Seeing her in silhouette, my reaction plummeted to the low level of a lonely, recent dumpee, but when she stepped into the light, my imagination ventured into the realm of shame.
My radio ends up on the Classic Rock station when Gale Thomas is around. He switched the dial without asking when he rousted me from the first good night’s sleep I’d gotten in a week.
“Can you hook me up?” The Model 10 Smith and Wesson revolver peaked out from its holster in his oversized studded leather jacket. He swears the jacket once belonged to Andrew Dice Clay, but it’s hard to look like your idol when you’re built more like the guy who used to play Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory.
He pointed to where the grips were split on one side. I said, “You must have hit something pretty hard.”
He swelled as he handed the revolver to me, “Stood up a bad dude at the club last night. He was out of line, so I cracked him over the head.”
I was thinking it was more likely that he dropped it on the concrete, but there were a few strands of hair poking out from the fresh split in the wood, “You lead a charmed existence, Thom.” He hates his first name. “At least the frame is still straight. How’s the patron?”
“He’s okay,” Thom said, “Tough dude. Left with his friends all pissed off.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Jick, do you have another pair of grips?”
“Let me see if I can find them.” I fumbled for the light switch in my closet and my toes met something immovable. I stumbled, caught myself on a storage shelf, and pulled a few screws loose from the wall brackets. “I’ll find the grips and get them to you later.”
“Hopefully, that will happen before you get settled in.” He holstered his gun and left the door open when he walked out.
I’d been settling into my new place for the last six weeks since losing my partner. I didn’t lose him like a set of car keys. We parted ways.
I’m the better investigator. His gift is for self-promotion, which afforded him a spanky new office suite in Buckhead. He’s doing great there. He’s also doing my ex-fiancée.
I stay clear of them both, which is ironic since Amber Phillips—the aforementioned-ex-fiancée—slapped a one-thousand-yard restraining order on me. The whole thing is bullshit.
Two months ago, I asked if she and my then-partner Mike were sleeping together. They were. I boiled the reason down to money and panache. Mike has both. I don’t have either.
I’ve considered retroactively earning the restraining order and doing something abominably shitty to them. That’s not who I am, but in the crucible of cause and effect, I’ve walked a fine line between imagination and reality. I haven’t fallen off yet, but it’s a fantasy that sometimes wobbles my balance.
My seven-day plan to get the office unpacked and organized turned into fourteen days and now a month. I had shelves to hang in the storage closet. From the plastic carrying case, I removed my cordless drill and pulled the trigger. Dead. I searched through a box on the floor for a Phillips screwdriver when someone blocked the light from my doorway.
Seeing her in silhouette, my reaction plummeted to the low level of a lonely, recent dumpee, but when she stepped into the light, my imagination ventured into the realm of shame.
“Excuse me, but do you know if Mr. Reese will be in soon?” she asked.
“I’m Jick Reese. Pardon the mess. I’m still moving in.” I hefted the box onto my desk and continued my search, “May I help you?” Mr. Casual.
She lowered one bare shoulder a couple of inches to allow her purse strap to slide off so she could catch it in her hand. She hung the bag over the back of the chair facing my desk, “I’d like to hire you, Mr. Reese. I need you to find a man for me.”
If I wore glasses, I would have been looking at her over the top of them.
She clarified, “One who’s gone missing.”
“Ah.” At the bottom of the box, one hand found and wrapped around the handle of the screwdriver as I motioned with the other for her to have a seat, “And the man’s name?”
I withdrew the Phillips and stared at the tool for a couple of seconds, suddenly unsure of its place in my list of priorities. My butt found my office chair and I grabbed a yellow legal pad from the top drawer of my desk. With a pencil, I drew YES and NO columns.
“May I ask your name, please?”
“I’m sorry,” she extended her hand, “Jamie Kent.”
We shook hands briefly. Jamie. I love the name Jamie, and this woman named Jamie wearing a strapless white cotton sundress seemed inexplicably alluring to me. She appeared incapable of slouching, even in the ratty overstuffed chair which came with the office. Maybe she sat stiffly because she feared she might catch something. Can’t say I blamed her. I wrote her name in the YES column. Sue me.
