Okay guys, this is something I’ve been working on. It came out of a writing exercize. I had to take the sentence, “The night is dark.” and write an opener with what they call hooks, using humor and surprise. After the first paragraph, I knew I had something. I just wasn’t sure what. Now I kind of know. This happens right after Allie and Andre on the McGovern Grey timeline. Right now, it’s looking like a short story. Something to get my creative juices flowing again after the Holidays and this year’s Holiday story.
My night vision sucks, but over the years I’ve come to believe dodging bullets is more art than science. It takes speed, agility, and some damn good luck, but you can’t see a bullet coming so my lack of cat-ray vision wasn’t a problem. The pink fuzzy slippers on my feet though, those bitches were gonna get me killed.
Now in defense of fuzzy slippers everywhere, I will say that taking out the garbage on a random, mid-winter night ought not be a Nike running shoe activity. The sniper parked out on my neighbor’s roof disagreed.
Thank the Goddess I was fresh out of the shower. The bullet sailed through the turban-tied towel piled on my head, hitting the brick of my townhouse as opposed to shattering my skull. Since disposing of a bag of cat litter is not worth risking my life, I spun around to get back in the house and that’s when the ice on my porch met the worn bottom of those aforementioned slippers and my butt met the steps, cement, that is – all four of them. Feet flying out from under me, I ass-bumped all the way down, and that’s when my face met Richmond, Virginia’s first winter storm of 2016 as, with a wet slushy splat, I body-slammed into the alley, a heap of arms and legs and bruised behind wrapped in terry cloth and pink fuzz.
And that’s when I decided the sniper on Miss Maddie’s roof was going to a die. Painfully. A death of ten thousand screams and I was going to stand over him and count every single one -in a heated room… with a fire…wrapped in an electric blanket… drinking a cup of hot cider because, Dear Mother Goddess I HATE the cold.
Another bullet spitting into brick pulled me from my fantasy of submerging my enemy in liquid nitrogen, shattering him with a hammer, and feeding his pieces and parts to the crows at dawn.
Staying flat, I use the bag of cat litter as a helmet, not a pleasant experience, and belly crawl across the alley, soaking myself in the dirty slush that is the signature of Richmond winter storms. Wintry mix, they call it. A combo of freezing rain, sleet and wet snow that solidifies the air, permeates even the thickest winter coat, slides through your skin, and turns your bones to ice. Shivering so hard my icy bones rattle, my teeth clacking like castanets, I slink through my own personal Persian Hell, stopping behind the relative safety of the trashcans. Over four feet tall, they’re plastic and on their own wouldn’t be much protection, but trash pick-up is tomorrow, so they’re full of cat litter and cedar chips. Hopefully, it’s enough mass to stop a bullet.
And here I sit, Mckenna McGovern, former know-it-all darling of the NSA, CIA, FBI, Secret Service, Homeland, DEA, you name it. Every single one of them used and re-used my brilliant albeit insane brain during the course of our five year relationship. We broke up a few years ago. It wasn’t pretty. And where were those guys now? Sitting by the fire all nice and cozy in their Georgetown mansions sipping Cognac and plotting to take over the world’s oil supply, cause it’s all about the oil…still. While I’m down here in Richmond Virginia, squatting behind my stinky garbage cans, holding a bag of stinky cat litter while some stinking sniper does his best to kill me.
The bullets have stopped. Which means he’s not wasting them. I figure that means he’s a pro. I’ve been the target of numerous shooters and you get to learn them after a while. Usually though, I’m shooting back or chasing after or running from or stuffing in a wood chipper. Although that last one wasn’t so much someone aiming and shooting as a gun falling out of the guy’s pocket, hitting the ground and going off. Dead men don’t don’t pull triggers.
Yanking the litter off my head, I reach up and fling the top of one of the giant cans over, hear the splintering of wood behind me, and feel the corresponding sting of the chips of our privacy fence hit my back. Cupping my hands around my mouth, I shout from my diaphragm, “You missed, Asshole!” Maybe someone will report me for disturbing the peace. My neighborhood is in the Fan, a historic area of Richmond named for its fan shape. Old row houses and narrow alleys mean I could stand up, stretch my arms out, and not quite touch the house next door. So somebody should hear me shouting and this is the south. Unlike New York where people roll over when they hear shouting, people around here want to know what their neighbors are up to and LOVE to call the cops.
I spin on my toes in the slush and see the face of an angel surrounded by the halo of warm light from my kitchen window. My sister Allie is going to get her pretty face shot off, “Get Down.”
