When I did, I quoted this passage:
- For a good melodrama study the famous “Lester Dent master plot formula” which you can find online. It was written to show how to write a short story for the pulps, but can be adapted successfully for most stories of any length or genre.
I also mentioned I would try using the formula to write a couple of short stories. Well, the printout of The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot sat on my desk all this time . . . until yesterday. I have been busy with other things, and my motivation for writing had gone out the window (I hope to get it back before VP XIX), but yesterday afternoon I forced myself to sit down and follow Dent’s formula.
Five hours later I finished the story.
One problem; I don’t outline. I make up stuff as I go. Well, it turns out I was so intent on following Dent’s formula that I fell into a few plot holes. People who know me know I don’t like re-writing. I mean, small tweaks are OK, but I positively hate, HATE, throwing out what I consider amazing and unique prose.
Disgusted, I went to bed.
Today I did all I could to avoid thinking about the holey story sitting on my computer. Finally, a couple of hours ago, I paid it a visit. After staring at it for an hour, I made some changes. I re-wrote about five hundred of the 6,470 words and arrived at a place I liked. I then ate dinner, and just now I finished re-reading it. I still like it.
Just some quick notes. As an homage to pulp fiction, I made this a Private Eye story, but I wanted to throw some stereotypes out the window. For that reason, it might read a bit . . . off.
I mean, I’m happy with it, but perhaps it won’t find my audience (or any audience) as receptive as I am. Without further delay . . .
Michelle Maul, Private Eye
Copyright 2015 – E. J. D’Alise
“Mich,” Dan called out, “you have visitors.”
Dan was my assistant and a good-looking guy I kept at arm’s length despite knowing he liked me. The feeling was mutual, but it was tough enough being a private eye and a female without adding office romance into the mix.
“Who is it?” I asked just as two tall women showed their way into my office. They looked like they worked out a lot. Long on muscle and short on looks, I pegged them as someone’s enforcers.
Dan tried stopping them when one of the two showed him against the open door to my office and held him there.
“Well, aren’t you a pretty thing,” she said in a heavy Slavic accent, “why don’t you go back to your desk and wait for me there?”
Dan started to blush with suppressed anger, and he looked like he was going to say something.
“It’s OK, Dan,” I said, interrupting before things got ugly. “See that we are not disturbed.”
That was code for him listening on the intercom. The woman stepped back, and Dan gave them both a look of disdain as he closed the door on his way back to his desk outside.
One of the women came to stand to the side of the desk while the other leaned both fists on the desk itself, towering over it.
“Mich,” the leaner said, “I hear you think you are pretty tough.”
I looked from one to the other.
“That’s the word on the street, and by the way, only my friends get to call me Mich. What can I do for you two?” I replied.
The goon to the side of my desk answered.
“We want to hand over the information and then drop the case.”
“Oh? And what case would that be?” I asked, shifting my attention to her.
“Don’t play dumb with us!” The woman leaning on the desk slapped the desk with her open palm right in front of me as she yelled the words out.
I smashed two of her fingers with the brass paperweight I had been handling since they walked into the office. As I did so, I stood and threw a kick at the she-goon coming at me from the side. My shoe connected with her leg just below the knee. Bones are pretty sensitive to steel-toed shoes, especially if the shoes are modified to have an additional steel edge sandwiched in the outer edge of the sole.
For good measure, I introduced her chin to the brass paperweight. By then the other goon, calling me a name I won’t repeat here, was fumbling with her weak hand trying to cross-draw the gun on her belt. I was faster. Matthew was in my hand before both of them recovered.
Yes, I named my .45, what of it?
“You want to think real hard about pulling that piece,” I said in my cold voice.
She stopped attempting to draw, instead holding her hurt fingers as if they were a lost puppy. She wasn’t the puppy type, so that’s just a metaphor. The other goon was on the floor, still trying to decide what hurt worse, her shin or her dislocated jaw.
“Dan,” I yelled out, “call the cops!”
Before Dan could answer, I heard a voice through the intercom say, “There’s no need for that.”
A second later, the owner of the voice walked into the office, leaving the door open. I could see Dan sitting at the desk, one hand on the phone. Another hand was over his. That hand belonged to an impeccably dressed woman oozing all sorts of bad vibes. Killer vibes.
