After Allie shut down the Seth haters, it was only a matter of getting through the next fifty minutes of updates, motions, complaints suggestions and one heated exchange between the owner of Dogma, the everything for your dog store and Pet Place, who wanted to begin offering dog-grooming services. Finally, somebody said something in the neighborhood of, “If you jokers want to continue this fight, you can do it on your own time.” and called for an adjourn. I seconded Lena’s brilliant motion and we got the heck out of there before my brain imploded.
We were half way back to the house when I got around to checking my texts and uh-oh.
“We better pick up the pace.”
“Police on the way.”
“Oh. That’s not so…”
“Lena,” I interrupted before she gave the universe the go ahead to prove her wrong, “Do not finish that sentence.”
Sis clammed up.
We cut through the bakery, waving and smiling at regulars, and came to the house from the back. As usual Lena cut the corner first, “Oh, fuck me sideways. We’re so fucked.”
And I wished for the upteen-thousandth time I was an actual wand-wielding witch with that disaperating option. But alas, no. I turned the corner.
The universe was getting smarter. It filled in the blank.
There were three cars lining the street in front of our house. A black and white. An unmarked and unmistakable police sedan, and a gorgeous classic Mercedes Pagoda.
Now, I’m not a car person but that Mercedes convertible in that silvery blue is one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever seen. Mark had excellent taste.
“I’m not going in there.” Lena was backing away.
“Yes you are.”
“Oh hell no.”
I shoved Lena to the front door. She fought me every step. We’d just made it up to the porch when there was an especially loud crash bang boom from inside.
“Dammit.” Lena was through the door in a micro-second. I was right behind her. We hit the living room in time to have a vase hurled in our direction.
“What the fuck?” Lena cursed and ducked.
What the fuck was right. James was against the wall doubled over and shoulders shaking. Carter was next to him shouting for everyone to calm the hell down. Trudy was barking her head off, trying to break away from Christy who was holding on for dear life. Mark was still as a statue and staring at Allie. Allie was in the open doorway between the living and dining rooms hurling anything she could get her hands on at….
“That’s Andre.” Lena elbowed me in the rib.
“I can see that.”
“Allie’s throwing shit at him.” I got elbow number two.
“See that too.”
“… And you have the nerve to show up here?” Allie screeched. I had no idea Allie could screech.
Neither did Lena. “Holy shit! She’s shrieking like a harpy on crack.”
I grabbed elbow number three before it could land, “I am in the room.”
“Yeah, yeah sorry. But damn, Allie’s kinda brilliant.”
She was sure as hell distracting. A copper mug flew across the room and hit the wall when Andre ducked. He came up laughing his very fine ass off. He should have stayed down. There were four more copper mugs on that shelf. “Now Angel please, let me explain.”
“I saw her in your lap.”
“Uninvited, I assure you.”
“You weren’t in any hurry to move her.”
“Well, I didn’t want to be rude.”
Oh wow, he said that with the perfect dash of condescending male humor, sure to send any woman through the rafters.
And there went mug number two.
“Ass.” Allie double fisted the last two mugs. That was the ticket. She whacked Andre in the middle of his forehead. He never stopped laughing.
“You know, I don’t trust the guy for shit,” Lena said, tracking the next object to fly across the room, some kind of long-handled feather duster, “But I have to admit that laugh is a panty dropper.”
“That is a truth.” Mark agreed, his gaze had locked on Andre and not wavered once, “Who is he?”
Wasn’t that a question, I answered as best I could, “Sort of a family friend, and apparently, Allie’s soon to be ex.”
Mark may have gone pale for a second, “Oh no. no she can’t. Unless he’s bi and open to a threesome, then she should totally dump him.”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
With a regretful sigh, Mark pulled his gaze away, lowering his voice, “By the way, Lars is dead. The police want to question Mom and she’s missing.”
“We know about Lars. The police are morons. We’re on it.”
“Do you know where she is?”
“Depends. Are you a lawyer who wants to keep practicing law?”
