Authors: J.D. Rhoades
Tags: #Romance, #Thriller, #Mystery, #north carolina, #bounty hunter, #hard boiled, #redneck noir
You need me!” Debbie yelled. By now
she really was crying. “You need me! Say it!”
The rent-a-cops had located the source of the
yelling and were moving purposefully towards him. Debbie was still
screaming at him. “You need me!” she repeated.
Fuck it,” DeWayne muttered. “Right
now, it’s true.” He bent down, close to the car window. “Okay,
baby,” he said, trying to sound placating through his near-panic.
“I do. I need you. Now please, sugar, open the
A smile burst across her face. “I knew it,”
she sniffled. She leaned across and unlocked the passenger side
door. “Get in,” she smiled at him. “I’ll drive.” DeWayne bit back
another snarl. He ran around to the passenger side and slid in. He
was barely in the car when she stomped the gas and peeled out of
the parking space; the door slammed shut from the forward momentum
of the car before he had a chance to pull it closed. They blasted
past the startled rent-a-cops, one of whom had to leap out of the
way to avoid being run down. DeWayne looked back and saw them
standing there, their mouths half open in shock.
So,” Debbie said. “How was she?” her
tone was conversational, as if the previous altercation had never
She’s gone. They moved her somewhere.
They wouldn’t tell me where.”
Debbie plucked a cigarette out of the pack
wedged under the sun visor. “Drug rehab,” she said positively as
she popped the cigarette lighter in.
How do you know that?” DeWayne
She lit the cigarette, then shifted it to one
corner of her mouth. “ ‘Cause they wouldn’t tell you,” she said
through the cloud of smoke. “It’s a law. They can’t even say if a
person’s had drug treatment. So when they get all secret-like--then
Well, I got no way of finding out
where,” DeWayne said.
She smirked. “I bet I can,” she said.
She reached over, put a hand on his thigh and
squeezed. “Tell me you need me again.”
She really does have a screw
, DeWayne thought. “I need you, baby,” he said.
The patent insincerity of his voice seemed to make no difference to
her. She gave his thigh another playful squeeze. “Wait’ll we get
back to my place. Then I’ll show you. I’ll show you why you need
You know, Keller,” Berry said, “life
is kind of funny. I don’t hear from you for five years, and then I
hear your name twice within twenty-four hours.”
They were walking on a grassy lawn in front
of a large white Victorian house. The home was the main building of
Rescue House, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility where
Doctor Lucas Berry, Major, US Army Medical Corps (Retired) was
Berry was a huge man, almost six-seven. His
close-cropped hair was streaked with gray. Combined with his broad,
square, brown face, the gray hair gave him a distinguished
appearance. The feeling of mass that Berry gave was complemented by
Berry’s deep, resonant voice.
Keller thought for a moment before realizing
Berry’s meaning. “Crystal Puryear called you.”
Berry nodded. “Yes. Or at least her doctor at
the hospital did. But he was careful to mention your name.
Fortunately we had a bed coming available. Otherwise I would have
had to bump someone off the waiting list.”
You’d do that just because someone
used my name?”
You don’t hit the panic button easily,
Jack. If you thought enough to call for help for someone, they’re
in bad shape.”
Suddenly, incongruously, Berry grinned, which
robbed his chiseled brown face of some of its accustomed sternness
and made him look almost impish. “Maybe I should put you to work
recruiting for me.”
Thanks,” Keller said. “I like the job
Hmm.” The sound was neutral, but the
You don’t approve of what I
It’s not up to me to approve or
disapprove, Jack. I just wonder why you keep putting yourself in
Keller shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
Berry grunted. “Obviously. But that’s not an
answer. Why do you do it?”
Keller stopped and looked away across the
lawn at the neatly kept white guest cottages that served as the
center’s dormitories. “Why does anybody do what they do?” he said.
“Why’d you go from treating shell-shocked grunts to drug and
It’s a growth industry,” Berry said.
“But you’re still ducking the question.”
Maybe because I don’t know the answer.
The job needs nerves, adrenaline. If I stop to think to much about
what I’m doing and why, it could get me killed.”
about it is just killing you more slowly.” Keller didn’t answer.
Berry sighed and started walking again. Keller followed. They
walked in silence to the porch of the main building and sat down in
a pair of rocking chairs on the front porch. “Nice place you got
here,” Keller said. “The money must be good.”
The house was donated,” Berry said.
“The place was a wreck when we got it. No one had lived here for
ten years.” He ran a hand along the immaculately varnished rail of
the porch. There was obvious pride in his voice. “We worked our
asses off to get the place in shape.”
I can tell.”
Berry turned to him. “So, Jack, you ever
thought about killing yourself?”
Why?” Keller said. “Are you suggesting
it? Wow, treatments really have changed in five years.”
Damn it, stop avoiding my questions. I
wouldn’t keep asking if it wasn’t important.”
No,” Keller said. “Nothing like
You said you almost hurt somebody.
Tell me about it.”
Keller took a deep breath. “I’ve been seeing
Berry leaned back and folded his big hands
across his chest. “Someone you met on the job?”
Yeah. She’s a cop.”
Okay. Go on.”
Keller looked at the lawn. “We
were asleep. Together. I had one of the dreams. She was on
Keller looked back at him. “What
do you mean, ‘ah’”?
Berry waved him off. “Just ah.
I think she tried to wake me up.
I woke up with my hands around her throat.”
What happened then?”
She has a kid. A son. I woke him up.
He was crying. I scared him.” As he spoke, Keller involuntarily
leaned forward, his hands wrapped across his stomach. When he had
finished, he was curled over like a man shot in the gut.
