt the truck would be gone ten
minutes after they were gone, but once it did turn up, if it ever
did, it would be hard to trace without the VIN plate. There were
other areas, motor, frame, but usually no tow yard was going to go
through the trouble of checking. They’d tow it in and store it in
the yard and eventually auction it off. Even then it would probably
go for parts so there would be no need to find the VIN and run it
through DMV.

Most likely one of the several pairs of
eye’s watching them would steal it and keep it for themselves. He
left the key in the switch: As they were leaving three guys were
walking down the block toward the house. Or at least it seemed that
way to Billy. They stopped and flipped off the Jeep as they rode by
them, then they ran down to the house: Before they had turned off
the block Billy saw the nose of the truck poke out of the
driveway.

“Better get us away quicker, April. Make a
few fast turns. Those guys might chase us with our own truck,”
Billy said.

April took the next left then a right and
another quick left and they popped out on Genesee Street. Billy
looked, but he didn’t see his truck anywhere.

“Looks good,” he managed before something
hit them from behind. He nearly broke his neck getting turned
around only to see it was his own truck with the three guys
driving.

“Can you drive this hard?” Billy
asked. [_“If not we’re going to have to find a way to
switch.”_]

April dropped the drive letter into low and
floored the Jeep. She shot around a line of traffic swerving out
into the oncoming lanes, then skidded into a hard left and shot
down a side street. Instead of slowing she kept the Commander
floored and ran the next several blocks flat out: Checking in her
mirrors as she left the truck behind.

She slowed just enough to make a slight
curve and then sped up again. She locked up the brakes halfway down
the block to make a fast right. She drove hard for the next three
blocks, and then made a left. The truck was nowhere in sight, but
she made another fast right before she slowed down.

She cursed under her breath. It was a dead
end street, mostly abandoned properties. She got the Jeep turned
around and headed back. Halfway down the block Billy’s truck shot
across the mouth of the street, and she could hear the tires scream
as the driver locked up the brakes. She made the next intersection
and headed back the way they had come.

She floored the truck again and blew by a
half dozen two way stop sign intersections that bisected the street
they were traveling on. She finally locked up the brakes again and
slid the Jeep into a left and they were coming up on Genesee Street
once more.

April skirted a small line of cars waiting
at the red light and slid out into the street, tires smoking.

She punched the gas hard and got the Jeep
two streets down before she turned again and shot up two blocks and
then made a right onto a side street.

“Christ,” Billy said as she flew by a
stopped dump truck and he heard something scrape down the entire
passenger side of the Jeep. “You’re gonna get us killed!”

“Those guys are gonna get us killed,”
she said as behind her the pickup truck swung out around the dump
truck and then sideswiped a car parked nearby before the driver got
it straightened out again.

They were driving into one of the more run
down areas and she made a quick left and then another quick left
trying to lose them on the short, narrow streets. Billy reached
forward and pulled one of the flat black 9 MM guns from the glove
box, flipped off the safety and laid it on the seat top. He looked
at April who snatched it up and dropped it into her lap.

Billy took a second gun out and got it
ready.

“Fuck,” April said. “Dead end! … [_Dead end
again!_]”

“Fuck it, get it turned around,”
Billy yelled.

April floored it, jumped the curb and tore
up the front yard of the house before turning around. She came back
down onto the street, slammed the gearshift into park and jumped
out of the Jeep.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Billy
Screamed. He jumped out of the truck. He could hear his own truck,
engine screaming as it came. April stopped and then raised the
pistol. Billy stared at her incredulously for second and then
lifted his own gun.

The truck came screaming down the other
street, the driver saw them and locked up the brakes. April opened
up, and Billy fell in with her. The driver got the truck turned
toward them, floored it and then the windshield blew apart.

One of the guys on the passenger side leaned
out with a pistol and opened up on them, but he was shooting wild.
Billy was surprised at his own calm as he turned, took careful aim
and then fired at the side of the truck. The pistol fell from the
guy’s hand and then both of them had to jump out of the way to miss
the truck as it roared by them and cannoned down the street.

The truck continued a half block before it
jumped the curb and plowed into a house. April and Billy were up
and scrambling for the Jeep even as flames begin to shoot up from
the house and the wreckage of the truck.

Billy ran for the truck only to find a young
guy sprinting for the Jeep. He saw Billy and April and let his
pistol drop to the ground.

Don’t… Don’t… Don’t shoot me,” the kid
yelled. He stood a frightened look in his eyes as blood dripped
down one side of his face. His breath came in ragged gasps.

Billy ignored him, jumped into the truck
just behind April and slammed the door.

April gunned the engine and ran hard for
about ten blocks, then slowed, working her way to the outskirts of
the city on the back streets, finally pulling into a huge mall
parking lot and parking in the first spot she found.

“That was fucking crazy,” Billy said. He was
still breathing hard.

April nodded and then burst into tears.

Billy leaned over and pulled her to him. She
curled into him and cried harder: After a few minutes she pulled
away.

“It’s over,” Billy said.

She nodded and set up straighter on the
seat. She looked at him again. “I’ve never been so scared,” she
said, her voice hitching. “Kiss me, Billy. Kiss me.”

Billy kissed her and she leaned hard into
him. He could feel her trembling under his hands as her own hands
roamed his body… “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she breathed.

“For what?” Billy asked, out of breath.

“We have to get somewhere… I need clothes
too. I shouldn’t be starting something right here. Right now,” she
said. She straightened up and tilted the rear view mirror towards
her face. “Jesus,” She moaned. She took out a brush and went to
work on her hair. A few minutes later they left the Jeep and went
into the mall. They split up going their separate ways.

Two hours later, just as the sun was
sinking, they met back at the food court and ate. She seemed to be
much better. They ate their food and talked quietly and then they
wandered back through the mall toward the exit they needed to get
back to the parking lot.

“Billy, look,” April said. She looked over
at an old photo booth, Four pictures for Five bucks, the
sign advertised.

“Probably doesn’t work,” Billy said. April
cut her eyes at his and frowned slightly, just enough to make him
immediately wish he had said something else. “But we could try it,”
he amended quickly. He dug a five from his pocket and showed it to
her.

She smiled as she took the five from his
hand. “I wouldn’t make you… But I’m going to.” She handed her
packages to Billy and walked away.

Billy nodded nervously at a young guy that
walked by a few moments later as he waited and smiled. She seemed
to be taking forever. He had actually decided to go to the booth
and check to see if something was wrong when she stepped out, drew
the curtain back across the entrance and walked back to him.

“Didn’t work,” he asked.

She smiled and handed him a row of four
pictures.

“Hey…” April’s face appeared in four
frames making faces or laughing. “That is kind of cool, I…” he
stopped as she pulled another strip from her pocket.

“These you keep in your wallet. In case you
forget,” she told him.

He looked at the pictures and his face began
to color. She laughed.

“Your wallet… Stop drooling!” She laughed
once more as Billy tucked the pictures away in his wallet and began
to follow her from the mall. He followed her to the Jeep, but
before he could climb into the passenger side she stopped him.

“You drive, Billy. Let’s go somewhere for
the night, Okay? Let’s call it a day.”

Billy nodded, climbing into the driver’s
side after helping her load her bags in the back.

They drove slowly out of the parking lot and
then turned onto the expressway once Billy caught an exit. A few
minutes after that Billy took another exit and pulled into a motel.
“The last stop for the day,” he said.

April smiled and followed him inside.

Friday night

Billy Jingo

The lights were off in the room: The TV
dead; curtains parted just enough to allow some light from the
sodium arc lights in the parking lot to spill into the room. It was
late, but Billy had lost track of time, he had no idea how late it
was, only that it was late.

They had made love for a long time. It had
really started in the shower; from there they had eventually made
it back to the bed.

He had never made love to anyone like her.

Not that there was a long list, there wasn’t, three counting her.
So maybe he just hadn’t had the right experience, but he didn’t
think it was that simple. He thought it was her: Who she was, how
she was. She was resting her head on his shoulder. They were both
still breathing heavy. He could feel the heaviness of her breasts
resting against him. One was pressed into his side, the other
resting against his rib cage. Her hand was playing with the small
hairs that framed his belly button. Something about that was
erotic. Maybe it was just the feel of her hand, her breasts pressed
against him, but he was hard all over again.

His hand dropped down and caressed her hip,
then traveled down into her dark curls and her legs parted like
magic. A minute later he was kissing his way across her breasts and
downward.

Later

More time slipped by; he opened his eyes
once more and found himself in the same position, holding her as
she curled into his side. Her head was resting against his
shoulder.

“Tell me something you never told anyone
else,” she said.

“I don’t like to fight. I only do it because
if I don’t other guys might get stupid, think I’m stupid…
Think I’m soft, won’t stick up for myself. I’d rather just get
along with people, you know?” he asked.

“Yeah… The shit the world makes you do… I
like that. You didn’t seem like the kind of guy to want that kind
of life… But you did time though… Right?” she asked.

“Yeah… County jail time,” Billy
admitted.

“It could have made you mean. I’m glad it
didn’t,” April said. Her voice was soft, her breath light against
his side as she spoke.

“County’s not so bad. You’re mostly hanging
around the same guys you hang around with on the street. State
prison is where it gets tough… Things happen there,” Billy said.

“Tell me something about you that nobody else knows.”

She laughed. “I’m not afraid of most of the
things that scare other people until they are over. Then I get
scared. Kind of reversed from what it should be, right?” she
asked.

“Yeah,” Billy agreed. “Like today. You were
like… I don’t know… Like some warrior woman. You just stood
there and blew that guy away. He could have killed you, but you
were like ice. I’ve never seen anything like that before except in
movies.”

“Yeah and then I was so scared I cried like
a baby,” April said. “Your turn.”

“Okay I’ve only been with girls, I mean like
back in high school before you, and one of them was back in junior
high. So she really doesn’t count,” Billy said.

“So really? I’m the only woman? The only
one?” April said. “Did you compare?” she asked. She lifted her head
up and smiled at him.

“Yeah. It was no comparison at all and I’m
not just saying that. You do things to me just looking at me,”
Billy said. “Your turn.”

“Okay I’ve only been with two people before
you. And, you’re much better. You took time with me, made me feel
good,” she said.

“People?” Billy asked.

“No fair, that’s two questions… Okay…

One guy… And one girl back in high school last year. The guy
treated me so bad I kind of swore off guys for a while… I’m glad
I changed my mind now,” she said… “Your turn.”

“I used to deal drugs. Small town… Four
years ago. I started that because all my friends would hit me up
for coke or pot and then didn’t want to pay. They wanted to party
for free… I went to jail, my uncle and my friends at the same
time,” Billy said.

“I forgot I promised we would smoke… Do
you still want to?” April asked.

“No, I’m good… Go ahead if you want to…”
He let the silence hang for a moment “Where are we going from here,
April. I mean… I mean you and me, not physically where are we
gonna go, but us as a… A couple, I guess…” Billy asked.

“I’m going wherever you go. I mean we’re
together now, right?” April asked.

“Yeah, I wanted to hear you say it though. I
want the same thing, but how come I never met you in all this
time?” he asked.

“Because all you do is work and watch TV. I
used to walk down that road every night hoping you’d be sitting on
your steps so I could say hello. I told you when all this happened
I knew where you’ve lived and I was heading there. I don’t mean
before it all happened, but after it did. I was trying to get to
your place so I’d be safe,” April said.

“You trusted me like that with all the
whackos in the world?” Billy asked.

“Hey there were guys shooting at each other.

I’m pretty sure they saw me before I could get off the road and
into the woods. They would have killed me for sure. You? You seemed
like a nice guy even though I only saw you a few times. Yeah, I
would trust you that much,” she answered.

They fell silent for a few minutes.

“Are you sorry you did this,” she asked. “I
mean the whole thing… It’s not even an entire day yet and look at
where we are… We’re pretty much on the run… Or we will be soon.
Are you sorry? Do you wish we would have stayed in the trailer and
just let it all go?”

“No,” Billy said. “I’m not sorry. First,
money aside, I wouldn’t have met you. Second, how does someone like
me…? Or you… How does someone like us get ahead otherwise? I
can see me working my crappy job until I could afford to buy my own
trailer… Maybe or maybe not: I was starting to care more about
drinking than anything else. I can’t be sorry. Everything has
changed. It wouldn’t have,” Billy said.

“Yeah,” April said. “If you hadn’t been
there I might have done it myself if I could’ve worked up the
nerve. I… I had a plan… I did have a plan.” She shook he
head as though to clear it. “What worries me is I might have been
too afraid. Tonight I could be sitting alone like every other
night, watching TV… I couldn’t be alone for long in that trailer
park though. Eventually I would’ve taken one of those guys as a
boyfriend just to be safe. It’s crazy there: Especially on the
weekends. Tomorrow night there will be two disappointed guys. They
come around every Saturday night… The trailers on either side of
me. One has a sister that lives there; the other is just a guy he
works with, but all they really come for is to talk to me. I pretty
much have to stay inside, hiding, trying to stay away from them. So
that’s what I do, I stay inside. Lately they’ve been getting
braver, coming over and knocking. Then last weekend they got into a
fight over me. I don’t even know them, either of them, and they’re
out there fighting over who gets to knock on the door. I can
imagine what tomorrow will be like… I’m not sorry either. I’m not
sorry at all. I’m glad I’m here and I’m glad I’m here with you,”
she said. “Another few months, maybe even less, and I would have
said to hell with it, given in. In a few years I’d have a kid or
two running around and that trailer park would be home, and he’d be
gone.” She looked up at him and frowned. “It’s how that life gets
you if you’re a woman on your own, Billy… You get scared…”

He pulled her closer: She lifted up and came
up even with him and then smiled and bought her mouth down on his.
Just that fast he was ready again. He kissed her back slowly, took
his time, his hands traveling along her body. She dropped one hand
and guided him into her without breaking the kiss. He brought his
hands up and let them play across her breasts.

Watertown

Sammy and Don

“The kid’s truck is not out back,” Sammy
said as he came back around the trailer. “Maybe he’s at work.”

“No, day off he was already drinking since
last night, remember? The kid had nowhere to go,” Don said. He
stopped for a second. “What the hell is that noise?” he asked.

“Dogs: You can hear them out back. Sounds
like a couple of dogs out in the woods fighting over something:
Probably a dead woodchuck or something; dump’s close by. I get that
shit all the time at my house,” Sammy said.

Don looked around, pulled a card from his
pocket, wrote on the back of it and then stuck it in the door.

“Maybe the girl… Maybe he’s down there…

Somewhere… I think everybody on this road knows each other. The
girl said she knew him. I should have asked how well,” he said as
they walked away.

They both got into the unmarked car. Don
turned it around and headed back down the road to the trailer
park.

New Paltz

Chang Wii’s Restaurant

Tommy Murphy

“Mr. Murphy, excuse me sir. I told them you
shouldn’t be disturbed, but they insisted,” the waiter told him. He
passed him a phone on a tray with its cord coiled next to it.

Murphy smiled at the others at the table. They all worked for him
in one capacity or another. He picked up the phone.

He listened quietly. His face gave nothing
at all away. “I see… I see,” he said at last. “Yes… We’ll take
care of it.” He smiled, closed the phone and handed it back to the
waiter along with a fifty dollar bill. “Scott, thank you. The call
was important,” he said as he passed him the phone and the folded
bill. The waiter thanked him and left. Murphy turned back to the
table.

“Enjoy yourselves,” he said. “Jimmy and I
have some business to discuss, and after that I’ll be back…
Jimmy?” he asked the tall, older man on the other side of the
table. They both got up and left the dining room; walking out onto
the wide rear deck that faced the mountains. Here in the Catskills
it was early fall, but it was cool, even cold this time of year.
For that reason the deck was deserted: If it had not been he would
have had it cleared before he came outside.

“The deal went bad,” Murphy told him. “Neo
is dead. Jefferson’s boys are dead too. And funny thing, the cops
haven’t put any drugs or large sums of money into evidence
yet.”

Jimmy nodded and continued to listen. Murphy
reached into his pocket and peeled off several hundred dollar
bills.

“Travel money, Jimmy; I don’t know if
there’s someone else involved or the cops got it. I want my money
back. Jefferson will want his product back… You work for me, but
this time you shall be working this for both of us. I don’t want
this deal between Jefferson and me to fall apart. Find the problem,
fix it, bring this to that happy conclusion I need, Jimmy,” he
reached over and placed one hand on Jimmy’s shoulder. He frowned,
let the silence play out and then spoke again. “There is something
else… Let’s call it an investment that came along with this deal.
Neo knew, Jefferson knew, no one else. I’ll need your discretion…
Believe me when I say this, there are two large bags, packed with
pot, stuffed with pot, above all else bring those bags to
me. I must have those two bags unmolested: If you must leave
everything else. If you must kill whomever to take them back, do
it.” He thought for a second. “I can’t make it clearer, Jimmy. It
is paramount that those bags come back to us.”

“Got you,” Jimmy said. He turned and took
the stairs that lead from the deck down to the parking lot. Murphy
watched him go and then stepped back into the restaurant.

Lott Road

April Evans Trailer

“Hey, somebody call the cops?” an old guy
asked. He was sitting on the back bumper of a rusted Ford pickup
drinking beer at the trailer next door to April Evans’ place.

Don looked at him. Not old; just hard faced
from all the drinking. His eyes slid to the trailer. The lights
were off.

“Seen April around tonight?” Don asked.

“Maybe,” the guy answered. He took a pull of
his beer and smiled.

“Well, if you maybe saw her, would you maybe
know where she is?” Don asked.

“Maybe,” the guy agreed. He lit a cigarette,
blew out the smoke and then laughed at his own private joke.

“Uh huh,” Don said. “Let’s see some ID. I’m
thinking drunk and disorderly, Sammy. Did you hear him just call me
a cocksucker? That hurt my feelings.” He looked back down at the
guy who hadn’t moved.

“Yeah, I heard him. I couldn’t believe it
myself, but the guy called you a cocksucker all right. He must not
know you too well,” Sammy said. He looked down where the man sat.
“Don doesn’t suck cock. I have never seen him suck a cock. He’s not
a cocksucker. You must have him confused with your father or
something.”

“Fuck, I didn’t say no such thing at all,”
the guy said now, sitting up straight. “You fuckers lie so bad.” He
glared at one then the other, but his eyes held panic.

“ID, sir,” Don said stepping closer now. “Or
I’ll help you to get it.”

The guy shut up and dug out his wallet. He
seemed nervous.

“Anything you want to say before I run this
ID?” Don asked.

“Why you fuckin’ with me?” he asked.

“Because I asked you a question and you
decided to fuck with me.” He looked at the ID and then slipped it
into his pocket. “You see how that works? … Of course we could
start over again,” he offered.

“Yeah, I’m not a bad guy: Let’s start over
again. The thing is I can’t help you with April. She ain’t home. I
wish she was. I’ve been here half the day and she ain’t been
around. That’s all I know.”

Don reached into his pocket and flipped the
guy’s driver’s license back to him.

“She works on Friday nights?” Don asked.

“Not usually… She’s around nights. Works
days down to the Stop in Stock… Store at the end of the road…
Comes home real early mornings… Like sun coming up early…
Cashier… Good girl,” he said.

“She got a boyfriend?” Don asked.

“Specifically, you know this young guy down at the end of the road,
Billy?” Don asked. “Billy Jingo?”

“Ain’t never seen her with a boyfriend… I
know Billy, a little anyhow… At least I use too… He used to do
a little dealing, if you know what I mean. Went to jail… He ain’t
done shit since then… And I never have seen him around here. I
don’t think she’d be his type,” the man said.

“What do you mean not his type?” Don
asked.

“She don’t date… He was always hanging
around with the guys, following the partying. She don’t party
either,” the man said.

“Make you sad?” Don asked with a smile.

“Of course… She’s pretty… Needs a man,”
the man said.

Don took another of his cards, wrote “Call
me” on the back and walked over to the trailer door, and pushed it
into the gap. He handed another card to the guy when he came back.
“John, you call me when she gets home. I don’t care how late it is,
okay?” Don said.

The man took the card. “How do you know my
name?” he asked.

“The license,” Don told him. “I’m good like
that. It comes with the job.”

“I’ll call,” John said.

“You do that,” Don said as he walked back to
the car with Sammy.

John watched them as they drove away and
then went back to smoking and drinking. Wondering to himself where
April had gotten to.

Billy Jingo’s Place

“[_Hey! Hey! You dogs get away from
there!”_] Don yelled.

He was tempted to shoot his gun into the
ground to scare them, but the department frowned on discharging
firearms without good reason. You had to fill out paperwork, which
was exactly why he usually carried a few extra rounds with him.
Only today he was out. He took the gun out anyway: If one of them
charged him he could shoot it. There were three of them, a big
Rottweiler, a mangy looking yellow shepherd mix, and some sort of
chow mix: The chow worried him most.

“Shoot that goddamned Chow,” Don started to
say, when beside him, Sammy raised his pistol and shot the
chow.

“Jesus,” Don said. [_“You shot the
fuckin’ Chow.”_]

“You said to,” Sammy said.

“I wasn’t done speaking. I was going to say,
shoot that goddamned Chow if it charges us,” Don said.

“Huh,” Sammy said. “Guess it charged
us.”

The other two dogs had taken off, well, like
a shot, Don thought and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” Sammy said.

“The other two dogs took off like a shot,”
Don said and smiled.

“Well, yeah. They were probably scared,”
Sammy said.

“Gonna cost you some paper work though,” Don
said.

“Uh uh, got extras,” Sammy told him.

“Well fuck,” Don said and stopped. “I was
out or I would have shot that fucker myself.”

Sammy laughed. “Well he’s shot.”

Don shook his head and then started into the
clearing to see what about that duffel bag had them so agitated. He
walked around the side and saw that they had gnawed a hole into the
side of the bag.

The two of them almost had not come back.

They had been nearly to the end of the road when Sammy had said,
“What if it’s not a woodchuck?”

Don had turned around and headed back down
to the trailer without another word.

He squatted now and looked at the side of
the bag and what was outside the bag too. He leaned forward and
used his pen to push aside leaves and blades of grass to see the
bones and scattered pieces without disturbing anything. He rose
back to his feet.

This was no woodchuck. Sammy had been right.

Something raw and red showed inside the bag. Outside the bag was a
scattering of small bones and something meaty that wasn’t really
recognizable until you really looked at it, let your mind put it
together, and realized it was part of a human hand: The palm part
to be specific; and those little bones were finger bones, all
except that one piece right up against the bag. That was a finger
with a manicured fingernail still on it. He looked at his pen,
debated and then slipped a plastic bag from his pocket, dropped the
pen inside and sealed the bag.

“Better go call for the crime scene guys,”
Don told Sammy. Sammy nodded and took off back through the woods
with their only flashlight. There was a moon and that helped, but
he didn’t feel particularly good knowing those other two dogs were
around somewhere.

He reached into his pocket, fished out his
pack of cigarettes: Sammy was gonna pitch a fit: He didn’t smoke:
Didn’t like the smell of it, but right now Don needed one and
something was rustling in the underbrush close by. No telling what
it was, but smoke, cigarette smoke, would keep most of the
wildlife away. They hated it even more than Sammy did.

He lit the cigarette and drew the smoke deep
into his lungs. It immediately calmed him. He shifted gears in his
head and began to wonder about the duffel bag and what was in it.
No way could it hold a whole body. It was a small bag. The girl was
small, but not that small. It may have nothing to do with the two
of them, but he doubted it. It was too much coincidence. It was
either parts of one of them… Or… He just didn’t know. He
smoked and waited for Sammy to return, occasionally rustling the
tree limbs and scrub brush around him to let any animals near know
that he was there.

Rochester

Billy Jingo

It was even later. Once again April was
curled into him with her head resting on his shoulder, but this
time they were both back from another shower and under the
covers.

“You think we’ll be okay?” April asked.

“Yeah… I think we have to move on. We
might have to get another vehicle after today…… Besides, we
need one that’s not in our names,” Billy added.

“What about that Neo guy… You look a
little like him, if you get it right they would never guess it
wasn’t you. I mean make yourself up to look like him, you see?”
April asked.

Billy nodded. “It could work, but we should
wait until we’re out of this state. Just in case. That way no one
can remember seeing us… Where do you want to go?” he asked.

“Mexico… There are so many nice places
down there. You can live like a queen on almost nothing too. We got
to get rid of the pot and the heavy stuff too before we go down
there,” April said. “They are not kidding if you get caught with
that kind of shit over there… Prison there is not like here…
You better have family or someone to pay money to feed you or
you’ll die… Bad.”

Billy looked at her and she met his eyes
with her own.

“T.V. show… Saw it on a T.V. show a few
years ago: A girl with her boyfriend. She didn’t even know he had
the stuff… He got out of it and she was stuck for it. It was
bad…” Her eyes went away and her hand came up and rubbed across
his belly.

“We’d have better luck selling it down south
anyway, before we cross. We just got to look for the right guy. I
could call my friend tomorrow, ask him if he knows anyone down
there that would buy a lot,” Billy said.

“Should we chance it?” April asked.

“It’ll be okay. I’ll call from a prepaid
phone. He won’t know where I am. He’s a big deal, he don’t mess
with the cops. No one will know.” Billy said.

“Okay,” April said. “Then we go to
Mexico?”

“Mexico,” Billy agreed.

They were both silent for a while. Billy
started to drift off into real sleep. [_April felt so good against
his side. So won…_]

“Billy?” she said softly; unwilling to wake
him if he were sleeping.

“Yeah?” Billy answered.

“I want to build a house… I mean build it
ourselves… And I want babies, Billy. I want babies.”

“We’ll build one then,” Billy said. “And
we’ll have babies.”

She snuggled closer to him and kissed his
chest. In a few minutes both of them were fast asleep.

FIVE

Saturday morning

Watertown Center

Shop and Stock

Sammy and Don

“Last one,” Sammy said.

It was 2:00 AM and they had just come back
from six hours of sleep to get a jump on the day. The last half
hour they had been interviewing the people who worked the same
shifts as April Evans.

“Haley Mae,” Sammy added.

Don looked up and stopped writing in his
little notebook. “How do you,” spell her name, he had meant
to ask Sammy, but she was right in front of him.

“EM, A, E,” she said with a smile.

“Vietnamese?” Don asked. She was obviously
mixed race, African American and Asian, he questioned himself.

“Japanese,” she told him.

“Nice name,” Sammy said, “Haley.

Beautiful girl, Don thought. “Did you know
April Evans? Sometimes works this shift?” he asked.

“Not really,” she answered. “I mean I met
her, but only in passing… I just started here myself.”

She really was beautiful, Don thought. “You
wouldn’t know if she had a boyfriend… Other friends?” he
asked.

Haley shook her head. “Sorry,” she said…

“What has she done?”

“Nothing. She’s gone missing,” Sammy
supplied.

“She was an eye witness to a serious case
and then went missing,” Don said. “She’s not in trouble we just
want to ask her a few questions… And, really make sure she’s
okay.”

Haley shook her head. “I just started here a
few weeks back, and like I said, I don’t really know her… But I
heard it might be a girlfriend not a boyfriend though.”

Don looked at her. “You wouldn’t know
who?”

“No. It’s just a rumor. Someone said to
me… I don’t even remember who… But I’ve never seen her with a
guy. And I have seen her with other girls… Maybe also the way she
looked at me a few times… That’s all I know. I hope you find her
though. She seems like a nice girl,” Haley said.

“You don’t seem the type for this… Bagging
groceries at 2:00 am,” Don said.

Haley laughed. “I had this idea of
dancing… Tough to get a foot in a door though.”

“Any good,” Sammy asked.

“Excuse mister smooth there,” Don told her.

Sammy feigned a hurt look and Haley laughed. “He meant have you
done some dancing? I know somebody… Might be interested.”

Haley arched her eyebrows. “I can dance. I
just need to prove it to the right person.”

“Probably start out serving drinks… Dance
a little… Then if he likes you he’ll put you in.”

“I can do that,” she said slowly.

Sammy passed her a white business card with
his own name scrawled across the back. “Tell him I sent you…
That’s my name on the back.”

“Jimmy Vincioni,” Haley asked.

“Just V… Jimmy V. Good guy,” Sammy
said.

Haley nodded and tucked the card into her
front jean pocket. “I’ll call him… Thanks. Look…” Her voice
dropped to a near whisper. “I’m pretty sure she had a girlfriend
here… I just don’t know who,” Haley added quietly.

Don finished writing in his notebook, nodded
once he met her eyes and then shook the hand she offered. She
walked away.

“Beautiful,” Sammy said.

“Absolutely,” Don agreed. “You ain’t getting
none of that though.”

“Yeah? But if Jimmy V hires her it’ll be the
next best thing.”

Don shook his head and smiled. His eyes rose
and watched as Haley walked away. “Guess I’ll have to have a few
drinks at the club if that happens.”

Sammy chuckled low. “You and me both,” he
agreed.

They had spent most of the previous night at
Billy Jingo’s trailer. The techs hadn’t picked up much, but what
they had picked up was telling. Blood stains under the bed and
beside one wall in the bedroom: A splatter of small pink stains
that had tested positive for blood in the kitchen sink. Two rolled
up socks drenched in blood in the kitchen garbage. Blood spatters
in the bathroom sink and shower too. All his clothes seemed to be
gone, or at least there were none in the battered dresser in the
bedroom. There were dirty clothes in a hamper in the bathroom,
blood spatter and what looked like bone flecks on the clothing. The
forensic team had come up with two sets of fingerprints in the
bedroom, his and someone else. Hair samples from the bed, from the
couch in the living room. Foot prints out back and in the soft dirt
of the front yard matched a pair of boots they had found in the
bedroom. And best of all, a tech that had been sent back to get
pictures put the girl in the trailer yesterday afternoon.

The tech said the girl had seemed quiet,
subdued, standing behind Jingo, like Jingo didn’t want her to be
seen.

Questioning her friends was fill-in work
while they waited on the warrant for her place. The tech that had
put her at Jingo’s trailer would probably clinch that. There had
been bits of bone and brain matter along with the bloodstains under
the bed and by the wall too. That bothered Don. It probably meant
that something had happened. He didn’t have a lot of hope of seeing
April Evans alive again.

He circled the word gay that he had written
on his note pad. Maybe he had been asking the wrong questions.

“This girl,” Don said and underlined the
name Alice Chambers in his notebook. “Knew her well: Or at
least better than anyone else here; so why didn’t she mention a
possible lesbian thing?”

“They were in high school together… She’s
still here working; maybe we should have a conversation with her
again?” Sammy said.

“Maybe,” Don agreed. He looked up,
spotted the girl working one of the checkouts and walked over to
the manager; a young kid who didn’t even look old enough to shave
yet. The manager himself went over and relieved her and sent her
over to Don and Sammy.

It was clear as she made her way over to
them that she was worried. “You be the bad guy,” Don whispered to
Sammy, “I’ll be the understanding father figure.” Sammy nodded
almost imperceptibly.

Alice Chambers smiled weakly as she walked
up. Sammy scowled at her and her smile melted.

“Don’t worry,” Don said. “I’m sure we’ll get
this cleared right up. Sit down, Alice.”

“Why is he so upset?” she asked looking at
Sammy who continued to scowl.

“Because I don’t like being lied too,
Missy,” Sammy told her. “Pisses me off.”

“I didn’t lie,” Alice said, going on the
defensive.

“Yes you did,” Sammy said, as he leaned
toward her across the table. “You lied, and now you’re lying about
having lied.”

She cringed away from him, looking ready to
cry.

“Alice, I’m sure Sam here will be fine,” Don
told her. “We work around hardened criminals all the time. I guess
he forgot you’re a young lady, not a criminal.” Don sent Sammy a
potent stare, and Sammy sighed and turned away. “It’s this lesbian
thing… It’s understandable that you wouldn’t want to mention it,
but this girl’s life could be at stake…” He made eye contact with
her and made her hold it. Her eyes filled up and began to overflow.
“Alice?” Don asked. She looked back toward the front of the store
where she had been working and then looked back at them, swiping at
the tears with the back of her hand and she did. “You want to tell
me?“Don asked. She nodded.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. She took a few
seconds, seeming to fight to gain control. Don left and came back
with some tissues that he handed to her. She thanked him, blew her
nose, and then took several deep breaths.

Don mentally looked her over as she got
herself under control. Alice Chambers was on the skinny side.
Almost no breasts. A body like a boy, no hips, short, bobbed blonde
hair: Nose ring, tongue ring, probably a dozen other piercings in
her ears and who knew where else. He had taken her look for punk,
not gay, but now that he was really looking at her she seemed more
boyish than girlish. It seemed like maybe it was more than just a
subtle statement, and he had overlooked it. Read it wrong. It
wasn’t just that she didn’t look all that attractive as a woman,
she just looked more like a boy. And it looked like most of it was
by choice.

“We were together in high school,” Alice
said in a near whisper.

Don nodded like he’d known it all along.

“Here at work too?” he asked.

“No… Of course not. April isn’t… April’s
not… She likes boys… It was… It was just a thing for a little
while… This guy…” She took a deep breath and swiped at her
eyes. “This guy forced her, you know and so she stayed away from
guys after that for a while.” She focused on Don, refusing to look
at Sammy.

“This guy… Know his name? The one who
raped her?” Don asked.

“She didn’t say raped, she said forced,”
Alice corrected.

“Okay, forced… But you can see, Alice,
that even if you don’t say it is rape, it is still rape, right? Are
you saying there was no intercourse?” Don asked.

“No… There was,” she admitted.

“Then its rape, Alice. Let’s not cut the guy
any slack at all on that, okay?” Don asked.

“Okay,” Alice agreed.

“So, his name?”

“He’s dead,” Alice said. “Tyler Matthews, he
died in an automobile crash a few months back, remember?”

“Yeah… The local football star,” Sammy
said.

Don just nodded. “So it was just the two of
you. What came between you?” he asked.

