Authors: J.D. Rhoades
Tags: #Romance, #Thriller, #Mystery, #north carolina, #bounty hunter, #hard boiled, #redneck noir
H & H Bail Bonds,” a female voice
said after a few rings.It filled the car, directed through the
stereo speakers by the handsfree system.
What are you wearing?” Keller
She chuckled softly. “Keller,” she said.
As always, her voice saying his name caused a
tightening in his throat. “Any luck?” she said.
I think the cousin’s going to be a
dead end,” he said. You got anything on the other one, Crystal’s
brother? They were allraised together. Find one, the other’s
probably not far away.”
No,” she said. “Leonard Puryear missed
his last two appointments with his probation officer. The P.O. went
out to his house, but the place was empty. They’re about ready to
violate him. What happened to the sister?”
I traced her as far as a strip club on
Bragg Boulevard, but she’s not there. No one knows where she went,
but she’s probably hooking. Escort service, probably.”
I suppose you could work your way
through all of those,” she said. “Poor Keller. You always get the
He laughed. “Might be a little hard on the
cash flow,” he said.
Among other things,” she said.He heard
the insectile clicking of computer keys. “Hold on a minute,” she
said. “If she’s hooking, she probably has some kind of
He leaned back in the seat and closed his
eyes. He saw her in his mind, bent over the keyboard, biting her
lower lip like she did when she was concentrating, brushing the
long ash-blondhair back from her forehead.
Got it,” she said. “Crystal Leigh
Puryear. Known aliases Amber Dawn.” She paused. “Jesus,” she said.
“Amber Dawn? sounds like a feminine hygiene spray.” Keller laughed.
“Picked up on a solicitation charge 2 February. Pleaded to
disorderly conduct. Last known address--.got a pen?”
Keller fished one out of the glove box.
“Shoot.” She gave him the address. “Best bet’s to catch her in the
daytime,” she suggested. “Saturday night, date night, you
Yeah,” Keller said. “Speaking of
dating, you thought any about what we were discussing?”
There was a long pause.“Yeah, Keller, I
thought about it,” she finally said. “ I like you, you know that,
but I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to date someone who works
Keller thought for a moment. “I quit,” he
She laughed. “Nice try,” she said. “But I
don’t date unemployed guys, either.”
Looks like I can’t win,” Keller
Sure you can,” she said. “Just not
with me.” Her voice softened. “Get some sleep, Keller,” she said.
“And not in the car. Check in somewhere and put it on the company
card. Check out the girl tomorrow and find DeWayne Puryear,
preferably by his court date next Thursday.”
Yass, boss,” Keller said.
Pleasant dreams, cowboy,” she said and
Keller leaned back and blew a long breath out
through his teeth. He shook his head as if to clear it and started
He considered her advice about getting some
rest. He was bone-weary, but he knew from experience that sleep
wouldn’t come easily. He decided to at least check out the address
Angela had given him. Even if no one was there, he could
reconnoiter the layout. He had been in this city a number of times
before. He had a good idea of where he was headed.
The street was a dead end, lined with small
brick houses that had once probably been marketed to young couples
in the postwar years as “starter homes.” There were no
streetlights. Only a few dim porch lights provided illumination.
There was a flickering blue glow of television screens behind the
shaded front windows of one or two houses, but most were dark.
Keller couldn’t read most of the house numbers from the street. He
snapped the headlights off and slowed to a crawl, giving his eyes a
chance to get accustomed to the darkness. Finally, he located
Crystal Puryear’s address. He parked across the street and rolled
down the window.
The house at the end of the street was wooden
and looked older than the others, with a more spacious yard and an
attached two car garage. A yellow bulb cast a wan glow over the
driveway in front of the closed doors of the garage. A picket fence
ran between the street and the overgrown yard, ending at the
driveway entrance. There was no other light and no sound other than
the tick and pop of the cooling engine and the monotonous buzzing
Keller sat and looked at the house. One part
of his mind automatically mapped out possible approach and escape
routes. The other thought about Angela.