By anyone’s standards, including mine, the man who walked into my office would be considered handsome. Piercing eyes and dressed in casual attire that, while revealing nothing, gave a hint of well-formed physique. His movements were fluid and his comportment spoke of casual awareness of his looks while at the same time not flaunting them. A confident man who was comfortable with himself.
Were it not for the circumstances, I might have liked finding out more about him. Under the circumstances, I wanted to find out more about him, but for different reasons.
A small motion of his hands and the two she-goons, supporting each other, walked out of the office. On the way out of the reception area, Dan, now leaning back in his chair, waved to them. Based on the hardening of their faces, I wished he hadn’t, but could understand why he did.
“And you are?” I said as I shifted Matthew to aim at a spot near but not quite where he stood.
“Perhaps we could dispense with the gun?” He answered.
As he spoke, the woman in the reception area took a step back and out of my view. That left Dan in a vulnerable position; I had no shot and no way of knowing where the woman was now standing or what she was doing.
I put the gun on the table, still in Condition Zero.
If he noticed, the man said nothing.
“My name is Joshua.” I finally noticed his speech. It matched the physical persona; smooth and fluid. He too had a trace of a Slavic accent, but just barely discernible.
“I represent certain interests,” he continued, “who also want to find Jeff. We’d appreciate any information you’ve found out about his whereabouts.”
This was interesting; a missing case I had picked up just a few days before. The distraught sister of a guy who had gone missing had walked in and offered me pretty good money to look into it since the cops were not doing anything about it.
She could offer no leads or motive, and I told her the probability of failure was high. She insisted, and I reluctantly took the case. Since then, I had hit nothing but brick walls. This, then, was the first break in the case.
“Oh?” I answered, “And if I don’t want to share?”
Dan gave a start as a knife flew what looked like inches from his head and stuck into the wall behind him.
“I hear on the street that you can be pretty obstinate,” Joshua continued. “I just hope we don’t have to become more obstinate about our request.”
I told the truth; I had not found anything of use. I showed him the case log book and everything.
“Satisfied?” I asked.
“For now,” he answered.
With that, the bowed slightly, turned, and walked out. He looked just as good from the back.
Making sure we were not followed, I dropped off Dan at a Jan’s house. A retired ex-cop, a tough cookie with a few kills under her belt and now training women in self-defense, she also served as backup when I needed one. I made Dan promise to stay put as I looked into this. He was not happy about it; before I left, he gave me a look and seemed on the verge of saying something.
“Keep your phone off,” I interrupted as I made a show of checking my gun’s magazine, “I’ll call Jan with regular updates.”
I turned and headed out, Jan following me to the car.
“He cares about you, you know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know. I don’t have the kind of life he deserves,” I answered.
“Isn’t that his choice?”
“Maybe, but I could not live with . . .” I did not finish.
“OK,” she answered. “What’s the deal with this Joshua character?”
“My guess is mob, probably Russian. They play rough,” I said. “I sent you the surveillance video from the office so you can at least recognize the players we know of.”
I looked at her. Jan and I went back a ways. I cared for her differently than Dan, but just as much.
“Be careful, and thanks,” I said.
“Di niente,” she replied as we shook hands.
I feigned not noticing Dan looking out from the open door as I got in the and drove off.
Planning on sleuthing, I went home and changed. I donned a conservative top, dark blue blazer and dark skirt. I hated giving up my steel reinforced shoes, but simple flats completed my office-worker disguise.
Jeff Ruffio lived in a condo in one of them gated complexes. I had not visited earlier based on the sister saying he left no clues, but now I wanted to check for myself. The gate swung open after I entered the code his sister had given me, and I slowly drove through. I hated these places; no way to make fast getaways if one had to wait for a gate to open.
I pulled up to the condo. It was one of those attached units, and the neighbor was sitting outside with a book and a drink. I figured I would ask a few question before heading in.
The man looked up from his book and stood up, putting his drink down as he did so. He was a big guy, but with a friendly smile. Or, so he thought. I casually looked around as continued toward him. Another big guy walked out of the garage. This one was better dressed, with a jacket and everything.
“Can I help you?” the first guy asked.
“Hello,” I answered, ignoring the obvious twice-over both men gave me. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with Jeff, and I’ve had no luck. Either of you two know where he might be?”
The two men looked at each other, and then book-and-drink guy came up to me, forcing me to back up a step.
“What’s your interest in Jeff?” He asked.
“Hi,” I said, ignoring his question, “my name is Michelle. And you are?”
