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Authors: Jeanne C. Stein

Tags: #Fantasy, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #General, #Horror

Crossroads (6 page)

BOOK: Crossroads
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Hardly bothers her now. And I’ve seen her in action. That she thinks she needs backup to serve papers must mean this guy is one mean son of a bitch.
She’s watching me and from the look on her face, reads my expression as clearly as if I’d spoken it aloud.
“He is,” she says. “He’s been in jail three times for spousal abuse and always gets away with a slap on the wrist. He’s got money and a good lawyer on his side. My sister has me. I want to get this son of a bitch out of her life. If he violates a restraining order, it won’t be so easy for him to beat the rap. But he has to be served first.”
“Do you know where to find him?”
“I do. He follows my sister the minute she leaves the house for work. He hangs around the parking lot outside, always in sight, then follows her home. He won’t let a stranger approach him, but he knows me. He’ll think I’m there to warn him to stay away. Again. But this time …” Her eyes flick away briefly, settle back on mine. “I’ll make sure he takes those papers.”
I have no doubt. “So what do you need me for?”
Tracey lets a tiny smile touch the corners of her mouth. “He’s been making threats. Tells my sister if she doesn’t come back to him, he’ll kill her. He has a weapon. He’s never showed it to me, but Miriam says she’s seen it. Something he picked up at a gun show. Miriam doesn’t know about guns, it’s evidently a rifle of some sort. But she’s scared.”
Tracey stands up, pulls the sweatshirt over her head. She has a T-shirt on underneath, and a .38 police special in a holster on her belt. “If the bastard tries anything, I want a witness.”
My kind of girl.
This is exactly the kind of diversion I need.
I unlock a desk drawer and pull out my own .38.
“So, when do we leave?”
CHAPTER 6
 
T
URNS OUT TRACEY’S SISTER, MIRIAM, WORKS AS A manager in a Ralphs supermarket. It’s the anchor store in a strip mall on University in North Park, flanked on either side by smaller shops, a Vitamin Cottage, a Rite Aid. Miriam isn’t due to work for thirty minutes. Tracey spies a Starbucks on the corner. I accept her offer of coffee and she walks away to get it while I wait in the car.
I look around the parking lot. Ralphs is open twenty-four hours. It’s seven thirty in the morning and there are half dozen cars parked close to the entrance. Tracey and I checked to make sure Miriam’s ex didn’t beat her to work this morning, but his car is not among them. Neither is Miriam’s.
At seven forty-five, Miriam pulls in. I recognize her by the picture Tracey showed me. She’s early. I glance in the rearview mirror, toward the coffee shop, but don’t see Tracey. No matter. I turn my attention back to Miriam.
She resembles her sister, same hair color, same eyes and mouth. They are both thin. The difference is in their height. Tracey is five-nine, Miriam, five-two, if that. A gazelle and a greyhound. They carry themselves the same way. With confidence. Miriam walks straight into the store, not looking right or left. She knows Tracey is coming today and she knows her ex will be close behind, but her bearing is unflinching.
I watch the entrance to the parking lot. No cars pull in for five minutes after Miriam’s and the one that finally does is driven by a gray-haired senior in a big SUV who heads for a handicapped space by the door.
I see Tracey now, starting toward me from the coffee shop. At the same time, the unmistakable crack of a rifle echoes across the parking lot.
It’s muffled.
It came from inside the store.
I jump out of the car and run toward the store entrance. In one motion, I’ve unbuttoned my jacket and drawn my .38 revolver. I flatten myself beside the big, glass doors and peek around to look inside.
It’s early enough that the store isn’t filled with midday shoppers. Still, there’s chaos inside. The two dozen or so people I see are flinging themselves behind checkout counters, store displays, a pyramid of canned goods—anything that can provide cover.
Then there’s only one person left standing. His back is to me. He’s dressed in a duster and black jeans. He moves to my left, out of my line of sight, but I catch a glimpse of the rifle before he disappears from sight. An AK-47. The weapon of choice for every fucking punk these days.
Tracey is suddenly at my side. “What’s going on?” She’s pulled her weapon, too.
I shake my head. “A robbery?”
She pulls a cell phone from her pocket.
A voice from inside. “Miriam. I know you’re here. Come out or the next time I shoot, it won’t be in the air.”
Tracey’s fingers freeze on the buttons. “Jesus. When did he get here? Weren’t you watching? Didn’t you see him drive in?”
Her voice is sharp with recrimination, but I understand. It’s her sister. I place a hand on her arm.
“He must have already been inside. But I did see Miriam arrive. She was early.” I gesture to her Tracey’s phone. “Make the call.” Then, “Is there a back way in?”
Tracey nods, phone at her ear. “An office door.”
“If Miriam is in the office, try to get her out the back.”
She nods and disappears around the corner, talking to the dispatcher as she goes. I maneuver for a look inside. Someone is approaching the shooter. A man. He’s wearing a suit and tie with a little nametag pinned over the jacket pocket. His hands are in the air and he’s talking quietly.
I can hear every word.
“Abe, you remember me. I’m Steve Robinson, Miriam’s boss. Please put the gun down. You don’t want to hurt anyone. I know it. Miriam knows it, too. But she’s scared. She won’t come out.”
He’s talking in a calm, steady voice. He’s got guts, I’ll give him that. At the same time, I know Abe is here on a mission. I could easily use vampire speed and strength to take him down, but in front of all these witnesses?
“Come on, Abe, give me the gun and it will be over. You haven’t hurt anyone yet. We can talk it out.”
Abe is quiet and still. It gives the manager the impression that he’s getting through to him. He takes a step closer.
“No!” The word rips out of me at the same time Abe raises the assault rifle. He fires a burst that slams the manager back against a checkout counter. I see the gaping chest wound, smell the blood as it explodes out of his back, and I know.
Miriam’s boss is dead before he hits the ground.
I step out, fire at the broad of Abe’s back. I squeeze off every fucking round and pull back. I know the shots hit the mark but Abe doesn’t go all the way down. He’s knocked to his knees, staggers back to his feet, whirls toward me.
He’s wearing a full torso vest.
He sprays a burst in my direction, shattering the door and sending glass flying into the parking lot. Instinctively, I duck and step back behind the door. In the distance, a siren shrieks. Reinforcements.
Abe hears it, too, and moves deeper into the store, yelling Miriam’s name.
There’s a service counter about ten yards inside the door. I pull a speed loader from the pocket of my jacket, reload. I could be at that counter and over before Abe could take another step. But there are too many eyes on me now after that exchange of fire. I suck in a breath and sprint toward the counter, feeling like I’m moving in slow motion.
I dive over and startle two female employees, pressed like frightened rabbits against the counter. They look up at me with eyes round with fear. I place a finger to my lips, push up to squint over the counter.
Abe is heading toward the back of the store. He stops at the office door, tries the lock. When it doesn’t yield, he kicks at it and screams, “Come out, Miriam. If you don’t, I’ll kill everyone in this store. The blood will be on your hands.”
One of the women beside me grabs my arm. “He’s crazy. You’ve got to stop him. You’re a cop or something, aren’t you?”
I shake myself free of her grasp. I fall in the “or something” category. But she’s right. Fuck restraint. I can’t give that maniac the chance to kill someone else. Before she can say anything else, I’m up and over the counter.
I have a decision. I could break his neck. But how would I explain getting to him faster than is humanly possible and then using strength that is humanly improbable? No. I can explain one much easier than the other so I tap him on the shoulder and let him spin toward me. He has a heartbeat to look surprised. Then I fire. It takes only one shot. To the bridge of his nose. Abe collapses like a deflated balloon, leaving bits of his head plastered against the office door like a macabre Halloween decoration.
There’s blood. Lots of it. Pooling around his head. He fell faceup and there’s only a small rose blooming on his face. The pool is coming from the exit wound. Still pumping from a heart that hasn’t gotten the message yet.
The smell. When I look down, I realize I’m splattered with blood, too. My clothes, my hands. I want to lick at it. Instead, I set my jaw and tense every muscle to keep the vampire in check.
It’s a good thing I fed yesterday.
 