She had been right, he mused. Not in her
surface excuse about not dating an employee. He could see the real
reason when she gently turned him aside from his pursuit of her.
She always did so with a soft laugh or a self-deprecating joke
about being too old, but the sadness in her eyes told the real
story. Too much baggage, her eyes seemed to say. Too much mileage
over too many rough roads. And she was right, he thought. For both
of them. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
Gravel crunched under his boots as he walked
away from the looming bulk of the Bradley fighting vehicle. He had
always thought of deserts as soft places, cushioned by sand. This
place seemed to be mostly crushed rock and tiny pebbles that always
managed to work themselves into your boots. All the sand seemed to
come to rest in any mechanical or electronic gear. He looked back
and cursed the dead GPS receiver inside the Bradley. He had no idea
where they were.
Shit,” he said under his
breath. His squad was in the vehicle, most of them asleep. He had
to figure out some way to get them home. He unzipped his pants and
took a piss on the desert. It summed up his attitude about this
place as no other words could.
When he was zipping himself back up, he
registered the noise of the rotor blades for the first time. It had
to be a Coalition aircraft; the raghead air force had been swept
out of the sky weeks ago. He turned towards the sound, waving his
arms above his head. “Hey!” he yelled. “Hey...”
There was a ripping sound, like the sky being
torn open. A bright white bolt like a lance of flame leaped from
out of the darkness and struck the Bradley. The boxy metal shape
seemed to bulge outward for a split second before erupting in flame
from every opening. The concussion knocked him flat on his back. He
lay there for a second, staring stupidly at the sky. He saw metal
hatch cover cross his field of vision, whirling across the sky like
a UFO. Then he heard the screams. They were burning, but he
couldn’t get up. His limbs refused to respond to any command that
didn’t involve curling up into a ball. He could hear himself
screaming as well. There was another white flash...
He jerked upright in the seat, panting like a
distance runner. He flinched as a white tree of lightning arced
across the sky, followed by a sharp detonation of thunder. It had
started raining again. Keller put both hands on the wheel and
waited for his heart to stop pounding. He started the car and drove
There was a crowd at the graveside, listening
to the preacher’s words with the pinched, stoic expressions of
people that had been expecting bad news and soon expected to hear
worse. The cemetery was well-tended, bordered by woods on two sides
and the small white church on another.
Everyone gave a wide berth to the big man in
the brown suit. He stared down into the open grave in silence as
the preacher intoned the last few words of the service. A few of
them looked at the diamond and ruby rings on his fingers and noted
the cut of the expensive suit, but no one made comments, at least
in his presence. The man had not been a part of their lives for
years, but his reputation for random and vicious fits of temper was
When the preacher’s voice trailed off into a
nervous mumble, the big man looked up and looked at him. His eyes
were hidden by tinted sunglasses, but after a moment, the preacher
and cleared his throat. The big man turned
away without a word and walked off towards the line of beat-up cars
and trucks in the gravel parking lot. He paused a moment to brush
the dust from the cuffs of his pants and opened the door of a large
brown 4 x 4 pickup. Letters across the top of the dark-tinted
windshield said “INDIAN OUTLAW”.
He got into the truck and sat down, leaving
the door open. The truck’s oversized wheels raised the pickup off
the ground high enough that the man’s snakeskin boots dangled a few
inches from the ground like a child’s in a grownup chair. He
The group at the graveside had broken into
smaller knots, discussing the weather, the tobacco crop, and
everything except the recently deceased. After a few minutes,
a young man detached himself from the congregation and walked over
to the truck.
Hey,” the young man said. There was no
Any news on who killed Daddy?”
the big man said finally. The Lumbee accent made the last word come
out as “diddy.”