Berry’s voice was steady. “Then what
Keller straightened up. “I left.”
She say anything to you?”
Yeah,” Keller said. “She asked me what
Did you tell her?”
Keller shook his head. “I just
You ran.” Berry said it without
anger or accusation; his voice was flat and matter of fact. Keller
started to protest, then just nodded. “Yeah.”
She mean anything to you? This
woman?” Berry asked.
Keller thought for a minute, then nodded.
What had been going on between you?
Before the dream?”
Keller looked at him. “We were making
Before that, then.”
We were--she had asked me about my
Berry raised an eyebrow. “And you told
A little, yeah. Just the
Berry whistled. “That’s serious progress,
Jack,” he said.
Berry cut him off. “You’re starting to open
up to someone. That’s good. It’s a damn sight better than the way
you were when you saw me five years ago. Then, you were...” he
What?” Keller said. “I was
Berry looked straight at him. “You were the
walking dead, Jack. You’d cut yourself off from everything. I was
kind of amazed when you called. I was amazed that you were still
Yeah,” Keller said. “Well, I guess I’m
A little,” Berry agreed. “But some of
the stuff you’ve been cramming down into the back of your head for
years is coming out. Believe it or not, that’s good too. It was
going to come out anyway, Jack. So does she care about
I think so. Probably. Yeah, she
Congratulations,” Berry said. “Love
and work, Jack. That’s what Freud said everyone needs.”
I thought you said Freud was a
Mostly,” Berry said. “But sometimes he
hit it right on the nose.” He stood up. “You still against the idea
of prescription meds? They’ve got some new stuff on the market that
doesn’t have as many side effects.”
Keller shook his head. “No. I’m still
working. I can’t take anything that might slow me down.”
Berry sighed. “It’s hard to treat someone for
anxiety who gets shot at for a living.” He shrugged. “Well, you’re
not suicidal, at least not any more than your job requires. Come on
with me to the front desk and we’ll make you another
Keller stood up. “Okay. How much do I owe
I don’t know,” Berry said. “I haven’t
done outpatient psychotherapy like this in a few years. I’ll send
you a bill when I figure out what to charge.”
Thanks, doc,” Keller said. “I mean,
for taking all this trouble.”
Berry clapped him on the shoulder. “You were
always my greatest challenge, Jack.” They went inside to the front
parlor that had been converted into an office and reception area.
As the receptionist penciled in Keller’s appointment, he heard a
voice behind him. “Mr. Keller?”
Keller and Berry turned. Crystal Puryear was
standing in the doorway. She was dressed in a pair of ragged jeans
and a tee-shirt. Behind her, a group of people was slowly filing
out of a room across the hall.
Crystal,” the receptionist said, “You
know the rules. After group, you have to get back to your room for
Fuck off, lady,” Crystal
That’s enough, Crystal,” Berry said in
a voice that sounded like it should have been coming from a burning
bush on Mount Sinai. Crystal looked chastened. “Doctor,” she said
in a small voice, “I just wanted to talk to Mister Keller for a
minute. I wanted to thank him.”
We don’t allow visitors the first two
weeks--” the receptionist started, but Berry silenced her with an
upraised hand. “Five minutes,” he told Keller. “On the porch. I’ll
see you tomorrow.”
Keller walked out onto the porch with Crystal
in tow, both ignoring the murderous look from the frustrated
receptionist. They sat down in the rockers.
You were right,” she said. “I owe you
one. So here I am.”
So we’re square then,” Keller
Don’t bullshit me, Mister Keller,” she
said. “Everything has a price, and it’s always more than you
thought you’d pay. No one knows that better than a whore.” She
sighed and looked away. “I ain’t heard from DeWayne. If I do, I’ll
let you know. But you have to promise you won’t hurt him. He’s a
fuckup, and he’s half-crazy most the time, but he’s all I got
I don’t want to hurt him, Crystal,”
Keller said. “But I’m not going to let him kill me.” The sentence
hung in the air between them. Finally, Crystal nodded. “Okay,” she
said. “That’s fair, I guess.” She put her head in her hands. “I
can’t believe he would kill nobody,” she said. “He was always wild,
but he weren’t never mean.” She sat in silence for a few minutes.
“And Leonard,” she said finally. A tear ran down her cheek. “He was
always so gentle. I really can’t believe Leonard hurt
Keller shrugged. “From what I hear, they
tried to hold somebody up. Armed robbery’s a killing waiting to
happen. They should’ve stuck with the small stuff.” He stood up.
“You better get back inside,” he said. “I don’t want you to get in
She nodded and stood up. “Thanks,” she said.
“For getting me in here, I mean. I been all messed up for a long
time. I need to get my mind right.”
That makes two of
, Keller thought. “Good luck,” was what he
She started back into the house. She stopped
for a moment and looked back. “You think I got a chance?” she
Keller nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “You checked
yourself in. Most people aren’t here by choice. They get sent here
by the courts. So you’re ahead of the odds already.”
She thought about that for a moment. Then she
smiled. “First time that’s ever happened,” she said. She went back
You know Crystal’s Social Security
number?” Debbie asked. She was standing in the kitchen of her tiny
apartment. She had the phone wedged between her shoulder and her
ear. DeWayne started to answer, but she held up a hand to stop him
as someone came on the line. “Good afternoon,” she said, “this is
Mrs. Gunderson from Consolidated insurance. Can you connect me with
patient accounts?” In the brief pause, DeWayne shook his head no.
Debbie nodded understanding.