“And how do you know Mr. West, Ms. Kent?” I wrote the name in the space above the two columns, hoping her Emory West wasn’t the Emory West I knew.
“Please, call me Jamie,” she said. “I don’t know Mr. West. My best friend is dating him.”
“Ms. Kent—Jamie,” I may have lingered too long on her name, “why isn’t your friend here right now, instead of you?”
“She has some reservations about your business location.” She hesitated. “She said your place looks like a shithole and it’s likely you can’t afford someplace better because you’re not good enough at what you do.” Her face reddened as she stared at me for a moment and shrugged.
Given the current state of my accommodations, the reaction was understandable. The graphite spike in my hand hesitated over the NO column.
“I see.” She crossed her legs. I considered shooting myself while looking away from them. “How long has Mr. West been missing?”
“Since last night,” she said, “after he was accosted at a club in College Park.”
“Accosted?” I asked, “By whom?”
“By one of the club owners,” she smoothed a wrinkle on her dress, “and Mr. West hasn’t been seen or heard from since. My friend is very concerned, Mr. Reese.”
“Has your friend spoken to the police?”
“She has, but they weren’t helpful. They told us it’s too soon to fill out a missing person report,” she worked at the wrinkle some more, “and they weren’t complimentary to Mr. West.”
“What did they say about him, Jamie?”
“They advised Lisa—Lisa Brewer, she’s my friend—to avoid any further contact with Kicker.”
Bingo—damn it. “Kicker. Please continue, Jamie.”
“Yes, Kicker is his nickname,” she gave up on the wrinkle. “The officer we spoke with implied Kicker is a suspect in a continuing criminal enterprise, but Lisa says it’s all a huge misunderstanding. Kicker is well known in certain circles, not only in Atlanta. He promotes musical artists. It’s an extremely competitive business. For some people, slandering Kick—Mr. West is profitable.”
I wrote Kicker’s name in the NO column three times and drew circles around each entry. “Jamie,” I glanced at the lopsided columns, “you strike me as an intelligent person.”
I set the legal pad aside, “The police usually have excellent reasons for being blunt.”
“I know they do, Mr. Reese, and personally I believe Kicker is the lowest order of reprobate,” she flopped her hands onto her knees, “but Lisa is my best friend and I’ve promised to help her.”
“Plainly spoken, so I’ll speak plainly too.” I leveled my gaze. “There are better ways to help your friend.”
“I’ll pay you in advance for one week.” She removed a checkbook from her purse. “One-thousand dollars per day and I’ll cover any of your expenses.”
I made the call the moment Jamie Kent left my office.
The voice answering on the other end almost broke, “Yeah?”
I said, “You and I need to talk—in person.”
He landed in a pile of rain-dampened trash bags and the stunned look in his eyes turned to fire as he tried to stand.
The Strafe is off 205, south of College Park. An older eight-thousand-square-foot building with cheap paint and a questionable roof, the inside screams Atlantic City without the gambling, depending on whom you ask.
Thom took the business over two years ago along with some help from a couple of private investors and he’s poured a lot of sweat into the place. It’s a club for people who drop money to look street and might be a decent place to get a beer if it weren’t so damned noisy. I have mild tinnitus from exposure to loud ordnance in Afghanistan, so I told Thom to meet me behind the place, in the stinking alley lined with black garbage bags.
He walked outside with Ennio Vitale by his side. Ennio is Thom’s personal bodyguard when he’s at The Strafe. Ennio irritates me when I haven’t been waiting forty minutes.
Thom waved, “You bring my new grips, Jick?”
I didn’t have time for his bullshit. “The hell, Thom? I told you this was important.”
“Hey,” Ennio finger-jabbed my chest while he puffed his out, “he’s been busy. Not that someone like you would know anything about honest work. And it’s Mister Thomas to you.”
I ignored the finger parked on my sternum, “Ennio, if I ever have a need for excessive stupidity, you’ll be the first person I call.”
Ennio leaned in until our noses touched, but Thom clapped a hand on his shoulder and jerked a thumb toward the building. Ennio quietly obeyed after digging the finger deeper into my breastbone.
“Would you mind if I killed Ennio? Might be worth the prison time.” I said, smiling widely.