“Oh pooh,” She waves a careless hand at me and shoves the screen aside, “He can’t get a clear shot of me from there.”
True, but, “There might be more.”
“Nah,” Another head appears, this one wears a dark cap of hair, “I’ve scoped it out.” Lena, Allie’s twin and polar opposite, looks down, and though I can’t see it I know she’s checking the gun in her hand, “I’ll have him in five.” And she’s gone.
“Dammit, don’t kill him,” I hiss after her.
Lena’s “Yeah yeah yeah, I got this.” Echoes back to me from the bowels of the house.
“Here, Mack this will keep you warm.” Allie tosses me a bundle.
I grab it out of the air. More splintering wood behind me. “Missed again, Dumbass!”
In the light of the street lamps I see it’s an afghan of pale blue and creamy beige, hand knitted by my Aunt, a gift a few Christmases ago. Balled up and secured with glittery red Christmas ribbon. Allie must be wrapping more presents. I have no idea why. Christmas is past and New Year’s is over. We keep our tree up through the Epiphany, but gift giving is done by now.
Allie reaches for something else, “Here.” And a second bundle flies out at me, “You must be freezing.”
It’s a nylon blob. “What the hell?”
“It’s a pop up tent. Just take it out of the pack and it pops up, like a pop-up book.”
“Uh, I won’t be here that long.”
“But it’s icy.” Allie shivers in my nice warm kitchen. She, like me, hates the cold. And she’s right my feet have gone past the numb stage to a cold burn. I jerk the thing out of the bag and have to throw myself back to keep from getting hit by popping nylon. And there it is, sure enough, an instant tiny tent.
Wood splinters hit my cheek.
I sling my wet slippers off and crawl onto the dry nylon unwrap my bundle, peel my sopping robe off, toss it out. It lands beside the towel that had fallen off my head at some point. Then I cocoon myself in dry wool. I’m still freezing but I’m no longer in danger of hypothermia.
“Christy is making you some tea.” Allie calls out. I unzip a nylon panel to reveal a screen window. I can just see her waving a canister through the green mesh, “I’ve got a thermos.”
“Do we have any more of that cider?” I figure if I’m camping out behind the trashcans I’ll go all in and Zeigler’s Apple Cider is one of the things I like about winter. I listed them once. Zeigler’s is number three. It got beat out by cable-knit sweaters and pumpkin spice lattes.
Allie’s head disappears, “I don’t see any.”
“I just bought a gallon the day before yesterday.”
“Oh, well” She reappears, her pouty lips turned down in a rueful smile, “Um, Lena may have borrowed it. I’ll go check our fridge.”
“Do you guys ever go to the store?” I shout at the empty halo of light, waving one arm to punctuate my frustration of the ever disappearing grocery situation. Tiny somethings pepper the tent.
We were fortunate enough to be left two townhouses by our Granny Rose. I share one with my youngest sister, Christy. Allie and Lena are next door. And with the housing market the way it is I will be forever grateful, but sometimes, I wish there was a little space between. We used to at least have an alley, but a few years ago Allie dated an architect and told him about how she’s always wanted a sun room. He designed and built it for some contest he entered. And now our homes are connected by a 15 by 20 foot room of glass with French doors leading into our homes at either end, thus creating more of a “your house is my house”, and “your coffee is my coffee”, and “your cider is my cider” dynamic.
Cursing everything from the cold to the sniper to that bastard of an architect, I hunker down and put my mind to working on who the hell is trying to kill me now.
“Oh, hi Mr. Grey, it’s Christy.”
His lips tilted, “Christy, you’re supposed to call me Christian.”
“Oh, right. Our Granny Rose wasn’t a fan of that word.” The perky voice on the other end of his phone confessed.
The infamous Granny Rose, not a fan of Christianity, so the sisters say, “You’re Christiana.”
“She didn’t like that either. Said she didn’t know what Mama was thinking. She called me Lara.”
“I see.” He let that one slide by him. The logic of the McGovern world was ever-evolving, “I thought I dialed Mckenna’s phone.”
“Is she available?”
“Um, well not really.”
And there it was. Grey had learned the sisters fairly well and very quickly. It was a matter of keeping his sanity intact. That particular hesitation meant whatever was coming next was going to be unbelievable at best and at worst…shit, he couldn’t wrap his mind around what the worst with them would be. With a preemptive pinch to his nose, he flopped down on the elaborately upholstered sofa, surveyed the elegant suite the Hotel Jefferson had provided, and bid farewell to his plans for a quiet evening with his wife and son. Steeling himself he prompted, “Not really…”
“Well, I guess I could throw the phone out there, but it’s icy and it might hit the pavement. Maybe if she unzips the screen I could toss it in the tent….”