“I told you, guys. She’s not like me,” she
looked down at the table and then back up. “But I don’t know this
Billy. I never heard her say anything about him. Maybe a cute guy
that lived at the end of the road. And two guys on either side of
the trailer who have been bothering her,” Alice said.

Sometimes you failed to ask the right
questions, Don thought. Sometimes the answers were right there.
“Okay… Tell me about this cute guy who lived at the end of the
road? You mean the trailer park road or Lott road?” he asked.

“Lott road: I don’t know about him. She said
she saw him a few times. She thought he was cute, but she couldn’t
get him to notice her,” Alice said. She blew her nose once more.
The tears seemed to be dried up, Don thought, at least for now.
“We… We had a fight about him just the other night… Two nights
ago… Mornings, Thursday morning, I guess,” Alice finished.

“Anything else about him… Anything at
all?” Don asked. He filed the fight. He would have to come back to
it.

“She said he worked nights… Drove a truck
back and forth to work… That’s all I know, honest,” she looked
over at Sammy who nodded; done with his bad cop routine.

“Did you know Billy Jingo at all…? I can’t
remember if I asked you that before,” Don said. He knew he had he
simply wanted her to answer again.

“No,” Alice said.

“Didn’t know he lived at the end of Lott
road… All the way at the end?” Don asked.

She looked surprised. “No. I didn’t know
that. I guess that means it was him she thought was cute… Did he
do something to her…? Is that it? Did he?” her voice rose
slightly and panic crept into it.

“I don’t know… I certainly hope not,
Alice, but I don’t know,” Don said. “He’s a bad guy though… I can
tell you that. Did time… If there’s any other thing you remember
I could use the help. He may have done something to her… We just
don’t know yet,” Don finished. Actually he was pretty sure that
Billy Jingo had killed April Evans in the back bedroom of the
trailer at the end of Lott road that he called home; all but
positive. She saw the accident, gave a statement. She must have
seen Jingo take some items from the car, who knew what all. She
comes back, maybe just wants to talk it over, let him know she saw
it, maybe wants a cut. Jingo panics and kills her. It was coming
together in his head.

Alice looked at him and her eyes began to
spill over again. “I couldn’t stand that,” Alice whispered. “I
couldn’t.”

He nodded. “Alice… Was the fight just
about the cute boy? Jingo?”

Her eyes filled and then spilled over.

“I…” She looked up and held Don’s eyes. “I… She.” She sighed,
lowered he head and spoke from there. “I thought she was
confused… I thought she and I could work it out… I accused her
of seeing him.” She looked up and shrugged her shoulders. “That was
it… My own stupidity… Maybe it’s my fault… Maybe…”

Don stopped her.” Alice… No one can make
decisions for someone else. You thought maybe you had a shot, you
took it and she shot you down. Hurts, but it isn’t a reason for her
to do something stupid or you to take blame on yourself that
doesn’t belong to you.” He paused as she got herself back together.
She bobbed her head after a few seconds.

“You want me to talk to your boss, get you
the rest of the day off, Alice?” Don asked.

“No, no,” she said. “I think I’ll go have a
cigarette… Then I’ll be fine.”

“You know, I was thinking of having one
too,” Don said. He reached out and took her hand and she came to
her feet, “Come on.” He made his way to the front door taking her
with him. Everyone in the store watched them walk out. The manager
raised his hands slightly and looked at Sammy.

Sammy made a calm down gesture with both
hands. “It’s fine,” he said. “It’s fine.”

Billy Jingo

“Its 3:00 AM, we should probably get going,”
Billy said. April stirred beside him, circled one arm around him,
and pulled him to her.

“I don’t think we really need to go right
now,” she said in a sleepy voice. Her face was against his chest
and she took one nipple into her mouth and nibbled softly, holding
it between her teeth.

It turned out she was right.

State Street

Watertown New York

Jimmy West

Jimmy looked at his watch, 3:15 AM. He had
been in the sleeping city of Watertown for two hours. He had spoken
personally with Murphy’s man in the Sheriff’s department, and
another he had in the city police department. Then he had taken a
call on his other cell phone from Weston’s girl Friday, Alice. He
had often wondered about Alice: A woman who served one man only and
who could order death like a chicken sandwich in a restaurant. What
did she look like? What kind of woman was she in the sack? Maybe
someday he would know.

That phone call set everything in
perspective for him: It didn’t tell him what the item or items
were, but it told him that somehow Tommy Murphy and Jefferson
Prescott had managed to steal something damn important from the
military base. How in hell they had worked that out was beyond him.
How Weston thought he could keep it on the down low and get his
missing items back was also beyond him. If he was looking for
someone to take his money Jimmy could do that: As for returning the
missing items, which thanks to Tommy he knew were hidden in the
bales of pot; he would have to decide what to do when he came to
that bridge. As for earning his money from Weston, he already had
news for him. He wondered what he would do when Jimmy told his girl
Friday that it was Jefferson Prescott and Tommy Murphy who were
involved and that because of that the price just went up. Maybe he
could squeeze a little more information out of him, via her, about
what it was he was after. As for the rest of it, he was putting it
together in his head.

It was no mystery to him what had happened
now. He had driven out to Billy Jingo’s trailer. The cops were all
over it. The kid was missing. And a young girl from down the road
that had supposedly witnessed the crash was also missing. The
money, the drugs, all gone: Blood, brain tissue and bone, found in
Jingo’s bedroom. The head and hands and the rest that was in the
duffel bag that had been found in the woods behind the kid’s
trailer, he knew about that. He knew who Carlos Sanchez was, and he
knew how he ended up in the duffel bag and why. It didn’t concern
him.

What did concern him was that he had turned
up behind the kid’s trailer. The duffel bag should have been down
the road at the Toyota crash site, or still in Neo’s car. That
meant someone had moved it, taken it. And that said to him that
someone had taken everything they could grab from the Toyota before
it caught fire and took it down the road to the kid’s trailer, as
well as the stuff from the Ford. That was the only thing that made
sense.

He had pushed his thinking a little further:
The girl had told the cops she had witnessed the wreck, but she had
said nothing at all about seeing anyone take anything from either
car. The kid, Jingo, had also said he had seen part of the chase,
and heard the wreck. They were both lying, had to be, because
neither one of them had mentioned seeing anybody taking the drugs
and money from the two cars, yet they were missing. And the head
and hands had turned up right behind the kid’s trailer. That was
not coincidence.

The cops had found the duffel bag behind the
trailer, but they did not find the girl’s body or Jingo’s body.
They thought he had killed her in the trailer, but Jimmy knew that
the blood and the brain matter that had been found with it had more
than likely come from the bags, not Jingo killing the girl; or the
girl killing him, for that matter. Thus the two of them were
working together; had to be.

There had been a girl’s body found in the
woods nearby, and that had thrown him for a bit, but that, he had
found when he asked, had been two days prior. That girl and this
girl had nothing to do with each other at all. No, the girl and
Jingo had to be in it together. He had wondered how that might have
happened. Had they both come upon it and hooked up? Had they known
beforehand? He doubted the later. Most likely they had both come
running at the sound and made some sort of alliance right there on
the spot.

Jimmy smiled. He knew he had it figured out
right and the cops had it all wrong. It was pretty hard to slip
something by him. Let the cops sniff down their dead end road. He
was already well on the way to getting some real information about
where they might have gotten to.

Jimmy sipped at his coffee. He was sitting
in front of an all night doughnut shop on State Street, drinking
his coffee and eating a pastry. It was where the cops hung out. His
window was partially down. The air was cold, crisp, and it helped
to keep him alert. It had been awhile since he had slept and would
probably be awhile more. He dug two more small pills from his
pocket, and popped them into his mouth. That would help. In about
ten minutes he would be back on his game.

It only stood to reason, in his mind, that
if the two of them had cleaned out the Toyota, then they had
cleaned out the Ford that Neo had been driving too. After they had
realized what they had stumbled into, it was only a matter of
seconds, most likely, before they had figured out the rest. And
they had to know that someone would be on their tail and soon. It
was too much money: Too much heroin; too much coke and they had to
have taken all of it with them too, the cops had found nothing at
all. And cops would maybe take a little here or there, but this was
a lot more than a little. No cop had taken it: If they had they
would have kicked a little into evidence, as in [_’Found at the
scene’_] evidence just to make it all legit. Nothing at all, the
drugs, money, or even the other items had turned up in evidence. No
mention at all. No, the cops didn’t have any of it, the kid, Jingo
and the girl had it.

They would be searching the girl’s trailer
soon, but Jimmy was convinced that they would find nothing there
either. They were gone. They were gone together. And wherever they
had gone to they had everything with them.

The money couldn’t be traced. It was all
clean. The cocaine and heroin could be traced. That would be a lot
to turn up in one place. The pot, so-so, it was a lot, but any
small city could easily absorb that much without a blip coming up
on radar. The cocaine and heroin would make a splash no matter
where it came down, if it came down altogether. He wondered if the
kids would know that, or be smart enough to think about that. The
other was a mystery. He would have to press Alice hard. He had to
at least have an idea of what he was looking for. How else could he
look for it?

He finished the pastry, stuck the napkins
and waste back into the bag, crumpled it up, rolled down the window
and tossed it toward the steel can that sat on the sidewalk. It
missed. Jimmy sighed.

He sat his coffee on the dashboard, got out,
picked up the bag and tossed it into the container. He lit a
cigarette and pulled the smoke deep into his lungs.

Manhattan, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo: One
of those four places. If he had to narrow it down even further,
he’d choose Syracuse or Rochester. They were the closest. If you
were here and needed to hide, those would be the two places to
choose from. Narrow it further and you’d come up with Rochester,
Syracuse would seem too close. He pulled a cell phone out of his
pocket and punched in a number.

Lyell Avenue

Rochester New York

Vinny Westley answered the phone behind his
bar and listened. He dragged a pad over and wrote as he listened.
“Yeah… Yeah,” he said at last. “I’ll make some calls in a few
hours… Maybe… I’ll call you back, Jimmy. I’ll see.” He hung up
the phone and looked down at the pad. Tommy Murphy was looking for
a couple of young kids on the run with cash and drugs. There would
be of good reward for finding them in any condition. Tommy only
cared about the merchandise. Not the kids. If they tried to unload
any of it here, he’d know. He looked at his watch, 3:45 AM. [_Fuck
it,_] he thought. He picked up the phone and began to make his
phone calls: After all it was Tommy Murphy, best to get on it fast.

Not fuck it up. Tommy had a long memory, and that could be a good
thing, or it could be a very bad thing.

Billy Jingo

“We really should get going, Billy,” April
said.

“Oh, like I didn’t say that myself?” Billy
asked.

“You may have,” April said. She lifted her
head from his shoulder and looked up at him.

“Okay,” Billy agreed. April sat up and then
stood from the bed. She padded to a large suitcase she had bought
yesterday. She stood naked and pondered what to wear. She looked
back over her shoulder at Billy, catching him watching. “Put your
eyes back in your head, Billy. We have to go,” she told him.

Billy sighed deeply. “But you’re so
beautiful.” The sheet was tented around his waist. She smiled and
then walked back to the bed. One hand slid under the sheet and
circled him.

“How are we ever gonna get anything done?”
she asked in a husky voice as her lips settled on his own.

He pulled her onto the bed.

Bob’s Easy Auto

Lexington Avenue

Rochester New York

The phone rang.

“No… Nothing at all,” Robert Robello said
as he picked it up. “Well… Hey, I know that name…
That… April Evans… That was…” He dragged forward some
paperwork on his desk from the day before, nearly spilling his
coffee as he did.

“Yeah… Sold her car yesterday… Cash…

Her and her husband, Billy… Billy and April Evans… And… They
coughed up about six grand altogether… Cash… From the bank they
said… All hundred dollar bills: Hey, there’s nothing wrong with
that money is there?” he asked. “… Oh? … Whoa!
Jesus, who wants to piss him off…, No… No… I don’t wanna
know. Got a pen?” He rattled off the vehicle description and the
plate number into the phone. “Just tell him it was me who passed it
along… Fucking-A I will! … I see them again I’ll
snatch them right up… Yeah… Yeah… You got it, Vinny.”

He hung up the phone and picked up the
coffee cup. How did a couple of young kids like that rip off Tommy
Murphy, he wondered? Best not to think about it, he told himself.
He only wished he had known yesterday. He could have snatched them
both up right then… Would have been a good pay off too, probably:
Fuck… Well, he told himself, at least Tommy Murphy would
know the lead had come from him. That could pay off in the future,
he told himself.

He took a sip from his coffee and then
snagged an éclair from the box on the desk. He glanced at his
watch. 4:30 AM. “Fuck the clogged arteries,” he muttered. He took a
huge bite from the éclair.

Watertown Center

Shop and Stock

Jimmy West

Jimmy had called people in Syracuse,
Rochester, Buffalo, and in Manhattan to be safe. Someone,
somewhere, had to have seen the two of them. He pulled into the
Shop and Stock, noticing the unmarked cruiser sitting near the
front of the store as he did. A dark haired cop stood outside
smoking a cigarette. A thin punk-looking girl standing next to him
was smoking her own cigarette. The cop was easy to spot, the
clothes. It was always cheap suits: Off the rack; ill fitting.
Cheap cotton shirts with frayed cuffs: Shiny plastic looking shoes
with the thick rubber soles. The cop eyed him as he walked by.

“I wish I had known about the boy at the end
of the road,” the girl said to the cop in a low voice as Jimmy
walked by: A random, barely overheard conversation. It shouldn’t
have meant something to him, but it did. He knew exactly who she
was talking about. He looked up and the cop’s eyes were staring
back at him. They knew each other. It had been as easy for the cop
to spot his kind, as it had been for Jimmy to spot him. Jimmy slid
his eyes away and entered the store, leaving the two of them alone
out in the cold. He looked around. The other one, they always
traveled in pairs, was over by the office nursing a cardboard cup
of coffee.

Jimmy headed down the aisles and picked up a
few items: Road stuff. He’d be on the road again soon. He had hoped
to talk to a few other people here. His source told him that the
girl had worked here, but with the two cops here it wasn’t going to
happen. Maybe he’d hang around until the cops left, ask a few of
his own questions. The skinny girl outside obviously knew
something. She was kind of interesting herself: The kind of girl
that drew him.

He was heading for the checkout when his
cell phone rang. He opened it, said hello, and then tucked it
between his shoulder and chin and listened. He stopped in the aisle
and took the phone back into his hand so he could hear better.

“Right… You did good… I’m on my way
there,” he told the caller. Someone had dealt directly with the kid
and the girl and that information had now made its way to him. He
set the few items he had for purchase down on a shelf, and pulled
out a small notebook and pen. “Uh huh… Hold on a sec… Go ahead,
got it now…” He wrote down the make and model of the truck the
two were driving, and the address in Rochester they had used when
they bought it.

He recognized the address immediately. He
had even been there himself. It was Neo’s place, or one of them. He
penned a check next to the address to remind himself to check it
out. Pretty ballsy of them to go there at all. He glanced up and
saw the cops backing out of the parking lot, picked up his items
and walked to the checkout.

“Okay… Okay, thanks. I’ll be in touch in,”
he looked at his watch, “About seven or so… Yeah… Okay.” He
closed the phone, slipped it into his pocket, paid for his items
and walked back out. The girl was finishing up her cigarette as he
came out.

She looked up at him.

“Hey, the detective told me you wouldn’t
mind answering a few questions?” Jimmy said.

“But I just talked to him… Who are you?”
Alice asked.

“I know, but he works for the city, I work
for the county. We may end up with the case because of what
happened now with the girl,” Jimmy said.

He continued past her on his way to his car,
unlocked it, and placed his bags on the back seat. “C’mon, you must
be freezing. I’ll turn on the heater.” He got into the car without
waiting for her to reply. He started the car as she walked around
the front of it and turned the heater up to high. She got in and
rubbed her hands over the vents.

“I am a little cold,” Alice said and
smiled.

“Nice to meet you, Alice,” Jimmy said. He
slipped his gun out of his jacket pocket and pushed it into her
chest. Fear leapt onto her face and her mouth began to quiver.

“Keep smiling, Alice. I’d hate to have to
kill you right here,” Jimmy said.

Alice quickly pushed a smile back up onto
her face.

“We’re going for a little ride, Alice. If
you tell me everything you know, no problem. If you don’t,” he
ground the barrel of the gun into her ribs hard until she cried out
in pain. “Yes, I see we understand each other. Put your seat belt
on, Alice.” Jimmy shifted into reverse and backed out of the lot.
He headed for the other side of the city where he could pick up
route three for Rochester. There were more than a few isolated
areas along the way that he knew about. He could have his
conversation with Alice at any of them.

Billy Jingo

“Its 5:30,” April said. They were on the
road heading for the Pennsylvania border. From there they would
have to work their way down to the coast: Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee
and Alabama. Once there they would stick to the coastline and cut
across to Texas and then into Mexico.

“I need to buy a watch,” Billy said.

“I can’t believe you didn’t,” April
answered. She was making an account of the money, which was out of
the big melted brown suitcase and into two neon-pink knapsacks. The
big kind used by hikers. It seemed less conspicuous to her than the
big heavy half burned suitcase. Besides that, the suitcase had a
bad smell. Gasoline, fire, and a lingering meaty smell: They had
both noticed it this morning when they woke up. April had taken the
Jeep back into the city and picked up the knapsacks, a large ice
cooler, sodas, sandwich stuff and bread.

“I don’t like mustard, I like mayo,” April
said now. “In a squeeze bottle. So I got mayo. I got a lot of junk
food too, chips, cakes, cookies, candy bars. We shouldn’t have to
stop until we hit the coast.” She had also had him pull through the
drive-thru of a fast food restaurant where she had picked up a half
dozen breakfast sandwiches along with hot coffee.

“I like mayo to,” Billy agreed. He was
eating a large pastry as he drove. She had picked them up, about
two dozen of them wrapped in cellophane. 600 calories each, the
packet said. “It’s all fat and calories, cholesterol, all the bad
stuff,” he grinned as he finished the pastry and tore open another
one.

April looked at him and laughed. She was in
the back seat with all the money stacked up. “So you eat something
for breakfast that’s half fat. Do you realize that one more of
those will cover your calorie intake for the whole day?” she
asked.

“Yeah… But something made me hungry,” he
grinned at her.

“Me too, but I think I’ll stick to the
breakfast sandwich,” she said.

“I ate one of those too, but I was still
hungry,” Billy said.

“Poor, baby,” April said. “I should feed you
better. Now, shush so I can count this.”

Billy turned his attention back to the
road.

He had checked over the commander this
morning by the sodium vapor lights in the parking lot. It seemed
okay: One long scrape along the passenger side. The back bumper was
a little banged up, but he saw nothing that would get them pulled
over. The tires seemed okay and all the fluids were good too. It
should be fine for now, he had told himself.

“No way,” April said from behind him.

“What, honey?” he said a little self
consciously.

She looked up and smiled and then looked
back down. He looked back out at the road, his face red.

“Okay, each stack is $80,000” she said. “I
didn’t count every stack, but every stack that I did count was
$80,000. They were packed into the suitcase 15 wide by 12 deep.
There were a few broken stacks, but I think we got all that money
back and replaced it. I got another hundred grand that wouldn’t fit
into the suitcase. So, 12 by 15 times 80 grand,” she said. “I must
suck in math, because I keep coming up with an unreal amount,” she
said.

“But you’re a cashier?” Billy said.

“Yeah, in a store, not a bank: I
never had to add up nearly fifteen million dollars before,” she
said quietly.

He turned around. “You’re kidding?” Billy
said.

“Honey, the road,” April said.

“Oh!” He turned around. “Are you sure?” he
asked.

“I’ve counted it six times, fourteen and a
half million, counting the extra hundred grand. Plus some more I
didn’t count,” she said.

“But that’s crazy,” Billy said.

“But that’s what it is,” April told him. “We
could just dump the drugs… We don’t need it,” she added.

“We could… But why throw away money.

Wasn’t it you that made me check everywhere… Every bag? Get
everything?” he asked.

“Yeah… But almost fifteen million,” April
said.

“It could be almost thirty though. I mean,
the drugs must be worth that much too… All that coke… All that
heroin… So, we could probably double our money,” Billy said.

“Jesus,” April said.

“That reminds me, I gotta make that call,”
Billy said.

April worked on packing the bills back into
the two knapsacks. She set them into the back cargo area and then
climbed over the seat into the passenger seat up front. She
listened to one side of the conversation as Billy talked, after a
few minutes he hung up.

“I’m going to get back to him in a couple of
hours or so. He has to make some phone calls. But he said he knows
a few guys down south: Two in Florida, one in Alabama, and another
one over in Texas that could handle it all. I asked how much. He
said it didn’t matter. So I said, [_listen, I’m talking multiple
millions in coke and Heroin._] He said that knocked out the Texas
guy, and one of the guys in Florida, but he said he’d call the
Alabama guy and the other one in Florida. We might really do this,
babe. We might really do this,” Billy said.

“This is crazy,” April said. “Are you sure
this guy won’t go to the cops? Let them know where we are?”

“He can’t, April, because he’d be in the
shit too. He deals. Not on this level, but big for Watertown. What
can he say? He can say nothing. In fact, he thought I was kidding.
He told me I didn’t want to play games with the guys that play at
that level. When I told him I wasn’t playing games, he said okay,”
Billy said.

“Do you think we have anything to worry
about? Making a deal, honey?” April asked.

“No. I think it will be fine… We’ll be
careful. That’s all we have to do is be careful, April.” Billy
said.

“Hey,” April said after a few minutes.

“Yeah?” Billy asked.

“I like Baby a lot better, although I do
like the way you say my name.”

Billy smiled. “Okay, Babe.” He looked at the
clock, 6:20 AM. “Is that right, babe?” He motioned at the
clock.

“Pretty much, a little faster than mine, or
I’m slow,” April said. “Why?”

“I have to call Rich back at about 8:00 AM.

I don’t want to forget it,” he said.

“I’ll remind you, baby,” April said. She
patted his thigh. Her hand was like electricity on his skin. She
noticed he jumped and so she allowed her hand to stray over to his
crotch and rubbed lightly.

“What are you doing, I’ll wreck the truck!”
Billy said in a squeaky voice.

“Will you really?” April asked. “Then I
guess I better not do what I was gonna do,” she said. She took her
hand away.

“What… What we’re you gonna do?”
Billy asked.

“You said you will wreck… Something I
heard about,” she said. Her hand came back. “But watch the road
carefully so you don’t wreck because I won’t be able to see it.”
She said.

“Oh, god… I won’t wreck… I’ll watch the
road… Also the cruise control so I won’t speed,” Billy
blabbered.

“So you do want me to show you what I was
talking about?” April asked.

“Yeah. I would. I do. I really would,” Billy
told her.

She showed him.

Jones Beach State Park

Route Three

Jimmy West

He had her tied to the top of the picnic
table, but he had to wrap things up, the sun was coming up.

She hadn’t known anything: Nothing at all.

If she had, she would’ve told him, Jimmy knew, but he had enjoyed
discovering what she didn’t know.

He finished his cigarette, one of hers
actually, and crushed it out on the table top. He wore latex gloves
on his hands. A plastic slip over suit covered his clothes. He put
the butt in a plastic bag.

He walked back over to the table and Alice’s
frightened eyes met his. Pleaded with him. He reached down and
pushed the hair away from her eyes. Her mouth was gagged and
wrapped with duct tape. She tried to talk as he walked around
behind her.

“I’m sorry, Alice, I can’t understand you,”
he said. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a switchblade and
held it close to his leg. She was already familiar with the
switchblade. “It’s time,” he told her. He bought the switchblade up
and showed it to her. Her eyes seemed to bulge from their sockets,
but before she could more than barely react he bought the knife
down into her throat and ran it from side to side in one quick,
practiced motion.

He watched her eyes as the light flickered
and then went out. Finally, he let her head go and walked away. He
stripped off the gloves, the plastic suit, and stuffed it all in
the black plastic bag. He lit one more cigarette and looked over
his handiwork as he smoked. Perfect he thought. He finally crushed
out the last cigarette, dropped the butt into the bag and walked
away.

He wondered how soon they would find her, or
if the birds and other wildlife would find her first. He would love
to stick around and watch, but he had to be moving.

He thought about what Alice had told him
about being April Evans lover. He could use that. He could use that
when he caught up to April Evans. Now they both had something in
common. They had both been Alice’s lover. He chuckled at the
thought. He reached his car, climbed in and started it up. He
picked up the cell phone and dialed Tommy’s number as he pulled out
of the parking lot and passed the empty toll booths.

“It’s Jimmy,” he said when the phone was
answered. “Here’s the license number of the vehicle were looking
for.” He ran off the license number, make and model of the Jeep
that Billy and April had purchased from Bob’s Easy Auto. He
gave their names and descriptions, and then went into an
explanation of what he believed had happened. Tommy assured him
that he would have the vehicle looked for and let Jimmy know if it
was spotted.

“They have the drugs. All of it. The cops
have part of Carlos. I imagine the rest of him is at Neo’s… I’ll
take care of that,” Jimmy told him.

“I’ll let Jefferson know about Carlos. I’m
sure he’ll be happy. I’ll fill him in on the rest too… What else
is there?” Tommy asked.

“Tommy… Tommy, it’s not my business,
forgive me, I don’t mean to pry, but…”

“Small silver cases,” Tommy said with a
sigh. “Three, to be exact: Small cartridges inside two of them…
Look like those CO2 cartridges we used to have for our BB guns when
we were kids… The other one is a glass vial…”

Jimmy waited, but Tommy said nothing else.

“Okay… I needed to know what to look for… In case they opened
the bags, Tommy.”

“Did you ever think about living forever,
Jimmy?” Tommy asked suddenly.

“What? Live forever like… Like a vampire
in the movies?” Jimmy asked startled into the first reply that
slipped into his head.

“No… Live forever like a man… Like a man
who doesn’t die, Jimmy… Never mind. Stupid question… Get me
what I need and there might be something unimaginable in it for
you, Jimmy. Unimaginable… Need anything else from me?” Tommy
finished quietly.”

“Nothing for now,” Jimmy told him. “I’ll be
in Rochester in a few hours. I’ll let you know later in the day
what I find.” He hung up and concentrated on driving as best he
could. The words Tommy had said echoing around in his head. A few
miles down the road he called Vinny back.

“Yeah… I appreciate it… Tommy
appreciates it… Listen, those two kids got a large amount of…
Let’s say product on them. I’m talking huge: Pounds; up into
the millions, high multiples of them… There can’t be too many
people that could handle a buy like that, still… I thought you
would… No… No… Yeah, keep your nose to the ground. Let me
know… Tommy will be very generous… Thank you,” he hung up and
concentrated on driving. He glanced down at his watch, almost 6:00
AM.

Jones Beach State Park

Route Three

Sammy and Don

The sun was up and Don circled carefully
round the picnic table looking down at Alice. The gulls had been at
her, but only for a little while. The rest of the cuts and missing
pieces had been done by somebody with a sharp knife.

He was still in shock. He had been at the
trailer park; April’s trailer had held nothing: Missing clothes,
same as Billy’s place, when he and Don had been called to respond
to the public beach which was only 10 miles down the road. They had
only told him that it might be his missing female. He and Sammy had
made it in less than ten minutes.

He had been shocked when he had seen it was
Alice tied to the table. And the torture marks on her body had been
an even bigger shock. He had just left her at work a few hours
before. How could it be her? But a call to the young kid, her boss,
had revealed that someone he believed to be another cop had walked
her to his car shortly after Don and Sammy had left. He had gotten
to the bottom of that, and the description, tall, short cropped
black hair, the gray at the temples, hard looking, casual clothes,
pullover sweater and a dark colored coat had hit home: The guy who
had walked into the store. He had replayed it two dozen times and
the guy’s description was now out on the radio. The car had been a
gray sedan, and he had remembered the first three digits of the
license plate number. It was the best he could do. The whole ID
would get pushed statewide in a short while.

The techs arriving even now were shocked. It
was a small area, crime happened, even murder, but not like this,
not usually. They set about doing their jobs though. Don stepped
back to where Sammy was, lit a cigarette and watched.

Sammy looked up at him.

“Sorry,” Don said without offering to snuff
the cigarette.

“Don’t be,” Sammy said. “This shit keeps up;
I might take up smoking again myself.” Sammy looked down at his
watch. “Only seven, it’s gonna be a long goddamn day,” he said.

Watertown New York

Richard Dean

“Why would you tell them something like
that?” Ronnie Lee asked.

“Listen,” Rich said. “It’s a couple of kids.

The one kid used to work for me. Not the brightest…” He sighed
“They have some shit that’s hot. I mean real hot. I don’t
know where they came by it, but I know where it came
from, and all those guys are dead. All you gotta do is take it off
their hands. Sell it, you and I split the profit,” he said.

“And how does that work. Take it off their
hands? Steal it? Is that what you mean?” Ronnie Lee asked.

“Yeah, well, yeah, you’ll have to. I mean
you deal on a big level. You’ve done some shit same as me… Don’t
tell me you haven’t… Look, I’ll be blunt. I can send them right
to you: Right to you. They will walk right in to where ever
you need them to walk in to. Put a bullet in both of their heads
and dump them in the nearest swamp: That’s why you got gators down
there. Take the shit off their hands. It’s that simple, Ronnie lee.
That simple,” Rich told him.

“You are crazy, Rich. You want me to kill a
couple of kids for a few pounds a weed: A little coke? How much H…?
Even if it’s an ounce I’m not killing anyone for it: You’re fuckin’
crazy, Rich,” Ronnie Lee told him.

“Listen, goddamn it! Do you know who Tommy
Murphy is? Huh? Or Jefferson Prescott? Eh? Names ring some bells?
Those are the guys who got ripped off. I’m talking serious,
large amounts of money. It’s out there that they want it
back, and how much it is too. You just haven’t heard about it yet,”
Rich said.

“And I don’t want to hear about it if
they’re involved. It would be like stealing from them. They’ll send
someone to take care of me. Make me dead. No fuckin’ thanks. How
much, if it’s so much, how much? I know I wouldn’t touch it
if it was a half million bucks. No fuckin’ way. No way. It wouldn’t
be worth it,” Ronnie lee said over the phone.

Rich held the phone away from his ear, when
Ronnie was done he spoke. “Neither would I. How much would
you do it for Ronnie? How much?” Richard asked.

“Don’t be stupid, Rich. Don’t be.” Rich cut
him off.

“How much? Just say it so I know where we’re
at,” Rich said.

“I’m serious, man, you’re talking shit. Just
bullshit,” Ronnie lee said. “I don’t know man… I guess I probably
would do it for a half a mil. That means a real mil. split
between us,” he said at last.

“Fifteen to twenty” Rich said.

“Time?” Ronnie lee asked.

“No. I mean fifteen to twenty million
dollars of product. Those two kids are carrying it around the
fuckin’ country. Fuck the shit right out of half a mil. each. Do
you think I’d fuck around with turning on Jefferson for any reason?
I wouldn’t, so you know it has got to be big. Fifty, fifty. Seven
to ten mil. each,” Rich said. “It’s fucking incredible just to say
it like that.”

“Yeah… Yeah, I’m down with that shit,
man… Why didn’t you just say so, man? Holy fuck. Yeah… Yeah…
Okay, what do I got to know?” Ronnie lee asked.

Rich laughed and began to explain the
situation and describe Billy and April. He looked at his watch,
8:00 AM he saw. “They’ll be to you in about twenty five hours or so
if they drive straight through,” he said. “I’ll let you know as I
know.”

Billy Jingo

“Hey,” Billy said. They were stopped by the
side of the road where he had been able to get a signal.

“Billy,” Rich said. “I got it covered, but
it’s gonna cost you a little for me, setting it up for you… Are
you okay to say, a hundred grand?” Rich asked.

“You can guarantee it for that?” Billy
asked.

“Right to his door: Money’s not an object.

He’s a legit businessman too. Owns a couple of businesses down
there, he won’t screw you over. Whatever it’s worth is what he’ll
pay. Only thing is,” Rich said.

“A catch? I figured there would have to be a
catch,” Billy said.

“It’s small. I can vouch for you. And I did,
but he’s not going to bring that kind of money someplace. You’ll
have to meet him on his turf. Where he says to, where he feels
comfortable… That’s all. You play by his rules, you get your
money, and he gets the stuff… Will that work?” Rich asked.

“Hang on a minute,” Billy said. He turned to
April and explained the deal. She agreed to the hundred grand, and
Billy took his hand off the phone.

“Okay, but how do I get your money to you?”
he asked.

“Easy. Get one of those air express
envelopes, drop it inside and mail it to me,” Rich said.

“After the deal is done?” Billy asked.

“Hell yeah. I Trust you, man. After the deal
is done,” Rich said.

“Okay,” Billy agreed. “We’re good with
that.”

“Cool,” Rich said. “Call me tomorrow and
I’ll have better directions. For now it’s just Southern Alabama.
You’re going to Mobile. I’ll talk to my man, his name is Ronnie
lee. Just like that, Ronnie lee, all one name. I’ll talk to Ronnie
lee and get you directions… It might be him who calls you back…
I’ll give him the number you gave me… Tomorrow morning? About
this time?”

“Yeah,” Billy agreed. “Until then,” he
clicked off.

Billy turned to April. She looked back at
him.

“He did everything just right. Kissed my ass
hard too, but it feels wrong,” Billy said. “Rich was never that
impressed with me. I wasn’t in his crowd, you know? I didn’t sell
really big like some of those other guys. Now he treats me like
gold? Like we were best buds? And he’s okay with me sending his
hundred grand fee after we make a deal.” Billy shook his head,
glanced off into the scrub brush that lined the side of the road
and then continued “The Rich I know would never do that…
Something just feels wrong about it,” Billy said.

“Then we won’t do it,” April said. “We don’t
even need it, Billy… You’re right… We could just say to hell
with it. Throw it in the river or something.”