“Then I have no clue.”
“You’re asking me to trust you.”
“If anything changes…”
“You’ll be the first.”
“Good enough.” Mark went back to watching Andre laugh and duck. Can’t say as I blame him. The man was way too good looking and looked to be having the time of his life.
Allie had upgraded and was waving one of those bubble bottomed glass decanters that let your red wine breathe. No way in hell she was going to throw that thing. Allie had a true love for glass objects and that particular item had been a gift. I knew it. Lena knew it. Christy knew it, even Mark seemed to relax. Carter though, he must have thought she was escalating. He moved in from the side. Problem was, Allie was focused on Andre so she didn’t see him and that waving decanter popped him on the ear. Hard. And Carter decided he’d had enough. He grabbed Allie’s arm in an attempt to disarm her.
Now, there was no way for Cater to know that Allie’s shoulder had been damaged a few months ago. Not badly, but rotator cuff injuries, even mild ones, took a lot of time to heal. With a pained gasp, Allie twisted with him, trying to ease the pressure on the damaged tendons.
Andre stopped laughing.
“Aw shit.” I said over Christy’s, “Uh-oh.”
Lena rounded us out with her dire prediction of, “Dude’s a dead man.”
I’ve known Andre for almost ten years and in many ways, he’s still an enigma, but there are a couple of things I knew for sure. One -he was a true master of the nefarious. He could lie like the devil, move like a phantom, and kill with the grace of a poet. I’d seen him gut a room full of men and stroll out the door before they finished falling without so much as a wrinkle in his two-thousand dollar suit.
Two – harm a woman in his presence and you’d best skip the praying and run like all hell was on your heels.
He was across the room in less than a blink, his fists seeming to float in graceful arcs, but they connected to Carter’s face with a meaty thud-thud that sent him to the floor.
Mark blinked in my direction, “Did he just assault a police officer?”
Yep. “Andre don’t kill him. He’s a cop.”
Andre straightened. One black brow rose, “And that matters, why?”
Oh for fuck’s sake. Could he not work with me even a little? Carter saved me from responding, leaping to his feet and slapping cuffs on Andre and snarling out his “right to remain silent.”
“Jiminy fucking Cricket.” Lena muttered.
Couldn’t have said it better. “Really, Carter?”
“Be glad it’s not your sister.” Still snarling.
Allie was the perfect distraught lover. “Please, it’s not his fault. I overreacted. I’m the one who hit you with a weapon. He was just defending me. You should arrest me instead.
Carter looked half-way ready to indulge her, but James came to life, “Now, Miss Allie, you know we’re not taking you in.” He said his glare daring Carter to disagree, “The DA is crazy about you and you all have that thing this weekend. He’s been talking about it for weeks now. He’d kill us. But this one struck an officer. Not that it wasn’t a beautiful punch. You done some boxing?”
“A little.” Andre acknowledged carelessly, his attention on Allie, “What thing?”
“What?” Allie asked, nonplussed.
“What is this thing with the DA who is crazy about you?”
“Oh, nothing,” Allie waved the question away, “A charity event we’re both attending.”
“Together.” James dropped that little tidbit with an ear to ear grin.
Andre’s eyes narrowed, “I see.”
“Not together together.” Allie clarified. “We’re serving on the same committee and seated at the same table. It’s just a convenience to arrive together.”
“Mm-hm” Andre wasn’t buying it.
Hell, I didn’t buy it. Allie could be oblivious to her effect on men.
“What the hell?” Lena hissed at me, “Since when is Andre interested in Allie’s seating arrangements?”
“He saved her life. It can create a bond.”
“Excuse me” Carter broke in, “I’m in the middle of an arrest here.” He marched Andre to the door, “I’ll be back.” He sent me his no-nonsense cop stare, “We’re going to talk.”
I went with “Okey-Dokey.” As Carter looked ready to blow and that could get messy. I had enough mess to deal with.