I offered out my hand as I spoke, but the man ignored it. Instead, he looked at me up-and-down before answering.
“Well, Michelle, I think you should forget about Jeff and run along.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that; I was hired to find him.”
His demeanor changed, his smile now even less genuine.
“Well, isn’t that cute!” he said as he tried to stroke my chin.
I grabbed his thumb and twisted it, hard. His reaction was automatic and instantaneous; he swung at me.
Skirts are a pain. Comfortable, yes, but not very good in a chase, a fight, or windy days. About the only good thing about skirts is that they make concealment of my favorite .45 a breeze.
I deflected the punch aimed at my jaw but took a pretty good poke in the shoulder. You know those movies where a hundred-and-five pounds woman beats the crap out of a two-hundred-plus pounds man with muscles spilling out of his shirt? It’s bullshit; I could have hit the big guy with everything I had, and I would not have budged him, and nevermind his backup who was just watching and smiling. And I’m five-foot-seven and one-hundred-and-thirty pounds. Well, some days I’m a few pounds heavier, but not enough to matter against this guy.
I dropped with the glancing blow and rolled away from the guy. He lost his grin when I came up with Matthew leveled at him. Guns are great equalizers.
“Look, lady,” the big guy spoke as he retreated a few steps and raised his hands to shoulder height, “there’s no need to go deadly on us.”
As the first guy spoke, the second guy was opening his coat, his other hand reaching to his waist.
“You look like you are in pretty good shape,” I said as I shifted my focus to him, “I bet it would be hard to work out if I shot your kneecap out; if you want to find out, keep reaching for your gun.”
“I was not reaching for my gun,” the man answered as he opened his jacket, “I was reaching for my badge.”
Sonofabitch! Cops. Probably dirty cops, but still cops.
I kept covering them as I replied.
“Yeah, but your gun is right next to your badge. That makes me nervous. My finger gets itchy when I’m nervous.”
I tried sounding tough, but I was I a bad position. I could take them out and claim self-defense, but that would make me the target of every other cop in the precinct. I didn’t see a good way out of this. I had pulled a gun on two cops, and it would be my story versus theirs. I went into stall mode as I tried thinking of something.
“All I asked is if you know anything about Jeff,” I said. “You guys decided to get physical without identifying yourselves.”
A woman walked out of the house. She was obviously in charge and held a badge and ID up in front of her as she approached.
“We’re Federal Agents; lower your gun.” She spoke with the confidence of someone used to being obeyed.
I shifted my aim toward her direction; she stopped but continued speaking.
“We’ve now identified ourselves. From this point on, you are threatening Federal Agents with a gun. Lower it now or this will go very badly for you.”
I recognize an out when I hear it; I holstered my gun, giving the two guys a minor show.
“Now what?” I asked as I straightened my skirt and stood upright.
“Now we talk,” she answered. She motioned for the guys to resume their posts and then motioned for me to follow.
Her name was Special Agent Angela White, and while she did not volunteer any official information, she left enough clues for me to piece together a few things.
Jeff was either an undercover agent or an informant for the FBI. Either way, he had something big on someone. Agent White did not confirm it, but I got the impression the mob was involved. I told her about my earlier encounter.
“Four days ago he called and left a message with his handler,” she said. “Something about the cover being blown and him going dark. By the time we got here, he was gone.”
“What about your guys outside? Did they hear or see anything?” I asked.
“We’ve only been here for the last few days. We paid for the family that lives there to go on a nice vacation while we use their place.” She looked at me without speaking, obviously trying to get a feel for who or what I was.
“Ex-Military?” she asked.
“Private security force; got tired of dealing with assholes and went out on my own,” I answered. Not strictly true, but close enough.
“How did you learn about Jeff?” she asked.
“From his sister,” I answered.
“Jeff doesn’t have a sister.”
We watched the security footage I downloaded from my office, but we got no good view of her face, not even partials. The hat she wore seemed to always get in the way. All we knew is that she was not Jeff’s sister.
“Look, Michelle,” Agent White said, “I can’t tell you to drop the case, but know that you might be interfering with a Federal Case. If I figure you right, you’ll keep looking. If you find out anything, reach me at this number, but be aware we also have manpower out there. Try not to get in their way.”
“How will I know if they are yours or the mob’s?” I asked.
“We’re the ones who won’t be shooting at you. Probably.”