“We’ll play it by ear,” Billy said. “Maybe
we’ll set some rules of our own tomorrow… For now we’ll just keep
driving, what do you think?” he asked.

“The same thing: We have to go through there
to get to Mexico or at least around there to go that way. If it
feels bad, we’ll back out; just keep it moving,” April agreed.

They got back into the Jeep and backed out
onto the highway.

Ben Neo’s Apartment

Rochester New York

Jimmy West

Saturday afternoon

Jimmy spent most of the afternoon disposing
of the body at Neo’s place and cleaning up the mess in the
refrigerator. He finally found the shelves and put them back in,
then went shopping and put the stuff that he purchased into the
refrigerator.

He searched the rest of the house, but it
was obvious that someone had beaten him to it. Clothes had been
pulled out of the closets; including women’s clothes. He hadn’t
known that Neo had, had a woman here. He wondered who the woman
was, and wondered who it had been who had searched the house…
Her? The only thing that really made sense was the two kids
again. The locks were undamaged; whoever did it had a key. Jimmy
knew Neo well enough to know that he kept a spare key in his
wallet. If they got his wallet, they got the key: If they got the
wallet they also had the address.

A wife, he asked himself? The women’s
clothes bothered him. He couldn’t put it together in his head with
what he knew about Neo. It had to be something else, a wife just
didn’t fit. And where was she now? Had she been here when the kids
came here, if it was the kids? Was it her, the mystery woman?

Long hairs in the bathroom waste bag: Black;
the same in a hairbrush he had found in the top dresser drawer in
the bedroom along with several drawers full of clothes. If she had
been here, why did she leave it all? Had she taken only what she
needed and left the rest? After all, much of it had been pulled out
and there did appear to be empty spots on the closet rod where
hangers had been. Or maybe he just wanted to see it that way. Just
because there was a bare spot didn’t mean there had been something
there. He had not found any spare hangers, in fact, so if she had
taken clothes she had taken the hangers too.

He came out of the house and pulled the car
around front. The back of the house was designed to bring nearly
anything in or out of the house without detection. Neo had planted
dense shrubbery and built an overhang that lead directly into the
garage. Nearly the entire narrow entrance was also hidden from view
by trees and a six foot tall wooden privacy fence. So he had loaded
the body and a garbage bag full of stuff from the house at the back
of the house. He had decided to remove all the women’s clothes. No
rhyme or reason, just a feeling that they shouldn’t be there when
the cops came to check the place, and he was sure they would be
here eventually.

He looked across the street: A blind kept
moving on the second floor of the house over there: An old
brownstone apartment building; second floor, front right apartment.
Okay, he told himself. He hated loose ends. He pulled out, drove
down the block and around the corner. He pulled to the curb, got
out and fed the meter. A ticket at this point wouldn’t do. He
locked his car and walked to a pizza shop on the corner.

Marion

Marion watched the man in the car pull
away.

“Fred, I tell you, something is not right.

This guy I’ve seen over there before. But he’s never pulled around
back like that, like he owns the place,” Marion said.

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Fred said.

“Probably hot for each other; just being careful. Drugs make you do
funny things,” he said. He had allowed himself a second drink for
the afternoon: He turned back to the football game he had been
watching.

“I don’t know,” Marion said. She came over
to the couch and was about to sit down when someone knocked on the
front door.

“Your friend Art, probably,” Marion said as
she got up and walked to the front door.

“Who’s there?” she asked through the front
door.

“Pizza delivery, Ma’am, apartment Two-A,
right?” The voice asked.

Fred shook his head. “I didn’t order one
behind your back,” he said.

“We didn’t order a pizza,” Marion yelled
through the door.

“But it’s Two-A… It’s paid for,” the voice
said.

“Well for Christ’s sake if it’s paid for
open the door, Marion,” Fred said.

She frowned. “You did order it. You know
you’re not supposed to have pizza,” Marion chastised as she threw
the dead bolts and opened the door.

Jimmy smiled, the pizza box balanced on one
hand. He handed the box to Marion and she smiled back. He reached
behind himself, pulled his silenced 9 mm and shot her in the
forehead. The 9mm chuffed, nearly silent; Marion folded and dropped
to the floor with a heavy thump. He stepped quickly into the room
and shot Fred as he was getting up out of his recliner to see what
the racket was about. Fred collapsed back into his chair.

Problem over, Jimmy thought. He bent down,
picked up the pizza, which didn’t seem any worse for the wear, and
stepped back out of the apartment. He closed the door behind him.
He whistled as he hit the sidewalk, opened up the box, took out a
piece of pizza and ate it on the way back to his car.

Just before he turned the corner a city
police car came up the street and pulled into Neo’s driveway.

Tight, Jimmy thought as he tossed the pizza
on to the passenger side of the front seat. That was too fuckin’
tight.

Watertown New York

Jefferson County Transfer Station 2

Sergeant Alice Tetto

Alice backed the car around to the open
container; late afternoon was a perfect time. The county residents
not in evidence: The large trucks done with their routes for the
day: The dump about to close down for another day. Whenever she had
something to dispose of and she needed privacy, she timed it so
that she was here in the late afternoon just as she was now.

Sergeant Smith had met her on a back road on
Fort Drum. That was not as risky as it seemed. Fort Drum had been a
small winter camp back in the early 1900 hundreds: When it had
expanded the first time from Pine Camp to Camp Drum it had
incorporated the small village of Leary. The whole township: Farms,
streets, the Leray Mansion, fields. At the third expansion, when it
became Fort Drum most people had forgotten about the old township
and its farms and roads rotting away on the reservation.

When Alice had come to work for Major Weston
at Bluechip she had come from Drum. Re-assigned to bridge a gap, so
she had thought. She had found out after that Weston had requested
her specifically. Probably after reading her personnel file.

She had a certain propensity for violence.

Her psychological evaluations showed an aptitude for following
orders without question, and a certain flexibility of morals that
some would find alarming, but which the government had already used
her for more than once. Killing didn’t seem to affect her the way
it did others.

She had served in Afghanistan and watched
fellow soldiers fall apart when it came to killing. It didn’t
bother her at all. Killing was part of the job. That was how she
looked at it then: That was how she had explained her lack of
apathy to the shrink that had debriefed her when she had been
reassigned after the second tour to Drum. It was nothing special;
it was how she was built.

Weston had embraced that side of her, and
the old farms and fields hidden in the lost recesses of the base
had become the perfect place for her to dispose of problems for
him.

Unfortunately, the base was used more and
more lately as a training facility. Because of that it had become
somewhat unpredictable for her to dispose of problems there. The
last two times she had nearly been caught, and that had forced her
to adapt to a different strategy. The transfer station had proven
to be the perfect alternative when there were large troop
placements training or on maneuvers at the base.

Alice shut down the car and walked around to
the back, looking in all directions, trying not be obvious as she
did it: There was no one around.

The sexual relationship with Weston had
simply happened. Another moral flexibility she had acquired in
service to her country. Sometimes sex was also part of the job if
you were a woman. An asset was an asset. Weston was not
unattractive, but it hardly mattered. What did mater was that he
found her desirable.

She had been summoned to General Wesley
Lee’s office twice now: Both times under the guise of monthly
training that was required for her security level. Not even Weston
knew who his real boss was, but she did.

The first time had been two years before,
just weeks after she had started her new job; the last just a few
weeks before. The General had not known what was missing; he had
simply called her in to encourage her to see the job to the end.
That end was coming fast, he had told her. Nothing more. Just a pep
talk, she had decided, to keep her in the loop. It had been so long
at that point since she had seen him that she had begun to wonder
if she was still working for the General at all. The summons had
solved that issue completely.

She keyed the trunk lock and the lid rose
slowly.

There was an end to her time with Major
Weston. It was coming soon. The General hadn’t been more specific,
but he hadn’t needed to be, she had already known. Maybe more than
the General himself did, and Alice was not the sort of soldier to
question orders from the chain of command. She had briefly wondered
if it meant she would need to terminate Major Weston herself: If it
was required, she would. She saw no real problem with it. The
question in her mind was what might be next.

She looked down into the trunk. Smith had
been easy. Bluechip was a small facility. Even with Drum nearby it
was under its own command, not a sub command of the nearby base.
There were a few hundred soldiers assigned there, and they all
tended to socialize with each other, shunning the soldiers from the
nearby base. If asked she would not have been able to put the
reasons for that into words. Pride: A sense of place in the scheme
of things? The elevation that the sense of working on something
apart: Something special, afforded you? It was all of those things
and more. And she knew, even when most of those who worked at the
facility didn’t know, what was so special about Bluechip. Every
problem she took care of knew something. And every one of those
problems had given up their information before she had allowed them
to die.

Two weeks before it had been a reporter from
Syracuse. He had gotten a little too close: Spooked Weston. Weston
had put her on him. She had taken him out after meeting him in a
bar. Men could be so easy like that. He had followed her back to
what he thought was her hotel room for a fun time. It was her hotel
room, but rented only to do a job. A few hours later he had gone
out to her car in her luggage. The next afternoon he had come
here.

She knew about the meteor DX2379R. She knew
it would probably hit instead of miss: And if it did miss it would
not be by enough to matter at all. She knew all about project
Bluechip’s real underlying mission, development of the SS-V2765 virus. She knew what it had been developed to do,
and she knew all the problems that the General did not know about:
She knew what it did do. She knew how Gabe Kohlson had been able to
smuggle it out of the facility. She knew that the new Challenger he
had been driving should have been a big tip off to Weston, but
somehow he had overlooked it. She knew how he had sold the idea of
stealing it to a local bookie he had been in deep with.

A drug developed to allow soldiers to live
longer in combat, it had an unforeseen benefit. It would not allow
you to die: You could live forever. She was sure he had downplayed
just exactly how that second life would be lived.

The bookie, she assumed, had passed the
message on quietly: Was it worth the relief of a five thousand
dollar debt? Ten thousand? Whatever it had been that Gabe Kohlson’s
gambling habit had racked up, it had been wiped out and there had
been at least enough left over for the Challenger: Whoever held the
real reigns on those debts had forgiven it. Kohlson had delivered
and then, somehow the whole thing had gone bad.

Jimmy West worked for that person, whoever
it was: If forced to guess, she would say Tommy Murphy. He was the
biggest and the baddest: The most likely to be able to capitalize
on information and a product like that.

She didn’t like to guess though, and that
part of it had nothing to do with her at all. The truth was that
even though Weston could not see it, it didn’t even matter. The end
was coming. If the General pulled the plug first or the meteor hit,
or the scientists were right and even a close pass by that meteor
would set off a sequence of destruction that would end society as
they knew it: It didn’t matter. It was over already, one way or the
other; just nobody was lying down yet. Nobody was calling it quits
yet. Her included, so, she supposed she was no better than Weston
or the General for that matter.

She looked down into the trunk at the
bundled and bagged remains of Sergeant Smith, lately of the
Quartermasters office at Bluechip.

He had met her on one of those back roads.

It was a good place to meet even when there were maneuvers going
on, and there had been.

Maneuvers meant gunfire, even live rounds.

The whole area was off limits during maneuvers and training
sessions, but she could have cared less about that. He had met her
in a small clearing just off a one lane blacktop that had been
chewed to bits over the years by tank treads, on the promise that
she needed to show him something very important. She had taken him
around to the trunk. He had been eager. The lid had risen to a
plastic lined interior and she had shot him twice in the temple as
the puzzled look had still been riding on his face. There had been
no need to question him: There was nothing he knew that she needed
to know: He had simply been unfortunate enough to be the author of
the report listing the missing virus.

A camouflaged rain suit had slipped right
over her uniform, and she had gone to work with an ax and a sharp
knife that had been lying on the floor of the trunk waiting. By
early afternoon the bagged remains had been resting in her trunk
and she had been on her way to the transfer station.

She reached down, hefted the first bag out
of the trunk and launched it into the huge steel container. Five
minutes later she was finished and had paid her dumping fee as she
left, smiling up at the woman in the office as she passed over the
scales and drove out the gate.

Cleveland Ohio

Billy Jingo

The tire came apart on highway 90 just
outside Cleveland Ohio. It took Billy most of an hour to get the
space saver spare on and then get the Jeep back onto the ground. He
drove off the interstate and into Cleveland. It took some turning
around, but he finally made it onto a feeder strip that took him
out and around the city. They stopped at a burger place, already
sick of cold food; picked up lunch and then Billy pulled into a
mall parking lot and April went to work on him.

She put Ben Neo’s driver’s license next to
his own face and then started with the hair. She used a razor to
take Billy’s hairline back to match Ben Neo’s own receding
hairline. She used the eye shadow to make the skin under his eyes
look a little baggier. And she bought a cheap pair of plastic
reading glasses in a mall store that looks similar to Neo’s
glasses. She combed his hair straight back and into a small
ponytail at the base of his skull and examined her work. A little
more eye shadow under his chin, just below his lip, made his chin
seem bigger. She looked him over.

“It’s pretty good,” she said at last.

“Yeah?” Billy asked. She handed him the
mirror.

“Whoa,” he said, looking side to side in the
mirror. “It doesn’t even look like me.”

“It’s not supposed to. You look really good.

You look a lot like him… We’re gonna do it now?” April asked.

“We may as well,” Billy said. “We had to
stop, so we may as well. We’d just have to do it later anyway,” he
said.

They drove to the first dealership they saw:
If this one didn’t work out the road was crowded with them farther
down.

Billy found a used Chevy SUV: Low miles, big
price tag, but in a city this size he didn’t think anyone would
scoff at a large cash transaction.

He spotted the salesman as the salesman
spotted him.

“Ray,” the salesman told him as he walked up
and offered his hand.

“Ben,” Billy told him. He shook his hand and
then turned back to the SUV.

“Nice truck,” Ray told him, launching
straight into his spiel. “Best on the lot. Close to new. In fact
the only way I could do better for you would be to sell you a new
one.” Ray smiled.

“I don’t know about that,” Billy said. “I
don’t know if I have the credit for something like that.”

“Easy enough to find out. I can run it in
just a few minutes,” Ray told him. He turned back to the dealership
as if he really could just walk back and retrieve Benjamin Neo’s
information. Like it was sitting on his desk just waiting for him
to come and get it. He turned back and smiled at Billy, and then
turned once more; his eyes urging Billy on.

“Really?” Billy asked.

“Really… Let me go see. Find out where you
stand. Go and look around… The new trucks are over on the other
side. Go take a look, I’ll be right back.” He left with Ben Neo’s
driver’s license and social security number he had jotted down on a
small pad he carried in his shirt pocket. Probably for just that
sort of thing too, Billy thought. Maybe it was as simple as a quick
walk back inside. Maybe it was very nearly sitting on his
desktop, or would be soon enough. So soon that it wouldn’t matter
that it hadn’t been.

Billy walked around the lot and looked at
some new vehicles. He would’ve liked to walk over and talk with
April where she had parked in the Burger Joint lot next
door, but they had decided not to be seen together just in case.
The salesman came back just a few minutes later.

“Ben. I see no problem. You paid off the
house on Lake Avenue?” he asked.

“Yes, yes I did,” Billy said, hoping it was
true.

“So your credit report is good right now.

Nothing outstanding except your other car, the Ford Taurus. And
that’s almost paid off… Same employer?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Billy said, “same. Guess I don’t
change too much.”

“And that is why your credit rating is so
good and your score is so high. What exactly were you looking for?”
Ray asked him.

“Well I’m looking for something four wheel
drive. That’s why I looked at the blazer. I’m going to do some
traveling. I’m going all the way out to California to look at
property,” Billy lied. “Maybe I’ll be spending a little time on the
desert too while I’m there.”

“Have you thought GMC Suburban? It’s a
bigger vehicle, but so much nicer. Let me show you one. I ordered
it special: Captain’s chairs, dual AC, and then the guy couldn’t
make the loan happen. This truck is nice, Ben, very nice,”
Ray said.

Ray sold him on the GMC. He also lined him
up with a local agent who took cash and wrote an insurance policy
for the truck. The loan was approved with no problem. Billy had
been prepared to put several thousand dollars down, but Ray had
told him with all the incentives and rebates he wouldn’t have to
put any of his own money down at all.

Two hours after he had pulled onto the lot
he drove the suburban off the lot, licensed, insured and with a
full tank of gas. They unloaded the commander; locked it up and
left it sitting in the mall parking lot, the keys resting on the
top of the roof like the owner had forgotten them.

April took over the driving, enjoying the
way the big suburban felt on the highway.

Rochester New York

Jimmy West

“Yeah?” Jimmy said. He held the cell phone
to his ear, the other hand on the steering wheel.

Tommy,” Tommy Murphy said in his ear. “I got
a little tip. A guy I know down in Florida gets a call from a small
time drug dealer up in Watertown: Wants to know if he can handle a
large amount of coke and heroin that is about to be southbound.
Says to my friend, he can make it come right to him. My friend says
he’s a little overextended right now. He doesn’t want to spook the
guy, you see? Hangs up, calls me. What I want for you to do is go
back there and talk to the other guy… Richard Dean… Rich to his
friends… He thinks he’s something too. Even has a couple
bodyguards,” Tommy laughed.

Jimmy joined him. “On my way and Neo’s place
is taken care of. I had to clean up a little mess across the
street. Couldn’t be avoided,” Jimmy said. “Got hot just as I was
leaving, but I left nothing.”

“I appreciate that, Jimmy,” Tommy said. He
gave Jimmy the address for Richard Dean. “You’re on your way?” he
asked.

“I’m on my way,” Jimmy said and clicked
off.

He had just taken care of the stuff from
Neo’s house: He pointed the car back toward route three and
Watertown, set the cruise control and settled back into the
seat.

Watertown New York

Sammy and Don

“If we were in a bigger city we wouldn’t
have to wait for so much,” Don said.

Sammy nodded.

The tall brunette walked back from the front
dispatch office and looked at Don. “April Evans?” she asked.

“Yeah?” he said.

“She bought a car in Rochester yesterday.

It’s on the DMV Computer. Must have just got in before the close of
business yesterday,” she told him. “Late model Jeep Commander,” she
said. She read off the license number as she handed the printout to
Don.

“Jenny?” Don asked. “How fast can you get
this out?” he looked at her.

“I’m off in ten minutes.” She sighed…

“Okay… About twenty minutes. I’ll do it before I go,” she smiled.
“You owe me, Donnie, right?” she teased. She swung her hips and
walked back out of the room.

“Lucky bastard,” Sammy said.

Don laughed. “Hey, things are looking up.

You call Rochester city, I’ll call the sheriff’s department. Maybe
someone spotted it.”

They both picked up phones and went to
work.

Watertown New York

Saturday Night

Jimmy West

Jimmy had parked his car two blocks away and
walked. He hadn’t liked it, but he had, had no choice. He had now
been watching the place for over an hour. Two bodyguards,
girlfriend: An anorexic crack head with silicone implants. Two kids
from another woman, not his ex-wife. A couple of phone calls had
supplied him with names and everything else he had needed to
know.

He had watched the girlfriend come and go,
same with the two kids: The bodyguards, big, beefy dumb looking
bastards, passing by the hallway windows that lead from the garage
as they let people in and out. There had been five or six small
drug deals, or what he assumed were drug deals: The car pulled into
the drive, the garage door rose of its own accord; the car drove in
and the door came down. A few moments later out came the car again:
The body guards moved back through the hallway. Currently the
girlfriend and the kids were in the house.

The garage seemed to be the preferred
entrance into the house. He had seen no one use the actual front
door of the place. This guy had to be the dumbest bastard he’d ever
seen. Everything right there to make him talk.

He’d seen two big pickups so far too: People
that worked for Richard Dean. They had driven straight into the
garage too, just a faster in and out, like the stuff was right
there waiting for them. He had moved over to the door and waited in
the shrubbery: Hidden in the expensive looking hedges; another dumb
move on this bozos part, or his security: You never planted
shrubbery that close to the house or doorway. Somebody had fucked
up, but it would work out well for him.

He didn’t wait long: The next car came, the
door went up and Jimmy rolled under the door as it was on its way
back down, ending up right behind the new Camaro rag-top that had
pulled in. A long legged black girl got out of the car and started
up the steps that lead into the house. Jimmy took a couple of fast
strides and ended up beside her.

“Sorry, honey,” he said as he shot her in
the back of the head with the silenced 9 mm. He caught her and
eased her to the floor. “Better for you,” he told her. “Believe me,
much better.” He took three deep breaths and then tested the
doorknob… Unlocked. He paused, flexed his legs, and then burst
through the door.

Both bodyguards were standing, arms folded,
chatting with Richard Dean’s teenage daughter he had spotted going
into the house earlier. He shot both bodyguards before they could
move, and then punched the girl hard, knocking her out. Richard
Dean himself came running to see what the excitement was about.

He tried to play it tough.

“Do you know who I am?” Richard Dean
asked.

“A fuckin’ dead guy if you don’t shut the
fuck up,” Jimmy said. He put the gun barrel to his head. “Pick up
your daughter. Where is everyone else?”

“Elsie is in the shower… The shower…

Ja… Jamie is upstairs in her rrr room,” he managed at last.

“Pick her up now,” Jimmy told him, motioning
at the unconscious girl where she lay blocking the hallway. Richard
bent down and picked up Denise and carried her into the living
room. Twenty minutes later Jimmy had the three women in the
exercise room, just off the living area, tied up. He was tying up
Richard Dean.

Richard Dean had let him kill his
girlfriend. He wouldn’t say anything. And he waited until Jimmy had
started in on his youngest daughter before he’d wanted to talk.
Frantic beneath his gag, but he had pissed Jimmy off, so Jimmy had
kept on a few minutes before he had stopped.

He had gotten it all: Cell number the kids
would call back to, where they were heading. Who they would meet,
and the rest that was planned. After he was done talking and it was
time for Jimmy to turn him and his daughters loose as he had
promised, Jimmy had broken the bad news to him by gagging him and
finishing off his daughters in front of him: A bullet in the head
for each of them. He saved Richard for last. “That’s for making me
wait,” Jimmy told him as he slit his throat.

It had been impossible to stay out of the
blood, so he helped himself to a shower and some of Richard Dean’s
clothes. Not exactly his style, but a good fit anyway. He went back
out to the garage, and looked at the Camaro once again. Nice
fuckin’ car, he told himself. He turned, slipped out the side door
of the garage, locking the handle set and then shutting the door.
He walked calmly down the street.

When he got to the corner of the street
where he had left his car, he saw a cop car sitting in the shadows
halfway down the block: Waiting silently in the dark… Watching
his car? Probably, he had told himself, but it made no difference
if it was there for some totally unrelated problem. There was no
way that Jimmy would be heading back to that car ever.

He had simply pretended that he was looking
both ways for traffic and continued on, passing the street by. He
walked up the street, circled back around the next block up and
then made his way back to Richard Dean’s house. He forced the side
door that he had locked behind him and slipped back into the
garage. He searched the dead girl and came up with a thick wad of
cash and the keys to the Camaro.

Usually Jimmy never took anything with him,
but he decided on the spur of the moment that the Camaro and the
cash were his. He was sure that there was more inside: If he took
his time he could probably come up with a lot more cash. He thought
about it for a few seconds but not too long. It was free money
after all. There was no sense in passing it up. In any case he had
been forced to come back, or he would have left it. It was like
fate or something, he told himself as he pulled the side door shut
tighter to hide the damage. He headed back into the house.

He left an hour later with close to a
quarter million dollars in cash in two small, black gym bags and
two new prepaid cell phones. Richard Dean had, had dozens of them
in a cupboard over the sink. His old one, another prepaid throwaway
was in his car that he had had to leave. His second one, the one
that held his contacts, the one that the people who knew him had
the number for, was securely in his pocket.

He sent the door up on its track after
covering the dead girl with an old piece of carpet, and then backed
the Camaro out into the driveway. He ran back in: Shut the door
down and then exited the side door. He closed the side door as well
as he could and then walked back to the Camaro.

He called Tommy: He drove as he explained
the situation, waited for Tommy to make the call.

“I could have someone there to do it. I know
people, but I want you there, Jimmy. Get a flight out of Syracuse
and fly down there: Rent a car, take care of things,” Tommy told
him.

“On my way,” Jimmy told him. He rattled off
the phone numbers for the new prepaid phones and then hung up. He
drove the Camaro to route 81 and called the airport for
reservations once he was on the way. He had three hours before he
had to catch his flight. That gave him time to drop the car at his
place; a small farm in Central Square. That would give him time to
shower and change clothes again; he could drive his SUV to the
Airport and leave it in the long-term parking lot.

He turned on the radio, tuned it to a
classical station and listened as he drove. Life was good, Jimmy
decided. Life was very good.

Lagrange Kentucky

Billy Jingo

The rest of Ohio went quickly and they were
cruising through Kentucky, the traffic light, talking to each other
to keep themselves awake.

“We don’t have to drive straight through,”
Billy said.

“I think I’d like to get some sleep then,”
April admitted.

She pulled off interstate 71 in Lagrange and
they took a room for the night.

Once they got everything into the room it
was after 9:00 PM according to April’s watch. She stripped down and
curled into Billy’s side. She was asleep before Billy had even
closed his eyes.

Watertown New York

Sammy and Don

“We got a warrant,” Sammy said. He was
standing outside the car talking to Don. He had left with another
officer to get the warrant. He’d come back with a flat bed hauler.
Don got out of the car, straightened his rumpled shirt and coat,
lit a cigarette, and walked over to watch them load the car.

Don was good with numbers, names, he
memorized them almost instantly. He had gotten a bad vibe about the
guy at the Shop and Stock and that had caused him to look at his
car. He had remembered three numbers. Other than that he hadn’t
even been able to remember the make and model. The kid manager had
though. He had noticed it was a Buick Century. He had also noticed
the bumper stickers as the guy had turned around and drove out of
the parking lot. He had told him that one said, “My other car is a
Cadillac,” the other sticker was a parking permit for some garage.
This car had matching bumper stickers. And the first three digits
from the license plate number had matched the ones he had
remembered.

Unfortunately the plates were registered to
a silver Chevy Impala: Same year and so the two cars probably
looked a little alike, both GMC Products. When they ran the plates
they were reported as stolen just a few nights ago in New Paltz, a
little place up in the Catskills.

The VIN number came back as junked. They
would probably come up with very little from the car. But if they
did get something they would have the warrant to make it all
legal.

The mechanic used a slim Jim to unlock the
car and an electronic lock pick to turn the ignition and slip the
car into neutral. A few minutes later he was winching the car up
onto the flat bed hauler.

Sammy climbed back into the unmarked car
with Don and they followed the truck back to the garage in silence.
They were both down, both tired. It had been a long day. Sammy had
predicted it might be a long day earlier that morning. It didn’t
make him happy that he had been right.

SIX

Sunday morning.

He held her and listened to her breath. He
felt her soft breaths against his chest. Her skin against his skin:
Her warmth.

Billy was worried. He was worried that
somehow he would miss something: Even now he was trying to think
around every angle and corner. He was afraid they would fail to see
some little thing and it would be their undoing. It would most
probably kill them: Literally.

He was mostly flying blind; trusting to the
same instinct that had kept him alive for all of his life: Steered
him away from the bad guys; caused him to be somewhere else when
the bad shit went down. Not every time, not for everything,
but most of the time, for most things in his life.

He didn’t know what to call it so he called
it God. Or, he thought, he believed it was God: As close as he
could come to understanding God anyway: If God was anything else he
didn’t know what that could be.

All he wanted was to get to Mexico with
April. Find a place to live and the money was the only thing that
could make that happen: It couldn’t happen any other way: If it
could happen some other way they could simply have walked
away from the whole mess. Leave it for someone else. Make their way
to Mexico like she wanted to and just stop.

Except, then what? Then what always
came up. No money meant no land. No house. No way to live. No
anything, so it came full circle; right back to the money. No money
was a bad idea. The exact opposite of what they wanted. So here
they were dragging fourteen and a half million dollars across the
country. And enough illegal drugs to put them both away for a
hundred lifetimes if they got caught with them. The amounts just
boggled his mind. He would start to think about it and get all
tangled up in the numbers.

She moved against him, mumbled something low
in her throat, and then quieted again as he stroked her hair with
one hand. He pulled the blanket up further to keep her warm.

It was early. He had no way of knowing how
early, but the traffic from the interstate sounded sporadic: Too
early to get up. He held her and a few minutes later his eyes
slipped closed and he drifted back off to sleep himself.

Watertown

Don and Jenny

Don batted at the alarm clock and its
incessant low beeping, finally hitting the snooze button and
silencing it for a few more minutes.

“You have to go right now?” Jennie asked in
a sleepy voice from beside him.

“Soon, Jen, soon,” Don said. He let one hand
roam down her side, felt the swell of her hip, her breasts heavy
against his side.

Her hand came across his belly and ran
through the tangles of hair on his chest. His own hand slipped over
her hip, and stroked the length of her upper thigh.

“Stay a while, Donny… Just a little
while?” she asked. She rose up on one elbow and let her hand drift
back down across his stomach.

He shifted his weight and pulled her over
onto him, his mouth finding her breasts and suckling at her nipples
as she rested her thighs on his hips.

Richard Dean’s House

Brian and Liv

Liv Spencer had never known Rich not to
answer his door. She had called him twice and someone did pick up
the phone, but had said nothing. She was worried, but more than
that, she needed some heroin. She needed it. Rich always
took care of her. Not only did she need his help, she had no idea
where else to go for help like his… Caring like his.

She stood outside in the cold predawn rain
for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes. That had seemed like
forever. Fifteen minutes was all the time in the world when you
needed to fix. It was every clock, every watch in the world ticking
away. Hell it was everything in the world. There was
nothing else. Fifteen minutes and she finally started trying the
doors. Front door, back door, locked. She hadn’t really thought
about the garage door, but finally she tried it. It was unlocked
and it was also badly damaged at the lock set. That had made her
stop.

The rain had stopped. She stood on the wet
blacktop by the door thinking what she could say…

[_“The door was unlocked, Richie… I found
the door unlocked, Rich… I just touched the handle and it turned,
Rich… It was busted… It was already broken, Rich. I turned the
handle and it just sort of fell open… It fell open, Rich. I
needed you, Richie, the door was unlocked… I needed a fix,
Richie, where the fuck were you?”_]

She practiced more excuses in her head, but
finally it didn’t matter that the door had been broken. She shut
down the little alarm in her head that had begun to jabber about
that. All that mattered was that the door was not locked and she
needed to fix. She finished turning the knob and stepped into the
garage.

The garage was lit, but only dimly. She made
her way to the door that lead into the house, nearly tripping over
a bunched up section of carpet someone had left laying by the door,
and tried the door to the inside of the house. It wasn’t even
closed all the way and began to swing open as soon as she touched
it.

“Rich?” she called. Her voice was a rusty
croak. “Richie!” She stepped further into the shadowy
kitchen.

[_“Richie? The door was open, man. I
called… The door…”_] She stopped when she saw the bodyguards
lying in the hallway. They seemed tossed aside like big overstuffed
rag dolls.

“Oh God,” she moaned; and immediately two
things began to fight inside of her: The need to turn and run,
because something was definitely fucked up here at Richie’s house:
There was absolutely no doubt about it; and, the need to get fixed.
To stop the itch, even if it was only a little: Even if it had to
be coke to tide her over… Something… And it didn’t look like
anyone here was going to try to stop her… No… Nobody…

Run…? Stay…? Run…? Stay…? She
stepped into the hallway, took a shaky breath and stepped carefully
over the bodyguards.

The exercise room was off the living room.

It was glass walled, you could exercise and watch TV on the big
screen, or you could watch TV and the exercise room too. No one
used the exercise room except the bodyguards and Richie’s oldest
daughter. But this morning the view through the glass was anything
but normal, and it took some time for her mind to wrap itself
around it. When it did she bent over and threw up on the deep pile
rug of the living room.

She looked back up from the carpet, staring
through the glass for what seemed like minutes to her, wondering
who would do things like that to another person; to people who were
walking around, breathing, talking, living their lives just a few
days ago when she seen them last. She’d never seen anything like
it. Not even in the horror flicks she liked to watch.

She bent over double and threw up again. She
continued to heave until nothing came up; not that there had been
much to throw up in the first place. She staggered back into the
hallway, got one more look at the two bodyguards, Karl and Geezer,
still dead she saw: Karl’s brains were leaking out of the side of
his head like some gelatin creation. She looked away quickly and
staggered into the kitchen. She sat down at the stools that lined a
small counter. The place she usually found Richie sitting. She sat
there for a few seconds and then remembered the small counter was
also a bar and sometimes rich kept a little something else back
there too.

She got up and went to the sink, ran the
water, drinking right from the tap. She swished the water around in
her mouth and spat, and then did it a few more times. She bent
closer and splashed the cold water on her overheated face: Pushing
the excess off her face with her hands. She straightened and walked
back to the counter which, from this side, was open and stocked
with all sorts of bottles of booze. All high test: All the good
stuff. No bad ones in the bunch. She grabbed a bottle of imported
Russian vodka. The label entirely in Russian, all the printing too:
All that writing that looked like backwards writing to her that she
could almost figure out. She snagged a clean water glass from the
top shelf and filled it with the vodka. Her eyes fell on the small
refrigerator under the shelves.

He kept some shit there; in the top: In the
freezer section, she thought… Sometimes… Most times in fact
that she could remember… He had said, [_“Wait just a
second,”_] and he had walked right over to the bar, opened the
small refrigerator, and come back with what she needed… [_Was it
every time or almost every time, she asked herself…?_] She
couldn’t remember. She was usually too fucked up to think about it,
but she thought it was nearly every time. And she thought it was
the freezer because it seemed to be where he reached.