“Right-O hotshot,” Lena, supremely unconcerned about messes of any kind, sent him a mocking salute, “We’ll be waiting right here with coffee and danish and shit.”
Allie turned big beseeching eyes on Mark, “Could you go with them, please. Andre will need representation.”
“Uh, oh, I don’know…”
“I would be grateful for the expertise.” Andre said.
He would? All Andre had to do was make one phone call. Auntie would have him out of there before the ink on his fingerprint dried.
“Of course.” Mark followed them out the door looking a bit be-dazzled. Andre had that effect. James was last one out, sending us a big wink over his shoulder, “Nice one.”
Allie closed the door behind them and began scooping mugs off the floor.
Lena closed her mouth only to open it again, “Okay, wait a damn minute. Did the detective in charge of the investigation into Lars murder and the main suspect’s son just walk out of here without asking us a single question?”
“Looks that way.” Mark did manage a couple, but with his attention so divided, it was a breeze.
Allie glided across the room and began replacing the copper mugs to the shelf over the sideboard, “Mac, you know Carter would only get in your way and now poor Mark has something to occupy him other than worry.”
“Are you saying Andre threw himself on the grenade.” Not that he wasn’t capable of sacrifice but letting himself get arrested, that was above and beyond.
“Oh phooey, like he couldn’t get out of jail any time he wanted.”
“Uh okay. The very thought had just cleared my brain, “Where is our guest?”
“She’s sleeping in the record room. You should probably go untie her. This could use a good wash”
“Untie her?” Lena repeated, sliding me the side-eye.
“Oh,” Allie raised an index finger, “And take the gag off.”
“You gagged her?” What the hell?
“Well, on the off chance she woke up, we couldn’t have her shouting out with the police here.”
“Right, yeah, no, I guess not.” Wow, okay. Allie was supposed to be the sensible one. Looks like that ship sailed or sank or got lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
“Might was well give these a rinse.” Allie gathered up the copper mugs by the handles and headed back to the kitchen, pausing when she passed Christy, still holding on to Trudy and looking a tad dazed, “Laura Christiana Rose, put on some shoes.”
Christy flinched, “Yes, ma’am. Come on Trudy.” My youngest sister darted off and up the stairs.
“Well I guess we better go pull the gag off our guest.” I said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Lena followed me, “You know, Fluffy-Butt’s a little terrifying.”
I had no idea how long the respite Allie’s stage show provided would last. So after removing our guest’s gag Lena and I hit the road. I had people to question and I could review the Lena’s film in transit. Our first stop was Lars and Nadia’s.
“We should have borrowed Allie’s mustang.”
Lars and Nadia lived in Windsor Place, one of the oldest houseing developements in Richmond Their Tudor was one of the smaller homes, but still plenty large and impeccably tended. The old truck looked especially shabby in front of it, but the engine was in good shape and you never knew when you were going to have to haul something or someone or a something that used to be a someone.
I opened the door. Might as well get it over with, “Let’s go.”
Lena shook her head, “I’m not going in there.”
“I need you to snoop while I talk to Nadia.”
“Great, I’ll sneak in.”
“How the hell are you going to do that.”
“I’ll wing it.”
It said something that Nadia didn’t have a hair out of place when she answered the door. Not sure what, but something, “I don’t want to talk to you.”
Honesty. I could respect that. “I’m aware, but I’ve been brought on board as a consultant. You need to answer my questions, so I can eliminate you as a suspect and move on.”
“Eliminate me? Don’t you mean convict me?”
“First off, I can’t convict anyone. That’s for a jury. Second, I don’t believe you did it, but I’ve been wrong before. I’m more interested in who you think would have killed him.”
She stepped back and allowed me entry into a foyer the size of my living room. She stopped. This was as far as I was going. Fine.
“I can’t tell you anything.” Naria pushed at her perfect coiff, “Everyone loved Lars. He was great with people.”
“And you’re not.”
“No, I’m not.” She acknowledged easily, “I had the business acumen. Lars had the charisma.”