I was already in a bit of trouble; I had told Agent White that I had no way of contacting my supposed client. I called the client’s contact number and left a message as I drove back to my office. It was probably a dumb place to go, but it felt like the right thing to do.
It was late, and the building was quiet when I heard the elevator’s bell. I waited. The door to the outer office opened. The only reason I knew was the change in air pressure. A subtle thing I’ve gotten used to, but still registered.
I waited at my desk. Helena, my client, looked in through the open door to my office. She was obviously nervous.
“Sit down, please,” I asked her.
She hesitated but sat on the chair.
“Did you find my brother?” she asked.
“Well, let’s talk about that,” I said. “I know he’s not your brother; does that count?”
She did not answer, but after a brief hesitation she got up and made to leave.
“You won’t last long out there,” I said.
She stopped, keeping her back to me. She kept silent, so I restarted the conversation.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s going on? Perhaps I can help.”
She looked back at me, and then came back to sit on the chair.
“Jeff told me not to trust anyone, including cops,” she said.
“You came to me; why?”
“I took one of Jan’s self-defense classes, and she mentions you frequently. I thought you might be able to find him.”
“And why is it that you want to find him?” I asked.
“We are engaged to be married. It’s not like him to disappear without saying anything.”
“Do you know what Jeff did for a living?”
“All I know is that he’s in law enforcement.”
“Is there any reason why anyone would be following you?”
Her eyes got wide, and she looked behind her.
“Someone is following me?” she asked.
“They must be,” I answered. “Someone came in this morning asking me for information on the case. They probably think you could lead them to him.”
I stood and grabbed a couple of bottles of water from the mini-fridge.
“My guess is that Jeff disappeared to keep you safe,” I said as I handed her a bottle.
That’s when I heard the elevator bell again.
I sat at my desk in the dark. When they burst in, I turned on the Colossus floodlight. Eighteen million candlepower is enough to temporarily blind anyone; why I was wearing my sunglasses.
“Drop to the floor and don’t move!” I yelled.
The woman tried pointing her gun in my direction. I let go with the shotgun.
A few minutes later, both of them were tied up, the one I hit was still complaining about the bean-bag to the thigh. She insisted it had cracked her bone.
The guy just stared at me, and not in a flattering way.
I waited, checked the hall, and went back to my office after locking the outer door. I then asked Helena to wait in the reception area and closed my office door.
“Here’s how it’s going to work,” I said, “I’m going to mess up one of you in the hope it will convince the other to talk. I really have no preference, but you need to decide who wants to go first before I start.”
I walked over to the filing cabinet and grabbed a heat gun from the drawer. I plugged it in and made like I was trying to decide who I would be starting on.
“The good news is that while this will cook your skin and underlying flesh, it’s not lethal. It will, however, leave a mark. Forever.”
I ran the heat gun for a few seconds, checking that it worked.
“If you ever see people with a large burn imprint on their forehead, they are the ones who did not believe me. You might also see people with burned-out cheeks. I switch to the cheeks because when the brain gets too hot, people start hallucinating. The downside with the cheeks is that teeth get really hot, and the nerves in your jaws don’t like it much.
I approached them both, expecting the guy to break, but instead, it was the woman.
“Jesus, no . . . I’ll talk; what do you want to know?”
“What’s your name,” I asked.
“Well, Anna, you understand the moment I think you are lying I’m going to put this to . . . By the way, what’s your name?” I asked, turning to the man and positioning the heat gun close to his head.
“Tom,” he answered, keeping his eyes fixed on the metal tip of the heat gun. “I don’t believe you; you’re not going to torture us here in your office.”
I did not answer. He tried to pull away, but I pressed the gun to Tom’s forehead and switched it on. Tom screamed even though it takes a good half minute for the gun to come up to full heat.
“Alright! ” Anna yelled, ” . . . Alright,” she added as I switched the gun off.
I looked at them both.
“I think I’ll alternate, but mark my words; next time I won’t stop. Understood?”
They nodded. I looked at them a bit closer.
“You two are related; brother and sister?”
The hesitated but quickly answered as I glanced down at the heat gun.
“Yes! . . . yes.”
“OK, who do you work for?”
“We don’t know. We were told you have information on the location of a person they were interested in. We were supposed to get the information from you and deliver it to a locker at the main Bus Station.”
“How did you know when to come here?”
“We got a text.”
“How long ago?”
“An hour or so.”
That would roughly coincide with when I called the client. That meant phone surveillance. Interesting.