She sat on the stool and sipped at the
vodka; loving the fire that it ignited in her stomach. No one would
know… No one would know at all… She had seen Richie’s BMW in
the other stall of the garage. She could take that to get
away…

If the keys…

She looked over at the small hooks just
inside the kitchen door. The BMW keys looked back at her. She could
see the little BMW medallion on the leather fob. She licked her
lips, took a deeper sip of the vodka, let it burn its way down into
her stomach and now she could feel it inside, working its way down
further, making her thighs warm. Hot even. She looked at the small,
compact refrigerator again. She licked her lips once more, got up
and swung the small door open.

Her eyes bugged out of her head. She had
never seen the inside. She had only assumed that it was a
refrigerator, but it wasn’t. It was shelf after shelf packed tight
with shit. Pot, cocaine, heroin, crack, crank and pills… Probably
E, she thought; and at the very bottom stacks of money. She forgot
to breathe and nearly toppled over off the stool before she
remembered to take a breath again. She took several deep breaths
and then went over to the kitchen sink and found the garbage bags
underneath. This is not real, she told herself. It’s just not
real… But it was. She knew it was. She could feel that it was.
She took two bags, slipped one inside the other, and then loaded
everything in the refrigerator into the bag: All of it. She hefted
it and then went back and got a third bag and slipped it over the
first two.

She was on autopilot now. She crossed to the
rack, took the keys to the BMW and walked into the hallway.
Gelatin, she told herself, just gelatin, as she stepped over Karl
and Geezer and then started down the steps that lead down into the
garage.

She nearly tripped over the carpet again,
looked down, saw one slim dusky gray hand that had slipped out from
under the carpet edge when she tripped over it, and quickly looked
back up before it could cause her to lose her happy thoughts
again.

She opened the garage door. She had thought
it would be so hard. She had been convinced it would be, but it was
easy. Push the button, the door went up. She climbed into the BMW,
set the black plastic bag on the passenger seat, backed the car out
of the garage, and then came back and pushed the button to close
the door. She stepped back out the side door, shut it as well as
she could, then opened it back up, turned the knob on the handset
to lock it, and swung it closed once more. It was broken, but maybe
it would lock anyway, she told herself. She looked at the dented
gold handle of the knob for a moment wondering what had happened
here, and then turned and walked back toward the BMW. No going
back, her mind said. No going back.

She was nearly to the BMW when she bent
double and heaved. The vodka came back up; burning her throat raw
as it did. She slammed down onto her knees, skinning them, and
retched until the nausea finally passed. She got up slowly,
straightening her clothes as best she could, turned, and that was
when she saw the kid standing on the sidewalk. She tried to smile
as she staggered toward the BMW.

“You okay, lady?” the kid asked.

She looked at him: Sunday morning, before
dawn. The newspaper carrier bag slung over one shoulder; Sunday
papers. Maybe he was 16… Maybe 17. Well built. Healthy, unlike
herself: She needed to dry out. Funny, a few minutes ago all she
had wanted was a fix. Now she didn’t want to ever touch heroin or
anything else again. Dry out, be normal: She’d been sixteen herself
not so long ago.

“Are you?” the kid asked again.

She shook her head. “Probably not… But I
will be… You got a girlfriend?” she asked.

The kid shrugged.

“You want to have an adventure?” She
straightened up and looked at the blood running from one of the
cuts on her knees. She raised her eyes to the sky and then looked
back again. “Maybe get out of this crappy fuckin’ town?” she asked
quietly.

“With you?” the kid asked.

“Yeah, maybe I’m not so hot right now, but I
clean up real well… Yeah, with me: There’s no one else here. Want
to deliver fuckin’ newspapers the rest of your life? Or maybe get
some shit-job flipping burgers someday?” she asked. She allowed a
little laugh to slip into her low voice.

“No,” the kid answered.

“Can you drive?” she asked.

The kid looked at the idling BMW, the
driver’s door hanging open. “Yeah,” he said a little breathlessly.
He looked back at her. She smiled.

“I’m… I’m going to be sick for a while…

Kicking the shit, you understand? The big H. The big H…
I’ll need help… You’ll take care of me… Won’t run off and leave
me?” She wobbled a little on her feet.

“Took care of my mother before she died… I
can take care of you… You won’t die though, right?” His eyes
looked worried, but he shifted the carrier sack from one shoulder
and let it drop to the wet pavement.

“Nope,” she answered. “But I’ll probably
wish I did…” She looked at him, “You’ll really stick it out?” She
watched his eyes.

“Yeah… I’ll do it,” he said.

“Liv,” she said.

“Brian,” he said. He stepped toward her.

“Well, Brian, better get me into the fucking
car before I pass out,” she said as her vision blurred. She
wobbled, but he was right there. More substantial than he had
looked. Stronger. He pushed the plastic bag off the passenger seat,
belted her in, and then went around to the driver’s side. He backed
out into the street.

“Where… Where to, Liv… Where are we
going?”

“Down south… Stop and buy a map at a gas
station. Take us south. Get a motel when you need to. When I…
When I get crazy… Okay?”

He nodded as he drove. The BMW accelerating
smoothly on the rain slicked streets. “I only have about 20 bucks,”
he said.

She laughed, worked her way into the bag,
drew out one of the stacks of money and handed it to him. She pawed
through the bag taking out all the money, stacks of it: Slipped the
bottom bag off, put the money in it and then tied the bag with all
the drugs in it.

“You saw all the money? That bag’s got a lot
in it. Take it wherever you go and be careful,” she said. “This
shit?” She lifted the other bag and pressed the switch to roll down
the window. The air felt cold, but good. She flung the bag into the
woods that lined the side of the road. And then she burst into
tears. It was gonna be so hard.

She pressed the button and the window
whispered closed.

“Take care of me, Brian. Take care of me,”
she said. She closed her eyes, rested her head against the glass
and passed out.

Manhattan

Jilly

Jilly sipped her diet coke and browsed
through the directory of the website. She had her FTP client up and
she was downloading the entire content section, which she could
sell to someone else before she sunk the site for good.

Jilly did things for people: Bad things for
bad people, but only because they paid well she told herself. She
was 23, owned her own apartment, a loft: A big loft. She didn’t owe
anything to anyone. All the latest and newest computer equipment:
Not many women her age could say the same. Bad people paid well.
She did the bad things; got this bit of information that bit: Did
this thing or that thing. Bad things, but they paid well.

Her e-mail alert chimed and she popped the
window up over her browser window. She read the e-mail and smiled.
A big payoff, maybe. She reached for the phone, dialed a number and
waited.

“Yeah,” she said. “The dead guy, Neo? He
bought himself a new car… Yeah… Yeah… Got it all on a phish:
License, make, model, where… It’s on its way to you… Yeah…
The usual… Oh…! Thanks, you’re so sweet to me.” She hung up,
checked her downloads and sipped at her diet coke. Bad people, good
money, she reminded herself. She picked up the phone and called the
other interested party.

Tennessee

Billy Jingo

The Suburban was so smooth it was like being
in another world, Billy thought. The sun was up, early morning,
9:00 AM his watch said. All the money in the world and he had
walked into a Kmart and bought himself a $29.00
Timex. He liked it. It suited him.

They had passed over into Tennessee. It was
not far to the border and then they would be in Alabama: From there
they would follow I-65 down to Mobile. He had tried to call Rich at
8:00 AM as they had arranged, but no one had answered. It bothered
him. He knew two numbers for Rich. The one just rang. The other
just beeped and then hung up on him after a few seconds, which
meant the messages were full. The one that rang and rang was Rich’s
cell phone. It made no sense that it should ring and ring. Rich was
a businessman. He never missed phone calls.

He picked up the phone and tried the cell
phone again. It rang on and on, a dozen times. He was just about to
hang up when he heard the click of an answer. No hello, no
anything; just an open line.

“Rich… That you, Rich?” Billy asked.

Nothing, then “Billy...? Billy
Jingo… Don’t hang up, Billy, just listen to me. Don’t…”

Billy clicked off the phone, looked at it as
if it had betrayed him, pushed a button for the window and tossed
the phone out onto the highway. He watched in the mirror: Just an
explosion of parts catching the sunlight as the phone came
apart.

“What?” April asked.

“Some dude answered Rich’s phone, but it
wasn’t Rich,” he said.

“Might not be bad,” April said. “Doesn’t
have to be anyway.”

“He knew my name,” Billy said.

“Shit,” April said.

“Yeah; tried the cop trick too: Keep them
talking. Told me not to hang up,” Billy told her.

“Don’t panic,” April said. “They don’t know
anything. Think about it. They can’t know anything or they would
have us. Might have been a lucky guess on their part. Maybe they…
Maybe they were supposed to answer. Supposed to see if it was you,”
April reasoned.

“Maybe, but it felt wrong. And how are we
going to know where to go. We’ll probably be in Mobile sometime in
the early morning,” Billy said.

“Baby,” April said. “We’ll do what we said.

If we don’t hear back or we don’t feel right about it, we’ll just
drive on through. We don’t need the money or the headache. There’s
nothing wrong. We don’t have to do it.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. He tried a smile back
on. “Yeah; okay.”

Watertown

Richard Dean’s House

Sammy and Don

The phone rang and rang. Don wasn’t going to
pick it up, but it was still ringing when he finally got a latex
glove on. What the hell, he thought. He clicked the button and
listened: The sound of travel; tires singing on pavement a radio
low in the background, nothing else for a minute. He was about to
say hello when the kids voice spoke. [_“Rich…? That you
Rich?”_]

He was usually quicker; maybe it had been
the lack of sleep. He knew the voice from somewhere, it just took a
few extra seconds to figure out where from. The kid: Billy Jingo;
it was his voice, Billy Jingo’s voice…

“Billy…! Billy Jingo?” he had said. “Don’t
hang up, Billy. Listen to me. Don’t trust these guys. Rich is dead.
They’ll kill you too… Billy…? Billy…? Fuck,” Don said
and slammed the phone into is free hand.

Sammy looked at him over the small bar where
he had found the phone sitting on a high shelf along with two
rubber banded stacks of fifties.

“Hung up,” Don said. “It was the kid. I know
the voice. He hung up.” Don ran his fingers through his hair. His
eyes were shot with red. His temper was frayed, even after the time
he had spent with Janet: Maybe because of it. He would sure rather
be back with her than here looking through the glass at the horrors
in the exercise room.

He looked back at the high shelf. It went
back deep. Impossible to see what else might be up there. He pulled
over a stool and climbed up on top of it. Sammy walked away toward
the garage to let the techs know the scene was secure. He looked
for a long time at what was hidden in the dust.

Mobile Alabama

Jimmy West

Jimmy punched in the number Rich had given
him. No answer, the phone just rang and rang. He folded his phone,
dug up a small piece of paper and reread the phone number to make
sure he had gotten it right. He had. He chose the alternate number
and punched that in. It rang four times before it was answered. The
young woman’s voice: The kids’ girl, April; had to be. “Is Billy
right there? This is Ronnie Lee. I’ve been trying to reach him.” He
tried to make the accent believable. Not too heavy, but there
nonetheless: Nothing but silence. He moved around the counter top.
The guitar shop was quiet, dark, a little dirty light coming
through the front glass. Ronnie lee was tied to a tall metal backed
chair. His eyes were missing.

“Did I dial a wrong number?” he asked.

“No,” April said at last. “Billy can’t talk
right now, Ronnie lee. John told us about you,” April said.

“Who the fuck is John?” Jimmy asked. “There
shouldn’t be anyone in this, but us and Richie.”

“I meant to say Richie,” April lied.

Sure you did you little bitch, Jimmy
thought.

“Well, who are you. You know who I am… The
girl, I know that. Rich told me, but he didn’t say your name,”
Jimmy said

“Annie,” April lied.

“Annie, okay. [_Annie, do we have a
deal?_] I pulled together an amount of money that should work,
but I can’t seem to reach Rich at all. His phone just rings. I’m a
little spooked, I don’t mind telling you, Annie,” Jimmy said. “Know
what I mean? Then you guys don’t answer on the other cell phone
number… Made me wonder, you know?”

“We can’t reach Rich either,” April
said.

“So it isn’t just me?” Jimmy said.

“Billy called, someone picked up. He thinks
it was a cop. We nearly changed our minds about this. I mean it’s
squirrelly,” April told him.

“Annie, I went to a lot of trouble to get
all this money together. I wish the two of you wouldn’t pull out.
I’d understand it if you did, I just wish you wouldn’t,” Jimmy
said.

“I didn’t say we would. It’s just… It just
spooked us too, I guess,” April said.

The silence hung for a few minutes.

“Where we at, girl?” Jimmy said at last,
figuring he would play it a little hard.

“Don’t call me girl,” April said.

“Sorry,” Jimmy said. “It’s my Alabama
showing; I don’t mean nothing by it.”

“Let me talk to Billy… Where can I call
you back?” she asked.

“Call me at my guitar shop,” he ran off the
number that went with the phone on the wall.

“When?” April said.

“When you’re ready… It’s all about you
now, Annie: You and Billy. I’ll be here,” Jimmy told her.

“Okay,” April said and clicked off.

Watertown

Richard Dean’s House

Sammy and Don

Sammy came back in with the techs. “Okay,
Don?” he asked.

“Yeah, let them do that exercise room after
the hallway. At least that way we’ll have someplace to go where we
don’t have to look at death.” Don said.

Sammy nodded and led the techs into the
living room. They stopped just inside the doorway.

“Who else?” the lead guy asked. His name was
Dennis Jones. Sammy had worked with him before. “Just me and Don,”
Sammy answered.

Dennis looked around. “Probably the kitchen
is okay, since you have already been in here. Anything in there?”
he asked. He looked down at the bottles in the rack, the
refrigerator that sat under the bar, then back up. Don wagged his
head no, and then pointed at a phone and two stacks of fifties that
sat on the counter top. Sammy walked over and whistled. “Where?”
Sammy asked.

“Up next to the phone,” Don said.

“Did you touch them?” the tech asked.

Don held up his gloved hands. “But before
you do the hall, do the kitchen and the phone, bag the money. I
will need to answer the phone if it rings and we need a place to
set up, okay, Dennis?” Don asked.

“Yeah, just,” he looked around and spotted
the short hall that led to the front door. “I’ll just hit the short
hallway first, then this. That way you guys got an entrance and a
place to wait… The rest is gonna take a while.”

Dennis crossed to the short hall and printed
the door. Vacuumed the carpet and bagged it, then turned it over to
them. He bought the phone to Don a few minutes later.

Don walked out to the car he had parked at
the curb, and pulled it up onto the lawn next to the front door. He
took his jacket off. Folded it carefully and put it on the back
seat. The day was warming up a little, although the forecast said
cold later. Either way the jacket was off and would stay off. He
walked back inside the hallway and stepped up beside Sammy. They
watched as the techs worked the other end of the hall that picked
up on the opposite side of the kitchen and led to the garage.

“Twenty five grand in those fifties,” Sammy
said.

Don nodded.

“Would have been tough for me to turn that
in,” Sammy said.

“Not you, Sammy. You’re a straight arrow,
you would’ve done the same thing,” Don said.

“Yeah, but it still would’ve been hard,” he
sighed. “You and I are both the same… I think that’s what
happened to the kid: Temptation; there all at once. Something he
must’ve saw in the cars,” Sammy asked.

“Positive of it,” Don agreed quietly.

“Temptation’s a bitch. I’m sure the kid just
folded. Sometimes it’s hard to walk away, even when you know you
should.”

Sammy nodded and glanced back up at the mess
in the hallway.

Don’s own cell phone rang. He pulled it out
of his pants pocket. “Yeah?” he answered. He listened and then
pulled out his note pad and began to write. “Slow, slower,” he
said. “I guess all the information comes at one time,” he whispered
to Sammy. He wrote as he listened, watching the techs work the
hallway.

Fort Deposit Alabama

Billy Jingo

Sunday afternoon.

They were parked in a rest area just off
I-65.

“Did you believe him?” Billy asked.

April shrugged. “He sounded real. It’s the
right name. He knew your name. He didn’t know my name, but he knew
I was here. I told him my name was Annie. I figured it was close
enough. I figured if he said he thought it was April I could fake
it. He didn’t. He didn’t even hesitate when he said Annie, or if he
did, I didn’t catch it. I just don’t know. He even said he was a
little spooked by not being able to reach Rich himself. He told me
we could call it all off if we wanted to. He doesn’t want us to,
but he said he would understand. Would someone trying to set a trap
try to push us away? I wouldn’t think so, baby, but I don’t know.
Even so, something about it has got me bugged big time,” April
finished.

“I can’t see Richie setting us up. But I
also can’t see Richie not answering his phone either.” He looked at
the map. “Let’s find a motel… Kill some time… It looks,” he
traced the route down I-65 with his finger and compared it to the
scale. “Maybe six, seven hours to go and we’ll be in Mobile. If we
crash for the rest of the day get some sleep, we can leave at
midnight and be there early tomorrow morning. I don’t wanna get
there at night, or come in at night.”

April nodded. “We should get another vehicle
as soon as we get there too. I like this truck, but it’s too hard
to maneuver in tight places. We need a car. Something fast so we
can get away if we need too.”

“We’ll look, let’s go to Mississippi,” he
traced a route with his finger. “We could rent a car and a room in
Pascagoula. That’s maybe an hour drive from Mobile. We’ll leave the
Suburban somewhere there; maybe we can leave it in the airport’s
long-term lot, something like that. That will allow us to cruise by
the meeting place tonight. We’ll call him back; tell him we’ll be a
little late, sometime early tomorrow morning. We’ll ask for the
directions to the place now. That will give us some level of
protection. About the best we can do,” Billy said.

“That makes sense,” April said. “But we
still call it off if it feels wrong tomorrow morning, right?”

“Absolutely. If we wake up tomorrow and get
a bad feeling, we just take the car back and head for Mexico,”
Billy agreed.

“All right,” April said. She leaned forward
and kissed him. “Call him.” She handed him the phone.

Watertown

Sammy and Don

“Okay… We know it was a drug deal, but
there’s word on the street, not our streets, Manhattan, that
it was a deal between Tommy Murphy and Jefferson Prescott that went
bad. A couple of million dollars in cocaine, heroin, and some high
grade pot thrown in for good measure; and I mean their prices and
that means that not only were the drugs there, but the money was
there too,” Don said.

“Holy shit, no wonder so many people are
getting dead,” Sammy said.

“Yeah,” Don agreed. “There’s a contract out
on both of them, Billy and April. They don’t care how they get them
either, so long as they get the money and drugs back.”

“And let me guess, if they’re admitting to a
few million dollars it’s probably a lot more, right?” Sammy
asked.

“No doubt,” Don looked at his notes. “They
found the kids truck in Rochester. Wrecked into a house and burned
out. Three local gang bangers roasted inside the truck. The rumors
say a chase and shootout prior to that, two white kids in a Jeep.
Some say two guys, some say a guy and a girl,” he read from his
notes.

“So the gang bangers steal the truck
somehow?” Sammy asked.

Don shrugged. “The dead guy in the Ford
missing the top of his head: Benjamin Neo.” Don asked.

“Yeah?” Sammy said.

“Fake name… Real name’s… Rustle Roberts.

Funny thing is, other than an arrest twenty years ago for an
assault charge; he has absolutely no record under that name:
Doesn’t own anything; hasn’t paid taxes. Nothing. Benjamin Neo on
the other hand owns three homes, two in Rochester, one in
Barbados.”

Don raised his eyebrows.

“Hot,” Sammy said.

“And guess what, yesterday he bought himself
a brand new GMC Suburban. I mean top of the line, over sixty grand
for the price tag,” Don said.

“Our two?” Sammy asked.

Don shook his head. “The salesman swears the
guy was Benjamin Neo. No girl with him. Said the guy had ID.”

“Not hard if they took it from the car,”
Sammy interjected.

Don nodded. “There’s an APB out on the
Suburban, but we also got the Jeep that April Evans bought. Hasn’t
been a single sighting, but it sounds like the Jeep that was
involved in the thing in Rochester.”

“So why did they each buy vehicles?” Sammy
asked.

“Well, it’s a day apart in different states.

They bought the Suburban in Ohio, Cleveland… Maybe the Jeep was
damaged in the thing in Rochester, so they had to ditch it,” Don
shrugged. “The thing is, with Murphy and Prescott gunning for them
they won’t last long. Gang intelligence in Rochester says the
shootout was probably motivated by the drugs and the money.”

“You think they knew?” Sammy asked.

“Yeah: The word’s out there. It’s a big
reward; plus a direct in with two of the biggest names in the dope
business. Whoever finds them can probably write their own ticket.”
Don looked toward the hallway, where the techs were cutting out
sections of the carpet. At least the bodies we’re gone, he saw with
relief. “That’s probably what most of this was all about,” Don
finished.

“We wouldn’t even know this if not for the
missing paper boy,” Sammy said. “The kid’s route manager called
when he found the kids bag in the driveway early this morning
abandoned. Fresh blood on the pavement, despite the light rain that
had fallen earlier had him worried. First responder looked through
the front window and all hell broke loose.”

“And the paper boy’s not here. And I don’t
know how to read that. The drug unit says Richard Dean has a BMW,
but it isn’t here and there isn’t one registered to him in his name
or his Ex’s name: Girlfriend’s name; I even checked the oldest
daughter. Nada. They think they have a surveillance tape that might
have the plate number. But they’re not too hopeful. If it was there
they would’ve already gotten it and had it in their files. So I had
jenny put out a description of it from their files. Best I could
do, but we have no idea who might be driving it and no proof that
it was used in the crime. So it’s not statewide. Probably won’t be
either,” Don said.

“Anything on the head, the hands and the…

appendage in the bag?” Sammy asked.

Don nodded. “Carlos Sanchez. Fingerprints
from the one good hand still in the bag: Long record and surprise,
surprise, he was Jefferson Prescott’s right hand man: Not a clue
why most of him is gone or what the, uh… appendage was
doing in there.”

“So we don’t know where anybody is. We know
that Billy had something going on with Rich. He called. I doubt
he’ll call back. The cops have searched all three of Neo’s places.
Sanchez’ too: Nothing and nothing; no bodies.” He flipped a page in
his notebook.

“The two women, the DB in the garage and the
girl out there at the state park: They were both low key so there
wasn’t likely to be anything there and there wasn’t. And, anyway,
nothing was found anywhere,” Don said. He sighed, closed the cover
of his notebook, rubbed at his temples, and then slipped the
notebook back into his shirt pocket. “I gotta have a smoke, Sammy.”
He walked through the short hallway and out of the house. There
were neighbors out on their lawns watching the show. Don walked
around back and Sammy followed him. He stopped out of sight and lit
up.

“This is a fuckin’ mess, Sammy. And we don’t
even know where those kids are. Not even a rumor that’s solid,
although the route looks-if it was really them that bought the
suburban in Ohio-the route looks to be south, but that’s really a
wild guess.” He sucked in the smoke, felt the familiar ache in his
lungs and ignored it.

“It’s fucked up all right,” Sammy agreed.

“While you were on the phone I talked to Jenny. That Alice girl
from the Shop and Stock was raped. I asked Dennis, he said it looks
like all three of the women here were also raped. No anything from
Alice’s body. He had to have used a condom. No ID in the car, but
two good sets of prints. So far nothing on them though. And we
don’t know if the car had anything to do with this, but we think it
did with the girl. They’re doing tire impressions out at the
campground… Looks like a match though,” Sammy said.

“I thought Jenny was off until tomorrow?”
Don said.

“We’re drawing attention. This is a major
crime wave for here. The mayor’s taking a lot a shit. Everybody’s
in and working for us. I mean the overtime overfloweth. That’s what
I was told anyway. Same goes for us, just turn the hours in,” Sammy
said.

“It’s about time. They should’ve done it two
days ago,” Don said.

Sammy nodded. “Better late than never,” he
said.

Don sighed deeply and nodded. “Last
thing.”

“Eh?” Sammy asked.

“A rumor, something the crime boys picked
up, a rumor that there are more than just the drugs and the cash at
stake: Something else that was sent along with it.” He
shrugged.

“Nothing concrete about what it was?” Sammy
asked.

“Nothing… Just an intercept on a phone tap
on some low key bookmaker in Rochester: Something about the high
grade pot that was sent along.”

Sammy nodded. “Something new maybe? I mean,
we’ve seen it before… The body parts? This Carlos? Maybe there
was a deeper reason for Prescott’s number one man to wind up in
pieces in a bag.” he shrugged helplessly.

Don nodded but said nothing.

Mobile

Jimmy West

Sunday night:

Jimmy sat alone in the guitar shop. He
wasn’t all that good at planning things on the cuff. But he had
just hung up from talking to the kid and setting up the meet for
tomorrow morning. Right here at Ronnie Lee’s guitar shop.

He had heard back from Tommy. The cops were
now looking for the suburban too. He’d told the kid to ditch it.
That’s just the way it went, Jimmy told himself. Sometimes you drew
the dumb half-ass cop who went through the motions, other times you
drew the worker. They had drawn the worker. Hopefully the kid would
heed his warning about the truck. He’d told the kid he had a friend
who had a friend, like that. And he had described the truck and
told him the license number.

He could see that souring the whole deal,
but if the cops picked them up that would also sour the whole deal.
In fact, that would be the end of everything. So it was worth the
risk to tip off the kid. No money, no drugs, no top secret military
weapon that might or might not allow you to live forever.

If the kid was caught the cops would know
the whole thing then. And Jimmy’s ass would be out in the wind. He
had no doubt that Tommy would have him killed: None at all, but he
had absolutely no intention of turning any of it over to Tommy:
Once he got it he was gone. Long gone. Tommy would never find him.
Jefferson either. He might keep the girl alive for a while. She was
supposed to be a looker. He’d take the kid out fast. He owed him
that. He was a dumb fuck, but a ballsy dumb fuck. He had to hand it
to him, for making the play. So he’d do him quick. A little honor
returned, he thought.

He stared out the big front window at the
nearly empty parking lot. Tonight sometime, he was nearly sure.
They would come here. They would cruise by to take a look. He would
if it was him. And Jimmy would be ready when they did.

Mississippi

Billy Jingo

“He could be lying,” Billy said.

“Maybe so, but if nothing else, he knows
what we’re driving and even the license number. That alone is a
reason to lose the Suburban,” April said.

“I thought we did so well,” Billy said.

“We did. Apparently the cops wanted Ben Neo,
or us. It’s just the way it went,” April said.

They were in Mississippi. They had stopped
and called after they had traveled all the way across three states
and part of another with an APB out on the truck and hadn’t even
known it. They had seen cop cars several times, but not a single
one had bothered them. If Ronnie Lee was telling the truth, they
had been extremely lucky.

“Okay,” Billy said. “We can’t use any ID’s
that we have. Me, you, Neo or even Sanchez, because there is no way
you can make me look Spanish… How about,” he pulled the other set
of ID’s out that he had taken from the wrecked Toyota. One of the
black duffel bags, the one that didn’t have a surprise in it, he
reminded himself as he took the ID out of his wallet. “Dan Gaynor,”
Billy said. He held the driver’s license photo up to his face.

“Maybe,” April said. She turned her head one
way, then the other. “We’ll need some stuff though.” She looked
around the parking lot that they were in. She spotted a drug store
and turned back to him. “I’ll be right back,” she said.

Billy kissed her and she jumped out and
headed across the parking lot. He sat, the window rolled down,
waiting, when another Suburban rolled in next to his: The same
color, lifted, a few years older. The old guy driving it gave him
the thumbs up and walked over after he parked. His wife stood
nearby him. “Brand new?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Billy said.

“I’m thinking of a new one soon. Trading in,
but the price tag is rough,” he said.

“Yeah,” Billy agreed. “But with the rebates,
incentives, it knocked a big chunk right off the top. Plus I paid
cash so I got an even better deal.” Billy lied.

“Jesus Christ, boy, I don’t know anyone that
carries that kind of money around,” the old guy said.

“I don’t carry that much around, but I work
off shore. It’s just me and my girlfriend. It’s easy to save the
money,” Billy told him. He had watched a documentary not long ago
about an offshore oil crew.

The old man nodded. “Make it while you’re
young, kid. Believe me the age catches up to you.”

His wife had waited for him for a few
minutes, but now started toward the store on her own.

“Well I guess I better get, before I find
myself in deep shit with the old lady. Nice truck, kid.” He grinned
and turned away.

Billy watched him until he was inside the
store, then he climbed out with a screwdriver and switched plates
as quickly as he could. He wondered whether the old man would
notice right away or not. The plates were different. He just hoped
that April came back out before the old guy did.

He lit a cigarette, inhaled, and let the
smoke roll slowly out of his mouth. He’d seen the license plate
thing in a movie, but he’d never done it before. With all the
cameras there were these days, he wouldn’t be surprised if one had
caught him in the act, but they never checked on those cameras
unless some serious crime happened, so he should be okay.

The old man and his wife came back first.

Billy was nervous, but it turned out to be for nothing. The old man
waved, climbed up into his truck and drove away. April came out a
few minutes later.

He told her about the old man and switching
the plates as she worked on his face. Twenty minutes later she
showed him what she had done, and he was surprised how closely his
face matched the face on the license.

“People don’t realize that it’s usually only
a few key things that people see when they look at someone: If you
can duplicate a few of those things you’re good.” April said.

“Where did you learn to do this though?”
Billy asked as he started the truck and pulled out of the lot.

“School: We had a whole segment on identity
theft. Two cops came in and talked to us. They showed us how it’s
done. I mean they weren’t showing us so that we could do it, but I
understood it and it interested me. I paid attention. They even
showed us a video where they made an older policewoman look like a
teenager. I mean you wouldn’t have known it was the same woman,”
April said. She looked at the street they were cruising down. A
used car lot was coming up on the left. A line of cars graced the
cracked street facing lot. “How about there?” she asked.

The place looked a little tacky.

“Santiago’s Buy Here Pay Here,” a sign proclaimed.

“That Camaro would do if it’s an eight,”
Billy agreed. He was eyeing a Camaro parked in the spotlights in
front of all the other cars.

They spent a half hour dickering for the
Camaro. It was late, Sunday night, but they had cash, so the young
guy stayed to close the deal past the normal closing time. For an
extra fifty bucks, he sold them an inspection sticker. “I don’t
suppose that you got a set of plates hanging around back there too,
do you?” Billy had asked half joking.

“A hundred bucks,” the young guy had said.

“Clean. No problem… Need a fake insurance card?” he asked.

In the end, Billy slipped the kid an extra
500 bucks to make the car look legal: Plates, paperwork, insurance
and title.

“You do this every day?” Billy asked.

“Fuck, man. I don’t get paid shit. You gotta
have a hustle, you know? This is mine. I can get it painted for you
too… Cheap: Real cheap; but nice, fast too.”

“No, I… What about my Suburban?” Billy
asked.

“Yeah… I could get that done,” the kid
said.

Billy stopped and turned around. “See the
bank man… The repo-guy,” Billy shrugged. “A different color…
Maybe bigger tires… A lift… Plates of course… Make it seem to
be a different truck, you know?” Billy asked.

“You fuckin’ serious, man?” the young guy
asked. “Ese, I can get it done, but not now, today. It’ll take a
couple of days… Cost… Maybe two grand… Maybe a little less, a
little more… If you’re serious.” He looked at Billy and tried to
judge whether he was having him on or not.

“I’m serious. Let me get it unloaded right
now, man, and I’ll leave it with you.” He turned away and then
turned back toward the kid. “I’ll give you fifteen hundred up
front, the rest… Tuesday?”

The kid was nodding. “Except, Tuesday
night: Can’t be when the boss is here, you see?”

“Yeah,” Billy said. “I see: Tuesday night
then. Give me a few minutes to empty it out.”

Billy and April worked together and moved
everything over into the Camaro’s trunk. Billy took about a pound
of the weed and gave it to the kid along with the $1500.

“What’s this?” the kid asked, taking the
plastic shopping bag that Billy offered.

“A present… Do right by me and my truck
and there will be more,” Billy promised.

The kid peeked into the bag. “Shit, Ese.” He
closed the bag up tight. “See you on Tuesday night, Dude… Hey,
man… What color?”

“What?” Billy asked.

“You know, your truck, man. What color?” the
guy smiled and laughed.

“What do you think?” Billy asked April.

“Red…? Black?”

“Green… Maybe metallic,” April said.

“The boss has spoken,” the young guy
said.

They all laughed.

“My uncle had this green Ford Pinto:
Metallic; I liked that color. It was… Deep, really rich looking:
Expensive with a lot of gold flake in it. I remember it because
that Pinto was a cheap car and they had this paint job that looked
like it should be on a Lincoln instead of the pinto,” April
said.

“Green metallic it is,” the young guy said.

“Hey, my friends call me Dougie.” He extended his hand and they
shook. “Okay then. See you all on Tuesday night… You’re gonna
like your truck.”

They said their goodbyes and left.

“You thinking to really come back for that
truck,” April asked.

“No… But the way things are it’s there if
we need it and we know it’s safe too,” Billy said.

“If he doesn’t steal it,” April said as
Billy signaled and headed back for the expressway.

Billy nodded. “I don’t get that from him.

Yeah, I know, the kid is obviously a little under the table, but so
are we… No. I think if we need it, it really will be there
Tuesday night: If we don’t the guy has himself a free truck.”

The Camaro felt good to Billy. He opened it
up a little on the expressway for a few miles then let April drive
it.

“Powerful,” April agreed. She looked at her
watch; 10:20 PM, the night was flying by. “We going?” she
asked.

“I don’t think so… It’s a store in a mall,
late night it would be tough to cruise by without being obvious. I
say let’s get a motel room and call it a night,” Billy said.

“Sounds good, baby,” April agreed.

Mobile Alabama

Rebecca Monet

Rebecca Monet turned over on the bed and
opened one eye. She hated the little fleabag motel she was staying
in. She hated Mobile. She hated being a weather girl. In fact she
hated being referred to as a girl. And life was not always
fair, she knew that, but she was damned if she would just wait for
it to get better. She would make it happen. Life the way she wanted
it to be. No sitting on her ass marking time.

The sun was up. It was early, but the early
bird gets the worm. She stumbled from the bed, undressing as she
went and headed for the shower.