“Anything out of the ordinary? Did his behavior change? Anything odd. Or just a blip in the pattern of your lives.”
“No, Nothing was different. Nothing.”
That last nothing was shaky. Nadia was holding it together, but not by much.
“Okay, so nothing there. Was the store doing well?”
“We are in the black.”
“Then you’re doing well.”
Nadia turned to her daughter and I saw a thing. I’ve heard about this thing. I’ve even seen it some, but never have I seen it to this extent. Stone cold bitch thawed like ice on a Richmond sidewalk in August. Nadia may not get along with people and definitely didn’t care for me, but she loved her daughter very much, “Sasha, what are you doing up?”
“I’m tired of resting.” Eyes the exact pansy brown as her father’s skewered me where I stood. “You’re Mckenna McGovern.”
“Seth says you were a secret agent or something.”
Does he now? “Nothing so dramatic. I help Richmond P.D. out on occasion.”
“And you’re like crazy smart.”
“Eh, I wouldn’t say that.”
“Well, if you think my Mom killed my Dad you’re just plain crazy.”
“Sasha,” Nadiea intervened, “Please go back to your room.”
Sasha did a sneering spin and step with the kind of misunderstood angst that only a teen girl could pull off.
“She has mono.” Clipped and frosty. Ice Queen on demand. That was some skill, there.
“A right of passage. All of four of us got it at the same time.”
Nadia almost, not quite thawed maybe half a degree, “Your poor mother.”
I didn’t flinch. I was getting better at not flinching.
“What are you doing in my Dad’s office.”
“Shit!” I whipped around and there stood a girl in the doorway. She looked to be around 16. Black hair with not a trace of curl hung to her shoulders framing wide set eyes in an elvish face and lord, the girl needed to eat a sandwich. Her black sweatshirt hung on her skinny body, shapeless and at least a couple sizes too big and how the hell she was holding those jeans up was the mystery of the ages. They were so voluminous they reminded me of parachute pants, an unfortunate fashion phenom if ever there was one. Had to be Sasha. Lars’s Daughter. Found out by a teenage girl. Oh, the shame, “Fuck a fish-stick, girl. You scared the crap outta me.”
“How do you fuck a fish-stick?”
I like a girl who asks the important questions “It’s just a saying and you shouldn’t curse. It reflects poorly on your upbringing.”
She eyerolled that one. Yeah, I used to do that, but only when Granny Rose’s back was turned. That woman wielded her wooden spoon like a gladiator, “Are you here with Mckenna McGovern?”
“Pretty much.” I went back to searching the desk.
“She’s distracting my mom while you snoop.”
“My mom didn’t kill my Dad.” I looked back up at that. Girl had her chin out, arms crossed, and giving me the evil eye.
Yep, I liked her.
“Hell girl, even the cops know that much. Why do you think they brought us in?”
“Uh…” She blinked at me. She’d expected an argument.
“Look, when you’re out to solve a mystery, any mystery, you start with what you know.”
“And what we know, is that your Dad was the victim.”
“So you start with him.”
“Got it. Your Dad was a great guy.”
“I know that.” She added a smirk and a snort to her eyeroll. A veritable repertoire of teenage attitude. But see, I’d lost both my parents young. I knew what was behind that sass. Sasha had a shitload of pain coming her way and right now, that attitude was the only thing holding her together, so I kept my eyes on the desk when I said, “Tough losing a parent when you’re young, but you get through it.”
Silence. A deep breath, a sniffle, “So what are you looking for?”
“Don’t know exactly.”
“Then how will you know when you find it?”
“It’s like that game, “One of these things from Sesame Street.”
“One of these things isn’t the same.”
“You got it and Bingo. Jackpot. We have a winner.”
“Your Dad was renting storage space.”
“No he wasn’t”
“I got a receipt here.” I waved the yellow carbon copy.
“You’re going to check it out.”
“I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“I’ll tell my Mom.”
“Go ahead. I’ll be gone by the time you clear the stairs.” I headed for the window.