I had more data but knew less than before. Except, maybe not.
The Russians wanted Jeff, or whatever his name was. Jeff had bolted after he found something out but did not want to go to the FBI.
I just guessed at the who and the why, but it made sense.
I looked down at the two in front of me. I went back to the cabinet and pulled out a roll of duct tape.
“What are you going to do?” Anna asked.
“You can’t leave us here!” Tom said. “What if you get killed?” he asked.
“Well, that would be very bad for you guys. Since the downturn, this floor of the building doesn’t get much traffic,” I answered as I taped his mouth shut. I then taped over the ties fastening Tom’s wrists and ankles. Individually, neither system was all that good. In combination, pretty good. As I tapped Tom’s fingers into a mitten-like configuration, Anna kept talking.
“You can’t leave us like here; what if we have to go to the bathroom?” she asked.
“I’m glad you are concerned about my floors, but I got some large puppy pads I’ll have under you, so don’t worry about it,” I answered.
“What? You can’t exphmph muhft futmdh.”
Once they were both tied up, I put down the pads and rolled them onto them. I set them back-to-back and head to toes and then ran a large tie around Anna’s neck and Tom’s ankles, and did the same for Tom’s neck and Anna’s ankles. They were not going anywhere. Luckily I don’t believe in curses otherwise I might have been seriously worried about my future.
I left them in the dark; maybe they could sleep some; sleep would make the time pass quicker.
I just got back to the reception area when I heard the elevator again. I turned off the lights and motioned Helena to the corner. We waited.
Someone tried the door, then nothing. Then scrapings. The person on the other side was picking the lock. I readied the shotgun.
The guy that came in carried a small semi-auto and a pen-light. I hit him with the flood and was about to order him to drop when Helena jumped up and rushed to him.
I let them hug for a half minute or so.
They broke apart when I turned on the overhead light and turned off the flood.
“Jeff, I presume?”
I had put down the shotgun, even though he still held his gun. Might have been a bit stupid, but it was a pretty good bet that I was safe.
I made my way to a good position where I could see the comings and goings of people and keep an eye on the locker. I sent the text that the information had been delivered.
I never saw the person who put a hood over my head or the two that grabbed my arms. Another hand reached under my skirt and grabbed Matthew.
The hood was removed after I was forced to sit on a chair. My hands fastened to the legs of the chair, I had to stoop slightly forward, making it difficult to see all but the lower portion of Joshua’s fine clothes. I could clearly see the deadly knife-throwing woman from the office sitting in a corner of the room.
“Michelle,” Joshua voice held a tinge of regret, “I’m disappointed to see you here.”
“Well,” I replied, “if it’s any consolation, I’m not all that happy myself.”
“I remind you it was your choice to continue digging.”
“True,” I said.
Joshua squatted in front of me, making it easier for me to look at his beautiful face. He did have an easy smile; someday I hoped to wipe it from him, perhaps for good.
“And here we are again, and me with the same questions,” his beautiful smile vanished as he spoke.
“You want information on my case?”
“Yes, Michelle, specifically, where you stashed Jeff.”
“What makes you think I know,” I answered.
“Because a good source told me.”
“I have a theory on your source; would you care to hear it?”
He didn’t answer, so I continued.
“Jeff figured out you have a mole working at the FBI and has some data to identify who it is. That’s why both the mole and you want to find him, and why he did not go to the FBI.”
Joshua smiled and was about to answer when he was interrupted by a phone call. He answered the phone and said nothing for thirty seconds or so.
I made an effort to look up; something had obviously happened.
Joshua turned to the killer in the corner.
“The feds got Jeff at an undisclosed safe house.”
He paced for a minute or so, and then reached a decision. He made a call and gave a two-word command as he glanced down at me.
He then sat at the table and poured himself a drink. We waited for someone or for something to happen.
A half hour later, the door opened, and Dan was shoved through it. Losing his footing, he landed hard in front of me. I could see the moment recognition hit him and he shifted from concern for himself to concern for me.
“Misch! Are you alright? What . . . “
He didn’t finish as a muscular woman grabbed Dan by the hair and dragged him to one side. To his credit, Dan did not give her the satisfaction of yelling out.
I looked up at Joshua.
“I might have let you live, but now you are as good as dead!”
That’s what I wanted to say, but I was content with just thinking it. I could never figure out why movie heroes said stuff like that out loud; it put a lot of pressure on really doing something spectacular, and that’s after alerting the bad guys of your intentions.