On The Road

Pennsylvania

Brian and Liv

“Liv… Liv… Come on, Liv, you got to do
this on your own. There are people watching… They’ll think it’s
funny if I carry you… Maybe call the cops,” Brian said.

“Oh God, I’m sick… I’m really fuckin’
sick… Leave me the fuck alone, I mean it,” Liv said.

“Liv?” he bent and pulled her upright from
the car. They were in Pennsylvania: Near the Catskills; the night
was not just cool it was cold: The cold air brought her awake.

“Okay, Okay… Where are we…? Where are
we…? Fuck… Lead the way… I’m okay… Not so goddamn fast…
Slow… I hate to puke,” Liv said.

Brian had toed the door to the cabin open
after he had unlocked it, and then edged it partially shut with his
foot as he left to get her. He would get her into the bed, lock the
door and set the alarm, and then he’d get the stuff out of the car
after he got her settled… Maybe a shower first too.

He had rented the cabin for three weeks. It
was the best he could think of and he thought it was pretty smart.
They would have privacy while she got better.

He asked himself a dozen times today why he
was doing this, but he didn’t have any solid answers. Maybe because
he had no family left: Maybe because he was tired of living in
Foster Care with people who didn’t want him; maybe because he had
watched his mother die from this same shit. Crack had done her in
instead of heroin, but it was all the same shit. Maybe it was Liv
too. Maybe it was a little of both. He had never known anyone who
had walked away from their life like this: Never, it was like
starting over. Like getting a second chance. He had decided that,
that was the main reason.

They passed one couple on the way to their
cabin. He smiled politely, helping Liv along.

“A little too much to drink,” he heard the
woman whisper to her husband after they had passed by.

He smiled. Good. Let them think that, by the
next time that they saw Liv, she would be on her own two feet. He
helped her into the cabin and laid her down on the bed. She
instantly curled up into a ball holding her stomach. He got her
into the bathroom just in time.

Once he got her cleaned up and into the bed,
it was close to midnight. He made his way back out to the car,
retrieved the stuff he had bought today: Leaving her sleeping in
the car; panicking the whole time that she would be gone when he
got back, but she had still been there. It had been okay. He
grabbed the bag of money too, and carried everything back into the
cabin.

It took a few minutes to get the loose
cotton pajamas on her. The room had a huge bathtub, and after he
had helped her into the bath and bathed her, when she couldn’t stay
awake to do it herself he was a lot less embarrassed. Besides,
there was no one else to do it. He put antibiotic cream on her knee
and bandaged it up. She drifted in and out while he did it, mostly
to tell him to leave her the fuck alone, but he knew she didn’t
mean it. He got some vitamins in her and got her to take a couple
of aspirin and drink some juice: She was out cold a few minutes
later. He turned the TV on low, smoothed her hair away from her
brow and found something to watch.

Mississippi

Monday morning

Billy Jingo

April sat on the edge of the bed drying her
hair. Billy was still in the shower, but the water had quit
running. He’d be out soon. She had the television on low, a Mobile
station, early morning news program. She was mostly ignoring it.
They were both still jittery about everything and hadn’t made up
their minds what they were going to do. Stay or go, run or follow
through.

Billy came out of the shower, his hair
sticking up all over the place.

“Coffee from the machine,” April said and
lifted her cup. Billy’s eyes went to his own cup she had gotten
him. He looked at her, she was still naked. She had only managed to
get one sock on.

“Did you go down to the machine like
that?“Billy asked.

“I threw my robe on. It only fell open one
time,” April said. “Go on; drink it while it’s hot, even though it
has this yucky cardboard taste.”

“I could never walk to the coffee machine
naked, with just a robe on,” Billy said.

“I could,” April said.

The TV broke into their conversation,
silencing them:

“Bethany?” the news anchor said to his
co-anchor, “Here is a story from New York. Authorities here in
Alabama are looking for two missing teenagers amid some very
disturbing circumstances. For more here’s our own Rebecca
Monet.”

The room was silent, all the banter back and
forth gone. Two pictures flashed up on the screen. Billy on one
side, April on the other.

“Thanks, Bob. As of this morning police are
still looking for 18 year old April Evans and 23 year old William
Jingo. A third young teen has now been added to the missing list,
17 year old Brian Smith: A paper carrier who disappeared on his
route right in front of the home of a known drug dealer. When the
cops searched that home they found the bodies of the drug dealer,
Richard Dean, his girlfriend and his two young daughters. Three
other bodies were found in the home, but authorities are
withholding their names until next of kin are notified. There were
no signs of young Brian Smith, William Jingo, or April Evans.

“This comes on the heels of a bizarre chain
of events that began early Friday morning in a small northern New
York town known mostly because of its proximity to Fort Drum, the
largest military training base for winter exercises in the
world.

“Friday started with a car chase. Two
wrecked cars, one burned, three dead men and what authorities have
said is a large quantity of drugs and money missing. It escalated
when cops discovered that William Jingo, one of the material
witnesses to the car chase, and his 18 year old girlfriend, April
Evans, had both vanished. It took another serious step with the
discovery of the body of 18 year old Alice chambers, murdered and
dumped and in a nearby state park. Officers say they believe she
was murdered by someone looking for information about the two
missing teens.”

April gasped and put one hand to her
mouth.

“Police have also disclosed that there has
been a grizzly find of body parts of another victim behind William
Jingo’s trailer home. Jingo and Evans are believed to be traveling
in one of two vehicles. A late model Jeep Commander which is
alleged to have been involved in a shootout in the city of
Rochester, some one hundred and fifty miles to the West of
Watertown.” A stock picture of a Jeep Commander flashed on the
screen as Rebecca Monet read the license number. Billy moved close
to April and pulled her into his arms. She was sobbing
uncontrollably.

“This vehicle,” Rebecca continued, “was
allegedly purchased by Ms. Evans in Rochester. The second vehicle
is a late model GMC Suburban, white.” She read off the license
number as an image appeared on the screen. This vehicle was
purchased by a Benjamin Neo.” Neo’s picture flashed up on the
screen, along with a grainy photo of Billy as Neo from a security
camera at the dealership.

“Neo was thought to have been one of those
killed early Friday morning in the car crash, but now authorities
are unsure whether he was killed or someone else was driving his
car. Cops are waiting for blood work and DNA results, Bob, which
they say could take several weeks.

“Authorities in New York have received tips
that the four missing people may be heading south in one or both of
the vehicles. The numbers on the bottom of screen are where you can
call with information pertaining to this case that authorities are
now calling organized crime related. If you see any of these four,”
all four pictures popped up on the screen, “don’t try to apprehend
them yourselves. They are considered armed and dangerous. Call one
of the numbers on the screen. Bob?” She finished.

“Now, Rebecca, aren’t we also hearing that
the young woman is perhaps being held against her will? Possibly
the young boy too,” Bob asked.

Rebecca’s serious face filled the screen as
she nodded. “Bob, authorities are tight lipped about the
circumstances, but our sources say there is real concern that the
kids may have been taken by Benjamin Neo and forced by him to drive
across several states. Their concern now is that none of the three
young adults have been seen in recent sightings of Neo.” She lifted
one hand helplessly. “We can only hope that the events that are
playing out have not taken an even more serious turn, Bob.”

“And they believe they may be heading for
Mobile,” Bob asked.

Rebecca nodded. “Unnamed sources have told
us that they believe they are heading south, possibly for Mobile.”
The picture switched back to the studio.

“Well, Rebecca, our prayers are certainly
with the families of those young kids tonight. Hopefully they’ll be
located soon.” He turned more squarely to the camera. “As always,
when you see breaking news give us a call here at Channel Eight.
The numbers are on the screen. It’s a free call, even from your
cell phone. Let’s go to Bethany with breaking national news on that
far away light in the sky, DX2379R the meteor that is still claimed
by some to be on a collision course with Earth. Bethany?” Bob
said.

Billy held April and she cried. It was a
long time before she could talk.

Watertown

Don

Don managed to get the bedside phone on the
third ring, by then it had awakened Jenny too.

“Goddamn cops,” Jennie muttered as she
buried her head back under the blankets.

“Yeah?” Don managed.

“Sammy,” Sammy told him. “You gotta get down
here; we’re out of here, like, 3 hours ago… You there, Donny?”
Sammy asked.

Don set up in bed which caused Jennie to
complain even more. “What the fuck are you talking about, Sammy.
Say it slower. My brain has no caffeine yet.” He rubbed his face
with one of his large hands.

“We’re going to Alabama… Mobile.

Several tips put the Suburban on I65 yesterday, just outside of
Mobile: Nothing after that. The chief thinks they went to ground
and there are rumors of a big deal that is going to happen there
with an associate of the late Richard Dean. We don’t have names
yet, but they’re working on it. The guy is a big drug dealer in
that area. We’re going down on a flight out of Syracuse in 2 hours.
We’re going to meet with the locals, it’s their ballgame, but the
chief wants us to be there when the whole thing goes down. Sort of
like the New York liaison,” Sammy said.

“That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever
heard,” Don said. He reached for the night stand and got a
cigarette. He lit it and then tossed the heavy silver Zippo back
onto the table with a metallic clunk. Jenny raised her head.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“Fuck,” Don said.

“Fuck ain’t the half of it,” Sammy agreed.

“You’re awake now? I’ll be there in about twenty minutes, we have
to hurry,” Sammy finished. He clicked off before Don answered.

Don slammed the phone down. “The chief, Mr.

political aspirations himself, has decided in all of his wisdom to
send us to Mobile-Fucking-Alabama of all places, because some tips
came in that placed the GMC on I65 yesterday and nothing since
then,” Don said as he worked his way out of bed and headed toward
the shower.

He called from the shower. “Brilliant,
over-react now to cover his ass for not reacting when he should
have… Jen, could you get me out a suit of clothes?” He called as
he turned on the shower. He kicked off his boxers and stepped under
the spray which was still slightly cold, forgetting about the
cigarette in his mouth. He caught the soggy mess in one hand and
tossed it toward the toilet. It landed on the lid with a wet
plop.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “That’s why the lid
should be up.”

Mobile

Jimmy West

Jimmy stared at the TV. The weatherman was
on now talking about the fall weather and the start of the
hurricane season.

He had been out once to dispose of Ronnie
Lee. It was a large shop, but a body couldn’t hang around too long
without air conditioning and this place had none.

He had found a state park next to a swamp,
they called them bogues here according to the sign, but they were
still swamps. He had tossed the body in. There were alligators all
over down here. The body wouldn’t last long. He hadn’t wanted to
wait that long to do it, but he had been afraid to leave: As the
night wore on though he became convinced that they were not coming
by. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe what he would do wasn’t
necessarily what a couple of green kids would do.

He wondered about the other kid. The paper
boy, but he had no idea who he was or where he’d come from. And if
he was honest with himself he didn’t care either. The kid was one
of those anomalies: A fly in the ointment a nothing, at least to
him.

It bothered him that the cops had such a
lock on the two vehicles. Every red neck with eyes would be calling
every time they saw a Suburban of any kind. It would be a bad
couple of days for anyone who owned a white Suburban.

He wondered about Neo. He was positive that
Neo was dead. Or he had been. If he was honest now there was more
than a little doubt in his mind. It could have been anyone in that
car. Neo could be smart enough to be behind this whole thing. He
could be pulling the kids strings, both of them. And if that was
the case he himself would have to be very careful. Getting shot in
the back of the head in a car chase was one thing. Facing Ben Neo
in a one on one situation was not something he wanted to do. His
phone rang: His own cell phone and he knew who it was before he
answered it.

“Jimmy,” Tommy’s voice rasped. “I got a
fuckin’ cold so bear with me… And now I’m getting a fuckin’
headache. I hear from my sources that Ben Neo might still be alive.
My own, turned against me… You heard that shit, Jimmy?” Tommy
asked.

“I just heard it,” Jimmy acknowledged.

“You think these cops are jerking our
chains? You hear they’re talking organized crime ties? This is
getting out of control, Jimmy. Out of control… I need the truth,
Jimmy. If it is Neo, can you handle him…? [_Can you handle
him?_] I need to know that, Jimmy: If this fucker has turned on
me… Like… Like some fuckin’ dog that doesn’t know his master…
Like that, Jimmy, I need to know that you can fix that, Jimmy… A
thing like that has got to be fixed, and I need you to tell me that
you can fix it,” Tommy said.

“I’ll get him,” Jimmy said. “I’ll be honest,
Neo is no joke, but you know I’m not either. I’ll get him,” Jimmy
said.

“Or else?” Tommy asked.

“Or else, he’ll have to fuckin’ kill me… I
know my job. You know where my loyalties are, Tommy. He’ll have to
kill me, but he won’t. He won’t because he has nothing on me at
all. I know him. I know how he operates: His methods. He’s a dead
man, Tommy. He just doesn’t know it yet. When I get him, believe
me, he’ll wish he did die in that car with the top of his head
blown off,” Jimmy said.

“I don’t ever doubt you, Jimmy. I don’t. Get
this done for me. Make it all work out and I’ll take care of you.
You know that,” Tommy said.

“I know that,” Jimmy said.

“You need something, you call these people.

They’re right there. They’ll help,” Tommy said. He rattled off two
local phone numbers.

“Okay,” Jimmy said. He clicked off, tore off
the square of paper with the two numbers on it from the pad. Folded
it, and slipped it into his pocket. He wandered over to a long
display of acoustic guitars, took one down and strummed the open
strings. He had never learned. He couldn’t figure out how anyone
could learn, it was killer on your fingers. He hung the
guitar back up, walked back to the stool where he had been sitting
and sat back down. There was nothing he could do but wait.

Mississippi

Billy Jingo

She finally calmed down, but Billy still
held her for a while. “Is it your friend Alice? Is that it?” Billy
asked her.

“How they could have possibly found out
about us… What they could have thought that she would know,”
April said. “She’s nothing to me at all… Why did someone do that
to that girl?” She finally thought to finish dressing, and pulled
away from Billy. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and put her
second sock on.

“We’ve probably got to get out of here
pretty quick,” Billy said.

She looked at him while she slipped her
jeans on over her panties and then slipped into a sweat shirt,
leaving her bra abandoned on the bed. “You think someone will
recognize us?” she asked.

Billy shrugged. “The picture of you was
terrible, what was that, high school yearbook?”

“Junior high: That’s why it doesn’t look
much like me,” April said. She looked down and noticed that she had
forgotten the bra, tried to put it on under the sweatshirt, gave up
and slipped the sweatshirt back off and put the bra on. “The
picture of you is old too, but it still looks a little like you,
except you don’t look like you, you look like someone else, a cross
between Dan Gaynor and you, with Neo’s receding hairline,” April
said.

“We should still go. I think any young guy
and girl traveling together are gonna be looked at… We shouldn’t
chance it,” Billy said.

“I need a drug store… I can make us look
completely different,” April said.

“We need another place to stay too… For
the daytime,” Billy said. They both began to load up the Camaro. It
was still fairly early and no one else was out of their rooms yet
so they managed to slip away unnoticed. Billy headed toward the
mall, paranoid every time he saw a cop.

Mississippi

Jane on the Phone

Rebecca Monet

“Could I talk to Rebecca Monet?” the young
woman’s voice asked.

“She’s busy right now, can I help you? I’m
her assistant, Cindy,” Cindy told her. She wasn’t exactly Rebecca’s
assistant, but close enough now that it really didn’t matter.

“Well, I really wanted to talk to her about
these two kids on the news: This Ben Neo guy and this girl April I
know right where they are,” she said.

“Hold on,” Cindy said. She put the girl on
hold and took two quick breaths.

“What?” Rebecca asked from beside her.

“The girl on the phone says she saw Ben Neo
and April Evans. Knows where they are.” Cindy reached forward and
pushed a button to tape the call. “You better take it, just in
case,” Cindy said.

Rebecca picked up the phone. “This is
Rebecca Monet,” she said.

“Oh, my God, Rebecca, I’ve always wanted to
talk to you. You’re so much better than Bethany is,” the young
woman said.

“My assistant said you saw Benjamin Neo and
April Evans?” Rebecca said.

“God yes: Right over here in Pascagoula,
Rebecca. I can’t tell you my boyfriend’s name because he’s married,
you know, but, see, we were coming out of our room this morning and
we saw Mr. Neo first. Probably he had gone out for something. He
was going back into the room. Well, me and Ricky, we walked down to
get some coffee, see? And we’re coming back and here she comes.
Well she’s only got on a robe. I don’t think anything else of that
though, I wear a robe myself, sometimes out of the motel room,
except she’s walking and it falls open and you can see her bare
legs, and my Ricky he noticed… And anyway, that’s the reason I
noticed. She walks down there half naked like that, buys two of
them cardboard coffees and then takes them back to her room. Like
everything was fine, and half the United States wasn’t looking for
her and that Neo guy and them other two. I know it said on the news
she’s supposed to be that boy William’s, his girlfriend,
but, well, they was in that room together, her and that Neo guy,
and she only bought two coffees,” the young woman said.

“Did you happen to notice what they were
driving? What room number they were in? Anything else that might be
helpful?” Rebecca asked.

“Well, there was a big Jeep, what you call
them sport utilities? Looked like the one on TV. Parked a
few rooms away, kind of sneaky, you know? They was in room 118,
Starlight Motel… It was a pink robe… One of them fuzzy ones,
you know?”

“Anything else?” Rebecca asked.

“Well, no… Well, Ricky said she was
cute… Had nice legs… I don’t know, maybe. I didn’t think so,”
the young woman said.

“I need your name,” Rebecca said. “For the
reward: If they catch them there is a reward.”

“Oh, Rebecca, I can’t do that. I can’t bring
my boyfriend into it or mention his name,” the young woman
said.

“It’s a substantial reward,” Rebecca
said.

“Jane Roberts,” she said. “My friends call
me Janey, only you can leave Rickey’s name out of it?” she
asked.

“Absolutely,” Rebecca said. “Where can I
reach you? Are you still there at the motel?”

The young woman gave her a cell phone
number. “I’m in my car. I have to go to work. But I’m looking at
the big Jeep, it’s still there, and check out is not for another 4
hours. Me and Ricky had to leave early, to go to work, you
know.”

“I know, Jane,” Rebecca said. “I’ll be in
touch, okay?”

“Okay,” Jane Roberts said. She hung up.

“Oh. My. God,” Rebecca said. “What do I do
now, call the cops?” Rebecca looked at Cindy.

“Calm down, Baby,” Cindy smiled. “I got the
camera crew loading up. Bob already knows. The truck’s waiting on
you,” Cindy said. She eyed her critically. “I’m going with you.
I’ll make you up in the truck. Bob is taking care of calling the
cops. He’ll play them the tape. Shake your buns, Becca, this
is big. You got about an hour’s drive. I’ll have you looking good
by the time we get there,” Cindy told her. They both hurried away.
Ten minutes later the stations Live Eight satellite truck was
racing for Mississippi. Cindy worked on Rebecca’s face as the crew
drove.

SEVEN

The Friendly Skies

Sammy and Don

“Detective, right?” the flight attendant
asked. She looked from Don to Sammy.

“Me,” Don said. She handed him a phone.

“Jennie?” Don asked when he heard her
voice.

“Don’t worry, it’s official. Listen,” Jennie
said. “They think they have Neo and the girl holed up in some
lowbrow motel in Mississippi… Pascagoula,” she spelled
it.

She spent a few minutes telling him what the
eyewitness had seen and then moved on to explain where was located.
“It’s maybe an hour from where you’re going, an hour and a half.
I’m looking at a map. It’s not far. So the plan is, if they don’t
flush them out before you get there, to get in the rental car and
drive right to where they are,” she gave him a short list of
directions, which he wrote on a small pad the flight attendant had
given him along with a pencil.

“I got it, Jen,” Don said.

“Hey… You be careful… Come back to me,
Donnie,” Jennie said.

“You know it, Jen,” Don said.

“I love you, Donny,” she said.

“I… I know you do… You know,” Don
said.

“Sammy right there? Well, I know you love
me, tough guy. Just bring yourself home in one piece… Start
thinking about making an honest woman out of me too… I’m really
tired of all the secret agent stuff,” she clicked off.

“Me too,” Don said into the dead phone. He
clicked it off and handed it back to the flight attendant. He tore
the paper off the pad and handed it back to her along with the
pencil. She walked away.

“They have Neo and the girl holed up in a
motel room in Mississippi… Some place called Pascagoula… I got
directions… They have a witness who ID-ed Neo, not Jingo, but
Neo. What kind of sense does that make? We already know for a fact
we’ve got Neo’s body cooling in the morgue. I don’t get it. I just
don’t get it,” Don said.

“Maybe we don’t have Neo,” Sammy said.

“Well maybe not the Neo, but we got a
dead guy whose prints come up as Neo’s… who else could it be?”
Don asked.

Sammy shrugged.

“Well, anyway, we got to head for the motel
as soon as we’re off the plane… Maybe luck is with us.” He looked
down at the arm of the airline seat. Plastic he saw. “Knock on
plastic, I guess,” he laughed. “We’ll wrap this up and then head
right back, I fuckin’ hate planes,” Don said.

“Yeah? I love them. I really do,” Sammy
said. “I hate driving. I know people that drive cars cross country
and I say to them, ‘Are you stupid!’ Two or three days in a car and
you could be there in a couple hours! Not me, that’s for sure,”
Sammy said.

“Yeah, but planes crash,” Don said.

“Yeah; cars crash too,” Sammy said. He
sipped at his airline coffee which tasted like something familiar,
but not exactly coffee. He couldn’t place it… Something
burned.

“Yeah, but a car crashes and it’s only a
couple people: The plane crashes and everybody dies,” Don said.

“Yeah? The car crashes and you’re in it I’m
pretty sure you’re not gonna give two fucks that more people
weren’t killed. You’ll still be as dead as dog shit,” Sammy
said.

“Hmm,” Don said.

“No comeback?” Sammy asked.

“I can’t top that reasoning. You’re right,
but I still think planes suck,” Don said.

“Oh, well, that’s just a matter of
preference. You probably have an underlying fear of things you
can’t personally control. You know, you’re in the car you got the
wheel. You’re in the plane some pilot that you don’t know is behind
a closed and locked door, probably finger banging the Stewardess,
for all you know, and he supposed to be flying the plane,” Sammy
said.

“Jesus thanks for putting me at ease like
that, and they are called flight attendants now,” Don told him.
“Now every flight attendant I see, I’m gonna have this visual,
Sammy,” Don said.

“Probably sniffs his finger for the rest of
the flight too,” Sammy said.

“You are a sick bastard, Sammy,” Don said.

“Probably does though.”

“So how’s he flying the plane…? Sniff…

Sniff… oops, the fuckin’ plane is off course… Sniff… Sniff…
Oh fuck! A flock of geese!”

Don nearly choked on his coffee. “Jesus,
Sammy,” he managed at last.

The flight attendant came down the narrow
corridor. “Are you okay, sir?” she asked.

“Fine,” Don said. “Fine.”

She smiled and moved away.

Sammy sniffed.

Don bit his tongue. “Prick,” he said to
Sammy. Sammy just laughed.

Don turned his mind to Mississippi. The Neo
angle made no sense at all. And if the girl was seen out of the
room, by herself, and went back voluntarily with only 2 cups
of coffee, that meant she wasn’t a hostage like they had begun to
think. It made no sense. Where was Billy Jingo? And although he
didn’t expect the paperboy to be with them necessarily, he had
expected him to turn up eventually and so far he had not. Dead guys
who weren’t dead: Parts of dead guys in duffel bags. Teenage girls
who did dumb shit; and a few million dollars worth of drugs,
whatever the big secret was, not to mention all the cash that was
supposed to be missing too. This was turning into the biggest pain
in the ass that he had ever dealt with. He massaged his eyes,
closed them for just a second, and then woke up in Mobile with
Sammy shaking him hard.

Mississippi

Billy Jingo

Billy came back with two bags full of stuff
that April had sent him for, only to find the Camaro gone. Before
the panic leapt too far he heard a horn, turned around and saw the
Camaro coming at him. A battered Ford SUV behind it blew the horn
as she stopped.

Billy opened the passenger door and climbed
in.

“The creep behind me has been stalking me.

He parked next to us. I said to hell with it and drove away, but he
decided to follow me,” April said.

“Fucker,” Billy said. He started to climb
out of the Camaro.

“Don’t,” April said. “We can’t afford to be
remembered, or make a scene, or, god forbid, be arrested. Let’s
just go. I’ll lose him and we’ll find a place to do this. She
shifted into drive and drove off. The SUV fell back in traffic and
they both forgot about the guy after not seeing him for a few
minutes.

“Anyway, the guy was just some creep. Some
weirdo… We need to go back to the motel… We still have time
left on our room. I need a bathroom… Water,” April said.

“I guess the room is probably okay,” Billy
agreed, but a few minutes later when he saw a news crew van and
several cop cars sitting in the cordoned off driveway that lead
back behind the motel, he drove on past quickly. He held his breath
as he drove.

“Christ,” Billy said. He snapped on the
radio and tuned until he found an announcer talking about the drama
downtown.

“… As of now, all attempts to communicate
with the couple have failed. Detective John Bass told us in an
interview that there are two New York detectives in route from
Mobile. He believes they may be able to help in talking the two
into surrendering… That is our top story. I guess we’ll know more
as it develops. To recap, an eyewitness spotted Benjamin Neo and 17
year old minor, April Evans, both wanted in connection with several
murders in the upstate New York hamlet of Waterville, at a local
motel early this morning. It was thought the young girl was a
hostage, but after seeing her leave the room several times on her
own and return, according to eyewitnesses accounts, on her own,
while Neo was seen coming and going too, it appears she’s a willing
participant with Neo. There have been no sightings of the other two
missing teens. Sources called that ominous. There has also been no
communication or further sightings since the police arrived here.
Okay… Back to music… Here’s the newest, Brady Parker, number
five this week, ‘If you had my body’... We’ll be back.”

Billy snapped off the radio as the song
began to play. “We’re in trouble now,” Billy said.

“No, Neo and some 17 year old girl are in
trouble now. We’re fine. Waterville? Man are they stupid: We
need a place, Billy. We need some place to get this done,” April
said… “Away from here too,” she added.

Mobile

Jimmy West

Jimmy looked at his watch, 9:30 AM, and then
back to the TV. A local station was reporting live from Pascagoula
Mississippi where they supposedly had Ben Neo and the girl holed up
in a motel room. If that was true he might as well get into his own
car right now and began to drive. Far… Fast… It was all over if
that was true. He regretted he wouldn’t be able to go back for the
rag top Camaro, but that was life. He had taken no chances. He had
bought the money from Richard Dean’s place with him, along with
enough of his own money that he had squirreled away to make close
to a million dollars. He had two numbered accounts with over three
million between them. He’d done well in his career. He would be
okay as long as he was careful and kept below the radar.

He stood from the stool. Several customers
had stopped by this morning. Apparently Ronnie Lee’s guitar shop
wasn’t just a front. Apparently it did some business. All the more
reason to leave. It was stupid to hang around. It would just be
asking for it.

He started for the back door when the phone
on the wall rang. He picked it up and listened, probably someone
calling for Ronnie lee. The real Ronnie lee. He had phoned
the cell phone number that Billy had given him a half dozen times,
but it simply rang and rang. Of course if they were surrounded by
cops that could be the reason.

“Ronnie Lee?” the girl’s voice asked.

“Annie,” Jimmy said. He had almost slipped
up and said April. “I’ve been concerned… Worried, I guess. Where
you two at?” he asked.

“Never mind, Ronnie, it’s been a very rough
morning. We’re on our way to you… Maybe about 2 hours… You’ll
be there with the money?” She asked.

I’ll fuckin’ bet it has been you smart-ass
little cunt, Jimmy thought. “About that,” Jimmy said aloud. “This
is a place of business. It’s light now, you know? I’m open. I’ve
got people to run it; I guess I’m saying I can’t do it here. I had
thought, easy, we’ll do it early in the morning. I could send you
out with the money packed in one of my guitar cases… Who would
know? … But now I got employees here… Customers… It’s too
busy today… You see?” Jimmy said.

“I see you’re sounding like you wanna back
out,” April said.

“No… No, no… See, that’s not what I’m
saying, darling,” Jimmy said. “I’m saying there are people here
now: Too many people. Let’s pick another place… Any place… I
got the money in my car… We’ll meet, you choose the place…
Let’s get this done, little lady,” Jimmy said.

“You talk to me like I’m a sex object,”
April said. “Darling, girl, little lady, and I really don’t
like that, Ronnie Lee,” April said.

“Well… Well, that’s just me… I don’t
mean to sound that way. I’m sorry, man… I truly am. I’m just
giving southern men a bad name. It won’t happen again… Come on,
can we get this done, Annie… Can we?” he asked. He was barely
holding his temper in check.

“We’ll call you back when we get into
Mobile… Let you know where to meet us,” April said.

“But, wait… Let me give you my cell
number… I won’t be here; I have to leave to meet a shipment at
one of my other stores.” Silence on the line. “Annie?”

“What is it, Ronnie Lee?”

He read it off. She hung up without speaking
again.

Jimmy slammed the phone back onto the wall
so hard, that he broke the receiver case. Then he ripped it off the
wall and threw it at a rack of guitars. [_“Cunt, fuckin’ bitch,
cunt, dirty fuckin’ whore,”_] he screamed. The phone knocked a
half dozen guitars flying, and the noise was immense in the back of
the shop. He started to the back door when someone began to knock
on it. The door was a massive steel fire door and the knock sounded
like a little kids knock. [_“Ronnie Lee? Ronnie Lee? Are you
okay?”_] A female’s voice called through the thick door.

Everything inside of him went cold. He
reached into his pocket, felt the comfort of the silenced 9 mm. He
flicked the safety off, and with one hand in his pocket quickly
jerked the door open.

Two young women stood in the alleyway. Their
mouths dropped open as the door swung inward fast, banging against
the interior wall. Jimmy looked quickly left and right down the
entire alleyway. Empty. He shoved the gun into the back of his
pants and grabbed them both by the fronts of their shirts, pulling
them inside before they could even react. He put one down with an
elbow to the face, and then caught the other in a choke hold as he
slammed the door and locked it.

He looked down at the girl on the floor, out
cold. The other one struggled in his arms. He dragged her over to
the workbench, squeezed her throat again choking her. He got his
control back a few seconds later, he dropped the girl and she
crumpled to the floor by the bench. He was breathing heavy. He got
himself up and walked over to the other girl who still lay
unconscious on the floor, and shot her twice in the head. The gun
was so quiet he could hear the metallic click-twang as the ejector
shot the used casing from the gun. He unlocked the back door,
looked around the alley, and stepped out, closing the door behind
him. When the door closed the girl by the bench took a huge gasp of
air and choked, and then coughed several times trying to drag air
back into her lungs. She spat blood. Her throat felt raw. She stood
and staggered toward the front of the shop. Her head was pounding
and tiny multicolored dots swam before them. She worked the locks
and stumbled out onto the sidewalk that fronted the shop. Everyone
that had been walking by stopped dead.

“Tried to kill me,” she managed to croak.

“Choked me, killed my friend,” she rasped. A man stopped in mid
stride, stripped off his suit jacket and wrapped it around her
shoulders. Cell phones began popping out of pockets all through the
crowd.

Jimmy walked through the alleyway from the
back of the shop to the lot where he had parked the rental car:
When he stepped out onto the sidewalk he heard a woman scream.

“That’s him, that’s him… He did it.”

He had barely turned his head in that
direction when he was tackled by the biggest black man he had ever
seen. His head and shoulder slammed into the concrete hard, but he
managed to stay conscious. It seemed like everyone was screaming
and yelling at the same time. He managed to break the man’s grasp,
staggered to his feet, and pulled his gun out of his pocket. He
waved it at the crowd and they surged backwards almost as quickly
as they had appeared. Blood ran from his head into one eye, but he
staggered to his car and climbed in. He started it and sped out of
the parking lot; sliding out onto the main road and down off the
pavement into the ditch. He floored it and the rental car climbed
back up out of the ditch and then into the opposite lanes of
traffic. He got the car turned around and headed in the right
direction and took off.

Mississippi

Billy Jingo

“Well?” April asked. She held a mirror while
Billy looked at himself. His hair was jet black. His face was made
up pasty white with black around his eyes. He wore faded and ripped
jeans with a sleeveless T-Shirt and had two huge fake tattoos that
sleeved his lower forearm and most of the shoulder. Motorcycle
boots finished the look. He looked like a thousand other kids he
had seen on the streets as they had driven into this section of the
city, which was seedy and run down. He didn’t look anything like
himself at all.

April looked nearly identical to him. She
had taken an ace bandage and wrapped it around her chest. Her
breasts were not big to begin with, but now they had completely
disappeared. She wore a black CDC shirt, painted on jeans that were
ripped out at the knees. Her hair was cut short, dyed black and
motorcycle boots clad her feet. She didn’t even look like a girl
anymore, Billy thought.

“We don’t look like us at all,” Billy said.

“You did a good job, April.”

They were at the seediest motel that they
could find in the heart of the downtown area. Drug addicts in the
hallways: Hookers in and out; a woman with one prosthetic leg,
obviously a hooker, wandered by, smiling at Billy as she did.
Nobody cared who they were. All you did was pay and take the room
key. Not even a real key, but a plastic card that opened the door.
Nobody here seemed to be aware of or really cared that the police
thought they had two people surrounded at a motel just a few miles
away.

Billy pulled her to him. “We don’t have to,
baby. We can leave here. Fuck the Suburban. Fuck the rest of the
money too, just go if you want to. Just drive into Texas and then
over into Mexico,” he said. He kissed her and she giggled.

“What,” Billy asked. “You look so…

un-you,” he added.