Throw the phone? Out there? In the tent? Dreading the answer, he asked, “Where exactly is Mckenna?”
“Behind the trash cans in the alley.”
Unbelievably, that answer wasn’t so bad….
“The sniper on Mrs. Maddie’s roof has her pinned down…”
Oh sweet hell. “Christy, are you saying someone is shooting at Mckenna.”
“Right, Lena said he’s a sniper type.”
“A sniper type?”
“Uh-huh,” Christy prattled on as if she were telling him Mckenna was in the kitchen baking scones, “Anyway, Lena went to get the guy off Ms. Maddie’s roof.”
Holy Shit! Gray covered the phone and snapped his fingers at Taylor, who was attempting to sneak out of the room, “Stop.”
With a weary drop of his shoulders and a heavy sigh, he turned, “Sir?”
“Get the car. Call McIntyre. Tell him….”
“Mckenna. Alley. Trashcans. Sniper. Got it.”
“Going after him.” Taylor got out his own phone, “Got that too.”
“Get Sawyer. I’ll meet you downstairs.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…” Taylor waved and left the room.
Grey tuned back in to the insanity coming from the phone to hear Christy calling out something about apple tea and cloves.
“Christy, we’re on the way.”
“Oh, okay. Um, I’m worried about Miss Maddie…”
“Miss Maddie, I’ve heard that name before.”
“She’s our neighbor…”
“The one who took out the bird thief with an iron skillet?”
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I forgot about that. Do you think I should go get her? She might be scared.”
Go strolling up to the house with the sniper on the roof? “No.”
That but was one syllable too many, “Lara Christiana Rose, you will not leave that house. You stay exactly where you are, understand?” Dear God, he was sounding like McIntyre.
“But Miss Maddie has a bad heart…”
For fuck’s sake. He racked his brain and blurted out. “Invite her over for tea.”
“Hey, yeah, I could do that. Mac made some Eggnog Cookies. That’s a good idea.”
“I occasionally have one.” Grey pressed the heel of his hand to his temple where the pounding had started. No wonder Mckenna always had a headache. He’d have to get Mrs. Jones to stock up on Excedrin.
“Anyway, Lena said it would take about five minutes. Do you want me to have Mac call you back?”
“Yes, you do that.” Grey disconnected and redialed immediately. Jerking the door open to the living area of their suite.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Exactly where I need to be.”
Grey grit his teeth against the smooth arrogance that so easily charmed his wife and hit his ear like a cheese grater, “Someone is trying to kill Mckenna.”
“Yes, yes,” The man laughed, “It’s quite funny.”
“Are you planning to intervene?”
“Oh no, they have it under control.”
“I’m calling the police.”
“And why is that?”
“Because murder is a serious crime and Mckenna would go to jail for a long time.”
Then in the background he heard a string of curses and Mckenna’s familiar contralto shouting, “Dammit Andre’, what the hell are you doing? Go get Allie.”
“Ah, it seems I need to intervene after…..” The man stopped speaking. Or maybe it was just that the unearthly scream that vibrated from the phone and slid down Grey’s spine drowned him out.
And the line went dead.
Grey looked up to see four expectant faces and not one of them was his wife’s, “Where’s Ana?”
“She’s putting Teddy down.” Jose said.
Well, shit. “It seems someone is shooting at Mckenna.”
“What?” His brother mumbled around what had to be his dozenth scone. Mckenna had dropped off three dozen earlier in the afternoon. Apparently, she baked when stressed.
“Huh?” Jean Claude halfway rose from his seat where he’d been tickling the keys of the grand piano in the corner.
“You’re shitting me.” Kate was up. Wine bottle in hand, she weaved over to grab her coat where it lay across the closed Baby Grand. Just why in the hell all these people were in his suite when they had their own….
“No I am not, shitting you. There’s a sniper on Miss Maddie’s roof.”
“A sniper…” Jean Claude repeated mechanically, plopping back down.
“On the roof..…” His brother choked, sending crumbs flying out of his ever-moving mouth.
“Miss Maddie?” Jose leaped up, a plate loaded with macaroons and scones in hand, “But she’s supposed to make us fried green tomatoes..” He set his plate down long enough to grab his own coat, “You just call that hot as fire, stone-cold killer and get him to go save her.”
Grey pinched his nose, “He’s rescuing Allie.”
“I thought they were shooting at Mckenna?” His brother pointed out the obvious that, until that moment, had gone over his head, and it clicked into place.
“Shit, it’s a diversion.”