Me? I was going to do good just walking out of here alive, hopefully with Dan in tow.
“Where do you find these women?” I asked instead.
“We only use them for special occasions. This is Gena,” he said while pointing to the she-ape towering over Dan. “She’s not very happy with you; you messed up her sisters and she is very much interested in repaying you in kind.”
Joshua looked down at Dan who was in the process of getting up. He nodded, and Gena hit Dan in the kidneys, forcing him down again.
“Perhaps she’ll first practice on your assistant.”
I looked away from Dan, and back at Joshua.
“You want to kill me, don’t you?” he asked.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” I answered.
“Take a number,” he said.
I hated him even more for stealing one of my favorite lines from Firefly.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” he continued, “you are going to get Jeff from the feds and bring him to us. If you don’t, Dan dies; probably slowly.”
“How am I supposed to get Jeff from the feds?” I asked.
“That is your problem,” he replied before giving a signal.
The hood was put back on my head, and ten minutes later I was dumped near my car. By the time I got my hood off, no one was around.
I called the number Agent White had given me.
She answered just before it went to voice mail.
“Maul, we no longer need . . . “
“They got Dan, my assistant,” I interrupted.
There was silence at the other end. I continued, bringing her up to speed. After a few minutes, she gave me an address. I told her I had to make a stop first.
Someone was boarding up the door to Jan’s place. He put his tools down and rested his hand on something hanging his hip as I parked the car and started toward the door. Another figure peeled away from one of the trees and paralleled my movements. I stopped and waited.
A few seconds later I heard a muffled voice from inside, and I was motioned forward. The figure on the lawn melted back into the shadow of the trees.
Jan was in bad shape. A pair of twin girls, maybe sixteen or seventeen were treating her. They were pretty good, at least from what I could see, but Jen should have been at a hospital, and I told her so. She waved my concerns off.
“I knew you would come to check on me, so I waited.” She coughed, and the girls helped her sit up a bit, offering her some water as they did so.
“I would have held them off, but Dan didn’t want me to die because of him. He gave himself up to save me,” Jen said.
“It’s the sort of thing he would do,” I replied, “and I know you did all you could,” I continued.
Jen smiled, then grimaced at the effort.
“In my younger days those punks would not have stood a chance,” she said.
“Jen, promise me you’ll head straight to the hospital right after I leave,” I said.
“I promise,” she answered.
“One thing,” I said, “I need someone for backup.”
“I got just the people you need, but you have to trust me on this.”
“I can’t let you have him.”
Agent Angela sat across from me, her two gorillas flanking her. I think they still resented me for pulling my gun on them. They were going to be even less happy in a few minutes.
“Agent White,” I said, “I got dragged into this, and I’m not going to stand by waiting for my assistant to get killed.”
“You may have to; we’re not turning over Jeff, and we don’t know where Dan is being held.”
I stood abruptly, launching the chair back as I did. I walked around the table, heading for the door. The two guys blocked my way.
I looked back over at Agent White, and she nodded. I did not wait for them to move; I shoved them aside. They resisted, as I anticipated. As luck would have it, I was familiar with the retention holsters they wore, so I had no problems relieving them of their guns. Sometimes it pays to be a female; men are constantly underestimating me. I backed away from them, covering them with one gun, and covering Agent White with the other.
“You are making a big mistake.” Agent White was not pleased.
“You think? Let me tell you what’s going to happen next.” I knew I crossed a very difficult line, but I had no choice.
Ten minutes later I walked out of the safehouse. The hooded figure I pulled along stumbled on the curve, and I had to help them into the car. I sped off.
I pulled into the deserted back lot of an empty office building, the hooded figure sitting quietly in the back seat. We had not exchanged more than two or three words on the way to our meeting.
I approached the two cars parked about fifty feet apart. I split the difference and parked in front of their positions, my car completing an equilateral triangle, about twenty-five feet per side.
Joshua exited the car to my left. His bodyguard exited from the front passenger seat and positioned herself in front of Joshua as they walked toward me.
They stopped some fifteen feet from me.
I got out of the car.
“I’m impressed,” Joshua said, “it takes some balls to attack an FBI safe house. Figuratively speaking, of course.”
“I held up my part of the deal,” I said, pointing to the back seat. “Where’s Dan?”
Joshua smiled and motioned with his hand.