“I want to help.”
Course she did. Her Dad was dead. I had to give her something or she’d be trying to trail us out of here. “Okay, if you really want to help” I held out my hand, “Give me your phone.
She pulled her phone from her back pocket and handed it over. I programmed my number into it and handed it back. “Keep your head down and your ears open. You hear anything the least bit odd, weird, or something just makes you nervous, call me. Chances are, your Dad was killed by someone he knew – well. You understand what I’m telling you.”
“We could know the murderer.”
“Not could. You absolutely know the murderer. This puts you and your Mom at risk, understand?”
“That’s why I say – you get so much as a funny feeling, you call me.”
“Not the cops?”
Oh yeah. Those guys. “If you think you’re in danger then yeah, absolutely call them first then text me a 911.”
“What can you do that the cops can’t?”
“Sister, that list is longer than your arm and mine.”
“Horseshoe. It had to be Horseshoe.”
Goddess, but I hated this place. Normally, storage facilities were neat, easy to navigate, well-numbered rows. I love rows. There are no wrong turns in a straight line. Named for its “U” shape, Horseshoe Storage was a twisting turning mess. Not sure why it was shaped like a horseshoe, according to legend, somebody else owned the land in the mouth of the U and wouldn’t sell. The owner built around them resulting in its “U” shape and Horseshoe Storage was born. The owner, in trying to get as many units in as possible on the property, built long rows of buildings, short rows, single units, you name it and neat? Oh hell no. The things had no rhyme or reason. They ran every which way Perpendicular, right angles, diagonals, hell there’s an octagon in there somewhere. wherever they could squeeze in an ugly metal box with an uglier orange door, they did it. The result was a hot mess of a maze. It freaked me the hell out. Those orange doors looked like giant mouths ready to swallow you whole.
“It’s just a bunch of buildings.” Lena said, all dismissive and superior, “Don’t be a baby.”
“You weren’t lost in there for hours.” I studied the buildings, looking for any signs of sentient life. “It was twenty minutes, tops.”
“I was twelve. It was dark. It felt like hours.”
“For fuck’s sake, it was over ten years ago. Come on.” Lena grabbed my arm and dragged me into the mouth of the beast.
The buildings were still on an old-fashioned lock and key system. Bolt cutters would get us in the unit. But first we had to get by George. The night manager did not buy me as a consultant. Rotund and red cheeked, he put down his taco and studied us with not a small amount of suspicion. Then Lena flashed her “Badge” “Sir, I’m instructing you to hand over the key. If you fail to do so, I’ll have no choice but to arrest you for obstruction.”
George handed over the key. No bolt cutters needed.
Deciding it would be best to have the truck close we drove it to the building. Well, I didn’t. Lena drove the numerous twists and turns. I hunkered and stared around warily, “Where the hell did you get that?
“Eh,” Lena shrugged me, “I know a guy.’
“You’re going to get us arrested.”
“Nah, it evens out.”
“You are with the cops, but he didn’t believe you. I’m not a cop, he believed me. Even.
“Oh yeah, you’ll have the prosecutor trembling in fear with that defense.”
“The DA is an asshole.”
“What the hell is Allie thinking?”
“Lena, you know the rules.”
“Yeah yeah” Lena raised her right hand, “Thou shalt not meddle in thy sister’s love life. So says the one….”
“So say we all.”
Getting into the unit was a breeze. It wasn’t until we ascertained what was inside that our night took the fast train to hell. Lena got a good look in the numerous crates, sank to the floor, and started mumbling about running away and joining the circus.
I kept my feet under me, though the universe was doing its level best to toss me down the rabbit hole. I closed my eyes counted to ten. It never worked, but this was so bad my desperate broke out in hives and my times were shivering in a cold sweat, so yeah, I gave it a try. I opened one eye, opened the other and… hell with it, I joined Lena on the floor.
She took a break from listing all the possible circus jobs at which she’d excel, “Mac, just what in the unholy fuck is going on?”