The younger of the two brothers shuffled his
feet in the coarse gravel. “Sheriff said they ain’t got no
Shit,” the big man said. He spat on
the ground next to his brother’s foot. It was an insult that would
have resulted in knives being pulled on anyone else.
Ain’t no need to get pissed off at me,
Raymond.” The younger man whined. “I ain’t...”
Someone knew Daddy had a lot of cash.
Got any idea?”
The younger man shrugged. “I guess the
Meskins knew. Daddy paid ‘em off ever’...”
Raymond swung his legs into the truck. “We’ll
go talk to them, then. Get in.”
The younger man looked back at the safety of
the crowd. “Get in the truck, John Lee,” Raymond said. “I ain’t
gonna tell you again.” John Lee took a last look at the church and
sighed. He got in the truck. He slumped unhappily in the seat as
Raymond pulled away from the church. “I gotta drop by the club,”
Raymond said. “Then we’ll go see what these Meskins can tell
Interstate Highway 95 stretches 1,970 miles,
a gray and black river of asphalt that flows from Miami to the
Canadian border. Everything moves on the highway. Truckers ferry
livestock, produce, cigarettes, clothing, lumber, bricks, cars,
anything that can be shipped in a flatbed or trailer. Tourists
stare blankly out the windows of cars, motor homes and SUV’s,as
they traverse the flat, empty spaces between entertainments.
Salesmen study the mile markers for signs that they’ll reach their
next meeting in time. And, inevitably, drugs and money move on the
highway. The FBI, the DEA, and a variety of local law enforcement
try to interdict the tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana stuffed
into the backs of pickups and the wheel wells of compact cars. They
catch a few, but mostly they only succeed in angering the
African-American and Hispanic drivers that they stop in
Raymond’s club, the 95 Lounge, was visible
from the highway, but a curious traveler had to go a mile up to a
little-used exit and double back on a narrow country road to reach
it. There was little reason for them to; the club was not
advertised on any of the thousands of billboards that grew along
the roadside. There was no Texaco nearby, no Cracker Barrel
restaurant, no McDonald’s or Burger King. The only people who would
take the trouble to find their way there were those who knew its
Raymond and John Lee pulled up in the parking
lot of the club. It was a low cinder block building painted a dull
purple and black. The words “95 LOUNGE” were clumsily hand-painted
on the front and side of the building in green and white Day-Glo
letters. There were no windows. A neon sign beside the peeling
wooden door announced that the 95 Lounge was “open”. There were a
couple of battered cars in the parking lot and a new 18-wheel
They entered the club, stopping for a moment
to let their eyes get used to the gloom. The only illumination was
provided by a dim fluorescent light behind the bar and a Budweiser
sign on the far wall. There were several large booths along that
wall. A fat man in a polyester shirt with his name embroidered over
one pocket was seated in one of the booths. A skinny woman with
bleached blonde hair was seated in the booth on the same side. She
was whispering something in his ear. As John Lee stared, her hand
slid beneath the table and into the fat man’s lap.
You see somethin’ you interested in?”
a voice said.
John Lee turned. Billy Ray, the club’s
manager, was standing behind the bar. He had a malicious grin on
his broad copper-colored face.
Darlene’s busy right now, but I don’t
reckon that trucker’ll take too long,” Billy Ray said. “You can
have sloppy seconds.”
Shut it, Billy Ray,” Raymond said.
“John Lee and me got stuff to do.” The smile disappeared from the
man’s face. He sullenly went back to polishing the bar.
John Lee looked back at the couple, who were
disappearing out the back door. There was a broken down trailer in
the back, he knew. John Lee had never discussed his brother’s
businesses with him, but he knew the rumors. It was said that some
of Raymond’s female customers were working off their drug debts in
that trailer. John Lee swallowed nervously and followed his brother
into the office behind the bar.He sat across the desk from Raymond
in a rusted straight-backed chair with a tattered cushion. Raymond
flicked his desk lamp on. “You got a pistol?” he said to John