Gena got out of the second car, dragging Dan out with her. Dan’s hands were bound in front of him, and his mouth was taped. He tried to say something, but Gena pressed a gun to his forehead.
I looked back at Joshua.
“You gave Matthew to Gena?” I asked.
Joshua looked around and then spread his hand.
“Who is Matthew?” he asked.
“Not who; what. It’s my gun. You gave your she-gorilla my gun?”
Gena moved a few steps closer, dragging Dan with her, but Joshua held up his hand. She stopped.
“You know,” Joshua said, “you are not as smart as I was led to believe.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“You think you’re going to walk away from here alive? Any of you?”
“I’m pretty sure,” I replied.
Joshua looked around and then looked back at me and smiled.
“I know you don’t have FBI backup, and I know your usual backup is incapacitated at the moment. I, on the other hand, like redundancy.”
He made a motion with his hand and the faint trace of two laser sights drew lines from the roof of the building behind him to my chest.
“Now, Michelle, not that I don’t trust you, but I want to see Jeff’s face before we put an end to this inconvenience.”
I moved toward the rear passenger door of the car.
“Slowly, and keep one hand up,” Joshua was enjoying this.
I held one hand up as I opened the back door. I waited for the hooded figure to swing their legs out, and then helped them upright and forward, stopping near the front wheel.
“Take off the hood,” Joshua ordered.
“Joshua, you should know something,” I said.
“And what is that, Michelle?”
“I am not like the FBI. They asked, but I already told them you and your people would not survive the night. They were most unhappy, threatening to charge me with murder. I told them I had nothing to do with it.”
No one heard the plops of the silenced rifle, but in quick succession the laser traces wavered and were gone. I pulled the hood off, and the Jenny, one of Jan’s twin nieces, fired two shots in quick succession. The first shot through Gloria’s hand, probably ruining Matthew custom grip. The second shot went through Gena’s forehead. She dropped where she stood.
The killer lady almost cleared her gun from the holster when the front of her face exploded toward us. That would be Ginny, the other twin, working sniper duty. Jenny had kept shooting, taking out both drivers. All the guns were silenced; we wouldn’t want someone becoming concerned and investigating gunshots in the night.
Joshua looked around him. His smile was definitely gone.
“Joshua, meet Ginny and Jenny, my backup. They are mighty cross with you. Your people hurt their favorite aunt.”
“But,” I continued, “you also hurt Dan. We drew straws as to who would get to finish you.”
Jenny walked past me and stopped in front Joshua. She made a quick motion, and a thin line appeared on Joshua’s throat. Jenny watched him clutch at his throat and then sink to his knees. It did not take much longer for Joshua to die.
I know what you’re thinking; underage killers? As it turns out, they look younger than they are. At nineteen, they are both adults. Cold-blooded adult killers but the key is adult. I hoped to never get on their wrong side.
I got in early, a box of donuts and two coffees balanced precariously as I opened the door.
Dan smiled and got up to help.
“Are you sure you need these?” Dan asked as he relieved me of the doughnuts.
“I’ll add an extra half-hour at the gym,” I answered smiling.
“You have a guest. I showed them to your office.”
I handed Dan his coffee and retrieved the donuts before he got any ideas about saving me from them.
Agent White was sitting in my guest chair. She had helped herself to a bottle of water.
“I returned your guns,” she said, pointing to the evidence box on my desk.
“Thanks; I’ve missed them. I had to make do with just my winning personality,” I answered, “but everyone knows a polite request does not work as well as a polite request and a gun.”
“I believe you,” she answered, “it certainly worked at the safe house.”
“Sorry to pull guns on you guys, but we had to make it real for the mole.”
“The fact it worked and that we nailed the bastard is the only reason you’re not in jail. That,” she continued, “and the fact everyone at the safe house said they were in on it.”
“Thank you for that, by the way.” I was serious; that was the only part of this affair that could have landed me some jail time.
“They still want to charge you for the slaughter, you know,” she continued. “They just don’t know with what.”
“I can explain it again if they like,” I answered. “There I was, my life flashing before my eyes, deathly worried I would die with a skirt on, when a mysterious third party intervened. My guess is a rival gang, or someone wanting to climb the power ladder.”
“And they let you and Dan live . . . “
“Agent White, in the immortal words of Ulysses Everett McGill: ‘it’s a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart.'”
“Donut?” I asked, offering the open box.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.