“You sure we have the right unit.” It was a long shot…
Lena shoved a yellow piece of paper under my nose. A receipt confirming d15 was rented to one Lars Benson, “I’ll ask again. The fuck?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know.” I rubbed my temple where a tiny throb had started, ”Give me a sec.”
Lena went back to her list while I took a moment to assess. She’d eliminated ring master, anything requiring sequins and spandex, and was leaning toward human cannonball by the time I rose from the floor with four definitive thoughts.
- I had no idea what was going on.
- The contents of this unit made not a damn bit of sense.
- Somebody else was sure to come looking for it. Which led me to 4. “We’re getting the hell out of here.”
“Great plan.” Lena launched herself off the floor, “We can pick up Christy and Allie on the way to Florida.
Time to stick a pin in that bubble, “Barnum and Baily isn’t around anymore.”
“What? No. You’re shitting me.”
“They shut down last year.”
“Well, that sucks.”
“It wouldn’t have worked out.”
“Please, how hard can it be to shoot yourself out of a canon?”
“Lena, they kept lions in cages.”
“Oh. No, I can’t have that.”
Lena wasn’t an animal lover like Christie, but she had great admiration for apex predators. Made sense as she was basically one herself. Seeing them in cages elevated her kind of crazy to batshit levels. We visited the San Diego Zoo once. They still say her name in hushed whispers.
Right now, her raptor’s gaze made a study of booty around us, “I’m assuming we aren’t leaving this stuff here.”
“You would be right.”
“I’ll back the truck up to the door.
Good thing we brought the 150. Lena’s jeep was full size, but no way was this stuff going to fit.
“So we’re not telling Carter about this?”
“Not yet.” Maybe not ever.
A little over an hour later I had a smashed finger, an aching back, and a truck full of contraband. We rested against the tailgate sipping bottled water Lena had produced from an emergency kit. And in the fleeting silence when we both paused to get our breath, we heard a pebble skitter across asphalt. Lena had her gun out and shoved in the intruder’s face before I could turn around.
I knew that hi. “Seth?”
“Yeah, It’s me.” There he stood, all lanky arms and messy hair and he wasn’t alone. He had Sasha with him. Sweet hell.
“What the hell are you doing? I could have shot your pretty face off.” Lena shoved her gun back in her shoulder holster, leaning to the right and peering around Seth’s shoulder, “What the hell girl? I told you to stay put. George what the hell are you doing bringing two teenagers into police business.”
“Uh, they’re not yours?”
“Yeah, your kids.”
“George, use that brain for something besides ordering tacos. I’m twenty-five. I’d had to give birth when I was seven years old.”
“I..uh..well…it did seem unlikely…”
For fuck’s sake. That twinge in my temple became a throb, “Seth, I understand Sasha’s reason is clouded, but I expect you to have some sense.”
He shrugged that helpless guy shrug. The one that said, “Talk to her she’s the one running the show.” Those guys did tend to live happier longer lives, “She was coming with or without me.
“How did you find us?”
“It on the receipt.” Sasha left off the duh dummy but I heard it just the same. Scooting around George, her face was set with determination, she searched the truck bed, “What is all this stuff? Oh. Oh my God. That’s” She took a shuddering breath, “And that’s and is that… Oh my god. Daddy.”
Seth came to stand beside her, “Aw man, Lars. What the hell?”
“Sasha, your father was a good man.” I hastened to reassure her a meltdown now would delay us and we had to get out of here. Besides, I mostly believed it, “I’m sure there’s an explanation.”
“Oh yeah,” Sash laughed a wild sound just south of hysteria, “He was probably holding it for the DEA.”
“Actually, it falls under ATF.” Lena said. I punched her in the bicep, “What? No use mollycoddling the girl…”
George was last to stir his bulk to get a better look, “Wait, is that…holy crap! I gotta call this in.” A phone appeared. I left it to Lena.
“Seth, you get Sasha out of here. Take her home.”