 
THERE IS A REASON I CHOSE TO BECOME A BOUNTY hunter and not a cop. I’m reminded of it in the minutes that follow. Cops appear from everywhere. I’m ordered to drop my gun, put my hands behind my head, kiss the ground.
I do what any sane person in that situation should do.
Obey.
My gun is kicked aside, my hands secured behind my back.
I can hear the same thing happening to Tracey behind the closed office door. In a second, she’s led out and pushed to the floor beside me.
Miriam is hysterical. She’s yelling at the cops that it was her sister and I who saved her. Soon the two women who were hiding behind the counter join us and add to the din.
It takes six cops, a couple of detectives and two hours to sort out the story, check that Tracey and I are fugitive apprehension officers and are indeed licensed to carry. Tracey still has the temporary restraining order in her pocket, which adds credence.
By the time our hands are freed, Miriam has gone into shock. Tracey is told she can take her home. I’m told I can accompany a detective downtown to give yet another statement.
The wheels of bureaucracy creak round and round.
Tracey stops to thank me, but I wave it aside.
“Take care of your sister. Stay with her for as long as she needs you. David and I can handle everything at the office.”
She smiles. “Maybe we should consider adding process server to our curriculum vitae.”
“Might liven things up.”
She glances down at the corpse of her ex-brother-in-law. I think if no one was watching, she’d kick the bastard. Instead she walks stiffly away and moves off to join her sister.
At the same time she’s leaving, another familiar face is approaching through the throng of cops gathered around the door. He heads straight for me.
Shit. Detective Harris. I was hoping to avoid having to repeat the story yet again. I release a breath, huff, “What took you so long?”
Harris looks at me with raised eyebrows. “I heard what happened. Knew there couldn’t possibly be more than one Anna Strong.” He walks over to the body. The medical examiner is off to one side making notes. He and Harris nod to each other. Then Harris kneels down for a closer look. “Nice shot.”
“Couldn’t miss. We were nose to nose.”
“Heard that, too. How’d you pull that off?” He stands again and aims his squint-eyed Dirty Harry cop stare right at me. “A guy with an AK-47 and you manage to close the distance between a counter fifty feet away and the shooter without drawing fire. What are you, faster than a speeding bullet?”
It’s grown quiet around us. The two women who were hiding behind the counter look away when they see me turning in their direction. What did they tell the police?
The truth, most likely. I am faster than a speeding bullet.
What can I tell the police? The same thing I’ve said three times before.
I raise my shoulders. “You know how it is when the adrenaline is pumping. People do things they couldn’t do in normal circumstances.”
Harris lets a beat go by. “You give a statement?”
“To every fucking cop you see. I’m still invited to headquarters. Anything you can do about that?”
Harris motions to one of the other detectives. “You need anything else from Ms. Strong?”
The detective looks at his notes. “Nah. Nothing now. She can go.”
Harris turns back to me; a half smile touches his mouth. “And I know where to find you if we need anything else, don’t I?”
I’m tempted to crack wise and suggest that he remember the donuts the next time he drops by. But he’s helping me get out of here. Best not to press my luck. I nod my thanks and turn to go.
He stops me with a hand on my arm. “Are you all right? Do you need a ride home?”
Those are the questions he’s asking. He wants to know something else. A normal human being who just killed someone would be showing some emotion. He wants to know why I’m not.
BOOK: Crossroads
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