Thom grinned at the little joke and dropped his chin. I hooked my left heel behind his right ankle and shoved him hard in the middle of his chest. He landed in a pile of rain-dampened trash bags and the stunned look in his eyes turned to fire as he tried to stand.
“Stay still.” I snapped out my expanding baton and he dropped back.
“If you messed up my jacket…”
Unbelievable. “You told me you hit some guy with a thick skull here last night, Thom.”
His arms shot out, palms up. “That’s what this is about?”
“Two hours ago, someone tried to hire me to find the guy you hit.”
“Yeah, so what?”
I let the baton drift to my side and stared at him. “You can’t be this dense. You stop getting the paper? Watching the news? You don’t know who Kicker West is?”
He leaned back into the cluster of trash bags. “No. Who the hell calls themselves Kicker?”
“The same guy you thumped last night, dumbass, and he’s gone missing.” I waited while he tried for nonchalant, but his eyes couldn’t hold it. “You have anything to do with that?”
The gears turned a bit more, and the eyes widened. “No.”
I swatted his hand away when he tried to grab the baton and tapped his ADC jacket where he keeps his .38. “Tell me what happened.”
“Nothing happened,” his hard stare softened. “The guy started some trouble, so I gave him a love tap and threw him out. He was shaky, but he got in their car and left.”
“Yeah, there were some guys with him.”
“And what?” I said, “They stood by and let you knock their boss around?”
He gave me his toughest look. “That’s right.”
Ennio stuck his head through the door, saw his boss sitting in the trash, and took a run at me. I sidestepped him, rapped the baton against the peroneal nerve on the outside of his knee, arced upward, and came down against the back of his neck. He folded like a sack of wet leather.
I collapsed the baton. “Go straight to my place, Thom. Don’t call anyone and stay out of sight. The police will be searching for you. Keep quiet and don’t make a move until you hear from me. Give me the Smith.”
“Your gun.” I snapped my fingers, “Give it to me.”
“I want it back, Jick.” Reluctant.
As I stuffed the revolver into my belt and covered it with my jacket, a waitress from the club poked her head through the back door. “Thom, some Atlanta Police detectives are asking for you.”
I shook my head. “Go now, Thom.”
As I walked away, Ennio whined. “Boss, why do you hang with that loser?”
I heard Thom answer, “Because he’s my best friend.”
When he’s not working as a mercenary for hire, he does jobs for me.
I collected a light dossier on Jamie’s friend, Lisa Brewer. Jamie’s disappointment spread across her lovely face when I rejected her offer to hire me, but she took my recommendation for an agency more suited to the job, and one I knew Lisa Brewer would approve of. All the bells and whistles.
Eddie Crutcher met me near Lisa Brewer’s apartment. We’ve known each other since we met in Afghanistan. When he’s not working as a mercenary for hire, he does jobs for me.
“Are they inside now, Jick?”
“Yes. Lisa Brewer drives the black 2021 BMW Parked out front.” I sent the contents of my dossier to his phone, “If Kicker shows, we’ll grab him and take him to the police.”
“Pity.” Eddie looked from the images to apartment 208. “I may have to bring in a couple of people.”
“Whatever you need.”
I knew the earth would stop rotating for a day before Thom could damage someone like Kicker because Kicker always has a crew.
Twelve years ago, Kicker West epitomized the gutter punk thug. There were hard-acting guys around, but Kicker was the real deal, fearless and without a conscience. Our old neighborhood changed and expanded quickly. Atlanta’s steady, booming success and low-density development in urban areas at the time brought furious growth.
Farmland vanished, replaced with asphalt and commercial structures. Kicker and I were brought up southwest of Castleberry Hill. The apartment building where I grew up is now a supermarket parking lot. We are the poster city for urban sprawl.
Back when I was in high school one either learned how things worked or one didn’t survive. You never wanted to smell like a victim. Kicker, the hard-ass dropout and me an Honor Roller and fledgling Kempo student. We clashed at our very first meeting.
Before the fight ended, my left arm needed stitches and two of his front teeth were on the sidewalk after I hit him in the mouth with a piece of pipe.
For most people, that would have been the end of any future encounters. Not for me and Kicker. Our paths crossed again and again over the next two years. During our last meeting, he tried to shove me into oncoming rush hour traffic.