Sasha opened her mouth to argue, but a couple things happened. There was a clattering clash, some cursing and unflattering name calling. Followed by Lena’s “Now don’t go getting worked up. The new model is way better.” And then the lights went out. Every light. In the entire compound. Out.
“Well, shit, Somebody is here for their shit.” Lena said, eloquent as always, “We need to skedad…” The hollow clang of metal on metal cut the “dle” from Lena’s “skedad”. And that fast train to hell jumped the tracks.
With a shout of “gun!” Lena dove for Seth and Sasha, they were already down. Seth having taken her to the ground. I dragged George down with me. Just in time to avoid the hail of gunfire that clanked against the side of the truck.
“Go go go. Get in the fucking truck already.” Lena shouted orders, even as her gun barked return fire, “Sasha – in the floor board. Seth your next and keep your head down. George you’re going to tell Mac how to get us the hell out of here. Mac you’re driving. Don’t argue. I’m in the back. MOVE!”
Seth was already shoving Sasha in the truck. He climbed in after her and I shoved the inert George. It was like stuffing a slug through the eye of a needle, but we got her done. I was the last in and boy was it a tight squeeze. And the odors. B.O. tacos and some light fragrance that I’m sure would have been lovely if it hadn’t been mixed with the first two. My stomach lurched.
Uh-oh. That was a bad sign. Nothing I could do about it now. The key was already in the ignition It turned over on the first crank. I flipped the headlights. No reason not to, they could already see us. Probably some kind of night vision goggles.
Lenna was already in the back and pounding on the roof, “Go. go. go.” Bark bark bark. Clank clank clank.
I punched the gas. We lurched into the ghostly circle of the headlights, surrounded by absolute darkness, dwarfed by a brick and mortar maze. This was the stuff of my nightmares. “George get me out of here.”
Still nothing other than the clanking and barking of gunfire.
Lena’s ammo wouldn’t last forever. I took my hand from the wheel, felt around until I found his ear and twisted. George screamed.
“George, get me to the front gate.”
George grunted “Straight.”
Straight. Okay yeah, since there were rows of units on either side that made sense.
“Left. Left here. Go left.”
Dammit. I slammed the brakes and cut the wheel. The truck screeched into a turn. Fishtailed. Metal crunched. We’d clipped the corner of a unit.
“Goddamiit, what the hell Mac?” Lena shouted through the sliding window behind me and straight into my ear. Pain pierced my eye. Dammit.
“It’s not me.” I said, pressing my hand to my eye and willing the pain away. A migraine would be… inconvenient, “George, I need more notice….”
“It’s hard to tell where we are in the dark.” George said, in a nice soft terrified whisper, “I’ve only been working here two months.”
Great. Just great. The dyslexic girl was taking directions from the new guy. The pain behind my eye bloomed. Migraine. My vision would go soon.
Clank clank clank.
We were all going to die.
I made two more turns with assurances like, “Yeah, this looks right and uh maybe. We were cruising down one of the few straight avenues when light appeared in the distance. Headlights. Coming straight at us. Something told me these weren’t friendlies.
“Dammit,” Lena added pounding on the roof to her shouting, I felt it from my teeth to the roots of my hair, “Back up, back up Fuckers, herded us right to them. Reverse Goddammit!”
I threw the truck in reverse. We roared back the way we came. Hitting the mouth of the alley I spun the wheel. The truck cut too tight and we slammed into something – a building, a door, an antelope, who the hell knew.
Lena cursed a blue streak George grunted. I grit my teeth and quietly wished for death. We clipped another building, straightened out and fairly flew down a narrow road. “Where are we?”
“Uh, I’m not sure.”
Right. Well, there were no bullets clanking and no headlights coming. That was good. Yep, there was nothing but a nice solid brick wall right in front of us.
Lena shouted and pounded, “Brick! Brick wall. Dead ahead.” And yeah, I could see it just fine, in spite of the white lights and squiggles floating in front of one eye. That’s how close we were.