“You do too, that’s why I laughed,” April
said. “Let’s go. We’ll go to Mobile, and we’ll see from there. The
morning is almost shot. It’ll be late afternoon when we get there.
He’s got to come to wherever we are. We’ll pick a safe place… And
if it looks funny, we’ll jump. That’s all,” April said.

“Yeah?” Billy asked.

“Yeah…” She looked around the room. “Let’s
go before we catch something, or find out that smell is a dead
junkie under the bed or something,” she said.

They had both commented on the smell: The
smell was all through the motel. Rot and sewage. The building was
old, falling apart, but Billy wouldn’t be a bit surprised to find
that there were a few junkies hanging around getting ready to die.
Maybe even a few behind closed doors that were dead
already.

They made their way to the car, drove out of
the lot and headed for I10 which would take them into Alabama and
Mobile.

Pascagoula, Mississippi

Sammy and Don

“Lieutenant Jeffers,” the man said and shook
Don’s hand.

“I’m glad to meet you,” Don said.

“Ditto,” Sammy said.

Jeffers looked at Sammy like he was shit on
his shoe.

“We have these two surrounded, but they
don’t seem to want to talk: To give up. We can see the curtain move
occasionally by the window… Someone looking out here at us, but
they won’t answer the room phone. Won’t come out…” He looked at
Don only, dismissing Sammy. “They told you it doesn’t look as
though your little girl is quite so innocent?” he asked. “She was
parading around out here half naked this morning: In and out, him
too, though not naked, but it’s obvious she is not being held
against her will. Talked to the desk clerk that checked them in,
she made a positive ID. Said this Neo was done up to try to look
younger, but she could tell he was older from his receding
hairline. Said the girl was holding his hand, smiling, relaxed, she
even saw them kiss on the way to the room… It’s a different
picture than the one we got on the official line.” He pronounced it
O-fish-O like it was some kind of joke. Which, Don supposed,
it probably was to him.

“We’ve had no concrete information on any of
these people,” Don said. “With the exception that they were
missing.”

Jeffers turned away. “Not what I was told,
old son,” he said. “We may as well settle in, they don’t seem much
like they’re coming out soon.”

“Why don’t you go in and get them?” Sammy
asked.

“This ain’t New York, Mr. Eastwood. We kinda
like to leave them alive if we can,” Jeffers said.

“Maybe we could work a little harder at
getting along,” Don said.

“Thought I was,” Jeffers said. “I ain’t said
nothing at all about your garbage problems up there… Crack
babies… Junkies… Prostitutes on every corner.”

Don held up his hand.

“Huh,” Sammy said. “And I never said a word
about the highest syphilis rate in the country… Rednecks or
fuckin’ your sister either.”

Jeffers turned around and looked at
Sammy.

“We’re not from New York City,” Don said.

We’re from a little place up by Canada… A farming community…
Small place,” Don said and smiled.

Jeffers dragged his eyes away from
Sammy.

“That so? A small place that has over half a
dozen unsolved murders in just a few days? Sounds great. Sounds to
me like New York City’s just a name. The whole place is polluted,”
he said.

“Uh huh,” Don said. “Tell you what, Jeffers.

We’ll just go back to our car. If you need us call us,” he
said.

“I ain’t got your number,” Jeffers said as
they started to walk away.

“You’re a detective right?” Don asked. He
stopped, turned around and faced him.

“Used to be: Top of the division now; top
detective you could say,” Jeffers said.

Don nodded. “Then detect it,” he said and
turned away.

“Smart-ass Yankee,” Jeffers said to his
back.

Don walked back to the car, unlocked it and
got inside.

Sammy climbed in his side looking
sheepish.

“Was that necessary, Sammy?” Don asked.

“Probably not,” Sammy admitted.

“Did you really accuse the man of banging
his sister?”

“No… I just said I hadn’t said anything
about it,” Sammy said.

Don lit a cigarette, cracked the window and
smoked for a minute. “It was a good one, Sammy… I never said that
though,” he laughed. “They really have the highest syphilis
rate?”

“I read that… At least they used to
have… Still might,” Sammy said.

“Did you ever think about the phrase,
“Getting along, Sammy?” Don asked.

“Not really, besides… He started it,”
Sammy said.

Don chuckled, smoked his cigarette and drank
from his foam cup of cold coffee.

“Jesus,” Sammy said. “Detect it.” He
laughed.

Mobile

Jimmy West

The shoulder was broken. He couldn’t move it
without the pain threatening to make him pass out. He was in a used
car lot that appeared to be closed. He had pulled all the way out
by the huge steel garage building. Parked in a line of several
other cars, and was trying to figure out what to do next.

He had no idea what could have gone wrong.

He supposed that someone had seen something inside the shop.

“That’s him, that’s him, he did it!” That
had been all he’d heard. He had to have been spotted through the
front windows somehow. He couldn’t think of how that could be, but
it had to be.

He managed to get his cigarettes out of his
pocket and light one. The shoulder was broken and he was pretty
sure it was dislocated too. He’d been through that before. It was
going to take someone strong enough to wrench it out and back into
the joint so it was seated properly: Until then he would have to
deal with the pain.

He sucked at the cigarette, drawing the good
smoke deep into his lungs. Feeling it calm him. The pain was
beginning to own him. He dug under his seat and came out with a
small black leather case. He was usually prepared for nearly
anything. The case held morphine: Enough to keep him floating for
days, or enough to kill him out right if he needed it. He screwed
the needle into the plunger, drew some morphine from one of the
small bottles, measured it carefully, tapped the syringe to clear
the bubbles, depressed the plunger to get the air out, and then set
the needle down to get his arm ready. Everything he needed was in
the black case. A few seconds later he ran the needle home and
pushed the plunger. He went away for a while.

He came awake again with the same pain, but
he simply didn’t care about it. Morphine was nice like that; it
simply made you care less about the pain. Take enough of it and you
wouldn’t care about anything at all.

Something was wrong, but he couldn’t figure
out what. It took a couple of seconds for him to realize that his
phone was ringing. He fumbled it out of his pocket and managed to
get it open and up to his ear. “Yeah?” he said, hoping to sound as
normal as he possibly could. But there was only static: No one
there. He clicked off, thought about clicking the redial function,
but he never did that. A guy he had worked with had done that and
the cops had used the signal to locate him. If it was a legitimate
call for him it would come back. He closed the phone and started to
return it to his pocket. Thought better of it and set it on the
dashboard.

The air smelled like burned plastic. His
cigarette had fallen from his fingers and burned into the carpet.
He managed to pick up the cigarette butt and flick it into the
ashtray. It was long cold now.

He opened the glove box, found a half full
bottle of water and took a sip. It had a musty smell, but he could
have cared less. His throat was dry. He needed the water.

He drank down the entire bottle and felt a
little better. He lit another cigarette and the phone rang
again.

He clicked it on and said hello.

“Why didn’t you answer before?” April
asked.

“I was about to, in fact I did and you
weren’t there. I took too long,” he told her.

“Things like that make me wonder,” April
said.

“My fault,” Jimmy managed. “My Fault.”
I’m going to take days killing you, he thought…
Days.

“Do you know where Airport Boulevard is?”
April asked. “Right off I-65?”

“Yes,” Jimmy said. You just told me,
he said to himself.

“There’s a Burger Joint on the right.

Just past the Check Inn. What are you driving?”

Rental car, Jimmy thought. “A… A Ford
Taurus,” he said. “Silver… A burger joint, or one of those places
called Burger Joint?”

“The brand name… What did I say? … Pull
out in back of the Burger Joint, we’ll watch for you,” April
said.

“Are you kidding? In public?” Jimmy
asked.

“It’s all dumpsters back there. No one will
see. No one will care. Take it or leave it, Ronnie Lee,” April
said.

“Okay… Okay… I’m on my way,” Jimmy said.

He closed the phone. Fumbled the black case back together and
slipped it into his pocket. He got the car started and then got
himself back out on the road.

Mississippi

Sammy and Don

Don had walked back over to the police line,
borrowed a pair of binoculars and checked out the motel. He found a
Jeep, but it was not the one that had been purchased in Rochester.
He watched the window in room 118. The heavy drapes did move on
occasion, but he watched three other rooms close to it that had
also been evacuated and their curtains moved too. In fact, they
moved in exactly the same way.

Don walked over to Jeffers. Jeffers turned
around and looked at him. “Where is the fellow with the bad jokes?”
Jeffers asked.

“In the car,” Don said. “We’re leaving.”

“So soon? You just got here,” Jeffers
said.

“Uh huh. You’re watching an empty room.

That’s the wrong Jeep out there too, but I’m sure you know that.
You must have checked the license number?” Don said.

“Checked it: Wrong Jeep. Already knew that,
but I think it’s the right people in that room,” Jeffers said.

“There aren’t any people in that room,” Don
said.

“Care to put your money where your mouth
is?”

“Absolutely,” Don said. “It’s an empty
room.” He took out his wallet. “A hundred bucks says it’s
empty.”

A young black detective smiled as he
listened to the exchange.

Jeffers looked at him, took out his own
wallet and matched the hundred.

“Let your man hold it.” Don said. He handed
his hundred to the young detective. Jeffers followed suit.

“Guess you ain’t leaving now,” Jeffers said
“you’ll have to hang around to see how everything comes out.”

“I already know how everything’s gonna come
out,” Don said. “It’s an empty room.” He turned and walked
away.

Jeffers snorted. “Smart-ass know-it-all
Yankee bastards,” he said. He and the young detective laughed.
“Hang on tight to my money,” Jeffers told him. They laughed
again.

“Hey?’ The young detective said a few
seconds later.

Jeffers looked to where the young detective
was looking in time to see Don jump a small hedge and walk across
the motel parking lot toward room 118.

“What in Christ’s name does he think
he’s doing?” Jeffers asked.

“Dunno,” the young detective said.

Don walked right up to the door to room 118,
stopped, drew back his leg and kicked the door open.

The young detective looked over at Jeffers,
but his mouth was hanging open.

“All on live TV too,” the young detective
said.

Don walked back out of the room and looked
over at Jeffers whose mouth was still wide open. He lifted his
hands and shrugged in a what’s-up motion and then came back
across the parking lot, jumped back over the hedge and walked up to
Jeffers. He looked at the young detective.

“Where’s my money?” Don asked.

The detective dug two one hundred dollar
bills out of his pocket and looked at Jeffers before he handed them
over to Don.

Jeffers mouth was finally closed, but his
cheeks burned red. His eyes sparkled and darted from Don to the
motel room door which was still wide open.

“You probably want to get a tech crew in
there. I’m sure they were there, but they’re not there now. Like I
said it’s empty,” Don said. He turned and walked away.

Mobile

Airport Boulevard

Behind the Burger Joint

Billy Jingo

“I’ll only talk to him,” April said. She
listened. “I’m going to hang up if you don’t get me his cell phone
number. I know you’re trying to trace this call.” She motioned for
a pen from Billy and wrote down the number. She closed the phone
and took a deep breath. “Well?” she asked.

“Why do you want to do it?” Billy asked. She
had called the number from the news program and asked for the
detective from New York.

“Because they think we killed some of those
people, and I don’t want them to think that. It’s not fair. What
did we really do wrong?” April asked.

They were sitting in the Camaro in the back
of the Burger Joint waiting for Ronnie Lee.

“You think he’ll believe you, he’ll even
care?” Billy asked.

“I don’t know… I hope so… We’re going
anyway; it’s just what they say about us… I don’t want them to
think that you made me come with you,” April added. “I love you,
Billy. It’s wrong for them to say that.”

“You have to do what you have to do for your
head,” Billy said. “I don’t care what they say about me. I know
what I did and what I didn’t do.”

April nodded.

“But it’s not about me. Do what you feel you
should do, baby. I’ll understand.”

Mobile

Sammy and Don

They were on I-10 just coming into Mobile
from Pascagoula. Don’s phone rang and he put it to his ear. “Yeah?”
he asked.

He listened and his hand clenched tight on
the steering wheel.

“Okay… Okay… Thank you, Jen. We’re
Okay… No… That was a bust. Maybe they were there, but they’re
long gone now. Did you notify Alabama? … Well we were a little
unappreciated. It was me who proved to them that they were watching
an empty motel room: Embarrassed them and they didn’t take it so
well… Hold On… I’ll head there… Hang on…” He pulled his
small note pad from his pocket and wrote directions. “Okay…
Okay… Yeah… Bye, Jen.” He hung up.

“Ronnie Lee. That’s Richard Dean’s,
was Richard Dean’s man down here. Fairly high level dealer:
Owns a guitar shop. Really just sells out of it: All large amounts.
He might actually be able to handle what these kids got. This could
be where they’re headed,” Don said. He signaled, changed lanes and
then took a right, glancing at his directions as he did. “Not far,”
he said.

They drove in silence and when they reached
the strip mall it was cordoned off. A small crowd and an ambulance
sat in front of the guitar shop. A few cops were scattered through
the crowd.

Don rolled down his window, flashed his
badge and asked who was in charge. A young cop let them through and
pointed out a tall black man standing on the sidewalk out in front
of the open doorway. As Don and Sammy parked, the ambulance left
the parking lot.

Don walked over and introduced himself
explaining who he was.

“So we’re hoping you can tell us something.

We have reason to believe this guy we’re looking for could be
involved.” Don said.

Jack Pardee listened to them politely and
nodded. “I have a unit out to Chickasaw Bogue: Been there a few
hours; fished out a body… Wallet says he’s Ronnie Lee Sipos:
Owned the shop. The man you’re looking for, I guess?”

Don nodded.

“He’s been dead for more than 24 hours
though, it couldn’t have been him who done what’s been done here. I
got a young girl dead inside, two bullets to the head. Her friend
said he just laughed and then he killed her. She herself was
strangled. Guy probably thought he killed her,” he paused.

“The crowd almost killed him, would have if
they could have held him.” He pointed to a man big enough to be two
men. “He tackled him. And he’s pretty sure he hurt him bad, but the
guy pulled a gun and got away. We got the license number. Rental
car, Ford Taurus: I’ll know soon who it was rented to. We’ll get
him. He can’t get far. Every car in the area is looking for him…
Tall Caucasian male: Short cropped black hair, gray at the
temples.”

“Fuck,” Sammy interjected.

“Wearing a sweater of some kind in this
heat. You think this has something to do with your situation?”
Pardee asked.

“If it does it’s not good,” Don answered. He
shot a look to Sammy. “We have another somebody involved who has
killed six people that we know of so far, trying to get to these
kids. If this is that guy this is the nearest we’ve come to him,”
Don said.

“If I can help you further let me know. Same
goes this way, if you do learn something I’d appreciate it if you
would call me here.” He handed them a business card with a work and
cell number listed.

“Will do,” Don agreed. “This is mine,” he
told him as he handed the man his own card. Pardee shook their
hands, turned and went back inside.

They got back in the car and Don stared out
at the passing traffic.

“Gotta be that fucker,” Sammy muttered.

“Gotta be.”

Don nodded, but said nothing. The guy could
be anywhere… Any one of those passing cars could be him… He
started the motor and pulled out of the parking place. His phone
rang.

Monday morning

Across from the Burger Joint

Ben Neo

Ben Neo sat and waited. He knew nearly
everything that he needed to know now. It had been hard finding
them, but not impossible: Once he had found them the rest
had been easy. It was almost like she had left a trail of crumbs.
And he was hoping that, that was exactly what she had done. He had
followed that trail straight to Mobile, and here she was.

Everything that he had planned had turned
out wrong including the girl: His girl. And he didn’t even
know why she had turned, or even if she really had.

He had not seen or heard from her since she
had led him to the car. He had made his getaway and she had stayed
to make sure the mess got cleaned up. He hadn’t heard from her
since. Not a word. It made no sense at all.

The cop had not been set up. He was still
walking around above ground. In fact he was on the same trail that
Ben himself was on. And twice now on the long drive down he had
gotten the idea that he was being followed: Nothing concrete, no
suspicious car, just a suspicious head. A feeling, and he
liked to follow his feelings, he just hadn’t been able to put
anything concrete to that feeling yet.

By now Tommy Murphy had to know he had
turned. There was probably a huge price tag on his head. Jimmy West
was down here somewhere, on the trail of Nikki and Jingo, and
probably knew about him: Maybe even had the contract to take care
of him. It had all gone wrong, all of it and he had no idea
why.

He was parked across the road from the
Burger Joint. He had seen the Camaro pull in. Was it April or was
it Nikki? Nikki was so good with makeup that he couldn’t tell. He
just didn’t know. Maybe it really was April and so she didn’t have
to be good with the makeup at all. It had all happened so fast that
he couldn’t be sure. Back on Lott road when she had been there,
where she was supposed to be, he had been positive it had been
Nikki: Since then he had not been sure. The longer things had gone
on without hearing from her, the more convinced he had become that
she was April. Maybe a smarter girl than he had thought. Tougher
than Nikki had thought too: She would have had to been to get the
drop on Nikki.

April or Nikki… And if it was Nikki, why
hadn’t she called? The only thing she had, had to do was make sure
that Tommy got his money back and Jefferson his drugs. That could
have been as simple as putting a bullet in Jingo’s head. She hadn’t
done that. Instead, she and Jingo had dragged all of it, drugs and
money, halfway across the country. Jimmy west was on their trail.
The cop and his partner. Who else? Certainly the local cops and
probably any number of contacts Tommy Murphy and Jefferson Prescott
had down here. The Military? Did they have people that investigated
this sort of stuff? Did they even know that there was anything
to investigate? No way could this end well. She was lucky he
had found her first. He would have to move fast, but they could
still work it out. Still get away if she was who she was supposed
to be. If not, all bets were off. He supposed he would have to kill
her.

Whether she was Nikki or April she did not
know what he was really after: What he had really been after all
along. He hadn’t told Nikki what was inside the bales of pot: Tommy
had barely trusted him with it, and then only in hurried whispers:
A pill that prolonged life, maybe even cheated death? Nonsense
whispered from a man on the edge of his own death… It was no
secret that Tommy Murphy was dying from the complications of AIDS.
Grasping at straws? Ben had thought so at first, but he had taken
his own investigative skills and worked backwards. A little money
in the right hands had put him into contact with the guy that had
handed the deal to Tommy in the first place. A young guy that
worked at the new base: Kohlson; a young guy with a bad gambling
habit.

His story had been a little more involved,
and over a few beers Ben had sat and listened while the kid had
told him all about Bluechip and the dozens of test subjects he had
seen come through the facility. He had talked about weeks of
deprivation: No food. No water. Severe wounds, yet the tests
subjects had lived on in seemingly good health. He had not been
privileged enough to see any of the end results, but he had heard
the rumors, and twice he had seen things that pointed to the truth:
A top secret virus that could prolong life: A long term military
project that had come to fruition. Kohlson swore it could make a
person immortal. Swore he had seen it work: And who wouldn’t want
to live forever?

Tommy planned to use it to control his
empire forever. No changing the helm ever. No dying from the virus
that was eating away more of his life on a daily basis. Imagine it,
Tommy had told him in private. Just the fact that it could be done
would put the fear of God into his enemies. And the first time
someone did try to kill him and it failed? That would seal it.
Tommy and Prescott had already taken their own dose of the stuff.
He was waiting for the arrival of the bales of pot as a back-up.
Ben wasn’t sure what he believed. Could it be true? Maybe it could
be. He intended to keep it for himself. He would be the first to
try it… Nikki too, if she was Nikki and it all came back to
that.

The cops had nothing at all. Drugs, money,
the virus: None of it. She and Jingo still had it, so it was a
matter of whether they knew what they had; whether she knew
what she had, he corrected. He didn’t want to think she might
actually be involved with Jingo.

Tommy Murphy had been HIV positive for quite
some time. And still he couldn’t leave the risky stuff alone. About
two years ago he had become active with a second strain and it had
steadily eaten him alive. He had maybe another six months, a year
if he was very careful. All of his money couldn’t buy him any more
time than that: Except now it could.

If Ben had been absolutely sure he could
stay on the run and hide from Tommy for that long, he would’ve
taken it all himself. But he wasn’t sure. He just wasn’t positive.
And what he really had wanted to do was to turn Tommy and Jefferson
against each other. Leave all the money and drugs. Let Tommy
believe that whoever had been working for Jefferson, had grabbed
the virus. By leaving the money it would seem like the virus had
been the goal all along and who would know except Jefferson? Once
Tommy’s suspicions were up he would go after Prescott. It was a
good plan: It was a simple plan.

He had kept it simple so it would work. He
knew them both, he knew how it would look and he knew how it would
go down. He hadn’t been sure who would make the first move, whether
Jefferson would try to take out Tommy or Tommy would try to take
out Jefferson. But he had known they would go after each other.
Tommy would take out Jefferson because he would be sure Jefferson
took the virus. Who else would have the means? The opportunity? And
Jefferson would try to take out Tommy because he knew Tommy well
enough to know what he was thinking. He would know he suspected him
and would come for him; he would want to take Tommy out first. It
only made sense.

It had backfired somehow. First the cop had
not followed him, or if he had, he had lost him. Then the girl who
was supposed to clean it all up: Make sure the money and drugs got
into the cops hands so he would still go down; didn’t do her part
either. Instead, she had teamed up with Jingo who had decided spur
of the moment to steal it all. It could not have become more fucked
up if he had purposely tried to fuck it up himself.

There wasn’t supposed to be a chase quite
like the one that they had had. It wasn’t supposed to be that
risky. He had intended to take everything in his own car. Kill both
of the dip shits that Carlos had hired. And the cop was supposed to
fall right in line, follow him as he fled. Ben would crash the car
and abandon it with Reiser’s body in the driver’s seat: Take off to
meet Nikki in the woods. In the end the cop would get his mitts on
the money and drugs both that Tommy had provided. And then Neo
himself would put the word out on the cop so that he would get
caught as he was supposed to. Jefferson would buy it; the bare
bones would be there. And they could question the cop if they
wanted to, he wouldn’t know anything, but the cop had decided on
his own to break right into the middle of things. And the two dip
shits had stolen a few million worth of drugs. And they were lucky
they hadn’t killed themselves. The stuff was 100% pure. It had not
been cut. That caused them to miss the deal, and Ben had been
tempted to take the cash and go, but the virus compared to fourteen
and a half million in cash was not something he could walk away
from. Then, when it had all gone bad they had shot him: Tried to
kill him and as it turned out: As it was now; he had neither the
drugs, the virus nor the money and a hole in his shoulder that was
going to need a doctor eventually. The girl had the drugs, money
and the virus: The girl who was maybe Nikki Moore, maybe April
Evans.

Nothing had gone right, but despite that it
had turned out okay. He had worked with what he had to work with.
Everybody was still walking around breathing and that meant things
could be changed. Could still turn out the way that he had supposed
they would in the first place.

He had managed to make Ed’s death seem
believable. Jilly had done her job. There was no reason for Tommy
or Jefferson to dig too deep and make sure the body really was his.
As long as they got their shit back, that is and Jingo was
dead.

She had made Jingo up to look enough like
him that he purchased a vehicle in his old name. And that had maybe
fucked things up with Tommy. At the least it would make him
suspicious. He would wonder whether Ben really was dead after all.
Could April Evans do that? He didn’t know, but he did know that
Nikki Moore could do that: Nikki Moore was good at that. Nikki had
gone to school for it, he himself had paid for it. She could change
herself so completely, and had a few times, that she could fool
anyone, including him.

The few glimpses he had gotten as he
followed them couldn’t tell him. He had only a few online school
photos of April Evans. They were built the same. About the same
height, April had black hair, Nikki dark brown. April had pale
green eyes, Nikki gray-blue. Contacts could take care of that, but
could she have gotten contacts already? Tinted contacts? The hair
was easy enough to dye. And did it even matter? Did Billy Jingo
know April Evans well enough to know what color her eyes were?

Their faces were similar, but she was so
good with the makeup he couldn’t tell. He’d have to be closer. Much
closer, and the way she looked now told him nothing. She looked
nothing at all like herself.

He didn’t know who they were meeting.

Someone they didn’t want to be seen with. He knew Jimmy was running
around down here somewhere. He would love to put a bullet into that
psychos head: One less thing to worry about. He thought of what he
knew about Nikki. She was an open book. At least he had thought she
was. She had been on the streets three years ago, sixteen, a
runaway. Turned out and just beginning a crack addiction that Jamal
Hayes had got her hooked on to keep her working the streets for
him.

Jamaal was strictly small time. He’d taken
him out of the picture and taken her home. Something in her had
touched him. He had to have her: Had to.

He had dried her out. Put her in a private
school and then the specialized stuff when he thought of this whole
idea. He’d simply been waiting for the right opportunity.

“Why not just walk away?” she had
asked, and he had told her that Tommy Murphy would not allow it:
Ben simply knew too much. You did not allow someone like that to
quit: At least not on their own terms. Tommy had his own retirement
plan, Jimmy West. And Jimmy’s retirement plan would probably be
some other hired gun. It didn’t matter who did it. There would be
guys standing in line who would love to fill their shoes, it only
mattered that they wound up in a hole in the ground.

She had been the one person he truly
trusted. The one person he truly loved. And she had turned, or…
Or, he didn’t know. Could April Evans have somehow turned
the tables on her? Nikki? He himself had taught Nikki how to use a
knife: A gun; her hands. He just couldn’t believe some white trash
trailer park girl would stand a chance of any kind against her.

A car slowed, cruised by the lot checking it
out, and then drove on by. It had only been a glimpse, but he had
seen who it was. Jimmy West. Tommy had sent Jimmy to take care of
things and here he was about to finish the job; about to clean it
all up.

Now he had a choice to make. Step in now or
later. He might be able to get all three if he stepped into it now,
or he might end up with only one, if they split up he could not
follow all of them.

Jimmy was good. He might, if Ben left him
alone, take care of both of them. Then Ben could simply come along,
relieve him of the virus and disappear him. If Tommy looked for
anyone after that it would be Jimmy, not Ben. It might even be a
better plan all the way around. But could he let go of her that
easily? If it was Nikki?

The car came back, slowed: Pulled into the
driveway and drove out back. He’d have to decide now, he told
himself.

Sammy and Don

Don listened.

“Don’t hang up,” he said at last. “I want to
tell you something first. I can fix this for you, April. I can do
that. I never believed that Billy or you were truly involved in
this of your own will. It was circumstances, April, I know that. I
can even get the news to stop saying negative things about you. I
can make that happen, but before that happens you have to know
something. Ronnie Lee Sipos is dead. I just talked to a cop who
spent his morning pulling his body out of a swamp. Will you please
hear me out, April? Let me say all of this and if you want to hang
up go ahead, but I want to give you some important information to
keep you alive. I’m the guy that can do that for you. Will you
listen? Promise me, April, will you?” Don asked.

Sammy had perked up as soon as he’d heard
the name April. He knew who Don was on the phone with. He had no
idea how Don had pulled that off, but he had.

“Okay. I’m not saying I’ll buy it, but I’ll
listen,” April said.

Ben Neo

‘In for a penny in for a pound,’ Ben
thought. He’d scoped out the area back behind the Burger Joint. It
backed up to the loading docks for a huge computer discount place
called Data Terminal. It was really only a 6 foot high board
fence that separated the two places. But to drive from the Burger
Joint to the Data Terminal would take 10 to 20 minutes depending on
the traffic. He looked at the fence and he was positive he could
scale it in back of the dumpsters where the raised lid would keep
him from view: Drop down, do what he had to do and liberate the
money and the virus. Leave the drugs for the cops to find. He had a
briefcase with him that would hold the virus. Jimmy could get dead
easy enough and the whole thing, all the suspicion that might have
fallen to him, would fall on Jimmy instead. He could leave the rest
of the mess for the cops to clean up.

He started the car and headed for [_Data
Terminal_]. The traffic was light; he should be there before they
got much of a conversation going.

Sammy and Don

Sammy listened.

Don continued. “First, I know you’ve been
trying to unload the drugs, we know about Dean. He’s dead, you
know, him and his girlfriend. They even killed his two young
daughters. I figure Dean set you up to make a deal with Ronnie lee,
but Ronnie lee is dead: And a young girl too, nearly a second young
girl; most likely the same guy that killed Dean, his girlfriend and
daughters, the same guy that killed Alice, April. And he wants you.
He’s looking to get what you have. That stuff was stolen from two
different organizations. And they both want what’s theirs back: One
the money; the other the drugs. It’s a mystery. They’re looking for
you. There’s fifty grand on each of your heads. No conditions,
alive or dead.” Don sighed. He lit a cigarette and inhaled
deeply.

“April, let me come get the two of you. You
can get a good lawyer and walk away from this. I’d bet that you
won’t see any charges against you at all… Maybe Billy, but you
can both explain how you had to run. You had to, to stay alive.
With all these people after you, you had no choice. I’m sure you’ll
walk. Hell, probably Billy will walk too, but if this guy gets to
you he’ll kill you both, April. He’ll kill you both,” Don said.

Jimmy West

Jimmy pulled close to the back of the
Burger Joint, and stopped. He was not about to get himself
trapped in there. He had to be ready. A hundred feet and a left
turn would take him behind the building, but that would have to
wait. Right now he had to handle the pain. He could only afford a
little bump: Just enough to take the edge off. He fumbled his kit
out, fixed himself a small shot and put it to work: As small as it
was it nearly put him out anyway. He took six of the little red
pills on top of it and dry swallowed them. He sat and waited for
those to work. About ten minutes and they would kick in. He needed
a clearer head. He needed the pain leveled out, but he needed to be
able to think too. He sat and waited.

Billy Jingo

She covered the phone with her hand. “He
says Ronnie Lee is dead. He thinks the same psycho that killed Dean
and his family is coming after you and me. He says it’s a set up,”
April told Billy.

Ben Neo

A tractor trailer was backed into the
loading dock. There was no way to get close enough to go over the
fence. He jumped from the car and ran quickly to the fence. All
quiet, but this was not going to work out. In fact if he’d been in
here, where he had wanted to be, he would have been stuck. He
cursed his luck as he jumped back into the Taurus, punched the gas
pedal, and slipped around the front of a pickup that had pulled
into the back area as he had been checking the fence. Maybe it was
a little to open after all, he thought. He hurried back out of the
Data Terminal’s parking lot and onto the main road: As he picked up
speed his phone rang.

Sammy and Don

“Hold on… Hold on,” Don got the car to the
side of the road. “Tell me and I’ll be there. Just tell me…
What… I can’t do that… You know that… I… You leave the
drugs and I’ll let the two of you go. I’ll let you drive away.
That’s all… That’s all, April. I’m a cop. That’s my ass right
there… Leave them and drive away. That’s all I can give you… I
don’t care about the money… From what we heard it’s not enough to
cause that big of an uproar. If I have the drugs to show and that
psycho, that’s a lot to me… Do you have it? April, don’t
you deny it; you have my word that I can fix this for both of you
or let you go: My word. Now, do you have it?” Don asked
again. He listened, hurriedly snatched his pad out of his pocket
and wrote on it. He turned in his seat to see how far he was from
the exit number she had just given him. Two, he saw, and he was
already pointing in the right direction. He shot the car into
drive, cut off two cars as he shot out onto the roadway and headed
for the Burger Joint. “I’m on my way… Stay in the car,
April, I’m on my way.” Don said.

Billy Jingo

“Fuck,” April said, “I lost him. He got cut
off. He may not have heard how to get here,” she said.

“Calm down, baby,” Billy said. “Call them
back: Probably just lost the connection.”

“Here,” April said. She pulled two guns out
from under the seat and gave him one. “It’s loaded. Just in case
that psycho gets here before the cop,” she said.

Billy looked at the gun, flicked off the
safety and watched the mouth of the alley the car would have to
turn into.

April punched the number in and listened to
it ring.

“Yeah?” Ben asked warily. He listened, then
folded the phone and tossed it onto the seat. The smile that had
been missing came up on his lips and loosened his face up a little.
He punched the gas and headed back as fast as he could get the car
to move.

April smiled and closed the phone. “I got
him, he’s on the way,” she said.

“April,” Billy said softly. “Why after all
of this are we suddenly giving up?” Billy asked. “Why not just
drive out of this lot and go?”

“You’re sweet, Billy.” April frowned. She
looked at him. “But you’re not too bright.” She bought the gun up
and pointed it at him. “Billy, Neo is coming too… Ben Neo didn’t
die in that car. That body wasn’t his, complicated, but true… The
cop is crooked: He probably only wants to fuck me and then take the
money; he’d say anything to get me to give it up. But, see, he
fucked Neo over. And so Neo has to take care of him. The second
call I just made was to Neo, not the cop. I knew he was around. I
left him enough goddamn clues, including you buying a truck in his
name. And who else but me could make you look like him? So I knew
he was around. He’s coming,” she frowned deeply. “He’ll kill you,
Billy, he’ll have to. And he won’t be happy with me if he finds out
I actually fucked you. So I’ll do it now. It’ll be better for you,
Billy. Really it will. Don’t hate me, Billy,” she said. She pressed
the gun against the middle of his forehead.

“You’re not April,” Billy said.

“Nope: Killed the little bitch the day
before when she walked up on me hiding in the woods: Crazy bitch; I
made her tell me all about her life before I did it though… She
had a thing for you, Billy… I guess you didn’t know, but she
did,” she shrugged her shoulders and fixed him with her eyes. She
smiled sadly, and then the smile slipped away, a grim frown
replaced it. “Nothing personal, Billy; same as this.”

She pulled the trigger. The gun clicked.

Billy smiled, lifted his own gun and shot
her between the eyes. Her head bounced off the side glass and it
shattered.

He looked at her. “I switched clips…

Baby. Guess I’m not as stupid as you thought.” He reached
over, pulled the keys from the switch and walked calmly around to
the trunk. He unlocked it, pulled the two pink backpacks out and
slipped one over his shoulders. The second one he held on to by the
straps. He looked around: Spotted the six foot fence behind the
dumpster and headed for it. A few seconds later he was on the other
side of the fence, running past the end of a tractor trailer.