He failed, but he earned his nickname because he and two of his pasty-looking buddies put the boots to me. Kicker served a six-month term in juvenile detention. I received a three-week stay in the hospital. I spent half of that time in the ICU. My mother cried a lot at my bedside, and I missed my high school graduation ceremony.
Juvie wasn’t Kicker’s last trip to jail, but eventually, he proved to be more resourceful than his contemporaries, adapting to the changing landscape through a surprising sense of timing and opportunity. He became a successful music promoter, managing a list of wildly popular clients, currently topped by a punk rapper named Sub-G.
Sub-G is as white and as wannabe as every other act Kicker seems to back, but his lyrics managed to hit a nerve. Sub-G is all over the radio.
Riding the wave for the last several years, Kicker helped his clients build a tremendous fan base. They all made a butt load of money, but you couldn’t take the gutter out of the punk. Kicker dealt drugs, though he’d never been nailed for selling. He used to be a thug, but now he’s a dangerous thug with money and influence, which means he’s able to hide his violence and spread his brand of corruption on a grander scale.
Trouble from a guy like Kicker West is a cold, hard wind in your face that can freeze the blood in your veins. I hoped he would never blow back into my life, and now I was turning straight into the tempest again—because of my friend.
I knew the earth would stop rotating for a day before Thom could damage someone like Kicker because Kicker always has a crew. I know about those kinds of guys, and they don’t stand by and watch someone like Thom beat up their bank. If Thom believed he could take Kicker down alone, then someone wanted Thom to think he could.
The worst hits are the ones you don’t see coming.
My eyes took in the reception room at Sub-G’s office. The décor channeled Neckdeep meets Nickelback with a touch of Goth, the goth portion dreamily supplied by the beautiful twenty-something receptionist. I guess I expected hypodermic needles and old pee-stained bed mattresses.
The young woman regarded me and my business card with little energy and told me I should have made an appointment, but perhaps Mr. “G” might be available to speak with me.
Thirty minutes later a door opened, and another attractive young woman stepped out. “Mr. Reese?”
“Mr. G will see you now.”
When I stood from my chair, a broad-shouldered guy walked into the room. Tall, with a military haircut, his muscles were unhidden by the two-thousand-dollar suit he squeezed himself into. He seemed vaguely familiar. I might have seen him on America’s Got Talent, squeezing coal into diamonds.
I followed the young woman to a room where two large bodyguards met me at the door and patted me down. One of them nodded to the other. I guess I was clean.
Sub-G sat behind a copy of the Resolute Desk from the Oval Office. A promotional poster with a cheesy closeup of his face in a Mr. Cool pose hung from the edge of the desk. A blowup of his new music campaign, “RESOLUTE,” covered the wall behind him. In the image, his feet were perched on one side of the desk and the President’s were on the other. They both had their arms crossed.
Sub-G sat before me in the same position as he checked me out. “We know each other?”
“Nope. I’m here to inquire about your boss.”
“You’ve been misinformed,” he used his thumb and forefinger to stroke his chin, “I don’t have a boss.”
“Your manager, then. Kicker West?” I asked.
“Former manager.” His voice was barely above a whisper.
“How former?” I asked.
“I fired his ass two weeks ago.” He allowed his feet to drop from the desk to the floor.
I pushed some more. “Have you talked with him lately?”
“I don’t talk with crazy.” He stood and walked to me. He was much larger in person than he appeared online, at least six-four. “Your card says you’re a dick.” He smiled, making it clear that he was looking down at me. “What are you investigating?”
“My client is worried because Kicker is missing.”
“Lisa Brewer.” Her name brought a happy snarl to his lips. “She’s high-speed and low-drag, you know?”
“Okay.” I had no clue.
“She’s an insanely hot piece of fluff, and she don’t even know it.” He used both hands to squeeze the air a couple of times. “She’s been good for him, but he ain’t good for nobody.”
“Do you have any idea where he might be now?”
“Not my concern.” He gave me a long, deep shrug.
“You’ve worked with him for several years, haven’t you?” I waved my arm around at the memorabilia framed around the walls.
He leaned in close enough for me to smell what he ate for lunch. “You worked with the Devil, would you be sorry to see him go?”
“Do you know whom he spends time with, other than his girlfriend?”