I slammed the brakes, tires screamed. I might have closed my eyes. The wheel in my hands spun right, the force threw me against the door. George slammed into my other side and I was reduced to cream filling. Gravity shifted. The entire right side of the truck, wheels and all, left the ground. The weight on me grew. Seth must have put another layer pn our Oreo. There were screams all around. Lena squealed like a girl. I was so going to nail her with that later. The wheels slammed the pavement and we slid back to the middle of the road.
George had grabbed the wheel and turned us onto a side-street. It had slipped right through my sweaty hands.
My thanks was a mite shaky.
George’s “Y’welcome” was barely intelligible so I didn’t feel so whimpy.
The small window behind us slammed open, “Hey, what the fuck Mac?” Lena blasted me.
“Don’t what the fuck me. I’m driving blind and George is in shock.”
“Yeah okay. Just get us an exit. There’s at least two separate teams in here after us.”
“George, find me another way out.”
“There’s an access road. You gotta bear to the right and take a hard left. I think.”
There was more clanking. Lots of clanking. And lights in the rear view. The road curved, I curved with it.
“There.” George shouted in my ear. “Turn left…. No no, left. George grabbed the wheel and pushed.
The back entrance is at the end of this…. Oh shit.”
Headlights. Coming straight at us. Now, I’ve heard it said that people can just snap. Woman saws her husband into twenty pieces. She snapped. Man beats neighbor to death with his own ‘happy troll’ lawn ornament. He snapped. Wife bashes husband’s Porcha to pieces with her Kitchen Aid. She snapped. I’ve never bought into it. Turns out – that trope be true. The tension that had been ridding me since the feds showed up and Trudy moved in. Since Lars was stabbed and Sachet was found. Since I’ve had no sleep and no control. And now here I was with no vision and no clue being shot at while lost in this stupid maze of a storage park. Baby, I didn’t just snap. I crackled. I popped. I well and truly lost it. Shattered. Broke. Blew. I was getting the hell out of this hell and getting some damn sleep.
I floored it.
“Oh shit.” The headlights got closer. Lena ye-hawed. George shouted something about not signing on for this. Seth said something about not being a good idea. Sasha was quiet as a mouse. Bless her.
I stayed the course. 100 feet. 50 feet 25. The headlights flooded the cab like the noonday sun. My migraine bloomed. All I could do was scream. Everyone screamed with me. I swerved hard right. Metal on metal shrieked on my left. Metal on mortar crunched to my right. We were scrunched between the people shooting at us and the buildings. Half the truck had to be shearing off, but I kept us moving. The grinding and shrieking of metal stopped. The resulting silence was deafening. I pulled hard left. We bounced back to the center of the road.
“There. Go right!” George flat out bellowed in my ear. My head went nuclear My vision burned white. If only I could lay down and die. Everything would be fine.
“Right. Right.” Someone pulled the wheel. Great Nifty. I pressed the heel of my hand over one eye and then the other. I got enough sight to make out a road and some kind of low gate. I held onto the wheel kept my foot on the gas. Almost over.
And then there were lights. Lots of round lights. Headlights blaring into my eyes. Agony blazed. I screamed. My brain had to be melting.
“Well shit.” Came from behind me.
I was panting now. Trying not to black out.
Then, there were sirens, blue lights flashed in the distance.
The headlights pulled off and away. I knew I should have been feeling relief. Maybe later. When I wasn’t quietly wishing for death.
We barreled through the gate and kept going.
I felt George’s bulk turn in the seat, “Uh you just took out the gate.”
What-the-fuck-ever. I turned onto a road. Up ahead there was a nice bright parking light. What was left of my brain recognized the big bright yellow “M”. Perfect.
“Mac?” Lena finally noticed something was not quite right with me, “You okay?”
I I pulled in, cut the ignition, opened the door, leaned out, and retched.
“Oh, okay so that’s a no. Tell you what, how about a nice icy cold coke and a big mac. Good for what ails ya.”