Sammy and Don

Don forced himself to pull into the parking
lot slowly. He passed a car whose driver looked to be passed out,
rounded the end of the building and swung out past where the
dumpster sat.

At first the Camaro looked fine, but then he
saw the glass and blood on the driver’s side of the car. He stopped
the car and jumped out: Sammy coming out of his side at the same
time. He looked through the open passenger door at the girl’s body,
slumped against the door. The back of her head was gone. A small,
blood-spattered hole in her forehead. One eye stared, sightless:
The other was closed. His eyes went to the ignition switch, empty,
he saw. Sammy passed by on his way toward the back of the car.

“Somebody killed her,” Don said as he came
to the back of the car. The trunk lid was up and a blue duffel bag
rested inside on the floor. Two large taped bags of pot sat close
to it. “We got it,” Don said.

He looked up into the barrel of Sammy’s
gun.

I got it,” Sammy said. He fired and
Don fell backwards. Sammy hurried back, got the keys from the
rental car, unlocked the trunk and then hurried to load the two
huge bags of pot and the blue duffel bag. He had held that same
goddamn bag in his hands just nights before, and a few thousand
miles back, and he’d lost it. He had it now though. He threw the
bags into the back of the rental car, straightened up to slam the
trunk lid home and the man was right in front of him: Leaned
against the side of the car: His gun up and aimed at Sammy.

“You killed her,” the man said. “Why?”

“Hey… Hey,” Sammy said, “Easy… I’m a
cop… You don’t want to…” The guy bought his gun up and shot
Sammy twice in the chest.

“That’s for killing her you fuck. [_You
bastard,”_] Neo said. He stood for a second looking down at him.
In the background he could hear sirens growing closer, he had to
move. He had to go. He turned and walked right into Jimmy’s gun. He
bought his own gun up and fired once before the two rounds from
Jimmy’s gun took him down. He found himself on the pavement staring
at a small white stone that was caught in the tread of the back
tire of the car the cop had been driving. He blinked. He blinked
again and then closed his eyes.

Jimmy took two steps back and sat down hard.

The pain was incredible again: The shoulder and now his chest too.
He fumbled his kit out and got the syringe ready. He could do it.
He would do it he told himself. A second later he found
himself looking up into the clear blue sky. No clouds… He was…
He was going to do something, but it seemed unimportant now: Like
it truly didn’t matter. He swallowed. He could taste blood in his
throat. He tried to bring his good arm up to shade his eyes, but it
stopped halfway up and then slowly sank back down to the
pavement.

Sergeant Alice Tetto

There were sirens screaming, the cops
couldn’t be far behind. Alice pushed the dead trucker to one side
and jumped down from the tractor trailer: She ran at the fence. She
had tracked Ben Neo halfway across the country. It had started as a
game: Kohlson had put her on to him, one of the last bits of
information he had given up. Ben Neo was a curious man who wanted
to know more about things that he had no business knowing about in
the first place. Kohlson had spilled his guts for a few beers and a
little money. She had begun to watch Neo after that, hoping to find
the missing virus and the REX agent. After all, if he was looking
for the same items, she may as well let him do the work for
her.

She had bugged his cars in Rochester, and
she had been more than a little surprised when both of them had
left for Watertown the previous Thursday. The one had sat seemingly
abandoned, hidden off Lott road since early Thursday morning. The
other had hovered around the public park, waiting for something it
seemed. She had been unsure, but she had finally made the trip out
Lott road early Friday morning and found the car hidden on one of
the service roads. She had waited, the girl had come and gone,
making her sure that something was happening.

When late morning rolled around and nothing
had seemed to happen she had nearly written it off. She had decided
to get the bug back, electronics were expensive, they were also
inventoried, and just maybe he was dumping the car: By that time
she had a pretty good idea what Ben Neo did for a living. She had
nearly made up her mind when the second car had suddenly begun
tracking in the same direction. To her way of thinking there was
only one reason for that, to ditch the first car and pick up the
second car. Had to be, but as she had made her way through the
woods on foot, she had happened along just in time to see the
touching scene between Nikki Moore and Ben Neo in the panicked
moments right after the crash. It had nicely filled in the balance
of the picture for her.

She had not had the name to put with the
girl at that point, but she had figured out fast enough that the
girl was the one on the run with Jingo. She had also yet to lay her
eyes on the items, but she felt satisfied that if Neo was chasing
along behind the girl, it was safe to assume the girl had the
items.

She made the fence and lunged for the top,
the rubber soles of her boots digging into the weathered wood
surface of the boards. She had heard gun shots from the other side
as she had jumped from the tractor cab: She wouldn’t be far behind
those shots, whatever they had meant. She had seen the kid jump
from the top of the fence, but she could have cared less about him.
What he had been carrying was not what she needed.

She had tracked Neo from New York to
Alabama. One long drive, he had driven as though he had known
exactly where he was going, and maybe he had: Maybe the girl had
been in communication with him, she didn’t know. She had simply
kept him in range and the satellite linkup had done the rest.
Military tech toys: They could be great at times, but she had
accidentally followed him into the back lot of the [_Computer
Depot_] and she had been afraid that he had caught her tailing
him, but his eyes had swept over her as if she hadn’t existed. She
had parked as though she had every right in the world to be there
and then she had strolled casually over to the fence to see what
had bought him there. She had seen all she needed to see through a
small knothole in a warped board before the trucker had interrupted
her with a friendly hello. Bad luck for him. She had a motto she
lived by. A dead witness was a good witness. She had followed him
back to the cab with a promise of a better look at her. It was
funny how easily a woman could tempt a man into an untenable
situation.

A quick chop to the throat and the trucker
had folded. She had slit his throat afterwards to be sure. She had
just been about to jump down from the cab when the kid had sailed
over the fence like a pole vaulter. Lucky for him she had not been
on the ground and in view. She had checked herself, waited the
split second while he cleared the back of the rig, and then dropped
to the ground on a hard run for the same fence.

She scaled the fence in less than a second
and easily dropped to the ground from the top. She pulled her knife
from her sheath, letting it travel restlessly from hand to hand as
she stood to her full height. The place looked like a war zone. The
car nearby, the girl, obviously dead; the rental car the cops had
been driving, and the car Jimmy West had been in.

She tried the Camaro first. The trunk lid
was up and the space empty. The sirens were screaming in her ears
now, but she forced herself to remain calm. She ran toward Jimmy
West’s rental car, but stopped at the car the two cops had been
driving instead when she saw the lid up and the two bags shoved
partway into the small trunk space. In a few seconds she had the
knife plunged deeply into both bags. She felt the resistance in the
first bag, ripped savagely, pot flying out of the trunk to the
ground: Two silver cases slid forward onto the floor of the trunk.
A moment later and the last case was freed from the second bag. A
few seconds after that and she was launching herself from the top
of the fence as somewhere behind her a deep voice had screamed at
her to freeze. She felt the bullet graze her shoulder before she
heard the shot. A split second later she was on the ground rolling,
and then running for her life around the tail end of the tractor
trailer.

She made her truck, threw herself inside,
and less than a minute later she was blending into traffic on
Airport boulevard, watching the police cars streaming into the area
from all directions. A glance in the rear-view showed her, her
wound: Torn at the shoulder level, a small patch of blood seeping
into her blouse. She reached down, retrieved her jacket from the
seat and shrugged it over her shoulders hiding the wound from view.
She made the turn off for I 65 calmly, signaled, and left the
jammed traffic behind her as she came up to speed.

The three silver cases gleamed in the early
morning light from the front seat where she had dumped them as she
jumped into the truck. The job was over for her.

Rebecca Monet

The truck rolled into the parking lot and
people poured out of it. The satellite dish came up, aligned
itself, and acquired its signal. The techs began un-spooling cable
as inside; others set up the monitors, finished establishing the
feed to the station and got ready to go live.

Rebecca Monet stepped out last, Cindy with
her, brushing a few errant hairs from her suit coat and
straightening the collars.

“Remember, sad. No smile. The body
count is three, two critical are in route to the hospital. You
can’t say two of them were New York cops, you can say sources tell
us blah blah blah… It’s unclear who shot who first. The janitor
says there was one shot before the cops came in…” She circled
janitor and his name and then handed Rebecca the pad. “It’s gonna
be a break in and Bob is standing by to give you a ten second lead
in,” Cindy said. She placed Rebecca so that the edge of the Camaro
could be seen with a spray of glass and blood on the asphalt. It
was far enough away so that it would not be too gory, but close
enough to be an attention getter. The yellow police tape fluttered
in between them, closing off the back of the Burger Joint.
She told the camera operator to pull the focus out a little so that
it caught the tape clearly. She looked at her watch. Clicked her
mic. button and said, “Okay.” She waited until Bob was going,
then… “… And, eight… Seven… Six… Get rid of that smile,
Becca, sad, sad… And three… Two… One.” She pointed at
Rebecca Monet.

“Thanks, Bob,” Rebecca said. “We’re here at
the scene of a tragedy. The young woman who is believed to have
been held hostage in a drama that has played out over the last few
days across several states, is dead. Seventeen year old April
Evans…”

Mobile General Hospital ICU

The surgeon looked up and shook his head.

“Don’t. You won’t be doing him any favors.” He looked to his
assistant who had grabbed a set of paddles. “Too much damage. There
isn’t enough left…” He looked at the wall. “9:47 AM… How are
they doing with the other one?” he asked.

“Hanging on… Bullet missed the heart,
nicked an artery below… Spinal damage. No way to tell how bad it
is yet. It’ll be touch and go, I guess.” His assistant said.

“Well, we’ll let them know. I hate it when
we lose one of the good guys though.” He took one more look at the
body and then stripped off his gloves and gown, dropped them to the
floor and left the operating suite.

Tuesday night

Billy Jingo

Billy stepped down from the cab of the
tractor trailer and waited for the truck to take off before he
crossed the road and came onto the lot. He glanced at his watch,
almost 9:00 PM. The place looked deserted still. He walked up to
the office, cupped his hands to the glass and looked through the
windows. Empty. There was a garage out back. Maybe he was there. He
walked toward the back of the lot, one hand holding the gun inside
his jacket pocket. Just before he got to the door it opened and the
kid stepped out into the darkness. He fired up a cigarette,
apparently not seeing Billy standing a few feet away in the
darkness.

“Hey,” Billy said.

The kid squeaked. “Christ,” he said.

Billy laughed, pulled his own cigarette out
of his pack and lit it. “Sorry, Dougie, I was trying to think of a
way to let you know I was here.”

“Ese, you took ten years off my life,” Doug
said. “At least ten.”

“Sorry. I really am,” Billy said
wearily.

The kid smiled. “Teach me to pay attention,
Danny. Hey man, you did some crazy shit to your hair, man? It’s not
bad… Not bad,” he looked around, “Where’s your chick, man. I
thought she’d be hot for this truck. I got the right green, I
think,” Doug said.

“Yeah, well, she’s gone. Flew the coop…

Another gig if you know what I mean. It’s just me… Flying solo,”
Billy said.

“Tough. I know how that shit goes though,
been there myself… You got any of that shit left? The good shit?”
he asked.

“Saved out two pounds just for you, the rest
is gone. I got a little something else for you too. Coke… A
little heroin too… I don’t know if you mess with that stuff, but
I saved out a little of each for you. The thing is you got to be
careful with this shit. It’s a hundred percent pure… I mean it’s
not cut at all. You don’t want to mess with it straight, the shit
will kill you,” Billy said. He pulled the package from the top of
the one backpack. “It’s all in there, including your cash…
There’s a little bit extra too,” Billy said.

“Hey, I got family inside. You mind? We’re
going someplace… Wifey… Her sister… Maybe we’ll do a little
weed first, have a few more beers,” Doug said. “Can you kick it for
a while?”

“I don’t mind,” Billy said.

“Well come on in then, man. The truck is
inside. You’re gonna love it. I didn’t go crazy with the lift…
Nice tires.” He reached the side door, opened it and motioned Billy
inside. Billy stepped inside, a little nervous, apprehensive, but
it was as he said: Two women stood inside the door talking and
looking over the truck.

“You nervous: You okay?” Doug asked.

“Eh, not bad: Been a rough few days, I
guess,” he said. “Anyway,” he turned and looked at the truck, but
not before his eyes had slid across the two women. They were nearly
carbon copies: Dark hair; dark eyes. Spanish blood or Indian, he
thought, mixed with… African, he asked himself? Something
like that. Dark skinned. They both noticed the look. The one gave
it back; the other smiled and turned to Doug, slipping her arm
around his waist.

“My wife, Mayte,” Doug said. She took his
hand and smiled. “Her sister, Mary.”

Mary smiled and took his hand.

“I heard you had a girlfriend?” Mary
said.

“Did,” Billy said.

“She found another guy,” Doug supplied.

“Too bad for her,” Mary said and smiled.

[]
EIGHT

Eternal Rest Lawns

New Paltz, New York.

Eight months later.

The casket stood to the left of the open
hole. All the words that could be said had been said. Tommy Murphy
was no more. All that remained was to lower the box into the
ground. It hadn’t been so hard in the end. He had closed his eyes
and gone to sleep: Stopped fighting.

She moved forward and placed one hand on the
casket. It was a bright day, spring was coming and the sun had
heated the brushed aluminum so that it was warm to the touch. That
seemed right to her. She didn’t want it to be cold.

She had spent the last several months
working with Tommy to consolidate the two families. Tommy had no
one, and he had lost so much with the final deal: Between the money
and the virus he had paid out a large portion of his fortune.

He had told her about his mistake. A mistake
he had brought her own father into as well. It had taken a
substantial portion of what had become her fortune along with his
own. He had asked her for forgiveness and she had given it.

The lie of the virus hadn’t mattered as much
to him in the end as he had thought it would. He had been tricked.
Greed had made him believe he might have a chance at living
forever. Her own father had taken the same virus: When he had died
he had known just how deep his mistaken belief had infected his
thinking. When his time came, he would die as well. Life was no
respecter of persons. No matter what he did, he could not buy a new
life, and maybe that was exactly the way God had always meant it to
be. After all, there was no one to leave what was left of the old
life to anyway, and that was when he had settled on her: Put aside
the folly of the virus, all the wasted money and lives, and began
to build her up to take over the combined empire.

They had been almost inseparable since
Jefferson had been laid to rest. A lot of money in the right places
had bought a verdict of suicide. Tommy had helped with that. Tommy
had helped with everything: Her mother; the Press, the doctor for
the abortion. A long stay at his place in the Catskills, and it had
been his idea for her to take it all over. She had some sort of
strength, he said. Something tempered: Something that could help
her to carry the load.

Tommy had introduced her to the people she
needed to know and a few months back she had begun to run both
operations. She stayed full-time in the Catskills and took care of
Tommy: Leaving only when she had to.

She wondered about fate. By all reasoning
her life should have been over when she had put the pistol into her
mouth after killing her father, but it was a two shot pistol and it
had simply clicked: The sound of that click had changed everything.
She had picked up the phone and called Tommy. Tommy had taken her
away: Given her time to think things through, but he had also
stayed with her. Made sure she made it out of the darkness and into
the light. And she had.

She stepped back from the casket and watched
as it was shifted over the hole and then lowered into the
ground.

She scattered her handful of dirt across the
top of the casket and then walked away, bodyguards on both sides of
her. The limo waited. Lita told herself that she would miss Tommy,
and that was true, but it was also like it closed a chapter of her
life for good: Finished it so that she could completely move
on.

Cranberry lake, New York.

He sat at the end of the dock in the
wheelchair. Life had been tough for the last several months, but he
supposed that to anyone outside looking in; it appeared to be
getting better. The bullet had missed his heart, but not his spine.
He was lucky to have the use of his arms. He had learned to deal
with the loss, and he was settled into a routine here. Living his
life, such as it was. A full-time nurse had given way to a daytime
nurse to help with the daily routines. He was on his own at night,
but help, if he really needed it was a phone call away. It truly
must appear as though things were getting better for him, but
appearances were deceptive.

The nurse was gone for the day and he was on
his own. Funny how people could desert you. Not that he had a lot
of people in his life, but a few. They simply didn’t like looking
at him. It bothered them. They came around less often and then they
simply stopped.

He’d been given a promotion before he’d been
taken out with the medical. And even then they had left the choice
up to him. He could do a desk job, he supposed, but he couldn’t see
it. Couldn’t see that sort of life.

Sammy reached into his pocket and pulled out
a pack of cigarettes. It was getting tougher to get them, but he
could usually convince the kid that came by to mow the lawn to buy
him a pack. A pack lasted a week, sometimes longer. It depended on
the depression and how much he drank. He lit one now and drew the
harsh smoke into his lungs.

He hadn’t known Don was dirty. When the cops
had searched Don’s house, they had come up with close to a hundred
grand: Neat stacks; rubber banded, the same as the techs had turned
in from Richard Dean’s place. The rubber in the bands even matched.
There had been, apparently, more than just the two stacks and Don
had pocketed the others when Sammy had gone out to let the techs
inside.

Sammy inhaled, coughed and then took another
drag on the cigarette. If he had died and they had searched his
house, they would have had him, but he didn’t, and they hadn’t, so
he had had time to get rid of the evidence. Cash, envelopes, there
had been close to 40 grand in deposits he couldn’t account for, but
no one had checked those. They had their bad cop, they didn’t need
another one.

The envelopes had stopped coming. He
wondered about that. Someone out there knew he was here. Someone
out there knew what he had done. How he had gone after the money.
That was the way his life was now. Wondering when that someone was
going to send another someone to end it all for him. Or, maybe they
were just going to leave him like this: Figuring that it was enough
punishment; maybe even better than a bullet in the brain. They were
smart if that was the case, this was hell. He couldn’t do it. He
took another pull from the cigarette and rolled out onto the dock.
He coughed and then took another drag.

This camp had been his grandfather’s, then
his fathers, now it was his. There weren’t many camps up here on
the lake. The lumber mills had stopped leasing the land. His father
had renewed it about 15 years back. The holding company had already
told him the lease wouldn’t be renewed the following year, but it
didn’t matter.

He had cleaned up his paperwork. There
wasn’t much left. Even with the medical bills covered there were a
lot of expenses. He took one more drag off the cigarette and tossed
it out into the water.

It was a beautiful day to be alone.

He wondered about the kid, Jingo. What had
happened to him? The theory was that the girl, Nikki Moore, had
killed him and dumped his body out in one of the swamps. It was
possible, he supposed. The money had never turned up, that was all
Sammy knew for sure. Or if it had someone else had taken it and
knew how to keep their mouth shut. Either way, he wouldn’t be
getting his hands on it. It was gone.

He looked out over the water, a beautiful
early spring day: A good day to call it quits. He rolled forward,
daring himself; the edge of the dock just a few inches away. It
would be so easy. He took a deep breath, as deep as he was able to,
laughed and then released it: Then before he could change his mind
he wheeled himself off the end of the dock.

The bubbles died away after the first few
minutes.

Somewhere across the lake a loon cried
out.

The Jilly Situation

She looked over all the information again,
new identity, numbered bank accounts, and then reduced it to an
icon. She had sat on everything for months now. He hadn’t touched
it: None of it. She had been the one to set it all up for him and
he had never used it. She had even taken the step of changing the
passwords on the accounts.

Nothing had happened.

She had changed all the passwords and
deleted the emails on the first day. It had seemed like the right
thing to do. Ben Neo was dead. Ed Reiser was dead too. Only she
knew that their identities were reversed. That Ed was really Ben,
and Ben was really Ed. It didn’t really matter to anyone anymore,
because both of them were dead.

Jilly sipped at her diet coke.

It had been the thing with the fingerprints
that made her so curious to begin with. Why would Neo do that,
unless he wanted his identity passed on to someone else? Take a set
of clean prints. Become cleansed, a new man. And why did you become
a new man all at once like that. Well, maybe you were looking for a
new life. Brand new, as in disappear brand new. So she did
one of her bad things for herself. She sent along a back door
program when she sent the e-mail confirming the changes she had
made on the fingerprint files for him.

He had always teased her about how sexy her
voice was. How beautiful she must be. And she had teased back that
she would send him a photo some day. She never would. No one knew
what she looked like, and she wanted to keep it that way, but she
needed a reason for an attachment.

She was good with graphics; it was just
something she did. She had mentioned once that she was part Asian,
and so she found an image of an Asian woman on line and did a
little work on the photo. In the end she had a slightly more than
ordinary looking woman, nude from the waist up. Small breasts,
innocent face that men seemed to love: The Black hair, everything
but a schoolgirl uniform.

She had debated about the nudity, but she
wanted him to keep the image until she could activate some extra
features it contained. An ordinary image might head straight to the
recycle bin. This one would be saved, she hoped, and it had been.
As soon as it had been saved it had written the basic back door
into his OS and saved the changes so that they would take effect
the next time the machine started. If it had shown up at all it
would have simply been listed as a regular update for his OS: After
that it had been simple. She set up a check for his DNS number and
the next time he’d been online she had been able to get into his
machine.

She had activated the rest of the search
program she built in. It ran in the background and searched out
everything: As long as he was connected it sent her a constant
stream of information. And he was on line a lot it seemed. She
began to watch for patterns and had seen that he constantly
accessed an account in the Bahamas: A private bank; that was when
she knew what she was looking for.

She had found it within 36 hours. But then
she hadn’t known what to do with it. He would have to know it was
her. So she had decided to bide her time. She set up an information
search on both his old Ben Neo name and the new Ed Reiser name. She
found the Ed Reiser name listed as being killed in a shootout in
Mobile Alabama of all places. She had debated all of 30 seconds.
Was it a trick? She didn’t think so.

Eventually she’d even called the morgue,
pretending to be a cousin, inquiring about picking up the body. It
had been there, he had really died. And she knew the real Ed Reiser
had died in another shootout in New York.

She had taken the money. Changed the
accounts, and eventually she had moved them. There had been three
accounts. Now there were two new accounts in the Cayman’s. Whatever
Ben Neo had done for a living it had paid very well. And… And
nothing. Nothing at all had happened. Ben Neo didn’t come calling.
No one did, and she had begun to understand that the money was free
and clear. The money was hers.

She toggled up the information from the icon
again: There were actually three icons. She was waiting for the
fourth, an email, to arrive.

The first icon confirmed her purchase of a
castle: A real castle in France. She had found it on line of all
places. It needed a tremendous amount of work, but it was a real
castle. Real! She bought it. The money had changed hands. She owned
it now.

The second icon was from a company she had
hired to make a part of the castle livable. They had. It had a way
to go, but a small area was able to be lived in now while the rest
of the work was done.

She clicked up the third icon. Confirmation
that what she had ordered for furnishings had been delivered. A car
had also been delivered. That had been yesterday.

Today she was waiting on airline ticket
confirmations. Two seats, first class to Nice. From there she would
be picked up and driven to her new home. She looked around the
loft. She rarely ever left it. Rarely. Food; ordered in. Her
diet coke; delivered. The paper; delivered too. You name it you
could get someone to deliver it. It was easy.

She spent so much time doing her work she
rarely ever dressed, just sweats, it was easier, but she’d had to
go out two days ago to have clothes fitted. It had been so long she
didn’t know her sizes. The clothes had come today and that was all
she needed to make the airline reservations. You couldn’t fly first
class in sweat clothes. Her e-mail program chimed and she popped up
the icon and squealed with delight. She was all set. She had three
hours to kill before her flight left. She would use that to get to
the airport by cab and pick up her reserved tickets.

She popped up a final icon. It was her own
self destruct program. It would destroy every scrap of information
on her machine. She chose start, chose ‘Yes I’m sure’ from
the next dialog box and that was it. She was officially
retired.

She could hail a cab, most likely, but it
was easier to call for one. They tended to shy away from her when
she tried to flag one down, but when she called they had to take
her. They knew who she was. And, although she rarely called they
remembered her. She supposed it was kind of hard to forget a 700
pound woman: If you were that big it was hard to overlook you, but
it was also hard to chase down a cab that pretended not to see
you.

She got herself out of the chair, looked
around the apartment one last time and wandered slowly to the door.
The airline had made her buy two tickets when she told them how
heavy she was. It wasn’t like she hadn’t known, but it was still an
embarrassment. Even so, she told herself as she left her apartment
for the last time, locking the door behind her, it was for the last
time. She had her own place now and enough money that her size
wouldn’t matter.

She made it to the elevator, pressed the
button and rested while she waited for it to come up. She had plans
for a new diet. Maybe it would even work, she told herself;
maybe.

Los Angeles, California

Liv and Brian

Liv sat next to the pool. Her skin was dark,
healthy, and glowed under the hot California sun. She had never
been to L.A. until now and it was beautiful. In fact she had never
been straight long enough in her life to do much more than think
about where the next high would come from.

That wasn’t exactly the whole truth, back in
junior high school there had still been a real, vulnerable girl
inside of her. That was only five years ago, but it felt like it
was closer to five hundred years ago. Five million years
ago. She almost felt young again, hopeful. Like the young girl she
had been back then.

She looked over at Brian in the chair next
to her. Somewhere in all of what had gone on in the first months:
the sickness, the crying fits, the depression; she had stopped
being so mad at the world and had fallen in love with him. He
seemed so naive to her, but he wasn’t. The only other woman that
had ever mattered to him had died a crack addict, still using, HIV
positive with full blown AIDS for the last six months of her life.

The two had used her up, what the crack didn’t kill, the AIDS virus
had.

They had talked about it for hours. She had
no idea how he had managed, he’d only been fifteen. Fifteen and he
had taken care of her. And then when he should have been able to go
on with his own life, the state had snatched him up and put him in
Foster Care. Life had been tough, but she thanked God for him and
the fact that his life had been so tough: Taught him such hard
lessons. Someone else would have left her on her own. Not Brian. He
had stuck it out.

His hand came over and touched hers. He
squeezed lightly. She liked the feel of his hand in her own. She
bought it to her stomach along with her own and held it as she
drifted off to sleep.

Rebecca Monet

Rebecca Monet lay with Cindy in the big bed
and looked out over the Gulf. The condo had a great view, but the
view was only in the living room, so from the day she had moved in
she had had the movers set up the bed in the living room. She
entertained no one. The only person who ever came, or was welcome
to come to her place was Cindy. And Cindy liked the view too. So
she had turned the bedroom into an office.

She let her hand trail the length of Cindy’s
body, sitting up so she could reach her toes, and then traveling
all the way back up again. She let it linger at the fullness of her
hip, tempted to just slide over it and touch the places she wanted
to touch, but she made herself move on.

“Tell me again,” Rebecca said as her hands
trailed up and down Cindy’s body.

Rebecca was tall, blond, statuesque, large
breasts that she had paid for with her measly salary as a minor
tech and then a voice over at a radio station in her hometown when
she had just been starting out. She had known she would work her
way up from there and she had wanted the body to match the voice.
It hadn’t been long before she had wanted to switch to
television.

She had still been Molly then, but she had
dumped Molly for Rebecca when she had made the change to
television. Rebecca suited her better. The new her had come to
channel eight as the weather girl a few years back and worked her
way up to co anchor with Cindy’s help. Last week some images of Bob
in bed with Bethany, the old co anchor, had made their way around
the station: Eventually ending up in the lap of the station
manager, Tad Edwards. Edwards had kicked it up to the new station
owner, Susan Isley. Although everyone knew that Bob had been
banging Bethany, knowing it and then seeing pictures of it were two
different things. Today Bob had resigned.

“You are the new anchor,” Cindy said.

“You.”

It still made her heart beat fast. She had
handled it alone tonight for the early news and she would again for
the late edition. The ratings had been high. Next week they’d be
interviewing for a co anchor. Cindy had told her to insist on a man
even if they offered her a woman, which they weren’t likely to do,
but who knew? No more competition. Choose a guy who looked good
because he’ll make you look good, Cindy had said. Let people think
things, just don’t let there be anything. Cindy would be sitting in
on the interviews. Rebecca had asked for that and had gotten it,
along with a promotion for Cindy to her personal assistant; which
she had unofficially been for nearly a year anyway. She had walked
Rebecca through her career moves. Cindy was smart and Rebecca
trusted in her sense. So Cindy would sit in on the interviews and
Rebecca would go with her choice.

“Did you do it?” Rebecca asked Cindy. “The
pictures I mean?”

“I think I love you,” was all Cindy
said.

“We have an hour before we have to be back,”
Rebecca said. She loved Cindy’s body. Short, dark hair to her own
blond, almost 20 years older than Rebecca too: Until Cindy she
hadn’t even known she liked women like that. She had thought it
would be a mutual climb up the ladder together, but it been more:
Much more. She let her fingers trail over the side of Cindy’s
hip.

Poza Rica, Mexico

Evening

Billy Jingo

Billy sat on the deck and looked out over
the gulf. There were no other houses for a few miles except Doug
and Mayte’s place. Poza Rica was the closest town and that was not
really close. He liked it that way.

A small fire burned nearby to take the chill
out of the gulf air. He opened his wallet and took out two creased
strips of photos and looked at them. Time spun away and he sighed
as he began to shove the photos back down into his worn wallet, but
his hand froze as his eyes caught the fire. A second later he was
watching the edges of the strips of photos began to curl as the
flames caught and took them.

Most days he didn’t think of his old life
and what had brought him here at all, but when he did it wasn’t
with regrets. The hardest thing of all had been shooting Nikki.
When she had said she had killed April, he had remembered that a
body had been found the day before. He just hadn’t connected the
two things. And it would’ve made no connection in his head anyway.
He hadn’t known April Evans. Nikki Moore had become April Evans to
him. He would never have known the difference.

What he had known was that she had not been
entirely honest with him. He had caught her more than once doing
things that were stupid, outright dangerous when they had been on
the run. And she would play stupid when he would catch her. You
can’t be stupid one minute and smart the next. The skill as a
makeup artist had thrown him, but he just hadn’t been able to
believe she only learned it in school from a onetime class: And
there was always that thing about her that made her appear older or
maybe more mature to him than a girl that age would be. He had even
mentioned it to her and she had laughed it off.

He had stopped trusting her the second she
had insisted on trying to make the deal even though their faces had
been on TV, and the next morning when he had seen the paper and
compared the faces he wondered. She looked so different. Again she
laughed it off: Said it was an old junior high school picture.

She had left the car to use the ladies room
and he had checked the guns. He knew then that something was wrong.
She had them parked in an enclosed area: There would be no place to
run if something went wrong, and one of the guns had an empty clip.
They were the same model, one chrome, one blued-steel. The clips
mounted exactly the same. So he’d switched the clips. It made the
gun with the full clip heavier, but he doubted that she would
notice. She knew which gun she had put the empty clip into.

She had already been talking about calling
the cop, and he couldn’t reason it. He didn’t feel like giving up,
and he didn’t care what the radio said about him he wouldn’t give
up, and he didn’t believe she would either. He had been hoping
she’d simply screwed up with the guns, but when she had looked at
them both before she handed him the one that had been empty, he had
known then she either meant to kill him or have him killed.

He didn’t feel guilty about it at the time,
only sad: Now he didn’t even feel sad, only grateful that her plans
had fallen through.

Doug had a small fishing boat. They went out
most days and fished, selling their catch in Poza Rica. Life
couldn’t be better or more laid back: The house on the beach. The
way time seemed to stand still, even so he was going.

The word had come to him late last night
that La Policía were looking for him, and not the local Policía,
these guys were rumored to be dressed in military garb and carrying
automatic weapons. The Federales, Dougie had said: All kinds of
bad; especially for an American in the country illegally.

He had been expecting it, just hoping it
would hold off a while longer. He had briefly wondered what had led
them to him, but in the end it hadn’t mattered. He had purchased an
old truck in town. Rolled a thirty gallon drum into the bed and
chained it down. He had filled it with gasoline and once the sun
set he would be on his way through the desert. California… Texas
if that didn’t work out: Or maybe he’d work his way up the west
coast and head for Alaska. There were a million places there to
disappear.

“Second thoughts?” Dougie asked. He wore a
funny little half smile on his face.

“No, I was just thinking about how lucky
I’ve been… Hope it holds out.” He took a deep drink from his
beer, draining it. Dougie handed him another, but he refused it.
The sun was right on the edge of setting and he wanted to be far
way into the great nothing before the moon came up.

He left the deck and walked across the sand
to the old truck. It would be a wonder if it didn’t leave him
stranded somewhere in the desert, but he couldn’t chance taking the
Suburban. He climbed in, shut the door with a rusty screech and
raised one hand to Dougie and Mayte as he started the truck. They
waved back, and a few seconds later he dropped the old truck and
gear and lumbered off into the desert.

Eternal Rest Lawns

New Paltz, New York.

Tommy Murphy

The room was dark. He had dozed off…

Dozed off and… No good. He couldn’t bring it back. He had
dozed off, that much was true. He had felt bad, ill… The
virus was taking a toll on him, or the medication, both, so
he had dozed off and slept for a while: Apparently a long while,
and apparently deeply. Lita must have turned down the lights and
pulled the heavy drapes, but he could not recall her doing that. He
could not even recall her leaving him. It was something she rarely
did, and it shocked him now to find that she might have.

The living room where she had set up the
hospital bed was entirely dark. Not a sign of light anywhere. He
moved his hand; the thought was to bring it to his face to see if
it could be seen. This seemed to be the darkest room he had ever
experienced in his life.

In his life, he found himself
repeating as his hand banged into something substantial and stopped
suddenly. Too suddenly: Had he rolled closer to the inside
edge of the bed? The rail? Something like that? Pinned his arm? He
rolled to the right to correct it, sure that was the problem, but
he met with no success at all. The same hard structure stopped him,
or seemed to.

He blinked, squinted and tried to see
better. No good, pitch black, and although he was a man who had
little natural fear he had begun to panic right then.

He had found that fear had become a near
constant visitor with him over the last few months. And he had come
to find that fear was not the thing that most people thought it
was, fear was something else entirely. Fear was everything in the
rational world that you did not understand. Every battle you had
refused, run away from: And fear was the great unknown. The things
that you could only know with any degree of certainty after you
were dead: And then only if there could even be such a thing as
knowledge after you had passed from life. He doubted there was. He
had not always doubted there was, but he did now.