“You mean like the groupies,” he paused for emphasis, “and all the other stuff?”
“So, he runs on her?”
He smiled. “Like a rabbit, man.”
I opened my wallet and laid my business card on the Resolute copy. “Any information you could offer might be helpful, even if it seems insignificant.”
He sat down behind the desk and folded his arms again. “We were at a club last night called The Strafe. The guy who runs the place is a wannabe. Likes to play tough. He and Kicker got into it over something, and the dweeb pulled a gun. Hammered Kicker over the head.”
“I thought you said you hadn’t spoken with Kicker.”
“I was there. Kicker was there. Don’t mean we got clammy.” He uncrossed his arms and waved them around a bit. “Next thing I know, couple guys hustled Kicker out to his car. I was you, maybe I’d look at the club owner. His name is Thomas or something.”
“Thanks,” I said, “I’ll check him out.”
The happy snarl returned. “You see Lisa, tell her I’d be happy to help her.” He winked. Creepy.
Sub-G waved to a large man, and I was shown the door. On the way to my car, my phone rang. Eddie Crutcher. “Go.”
“The big cat of life just coughed up a major furball,” Eddie said.
“You’ll never guess who just rolled up, Jick.”
My former partner, Michael Treadway, was making a house call. “The number one suit-wearing shitbag?”
“Dude, why is he here?” Eddie asked.
“He was invited to the party,” I said.
“I know you must have a reason, but you should have told me.” Eddie. Annoyed.
“Think about it,” I said, “We stand a much better chance of finding Kicker first if Mike is our competition.”
“I won’t argue that.” I could almost hear the stone face being cracked by a slight grin. “By the way, Jick, your ex-almost distaff side is with him.”
“How does she look?” I couldn’t believe I belched out those words.
Not one to dignify idiotic questions with answers, Eddie ignored mine. I met Amber when Mike and I hired her as a forensic accountant while working on a real estate fraud deal. Sharp little investigator.
“Eddie, I need you to put someone on my place,” I said. “Thom should be there by now.”
“He is,” Eddie said, “and I already have someone there. We’ll keep him safe, even if the little twit doesn’t want to be.”
Eddie doesn’t care much for Thom. Says he doesn’t suffer fools. “Thanks, man. Keep me posted.”
The worst hits are the ones you don’t see coming. Instead of mooning about my ex-fiancée, I should have been paying attention to my surroundings. I wasn’t.
Thirteen years older with more muscle and a change in clothing, but still a pasty-looking sucker.
I awoke in darkness to the strains of My Chemical Romance and a seemingly endless stream of overly cool DJ patter on the radio. Someone had stripped me to my shorts and left me on my stomach in the back seat of my rig. My hands were bound to my ankles.
I rolled until I could look up between the front seats and see the side of the driver’s head in the glow of oncoming headlights. Mr. Muscle Suit from Sub-G’s office. With his eyes framed in the rearview mirror, I finally recognized him. He helped Kicker put me in a hospital bed ten years ago. His name was Jerry Anderson.
Thirteen years older with more muscle and a change in clothing, but still a pasty-looking sucker. My head hurt like hell, and the gag in my mouth, tied at the back of my neck smelled like skunk weed.
I saw the Bluetooth in his ear as he spoke to the air, “He’s awake. Be there in twenty.”
The ride stayed smooth until Jerry turned off onto a dirt road. I took a pounding for maybe ten minutes.
My body bounced around until I ended up on the floor, wedged between the front and back seats. Another guy opened the passenger door, pissed off to have to lift me back onto the seat. Once he got me there, he yanked me out by my ankles. I banged my forehead on the jamb and flopped facedown into the dirt in front of a two-story farmhouse dwarfed by the adjacent floodlit barn.
Jerry clipped the ties holding my feet to my wrists, but before I could stretch out, the other guy dragged me by my ankles through the dirt. Instant wedgie. Felt great.
The dirt gave way to a driveway. I saw the crushed rock coming and jerked my legs free to roll onto my back. I got kicked in my side, but I tensed for the impact and kicked back until Jerry grabbed my hair with both hands and shook my head like I was a rag doll.
There were bright flashes of light with my eyelids clamped shut. He hit me hard across my left kidney with my own baton. “Do it again, Reese.” Just for fun I guess, he rolled me back onto my chest.
Gravel gouged and scraped my skin, tearing at my nipples over the ten yards stretching toward the barn. The kid dropped my feet to open a big sliding door. Six guys who looked like Green Day rejects stood around Sub-G, slouched in a chair next to stacks of hay bales and farming implements.
A half-inch hemp rope dangled over the center of a twenty-foot square of clear plastic sheeting. The corners were taped to the floor.
“Hey,” Sub-G called out, “it’s the pest of honor.” His entourage loved that one. “Join us, Mr. Reese.”
Someone cut the ties on my ankles. I struggled to my feet and Sub-G motioned me toward the plastic, but as soon as I stood, my legs gave out and I collapsed onto the concrete. They all broke up again. I stared ahead as Jerry’s polished black Italian shoes walked toward me. I readied myself for another hit, but something smacked the concrete in front of my face.
Through the layers of clear plastic wrapped around his face, Kicker West’s dead gaze looked out at me, and I jerked away from his body. My reaction brought the house down.
“You wanted Kicker.” Sub-G looked to his entourage and back to me, “Here he is.”
The laughter flipped my stomach.
“You’re the unluckiest dude I ever met.” Sub-G tapped the butt of his .45 against his knee, “Right Jerry?”
Jerry twirled my baton between his huge fingers like a drummer in a metal band, “Had no idea you were tight with Gale Thomas until Jerry saw you at my office and told me.” He pointed to the rope, “Put him up.”
I fought to my feet again as three of them moved toward me. I folded a fat one with a groin kick. Everyone laughed until I nailed another guy with an inside crescent kick to the side of his jaw. He fell to the floor, tried to sit up, and fell over again.
A couple of guys ducked when Sub-G fired his gun into the hay, but three of them tackled me, battering my face and body before they looped the rope under my arms and hoisted me until my toes were hanging a few inches above the concrete.
“We had a decent plan to frame someone for Kicker’s murder. One of my guys told me about this dweeb who thinks he’s the new Andrew Dice Clay. We got next to him. Fed him shit, worked him—and he delivered perfectly.” Sub-G shuffled in the chair, sprawling his legs in front of him.
“Punk had no clue who Kicker was. My boys told him he needed to throw Kicker out. Told him the man would be trouble for his club. Squirrel dropped his gun when he tapped Kicker from behind. Kicker went ballistic, but my boys pulled him outside.
Your pal Thomas almost peed himself, but he did what we wanted him to do, and we were about to plant Kicker’s body where it would grow into a nice murder conviction, but Thomas up and vanished. You’re going to tell us where your little friend is.”
Jerry jerked the rag from around my head. My throat was raw, and it hurt to speak, “Sub-G…” he leaned forward and put a hand to his ear, “you can’t grow a big prick by acting like one.”
Jerry whipped the back of my thighs with my baton.
“Gotta give you props, man,” Sub-G sat back. “We’re going to see how tough you really are.” For a few seconds, he and I were the only two in the room. “Let’s be honest with each other…you’re going to die here. Tell me where Thomas is and you won’t have to feel a thing.”
The foreplay was over, and I was about to get screwed, but I still played for time. “Tell me first, why’d you kill Kicker?”
“Shit, man,you of all people oughtta know what he was about back in the day. He was an okay manager, but way more trouble than he was worth. Greedy sucker. I gotta think of my crew.” Nods all around.
“And you’re not greedy,” I said.
“Kicker was into the Sub for fifty-one percent.” He stuck a thumb at his chest. “You believe that shit?”
“But you’re not a blood-sucking cash leach like him,” I spat some blood, “because you’re not going to sell his drugs, right?”
Sub-G looked at the red spot on the plastic and slowly raised his eyes to meet mine. “Your time, Mr. P.I., has run out. Benny!” The fat kid waddled over to me, one hand still clutching his groin.
Hot, wet tears streaked my face as I tried to hold my ugliest fears at bay. I spat congealed blood at Sub-G. He jumped from his chair to avoid getting hit by the wad and stumbled into two of his men.
He moved his chair back several feet and sat again. “You just guaranteed yourself the slow way out. We’ll start small. Let’s see if he has any loose-hanging appendages under those shorts.”