He tried to sit up: His body was weak, but
he managed to get it to start to rise when his head had slammed
into the same immovable surface. Hard, iron hard, unmoving. In a
near full blown panic, he raised his hands as slowly as he could
from his side and felt at his surroundings. The shape was not
familiar, but in another way, on a subconscious level, it seemed
completely familiar to him: The shape, the volume, the texture of
slippery satin against his fingers, the hard surface beneath the
satin. A recessed seam running across, side to side, another,
longer seam traversing the sides that he could not bend his hands
into any sort of shape to follow. He continued along, feeling,
probing, when he suddenly realized that he had forgotten to
breathe. He had been so caught up in discovering this mystery that
he had completely forgotten. He had never heard of anything like
this happening to anyone, but he had no doubt that it had just
happened to him. He was not breathing. He had not taken a breath
in… He had no idea, a while.

He tried to open his mouth and then the real
panic set in. He could not open his mouth. His lips seemed joined
together, unable to part. He put a little extra effort into it and
felt them part with a hard, low ripping sound. Flesh stripped from
flesh, like when your lips had dried out and then stuck
together…

Okay… Okay, don’t panic, it’s all fixable.

He had probably just pulled a great deal of skin from his lips, but
it would be fine. It would be…

His fingers felt at his lips: It was not
going to be fine. There were chunks and pieces of his lips attached
to both lips. Thread woven from one to the other had held them
together. Some ones idea of a joke: The thought had flashed across
his mind, but even as it did he knew it to be untrue. No one would
play that trick, not on him. Lita would never allow anyone to get
that close to play that trick even if they had thought to.

The truth of the situation hit him just that
fast and he began to claw and tear at the satin lining. He tried to
scream, but he could pull no air into his lungs. He felt his nails
digging at the slippery satin, catching on the wood just below the
surface and breaking, snapping off as the panic took over
completely and he tried even harder to fight his way out of the
casket.

And so it begins…

Route 81 rest-stop

Watertown New York

[*April
20*]^th^

1:00 am

A black truck pulled into the rest stop and
two men climbed out; walking toward the rest rooms that sat in from
the road. Concrete bunker looking buildings that had been built
back in the early seventies. They had been closed for several years
now. In fact the Open soon sign was bolted to the front of
the building; rust streaked the sign surface. It seemed like some
sort of joke to Mike Bliss who used the rest stop as a place to do
light duty drug deals. Nothing big, but still that depended on your
idea of big: Certainly nothing over a few thousand dollars. That
was his break off point. Any higher than that, he often joked, you
would have to talk to someone in Columbia… Or maybe Mexico, he
told himself now as he sat waiting in his Lexus, but it seemed that
since Rich Dean had got himself dead the deals just seemed to be
getting larger and larger. And who knew how much longer that might
last. He watched the two men make a bee line for the old rest
rooms.

“Idiots,” he muttered to himself. He pushed
the button, waited for the window to come down, leaned out the
window and yelled. “What are you, stupid? They’re closed.” He
motioned with one hand. “You can’t read the fuckin’ sign or
what?”

Both men stopped and looked from him to the
sign.

“Yeah, closed. You can read right? Closed:
That’s what it says. Been closed for years. Go on into Watertown;
buy a fuckin’ burger or something. Only way you’re getting a
bathroom at this time of the morning.” He had lowered his voice for
the last as he pulled his head back into the car, and turned the
heater up a notch. The electric motor whined as the window climbed
in its track. He looked down at his wrist for the time, 1:02 A.M.,
where the fuck was this dude. He was late, granted a few minutes,
but late was late.

A sharp rap on the glass startled him. He
had been about to dig out his own supply, a little pick-me-up. He
looked up to see the guys from the truck standing outside his
window. “Oh… Fucking lovely,” he muttered. He pushed the button
and the window lowered into the door, the motor whining loudly, the
cold air blew in.

“And what can I do for you two gentlemen,”
He asked in his best smart ass voice.

The one in back stepped forward into the
light. Military type, Mike told himself. Older, maybe a noncom. A
little gray at the edges of his buzz cut. With the military base so
close there were soldiers everywhere, after all Watertown was a
military town. It was why he was in the business he was in. It was
also why he succeeded at it.

“Did you call me stupid,” The man asked in a
polite tone.

“Who, me? No. I didn’t call you stupid, I
asked, what are you, stupid? Different thing. The fuckin’
place is closed… Just doing my good deed for the day… Helping
you, really, so you don’t waste no time,” Mike told him.

“Really?” The man asked.

Mike chuckled. “Yeah really, tough guy.

Really: Now I did my good deed, why don’t you get the fuck out of
here ‘cause you wore out your welcome.” He opened his coat slightly
so they could see the chrome 9 mm that sat in its holster.

“Really,” the first guy repeated.

“Okay, who are you guys, frick and frack? A
couple of fucking wannabees? Well I am the real deal, don’t make me
stick this gun in your fuckin’ face,” Mike told them. He didn’t
like being a dick, but sometimes you had to be.

“You know what my mother always said about
guns?” The second guy asked.

“Well, since I don’t know your mama it’s
hard to say,” Mike told him. He didn’t like the way these two were
acting. They weren’t cops, he knew all the locals. If it had been
someone he had to worry about he would have handled this completely
differently. These guys were nobodies. At least nobodies to him,
and that made them nobodies to Watertown: If he had to put a bullet
in… His thoughts broke off abruptly as the barrel of what looked
like a .45 was jammed into his nose. It came from nowhere. He
sucked in a deep breath. He could taste blood in his mouth where
the gun had smashed his upper lip against his teeth.

“She said don’t threaten to pull a gun,
never. Just pull it.”

“Mama had a point,” Mike allowed. His voice
was nasally due to the gun that was jammed hallway up to his brain.
“Smart lady.”

“Very,” the man allowed. “Kind of a hard ass
to grow up with, but she taught me well.” He looked down at Mike.
“So listen, this is what we’re gonna do. You’re gonna drive out of
here right the fuck now. And that’s going to stop me from pulling
this trigger. Lucky day for you, I think. Like getting a
Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card, right.”

“This is my business spot… You don’t
understand,” Mike told them. “I… I’m waiting for someone.”

“Not tonight, Michael.”

“Yeah, but you don’t.” He stopped. “How do
you know my name?” he asked. There was more than a nasal quality to
his voice, now there was real fear. Maybe they were Feds.
Maybe.

“Yeah, we know you. And we know you use this
spot as a place to do your business. And I’m saying we couldn’t
care less, but right now you gotta go, and I’m not going to tell
you the deal again. You can leave or stay, but you ain’t gonna like
staying,” The guy told him.

“[_Listen… This is my town… If you guys
are Feds you can’t do shit like this… This is my town. You guys
are just…_]”

The guy pulled the trigger and Mike jumped.

He fell to the right, across the front seat. Both men stepped away
from the car, eyes scanning the lonely rest stop from end to end,
but there was no one anywhere. The silence returned with a ringing
in their ears from the blast as it had echoed back out of the
closed car interior. The shooter worked his jaw for a moment,
swallowing until his ears popped. He lifted his wrist to his mouth.
“Guess you saw that,” he said quietly.

“Got a cleaner crew on the way up. You’ll
pass them in the elevators. The boss is waiting on you guys.” The
voice came through the implant in his inner ear. No one heard what
was said except him.

He nodded for the cameras that were picking
him up. “In case you didn’t hear it, someone is supposed to meet
him here so your cleaner crew could have company.”

“Got that too… We’ll handle it.” He nodded
once more, and then walked off toward the rest rooms as the other
man followed.

Once in back of the unit they used a key in
the old rusted handset. It only looked old and rusty; it was
actually an interface for a state of the art digital system that
would read his body chemistry, heat, and more. The key had dozens
of micro pulse sensor implants that made sure the user was human,
transmitted heartbeat, body chemistry, it could even tell male from
female and match chemical profiles to known examples in its
database. Above and to the sides of them several scanners mapped
their bodies to those same known profiles: Bone composition, old
fractures, density and more; all unique in every man or women. The
shooter removed the key and slipped it into his pocket. A few
seconds later a deep whining of machinery reached their ears, the
door shuddered in its frame, and then slipped down into a pocket
below the doorway.

A second later they stepped into the gutted
restroom. Stainless steel doors took up most of the room; the
elevator to the base below. They waited for the cleaner crew to
come up, and then took the elevator back down into the depths.

~

The Bluechip facility stretched for more
than five miles underground. Most of that was not finished space,
most of that was connector tunnels, and storage space bored from
the rock. The facility itself was about three thousand feet under
the city of Watertown in a section of old caves that had been
enlarged, concrete lined and reinforced. The rest area was one of
several entrances that led into the complex: An old farm on the
other side of Watertown, an abandoned factory in the industrial
park west of the city and a few other places, including direct
connections from secure buildings on the nearby base.

John Pauls and Sammy Black had Alpha
clearance. Both were ex-military, but most likely military
clearance was no longer a real matter of concern this late in the
game, Sammy thought as they made their way down the wide hallway.
The word coming down from those in the know was that in the next
twenty-four hours the human race would come very close to ceasing
to exist at all. No confirmation from anyone official, but regular
programming was off air, the news stations were tracking a meteor
that may or may not hit the Earth. The best opinions said it didn’t
matter if it hit or not, it would be a close enough pass that there
would be massive damage. Maybe the human race would be
facing extinction. The government was strangely silent on the
subject. And that had made him worry even more: The pass was
estimated to be right over the tip of South America. So maybe
formalities like Alpha clearance weren’t all that important any
longer. If only Mike Bliss had given that some thought before he
had pissed him off.

The halls were silent, nearly empty. Gloss
white panels eight feet high framed it. It had always reminded
Black of a maze with its twists and turns. Here and there doors
hung open. Empty now. Always closed any other time he had been down
here. So it had come this far too, Black thought. He stopped at a
door that looked like any other door and a split second later the
door rose into the ceiling and Major Weston waved them in.

Alice, he had never learned her last name,
sat at her desk, her eyes on them as they walked past her. One hand
rested on the butt of a matte black .45 caliber pistol in a webbed
shoulder holster that was far from Army issue, and Sammy had no
doubt she would shoot them both before they could even react. Alice
was etched into one of those name pins that the Army seemed to like
so well, but oddly, just Alice, no last name, rank or anything
else. She wore no uniform, just a black coverall. The kind with the
elastic ankle and wrist cuffs. No insignia there either: He had
noticed those things months before. Her eyes remained flat and
expressionless as they passed her desk.

“Alice,” Sammy said politely. She said
nothing at all, but she never did.

“Sit down, boys,” Major Weston told them. He
spoke around the cigar in his mouth: Dead, but they always were,
and there was never the smell of tobacco in the office. They took
the two chairs that fronted the desk.

The Major was looking over a large monitor
on the opposite wall that showed the North American continent. This
map showed small areas of red, including the northern section where
they were. The rest of the map was covered with green. “Where we
are, and where we need to be,” he said as he pushed a button on his
desk. The monitor went blank. He turned to face the two.

“So here is where we are. You know, as does
most of the world, that we are expecting a near miss from DX2379R
later on tonight.” He held their eyes.

John shrugged. “I’ve been doing a little
job, must have missed that. It’s not gonna take us out is it?”

“Saw that on the news a few days back. Guess
we dodged a bad one,” Sammy said.

“Right… Right,” Weston said quietly. “But
that cover was nothing but bullshit.”

“It’s going to hit us?” John asked.

“Maybe… The fact is that we don’t know.

One group says this, another group says that, but it doesn’t matter
because it will probably kill us off anyway. Direct hit, near miss,
it is going to tip over an already bad situation with the
Yellowstone Caldera.” He raised his eyes, “Familiar with that?”

“Yellowstone Park?” Sammy said.

John nodded in agreement.

Weston laughed. “Put simply, yes.

Yellowstone has always been an anomaly to us. Back in 1930 the Army
did an exploratory survey of that area. What we came up with was
that there was a section of the Rocky Mountains missing. Looked at
from the top of Mount Washburn it was easy for the team to see that
the largest crater of an extinct volcano known to exist laid before
them.”

“I guess that’s about what I thought,” Sammy
agreed.

“Yeah. We all think that. Except it is not
true at all because the Yellowstone caldera is not extinct, it is
active: Active and about to pop. There have been several warnings,
but we took the recording stations off line quite some time ago, so
there has been no mention of it in the news. Budget cuts,” he
shrugged. “So everyone is focused on this meteor that may or may
not hit us and instead this volcanic event is going to blow up and
when that happens the rest won’t matter at all.” He clicked the
button on his desk and the monitor came to life. “All the red areas
are spots where the surface pressure has increased. There were, at
one time, many active volcanoes on the north American continent.”
He clicked a button and the map changed to a view of the European
continent with many of the same red shaded areas.

“All over the Earth… Higher pressures. Up
until a few days ago the brainiacs were still arguing over whether
this could even happen.” He laughed. “It is happening and they are
arguing over whether it can happen. Well, we had our little debates
and then we realized that history shows clearly that this has
happened before. Several times. Call it the Earth’s way of
cleansing itself.”

“But it’s not an absolute, right?”Sammy
asked.

“Don’t start sounding like the scientists.”
He reached below his desk and came up with six small silver
cartridges. Each had a red button mounted on the top with a
protective cap over the button itself. He clicked a button on his
desk, and a picture of destruction appeared on the screens. It was
obviously an aerial shot, looking down at a chain of islands. Smoke
hung over the chain, reaching as high as the plane itself. As the
plane dropped lower, rivers of red appeared. “That picture is an
hour old. That is… Was, the Hawaiian chain.”

Sammy twisted further to the side, staring
at the monitor. “How can that be…? I mean everyone would know
about it.” He turned back to Weston.

Weston nodded. “And that would be true
except the satellites are out because of the asteroid. Shut down to
avoid damage. That is the official word.” He clicked the button on
his desk and the monitor went dead once more. “I started this out
saying that none of it matters and that is true. The Yellowstone
caldera is going to erupt sometime in the next few days. Not a
maybe, not an educated guess: If the satellites were up you would
know that the park is closed. It has already started. We have had a
few small quakes, but the big stuff is on the way. He rolled the
cartridges across the desktop; Sammy and John caught them.

“Super volcanoes… Earthquakes that modern
civilization has never seen… The last super eruption was
responsible for killing off the human population some seventy-four
thousand years ago. Reduced it to a few thousand. And that is not
the biggest one we have evidence of.” He lifted his palms and
spread them open, sighing as he did. “So it is a double whammy. If
we survive the meteor the volcanoes get us, or the earthquakes
because of them, or we’ll die from injuries. And I think those of
us who die outright will be lucky. The rest of us will have a hard
time of it… Staying alive with nothing… We will probably all
starve to death.” He paused in the silence.

“Those cartridges are a compound developed
right here in this complex for the armed forces: Project Super
Soldier; SS for short. That kept people from looking too deep; they
assumed it was something to do with the Nazi youth movement here
and abroad. We let that misconception hold.” He waited a second for
his words to sink in. “SS is designed to prolong life past the
normal point of termination. It allows a soldier to survive longer
without food and more importantly without water. Does something to
the cells of the host, I don’t pretend to know what. What I do know
is that the people above me made the decision to release this…”
He picked up a mug of coffee from the desk and sipped deeply. His
eyes were red road maps, Sammy noticed now; like he hadn’t slept in
a few days.

“So this is it for us. I guess you realize
that you probably won’t get paid for this. No money is going to
show up in your account. I will run it through before I pull the
plug, but I truly believe the machinery will be dead by the time
payday rolls around. So this is something I’m asking you to do.” He
pointed to the cartridges that both men were looking over. Sammy
held his as though it might bite him.

“Those babies are really all we have to hope
with. Most people will die outright. They will never make it past
the quakes, eruptions, and the resulting ash clouds and gases. Up
here we should be okay as far as gases go, eruptions, but there are
fault lines that crisscross this area. This whole facility is bored
from limestone caverns. Probably won’t make it through the quakes,
although it is a good eighty miles from the closest line,” he
shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not: My point is there should be a good
chance for survivors here.”

“So we do what with these? Can they harm
us?” John asked.

“Harm you, kill you? No, but you will be
infected the minute you push that button. It will protect you the
same as anyone else. There is enough in a single cartridge to
infect about five hundred million people,” Weston said quietly.

“Whoa,” Sammy whistled. “Why infect… Why
not inoculate? And why six cartridges… Three Billion people?”

“Minimum, three billion: That is before
those infected pass it along themselves: After a while it won’t
matter. As to the question of infected, this is a designer virus.
You catch it just like the flu. We infected whole platoons by
releasing it in the air over them. Eighty-Nine point seven percent
infection rate, but that doesn’t really matter because it infects
people close to you and those people will infect you… Sneezing,
waste, sex, water, food, it gets into and on everything. And once
it is in you, either orally or via bloodstream you will be
infected. The human body has nothing to fight it, no reason to be
alarmed or believe it’s anything more than a virus. And that same
response will help to carry it to every area of the body as your
own defenses manufacture white blood cells to fight it. So you may
as well say a one hundred percent infection rate.” He paused and
rubbed at his temples.

“Be glad they decided on this. They have
some others that will kill everybody in the world in a matter of
days.” Weston nodded at the raised eyebrows that greeted his
remarks. “I don’t doubt that the merits of which way to go were
hotly debated,” he finished gravely.

“The virus is designed to live within the
host, but it can live outside of the host. It can stay alive in a
dead body for days, even if the body is frozen. In fact that just
freezes the virus too; once the body is thawed it will infect any
living person that comes along. So those,” he pointed to the silver
cartridges, “are overkill. Same stuff is being released across the
globe. Great Briton… Germany… Australia… West coast just a
few hours ago. Manhattan has already been done, all the East Coast
in fact. I want the two of you to head out from here. One vial
here, then one of you heads west, the other south. Go for the
bigger cities… Water supplies… Reservoirs… Release it in the
air or water, it doesn’t matter. There are men heading out from the
south, the west coast. The Air Force will be dispersing the same
stuff via cargo planes tomorrow or the next day… As long as they
can fly, if we can even make it that long, and that isn’t looking
really good right now…” He rose from the desk. “I’ll see you
out.” He turned to Alice. “Alice… Pack us up.” Alice nodded as
Sammy and John got to their feet, but her hand remained on the butt
of the pistol. Rubber grips, Sammy noticed as he passed her.

“Alice,” he said.

“Um hmm,” Alice murmured.

Sammy nearly stopped in his tracks, but
managed to hide his surprise as he passed by into the hallway. The
Major fished two sets of keys from his pocket. “Parked in the back
lot. A couple of plain Jane Dodge four-bys. Drive ‘em like you
stole ‘em. Leave ‘em where you finish up. Hell, keep ‘em if you
want ‘em. Nobody is going to care.”

The three stood in the hallway for a few
seconds longer. Sammy’s eyes locked with the Major’s own, and he
nodded. The major walked back into his office, and the door rose
from its pocket behind him: Quiet, except the slight buzzing from
the fluorescent lights.

John shrugged as his eyes met Sammy’s,
waiting.

Sammy sighed. “You heard the man… West or
south?”

“Flip for it?” John asked. His mouth seemed
overly dry and he licked his lips nervously.

Sammy pulled a quarter from his pocket and
flipped it into the air. “Call it, Johnny.”

“Tails,” John said just before the quarter
hit the carpet.

Sammy bent forward. “Tails it is. You got
it, Johnny.”

John looked down at the carpet. “West, I
guess.” John said.

Sammy nodded, looked down once more at the
quarter and then both men turned and walked away toward the
elevator that would take them back to the surface.

MAJOR CHARACTER BIBLIOGRAPHY

ANNIE

Annie came to the others after being rescued
from Sin and Murder, two gang members, in a gun battle that left
two people dead (Book One). Annie’s rescue is what set off the
battle between the North side and the Public Square crews, and that
ultimately dragged Mike, Candace and the others into the fight.

Annie was in school before the world went
crazy, that’s the way she thinks of it, the world went crazy. As
the series matures Annie becomes one of the major characters. Even
early on, in the first book, you can see her willingness to speak
out, to be involved, and you can see her loyalty. Annie is still a
child, sixteen when the series starts.

Although it isn’t expressly written it seems
clear that it was Annie who kept Brian and Janelle safe in the
midst of the violence and chaos they were forced to live in…

BEAR

Bear is the leader of the Outrunners just as
Mike is the current leader of the Nation. Bear will lead the
Outrunners through all the coming books. He, Beth, Billy and Pearl
are the heart of the team. As the books progress, Mike Collins
himself will take a turn as an OutRunner.

Bear came from New York where he lived with
Donita before the plagues began. He is loyal. He is a loner and
prefers to be. He and Donita were a couple, although she no longer
remembers that life and he does not know what has become of her. He
and Beth have formed a relationship that they will need to depend
on.

In later books the Outrunners will have their
own place in the Nation society. They will live somewhat apart from
the others, and an air of awe and mystery surrounds them. Bear does
his best in the future to reinforce that.

It is Bear and the Outrunners that will
become the bridge between The Nation and its biggest rival, The
Fold. It is also the Outrunners who will eventually unravel the
mystery of how the Zombie Apocalypse became to be. They will
protect The Nation, search out weapons and stock piled foodstuffs,
and they will fight the Zombie Plagues. Bear is the key to all of
it: The one man who lives on the edge and likes the view there.
With Beth he is the major force behind the Outrunners, who keep the
Nation safe and allow the society there to live in relative peace
in the valley.

BETH

Beth is quite often Bear’s voice of reason.

She is not the sort of woman who feels a need to be helped, or told
what to do. She is a leader. She has strong opinions. She doesn’t
consider the loss of her arm to be a disability.

In many ways she is very much like Candace,
strong, independent; secure in her abilities. She is an important
part of the Outrunners, not just a figurehead. And she will become
an important part of The Nation. She is a singer, lyricist and that
will bring her into closer contact and friendship with Candace who
enjoys the same things. She misses L.A. Sometimes, but she loves
Bear and the life they have, along with the security The Nation
provides its peoples.

BILLY

For the time being, Billy will remain
wherever Bear is. He is very loyal to him, The Nation, and the
Outrunners. In the novel Billy Jingo we learn much more about him
before the plagues, where he came from, what his life was before
the apocalypse.

Once Billy met Pearl his goals, plans, and
future outlook began to change. He realized he finally had someone
that he needed, not just wanted. And he realized that that need was
returned to him from her.

In the future books the two of them will have
their own goals and plans that may eventually take them away from
the Nation.

BOB

Bob doesn’t say much about Bob. What we know
comes from Janet, or observed behaviors and talents that are
related to us from other characters.

We know it is Bob who has the dream to start
the Nation. His dream is not a new dream he has had it for years,
believed in it for years. I wonder if Bob was thought of as
fanatical back in the old world. He probably was.

Bob has knowledge of farming, living off the
land, herbs, food that can be harvested from nature and how to do
it. Bob has that knowledge because he took the time to learn it
from his Native American brothers. He has taught a great deal to
Janet, but it will be Bob that everyone depends on to know what to
do in almost every situation: Farming; Living off the land; Herbal
medicines; preserving meat; making leather. The list goes on.

Bob is trained as a mechanic, but he is one
of those people who know how to do almost anything they put their
mind to. If Mike is the leader, Bob and his knowledge are the
backbone.

Bob is very laid back. He is uncomfortable
with praise. He is against violence, but when it came down to it in
the standoff that ended in Annie, Janelle and Brian being freed,
Bob didn’t hesitate to kill the gang member Murder. Tom was still
thinking about the situation. Bob sized it up and reacted. That
speaks to Bob’s character, consistency. It can be seen in almost
everything he does.

CANDACE

Candace Loi would have started her new career
as a dancer on the 11th of March had the world stayed the same. She
had been working at a club on the north side of the city of
Watertown New York run by organized crime. She had danced a few
times, but had been relegated to tending bar because the club
manager did not want her to throw her life away on dancing.

Her Grandmother Pan (Deceased) had lived in
Watertown for years. Candace had Lived in Syracuse where she hoped
to follow her father into Law Enforcement. She couldn’t afford the
college courses so she moved to Watertown where she believed she
could dance, save the money for college, and no one would be the
wiser.

She is nineteen at the beginning of the
series. She is strong willed, knows what she wants, and goes for
it. She is an excellent shot, but on more than one occasion she
showed restraint, didn’t shoot when she could have. The few times
she has killed someone she had no choice. Even so she didn’t
hesitate.

Her confidant early on is Jan. Jan took her
under her wing. But once Patty comes into the picture she and
Candace begin a relationship that grows in unexpected ways.

The most commented thing about her is her
tattoo that begins on the back of her left hand, flows up her arm,
across her breasts and then down across her stomach and beyond.

The second most commented upon thing about
her are her looks influenced by her father who was African American
and her Mother who was Japanese.

She wants to be pregnant, she can see herself
as a mother, and she sees salvation for the world in children. She
is a musician, singer/songwriter. She was told more than once that
she could have made it as a musician. She, once they are somewhat
settled down, but even as they travel, begins once more to write
music and lyrics.

She and Mike Collins are the two main
characters in the novels.

Other Information

In the Novel Billy Jingo Candace has a small
part as a cashier in a grocery store.

In the Novel Alone she also has a small part
as a cashier in that same store.

In the novel Kat and Pat she has a small part
as a dancer that reveals a little more about her first few months
in the club than chapter one of the first book shows us.

JESSIE

Jessie Stone brings a real doctor to the
nation. She is level headed, pragmatic, and straight forward when
it comes to her needs and her beliefs, but she also has a humorous
side.

Jessie was serious when she told Mike that
she wanted him. And, although Mike turned her down she did not
change her mind. The feelings she had did not go away, in fact they
grew stronger as she came to understand the leader of the Nation as
he guided them back to the valley.

She set out from Washington State to form a
haven like the Nation. She and her followers called that place The
Fold.

The months ahead will determine Jessie’s
place in the Nation, and quite possibly change several
relationships in the process.

MIKE

Mike Collins is the leader of the people and
remains the leader through nearly all the novels.

We know Mike used to do Web Design work, that
he had a great deal of money in the old world, but that he was
unhappy (He says so in retrospect). He had no girlfriend and was
pretty much wrapped up in making money that he didn’t need. He just
socked it into a bank account and left it there, when he explains
this towards the end of book one he gives the impression that
knowing that money was there (He talks about a few million dollars)
was a big deal to him, as though it may have ruled his life.

Mike didn’t set out to be the leader. It was
the dynamic formed by the relationship with Candace that pushed him
into that role: As though the relationship bought the
responsibility with it. Later in the series the role is a bigger
responsibility than he wants to handle. The people he’s responsible
for number in the thousands and continues to grow.

Mike is mixed race, Native American, White,
African American. He spent some time on the streets as a kid.
Candace is his first real love.

Later in the series Mike will go through many
changes, first trying to find himself, then trying to find his
place in life. His search may take him away from Candace.

Other Information

In the novel Alone Mike has a small
part finishing up some computer work for one the main
characters.

PATTY

Patty comes into the series in the first book
and becomes Candace’s best friend immediately. She admits in her
diary writings that she has never had a friend like Candace.

She doesn’t tell us much about her life in
the old world. Married, divorced and married again and that was on
the verge of failure too.

She talks about Ronnie in some of her
writings as if he is all she ever wanted, but in some of her
writings she’s not so sure. In a few of her writings she seems to
be hinting at some sort of realization she has come to too late.
That may become clearer in the later books.

In any case she is completely devoted and
loyal to Candace, and she plays an important part in the lives of
all the characters right to the end of the series.

Patty plays one of the Title Roles in the
novel Kat and Pat. In that book she reveals a great deal
about herself in her previous life.

PEARL

Pearl comes to us from England. She doesn’t
say how she happened to be in the United States when the apocalypse
started.

She made her way to The Nation with another
group of people and met Billy shortly after. It is only after she
is there for some time that she reveals information that she has
about the apocalypse.

Pearl likes her life with Billy, but she
longs for England, and wonders what has become of her home. For now
she is content to be a part of the Outrunners.

RONNIE

Ronnie came to us in the first book already
involved with Patty and seemingly happy with his situation. There
are references to conversations between him and Mike that cemented
their relationship, but no actual written record of those
conversations.

Ronnie is Mike’s right hand man. Mike says he
is a completion of himself and he depends on him and seeks his
advice. Mike discuses nearly everything with him. Several times he
and Candace are the only ones that Mike takes into his confidence
or seems to trust with the really big things.

We know Ronnie came from [_Pritchard
Alabama_]. Pritchard is a small city on the outskirts of
Mobile Alabama. He came to Watertown to build houses for the
Army base expansion and stayed.

He is a carpenter by trade. Quiet, solid,
loyal are apt descriptive words for him. His relationship with
Patty probably would not have happened had the world not changed
drastically. Patty was waiting for something else she didn’t even
know she was waiting for at the time. Ronnie saw her regularly,
they lived in the same apartment house, Ronnie lived in 2c, patty
lived one floor below in 1b. They both shopped at the same
supermarket on State street, Ronnie didn’t like to shop at all. But
as often as he saw her in passing he never asked her out, although
he admits he had thought about it a few times.

TIM

Tim is Patty’s brother, or at least that is
the way she presents him and he doesn’t correct that perception. A
little more on that down the road…

Tim is really not much more than a kid when
we meet him in the first book. When Annie comes along he is
immediately attracted to her. They are both about the same age.

Tim looks up to Ronnie. He views Ronnie as
the man who came along and saved himself and Patty. Most likely
that is exactly what happened as they were on the North Side and
would have been picked up by the North Side gangs before long.
Traveling with Ronnie probably stopped that from happening. Tim
looks at him as an older brother he never had. Stability in a bad
situation.

Tim also looks up to Mike and Mike is fond of
Tim. That is evidenced in the things Mike trusts him with.

TOM

Tom Evans comes into the first novel as a man
who really doesn’t know himself. He goes from a position of
leadership to last in line for responsibility once Mike Collins is
leading.

He felt cheated at first when Candace went
with Mike. His belief was that if things could have stayed the same
she would have ended up with him, not Mike. He doesn’t want to
leave Watertown at first but eventually he comes around to the
realization that he can’t stay. Still, he remains in Joel’s
shadow.

He is a skilled Mechanic. He shows that he
has a little more depth than he normally shows in his journal
entries, especially after Lydia is killed.

THE NATION

The Nation is situated between the former
states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and extends to the East and
West as well as it grows.

That settlement is the heart of The Nation,
but The Nation is not the only group of survivors vying for control
of the former United States. The Fold is another group that will
eventually come into conflict with The Nation, but there are others
they will have to deal with as they grow and begin to take new
territories.

Although The Nation will always remain
headquartered in the valley, not all the main characters will. As
they grow they will spread out across what is left of the North
American Continent, and that is when the real problems with other
survivors will come.

THE FOLD

The fold is peopled by the survivors from the
Earth’s Survivors Settlement Earth Books. They initially start
their settlements on what remains of the west coast, but soon move
away from the coast and the continuing earthquakes.

They resettle at an oasis in the desert and
become The Nation’s greatest rival, even enemies.

The two groups will finally face off against
each other in all out war in the later books.

ALABAMA ISLAND

Joel and Haley remain the leaders of Alabama
Island for quite some time, but eventually their leadership is
relinquished in the wars. Alabama Island is peopled and run by
important characters from The Nation; it rivals Rapid City as a
Nation City. For a time it rises above all the other societies.

RAPID CITY

Rapid City was established by people other
than The Nation. At one time a Zombie stronghold, it was wiped out
each time it was reestablished. Eventually The Nation will gain a
stronghold there and Rapid City will become a gateway into the
south, and Alabama Island beyond.

THE ZOMBIE PLAGUES

Thank you for purchasing this book. The rest
of the series is available through Shakespir at the following
link: https://www.Shakespir.com/books/byseries/25728

You can also find the Zombie Plagues at
[+
iTunes+],
Nook and other booksellers.

Geo Dell 09-2017


The Zombie Plagues Plague

The Virus: “Looks like nothing,” Jefferson said. “I told the kid it reminded me of these little refill cylinders I used to have for my BB gun when I was a kid,” Tommy said. “Jefferson laughed. “I can't imagine that you played with anything that didn't have a silencer and at least a ten round clip.” Tommy laughed and then fell silent. “This is it, Jeff. Strip off the protective cap, push the button... The kid said it doesn't matter after that... How close, how far, it will protect us.” “Infect us,” Jefferson corrected. “There is a difference.” “Infect us,” Tommy agreed. “I figure, why not... We paid the big bucks for the rest of it, but this will start us down that path... Why not do it.” “Why not,” Prescott agreed. “A sample? Just enough for two?” Tommy shrugged. “He didn't say... I depended upon the reports he smuggled out more than the first hand knowledge he has. He knows what he has seen, but he has not witnessed anyone come back... The reports detail exactly that.” Jefferson laughed and shook his head. “Immortality.” “Immortality,” Tommy agreed. He paused, stripped the small red cover from the slim, silver tube and pressed the button before he could change his mind. Nothing: He turned the silver tube back and forth. “Maybe there should be no sound,” Jefferson said. He had braced for what he expected: A small cloud of vapor, a hiss, something to impart that magic the tube was supposed to contain. Tommy raised the tube to his nose, but there was no detectable odor. “But did it do its job,” Tommy said so low it might almost have been to himself if he had not raised his eyes and asked of Prescott. “The million dollar question,” Prescott said quietly. “Multi-million dollar question,” Tommy corrected. He stared at the container a few seconds longer and then slipped it into his pocket. “In for a penny,” he said. “In for a pound,” Prescott agreed...

  • ISBN: 9781370226092
  • Author: independAntwriters Publishing
  • Published: 2017-08-31 22:35:16
  • Words: 105430
The Zombie Plagues Plague The Zombie Plagues Plague