Benny tugged my shorts off, unfolded a tactical knife, and played to the rest of the crew, grinning like a court jester. He took hold of me, and I could feel the cold edge of the knife underneath my scrotum.
“Drop the knife, fat boy.” I recognized Eddie Crutcher’s deep, clear voice an instant before the edge of the blade would have sliced my skin as a bullet tore through Benny’s head. His corpse crumpled onto the tarp.
Sub-G’s crew started firing in every direction. The air from a slug fanned my nose as Sub-G fired through the open door and dove over a stack of hay bales, leaving his crew to get sprayed with 10mm slugs.
They collapsed, dead or bleeding out. Jerry Anderson sat on his butt, staring at the floor. A growing dark stain leached out around a hole in his silk shirt, and my baton rolled out of his hand. I glanced from the bodies to the door to see Eddie ditching an empty Heckler and Koch MP5/10 machine gun, fifty feet away from me.
Laying on his side, Sub-G stared at me from behind the hay bales, yelling out to Eddie, “I don’t know who you are man, but if you leave now, Reese will live. If not, I’ll kill him.”
Eddie bolted from cover with his shoes off, up on the balls of his stocking feet, holding a Glock pistol. I couldn’t hear a sound as he ran across the concrete, leaned over the hay bales, and put four slugs into Sub-G before he knew Eddie had moved.
Eddie untied the rope and lowered me to the floor, cut the ties on my hands, and pulled my shorts up for me.
Shining a small penlight in my eyes, he felt my neck to check my pulse rate. “Are you wounded?”
“A bit,” I said, “but I haven’t been shot.”
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“Average-to-horseshit.” I tried to clear my throat. “How did you find me?”
“The idiots left your phone on when they took you,” Eddie said. “I tracked the signal.”
Eddie shrugged, “I hate punk music.” Laughing hurt so bad.
Eddie grabbed my clothes from the Explorer and surveyed the mess. “We need to clean this place up.”
I sat up and groaned, sliding a leg into my pants. “My DNA is all over the floor.”
He pointed to the body in plastic, “Who’s the burrito?”
“That would be the recently departed Emory “Kicker” West.” I stared at Eddie.
Eddie stared back. “Lisa Brewer will be heartbroken.” He disappeared into the farmhouse and came back minutes later with two one-gallon jugs of bleach and mopped the floor.
“That should do it,” I said.
“Best we can do with what we have,” Eddie said, “unless you want me to torch the place.”
“No, this will do. What about your shell casings?” I asked.
Eddie shook his head. “There will be nothing here to tie them to me—or you.”
I stared at Jerry Anderson’s lifeless face. “I doubt anyone will make a connection between me and Jerry.”
Eddie picked up my baton. “Is there anything else we need to take with us?”
Jim Dandy had me smiling about the private detective who “couldn’t find a dead body gift-wrapped in his own office.”
The police dropped Thom as a suspect. I took consolation from that as I recovered and listened to Thom’s classic rock station. The remote was across the room and I was too beat to walk over and get it. His favorite DJ is a guy named Jim Dandy, and surprisingly, I couldn’t get enough of him.
With Eddie’s assistance, I finally tumbled over that fine line I’d been treading. I listened to reports detailing how the police located Kicker West’s dead body in a lavatory at the offices of Treadway Investigations Inc.
Jim Dandy had me smiling about the private detective who “couldn’t find a dead body gift-wrapped in his own office.”
I finally made the effort to raise the volume when Jim Dandy got to the part where Michael Treadway and his associate—accountant Amber Phillips, were questioned by homicide detectives at the Atlanta Police Department for an entire day before being released.
In celebration, I called Jamie Kent and asked her out to dinner. She accepted. Etiquette prevented me from asking her to wear her strapless sundress. No matter. She looked just fine.
D. V. Bennett lives in Washington State with his wife and family. He’s the author of over twenty-five published short stories, including one Pam Stack’s anthology Betrayed, dedicated to helping victims of domestic abuse and other violent crime. His crime/mystery stories have also appeared in Noir Nation No. 7, Black Cat Mystery Magazine #8, Mystery Magazine, and others. He’s also the author of book-length compendium of stories featuring L. A. private investigator Jack Simington. www.dvbennett.com.